The Rhinoceros On Top of Us

Lauren Hunchar writing for Stigma Fighters

Once, I was a teenager in the early years of her acquaintance with depression. I was a girl scared of her own thoughts, feeling alone, confused, ashamed. I got scared enough to tell Mom I was worried; scared enough to push past the fear of what everyone would think if I saw a talk therapist. It didn’t go well, the first time. The therapist and I didn’t connect, and I was very anxious. I could only gasp out “yes” or “no” to her gentle questions as I tried to hold back a flood of tears. It was useless and painful.

Back at home, determined to find comfort through better understanding, I turned – as people increasingly were for answers – to the Internet. It was the age of rapid-fire AIM and IRC chats; of Angelfire fan sites brimming with questionable graphic design choices; of forums dedicated to every subject, any of which might contain an informational rabbit hole a person could fall down for hours. It was while browsing one such forum on mental health that I stumbled across this quote, I think in a user’s signature. And I do mean stumbled. I laughed out loud at the mental image it produced, but recognition stopped me cold.

“Depression is like a constipated rhino sitting on your chest.” – Rob Anderson

I immediately wrote it down – first on a Post-it, then again in my journal – so I would remember. It wasn’t just me. Other people “got it”. It was a real thing; I wasn’t crazy! What’s more, talking about depression didn’t have to be as heavy and serious as the thing itself! Dark humor serves well to temper the discussion of serious subjects. If there was one thing I learned from all those Stephen King novels I’d read, it was that.

As of this writing, I’m nearly thirty (WHAT? HOW), and I still treasure this quote. I was reflecting lately on the many ways the simile works…

So. You have a constipated rhino sitting on your chest.

Rhinos are quite heavy. Depending on the species, rhinoceros can weigh over 5,000 pounds! You’d really like it to get up, although part of you is afraid of what might happen when it does (given that rumbling you heard and felt). You don’t want to try pushing it too hard for the same reason.

Plus, that rhino is pretty grumpy. Its eyes roll and it swings its horn at anyone who tries to get close to help or comfort you. You don’t want anyone to get hurt (or shat upon) for YOUR sake! “I’ll be fine,” you say. “I’m fine. It’s not so bad, really, under here.”


It’s a constipated rhino. That situation is pretty shitty, if you’ll excuse the pun.

I mean, sure, you can pretend that the rhino isn’t there and try to go about your business. You can pretend it’s not heavy, or not quite so full of poo, perhaps. Doing so might even help you get through another day, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, pretending something is so does not make it so. You will still have that huge weight on your chest.

Some folks give you advice on how to deal with your constipated rhino. They mean well, really, but they don’t know what it’s like to be stuck there, under a rumbly rhino bum. Hell, there are people who don’t even believe constipated rhinos really exist (ridiculous!). These folks don’t have any real experience with rhinos or good knowledge of them. They’re trying to help, but it can be very frustrating for we who have a rhinoceros on top of us.

“Shake it off,” they say.

It’s a RHINO, friend. I do not have the strength or energy to shake with it on top of me. I can barely breathe.

“You have no reason to have a rhino! Some people have REAL reasons to have rhinos. It can’t be that bad.”

Oh but it is! Reminding me that others have more reason to be sat on by rhinos not only makes me feel guilty for complaining about being under here, but does NOTHING to change the fact that there’s a two-ton horned beast very much impacting your life.

“You need to go to church, pray to Jesus. I’ll pray for you.”

…I have never heard of any instance where prayer made a rhinoceros disappear and/or un-squish a person. But thank you? Also, it’s very hard to dress up and go to church when you have a rhino seated on you. However, if prayers help you withstand the crushing force, I’m all for ‘em.

“Being under a seated rhinoceros is a choice. You should choose to be rhino-free! Change your situation!”

I promise, I did not choose to be pinned down like this. I did not invite the rhino to sit on me. It is really not that easy to extract oneself from beneath a two-ton bum.

The situation might seem hopeless, given all that. I swear to you: it isn’t. Help is out there. You are not alone! Maybe you have some friends who have dealt with rhinos. If you don’t, well – I have some experience, and my DMs are open. I can tell you for sure that there are rhino experts out there; experts with offices and couches, experts with books and brochures and social media profiles. Please, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember: not being able to lift a rhino does NOT mean you aren’t strong. You’re no less of a person for being stuck. Hang in there!

Lauren Hunchar is from the Pittsburgh area and cares, a lot. She studied multimedia at the University of the Arts but withdrew after a year due to, among other things, her mental health issues. She never stops learning, however. Lauren has depression and anxiety, potentially related to her lately-diagnosed ADHD (?). She has recently been reminded that she has a voice and talents that she can use to help resist hate, evil, lies, and darkness, and is considering going back to school for art therapy. Lauren likes watching her backyard birds, reading, creating, picking up cool rocks while wading in creeks, and making people smile.