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

Being Known

“Shame caused me to hide…the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect” -Donald Miller, Scary Close

I wanted to expand upon my last post. Not the relationship part…that will come soon enough in a more lighthearted manner. No, I wanted to expand upon feeling fully understood. Feeling known.

I’ve been a huge fan of Donald Miller for almost ten years. I first fell in love with his writing voice during my freshman year of college. Some of my fondest memories that first semester are of sitting in the laundry room of my dorm, reading Blue Like Jazz and listening to Iron & Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog”. I realize that doesn’t sound like a particularly thrilling time, especially for an eighteen-year-old who was experiencing freedom for the first time, but I credit those moments as the ones when I started to fully think for myself.

I’m not a fan of most “religious” writers. I don’t like the voice of someone who is obviously trying to convert their readers to their worldview. It’s pushy and desperate and doesn’t feel genuine. If I’m going to be approached with an entire worldview, I want it to come from someone who fully accepts their faults, acknowledges that they don’t have all the answers, but are trying to be their best. I like being able to read words by someone who lives through their flaws.

Scary Close came out in early 2015. I had been struggling with finding my voice and felt like I had lost the ability to connect with anyone on any kind of level. I was feeling lost and unable to trust. Miller’s book was all about relationships and feeling intimacy. This didn’t always necessarily mean romantic intimacy, but just connecting and being known by others.

Through a series of events, I had lost that. In my writing project, I had written myself into a character that “left destruction in her wake and in a way was proud of herself for being able to attract people enough to destroy their idea of love” because I saw myself in that life. I saw myself unable to be known by people because I had lost my ability to trust. I know that some of that mistrust should have been consciously aimed at myself instead of others, but that year was a mess of epic proportions, and I avoided self-blame at all costs.

Somewhere along the way last year, I hit the wall. I learned that I had been avoiding any of the blame for my actions. Perhaps blame isn’t the correct word, but I was tying all of my mistakes and faults to the people who had hurt me. I wasn’t willing to accept that the bad experiences had actually shaped anything about me. There was a moment close to the middle of last year that I had a breakdown in front of others. I was being pummeled with questions about my divorce from a guy I barely knew, and by the end of the night, I was in the passenger seat of a friend’s car unable to breathe or speak. I texted that friend the next morning, apologizing for the inconvenience my panic attack had caused, and his response was so simple and so true: “There’s no need to apologize. It was a true human experience”

That was the first time in a very long time I realized that I shouldn’t be apologizing for the permanent marks my experiences had left on me. Being in the midst of painful moments is as much a part of being human as any joyful moments are, perhaps even more so. All of us experience hardships, and acting like those things don’t exist chips away at our humanity. In my quest to become fully exposed and at peace with every piece of me, I’ve made it a point to not hide my experiences. If the people around me know what I’ve been through, what both pains and soothes me, they are shown my true self. If they choose to spend time with that true self after being made aware of all my flaws, my ability to trust in them grows. This is the way a healthy relationship develops.

Black Rock Lake Park, Texas - April 2015
Bluebonnets at Black Rock Lake Park, Texas – April 2015

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.

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Navy Pier, Chicago – June 2016

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.

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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