She hunches her shoulders, desperately trying to minimize her height. She always finds the window seat on the bus and makes sure nothing spills out from her bag which she has tucked beneath her legs. On the airplane, she never uses the armrest, squishing herself uncomfortably as she carefully uses her thumb, to turn the page of her book, passing it from one to the other instead of reaching to the top of the book for a more efficient movement.
In her apartment with roommates, she organizes all her belongings in stacks so as to take up as little room as possible. She uses just one shelf for her food in the kitchen, one half a shelf in the bathroom for her toiletries. She was grateful to finally have her own bedroom, meaning she didn’t have to rearrange her bookshelf and dresser to take up as little room as possible in a shared space. Sometimes she parks several blocks away so that she doesn’t have to parallel park and risk being too close to other vehicles. And the laundromat, she finds a corner chair during a quiet hour and prays that no one needs to use the rest of the machines while she’s in there.
When she goes into work, she carefully arranges her purse and lunch together, hiding them as much as possible. When it gets too cold, she tries to find the most unobtrusive place for her winter coat – one selected because it wasn’t as poofy as the others. She often stands with her arms folded, trying to wrap herself into a tinier package.
When renting a room for a weekend, she slips in and out of the bathroom at odd hours so as not to disturb others. She cooks simple meals to spend as little time as possible in the main rooms, and if someone comes home while she’s sitting on the couch, she’ll disappear into her quarters.
She’s so desperate not to take up space. She’s so desperate to slip by unnoticed. She’s so desperate to not be a bother. Even her words are captured by her tongue before they slip past her lips. Silence, she whispers to herself, don’t get in the way. Other people are more important, you don’t deserve to be here, you don’t deserve to take up space.
When there’s pain, when there’s anger, when there’s loss, she won’t speak. She traps them inside herself and feeds the monster inside her. But no one must know, she reminds herself. No one must know the bitterness that grows. I must be silent. I must not take up space.
Oh, she says words, certainly. She laughs, she joins in storytelling, she drinks coffee and Moscow Mules with her friends. On the outside, no one would ever know. No one sees how desperate she is to not take up space. She says “yes” just often enough that no one realizes how often she says “no”, withdrawing from the world and hiding behind the curtains, beneath the bedspread, breathing in the sour scent of her unwashed body, the oils from her hair causing breakouts on her forehead and cheeks while she binges on yet another Netflix original series.
She becomes denser, each time she pulls herself inward. Her soul becomes harder. Do not take up space, she admonishes herself, and packs her spirit closer and tighter. Do not be a bother, she lectures herself and she pulls in the anguish and tears. The blackness, the drowning, no one must see. She withdraws her true self, and paints on a beautiful façade, one that won’t draw questions because it takes up so little space and is just bubbly enough to be ignored.
Sometimes, someone tries to reach inside, to see beyond the mask. But her soul is packed into such a tiny space that it’s a fruitless endeavor even if they do manage to scrape off a tiny piece of truth. Desperate for validation, she’ll even give just a bit of herself. But it’s so minuscule, so little reward for so much work. So time and time again, they give up. See, she whispers bitterly to herself, no one cares. You take up too much space. Hide it, make it all disappear.
She feeds on the loneliness, and it in turn consumes her. She wonders how others do it. How are others allowed to take up space? How are others free to do as they please? Why are others vibrant and larger than life? Why not her? Why is she the one who is too much, too big? Why must she rein herself in? The darkness cascades over her, even on the brightest of days. She reads stories and watches movies where the protagonist finds peace, and a happy ending. Why not her? Why are things always falling apart around her? She tries so hard not to take up space as to minimize the damage, but time and time again the shrapnel seems to find her.
Years pass in a cycle of better and worse, times when she feels happy, and times when she drowns in her own mind. She’s suffocating. She needs space. She needs to give herself permission to take up space, to say that it’s okay to use her own kitchen, to not confine her life to a twelve inch by twelve inch space of floor. But it’s so hard. Years of compounding her thoughts and feelings have spilled out to the physical manifestation, and she whispers to herself, “I’m too much. I take up too much space.”
She feels alone, and despite feeling like she’s too big, finds there’s no one around her because she’s pushed them all away. She has the space, but is too afraid to let go and fill it. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to join space with others, to feel alive together and be more together. She’s all alone, and yet she cries, “I take up too much space!” The echoes bounce off the empty room.
If you or someone you love are thinking about suicide, please reach out. This wiki has a list of many resources that are available for phone calls, emails, texting, or online chats.
This piece was written for NaNoWriMo and is a combination of experiences from dear friends of mine, along with some of my own. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it with a happy ending, because for many people battling depression, they can’t see the ending at all, let alone one being happy. Some are able to fight their way out through therapy, others through medication, and some struggle their entire lives. All I can ask if you feel like you are losing a friend to depression is to not lose hope. And to those of you that are there right now: I love you. Please, take up space with me.