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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2018 - Vol. 15, Issue 3


written by

Nichole V. Brazelton

The trouble with me and Depression isn’t my inability to recognize Depression when he arrives and lays himself in my guest room, and it isn’t my fear of stigma that prevents me from asking for help after Depression arrives. No, the trouble is that I never know when it’s time to ask for help.

When Depression is in my house, I see him in my guest room and I think, “Dammit.
Depression is here again. I’m going to have to get him out before he gets too
comfortable.” Then, I proceed to try to get Depression out myself, while doing a hundred other things so as to appear unbothered by Depression’s presence. In fact, I often try to do more things hoping that Depression will just take the hint, realize I’m never home to entertain him, and will mosey on his way without confrontation. What I inevitably fail to notice is that Depression has unpacked his bags, laid his shirts and underwear in a drawer, and hung up all his ugly sweaters and hats in the closet.

When I finally can’t avoid Depression anymore, and I have to face him, I notice that not
only has he completely unpacked, but now there’s a large box and a dirty looking old
backpack in the room. At that point, I freak out and start yelling at Depression to pack
his shit up, take his smelly backpack, and not to even think about dumping out the box!
But Depression looks at me calmly and says, “Don’t be silly – this is your box and
backpack; they belong in this room. I’ve simply returned them from where you’ve left
them, and I’m staying so we can unload them together.” I don’t want to believe this
(because the box is heavy and the backpack looks disgusting) but I want Depression to get the hell out, so if cramming my room full of old baubles and dusty memorabilia from my past is what it will take, fine. I sit and wait for Depression to open the box.

He pulls out things from my childhood first – an old doll that I had forgotten about
clinging to as my parents fought, a picture of people smiling at a family gathering right
before it got violent, a letter I wrote in crayon to God and put in an envelope. My mother must have pulled it out before the mailman came. No wonder things never changed. . .

Then Depression pulls out more recent items. There’s something that smells the way
my ex-husband’s arm smelled when it was pressing my face against a wall as my mind
flew away and blood filled my mouth. There’s a recording of a popular song that was
playing in the car the day I miscarried my twin girls, and the blanket from their crib.
There are drawings from my little brother in the box – pictures he made for me when we were friends, before the head injury replaced his shining eyes with holes to nowhere, and turned his easy-going sarcasm and laughter into cruelty and rage.

“I can’t look at anymore of these things,” I shout at Depression. “I don’t want them.
Throw them all away!” Depression chuckles. He knows I can’t manage to drag the box
out alone and he is quite comfortable now on my guest bed, with his slippers on and a
cup of tea. He acquiesces for a moment though, closes the flaps on the box, and
reaches for the backpack. It looks so disgustingly old that I’m not too worried – whatever is inside must surely be decrepit and barely recognizable.

Depression unzips the bag, carefully reaches in and rifles for a bit before pulling out a
list. The list is long, and cleanly printed on bright white paper, carefully folded and not
even worn on the corners. How can this be?

The list is clearly brand new – from such a nasty looking old bag!

Depression passes me the list and I begin to read: get a shower, get dressed, look
pretty, smile, make eye contact, say the right things, be gracious, be gentle, be diligent, do your work, ask for more, smile, eat something, sound smart, write, agree with people, do what is expected, do more, smile, drink enough water, laugh at the right time, don’t laugh at the wrong time, anticipate others’ needs, take your vitamins,
organize, entertain, smile.

By the time I have finished reading, Depression has pulled other objects from the bag.
There are pictures of my children – now grown, slips of paper with old or canceled

plans, poems, notebooks, cards, bank statements, pay stubs, transcripts, conference
papers, rejection letters, acceptance letters, books, emails. I realize that, as he pulls
each piece out, the backpack doesn’t just empty - it grows. Finally, with evidence of my
life spread all around us, there is nothing left in the bag. Depression asks me if I still
want to throw everything away.

This time, I chuckle. We both know that isn’t possible. I tell Depression I need to sleep -
just a short rest - and then I’ll know what to do. He motions to the dirty backpack, now
the size of a sleeping bag. I climb in; Depression zips it closed. I don’t know how I’ll get
out - if I call for help, everyone will look and simply see my life floating everywhere.

I can hear the sound of a spoon on a cup, the shuffling of feet on paper, the soft
movement of a body getting into bed. I know Depression will take my place in the
house. It’s OK - he has my list. No one will ever know the difference.

Nichole Brazelton lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., where she is (finally) pursuing a graduate
degree in Rhetoric at Duquesne University. Her poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction
works have appeared in Burn This Magazine, Flash Fiction Forward, previous volumes
of Breath and Shadow (2006), and the 2017 anthology, Voices from the Attic, Vol. 23.
Her journey across the map of depression and anxiety has been both challenging and
enlightening. She plans to keep traveling, looking for safe places to rest along the way.

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