For the Ones Who've Taken Their Lives, and Those Who've Wanted To

CW: discussion of suicide, suicidal ideation, mental illness

We are linked. 

Across oceans and time zones and maybe even eras. Spanning languages and cultures and hopes and dreams. Different loves. Diametrically opposite beliefs.

Yet we are linked.

Unspeakably, a bond none of us would have chosen. 

Invisibly, a tether no one would willingly tie onto.

So deeply, buried under layers of personal history and unscalable walls and abuse and addiction and pain and fear and hurt and that thing that no word in the English vocabulary can truly encompass, but maybe anguish will come close?

We are linked. 

I don’t know you. I never knew you. I doubt we walked the same plots of Earth at any moment in time. It’s unlikely I would have recognized you had I seen you. And yet we remain connected.

I feel the loss of your soul. The loss of your brilliance. The loss of your light. I mourn you. I grieve.

I grieve for you — for the hole your loss wreaks. I grieve because you should be here still, shouldn’t have been hurt in this way. I grieve as I picture you in that place: that sorrow and that hopelessness and I can’t imagine the finality of those moments and my heart drops into the abyss and oh. I grieve. I miss you. I didn’t know you, yet we are linked, and I miss you.

I grieve for your family — for their loss and suffering and the ghosts that will settle into the attic of the homes they buy; the devil that will perch on their shoulder daily whispering guilty reminders into their ears; the poltergeist that will toy with their very sanity. It wasn’t their fault. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s easy to believe.

I grieve for the world — because every time we lose someone to suicide, each one, from the child who was bullied to the musician who was addicted to the designer who was ill to the ones like you, like me, who are contributors to our communities, the world suffers. I grieve at your loss. All of you. 

And, in the end, I grieve for me — because I know the pain, too. I know the vibrancy of it, its thrum through my veins, its potency and insistence that I listen to it right now. How can it be ignored? I grieve for me because I know this pain, and I am living with it still, and that is immeasurable sorrow. 

We are linked. Millions of us, the world over, living and breathing under the same moon and sun, in vastly different situations under circumstances that couldn’t be more unlike each other. Yet this we have in common. 

Freaking mental illness. 

I grieve our loss, yet celebrate our lives.

In the days of our lives, we have created. We have loved. We have laughed. We have fostered joy in others, allowed them reasons to smile. We have given birth to era-spanning, breathtaking worlds of fantasy; or we have composed musical accomplishments of impossible beauty; or our paintings and drawings and sculptures have thundered with life and vibrancy; or our dances have inspired joy and tears, laughter and creativity in those to come after.

There have been worldwide giants among us, and there have been the regular ones of us, whose greatest accomplishments include the community theater or their children or a family newsletter. 

No matter whether the number of those touched is in the single digits or the millions of souls, each life had an impact, a distinct impression.

Each one mattered.

Each one matters.

I celebrate us. Each breath dragged in despite the agony it caused. Each exhale pushed out despite the friction, the hurt. I celebrate it. 

There are days when just opening my eyes feels like…feels like the hardest job in the world. When it feels like there’s no way I can keep going. Just let the day pass me by and the darkness fall like a comforting blanket again and wrap around me and smother me, eventually.

This life is hard. It’s hard enough with depression, without a personality disorder, without anxiety, without any number of you-name-them mental illnesses.

With them, it feels impossible at times. 

And yet. 

Here I am. Here you are, reading this. 

I’ll celebrate that.

And in This Document, I Keep my Thoughts About Death

TW: this post deals with depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, in very open terms.

There is a document on my computer and my phone. I’ve kept it going for just about a year now, and mostly kept it a secret, though sometimes bits and pieces of my thoughts, fragmented as they’ve been, have made it into this blog. I mentioned it in a reflection post from February 20, “One Day at a Time,” Anniversaries, & Hopes Unexpected, and since then I’ve kept up writing in it, adding to the chronicles of my sorrow.

I started the document nearly exactly one year ago, according to the fact that I’ve dated and time-stamped each entry, and the first one came on Aug. 19, 2018, at 4:30 in the morning. I actually remember the moment so clearly.

It was my break at work. I had, for once, left the house to go for a walk. It’s the kind of thing the guys I worked with did often, and I did almost never. But that day — that day I was not okay. I walked down Grand Street, winding through the Lower East Side, and wound up sitting on the ground outside a park.

I pulled up the Notes app on my phone and wrote I wish I was dead

Later that night, right before my next shift started, I wrote I wish it would go away

And so it went. And so it goes. The notes have gotten longer over the year; I’ve added punctuation. Sometimes, I’ve gone as long as a month without adding to it; others, I’ve barely made it 12 hours.

This year has been, ultimately, one never-ending episode.

“Episode.”

That’s what they’re called, in my mind and maybe others’, these moments of depression that mar the rest of my life. Usually they last a few days; once or twice in the past they’ve lasted a month or more. But this one? This one has gone on for nearly a year now.

It’s been its own rollercoaster of an experience.

I have been so soaringly happy at times, feeling as though I were living on a cloud, reveling in the unreality of this reality I inhabit. Simultaneously, I have been devastatingly not-okay. I have sunk as low as ever before, my thoughts turning knife-like inward and slicing away my defenses. I have stopped cutting (and started again). I have gone ages without being suicidal (and then, been suicidal again). I have survived and come oh-so-close to not surviving

I researched long-term mental health care facilities. I have spent months at a time praying I would make it to the end of my shift so I could check into short-term emergency care. Once, in June, I almost called a cab to take me to the hospital. I was inches away from doing it, and then I … didn’t.

Over the past year, I've run the gamut of suicidal fantasies, imagining myself doing everything from leaping off a bridge to bleeding out to swallowing fistfuls of pills and letting myself get taken to Death's door...none of these are new.

It's the intensity, the density, the loneliness of it all, that's what's new. Such a long stretch of not-okay times. Packed so closely together, while I felt absolutely alone.

And meanwhile, I’ve tracked it all.

There are some who might say that tracking it makes it worse. After all, doesn’t reading back over it just remind me of those emotions?

Maybe. But it’s not like I would forget it anyway. I can’t. It’s physically impossible to not remember, and this way — this way I can track trends. And realize, something is wrong.

Of course, something is always wrong: I have a mental illness. But this time? This time, something is different-wrong. Something is longer-wrong. Something is deeply, unsettlingly wrong.

