It all starts with fog—consuming the lake, the car, my life. This mist covers my windshield and begins to spread across my glassy eyes. My hands shake as the fog crawls away from the lake to surround my car, pry open my door, draw me out. The fog swarms my lips, begging to enter. I can’t hold my breath any longer, and I suck in, letting the fog fill my lungs. I fall back against my car, which seems to be swaying with me. I feel free here, like I’m finally in a place where the weather outside matches my feelings inside; if I just continue to let this fog into my body, I’ll be able to explain why I’m so depressed all of the time, why I’m trying to kill myself. This thought makes me even more depressed, so stumble back into my car. I’m not that far from my house so I drive home even though the pills are starting to really hit me. I recklessly pull into a parking spot and remove the remaining Xanax pills from the bag.
My legs are first to go, deep into the sheets under me. I struggle to wash down the rest of the pills before the bed consumes the rest of my body. I feel this terminal pull, slowly fading to black. For the first time in years, peace descends upon me. In these drugs is clarity—the fog finally clears. There is so much pain and no pain at all, so much noise and no noise at all. Everything and nothing goes through my head as I try to kill myself.
The fog returns early in the morning as I’m thrown into the backseat of my father’s truck. My mother is in the front seat, even though they’re divorced. No one speaks. The fog follows me all the way to Connecticut. My parents have been throwing money at my depression since junior year of high school, hoping that the most expensive treatments will quietly fix their broken child before anyone else can hear him shatter into a billion pieces. So we are driving from New Jersey to Silver Hill in Connecticut, where only the most famous go for their emotional troubles—Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Billy Joel. It’s as if the fame will fix my depression, the money my mania. But first I have to speak to an admitting psychiatrist—they have to make sure I’m crazy enough.
“So why are we here today.”
“Because I swallowed a bunch of Xanax and tried to kill myself.” Did you read my file?
“And why’s that?”
“Because I’m depressed.” Are these questions necessary?
“And you’re in high school?”
“I’m a senior.”
“So you’re thinking about college, I assume?”
“I was deferred early decision to Dartmouth.”
“What do you like about Dartmouth so much?”
“I don’t know.” I paused. How could he expect me to answer these questions about college when all I can think about is death? Why is he asking me about the dream school I was just deferred from when it clearly makes me upset? “I really like the campus. It’s so beautiful and perfect for me. I’m undecided so the curriculum of distributives is just what I need. I also love the student body. They’re all so smart and funny and attractive and successful.” Everything I’m not.
“Well, I’m a graduate.”
“Oh.” The fog is now flowing from his parted lips, contributing to my depression.
“I was actually head of the alumni interview program from this area for a long time.” Pause. “Anyway, I think you will benefit from Silver Hill. You have such a bright future and you’re on top of the world. We just need you to feel that way.”
They throw me in a room with a male nurse and tell me to take off all of my clothing. He inspects my body. They go through my belongings and take away anything that can be used to hurt myself. My parents hold back tears as they are guided out of the hospital.
“Welcome to Silver Hill.” A female nurse is talking to me. “Would you like a journal?”
“Most kids like to journal in this unit. It can help.”
This is when I start writing poetry. When I have no one to talk to, I write. I know the words that flow from my pen understand me more than any human ever will. I spend one week in the hospital, terrified by the thought that I could be going insane. When I finally get out, I am so happy to have personal freedom that I convince myself that I beat depression. The fog evaporates.
I didn’t struggle with depression all throughout high school and then decide to take my life senior year. It was also not something that happened quickly near the end of my high school career. Depression sneaks up on you. It starts with a single thought or experience and then slowly begins to manipulate your life. The fog is almost beautiful, but then it covers everything until you can’t remember what it was like to live with clarity.
Here is how depression sneaked up on me:
It’s spring of my junior year. I am studying for my advanced chemistry and statistics exams. I like science. It is simple—honest and true, systematic and distracting. But I begin to struggle with unbearable pain. I begin to ache for something more complex, forgiving, and creative than science. Around the same time, I think it would be a good idea to start attending typical high school parties. I have a friend who is on the state executive board for a service club who plans parties for the entire state organization. We charge five dollars at the door, raising enough to pay for our alcohol and her parents’ hotel room for the night, with enough left over for charity.
I sit on the couch, drinking from a bottle and washing down the taste with soda. The liquids mix in my mouth before sliding down my throat and polluting the contents of my stomach.
“Hey, Rob! How have you been?” Nick stood taller, darker, and more attractive than my slouched, slowed self.
“Great.” I stand up and start walking to the bathroom. I turn and flash a smile to let him know that it’s nothing personal. I close the door behind me and count to thirty before flushing the toilet. There isn’t anything about social interactions that gives me anxiety; I would just rather enjoy the numbness on my own. Only one thought is able to withstand the smothering effects of alcohol: in just a few hours, everyone will leave and I will face sobriety.
