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.

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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

"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.

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.