Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sometimes.

Some days I don't want to be here any more. That's the honest truth that everyone would rather I lied about.

Some days life just stretches on and on like an endless desert in my mind and I struggle to see what the point is when I've just dragging myself inch by inch toward a horizon that will quickly shift once I get ten feet further.

Yesterday was one of those days. So is today.

Maybe I didn't take my omega-3 fatty acid or whatever that shit is called. Some component of the carton of pills I have to take to keep myself (somewhat) stable. Sometimes I can figure out what might be wrong, sometimes I can't. My body is a mystery to me even though I constantly inhabit it, like that picture in my science textbook of the world before human life - giant pools of ooze and meteors ricocheting through the dark sky. I don't know what it needs to be satisfied; treating my illness is all trial and error, though my psychiatrist would never care to admit it. Every time I think I've turned a corner, I plunge back into darkness again.

The worst part is that I feel so alone in my fight. My psychiatrist barely knows anything about me. She answers my emails with a couple of words. I have to pay $200 just to spend 15 minutes talking to her so why go unless you've run out of refills?

My friends...I don't have friends I feel like I can talk to when I'm hurting. They're too wrapped up in themselves or they get uncomfortable. I've tried saying things in the past and I only get more hurt by their lack of responsiveness.

My mother is supportive but I already feel bad with how much of my emotional crap I've dumped on her over the years and she can only do so much.

My counselor is great but I can only see her for 45 minutes once a frickin' week. How much can you accomplish in 45 minutes? So much happens outside of that 45 minute window that I don't get to talk through. I mean, over two decades of things have happened before I even started getting a 45 minute window to process through all of my shit. I don't know what I'm supposed to do if I feel bad between sessions. I don't know if I'm allowed to schedule an extra appointment. My counselor told me once to go to the ER if I ever feel like ending my life, but there's no way in hell I'm going there. I've heard the stories about how they treat people with mental illness.

And every time I go for my 45 minutes of fame, I leave with more work to do. I leave with a realization of yet another way in which I am falling short. I leave with another vague idea of what I need to do to improve myself. I leave with another technique for how to handle my shit the next time it comes up, which is usually the second I step out of that freaking office. Sometimes it helps, overall counseling has been a force for positive change in my life, but I have to admit that it leaves me unbelievably frustrated at other times.

Lately, I feel like therapy leaves me with this burden to fix myself. And what a crushing burden that is. I can't possibly accomplish it. I don't know how.

When I say that, I hear in my voice the ghosts of my evangelical Christian past saying, "That's because only God can fix you." But I've been disappointed beyond words with the results I've gotten from Him over the years. I still capitalize the "H" because we still have a relationship, God and I (it feels so wrong to put us together like we're equals, but it sounded catchy), but I have trouble trusting Him the way I used to. And it doesn't help when His followers are so unfeeling and ignorant, badgering me about when I'm going to come back to church instead of asking me why I left.

I guess I'm tired of being responsible for my well-being. That sounds immature and, well, irresponsible, but it's so frustrating to spend every day monitoring your thoughts and keeping careful watch over your coping mechanisms and pushing yourself to self-advocate and making your gratitude lists and recording your latest mood and taking your pills on time and then waiting thirty minutes to eat and doing your mindfulness exercise when you get upset and remembering to do your deep breathing when your anxiety flares back up...

It's all on me. My counselor says that my mood and my self-concept are in my control like it's a good thing, but frankly it's an overwhelming responsibility. I want someone else to take care of me. I want something good to just fall into my lap for once instead of having to work for it. I want a friend who will call me and ask if everything is okay.

I guess they call that co-dependency though. My counselor keeps telling me that I have to become more content with myself and secure in who I am so I'll have "good energy" and attract people who appreciate me for who I am. I guess that makes sense, but how the heck am I supposed to do that? And it all sounds like just another mammoth task tacked onto the end of my to-do list. Another way in which I fall short: Not confident enough in myself even though I'm a hell of a lot more confident than most women (and men - I think the arrogance act is just a coping mechanism for rampant insecurity) I've met. Which then makes me feel even worse about myself, which is ironic since the whole problem is that I don't feel good enough about myself. How am I supposed to feel good about myself when I am going to this therapy because I know there's something wrong with me?

People are always telling you to end on a positive note, even the mental health advocacy people. Well, I've spent too much time spinning my mental illness in a positive light because I was scared to let people see how bad it really was in the recesses of my depressive mind. Who was I trying to protect? My counselors? My psychiatrists? My family? Well, I only hurt myself by keeping them from giving me the support I needed.

