It's dark where I am and quiet. It's just me breathing shallow, watching my breath become visible in the cool night air. It billows and vanishes like a gust of powdery snow and dissipates as if it were never there. People are looking for me in the night but they will never find me. I am the ghost in the graveyard.
From where I am sitting I can see the neighborhood kids running through back yards armed with flickering torches. I can see their beams of light swallowed by the infinite blackness like headlights on a deserted rural road. Beyond its limited swath, the light is engulfed by the night. They won't dare to go farther than their light will allow them. The fear of what lies in the unknown blackness keeps everyone at bay, especially me.
Up here, is escape. I've climbed this very tree during the day when the sun lit up its arms; when the hard bark against my hands felt warm to the touch and the largest branches pressed up against my back to let me know it would hold me.
I've swayed along with them like I was dancing with the wind. I have watched them go through changes as we grew together. There's something about a tree that keeps us grounded; the narrowing of branches as you climb higher sets your limits. You can only climb as high as you feel safe and as you ascend the branches get less substantial and more risky.
I've spent lots of time in this tree. Sometimes I would climb until branches broke testing how far I could go and sometimes I've lost my footing and slid down a level or two praying the ground wouldn't rush up to meet me. Sometimes, depending on the conditions, I didn't know if I could go higher. Most of the time I was afraid to leave the lower branches because I knew they were a sure thing. My tree is safe and most of my life I've spent up in its safety afraid to come down.
You see, coming down from this tree means that I wanted people to find me. I would be discovered and my hiding place revealed. Leaving the safety of the branches meant taking on whatever awaited me in the dark and I've been to scared to admit that I've needed to be found.
I'm suffering from depression and this disease has a crippling hold on me. It's taken me years to write that sentence and not be afraid of what it means. No one told me I couldn't cry. No one told me to stop being a baby and act like a man. It's ingrained in any man who grew up thinking sharing our feelings was a bad thing and that our masculinity was tied to being anything as long as it was strong.
Those thoughts of fragility are always with me every time I cry at commercials with kids and their fathers. I get teary eyed at parent-teacher conferences even when they are good because I get overwhelmed. When someone gives me a compliment, I may laugh because I walk the line between being overly confident and self-deprecatingly humble. I feel sad and often worthless despite others trying to lift me up. I tell myself that I don't deserve everything I have and worry that it will all end before I can really enjoy it. My anxiety often holds me back from being the best person I can be and every time I feel this way, I scramble back up in my tree.
I've watched people from afar and I've admired their courage while sharing their story of this disease. For the longest time I wasn't truthful with myself about my feelings. It wasn't pride that held me back from admitting something with me has not been right for a long time, it was ignorance. I thought that if I just pretended long enough that nothing was wrong it would become reality. I believed that eventually because I would never reveal my true self, that it would all just go away.
Every day I've put on this mask for my children, not wanting them to know that their dad whom they look up to with reverence has a chink in his armor. Why do I feel that way? Don't I want them to realize that no one is infallible? Shouldn't I help them realize that we all make mistakes and how we learn from them is how we grow stronger?
In the most basic of cliches I didn't want to admit that I had a problem. When people would find out I was a stay at home dad I'd smile and tell them that I was "Living the dream" but I didn't always believe that and some days I still don't. Some days it doesn't seem worth it to me and as the laundry piles up and so do my responsibilities; the higher the stack, the harder it is for me to overcome this feeling that I am drowning. When I don't get things done, I feel like a failure. I can't bring myself to see that the tree while keeping me grounded, is distancing me from those people on the ground.
Sometimes, I climb down for my son or daughters. Sometimes I just feel paralyzed like I climbed to the top and I can't get down. When my daughter is begging me to go outside and play I just want to stay in my tree so I'd hand her a device and hide inside social media. When I feel most vulnerable I climb the tree to become the ghost again and disappear.
It hasn't been fair to my family but mostly of all myself, I realize now. Only after I sought counseling did I realize that hiding in my tree was keeping me from living my life. I felt like talking about it would make it real so I was against sharing how I felt. That admission was scarier to me than any height I might reach. Depression sends me clambering for the tree when things get tough because it is easier to hide and even more frightening to be found.
Depression has kept me from being my true self. It has kept me from my art and robbed me of my confidence. How could I anchor my family when I felt as thin as the topmost branches? I've climbed up so high I was afraid of coming down so I've decided to descend from the tree one branch at a time.
I didn't know if I ever could come down. But I know this now, I'm leaving the comfort of my tree because for me being found isn't scary anymore. I can let go of those branches I'd cling to and head for solid ground. Those flickering torches searching for me in the dark aren't coming to get me, they just want to shine some light on me and it is about time the ghost lets them.