Here’s what depression feels like:

Starting in my stomach, it coagulates and evades acid as it seeps into my veins. It takes the long route, making pit stops in my liver, my lungs, my brain. And then it reaches its destination: my heart. What felt like a tapered worm making a home out of my vital organs now feels like a heavy stone, a diamond even, suffocating my left atrium. It’s a wonder that it’s still beating. And it hurts, not the stubbed toe kind of pain or the bite your tongue kind of pain, but something that’s hard to identify. I want to call it grief, but I don’t think I’ve lost anything. Or maybe I have. Perhaps it’s the loss of contentment, the loss of sheer joy that causes me to grieve. Or maybe it’s none of these things. Maybe it’s nothing, an emptiness that my heart doesn’t know how to handle. An emptiness that I don’t know how to handle.

It comes and goes, a rare blessing. Sometimes I even forget what it feels like. But when it happens, it’s hard for me to think about anything else. The diamond sitting in my chest makes it impossible for me to get out of bed, to give a shit about anything, to talk to anyone. My body only functions on its most basic level; as an organ, a blood bag, a human. Everything else that makes me an individual has shut down. And it’s not that I can’t move or go to the gym or go see a friend, it’s that my will to do so has been destroyed. I’m not sure what’s worse: not being able to do something or just simply not wanting to.

I wish it was cyclical, so I could prepare for it a week in advance. I’d make sure my bed was made, that my water bottle was full and I had money for Seamless. I’d make a list of all the TV shows I need to catch up on and the movies I haven’t seen yet. Maybe I’d even pick out a few books even though I wouldn’t have the strength to read them. But then again, this is a little ridiculous. How counterproductive is it to prepare for a depressive episode in the same way I would prepare for the worst days of my period? I know my period like the back of my hand. I know when to expect crippling cramps and nausea. I know what medication to take and the number of super tampons I need to get through a day. My period is predictable; my depression is not.

Here’s what I’ve learned: 

Call it what it is. I spent the majority of my adolescence invalidating my sadness, calling it hormonal or an overreaction. Mental health wasn’t something that people talked about enough or at all, so I thought the way that I felt was abnormal. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started talking about it more freely because I saw other people doing the same. Identifying the issue is one step to creating an appropriate way to deal with it. Now don’t get me wrong, I am still controlled by my depression. I have no idea how to deal with it other than to lock myself in my room for days. But I will say that telling people how I’m actually feeling has made me less ashamed. Casually talking about how sad I am has given me an inkling of power over something that makes me feel uncontrollable. So the next time a friend or family member asks you how you’re doing and the answer isn’t “fine”, be honest. It might be awkward or outside the limits of your character, but in doing so you’ll be one step closer to liberating yourself (and possibly someone else) from the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s not a solution, but it helps.