And here’s the thing: things are also so very, very good. I am disgustingly happy; I’m just also recklessly depressed. People keep telling me how I look great, how it seems things are good.

And they are.

I just…am in agony inside, and wish it would go away, and don’t know how to make that be. And if I can’t fix it, I can at least share it and say: help me. Share good things with me. Things that make you smile, make you laugh, make you cry but in a good way. Things that give you hope. Things you like. Quirks that set you apart. (Is it too much to ask you to say things you like about me? I would like to know. I would like to believe they exist.)

Also if you’re in NYC and you have any therapist recommendations that won’t break my bank, I would take them.

About Losing Control, and Snake Thoughts

Content Warning: depression, severe mental illness, hopelessness, thoughts about death

Seriously though, content warning. This post ends hopefully, but the journey there is not always light. Take care of yourself <3

I feel like I'm losing control. In 12 million ways I it feels like I am unable to get ahold of myself, and I can't even box it into one category. Is it irritability because of depression or because of hypomania? Is it depression? Is it mania? Is it excitement, euphoria, despair, self-hatred, narcissistic moments?

It's all of the above, all at once, all hitting me and washing over me, both a wave from above and a riptide throwing me back under.

It's so many things happening and I don't have a name for any of them and that, really, is its own things as well.

Honestly I think the problem is just life. Or maybe me. Is life just too hard for me?

It feels like my bones are trying to claw out of my skin. It feels like my brain is trying to explode out of my skull. It feels like my heart is trying to beat out of my chest. It feels like my body has turned against me in the same way my brain did all those years ago (and never turned back).

I close my eyes and think about my options.

I open my eyes and face the possibility that there are no options.

By turns I am devastated or encouraged by the fact that this is unchangeable. I could pick up my life, abandon my job, my friends, my city, move to another coast, across an ocean, immerse myself in a new life — even create a brand-new wardrobe, hairstyle, overall look — and this would be with me: I would be depressed. Anxious. Bipolar. Frantic.

It’s not like I haven’t done that before.

Devastated to know there is no escaping.

Encouraged to know it’s not up to me to fix this.

I do what I can and sometimes it helps more, sometimes it helps less, sometimes I run out of energy to do what I can and I let the waves rip me under, let the water pour over my head and wash me away.

But when it comes down to it, when the rubber meets the road, when it’s truly all said and done, what am I if not unable to fix myself? I can’t cure myself. I can’t change the way my brain is wired. I can’t will myself into being happy, into knowing joy, into not being ill.

So that’s good to know.

At the same time it doesn’t…make this easier. When it feels like my internal organs are contorting themselves in an effort to destroy me, when thoughts slither into my mind and hiss terrifying thoughts, coil around my throat like a snake, it doesn’t help to know that I’m doing what I can.

What I feel then is terror. Terror at how out of control I am. Terror at what I might do. Terror that one day I’ll have enough and decide that since I can’t change my circumstances I should change my state of existence.

5A5BD9C9-F15E-4F27-B8B8-49D2682BB7F4.JPG

It’s not something I want. What I want is — not even to be done with this, but to be able to cope. I’m trying so many things. Self-esteem workshop with my therapist, trying to learn grounding techniques to keep me from spiraling into panic, distraction, leaving the house and all the heavy feelings that sometimes come with it.

The picture to the left: I took it on a day when I woke up and all I felt was panic, rage, helplessness.

I forced myself out of my room, down the stairs, onto the train, and I rode it at least an hour to Bryant Park. It’s one of my favorite spots in the city, somewhere I used to spend long, lazy afternoons three summers ago, writing and applying for jobs and trying to stem the panic of that season of unemployment.

That day, it helped.

So I guess that’s the way it has to continue: I will try. When the loss of control hits, when snakey thoughts slither into my mind, when I feel like I’m losing everything, I will take a step. I will think about what I’ve learned in therapy. I will clear my head by changing my scenery. I will make this work.

And if I can’t? If I feel like all is lost and I have to end it now?

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255 and there’s always someone on the other end.

There are hospitals for short-term emergency care. There are even treatment centers for long-term care.

There are options.

Take a deep breath, Karis. Close your eyes, count to 10. Open your eyes. Look around. Fairy lights on the walls. Music in your headphones. Help available a phone call or chatbox away. Take a deep breath. You might be losing control, but all is not lost. All is not hopeless.

And it’s not hopeless for anyone else, too.

Listen, I write this post not just because it helps me, but with the hope it can help someone else. Maybe it can help to know that you’re not alone. That mental illness is a shitty, creepy, disastrous thing, but that you’re never alone. We are legion out here, living this way. But we are living through it. So if you need help in any way — please seek it. And if you don’t think you can go to help through formal therapeutic channels, if you need someone to talk to, if you need a boost of courage, let me know. The thing is: we’re in this together.

In it, together.

Love y’all. Drop a line below or send me a note if you need anything <3

Grasping at Truth: Why I Write My Depression

Because it's the only way to know that what I think is true, is how I felt. 

Content Warning: depression, mental illness

I have written so much about my depression. I’ve written about it for everything from my college newspaper, to this very blog, to online Christian blogs, to seventeen.com.

Some people ask me why I do it. Why would I put so much of myself out there, when being mentally ill is still looked down upon by a huge slice of society. Why would I risk future jobs and future loves and future friends by being so honest about the things that, you’d think, make me weak, make me less-than. Why would I open myself up to people’s judgement and condemnation when I could just keep it all inside, lock it in a box and throw the key away and no one would have to be the wiser.

And there’s an answer to every one of those questions, a good answer: because the only way to eradicate stigma is for someone to fight it, and I can be that person; because being depressed, anxious, bipolar doesn’t make me weak, and if anyone in my potential future thinks it does, that’s on them, and not on me; because keeping my stories locked inside has only ever eaten away at my soul, at my heart.

Those are all good answers, and they’re true answers. But they aren’t the truest answer, they aren’t the deepest answer.

See, the truth is, my depression brain lies to me. It lies to me when I am depressed and tells me how bad I am, as a human, how little I deserve, how much I should let it all go; and it lies to me when I’m not depressed, telling me those things never happened, telling me I merely overreacted, telling me nah girl, you’re crazy!

My brain tells me I’ve lost it; that my feelings and thoughts were mere fabrications, close upon conjectures.

