The Fiercest Battle
Please welcome guest writer Kelly! (Trigger warning: suicidal ideation.)
I’m standing on a mountain, battling a dragon with my friends when a fast, shrill beeping sound starts to invade my world. Just a few more slashes, I think as I valiantly hack at the beast while the beeping grows louder and louder. Victory is within my grasp when the world begins to rock violently, the beeping now impossible to ignore. I hunker down to keep from falling off the edge of the cliff but I’m too slow. I slide over the edge, watching my loved ones get smaller and smaller as I plummet towards the earth in slow motion. The dragon flings itself over the edge and the last thing I see before I screw my eyes shut is a plume of fire spewing from its mouth.
I wake with a gasp and smash the snooze button on my alarm. My boyfriend stops shaking my shoulder and croaks out a good morning before kissing my forehead. The dragon is sitting on my chest, squeezing the breath out of me, only now the beast isn’t covered in scales. No, this dragon is the depression that has terrorized me and my loved ones since I was a child.
The only time I make any headway against the beast is while I’m asleep. Unfortunately, I can’t sleep as much as I’d like, so I spend the majority of my time waging a desperate battle against the dragon during my waking hours.
Some days, the dragon can be distracted by shiny objects or chocolate. Today, not so much.
Today the dragon winds itself around my body as I struggle to get out of bed, constricting until every muscle and joint screams in agony. It whispers in my ear that this is my lot in life, that I deserve every twinge and every ache. No pill can touch this pain—it’s all up to the dragon, and it isn’t letting up one bit. Before long, I’m sapped of all energy and collapse onto the couch in a heap. I’ve moved precisely twelve feet, and because the dragon is wound around me, everything becomes an impossible task. My burdensome laptop is almost too much to lift, but I manage to grab it and flip the lid open. I’m greeted by yet another edit of my resume and no new emails.
“Did you honestly think they’d hire a nothing like you? You’re a professional failure,” the dragon hisses, my ears burning as its words hit home. The weight of the beast’s words causes me to slump in my seat. Despite knowing that I have value, despite having physical proof that I’m not a failure, I believe the dragon. It’s really no different than playing dead in my mind. If I go along with what the dragon says, perhaps it will stop squeezing and then the day will be mine. The dragon has never fallen for my ruse, never stopped squeezing. It feeds off my emotions and grows stronger as I peruse the job boards. I find one position I’d love, and it’s minutes from home.
“You don’t know Photoshop,” the dragon growls. “Why are you applying?”
“I’ve used Photoshop since 1998,” I shoot back, wielding my blade.
“But all you do is dabble. You only make stupid little cartoons that nobody looks at.” The beast paws at the ground.
I swing, but my blade bounces off the dragon’s scales. “The people that do look at my cartoons think they’re great.”
“That’s what they say. They’re lying to spare your feelings.”
The dragon’s last words are a kick to the gut. I stop typing and look at my portfolio website. It’s filled with silly cartoons. No logos. No mock-up layouts. No demonstration of color theory, typography, etc. In other words, the dragon is right. I have no right to call myself a professional graphic designer, even though I was one for three years. I close the browser tab for the job listing and take down the portfolio site, utterly defeated.
“That’s better,” the dragon says triumphantly as it looms over me. “Now, I’m sure there are plenty of call centers to work for. That’s your station, and in your station you will stay.”
I try to back up, but trip over a rock, landing on my backside. “But I went to school for—“
“Nope. Your parents were poor, minimum-wage workers, and that’s what you are too.” The dragon is snarling as it leans over me. Tendrils of smoke from its nostrils spiral around me.
Desperate, I scramble backward. “But I’ve been—“
“Minimum. Wage.” The dragon spits a fireball.
“Fine,” I say as the dragon’s fiery breath sears my skin. I search for local call center positions. The only ones posted are for cold-calling, which I can’t make myself do without tears and vomit. Reducing the day to yet another with no prospects, I curl up in a ball and cry. The dragon shows me images of my immediate future as one of the countless homeless in my city. I can feel the cold seep into my bones as I shiver on a park bench, wrapped in a tattered, lice-infested blanket. I shake my change cup at passersby, quickly averting my eyes when I recognize one couple as my former best friends. Their pained expressions brand my retinas.
The dragon doesn’t limit its reign of terror to me. It’s amazing (and by amazing, I mean horrifying) what the dragon does to my loved ones. Most new people I meet are scared off by the beast. Few manage to trick the dragon long enough to sneak past it, but when they get by, they’re thrust into battle by my side. The dragon doesn’t treat my party members any better than it treats me. It swipes at them, breathes fire. The beast will flop down on top of me and make it impossible for anyone to help. Worst of all, the dragon’s sinister words seep into my soul and poison my mind against my allies.
