The Month of Change

For me, October has always been a month of change and growth. I’ve experienced my first heartache, the beginning of my marriage, the loss of a child, the reality of my parents’ mortality during my mom’s battle with cancer, the exquisite pain of the end of my marriage, and the adjustment of moving back to the states from Germany all in the month of October over the years.

It’s a transformative time for me, and this year is no different. As I’ve written about before, my move back to Arkansas is coming up very quickly, and my mind is racing to catch up with the plans I’ve made for myself. I’m ready for the change. Despite the nervousness connected to the knowledge that I’ll be completely on my own for the first time in my life, it’s time. It’s time to prove to myself that I can survive, that I can be the independent person I’ve always embraced the idea of.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was leaving Germany. More than any other time in my life, 2014 was the year that I really began to discover who I was and what I was made of. I feel like I’m equal parts older and younger than my age. Older because I’ve already been through so many experiences, but younger because until last year, I had no inkling of how I saw my future. In my marriage, I had given up my identity and lost some of the most important years of self-discovery, so I’ve learned to turn my mid-twenties into those experimental years.

Germany changed me. It was the initial push that caused me to really start enjoying writing for the sake of recording thoughts and allowing my emotions a place to rest. I began to embrace the parts about me that I previously viewed as weak things to be ashamed of. It was a pivotal moment in my life, a realization that sharing my true story, struggles and all, was the only way to truly heal. So I shared. I made friends with people with whom I knew would be loving toward me no matter what mistakes I made, no matter the battles I still had waging within me. I truly believe that last year in Germany saved me.

Coming back, I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. I wasn’t ready to be surrounded by the world that wants so hard to be vulnerable and open, but hides their real weaknesses in order to look strong and put together. I wasn’t expecting to relapse into the emotional tug-of-war, the sense that people are only willing to help when it satisfies their own needs first. That’s not the way that everyone is here, it’s just a generalization based primarily on experiences I’ve had over and over again in this small town I live in.

Perhaps it’s just a feeling that comes with the knowledge that it’s time for me to move on to the next thing. Perhaps my negative feelings of this place come from situations I’ve only got myself to blame for. Perhaps it’s just knowing that with October comes change. With the autumn comes the end of a chapter. When the leaves start changing and the world is covered in a blanket of reds and oranges, it’s a beautiful symbol of saying goodbye to everything I’ve known from the year, of preparing myself for the birth of something new and exciting.

Kelsterbach, Germany - October 2014
Kelsterbach, Germany – October 2014

listening to: Bear’s Den

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

A Break

I’ve found myself reaching a point of wanting to give up writing on a blog because I’ve started to compare my writing to that of others again. My words aren’t fancy or detailed, I border on being too frank and honest, and I feel like I’m pathetically whiney most of the time. I’m overly critical. I know this. I battle this on a regular basis. I’ve been racking my brain for a way to change this, to get back to a point of really liking what I’m writing and being proud of it.

I think this all stems from a bigger issue. It comes from a place of being too self-conscious, of not being able to really be aware my talents and gifts, of viewing myself as unlovable. Three months ago, I wrote about being the type of person that hides herself away, that makes it difficult for people to connect with beyond a surface level. It’s not that I don’t connect with others- I just don’t think others will be able to handle the trouble and pain I drag along with me in the most self-inflicted forms of baggage that I avoid letting anyone in to help me work through it.

I think this move will be good for me in more than one way. Even though my financial stress will be higher, not living with my parents anymore will be a giant relief. Out of all the things I’ve attempted in the past several years, trying to maintain a civil relationship with them has (shamefully) been the most difficult. There are enough issues there to fill up several books alone, but we do so much better when there is distance between us. What I’m most looking forward to, however, is really focusing on myself.

