Honestly, I don’t have a lot of fight left in me today.
When I moved out of my parent’s house, I thought that was the answer. Misery stems from circumstances, right? If I could remove myself from a dark situation, it would get better. If I changed everything, there would no longer be a reason to be sad or anxious or angry. So I fell in love with a new city and claimed it as home. I believed so wholeheartedly that my home life had been holding me back, never allowing me to be my best self, and I fully expected that I would suddenly turn into the incredible human being I knew I could be.
Convinced that my happy and wholesome version of myself was an extrovert, I pushed through as much of my social anxiety as I could. After about two weeks of shallow, panicked breathing when I interacted with pretty much anyone, I thought I was making progress. So much progress, that when a guy I didn’t recognize got into the elevator with me and asked for my same floor, I decided to introduce myself.
“Oh, you’re on the sixth floor, too? What’s your name?” It came out of my mouth more like a single sentence.
“Yeah. My name is Zach.”
It was my time to shine. Caught up in the excitement of my accomplishment in extroversion, I blurted out, “OHMYGOSH, MY NAME IS ZACH!”
It is, dear readers, most certainly, not Zach.
I stared at the floor dazed at the fact that I had utterly failed to tell someone my own name after eighteen years of having it. To make it worse, we had an audience in the elevator, and the two girls behind me started busting up laughing. The elevator doors opened, and Zach swiftly exited. Thankfully he lived on the left side of the dorm, so I could freely beeline to my right-side room in self-wallowing. A few days later, when my bruised ego was beginning to heal, I saw him in the hallway and waved. He did not wave back, and I realized he had probably concluded that I had mocked him, because seriously… someone earnestly failing to introduce themselves correctly is ridiculous.
Despite my efforts, my best self did not emerge that year. Freshman year held more trials than I expected, and though I mostly was free from my family, I was the same person. It wasn’t until spring term, when I confessed I had not yet emerged from my cocoon of mediocrity, that I realized why. I laid in bed, thinking. Why am I like this? Listing every possible reason I could, I tried to answer the question. If there were something in my life I needed to fix so I could be better, I would change it in a heartbeat.
If there is nothing I can find in my life that is holding me back, then that means… the problem is me.
To think I had put all my hopes of happiness into escaping circumstances that were irrelevant was devastating. It didn’t matter where I was, who I was with, or what was going on. I can’t ever escape myself. Over five years later, you’d think this would be easier to come to terms with, but it isn’t.
A beloved friend of mine has helped remind me of my sanity throughout the years. Countless times I’ve asked him, “Am I crazy?” and he always responded with a firm, “No.” As we’ve gotten older, his answer has changed. “Am I crazy?” I said into the phone last year. A pause.
“I think we’re all a little crazy.”
I think he’s right. That answer was more comforting to me than the entire history of “no”.
The past year or so I have embraced crazy. It still is more appealing to me than perpetually sad. When my life gets too normal, I wonder why I’m living it. Not because I have a strong drive to be extraordinary, or that there is anything wrong with normal. When things get too routine and mundane, my soul goes on autopilot. Life becomes a never-ending task list on a giant orb that refuses to stop spinning and time is a structure only relevant to those who care about their task list. I have existential crises about the minimal difference I could make on anything as a tiny speck in the universe and the lack of purpose behind putting my laundry away because the sun will burn out eventually.
Then something unexpected will happen. Never anything huge, but some small reprieve from solitary confinement in my mind. A text from an old friend. A funny interaction with a stranger. A moment of laughter when I was sure I was incapable. Something that piques my interest, as if God is whispering, “Pay attention.” I throw myself down every rabbit hole. Whatever ridiculousness lies in them for me, I’ll take it. Anything to remind me to feel this as fully as I can for as long as I’m able.
I get called ridiculous a lot. My stories tend to start with things like, “I once bought a wig named ‘sex kitten’ to wear to a club for my friend’s 21st” or “Have I ever told you about the totally-not-photoshopped picture I have of me running into Ryan Reynolds’ arms?” While some of the things that occur in my life are beyond my doing, most of it is intentional. Being able to laugh makes it better. If it makes you laugh, too, then that’s a bonus, but it’s truly for me.
While laughter is my best trait, it’s also my worst habit. I can dodge almost anything with humor, and I’m a nervous laugher, so anxiety makes it worse. Remember when “kill yourself” jokes were a thing? I’m convinced most of us that made those were suicidal. It was the most socially acceptable way to say what we were thinking and have everyone be able to laugh it off with us. Mental health awareness has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go.
Last night someone told a story and mentioned that there was a guy who locked himself in the bathroom at a party so he could lay in the bathtub drinking a whole bottle of champagne, and I laughed saying that’s basically me. It really isn’t. I rarely go to parties, I’ve never drunk a whole bottle of wine, and I certainly haven’t locked myself in a bathroom alone with one in the bathtub. But it’s ridiculous, and I’ll claim it. I’ve been exhausted all week, and extremely tired me left this poem on my phone before falling asleep with it in my hand.