As if on cue, a close friend texts me about going on a double date this weekend.
“They don’t really like you, you know. They talk about you when you’re not around,” the beast whispers as it nuzzles my cheek, pretending to be the only thing that loves me.
“No, they’re my friends. They love me,” I say as I wriggle in the dragon’s clutches.
The dragon snuggles me close to its heart. The whoosh of its heartbeat is oddly soothing. “They laugh at your weakness. They see you as something to be exploited for their gain.”
“You’re wrong. People aren’t that cruel.” The dragon is radiating heat, and my eyelids grow heavy. I try to resist the coziness of the cocoon created by the dragon’s claws.
“Remember your ex-husband? Your first roommate? Those people you went to school with?”
I nod drowsily. Again, the dragon is right. I am too gullible. I am too trusting. Have these people really earned my trust? No. Best to push them away, to stay right here in the dragon’s paw, where it’s safe and warm, I think to myself as I text back a cheap excuse to not go out. I wince at my phone as the message is marked as read, followed by “ok.” My friend’s patience has limits, and I’ve weaseled my way out of the last four invitations. I know I’m perilously close to being excluded from future outings—the modern way of ending a friendship—but the dragon doesn’t care. The dragon wants me all to itself so I have pushed more people out of my life than I can count.
The guilt of skipping out on my friends is nearly as crushing as the dragon’s tail coiled around my form. The dragon hasn’t allowed me to see my allies in months. I’ve slacked off my exercise regimen and let my hair grow long, because the dragon has told me there is no point in looking my best when nobody sees me. I stare at myself in the mirror and see a shell of the person I used to be. My skin and hair are dull and my eyes have huge circles from too many nights of fitful sleep. Worry lines crease my forehead. My pants fit tighter now, and I wonder how I’d gotten down to this size to begin with. It seems like an eternity since the days when the dragon was more distractible, when I had the energy to take care of myself. These days, breathing is very hard. Dejected, I return to the couch and aimlessly surf the internet until long after the sun has gone down, interrupted only by a text from my boyfriend to let me know he’s done with work.
“Well, well, well…you didn’t get anything done today, did you?” the dragon admonishes as it tosses me aside.
I hit the ground with a thud, mourning the loss of the dragon’s warm embrace. “I… you… ugh. It was too hard.”
The dragon paces around me, blazing eyes locked on mine. “You didn’t even shower. Why are you even on this planet? You literally sat on your ass and surfed the internet all day. You contribute nothing. You are nothing. You’re a worthless drain on society. The world would be better off without you.”
“That’s not true! I just need some time to—“
“You’ve had THIRTY-SIX YEARS,” the dragon booms. “Your brothers had careers and families by this point. You don’t have either. Face it; you’re past your prime. Nobody will miss an old woman like you.”
“My family will. My boyfriend will,” I say, in my best effort to be defiant. My voice quivers like Jell-O.
“Your family calls you once in a blue moon. Do you really think they’ll miss you? As for your boyfriend… he’ll find someone younger and prettier. It’s a wonder he hasn’t already, given that you’re obsolete. Let me vanquish you. It’s for the best.”
“I guess you’re right, but I just don’t want you to do it today. I need to prepare.”
Before the dragon can say anything else, my boyfriend walks in. He sees that I haven’t done a single thing around the house, but still drops everything to give me a hug. He holds me tight and, for those precious few hours until we have to wake up again, the dragon is mostly quiet. On the days where the beast insists on being heard, my boyfriend takes the lead, hacking and slashing at the dragon while I recuperate. He’s had to step in a lot lately. So have my other allies. With their help, though, the dragon is limping heavily. Maybe, just maybe, one of these days I’ll land a stunning blow and send the dragon off to sleep for a long time.
I hope this essay gives some insight into the daily battle that people with depression go through. The pain, the lack of energy, the poisonous thinking—these things are all too real and if those of us who suffer could, we’d turn it all off in an instant. Medication can help, but it is only one weapon in the arsenal. Depression fighters need allies who won’t shy away from a battle and sound strategy in the form of counseling to counter the beast’s trickery. Health and stamina are in short supply when fighting the dragon, but good food and exercise can mean the difference between evading a bite or falling victim to the beast’s jaws. If you’re struggling and need someone to roll a saving throw, call or click the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255,www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. They usually roll a D20.
Kelly Bristol is Reviews Editor for Njoystic. In addition to her work for Njoystic, Kelly is also a freelance editor and writer. A reformed academic, Kelly finds joy in being used as a substitute for Google and will obliterate you in Trivia Crack. When not Hulk-smashing her keyboard for work, Kelly enjoys gaming, reading, crafting, cats, nail art, and sarcasm. Tweet her @cateia97.
(image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Durian_-_Sintel-wallpaper-dragon.jpg licensed under CC BY 3.0)