Creative writing stories about depression
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The Shadow Man: A Short Story about Depression
I wrote the following short story as a submission for a creative writing class several years ago. It illustrates the cycle of depression. The story makes depression sound more … inevitable and less in my control than I have realized it is through therapy and experience. But I still want to share it.
The Shadow Man
A man follows me.
Tall and thick, he is forced to shop in the big and tall stores and chooses long, dark coats; dark, heavy jeans; and tall, black work boots. He is always shrouded in darkness, merely a silhouette. His face is always hidden, not by a hood, but as if his features cannot reflect light. I’ve never seen his eyes, his nose, or his lips, and I imagine that his face is not a face, but rather a plain of smooth skin devoid of facial features that somehow sees, smells, whispers, laughs, breathes, tastes, and feels.
I cannot request a restraining order for this man. I cannot run from him. I cannot barricade myself behind a locked door, for this man is not truly a man, but a manifestation of darkness that lives inside of me, a black shadow so deep that it sucks the light and the warmth out of my surroundings.
Sometimes he walks behind me, always within reach, but not interfering. These are the moments that I am happiest, the moments that I can almost be normal, but his presence alone will taint everything I do or say, the anticipation of his touch and voice rips away any happiness I can feel.
Other times he envelopes me, surrounds me with a dark blanket that shades the bright blue sky, the yellow sun, the greenest trees with a dim coat of black. These moments of my life are marked with sharpened charcoal instead of colored pencils. It dims my routine, my heart, my marriage, my friendships, my emotions. In these moments, I walk through everyday with a blank, distant visage, while in my mind, hissing screams as he whispers to me, fighting his hold on me.
My own hold on me.
He whispers, with a hoarse throat, every berating word all at once. The fault always lies with me. I am never good enough. I should have known better. As ethereal as a shadow, but his blows are worst than any man’s. He punches with sorrow, slaps with guilt, and kicks with loneliness. I drown in emotion more real, more terrifying than the muddiest of waters.
Because at least I can escape water by either breaking the surface or drowning.
I cannot escape him.
He holds me under with hands as real as a wisp of smoke, but as strong as steel, defying all the physical laws devised by Newton and Einstein. I choke on thick emotions, unable to breathe or see. I flail blindly, scratching, and hitting, but eventually I tire not only from exhaustion, but also from his familiarity. Like an old lover, he caresses with strokes more familiar than the problems which materialize him. Only then do I give in and embrace him, the visceral shadow that lives inside of me. At these moments, I am strangely at peace, the two sides of me finally converged into one.
I am always fighting; ever since I was born, this shadow man has followed me. I am accustomed to the fight. So the peace jars me with its wrongness, its unfamiliarity.
I pull out of the darkness. I scream at the dark man and scramble to the surface of the emotional water. I notice the bright sky, the warm sun, the colorful flowers, my partner’s green eyes, and my friends’ laughter. I startle the shadow man with the light, and he dissipates for a few days.
But he returns to pace behind me.
Because you cannot escape yourself.
Again, there is some choice involved in depression. It is a hard plan to stick to because of how depression isolates you and robs you of energy, but creating good habits and participating in therapy can increase the number of high moments and decrease the number of low moments. For tips on how to get by in the meantime, check out my post for depressed introverts. For a similar creative endeavor, check out my short story with my depression reflected in the imagery.
A Short Story About Depression
As I was recalling these events I heard a knock at the door — it was my mother.
For my writing class, my professor challenged the class to write a fictional story about something important to us. I thought for a little while about what is important to me, and then it hit me. I should write about a battle with depression. I know a lot of people don’t like talking about it so I knew people may find it interesting. I hope this story helps give perspective to those who do not suffer from depression or maybe even help someone with depression. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. And remember, it gets better.
I woke up to my alarm clock around 8:30 a.m., the third of the five alarms I had set. I turned the alarm off and looked around my room. Nothing had changed in the three days I had been in bed. My fan continued to blow cold, stale air in my direction, just hard enough to cause my hair to move. A heart-shaped sandwich that my mother had made two days before sat untouched on my dresser. It was staring back at me, almost begging me to get out of bed to eat it. However, I knew I wasn’t getting up, not even if I wanted to. I had not been out of bed since I got back from the doctor’s office. I thought about the appointment I had as I glanced at the pill bottle I was given, which still sat unopened next to my bed. I thought about the bandages on my wrists as the doctor talked with my parents and me in her office.
“Depression” is the only word I could hear before I tune the conversation out once again. I only remember feeling my mother and father each taking my hand and squeezing it, telling me “everything is going to be OK.”
