Like other children around the world, I’ve developed a fixation with “Frozen.” Actually, I thought the movie was just okay. I liked “Brave” much better (“Mother! You’re a bearrrrrrrrrr!”). But the song “Let It Go” deeply resonated with me. In fact, it resonated with me so hard that I had no idea what was happening when I watched the movie in the theater with my husband. Sometimes when I go through a deeply emotional experience, my brain blocks it, as if it’s trying to keep my body from getting overwhelmed with the feels.

“She building a castle! Made of frozen fractals all around!” I thought. “I like ice so much! Maybe I have pica. I probably need to start taking iron supplements.”

In fact, it wasn’t until I listened to “Let It Go” on my phone for the 50th time or so that I realized what it really meant to me.

For 15 years after my diagnosis with major depressive disorder, I kept it a secret from almost everyone except for my closest friends and professors, who had to know why I was out of class during the two weeks I was hospitalized in college. This required increasingly ridiculous verbal gymnastics, as I tried to make up different excuses for why I “had a meeting” every week at exactly the same time for about an hour (for therapy or psychiatric appointments) or why I would “evaporate” (a word someone used to describe my absence from their social life) for weeks at a time. I’d say I was busy, but most of the time it was because I was too depressed to hangout.

There was also the shame. I didn’t want to be known as the crazy girl, the fucked up girl with the problems, the pathetic girl who couldn’t control her feelings. I wanted people to like me for my personality, but I thought that maybe depression was my personality.

I felt like a black hole. I didn’t want to suck the joy out of other people’s lives, see the pity in their eyes, or feel the pain of their rejection. So I kept quiet. That quietness isolated me and corroded me from the inside out, until I finally decided to… let it go.

Before I launch into my analysis of “Let It Go’s” lyrics and what they mean to me, I want to make something clear. A lot of people have said that I’m brave for talking about my depression in public. I appreciate it, but I don’t think I am. For one thing, I’ve never turned my mother and triplet brothers into bears. Also, if I accept the label “brave,” I feel like I’m tacitly calling people who still keep their mental illness under wraps cowards. They aren’t.

Mental illness is still stigmatized. Someone I respected once told me, “It’s a cruel world. Do you really want people to know?” There are repercussions I am protected from for certain reasons. For one thing, I am a journalist, and apparently everyone thinks we’re all crazy anyway. I also have a supportive family and my parents are quite frank about our experiences, in part because they hope it might help others. I’ve already lost many important things because I wasn’t honest about depression, including time and relationships I didn’t nurture. Finally, I’ve come to the point in my life where I find it harder and harder to care if people really think I’m just the fucked up girl with the problems. Yes, it’s a cruel world, but it’s cruel in different ways for everyone. In this case, I am lucky enough to have certain privileges that I want to take advantage of.

As I said in an earlier post, if someone is stupid or cruel about depression and other psychological issues, how can you even trust them to pick a good movie? They certainly aren’t the kind of people I want to be friends with. In a way, being open about depression is a filter that keeps certain idiots out of my life.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.

During one of my worst episodes, I told a good friend that having depression is like walking naked through a blinding snowstorm with a heap of yarn in my arms, trying to learn how to knit a sweater before I freeze to death. No one could tell how desperate I felt, though, because I was good at looking poised.

Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.

Holy fuck, did I ever try.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.

I did everything I could to hide it when I was depressed. When I had to go out, I dressed neatly. I brushed my hair. I put makeup on. I smiled and nodded when I talked to other people. Sometimes I nodded so much I gave myself a headache. I tried to push the despair and numbness away for as long as I needed to. Then, when I got home, I would collapse from exhaustion.

Well, now they know! Let it go, let it go!

Yeah, well now all 15 of you who read my blog know!

Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

I felt a sense of exhilaration after I published my first blog post about depression. It was completely unexpected. I knew there was no turning back (thanks Wayback Machine!). I felt free. I realized then how much staying silent had hurt, how much 15 years of hiding something that was such a big part of my life had eroded my confidence–not to mention all the lies I told. I’m sorry to everyone who thought I spent hours and hours on my graduate school applications when I was actually in therapy. I was totally lying to you!

It’s funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me,
can’t get to me at all.

This is the part of the song where Elsa starts sounding desperate to me. She’s [SPOILER ALERT!] banished herself from her kingdom and gone into isolation to protect herself and her sister. I’m glad that I’ve filtered certain idiots out of my life, but I’m still worried what people I respect or care about will think about me once I tell them about my depression.

I mean, it’s not like I introduce myself to everyone as “Catherine, I’ve been in psychiatric wards! When I’m unwell I feel dead on the inside!” but sometimes it comes up in conversation with people I’ve grown to like. Whenever it does, there’s still a part of me that wants to ask, in a tiny whisper, “Do you still respect me? Will you still be my friend?”

It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!

But ultimately, that anxiety doesn’t matter. I feel much better now than I did when I placed such stringent limits on what I could reveal about myself. I’m freeeeeeeeee!

Let it go, let it go.
I am one with the wind and sky.

This is the part that really resonates with me. Without the burden and exhaustion of keeping such a big part of my life hidden, I feel more connected with the world. I’ve met some wonderful people, including Esmé Wang, whose writing about her experience with schizoaffective disorder is a constant inspiration. One in five Americans will be treated for a psychological issue at some point in their life. It’s a club that none of us want to be a part of, but there are a lot of people in it who are worth getting to know.

Let it go, let it go.
You’ll never see me cry.

Actually, that’s not true. I’ve totally cried in public before. While sitting on Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York City. In Blue Rock Shoot, a cafe in Saratoga, California. In the West End of London. In a Taipei sushi restaurant. In fact, my goal in life is to cry in public on every continent. Three down, four to go!

Here I’ll stand, and here I’ll stay.
Let the storm rage on.
My power flurries through the air into the ground.
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back; the past is in the past!

Nope, I can’t go back on being public about depression, no matter what the repercussions are. This is a big deal for me, because I tend to dither on making major decisions. Once again, thanks Wayback Machine!

Let it go, let it go.
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn.
Let it go, let it go.
That perfect girl is gone.

She never existed, anyway.

Here I stand, in the light of day.
Let the storm rage on!
The cold never bothered me anyway.

The cold still bothers me. Even though I get better at learning how to handle depressive episodes each time another one happens, it’s still hard. I still feel like I’m trying to knit that sweater. But at least I can talk about it (“Ohmigod, I cannot believe I screwed up the ribbing again! And why aren’t these needles Addi Turbos? This going to take forever!”).

I’m learning how to be honest. I’m learning how to connect with other people. These are lessons I missed out on for a long time, but it’s never too late to learn. And on bad days, at least I have this cover of “Let It Go” to get me through.