Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Flat on my face.

A couple of months ago, I was walking through the neighborhood when suddenly I found myself flat, face-down on the sidewalk with skinned knees and hands and the wind knocked out of me. I honestly have no idea how this happened except that I remember twisting my ankle a bit and the ground was pretty steep. But it was such a bizarre feeling to go from upright and confident to sprawled on the ground, humiliated with no warning whatsoever.

I feel like this is a good image of relapsing in mental illness. My therapist says they aren't relapses so much as dips in moods, and I guess she's right, but I guess I look at myself as being on an upward trajectory from where I was a year and a half ago - in the complete worst shape of my life. Ever since then, I've been desperate to get better and return to a proper functioning state. It's discouraging, frustrating, and confusing when I find myself flat on my face again, usually because of the same anxieties, hurts, or struggles that I've grappled with for the last few years of my life. I hate going back over and over to the same hurts, but I don't know how to resolve them and move on either. I guess that's why therapy takes so long.

Tonight, I fell flat on my face again - emotionally, that is. It wasn't exactly an unexpected thing, I guess, seeing as I've been stressed all day, but it sure felt like it came out of nowhere, grabbed me, and pulled me down to collide full-force with the unaccomodating asphalt of depression. I feel unbearably lonely and isolated from all of my friends. I feel like nobody cares. I don't know for the life of me how to bridge that gap. I feel stupid for falling for yet another guy who doesn't like me back and I'm frustrated that we can't have a relationship because I just want to experience this stupid romance thing for once in my life and I feel like I deserve love so I don't know why it keeps being denied to me.

In the Christian tradition, many people say that broken relationships are one of the major effects of the Fall of mankind into sin, and they serve as a reminder that this isn't heaven and only God can love us purely, the way we desire. I guess that's all true, but it makes me so mad to realize it. I just want to be happy for a while in my life - is that too much to ask after all the shit that's happened to me? I want to fall in love without asking a million questions or being afraid that he's not right and we'll break up and I'll be hurt. I want to love a person without the millions of worst-case scenarios my frightened mind starts running through to protect itself. I want to stop obsessing about people who don't care about me and be the one someone wants for a change (preferably someone not creepy who I actually like back, may I add...)

I don't know if I'm so sad because I haven't been getting enough sleep or because of the stress or because I didn't take my pills at the right time...probably a combination of all three. But that frustrates me too; why can I only be happy if there's a delicate balance of factors fulfilled? Life doesn't typically allow for you to get your nine hours of sleep, your pills before breakfast on an empty stomach, your other pills afterwards on a full one, your workload at a steady stream of just-challenging-enough. And counselors are only there once a week to put a little band-aid on the gaping hole that exists where your chest ought to be.

I guess I shouldn't be so pessimistic on a blog, but I can't stop thinking about the times when people actually were honest with me about their feelings and I realized that I'm not alone in feeling these horrible sad things sometimes. One incident in particular happened just a couple of weeks ago: my successful, popular, attractive friend mentioned something about being lonely sometimes. Of course I was sad for him, but I was also a bit relieved to know that even popular  people feel lonely. So I write all this sad, angsty rambling for you, dear readers, in case you are comforted in the same way I was by finding that you're not alone. Ironically, I think we can all relate as humans because we all feel lonely sometimes.


I hate first days.

I mean, I was looking forward to today in some ways because I like being busy, I'm looking forward to some of my classes this semester, and I'm already used to my new school's campus, and I just don't have all of the anxiety and dread that I used to now that I'm on medication. I did pretty well this morning; didn't freak out too much beforehand, even when I found out I had to get a parking pass this year. I rolled with the punches and adapted to the changing circumstances without panicking. I kept calm while my professor read the jam-packed syllabus to us and mentioned the ten-page research paper.

"You can do this. You've done this before. You're going to start early on these assignments and focus better and work wisely. You're a veteran at this school thing and you've learned your lesson. If you have to drop a class, that's fine. It will all work out," I rationally told myself.

I answered a question in class, an increasingly common but still impressive feat for this socially anxious girl. I nodded along to the professors ramblings and jotted down notes. I scanned the crowd of admittedly youthful-looking students to see if there were any cute guys. I took note of the personalities of the people who spoke up in class to see what the dynamic of the class would be. I kept telling myself everything would be fine. I walked out of class confidently and even took a selfie with the school sign. When I ran into a snafu trying to drive out of the campus, I calmly dealt with it and didn't bemoan the time lost to driving in circles. I was doing really well.

Then I got home.

I walked through the door and was immediately greeted with the jangling of an acoustic guitar playing the unbearably familiar chords of a song my sister and I are trying to put together for an upcoming church event. Performing seemed like a good idea, but it turns out I hate working in groups to put together music, and while I like the song we're doing well enough, I've come to hate it after having to play it over and over at my sister's beckoning and then having it play nonstop in my head for twenty-four hours after that. I just don't want to work on the damn thing any more, but my sister keeps pressuring me to arrange for the people playing with us to meet to practice. It's become one of those things that makes you irrationally annoyed because it's a symbol of a larger stressor in your life, and that stressor is my relationship with my sister.

I headed straight to my room and hid myself away from the annoyance; I wanted some time to wind down and I wanted to isolate myself from my sister lest I be grumpy with her and hurt her feelings. After a few minutes though, she came knocking at my door asking why I hadn't eaten the food she made. I told her I would come soon, I was just doing something. But she came back a few minutes later and asked again. I kind of lost it. Not yelling or anything, just snapping at her. I was stressed with school and I'm just generally annoyed with her mannerisms lately because we've spent too much time together this summer. I guess I realized as I got home what the realities of my life would be like this school year: my sister will be living at home too while she gets her Master's online. But for the next month, she won't have that schoolwork, so she'll be wanting to hang out while I want to work. In general, it's just going to be crowded and distracting and stressful, especially if I'm already irritated by stupid little things.

Then I started looking at my syllabus to see if there was something I could get a head start on and I was struck with just how overwhelming the courseload is. I'm no stranger to overwhelming courseloads, but they still freak me out big time. I started looking at another syllabus and thinking of other little beginning-of-the-year tasks I had to complete, and it all quickly spiraled out of control, leaving me stressed and overwhelmed.

