"Just wanted to let you know that reading your post helped me today to come forward to my friends and family about my struggle. I've been secretive for so long but your words inspired me. Letting me know I am not alone. Thank you."
no good writing starts with an apology, or a list of excuses.
fortunately for me, i have no illusions about this being "good writing," so i'm going to go ahead and give you both.
i offer my deepest apologies to all of you who were expecting me to write more frequently on here. i was expecting so as well. after an overwhelming amount of positive feedback on my last post regarding depression, i was excited to keep this thing going. i cannot describe how amazing and humbling it was to have so many people reach out to me, to either ask for advice regarding themselves or a loved one, or to simply let me know that they could relate to my story-that my writing had touched them in some way. if my writing can have even the slightest positive impact on someone's life, then it is all worth it.
around the time of my first post, my life suddenly became quite a bit more... "involved", and i needed to focus on other things for a while: namely, my applications for graduate school, my (struggling) relationship(s), and most of all my own mental health. these are all excuses i gave myself for not making the time for this little project of mine, and i think if they were 100% valid, an apology would not necessarily be warranted. however, they were not 100% valid, and i admit now that a large part of why i've not been writing is due to my own laziness, and my intense anxiety about writing a followup post that would live up to the standards of the first.
but like i said, i (need to) hold no illusions about this being "good writing." the intention of this blog from the beginning was to be wholly and unabashedly myself, and nothing more. so here it goes. no more excuses. i'm back, folks, as scatterbrained as ever.
i'm sorry i've been away for so long.
act I: a mental health update
i left you last in a dark and lonesome forest,
scared, lost, without any sense of direction, without any answers
with only the slightest glimmer of hope that perhaps-maybe-possibly everything would be okay,
but of course, no guarantee.
i write to you now from the other side. i've found my way out of the forest(for now). i take in a deep breath of fresh air as i reflect on how i got here.
oh, it has been a long and windy road.
(and fuck, i still don't have any answers)
shitty forest metaphors aside, i'm feeling much better.
for the first time in a long time, i feel confident in myself again. i feel genuinely warm, and excited about life. i feel like a "good" person.
dare i say, i even maybe feel maybe a little bit proud of myself maybe.
i am proud of the way i treat others, and the way i interact with them. i am meeting new people and forming genuine, real, and raw connections with them. at the same time, i am reforming my connections with my loved ones, and i am opening up to them in ways i haven't for the past year or two. i feel like i have a solid base and support group again-one that i can go to when i feel like i need help, or a distraction. or rather, i am rediscovering them (i.e. they were always there).
i'm not falling into the same mental traps as before. my downward spirals do not bring me to the same deep, dark, and hopeless places anymore. the coping techniques i am using are actually working. i am slowly changing my mindset and perspective. i am not as hard on myself on days that i need rest or feel "unproductive." i am taking care of myself by doing the things i love. the days where i feel too awful and anxious to function "normally" or to interact with other humans seem to be over(for now). i no longer constantly make excuses to not go out, to not see my friends, to not do anything at all. in almost every way, i feel much stronger and much more in control.
and i am proud of that.
so how did i get here?
the timing of my mental health breakthroughs is no coincidence, and no accident. they came during a time of radical personal change- a time that i took advantage of and utilized to restructure everything in my life(physical, mental, interpersonal, emotional).
during the past several months, i ended my long term relationship with my partner, i applied to several graduate schools, i received a wealth of acceptances and good news, i eventually chose where i will be working toward my doctorate (thus ending a long era of uncertainty-a source of much anxiety in my life), i discovered a cousin i never knew i had, i quit my job in order to be free and live on the road, i traveled to and experienced new places all over the united states, i met many new people and laughed and loved with them, and i moved into a new home.
(note: as you might be able to tell, many of these changes were out of my control, or at least not directly in my control. which is what makes my mental health breakthroughs a bit more difficult to celebrate. more on that in a bit.)
i seem to thrive on change, on challenge, and on stimulation. something i've noticed about myself is that often the times when i feel most depressed and anxious are also the times where i feel the most stagnant. i feel the most lost during these times(perhaps because the stagnation gives me too much time to think. perhaps because i don't feel i am living up to my "potential." i don't know).
so this change has been a blessing for me. i relish the times when i can learn about myself and feel like i am moving one way or another. it's as if i've been ripped out of my daily existence, and finally i can take a step back and start to restructure and reorganize myself from an outside perspective. it feels. so. good. and even the horrible and sad things seem to have silver linings during these times. it seems my strength and energy knows no bounds when i am solely focused on this learning and transformation process, and i can take a pain even as immense as heartbreak (a pain like no other), and use it to become a better person.
