What I Wish I Could Say

Preface: I’ve been trying to write these thoughts down for a while now, but often times the hardest part of being a writer is trying to figure out how to best tell the story. And I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; I don’t know that there ever is a “best way” because, in the search for perfection, we all fall short. I’m telling it anyway because I have to. It’s a compulsion of mine: I want to be heard, and maybe with being heard I can give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one. Depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses in general steal so much, and sometimes they steal our voices. And I refuse to let them steal mine. What is below are bits and pieces from conversations I have had with my therapist over the last few weeks, clipped together in a way that’s orderly and coherent–unlike what’s going on in my head, unlike my conversations with her. Therapy is wonderful on so many levels: it’s made me more observant of my own behaviors, allowed space for me to be self-reflective, to ask the tough questions. But it’s also made me feel worse because now I’m talking about what I’m feeling and the thoughts in my head instead of just ignoring them. And maybe, by sharing this, it will help someone else.

I went out and looked at the stars last night: climbing out of bed at one in the morning, a blanket wrapped around me as tightly as possible, tiptoeing down the stairs, trying to avoid the squeaky spots, opening and closing the kitchen door as quietly as possible to avoid detection. I do this a lot: look at the stars, especially when I’m panicky, anxious, on edge. There’s a beauty about them, illuminating the sky to make it appears as though it’s 50 different shades of grey as they dance around the wispy clouds. Unfortunately, there’s too much light pollution where I live to get the full effect of their beauty, but it’s enough.

I do a lot of the other thing too: tiptoeing around, walking as close to walls as possible to avoid detection, making myself smaller–hoping to take up less space both physically and metaphorically. Maybe if I pretend I’m invisible, I’ll actually become invisible; invalidating myself and my feelings to hopefully leave fewer footprints behind.

It’s not that I don’t want to make an impact on the world. I do. But there’s this constant fear in the back of my head that I won’t make it out of this cycle; I’ve been down this spiral so many times, and maybe this is the time I won’t make it back up. So, maybe, if I pull away, stop talking to people, stop letting people in, they won’t be affected by my absence as much. Erasing myself from their lives because it’s harder to miss someone if they never existed in the first place.

I feel like people have given up on me–we can’t fix what’s going on, so we might as well not bother doing anything. Even though there are so many things people can do if they just ask the right question: what do you need?

But maybe it’s not other people who have given up on me; maybe it’s me who has given up on myself.

I’ve been broken for so long, been trying to pick up the pieces, and I keep dropping them. Maybe I think there’s no hope left for me because I’ve felt hopeless for so long. Because the anxiety and the depression keep coming back, and every time they come back, they become harder and harder to beat. And I’ve written so many suicide notes over the last four months, I’ve lost track. And I’m trying my hardest to stay alive; I’m doing all I can–going to the store, having coffee with friends, writing as much as I can, leaving my house, going to the gym–but this unbridled panic won’t go away. I can’t leave my house without my anxiety shooting sky high, can’t go to the gym or the store without having a panic attack, can’t have a panic attack without it being accompanied by suicidal urges.

But the point is that you’re trying to stay alive. Your sense of self-preservation is kicking in. 

But what if my self-preservation isn’t enough to stop the thoughts in my head from taking over? Like I can eat food and not self-harm and go to the gym, but what’s the point if I can barely make it through a workout without feeling like the world’s going to collapse around me? What’s the point if I don’t feel safe anywhere, not even in my own home or my own head? If I feel this hopeless right now when I’m doing everything right, what happens when something goes wrong?

You handle that when you get to that. One step at a time. 

My favorite mixed idiom to use is: I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. My brain has always raced to the finish, trying to think up every possible “what if” that could ever happen, trying to solve problems that probably won’t ever happen. I talk myself out of doing more things than I talk myself into doing. But the point is: I don’t feel safe. And maybe I should have given up a long time ago.

But you didn’t. You reached out. You got help. You checked yourself into the ER the last time you felt suicidal.

