When I first saw you experience anxiety and depression, you could not name it. Maybe you thought if you didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t be real. Maybe you thought you had to be strong for us, to pretend that things were okay, that you weren’t hurting inside.
You never had to say it out loud for me to see it. The light had left you. You felt no peace. There was only melancholy, which was periodically interrupted by a cacophony of alarming thoughts, racing and rattling around in your head. I could see how your being felt hollow and heavy at the same time, the way your eyes became red and swollen from night after sleepless night.
I went through my days like it was normal, going to school, and coming home to see my ghost of a father withering away at the kitchen table, or missing from the evening entirely. How could I ignore it, when I saw how after months of this, mom had to trick you into seeing a psychiatrist; when I saw how you argued about the medicine, even flushing it down the toilet; how you insisted, desperately that you were fine.
Although I could not ignore it, I knew I was not supposed to mention it. I felt bound by that unspoken oath of silence we take at a young age when we are taught about the weight of the eyes of our community.
I could have lost you, the same way you lost your father.
Some years after, there came a point when you almost lost me, and I think back now, knowing it didn’t have to be this way for us. We felt like we needed to pretend, that we had no other choice. We thought that we could will away what we felt if we were strong enough. We both suffered in silence because we were convinced that these challenges were meant for us to face alone. We curled inward, swimming farther away from land when we found ourselves drowning; when we tried to come up for air, we felt the shame and stigma from our communities, like weights tied to our ankles.
I want to build a better community for the both of us, for the grandfather I never got to meet, for my friends, my neighbors, for all those who have lost someone they love to the silence. Silence is a painfully heavy burden to carry, and maybe breaking that silence is an even heavier one, but if no one does, we will find more and more of us feeling alone in a crowded room. Maybe the oath we take as children should be to use our voices to help one another — because we are stronger together.