The Beginnings

December 12, 2015

I found myself sitting on my front porch with a coworker who had slightly intimidated me at first. The night had started as a small group of friends playing video games and singing along to Across the Universe. He was the last person to get there, and when he stepped outside for a quick smoke break, I joined him.

We sat down, and I’m not sure how the conversation started, but it turned into me telling him stories about my mental health, my heartbreaks, and my fears. How he continued to sit there while actually caring, I wouldn’t understand for some time, but in that moment, we were the cliche only people in the world. I was bold that night. So bold, in fact, that when I told him of my dreams to become a writer, I followed it up with a project I had recently started. “The most recent time that I felt like not existing anymore was December 8, 2015…” When reading those first pages, he learned more of my darkness than most of the people I’ve known for years.

It wasn’t meant to be anything more than a friendship. I wasn’t interested in a relationship, especially with someone who was leaving for the military a little over four months later. He didn’t want any sort of romantic ties back home when he left.

We spent weeks watching movies he hadn’t seen. We spent weeks talking about hopes, dreams, our own faults, and what we wish we could change about the world. We shared our past with each other, and somewhere in all of that, we started to realize that we could have an incredible future if we were willing to work through distance and time.

I’ve felt special connections with other people before. I’ve been married, I’ve been in love…I thought I was through that. I was convinced that I was far too used up to be loved again. While I’ve felt those connections with others, I didn’t ever think that the other person truly understood every part of me. I’d let certain parts of my personality and character show, but my truth told me that if I let anyone see some of the other parts, I’d be unlovable. This man saw the unlovable parts first. He knew them before he knew some of my good parts, and he’s chosen to spend a lifetime loving all of me.

I realize this is a rather sentimental post. This website has been all about depression and controversy recently. I’ve been fighting some incredible demons in my own life, and I’m not sure how well I’d be getting through it all if it wasn’t for Josiah’s constant love and support. He loves all of me, and while I don’t often feel like I deserve that level of care, I’ll be forever grateful for it.

Crystal Bridges, Bentonville, AR – January 2016

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

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

The Next One

I haven’t written anything except for journal entries in just about a month. I think the reason behind this has been pretty simple. I needed to regroup my thoughts.

So what have I been doing instead?

I’ve been reading.

More specifically, I’ve been reading things that I feel have been having a wonderful impact on my thoughts and writing projects: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Scary Close by Donald Miller, and Naked Human by Christopher Poindexter. They’re all very different from each other, but they have one thing in common: authenticity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately. Not just romantic relationships, but mostly the friendships I’ve formed with the people I’ve met in Tyler since I’ve been back. In fact, I had a conversation with an old friend this week about how he was proud of me for being social and actually connecting with people in town.

The thing is, I don’t even feel like I’ve been trying to be more social or getting to know everybody I possibly can. I’ve just been more authentically me. I’ve been more open and honest and friendly, and there’s a sense of freedom that comes with that. I’m not saying this in a bragging sort of way, but I think because I’ve been more willing to be wholly genuine, the people I’ve met and have surrounded myself are also like that. That sense of honesty is the breeding ground for intimate friendships. That celebration of genuine humanity- both the positive and the negative- inspires people to open up and help each other through the struggles.

It’s a very rare thing to be part of a community that is so willing to talk about their downfalls. Everybody enjoys sharing their achievements and happy moments, but it’s not very often that you stumble across a group that can be truly supportive even when people are admitting the faults that hit the very core of who they are. Because of this, you really get to know the souls of people, not just the outer shell that many of us wear on a daily basis. You are able to support their dreams with joy and without any sort of jealousy or bitterness.

Sometimes the support comes in the form of cheering on bands at local bars and restaurants. Other times, the support is having art shows and poetry readings. I got to go to my first one of these art shows a couple weekends ago, and ended up sitting in the back corner of the place writing, similar to the day that inspired my seven descriptions a while back. This was what came out of my people watching:

Willowy frames swaying with every strum of the bass. Spectators watched every hip sway and every limb move. It was a dance of seduction and passion, but you couldn’t avoid it- you couldn’t look away. The girls in the front knew what they had and the only thing on their minds was celebrating that- reveling in all that was free love- and they reached out their arms in an attempt to bring that love to the rest of the room. It was extravagant, yet bare bones simplicity. They all had pasts that had turned them into sirens, women who were so beautiful in their youth and freedom, but could drive you to the point of begging to throw your soul upon the rocks.

The whole space made you feel as if you had been transported to another world. It was a warehouse that had been converted into an artist’s safe haven. Paintings covered every wall and hung from the rafters. A stage was set up in the middle of the room for the various musicians in the room to properly express their thoughts and feelings the best way they knew how.

He had been encouraged to get up on that stage all night. Words were what made him come alive. He wove them together like a spider weaves a web, both parts artistry and survival. If everyone in the room had a title, his would have been Poet. He was the best at what he did, and while he was confident in many areas, the constant second-guessing in this facet of life made him more of an artist than he was probably willing to admit. He climbed up on the stage and even the willowy sirens fell silent, for they too felt the respect that his words commanded. There was a hush in the room as everyone sat with anticipation until he took a deep breath and began to speak.

“My name is…”

Mango's Chateau, Tyler, TX- April 2015
Mango’s Chateau, Tyler, TX- April 2015

A Rising Light

I wrote a few weeks ago about the emerging underground culture in the city I’m in at the moment. I continuously get more and more excited about being thrown into the middle of what’s going on, and I’m not sure if I’m going to want to leave it anytime soon.

See, I’ve always wanted to live in a place where creativity is abundant and has a strong support from the community. When I lived in Arkansas, I was surrounded by people who were involved in music and intertwined with small local businesses. It was enthralling. I saw all of these people fired up and supporting each other in creative ventures. It was a new kind of support system to me.

One of the main reasons I dreaded moving back to East Texas was it was almost the complete opposite to the atmosphere of where I lived in Arkansas. There is a ton of money in this area of the country, but people are geared much more toward big business and appearing as “polished” and put together as possible. There wasn’t much transparency in the people that I knew or the places I spent my time. To be quite frank, it’s exhausting to live life like that, and I feared that moving back to this town would slowly kill the openness and creative drive I had been discovering in myself.

Coming back to this area, I only had a few friends. There are three guys in particular who I’ve known since my early teen years who have always been like family to me. Most of my extra time when I’m in town is always spent with them. They haven’t spent much time outside of East Texas, so they’ve built up a large network of friends and acquaintances. Having a lot of free time spent with them in the past few months means that they’ve introduced me into this network, and for that, I owe them so much.

The people that I’ve met since the end of October are the types of people I’ve always wanted to be involved with growing the culture of Tyler. They are passionate, incredibly talented, and most importantly, transparent with their lives. They are genuinely interested in helping others and being there for their friends. The support I’ve seen them give each other in the short amount of time I’ve been here is so surprising because it’s a selfless kind of support. They want to see each other succeed more than anything, and the joy that crosses their faces when there is a success in the community is brilliant.

Most of all, the atmosphere surrounding all of the people I’ve gotten to know is a living and thriving one. It’s exciting and raw and real and fascinating. This isn’t the dead Tyler I left in 2007. It now has electricity pulsing through the heart of it, and this light of this new community will continue to burn brighter and brighter.

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

listening to: The Kooks