Categories
depression Hope Mental Health Resilience Worthiness

Glimmer of Sunlight

“Nobody can protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away our punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was build by your own desire to heal.”

~Cheryl Strayed

We all run as far as we can from suffering. Feeling the pain is unbearable, so we do everything we can to run in the opposite direction. That’s natural, that’s human nature. After all, who likes pain and suffering?

Here is my secret : I want mental peace so so badly that sometimes I want to die to get there.

At times, I want the anguish, guilt, physical pain, anxiety to HALT in its tracks and take me out of this life.

I feel at times that I would break the hearts and crush the souls of loved ones to get what I’m after- for the pain to stop.

We all have our way out, often times that way is self-destructive. For some, it’s drugs and alcohol. For me, I eat and eat, mainly sugar and processed foods. I eat so much that I cry from stomachaches. I eat it when I’m happy because I want so desperately for the positive feeling to last, I want to chase the bliss. Also, I eat to numb my suffering. I head to the grocery store to get a cart full of cookies, pretzels, ice cream and doughnuts, when I sense that achey feeling in my body.

What is that achey feeling?

It’s the knowledge that this life will not last forever. It’s the realization that there is unspeakable suffering that takes place in this world.

Maybe depression is being unable to separate from that sense of suffering.

Everyone says “it’s okay to not be okay” or “feel the hard feelings,” but no one says how.

One day I was driving and I saw a dead deer on the side of the road. Chunks of its body was strewn around everywhere, but I could tell it was a deer because of its head. I felt deeply saddened and disturbed by this image, this dismemberment. For a few seconds I couldn’t help but imagine how much pain that deer endured. Tears erupted down my face.

Other times I feel blissed out by the world that we live in- babies growing inside mothers, seeds sprouting up into trees, examples of human compassion, like people helping other people out with nothing to gain for themselves. All of this reminds me that miracles do exist.

Normally I feel like I’m swimming around in this great big beautiful ocean. I pass dolphins and angel fish, I feel the sunshine on my back. Life feels utterly lovely. Then a storm comes and I get swept underwater. Pain seems to surge through every pore. Whether or not I thrash around or stay still, I’m held under the surface in the murky darkness. One thing I can count on is that the ocean will always spit me back out. Soon enough, I feel the sun on my back once again. I splash around again and everything goes back to normal.

But then a big storm comes and I’m swept away in the current, caught in the undertow. Moments pass, but I have faith that I’ll return to the sunny surface once again. Then hours and hours pass. I’m in the Depths of Despair. It feels unfamiliar…it feels unknown.

This time I go deeper and deeper. The water is so frigid that my skin turns blue. I see the monsters of the abyss feeding on lost hope down in the bottom. I begin to relate to them because I am losing hope that I will ever surface again. I’m deeper then I’ve ever been and I’ve been down here for way to long. I lose faith…

This is the new normal and it’s lonely and awful down here, in the Depths of Despair. Pure pain, total suffering.

And then seemingly out of nowhere, I surface. The goose bumps evaporate as the sun’s rays hit my skin again. I take a sigh of relief. No matter what I must never lose faith again.

But then another storm comes in…

It keeps happening over and over again, but each time those ominous, dark clouds roll in, I go under and this time for longer and longer. Attempting to surface feels like swimming through some gunky combination of molasses and glue. It’s too heavy, it’s too much, and it’s too hard. I’m sick of fighting. People say things like…

  • “Don’t give up. Become a fighter. You can do this!”
  • “Attitude is everything! Change your attitude and perspective and you can overcome anything.”
  • “It’s really not so bad. Do all of the things you love and you’ll start to feel better.”

I believe all of these things. But the problem is, when I’m down here in the blackness of the ocean floor amongst the bottom-feeders and real-life nightmares I’ve lost all faith, all hope, my strength, my identity, my passion, my will to live.