I could feel proud of how much of my own weight I have borne in the process of dragging myself to this point, but I mostly just feel lonely. I wish I could have had some company. The worst part of depression is the isolation. Nobody gets what's going on in your head and no one can make you feel better. But I don't really trust people fully any more. It seems to me that they can leave you even more burned. It seems like there are some things you just have to muscle through on your own. Is it wrong for me to say that?

I hope if you're hurting you can find help. I hope you're not alone. Certainly you're not alone in feeling alone; I hope this post shows you that.

As for me, I'll close the computer and go to sleep so I can stop thinking about thinking for a while. It will be a nice relief. The only trouble is I won't even be awake to appreciate it.

I guess this is a bit of a morbid, dark post. I made the mistake of reading poetry earlier. I think it rubbed off on me. But at the end of the day, I just want to be honest because I think people who are suffering deserve to know that they're not crazy. They're one of many. Their feelings are legitimate. When we put trigger warnings on posts and tell people to remain positive all the time when talking about mental illness, we're being like the rest of the world and denying them the opportunity to feel those feelings and speak that life isn't always a walk in the park.

Sometimes it's an afternoon "hiding behind bottles in dark cafes".

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I am enough.

Right now.

I am here.

I am still alive.

I am breathing constantly, keeping myself here no matter how hard things get, how heavy the hurt hits.

How is it that every second I go unaware of this miracle of life that is dwelling within me, a mere foot from my brain? Working unceasingly, supporting me faithfully, not giving up on me even though I ignore it. How is it that I've never recognized this before?

In the same fashion, I go most days overlooking the value within me, the accomplishments I've made, the strength I've demonstrated. I minimize the successes, I brush off the compliments, I constantly tell myself, "Yes, I did that, but it wasn't enough." I set higher and higher expectations and focus more and more on what isn't while I overlook the miracle of what is dwelling within me right now.

My counselor said to me last session that we can only live in the present moment, otherwise we get stuck in the past or anxious about the future. Today it finally struck me how true that is. I like to daydream about what I could do in the future to look cool or gain recognition or even just imagine falling in love, planning out conversations I would have with whoever I think could be Mr. Right at the time. I guess it's a coping mechanism for social anxiety...I plan out in my head exactly what to say to someone in order to 1) give myself hope that maybe one day I can talk to the man I can't keep my mind (and eyes) off of and just be myself instead of stammering and biting my tongue and swallowing my jokes because I'm so damn nervous; 2) prepare just in case, by some miracle of God, he does talk to me, I might have something to say, and 3) fantasize that I won't always be alone, because with my track record thus far, it sometimes seems unlikely. The only problem with these fantasies are that they make me feel sick and desperate in the real world, angry at myself for not having the courage or opportunity to talk to a man I admire because of my social anxiety.

That was what made me realize that I need to live in the present; I get miserable obsessing over the past or trying to make my dreams for the future happen. And as I started to focus on the present, I realized just how much there was to be amazed at. I was in a Zumba class, which I took the initiative to sign up for and actually went to multiple times without feeling like I was going to barf right before. That's an accomplishment for someone with social anxiety.

I started to think about the things I have done in my life up to that point, letting myself dwell on each and feel proud of what I had accomplished. My mom pointed out to me earlier in the day how far I had come from a year ago, how strong I had been to come back from the depths of darkness, lying in a bed twenty hours a day. I also thought about how strong I was to be honest with people about what was going on in my life. I've known people who went through somewhat similar things (having a mental breakdown) but kept it all on the hush-hush. I took a dark time and have dedicated talent, money, and time to trying to use my story to help others. That's not something everyone does. That's not something everyone does a couple months into the recovery process. That's something to be proud of.

I don't need a man. I don't need a degree. I don't need more friends. I don't need more compliments. I don't need a longer resume. I don't need more recognition. I don't need more accomplishments. All I need is right here.

I am enough.

Monday, September 19, 2016

If I could change anything.

If I was given the opportunity to change anything about myself, I could get rid of my social anxiety disorder. Of all my various mental health disorders - clinical depression, panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (and possibly attention deficit disorder) - I hate my social anxiety the most. I mean, I can accept my other issues and see how they benefit me and gave helped me to grow over the years, but when it comes to social anxiety, I just feel frustrated. I try to appreciate that it has given me sensitivity to others with the same struggle and has even opened the door to some friendships where I bonded with the other person over being shy, but I feel so limited, so held back from reaching my full potential because of it that it's hard to stay positive.

