Posted in depression, goals, healing, hope, self-care, self-love, Uncategorized

Fall down 6 times, stand up 7

I am currently taking a class called Building Resiliency. It’s inspirational, obviously, and throughout, I’ve also learned methods and techniques I can use to coach others on resiliency. The techniques are so applicable, I have been integrating them into my own self-care practice as well. (For instance, I have recently found great closure in a past relationship through the practice of Higher Consciousness Conversations.)

What is important to know about resiliency is that it isn’t a personality trait. It’s a skill. That means we can all develop resiliency and learn to grow through the trials life throws at us, and even come out stronger.

For me, building resiliency has really been about coming back from my depression as a stronger person. To be frank, depression knocked me on my ass and sent me tumbling hard into rock bottom. Not only did I feel completely alone, but I felt like I deserved to be alone. I felt like a burden to the people I loved. I didn’t feel worthy of joy, love, or even existing. And through this, I completely lost my sense of identity. I wasn’t an animal-loving, poetry-writing, kind-hearted person suffering the despair of depression. I was despair and depression.

Everywhere I looked, I found evidence of this fact, evidence to support how unworthy of love I was. I put on a mask everywhere I went of a happy, silly, easy-going girl, so even my “friends” and “family” (quotations because, at the time, I felt they didn’t want to be a part of my life and were unfortunately forced to because they felt sorry for me or felt too guilty to blow me off) couldn’t see how lost and full of hurt I was. I didn’t let anyone in, sure that nobody could love the real me; the me that carried a heavy heart and a tightness in my chest so stifling that sometimes I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

For me, rock bottom and the turning point were one and the same. On what was supposed to be a joyful trip to Las Vegas to celebrate friends’ birthdays, I found myself alone, drunk, and crying, wishing for my non-existence. Here, I attempted to end my own life, and was stopped at the last moment. I got to see another side of Las Vegas- an emergency room visit, followed by a stay in a mental health facility where my life was on a consistent schedule of meal times, group therapy, and two outdoor breaks a day. Not what I really had in mind when I embarked on this trip. Still, it was here that I realized, I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to stop existing. I just wanted to feel better. I didn’t know if that was possible, but I committed to at least trying.

I went back to my therapist, who I had been ignoring for the past few months. Here, I did WORK. Hard, dirty, painful, soul-searching work. I strengthened and learned new personal protective factors. Because I spent so much time in the chair, exploring my past, my emotions, my thought processes, I learned Inner Direction. I was able to consciously evaluate how I felt about something and make my decisions based on this, rather than what I felt would make me most lovable to others. I learned Perseverance. Things didn’t feel better for a long time. But I held onto a tiny glimmer of hope that one day, they would. I deepened my Spirituality starting with the belief that we matter because we exist. On days that I couldn’t convince myself that I mattered, I would come back to this belief. Everyone matters, so by default, I had to matter as well. Self-Worth came slowly, and there are still rough days when I can’t find it. But it is now something I know is there, so I trust that if I show myself some love and compassion, I can always find it again.

Another very important piece to my healing was pro-social bonding. Prior to my hospitalization, I spent as many nights as possible going out to parties or bars with a large group of people I considered my friends, but who actually didn’t even know me. After I decided to quit drinking for a while, I didn’t see many of them again. Who I did see, were the people I discovered were my real friends. The ones who called to check in on me in the hospital, and who sent me encouraging notes in the weeks that followed. The friends that I could hang out with without drinking and (though it was scary at first) be my true self around. My circle shrank significantly, but the love I felt grew immensely.

The tricky part about pro-social bonding and depression is that depression doesn’t want you to bond. It wants you to stay home alone and compare yourself to others on social media and wallow in regrets and past traumas. And it’s comfortable, and it feels safe, so sometimes we give in. Some nights, I had to force myself to go watch a movie or meet for dinner because I knew I would feel better after spending time with a good friend. My advice to others dealing with depression would be, “Say yes sometimes.” You don’t have to go to all of the events; in fact, you really probably shouldn’t. But do go, sometimes, with the people you care about and who you know care about you. Being around people who love you is miraculously helpful when you are trying to learn to love yourself.

While I am in a much healthier head-space these days, my recovery from depression is ongoing. There are great days and there are days that I feel I barely made it through. Resiliency is what keeps me going through all the days. Resiliency helped me climb from the shadowy darkness into the light. Resiliency helps me find humor and creativity around what I have experienced. And resiliency helped me find myself again, which was the greatest gift of all.

