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 

 

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. 

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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.