The Gray Haze

By: CJ Melendez

The first time that I could remember that disgusting feeling of being enveloped by some sort of gray haze — later identified as anxiety-induced depression — I was in high school. I don’t recall exactly when I started to feel it, but it was related to a mix of general teenage stress and coming to terms with being attracted to people of my same gender. Teenagers usually stress about discovering who they are, but coming to terms with a sexuality deemed less-than-normal adds a little bit to the punch bowl of confusion and anxiety. While that time was probably my worst experience with depression, it wasn’t my first. I wish I could say that I had received a lot of help from friends or family, but that little trial was one I faced alone.

The feelings which I’ve experienced, as have many, can be described as a shroud of doubt that blankets the mind. Doubt whether things will be OK. Doubt whether you’re normal, can be normal, or ever will be. Anxiety is stress on a finer, damaging, scale; it turns anything and everything into a confusing and overbearing feeling. Once it has its way for long enough, it allows something worse to take hold of your mind.

Anxiety has two forms, and at the risk of making a goofy video game analogy, it’s much like a boss monster; one form goes down and the final, stronger form is revealed. While the first form is weaker, more of a passive threat to my well-being and one that makes me vulnerable to further harm, the second form – depression – is the bigger threat. Depression is something that I’ve faced twice in my life. Despite our battles ending with me as the victor, it’s an ever-present part of my life, always at risk of returning if I lower my mental defenses.

While high school was my first encounter with anxiety, which led to depression, my first semester of college was unfortunately my second. In an effort to grow as a person and find some independence, I decided to go away for school. I shipped myself to a school three hours away from home, dorming in a place that I’ve never been to with no one that I knew. As you can expect, it wasn’t especially easy for me to adapt. I am, much to my disadvantage, a bit of a shy person; it’s hard for me to approach people in the quest to become friends. I often hope that new people that I meet will notice this so that they can help me remove that shell – a little coaxing to help me feel comfortable to be myself, and strip away the shyness that’s preventing that.

I didn’t do so well with making great friends at my college, and I don’t blame anyone but myself. This a personal struggle that I’m still working on and I think I’m making an effort to separate myself from it as time moves on. I’m actively striving to feel more comfortable with new people so that my first impression is not a poor and shy one. While I was miles away from home and my friends, with the anxiety of school and loneliness slowly opening cracks for depression to seep through, I had one way to escape and keep myself in good spirits: video games.

The internet quality was poor, but several times a week, myself and few friends from home would gather on Xbox Live and tell jokes, chit-chat, and jump into a few multiplayer games. My favorite game to unwind in was Grand Theft Auto IV. There were no set objectives, just some casual fun in the game’s free mode – where myself and friends would explore a virtual New York City, a somewhat substitute for being away from my home in the real New York City. We’d do such fun things as create home bases and invite other players to try and take us down. Or we would look for new bugs and glitches that could be used to scare people. There were no teams and there was no winning, so forgive me for sometimes playing unfairly! I also developed quite the skill for flying helicopters, which I hear are hard to maneuver for most players.

The friends I played with were not aware of how I was feeling at the time or how our gaming was cathartic for me. They were there for me even though they weren’t aware of it. But don’t congratulate me for getting through depression alone, no one should. It’s a constant, up-hill battle and doing it alone – having no one know how you’re feeling – does nothing positive for you. I learned through experience that keeping these feelings inside for so long only worked against me. Video games were my escape, but they’re no substitute for seeking help, whether that is from a friend or a professional. If things are feeling bad, seek help from both. Even just a casual chat with a friend can lighten your mood. That’s why when I see friends hurting from the same influence, the same creature, that I have faced multiple times, I reach out. Even if someone refuses to accept my help or my ear, reinforcing that someone cares about him or her takes no time and I do it compulsively, because it’s what I would have wanted in my darkest moments.

Whether you’re reading this as an anxiety or depression sufferer, or someone that cares about someone with either, remember that no one should endure it alone. Reach out, seek help, and feel better. It’s true when they say, “it’s dangerous to go alone,” so don’t do it.