Saturday, November 19, 2016

Happy Anniversary

This is a bit of an odd post, but I just remembered today that I started this blog back in November of 2015, so I went into the archives to see exactly what day I first posted on to see when the anniversary of this little thing was so I could celebrate it.

Well, to my surprise, the first post was actually on November 4, 2015, so I missed the official anniversary by quite a few days, but I thought it was worth celebrating anyways because I really am so proud of this little blog, even if it isn't a viral sensation or anything. I'm proud of it because it's been an honest representation of my thoughts and a genuine attempt to try to help other people going through what can be a very isolating experience. I've published 91 posts on here, six pieces on The Mighty, and one article on the blog of To Write Love on Her Arms (all accidentally under slightly different names, haha).

I tend to get discouraged about my writing from time to time, seeing other people get thousands of likes on their pieces or hearing that their writing was picked up by a big-name website or finding out that they've written a hundred articles. But, hey, for someone who started posting her unedited, stream-of-consciousness thoughts because she had nothing else to do but sleep at the time, I think I've done pretty well for myself.

And regardless of whether my work is or isn't popular, I'm really, really proud that I produced something out of what was so awful and difficult. I'm glad I decided to be open with people about what happened and turn something terrible into something that might be able to help others. Most of all, I'm glad I have a record of my life during this pivotal time of growth and transition in my life that could have easily gone unrecorded because of how exhausted I was feeling at the time.

I started this blog when I was feeling absolutely gutted. At the end of myself. Useless. Worthless. Directionless. I didn't know what life held next for me. I had left my college home of three years because of the severity of my depression. I had tried to go to community college but had dropped out after a month - a previously unthinkable action for me - because of crippling social anxiety and panic disorder symptoms. I didn't know if I would be able to finish my degree while my friends were heading their way to caps and gowns that coming May.

I was at odds with God even though faith had been my bedrock and identity for a decade. I felt abandoned and disappointed; how could I trust someone who had let my life go to complete ruins. I felt embarrassed that I wasn't in school or working, but I also could barely get out of bed. I was tired of trying to figure out polite ways to explain what had happened to me, reassuring answers to the polite "How are you doing?"s that inevitably faced me. I dreaded going to the dentist or meeting my parents' friends out of fear that they would ask why I wasn't at college any more.

I felt purposeless, always having been a creative person who wanted some task or another to keep my hands and mind  busy. I guess that impulse was what this blog was born out of. And it really has been my baby. I hope it will continue to grow and evolve. Mostly, I hope it will help people know that no matter how dark or strange or lonely their life is, they aren't alone. Countless other souls feel just as lost, confused, broken, directionless, hopeless, guilty, angry, frustrated, afraid, etc. as you, and I'm just one of them.

And I hope you'll consider writing your own journey, whether in a journal or on a phone or on a site like The Mighty (which welcomes contributors with no publishing experience) or on your own blog. Write it for yourself, to honor your story and to remind you how far you have come. And to remind you what you've endured and survived. You are all so strong and I salute you.

I guess I should also add that there's hope. Today I am working my butt off again at college, set to graduate in May - a year late, but I have learned so much in this past year that I wouldn't trade it for any university president's handshake. I am learning and growing so much each week, not just academically but emotionally. I am gaining perspective on my life and self. I have had the opportunity to work with two wonderful counselors in the past year and even though there have been bumps in the road and stretches that seemed unproductive, that work really has transformed me.

Overall, the most exciting thing is that I have hope and ability restored to my life. I have hopes and dreams for the future and I have the energy to pursue my interests and hobbies and academic plans. The world is wide open. Usually I feel overwhelmed by that, but today is a reminder to embrace it. I've been so caught up in how stressful school is lately that I've forgotten to be thankful that I can physically, emotionally, and mentally handle doing work again.

And as much as I hate to admit it, in a lot of ways, the awful period of my life actually worked for many good changes in my life. I was prompted to get treatment for my anxiety and depression, which has made me much healthier and happier than ever before. I was motivated to finally leave the toxic environment of my previous school and transfer to my new institution, where I can live with my supportive family instead of judgmental roommates and I have had the opportunity to pursue academic fields I'm very interested in, to form relationships with professors, and to be involved in campus activities, unlike at school #1. And I'm being set up to have much brighter career opportunities with the connections I've formed and training I've received. I'm very thankful for all of that.

And I'm thankful for being made aware of the silent struggle of so many around the world. I'm thankful for being pushed to be part of the warriors who will speak up for these people who deserve a voice, who deserve to know they aren't alone. I'm thankful for being pushed to find my own voice and start to speak up for myself and others.

