The Good is Better Because of the Bad

I’ve been rewatching Skins. There’s a scene in the fourth season between Effy and Freddie where she looks at him and tells him that all of her bad memories are gone, and she only has love left. She had been dealing with manic episodes and psychosis, subsequently getting sent to a hospital and having constant care from a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist helps her to “delete” all these bad memories, but it eventually is shown that this is even worse for her mental health. She loses so much of who she has become because she no longer has bad memories to remind her of her growth and change.

There have been several times in the last few years where I’ve wished to just delete moments in my life, especially regarding past relationships. I would love to be able to remove moments like my marriage and really even just meeting my ex. I convince myself that being able to delete the hurt and pain, the insecurities and fears that I developed would make me a happier person. I go back and forth between this desire and trying to embrace the failed relationships because they’ve taught me how to be stronger, to stand up for myself, and to leave when it turns toxic. I know that facing these issues is the healthy choice. I just don’t want any of that to tarnish what I have now and who I am now. I’m struggling with balancing my past and my future, and I’m not quite sure how to merge the two.

I had never intended to get married again. I allowed myself to become completely absorbed in that relationship that I lost who I was. I’ve labeled myself as damaged, unlovable, undesirable. I had a couple people come through my life after my divorce that I thought would maybe be a long-term part of my life, but I was unaware of my self-sabotaging these connections for quite some time. When I finally noticed my pattern and the unhealthy consequences, I made a conscious effort to change. When I met Josiah (which is probably a story for another time) and as we grew in our relationship and made the decision to get married, I tried to stay aware of my sabotaging tendencies.

I still feel unworthy. I still feel like my ex and my past haunt me. I still have family and friends who ask me about him and if I’ve heard from him. I suppose the biggest reason I wish I could delete all of the bad memories is because I’m tired of my past demanding to be my present. I’m so excited for what my future is going to hold, and I’m thrilled that I have someone who makes a consistent effort to understand. I know those bad moments will eventually fade until they’re tiny specks in a very distant memory, but I’m trying to accept them as ways to fully appreciate what and who I have in my life now. I think that’s the key in all of this: trying to appreciate the lessons learned from all of the hurtful moments. It’s just a very difficult thing to remind myself day in and day out- the bad is worth remembering because it makes the good so much better.

IMG_3998 - Version 2
Navy Pier, Chicago – June 2016

#blacklivesmatter

The past week has had me completely torn up inside. My heart feels broken, defeated, shocked…  I’ve been seeing two sides of an argument throughout social media: #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter. I believe all lives matter, I really do. I believe in loving everyone. I believe in giving everyone a chance. I believe in supporting your fellow man, no matter his race, background, religion, or political views. I believe in loving people. But the black lives in our country are being attacked, and it breaks my heart.

I have been reading a lot of articles and watching several videos this week. A lot of angry, inflammatory articles and video clips by people who are so quick to judge, so quick to bring up criminal backgrounds. These guys were shot before they were id’d. These men were shot before anything from their history was known. These men were shot because of their color. There’s a prejudice that I think has been so deeply ingrained in our country, and it’s not going to change overnight. I know it’s not going to change overnight, but something needs to change. Our country needs to transform. There needs to be some sort of effort to say that this is not okay. Senseless killings are not okay. It hurts me so much, and I don’t know what all I can do except for erase the stereotypes in my own life

Change always comes from singular people. It always comes from people being brave enough and disgusted enough by their surrounds to do something about it, to stand up and say what is going on is not okay and that they need to change what they are doing. That change starts a movement, and that movement needs to happen. But it has to start with singular people.

I read a comment on one of the articles. I try not to read comments because they just make my blood boil with the ignorance, but I read one comment in response to one person being so upset that the article said #blacklivesmatter instead of #alllivesmatter, and this person pointed out that the two are not exclusive. What if a person was at a cancer rally wanting to fight to end cancer, and a group showed up and shouted that all diseases matter. Yes, all diseases matter. Healing people matter. But in that scenario, people are there to want to change cancer. The #blacklivesmatter movement is to say that the black citizens of our country are being attacked. There is so much racism that is so prevalent, and we need to point that out. It’s not saying that every other life doesn’t matter, it’s saying that we realize there is an issue in the system, and that system needs to change.

In regards to the Dallas shooting (because my heart is aching for those police officers as well), I want to say again that the entire system needs to change. Our country needs to change their view of the police force because the majority of them are doing their job and doing it well. Jon Stewart said, “You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.” This is what is so important to me. We need to stop answering to violence with more violence. We need to acknowledge that the actions of a few do not speak for the entire group. I hear one side saying “down with the police, they’re all corrupt” and I hear another side saying “the #blacklivesmatter movement is only inspiring violence”. I believe every single person who causes death and violence should be held at the same level of accountability. This should stop being a war between groups.

There was a video I was tagged in on Instagram that showed a woman speaking in a large college lecture hall. She asked the hundreds of students in the audience if they would be willing to change the color of their skin, if they would be willing to live in the world as a black man or woman. She asked for whoever would be willing to do that to stand up, yet nobody stood. My question to any readers who have made it this far: would you change the color of your skin? Would you be an African American citizen in our country right now? Do you think that your life would change?

IMG_20140912_211435

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.

IMG_2941
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