What doesn't kill you...makes you leave New York

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetThis city has siren-called me for years. First, it awoke in me a primal desire to just be here. I ached for it with a youthful passion, so much that my bones reverberated with the desire to exist in this space. For years, I longed. While living in New York, my soul sang the sweetest tune it’s known; I gloried in my city. I thrived. I blossomed and bloomed and whatever other cheesy metaphor you have for doing well in a place.

For a year, at least.

For a year, I truly lived in New York. I went to school and my part-time job and I did my laundry at the laundromat and I went out to dinners with friends; I stood in line (three times) for Black Tap burgers, I went on a lobster cruise in the harbor, I went to church and parties and just really inhabited the city.

Things went downhill during the second year, to the point where I woke up one day and realized I was working hard just to continue working. I was devoting countless hours to my barista job, coming home and spending more hours writing and submitting articles, just to scrape by. At the end of the month, I barely made rent, and then I started all over again.

I wasn’t living in New York. I was just taking up space, working just to wake up and do it again, striving just to keep on striving.

The hardest decision in the world was the one to leave. How could I give up this place that has meant so much to me? New York is more than a city for me, more than a home. It’s a friend.

During some of my darkest hours, when the depression has swung and struck and hammered and battered at my soul, it’s been New York that saved me. I would leave my apartment, ride the subway and get off at a park or Fifth Avenue or the waterfront and just breathe it in — the pure life of the city.

It rejuvenated me, reminded me I wanted to be.

Even before moving here, New York was saving me. I was hospitalized as a sophomore in college for being exceedingly suicidal, and what was it that got me out of the pit? The knowledge that if I died, I wouldn’t make it to New York on a class trip the next month.

I have loved this city with a burning love for a long time. And as much as people say New York is hard, that it chews you up and spits you out, I have felt like it loved me back.

Processed with VSCO with x1 presetOh, it loved me with a tough love. It didn’t coddle me, and when I found myself in tough straits, it didn’t give me a job. In fact, it kicked me out.

But it loved me regardless.

There was the day I walked down the street sobbing, on the phone with my father trying to figure out how I would survive the hours, and a strange man stopped and said, “Hey, are you OK?”

That was New York offering love.

Or the way the Chrysler Building lights up just for me, all swirly and golden and piercing straight to my heart with its beauty.

The contrast between sky-reaching buildings and the corner stores — the buildings that don’t know me from Adam, the bodega owners who smile and know my order and call me “sweetie.”

They are the life of the city. It’s the little things. It’s funny, that such an impossibly big city is given life through the little things, but so it is.

I adore this city.

But I have to leave it. I have to, and I want to.

The life I’ve lived this past year is no life at all. I’m grateful I have the option to go somewhere else, to reset. It’s a combination of deteriorating mental health and the fierce competition in the media industry that led to me working a barista job and barely scraping by.

And so I know — if I can start over somewhere else, somewhere a little easier, I can come back stronger. I know this because I have to; I know this because it’s the only reason I can leave — this knowledge that I’ll come back.

To New York: you are my love, my friend, my home. It’s been hard, but we’ve made it work. Until we couldn’t.

Oh, man. I’m sitting here sobbing like the world has ended. I’m driving away tomorrow, driving to a new life. And I know I’m going to pull over so many times and cry again. My heart is breaking. I don’t want to leave the city, the friends, the life I made.

But really, I left it a year ago, when I first took a six-day-a-week pizza-slinging job. It’s just taken me this long to realize it.

Sometimes you need to take a step or two back in order to come back stronger. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m doing this. I’m just sad that I have to.

The freedom to dream (again)

I have 10,000 blog posts in my heart about leaving New York. Wait, you didn't know I'm leaving New York? I wrote a newsletter explaining why. So now this post can jump right into an unintended positive consequence: I feel free again, free to dream big and paint futures for myself in the sky.

IMG_2900Recently, I've been feeling so...stuck. Stagnant. Like I'm treading quicksand, just waiting to disappear. Except I'm not sinking, but I also can't get out.

I've always been a big dreamer. I never really boxed myself into an "ideal" future, because I was constantly painting a new one. I was constantly believing that what was to come would be better than what was.

Not in the sense that I was unhappy; just in the sense that I truly believed things would continue to improve.

