“Today I am so sad that I feel like I will never be happy again,” read the cautious cursive letters in my old diary. The date was exactly five years ago.
I remember that day. I remember crying in my college dorm room, clutching my pillow, wishing I could just go back to sleep and not wake up again until the pain was gone. Wondering how my heart would ever feel whole again. College can seem like the most inconvenient time to be depressed. There’s always something you need to be doing. Always another homework assignment waiting on the desk. Always another meeting on the schedule.
That day was the first time I sunk that low, but it wasn’t the last. As time went on, I would learn that what comes after college also feels like the worst possible time to be depressed. I would learn that there is never a good time to be sad because we never want to be sad. Not that kind of sad. Sometimes we want to cry, sure, so we turn on a sad movie. But we never ask to be so completely deep in the sea of sadness that we don’t know which way to go to reach the surface. We never ask to feel that out of control. Us humans, we like control.
Yes, it’s true that day five years ago was a new low point for me. But it was also the first time I looked at the words that had spilled out of me onto the page and decided I would do everything in my power to stop feeling that way. It was the first time I picked myself up, the first time I started swimming because even finding out that I was going the wrong way would be better than just continuing to sink— continuing to drown.
And the funny thing is, when I’m not looking at this diary, I don’t think back on the last five years and see the bad. I don’t look back on it as the time when I struggled with emotions I had never expected to feel, had my heart broken time and time again, and lost people I never thought I’d lose. I look back on the last five years of my life and I see all the reasons I had to be happy. I see the joy of finding that love could enter my life again. I see the good memories I had before the goodbyes. I see the journey during which I learned to conquer my anxieties and depression instead of letting them conquer me. I look back on the last five years and my chest swells with pride because look at me now. Look how far I’ve come from thinking happiness had become unattainable.
There’s a knock at the door behind me. I close the diary and slip it into the desk drawer. Turning around, I find my mother standing in the doorway, looking at me with such a pure smile on her face. Her eyes glisten with tears of joy.
“It’s time, sweetheart,” she says.
I look down at my hands, folded in my lap, resting on a sea of white. On one hand, a diamond full of promises sparkles with hope. On the other, a small daisy on a tarnished silver band reminds me of the promise I made to myself so long ago. The promise to always keep swimming.
I wish I could go back to the girl who wrote those words, that broken cry for help, for some sort of sign that she was wrong, and tell her it would get better. Tell her that, in five years, she would be wearing the prettiest dress she had ever seen, getting ready to walk down an aisle lined with everyone she loved. And maybe the person standing at the end of that aisle wasn’t the one she had desperately wished would come back to her, or the one she had fallen in love with next, or the next, but the person standing at the end of that aisle was so deeply worth the wait. Maybe the guest list wasn’t exactly what she would have predicted back then, but now she couldn’t imagine it being any other group of people. I wish I could have told her that she had what it takes to keep on swimming and swimming until she found a future worth continuing to live for. And that no matter what sadness the future holds, it would hold happinesses sevenfold. That you only learn how happy you can be once you’ve seen how sad you can be. Thankfully, I had other people there who could say it for me, even if I wasn’t ready to believe it yet back then.
As I step up to the door that leads to my future, my father takes my arm and says, “You ready?”
I smile like I never have before, I smile for all the past versions of myself that couldn’t remember how, I smile for all the times I picked myself up off the bathroom floor, for all the times I decided to keep swimming. I smile and I smile and I know someday I won’t feel like smiling, but for today, I don’t have to think about that. Because today I am ready to be happy.