Tonight, I'm filled with an overwhelming desire to be freed from this steel cage that has confined me for as long as I can remember. I want to be able to join into conversations, show people my real self, make the jokes that pop so easily into my head that have been heretofore limited to the audience of a small group of family and friends. I want to go to events that look interesting. I want to make friends. I want to flirt with guys I find intriguing. I want to meet people. I want to travel. I want to speak without second, third, fourth, hundredth guessing myself for hours, days, weeks, years after the fact. I want to say what I want to say, put my thoughts out there, and know that they are enough without needing to have someone assure me that it was okay to speak at all. I want to think about going to an event without panicking and trying to figure out when to arrive, where to go, who I would talk to, what I would do, when I should leave...

I often feel baffled that other people are fine starting conversations, going to new places, and starting new things. I just can't imagine life without this debilitating condition. And I'm a very driven person so I want to accomplish things, but that can be really hard when you are terrified by networking, mingling, auditioning, marketing yourself, etc. I'm a compassionate person and a relational person and I want to have friends and extend love and help to other people, but I find myself held back so often by my social anxiety, which then leads to a lot of intense guilt.

I've been trying to take the pressure off of myself to force myself to overcome my social anxiety because it's made my overall anxiety worse, but tonight I have to admit that I'm just straight up pissed about being socially anxious. Before, I was frustrated with myself for not being able to overcome my social anxiety, which was unhealthy and counterproductive, but tonight I'm mad at my social anxiety itself. I wish I just didn't have it and I'm mad that I do and others don't and aren't even aware of its existence. I follow a lot of mental health advocacy news and I personally don't see or hear much about social anxiety covered. The website I write for, The Mighty, doesn't even give social anxiety disorder its own category. So we suffer in silence and people write us off as "the quiet ones who have nothing to say", not realizing that we're miserable, trapped inside our own minds.

I guess the impetus of all this frustration is honestly my recent longing for a committed romantic relationship. Cheesy, I know, but my inability to get to know guys because I'm so shy and have such a small social circle is one huge reason why I get frustrated with being socially anxious. I've lately found myself stuck yet again in the familiar position of daydreaming puppy love, crushing on one guy after another who is practically unaware of my existence. Then I beat myself up because I keep blowing chances to talk to them because I chicken out. But lingering in the back of my mind are the times that I did go out of my comfort zone and talk to guys and they showed zero interest in return and I just made a cringeworthy memory to mentally scrapbook.

I know people are always telling you to make blog posts positive, but I just want to be honest: social anxiety really, really sucks and people who don't have it can't realize how difficult it is to fight. My counselors, present and past, and my family have told me so any times over the past couple of years that I've come so far with my social anxiety and pushed myself so much, but I still feel stuck in the same mire with the same reservations that hold me back from everything I want to do. I want to overcome, but I feel like I just keep playing it safe, boxing myself back in. Part of it is that my family has raised me with such an overly-cautious mindset that leaves me constantly deferring to them and evaluating risk verses reward and potential consequences.

I wish sometimes I could break free and take more risks and push my boundaries. I know I should look at all I've accomplished to encourage myself, but maybe there's some merit in giving oneself space to feel angry about your condition sometimes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Self-care.

A difficult lesson I've learned in the past year is that sometimes you have to say no to things to protect your own well-being. I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes you have to cut yourself a break, which isn't always easy in a world that celebrates people who push themselves to (and often past) the limit. Every season on Dancing With the Stars ,(one of my favorite shows - judge me if you want but you're the one who's missing out), someone inevitably gets hurt or starts getting stress injuries but keeps tight-lipped and powers through. They receive praise and commendation for their work ethic, which part of me agrees with, but part of me has started questioning it...Shouldn't we create a culture where instead we encourage people to take care of themselves?

We praise those who work themselves to the bone because that is the "American way": working as hard as you can to earn money, status, respect, the right to remain here. The problem is that working hard, while admirable, can cost you a lot as well, and usually it's the priceless things that are hard to weigh against the money you earned. I don't want to sound too critical, I just think it's something we need to talk about more and consider how we tend to reinforce the destructive lifestyle of workaholism, chronic stress, and sleep deprivation. Do we praise people for taking on a large courseload and joining a multitude of activities? Do we shame the person who decides to lighten their workload or say no to another commitment?

