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Slaying the Dragon of Depression

Just a few years ago, when my mouth was still awkward and crowded with braces, one tenth-grade English teacher asked me who I was. Not what I did or what I liked. Not who I loved. But who I was. I paused. Every bit of fluff that flew into my mind seemed fragmented.

I could not answer then. My response spanned fifteen pages of tiny portals into my mind that I hoped when jumbled all together might tell some truth of who I was. I needed the coherence of time and consideration to capture my core and put it on paper.

It is in fact a fierce joy and a joyful ferocity.

It is joyful, welling up and rolling me out of bed, chipper at the first signs of light. It flies beneath my feet and urges me to prance. It bubbles out across the soccer field and consumes books like ice cream. It is why I always wear neon and pick yellow flowers for my hair and smile too much.

It is fierce, spewing about in feisty debates. It loathes lazing around. It competes in scrabble and sports with ecstasy. It falls in love eagerly. It dreams awake and almost drowns in ambition. It always seeks to see more deeply.

Now that I had named it, I moved to match it with a future. What dragon would I focus my force to slay? In a small classroom, at the hoarse and inspired edges of a professor’s lecture on disease, I suddenly saw a beast with the power to wash away our essence. Disease empties us and tends to leave us all alone, for almost everyone lives with an aura of immunity. Even just before a fall or falling ill, we believe we are the healthy. It is others who are the sick. Them. The weak. We. We are invincible. We are the dragon slayers.

So I began my quest to defeat disease. I saw stricken and screaming children and cancerous grandmas. I stroked a clammy hand in the back of a panicked ambulance. I caught the shadow of the dragon. In labs and hospitals, through TED talks, and during office hours, I grasped one single certainty. I would wield my joyful ferocity to heal.

And then, just as I could feel it – both my essence and my purpose – something broke.

It started so quietly, I barely noticed. It was the end of a scorching summer. By August, I ached to begin my junior year at UNC — to spring onto my soccer field, to take crisp color-coded notes, and to rediscover my home in the hugs of my best friend.

Finally, I arrived. Just two weeks after my glorious return, I woke to warm tendrils of sun creeping onto my face. I groaned and rolled over. The covers came over my head and I could not tell you what went on in class that day. There were no rainbow charts bringing beauty to mysterious anatomic structures. And later that week, I felt grumpy – a wholly unfamiliar prickle of frustration with nothing sat upon my shoulders. I shook it off, but it sunk heavier.

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