Depression: the waves will come back

You may know that I had a psych hospitalization last week for a very bad depressive episode. I'm not gonna go too in-depth about it, because I have a few pieces to-be-published that will describe it, but suffice it to say: things got really, really bad. Worse than they have been, and it reached the point where the only option was to go to a hospital. That would have been the only option no matter where I was; that's how bad things were. No amount of family or friends hovering over me was able to change my mental state.

And hospitals are really great, if you can get a good one. My first time in a psych ward was bad. The second time was better, but I still swore to myself and others that I wouldn't go back. I didn't want it to be a crutch, you see.

More on that in another post, because this isn't the time or place.

IMG_3548This time, and this place, is to talk about what happened after I left the hospital. Obviously, I was initially overjoyed. As soon as I was out of the psych ward, I stripped the tape off my phone camera and took a selfie.

As you do.

Then my friends came to pick me up and we took the cutest Boomerang I've participated in and then got pancakes at iHop.

All in all, a great day.

That was Friday. By Monday, I was once again feeling like I was pouring out the dregs of my energy. You know when you brew looseleaf tea, and there's some left at the bottom, and you think you'll ration and make another cup with it, but then the leaves are sad and strangled and can't provide much strength?

That's how I felt.

Well, I guess it's more accurate to say that's how I feel. Because the dreg-feeling, that knowledge that I am functioning at less than half my capacity, it hasn't gone away, not completely.

I've had some good days in the past week; well, more like good moments. The nature of my diagnosis is that my moods shift radically and quickly, each feeling lasting for a few days to a few hours.

So no matter how good things get, they always get bad again.

I guess the upside to that, the positive way to speak of it, would have been that no matter how bad things get, they always get good again.

I've written about the cyclical nature of depression. I think it was a pretty darn good article, so I'm not going to replicate it here, but I would appreciate it if you clicked that link and read it.

Because I think a lot of people still don't "get" it. That depression, my mental illness, isn't going to go away once and for all at some point. It's not going to vanish if I live in the right place or have the right friends or eat the right foods. It might be diminished, yeah, if I take certain steps — and I'm trying to. I take literal thousands of steps a day as I walk to and from work in an effort to get some exercise in, and I'm taking up coloring as a de-stressing exercise when I feel overwhelmed.

But I do this knowing that it won't "cure" me. My depression is not a disease that can be cured by meds and right living.

Even if, even when, I do everything right, it still comes and smacks me in the face and sends me spiraling.

So yeah. I've been really depressed this week. That's not because I'm doing anything wrong, though. It's not my fault. It's my disease.

I can't fix it. You can't fix it. The only person (er, being) who could fix it is God, and while I'm 100% positive that He has the power to do so, I'm 95% positive that He won't. (That's a story for another blog post, though). Suffice it to say that I've come to terms with the fact that this is something I'll live with for years to come.

And again — that's not a depressing fact! It's freeing! It allows me, at times, to take the waves as they come and ride them out, knowing they'll fade, return, fade again, the same way the tides in the ocean do.

It can be hard to deal with at times when I'm in the thick of depression. But even then, I remember — this will pass and I will be clearheaded again.

Oh, man. 750 words in and I'm not sure what the point of this blog post is, except to reinforce that this is a disease I live with; and this is a disease I'm determined to be honest about.

So I'm going to post about it on social media. I'm going to tell my friends what's going on. I'm going to be painfully, brutally honest about it, because it's good for me and because I believe — I pray — I hope — that it will help someone else to see that yes, you can be chronically depressed; but yes, you can live and love and be successful and find joy through it all.

And when I do post these things, it's not because I want platitudes or solutions or recriminations. I just want to be honest. I want to live life in the open. To know and be known, intimately, honestly, truly. I want you to know and understand what mental illness truly is, and I want to bring hope to others in my situation.

That's my promise. Maybe it's my threat. I'm not really sure — which do you think of it as?

But God...

Content notice: depression, suicidal ideation Crushingly weary, my ankles sore and my back crackling with pain, I took myself to church at Hillsong after a long shift —after a long week—at work. I don't know what propelled me to turn right instead of left out of the cafe and make my way toward the C at Franklin Ave instead of waiting for the bus that would have taken me to my soft bed, so I guess it must have something to do with God. Because somehow, I knew that I had—I just had—to get to church last Sunday.

See, I've been feeling pretty empty lately. I told my coworker that these days, I'm like tea running through leaves that have been strained too many time, rationed too many times, so instead of being strong and full of life and flavor, I'm weak and kind of bitter. I'm green tea that's steeped too long.

I'm weary, just exhausted, and I feel like I have nothing left to give; I felt, even Sunday, like I had no energy for worship, no joy in the singing and the dancing and the celebrating.

But worship is simply stripped-bare soul meeting Creator, and its beauty is in the fact that He will meet you where you are. And Sunday, as I sat and worshipped, I felt Him meet me.

Crystallize this moment in amber, I prayed, because I want to remember, to reflect upon and cherish, that moment of wonder.

Wonder was the theme of the night, as the message Pastor Carl preached was called "Stay Wonderful." I love a good clever sermon title, so I'm pretty fond of this one, which is about remaining filled with a sense of awe at God and his creation, namely, people and life.

I took more notes on the first part of the sermon (people are wonderful), but it's the second half that's struck a chord.

It's the part that says "life is wonderful" that truly resonates with me.

You see, I've always thought that, as much as I've always been in such a rush to throw my life away. It's a symptom of my depression that this thing I cherish so much—the mere fact of being alive—often became a burden on my shoulders, something to muddle through rather than exploring in joy.

I have memories, slightly vague, of being a child who was filled to the brim with this love of life. I thought it was so incredible, this chance we have to inhabit the earth for a few years, to love and grow and celebrate and emote. And somewhere along the way, my joy in life was tainted, soured, and suddenly I'm at a place where I don't know how to function if I'm not suicidal.

I feel like that sentence bears explaining, so: my go-to solution to a problem, almost any problem, is death. If there's interpersonal strife or I think I'm failing at work or I have writer's block, I jump to thoughts of killing myself. It's the path my brain has trod the most, and so it's the path I inevitably take regardless of what else is going on.

So whether or not I'm actively dealing with suicidal thoughts, it's my MO, the way I think; no matter where I am on the scale of not-depressed to hospitalization, if things go wrong, I dream of ending my life.

But life is wonderful, and keeping that sense of awe about life isn't just something that I need to do as it's part of God's calling on my life; it's something I need to do as it's part of what helps me counteract and redirect the thoughts in my head.

Easier said than done, of course. I can't just re-write the functions of my brain, forging brand-new paths from nowhere and hoping they'll stick. I'm weak. I can't do it.

But God.

This life is gonna be a long hard journey, my back bowed and aching with the weight of depression and cares, my feet blistering in agony, and I'm gonna need Him with me every step of the way to regain and retain my sense of wonder.

It's a hard task, a high calling, a big thing to ask of anyone, and no human could do it, really.

But God.

Here's the thing about my God. He is love beyond belief.

He created my flesh smooth and pleasing to His eye, and I took a blade and marred what he had loved. And though it cut him just as it cut me, He chose to love what he had made through what I had done to it. My fear has always been of ruining what He made.

But God.

He loves me regardless, and there's nothing I can do to change that. Nothing. Absolutely not a damn thing, no matter what I or you or anyone may say to the contrary.

And my God, He is strength. He is power. He is the ability to do all and more, above and beyond.

So yeah. I can't think of life as wonderful all the time.

But God.

He can. And through Him, so can I.

I may be weak,

but God

is strong in my weakness.

On a see-saw: a metaphor (duh) on needing others

Today I see-sawed savagely between emotions, swinging from finger-shaking beginnings of panic to heart-sunk depression to soaring giddiness to just plain tired. It's been an emotional week for me, all told; I've hit some real lows but also had some great fun. There have been tears and this sense of total lostness, like I'm wandering and will never be found.