Locked in the Bathroom with a Bottle of Champagne
Am I all right?
I thought I was.
As sores formed in my mouth
And nausea hit me out of nowhere,
I wondered if it were true.
“It’s because of stress,”
I said, an easy explanation.
If I were to treat my body as a temple,
It will all pass.
I prepped meals with protein and fiber
To soothe my muscles after morning runs.
By 10:30 PM the lights were out,
And for seven nights in a row,
I got my eight and a half hours.
Eight cups of water was the minimum per day.
I laughed with my friends,
Sought out quiet time with my God,
Took joy in housework.
The sores healed,
But it hurt worse.
I can’t drink when I’m at my worst
So I guess I’m getting by,
But I have this curse of being reminded
That when my diet isn’t broken
That when my sleep is deep
That when my body is worked
That when it’s fully hydrated,
The thing that is still broken
Yeah, guess I’m totally fine.
I knew this breakdown was coming, though. My body showed the signs before I felt it, and I’ve lived like this long enough to recognize the signs. (To my friends who saw some of this and checked in, know I love you). Honestly, it’s easier to live with depression when you have something to blame other than your own faulty head. The conclusion “I’m tired because I stayed up late” is much more satisfying than “I’m permanently exhausted regardless of my sleeping habits and likely will be for 98 percent of my life because of a chemical imbalance in my brain”. Similarly, having a breakdown after you’ve had some fantastic circumstances is equally dissatisfying. Nothing feels quite like having an amazing weekend with people you adore and wanting to sob the entire time.
They’re never happy tears, either. It feels like grief. No one’s dead, but my brain is set on mourning their loss. It’s wild how when the soul is in pain, everything else is too. Everything aches from the inside out.
Not everyone needs the same thing to soothe the soul, but I’ll share with you my healing habits.
- Get up and make yourself some tea, or whatever warm, comforting beverage you prefer.
- Listen to “The Nutritionist” by Andrea Gibson. I’m linking it below, and I’m telling you, if you’ve made it this far in this post, watch it before moving forward. Do it for me.
- Read C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. This is likely my most read book in my lifetime. Lewis tries to intellectually process his grief after losing his wife to cancer, and it’s beautifully broken, raw, and honest. The grieving process is familiar to me, and his words are particularly comforting from a religious viewpoint. For those of you who are like me and have been told you aren’t praying hard enough, read this.
- milk and honey by rupi kaur. The first time you read this, savor it and take your time. On my bad days, I devour it in one sitting.
- Spend time with a friend. I get restless being alone, but I don’t want to explain myself or talk about what’s wrong. If I knew, I’d do something about it. So usually I’ll call someone, just to talk. Maybe we’ll talk about nothing for an hour, but it’s an hour that someone is there with me, and I need that. Not questions about what I’ve tried, what could have caused it, why it’s happening again, but to be with someone who knows me and cares. I also accept hugs, but quality time is better.
- Allow yourself room to be broken. If you need to call out from work or an obligation, do it. If you need to play a sad playlist on repeat all day, do it. Give yourself a day, but not a week. You must acknowledge the wounds exist and need treatment for them to heal properly. Take your time, love.
I fully recognize that my ability to do all these things thoroughly today is a massive privilege. Not everyone can step away from obligations, or has time to read two books, or even time to call a loved one. Today I was blessed in being able to read both books cover to cover, and I haven’t had that luxury in quite awhile. Do what you can.
To those of you who are on this journey with me, remember you’re not alone. I see you. You are loved. Don’t give up on us just yet. There are more rabbit holes to dive into, more laughs, more healing. I can’t promise you we’ll all make it to the finish line, but we’ll do our damnedest. Sometimes our damnedest will look like crying in bed, and that’s okay. I’ve written enough goodbyes with God reading over my shoulder to know that maybe our hearts have only skinned their knees, but there is a beauty in brokenness that can’t be found anywhere else.
To those of you who aren’t on this path, you have a responsibility. Listen. Educate yourselves about mental health and check in on your friends. One of our common fears is to be a burden on others, to cause discomfort, and to have our feelings invalidated. I tell people I’m a sad person all the time; it shouldn’t take tears for you to believe me. If you care, pay attention, or learn how to. We’re too busy slaying our own dragons to have time to educate you, but Google is a good place to start.
My last counselor made me promise to be more honest and lean on my friends more. I think it’s good advice for us all, really. Today was #NationalSuicidePreventionDay so this post is a day late, but I think we need more suicide prevention lifestyles than days anyways. I may not have a lot of fight left in me today, but there’s always enough.
To those who have held me, encouraged me, listened to me, and most of all walked with me throughout the years, I can’t thank you enough.