My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga is about sixteen year-old suicide partners Aysel and Roman as they plot their deaths. Morbid, I know, but the plot was so intriguing, I couldn’t resist.
Depression is an issue I care about deeply, and I have written on this topic many times before. It can be hard to describe depression to someone who has never experienced it, but Warga does a great job in this light novel with quite a touching after note at the end.
Themes I enjoyed in this book were the black slug, reaching out, and saving ourselves.
Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression.
I bet if you cut open my stomach, the black slug of depression would slide out.
Aysel describes depression to be a black slug inside her stomach, eating up the small bits of light and happiness that happen to come into her life. Although she is fascinated by physics (her applications of kinetic energy are very interesting!), these ambitions are overpowered by her desire to end everything.
Similarly, Roman enjoys basketball and studying marine life, but his depression is the obstacle in realizing these ambitions. In addition to strong emotions of guilt and fear, it is ultimately the slug inside of Aysel and Roman that stops them from truly experiencing joy even as they participate in activities that give them joy.
Sometimes people think that one gets depressed due to situational factors such as unemployment, negligent or abusive family situations, or a toxic relationship. While these are certainly contributing factors, Wargo explains that depression is rooted to a darkness inside of us. It is an illness that is poorly understood by many and often dismissed as a level of sadness that is not critical.
If there is a black slug living inside of you, eating up your happiness, it is only a matter of time before it eats all of you.
You’re like a grey sky. You’re beautiful, even though you don’t want to be.
It sounds all so simple: “Just reach out! Talk to a friend! Talk to your mom and dad! You will feel better!”
But to someone who is depressed, it is not so simple. There is an odd mixture of shame and embarrassment for a depressed or suicidal individual to reach out for help. Even if they understand there is nothing shameful about it and that it is probably in their best interest to get help, they don’t reach out.
Those undergoing depression do not necessarily want to “feel better”. It may even be better to say they do not wish to feel anything, which is why death seems appealing. Yet, depressed individuals seek understanding – one that does not require explanation. As seen in Aysel and Roman’s relationship, their friendship grows through mutual empathy and shared emotions. It’s like the unspoken recognition between war veterans – only those who have been through it understand without you having to make them understand.
Reaching out is not so simple, but then again it is. The act of reaching out is difficult, but the aftermath becomes a big step towards recovery. Reaching out signifies a budding hope inside of you and that you are willing to accept support from those you’ve shut out. This support is what continues to power that hope and yourself to kill the black slug.
I will be stronger than my sadness.
I believe that you are the one who saves yourself from depression. You let the slug live inside of you and you feed it, so you are the one who needs to destroy it.
I liked this theme immensely throughout the novel. Although Aysel is inspired to live again because of Roman, she is the one who defeats her own sadness at the end of the day. Roman doesn’t do it for her.
Aysel also seems to understand this when she tells Roman that she wants him to live – not for her, but for himself, and that is because real change requires a passion from the self.
People who successfully quit smoking do not quit “for their kids”. They quit because they love their kids. People who successfully lose weight do not continue exercising “for their boyfriend/girlfriend”. They succeed because they care about what their boyfriend/girlfriend wants, or because somewhere along the way, they start liking it. Similarly, people don’t rise from depression because someone loves them, they rise because they found ways to love themselves.
Changes that last over time come down to the individual – what he or she desires. If your ambitions depend on another person, it doesn’t last because you do not personally value the change. And unless you start to value that change and embrace it into your lifestyle, the motivation to change will leave you if that person is to ever leave.
As seen in Aysel’s turnover, another person may spark that desire to change. Sometimes, that is all you need to ignite something deeper and bigger inside of you. So let people provoke you, excite you, love you, and use all that to be your own hero. In the words of Anais Nin: