Reflections

“There’s a beautiful melancholy that settles over the river and village as the weather matures from summer. The air holds a bit of chill and even the birds’ singing is subdued.

This is my favorite time of year. I feel it perfectly captures the time in my life that I had the most struggle. I used to love autumn for the colors that blanket the trees everywhere, but now it’s that moment right before the change – the trees still as green as they can possibly be, telling the world that there may be a dead period approaching, but they are still full of life and will be back for another year of green beauty. In a way, the yellows, oranges, and reds are their final goodbye to us for the year. That last love letter that tells of beauty coming in the next year.

I am overwhelmed by places that get to experience all four seasons. The lucky spots on earth that have snow in winter, are covered in blooms in spring, have sunny weather in summer without too much heat, and have the fiery colors in fall to cover the earth. If I found a place like this, I don’t think I’d ever move away. Of course, every season has a time and place, and change is part of our natural process. Loving every season for what it brings to the world is necessary, but the beauty of fall is unattainable elsewhere.”                   -personal journal from September 4, 2014

I’m in the middle of a mental leave of health from work. Being in this period is part unfamiliarity and part undesirable old friend. When I first started truly struggling with depression a few years ago, I was unable to hold down a job. Every little thing overwhelmed me and I would go days without moving off of the couch. I’ve very lucky to have found a job that understands the importance of mental health, but the idea of returning to a place that I’ve been absent from is intimidating.

The good parts that come out of this are time, mentally regrouping, and most importantly, writing. Life had been keeping me so busy that I couldn’t balance work, a personal life, and my projects. It’s probably just a self-organization issue, to be honest, but part of my mental health recovery is learning coping mechanisms and how to better schedule my life. Perhaps this is just an opportunity for growth.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to refocus my writing efforts. I started a project last year that I’ve shared a bit about on here, and making it ready to publish has moved high up on my priority list. So much of the writing comes from a personal place, and I’ve jotted down bits and pieces of this book scattered throughout various journals. I went back a bit too far in my journaling and discovered a few pieces of reflection written while I was still living in Germany (the italicized quote at the beginning being one of those reflections). I was struck by how the cycles in my mental health seem to repeat themselves, but at the same time evolve cycle to cycle. Each time, I learn a bit more about how my brain works and how to overcome the darker moments.

I’ve been repeating “every season has a time and place, and change is part of our natural process” over and over in my mind the past couple of hours. It’s so fitting that I’ve found that bit of writing in a time such as this. It’s a pleasant reminder that this is hard, even paralyzing at times, but a new season will be coming soon. A new season full of hope and growth, of maturation and clarity. This is a shadowy part of life, but it will soon give way to a new part, and I’ll soon be able to make sense of it all again.

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Potter’s Marsh, Anchorage, AK – August 2014

 

It’s Not Worthy of Glory

Writing about depression is a tricky task.

Writing about depression while knowing that you’re in the midst of a downward slump is even trickier.

I have this fear of glorifying depression and mental illness in my writing. I don’t want to make it seem like a romantic thing. It’s a rough, raw, soul-ripping experience. It’s fighting with the one person who knows all of your weakest spots, the most painful pressure points. It’s having fleeting moments of clarity and hope, but knowing that those moments can be snatched away at any time. It’s feeling completely alone and like a burden to anyone you might try to reach out to even though they insist you could never be a burden.

Logically, I know I’m loved, I know I’m not a burden, and I know that I’m not totally alone. But the sick and twisted part of full-blown major depression is that your mind is tricked into believing that all the negative things that pop into your mind are true at some deep level. When you’re no longer in control of all of those thoughts, it’s hard to see the glimmer of hope anywhere in the future.

I’m fighting to find that tiny speck of light again. My serious episodes have taken a turn from the apathetic paralysis I experienced years ago. While the paralysis is still very much part of the demon, I’ve become so familiar with my own mind that the bigger struggle for me is experiencing the loss of control that is fought before the apathy sets in. I’ve been quoting Sylvia Plath a lot lately in my personal writing because her character in The Bell Jar is so relatable to my current state, and I feel like this quote in particular really nails it:

I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.

I publicly write about my depression because more than anything, I want the general population to start treating depression as something that is a pretty regularly recurring struggle for all sorts of people. Typically, I’m an upbeat hard-working person who tries to make sure everyone else is content and who loves to make the lives of others as easy as possible. But this is something that I constantly struggle with. Most times, it’s something I can handle with a regular schedule and writing through my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, like the past few weeks, it gets so debilitating that I have no other way to cope than to remove myself from everyday life and do high-intensive therapy and recovery treatments.