Posted in Uncategorized

Don’t quit your daydream

It is becoming very apparent to me that I am an eternal optimist- mostly. It becomes clear when I’m driving through a town my best friend will later describe as “sketchy and dangerous” and all I noticed were the cute houses with different colored mailboxes. I notice it, also, as I listen to other people complain about the rude clients they’ve dealt with at work all day while personally choosing to remain silent about the injured pets I cared for and the euthanasias I assisted my doctors with that day. (It is a constant choice for me to leave work at work, and I do believe I am healthier for it.) Looking back, I can even see the small glimmer of optimism I held onto during the worst of the worst days of my depression. Even when my days were endlessly long, lonely, and dark, I somehow held out hope that one day they wouldn’t be.

The one place I find it hard to maintain an idealistic attitude? My future. My dreams.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but as the end of high school loomed nearer and fear of the real world set it, I changed my major from creative writing to the more sensible journalism. Even then, I didn’t really think I had the chops to make it in that field, so I left my four-year-college for a technical school where I studied veterinary technology.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my job and I’m thankful to have my degree. I genuinely get to feel like I make a difference to people every day. But this isn’t what I always dreamed I’d be doing. And, the longer I’m in this field, the more I realize it isn’t really the passion-inspiring career I want for the rest of my life.

Lost and wandering (isn’t that how we all spend our twenties?), I visited a psychic in a lone building in a desolate parking lot in California. She told me she saw me in a career focused on helping people, something like therapy or counseling. Cut to me enrolling in community college for a degree in psychology. This is the closest fit I’ve found to what I actually want to be doing, which is helping people through my writing. I mean, I love therapy. I love going to my own therapist. I enjoy listening to my friends’ problems and assuring them that they are good, beautiful people, and they have everything it takes to succeed inside of them. I could easily excel at counseling others.

But… if I’m being honest, it still feels like the safer choice. The choice with job security and a 401k and a somewhat direct course of action. Does that mean it won’t be fulfilling? No. But will it be the most fulfilling? I don’t know.

Most of my life, I’ve carried around so much insecurity in my heart you could sink a boat with it. I believed I wasn’t funny enough, wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t kind enough, wasn’t good enough at anything. Some of that comes from childhood (none of us makes it out completely unscathed), and some of that comes from friendships and romances I’ve been hurt by as an adult. It has taken literally 5 years in therapy for me to be able to admit that I’m a good person. Even writing that is hard. Neurons in my brain are firing-off, shouting, “No! That is narcissistic! Try harder! Be better! You aren’t good enough to call yourself good!” The difference is that, now, I can acknowledge those self-doubts and say back, “No. Fuck you. I am smart and I am kind and I am good enough, damn it.”

A really important part of that for me is allowing myself to believe that I’m good enough to follow my own dreams. I’m deserving of a life that fulfills me. I am worthy of happiness. (For those of you that this realization comes easily to: consider yourself luuuucky.)

Admitting that I want to be a writer is scary. Admitting that I want to create something in the hopes that others will be receptive to it is scary. Letting go of the typical life plan is scary. But the scariest thing I can imagine is looking back on my life twenty years from now (as I go through the motions at a job I only mostly like) and wishing I had been brave enough to at least try to go after my dreams.

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A couple of years ago, at a particularly low point of my depression, I went with a friend to get a tattoo (great time to make permanent life decisions, right?) I chose the word brave because that’s what I wanted to be. And I was; brave enough to keep fighting. Brave enough to put in the work to get myself healthier. And now, brave enough to admit I have a dream and to chase it as hard as I can.

Posted in depression

Your shining light

It’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything I enjoy, to be honest. Depression has a way of sneaking up on you that is both slow but also unstoppable. There are certain things that help me feel better (I keep a list of them in my journal so I don’t forget about them when the depression hits) but for some reason, this time I couldn’t make myself do them. I would think, “I’ll wake up early tomorrow and do yoga before work. That will make me feel so refreshed.” I had every intention of following through, but morning came and all I felt was heavy and slow and numb and I just couldn’t make myself do fucking yoga. Or anything, for that matter.

September and October are hard months for me. October holds the anniversary of the day I tried to kill myself. And September is even worse; it holds the day that a coworker and friend of mine succeeded in taking his own life, almost one year after my own D-Day (Death Day). These days have a way of coloring my entire world during the fall months. Melancholy grey. Bright, burning red. Aching blue.

Even though I am so grateful to have survived myself, and I have since learned new skills to help myself cope with the depressed days (or weeks, sometimes), even though I can now say “I love myself” and actually mean it, these days hurt to remember. Recently, I drifted back into an old coping mechanism, one where I simply numb myself to life because thinking about it, actually feeling it, is too painful and exhausting. I go through the motions of my day as an emotionless robot, which to me, is even more awful than the deep sadness that comes with depression. This went on for a few weeks.

Finally, late one night, my heart felt ready to weep. I lit a candle and lay on the floor and I wrote what came. What follows is a direct entry from my journal. Because it is real and true and editing it to make it prettier, to make it less vulnerable, feels wrong.