As someone who tends toward workaholism, I understand the temptation of adding one commitment after another to my schedule so I can maybe hopefully feel like I'm accomplishing something in this world. The problem is that we typically end up burnt out when we're overwhelmed with commitments, which then means we're not accomplishing much of anything and stop being a good friend, son/daughter, spouse, student, leader, etc. because we no longer have the energy or focus to invest into those commitments and we stop investing into our relationships because we don't have time.

I also understand why it can be so hard to say no to something or decide to take fewer classes; there's an immense amount of pressure, whether spoken or unspoken, to do as much work as possible as quickly as possible. This will be my fifth year of college, and I've seen the amount of pressure that is put on students, even those in middle and high school, to pile up their workload with as many and as hard classes as possible. To graduate early. To build a resume. To fill up summer break with work too. I had a friend who consistently took four classes a semester instead of the expected five. She received some passive-aggressive flack from people, but in retrospect, I think it was a really brave choice. She knew she struggled with anxiety so it was best to keep the work to a manageable level so she could build in time to relax.

I don't think it would be too much of an overstatement to say that, in general, our culture makes it hard to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves. And like I said before, the problem is that when you don't take care of yourself, you get burnt out and can no longer do any of your work, whether in the office or in relationships, effectively. You can even become draining for other people to be around. And if you struggle with mental illness, stress can be a major player in causing you to relapse. I had this confirmed for me in the past month when school stuff raised my anxiety level so high that the buildup of anxiety chemicals led me to start having panic attacks at night again, something that hasn't happened in two years since I went on medication.

In the last week or so, I've had to make some tough choices that other people might question but that I know were the right decision to make to keep my own mental health protected. The first was to drop my fourth class, which was tough because I felt this overwhelming pressure to take a full courseload and not back out of the commitment I had made to take those classes. But as my semester went on, I realized that my other classes were just too overwhelming and I needed to cut back to three. I didn't have the motivation, I was miserable, I was stressed, I was panicking about how I could get three 10-page papers and multiple projects done.

Part of me (the therapy-informed part, I guess) said, "This is ridiculous. You don't need this. DROP IT." The other part of me gave all of the warnings your advisor will throw at you. I'm thankful I dropped the dumb class because now I feel overwhelmed just with the three classes that are left. I guess I realized that it really wasn't that long ago that I was really sick - less than a year. In fact, it was in October of last year (I think) that I dropped out of the classes I was in at community college because I had another nervous breakdown. I realized that I needed to take care of myself; I'm still fragile. Even if you feel the pressure, it's worth putting your own needs first.

My second tough choice was to postpone applying to graduate school. That was tough because I spent about six months planning to apply and I had pinned a lot of my future around it, but obviously that isn't healthy. I think the toughest thing though is the fear of disappointing people; I told my professor I was going to apply and she was very excited, but now it feels like I'm bailing, even though I still intend to apply eventually. The reality is, it's pretty rare for people to go straight to grad school. It will be valuable - and completely normal - for me to take a year or more off and get some work experience, earn some money, and take a break from school. Most people my age didn't even work as hard as I have in their undergrad years, so what's wrong with taking a breather?

The biggest reality check for me was that I already feel burnt out with school. And I feel that stress and apathy sapping my happiness and enthusiasm for school, my jobs, my hobbies, and my relationships. Why add even more pressure to my semester by forcing myself to scramble to study for the GRE and get my application together? Why force myself into another even more brutal two years of schooling when I feel like I am just barely going to drag myself to the finish line of my first five (or should I say eighteen??) So I decided that - regardless of what my professor thought - I would postpone the application process and take a year or so after school to do cool internships and work and travel and accomplish the things I've been dreaming of.

I love doing real-world work because I feel like I'm accomplishing things. And I felt so locked into a certain schedule that allowed little freedom for exploring my interests and dreams before. The funny thing is that even though I hadn't been consciously worrying about my application, once I made the decision to postpone, I felt this enormous sense of relief and so much less stressed. I started thinking about all of these possibilities I could consider for my "gap year". I'm so excited about it all, I was to just apply to jobs, not do my homework.

So if you have a plate that is overflowing, considering scaling back a bit and cutting out the unnecessary elements so you can really enjoy the parts that you love (dessert).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Vulnerable.

I've been too stuck in my head lately. It's hard when there aren't many people to talk to. I wish we could all just be open about how we feel and what's going on in our lives; I think we'd all feel happier and less alone. But it's so hard to break down those barriers of social norms, discomfort, fear of judgment, shyness, previous hurt, etc. Over the years, I've tended to have the misconception that I'm the only one who feels depressed or has social anxiety. As time has gone on, I've learned more and more that that's not true, but I still tend to think that way.

