What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I'm in a strange place right now. It's not necessarily a bad place to be, but it's strange.
For the past two years, I've been pushing everything down deep into my heart's depths. There's a closet in the main hall of my parents' house, and if you open the door, you can't get it closed afterwards. The closet is overflowing with relics of our family's past -- old coats, mismatched shoes and school bags -- and if you try to take anything out of that closet, you will find yourself leaning into the door with all the weight of your body, trying to shove that door closed.
My mind keeps returning to that feeling, that frustrated pushing against all of my memories, good and bad. I might be taking the metaphor too far, but I need to stop trying to close that door and just let things tumble out for once. Because all the stuff shoved in there has been eating me up inside, and I'm just so tired of it.
I'm not in the deepest depths of misery right now. I've been there before, but not now. I can still get out of bed in the morning, before noon. I shower, I do my hair and put on makeup and nice clothes and I leave the house. I make small talk. I run errands.
But sometimes my skin feels like it's on fire, sometimes my appetite disappears and I vomit. I cry. I get headaches. I've lost weight in the last few weeks. Sometimes my heart beats so fast it feels like it's going to jump out of my throat.
So I've developed a plan of action. An essential part of that plan is continuing to take medication. I can respect people who can live a life without the help of pills, but I know that I need them. I will rely on them probably until the day I die, and I've made peace with that. But just as insulin isn't a cure for diabetes, my medication is not going to magically cure my anxiety and depression. It's just one step in a grander scheme on my road to getting and feeling better.
1. For One Thing, Therapy
In my life, I've seen a lot of doctors and counselors. But I don't think I've ever really been in therapy. Various professionals have helped me scratch the surface of what's going on, have provided me with a diagnosis and some advice here and there, but I've never opened up to anyone fully.
In the past, I didn't want to bore or burden a therapist, which is a really stupid way of looking at it, isn't it? I don't think someone would take on the task of talking to people about their lives for a living if they felt bored or burdened by that task. So I'm finally ready to open up and let someone else sift through the tangles of my brain with me, because I'm so sick of keeping it all inside.
2. Reminding Myself
Self-care can, at times, be incredibly cheesy. It is something I have found requires a lot of affirmations, which frequently feel like they've been pulled from terrible office motivational posters plastered with the image of someone scaling Everest. But for me, affirmations work. First, there's Calming Manatee, the silliest resource for serious depression and anxiety that I have discovered. I mean, it's photos of manatees plastered with phrases that you'd expect from a close friend or your mother. But the silliness works.
Then there are my iPhone reminders, which are even sillier because I pepper them with ridiculous emojis.
Set to go off throughout the day, every day, these are simple reminders that seem so logical and yet are incredibly easy to forget. It's kind of remarkable how the smallest actions can have such a big impact on my wellbeing.
Finally, in the category of reminders is my gratitude journal. I started it on January 1st of this year, giving myself the task to write down everyday at least one thing I was grateful for. Usually I list foods. Sometime in April I stopped writing in it -- I got distracted and didn't rediscover the book again until this past weekend. I need to return to the practice. I need to force myself to notice the good in the world.
3. Forgiving Myself (But Not Forgetting)
A big part of my struggle right now is being kinder to the person I used to be, and forgiving myself for the mistakes that I have made. I need to let go of the past but I can't escape it either, so I have to at least be on, as Joan Didion says, "nodding terms" with it:
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
-- from "On Keeping A Notebook"
4. Be An Idiot
Being a human is ridiculous. We do the stupidest things on a regular basis and a lot of the time we have to just accept it and keep moving, because what else is there to do? I walk face-first into doors and fall down constantly. I'm clumsy and always covered in bruises. I sing songs to my dog as he cocks his head cluelessly, surely thinking I've lost my mind. I laugh at my own stupid puns. I watch and quote "Step Brothers" to maintain my sanity. I look incredibly ugly when I cry. I know I'm foolish, and I make mistakes. If I waste all of my time trying to be cool, to have some sort of breezy indifference to it all, it will exhaust me. I'm ready to just let go and look stupid.
These tools might not work for everyone, but they're helping me.
I have to remember that even when I struggle, it's temporary. None of this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I survive, and I move on, and you can and will too.