You never felt like that.

You’re making things up for attention.

I can’t believe you would do something like that; this is why nobody likes you.

I can grit my teeth, squeeze my eyes shut and just try to fight it off; I can try to grin and bear it and hope it’ll pass; I can beat my fists against the wall and scream; nothing works, though. The uncertainty remains.

Did I conjure those emotions out of nowhere? Did I really feel that poorly? Is it really all in my head?

And so, I write my depression. I chronicle the swings, trying to catch all of them, the highs and the lows, knowing I’ll miss a few, knowing that regardless I’ll be better off with any of them caught in the feathery arms of my journal, my blog, the Internet.

The Internet is harsh and full of judgment, but it lasts forever, and therefore the next time Depression whispers in my ear that I’m crazy, that there’s nothing where I think there’s Something, I know how to fight back.

"How are you?": Understanding the Mood Swings

"How are you?"

I am sinking into the despair of knowing this is never going to change, that this is my life forevermore, scrabbling to be happy and never reaching my goal.

I am soaring with the knowledge of some good thing - today, the solo travel trip I just booked, tomorrow maybe a cute boy flirting with me - and feeling hope renew, precious, dangerously small, in my chest.

How do I communicate the truth that both of these coexist at once in my soul? How do I say I am both terrible and amazing, and how does anyone understand that as much as I crave death, I ache for a full life even more.

When they ask, they are just being polite, but my problem has always been that I desire so badly to be seen. To be known and understood. I must really show them my pain, I think; then...oh yes, then they will have their answer.

Sometimes all it takes to get me excited is an empty train car, true story.

Sometimes all it takes to get me excited is an empty train car, true story.

“How are you?” 

It is the quick question they toss my way as we pass off shifts at the office, and I grimace then laugh because the truth is I’m both terrible and great and there’s no time to explain that I have never been okay, I never will be okay, but sometimes, for just a moment or two, I am not terrible. 

I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know if it’s even real, if it even makes sense. My doctor tells me I have Bipolar II and that makes sense but sometimes…

Sometimes it is 11:15 p.m. at work and I am smiling and laughing and I feel like things are okay, I feel powerful, I feel beautiful and like I have finally found my niche, the thing I am good at and the people who believe in me. I blink and it is 11:45 p.m. and my fists are clenched onto the top of my desk and my heart is racing a thousand-miles per minute, I can’t breathe, I can’t think, there are so many emotions in my soul and in my brain and sending tremors through my body.

In the blink of an eye I go from life of the party to party pooper. I am fine until suddenly I am calling the Lifeline for Suicide Prevention, begging them to save me, save me, save me.

“How are you?”

Right now I am good but in 30 minutes I might be crushed by the heaviest of weights on my chest and it’s going to kill me, except…right before the moment it crushes me entirely, it lifts. And I breathe again, freely, completely, unburdened and full of unhindered joy. 

So how am I?

Truly, I haven’t the faintest. It comes, it goes, but the only steady truth is I am chronically mentally unwell, and I am fighting it. Daily.

"One Day at a Time," Anniversaries, & Hopes Unexpected

CONTENT NOTICE: depression, suicidal and self-harm fantasies, suicide attempts

It feels like it has been so many months since I was last happy. Feels like actual, literal months since the last time my smile didn’t feel like cardboard or my heart sink into the pits of my stomach like actual lead.

In October, there was a month-long period when I went off my medication, and if I think on it for a long time it makes sense that’s when it all started. Things took a downhill tumble, and then Nov. 6th, on my way home from work, I was waiting for my train at the subway station.

Can you tell where this is going? Did the content notices give it away?

I’ll try not to be too graphic, even though the images accompany me even now, five months later. It’s like…if I close my eyes, and just think about that moment, everything floods my mind again. I’m back there. My eyes well with tears, and I can’t breathe through the crushing panic in my lungs. Then my legs start to shake so I lean on the column behind me and just hope and pray that whoever it is, whyever they jumped…that they’re okay. That they survive. That the hurt and pain goes away soon and that they survive and that somehow, some way, they find peace and a way to tunnel into light again.

And then I flee the station. I just get out of there and I run and I howl the whole way back to work and I just fall down and I feel like I’m dying.

And since then…I’ve been in therapy every week. Seen the doctor once a month. Taken my meds every day. For like two months I was never home because I worked a lot and then when I wasn’t working I went out and hung out with my coworkers for the first half of my shift hours, and the second half I watched TV on the office couch (which are overnight, so there’s like…nowhere else I can go that’s safe).

It’s like I’ve been trying to put my life back together in all these different puzzle-ways since October. All through the fall and winter I’ve been drowning, grappling to stay afloat.

And then this week things got worse because, well…it’s the anniversary. The sixth anniversary (last Wednesday) of the first time I signed myself into a psych ward. It was a whole traumatizing event and I hated it so passionately and I was filled with an absolute and abject terror the entire time I was locked up in that…horror show. Every year this week hits me in the gut and it seems to get stronger.

I told my therapist this in my latest counseling session, but: I know some of that is on me. I could make it bother me less. But some of it, some of it is out of my control. Anniversaries of days like that, they just…they hit you hard. And they don’t always go away. For all I know, if the world and I are still here in 40 or 50 years, I’ll still feel this way. Every year, without fail. It’s like the cycle of the seasons. It just…happens.

So there’s been this crushing weight on my mind lately. Well, I say “lately.” I guess that’s open to interpretation. There’s this notes doc on my phone that’s pretty much a running installment of all the ways in which, as the post is now titled, “I wish I was dead.”

One of the perks of the graveyard shits: sunrise on the way home ;)

One of the perks of the graveyard shits: sunrise on the way home ;)

The first post is short and sad: “I wish I was dead.” And it’s time-stamped Aug. 19, 4:30 am (yeah, I work the graveyard shift, it’s just the way it goes).

It’s not like the note is littered with multiple comments from every single day, but there is at least one from every month between August and now. The thing is, they build.

By mid-October (Oct. 21, 9:45 pm), it’s a little longer: “I feel like I'm on a cliff and my brain is about to fall off and shatter on the rocks below.

And by the time February starts, they’re longer, more winding, more panicked and out of control.