I lay in bed, watching reality TV, guzzling coffee and munching on chips and cookies. I don’t move for hours and hours, glomming onto any fraction of an endorphin rush. When I was sad before, I released the emotion through tears or sweat, but now, it feels impossible. It’s as though a dam was built, blocking me from letting the pent up emotion and energy course through my body. Instead it stagnates into a cesspool of filth. It’s become a breeding ground for lost hope, apathy, numbness, self-loathing and hatred.

If you haven’t guessed, this is what depression looks like.

When you’re down in the Depths of Despair for too long, your brain gets used to it. You begin to wonder, “Is this the new normal?” All of the surfacing and drowning again feels like too much to bear all alone.

I’ll tell you my story:

I’ve had some hardships in life- my father lost custody of my sister and I when I was ten or eleven due to his drug use and then died of a drug overdose when I was twelve. I had panic attacks as a teenager and went to a therapeutic boarding school my senior year.

Still, I’ve also had an overwhelming amount of support from my amazing mother, doting grandparents, sister, and my mother’s partner. I feel eternally thankful for their unconditional warmth and love.

I’ve seen the magic of life when riding my pony, hugging my mom, skipping through wildflowers, and catching glimpses of the twinkle of lighting bugs. But I’ve also grieved an immense loss and felt unspeakable pain. When my dad died, my heart changed for a long, long time. It went from a solid and sturdy organ that reverberated trust and lightness in the world into a heavy one that sank and pulsed with absence and grief.

Things seem to be going so well, but then I begin to have strange thoughts: I imagine myself at my own funeral, when I walk outside I imagine my body hanging from trees. I obsess about it all of the time and I begin to feel heaviness, I go under. First it’s for hours, then days, and then weeks.

When this happens, I tell my mom that I’m feeling unstable and then I go home and seek therapy and medication, which always helps.

One time I let it go on for over a year. I told myself, “This time will be different.” This time you’re in sunny California where the waves of the ocean evoke feelings of bliss and joy, where the Redwood trees bring a sense of tranquility, peace, and calmness. I remind myself that back when I was 23 I went a whole year without these weird thoughts, without feeling low and unstable. I hula hooped at festivals and hung out with my best friend everyday. Life felt simple and easy.

Here I was in California once again, paradise, heaven on earth. And still, it came. I felt the clammy hands of Despair beginning to pull me back down. I kept oscillating between feeling happy, social, receptive to the beauty of the world and then feeling true gnaw-at-your-skin deep depression that slams into you and hits you in your core. I told myself that I would be okay, I could handle these shifts.

But really, I wasn’t okay.

I wanted to jump off a bridge so the pain would end. That’s my dirty little secret that I’ve never told anyone.

I felt like a fool. Here I was without a problem in the world in California, living in a cottage beneath the gorgeous Redwoods for crying out loud with my boyfriend that I love to the moon and back, with a writing job that allows me to be creative, and still, still I feel this pain. What the hell is the matter with me? Why can’t I snap out of it?

Here is the thing-

Sometimes you can be beneath the surface for so so long that it rocks your world. It nearly shatters you.

But then, you surface again, and you feel the warmth of the sunshine. Oh, and look, there’s a pod of dolphins that makes your heart leap. All of a sudden, you hear a faint sound. It’s the chorus of loved ones at the island nearby cheering you on.

Moments like these make all of the unbearable darkness worth it.

If you’ve ever felt like me, get help. This is your depression, not your identity. There is help for you- be it therapy, medication, a shoulder’s friend to cry on, a beloved pet, or what have you.

But let’s get back to that Cheryl Strayed quote about suffering. There will be hardship and pain. You will suffer because of it. These are just the facts of this unpredictable life. Unfortunately, that gnawing achey feeling will return and you will be swept under the surface again.

If you let the years roll by, life teaches you how to live it. It’s about maintaining hope and faith. It’s not about turning blindly from suffering, but is instead about your journey.

Your journey and your life is meaningful, even if you may not think so right now.