I am trying to write the truth so I can feel the truth. I have been trying to write about Dr. W but it’s hard. I am overwhelmed. I am so sad. But sad is real and real is what matters. 

To be honest, my heart is broken. It will scar and heal and grow stronger, but it will never be not broken. Some days it is really hard to live with that. It’s hard to feel that hurt all of the time. I think it’s partly the curse of the empath. I feel everyone’s pain. And I do see my sensitivity and empathy as a gift. But the pain is a lot. Sometimes I get so down because I see this world of selfish politicians and homelessness and abuse and addiction and mental illness and pain, pain and suffering, and I just think, no matter what I do, no matter how much love I can put out, I can never fix it. There will always be pain and it makes me profoundly sad. 

Is this what Dr. W felt? Is this why he gave up? I can understand. Of course I can. 

There is the cliché that goes something like, ‘if love could have saved you, you would still be with us.’ But maybe love could have saved him. Maybe we all failed him. Maybe we needed to make it clear that we loved him, that he was needed, and valued, and essential. 

I love you, Dr. W. And I’m so sorry. I’m sorry you ever had to feel alone. I’m sorry I didn’t express to you what a great friend and human I thought you were. You were truly the kindest human I ever knew. I showed in your supportive words and the gentle care you showed your patients. I know that having a soft heart can hurt. And I can understand why you felt like you had to leave. I understand because I’ve been there too. But I just wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could have done anything to help you see just a glimmer of hope. Anything to change your mind. I feel like because I was once in your place, I should have been able to see it in you. I should have been able to sense it and to help, but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

Your anniversary just passed and mine is on its way. Yours, an anniversary of death. It will never again not be the day that you died. Mine is the anniversary of when I didn’t die. My D-Day. I’ve lived almost three years since I didn’t kill myself. It seems short and also very long. It’s been hard, which I know you understand. But there have been some really beautiful moments too. Moments where I can feel love pouring out of me over everyone I know. Moments of shining clarity, when I can see my path and my purpose. And even moments that I deeply know myself and love myself for all that I am.

I wish you could have had that. You deserved it. You deserved to see yourself for what you truly are and to have loved that person. I wish it for you. I wish that wherever you are, whatever happens after, that you have seen yourself and loved yourself.

We’re so much the same. You and I and everyone else. We need to be known and loved and we need to know that love matters, that love makes a difference. 

I am so sorry that your flame blew out before you could see the truth. Before you could see that it all matters, every single minute. All you can do is love and love and love some more. That’s the point, I think. We’re here to love and we have to trust that every small bit matters. We can’t fix all of the pain in the world but we can let our love heal our tiny piece of the world. The side effect to loving is hurting. But that’s because it matters. That means it’s real.

I wish I could have shared my candle, could have re-lit yours when it got dim. I didn’t always believe that this mattered, you know. I definitely didn’t believe that I did. Sometimes I still doubt that my love can make a difference. But I just keep holding out. There is a flicker in me that I pray never goes out. In the darkness, it gives me a tiny glimmer of hope that things won’t always be dark. That the light is coming. That one day I will bask in its glow. I hold onto that flickering flame like my life depends on it. Because it does.

I want you to know that you were a beautiful, radiant beam of light on this Earth and that anyone whose life you touched was better for it. I miss you so much. We all do. I still hold your light close to me. And it still hurts to think of you because I loved you and because that love mattered. 

Maybe you are a star now, or a sun, or maybe you are a spirit looking down on us, or maybe your energy was recycled to make ocean waves or to help grow flowers, or maybe you came back as a beautiful dog, like your Annie, or maybe you’re with her somewhere. Everywhere. Wherever, whatever, you are, I hope you have found peace. I hope you are happy and I hope you feel overwhelmingly loved, because you are. 

May you always hold onto your light.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Posted in depression, healing, hope, self-love

Breaking down the walls

I started thinking about blogging and its many forms. WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram- the list goes on and on. If you frequent the internet, you see a lot of Millennial-shaming for their tend to “over-share” on social media. “Nobody cares what you ate for breakfast,” or “We’re all looking at the exact same sunset,” and the ever-present “TMI!” are just a couple of comments I’ve seen or heard more than once. In an insecure moment, I questioned myself and this blog; does anyone really care what I have to say?

In regards to this question, I look to some of my big female heroes. Glennon Doyle Melton. Elizabeth Gilbert. Brene Brown. These women are famous for opening up in their books and blogs about many personal topics considered taboo to talk about in our society. Divorce. Mental illness. Shame. Pain. They don’t gloss over the hard stuff; they lay it all out in the open, where anyone can see it. They’re vulnerable.

Brene Brown has written an amazing book on the subject of vulnerability, “Daring Greatly.” In the book, she states,

“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough- that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.”