And I've been hit where I don't want to hurt, where I feel most confident.

In a weird way, I'm super confident that I'm a great barista. It's an odd thing to take pride in, but I do think I'm fairly good not just at preparing food and drink that will make people happy and content, but also at making them feel welcomed, at home, like Albero is a place they can chill and chat and sort of refresh.

I'm not gonna claim to be the reason Albero is that, because my coworkers are incredible, personable and really quite hilarious. They do just fine on their own at making people love the little cafe.

But I do believe I add something.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

And of course, of course, freaking depression has hit that thing that I'm weirdly confident and supremely proud of. I've been anxious over my performance and place in the company, and I've been concerned that maybe, just maybe, I'm not actually great at my job.

You see, some people are better than I am at being a barista. I've been told that I'm not the best, that others do a better job. And of course I translate that to, you're the worst, Karis, get out while you're ahead. Go sit in an office and cry.

I tell people that one of my hidden talents is the ability to turn anything into a negative. You can compliment me, tell me something incredibly nice, and I (almost) guarantee I'll be able to twist it into something horrible.

You're getting so good at making those Cappuccinos, Karis! you say, thinking you're paying me a compliment on my teachability and improvement.

Wow, I can't believe I sucked so bad that people noticed! I translate, not accepting praise because how can it possibly be true? How can anything good be true of me?

That's the root of this week's problems. There's nothing wrong with my job, no areas where I've been told I need to improve upon. It can be stressful, but so can any job. I enjoy my days off, of course, but that doesn't mean I don't love being in the building, pulling shots, baking croissants and talking up my favorite gelato pairing, the blackberry sorbet with chocolate (it's oh-my-lanta delicious, y'all!).

And yet.

And yet I panic, concerned that my bosses think I'm a failed investment and my coworkers giggle behind my back, mocking my incompetence. There are shining moments of goodness, when someone tastes my Latte and raves, someone else tells me the panino I assembled so carefully was delicious...that special moment when a customer howled with laughter at a joke I made and said it was the funniest thing she'd heard all day.

These are the reasons I get out of bed, the reasons I work at a cafe instead of trying to land a job in an office, in my field. Because I love the movement of it, the adrenaline, the humanity. The endless stories that come, the rush of inspiration at every new scrape of the door against the floor, every interesting angle by which the sun slants into the room.

There is so much life in my little cafe, and because I love it I fear losing it.

And so. So I've been shaking and sinking and losing myself in a mire of sadness and worry.

But here's the other thing about today's see-saws. Every time I swung back upwards, it was because of someone. Because a familiar face walked through the door and smiled at me, referenced a random running joke we have. Because a coworker patted me on the back and made a hilarious joke in accented yet beautiful English. Because we were training the new guy, making strangers laugh and feel at home in a place that is so not their home.

IMG_3137Because my photography-inclined coworker took a picture of me with the sun behind and said it was beautiful even though I felt as ugly as possible. Because they asked about recent updates in my life and genuinely, literally cared about my future, took time to ask probing questions and make sure I don't make the wrong decision. Because I'm making friends and it feels good, and I was so scared to leave Farinella because of my family there, but it turns out you can have family in two, three, four places and it's OK, it's all OK.

Because there's always an upswing.

The see-saw might take you down, slam you against the ground with such force your teeth clatter against each other and your butt stings, but it always goes back up. Even better — it eventually levels out. That's the sweet spot: the moment when you're hovering between the two, not on the ground and not in the air, just balanced, just stable.

But like, if you try to see-saw alone, you're gonna end up stuck on the ground or suspended in air. You need another person to balance you out.

We — you, I, your cousin, the dude you saw on the subway — we need each other. Life kinda sorta really sucks when you live it on your own. It's just no good. It's the people that pull us up, the people that balance us out. We can't do any of this alone. There's a reason God created more than just one person; it's because we're helpless on our own.

So today, I'm thankful for the people who pulled me up and balance me out. Sure sometimes they aren't enough to keep me from smashing into the ground, but so far, they've always been there to life me back up.

A depression casualty: hope

One of the worst things about depression is how it clouds out my optimistic side. Because if I had to guess, based on past experience and patterns of my brain, I'd say I'm inherently an optimist. There's this stubborn streak of hope that courses through me, that keeps me fighting no matter how hard things get.

It's why I keep applying for jobs out of my league, keep plugging away editing my book, keep hoping that someday things will get better, someday I'll find love, someday I'll be published.

Enter depression, stage left. Suddenly, all the hope is sucked out of me, and I'm just absolutely, certainly positive that nothing will ever get better.

No one will ever love me, because how could they? Look at me. I mean, just took a good, long look. 

You see it, don't you? The truth, that I'm unlovable.

No one will ever publish my book, because why would they? Read it, just read it, and you'll see — it sucks as much as I do.

You can tell, can't you? The truth is, I suck at writing.

Nothing will ever get better, because of course it won't. Life sucks. Take a good long look at the world, at everything happening...there is no hope.

You know it too, don't you? The truth, that hope is a lie.

Those are the words that depression whispers to me. When I'm awake, she clouds my thoughts, making it impossible to focus on getting anything done, on trying to overcome by dint of proof.

When I'm asleep, my dreams are willowy and whispy and in the dark there's this soft voice that coos, gentle as a dove, that there is no hope.

I've said it before: depression steals hope. It just sucks it out of you.

In my brain, somewhere, in some deep recess, floats the knowledge that depression is a liar. That hope is the one who's correct, depression the one who needs to vanish.

But I become so overcome, to the point where reason is false and falsehoods reasonable. To the point where the most ridiculous of statements make the most sense.

I feel myself slipping through the rabbit hole today. I feel like I can't breathe, can't think clearly. I feel like love is a lost cause for me, publication a pipe dream.

Those are the two things I long for the most, if I'm being perfectly honest: I deeply desire someone to love me in that fiery, romantic way that novels are written about; and I crave publication. I want to see my words in print, want to hold my book in my hands and see others read it and I want them to tell me I'm amazing, and I want to give them some sort of hope.

It's weird, that the thing that eludes me the most is the thing I want to give others: hope.

Because I know that it will be OK in the end.

For you, that is.

I talk about this with my counselor all the time...how easy it is for me to believe all the right things for everybody else. How easy it is for me to believe that love will come, that dreams will unfold, that hope is true, when it comes to someone else's life.

In my life, though, I anticipate and expect and acknowledge that nothing good can come.

Because I don't deserve it, you see.

 

I don't know why I don't deserve it and you do; I just know that that's the case. I don't know why my lil sperm was the fish that swam the best, that fertilized the egg the fastest, but for some reason it was and so I'm alive and not someone else. And that feels like a big, giant, glaring mistake. My birth? A mistake. It should have been someone else.

So I'm living my life just trying to make up for the fact that I stole life from someone more deserving.

So of course you will find love; of course your dreams will come true; of course you'll be able to keep hoping. Of course those things, because those things are true, those things are right, those things are reality.

For you.

Me, though?

Nah.

This is how I am. And then there's depression, which slithers in and whispers the above things, taking from me the two things I hope for the most, as well as the very hope which keeps me going.

Days like today, I just want to curl up in bed and eat popcorn and cry. I want someone to come sit with me and stroke my hair and say it's OK. I want to lose myself in a story until I can't remember reality.

Those are temporary fixes, though. They're not gonna solve the root problem.

And so. So today I'm going to finish cleaning my room, because a clean room makes a marginally lighter heart. I'm going to write, edit and submit, because those are things that bring me joy. I'm going to go to Books of Wonder to see one of my favorite authors, and I'm going to come home and sleep and wake up and go to therapy and group therapy and talk to my counselor about what's going on, and learn valuable coping skills.

Because the band-aids I listed above aren't going to help for long. And I need something that will.