When you get the help you need to get off your bed for a second and move through your emotions, maybe you’ll be able to express them. Maybe even share them.

Trust me, someone will benefit from your story. You’re not alone in this. That’s the fatal flaw: depression makes us think that we’re all alone. We’re not.

When the storm comes in, you’ll suffer, then you won’t, then you’ll be happy, then you’ll thrive, then you’ll go under once again, then you’ll come up once again- that’s life.

Don’t let your brain trick you into believing that you’re stuck- that’s depression. It’s all a trick. You’ll never ever be down there forever.

I can promise you this, that glowing morning sun will continue to rise each morning.

With love,

Annie

Categories
Mental Health Worthiness

Getting Held Back

I want to tell you guys about the time that I first felt unworthy, not good enough, “less than,” and stupid.

The impressions we form about ourselves when we’re very young can be difficult to shake. From time to time, I felt like I was on the outside at the age of 11. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Sharing this story may not be the easiest thing ever, but being vulnerable is helping me shake that worthless feeling.

Readers, all of us are worthy, smart, and beautiful on the inside and out.

You are beautiful. You are enough. You are worthy.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s my mantra, ya’ll!

Read, whisper it, scream it from the rooftops, do whatever you have to do until you believe it in the pit of your core.

If you don’t feel worthy right away, that’s okay. It takes A TON of practice to unlearn these cognitive errors. But…. I believe in you 

***

I grew up going to a Montessori school. It was really lax, in that all students could pick out what and when they wanted to learn. We had a list of our weekly projects and we would unroll a big blue rug and get working. A few times throughout the day, the teachers would ring a big bell and all of us (usually three grades would be all together in one room) would sit cross-legged in a circle and listen to the lesson.

It appealed to all types of learners – kinesthetic, visual, tactical, and auditory. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I am one of those people who learn by writing something down over and over until I’ve got it down. If you give me verbal directions, you might as well not tell me at all. I have a hard time absorbing auditory information. If my mom wants me to do something, she has to have me repeat back to her what she just said because it goes in one ear and out the other.  Anyway, my school was a welcoming space where kids were encouraged to be themselves.

My best friend, Sydney, played with me at recess every day and listened to me as I talked to her about what I was going through with my dad. At that time, my parents had separated. It had been brought to my mother’s attention that my dad was smoking crack at night when Emily and I were sleeping. I missed my dad so much. I would have given the thing I loved most in the world – my stuffed animal, Bun Bun – and thrown her in the ocean if it meant I could spend one weekend with my dad again. I don’t know what I would have done without Sydney’s friendship. I wanted to do anything and everything with her.

She wanted to continue her Montessori education (our school ended after 6th grade) and therefore so did I. My mom was on board. However, my grandpa, Pipa, really wanted me and Emily to go to a private school. (Whenever I say “we” or “us” I’m referring to me and my sister, Emily.)

My grandparents, Mima and Pipa, played huge roles in our lives. During the happiest moments of my life, Pipa was right there, front and center. For my birthday each and every year, me and my friends would pile in his old World War II jeep and laugh gleefully, as he switched it into second gear. He taught us how to play tennis and avoid poison ivy. He rode horses with us, kayaked with us,  and picked us up after school all of the time. When my father died, he consoled me in a way that will forever warm my heart. There was a period of time when I moved in with Mima and Pipa. I was so thankful that they took me in.

While Pipa has amazing qualities, he was also stubborn as all get out! He was one of those people who gets what he wants.

Yet, my mom pushed back. Emily went to this private school and I started off at the Montessori public school.

Sydney and I started a new school together. Back then I was a pretty awkward kid who liked to dress up in head turning outfits. I am not sure why… let’s call it creative expression. I’m hoping they weren’t desperate attention-seeking moves. Anyway, I was made fun of and bullied a little bit. Some part of me wishes that I stuck it out because that school actually seems pretty awesome.

There was this girl who I thought was my friend who I invited over for a sleepover. She told everyone that I was a rich snob who had a maid. Actually, she’s a cleaning lady, but okay.