It wasn’t the last time. It wasn’t even the worst time recently. I’ve thought about checking myself in again. There have been nights, many nights, where I’ve thought I wouldn’t make it through, where I should’ve asked for help, and I didn’t. I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, be a burden to anybody, which goes back to the walking as close to the walls as possible, not making eye contact. I don’t want them to see me the way I see myself.

How do you see yourself?

I feel like the worst person in the world. Even though I know it’s not true. I’m afraid to let people in, to tell them what’s going on in my life, the thoughts in my head because I don’t want them to hate me the way I hate myself. Which is ridiculous because I know that what’s going on in my head are lies and that if I keep things to myself, they will eat me alive. But I’m afraid people will give up on me because “I’m too far gone, too broken, not worth enough.”

I think those things about myself all the time, feeding off the lies told to me by the people who broke me. And I feel shame and guilt for thinking those things, for feeling like I deserved what happened to me, that it’s all my fault. Some of the time, I still feel shame and guilt for what happened to me.

I know it’s not my fault, and that nothing gone in my head is rational, but I don’t know how to tell people what I feel without sounding crazy. Maybe I am.

But maybe it’s the world that’s crazy, maybe it’s the world that’s broken, and maybe I just feel that chaos and brokenness more because I’m more sensitive: I feel what people around me feel. So not only do I feel what I’m feeling and my own hurt, but I feel what they’re feeling and carry their hurts with me. And that’s a lot of hurt for one person.

It is a lot of hurt for one person. So how do you deal?

 I don’t deal, not always. I used to block out what I was feeling until I became numb, and then I would self-harm to feel something, anything. Physical pain is easier to fix than emotional pain. And now I write, and sometimes I still self-harm. But I’m learning to deal.

After my dad left the ER, one of the other patients came and sat with me as I slept, not in a creepy way, but in a “We’re all in this together. Pretty girls with sad eyes shouldn’t be alone here.”

But maybe it’s more than pretty girls with sad eyes who shouldn’t be alone. Maybe none of us should be alone. We should know that we have people in our court supporting and encouraging us, praying for us and loving us.

And right now, I’m drowning. Trying to tread water as I keep my head above the waves, but I’m oh so tired. I’m oh so weak.

But you’re recognizing your weaknesses, and you’ve given a name to them.

That’s all any of us can do, really. And right now, I’m having panic attacks and suicidal urges, and I’m feeling hopeless and like I can’t find my way out, and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel these things, to admit that I’m struggling, to admit that my life isn’t perfect. And the only thing I can do is what I’m currently doing: trying to stay alive despite what the thoughts in my head are telling me, despite what I’m feeling.

Because sometimes, when my soul is heavy, when the depression and anxiety are too much, I look at the stars. The same God who painted the night sky in all of its shining glory created me, and that is enough.

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To the Friends and Family of Someone Living With Depression

I can’t tell you how many suicide notes I’ve written over the years. I mean, there was the first one on the night I actually attempted suicide seven and a half years ago. I found that one a few years ago tucked away in a polka dot notebook I had forgotten I had. After reading it, I took the letter with me as I went for a drive to clear my head; tearing it up and then throwing out the window as I drove, trying to leave my past in the past.

There have been others, too. My “In Case of Fire, Break Glass” safety net. When you live with suicidal thoughts, you’re always on edge, wondering if you’ll make it through this day; wondering if today is the day the demons you’re fighting take over and win.

It’s not that I want to be writing suicide notes. Trust me, there are a million other things I’d rather be writing. But it’s almost a compulsion, an obsession. It’s like if I don’t get the thoughts out of my head, they’ll eat me alive. I write them because I don’t want to have to use them. When the storm hits and the levees break and I’m not sure I can stay afloat, I write them–word by word, line by line, feeling by feeling–taking what I feel and trying to put it into words is the closest I’ll ever get to having a superpower. Then, when the storm passes, when the waters recede, and the sun begins to shine again, I delete them from my phone; I rip out the pages of the notebook; erasing evidence of the pain I was in; trying to leave the feelings of despair and hopelessness behind, trying to transition to happiness and joy.