We love when others are open and honest, we crave it, because it lets us relate to them on a new, deeper level. Our hearts cry out, “Oh! I’m not alone in all this!” But vulnerability is really hard to do. I’ve been working on that with my therapist for a few years now, and it’s still hard. How can you know if someone is trustworthy with this tender piece of yourself? How can you know they’ll take care of it, that they won’t use it against you?

The fact is, nobody makes it through life unscathed. We have all been hurt by somebody we thought we could trust. Somebody who we cared about, who we once trusted to protect us. And after being marred like that, it’s difficult to expose ourselves again- to that person or others.

When I’ve been emotionally hurt, I can almost see the walls coming up around me. My body tenses. A knot forms in my stomach. It feels as if the wind has been knocked out of me. Much like a wounded animal in the wild, my first reaction is, “Protect yourself!” I want space between myself and the perpetrator. I recoil from their touch. It’s hard to speak because in my head, alarms are flashing, telling me, “THIS PERSON IS DANGEROUS! DON’T GET TOO CLOSE!”

This has happened with many previous boyfriends. With my parents. With my best friends. Even with my husband. The link between this people? We care about each other. I’m vulnerable with them.

In the darkest months of my depression, I was terrified of letting people get close to me. My heart was already aching so much, I couldn’t bear the thought of adding any more pain. During this time, my walls stayed up. Always. With everyone. I kept my very closest friends, the ones I had known for over a decade, at arms’ length away. I would still have conversations with them, sometimes even emotional conversations, but I always held back. I never let them see too much of myself. I was afraid for two reasons:

  1. If I told them my deepest thoughts, feelings, fears, dreams, and secrets, they could use them against me. They would know my weak spots, know right where to strike a blow.
  2. I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want my loved ones to pity me, or to be a burden in their lives.

Of these fears I would like to say this: I was never a burden, nor could I ever be. I know that now, although it took years of unlearning to get to this place. The reason they’re called loved ones is because we love them. My family and my friends loved me then and love me now. And I love them. And when you’re in a loving relationship, you’re there because you want to be. You’re there because you genuinely care for somebody.

When it comes to baring myself to others, I’m getting better. It’s a work in progress, and I’m fine with that. There is a (very) small circle of people who I can now let myself be completely raw with. No walls, no distance. Does that mean they know where to attack my most fragile parts? Yeah, it does. But by keeping those parts hidden, I wasn’t allowing myself to be fully loved. So it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Sometimes, because that’s just how life is, we hurt each other. But I’m learning to peek over my rising walls and just be honest when that happens. Admit that I’m hurt. Then, together, we can move forward and heal.

So, yeah, maybe some people don’t care what I have to say. Maybe some people do. My goal with this blog (other than helping me keep track of my own self-care journey) is to be vulnerable and honest and raw because to be known, truly known, is a good feeling. And that is my wish to you all.

Posted in depression, healing, hope

On Falling Apart

A couple of days ago, I read an essay (named so aptly, I borrowed the title for this post) about a young women who was checked into a psychiatric facility by her best friend at the age of thirty. By the end of this piece (“On Falling Apart,” by Sady for Rookie Magazine), I was in tears. Although Sady and I had different experiences with mental illness, this story hit so close to home.

Almost one year ago, I left with seven of my friends for a weekend in Las Vegas. Two of my friends were celebrating birthdays, we had tickets to EDM shows, and our days were to be spent lounging poolside with drinks in hand. On the first night of our trip (or rather, very early the next morning, sometime around 1 or 2 AM), I attempted to end my life. I was twenty-four.

A lot of things led up to this moment. I was working full time (usually 50+ hours a week) and was enrolled in 5 classes (more than full time) at my local community college. I was living with two friends, and though our apartment was, for the most part, peaceful, it was a home of three young females. Attitudes rolled through occasionally. Lately, I hadn’t felt like myself and I had been spending any time I wasn’t at work or school locked in my bedroom where I would lay in bed, alternating reading and sleeping all day long. I was too tired to go out with friends or even chat with my roommates over dinner.

I called my mom the morning we were leaving for Vegas and she asked me to please, please, be careful. Stay with my friends, don’t drink too much, take care of myself. I was excited to forget about all of my responsibilities for a couple of days and just let go. I wanted this, but for some reason, I was nervous. It wasn’t abnormal for me to experience social anxiety before group outings, so I brushed the feeling away.

We began drinking around 7 PM as we got ready for our night out. It made me feel more relaxed and I was able to laugh and enjoy time with my friends. We went to a bar in the hotel for a couple of drinks before heading to our show. One of my friends (my best friend, Matty,  actually) told me I was already too drunk and I needed to slow down. Instead of seeing this as wise advice, I felt hurt and judged. I was just trying to be like everyone else.