It's like when you are totally baffled by a school assignment that everyone else seems to completely understand. You can't understand why everyone seems so serene and you think the issue must be you until one day you hear a couple of your classmates talking before class starts about how they are clueless about the project and then you are flooded with relief; even if you still don't know how to do the damn project, at least you know that other people don't either. I don't know why, but there is an amazing amount of relief in knowing your not alone, even if it doesn't take care of the problem itself.

I guess my struggle the past couple of weeks has been that I feel like I'm the only one who feels completely overwhelmed with all the work being slammed on again and who feels so alone and unable to make friends in this new environment. But the small bit of experience I've acquired in my short life tells me that I'm probably wrong. Almost everyone else is probably screaming inside about the work; if they don't, it's probably because something is wrong and they don't care about school any more or they've had a lot of therapy and developed very good coping mechanisms. And I think many people feel lonely, even if they have friends, and many people feel lost when it comes to making friends, opening up, and developing good relationships. Even if they have friends, doesn't mean they have fulfilling friendships. We learned that from my popular workaholic friend who confessed he just had a lot of acquaintances and not many genuine friends (of course, I don't think I'll be calling him a friend any more from here on out because of the way he's treated me recently, but that's for another day's discussion...)

I feel pretty isolated today. I got to my class early and was sitting listening to the conversation going on between a few guys tossing words back and forth across the room like a football. Well, maybe they were a bit too nerdy for that metaphor. But anyways, I felt like I should join in but it was one of those situations where you can't figure out the rules...Can anyone enter this very-public conversation? Can women join in? Will they stare at you and get quiet if you say something? I ended up saying nothing, just following the banter and laughing at the appropriate moments, which I think was for the best. But overall I've been suffering from all of the pressure I've put on myself to be more outgoing, to make friends, to be normal, whatever perception I've developed of what that is.

I guess at the end of the day I wish I could just be honest with people. I don't need any more friendships where you expend so much work to keep it going only to just exchange a meaningless "Hey, how are you?" "Oh, I'm good! You?" every so often. I want genuine friendships. Beyond that, I wish - even though I know it will never happen - that we could all be open with how we hurt, whether friends or not. I wish people, including myself, didn't have to feel like they were the only ones. I know it's not easy to open up about things, but when we do it really opens doors to have the conversations and relationships we've always wanted.

So here's my honest list:

  1. I feel like I'm a person most people don't like, especially young people, and don't want to be friends with because I've never had many friends, even when I was little, and most of my attempts to make friends with people in college were either rebuffed or the friendship eventually fizzled out and died. 
  2. I feel really lonely sometimes. I guess I said that, but to expand on it, I decided to end two more of the last remaining friendships I have with people from my old school. The relationships are just too painful and my friends don't seem to give a damn about me or expend much effort into enriching the relationship. One friend never really opens up any more even though I keep sharing personal things, which feels like she isn't respecting the currency you have to pay to keep a friendship going. So I feel even lonelier because I don't really have anyone to talk to about my feelings apart from my mom. And because I can't figure out why people aren't excited about being my friend.
  3. I like the guy who sits next to me in class but I'm too shy to talk to him. Oh my gosh...he's cute. And smart. And funny. And nice. And well-spoken. And he said his dream job would be to be a historic reenactor. Can you get much better than that? I guess you could get someone with a job that makes money, but I think that the epic failure of my last crush taught me that that's overrated. Anyways, I'm afraid to talk to him not just because I'm shy, but also because I feel like as a general rule men just don't like me unless they're creepy and whenever I've tried to make moves to get to know a guy I liked in the past, he was uninterested and it was devastating. I mean, if this guy liked me, wouldn't he have talked to me by now? I don't know. The point is, I sometimes feel unlovable, unattractive, undesirable. I'm in my 20's and have never dated a man. Never even been close to doing so. 
  4. Today I feel fat. I think it's connected to feeling undesirable. Why should the extra weight matter though when you've got brains, wit, creativity, the voice of an angel, compassion, and loyalty? I guess I feel discouraged because I rarely ever get to show people the inside of me because of my shyness and I know my exterior isn't dazzlingly beautiful enough to prompt people to pursue getting to know the inside. And I'm still getting used to this new shape I'm in and I wonder how it looks to others and how people perceive it.
  5. I cried in my car after eating my Chipotle meal alone sitting in the front seat because I was just so overwhelmed by everything. I was so afraid for anyone to see me crying. I don't know why because I'm sure other people would feel compassionate or even relate. Isn't that like everything in life? We're always hiding the things we think are ugly even though most everyone else has the same thing too.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Therapy takes time.