Today I'm gonna force myself to hope. As much as I don't feel like it, I'm gonna do it.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

 

Why I Can't Get Behind This Article

There’s this article that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s finagled its way into my mind and won’t go away, won’t let me stop thinking about it. And not in a good way.

I can’t stop thinking about an article against the show 13 Reasons Why not because of the well-thought out reasons against the TV show, or because of the author’s self-promoted credentials as a mental health advocate…it’s because of this one line. [Not linking to the article b/c I don't want to give it traction or send hate the author's way.]

If you suffer from suicidal thoughts, I want to warn you here that what I’m about to quote might hurt you. Might make you sad. So feel free to stop reading.

*

*

*

In the fourth paragraph of the article, the author says—you know what, I'm not going to quote it verbatim because it's dangerous. Basically, she says she used to pray her husband's suicide attempts would succeed.

I read her words and just…I felt my heart cave in on itself. I felt my breathing shallow and my lungs collapse. I felt fear and shock and sorrow and my fingers started trembling and didn’t stop for hours.

Because I’ve been there; not in the author’s spot, but in her husband’s. I’ve been in a place of intense pain that has left me reeling, feeling out of options and as though the only good recourse is to die. To inflict my own death. I have wanted to kill myself, have even tried to kill myself.

One of the things that has saved me, saved my life, is the interference of friends. Friends who stepped up to say, “Karis, your death will not help us. Your death will hurt us.” I thank God daily for those friends who implored me to stay alive because they needed me.

You see, the reason I wanted to die is because I thought it would make the world a better place. I’ve always wanted to change the world, to improve it, to rock its foundations in a wild way, and my depression eats at me and twists that desire into something nefarious, convincing me that the way to accomplish that is simple, really: to kill myself.

But my friends, they've tried to show me that isn’t true. They've endeavoured to impress upon me that my death would do harm, not good.

If I had learned, now or ever, that they were praying for me to die — wow, the damage that would do.

The damage this article did to me, even though I don’t know the author and know she isn’t talking about me. Her confession opens the door to that sentiment being the truth.

I believe in the right to communicate and the importance of vulnerability. But there is a responsible way to share, and in this case, the responsible thing would be for the author of the piece to shut up about those thoughts. If she must share them, she should have explained just how misguided she was. She never really does. She says, briefly, that she was misguided, but she never shoulders the responsibility of her horrifying thought. She blames it on a misunderstanding of depression brought about by culture, in part.

But apart from dangerous, that prayer is disgusting. And you know what, I don’t care that she claims to have prayed it for her husband’s sake; I believe wholeheartedly that she also prayed it for her own sake. So she could finally be free.

Maybe that’s my own depression twisting her experience into something nefarious, but you know what, that’s what words do. They have so much power, more than you could ever imagine, and to fling words like that, words with such sharp edges, into the world willy nilly, is something I find irresponsible.

I find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that the author considers herself a depression advocate, when she seems to have so little idea of the harm her words could do. Merely four days before reading this article, I was severely suicidal, and everything was a sign that I should kill myself.

Her confession opens the door to the possibility that her prayer is one my loved ones have prayed. I can’t get that thought unstuck from my mind: that if she prays that way, maybe the people who love me the most pray so as well.

That’s not merely misguided; that’s betrayal to the utmost degree.

This article, that paragraph in particular, was supremely unnecessary, misguided and virulently dangerous.

So if you’re reading this, know: your death is not going to help anybody, least of all you. No matter what anyone believes or did believe at any point. Know that you can reach out for help: there is a suicide prevention line, 1-800-273-8255, that you can call for help. There are options and there is hope. Don’t listen to this lie.

And if you're someone who's ever prayed that...acknowledge that's a wrong prayer. Acknowledge it's selfish. There is forgiveness for terrible thoughts and prayers, I'm not saying you're condemned for them, but you need to recognize the selfishness of it. And move on.

And if you've had those thoughts, for the love of all things good, don't share it with your depressed friend or family member! I mean, please.

Sleeping ~ Instead of Living: a vlog story

Yesterday I published the first full episode of my new vlog series, entitled "Living ~ When You Just Wanna Sleep." Of course, since I'm me, before sharing it with the world, I shared it with a few friends to get their opinions, and they were fans. Which meant the absolute world to me. So, girded with their supportive fortitude, I sallied forth into the world of publishing vlogs! It's a scary world out there, scarier than the world of being painfully open and honest in writing, because in the world of videos, people see your face; they see the way your eyes droop when you're sad, the way that circle of fat around your (my) belly makes you (me) look like a Pillsbury dough boy, the way your hair floofs out of control and has to be tamed, repeatedly, during one 30-second filming...they see all your pores, the literal and metaphorical ones.

It's terrifying, but for someone like me, who thrives on being known intimately, it's also thrilling.

Ever since I was in high school, I had this need, bordering on compulsion, for people to know what was going on behind my eyes. It's fascinating to me, how little we can truly know about someone. They can smile and laugh and inside they're mentally throwing knives and screeching and pulling at their hair and sobbing but all we see is happiness. It's fascinating and more than a little heart-breaking.

And back in high school, my depression was beginning to make me act different, act weird, and I had this intense desire that they should know why.

So in college I began writing about it, and well...the rest is history.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoyTG-ULAiA?ecver=2]

 

These videos are going to be a monthly installment, and hopefully each one will be better than the last. I'll film bits and pieces and flashes of my life throughout the month — images of myself walking through NYC, myself with friends, myself at home being sad or ultra happy or what have you — and then a narration thread. It's going to be an inside look at depression; at what it's like, really and truly and as unfilteredly as possible, to live with depression.

To live, in short, when you'd rather be sleeping.

This video has a few holes, one of which being that I don't really go into why quitting my job helps my depression, because I've talked so much about my love for pizza-slinging. It's confusing, if you don't know what all happened in the last few weeks.

Basically, it just...became too much. A combination of the management, angry customers and me being overworked conspired to create a fissure in me, one that needed to be soothed by taking a break. And when I went back to work...it wasn't the same. I wasn't in love anymore. I was stressed, having panic attacks in the hours leading up to my shift. I was scared of getting yelled at by any number of people, scared of messing up.

I also lived with a constant fear of losing my job. I can't go too in-depth as to why, but let's just say...the restaurant business is a tough one. For everyone involved, from upper management to lower management to employees to guests. It's fast-paced and high-intensity and it breaks you quickly and easily.

So my mind was filled with a constant rattle of noise, a constant stream of fearful thoughts and confusion and stress and sorrow and BAM! depressive episode.

[Someday maybe I'll tell you guys what triggered it. It's a doozy. And yes — it's work-related.]

So that's some background on why the vlog in general, why the job-quitting, why all of it...

I know not everyone understands my compulsion to share. Let's just say, that it helps me as much as it might help others. And if it does help you, my sharing: tell me! It gives me strength on the days when I fear I'm doing nothing but hurting this world. On the days when my brain is eaten alive by lying zombies which hiss that I'm a cancer on society, I remember messages, comments, emails saying the opposite...and I am comforted.

Thank you for that comfort, dear readers and friends and followers. I'm doing this for you. And also for me. :)

He is here: Easter reflections on depression and faith

Today is Easter. In my faith, it's a day created for celebration. Celebration of a death meant to save, and celebration of a resurrection. It's an important day; without Easter, there's really no Christianity. Because without Easter, without Christ's resurrection, well...his movement dies, as does our belief. So today, today is a day for celebrating. And the weather here in New York played nice: it's glorious and warm and clear blue skies and simply ideal.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

It's a beautiful day on a hundred different levels. I should be rejoicing. I should be dancing, laughing, smiling until my cheeks are sore.

Instead I'm sitting on my couch in semi-darkness, wondering where my happiness got chased off to. Wondering where my celebrating spirit is hiding.

It's not that I don't believe, don't have faith. I do, honestly and truly, as wild as it might seem, believe that 2,000 years ago a man died on a cross, and that man was God, and that man rose from the dead, and his sacrifice eradicates sin from me and confirms me to an eternity of heavenly celebration.