Apart from all of that, I've been stressed the last couple of days thinking about one particular relationship of mine that I'd like to grow but that is disappointingly stagnant. Read: I kind of developed a crush on a person who I've always thought of as a friend before. I hate having crushes now because they make me so anxious and obsessive; I can't stop my thoughts from racing in circles, wondering about the person and whether or not he likes me. Sometimes this person has shown an unusual amount of kindness to me, but he doesn't seem interested in talking to me via text. But it's so hard to tell because you can't read emotions in text messages.

It all plays into this overarching frustration I'm having of how to continue relationships where you can no longer meet face-to-face. As someone who suffers from social anxiety, talking over text and email can be really tough because I read into little things like people not responding or seeming a bit curt and I start to think they hate me or don't care. It's hard to tell whether people are passive-aggressive or just formal, disinterested or just busy. I forget that other people's inboxes and social media feeds are undoubtedly far more packed than mine, so what I see as snubs or intentionally ignoring me may just be accidents.

But the sad thing is it leaves me very frustrated and lonely and I'm not sure how to communicate that to the person because maybe they really don't mean to hurt me and would like to fix the situation if they knew how I was feeling. But how do you tell someone that something so personal, awkward, and potentially offensive? And my social anxiety makes me terrified of phone calls. Maybe I just need to start calling people, but then I wonder if people would think that would be weird.

So I lumber along, unsure of how to handle myself and feeling altogether pretty isolated and unworthy of love at times. I wish I wasn't always the one initiating things in my friendships. I wish people reached out to me. I wish I wasn't always the one crushing hardcore on a person and that one of these days the guy reciprocated my feelings and made a little effort to pursue me. But that all seems like stuff of fairy tales.

In the mean time, I'm stuck in the real world of syllabuses and siblings and rush hour traffic and macaroni and cheese made in a saucepan. Even though things are better, there is still plenty of frustrations kind of like how even though I didn't get super anxious and dread school for days the way I usually do, I still woke up at 2 am this morning and had panic attacks and swore I was dying. It's funny how not matter how many panic attacks I've had, I always am convinced that it might be my last moments. I feel sad that I can't say one last thing to my family and I start praying and asking God again for forgiveness and reaffirming my faith in him just in case the last ten million times weren't enough, but it's always just a panic attack that convinces me I'm lying in my death bed. Nowadays I'm usually able to figure out it's just panic, but part of me is still convinced I'm dying.

I guess life is like that: a cycle of the same fears and joys, struggles and triumphs repeating itself over and over. If you're lucky, you learn a little more each time and can deal with things a little better the next time they come around.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


A few days ago, I was surprised.

I was shopping for clothes so I don't go back to school looking like a slob, a task which has become a bit of a burden since I gained around forty pounds last year because of the whole depression ordeal. I used to be a bit of a clothes horse; I loved new things, I loved pretty things, I loved dressing up, and I looked good in most of the styles because I was quite lithe. Now I've had to pack up my extensive collection because I can't even get those clothes up past my calves or over my head. Finding pieces to cover my body is a bit more of a chore now; it's gotten better as I've gotten more used to my new body, but it's still a bit sad to see pieces you love and realize they just wouldn't work on you any more. One particular problem area is dresses; I loved beautiful dresses before, but with my new thick-waisted, jolly tummy build, I don't seem to look good in any of them.

I gave up a while ago on find any that looked okay, but the other day, I saw a maxi dress hanging on the rack and something inside me said, "Hey...that just might work." When I tried it on, I kept looking in the mirror, turning this way and that, waiting for some imperfection to appear. I walked out into the long hall of the dressing room to use the three-way mega mirror because I was so flabbergasted. To my shock, it still seemed to look good, even in the Mirror of Doom. Not perfect, but pretty good. It wasn't the magazine-cover cute I had once known, but it didn't make me feel like an army tank/pregnant walrus like every other dress I had tried on in the past several months. So I bought it. I still feel a bit surprised when I look over and see a long piece of navy material draped over the back of my chair, which in a way reminds me of where I am in the greater scheme of my life: it's not perfect, but it's a whole lot better than it's been, and it's leaving me amazed and excited at the surprises that keep dropping in.

There are a lot of changes, new developments, and intimidating things coming up on my horizon: I'm starting school again tomorrow, which brings new professors, new classes, new challenges. I've gotten used to my new school, but I haven't taken a full courseload in over a year, so I'm a little nervous to see how I'll handle it, especially while juggling multiple work responsibilities and a grad school application too. And it's a little sad to think about how I'll miss many of the senior honors and privileges that I would have gotten to have at my old school, even if I love my new school a lot.

I'm going to be seeing a new counselor this Thursday and saying good-bye to my therapist of a year next week, which is a really sad and scary transition. This therapist saw me through one of the toughest transitions of my life and helped me process all of the grief and heartache of this past year. She was my safe haven when I had a lot of judgment and rejection weighing down on me. She helped restore my faith in therapy after two bad experiences with mental health care treatment providers and a long battle to find a treatment method that worked for me. A year doesn't seem like a long time, but I have changed and grown so much in that time, and she was a big part of that. It's hard to step into therapy with a new person who doesn't know you, your story, and your needs, especially when you still have memories of counselors who haven't respected any of those things and really hurt you as a result. It's hard when you don't know that person or whether you'll have a connection with them or what their style will be like. And it's difficult to say bye to someone who made an impact on you without knowing why they are leaving, where their going, if you'll get to talk to them again; not having the kind of closure that you would have liked or the chance to say all the things you wanted to.

I'm a different place, I'm a different person in many ways, I'm living a different life. I'm still trying to figure out how to live, how to be in relationships, how to make good choices, and I wish sometimes that there was a guide book. I'm still trying to figure out where I stand with God, where I stand with friends, what my opinions are on issues, what my priorities are in life, but I'm learning that there's a beauty in the journey, in the process. I get frustrated when I find myself upset about things that happened a year ago or feeling depressed the way I did six months ago; I should be more mature by now - I am a person in recovery, I have been to years of therapy, why can't I get it together? But healing takes time and lots of visits back to those old hurts, old haunts, old hates...and lots of visits to the random stranger with a Master's Degree in listening to people with screwed up lives.