See, these days, I’m recognizing the signs: a recurrence of a specific paranoia that has plagued me since middle school (“…they can hear me, hear my thoughts, hear the beating of my soul. They know, and therefore, they hate me: they must. They will seek to destroy me. I can thwart them. I can destroy myself first.” Feb. 19, 7:20 am.)

I’m having anxiety attacks about everything — from whether the small quip I made to the pharmacist about the dang chip reader was annoying and oh my word it was annoying she hates me why did I say that I shouldn’t have said that, I’m the worst, I’m terrible, I’m not funny and people hate me and everyone wants me gone and I can’t breathe and — to the email I’m sending my boss about whether we should change a work policy and BUT SHOULD WE CHANGE THAT POLICY THOUGH wow look at that, I can’t breathe again!!!

But the worst sign? The one that really and truly tells me “hey girl, crap is about. to. hit. the. fan”? The fantasies are back. The dark ones. The harmful ones. The ones that have sent me fleeing to the hospital three times over the past six years in an attempt to not act on them. The ones that make me curl up and clench my fingers, sometimes curling them into a fist and sometimes burying them in my scalp and trying not to scream out loud, trying to bury this pain inside of me.

It feels like all of this pain, all of this emotional and mental pain will kill me, utterly destroy and devastate me, if I don’t let it out somehow. Scream. Fight. Run. Yell. Hurt myself.

Does it even matter?

Last Wednesday I woke up for a video call therapy appointment and I cried and I told my therapist that I’m in so much pain and I think about hurting myself all the time. Every day. And it’s not that I want to. It’s just that I think about it because…I’ve only been alive for 25 years. But I’m so tired. They’ve felt so long. And I realized, on the call with her, that the idea of another 60 years on Earth…honestly the idea of another year, even just six months, living in my own mind, feels impossible.

I made it through the call, and set up an emergency appointment to see my doctor sooner than anticipated, and my therapist made me promise not to hurt myself. And then I logged off, and I got coffee and dinner and I opened up Netflix and wondered what to watch and that’s when I decided to take the plunge and start “One Day at a Time” and check it out.

And somehow, a binge of one season and nine episodes later, I found myself sobbing on my couch, realizing I’d never felt myself so accurately seen and portrayed on TV as I was in season 2, episode 9 (“Hello, Penelope”). I just broke down.

I don’t know why it was so unexpected. Literally the entire reason that I have written so much about my own mental health is because I know how much it matters to see that you’re not alone, and to see your experiences reflected back to you. And I even knew that episode was coming, because it’s been out for a year now and there was a ton of Twitter chatter about it last year when it aired. But it hit me in the gut nonetheless, and I sat on the couch and cried, and then I just felt…so much lighter.

The thing is (having since finished the show as well), I don’t feel “better,” or whole again. I still feel crappy. Heck, I completely broke down sobbing at work on Monday night: like, turned my back to my coworker, had to take my glasses off cause they were fogging up, shoulders shaking, etc etc etc. And the paranoia, the anxiety: they’re all there. Fully-fledged, full force. So present.

So, in all honesty, I’m not fully sure what the so-called “purpose” of this post is. It’s not like I have a nicely-wrapped gift I can offer you, a moral or a lesson or a story that has ended. I’m in the middle of this one. There isn’t a moral yet. Lesson? What’s that.

Maybe I just wanted to share. To feel less alone. I feel so alone a lot, and right now, on the one hand, it feels like my mind is eating me alive, but on the other, I had this beautiful moment of understanding and reflection of seeing myself in a character on TV, and I need to share it all.

I want to be less alone. I work overnights and it’s hard to get out and see people and I’ve been isolated a lot the past 10 months, and to be honest, the past five and a half months of intense depression have made it nearly impossible for me to gather the energy to EVER leave my house. Or, let’s be real, my bed.

So I guess this is me reaching out. Trying to be less alone. And sharing about the small hopes.

You're Okay: Inside the Mind of a Panic Attack

My heart races, and my thoughts along with it. My hands tremble so much that I can barely even type words. I am short on breath and completely undone. 

There’s this feeling in my head, in my heart, like doom is…nigh. Not just my doom. But the end of the world. The actual apocalypse. And I haven’t chosen my side. I don’t know if I’m on the side of good or evil — do I even know which is which anymore?

Pause. Take a beat.

Take a breath.

Jump in the shower and I tell myself over and over that I am okay. That I am okay. That I need to calm down. Just take a few deep breaths. Calm yourself. You are okay. There is nothing wrong with you.

Nothing.

Wrong.

With.

You.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Exhale.

Exhale.

You're out of breath. You can't exhale anymore. Your lungs burn. You need air! Help, I — I need air, and I don't know how to —

Oh, right. Inhale. Inhale. Inhale.

Too much air. Let it out. 

Let it out in an exhale, and don't forget to inhale again.

You will be okay. You will be okay. You will be okay.

Exhale.

This, too, shall pass. Through the valley of death. You will be okay.

Inhale.

You're okay, you're okay, you're okay.

Exhale.

Process your thoughts: I am stressed because of money; I am fearful for the future; I am lonely; I do not know where I stand with God; I need to find an apartment; I am 25 and I am not who I thought I would be 10 years ago, when I thought 25 would bring romantic love and professional success and being skinny and traditionally beautiful and confident — confidence, that thing I hankered for at 15 and couldn't — quite — grasp.

I am not where I thought I would be, and that is panic-inducing, and that is disappointing.

But I...like where I am.

No, scratch that: I like who I am. I mean, sure, I'm super flawed — so flawed — holy crap, so many flaws — but I don't...I don't hate myself. Not like I used to. 

Not like I feared I always would.

I do not have romantic love or professional success, nor am I skinny or traditionally beautiful, but I like myself and am confident in that and — and so it's okay.

You're breathing again, on your own, without telling yourself how to.

That's nice. 

I still feel like the world is ending. I still have all those problems above. I am still scared and lonely and worried and lonely and stressed and lonely and —

Shh. Just breathe.

You're okay.

 

 

On Loneliness, with a Smidge of Missing New York

Content Notice: depression, self-harm

I feel so lonely lately. It's partly because, well, I moved to a new city where I have few friends, and since I don't have a job I don't really get to interact with other people unless I really go out of my way to do so. So I am, truthfully, alone a lot, and my brain, my extroverted, depressed, twisted little brain, doesn't handle alone time well. 

