Every morning, senior Evan Rose repeats the same saying. It’s tacked on his bulletin board, right above his bed. It’s his daily prayer, his mantra.
God, give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, serenity to change those I can, and wisdom to distinguish between the two.
Evan found the prayer his sophomore year, buried among the pages of “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, his first book of philosophy. He was a 16-year-old with a brand new prescription of antidepressants whose life was consumed with numbness. For almost five years, Evan had tried to hide his depression, stifling it throughout the day as he surrounded himself with friends, letting it tear him apart each night.
Then Evan found his prayer.
“I remember just becoming overwhelmingly angry at my depression,” Evan said. “I started waking up every day feeling like I was going into a dogfight. And I wanted to just hit my depression in the face to make it go away. I wanted to win.”
It started in fifth grade. Depression was a fog that slowly rolled into Evan’s mind, coating him in a gray indifference and distancing him from his friends and family. He cried often, came home from school and dissolved into a mess of tears and anxiety.
“I started worrying a lot when I was in fifth grade,” Evan said. “I started to question things, like ‘Is there a God?’ or ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ and I was way too young to comprehend that, to even think about those kind of things. It made me anxious, all the time. I didn’t understand my own life.”
The depression clung to Evan in middle school. He was constantly afraid that it would leak out, that he would cry in front of his friends. So he perfected a mask, a disguise — how to smile, how to joke and make fun of his friends, how to avert attention from himself.
Evan stopped spending time at his house. He did homework with friends, ate dinner with friends, played video games with them and slept at their houses. He was afraid of being alone, so he refused to spend any time on his own. And whenever he was with other people, he wore his mask — happy, cheerful, funny. Fake.
“It was home,” Evan said. “I felt so at home in this mask, because it gave me the ability to actually function. But at the same time, I knew that it wasn’t me. It was so fake to who I was, so wrong, and underneath all of it I was still the same scared little kid.”
When he was alone, his mind turned in on itself. Depression became an overwhelming pressure each night, crushing his mind with unnecessary questions.
And that’s when Evan began to think about killing himself.
He never dealt with specifics, never considered where or when or how. He loved his parents, his friends too much to die. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. But thinking about suicide made Evan feel in control.
“There was this feeling, this understanding that I could end it all if I wanted to,” Evan said. “And I never tried. I never would have. But I had power over that, and having power over my death kept me going through a lot of nights.”
Freshman year, his mom sent him to therapy. It didn’t work. Evan hated trying to assign words to his emotions. He stayed in therapy for a three months, just to please his parents. After that, Evan quit therapy — but he was newly prescribed with __, an antidepressant aimed at curbing the chemical causes of his depression.
“That was when everything started to change for me,” Evan said. “I realized that I have to put meaning into life. I have to wake up every day and find a purpose for myself. It’s not going to come to me; it’s going to be something I go find and create and explore.”
Evan began to find solace in philosophical writings, such as the work of Lao Tzu. They answered the questions that had plagued him since fifth grade — about the purpose of life and the existence of a god — and at the same time, they helped him find purpose in daily life.
His attitude towards his depression began to change. Before, it had overwhelmed him. Now, it started to piss him off.
“You get to a certain point, and this has been your life for years, and you just say, ‘Enough,’” Evan said. “It took awhile to overcome, but I was just so mad. I fought it every day. I fought it every day until it was gone, for good.”
It took over two years years of forcing himself out of bed, of distancing himself from negative friends, of reading and reflecting and pushing away depressive thoughts. But after two years, Evan defeated his depression.
It was a slow process, and a daily one. He realized that when he wore a mask over his depression, he was constantly trying to please others. He became adept at faking laughs, at poking fun at people to stay popular with people he wasn’t sure he liked.
To defeat his depression, Evan stopped faking it. He stopped allowing shallow relationships to dominate his life. He spent more time alone, yet in the process he felt less lonely.
He found success in little things. Having an honest discussion with a friend late at night. Reading a new book of philosophy and finding peace with a new part of his life.
And he stayed angry at his depression. He approached it like a battle, throwing punches at the thoughts that used to send him into suicidal spirals. He kept swinging until he felt positive, until he went days without anxiety. He kept fighting until he was free.
Now, as a senior preparing for college, Evan feels like he can finally take his mask off. He’s spent seven years wearing it, learning how to smother his emotions and his personality.
And finally, he’s getting used to being himself.
“I feel great,” Evan said. “I feel strong. I feel brave. I love life. I live for myself more, now, but I also live for others. And I feel like, for the first time, I don’t have to worry. I’m finally myself, and I couldn’t be happier.”