It’s Going to be Alright.

It’s been a rough week.

I’m doing everything right.  I’ve been drinking lots of water, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and spending at least seven hours in bed every night.  I’ve even gone to the gym a few times.  I’ve been spending time with friends, going to therapy, and taking my meds.  I still feel terrible.

People talk about depression like it’s just about feeling sad.  But for me, depression has always been more about feeling empty.  I start to feel like I’m moving through molasses.  Everyday chores like laundry and cooking become a huge struggle.  It’s hard to get out of bed or off the couch.  It’s hard to leave my apartment.  There’s so much to do, but I’m so anxious about everything that I get paralyzed, stuck, and it all just keeps piling up.  Everything seems so hopeless.  I can’t stop telling myself sad stories.  I start to wonder why I should even try.  I always think that King Solomon must have been depressed when he wrote Ecclesiastes.  “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

On bad days, it becomes a struggle just to take care of myself.  My appetite is weird, and I’m so apathetic that I’m usually dizzy before I really start to think about getting something to eat.  I’ll get thirsty or cold, but I won’t do anything about it until I have to get up for something else.  I find myself thinking about razor blades as a coping mechanism.  It gets ugly sometimes.

When I first started struggling with depression, my parents treated it like a major moral failure.  They acted like I’d gotten addicted to drugs or been sleeping around and picked up an STD.  They still talk about that period that way, and I’ve internalized the idea that my mental illness is a character flaw.   Deep down, I still feel like I wouldn’t be dealing with this if I were an intrinsically better person.

In reality, I’m doing everything that I can.  I’m going to therapy, taking my meds, and doing the best self-care I am capable of.  Most days are just one foot in front of the other.  Monday and Tuesday were brutal, and I didn’t leave the house or put on real clothes.  Tuesday I took a shower and ran two loads of laundry.  Yesterday, I ate three meals, showered, and went to work.  Every night, I remind myself that I get another chance tomorrow.  Every morning, I try to make today a better day.  If it’s a bad day, I make my goals “eat something” and “take a shower.”  If it’s a good day, I’ll try to get to the gym, do a little cleaning, and spend some time with my guitar.  If I’m somewhere in the middle, I prioritize a healthy diet, good sleep, and overall improvement.  I’m getting better at rolling with the punches.

Maybe someday my brain won’t be my worst enemy, but in the meantime I’m learning not to be so hard on myself.  Bad days happen, but life goes on afterwards.  Missing a few checks on the to-do-list on those bad days won’t ruin my life.  My life is going to happen, no matter what, and I’m going to make it the best I can.  It’s going to be alright.


With Apologies to Yeats, It’s Not the End of the World

It’s been a while since I had panic attacks.  But the last few weeks, I’ve felt overwhelmed all the time.  Between my family and school and two jobs and my brother’s not-quite-heart-attack and the guy who broke into my apartment and graduation looming on the horizon (Christmas looming even closer), sometimes it feels like everything is falling apart, collapsing in and trapping me underneath.  So, I panic.

Panic is bad.  Panic is unproductive.  Panic generally leads me to sit on my bed and talk myself out of bad habits (like large pepperoni pizzas, or fiction instead of homework, or on really bad days razor blades and bandages and the mantra, “Just once, just a little one, and I’ll feel better”).  This way lies madness.

I’m thinking about going back on meds.  The idea of taking that little blue pill every day makes me feel bad and weak and ugly, but logically I know that’s not true.  Logically, I know that recognizing my need for help and asking for it only makes me strong.

Sometimes, when I’m lucky, panic also leads to poetry.  I’m not exactly sure how this works, but if I can snag a solid phrase in the middle of all the heart-pounding, mindless terror, sometimes it leads me out of that part of my head and into a more productive space.  That happened tonight (thank goodness), and I decided to share the results.  Let me know what you think of my first attempt at a video!