(Wow that was a lot longer than I had planned. Classic Dark Cafe Days post, I guess...)

Without further ado, here is my first post from November 4, 2015:

"Just a Phase
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes, dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days.
                           - Joni Mitchell 'Last Time I Saw Richard'

 "I've known for most of my life that I am not quite right upstairs. I first started being consumed with anxiety in first grade. The tyranny of my Type A teacher triggered the anxious tendencies I had inherited from my mom and I turned into a nervous wreck who would cry all the way to school and beg to stay home. The anxiety would manifest itself again throughout my school life. In fourth and fifth grade I became obsessed with the fear of getting detention, which was regularly threatened to us to "prepare us for middle school". When I was doled out this prison sentence in fourth grade after forgetting to do my math homework, I must have had to choke back tears, feeling thoroughly chastised. In fifth grade, my mom eventually told my teacher about my terror because I remember her pulling me aside one day and explaining I had nothing to worry about...I was a model student and she would never give me detention.
"I remember crying while packing my bag for the first day of school every summer for the next several years of secondary school. I wept every night the first week of my junior year of high school because of the complete overwhelm I felt at the thought of taking three Advanced Placement classes (but it is an official decree of suburban high schools that if you don't take as many AP's as humanly possible, you won't get into college and so will work at McD's and die a premature death.) You can imagine the terror that was the first weeks of college and, well, the whole of college, for me. Five minutes after saying good-bye to my family, I called my mom and begged her to come back an take me home.
"Here I am now after a year and a half of official treatment...concoctions of pills, heart-bearing sessions with stony-faced psychiatrists and counselors (conversations that cost a small fortune, may I add) unemployed, virtually housebound college drop-out who can't get a job or fit into any of her favorite clothes and is sometimes gripped with inexplicable terror of leaving the house.
"Who sits dreading tomorrow because I have to 1) possibly interact with the maids coming in to clean the house, and 2) go to an appointment with my counselor. And dreads the day after because I'm supposed to 1) sit around the house anticipating going to the doctor; 2) go to the doctor with heart beating and stomach twisting; 3) talk to the scary receptionists who hate life and even more, hate YOU; 4) sit in a large napkin and talk to a stranger about all my shortcomings as a human being and than be mercilessly tickled and prodded and made to feel as uncomfortable AS POSSIBLE.
"To make things brief: anxiety is crippling. It sucks the life out of you. And it takes you unawares. A month ago I was driving myself to community college four days a week and ordering bagels from Panera like nobody's business. I was still a hot mess, but I was semi-functional. Then something snapped inside of me and I found myself lying on my bed in the fetal position, whimpering like a little rescue puppy that I just couldn't go to class. I couldn't. I could barely get out of bed.
"I know a lot of people won't get it. I sound pitiful and lazy and cowardly, no doubt, to many. I look that way to myself a lot, too. I have spent over a decade pushing myself to overcome this monster of fear inside of me, bullying myself for backing out when things got too overwhelming. This year, I finally just fell to pieces. And I seem to be stuck that way. My efforts to pull myself into some kind of passable working human being seem to just lead me to explode again. It's embarrassing. It's frustrating. It's a process of constantly going back to Square One...or Square Negative One.
"I thought healing would be a lot easier than this. I thought this failure to meet basic human standards for living would just be a phase. I thought I'd have an epiphany or a turning point or a saving grace...It seems to happen to other people that I read about. When I went on medication a year ago, I never guessed I'd be one of those pitiful people you read about who has tried umpteen meds and is still a sad 45 year-old overweight TV addict on Unemployment. But I can't keep track of the opportunities that have fell through and the medications that haven't worked. And, damn it...I'm still waiting on a breakthrough.
"This is my journey. It isn't too nitty gritty and dark, thankfully, but it isn't the blue skies I like to portray it to be. I want to honestly share my struggles in life because it has meant so much to me to hear other people do so and because I want people going through similar things to know they're not alone. I guess this may be hard to read because it's not exactly uplifting or optimistic, but if you will bear with me, I hope this can give you some insight into what life is like for those who struggle with mental illness.
"The song I quoted at the beginning resonates with me a lot because it has this dark, desperate undertone of trying to convince oneself that you're on the mend and better times are just around the bend. I feel stuck hiding behind bottles in a dark cafe, dreaming up schemes to break free of the dark cocoon suffocating me -- a cocoon I was supposed to shed as my fellow pupae have done. But maybe healing, like so many things in life, is a long-term process full of setbacks and pitfalls and shortcomings.
"For some people, mental illness is not just a phase, but a lifelong battle."

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