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

Shards of a Story

September is National Suicide Awareness Month.

I’ve written about my depression many times before. I write about it partially as an encouragement and to help remind others that depression and other mental health struggles aren’t things to be ashamed of, but should be talked about. They’re some of the hardest kinds of battles because you often feel like there’s no way to win. However, I also write about my struggles for very selfish reasons…I write because it helps me remember I’m not alone either.

There’s a huge difference in allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your writing and vulnerable in your everyday life. I tend to find it much easier to be completely open in my writing, partially because I don’t see the responses to my thoughts. However, with the more people I know in person who tell me they read my blog, I’ve gotten intimidated. I’ve let my blog-writing take a back seat. I’ve been far too concerned with their thoughts on my writing. I’ve muffled my voice, but I’ve got to stop. I need to start writing my thoughts again, no matter how they might make me look to my outer circles.

I mention that it’s suicide awareness month because this issue is one closest to my heart. It’s something I haven’t really talked about much because there is such a negative stigma that surrounds most of the mental health world. This hits so close to home, and for the longest time, I was too ashamed to tell anybody even a fraction of what was going on in my mind.

The first time I ever encountered suicide, I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. A girl I went to church with, a girl who was no older than 9, killed herself. I don’t remember many of the details, and I don’t even remember how my parents explained it, but I do remember how after it happened and people learned of what happened, it was never really addressed again. It wasn’t to be talked about.

The first time I hurt myself was maybe a year later. I don’t remember wanting to hurt myself because I felt sad or angry or even really emotional at all. What I do remember is wondering how much it would take to feel pain and if anyone would ever notice. I still have the scars on my left knee. Nobody ever mentioned it.

Things started to get worse in high school. Thoughts of just feeling invisible, of believing that even if I did die, nobody would really miss me, were constant whispers in the back of my mind. It started to feel like those thoughts had always been there, so I was never really concerned about them. When you’re in the depths of something like that, the emptiness and worthlessness seems completely normal. You can’t recall feeling another way.

Toward the end of my marriage was when my mental health took a complete nosedive. I suffered through a miscarriage, both parents being diagnosed with cancer, and I can just remember feeling like if I talked to anyone, if I brought up the stress and pain I was struggling with, I would just become a burden to that person. I didn’t have enough faith that I could mean enough to another human being to actually let them know how badly I was struggling. I had to drop classes, I couldn’t fathom holding a job, and I had gained so much weight that I stayed on the couch in the same sweats and tshirt for days at a time. It’s still incredibly difficult for me to admit this now, but I felt like death was the only way out. The only way to escape the constant hell I was living in.

Thankfully, my thoughts had gotten so dark that they even began to startle me. Most days, I just lived as my life was still running in a completely logical path, but the days that were so foggy that I couldn’t remember what I had done the hour before…those days shocked me into trying to find some sort of help.

I still don’t know how, but I found the perfect therapist on the first try. Granted, I cried through most of our sessions for the first few months, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t encounter a feeling a guilt tied to the crying. I felt like I could talk to someone and have my thoughts, my issues, my struggles actually matter. I started to heal, and with that, I started to really write.

Writing has probably been the best wellness practice for me. Being able to read back a few months and see how my thoughts twist and turn from healthy to dangerous and back to healthy is a difficult thing, but also a gift. In my darker moments, I’m able to find those bits of writing where I’m feeling completely inspired to move forward with life. Some of those excerpts are almost disgustingly chipper.

I don’t have a solution. I don’t have an answer to what is most likely going to be a life-long struggle for me. What I do have is growth. I have encouragement. I have the knowledge that this daily mental fight is not one that is as isolating as my brain wants me to believe. Thanks to this awareness month and other people willing to be open and vulnerable with their struggles, I’m able to be willing to accept my story and look forward to even more healing and growth. I’m able to know that talking about it, being able to discuss struggles with others is the first step in healing. It’s time we learn that sharing both the wins and losses in our battles with mental health issues not only helps ourselves, but the people around us as well.