Six Years Later (A Letter to My 19 Year Old Self)

College was an incredibly dark time for me.  I struggled with anxiety and depression and considered taking my own life several times.  My 24th birthday, almost exactly five years after everything got ugly, was incredibly special to me as it was the first birthday in years that I was truly happy to be celebrating.  At that point, I began trying to write this letter as a way to say goodbye to the part of me that didn’t survive those dark experiences.  Several months ago, I finally got it right.  Today, I am posting it in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week with the hope that it will help and inspire others who are struggling in the midst of similar darkness.

Hello, 19 year-old me.

I’ve been trying to write this for almost a year, now.  I’ve thought about it on the bus and in the car.  I’ve put pen to paper time and time again, only to crumple it up and throw it all away.  But I think I’m finally ready to come back and talk to you, to consider the girl I left behind.

Life seems pretty confusing, doesn’t it?  The bottom has dropped out of your world, and right now, you’re in free fall.  You feel scared.  You feel alone.

I want you to know that it gets better.  (That will be ironically funny in a few years.  Just wait.)

I also want you to know that first it gets worse.

The free fall ends with a bang.  You drop out of school in lieu of failing everything.  You feel like a failure anyway.  You go back to your parents on hands and knees, trying to make the world make sense again, and spend a terrifying six months adrift in a sea of your father’s rages and your mother’s standards while trying to remember how to wear the masks and dance the dances like you used to.

In the end, you realize that you will never get that person back.  In the end, you will realize that you cannot tie the blinders back on and go forward in the old, comfortable ignorance.  Instead, you learn to detach.  For a while, you detach from everything, which is almost as scary as that seemingly endless free-fall.  But little by little, you start to wake up again.  The cold, dead parts of you thaw and find that life is still worth living.  You remember how to be passionate about things.  You find a way forward.  You learn how to love and be loved, and you find out what real friendships are like.

It’s a confusing road.  There is no map.  There are hard decisions to make and stand by.  There is medication and boundaries and therapy and journaling and razor blades.  You gain about a hundred pounds.  You chop all your hair off, grow it back out, and then realize that you were happier keeping it short.  You have panic attacks.  You get good at deep breathing exercises.

I wish I could tell you that in six years everything will be wonderful.  I wish I could tell you that after all of that, life makes sense.  The truth is that sometimes I still wake up and wonder if getting out of bed is worth it.  There are still nights when I wish I had a handy razor blade.  There are still days when it’s hard to leave my apartment.

But the truth is also that there are more good days than bad, now.  The truth is that you will learn to have grace for yourself, and the bad days don’t seem as terrible after that.  The truth is that having all the answers seems less important now and that forward progress is the only measuring stick that really matters.

The truth is I have hope.  You will have hope.

I want you to know that even in the darkest moments of the next six years there will be flashes of light.  I want you to know that God never fails to provide for you or to rescue you, even though he seems late a few times.  I want you to know that the loneliness doesn’t last forever.

There will be a day when, after months of wishing you could fall asleep and never wake up, you will wake up and be happy to be alive.  There will be a day when you crouch outside of a classroom having a very quiet panic attack and then find the strength to go inside instead of going home.  There will be a day when you look at a graduate school website and know that you are not good enough, and there will be a day when you finally get your acceptance letter from that very same school.  There will be many days when you wonder if you will survive to walk across the stage at commencement, and there will be a day when you receive two degrees with honors.

Your life looks different than you planned, but it is beautiful all the same.

In the meantime, keep pushing forward, even when it all seems uphill, even when it’s too dark to see.  You’ll come out on the other side.  I’ll be there waiting.


Everyday Best

I haven’t posted in ages.  I was sick most of last week between a badly timed bout of PMS and something that seemed to start out as a sinus infection and ended up as a bad cold.  I feel like I just can’t get traction this semester.  I feel like everything is moving too fast, and there’s no possible way to keep up.  I’m starting to feel the pressure of what-are-you-going-to-do-next, and sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m doing now.

When I was 8 years old, I felt God’s call to missions.  Over the years, I’ve wrestled with the details of that calling, as it led me towards Africa, then towards a specific country, towards teaching, then medicine, then finally public health.  And on one hand, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.  But another part of me is terrified that I’m not going to be in the right place to take the next step, and yet another part wonders what, exactly my “call to missions” will look like in action since I’m fairly certain I’m not interested in doing traditional missions or working with a heavily faith-influenced organization.