With all the scary, new things though, I realize that there are so many exciting new things. I remember that less than a year ago, I thought my life was over. I thought there was no hope. I doubted I could ever feel better, ever recover, ever be happy. I doubted I could ever finish college. Now I am thriving, doing better than I have in a long, long time. There are still rough patches, but I think this could be a great year coming up.

Life is always surprising you, sometimes in bad ways, but sometimes in good ones. The joy is in the journey though, in seeing where life takes you and where you push yourself to go. I'm excited to see how I grow and where I end up in this coming year. And I'm even more thankful for this life that I am rebuilding because once everything I held dear with taken away from me.

I am not new, but I am different. I am becoming. I am not being born again; I am evolving, embracing who I am and who I have been and forming her into a better version of who I can be.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

who has hands strong enough?

Tonight, I am overcome with a strange longing for, well, a boyfriend. I would put it more poetically, but then it starts to sound like an ad for escorts. So I'll put it plain and simple: Right now, in this moment, I feel like I really want a boyfriend.

Who knows how I'll feel tomorrow or the next day; it's been varying day to day, week to week. Usually I'm happy being single: I can focus on my work, spend my time and money the way I want, not worry about shaping my decisions for the future to fit someone else's life, not worry about messy fights and emotions and another person's expectations. To put it simply, I have enough of my own shit to deal with without adding someone else's into the mix.

Not to mention, when you're my age, it's so easy to become dependent on another person when you get into romantic relationships, whether for self-worth or decision-making or finances. It's easy to let go of yourself and your own hopes, needs, and aspirations in your pursuit of making a relationship last whatever the costs. It's easy to become consumed, wrapped up, obsessed with that person, that relationship, those feelings, letting go of other friendships, hobbies, or academic pursuits. I've seen it happen with others I know and I've feared entering romantic relationships for these very reasons.

As I've grown in this past year and learned more about myself, my needs, and healthy thinking in the past year through therapy and writing, I've learned more and more the importance of getting to know and accept yourself before letting other people get involved who you have a tendency to wrap your identity around. But at the same time, I have to acknowledge that I may have developed an unhealthy suspicion of intimate relationships because I'm so afraid of getting involved in one and making mistakes.

This has been a long-rooted fear, probably nurtured by 1) my anxiety disorder, 2) my conservative Christian upbringing, and 3) my lack of experience in romantic relationships. The longer you go having never been in a proper relationship, the easier it is to get nervous about being in one, to overthink what could go wrong and write and revise lists of do's and don't's to try to ensure you don't screw it up once it actually happens. The whole Evangelical Christian community has a weird love/hate relationship with romantic relationships; everyone's expected to get married, even pressured to, but quite a few prominent authors and thinkers in the community have promoted the idea that you should avoid getting physically or emotionally involved with people unless you're really sure they could be the person you want to marry. Some people took this even further to say that you shouldn't date at all and any emotional connection you formed with a person of the opposite sex would be unfair to your future spouse. The problem, of course, is how can you then form a proper relationship with anyone to ensure they're your spouse, and what if you just accept whoever comes along and they're not really that great for you.

Anyways, I have been immersed in this sort of thinking for most of my life, and while I have moved further from it as I've progressed in life, the fear of messing up a relationship remains; breaking up with a person seems almost like a sin - it would mean I failed and I wasted my time and my heart. And how could I get over that? So I've always been anxious about romantic relationships, probably excessively so, and while I'm more open to the possibility of dating someone more casually, I definitely am nervous about dating someone period. Now I have the additional fear of having a relationship hurt the progress I've made working on myself over the past year because I know my tendency, when I have feelings for a person, is to sacrifice my own goals and interests in favor of doing what appeals to them.

I think there's an additional vulnerability when one is mentally ill that comes with entering romantic relationships: you're afraid of the person running away once they find out about your past or see your struggle in the present. When the moodiness comes out or a rant comes on because you hear a stigmatizing phrase on a TV show or a depressive episode comes over and suddenly you don't want to hang out or talk and you keep berating yourself and have no self-confidence...Most people would run. And most of mentally ill people have know friends and partners who have called it quits because we were just too much. We are afraid of it happening again because it is really, really painful to see someone you love leave just when you really need them to stay, so you just lock people out. It seems easier.

It can be hard to find friends who are supportive and understanding regarding your disorder - people who get it, who empathize, who are educated on the facts of what it is you how can you know that this cute guy you just met will be one of those people? What if you waste time talking to him and finally open up about some of your past and he bolts, leaving you feeling even more stupid, embarrassed, and worthless than before. What if he spreads your secrets to other people? What if he stays with you, but just doesn't get how you feel and says insensitive things, which can be equally frustrating. What if the person stays with you, but is emotionally abusive and uses your past "mistakes" as leverage to manipulate you?

It's all very scary, especially for those of us who have experience with particularly stigmatized, shamed, and misunderstood issues, such as self-injury, psychotic breaks, assault, or addiction. And it's tough for other people to get all of the emotional processes that surround dealing with mental health issues. A lot of times it can lead to going through the grief process, questioning spiritual or political beliefs, feeling disillusioned with groups of people, feeling sensitive about comments, images, or phrases that other people would see as run-of-the-mill. Other people may not ever go through these same processes, so someone who you used to be on the exact same page with a year ago before your nervous breakdown may be in an entirely different book now that you've endured a lot of stuff that he/she hasn't any experience with.

I guess what I wanted to say in all of this, is that it's easy to feel like damaged goods if you are mentally ill. Or even if you're like me and are inexperienced in romantic relationships at an age typically characterized by rampant promiscuity. Or if you grew up in a background that is conservative and you broke the community's sexual mores. Or for any host of reasons. It's easy to look at the successful, healthy, popular life a crush is living and feel completely unworthy because of the darkness in your past and the hard times you know are bound to come in the future. But that's really not a fair thought to have, even if it's a natural one.