But there's more to it than that. I am...existentially lonely. Even when I'm connecting with someone else, when I'm in the midst of entertaining others and hearing their laughter bubble up and knowing that I did that, I made them make that joyful sound, I feel like I am the only soul in the world. 

In high school, I wrote this description of it that I think is apt; I'm gonna paraphrase, because honestly I'm too lazy to hunt for the original file, but basically: I feel like I'm in a desert. It's hot, it's arid, it's full of sandy wind. And I can see people hanging out in a beautiful oasis mere steps away. I want to join them, oh so desperately.

I make my way toward them and I'm so close, I'm almost there, when — something stops me. An invisible glass wall, impenetrable but crystal clear, separates me. I start to yell, and bang on the glass, and kick it and bash my head into it and I'm doing everything I can to do their attention. But they can't hear me. I scream myself hoarse and punch the wall until my knuckles are raw, but in the end, I'm still alone in my desert. 

But wait, it gets worse. Because as I progress, I see there's a tiny hole in the glass. I walk to it and yell and, lo and behold, someone comes toward me! We can't reach each other, but we can communicate through the glass, and this is the happiest moment of my life. My soul is flying! I've never been so ecstatic, never felt so connected, so understood and seen

And then it ends. The oasis calls my new friend back, and with a wave and a promise to come back, they saunter off to rejoin the rest of humanity. Now I'm alone again, and it's so much more bitter than it was before, because I've had a taste of what life could be. And I'm still cut off from it.

Sometimes depression is hard to understand because, like grief, it isn't always constant. I have my moments of happiness, I can smile as brightly as the next girl, my joy radiates forth.

But it isn't real. When the people are gone, the lights are dimmed and I'm alone in the aftermath, I plummet back into darkness. 

It feels like no matter what I do, I'm not seen or understood. So I do what I can. I...I beg friends to let me hang out with them. I write blog posts like this one. I cut, sometimes. I cry in public. I ask people for prayer. All I really want is for someone to look me deep in the eyes and say, Wow. I'm so sorry for your pain. Let me hold you for a moment.

I think this is why I crave a romantic relationship so much. Because I feel like, if I could just have a boyfriend, I would always have someone to hold me. Someone to see me. There would be someone to walk me through the dark nights, yes, but...there are things about myself I love, and I want to share them with someone and have someone devote themselves to me.

I don't know, maybe part of the problem is me. Because I rely so heavily on people. I'm a people person in the extreme, an extrovert to a fault. When I love people, I want all of them. And that's unrealistic to ask of a friend, even a family member. 

[An aside: it's really hard when all of your friends are in relationships and/or have babies. Talk about not being able to ask much of people...]

I want to be known, intimately and deeply. And I know, I know what you're going to say: that God loves me that way and he knows me intimately and deeply. Hearing that honestly doesn't help. It just wracks me with guilt. 

I want to stop feeling so alone. So empty. 

And you know what else?

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I freaking miss New York. 

I miss the endless amounts of people, the beautiful architecture, the sounds of traffic. I miss my friends, I miss working, I miss my apartment. 

The missing weighs on me and pulls me down, deeper into the mire of loneliness that just suffocates me all the time.

And I don't know what to do about it. I don't have an answer for myself or anyone else. I'm just lonely, and homesick, and really, really sad. 

On the Fifth Anniversary of my Hospitalization, I'm Still Broken

I guess I thought the hospital would fix me.

Five years ago, I wandered through Kentucky mist and into the counselor's office, where I sat on a couch and sobbed and let her know I was thinking dangerous thoughts. And when she suggested going to the hospital, I guess I thought that would make it all better.

It didn't.

I guess it helped, because I'm here, five years later, writing this post. Rattling around in the world. 

But it didn't fix me like I thought it would.

When I emerged two days later into Kentucky snow, I thought I would never have those feelings again. That helplessness, that horror, that knowledge that the only way to be free was to be dead.

I don't really have the words to express just how crappy a feeling that is. To reach a place where you're in so much pain, utter agony really, that you think the best option is death. Where you think things will never get better. It's kind of like...if you're going through a really long tunnel, and you're four years old, and you're claustrophobic. And the tunnel stretches on and on and on, and it never ends, and the pressure mounts against you until you can't breathe because you know you're never going to make it out alive.

And then suddenly you break free! You're in the open again. You're exultant, elated, because you survived. For a moment or two, a quarter mile, maybe more, you're so proud of yourself for having survived. And you know you'll never have to go back.

Until you do.

Because around the bend is another tunnel; and after it, another. You're on a road that never ends in a mountain that ranges eternally, and there will be tunnel after tunnel with no relief, ever. 

That's depression. Unrelenting, impossible to escape. It consumes your consciousness and eats away at whatever hope you may have had. It's life-altering.

That's how I live. I live my life broken. Knowing that the smallest things will set me off. An unreturned text, an unrequited love, a missed step here or a misspoken word there can send me positively crumbling.

There's defeat in living with depression, in knowing I'm almost at the mercy of this illness that's trying to eat me alive.

But there's victory in living with depression as well, victory in living, continuing to survive and even thrive despite it.

There are so many things I want to see and do and accomplish and experience in this life. True love. Holding my published book in my hands. Traveling to new places on all the continents. A kiss. Seoul. South Africa. Writing more and better books. And more, and more, and more.

Ahh. There is life I want to live. I do it with the knowledge that sometimes depression will steal my light like a hard fall steals my breath. It casts a pall on things, it does. 

But knowing I'm going to keep living them despite that? It truly helps.  

It Comes And It Goes, And I Don't Know Why

I mean, yeah, sure, I know that it's because of "chemicals in my brain." And yeah, sure, I know that it's often triggered by events in my life. So yeah, sure, I guess I do "know why."

Except I don't.

I know, I know, I'm not making any sense! Am I making any sense? No. 

I don't know what I'm trying to say. I guess it's just...my depression is like a wave. It comes, it overpowers me and suffocates me and I think I'm drowning in it. And then, just like *that*, it pulls away, leaving me straggled on the beach, aching for a breath of fresh air. 

Just when I think I'm in the clear, it comes again, pulling me under once more.

It comes and it goes, and I don't know why.

I don't know why Saturday night a picture of a cute celebrity with a beautiful celebrity made me rage with jealousy. I don't know why that jealousy turned into sorrow. I don't know why that sorrow morphed into something so ugly I was lying in bed, sobbing, wondering whether tomorrow would be worth it. 

