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Hannah Heath: The Name is Depression

I was twelve years old when my hands stopped working properly.

At the time, I didn't realize what a tough road was ahead of me. I thought perhaps I'd hurt my hands by writing too much. Surely, the pain and stiffness would go away. My fine motor skills would return. Everything would go back to normal.

But they didn't. They started getting worse.

At thirteen, my entire body hurt and I was tired all of the time. And I wasn't the only one in my family who was struggling: My dad started to experience chronic pain, too, and my mom wasn't feeling very good, either.

At fourteen, the problems were still there, but more numerous and more intense. I grew angry. Angry that I was in constant pain. Angry that the doctors couldn't tell me what was wrong. Angry that I couldn't surf or work out or do any of the things I use to love doing.

And with the anger came a new kind of pain. A deep, soul-wrenching kind of anguish that I couldn't express. My family wasn't as active or as joyful as we used to be, and I couldn't wrap my mind around why this was happening to us. I struggled to connect with people my age as they went about their pain-free lives, and I assumed that meant there was something wrong with me. My running shoes were gathering dust in the closet, and I had no proof that anything was ever going to be okay again.

But I was fourteen. I didn't know how to articulate any of the hurt in my heart. All I felt—all I could really express—was anger.

My running shoes were gathering dust in the closet, and I had no proof that anything was ever going to be okay again.

"A bad attitude." That's what my parents thought it was. This mislabelling wasn’t their fault, and I did not (and still do not) blame them for it. After all, a bad attitude was as close as I could come to explaining it myself. I felt yucky all the time. Like something was trying to eat its way out of me and strangle everyone in my vicinity. That's a bad attitude, right? A lack of gratitude for the good things in my life? A rebellion against all of the love and attention my family had for me? Yeah. That's what it was. It had to be. I had no information that indicated otherwise.

I tried to suppress the yuck and the rage. After all, being angry is bad. It's not helpful or wholesome. It's something to lock away until you can find a way to quietly get rid of it.

Four years later, I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It's a beautiful story about a young boy who struggles to cope with the grief, anger, and guilt that he feels as he watches his mother die of cancer.

One scene in particular hit me very, very hard. It made me stop and realize:


I have depression.

I've struggled with it since I was twelve years old.

I just hadn't had a name for it up until then. I'd always thought that depression was Sadness with a capital S. A long, tired thing that makes you want to curl up in bed and cry.

But A Monster Calls showed me otherwise. It showed me that depression isn't always Sadness, especially not for pre-teens and teens. It can present as anger. Guilt. Shame. It can take the form of a messy tangle of emotions that sits in your chest, trying to suffocate you until all you want to do is scream.

And you know what? Screaming is okay. As the mother in A Monster Calls says, "You be as angry as you need to be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise....And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard."

When I read that piece of dialogue, a rare feeling settled over me: Relief.

Because there it was. The thing that nobody had told me. The thing nobody knew to tell me because none of us knew the name of the monster I was dealing with. Not me. Not my parents. None of us knew that the "bad attitude" was actually depression, and that depression isn't a thing to be pushed down and locked up inside.

If I was angry, it was okay. I didn't have to be ashamed of it, and I most certainly didn’t have to try to pretend it didn’t exist. Because you know what? Having your perceived future ripped away at the age of twelve? Watching your family slog through doctor's appointment after doctor's appointment to no avail? Finally being diagnosed with Lyme disease long after any treatment has any real shot at working?

That'll mess with a person. Especially a young person who doesn’t have the tools or the knowledge to cope.

Finally learning my monster’s name had a huge impact on my mentality. It helped me breathe, move forward, and slowly learn to let go of my anger by acknowledging it and embracing it head-on.

Learning my monster's name had a huge impact on my mentality.

I look back at all of this and am so incredibly grateful that there are authors out there who, like Patrick Ness, are writing brave, accurate depictions of juvenile depression. There wasn't enough of that when I was a kid, and I rest easier knowing that other children and parents can figure things out a little sooner than I did.

So thank you to all of you writers who are working to give children and teens a place to honestly explore issues that have too long been hidden in the shadows. You are making the world just a little brighter with each word you put on the page.

Hannah Heath is a Christian author and hopeless bookworm. As somebody who fights chronic Lyme disease, she knows that life can be hard sometimes. Because of this, she makes it a point to write stories of struggle and strength, of darkness and light. She is passionate about disability advocacy and works to populate speculative fiction with disabled heroes going on magical adventures.

When Hannah isn't studying nutrition at college, hosting the Phoenix Fiction Writers Podcast, or spending time with family, you can find her on her website, twitter, or instagram.


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