The truth is, your heart is a treasure, regardless of what has happened to you in the past, or perhaps even because of it. Your heart, your body, your mind, your soul, your whole being. Your heart that has been broken, discarded, betrayed, and disappointed a whole lot more than any heart should, leaving it tender, sensitive, perhaps bitter, confused, scared, afraid of touch. Your body, which may still bear the scars of battle or the stretch marks or medication side effects or the reminders of an attempt to end things. Your mind: overworked, undernourished, frayed and frazzled, fighting to be re-wired, re-taught, and broken from bad habits. Your soul: shattered pieces being glued back together, one by one, to form a new picture of a new set of dreams, still mourning the ones that were thrown to the ground again and again.

You have endured more than most ever will or even could. You are stronger, you are wiser, you are more compassionate. You are still here. You are still you. You are. You have fought harder, worked and pushed yourself to be better, to get better. You deserve life and you deserve love. If anyone runs, it's because they aren't good enough. They aren't worthy to hold your heart - your incredibly strong heart, full of character and light because it has had to be extraordinarily strong and bright to endure the darkness it has walked through, the weight of the world's attempts to crush its spirit.

You are looking for someone wise enough to see your strength and worth. Discerning enough to see your beauty. Strong enough to hold the weight of this gold jewel that rests inside your chest. You are not trying to find someone who you might be good enough for and who will stoop to your level to tolerate a poor crazy like you who doesn't deserve better, you are waiting for someone who can appreciate the beauty and strength of a warrior who has not stopped fighting for a day, someone who wants to come alongside you in that fight witness and celebrate it, and hold up your arms when you're too tired to keep battling.

Friday, August 26, 2016

To my friend who didn't want to take medication.

I'm pleased to have had another article published on The Mighty, a website where people submit articles about their experiences with mental illness, chronic disease, and disabilities (though sadly it didn't made any of their social media feeds. Guess I'm not cool enough...) They made some changes to it, however, (including the awkward grammatical error in the title...a person who is afraid to get help for you? ummm...) so I'm posting the original copy here.

This was inspired by an interaction with a friend last year. Unfortunately, the person is no longer present in my life so I can't really say these things to him, but I figured sharing them with anyone else in a similar circumstance was the best I could do.

See this article on The Mighty or read my other articles published there.


To my friend who said he doesn’t need medication

It was a Sunday.

You asked me if I was taking medication for mental health issues. I thought it was a bit out of the blue, but I said yes and you asked what I took meds for. I rattled off the list: anxiety, depression, social anxiety, panic disorder. You stopped me at the last one. You told me you had panic attacks last night and that’s why you couldn’t sleep. I nodded; I’ve experienced just the same thing. I know how awful it is to feel the mix of being bone tired and wide awake with inexplicable anxious adrenaline.
I was excited that you were willing to talk to me about a subject usually left untouched, hoping the conversation might lead to you getting help, but the moment was short-lived. You downplayed your struggle and insisted that you can take care of things, rattling off a list of what you need to do to get better: exercise, eat right, get more sleep. Another guy jumped into our conversation and changed the subject. I listened politely but wished the moment hadn’t been ruined.

I wish I could have told you this:

I know it’s scary to get help. I resisted for months, years even, before stepping into counseling and going on medication. You want to believe you can do it on your own. You tell yourself you’ve been coping just fine all these years. You’ve pushed through the anxiety and the overwhelming sadness all these years, so you can make it through another dark time.

I told myself the same things. Until it all became too much. Deep down I knew all along that I was barely making it, that there was a better way to live if I sought help. It took going to my darkest place to realize that barely getting by coping with anxiety and depression on my own wasn’t enough. Why go through life just barely making it, feeling miserable all the while when you have the chance to live fully and feel happy? I realized that I deserved better; I owed it to myself to get help.

I know that I’m not the best person to tell you these things since things got worse for me before they got better, but I am so much happier now than I have ever been when I was just getting by. The things you listed – eating right, exercising, going to sleep earlier – they help, but sometimes they’re not enough. Sometimes there’s something not quite right in your brain’s wiring, an imbalance of chemicals in your body, and that makes it hard to function properly and be happy. There’s nothing to be ashamed of; some people’s bodies stop producing insulin, others’ hearts don’t work quite right. We don’t think any less of them; it’s just how their bodies are.

Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means you understand a fundamental truth: We are all faulty and confused, and we need to lean on other people and medical advances to live better lives. Getting help means that you are willing to do the hard work that recovery takes in order to improve your life, yes, but also to help you be a better son, boyfriend, student, brother, friend, etc. Unresolved mental health issues can make it hard to have good relationships, live our lives to the fullest, and do the work we are called to.

I wish I hadn’t waited until things got as bad as they did to get help. I wish I had had the courage to start working on myself because now that I have, I see the enormous impact it has had on my well-being. I am happier, I am wiser, I know myself better, and I am able to be a better friend and student. I am living up to my full capability and pushing myself to accomplish things that I couldn’t before when my mind was consumed by anxious and hopeless thoughts. So now it pains me to see so many of my friends telling themselves the same lie I clung onto: “I can make it on my own. I’ve coped just fine. I don’t need help.”

I can tell you’re in pain. I can tell you aren’t coping with it as well as you claim. I can tell the hurt is taking its toll, closing you off from friends, keeping you from achieving all you could, poisoning your mind with lies that you’re not enough, keeping you from much-needed sleep. I wish we could finish our conversation and I could point you in the right direction and let you know that there’s no shame, but time and circumstances have since led our paths in different directions. So I’m writing this for anyone else out there who is still settling for barely getting by:

It’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s brave. It’s strong. It’s wise. It’s hard. It will be a long process, even a painful one at times, but trust me – it’s the best choice you’ll ever make.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

some days.

some days i don't know why i'm here.

some days i don't want to stay.

some days i wish i'd never been put here.

some days i feel too lost to ever find my way.

some days i feel like no one cares.

some days i'm overwhelmed by the thought that the world would keep spinning just fine without me - perhaps even better.

some days i wonder why i keep pressing on.

some days the silence drowns out the whispers of 'i love you'.

some days it's all just too much and i can never seem to be enough.

some days the mountain is just too steep and the mountaintop seems to never arrive.

some days the advocacy websites hurt instead of help.

some days i feel more ignored than important.

some days i just don't feel like doing the exercises to combat the negative thoughts because if I don't listen to my thoughts, nobody will.

some days i realize that it is a joke to call myself recovered.

some days i don't know who the hell to turn to to say "i need help. i can't do this. i am so lonely."

some days i don't have the words to express the emptiness swallowing me whole, from the inside out.

some days i don't know how i'll ever feel like i matter.

some days the have not's outweigh the haves, no matter how many you pile on the scale.

some days i just feel like, in spite of all the time and training i've put in, strength i've built up, lessons i've learned, tools i've gained, i can't win the fight.