The rest of the night comes in flashes. I know the line to the club we had tickets for was incredibly long, so one friend and I went to gamble in the casino to kill time. I remember being sternly talked to by staff when my friend snapped at a waitress for skipping us as she took our orders. Time more than got away from me; I looked at my phone and had several missed calls from my friends who were waiting at the door to the club waiting for us to go in. We got to them and they were, reasonably, irritated. I sensed their frustration and, as I was apt to do those days, assumed that my friends hated me, they didn’t want me around, they wished I hadn’t come. So I headed to the bar and I got another drink.

I don’t remember much of the show. I danced a little bit and walked back and forth from the bar to the area my friends were at. I left repeatedly to refill my drinks. The next thing I remember is being outside of the club (which was located in a hotel lobby on the strip) talking to some staff members. I told them I wanted to leave and go back to my hotel room but when they asked where I was staying I couldn’t remember. I wanted to go back inside to find my friends and, obviously, that was not allowed. I texted and called Matty repeated, as did the men helping me, but he was in a loud, music-filled club, also intoxicated, and didn’t answer. At some point, my roommate came out and found me, and the men handed me over to her to get back to the hotel.

She was pissed. “This is my birthday, I shouldn’t have to be taking care of you!” she shouted as we ran through the lobby. “You need to grow the fuck up and get your shit together!”

She was sobbing, as was I. “I never asked you to take care of me,” I yelled back. We were outside on the strip now, bright lights flashing everywhere. Other visitors were walking past, laughing at our drunken show. I don’t remember entirely what was said, but we both ended up huffing off in separate directions.

My phone was dead and I had no idea where I even was. I didn’t remember what hotel I was staying at or even know which hotel I was currently in. I was in my party dress and my hair was sticking to my face and my makeup was smearing. I felt dirty and ashamed and ridiculous. Ridiculous, I guess, for believing that my friends cared about me or wanted me around. I was alone and achingly lonely. I was tired of being stressed and anxious and sad all of the time. I wasn’t myself anymore and I didn’t want to be anybody.

So, a few stories up in the casino, I climbed over the railing. Looking down, I could see the multiple levels of shiny games and flashy bars and people people people. All of these people that wouldn’t care if I was gone. I was ready for everything to end.

Can you imagine hating yourself this much? Feeling like the entire world would be better off if your presence could just be erased? Feeling a sadness so deep and all-consuming that the only viable escape you can think of is death?

Then, though, there were voices behind me. Several officers were surrounding me on the other side of the railing. One tried to grab me and lift me over and I screamed at him not to touch me and stretched away, holding on with one hand. They asked me why I was trying to jump and I said, I was sad. I hurt.

They worked at keeping me calm and trying to get me back over. One female officer named BJ had taken my wallet off the ground. I had lost my ID at some point during this horrendous night, but my debit card was inside, with a picture of my chihuahua, Bella, on the front.

“Is this your dog?” BJ asked me. I said, “Yeah, that’s my baby.” She said, “I bet she loves you very much.” I sobbed harder. “She does,” I replied. “What’s her name?” “Bella.” “Bella would miss you a whole lot if you were gone. What would she do without you?” she asked me. “Okay,” I sniffed. “Are you ready to come back over?” BJ asked. I cried, but through tears, “Yes.”

Two male officers lifted me over the railing and I hugged BJ and sobbed into her shoulder. They took me to their office, located in the hotel. They asked me questions and did some paperwork. I was sobbing, “I’m so sad,” over and over. I remember a young officer sitting across the office watching me. He looked so sorry. I didn’t even care that he was pitying me. I asked BJ if she had kids and she did, a teenage daughter. I told her I hoped she never felt as sad or lonely as I did.

Eventually and ambulance took me to the emergency room. I assume I was given fluids. I woke up in a shared room with a curtain around my bed. I was wearing two hospital gowns and no shoes. I only had one phone number memorized besides my mom’s, and that was my best friend, Cherish. She was still in Arizona, not interested in the party scene or drinking trips to Vegas. She didn’t answer her phone, so I left her a message. “I’m in the hospital. I don’t know what to do. I fucked up.”

She called me back and I was hysterical. I said I was so sorry for fucking up. I didn’t mean to be such a burden. Cherish cried and told me she loved me and I wasn’t a burden and she was going to take care of me. I didn’t want to tell my mom. I didn’t want my mom to be mad, or to worry. I didn’t want my other friends to know what happened. I was so full of shame and self-loathing. My depression, buried for so long, was now a wide open exhibit for everyone I knew to examine.

I was told I was being transferred to another facility and I would have to change into their hospital gowns. I took two into the bathroom and switched. When I came out, a stretcher was waiting for me. They wheeled me out into another medical transport vehicle which took me to the next building. This place was really just like a holding spot. They took my vitals, cataloged my items (dress, heels, necklace, earrings, wallet), and I basically sat in an exam room until another nurse came in and told me I was being transferred to a psychiatric facility.