But life isn’t black and white like that: if depression is black and joy is white, then I live in shades of gray because for every suicide note I’ve ever written, I’ve told at least 10 jokes. Because if writing is my way of staying afloat, telling jokes is my way of quite literally pulling myself out of the water. Also, I’m a Bills fan, and sometimes the only way to make it through a season of watching them pluck defeats from the jaws of victory is by making jokes.

Here’s the thing about life: it’s full of contradictions. Sadness and joy coexist at the same time, in the same soul. On some of my darkest days, I’ve laughed the most–like deep belly laugh, laugh so hard tears come out of my eyes, laugh so hard I throw my head back, hand on the neck, eyes basically closed. And it’s this sudden change from utter despair to joy that reminds me I am alive.

I’ve been having a hard time lately, many of you know this. You’ve read my blog posts, you’ve seen my Facebook statuses; you’ve been there with me in my hard moments.

So, here’s what I need you to know: there are days, many days when it’s hard for me to get out of bed, when the weight of the world seems too much to bear, and when I am standing and singing worship songs one minute and then collapsing and sobbing in my pew the next. These are also the days when I am reminded of happy moments. And these happy moments are enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other until they’re not. Because they’re just that: moments. Beautiful, but fleeting. If you combine enough of them together, sure, they can shine like the shine, illuminating the future standing in front of me.

But here’s also what I need you to know: I can’t build armor strong enough to protect me from what’s going on inside my head. And neither can you.

And it’s frustrating: for you and for me. It’s frustrating because you ask the question “What can I do?” but what you really mean is “What can I do to fix it?” And therein lies the problem.

You can’t fix this. I can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. All they can do is make what I’m dealing with more manageable. They can make the sunshine a little bit longer, stave off the darkness a little while longer, but they can’t erase it.

Neither can you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything. Because, yes, you can’t do anything–not in the way you want to.

But, if you ask the right question, you can still DO something.

“What do you need?”

What do I need? I need support and encouragement and love. I need hugs and laughter and to cry it out. I need someone to sit there with me while I work through it on my own. I need someone to listen while I talk it out. I need to know I have people in my court, on my side.

So, no. You can’t fix it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything.

Somedays I’m so weak and hurting and broken, I feel like death is the only way out. I know it isn’t. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know. I’m coming to understand that both of them are valid. I have to give each of these parts of me a voice. Let them say what they have to say.

The hardest part of life is admitting our weaknesses because we all want life to be perfect, and we try to portray it as such. I’ve come to realize that pretending life is perfect is doing a disservice to yourself. We have to be honest with ourselves and each other.

The hardest part of the last few months for me has been not ignoring what I’m feeling, telling people what’s going on in my head, being honest with you all about the struggles I’m facing. And yes, it’s been scary because people have gotten annoyed with me for sharing, frustrated because they see that I’m struggling and they feel helpless, and some have even told me that “Facebook is not the place to tell people what’s really going on.”

Maybe it’s not.

But I can’t hide behind a status. I believe in honesty.

I believe in recognizing our own weaknesses and giving the darkest parts of ourselves a name: depression, anxiety, PTSD.

And right now, I’m oh so very weak. But sometimes it’s in our weakest moments that we find the strength to reach out, to ask for help.

And I’m so glad I did.

 

And so I kept living

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, marking the start of Suicide Prevention Week–I feel like a hypocrite for even mentioning it. Because this last month and a half has been the worst time of my life mentally–my depression has come back with a vengeance, and coupled with the overwhelming anxiety I feel on the daily, it’s felt like a hurricane has ripped through my soul: total destruction everywhere, levees broken, the walls of my body destroyed. This last month and a half has seen countless panic attacks and flashbacks, overwhelming suicidal thoughts, me almost driving into a tree, and, unfortunately, it’s also seen me relapsing–self-harming again after not doing it in 7 years.