I believe that somehow, for some reason, God created me, fashioned me with his power, and smiled upon me, loving what He had made. In the core, secretest part of my heart, I do believe that I am loved by a powerful, eternal being who created all.

And yet. And yet that belief, the knowledge of that love, it doesn't erase my suffering. It doesn't cancel out my depression. My faith is incredible and sustaining on so many levels; yet it doesn't cure my mind of this disease that ravages it.

And so on this day of celebration, I grieve. I grieve not because I have any reason to, not because there is anything lacking in my life or faith; I merely grieve because that is how my brain is wired.

I grieve because sorrow feels ever-present, choking hope from me. As much of a stubborn optimist as I naturally am, depression seeks to cancel that out, seeks to strangle me into a pessimistic person, and sometimes succeeds. So no matter what, I don't have hope for this life.

If you're getting down to the meat of it, it's this: I don't see a way into lasting happiness. I can't imagine a future in which this weariness doesn't claw at my throat, in which the certainty of failure doesn't hold my hand and match me step for step. I struggle to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, mortally speaking.

In recent days, I've reminded myself, time and again, of the meaning of my tattoo: that He is here. That His presence is undeniable. It doesn't mean He's here to walk me out of the darkness, necessarily. It simply means He is with me in the waiting, in the torment, in the grieving.

At a Good Friday service at my church, Hillsong NYC, our pastor Carl Lentz spoke for just a few minutes about the six hours between Christ's nailing to the cross and the moment He gave up His life. He reminded us that for those six hours, Jesus hung in an agony of physical pain and probably mental anguish and doubt. But he persevered. At any moment he could have given it up, shrugged and used His power to get off the cross.

But He didn't.

He hung there for those six torturous hours.

I'm in my own six hours. They've lasted months if not years and I don't see an end anytime soon. That doesn't mean there is no end; relief could come tomorrow for all I know, and I could be released from this depressive episode's clutches.

Or not. Or the six hours could be the rest of my life on Earth.

And that thought...it sucks. It really sucks. It's a reason to grieve, and so I'm grieving, because I have little sense of hope of ever being released from this torture that is depression; from this craving to cut, this desire for death.

At the same time...He is here. He is with me. He hung on for six agonizing hours. And he is with me in this darkness.

I was taught growing up that Christ was tempted in all the ways we are, that He suffered all the ways we do. I take comfort in choosing to believe that maybe this means he also despaired. He lost hope. He lost the light.

But He didn't lose his mission, his faith, his belief in His Father's presence.

I'm gonna strive to live like that. Live like Christ did for those six hours, even if that's the rest of my life.

Depression eats hope. And faith, faith takes your hand and walks you through the tunnel.

He is here. With me, in depression.

Thank God.

Mental health update: a bad depressive episode

Hey lovely blog-readers and friends and family peoples. I wanted to give out a little mental health update, and it felt too long and personal and everything to just post on Facebook or Twitter, so I'm blogging about it. You should be warned going into it, though, that this post will deal with mental health issues including depression and suicidal thoughts.

*

*

*

Basically...I'm not OK. I wasn't feeling great all week, beginning with an incident last Friday that led to very strong suicidal feelings (including making a plan to kill myself). It passed—at least the suicidal part did—and although I was still having panic attacks, depressive thoughts and all-around sorrow over the next few days, I though I was past the worst of it.

Cue yesterday. Although I know what the trigger for this latest episode was, it doesn't change the fact that things have devolved to a point far beyond what I logically should be feeling today. And so, yesterday. Yesterday I began to have a panic attack which quickly turned into uncontrollable sobbing and with that came thoughts—a desire to hurt myself—to potentially do more than that.

I left the house in a rush, worried that I would end up harming myself if I stayed. So I ran out and met a good friend, emailing my therapist and psychiatrist as I went.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWhich leads us to now. I'm sitting on my best friend's couch in Alphabet City, view of One World Trade Center to my left, "Friends" on TV and help within easy reach should I need it. I'm taking a break, surrounding myself with friends and staying safe. Because after a chat with my doctor yesterday, we concluded that my options were simple: find somewhere to stay for a few nights and someone(s) to be with for a few days, or go to the emergency room and check myself into a hospital.

For safe-keeping.

Because of the fear that if left alone or to go about my normal life, I might harm myself, temporarily or in a more permanent sense. I say that not to worry or freak you out, but to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation.

There was fear for my life. I felt fear for my life, as did my doctor and others concerned. So I'm hiding out in Manhattan for a few days, taking things slowly, and riding out this latest episode.

Episodes like this don't last forever. They come, they wrack you and wring you dry, and then they leave. It's mostly a matter of riding it out as safely as possible until you can return to a semblance of normalcy.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI say "semblance." There's little normalcy in life when you're depressed. Almost every day is another opportunity to be sad, to be wracked with sorrow. Even this past Sunday, as I left a wonderful service at church...I was crying. I took a picture while waiting for the subway cause, well, that's what I do. I chronicle what depression looks like.

It looks like that. It looks like waking up, getting dressed nicely and crying off all your makeup.

It looks like going out, smiling and laughing with friends but as soon as you're alone, sinking so quickly you can barely catch your breath.

It looks like being chronically and hopelessly depressed. It looks like knowing that a "cure," a "healing" is unlikely, and slowly (strugglingly) coming to terms with that. It looks like accepting that sometimes sick days mean mind-sick days, because when your brain is against you there's little you can do.

And it looks like worrying about this, because I know so many will take these words and be sad about them, when really...this is me being hopeful. This is me saying, "it's going to be OK." Because in the end—this is a good scenario.

The bad scenario is one in which I didn't reach out, didn't ask for help, didn't take time off or work to get through this. The bad scenario is one in which I hurt myself or worse. The bad scenario is...it's really bad.

The good scenario is the yet-sucky one I'm living, and yeah, as much as it stinks that this, what's happening right now, is considered good...it could be worse. It could be much worse.

So I'm grateful for what I do have: life. Friends who can help me. The ability to reach out. A support system.

I know I have much to be grateful for, and I am grateful for it all. But that doesn't negate that I have depression, a disease, a chemical imbalance, something hard to manage. It's real, and it's hard, and it's chronic. My depression does not mean I am not happy or joyful or grateful.

All it means is that I have depression. I want y'all to take hope from that. Knowing that even in the darkness, I see light. I know that God is with me even in this time, as dark as it gets, and I know that the act of sinking is not a rejection of Him. It is simply the way it is.

If you have questions—encouragement—concerns—feel free to comment or email or reach out. I can't promise I'll respond immediately, but I will read and be grateful. <3

 

The little things that save my life

I've been depressed lately. A lot. In a very real, very scary, very hide-under-the-covers-and-never-come-out way, a very quit-your-job-and-disappear-into-the-woods way. In a way that called up all the memories of past depression. A way that felt like it would totally sink me. It hasn't sunk me yet, though. I'm still plugging onward, as much as I wish I could get a doctors' note to take a three-day break from, well, everything. I'm still going.

And as a gratefulness exercise, here's a list of the small things that save my life regularly. Well, they're not all small, not to me. They're huge to me. To those around me, they might seem miniscule. I guess it's just a matter of perception...

  1. The sounds of Brooklyn life amplified by an open window on a warm-ish spring day.
  2. "No, Karis," as said to me by all the guys in the kitchen, a thousand times a night. The way they tease me and ask if I'm going to cry again today.
  3. A silly texting conversation about crushes with a refreshing friend.
  4. Being told I'm "cute, fun and interesting" by a date who is taking a few moments to recover from finding out he's the first date (LOL).
  5. That specific chill that comes in April and May, that sun-filtered kinda-warmth that's not cloying or thick, not summer yet.
  6. The messages of love, hope and encouragement sent on Facebook by people who know I'm struggling.
  7. Being taken seriously when I seriously say I wish I were not alive.
  8. Sheila taking the time to say hello.
  9. Selling one Margherita and one coke at 7:45 p.m. every night to the same bright girl.
  10. Having crushes again.
  11. Bashful looks and prospects.
  12. Young adult novels — writing and reading them.
  13. The resurgence of hope that comes after a deep low.
  14. Rowan, and Nick, and Chi, and my Connect Girls, and Bethany, and my roommates (all of them), and Becca and too many more to name.
  15. You guys.