In Las Vegas, they have a law that basically says they can hold you in one of these psych hospitals for at least 72 hours if they think you are a harm to yourself or others. When I arrived, I changed into yet another set of hospital gowns. Sans underwear, I had to squat and cough in front of a nurse to ensure I had no weapons hidden up any orifices. I met my doctor, a person I would speak to for around a minute and a half every day as a means of affirming my mental health, and he asked me the same questions I would soon hear daily: How are you feeling? Any voices or hallucinations? Any thoughts of extreme anger? Any thoughts of hurting yourself or others? As if this assessment was all that was needed to decipher what was wrong with me and how to fix it. They switched my medications, added a couple. (I had already been on anti-depressants for around a year).

Finally, they walked me down the hall into a room full of girls. There was a TV bolted high up on the ceiling. Markers and coloring pages were strewn about two tables. I sat down and was brought lunch on a Styrofoam tray with a rounded, plastic spork. I can almost see myself: trembling with fear, pale from a night of drinking, dark under-eye circles from lack of sleep, puffy eyes and a red, splotchy face from endless hours of crying. I had never in my life felt so absolutely frail and breakable. I was glass on the verge of being shattered. A couple of girls greeted me and I managed a “hi” in return. My voice broke. I sat, alone in a room full of people. I reached to my lunch tray and plucked a single grape off the small vine.

A kind voice said, “Grapes make everything better.” I looked up to a pretty woman, maybe in her early thirties, with long, red hair. She gave me a warm smile.

“I… um,” I quietly stammered.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I understand.”

Posted in anxiety, depression, healing, hope

Buried wounds won’t heal

It’s been a while. I’ve been sort of lost. The whole deal where I lock things inside until I can’t feel anything anymore got way out of control the last couple of weeks. My fiance, Justin, would ask me what was wrong, why was I sad, and I couldn’t give him an answer. I wasn’t sad, not exactly. I was nothing. Numb, emotionless, just going through the motions of each day. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but I think it’s much worse than the sadness.

This issue stems from my childhood, where I was too busy protecting my mom and my sister from their own demons to add my own sufferings to their plate. My step-dad was not kind, and when he drank (which was often, in my teen years), he was downright mean. I learned to fly under the radar, to not cause trouble or make a scene of things because everyone else in my home was already at constant battle. How could I burden my mama with my broken heart when her own heart was already cracked enough? I learned early to become self-sufficient, to depend on nobody to take care of me but myself.

I want to take a minute here to explain that my parents did take care of my sister and me by providing us a home, food in the house, school supplies, clothing, gas money. We didn’t go without. Which is why it took me so long to realize that they hadn’t given me all that I needed. When I first began seeing my therapist, Joy, just over two years ago, she brought up my childhood often, and I pushed her away, assuring her it wasn’t relevant to my depression and anxiety. It was in the past, it didn’t matter. But it did. It does. My mom did everything she could to be there for my sister and me, but she isn’t perfect. And she wasn’t able to give me everything I needed. When I was 10 years old, riding along in her car as she searched for houses for rent, it was me listening to her anxieties, her concerns, her sadness about her marriage and her life. She wanted out, but it would be many years before she was brave enough to make that jump, and all the while, I was by her side, her rock when nothing else felt stable.

I love my mom more than just about anything. Even now, when I feel that sad tug at my heart, all I want is to fly home and curl up in her lap and cry while she pats my hair and assures me everything will be okay. But that isn’t our relationship. That isn’t what would happen. I feel this constant need to protect her, and that includes guarding her from my own pain.

Since I couldn’t trust anybody else to take care of me (emotionally speaking), I built up walls. The people I loved most in the world got close to me, but still, they were at arms-length, never close enough to see my pain. It’s so lonely behind those walls. You feel like nobody knows who you are really, so any proclamations of love or admiration are rendered void; if they knew about the darkness constantly hovering over you, they wouldn’t love you then. So you put on a show to the world. You wear a mask, so often, that sometimes you almost lose yourself in it. You act fine so often, burying all your true feelings, that the numbness just becomes who you are. And it’s terrifying and awful and it’s like drowning or suffocating and being too afraid to scream for help.

These days, I try really really hard to feel my feelings. Ha- not really something you would expect to take effort, but God, some days it takes everything I’ve got. Going to weekly therapy helps because Joy doesn’t put up with my “I’m fine,” shit, and she somehow barrels through every wall I build. I know that a lot of people have had bad experiences with therapists, but I do encourage you to find one that you click with if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Mine has saved me from myself on many occasions.