It’s also seen me reach out more–ask for help. Depression has this way of making me feel like I’m the worst person in the world; that I deserve everything that has happened to me. So, normally, I pull away, revert back into myself. Because here’s the thing: when the demons attack, sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t make it out of the battle. I pull away to soften the blow, to lessen the crater that my departure might leave. I’ve come to realize over this last month that when the bomb drops, people will get hurt whether I pull away or not–I’d rather confide in people and have them care about me than walk through this storm alone, even if sometimes I feel like an inconvenience. Even if I feel like letting people in, telling them what’s going on in my brain is a burden to them.

We all need people.

Even though you’re trying as hard as you can to pull away from people, they just won’t stop caring about you.

And so I kept living despite the feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of worthlessness, the thoughts in my head telling me I should not be here.

And so I kept living despite the thoughts I’ve had for as long as I can remember: I can’t go to school today because it’s going to burn down; I can’t get out of bed because the floor’s going to collapse; I can’t go out for recess because the world’s going to explode.

And so I kept living despite those thoughts that, apparently, most people do not have every day for their whole lives.

And so I kept living despite the shame of my past, the weight of it all, the regret, the hurt of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.

And so I kept living despite the “I’m sorry”s, the number of times I’ve written and ripped up the words: To whoever finds this.

And so I kept living despite how scared I am of the dark, how weak I feel.

And so I kept living because if I didn’t, I never would have gone to Guatemala and led a young girl to Christ.

And so I kept living because the Buffalo Bills have not won a Super Bowl, and I’ll be darned if I kill myself before I see that.

And so I kept living because I want to fall in love, even though I’m terrified of being hurt.

And so I kept living because I still have so many jokes left in me to tell, so many words within me just waiting to be written, so much laughter left to burst forth from my mouth.

And so I kept living because of the cotton candy that paints the sky during sunrises and sunsets.

And so I kept living because there are so many books in this world I have not yet read, so many places I have not yet seen.

And so I kept living because sometimes all this pain that I’m feeling, all the hurt, remind me that I’m alive.

And so I kept living because the most vicious thunderstorms produce the most beautiful rainbows, and I want to be beautiful.

And so I kept living because I am not alone, and I have a God that is bigger than all my shame, all my hurt, all my fear.

And so I kept living because if I can help just person know they’re not alone, then let me do that.

 

Here’s to the Ones Who Try So Hard

One minute you’re sweating your face off at the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later, and the fingernail-shaped crescent moons dug into your arm are the only thing grounding you in the present, but this time, even that isn’t enough.

One moment you’re on the treadmill all too aware that you’re the only girl in a room with five guys (and those numbers are enough to make your stomach turn). All you want to do is leave. But you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

You’re so close to finishing your workout when you catch the glimpse of one of the guys in the window. He bears a vague resemblance to one of the guys who raped you, not enough that would normally bother you, but enough to push your already anxious self over the edge.

Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Your heart catches in your throat. The room starts to spin. As you step off the treadmill, the room starts to go black. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, trying to keep the memories away long enough to get the heck out of there. As you go down the staircase, which is basically a metal tube, you hear voices behind you. They’re talking and laughing, not about you, but about weights or basketball or something, but in your panic-stricken mind, it doesn’t matter. Immediately, you’re transported back to that school bathroom, and suddenly, the ceiling starts closing in on you; you feel like you can’t breathe. You can’t get out of there fast enough, running down the last few stairs, pushing the door at the bottom with as much strength as you can muster, and walking as fast as you can down the hall, finally collapsing on a bench.

You try to catch your breath; your heart is pounding out of your chest, and all you want to do is keep those memories at bay. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep them away. You don’t know how long it’s been–seconds, minutes, years. It feels like seconds. Someone may have walked by asking you if you’re ok because apparently, you look spaced-out. But you don’t hear them: you’re so far into the own memories of your past that the only thing you can hear is: Bitch. Slut. Worthless. All you can feel is their hands on your skin, which you realize later is your own finger nails digging into your arm so hard that they leave marks that are still there 24 hours later. And you can’t breathe, partly because your lungs are on fire and partly because you feel like their are hands around your neck.