And then there’s so much else going on in my life right now.  I don’t have time to worry about the next step, because I’m trying to figure out how to keep from relapsing into depression and how to live like a normal person after 3 years of panic attacks and meds.  I’m trying to figure out who I am after all of that.  I’m trying to figure out what I actually believe about God and how that impacts my every-day life.  I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to be alone forever and how I feel about that, particularly since I can’t count on my family for support.

I’m trying to grow up.  It’s more complicated than it looks.

Life doesn’t stop so I can deal with things.  I’m honestly not sure I would get anything done if it did.  But somehow, I have to believe that God will offer me time to work out what’s important and grace for what’s not.  Somehow I have to believe that the part of me that wants stability and companionship isn’t somehow entirely outside of God’s will.

Maybe that’s my challenge for Lent.  Maybe it’s in this time of preparation that I need to begin to make space in my life for questions, not by allowing them to overwhelm me, but by putting boundaries around them.  Maybe I can fast from doubting and enjoy my life.  Maybe I can fast from worrying and focus on the present.

I’ve always been afraid of missing God’s “best” for me.  I think it’s a common concern for kids raised in evangelical churches.  But I’m beginning to realize that God’s best isn’t just in the broader arc of my life.  It’s in the smaller spaces, too.  God wants his best for me every single day.


On Being Balanced

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, and always have been.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  When I commit to something, I do so wholeheartedly.  I make projects that I am invested in a priority, and I am willing to go above and beyond to make them work.  This makes me a committed student and employee as long as I care about my classes and job.  If I can get involved in things I am passionate about, this is a definite strength.

At other times, my intensity becomes an issue.  I tend to over-commit.  I tend to dig my heels in and try to do something on strength of will alone.  Every part of a project feels like my baby, so I struggle to delegate or ask for help.

Also, I’m not good at balance.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling so much better.  I had some energy back.  I wasn’t dealing with so much background anxiety.  I made it to work on time, went to all of my classes, and ate fairly well.  I was starting to feel like I had escaped the slump and had my life back under control.

I dived back into things headfirst, and promptly over-scheduled myself.  I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS that I had been missing.  I wanted to socialize, attend lectures, and go to club meetings.  The first blush of normalcy after a period of depression is always a little intoxicating, and I got drunk on it.  I over-scheduled my weekend, shorted myself on sleep, and left absolutely no time to recharge.

Needless to say, last week didn’t go so well.

So, here I am, reminding myself that I am an introvert.  As much as I love having friends and hanging out, I need unstructured time to myself.  I need time to write and make music and read fluffy nonsense.  I need time alone without a to-do list or expectations.  I have to find a balance between social time, professional time, and “me” time.

I am also recovering from a long period of depression and a more recent small relapse.  I have to take care of myself.  I have to eat well and sleep well.  I have to move a little every day.  I have to watch my self-talk and monitor my habits for signs that things are not going well.

This weekend, I did better.  I worked some on Friday, but chose not to go to the career fair.  I spent Saturday at home, allowing myself the unstructured time I needed to recharge.  I spent Sunday socializing and working on homework.  Today, I woke up feeling well-rested and ready for my week.  I met with two of my professors this morning to talk about classes I missed, and now I’m settled into a to-do list full of homework and chores.  This evening, I’ll work for a few hours, finish up the homework, and go to bed with a clear conscience, ready to head to class bright and early tomorrow morning.


Sleep: Not Just for the Weak

Sleep is important.  That should probably be obvious, but sometimes I need a reminder.  Which is why I’m so glad I have my best friend to remind me when I get into a funk that the best way out is to “sleep well, eat well, and socialize.”

I need sleep.  There was a time when I functioned well on a limited amount of sleep.  As long as I had a shower, a good breakfast and some caffeine, I would be fine.  Even if I’d only slept a couple of hours, I could stumble through my day.  That has gotten less true over the years.  Now, I’m basically a zombie if I haven’t slept.  I’m slow and anti-social and it tends to induce migraines.  It’s not a pretty picture.