As I was recalling these events I heard a knock at the door — it was my mother. She entered the room with a kind of forced smile on her face and walked over to my bed and sat down. I saw that she too made a glance toward the untouched pill bottle, and reached for it. I knew what she wanted me to do, but I wanted no part of it. She extended her hand towards me with a pill clenched in an almost fist. I stared at her for a while and saw as her eyes were almost pleading with me to take the pill.
I did not want to take it but I did, for the sake of my mother I opened my mouth and pretended to swallow the pill with a swig of water, my mother stared at me with a smile as if she expected it would take effect instantly. But I simply took the pill in my hand and threw it in the trash when she wasn’t looking. My mother gave me a hug and a smile and then left my room, closing the door carefully behind her. I didn’t like lying to my mother, but if I fake taking the pills we will both get what we want. She is taking this all especially hard because she has seen how bad it could get. When my mother was a teenager she walked in on my aunt half-drowned in a bathtub with her wrists slit open. My aunt had never told anyone about the way she was feeling until they read the suicide note. So if it meant faking it for my mother’s sake, I would do it. I looked at the clock and saw that it was only 10 a.m., I had been up for an hour and a half and I already needed a nap. So I grabbed my sheets and threw them over my head, as if I were trying to hide from reality, and went to sleep.
The next thing I knew I was being shaken awake by someone, but I couldn’t tell who. As I opened my eyes I saw a dark shadow over me and it sang the words “Good morning sunshine” right in my face. I shot up immediately and looked at my old friend standing in my dark room and I was so happy to see him. I had rejected everyone that had tried to come and see me since my incident, but it was good to see him. We both sat on the edge of my bed and talked as if nothing had ever happened. We talked about sports, girls, school, everything you can think of, we covered it. It reminded me of the times before I felt so low and helpless. Before I would even think about taking my own life.
It was odd, but no matter how happy I seemed to him I knew he could tell I wasn’t doing well.
We were watching Sports Center when I heard him take a deep breath before he asked the question, “What happened to you?” I didn’t have the courage to look at him as my eyes began to fill with tears. I avoided going into detail about how my brother had found me passed out in the kitchen with both of my wrists slit, I didn’t have the stomach for it. So instead I shrugged my shoulders and whispered: “I don’t know, I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
He looked at me with a slight frown and inhaled deeply. He opened his mouth but no words came out, almost like he was waiting for the words to come out on their own. “Why didn’t you ever tell anyone?” he finally asked. I sat quietly for a few seconds before I muttered: “I didn’t think anyone would care.” I could tell he was staring right at me without even looking at him. “That’s crazy!” he finally said, “You have plenty of people who care about you.” I shook my head slightly in disagreement. It was hard for me to hear that someone actually cared about me, no matter how much I wanted to believe it.
He put his arm around me and said, “Everyone deals with this type of pain at some point, maybe not on a clinical level, but other people know how this feels too.” Again I remained silent. “I know things seem bad right now, but you have an opportunity to try and get back to the old you,” he said.
I knew he was right, but I didn’t want to believe him.
“You mean by taking those pills,” I mumbled, he just looked at me and said “Yes, a lot of people did not have the opportunity to make it as far as you have. They didn’t get the opportunity to get help with their problems. Do you realize you could be dead right now? Do you realize you have a chance to get better? You have the opportunity to get treatment and get yourself back to normal and be happy again. Even if you don’t believe it for yourself, believe it for the sake of the people that care about you. Your little brother doesn’t have anyone to play catch with, your mother cooks dinner by herself, and your father watches the games alone in the basement. Your classmates miss you, and your teachers worry about what happened to you.”
I sat there in thought, for what seemed like an eternity, about everything I had just heard. I thought about how the people I love were suffering too. It never occurred to me that my presence had such an impact on so many people. It felt an odd feeling come over me that I had not felt in quite some time, and my friend could tell. “See, ” he said with a smile, “You know that everything I’ve said is true. You matter more than you will ever know to so many people. And they all want to have the old you back. But most importantly I want back the old you.” After he said that he ruffled my hair, stood up, and began to walk towards the door. Before he could open the door I let out a tearful “Thank you, I miss you too.” It was then that he turned and stepped into the sunlight and I saw myself, almost as if I were looking in a mirror. The old me. He looked so happy to see me smiling, and I began to feel happiness for the first time in a long time. “I’m looking forward to seeing you soon” he as he closed the door behind him.
Almost as soon as the door closed the door re-opened with my mother on the other side. “Who are you talking to, dear?” she questioned. I paused for a moment then looked at her with a smile and said, “Oh nobody, just an old friend.” I rolled over to grab my pill bottle and inhaled deeply before popping it in my mouth and swallowing it. I knew nothing was going to happen instantly, but hey it’s a start. I knew that I was going to have to at least try and be happy because nothing can happen if I don’t make an effort. So with that, I got out of bed, for the first time in a few days, and went downstairs to have lunch with my family. My old friend was right, they did miss me.