One time I was wearing flip-flops that my friend Sydney gave to me. She tied a bunch of ribbons onto the line strap. They were funky but stylish, they were so ME. (Remember, I was wearing the WIERDEST stuff. My worst (or best) fashion move (or disaster)   was a denim skirt over jean pants. YIKES!)

So this mean girl that I invited over says, “Your shoes are so gross and weird. I seriously hate them. Ew!” My cheeks burned crimson as everyone turned to stare me. Some people giggled, others averted their eyes. I felt like a zoo animal.

Unfortunately, that day was the same day as a parent-teacher conference. When I saw my Mom coming down the hall, I burst into tears. All of the sadness came bubbling up to the surface. I missed my old school, I missed my dad, I missed feeling like a normal kid.

That day, we decided that I should go to the private school.

Here’s the catch: I failed the entrance exam.

The admissions people told me that I would have to repeat the sixth grade in order to be admitted. I had been in seventh grade for a few months, so this was a huge blow to my self-esteem.

They told me, “You have a June birthday. You’re too young to start in seventh grade, especially mid-year. This will be an easier adjustment for you.”

I knew the truth though: it was because I failed.

I know there is a lot of research on brain development and whatnot. Many people appreciate being on the older side when they begin school.

For me, it was extremely detrimental for my self-esteem. For the rest of my childhood and young adult life, I would feel less intelligent and less capable.

I began sixth grade in October at this private school. All of these students who were months younger than me were so concerned with grades, homework, and studying. I was not used to the hours and hours of homework and studying. I struggled to keep up, but felt that I had to prove that I was smart.

I wanted to prove it to my teachers and myself that I CAN do this.

I gave up sleepovers, hanging out with friends, and a lot of afterschool activities. I remember one time when my family went out to see a play, but I stayed home. I was miserably studying plate tectonics in a lit corner of my room.

It felt like a nervous dark cloud of energy consumed my formerly happy-go-lucky self. I become obsessive and constantly wondered if other people thought I was stupid. I thought about this constantly- even when I went to the dentist’s office! Does this person think I’m dumb? I couldn’t just calmly exist, I had to explain myself to anybody who would listen.

Getting held back was damaging to me for a plethora of reasons.

  • I had already started seventh and had to go back to sixth.
  • Adolescence is a rough time as it is.
  • I went to an extremely competitive school.
  • I actually passed sixth grade.
  • I was having a hard time at home, missing my dad.
  • I have an anxious personality.

The whole time I was in grade school, I felt like a fraud when I excelled at something. I may never have admitted it, but I felt dumb. Intelligence is rewarded in our society.

From families to businesses to schools, we all praise intelligence. No one wants to be the person who gets it wrong, who doesn’t know something. I always felt like I didn’t know enough to do well.

Then, I went to college and things changed for me. 

My sophomore year at Earlham College, my professor, Vince, approached me about an essay I wrote for my Cradle and Grave class (a human development class that focused on infancy and death.)

Vince’s lectures were intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends what I had learned. I left his classes, pondering existential dilemmas, my identity, and flow. Even though I learn in a different way, I was able to follow along comfortably. He demanded a lot from you. Once I forgot my textbook to class. Let’s just say, I would NEVER make that mistake twice. Still, he was also a really funny guy. Once, he brought these cookies with graves and babies on them. He said, “You can imagine the expression of the baker when I told her I wanted babies and graves on the cookies.” Hah!

Anyway, Vince told me that my essay was outstanding. He said I nailed it.

It was a model essay that showed exactly what he was looking for in a paper.

Wow! I was beaming wider than I ever had in my life.

That little comment changed the way I perceived myself. Hey, maybe I’m not that dumb after all. This person BELIEVES in me.

For the rest of my time in college I felt like a pretty smart kid. I proudly graduated with honors. It seemed like nothing could get me down.

When I failed the GRE after I graduated and later dropped out of graduate school, I have felt the unworthiness creep back into my life.