I realize this is terribly cliche, horribly overdone, and disgustingly cheesy, but I’ve been contemplating a complete separation from the idea of dating or relationships. A quick backstory: I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 17. I didn’t even have many dates to dances…in fact, I got asked to exactly one dance before I entered the dating world. None of that is bad, but the fact that I was so disappointed, so heartbroken- that I placed so much value on the opposite gender’s lack of interest in me- that is the part I don’t like. When I finally had a guy in my life that was interested in me, I didn’t really stop to think about if he was the type of person I really wanted to be with. I just went with it. I settled into the mediocracy of it all.

From that day in August of 2006 until last November, I hadn’t gone longer than a few months without some sort of love interest in my life. Most of them weren’t worth the effort. We didn’t click or even really appreciate each other, we just kept each other from being lonely. That’s a huge stretch of my life of simply avoiding loneliness…eight years. Arguably some of the most important years in life for figuring out who you are and what you want from life. In that time, I can say with certainty that I was only with one person who even slightly understood the underlying thoughts driving my actions, who was able to get through the surface, get to know the real person underneath, and actually be supportive of that person.

I’ve had crushes since last November. I’ve been so interested in this one person that it’s torn me up inside. I’ve gotten my hopes up, those same hopes obliterated, and my emotions all tangled up that I haven’t been able to decipher up from down and good from bad. The most irritating part? I’ve taken all the blame. I’ve just viewed it all as something I’ve been doing wrong, that I’m not good enough. It’s a terrible way to think. Really, there is no blame to be placed. There is no wrong person in this situation. It’s just that there are feelings that aren’t reciprocated and nothing will change that.

I think accepting that fact is a good first step in beginning to appreciate myself. In stopping the blame and degrading attitude I have toward myself. It’s so self-destructive. If healing is going to continue, if I’m going to finally be able to be proud of who I am and what I’m doing with my life, the self-destructive behavior has to take a permanent vacation. I’m not giving myself a specific time frame for this break from the idea of relationships and dating, but I am making a very specific declaration for myself to end all ideas of being with another person until I can fully be content and joyful with who I am, what I’m doing, and where I’m going in life.

Alaska - August 2014
Alaska – August 2014

listening to: Bon Iver, Hozier

Weakness or Strength

I’ve been starting a lot of posts lately without finishing them. One of the main themes I’ve been trying to figure out how to begin addressing again is depression. Mostly, my depression and how there can be periods of breakthrough, relief, and healing, but it isn’t something I believe I’ll completely be over.

I used to think that depression was something that made a person weak. I was so determined to appear strong, to appear like I had my life together, that I refused to accept that depression might be the cause of my panic attacks, sobbing at the slightest provocation, and the general emptiness I felt in life. This went on for years. It’s only after I finally faced the fact that I was living with depression did I realize that being willing to admit that and begin the journey toward a fulfilling life again was something that made a person strong. So strong. Stronger than anyone can realize without being in that same position.

I think the most frustrating thing about living with depression as a constant ghost is facing the fact that it can come back with a vengeance. This is where I’ve been the past few months. There have been glimmers of hope, moments of knowing that being in this depressive state isn’t a permanent curse. I am always so hard on myself. I expect so much more. I hold myself to the standard that I should only struggle with a certain issue once in life before growing and becoming better. But I’ve found myself retreating into my shell and feeling angry, worthless, and empty again.

I’ve caught myself thinking “You’re so much better than this. Stop being that weak excuse of a human. Stop wallowing. Stop being worthless. Stop.” The thoughts come much more often that I’m willing to count. I’ve viewed it as a weakness.

However, I’ve realized that this is an incredible double standard. Reflecting over conversations I’ve had with a couple close friends who truly understand the feeling of hopelessness that comes with true depression, I’ve marveled over how strong they are. How impressed I’ve been that they have felt the same way that I have, and continue to fight every day for the side of hope and healing. How extraordinary they are as humans. It’s made me wonder why I can see their bravery and strength, but only my shortcomings.

This fall into the pit of depression has been different than previous ones. I think it’s mostly been brought on by the fact that I am nowhere where I want to be in terms of my career, geographical location, or physical appearance. However, I’ve been trying to remind myself that I’ve made so much progress in the past few years. I’ve come so far. My depression doesn’t make me weak.

