The Rollercoaster Year

Like many, 2016 was a rough year. For me in particular, it was probably the year of rollercoasters. The year started off so strong and so full of possibilities, but my mental health kept throwing massive stumbling blocks in my path. With the spring came warning signs, the scariest suicidal and self-harming thoughts I had ever experienced. The summer had the crash. I reached the end of my rope and was so thrown out of whack that I needed a month to recover. The fall topped it all off with regular therapy appointments and a possible new diagnosis. I still haven’t made as much progress as I would like, but I now have some answers as a starting block, and I’ll hopefully be able to move forward with healing and solutions in the new year.

This year was a tiresome one for the world as well. So many deaths, so much fighting, so much hatred across humanity. During the presidential election, my stress got so high that I was physically sick. Especially in these last couple of months, it’s felt like events keep happening and kindling keeps getting added to a fire that could burn down the world. There’s a part of me that’s almost scared to see what could progress in the next year.

Thankfully, in spite of the tough, the worrisome, and the frightening, there has been hope. I’ve accomplished the goal I set for myself a few years ago to see new places and experience new things. I visited two new cities, greatly expanded my professional circles, and further proved to myself that I can fight through difficulties. There has been love and an abundance of smiles. Friendships have strengthened, my family has more than doubled, and my ability to trust and communicate has grown more than I imagined. I’ll be forever grateful that 2016 was the year I said yes. Not only yes to marriage, but yes to accepting help when it was needed, yes to believing people mean what they say, and yes to learning that love can be given freely.

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Fayetteville, AR- December 2016; photo by Cavalier Photography
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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

It Takes Time

I had a panic attack earlier this week.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my last serious moment. It came out of nowhere. I was hugged far too tightly by someone who was not welcome to touch me, and I panicked. It started off as something I thought I could work through….shaking hands, a slight shortness of breath. It didn’t slow down. It didn’t get better. It got worse. Shaking hands turned to full body paralyzation. Shortness of breath turned into the inability to see or breathe or speak in coherent words. I lost track of time. It was terrifying.

I was in a public place. I was at my job. I was in possibly one of the worst places to totally shut down because I’ve kept most of my history separate from my work environment. I was lucky enough to have one friend there who I’ve known for over a decade who knows all of my past and was able to drive me home and make sure I had moved past the worst of it, but it was impossible for most of my colleagues to know why I was just leaving work in the middle of a shift.

That’s the thing about having ptsd. That’s a factor that I’ve dismissed since it’s been so long since my last crippling episode. It can come back at any time. Triggers can’t be controlled. You can try to avoid situations where thoughts and feelings come rushing back, but that isn’t a hundred percent guarantee that you’re the person before the event or events that caused your trauma.

I think one of the worst parts to me is how embarrassed I feel. There’s a sense of shame and humiliation that comes with completely shutting down in front of a bunch of people that you’ve only known for a few months. It shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately most people don’t understand the feeling that every molecule of oxygen is being squeezed from your lungs, that you have to clench your fists so tightly that nails cut skin just to keep your mind somewhat in the present. That became clear to me when I was told that I “just have to get over my past and move on”.

Some traumas are impossible to get over. There’s healing that will happen and the fear or hurt may subside, but it doesn’t just magically go away. You can’t just snap your fingers and become instantly mentally or emotionally healthy again. It doesn’t work like that. I wish it did. I wish there was an instant fix to make all of the bad feelings disappear. But it does not work like that, and unless you’ve dealt with trauma in your life, it’s virtually impossible to understand that fact. It’s a slow process and there are setbacks, as I’ve recently experienced, but the healing does come. Days get brighter and breaths come easier. It’s just important to remember that it takes time.

Alaska - August 2014
Alaska – August 2014