I used to come home and think I was dying.

Before the medication, these attacks were a nightly ritual: have dinner, do homework, and writhe in a panic my 140-pound frame could not contain. For all that mental illness can be located in the brain—the misfiring of synapses, the failure of re-uptake, the words in a language that doesn’t match the fist around my throat—for me it has always been something much larger, a fog that does not so much whitewash the world as obliterate it entirely, out of which I must pull my consciousness before I am consumed. In this fog, friends vanish, priorities vanish, wishes and dreams flee like salt in the sand and I am left floating, a ghost in the dark, tendrils of could-have-dones and should-have-beens all that remain to tether me down.

Here is the thing that people don’t say: depression is a cancer that can’t be cut away. It is the pandemic stripping life from an ecosystem that nonetheless survives; the movie where the world ends, and the earth just goes on spinning. There is no locatable source, no limb to sever, no infection to contain—it is a part of me as integral as anything else. Shifting, perhaps, in meaning and intensity, waning with the ebb and flow of self-discovery—but a part nonetheless. Rejecting my depression means rejecting the rest of me too; decrying its existence becomes a condemnation of my own.

As my illness manifests like sores across my body, I can feel the pieces of myself fall away.

I fight through the night, and I wake feeling broken.

I see myself in fiction in ways that do not allow me to see myself: girls of paper skin and sparrow bones that go through so much worse than the worst I could imagine—but they have something that I don’t. They do not have to fight a ghost. Their agony manifests in the tricks of the trade—zombies and monsters and what goes bump in the night; symbolism, yes, but a symbol to tear, to rip and fight; a ghoul, not a ghost; a disaster to hold onto.

The characters we love are the ones we see in ourselves.

Or: they are the selves we wish to see.

All that matters is this: the same hands that lay railroad tracks across one’s wrist, spill out despair as one spills blood—they bring life. They do the laundry, and sing to the skies, and gentle a world of gore and knives. And they fight. And they lose. And they scrabble and strain and shift the dirt from their own grave and emerge as something stronger.

Not steel. Not stone.

Flesh. Blood. Tears and terror. A creature that feels, a creature that fears, a creature that rises and falls and dares and dreams.

A creature that breaks.

But here is something I know: breaking is not loss. Breaking is not dying.

It is life; just another kind of surviving.