*This post discusses mental health of a twenty-something girl, trying to navigate through the complexities of life in her own, meaningful way using storytelling (with occasional use of profanities).
I’ve been living in the gray area between “I’m okay” and “I feel like I’m dying.” When asked how I am, I struggle with which is the more appropriate response. I’m feeling both so deeply, but I’m also tired of talking about my problems. So, I go with the former. I’m able to comprehend the emotions that I’m feeling, but they aren’t truly resonating.
I come home and take a bath, the water so hot it instantly causes pain. I like this sensation-- it takes me out of my head and into my physical body-- just for a few minutes until I get used to the temperature. These moments of reprieve are what I’m after. I sink down and submerge my head under the water. The sounds of my apartment are muted and all I can hear is my breathing. I try to stay down for as long as I can, but I forget how to breathe out through my nose. I’m so used to breathing in, holding my breath and body in tension. I come up for air and end up choking.
I think about a moment I had in December when I thought my world was going to crash in around me. I had been dealing with some health issues that I wasn’t comfortable disclosing to anyone. I remember sitting on the table in the doctor’s office, my eyes swollen from crying, my stomach in knots waiting for the results of a test. I watched the scenario I was dreading play out in my head like a cinematic short. Christmas music cheerily playing in the background, my world unravelling right before my eyes. In this moment, I thought about how one single decision can change the course of your entire life.
I turned 24 on January 14th, a Tuesday. I worked all day and into the evening. I remember being younger and making an entire day out of my birthday, or even a weekend. Getting older and becoming an adult used to excite me, I used to dream about the life I would have when I was in my twenties. I’d have a car, a credit card, a good job, a nice place to live. I have all of these things now and they are so much less significant than I thought they would be. I wish I could’ve held onto that innocence a little bit longer.
As an individual with depression, living in the gray seems to be the only place that feels like home. You never want to feel high because you know the fallout will be super low. And then low only gets lower. So, you start to create habits and patterns that suffice. You start to function in survival mode. You accept behaviors and actions from others that you normally wouldn’t, solely for the sake of keeping the peace and not losing your sanity. You start to hurt people that care about you, thinking that your selfishness is simply a defense mechanism.
If I shut these people out, I can internalize all that is going on in my head and figure it out on my own.
I’ve found that this method works temporarily until something happens that sets a timer off in my brain. It’s then a countdown to the breakdown that’s about to ensue.
The apartment that I’ve lived in for years suddenly feels foreign to me. I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed because I don’t want to walk into the room where I had a fight with someone that I deeply cared about a few nights ago. Instead, I’ll choose to put my head back under the covers and avoid the place that I’ve built as my own. All of the good times, all of my belongings, my records, my artwork; it holds no value. It isn’t mine. I was never here. I start to feel people around me changing, and suddenly I need to change. I need to move out of this apartment and start my new life somewhere else. Somewhere where the bad memories won’t follow. I need to immerse myself into other things to feel new again, a rebirth of sorts.
I often have the urge to change things about myself. Never internal things, only external. Forget about trying to be a better person, I’d rather just drop a few pounds and dye my hair blonder. That’ll make me feel like a different person. I can hide my struggles within myself, tuck them away for a later date of dealing. I look in the mirror and realize that nothing has changed. I see a shell of a person that was once whole.
It’s discouraging when you realize the things you thought would change your life don’t. It’s the unexpected that has the most impact.
The truth is, life is hard. It kicks you when you’re down. It rewards you when you don’t deserve to be rewarded. It is simultaneously the greatest and the worst thing that can happen
to a person. Mental health issues are so frequently written and talked about in this age, yet they can still seem so immense when you’re in the throes of them. No amount of googling, self-help reading, manic decluttering, alcohol, pills, time spent alone, validation seeking, working, exercising, dating, or changing can make you better. I am not a professional in any regard, but I have dealt with depression and anxiety for a long time. I know what it feels like to feel nothing and everything all at once. It’s indescribable. To feel scared and alone and anxious and angry within a matter of minutes, all of these emotions coursing through your veins, one after the other.
Perhaps the most exhaustive component of depression is the cycling between being ill and getting better—like when you catch a cold, you wonder why you ever took not coughing and blowing your nose forty times an hour for granted. When your heart is in a million pieces and you can’t breathe or formulate a sentence, you wonder why you ever spent one second of time fighting with the person you love. Why couldn’t I just fucking fight FOR love. Why does every move I make push me further and further from the woman I know I’m supposed to be?
I struggle daily with the overwhelm of this thing called life that we’re all participating in like it’s a contest. I get flustered easily; I have more trouble focusing on work now than I did when I was a college student. I find myself disagreeing with and questioning things that I wouldn’t have in the past. It seems like the more time that passes, the more cracks I find. I beat myself up over this because I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who finds the silver lining in everything. My problem, however, is that I’m not naïve enough to believe that there is one. And that’s okay. With each day, I’m learning. Some days I wake up and don’t recognize myself. Others, I’ve never felt more at home.
I’ve learned that the things that shattered your world come back together to form something that resembles a sphere that you can inhabit again.
The takeaway, or what I hope to portray, is that struggling with your own head is like living two people’s lives at once. It can feel like two separate identities. Questioning who you are and what the fuck you’re doing at least twelve times a day gets old, fast. The best thing you can do for yourself, in my experience, is to realize that you’re human and you’re you.
Your face is never going to look like someone you see at the grocery store or on Instagram. Your waist size could very likely never be as small as you want it to be. You may never be the smartest person in the room, but you still add value. Maybe you didn’t earn a 4.0 GPA, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that you got the degree. Maybe the person you’re in love with isn’t in love with you anymore. Maybe the connection you once felt with a best friend suddenly feels all wrong.
It’s all okay. You are you, and you have to remain constant. There’s no progress in remaining stagnant. Deriving your happiness and sense of self-worth via external validation will leave you feeling empty, helpless, and alone—I learned this lesson the hard way. So, take it day by day—or maybe even hour by hour. Decide what’s important to you and what isn’t. Do the work, dig deeper, and find out what is causing the way you’re feeling. It isn’t easy—this I know. But there is no other choice. Failing out of your own life was never in the cards for you. Keep pushing and know that you’re never alone.