As a child, my dreams took the shape of how I would grow into someone so pretty, how all the boys would love me, how I would be famous and rich and successful and happy. I had this one dream, when I was around 11 or so, that by age 14 (incidentally, the age at which I knew I would return to America) I would be tall, slim, with long red hair that my nimble fingers could form into a braid.

When that didn't turn out, I simply turned to a new dream. That's how I was. That's how I am. Dreaming is part of the fabric of my brain. I have this innate sense of how things can and will be ever better.

I've lost that over the past year. Oh, I think I had it, some, for my first year in New York. That was the year that I was in school and working part-time, the year that I spent a lot of time with my friends and did a lot of cool New York things.

The second year, things dwindled. I worked, and that's about it. I worked, watched TV, read books, and slept. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I stopped dreaming. Recently, I've been telling everyone how I feel stuck. I thought the solution was to get a new job, or perhaps win a novel contest, or maybe break into a new publication. I thought the solution was to work harder.

And then, a week ago, everything changed. In quick succession, I quit my job, decided to move away from New York, planned a three-month reset visit to Italy followed by looking for jobs. And I decided that I wouldn't give myself a city, state or even general geographic vicinity in which to look. I wouldn't box myself in. I would pull up my computer and just look for any writing job, anywhere.

The dreams came back. Suddenly I was visualizing myself driving through Seattle; living on the beach in California; writing for a newspaper in Hawaii; dating a country music singer in Nashville; I was able to see myself in all these places, and even better, I was able to imagine myself happy.

I think the trap I fell into over the past year is that I decided I wouldn't be happy if I was anywhere other than New York. But I wasn't happy in New York, mostly because I wasn't really doing anything other than work food service jobs that didn't have any personal fulfillment. It's one thing to not be satisfied in your job but have a social life that fills you with joy. But to have neither? I was so exhausted I couldn't do anything other than work. But I wasn't happy at work. So I just...wasn't happy.

But I was convinced that I wouldn't be happy leaving New York.

Obviously, I haven't left yet, so I don't know if I will be happy anywhere else. I believe I will, though, and that's half the battle.

The thing about dreams is that they really do influence reality. If I allow myself the liberty of believing I could be happy anywhere else, the chances are much higher that I really will be.

So I'm letting my imagination loose. I'm visualizing myself anywhere and everywhere all at once, living a life of adventure like I've always dreamed. I had no idea it would take giving up on one dream to learn to dream again.

It's heartbreaking that I have to leave New York. It feels like I'm betraying not just the city but myself from two years ago. It feels like I've failed; I tried to hack it in New York but wasn't strong enough, couldn't do it.

Those feelings come and choke me and threaten to take away my ability to dream. In those moments, I allow myself to mourn. I let myself be sad about what I'm losing, what I never had. But I'm not going to let them take over.

So what if I failed at living in New York? That's not a real measure of success anyone other than two-years-ago-Karis uses.

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I let myself mourn, and then I start to dream. I dream about the adventures I'll have in Italy for three months. I dream about all the jobs that I can apply for now that I'm not limiting myself to one metro area. I dream about all the cool places I could live, the beautiful furniture I could buy, the kitten and puppy I could adopt. I dream about the new friends I'll make and the boys I'll meet and the life I'll build.

And it's good.

It's so good.

New York — it's amazing. But it's not everything. And I think I needed to lose it in order to see that.

Writing Tuesday: A state of being

I've decided to revive the original purpose of this blog, which was to write about writing. Because I'm a writing nerd, and that's what writing nerds do: we nerd out about writing. OK, now that I've gotten that terrible sentence out of the way, on to the blog! I'll probably still use this site for random political thoughts or God-Thoughts or even, sometimes, a few depression-thoughts, but those won't be super easy to count on.

What you can, however, count on is Writing Tuesdays and Fab Book Fridays.

Basically, every Tuesday I'll post some ruminations on writing; these could be either profiles like I've done in the past (although I'm also publishing those elsewhere), or thoughts about good writing I've read recently, or thoughts about how hard writing is. So come here on Tuesdays if you're looking for my thoughts on writing!

And on Fridays I'm going to choose one book I've read in the past week or month, and I'm literally just going to rave about it. Why? Because I believe all people should read books, and because I believe in supporting and fan-girling like a cheerleader which I always aspired to be but never was.

Today's Writing Tuesday is going to be fairly short, on account of I've already written 200 words about how I'm going to write about things.

Also the fact that I still don't know what I'm going to write about.