You drink water bottle after water bottle to get the taste of shame out of your mouth, and eventually, the memories start to fade. But the pounding in your chest is refusing to quit, and your lungs are refusing to stop sprinting a mile a minute. Your leg is sore from the bouncing it’s been doing for the last twenty minutes. And all you can think is: I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. Which really translates to, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.

You start to head down the hallway to the locker room, trying to keep your hand from shaking by rubbing it up and down your leg, but, you get a quarter of the way down, just to the door of the weight room, and you feel sick like you’re going to throw up.

You turn around, and head back up to the hallway, alternating between leaning against the cool wall that feels so good against your sweaty, panicky skin, and pacing up and down the hall. Every time you try to take a step down that hall towards the locker room, you feel nauseous. So so nauseous.

It’s been half an hour now, and you’re wondering what the heck you’re going to do. You need to go home. You need to. You need to. But you can’t face the locker room that’s so similar to the bathroom you avoided for the last month of middle school.

You don’t know what to do. You’re so close to just going to the weight room and sitting down, not to be creepy, but because you need to be around somebody, anybody. You’re gathering up the courage when all of a sudden, you see a girl you know–someone you knows your story. Someone who, without hesitation, when you asked them to go to the locker room because you’re having a flashback and panic attack, went with you and talked with you for another hour as you tried to calm down.

And that’s how long it takes: another hour. It takes another hour to calm yourself down long enough to drive home, another hour for your heart to stop racing the demons, another hour for you not to feel like you’re going to pass out. Another for you to stop thinking about everything you’ve spent the last nine years trying to forget.

And then you get home and take the hottest shower your skin can stand. And then it takes who knows how many hours to fall asleep because every time you close your eyes, you’re transported back, and all you have this time is a prayer that this time, you’ll fall asleep. And you do.

When you wake up the next morning, you don’t know where you are. You don’t really even remember what happened, until you look at your arm and realize that the fingernail-shaped marks are still there.

The day after the worst panic attack you’ve had in months and the worst one you’ve ever had in public, you go to a wedding. Trying to hide the fact that your hand is shaking from the anxiety you still feel. Trying to hide the fact that you still feel nauseous. You dance the Cha-Cha slide and the Cupid Shuffle, and you walk to your car by yourself at night. Halfway there, when the panic begins to set in again, you look up at the sky, and you see the stars, and you remember that God is there no matter what.

A day-and-a-half after the worst panic attack, you go to Church, still feeling the residual effects: you’re exhausted and anxious and your heart is still pounding. But then God has this way of reminding you that He’s got this. You can climb this mountain.

And now it’s a few minutes past the 48-hour mark, and you’re just starting to return to normal. Your heart isn’t pounding as hard. You’re not as tired. You feel less and less nauseous as the minutes tick on. You no longer feel like the world is caving in around you.

And you’re trying so hard to convince yourself that you’re not crazy–other people feel this way sometimes, too.

Here’s to the ones who try so hard, who are so scared of being vulnerable but do it anyway.

Here’s to being vulnerable because sometimes, being vulnerable, allows others to know your story. And with others knowing your story, they can pick you up and walk alongside you when the going gets tough.

Or, in my case, walk with me to the locker room and spend time with me on a Friday night, instead of with their boyfriend, when it felt like my world was falling apart.

Here’s to the ones who care for the ones who try so hard.

 

 

War and (No) Peace for the Weary

It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong until I entered a room filled to the brim with people–faces I knew, faces I didn’t. It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong until I entered said room and felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest, as though my lungs were filling with water, and as though my spinning head was going to rotate off my body and fly away.

And I blamed it on my asthma, but asthma can’t be blamed for everything. No, this is worse. Much worse. Because inhalers can fix asthma, or at least get it enough under control that I can breathe almost normally.

This is anxiety.

This is the feeling of complete and utter doom that springs from fears that have their roots firmly established in things I’ve experienced.