I've seen pictures of those same two celebrities together for ages. And yes, I'm irrationally in love with the cute one (he's a really good writer, okay!) and pretty sure he's rationally in love with the beautiful one (she's redhead goals, okay!), but for more than a year I've just shrugged and rolled my eyes at my own celebrity crush.

This pic was taken a mere hours before everything went topsy-turvy; I was  fine &nbsp;that afternoon; not so much that night...

This pic was taken a mere hours before everything went topsy-turvy; I was fine that afternoon; not so much that night...

On Saturday, though, I broke down completely. I lost my ever-loving mind. I was in tatters. I wrote a blog post about the experience and it was raw and unfiltered and it somehow managed to bring me back to my senses.

I don't know why Saturday's episode started, and I don't know why it ended, because sometimes what triggered me then isn't a trigger; and sometimes what soothed me then actually makes things worse. 

It's confusing. I know it's confusing to people who don't live with mental illness, but it's confusing to me, too. Even I don't always understand what's going on in my head. Sometimes I don't even know how to describe my feelings, much less why they're there or what it means. 

In just over a week, I get to see a psychiatrist for the first time since before leaving New York. Hopefully she'll recommend a counselor that I can visit regularly. I am...beyond-words excited for this visit. I am stoked to get back on track with taking care of my mental health. I'm excited to spend at least an hour a week just talking about everything in my head, and having someone help me parse through the answers. Or give me some when I need that, too. 

The past three months have been hard. 

Here's the thing about being mentally ill: you're just as sick in Italy as you are in America. You're just as sick on vacation as you are at work. You're just as sick when everything is going right as when everything is going wrong. Yesbecause it's a mental thing, where you are, what you're doing and what's happening in your life can affect you. But that's true for physical illness as well! If you have a stomach bug and gorge yourself on mac and cheese and bacon, things will get worse. You'll spend the night puking in the toilet and wishing yourself dead. Yes, that's a graphic image. Don't eat mac and cheese and bacon when you have a stomach bug! (This has been a PSA.)

It's nature and nurture when it comes to mental illness. Yes, there is something physically (nature) wrong with my brain; at the same time, there are things in my circumstances, today and in the past (nurture) that can aggravate it. 

So many times, people think that it will be helpful to ask why I'm depressed and how it can be fixed. I so appreciate the thought behind those questions! I love that people want to help me, that they care enough to want to take it upon themselves to make it better.

But those questions also stress me out, because the truth is, I don't know the answers, often, to either of them. It's a mystery.

For so much of our history, mental health wasn't something that was taken seriously. It was misunderstood and it's only recently that people have taken the time to get to know it Doctors are still studying and figuring the mind out. I hope that my writing openly about what I go through can add to help, because it's an inside look at a depressed mind. But I think sometimes people mistake my writing for knowing the answers, and I just want to say: I don't always have them. I'm sorry. But I don't.

I know it's frustrating; you want to help. But the answer, from my heart: I don't know why it came; I don't know how to fix it; please just love me.

I'm So Broken.

Content warning: descriptions of severe depressive episode

 

The words, “I’m so broken” run through my mind constantly. Because that’s how it feels. Like I’m broken, not just mentally but physically, like someone has taken an axe to my chest and caved it open.

But mentally, yes, oh yes, so broken. My mind is like a scratched record, it can only keep thinking in stutters of self-destructive thought, and I get sent down these rabbit holes that take me one way, then another, here, then there, nowhere good. A little thing sparks it and next thing I know I'm in an ever-tightening spiral of self-loathing and hurt.

“I’m so broken, I’m so broken, I’m so broken…” It’s an unceasing refrain.

I think that I am dying sometimes because the pain is so much. But I never end up dying after all, just keep…pressing on, battling through, surviving one bout and foolishly believing that the next one won’t be so bad.

“Just two weeks,” I whisper…in two weeks, less than, I’ll get to see a doctor. I’ll get to pay money and sit in an office and tell someone everything, and pour all my brokenness out, and it will feel so good to talk to someone who doesn’t yet have a stake in my life, to talk to someone who is a professional and knows all the right answers, to talk to someone who can leave the office and forget about me and my pain won’t overwhelm her like it overwhelms me. That’s why doctors and therapists are different from friends. They can shut it off, so they’re safe to pour it out upon. 

If I can just make it two weeks…

And I have to. I have to. 

Because there are books I want to write. There are people I want to meet. There are boys I want to kiss, countries I want to visit, foods I want to eat again. There are clothes I want to buy, makeup I want to learn to apply, lives I want to affect. There is a little baby I want to grow up knowing his Aunt Karis, and for him, oh! for him I have to stay alive, as hard as it is sometimes.

I can’t breathe, because if I breathe the tears will fall out and snot will come too and my computer will get messed up. I can’t breathe because it’s too loud. I can’t breathe because there’s a shoe on my chest and it’s pushing down, and no it’s not real but oh does it ever feel like it.

“Just two more weeks.”

“I’m so broken.” 

The words won’t go away. I open my Bible to Psalm 23 and read that He is with me through the valley of the shadow of death, and this is that valley, this is what he was talking about, because death is on every corner, it’s climbing the fence and panting after me, lusting for my flesh. Death is stalking me, trying to convince me to just cut a little, then deeper, then deeper…just take a pill or two or seventeen…just suffocate yourself, nice and gentle…oh look at that car zooming toward you, how nice of him to do what you cannot…

The valley of the shadow of death…your rod and your staff…I wish I could see God. Wish I could see Him or have an angel visit me and tell me there’s a reason. I’m holding on to my faith so hard because without it there isn’t a reason and I need there to be a reason. Or I might just let go. 

In the silence between typing those words and drawing in a breath, a whisper I’ve heard time after time…I am your enough

There will be no angels, no timely phone calls or doorbell ringing. There is just me, in this darkened bedroom, furiously typing these words and furiously believing with everything in me that God is with me in the valley of the shadow of death.

“Just two more weeks.”

“I’m so broken.”

I have to believe that wholeness will come of this brokenness. Have to. 

Maybe I shouldn’t do this, but…I’m writing this. I’m putting it here and on Facebook. And then I’m going to sleep. Sometimes all it takes for the brokenness to stitch itself back together is to tell someone. And sometimes I have to tell lots of people. And maybe I’ll never get a job or never this or never that, but at least I’ll be alive, and so I’ll be glad I posted this.