The point is that mental illness is not a rarely occurring disability. So I write to bring awareness to that fact. I write because I want other people to know that if I have a mostly healthy life, they can have that as well. I write to remind myself that the really bad moments are fleeting, and I can watch how much my mental state changes when I recover and become healthier again.

I write because one of the biggest lies depression feeds me is that I’m completely alone.

I write this as a reminder to me as well as anyone else: you are never fully alone.

Millenium Park, Chicago, IL- June 2016
Millenium Park, Chicago, IL- June 2016

Speaking Up

“I’m going to rape you and f*ck you up, b*tch”

That was written in my seventh grade yearbook by the boy who had a locker next to mine. All year, he had pestered me in what I’m now sure was his interpretation of giving me “manly attention”. At one point about halfway through the year, he came up behind me, putting his hands on my hips, and laughed when I asked him to stop. When he wrote that lovely note in my yearbook, I instantly painted over it with whiteout because I was terrified of getting in trouble.

The part of this whole story that disgusts me more than anything else is the fact that I was convinced that I would be the one getting in trouble for having bad words written in my yearbook. By the early age of twelve, I was afraid that someone would say that I had done something to egg him on and that I just shouldn’t associate myself with a person who used what my parents deemed unacceptable language.

When I told someone very close to me (a person who I thought wanted to protect and comfort me above all else) about the circumstances surrounding losing my virginity during my freshman year of college, the first question I was asked was “had you been drinking?” When I told that same person about the abuse that pushed me toward my divorce, the first question asked was the same: “was alcohol involved?”

This is the culture that so many young girls are raised in today. This fear that they won’t be taken seriously, or worse, that they’ll be the one blamed when something happens to them. That they’ll be told they brought it on themselves. It isn’t just the super-mysoginistic men that run the disgusting so-called “pick-up artist” websites, either. For me, it was a family member that should be first and foremost concerned with my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. And that is unacceptable.

I was an innocent middle schooler that wore mostly t-shirts, jeans, and limited too. I was a young college student who thought I had expressed my intentions clearly when I stated I wanted to stay a virgin until I got married. Finally, I was a wife who believed I had married a man who would uphold his promise to protect and respect me. Throughout all of that, I was a woman who was encouraged to believe that somehow, my actions were the cause of the hurt brought upon me. That if I had acted more appropriately, those things wouldn’t have happened. Not once did the phrase “it’s not your fault” ever get mentioned. Not a single thing was stated to help me realize that the person that committed those actions was solely responsible.

Victim blaming has been running rampant for longer than I’ve been alive. Saying that someone brought on sexual harassment or even rape because of how they act or how they dress is completely unacceptable, and only encourages victims to keep quiet in order to avoid adding insult to injury. The only person who is to blame is the person who commits that action. It’s time to start making sure that the victims of any sort of sexual harassment know that if something happens to them, they no longer have to fear not being taken seriously.

Frankfurt skyline- Frankfurt, Germany, August 2014
Frankfurt skyline- Frankfurt, Germany, August 2014

Learning to Believe

I’ve taken another short writing hiatus. Hiatus is probably too ostentatious of a word….I’ve been wrapped up in a cozy little life I’ve formed for myself, and I’ve not cared enough about being disciplined to keep writing on a regular basis.

For the past month or so, I’ve felt like I’ve been on another planet. The holidays had me all sorts of mixed up mentally, and I wanted nothing more than for them to just speed by. Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas, at least not the kind of Christmas I used to look forward to every year. The good part about this Christmas, however, was finally making peace with my new life.

I went through my divorce toward the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. For all of 2014, I assumed the mask of “divorcee” because that’s all I knew to identify myself by. For the majority of 2015, I was the girl who was mostly interesting because she had lived abroad and traveled to interesting places across the world. Moving to Arkansas meant another new start, but it wasn’t an interesting one. Moving back to Arkansas was meant to serve one purpose: allow myself to finally finish what I started in the form of a college degree. I returned here knowing that it wasn’t going to be my final destination, just a stepping stone to greater things.

Being back here has been harder than expected. My only friends who I had up here were ones who knew my old married identity, who knew my ex and the rest of my ghosts. They knew me as that person, and weren’t around first-hand for my transformation that I’ve been going through for two years. That’s not to say my relationship with those friends is hurt or hindered, it’s just more difficult returning to friendships when you aren’t the same person you were. But for the past two years, I had been able to grow and cultivate friendships with people who hadn’t seen me at my worst, so the dynamic has been different.

