"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.

 

 

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. 

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.