Twenty-Six: Celebrating the Flyover Birthday

Trigger warning: depression, suicidal ideation

I’m 26 today. As far as I know, 26 isn’t usually considered a “milestone” birthday. It’s not like 18, when we become adults; 21, when we can legally drink in the States; 25, which is the quarter-century mark.

Upon my 25th birthday, last year.

Upon my 25th birthday, last year.

It’s a flyover birthday, you’d think.

Not this year. Twenty-six is a birthday I have earned. I scraped and clawed and fought to get here today. To make it to this point. 

It has been less than a year since I started seeing my current doctor, about six months that I’ve been seeing my therapist on a weekly basis. There are days I still feel like nothing has changed, like I’m still struggling the way I was all the way back in the fall of 2008 when my small group leader at Black Forest Academy took me to see a counselor for the first time.

There are also days when I feel on top of the world. Days when I recognize I am doing what I can do get healthy, doing what I can to take care of myself and stay alive.

There have been so many times between birthdays 25 and 26 that I didn’t know if I would make it to this day. 

Let me count the people who would be better off if I were dead: 7.7 billion — and mostly the ones who see me every day - so I wish I was dead so I could stop hurting them and hating that I hurt them.

— Dec. 7, 9:15 pm 

A snake thought told me everyone would be better if I died and I let it wrap its hissing tongue around me, let it speak those words to me until I couldn't hear anything else. I just kept picturing myself wading into the water and letting it drown me. I wish I was dead.

— Feb. 12, 6:30 am 

They don't love me, need me, want me...they don't even like me. I'm just here cause they need the numbers. At this point it's not that it'd be better for them if I died. It would be better for me. Give me peace. 

Give me death.

— March 18, 11:15 pm 

I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on March 25th at 2 in the morning. My mind was racing, hands were shaking, I felt nauseous, and through it all I knew, positively and ultimately and with every fiber of my being: I needed help. Immediately.

By the grace of God, by the generosity in time and love of my friends and coworkers, by sheer will and force and stubbornness, I made it to today. I made it to 26.

I don’t expect this year (or the next, or the next) to be any much easier than the past year has been — than the past 10+ years have been.

That’s the thing about living with mental illness. It doesn’t vanish when we want it to. I can’t pop a pill and be better. I’m not in therapy, I don’t see my doctor because I expect them to cure me.

I do that so I can survive the day-to-day.

I’ve made it so far. So much farther than, in my worst moments, I ever thought I would.

Today I’m celebrating because I’m alive. 

I’ve always been someone who loved birthdays. I’ll be upfront and say that so much of that adoration came from the fact that I liked the attention, I liked being celebrated. 

These days, though, part of it is that I’m celebrating life in general. Each birthday is another milestone that I’ve past. Each passing year represents another victory against the forces inside my brain trying to destroy me.

Yes, a hard copy would be a bette picture, but we work with what we’ve got!

Yes, a hard copy would be a bette picture, but we work with what we’ve got!

Here’s the thing: there’s always something to stay alive for. 

I posted once on Twitter about how depressed I was, and someone asked me what I looked forward to. The honest answer in that moment was: new books my favorite authors were releasing (author plug moment! Sandhya Menon releases There’s Something About Sweetie on Tuesday, I’m reading through it and absolutely adore everything about it!).

The other part of the answer was that I knew if I died in that moment I would never know how Brooklyn Nine-Nine ends. 

Today, some things that I want to live for: to go back to Trieste in the summer; to see Rebeca star in a play again; to fall in love in the city; to see my name on the front cover of a book; to go back to Mexico City and visit all the sites this time; to meet all the beautiful people in the world I haven’t met yet and would never meet if I died.

What are you looking forward to?

I Went to Mexico and All I Got was My Beautiful Tattoo

First things first, the title is a joke because I’m not just ridiculously obsessed with my tattoo, I’m also pretty obsessed with Mexico City and would never say that the tattoo is the only good thing to come of my vacation.

I also got great engagement on my Twitter thread!

Ahaha another joke ;) Mostly I just wanted an excuse to make everyone read the thread because, yes, there’s gorgeous pictures, but there’s also a hint at the key takeaway from the trip.

It’s this one.

See, the thing is, ever since I moved to New York City in 2015, I’ve become so much more confident. It’s noticeable in every part of my life, all the way from road tripping from South Carolina to NYC last March on the faintest hint that maybe there was a job, to walking the streets dancing (horribly) without a care, to even planning a solo vacation to another country in the first place.