I dunno, I'm sure there's more. This is just my way of saying: it's the small things, guys. The smell, the sound, the taste of spring. The silly shenanigans that go on at work. The friends that laugh at my jokes even when I'm so sad. The adrenaline rush that comes from performing, even when you're not on stage, even when you're just playing the role "charming pizza-slinger." The hope of traveling to new places. The knowledge you can't experience anything new if you're dead.

These are the things that keep me alive. These are the things that help me go on.

And this — this blog post. Writing. Using words to spread a message. Seeing that message read and understood. Connecting with someone because of how I string together some letters and words and form a sentence and weave an image.

It's the little things.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IagRZBvLtw?ecver=2]

Japan, it's under my skin forever

I don't think I'll ever get over Japan. I'm not sure the day will come that I can think about that trip without a jolt of joy, a pang of hurt; joy that it happened, that I lived it, and hurt that it's over, that it's done, a memory, no longer my present.

I will never stop loving the country that embraced me when I needed a hug the most. I will never forget the people who became home when I was far from one. I will never get over the awe of seeing Tokyo from above, vast and blue and stretching, stretching, stretching onto infinity. I will never be able to distance that awe from the depression that swung in hours later, choking me.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Japan will forever be linked as good and bad in my mind. Because I wrote about finding peace and I meant every last word. I had a breakthrough in Japan, in the strangest of circumstances.

But in nearly the same breath, I wrote:

I am depressed in New York City, when I sling pizzas with a cheery smile and a hearty laugh. I am depressed when I wander the streets at night, crying into my phone and contemplating leaving my fate to chance and Central Park after dark.
I am depressed in Nikko City, when I clap hands with the children and sing to peppy music. I am depressed when I curl up in my retreat center bed and wonder why I thought I had anything to offer.
I am depressed in Trieste, when I walk seven miles to my favorite castle with my best friend, laughing and only pretend groaning. I am depressed when I write poems called "I hate myself" and swear I should have died before breathing.
I am depressed in Brooklyn, when I sit on my couch with my roommates and giggle and share secrets. I am depressed when I dig my nails into my flesh and rip so blood will flow.
I am depressed in South Carolina, when I meet up with my cousins and play golf and read. I am depressed when I pitch a fit and scream myself hoarse.
I am depressed in Marzell, when she tells me I'm a bully and remind her of Hitler and I think I wish I could freeze to death. I am depressed when I collapse on the couch and wrap my arms around my sisters and laugh until I cannot breathe.
I am depressed in Tokyo, when I eat sushi and grimace because the wasabi clears my sinuses and it's pleasant in its pain. I am depressed when I break from the group and walk, crying, down the alleys.
I am depressed in Europe, America, Asia. I am depressed when I'm happy and when I'm sad. I am depressed here, there, yesterday, now, tomorrow. I am depressed awake or asleep, with a laugh or a smile, with a blade or a fingernail.
I am, simply, depressed.

Japan is a kaleidoscope (hah, get it?) of emotions for me, a swirling, colorful, bountiful mess of happiness and sorrow that are forever intertwined. It makes sense — all the sense in the world — that I wrote those two pieces in the span of a few days.

Because that's the thing, is that my joy and my depression, they are neighbors, they are sisters, they are forever linked. The one does not take away from the other.

Just because I am depressed does not mean I am not joyful.

I've maybe always known that, but it was Jessi who truly made it real for me. See, I was sitting on some steps in some kind of shopping district in Tokyo, sobbing. Hyperventilate-sobbing. And when my teammates asked what was wrong, I said, "It's OK."

Not because was OK (I wasn't) but because I wanted them to know they didn't have to ask. It was OK if they didn't want to know. My depression is a heavy burden, and not everyone can help me bear it. I've learned that the hard way — by losing friends because of it. And I didn't want to lose these friends, this family, this home.

And what did they do?

IMG_2121

They insisted. They demanded. They said it was OK — for me to burden them. So I did. I confessed that I was speechlessly depressed. That I was having suicidal thoughts — and here I digress for a second to say, suicidal thoughts are far different from suicidal ideation; one is uncontrollable, the wish for death. The other is active, the plan for death. Digression ended — and couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle it. Couldn't handle it.

They gathered, they prayed, they squeezed my shoulder and put their arms around me and Jessi (bless her), she thanked God for my joy.

And I realized again that the two, they live together. I am full of joy, full of life, full of love; I am depressed.

The two interact. The two compete. Most days, the joy wins — that's why I'm here.

And it won in Japan. In the end, joy won.

I don't have words that go deep enough to tell you how much I loved Japan. How much I lived Japan.

Leaving Japan — it broke my heart. Being back in New York...I've struggled, these past few days. Because every once in a while I'd wake up and realize it was over. I was no longer on foreign soil, opposite-the-world from home. I wasn't breathing different air, ingesting new oxygen, touching something other and beautiful and incredible and amazing. I wasn't with my team anymore, and that was so hard to handle.

IMG_2268

And last night — I drank some wine and left a party early. I danced to "Boom Boom Pow" as I walked through Manhattan; and when I say danced, I mean danced. I saw Bryant Park at night and sprinted across the street, flung my hands into the air and breathed in my city's air.

And I was so grateful to be home.

Those two can go together, too: missing Japan and loving New York. They're not irreconcilable, just...different.

Japan is under my skin. I love it forever. There are so many words in my heart to share with you about this trip — I can't wait to talk about the reawakening of my love (nay, need) for travel; about the struggles of coming home no matter how often you do it; about finding home amongst people I didn't know; about that, and so much more.

I'll never get over Japan. Thank God for that.

 

A good-bye to break my heart

This past week in Japan was undeniably good, but also undeniably hard. There were so many rocky moments, from my crippling insecurities about whether or not I'm actually helpful to the kids, the families, and my team; to the depression that choked me - that's choking me now - that ripped my brain to shreds; to the tiredness of traveling plus jetlag plus a foreign land plus kids for 12 hours a day. It was so good and also so hard.

And one of the reasons it was good is one of the reasons it was hard. I got so attached to those kids! To the little girl who spells her name like it sounds - SP, literally. There were a brother and sister who were so precious - sweet and polite, always willing to sacrifice for someone else, never asking for themselves - and I wanted to bundle them up in love. I adored the family of four siblings, mostly blond, who were helpful and sassy from the oldest to the youngest.

The kids I spent time with in Nikko absolutely stole my heart.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetAnd then I had to say goodbye.

And oh, the hardest kind of goodbye: the one with little to no hope of being resolved anytime soon. The kind that's permanent, that you know will stain your heart for weeks, months, possibly ever, and will soon fade for them. That's what made these goodbyes so hard for me. I've been those kids, the ones who are 4, 5, 10, who capture the hearts of the adults who traveled to love on them. I've been the kid who loved them too, but whose mind is so young, getting so full, so distracted, that within a blink they were gone.

And so I know - this goodbye is permanent. The chances that I'll return to Japan are slim. The chances of seeing any of them again before they forget me, even slimmer. And those two facts break my heart.

But do I regret coming?

100%, not even a little.

This trip was just ... it was a struggle. I'm bad with kids. I'm bad with adults. I'm bad at a lot, and great at very little. And I'm riddled with insecurities, oppressed by depression, sometimes wishing I could just die. I literally walked through Tokyo at one point and cried because I was so depressed I started having suicidal thoughts again. So yeah, this trip was hard. I often say that when I'm having victories, depression and the devil combine and strike ever harder. That was definitely true on this trip.