Sometimes, they ask me if writing makes it better or worse. Today it made it better. After writing all these words, I feel calmer. Still broken, still barely hanging on, but not about to fall off the cliff.

It Is Nighttime In My Mind, and I'm Barely Surviving

^^^ This is the face of someone happy, at a friend's house for Fourth of July brunch, celebrating. 

It’s also the face of someone who spent that evening on a rooftop in Jersey using a rusty screw to scratch rivets in her arms, who was hospitalized five days later.

It's the face of someone who is conflicted, constantly. Someone who is on a never-ending rollercoaster that takes her to the most heady of highs and the most scream-inducing descents.

It's kind of the perfect example of what depression is like, because it's misleading. Looking at this picture, especially after I posted it on Facebook and acted like all was well, you might be convinced that, indeed, all was well.

Spoiler alert: all was not well. I was not happy. I was depressed. 

Spoiler alert: I'm still not happy. Or at least, I'm not happy with any kind of lasting joy. I come in and out of my happiness like a swimmer occasionally coming up for air. But the happiness is as fleeting as each breath. It comes, it goes, lasting just long enough for me to survive the next underwater stint.

But surviving, it's all I'm doing these days. I've stopped thriving.

When I left the hospital in October 2015, I wrote about how important it was not just to survive depression, but to thrive despite it. I wonder if I wasn't incredibly naive at the time. Because, how can you thrive when your mind is a prison, a dark and dank prism through which the world is empty of color and life, hope and expectation? 

I've made hope-giving my mission; I've said this whole depression journey is worth it all because at least, at the very least, I can share my story and offer hope to others.

But I'm out of hope for myself. I don't know how to carry on. [Caveat: this is not me saying I have suicidal thoughts. I'm not there yet. I'm just...at a loss.]

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This morning I took this picture. I put on makeup and did my hair and went to church. And then I left church an hour early, because my head felt like it was going to explode and I was in the bathroom dry-heaving and I couldn't think, couldn't think straight, couldn't think past the rotating thoughts going round and round and round in my head.

I was so excited to be at church; it's the one I went to as a child growing up in Trieste, and I thought, "This is good. This is my home church. It is good that I am here."

And then the downward descent began and I rushed to the bathroom and clutched my stomach and my head and my eyes watered and I had to leave. I had to leave.

I always, always, always have to leave.

I don't know how many parties I've missed because I'm stuck in my own head, depressed and distraught, unable to leave my bed. Or how much fun I've either avoided or straight-up ruined because I can't get unstuck. 

This year, it's been hard. So freaking, stinking hard. 

And I don't foresee things getting any better. I am stuck in my own head. 

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I just finished reading TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, John Green's latest novel, and if there's any book that describes mental illness in a tangible, real way, it's that one. 

I don't have OCD, but I related to Aza Holmes' thought spirals, the way her brain would latch onto one concept, one thought and take it down and down and down and down, into the ends of the earth where she could no longer see anything, no longer breathe, no longer exist. 

I related to that. That is what it's like in my brain when the depression sets in. It's like — I cannot fathom a world in which I stayed at church, because I cannot fathom a world in which things didn't just keep on getting worse, keep on disintegrating. 

Ahh, you guys. This life I'm living, this life with depression and pain and mental agony? It's hard. It's so very, very hard. Waking up is hard, and breathing is hard, and doing anything, anything at all, is viciously difficult.

I know I'm not the only one living this way. That doesn't comfort me. But I want to say to those who are also living this hard, hard life, that I see you. I recognize your pain and the difficulty of your walk. I applaud you for days when you do well, and I mourn with you on days when you cannot, cannot, cannot persevere. I rejoice with you in the triumphs, be they as big as a new job or as small as eating breakfast. And I have compassion upon what you might think of as failures, because y'all — I'm a failure, too.

How have I failed?

Oh, man. I count it my greatest failure that I never finished my MA in journalism from NYU. I am distraught every time the thought resurfaces in my mind. Second to that is my failure to be able to continue to live in New York. There's my failure to read as much as I should, to write as well as I should, to film a new video every week and grow my YouTube audience. I fail to love people as well as I should, I fail to be as self-sacrificing as I should, I fail to think about anything but myself most of the time.

I fail. Epically and constantly. 

So yeah, I get it. I'm with you. 

And maybe that's where we find thriving. Maybe that's where we find the strength to carry on. Maybe, it's because we're all in this together (cue Zac Efron crooning and dancing). We hold each other up; we should hold each other up, because it is impossible and unrealistic and frankly a vast misunderstanding of humanity to assume that anyone can do it on their own (yes, doctor from the hospital who dissed me for asking my friends to help me, I am looking at you). 

We're all in this together.

I remind myself, as much as I don't want to, that God is in this with me, too. I believe in the Creator God, the one who was before time and created time and poured his love into me and you and them. I believe He is here, because without that belief?

Without that belief, I don't even survive. 

Oh, this is a long post. I kept typing and typing and waiting for the end to come (much like I felt while watching The Last Jedi this weekend, which, let's be real, is epic). And it's finally here. And I'll leave you with this: we're in this together. I'm here with you. Surviving is hard, thriving even harder, but we can do it. Through community, and faith, and holding hands, we can do it.

On that note, I beg of you: come hold my hand. Help me walk through this darkness. Please. <3 

 

I Am Not Static — And Neither Is My Mental Health Progress

Life with mental illness is less a steady uphill climb and more a torturous hike across a freaking mountain range that stretches from the emergence of symptoms to the end of life. 

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There are those moments when I've been assiduously climbing, I've battled mountain lions and sabertooth tigers, frigid winds and high altitude, avalanches and snow drifts, and I've peaked. I'm on top of the mountain, waving down and smiling to my cheering supporters. 

I am, literally, on top of the world. I am invincible, unconquerable. I am Caesar before Brutus, Napoleon before Russia and again (maybe?) before Waterloo. I have prevailed against my enemy and I shall never be taken down again.

In those moments when the adrenaline is rushing through my veins and I am positively drunk on the joy of not being depressed, I write as though I have conquered this illness for once and for all. 

But then begins the long descent once more into the valley. Each step grows colder, my shoes soaked through until my toes are brittle and liable to snap off, frostbitten. My heart grows heavy and beats louder yet fainter, faster yet slower, in that strange paradox that comes with a new episode of depression.