(note: this is not to say that i thought my heartbreak was a necessity, nor is it to say that i wanted my relationship to end. i did not. but that is another story for another time)
i see all this as overwhelmingly positive. every day i feel stronger and better than the day before. every day i learn something new about myself that i can apply to becoming a better person.
that all being said, i have learned to accept the fact that there will never be a total victory against my depression-just small victories in an ongoing war.
i have learned that my depression will always be with me.
she is there, now, in the back of my mind. i have learned to make my depression(mine enemy) my friend. someone i should become familiar with. every time she comes around, i learn a little bit more about her. i learn how to cope with her presence, how to make sure she can't completely break me down, or stick around for long.
i know she will always come back- whether something triggers her or whether she comes to play for no reason at all, she will always come back.
so i need to be proactive. i need to think back during this time of clarity and see all the things i did right, and more importantly, all the things i did wrong.
this begs the question: what could i have done better?
act II: no rest for the wicked
those who struggle with depression and anxiety will tell you that even in those moments where they are feeling strong, they still feel the looming presence of their illness in the background. sometimes it feels like storm clouds, casting shadows in the distance. you've escaped it for now. and you know, they look fairly innocuous from afar (beautiful, even), but holy fuck if they came over here.
it's best to stay two steps ahead.
i never know when that stormy devil will rear her beautiful-ugly-wretched head around and come after me again, so i want to take this time to give a good hard look at our most recent interaction- to pick out the highs and lows of our doomed love affair, so that i may learn how to dance in her rain(rather than just fall ill) in the future.
the positive news is that i've made leaps and bounds in my struggles with mental health since my last significant bout (this was perhaps five or six years ago now). my most notable progress has to do with 1) my recognition of my condition, and 2) my interactions with the people around me.
this time around, i was able to recognize my depression and call her by name.
this is huge for me. it's a lot more difficult to deal with a problem when you have no fucking idea what you're dealing with. six years ago, i had no idea what was making me feel the way i was feeling, and so i didn't know what to do. i didn't even know there was anything TO do.
that leads me to 2): because i didn't know what was going on in my own mind, i blamed the people around me for my own condition. i took my sadness and i turned it into anger. i treated my loved ones poorly (the understatement of the century), i pushed people away in order to test whether or not they would come back, and i was in many ways an awful human.
this time around, i didn't have that problem.
my depression was my own, my sadness my own. i didn't take it out on the people around me, and i wasn't as angry as i was in the past. i had some moments of relapse, but i was largely much better about recognizing when i felt sad because of my depression, and when i felt sad because of something someone did.
i am very, very proud of myself for this progress. i feel like because of this, i was able to love my friends and my family, and most notably my partner and lover, the way they deserved to be loved. this thought brings me much happiness and warmth.
my recognition of my depression also allowed me to keep it at bay. though my coping mechanisms are far from where they should be, i was able to stay relatively functional and "okay" throughout the past couple years, despite its constant presence.
it feels really good to say that i was able to deal with my depression without completely breaking down, and without professional help (***i'm not saying i would do it the same way all over again... more on that in a bit)
(note: i think this is all very easy to say from a position of strength. i think right now, since i am feeling strong, my perception of myself is skewed. perhaps what i view as being "okay" right now felt like torture in the moment. perhaps, in the moment, i DID completely break down.)
though there are many small(but significant) victories to celebrate this time around, there are a lot of things i'm not thrilled about, and a lot of questions that i feel need to be addressed so that i may better cope in the future. these things are all complicated and interconnected, so please bear with me.
though i am excited that i was able to come out of my depression without a complete mental breakdown and without the guidance of a mental health professional, i am not thrilled with how long i allowed my depression to haunt me and to affect my life(and the lives of those close to me) without taking the appropriate actions to get better. looking back at this most recent struggle with my mental health, i had let myself be consumed by it in one way or another for the better part of two years. i had my good days and weeks and months and my bad days and weeks and months just like anyone else, but it is the truth that i allowed my depression to be a huge part of what defined me as a person for far too long.