I hate to admit it because I spend so much time trying to look strong, but I do have these thoughts, these feelings. Even though we encourage people to speak up and be vulnerable in the mental health advocacy community, there still feels, at least to me, like there is an unspoken expectation that you share only when you're better, only when you've dealt with most of your shit, tackled your ugliest demons, and are no longer a "trigger" for other people still suffering. But I just want people to be real with me. And, honestly, I feel much better when I know that the people I look up to are still human, just like me, than when they cover up in order to "inspire" others with a perfect, wholesome image. I want to know that I'm not alone in this darkness.

So here's the truth: I don't have it all together. I am better than I was, but I am falling apart again. I am working on myself still, but I am not sure I will ever be fixed. I am hurting and I am not always glad that I'm here. I doubt my potential, I doubt whether my life has purpose. I do all of this because I am mentally ill. I suffer from Major Depression (or maybe some other diagnosis. My stupid mental health care practitioners always got uncomfortable when I tried to get them to give me a diagnosis, even though I just wanted to have a way to understand what was happening to me.)

When writing this blog and other articles, talking to friends, or going to counseling, I often find myself tempted to sugar coat my struggles and spin everything positively, avoiding admitting to my darkest hurts. I succumb to this temptation sometimes, especially in counseling and conversations with friends. But I'm challenging myself in this moment to continue to push my boundaries and open up and be real with people about what's going on. Maybe this post will lead people to write this blog off as angsty ramblings of an unstable person that the world of the mentally ill should not be exposed to for fear of their being "triggered" (have I ever talked about how much I hate that word on here?) But for my fellow humans trying to muddle through this confusing-and-lonely-as-hell life, I want to be honest and real. If it speaks to you, that's all I want. Know you're not alone. Know that it's okay to feel those feelings, think those thoughts, even if you're scared to tell anyone, even if it feels like nobody would care if you did share.

Please, stay here. I may not always feel worthy of life, but I know that you, whoever you are, dear reader, are.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Today I woke up and knew I had to get out of bed.

I forced myself out the door, late.

I watched the kids play, but opted to sit at a distance in the rocking chair rather than with them on the floor.

I stared out the window and wished I could be back home, curled up in bed.

Minutes passed like hours, dragging themselves like nails on a chalkboard in my head.

The world seemed to have had a filter put over it, turning everything to black, white, and grey. Mostly grey.

Every movement felt like a chore, every hour like a burden.

My mind and heart weighed with a suffocating loneliness as I mentally flipped through my list of friends, trying to decide if there was anyone I could open up to about what was going on. Each person was crossed off the list: she doesn't talk to me any more, he doesn't seem to care. I don't know who my real friends are any more. People say they're there for you, but they always seem busy when you call, like they'd rather be doing anything besides talking to you. I can't see my counselor for four more days. So I feel even lonelier as I realize this burden is mine alone to bear. I know the advocacy sites say otherwise, but sometimes I wonder if those people have ever lived in the real world.

I want to be honest with people; sometimes I feel like I'm living a double life. But few people are honest with me. And so many of my messages go unopened, unanswered. So who am I supposed to trust with this heavy truth?

I look at the children playing and feel the weight of this darkness push me down deeper into the chair. I want to be anywhere but here. I want to hide away from the world, but I have a duty to fulfill. I wonder what people did before antidepressants, in a time when life bore even more heaviness with all of the poverty, infant mortality, and near-starvation, the confinement to one town, one house, one room. How did the women who lived before me get through dark days like this in such unrelentingly awful conditions?

As the day wears on, my head and shoulders start to ache from the increasing heaviness weighing on my shoulders - the stress of bleak thoughts and a lonely heart. How will I cope with this? When will things get better? Why am I having another relapse? What am I supposed to do to get better? What did I do wrong to get like this again? Did I commit some sort of sin? My head spins with the questions I don't know how to answer; thoughts won't slow down and I'm too sluggish to keep up.

Dark cafe days are like a desert stretching out before you; no hope is on your horizon and life just seems like a burden you have to bear, a battlefield you have to drag yourself through. They make you question everything: Do people care about me? Is my life worth living? Can I ever do something to make my life matter? Am I a burden to others? Will I ever feel happy again?

No one else seems to have these questions, and the fact that you're thinking them seems so wrong and ungrateful, so you keep them secret, which isolates you even more, adding to the bleakness of your situation. It's so hard to articulate how you feel, and even harder for others to understand.

Now that I've been in treatment for a while for depression, I feel the additional pressure of having to cope properly with dark feelings and untrue thoughts. I feel like I need to figure out how to get out of the rut, to look back and find what happened to bring these old feelings back. Even though I have found a therapist and psychiatrist who I feel more comfortable talking to, I don't know what to do between appointments. Besides, how am I supposed to work out all my needs in an hour every week or two when life throws you so many curveballs and ups and downs in the umpteen hours your spend outside of that little room?

Dark days, grey days, whatever you want to call them - they're not easy. People don't get what you're going through because their skies are blue. They don't realize that you need them to stop what they're doing and be by your side. Dark days leave you confused, lonely, isolated, caught in your head, questioning things you once took for granted. But it's still worth fighting, because you never know what's on the horizon.