Living in spite of my depression makes me strong.

Frankfurt HBF, Frankfurt, Germany - September 2014
Frankfurt HBF, Frankfurt, Germany – September 2014

listening to: Florence + The Machine

Moving On

It’s almost time for my birthday again. Last year, I wrote a post chock full of lessons I believed that I had learned. I mean, I had learned them to a short degree, but as with all things, lessons don’t ever end when you think they will.

It’s been a strange year. For the past several years, each year seems to present an entirely new set of issues or changes that are greater than the last. This year was no exception. I moved back from Germany, encountered my most severe heartbreak, moved back in with my parents, and met most of my biological family…and those were just the big moments of the year. So many little experiences have been scattered in between the big ones that there’s no way to keep track of them all.

If there’s been one major theme or lesson from the past year, it’s been “move on and learn what you and you alone want from life”. I took a huge leap moving to another country during year twenty-four, but it was an experience I had always wanted for myself. Moving back to the town I went to high school in, a town that I never had a single desire to live in ever again, was another huge leap, but it was almost more of a desperate flailing into something because I had no other option at the time. I have no hesitation in saying that it’s been a rough year (my parents will probably be first to agree). I’ve lived at home and had to rely on other to drive me around because I’m carless for the first time in my life.

I realize this probably sounds like a entire post of complaints, but I’m coming around to the other side soon, promise. Because of the difficulties, I’ve again been reminded how resilient I can be if necessary. I’ve been inspired more than ever to dig deep and make something of myself. I think there’s something to be said for hitting rock bottom, looking around, and getting smacked in the face with reality. This life, this empty existence in Tyler, TX with so many people who are content to live the day to day life with no direction in life, is not what I want. I want so much more than that. I want to live an exciting life filled with stories of experiences that actually mean something to the development of a person.

In regards to that severe heartbreak mentioned before: I’m so thankful that it happened. It’s funny…this exact time last year, I was down to single-digit days counting down to my trip to Alaska. I spent twelve days with a guy that I’ve known for most of my life (had a crush on for several years) and who I had spent the previous five months skyping with almost every single day. There was love there. He got me, understood the pain of being in an abusive relationship, and was just so good. However, I don’t think either one of us were healed from those abuses, and instead clung to each other as a salve and distraction instead of really dealing with the pain. For me, it was insecurities. For him, distrust. It ended abruptly, and I spiraled downward for quite some time.

That was eight months ago. Since then, as cheesy as it is, I’ve really been able to focus on who I am and what I want without having to think of another person. I love that kind of solitude. I love making decisions that are selfish. I get such a guilty conscience when making decisions if they involve someone else because I’m always so afraid that I’m not doing what they want. Being able to make plans solely for myself is such a foreign concept to me, but it’s incredible.

Meeting my birth family came at the perfect time. A time where I’m already focusing on getting to know myself. I feel like it was just so appropriate getting to see the family that I could have grown up with and seeing who I could have been in a different life. Honestly, it wasn’t all that different from the person I’ve started to become now, which was a great encouragement. The thoughts in my head, the desire in my heart..they make up who I am and aren’t just products of my surroundings. The contrast between the two families in my life couldn’t be more opposite. I’m going toward what I want despite of what I am immersed in.

So what’s next? I’ve got a week of being twenty-five left. A week where I’m solidly in my mid-twenties, where I’ve only lived a quarter of a century. I’m not sure what the next year will hold yet. I know an outline of what I want to happen: I want to feel more in control of my life, more put together. I want to finally create a foundation that I can build a solid life off of. Traveling and living overseas is still the final goal, but getting there is going to take more work that I’ve previously wanted to admit.

Cheers to twenty-five: the year that forced me to work hard.

Schooner Zodiac in in Bellingham, Washington - June 2015
Schooner Zodiac in in Bellingham, Washington – June 2015

listening to: eastmountainsouth