I’m like. Like. I’m like a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?
I’m a grenade. I just want to stay away from people and read books and think and be with you guys because there’s nothing I can do about hurting you; you’re too invested, so just please let me do that, okay?
— Hazel Grace Lancaster, in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
In TFIOS, Hazel Grace often refers to how Peter van Houten’s book An Imperial Affliction seems to speak directly to her, putting into words things she has thought and struggled with before. In a way, John Green’s book is to me what AIA is to Hazel Grace. Not that I am having to deal with cancer–at least, not in the physical sense. What I am beginning to deal with, though, (unless I have struggled with it for many years without realizing it) is depression.
Depression to me is very much like a cancer of the soul. It often strikes people without partiality toward age, gender, race, or lifestyle. It begins in different ways, brought about sometimes by traceable causes, sometimes by apparent random chance. It can easily become a defining characteristic that clearly sets someone off from others. A lot of the things that John Green says about cancer through TFIOS resoundingly echo things I have heard and have thought about depression in my own social circles.
Why do I bring this up? Why do I choose a quote about grenades? Because it fits me perfectly. I do not like to talk about my own struggles for a few reasons. Here they are (in no particular order of importance):
1) I don’t want to pull down others by making them worry about me. Like Hazel Grace, I’m reluctant to truly open myself up because I want to reduce the baggage that will be caused if those friendships break for any reason, whether it be that something I am dealing with becoming too much for me or my friend, that distance and time come in between us, or that I burn bridges or create walls that push friends away.
I don’t want others to be wounded in my battles. The images of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors when we see how many lives have been lost in their cause have always stuck with me. In the one scene from Journey’s End, Davros’ taunt of the Doctor resonates:
The Doctor, the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.
So many have given themselves to keep the Doctor alive and moving that the Doctor cannot bear to think back on them. I never want to be in such a place. I never want to know that I pulled others into the way of my own troubles and dangers to their detriment. That is one of my greatest fears.
2) I rarely see my own troubles as being worth complaining about before others. So many times in the last couple of years it seems like I will come to the point of wanting to speak up about something that’s getting me down…only for God to make me aware of something in someone else’s life much worse than whatever I’m dealing with. I don’t have a job lined up, or I don’t like the one I’m in now? Well, I know people who either can’t get jobs or are struggling to get a good permanent job. I’m lonely because I don’t feel at home anymore in the dorm I’m in? At least I have a family back home that I can return to during break without interpersonal conflicts flaring up. I’m struggling with motivation and joy on some days? Ha–I have at least two other friends who deal with depression on a much more regular basis than I do. I’m not even all that badly off despite having 17 credits, 2 part-time jobs, and several other side responsibilities to keep up with. I don’t technically have to be working–I’m still in one of those jobs only because I can’t pull out at the moment without dumping a project into likely oblivion for the next several months. But I know people who have to work in order to even come here to my college. Put into perspective, my own issues don’t really seem big at all. Why should I take the time to “get help” when there are others I know who I feel could use it much more than I could right now?
3) I don’t want to be defined by my struggles. As I read TFIOS, I can’t help noticing the sly jabs that Hazel Grace makes at the ideas of “Cancer Perks” (people doing nice things just for someone who has cancer) and of being a “professionally sick person.” I don’t want my friendships to become defined by “Depression Perks,” with my friends making special efforts to help me “get back up on my feet.” I don’t want to be a “professionally busy person,” with my lifestyle and relationships being reducible to a routine defined by constant activity. I am supremely reluctant to talk about my struggles because I don’t want them to be what are constantly and primarily associated with me.
These are just three of my reasons for not sharing about myself very much. They are the primary ones, and there are many others. I hope they makes things clearer in this area of why I am so reticent about my own struggles. I know I have plenty of friends who will tell me that helping me is something they would love to do, and I know that I can depend on them to help me without it needing to be a source of fear or shame for me, but there is often a disconnect (in all of us) between head and heart. I am a long ways from being comfortable with sharing my own issues with most of my friends, but hopefully God will someday make it easier for me to just pull the pin out and be open to letting myself fall apart and blow up in the presence of my friends.
It’s easy for some people to talk about what they are afraid of, what they need help with. Those are people I respect very much. But for people like me, living with this fear of being the grenade, leaving shrapnel embedded in my friends, it is hard to become comfortable with doing so. And that’s something I need to learn is OK–sometimes God puts us through pain and destruction to make something new and beautiful in our lives.