Joy had some family things going on and was out of town for two weeks. And, try as I might, I was too tired and too scared to feel everything, and soon I wasn’t feeling anything. I was in my old rut and I had no idea how I got there or how to begin digging my way out. When we met last week, she could instantly tell something was wrong. I was jittery, tapping my foot and fidgeting with the rings on my fingers, spinning the straw in my water cup. I told her, “I’m so anxious and I don’t feel good, and I don’t know why.” And we got out two shovels and we dug.

I’ve been really upset about my step-dad lately. I’ve never felt close with him, and always disapproved the way he treated my mom and sister, but he isn’t a huge part of my life and I generally just ignore the resentment, forcing myself to 2 or 3 breakfast dates a year when I’m in town visiting. But, now I’m getting married next spring and the thing he said to me, the thing that really digs in was, “I sure hope I get to walk you down the aisle. That’s every daddy’s dream.” Which doesn’t seem like a big deal, probably, to most people. But, to me, it was like a slap in my face. He wasn’t there for me, ever. He didn’t give me support, financially or emotionally. Now that I’m in a different state, he doesn’t even call, text, or email. Our only contact is instigated by me, out of guilt and a feeling of obligation. My fiance put it best when he said, “He shouldn’t get to pick and choose when he gets to be your dad.” And that’s it. He didn’t earn this right, he doesn’t deserve to stand beside me on this day. He has let me down, countless times, and it hurts. I never realized it until now. It hurts. Why would he want to hurt me, to lie to me, to abandon me? Why does he feel the need to judge, to criticize? He should love me no matter what, and he doesn’t. His love is conditional.

Joy helped me find this anger and she helped me release it. She pulled up a chair where my imaginary step-dad was sitting, and she gave me rubber balls to throw at him. “Yell at him,” she told me. So I did. I cried and I yelled, “You should love me no matter what,” over and over. And somehow, my stream of sentences led me to my uncle. My late uncle Mikey, who passed away two years ago after suffering several years with a disease called Progressive Supernuclear Palsy (PSP). PSP progressively deteriorates your body and brain until you can no longer function without assistance. My family watched as my vital, lively uncle slowly deteriorated, losing the ability to walk, then move his body on his own at all, requiring assistance with eating, drinking, bathing, and going to the bathroom. He kept his warm heart and his sarcastic sense of humor as long as possible, but eventually, the medication took that from us as well. He slept a lot, and when he was awake, he usually wasn’t coherent and was often confused. It is an awful way to watch somebody you love die.

Before the disease, Mikey was known as my “dunkle”- my dad-uncle. He took me to breakfast every weekend, helped pay for my first car and my college, asked about my life. He loved me so much and he was proud then, and I think he would be so proud of me now. And that is who should be walking me down the aisle on my wedding day. He was the real dad in my life, one of the few people I could always count on, and he doesn’t get to be there. He was there for every important event of my life, but he doesn’t get to be here for this and it hurts so much. I miss him so much.

Mikey died two years ago. I flew home for two days to attend his funeral. I hugged my mom and my aunt, I patted their hair as they cried. I was strong for everybody else. And I didn’t cry until I got on the plane to go home. I sat in my window seat and silently the tears finally came. I am ashamed to admit, I never fully mourned this loss. I buried it so deep inside of me, and all of a sudden, sitting in Joy’s office on her familiar squishy couch, the grief erupted from my heart. All of this hidden pain finally surfaced and I let it and I cried and it hurt then and it hurts now. But it is so much better than the numb emptiness I had grown accustomed to.

Leaving Joy’s office that day felt like such a relief. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I had myself back. Like I had been missing and finally, there I was, hiding in plain sight all along. People say a lot of things about depression, but one of its ugliest qualities is the way it robs you of yourself. Because when you lose your feelings, you lose your self.

So, this is another day, and right now I’m sad because I miss somebody that I love a lot. But I’m also happy because I’m sharing a couch with my two lovely canine children, listening to their soft snores. I’m anxious-excited because school is starting soon and I’m anxious-nervous because I have an interview for a job that I don’t think I want to take. I’ll be sad and mad and happy and scared and a million other emotions every day of my life, hopefully. It’s not easy, this rollercoaster, but I’ll take it over the alternative any day.

Wishing you all an emotional day.

Posted in anxiety, healing, hope

Following the uncharted path

I’m feeling overwhelmed. My own anxiety is at a high point. (I had to take an Ativan on my lunch break in order to make it through the rest of my work day yesterday.) Generally, heightened anxiety for me means that I’m not taking the time to process and deal with emotions and/or thoughts, so they add up until they become too much, a heavy weight on my chest.