But this trip was amazing. There was this moment where I felt God's peace more truly than I have in a long time. There was a real sense of home that I experienced, not just with the place but with the people. I felt like I truly connected with my teammates and the adults I worked with.

And when I'm being honest and logical, I think I can say I connected with the kids as well. We loved each other and yeah, working with kids is hard and I second-guess everything, but I truly believe I did alright.

And then...good-byes. The children's good-byes were so hard.

IMG_1965And in less than 24 hours, I'm going to have to say good-bye to my team. And that's going to be equally hard. These are people I traveled with, experienced a new culture with, struggled with and laughed so wholeheartedly with. I experienced the depths of sorrow in front of them, but traveled to the heights of joy as well. That's a bonding experience — and so was the communal hot spring (nudity required) that we had to shower in.

I love these guys, and I don't want to say good-bye because I'm scared.

I'm so scared that I won't see them again, that this friendship will just...fade. Cause I've been on teams like this before, where you grow so close, and you swear you'll stay this way forever. But the truth is sometimes this closeness is meant for only a moment.

And that shatters my heart to smithereens. Cause I don't want to say good-bye.

Not again.

 


 

But I will.

And I'll hope and pray that by some miracle it won't be as permanent as I'm anticipating. That I'll see my kids again, stay connected with my team, go on more and more Kaleidoscope trips and love the world radically.

That's the dream.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Finding peace with "Oceans" in Japan

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetEarly in the morning, Japan-time, I sat in a cozy lounge with some people I met barely 36 hours earlier, and found peace. These people, they don’t know my history, not all of it; they barely know my present, they hardly know the person I am, much less what I was, much less all that has come before.

And yet it was with these people, these pseudo-strangers, that I was washed with the peace and grace of God.

These past few weeks — oh, these weeks, I’ve been so lost. I’ve wandered in the dark through a cold forest, noises on every side, danger near and breathing down my neck.

I have been the farthest from safe, from comfort. From peace. I have floundered. Like a kid who learned to swim in a pool, thrown into the ocean for the first time. Yes, he still knows how to swim; but this environment is different, vast, terrifying, and so he splashes and kicks and screams and swallows water and chokes and cries and flounders. That was me.

Shrieking, crying, tearing at my hair — or worse, my skin — sobbing in the dark, desperate for someone to save me.

It didn’t even have to be God, is the thing. I didn’t care who came to save me, as long as someone did. It could have been God; it could have been a best friend, a coworker, a dangerous boy on a bike…who cares? If he’s willing to pull me out of the woods, I will take him, danger be damned.

And so.

Alone, lost, terrified, I boarded a plane to spend a week in Japan, ministering to children. I mean, what was I even thinking? I can barely take care of myself, much less help anyone else! What arrogance, to believe I could add to these kids’ lives when my own is such a shipwreck.

And yet. I digress.

I sat on a couch in a lounge in Japan, and without the help of instruments or a band or any outside paraphernalia, we worshipped.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders… 

The tears began slowly at first, a thought in the back of my mind: I might cry. My trust has so many borders, but oh how I long for them to disintegrate.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters… 

That’s where I am, now, for the past months, for the past years: deepest waters. Floundering. Drowning. Sometimes treading water, sometimes floating, most often sinking.

And keep my eyes above the waters… 

I see nothing. I see waves and nothing but waves. I try to keep my head up but I can’t, I’m alone and I’m sinking and I’m drowning.

The great unknown where feet may fail… 

I am failing. And yet. In this moment, this worshipping moment in a foreign country with people who don’t know me…in this moment my eyes surface above the waves, I can breathe, I feel whole, I feel at home.

When oceans rise / My soul will rest in your embrace. 

Here. The embrace is here. Home is here. I belong. I am not lost.

*
IMG_1773

I've been in Japan for a little over 24 hours. I've been on two long walks through the countryside, where I marveled at how beautiful the landscape is. I tie-dyed a T-shirt, ate unfamiliar and delicious food, experienced God's peace and simply...lived. I've met people I didn't know, made friends, prepared for an intense weekend ahead.

And I look forward to what is to come. I definitely cried this morning, but it was a cleansing cry, a good kind. I thought for a second I'd been healed of my depression, because that's something I'm always looking out for.

I'm not sure that's the case, but I do know God found me here. He saw me, he showed me His love, and here I am. At peace. At least for now.

Some days, we are weak

  It was [mostly] fine. I've been depressed all week, but today was going pretty well.

And then, I couldn't start my novel.

I feel completely paralyzed and terrified. Because I'm so excited for this novel but what if...what if it's not good? What if I can't get the words to come out? What if I'm bad at this whole writing thing and should just give it up.

I know that as soon as I get into the swing of writing, I'll be excited again and the momentum will bear me forward and I'll spend my pizza shifts biting my nails and thinking about storylines and how to weave them; about characters and what they're going to show me next; about setting and descriptions and how best to dance with the words.

But right now I'm frozen by indecision and fear. How do I start that first sentence? What if I start it wrong and the whole thing collapses, trying to rest on the weight of an incompetent sentence?

Ah, the insecurity. It haunts me in everything I do, but the worst is when it haunts my writing. Because that's one thing I've been sure of for almost my whole life.

When I was in elementary school, I started telling people I was gonna be a writer when I grew up. I was confident in my writing, and have been for most of my life. It's one of the few things I'm not insecure about.

My looks? My positive feelings for them balance on a hair, and I can swing in a day from thinking I'm beautiful to the conviction that I'm the ugliest being ever made.

My smarts? Some days I feel witty, clever, intelligent, and then I'm swamped by how dumb and worthless I am.

My customer service skills? I go from patting myself on the back for being friendly and charming to hitting my head on the wall because I'm rude and awkward.

Everything, anything about me? I have a love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with myself.

Except for my writing.

Except for today, when I'm starting something new and the desire to be perfect is a weight I cannot bear, a burden I can no longer carry.

I want — need — to be the best in all things. I have this idea in my mind that somehow I'm starting at a disadvantage, that there are points against me. I talk a lot with my counselor about this feeling of inadequacy, this impostor syndrome, as though I stole the chance at life from another potential human way back when I was nothing but a sperm trying to fertilize an egg. And maybe that's why I try so hard to be the best; maybe that's why, when I'm not the best, I am so hard on myself. Maybe that's why my default reaction and punishment is death to myself. Because I don't believe I deserve life.

Sometimes when I'm talking to people, they think I'm a perfectionist and I desire to be the best because of pride. And it is that, to an extent.

But it's also because I'm searching high and low for a reason for my existence.

And today, I can't find it. I want to write this book, oh, how I want to write this book. I'm ready. I'm ready, my gosh have I been ready to be a writer since the first time I realized books could still be written.

And yet. And yet here I am, wondering if I deserve to breathe.

Oh, guys. This depression is so hard some days. Some days I just cry for no reason, I feel like there's a boulder on my back just pushing me into the ground. Some days I feel like my insides are being scooped out by an ice cream scoop, like they're cracking wide and spilling like a fault line in an earthquake. I feel shaken, vulnerable, desperate, afraid, weak.

Some days I'm fine with being depressed. Some days I feel like a conqueror, like a warrior, like someone who can bring hope to someone else and overcome even the darkest and slipperiest shadows.

14911546501_05c1a9da2e_o

And some days I'm just tired. So bone-tired.

 

Today I'm tired. But I don't have the luxury of giving in anymore. I have responsibilities and friends and loved ones, and for that — for the pizzeria that needs me, for the friends who for God knows what reason seem to love me, for the people I love and don't want to miss out on, I'll get up and I'll work and I'll go forth.

And I guess I'll write my novel, and I'll hope that when I wake up tomorrow I feel victorious again. One can only dream, I suppose.