Even more than that, though, my sleeping habits are generally a good picture of how I’m doing mentally and emotionally.  If I can’t sleep, there’s a problem.  Even if I can sleep, sometimes I just won’t.  When I’m a little down or anxious, sometimes I just find it really hard to go to bed.  I’ve actually been known to completely flip my sleep cycle this way without intending to.  It’s like some utterly illogical part of my brain is convinced that if I stay up a little longer, I won’t have to deal with tomorrow.

For me, getting good sleep is part of staying well.  It’s part of being able to function like a normal human being.  It’s part of being happy.  As such, I’ve developed a few rules:

  1. Find a bedtime and stick to it.  This is definitely the hardest one for me.  I love staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends.  But if I’m going to sleep well during the week, I have to stick to this one.  I make it work by not setting my alarm on the weekends, so I still get a little bit of a treat.
  2. Beds are only for sleeping.  And sex, if you’re having it.  But not for anything else.  I cheat on this one a little sometimes by sitting on my bed to work around midday, if I’m home, but I’m more careful about it in the morning and at night.  I’m also a lot stricter about it when I know I’m having trouble.
  3. Get rid of ambient light and noise.  Turn off all the lights.  Get blackout shades if you have to.  Dim your alarm clock or turn it away.  Turn on a fan or buy a white noise machine to cover up noisy neighbors or traffic.  Having consistent conditions like this will help you develop a better sleep pattern.

Obviously, I’m writing about this because I’m not sleeping well, and that tends to affect my whole life.  Last week was so much better, but I’m still trying to find my feet in these new, better habits.  I can do it.  I just need a reminder, sometimes, of what it takes.

How do you notice you’re struggling?


Think on These Things

I took a bit of a break last week to get re-engaged with real life.  It was a busy week.  I started Tuesday a little behind, which seemed to snowball through my schedule.  Additionally, I tend to over-schedule myself with social activities when I’ve been hermit-y, so my weekend was a bit crazy.

Last week wasn’t perfect by any means.  I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked.  I didn’t cook as much as I would have liked.  My apartment was a huge mess until yesterday, and now my bedroom is a huge mess because I shoved most of the clutter in there before company came over.  I didn’t get any exercise, and I didn’t practice my guitar.

It’s easy for me to get distracted by these things.  It’s easy for me to look at my life and see all of the less-than-perfect moments that fill in the cracks and spaces in my day.  It’s easy to look around and see all of the things that I’ve let slide.

But I’m trying to stay focused on the positive, so one of the Sanity Manifesto points that I really focused on last week was to write down three things each day that I was grateful for (#20).  I didn’t actually write mine down, but after I turned out the lights each night as I was drifting off to sleep, I counted down three good things about that day.  It helped my perspective.  It helped me see that last week was not just a crazy, busy week in which I failed to meet some of my goals.  Instead, it helped me to reframe last week as a crazy, busy week in which I met many of my goals despite a hectic schedule.

So, what went well last week?  I got to all of my classes, and was only late once.  I completed all of the assignments that were due.  I spent time with friends outside of school.  I spent at least some time with God every day.  I listened to some good music every day.  I studied and worked and wore makeup every day.  I kept going.

I think the last thing is the biggest for this week.  When things got crazy or I hadn’t had enough sleep, I didn’t retreat into my shell and refuse to engage with the world.  Instead, I took a deep breath, thought about the bigger picture and kept moving forward.  When I was running late for class on Thursday, I didn’t get anxious over walking in late.  I kept pushing forward.  When I had company coming over and I was running behind schedule, I didn’t call off the event.  I decided that welcoming people into my home was more important than appearing to be an obsessive housekeeper and that friendship would overcome an unvacuumed floor.

I’m learning to let go of perfection.  I’m learning to focus on the positive.  I’m learning to live where I am instead of wishing myself six steps ahead.

What were you grateful for this week?