Ahhh...

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I dunno. I just want to say that writing is...writing is something that has saved my life. And not just my writing: others' writing as well. The consumption of excellent stories has often-times pulled me out of the mire. These stories include the SIX OF CROWS duology by Leigh Bardugo and the two books that have so far been published in the Ember quartet by Sabaa Tahir.

I was so depressed around this time last year that I stopped feeling things. And yet I was able to read. I have this memory of bursting into tears or laughter while reading these books, and it just...it reminded me that I was alive.

And then, when I started writing again...it was like I was alive. It was like I finally remembered that I had a beating heart and emotions, and the ability to translate those emotions into reality.

Writing is not just something that I do; it's almost something that I am. And if that resonates with you, on any level, I want to encourage you to keep doing it.

Even if you never get published, even if you only write in a journal. There's a world of benefit and worth to that. If writing at any level, for any amount of time, in any capacity, helps you as a person...then do it.

Write.

Express.

Emote.

Be.

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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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.

Missing my heart-land, away from home

There's something about being away from New York that makes me miss Italy more fiercely. It doesn't seem like those two should be so intertwined, does it? How does leaving New York relate to missing Italy? They're not the same!

And yet, somehow, being in the city, walking the streets of Brooklyn, glowering at the tourists in Manhattan, it has this ethereal quality to it, this thing I can only describe as a feel, that makes me feel at home and reminds me of Italy. And so I miss Italy a little less, because I'm distracted by New York City.

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There's so much to distract you in New York. There's a fog of exhaustion that seems to float behind every step, compounded by the stress of public transportation as the only means to get anywhere. There's a level of striving in everything, a tension that doesn't leave your shoulders at all, because every month this niggling question hovers: will I make rent for next month? I breathe a sigh of relief at the end of every month when I pay my roommate the allotted amount to give me 30 more days in the city.

And there are people, new faces to observe, new oddballs to dodge, something different on every corner. There's a job, 40+ hours a week on my feet in almost constant motion, serving other Brooklynites their coffee and panini, and yet, despite the countless time I spend working and charming people for tips, I'm barely scraping by and looking to pick up side gigs for a little extra cash flow.

There's constantly something on my mind in New York, and that combined with the Europe-ness of the city means I don't have time to think back on Trieste...

...To think about long and lazy morning walks seven miles down the waterfront, ending at the castle I love so much I tattooed it on my body...

...To think about the gelateria where the hot chocolate is so thick your spoon stands up on its own, leaning in close to your best friend from childhood and giggling, giggling, giggling...

...To think about standing on the edge of the pier, staring out at the Adriatic Sea as its waves ripple the streetlights, this feeling of peace and serenity flooding you and overtaking every synapse...

...To think about home, with its creaky floors and warm-pumpkin walls and the bed you've had since childhood that's still your coziest retreat...

When I sit down to try and write about Italy, about Trieste, about all the things I love from my hometown and my adopted country, I find I don't have the words. The English language falls flat at my fingertips, unable to convey the depth of emotions I have toward that place, unable to truly translate to you the beauty of it, the beauty of its movement, language, of the ethereal feel it has that just wraps itself around me and holds me close to its heart.

I think I'm lucky, so lucky, to have found two places that I love beyond words. And when I leave one, I find myself craving the other desperately.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI'm in South Carolina at the moment, sitting in a comfortable chair in my parents' beautiful home, a home I'm simultaneously jealous and afraid of. Because it's small by suburbia standards but large compared to my place in Brooklyn; because nearly every inch is coated in soft carpet I don't recognize from New York (or Italy); because mornings are slow and the sun seems to blink its eyes open as lazily as I do, rather than darting awake like it does up North.

Things are different in the South, it's true, and a big difference is that down here there's less to distract me and less to satiate my craving for Italy.

So I miss it, with a passion. For the first time in months I've found my fingers itching to buy a plane ticket to Trieste, I've found my stomach collapse at this longing that just eats at me, I've found myself blinking back tears and a lump in my throat because I'm here and not there, here and not there...

I've been asked so many times this weekend why I refuse to move back to South Carolina. There are reasons, one of them being that New York is home now and I don't want to leave it, but a big one that I'm just realizing is that I miss my Italy-home more fiercely when I'm away from my New York-home.

And so, I stay safely cocooned up North, where the people are plenty, the smells abound and the Italy-missing is less intense.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

*
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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.