Even though today I feel like the rest of my life will be a bloodless battle with nothing to redeem the story, I've felt the same way before in my life and been completely blindsided by the possibilities that eventually came my way. Rather than a flat desert stretching endlessly, offering no hope for rescue or happiness, this is more of a curve in the road on a mountain pass that I can't see behind. The obstacle seems insurmountable and it's scary not to know what's ahead, easy to believe that it can only be as hopeless as it's been lately, but I've learned that's not necessarily true. Life is full of setbacks, disappointments, hurts, and thorns in the flesh, but I'm learning that is also has hope, possibility, and potential.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

New York, New York, I don't want to be a part of it.

I just got home from a family vacation to New York City.  Most of us had never been before, including myself, and parts of it were quite interesting, but overall there's just a reason our family doesn't go on vacations all together any more and I'm returning home from vacation feeling more exhausted than rested.

I wish it wasn't true, but I hate traveling. I'm trying to figure out why. I think it partly has to do with my anxiety and my being a highly sensitive person (HSP). I feel like a snob talking about being sensitive, but I'm beginning to realize just how much it impacts my thoughts and experience. I think travel is so stressful for me because you're in a state of constant arousal, always on your toes, always anticipating what needs to be taken care of, instead of being in a safe, secure, known location. There's typically a lot going on around you, including lots of noise, you have to make split second decisions constantly, and you can't be sure what to do if you get hungry or thirsty or need to pee because you don't know the area. Not knowing what to do or what to expect factors into my general and social anxiety a lot, so vacations are awful in the sense that it's one giant unknown that my brain is constantly trying to plan for, but can't because it doesn't have the data.

All of this gets even more complicated when you throw in the equally erratic and anxious emotions of four other family members, so while the trip didn't go as awfully as I was afraid it might, I didn't exactly enjoy it either. I hated New York. It's smelly and dirty and loud and ugly and confusing and weird. But I felt guilty for not liking it because everybody's so freaking obsessed with it. I mean, how many songs have been written about the place, how many movies and books and TV shows set there? I feel the same way about traveling; everyone else is so passionate about how much they love it, I feel guilty for hating it. I wish I liked it more, and I actually don't totally hate it, but that's just who I am as a person and I guess there must be a reason for it. After all, if everyone traveled all the time, then booking a plane ticket would be even more terrible.

I guess I'm also having trouble because it's gotten to that point in the summer where I'm just tired of my family. It's not anything they do in particular, it's just everything they do. We've been together all summer so I'm just tired of their mannerisms and the things that used to annoy me a little bit have become almost unbearable. There were a couple time I wanted to jump out of the minivan on the car ride and just run home instead. I slept for most of the car ride in an effort to not hear conversation. I feel terrible that I'm so annoyed by these people who I love dearly and who have been very nice to me, whose lives I should cherish, but I also can understand why they are starting to get on my nerves. It's hard to be an adult living at home. It's hard to be a young adult trying to become independent but still being financially dependent on your parents and socially isolated from other people your age.

I met with a friend while in New York. We hadn't talked in a while because I felt like he wasn't very invested in the relationship so I stopped bothering to contact him, but I had told him I was coming to his area and, to my surprise, he asked enthusiastically if we could meet. I was touched because so many people have written me out of their lives, but anxious because, well, meeting someone again in a strange place + social anxiety doesn't mix well (not to mention the twinge of self-consciousness that comes from being forty pounds heavier than when you last saw a person). We ended up having a great conversation, and I even found out that he was seeing a counselor and trying to take care of his mental health and be more intentional about relationships because he realized that he didn't have much of a community, just a lot of acquaintances who didn't really care about him. This really resonated with me since I'm very passionate about forming relationships and being honest and open with people and investing into their lives. I was excited for him because I never expected him to have these kinds of realizations; he was always Mr. Business, rushing from one thing to the other and we didn't get to know each other as well as I would have liked when we were at school together because he was always so busy.

Leaving our meeting, I felt hopeful that maybe we could rekindle our friendship and have some genuine conversations since we had a lot of similar thoughts and I really appreciate people who are so honest and open. But as I've tried to text with him in the days since, I haven't gotten much of a sense of interest from him. His texts come off as distant and polite but disconnected, as if replying out of necessity rather than interest. I know part of this is just his tone, but I felt so discouraged and I really don't know how to handle the situation. Overall, I have just started to feel like there's no hope for finding a good friend. I feel like nobody really gets it and nobody really pulls their share of the weight in the vast majority of my friendships. And I'm finding that friendships conducted via written or texted word just aren't the same - it's all catching up with what you did last month and it can take weeks to get a reply and you can't tell whether the person is being cold and the conversations just aren't as good. I felt optimistic before about the new relationships I was building since I left my old school, ones that were more satisfying, but I just feel discouraged again.

That meeting with my friend left me with another set of discouraging feelings, namely, the longing for romance...Ugh. How I've come to hate that set of feelings. It has the power to destroy you by making you waste away, losing interest in current activities, pining after complete strangers in hopeless cases of unrequited love, and wasting precious time dreaming up alternate scenarios where whatever you're currently going as a single person, you're doing with a handsome Significant Other as a Happily Married Woman, a much more respected position, particularly in the world of Evangelical Christian culture. This used to consume my life until less than a year ago, and it made me miserable, though it's just pleasurable enough to keep you doing it. Ugh.

Anyways, I guess because I really don't hang out with men that much (read: not at all), being next to one for a couple hours was a bit intoxicating. In the past, I haven't necessarily had feelings for this guy, but when you're actually with a man, standing next to him, walking with him, sitting at a table for two semi-flirting, it just awakens something in you that you forgot about. It makes you realize what you're missing when you say you don't care if you ever get married. At one point, when we left the restaurant and stepped onto the street, I had to keep myself from grabbing his hand or blurting out, "It feels like we should be holding hands". That would have been mortifying...The point is though, that it made part of me really want a boyfriend - or just some real friends who actually care about me and make an effort. The only problem is, of course, that I don't really have a huge influx of new people coming into my life.

I guess now I feel stuck again. But nowhere near as stuck as I felt a year ago when I could barely even get out of bed. But life is confusing and discouraging, full of twists and turns that take you right back to where you were twenty minutes ago. I don't know how to handle these situations. I don't know what to say to friends to improve our relationships without hurting feelings or freaking them out. I don't know how to meet men and I'm afraid to meet the right person or fall in love. What if it ended badly or what if he cheats on me or what if I get tired of him or regret not remaining single and independent? Sometimes I wish we could all say what we mean and not hold back and tiptoe around subjects and give people the silent treatment. I'm terrible at the former and usually just go with the latter.