 

On depression: a prose poem

  Mental Illness

It coils itself to strike without so much as a warning rattle, fangs dripping with poison and ready to dart into flesh, retract, leave its venom to do the dirty work.

It sneaks up on you in the dark or in the light, a shadowless creature because it's made of darkness, sucking the light out of life. It doesn't make its presence known until it's too late, too hard to turn and run.

It sinks its claws into your soul and won't retract, and the only way to be free is to rip, rip, rip until a part of you is gone, forever in its clutches.

It is invincible, the king of the night, the harbinger of doom, the thing that stalks your thoughts and learns your patterns and serial kills its way through whole communities.

It sees you when you're sleeping...it knows if you've been good or bad...and then it tells you you've been bad, so bad, the very worst, and it's time to punish yourself.

It convinces you that the blade or the pills or the sex or the smoke will finally make you happy again, will wash you clean of all your wrongdoings, but once it's over all you feel is dirty in your soul.

It appears when you least expect it, sneaking from your mind and winding its way through your body, until you're racked with pain and sore and tired and numb and every thought is just...I can't.

It lies.

It finds your weakness and exploits it, but your weakness will not be your undoing.

My weakness cannot be my undoing.

I fill find a way. When it coils to strike, I will cut off its head. When it sneaks up, bringing darkness, I will shine a light brighter. When it tries to rip off my soul I will performs feats of magic to unhook it and remain intact.

I will not listen to the lies, the ones that overcome me, the ones that hiss, You should die, you should die, you should die.

It made me think death was my idea, my desire, the only way to save myself and others. It made me think the world would spin happier, spin brighter, if my breath were stilled. It made me think, just yesterday it made me think, that if my veins bled themselves dry then maybe I would be redeemed for my mistakes.

It made me think the only way to atone for sin is with my own blood. It made me think everyone's unhappiness stems from my existence.

I will not, I can not let it have its way with me.

My soul is weary, my heart sick, and all I want is to curl up and cry until I can be better. All I want is to eradicate myself and maybe let something new be born in my place.

I am weak. The world itself has sharp claws and they drag across my flesh, and when the blood runs it convinces me that is my fate.

But I will not let my weakness be my end.

I will gather what strength I have. I will fight. Till my dying breath, I will rage against the beast that seeks to best me. I will not go silently. I will not go at all.

My death will not be caused by my own hand. It cannot be. It will not be.

It coils to strike. I raise my blade.

Its head streaks forward. I drop my blade.

And in the end, I stand and it dies.

My first post for I Am Second

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd be changing things up on the blog. This is the first of the short announcements I'm going to be making here: I've begun writing for I Am Second. I was approached by their editor after I had my article published by Seventeen about the possibility of writing some blog posts about depression for them. Of course, I said yes.

I've never wanted to have a career in Christian publication, but I also always said that if I had the opportunity to do something on the side, to write from a faith perspective for an established publication, I would take that opportunity.

So when I Am Second approached me with this opportunity, of course I said yes.

Here you can find the first in a series of articles I'm writing about depression for them. I'm super excited about this opportunity and can't wait to write more for them and see where it goes!

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 08.45.41

Lessons from publication in Seventeen

Last Friday was a big day for me: I had an article published by a mainstream media outlet. It felt bigger than USA Today, bigger than anything I've done before. Last Friday, I had an article published by Seventeen.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 20.15.00

This was a huge occasion for me, career-wise and as far as personal development goes. The "career-wise" benefit seems like something I hardly need to explain (so I won't), but let's talk a little about personal development.

The article was about a friendship I had that was lost due to my depression. And through writing the article, I was able to finally come to terms with this. I feel like I've been freed from a burden of hatred that I carried around for three years.

And it was arguably the most personal thing I've had published by a mainstream media outlet. Of course I write very personally here on the blog, but that's neither sanctioned nor publicized by editors at big-name magazines. This was. It felt like a stamp of approval from someone in the know, not only of my experiences but also of my writing.

Which feels so good to have. To know that media professionals read what I had to say and liked what I said and how I said it. That feels great.

But I've learned a few lessons that were harder to swallow, as well. As you might notice if you Google me or look on Wikipedia, I'm not famous.The fact that I don't have my own Wikipedia page is a constant source of horror for me. I wrote an essay for class recently about my long-held desire of being famous, and in it I explored all the reasons why I crave fame.

This article did not bring me instant fame. It did not initiate a flood of new Twitter and Facebook followers or indicate the start of the cult of Karis. It had more than 10,000 views (holla), which is nothing to sneeze at (thank you Kiley of Girl-ish for getting that phrase stuck in my head), but none of those 10,000+ people decided that their lives would be better off by following me.

I wrote last week about how I've learned that opportunity is hard to come by. It seems that success as a well-known and regarded writer is the same way. One article in Seventeen will not an award-winning writer make. I still have to work really hard, every day, to improve and receive recognition.

Which isn't necessarily something I'm mad about. I mean, sure, I hate working hard and wish I could just snap my fingers and have a book, bound and covered, at my fingertips. But this isn't a fantasy world we're living in. There is no magic and there are no free passes. There is only hard work and, occasionally, having that hard work pay off.

I'm really excited about where my writing journey will take me. Already it's gone in unexpected places. I did not think that coming to grad school in New York would open the door to publication by Seventeen magazine, but so it was. And already that has opened the door for a possible new writing opportunity that will allow me to share my experiences as well as what God is doing with my life — for a publication that, while not necessarily "mainstream media," does have a Wikipedia page. Which is more than I can say for myself at the moment.

I'm excited about the novel I'm working on for NaNoWriMo. I'm woefully behind, but I'm excited about finishing The Langone Five. And after that, I get to edit My Mom's a Killer and maybe start sending out query letters.

I'm excited about poetry, the art of writing personally yet beautifully.

I'm excited about personal essays, about combining reporting with things I'm passionate about and writing from the heart.

And I'm excited about good, old-fashioned third-person reporting, telling people's stories without letting myself get in the way.

In short, after being published by Seventeen I've learned that yes, writing is where my heart is. Writing is something that makes my soul sing, and I can't wait to continue on the journey, climbing the torturously high ladder to reach success. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get to enjoy the ride.

 

 

It's about thriving, not surviving: reflections from a hospital

Let's start off by getting the white elephant out of the room: last week, I spent not one, not two, but seven nights (and six days) at NYU Langone Medical Center. More precisely, I lived in HCC-10: the psychiatric ward. That's right. After a gruesome experience on a psych unit nearly three years ago in Kentucky, I went back for round two.

Round two kicked round one's butt, if I'm being honest ... which I almost always try to be. Hence the purpose of this post.

I didn't want to go to the hospital. In fact I argued (valiantly, I like to think) with the psychiatrist who suggested sending me there. It was the cost, you see. The seclusion. The falling behind in school. Most importantly, it was the fear that people would swoop in like mama eagles and gather me away, pull me out of school, empty my apartment and drag me away from the life I've dreamed of living for the past three years.

The psychiatrist countered all my arguments simply and effectively by asking whether all of that was worth my life. Whether my parents would value saving money over having me with them. Whether I was willing to permanently give up my dreams in order to keep living them temporarily.

In the end the answer to all of those questions was no. No, my fears were not worth my life.

So I went to the hospital. Shaking, heart palpitating, chewing my lips and worrying about insurance, I went to the hospital. Begrudgingly, I voluntarily checked myself in.

You meet the best, most interesting people in a hospital. Because being thrown together in a unit like HCC-10 strips away the performance, the acting, the lies.

There's no need to pretend you didn't feel suicidal last night, because the people you're with understand. There's no need to try and explain exactly how debilitating your depression can be, how paralyzing, because they've been there too. And there's no need to worry that you'll overwhelm them with your pain and drive them away because they've felt it too.