Lately, I've felt like I've been at war with my social anxiety. I thought I was past most of my issues with it since I was functional enough to get most of what I needed to get done without the overwhelming dread and obsessive thoughts that I used to have. But something my counselor said at our last session made me realize that maybe I do have a lot more work to do in conquering this beast that has lodged itself in my brain and come to rule my life. I can't do anything without running it past my social anxiety to see whether or not it's okay for me to do. And my counselor pointed out that because I have that deep-seated fear of talking to people at my core, I may project to other people an energy of fearfulness that deters them from talking to me because they sense that I am afraid or uninterested.

That realization shook me up, which was good in that it will, in the long run, push me to improve on this area of my life, but in the short-term, it was made me more stressed out. I've been hyper-aware of my social anxiety and how I might come off to people, which thus contributes to my social anxiety. This weekend I had to spend time at two large get-togethers for the anniversary celebration of the church I grew up in. I mostly just clung to my sister and my best friend and chatted away the night with them, but whenever I was waiting in line for food or happened to be alone and vulnerable to someone coming up and talking to me, I was reminded of how anxious I was to be in a situation with so many people and how afraid I was of someone I wasn't used to talking to coming up and starting a conversation. Then I would remember what my counselor said and tell myself, "This is why people don't talk to you! This is why you don't have friends!" Then I would feel guilty for not talking to more people and I would feel the pressure of "I need to get better NOW and become a better person and fix all my issues TODAY."

I've been putting this pressure on myself a lot lately - I guess that's the downside of counseling, especially when you tend towards being a perfectionist. As I've been starting with a new counselor and shifting to hearing a new person's perspective, I've been scrutinizing my life more, looking for the areas I need to work on in this new season of therapy. I'm thankful for the shake-up because I think I was starting to fall into complacency earlier this year when it came to therapy, but I'm also weary of the unhealthiness of all the pressure I'm placing on myself as I pick apart my weak areas. The reality is this: therapy is a process and I will be making baby steps towards being a stronger person, but I will have plenty of stumbles, steps backwards, and ultimately I will never be perfect. But what matters is that I'm putting the work in. And what matters even more is that I've already grown and accomplished a lot that I need to give myself credit for. Isn't that, after all, one of the lessons I'm trying to learn in counseling?!

Starting therapy is like opening the gate to enter into a new era in your life. This is just the beginning of a journey The good news is that there's plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way. (Photo belongs to These Dark Cafe Days)

So here I am, learning to be patient with myself, learning to let the process work it's magic rather than forcing matters with my own brute force. It's kind of like how I'm gradually learning that you can't force a man to fall in love with you; it just happens or it doesn't and you need to move on. Things take time, patience, and grace. And part of the process is learning to be content with where you are and who you are right now, accepting that the future may hold better, but your life and yourself right now has a lot of good things too.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

True Confessions.

Yesterday was National Suicide Prevention Day. I wanted to write something, but didn't really have any words to say. I still find suicide a really tough subject to talk about, even though I spend a lot of time in the mental health world and have been in therapy for about two years now. The fact is, even though I write articles about my experience with depression and even a whole damn blog about it, I still find it incredibly difficult to tell friends when I am feeling depressed. I think part of the reason is that I can't really think of a time when I told a friend I was struggling and had a truly supportive response. Sometimes people said nothing. Sometimes people wrote long messages back saying they were so sorry but then never followed up to ask how I was the next day or didn't back up their words with actions to show they really cared how I was doing. The sad thing about that is that I think those things are the most effective methods of suicide prevention: letting people know that you matter.

I've never attempted suicide, but I have considered it. I've imagined doing it, I've written about it in my journal, I've wished more than anything that I could have the courage to do it in those long, dark hours of unspeakable loneliness that come after everyone's gone to bed and you know no one will answer their phone for you of all people. When you're depressed, your entire mindset shifts in a way beyond your control. It's like someone put a black and white filter over your eyes. The future becomes bleak and hopeless and your life becomes worthless. You, in your mind, are a burden to other people. Doubly so when nobody seems to want to answer your texts and you know that if you told people what was really going on in your head, it would be a troubling burden to them.