It’s hard to spend time with myself, really look inside to what’s going on beneath the surface. I work full time, have two dogs to take care of, classes and homework for most of the year. I live with my fiance now, which means alone time is sparse. The doesn’t even account for talking to/meeting up with friends and family. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining about having a full life; I am incredibly lucky and grateful for the wonderful people and animals close to me, for the fact that I have a job and a home and an opportunity for education. I just mean that I greatly value my alone time. It’s the time I use to reflect on all the millions of stimuli I have been exposed to over the past few hours/days/weeks. I need that time because, for me, being alone in the quiet of my own thoughts is the only way I actually listen and feel and process.

With a hectic schedule, I often resort to the unhealthy behavior of “turning off.” My job requires 12 hour shifts that often turn into 13-14. I deal with other people all day, everyday. Family, friends, clients, therapists, doctors, city Waste Management (who neglected to empty my trashcans… AGAIN). It’s exhausting. I feel like I barely have time to grab a frozen dinner to eat before going to sleep, waking up, and starting all over again. Dealing with emotions takes time and energy that I often don’t have. So, I turn off. I sort of block everything out, become numb, until I have the time (and mental capacity) to deal with it.

So, when I’ve been numb for too long, the anxiety starts to build. I feel a weight on my chest, making it impossible to draw in enough air no matter how deeply I breathe. Sometimes, it becomes so much that I end up spending some time on the floor (or in the bath) crying hysterically, letting everything come out at once. My therapist (aptly named Joy) uses a balloon as an example; you blow air in, little by little. If you don’t let the air out, eventually the balloon with either pop, or all the air will rush out at once, sending the balloon flying erratically through the room.

I know this post is long, and it’s gone in an entirely different direction than I originally intended. Basically, I am to the point that my balloon is very full, and I need to let some air out, like, yesterday. Here is a stream of consciousness that I scribbled down on my lunch break yesterday:

I’m sad today. I feel so alone. I miss my old apartment. I could just be in my room alone, instead of having to be alone with somebody else. I just feel like such a burden. I don’t know why J even loves me. I’m not pretty, not funny. I’m too anxious all the time and not laid back or chill. You know who is pretty? J’s friend so-and-so. She is pretty, and she’s fucking chill too. It would make sense for them to be into each other. What if they’re having a secret affair? Maybe she’s at the house now, maybe she’s met my dogs. Do his friends know? Do my friends know? Do my friends even consider me their friend anymore? I’ve been so busy, I need to make more time for them. What if they don’t love me anymore? NO. Stop. You have absolutely no reason to think this. J loves you. Your friends love you. Your anxiety is getting out of control. You need to calm down. What is really going on? What are you avoiding? It’s so hard. I’m so lost. Will this panic and sadness and insecurity ever go away? I’m going to push away everyone that loves me. Can I just be normal? I hate this. I hate being myself. I want to curl into a ball in my closet and stay there in the dark quiet, maybe then I will feel peaceful. I can’t do this. I can’t keep doing this. Deep breath. Deep breath. You’re going to be okay. 

Hence, the need to pop an Ativan before heading back into work, a veterinary hospital where I take care of animals and their humans. I am getting better at being self-aware. I can recognize when my thoughts are following an unhealthy pathway, the same pathways my neurons have been trained to travel my entire life. Re-training is the hard part. Stopping the thoughts, questioning them, and redirecting them somewhere positive. I’m getting better. But, as you can see, sometimes my thoughts run much faster until they’re so far ahead of me, I have to work to catch up. Does this happen to you?

When I actually slow down and logically look at them, it’s obvious that my insecurities are just that- not factually based proofs, but fearful delusions and what-ifs? So, I’ve stopped the thoughts. I question their validity. Now, to redirect. To find the truth and follow it to a place where I can be at peace with myself.

Wish me luck.

Posted in anxiety, depression, healing, hope

Hi…

Hello. I’m Jordan.
I don’t exactly know how to start this.

It feels weird to just jump right into this, but I appreciate straight-forwardness in a person, so here it goes. I’m dealing with depression and anxiety, I have been for many years, and while I think I’m getting better, I still feel somewhat… lost. Some days are great and other days I don’t even know who I am. How can I learn to love myself if I don’t know who my self is?

So, I guess that is the purpose of this blog. To help me work through my illness, to discover who I am, and, hopefully, to learn to love myself.

It sounds really cliche- “learn to love myself.” Cheesy almost to the point of losing all meaningfulness. But the way I see it, this world is already big and scary enough as it is, and the one person you (I) should be able to count on to have your (my) back, is your(my)self.

In the words of author, Sarah Dessen, “There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”

Right now, I’m in a mostly good place. While I’m not as happy as I could be (as I hope to be, one day), I’ve definitely been in much darker places. So I’m starting this blog with a clear head and a hopeful attitude. I know there are others out there who are going through this too. And even though I know that, I also know how isolated and alone I often feel. So, maybe this will reach somebody and maybe it won’t, but if it does, I wish you all the love and happiness on Earth. Let’s conquer this.

With love,
Jordan