I wish I could get advice from my counselor, but I don't see her for another four days or so and we only have a couple more sessions together before she has to move on with her journey and I have to find a new therapist. Damn, I'm going to miss her. And, damn, am I afraid of opening up to a new counselor and having them lecture me or stare at me blankly or pressure me or misinterpret what I say. No matter how open the relationship, there are still some things you keep back, some things you're afraid of sharing. I fear marrying sometimes because it would mean I would have to share everything about myself, and I'm afraid they wouldn't accept some of the darker parts of my life.

I think this can be especially scary as someone who struggles with mental illness; not everyone understands that darkness, and some people fear it. Some people would run if they found out the thoughts you've grappled with, the temptations you've succumbed to, the moods you still have. But the reality is that we almost all have those fears; part of being human is that need to hide, that fear of exposure that keeps us all so isolated. But those moments when we break down the walls and let another person in and are freely accepted and embraced as we are - those are the moments of the divine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

It's not fair, part three billion.

I feel mad again.

I thought I was over this, damn it. I thought I had moved on, which makes me feel all the more miserable and angry that I'm here all over again in this God-forsaken place. Literally. Mom keeps insisting that unforgiveness damages people's relationship with God, and she made it very clear that she thinks I harbor unforgiveness towards my friends from my previous college.

But it's not just my friends I'm mad at, it's everything. I'm mad at the way my life has gone compared to other people's. The misfortunes I've known before I was even legally allowed to consume alcohol that other people won't experience in their entire life. The battles I've fought in front of empty bleachers and awkward silences while others happen to find a gold coin on the sidewalk and get the roaring standing ovation of an Olympic stadium (aka getting engaged). It sucks. It really sucks. And I'm mad that I don't get to acknowledge that it sucks, that I have to move on and forgive everybody and be positive about everything now and nobody who hurt me gets a recompense, in fact, they seem to be getting rewards.

I'm mad because I poured out my heart to people and was met with silence. I'm mad because people don't give a shit about me when I made so much effort to encourage them. I'm mad because people don't want to go through the effort to click "like" on something I wrote about mental health because it makes them uncomfortable. I'm mad because people get all this worship and attention for finding someone who will agree to live in the same damn house as them for the next thirty years who they also happen to be willing to put up with for that long too. I'm mad because I went through some of the darkest times I could ever see because of medical malpractice that could have been avoided and it almost ruined my life. Heck, it could have ended my life.

I'm mad because people don't acknowledge that, they don't ask me about it, they don't want to talk about it, they don't seem to care about it. I'm mad because people - not just people but friends - ignored me and treated me so poorly that I started taking my hurt out on myself because I felt so worthless. I'm mad about the fifty pounds I gained, stretch marks and fat rolls that emerged because of some stupid medication I shouldn't have been on in the first place. I'm mad about the dresses I can't wear any more and the time I spend staring down at my stomach, wondering what people think. I'm mad that I hate and judge myself sometimes because of other people's unkindness and intolerance. I'm mad because when I'm sad or mad or hurting, I don't know where to turn because our counseling system is broken and friends don't want to talk and I can't seem to get people to understand how I feel when I do explain. I'm mad because I have to think up ways to explain the sudden transfer, the dropped classes, the semester I didn't take.

I'm mad because most all my life I've felt like a loser. I'm mad because I know I'm kinder, smarter, more creative, more talented, and more loyal than most people on this planet but I am not recognized in most of the things I do or am talented in. I'm mad because I know that's silly to worry about and arrogant to say. I'm mad because I know even if I got that recognition, it wouldn't be enough and I would still feel unfulfilled and unappreciated. I'm mad because I had made so much progress in feeling content and moving on and now it feels like I'm back where I started again and I know my mother is judging me for it. I'm mad because it's not fair that I have so many emotions but I wouldn't want to not have those emotions and be like the unkind people who have hurt me. But I get tired of being belittled and looked down on and misunderstood for all my emotions.

I'm tired of feeling along even though I like being alone. I want to feel appreciated. I'm tired of getting the short end of the stick. I'm tired of relapsing. I'm tired of wishing I could tell people off but not having the guts to do it. I'm tired or trying to figure out where I stand in my religious faith after it collapsed under me. I'm tired of trying to justify the paths I've taken and the things I believe to people. I'm tired of being hurt by the same people who don't even walk in my life any more. I'm tired of having to measure every single move I make, choice I take, word I say. I've never been carefree seventeen; I've always been cautious, over-thinking fifty-three.

I'm tired of not being what people want. Of not being the one people want. Of holding back my words and biting my tongue because that's what I've always been taught. I don't think people would ever guess by looking at me, but I get so angry occasionally - rarely. The emotion is so strong, I don't know what to do with it. I want to throw things. I want to text one of those particular people and say "Eff you" and tell them all the reasons they make me cry at night. I know this makes me sounds unhinged and "crazy", but I'm tired of trying to downplay my emotions or convince other people that they're real when I do share them.

I'm tired of trying so hard to achieve things to justify my existence. I realize I'm doing the exact same thing as a year ago, I just overlooked it because I was actually accomplishing things. The problem is, it's still not enough, and I still can't convince myself that what I do matters.

And it still doesn't matter to other people that much, because it doesn't involve me getting a diamond ring on my finger by some blase white man.

People suck, but I guess my mom had a point: The more I let their injustice bother me, the more it hurts me with little effect on them. It's just like if I caved into my anger and threw things across the room because of my frustration over not being able to convey how I feel to my mother; I would only hurt my own precious possessions but wouldn't make her understand any better or make myself feel better. (I know because I've tried.)