It's hard to admit that I've thought about suicide. I've always avoided admitting it to my counselors and psychiatrists; I would either obliquely allude to it or avoid saying anything at all. But sometimes I wish that I had just told someone straight and square: "I feel like I don't matter and I want to end my life. Will you please talk to me so I can make it through this night and not do anything stupid?" My counselor said to me recently that when you are having trouble getting people to listen to you, you need to say what you want in a different way to get that person's attention and get them to see what it is that you need. I'm amazed by how difficult that concept is for me; the thought of flat out telling a person what it is I want or pushing for my own needs to be fulfilled makes me cringe and want to hide.
"Depression", a painting I did in art therapy. (Property of These Dark Cafe Days)

About a week and a half ago on September 1, ironically the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Month, I had a brief out-of-the-blue relapse back into depression. It may not have lasted long, but it was shockingly strong. I think there were several things that brought it on: school had just started so I was physically and emotionally stressed and overwhelmed which led me to start having my night-time panic attacks that keep me from sleeping, which tend to lead to depressive episodes. So I think all of the stress chemicals from that caused a chemical shift in my body. But I was also very distressed over a topic that has long caused me an extraordinary amount of frustration and pain: friendship.

Now, I don't know everything in life, but from what I've heard over the years, friendship is not supposed to cause you this kind of pain. But I was feeling so lonely and upset because two friends in particular from my old school don't seem to reciprocate my dedication to our friendships and come across as aloof when we talk and don't open up and constantly send mixed messages. I've wanted to just break off these friendships, in fact, I've tried to, but they would reach out again one time and then I would think, "Oh, they are interested in being friends!" And get involved again. But I only end up frustrated. That's the reality.

Anyways, I was really dwelling on these relationships, probably unhealthily so, and then as my body chemicals shifted into depressed mode, I got even more upset and lonely, not knowing how to fix these friendships or let my friends know what was wrong. Then as I felt sadder, I felt even more isolated because I didn't feel like there was anyone I could share these feelings with. I told one friend and he only wrote back a short sorry. I texted other friends casual messages saying hi, hoping someone would answer so I wouldn't feel the increasingly heavy weight of being all alone in an empty house, thinking about how much I hated being here.

Nobody answered.

I started to think about swallowing all of my pills. The next morning when I woke up and it was raining, I fantasized about crashing my car on the way to school. The weight of my loneliness was more and more unbearable and suffocating. And it really seemed like nothing could happen in my future to make life worth living. And there I was - a person who nobody wanted to text back. Maybe the world really wouldn't mind if I slipped away that night, leaving this dumb blog and my social media accounts I sometimes feel like everyone unfollowed silent and fallow. That was my thinking in those moments.

Thankfully, I had a counseling appointment scheduled for the next afternoon. The act of someone sitting down for an hour to listen to me, uninterrupted, and not run from my feelings and acknowledge their weight meant immeasurably more than it had before, and walking out of that appointment feeling listened to was a turning point in my returning back to a normal mood. The counseling center makes each student take an intake survey, which includes reporting on whether or not you've felt suicidal recently. I'm glad they had that because otherwise I don't think I would have admitted my feelings to the counselor. She asked me to tell my previous counselor (who I had one more session left with) and my psychiatrist, but I couldn't bring myself to.

Which makes me wonder: Why do I feel so deeply ashamed of these thoughts? I'm not the only one who's had them, but I have only had one other person hint to me that they have had them. I think part of me is afraid of the pity. Another part of me wants to protect myself from the pain of the disappointment of people's answer that I've come to expect as inevitable. I know they won't want to talk about it, they will be uncomfortable, they will walk away form the conversation as soon as possible, they will never bring up the subject again and will act as if nothing ever happened. And I will get even more hurt than I already am. Sometimes I feel like one giant open wound whose scab keeps getting picked off.

But I know my counselor and psychiatrist won't pity me or (hopefully) say nothing. I guess the flip side is when people make a big deal out of it: I don't want to be sent to the emergency room, have the police called, or anything else that would call even more attention to myself and put me in the line of insensitive people (I've heard terrible stories about hospital nurses and ETs who look down on those who come to the ER for suicide risk). I guess in general there's a deep shame I feel about my suicidal thoughts. There's an underlying desire not to be a burden on anyone by making them stop their life and pay attention to me. And underlying that is probably a belief that I don't matter enough for people to pay attention or make a big deal over. The problem is, part of why I have felt suicidal in the past is because I felt like nobody cared about me.