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014
Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

listening to: We Fall by Emile Haynie

The Hardest Part of the Story

The only thing I’ve ever published on this blog and then deleted is still a hard story for me to tell. It’s one that needs to be told and one that I don’t try to hide, but I was far too emotionally invested to write about it appropriately.

People that have known me for a while remember when I got married back in 2010. Looking back at everything now, I realize that the marriage shouldn’t have happened in the first place because I was already far too consumed by my depression, but in the moment, it made sense. The marriage lasted three years. Most of it is now a blur to me, but there are still some very vivid memories.

I suppose I should start back before I even met him. I should start back at my freshman year of college. That was the year that everything started to change for me. That was the year that I partied far too often and invested time in some people that didn’t have good motives. That was the year that I lost any innocence and not all of it was by choice.

Fast forward to the next year when I met the guy I would later marry. There were moments at the very beginning that should have been clues that there was something wrong with my psyche. If I felt too constrained in a blanket or a hug was too tight, I wouldn’t be able to breathe, my eyes would instantly tear up, and my body would just freeze. Panic attacks would become more frequent as the years progressed, but I should have realized that something wasn’t quite right at the very beginning.

What started off as a casual friendship turned into a pretty serious relationship. I became dependent on him and went as far as to drop out of college and move to another state to be with him. That was when he proposed. Part of the reason for proposing was so that we could live together without the complete and utter disapproval from my parents.

Looking back, the year we spent together while engaged was a year of my emotional and mental health utterly deteriorating. I started waking up in the middle of the night because of panic attacks. There is nothing more terrifying than being unable to move and so frozen that your brain can’t process what is going on around you.

The wedding day quickly approached. I clearly remember wanting to call off the wedding day, but also being so concerned about what others would think if I did that I carried through with it. I was a mess the weekend of. There wasn’t a waking hour that I wasn’t fighting back tears. I thought it was happy nerves, but I’ve never been that out of control with my emotions, and I know now that the overwhelming emotions were more signs that there was something off.

We were married, and things were fine for a while. This is where things get even harder to talk about. I suppose typing it out is easier than verbalizing everything, but there were three different instances during the three years we were married that changed everything. It was a kind of abuse, the kind that is both hurtful and degrading, and I was completely unequipped to respond properly. After the third incident, I finally realized that there was nothing more important than getting out. I’ve always used the same example when explaining this, but it was as if there was a pane of glass that kept getting cracks in it until that third time. That final moment of hurt and abuse was enough to shatter the glass and make me realize just how badly I needed to remove myself from the situation.

I’ve found that this is a tricky topic to discuss for a couple of different reasons. For one, I needed to escape for my own health and safety, but I’m not out to paint my ex husband as an evil person. There are numerous great qualities about him, but I can’t look past the pain he caused me. I’ve never wanted revenge, but I wasn’t about to allow that hurt to continue. You hear about abuse happening, but you don’t imagine it happening in a seemingly happy marriage. You don’t imagine someone who is beloved by everyone who meets him could possibly laugh when confronted with the pain he’s caused somebody.

Secondly, I don’t want pity. I’ve never wanted people to feel sorry for me. It’s in the past now, and just like the other hurtful moments in my life, I’ve learned from it. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself and I’ve learned to be far less tolerant when confronted with similar issues. I’ve learned how strong I can be when it’s absolutely necessary, and I think that strength is my most beautiful quality. I’m proud of the person I’m becoming in my recovery.

So the reason I share the basic overview of this part of my story is this: I want more people to truly understand that there can be pain when everything looks perfect on the outside. I want people to be more willing to help when they think somebody might be hurting. Most importantly, I want people who might be experiencing something similar to know that they can be hopeful, that there is another side and a way out from the hurt. Recovery is possible even after the darkest moments.

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

listening to: Vance Joy