“Can I get in?” Avery’s eyes lock onto mine.
“Oh yeah, sorry.” I am standing in front of the bathroom door.
“Why are you standing here anyway?”
“I just, uhm, used it and didn’t feel like going back into the crowd.”
I stare back into his blue eyes. His face is sharp and bold, his hair brown. His mouth curves up and he seems genuinely interested in me. I stutter. He slides past me and closes the door.
Hours pass and people start to file out of the house. I notice that Kimberly, a secretary for Montville Key Club, is missing. I look in all of the bedrooms but find nothing. Finally, I realize that she could be sick and decide to push open the door to the bathroom on the first floor. I see Avery rubbing Kim’s back as she is sitting on the floor, leaning over the toilet. Max pushes past my shoulder and walks into the bathroom. He helps Kimberly up and walks her to a bedroom upstairs, instructing Avery and me to clean the bathroom. Avery pulls me into the room and locks the door.
“Come on, Rob! Help me clean!” Avery stumbles around the bathroom, grabbing onto my arm and rubbing up against me.
I start to feel a heat radiate from his gaze into my eyes. This gaze sucks the breath out of my lungs and I fall back against the door, reaching behind me for the handle. I unlock the door and leave Avery behind to clean. I fall asleep on a couch and leave before anyone wakes up.
The heat I felt between Avery and me begins to control my thoughts, so school becomes my cover and my escape. I hide behind piles of textbooks and homework assignments. I spend the week compiling research that I turn into speeches, spending my entire Saturday debating and Sunday recovering. Debate is both a coping mechanism and a microcosm of my crisis—if I can turn a plethora of statistics into a coherent argument, then how hard can it be to take a maelstrom of emotion and turn it into something more rational? The problem is that some emotions might be better off muffled in the mix rather than singled out and worried about. When my friends start to notice this shift in my personality, they begin to distance themselves. My girlfriend can’t handle my depression, yet I assume that it’s my fault she is in so much pain. I take full responsibility for the problems that tear us apart. I don’t want to face these feelings and instead become so numb that I would do anything to feel again.
It’s one thing to play around with death—driving recklessly, drinking a little too much, cutting up my arms and legs. But once you start to really want death, to desire death more than life, you cross a line that is almost impossible to ignore. These feelings are so powerful that they begin to control my thoughts. I stop believing that I exist, that these feelings could exist—there must be some power behind all of this pain. I begin to believe that my life is one big experiment and that some higher being is inflicting this pain onto me. I really just need someone to blame and some way to rationalize the entropy that becomes my reality. I spend the rest of my junior year taste-testing various psychiatrists, trying to find a medication that works—none would.
There is a type of exhaustion that sneaks up on you every Sunday. That type of ‘I just had a terrible week and this break is so nice and now I have to start another terrible week’ exhaustion sneaks up on me, but it is just too much to handle on one particular Sunday night. So I break into my mom’s purse and take out six Xanax pills, placing them into a plastic bag. I carry this bag with me everywhere. It makes me feel safe and comfortable—I have a way out if I need one.
I decide to start off senior year with another party. This one is shorter than the first, dying down around midnight, leaving behind the few of us who are sleeping over. I grab a blanket and pillow to sleep on the floor when Avery joins me.
“Do you mind if I share the blanket with you?” He locks his eyes onto mine. The heat between us returns. He slides his hand into mine and we kiss.
College is a new start, or at least that’s what I begin to tell myself. After getting deferred from early decision to regular decision consideration, I am destroyed—I think that deferral is their polite way of rejecting me. I was a good student, but not good enough. I begin to fall with the snow that winter, deep into a fast-paced depression. And it worsens as I start to come out as bisexual to family and friends. My turbulent relationships spiral out of control and I am left feeling exhausted and worthless.
What starts as moderate mood swings develops into a deep depression that begins to consume my life. It is like the first time I rode a bike: some contrived contentment holding onto the seat as I start peddling away, only to find myself cycling on my own, catching speed, unable to stop. This is my first major depressive episode, and soon enough I would be riding the bicycle of depression everywhere.
So this is how it all starts with fog—consuming the lake, my car, my soul. I’m deferred from Dartmouth and from the start of a new life. I’m falling with the snow but it’s so hidden in darkness that no one can see it until the next morning when the damage is done—when the ground is sparkling white, when I lie unresponsive after a Xanax overdose.
Robert Del Mauro is currently a student at Dartmouth College. He enjoys writing poetry, watching the rain, and drinking large cups of coffee. He hopes to make a difference with his writing. His poetry can be found in Emerge Literary Journal, Third Wednesday, Eunoia Review, and Foliate Oak. He is also a Pushcart Prize nominee.