The reality of the matter is that I've come a long way. I started way behind everyone, having been born with multiple anxiety disorders that have affected me from childhood and a tendency toward clinical depression that has plagued me since I entered adolescence. I have known more sad times than happy ones in my life. The last few months have been the first time I've felt pretty happy for that long of a period in probably four years. And the period four years ago when I felt happy four years ago was probably the first time in about seven years that I had felt happy. What I'm saying is, that's a pretty significant disadvantage when, as I've heard it, that isn't normal for most people (I still have trouble believing this; it seems so foreign).

The reality is that around a year ago, I started seeing a counselor again and sometimes on my way home, while waiting for the subway, part of me just wanted to step onto those tracks. A year ago I didn't know if I could finish college. A year ago my body shook all over and I slept over twelve hours because I simply could not get up. A year ago I didn't think there was anything that could make me better.

Now I'm applying to grad school, gearing up to take a full course load, completing an internship, volunteering, writing, publishing, occasionally traveling, taking initiative, living in a whole new mindset, rekindling old friendships. There's so much I accomplish that I don't give myself credit for, how can I expect to appreciate it when others give me credit?

The reality is that those people who hurt me suck, but most humans suck so they don't acknowledge that those people suck. The reality is that the world is taken in by extroverts, performers, and who-knows-what; people are drawn in by one fad one moment and another the next. Whether or not you are ever the fad is no reflection on your worth or talent because it's all random. Even if I got to be the fad, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

The reality is that it takes time to move on and you can't rush or push the resolution, but maybe this is another small step.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Checks and balances.

It's been a busy past few weeks. Well, it's been a busy summer, especially considering that last summer I could barely even get out of bed. I finally finished my second summer class this past weekend, which really ended with a bang, finishing with the professor giving us an online quiz from a completely different class without realizing it. (That took a few years off of my life...)

Of course, there was also that mental health conference I attended. And the paper I wrote. And the library trips for said paper. And the coffee house I performed at while trying to write said paper. And the one-hour meeting that turned into six...

It's been overwhelming, even since I finished class, but I have been learning a lot. I've been struggling, but I also notice that I'm just generally happier than I've ever been. It's good to have things to do and the energy to do them, just maybe I've overstepped the line a little and taken on a few too many things in recent weeks. But that's part of the process of learning to find your balance.

I found out about a month ago that my counselor will be leaving the practice I attend, for reasons I'm not allowed to know, which is frustrating but probably related to the whole idea of counselor/client divide. It's starting to sink in that this person who has become a huge part of my life in the past year and has grown very dear to my heart will be leaving my life in less than a month. I've had people drift out of my life, but rarely have I had people leave in a definite, foretold way. 

On the plus side, I think this will push me to reevaluate my counseling needs now that I'm in a new phase of my life. Maybe I need something more targeted at certain areas of weakness and more directive. I definitely need to learn more mindfulness and coping techniques. There are some areas of my life that I've left untouched in counseling. It's time to look at them. Some things I haven't given myself permission to talk about before, some I didn't realize you could talk about in counseling, like how to make decisions. 

On the negative side, I'm going to really miss this woman. I don't think I'll realize until she's gone. She has been my safe haven and helped me navigate a really tough time. Really tough is an understatement. I was so stressed out when my psychiatrist kept insisting I needed to see a counselor after I withdrew from school last summer. I didn't have a lot of faith in counseling any more because my previous therapist had not been particularly helpful, even at times unintentionally hurtful. And my psychiatrist, of course, was awful. This counselor helped me rebuild my trust in the abilities of mental health care. It took a long time, but I now see that counseling has made huge changes in me this past year. But you've got to have someone good and someone you feel comfortable with. But I'm still scared that I won't be able to find another safe space to share and grow. I know that there are many mediocre, even bad counselors out there who make you feel ashamed, cornered, confused. I know it takes a lot of work to build that understanding and to get that person to know who you are. What if I can't find someone who gets me? 

But at the same time, I realize that I'm a lot stronger and more aware than when I started counseling. I know what to look for, I know when to run. I have built the strength and self-respect to stand up for myself and put my needs first when appropriate.

The other thing that's been weighing on me is a particular friendship that I just can't figure out whether it's worth fighting for or just too frustrating and disappointing. Am I appreciated in this relationship or just tolerated? In recent weeks (and years), a lot of my "friendships" and social interactions have left me feeling more like a burden than a blessing. My friends made me feel like I was annoying, immature, bothersome, and not worthy of attention. I realized lately that I kind of came to accept that that is just what friendship is like. But I'm holding out for hope that maybe there is something better, and I've started to see with some new friendships forming here back home that maybe there are people who care about me and it's not a reflection on my character that certain people I used to know didn't appreciate me. 

I continue to be amazed by the friendships that have reignited with old acquaintances out of the blue since I returned home, all of them surprisingly meaningful and genuine, below the small-talk surface-level that many friendships get stuck at. Meanwhile, I've gradually realized that all of my relationships with people from my old school are pretty hollow now, though the majority of them were really only half-full when I was there, depending how you looked at it. 

This one friendship from my previous school has been hard to let go of, however. I tried for a while, but I realized that I missed this friend. We had some great jokes and conversations and ideas we shared. She is intelligent and funny and taught me a lot. But she has her faults, and our friendship had its share of weaknesses and frustrations, mainly stemming from my frustration with her obsession with another set of friends of hers as well as her not doing much to acknowledge my huge struggle with depression at the time. 

She's still obsessed with some of those friends and still hangs on to our old school even though she has graduated. She is obsessed with a boy who does not have feelings for her and gives him her attention more than me even though she says she's a feminist.  She was one of those who never responded when I left school, and recently I realized that she never asked me if I was better or what happened or how things are now. I don't think really anyone has asked me that, as far as I remember. I don't think many people know that it turned out the medication was making me worse. Because no one asked. 

That hurt to realize.

The Olympics can be hard because you feel so lame and undecorated and unaccomplished. You realize that nobody recognizes you or celebrates your accomplishments. But lately I've been growing more content with my life out of the spotlight, unappreciated. Normal. Not famous. I've come such a long way, I am living my dreams, even if I'm not acting in a movie like I fantasized about at age nineteen. 

I'm becoming a strong woman who works hard, gives back, and loves fully. That is more than enough. That is what leaves you satisfied, not circles of yellow metal hanging on fabric.