I am doing my best to try to get rid of these thoughts. The critical voice in the back of my head is just plain WRONG.  

If you don’t have that person in your life that believes in you, you’re going to have to DIG deep and believe in yourself.

Hey, if it means anything, I believe in you.

Don’t keep your story bottled up- sharing what you’ve gone through really help with feelings of unworthiness. Being vulnerable with all of you really helped me.

Thank you for reading my story.

Best,

Annie

Categories
Mental Health Resilience Worthiness

Introduction Post

I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will…I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself.”

Amy Schumer

Dear reader,

 I want to remind you that you are worthwhile. You are enough. You are beautiful. You know what helps lift my spirits when I am deep in the pits of a major depression?

Reading inspiring accounts of human resilience. I read memoirs of people who have been through absolute hell and back, and they still want to live. They might be hanging on by a thread, but they still muster up the strength and courage to share their story and live their true purpose.

After days of peeling my dirty, crusty hair off of my face and force-feeding myself some bone broth so I don’t keel over, I give up on cutting myself with the serrated kitchen knives. I drive to the nearest Barnes and Noble and scour the non-fiction section in hopes of finding a relatable memoir. In that instant I decide to make one choice driven from self-love rather than self-dread. Why?

What compelled me to change my usual pattern of self-destruction to an action that could be beneficial? I am not sure, but I know that if I can do it, you can do it too.

Once I get my hands on this memoir, I know that it will feel like getting chicken noodle soup in bed when I am sick. It’ll feel like getting a teddy bear to snuggle with during a nightmare or a hug from my mom after I slipped and scraped my knee back when I was little. I love that seemingly serendipitous act of opening a page to read about a relatable character.

This person gets me. They get me! Me! Sloppy-Total-Mess-Me.  And that connection is hard to come by. I can’t wait to purchase it and get the hell outta here! I want to go back into my bed and read about somebody else who gets it.

I want to feel less alone in this world. Doesn’t anyone get what it’s like to want to die? Not all the time, just sometimes. There are times when I am tired, so tired of being beaten down with what feels like the weight of the world.  I want peace.

But let me tell you, there are other ways to finding peace besides offing yourself. I promise you that this is true. Think back to a moment in your lifetime when you felt happiness. If you felt happy then, can’t it be achieved again? Nothing in this life stays constant. Even in the midst of immense anguish, there has got to be one thing, it can be tiny, that brings a smile to your face. Dwell on that for a few moments. I know it’s not that easy though.

You deserve peace. I am writing my story in hope of finding my own peace. I know that my true calling is to share my story and write every day. If my story helps one person feel like they are less alone, than I have lived my true purpose.

I will say this again for those who didn’t quite get it the first time, you are worthwhile no matter what you say or do or don’t do. No matter what. I know that reading some random person’s book won’t necessarily change your mind, but imagine what it would be like to live in a world where you felt like there were no contingencies on love.

You are worthy of love even if you’re imperfect; even if you ate way too much last night, didn’t do your homework, messed up your last memo, didn’t buy your mom a Christmas present, did some drugs last weekend, got in a bar fight, broke a promise to your friend, cheated on your partner, you are still worthy of love. Should you change? That is entirely up to you, but shame has absolutely no motivating influence.

Be yourself, your true self. Find what you are meant to do and go for it. Go all in. There will always be excuses, but the time to live the way you want to is now. 

 I see that you have suffered deeply. I don’t know exactly what it’s like but I can imagine that you have been in pain. It’s okay to feel however you feel. You can be resentful, angry, bitter, and you’re still lovable and worthwhile. Even if no one else thinks so, I think so. I know so. How do I know? Because I have been there.

I believe that you and I are not so different. We’re all just trying to find our way in this world. There are things in this life that bring to mind deep sorrows and heartbreak and there are things that remind us that life is a miracle and a gift. I hope my blog serves as a glimmer of hope.

With Love,

Annie