In the hospital, we were ourselves. We made friends. We played games - well, they played endless games of Scrabble, and I joined in when they turned to Catchphrase. We ate decently disgusting food, watched old movies on VHS and gathered at the nurses' station to take our meds. We commiserated over how hot, and then cold, the unit was, over sleepless nights, over worried futures. We all hugged when someone left and said not to cry — things on the outside are scary, but it's the only way to live a life.

That's what I learned from the hospital.

I learned that living in an enclosed unit with nurses and doctors constantly fluttering can feel like a warm cocoon. It feels safe. You don't have to worry about shaving your legs or putting on makeup or anything else; you don't even have to worry about putting up a facade.

But after a while, safe becomes claustrophobic. Sure, there's something so simple about only having to choose between hanging out in the bedroom or the day room. But eventually simple becomes mind-numbing and infuriating, honestly. Sure, it was super exciting when I found out that there were menus and I could choose what I wanted to eat. But after a few days my choices felt limited and, yes, claustrophobic. And sure, it was great that I could actually catch a glimpse of the skyline out the window. But after long enough, I wanted to be a part of the skyline. I wanted to walk the streets, feel wind on my face, complain about how hot the sun was and breathe in that not-so-fresh air.

What the hospital taught me is that you can't live life between four white walls. You can't rely on a bunch of doctors to make your decisions for you. You can't hide from the scary things — from the crowds, insecurity, loneliness and stress that are the makeup of life. Because those very things that terrify you are the ones that energize you.

Life is about more than just surviving, sliding from Wednesday to Thursday to Friday.

It's about thriving, about making the most of every experience and grasping at every opportunity for joy, about submerging yourself fully in Wednesday, leaping to Thursday, crashing into Friday.

Joy = being released from the hospital and feeling like there is hope to life.

I felt joy in the hospital for the first time in several weeks. I felt like I could joke and not be covering up a scar, like I could laugh and not want to cry, like I could say "I'm fine" and actually mean it.

But I had to let that joy take me out of the hospital. I had to let it set me free — metaphorically, from the overwhelming depression, and literally, from the locked doors of HCC-10.

So I left. Scared, wondering what would come next, I left. Worried about not having the strength to forge a future for myself, I left.

And I am ever so glad I did.

The anti-suicide manifesto

It's not a secret that I struggle with depression. Or that I was diagnosed as bipolar. What is, I assume, a secret, is how much those two things affect me on a daily basis. How often I am incapacitated by my emotions. How many times I retreat into my prison cell of a mind and torture myself with thoughts of how little worth I have, how insignificant I am, how things would be better without me... Even in New York, in grad school, in this world of journalism, I fall victim to my own insecurities and self-hatred. I thought coming here would change everything, but I've realized ... I can't be changed by a place, a career or a person. No outside influence is going to swoop down and rescue me.

There will be days when I truly believe I can't go on. And my salvation has to come from the inside.

A while ago I developed a mantra, a life motto if you will:

But that wasn't enough. I still flirted with the idea of ending my life. I still felt agonizingly alone. I still wondered if I had what it took to survive.

Until a few days ago. I was on the train, ricocheting on the tracks, and I wondered what would happen if the train detailed. If I died. What would people say? What would they feel?

And if I died through my own will?

And that's when I promised myself that wouldn't happen. That wouldn't be my story.

Because I'm a writer, I wrote. I wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why that wouldn't happen.

It was supposed to just be for me, to keep on my desktop and remind me of my pledge. But I'm also an oversharer with an intense need to be known and understood. So I'm doing the same thing I did a few months ago with my definition of success: I'm sharing.

Below, for the world to see and hold me accountable to, is my anti-suicide manifesto.

I am not someone who died too young. I am not full of unrealized potential. I am not a sad obituary of one snatched away too soon. I will not be published and celebrated posthumously. My funeral will not be filled with hundreds of peers who can't believe I'm gone so early. My life will not be snuffed out in its prime.

There will be no tears of disbelief, no sobs, no anger at me or God. My parents will not witness my demise.

I am no cautionary tale.

I will be someone who chose life always, no matter what. No matter how many scars litter my arms, no matter how many tears scald my cheeks, no matter how many days pass without the sun. Rain, shine, hurricane, tornado. Fall, winter, spring, summer. In my 20s, my 30s, my 60s and 80s: as long as it is in my power, I will choose life.

I am not a statistic, a number, a blip on a police scanner. I am not a memory, a ghost or "somebody that you used to know."

I will not be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak of. Some days I might be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak to. But I will be there.

I will be at every birthday party, in every family photo, part of every wedding.

Holidays will not be sad because they remind you of me. They will be joyous because I will be there to make you laugh.

Through everything, I will remember: He. Is. Here. He is life, He is here, and so am I.

I am not death. I am filled with life.

This is the closest thing to a suicide note I will ever write. It is my anti-suicide note.

That is my promise, my vow, my oath.

Life with bipolar: a PSA

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Collegian, called He is Here, about finding God through whatever trials you're undergoing. And I stand by that. I still believe that you can find God in the midst of whatever the world throws at you. Yet there are still moments when I don't feel that. There are moments when my slight bipolar disorder and severe depression get the best of me. One of those was last night, and because I think I freaked out every soul who was with me in the movie theater when I burst into uncontrollable sobs, this is a PSA, from one sufferer, to everyone who comes into contact with sufferers.

Bipolar, depression, anxiety...they are all insidious mental illnesses that affect a large portion of the population, yet they are still wildly misunderstood. I can't tell you how many times I've been accused of being apathetic, attention-seeking or just plain insane when I was having a breakdown, when in reality I was trying my best to keep it from happening, to keep the attention off of me.

So, last night. It started innocuously: with five-inch heels and a group of friends walking too fast for my new found height. That devolved into sitting at the end of the row in the theater, waiting to watch "Mockingjay: Part 1" (a very excellent film, by the way), and, as I said before, bursting into uncontrollable sobs.

That's what happens when you have a mental illness. Little things are blown out of proportion, and from one second to another, in between steps even, you can go from being perfectly fine, even happy, to the throes of despair. It has nothing to do with you--you, the friend of the sufferer, did not cause this. I cannot stress that enough. It's because of chemicals going haywire; it's because of angry words spoken to a first grader about themselves; it's any combination of events that came together in one devastating concoction to form what can only be spoken of as mental torture.

Last night as I sat in the theater, I felt like my whole world was collapsing. I felt my gut squeezing, my future floating before my eyes, my friendships vanishing in the wink of an eye. Once my defenses were down, every negative thought I've had about myself came rushing back, overcoming me.

That's another thing that happens with mental illness. Something as simple as a stray glance can break someone down so much so that every negative thought, word or whisper they have ever experienced will come screaming back into their mind.

So, again, it's not your fault. But what can you do when a friend, acquaintance or stranger is obviously going through something like this? It kind of depends on the person, but since I know there are other people like me I'll tell you what works for me and let you go from that.

  1. Be there. Put your arm around me, hug me, say it's going to be okay.
  2. Don't blame yourself. If I don't respond (which I probably won't), don't think it has anything to do with you. I'm in mental turmoil and it's hard to step out of that for any amount of time. I promise I'm not mad at you...and if I am, it's only because my rational capabilities have broken down momentarily.
  3. Make a joke. If I laugh, I'm happy.
  4. Distract me. Talk about something innocuous...like popcorn. I'm telling myself I'm the worst kind of human, but popcorn is always a pleasant thing to think about instead.
  5. Be there. If you're there in the moment, and the next day, and the next, I can't even tell you how much that will mean to me.

This has been a PSA to everyone who comes into contact with me (and others who suffer from mental illnesses). There will be bad moments. There will be dark times. And while you can help in the moment, you can't fix me or anyone else. You can only love me as best as you can. I promise I see it and I appreciate it and you are helping me go forward.

There's one more really important thing: if you can't do any of the above, for your own mental health, don't. Because you can help, yes, but you can't save me. And it is absolutely not worth your own health to try.