(note: i don't want to make it seem like i feel like i wasted two years of my life- that's not what i mean at all)
this is terrifying to me, and extremely troubling. i've come to realize over the past quarter century that we only have a limited time here on this earth and in this life. i would rather not spend it alone, deep in a self dug hole of depression.
so what could i have done better? the answer is simple:
i should have gone to seek professional help. i should have found myself a therapist. i should have done so, immediately. as soon as i began to pick up on the red flags, i should have been proactive with my mental health and started my journey toward becoming better.
i let my ego and my pride get in the way, and ultimately i am ashamed of that. i thought,
"hey, i've already been through therapy before. what could they possibly teach me that i don't already know? i can do this on my own. i got through this once. i can do it again."
i was so wrong. in fact, i knew that i was wrong at the time. but i still didn't go. i made excuses for myself- it was too much trouble, i'm too busy, it takes too much time, it's too expensive. i honestly don't understand how i could simultaneously be so viciously self-aware, and so fucking stupid at the same time.
(in the end, i should have asked myself, "what is your mental health worth?")
i listened to a podcast (TED Radio Hour) recently about how often our mental health is overlooked, despite its importance. mental health is just as important if not more important than all other aspects of our health, yet it is the one aspect that we don't take care of and monitor on a daily basis. how is it that we so easily, say, brush our teeth every day, but we don't take a bit of time out of our day to care for our minds.
turns out, i wasn't brushing my mind. er. whatever.
i needed a mental health checkup, just like i would need a dental checkup if my tooth ached. but i refused to get one, because i thought i could handle it on my own.
turns out i was right- only two years later.
i know what i need to do, now. in the future, as soon as i pick up on the red flags, i NEED to go and seek professional help. it's that simple(yet somehow unbearably difficult). i hope that once my depression rears her head again, i will come back, i will read this, and i will take my own fucking advice(the same advice i have given to everyone else who has asked me for help).
(note to self: the red flags are at the same time simple, but nuanced. one of the most interesting and noticeable flags, however, is that i stop listening to and deriving pleasure from music. it's sad, really. i also tend to feel much more hopeless, though that is a bit more difficult to describe and pick up on, especially in the moment)
beside the obvious GET A FUCKING THERAPIST thing, there are many other issues i feel i want to address- questions i want to try and answer.
the first and most heartbreaking question is, how do i better cope with my depression so that it does not negatively affect my relationships? i think, at a certain point, depression and anxiety will always be difficult to deal with in a relationship. at the same time, i know i can be much better. i am glad that i didn't turn my sadness into anger this time around, and that i didn't take my depression out on my significant other and treat her poorly, but that doesn't mean that i was perfect.
i felt myself withdraw, due to shame of my condition. though i wasn't completely gone/checked out, i felt i couldn't communicate with her or open up to her as well as i could in the past. i'm not sure why this was, and the only thing i can think of is shame. i didn't want her to see me this way, so i didn't want to talk about it with her. this was the opposite of what i should have done, and it put an intense strain on our relationship. this is something i painfully regret.
i hope in the future that i remember not to close off. i need to remember that my loved ones will be there for me, no matter what, and that it's okay for me to ask for help sometimes. it's okay to tell them that i am sad, and that i am struggling.
it's hard, because it's always hard showing your loved ones your worst self- you don't want them to stop loving you.
but sometimes it needs to be done. and sometimes being vulnerable is the greatest show of strength you can exhibit.
finally, and this is a question i've been struggling with for a long, long time: how can i tell when my depression is purely situational or circumstantial, or if it's just a deeper part of me? does it have to be one or the other? or is it both?
this goes back to my statement in act I about how it's difficult to fully celebrate my mental breakthroughs when they come in conjunction with huge circumstantial personal change.