Because even though I go out of my way and actively avoid large groups of people, it’s not large groups of people I’m scared of. It’s the overcrowding, the not enough space, the I barely have enough room to squeeze by you, claustrophobia. And I didn’t used to be this way. I can remember the time and place I became claustrophobic: 8th grade, in a school bathroom. And that memory is probably why I can never go to the Bathroom by myself. It’s probably why when I’m in a large crowd, I make myself smaller to give myself more room.

I need room to breathe, and room to pace to sort out my jumbled up mess of thoughts. I thrive in wide open spaces.

But, not too wide. If you get too far away from people, it’s easy to imagine yourself as the only person left. And that terrifies me more. I like being alone, but I hate feeling alone. And yes, there’s a difference. At night when I sleep in my own room, I’m alone. But I can hear the snores of my family as the house settles in for the night, and I can hear God in the wind that makes my house moan and groan.

And even though darkness is wide, it can make you feel claustrophobic. Because sometimes, the weight of it all makes you feel like you are suffocating. What lies beyond my field of vision is mysterious and foreboding. The future terrifies me.

This is anxiety.

When my heart is racing so fast I count it in beats per second, not beats per minute. It’s paralyzing fear. Similar to the time I went to Niagara Falls in 8th grade and had to cross a glass bridge. I had to be pushed across by my friends, because I’ve always been scared of heights.

And eventually my fear of heights became synonymous with the urge to jump and end it all. But one time I climbed to the roof of a mall in Guatemala, and I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to jump. And that’s the biggest step toward healing I’ve ever taken. But when I went to the mall the other week, I found out that escalators still make me feel anxious.

Anxiety is not a trend. It’s not something you should use to make you feel cool, because believe me, it makes you feel totally uncool. When most girls wear over sized sweaters, they look cute. When I wear over sized sweaters, I look like how anxiety makes me feel.

Anxiety is not a trend. It’s not something you can shrug off when it’s too warm outside. It’s not something you can decide doesn’t fit with the look you want today. And anxiety looks different on everybody. I’m 5 years old, and there’s monsters in my closet (and by closet, I mean my head). Because one day, you realize the monsters hiding under your bed were really inside you the whole time. Right now, I’m 19 years old, and the monsters in the closet still scare me.

Anxiety is not Instragramming a pumpkin spice latte while watching Dr. Who on Netflix, all while sitting in your room alone. It’s running your fingers of your left hand over your right thumb and wrist, tracing the scars left behind, because you don’t know what else to do when your Lit Class is discussing a book about sexual assault. It’s tapping your foot in Health Class when they discuss eating disorders. It’s leaving the crowded dining hall of your college campus to pace up and down the book lined halls of the library.

Anxiety is sleepless nights and silence. I’ve been so open about my struggles, but I’ve remained silent on this. Nobody wants to seem weak. It’s the silence I wish my mind would impose upon this freight train of my mind, the racing thoughts that I don’t deserve to live a normal life. I don’t deserve to be happy. But I also don’t deserve to be unhappy, because, comparatively, my life isn’t so bad.

Anxiety is questioning. Why are they being nice to me? Why are they laughing? Is there something on my face? There are so many questions and not enough answers. Not that I deserve answers anyway,  because there are beautiful people out there, beautiful sweaters stitched together with greatness. I’m a lackluster wool turtleneck held together with mediocrity. Turtlenecks make me feel like I’m choking. And wool itches like anxiety makes my skin crawl.

And maybe one day, I’ll be a fantastic heroine in some award winning novel. I’ll be characterized by my beauty, charm, and confidence. But, right now, I feel like a bunch of equations haphazardly thrown up on a black board some where. Maybe one day my numbers will add up to greatness or something close to that, but right now my 5 and 8 and my 11 and 14 don’t add up. No matter how I do the math, add, subtract, multiply, or divide, my life still equals zero. I hope one day it equals one. Because in statistics, a correlation coefficient of 1 shows a strong relationship. Maybe one day my correlation coefficient of 1 will signify the relationship between my past struggles and how great I became.

Right now, I’m waiting for the day when I meet someone who says, “Here, let me take your oversized sweater for a while. I’ll give you a break from the itching.”