(tw: depression, mental health)
I have been diagnosed with severe depression twice. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) my sophomore year of high school and, in my second year of college, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Doctors have recommended that I don’t medicate, as the medication for one chemical imbalance may negatively offset the other two that are disrupting the trifecta that is my brain chemistry. Sometimes, I am able to convince myself I am standing. Sometimes, I don’t have to convince myself at all. But occasionally, I get a slew of days where I am consumed by the fact that the traffic I feel in my head is out of my control.
Having gone the majority of my life without any guidance on the matter of mental health, the four years that made up my high school experience felt equivalent to what I imagine living in a black hole would feel like. Except that it was all internal. There was the unshakeable feeling that every single person who met me hated me, no matter what I did or said. There were spontaneous anxiety attacks in empty hallways that absorbed the sound of my gasps. It felt exhausting to climb out of bed just so I could sit in a class full of people I didn’t relate to and would never relate to while someone shoveled Christopher Columbus down my throat. I remember when it all fell apart. The look of complete and utter hopelessness plastered on the faces of my parents.
But I also remember watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for hours, sprawled out on my grandmother’s floor, baking in the midwest heat, having discovered the show by accident after watching an episode of Dr. Who. I remember watching The Hobbit under layers of blankets at 2 a.m., kept awake by my annual summer insomnia. I remember watching Quantum Leap with my dad and, alternately, Avatar the Last Airbender with my mom every single night. These are things that stand out more to me than the anxiety attacks in the hallways and the times I ate lunch alone under the staircases while re-watching Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. And this, my friends, is the story of Darius and, ultimately, the story of Adib Khorram.
In a coming-of-age story that explores the relationships between mental health and family, we follow Darius, a half-Persian nerd and passionate tea connoisseur, through a series of Star Trek: The Next Generation references as he discovers his identity in the khaki kingdom of Iran.
Reading Darius the Great is Not Okay felt like standing in the mirror and watching every single little thing I felt and didn’t say play out in front of me.
I remembered experiencing these feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, and frustration, thinking they would control my life. Upon reading Khorram’s afterword, I discovered why I forgot these things. Depression, anxiety, ADHD. They are a permanent fixture in my life. This is how my brain is wired. But this is not all life has to bring.
It is only a fraction of the journey and, for the millions of us who are familiar with these experiences, it is important for us to appreciate the times we are able to smile genuinely. The times we are able to climb out of bed, to make a meal, to pee. It is important that we do not take these small victories and moments of peace for granted simply because for the rest of humanity, completing these tasks easily is the norm.
At the same time, it is crucial that we do not allow the hard days to get comfortable. Take them in. Embrace them. But do not forget that life is bigger than these moments.