there are so many questions that come to mind when i think about this:
is it a positive thing that i finally recognized my affinity to change? is it "healthy" that i looked at my own stagnation and depression and thought, "something needs to change," so i went ahead and changed everything i possibly could? knowing my nature, should i create a life for myself based on constant stimulation and change? will that be more fulfilling for me? was it even my choice that i experienced all this change? or was it just timing (i.e. i couldn't get past the anxiety of uncertainty without first getting into school, i couldn't quit my job unless i had already applied, etc)? is it possible to make these changes slowly and gradually rather than completely overhauling my entire life every time i need to get out of a bout of depression? do i even need to change all these things, or is the real change needed in my mindset and my perspective? would it be healthier to accept my periods of stagnation, so that i can be happier during them? how can i keep in touch with my own intrinsic self worth while i am working on long term goals without immediate gratification? do i need to be told i am great (i.e. with respect to school acceptances), or can i just believe it for myself?
i don't have the answers to these questions.
honestly i don't think i ever will.
i think my best bet is to approach my mental health with an open, holistic view. i think my mind is much too complicated to try and answer any of these questions definitively. i think that yes, it is healthy sometimes to recognize when you need to make some changes in your life for your own happiness, but at the same time, it is healthy to recognize that there may be periods of time when you may not be able to make those changes, and you need to find ways to cope and find ways to be happy during those times. that's such a frustrating answer. and it will be an ongoing effort, of course.
it just goes to show that my journey is far from over (and will likely never be).
the big question now, is, what do i do now that i feel strong?
should i be complacent and comfortable in my strength and my warmth? do i think that i can/should try and answer these questions on my own, or should i seek professional help now to try and figure it out? am i using my strength as another excuse for me to not be proactive and take charge of my mental health (just because i don't feel my cavities means i shouldn't go to the dentist? i shouldn't brush my teeth?)?
i'm sorry. i don't know.
act III: gratitude
i wanted to end this on a positive note.
i still hold that the best thing you could possibly do for yourself if you are struggling with a mental illness is ask for help. it was unfortunate that this time i could not bring myself to ask for help from a professional, but i went to the next best thing: my loved ones.
over the past few weeks and months, i have gotten much better at reaching out to the people around me whenever i feel down. it seems like such a simple thing, but somehow it's always been one of the hardest things for me.
honestly, it is one of the best if not the best thing i do for myself on a daily basis- seeking the love and affection and comfort of others.
i don't want to downplay the role of self-love- i think that is essential as well.
but i just wanted to take a moment and recognize and appreciate the fact that i could not have done any of this without the help and support of the beautiful humans in my life.
it is a lesson that i learn and forget and learn and forget over and over and over again- that we are here for each other. that it is not shameful to need help. that people love me.
that i will never be alone.
i wanted to take a moment to thank all those who have been there for me, through the good times, and the bad. i wanted to thank those who were there when i needed help the first time. when i needed to come home and heal. i want to thank those who accepted me, and who befriended me without question. who bought me drinks before i was of age. who listened to me, who cared for me, who loved me intimately.
i wanted to thank you for your bookmark made of two stones and string. i wanted to thank you for help with everything.
i wanted to thank the one who stayed with me and loved me despite my pain. i wanted to apologize for the weight i put on us. i wanted to thank you for inspiring me every day to become a better person. i wanted to thank you for your unwavering love. i wanted to tell you that i'm proud of you for taking care of yourself. i am sorry we can't be strong together right now.
i wanted to thank you for having lunch with me on your days off work. i wanted to thank you for putting up with my whining and my drama.
i wanted to thank you for trusting a total stranger. for loving a total stranger. i wanted to thank you for picking up the phone. for just being there. for being a distraction. for listening to me cry. for telling me about your day.
i wanted to thank you for understanding me. for looking after me in the desert. for being genuinely excited to see me. i wanted to thank you for taking care of me.
i wanted to let you all know that i am here for you, anytime, always.
there are so many people to love. so many people to be grateful for.
so much reason to be alive.
i have a lot to think about.
my journey with depression is certainly not over.
but for now i think i will take my victories as they come.
i will go and see the people i love, and be excited to feel their warmth.
for now i will be done with you(depression),
i will wake up and i will look up instead of down,
i will see that the sun doesn't hurt my eyes.
i will notice the trees- how big they are, how green and orange and yellow and red, how they sway together in the wind.
i'll singing songs i just remembered,
i'll laugh just because.
i'll wait for you-my love, my hate.
we will dance when you come 'round again.
until then, i'll be okay.
i'll be okay.