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?

Bittersweet: the Fourth as an adult

I remember being a child and wishing I were in America all the time. It was my Promised Land, and the American Dream was the one I wanted desperately. It's ironic, because I lived in Italy, one of the most beautiful place I've been, full of life and culture and delectable food, gorgeous, heart-rending cities that careen and curve around the angles of my heart until they settle in for eternity. But as a kid, I didn't appreciate that.

I wanted America, fast and easy and convenient.

What I also remember is feeling incredibly lucky to be American, wondering how I got to win the genetic lottery of living in the "land of the free, home of the brave."

And now? Now I still feel like it was lucky that I was born American, mostly because it means I'm able to get into this country that, despite the fear-mongering that's rampant in our government, is safe and full of opportunity.

I work for and with a lot of Italians, and to the person they bemoan the lack of jobs in their country; they marvel at all the options for work available to them in this one.

It's the same thing I hear from my childhood friends who are still in Italy: this land is hard. This life is hard. They wonder how I was able to find a job so easily (it took two months of unemployment to land a minimum-wage pizzeria job).

I marvel, too, because as hard as it's been over the past year to find a good job in my field (read: impossible, hence the barista aspect of my life), I have been able to find job, one that pays just enough for me to pay my Brooklyn rent, buy my Brooklyn groceries and live the New York life that has become my version of the American dream.

Life in America is a lot easier than in a lot of other places, and my American passport affords me a heck-ton of opportunities.

As a kid, I loved all things American and wanted to be as foreign as possible in Italy. So when the 4th of July rolled around, I donned my American flag t-shirt and sang the anthem with gusto and reveled in my American status. I was proud and patriotic and in love with being from the "best place on earth" or whatever.

And now? Now I'm...conflicted. Like I said, I still see the value and opportunity in my homeland. But I also see the hardships. I see the fissures in our communities, the cracks between people of one kind and another...between black and white and gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, home-bred and foreign-born.

And it breaks my heart, because I can't help but believe that we should all love each other. That our differences make us stronger. I know firsthand from growing up in a foreign culture that people who look, talk, act and think differently than you can add to your life, rather than take away from it. We thrive in diversity, stifle in homogeneity.

This Fourth of July is bittersweet. It's the first under a new administration that is doing a lot of things I cannot get behind, including changing health insurance so it'll be harder for people like me to get coverage, including trying to institute a ban of people from a certain religion, including firing up a lot of really hateful people to do really awful things.

But I've also seen, over the past six months, an outpouring of love. I've seen people online and in real life stand up for those who look differently, I've seen people mobilize to get more involved in their government, I've seen support given where it is needed despite differences.

So I know that the American people are worth celebrating. Not just the ones who were born here or who look like me; the ones who inspire me the most, often, are the ones whose stories are radically different from mine.

So I know that just like any person, America is a mix of good and bad. Unlike when I was a child, I don't think I can don my T-shirt and proclaim it's the best country in the world. I know now more of the history of how it was built, on the backs of slaves, and I cannot turn a blind eye to the racism and hatred that exists as a fault line through our culture.

At the same time, I can't throw away the goodness of the American people, the strength and resilience and love I also see.

So this Fourth of July, I'm gonna celebrate. I'm gonna brunch with a friend, going to write and read and relax and watch the fireworks, and know that as far as we've come, we've got a ways to go yet. And I'm going to believe to we'll get there. So I'm going to celebrate in advance. And tomorrow, I'm going to wake up and get to work.

I haven't been politically involved lately because sometimes my depression makes it hard to think past myself. But I'm committing to get out of my head going forward...to call senators and vote and get others to vote and volunteer to teach kids to read and support people and love people and be radical. And maybe the fault line of hate can become a fault line of love.

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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.

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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.

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How I survive depression because of a dream

The anticipation is nearly stifling me. I've waited so long — so very, very long — to move to New York City. And honestly, throughout the three years that I've held firm to this dream, there have been times that I didn't think it was possible. It's not just that I didn't know if I would be good enough to get into grad school, get a book published or find a job (and only one of those things has happened, by the way). It's not just that I didn't know if I could survive living with eight million other people in a city that TV shows like Castle and Gossip Girl have shown me can be more than cruel — because to balance that I had shows like Friends and, yes, Castle, that showed me how great it can be. It's not just that my days in Kentucky felt eternal, like I was caught in a perpetual whirlwind of college that I wasn't 100 percent anxious to leave.

It's that there were days when I didn't know if would make it. I wasn't sure if my physical body would survive the war my mind waged inside of me.

Visual representation of said scars and one of the reasons I'm alive today.

If you know me, you'll know that I was hospitalized for intense depression two-and-a-half years ago. If you know me better, you'll know that I was diagnosed with a mild form of bipolar disorder last January. And if you know me best, you'll know that the scars on my arms aren't just cutting scars; they're visible records of times I tried to take my life.

There were days when I didn't think I would see the next hour, much less a moment when my dreams would come true.

So to be here now, five days away from moving to pursue my dream of being a journalist in New York City ... that is an amazing feeling. To know that I have written two novels that I fully intend to publish and have at least six others marinating in my brain is empowering. To even let the idea cross my mind that someday I can be happy — that I even deserve to be happy — is a feeling I never thought I would have.

Yes, I made it to Sochi, and yes, it was so very worth it.

Interestingly, the dreams that I'm now about to live out are the very ones that saved me. Two-and-a-half years ago, if I hadn't dreamed of visiting New York, wished to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi and aspired to be an editor on my school newspaper, I wouldn't have made it out of that hospital.

There was this moment when I was curled up on my paper bed in the place I had nightmares about for months that I looked at a picture of a beautiful landscape. The thought crossed my mind that I would love to someday stand in that very spot and soak in that beauty.

And that was it. That tiny picture sparked something in me, a desire to live. A desire not just to exist in this world, but to be a part of it, to be woven into the tapestry of others' life in such a way that my time on earth could be as rich as possible.

I don't doubt for a second that it was God who put those dreams in my heart and gave me the strength to move forward. And I don't doubt that those dreams are the reason I'm sitting here today, in a hotel room in Florida, getting ready to watch my cousin get married to the girl of his dreams.

There are so many, many layers of depth to how incredible this moment is. I'm about to be a witness to the happiest day of my cousin's life less than a week from moving to study what I love in a city that seems to promise everything. I'm tearing up just sitting here thinking about it.

And this subject is too important for me to be subtle with the moral of this story: if you're going through anything at all that makes you wonder what there is to life, allow yourself to dream. You don't have to plan out your ideal future; you can just decide you want to visit Yellowstone National Park, get a tattoo, lose a few pounds, give some food to a homeless person ... whatever allows you to recognize that your life is precious and so very worth living.

I don't know if anyone is going to read this and take me up on this offer, but I want to say it nonetheless: I'm a safe person to talk to about all the hard things you're struggling with. I'm a sympathetic crier with the ability to imagine myself into every scenario and feel pursuant emotions deeply. So if you need help — let me be there for you. Let me help you forge a dream, a series of a dreams, a reason to live.