When I fight battles, I lose; my enemies (depression, anxiety, stress, desperation) overwhelm me and leave me, broken and bloodied, on the mountainous steppes. 

I have hit rock bottom.

Again and again, I hit rock bottom. And again and again, I write about hitting rock bottom.

Is it wearisome to you to go on this rollercoaster with me? It's wearisome to me to live it. Boy, do I wish the battle against depression was one uphill slog, culminating in a nice celebration at the peak where all my friends gather and toast my fortitude with sweet wine. How I wish I had friends...but see, that's the downward slog talking!

I asked if it was wearisome to you to go on this journey with me, but the truth is...I don't care. It's important that you come with me, because I need you to understand. I need you to grasp what it's like living with mental illness. 

Because today I'm...descending.

I was just at the peak, was I not? If I reach backwards, I remember — I was okay. I was so okay, in fact, that I filmed a video talking about why I was so okay!

Look at how okay I am! I am obnoxiously okay! I am gloriously, beautifully, my-hair-is-actually-red-for-onceokay! 

And now?

Now my feet are cold yet again. 

A Depressive Morning, And Learning Just to Breathe...

This morning I woke up and burrowed my head in my pillow, pulled the covers up over my body and stayed in bed way later than I should have. I drank coffee and read the paper and stared at my computer screen. Twice I tried to go eat breakfast. Twice I couldn't muster the energy to grab the box of cereal from the cupboard and pour the milk.

"Just open the blinds and it'll be better," I thought. It doesn't take much to pull the shutters open, but after I'd done that I sank back onto bed, exhausted.

I contemplated going back to bed. I started watching YouTube videos (BookTube, aka Book YouTube, is my new favorite Internet corner) and my stomach growled, so accompanied by the voice of a girl talking about her favorite books, I went to the kitchen.

I ate.

And then I sat and thought about life and how tired I was.

"I should go outside," I thought.

I didn't.

Instead, I put on my comfiest sweater and told myself that today I could take a break. I didn't have to write my novel. I didn't have to work on others' books, or do anything that would stress me out. All I had to do, really, was read a little bit.

And after reading, I was a little enthused. So I began to write. And while writing, I became very enthused. So now I'm here, writing this post, still wearing my comfy sweater that I got at Goodwill that my mom grimaces at (it's like three shades of brown and shapeless; to me, that screams "comfort." To her, not so much :), still on the couch, still sure that if I stop moving, stop the momentum, things will collapse, but hey, I made it this far through the day, didn't I?

I think part of the problem is I'm anxious. And when I have anxious thoughts or anxiety rears its head in me, I don't know what to do with it. I don't know how to handle it. So I turn inward and let my mind run down the usual depressive paths it's wrought over many years. And I begin to sink.

I'm anxious about a lot of things. There are two places I want to live: in New York City, or in Trieste. And neither of those look like a possibility right now. New York is too expensive unless and until I get a full-time salaried job, and I need a visa to live in Italy, and I need a job or student-life to get a visa. 

On the one hand, I know I have two more months here, and that's glorious and decadent in how luxurious that length of time is.

On the other hand, I know after that I'll have to figure out what comes next. And my 26th birthday is only a year and a half away, and when it comes I won't have insurance, and I don't have money for insurance, and who knows if I'll ever get a job, and I've been writing seriously since I was in high school and I still don't have any prospects of making good on my novels and I've gotten a lot of rejections lately and everything is hard and I don't know how to do any of this and what if I never make it and —

Stop.

There are countless, infinite "ands" to work through. There will never stop being things to be anxious about.

So breathe. Just breathe. In, and out, and in, and out. Let it go.

I don't have to plan everything now. I just have to read. I just have to write for today. 

I take selfies when I'm not depressed.&nbsp;

I take selfies when I'm not depressed. 

The future is vast and impossible to see through. So I'm going to do something radical (for me) and stop trying to see through it. 

I'm going to live in this moment, work on this project, read this book, and I'm going to watch BookTube and scroll through Twitter and hang out with children and learn to cook and I'm not going to freak out about things that I can't, at the moment, control.

Because I can't control whether or not someone offers me a job; I can only control how good my application is. I can't control whether or not I get an agent or a book deal; I can only control the books I write. I can't control whether I make it back to New York or Italy; I can only control the fact that I'll try.

And so it is. 

And so I breathe in.

And I let it out. 

And I move to the next task and I ignore the anxiety and the depression that seek to derail me.

I'm Mostly OK...Here Are My Thoughts About Why

It's shocking, at times, the way my mental health ups and downs and all-arounds. 

One day I'm great, the next I'm in the slumps, and afterwards I'm somewhere in-between. Two good days pass, followed by an hour of despair and three of happiness. There's little rhyme or reason, it seems. It just comes and goes at its own speed and its own pleasure.

Except, not so much lately. Lately I've been mostly okay. 

There are probably countless reasons why that is: the fact that I've pushed myself out of several boxes I was existing in, including the self-imposed necessity of living in New York even when my purpose for being there, as well as funds, disappeared. 

I'm sure another factor is the change of scenery. Something about growing up and moving around a lot has sort of trained me to be happiest when I'm in different places most of the time, so being in one place for two years eventually began to wear on me, no matter how much I loved said place. Getting somewhere else is refreshing and works as something of a "reset" button for my mood.

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And of course, there's where I've come to. It's not just that it's in Italy, and it's beautiful and the lifestyle suits me and the food is incredible and all of the coffee is creamy and delicious. It's that it's home. I had mostly good experiences in Italy. I had good friends. I have fond memories. This is not one of the places in the world that triggers various parts of my mind. It soothes me.

All of those are circumstantial reasons why I'm doing better, but there are three that I'm doing, actively and concretely, that I really believe are having an impact on my mental health. 

What are they, you ask? Why, my love, simply watch the video below and you'll find out!

So there you have it: the three things I do, and why I'm passionate about at least one of them, that improve my mood.

I know none of these are world-rocking, brand-new information to anyone. To me, though, it's a new way of living life. It's very different, and I'm very happy with it.

I could always wake up tomorrow (or in half an hour) and be hit with another depressive episode. Because that's the thing about mental illness, it doesn't care at all what you've got going for you. It comes, regardless.

But we can fight it. 

And I'm finally getting started.