I guess I'm saying all of this for two reasons. One is that I'm tried of keeping this part of my life a secret. I'm big on being open with people about stuff, and it's time I lived up to that in this area of my life. Number two is that I think people need to be made aware of how their actions - and inaction - can impact other people's live, whether positively or negatively. You all have one duty, one goal in life, and that is to care for your fellow human beings. I think we often fall into the mindset that we need to start a nonprofit or go on a mission trip or play soccer with orphans in Guatemala to do that, but I'm a firm believer that God (or whoever you believe in) has placed certain people into our path for us to love them. Part of why I became so disillusioned with Christians over the past year is that I've seen how often they fail to love the people who they don't get to make a missions trip PowerPoint presentation about, ignoring or even attacking people who need love.

The people at the Christian school I attended were some of the coldest, most cliquish people I've met, judging anyone different from them, rejecting me from all of their clubs, and passing me silently in the hallway without so much as a nod. Only three people in the ministry group I was a part of at that school actually followed up with me after I left that school because of my depression. I felt very abandoned. But then again, even when I was in the group, few would ask how I was even after I shared week after week that I was struggling. Christians are tasked to be the hands and feet of Christ, who had his hands and feet nailed through to demonstrate his love to us, so why aren't we sacrificially loving our neighbors, the strangers we pass, our coworkers, our classmates? Why do we pretend like they don't exist? If you're not a Christian, I think you can recognize (perhaps even better than most Christians can - ha) the need for humans to help each other out and to help a fellow (wo)man out the way you would want someone to help you.

"Recovery" the sequel to the previous painting.
(Please ask for permission before posting elsewhere.)

How do you show love to people? Remembering to write them and ask how they're doing. Remembering when they have a big event, whether happy or stressful, and sending them well wishes. Asking them about themselves. Opening up about how you're feeling and what's going on in your life in order to create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing about their struggles. Sending notes of encouragement or little gifts. Letting people know what you appreciate about them and how you feel about them. Reminding them that they matter to you. Stopping and listening when they talk to you. Not walking away when they admit that things are tough. Staying with them and listening, and helping them find help and telling them they matter and you don't want them to leave. Telling them they matter and you don't want them to leave even if they don't say anything is wrong.

We can only do so much in life, but I think these little things make a big difference. Equally, if you seem indifferent to a person, especially one who is already hurting, then you can make a big negative impact on their heart, making them feel worthless and unloved. This isn't to make people feel like they're to blame for anyone's suicide, but to make people aware that even apart from the issue of suicide, our actions and attitude speak louder than our words when it comes to friendship and the way we treat people.

As a closing story, I met up with a friend from my previous school a few weeks ago. I was surprised he wanted to meet but I enjoyed the conversation and was pleased to hear that he had realized he needed to cut back on busyness and focus on maintaining relationships with people. He mentioned this several times, so I thought he might be suggesting he wanted to have a better relationship with me. However, whenever I've texted him since we met (including the night after), he has this tone of "Are we done yet?", answering what I say but not really engaging in the conversation. In our last conversation, he never even asked me about myself. I was confused since he had been so insistent on wanting to focus on relationships and had even admitted he was sometimes lonely. I had gotten my hopes up that we could renew our friendship, but that last conversation took me back to remembering how he didn't speak to me for months after I left (as far as I can recall) or say anything when I announced I was leaving.

Tonight, thinking about our friendship from that perspective, I realized, "Why am I even trying to be friends with this guy? He didn't even care enough to reach out then or during my junior year when I expressed multiple times to friends that I was suffering, why do you think that's going to change?" I hope he is better in-person about making these "genuine relationships" he's hoping for, but I doubt it. If there's anything I've learned in my short time on this earth, it's that good relationships take a buttload of effort, and even then they're usually unfulfilling. As for our friendship, I've decided it's best to leave it behind. I'm tired of relationships that rest on my shoulders and leave me crying from loneliness more often than laughing from companionship. It all makes me wonder...Were we ever really friends? Or was he just another acquaintance who I poured myself out to and received very little back.

But I just want anyone who is reading who has had similar feelings of worthlessness and equally lame friends to know that you really do matter. I don't know you, but you matter to me and I'm glad you're here. I know that doesn't make sense, but I really do believe you have a lot of potential. You are an integral part of this strange theatrical production that's making place across the world's stage, lives intertwined and revolving in and out of each other's stories. You are meant to be here and you deserve to be here.

I also hope that anyone reading will take this as a gentle reminder to go and send a message to the different people in your life who you love and let them know that they matter to you.

Life is too short to leave truth unsaid. And life is to short to have people shortening theirs even more because no one ever told them the truth...that they are loved, that they matter.