It’s also clear in the way that I will send my writing, all vulnerable and gut-spilling, out into the world. Has it ever terrified me? I mean…I guess. I truly don’t know anymore.

But I landed in Mexico and within a few moments I was…oh, man. I was a middle schooler again, in a whole new place and surrounded by people I didn’t know and I was terrified.

I texted my coworker at one point just to say…I CAN’T ORDER FOOD!!! I swear, every time I went out to eat, I would carefully choose the restaurant beforehand and just…something went wrong? Twice I couldn't even find the restaurant, as though it had vanished into a wall.

And then I ended up somewhere entirely different, and my well-laid plans (which included what to order!) were all out the window. Which is how I ended up with Pizza al Pastor one day (strange, but it worked!) and that shrimp plate another (I had the hardest time getting the shells off, and it was such a fancy restaurant, and I was like the only person there eating, and I all but had a meltdown).

The other thing I realized really quickly after getting there was…I was exhausted. Like, physically just worn on out. I’d worked the past 12 months without really any vacation days, just weekends; I was also flipping from an overnight to a daytime schedule on a dime, just flying to another country and hoping I could handle the change.

Technically, I could, but the payoff was that my body forced me to sleep about 12 hours every single one of the nights I was in Mexico City. Honestly I’m not even complaining about that because man was it needed, except of course all of my well-laid plans for tourist activities (Palais de Bellas Artes! Walking tour of downtown! Chapultepec Castle! A rooftop jazz concert!) just…evaporated.

I would leave the house, take an Uber to the carefully selected (and usually, again, somehow invisible!!!!) restaurant, find a new place to eat, and by the time I was done, I just…couldn’t anymore.

At first I felt a bit like a failure for that.

Okay, “a bit” is a lie. I felt a lot like a failure. Until I realized there were still things I was out there seeing and enjoying and reveling in: for one, the parks. There’s so many gorgeous parks, and then so many trees in full-bloom just chilling on the sidewalk. It’s such a vibrantly colored city, not just in the architecture (which is gorgeous) but in the flowers, the trees, the richness of the flora. April was a good time to go, y’all.

Got off-track for a second there but now I’m back to say: I felt, for a while there, pretty guilty about how I was vacationing. I mean, come on, it’s not every day you get to go to Mexico! Why wasn’t I taking full advantage of where I was? Why was I so tired that, even arriving at Bosque de Chapultepec, at the foot of the castle that I had been so anxious and excited about visiting, I turned tail and went back to my Airbnb? Why couldn’t I convince my brain to wake up earlier than 11 a.m. or even noon, when at home in New York, there are days I barely sleep 4-5 hours and still manage to get up on time?

I don’t have all the answers. I know that I felt terrible, though, enough to Tweet another #KarisGoesOnVacay tweet, apart from the thread, about my feelings of guilt, loneliness, depression, anxiety.

…I’m tired. My body just aches. I leave the house for an hour and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. My brain feels like it’s been turned into freaking mashed potatoes. And the more I beat myself up for not being able to just SUCK IT UP and have fun, the more I get depressed. And feel like I’m never going to be who I want to be. 

I try to live by radical honesty. So today’s dose of honesty? I am exhausted. I want to curl up in bed. I don’t know what to do with myself for two more days that stretch on and on. So. There it is.

So in the end, when people ask me “how was Mexico?” or “did yo have just the best time?” I…don’t know how to answer them. Because truthfully, Mexico was (and remains) an incredible place. Mexico City is gorgeous, warm and welcoming and filled with beautiful architecture, a history you could study for ages and not get to the bottom of, friendly people who put up with my stumbling Spanish and were willing to combine our languages when we needed. It’s a city filled with tourists but it’s a city that is home to so many people, and that’s a combination that’s rare to achieve: so many touristy cities are so crammed with camera-wielding tourists that it’s hard to get a sense for the realness of the place.

So how was Mexico? It is glorious.

Did I have just the best time? I had a good time. I had a restful time. I had a stressful time, a lonely time, a sometimes-depressed time, an anxious time, a time-of-stressing-about-work time. It was so many things.

Nothing will ever be just “one” thing. No experience will ever be easily and neatly wrapped up in a bow. This vacation was no different. I will never regret it, not even the fact that I went alone. I will never regret the permanent mark on my skin that reminds me of the time I was spontaneous and brave enough to go to Mexico alone, even if I lost that courage in the country.

Baby steps, I guess.