I have branched out and made new friends. I’ve been lucky enough to have made some incredibly fast friends with the people I work with. We’re a small staff, so we spend five days a week together, and the sense of family is very strong. When meeting this group of people, I struggled with the question of “do I reveal my married past and everything that went with it, or do I act like I have a normal and easy past?” as I do with every new group of people I meet. I’m good with keeping the important stuff to myself and acting like my life is just fine, so that’s been my default approach to any new friends. It’s safer.

However, for the past several months, I’ve tried to not wear a mask around the new people in my life. I’ve been growing more and more confident when letting people see who I really am underneath the easy going, content outer shell I present. Using the conversation I had with a close friend about how I make it hard to allow people to love me as inspiration, I’ve been working hard on laying out most of who I really am from the beginning of a friendship as a way to separate the true friends from the casual acquaintances.

It’s been so difficult. There is such a sense of rawness and lack of control living a more vulnerable life. You’re much more susceptible to hurtful criticism when you show the bad parts with the good. Recently though, I’ve discovered how rewarding no longer hiding all the layers of my life can be. Sometimes, when you share yourself entirely, you stumble across people who are capable of truly understanding you.

So I’ve found a small community of people who care about me in spite of all my flaws, even though I’ve made no effort to hide that person I’m a little ashamed to be at times. I’ve been surrounded by people who embrace me even when I may feel difficult. Even more mind-blowing, I’m finally starting to feel appreciated and special, instead of having to mentally remind myself of this fact over and over again. It’s beginning to become a learned fact. For the first time in my memory, I feel treasured not only for the cool stories I might have or how “interesting” my experiences seem, but for what thoughts and emotions make up the core of who I am. There’s a sense of peacefulness that overwhelms every other thought when you are finally able to believe how much you matter to another person.

Louvre- Paris, July 2014
Louvre- Paris, July 2014

currently listening to: Spotify’s Discover Weekly

It’s the Hardest Time of the Year

Many people count down to the holidays every year with baited breath. For most of the world, December is a month of celebrating and happiness. For others, however, it’s a time that reminds them of the bad, the difficult, and the painful. For others, the entire holiday season fills them with dread.

For the past few years, I’ve found myself in the second group. I’ve found myself wanting to avoid everything holiday related as much as possible. I’m not sure if it’s constantly being surrounded by people who insist that it’s the “happiest time of the year”, if it’s the reminder of the holidays formerly being happy memories, or if it’s just that depression seems to be spiked with extra strength steroids at the end of the year. Honestly, it’s probably a combination of all of the above, but no matter the reasoning, I’ve found myself becoming more bitter and less willing to give any holiday celebrating the time of day.

I read an article on the habits of people with concealed depression a couple days ago. I think this is one of the most on-point articles on describing my thoughts and actions in dealing with depression that I’ve ever read. There is nothing more that I hate than feeling like a burden to the people around me…having the thoughts that make you believe that if you fully let someone in to the way you experience the world, there’s no way that they could willingly spend another minute with you. The paralyzing need to just have someone want to be there while you sob, but not being able to trust that someone would be that strong backbone for you. The guilt that floods through you as you sit on the floor, unable to move. The facade, the impenetrable mask of peaceful happiness you’ve created and don’t know how to remove because you’ve feared the abandonment by the people you care for most in this world if they saw that darkness that flows through the truest form of you.

The holiday season is always one when the mask is weakest. When the sense of aloneness becomes stronger than ever and threatens to break down your walls past the point of repair. When the joy around you is almost unbearable because the opposite feeling feels so clear in your life. For me, it always begins on Thanksgiving. That’s the start of the season when I want to go into hibernation, only returning back to the world after the holidays have passed and the harshest part of winter makes the general public want to withdraw into their shells.  So I find ways to avoid celebrating. I work through the holidays. I avoid time with family and friends. I make it a point to stay home.

It’s really a battle between hard and harder. I was sick this Thanksgiving, and while I have been hit with waves of loneliness stronger than I think I’ve ever experienced before, part of me was thankful that I could use that sickness as an excuse to stay home instead of accepting friends’ offers to join their families. There’s a sense that those invitations come from a place of pity that I am alone, even though I know that’s a ridiculous idea to have. There’s the idea that if I were to go and celebrate any holiday with others, that I would be a downer, even though the people that I know are sincere in their friendship wouldn’t actually mind my melancholy. It’s a constant inner battle between my feelings and thoughts and knowing that those feeling and thoughts take over through the power of depression.

I started writing this post as a reflection, as an explanation for some of my actions. However, I think it’s become more of a plea to the people around me, as an attempt to put some of my thoughts into words, and to let the other people I know who struggle through this month know that you aren’t the only one. Even if some of us choose to struggle in silence and solitude, there’s a slight relief knowing others are fighting similar battles.

Austin, Texas - February 2015
Austin, Texas – February 2015