This started out as an Instagram post. In commemoration of Mental Health Awareness Month I shared some of the favorite things I’ve learned along my journey to better understand myself and the universe. I believe in talking about mental health because it saves lives. I quickly realized I had more than a post, and it was ready to come out. For context, my husband and I are preparing to move to the woods and recently purchased an old tractor, which we drove around our soon-to-be neighborhood last weekend. TW: suicidal ideation
As I was bouncing along in the bucket of the tractor at the yurt last weekend, I was overcome with gratitude and appreciation. Yes, it was a glorious day in the woods, I had a happy doggy in my lap, and my husband was driving our new-to-us tractor — what wasn’t to love? But it was more than that.
Two years ago, in the spring of 2018, I was the lowest I’d ever felt, for the longest amount of time. The scariest part was I was trying so hard. I was sober – like, really sober: kava tea from the health store was the hardest thing I ingested for 90 days. I had an unlimited membership to my local yoga studio and went to a class at least once a day. I started jogging, getting up at 6am because I couldn’t sleep anyway. I started going to SMART meetings (like AA but for people too stubborn for a higher power and who can’t not crosstalk) multiple times a week. I found a facilitator I liked, especially his guided meditation meetings. I meditated, when it didn’t seem to just give the nastiness in my head a clearer backdrop. I continued talk therapy through Kaiser, increasingly frustrated when I left my appointments feeling worse than when I went in and knowing I wasn’t being honest, with my therapist or myself. I started medication. I felt worse. I stopped it. I started a different medication. I didn’t feel better, but at least I didn’t feel worse. I cut out processed sugar and loaded my diet with foods to combat inflammation and depression: leafy greens, salmon, dark chocolate, berries. I’d collected a lot of tools to fight the funk over the years, and I used them all.
I worked as a hairstylist, which meant my clients expected and deserved to be the focus of our time together. Some days I was able to compartmentalize and work was a welcome relief from myself. But more often it was agony. I felt like a big sucking black pit of despair that would pull in anyone who got too close. My manager told me my coworkers were worried and avoiding me, confirming my fear that it was as obvious as it felt. My coworkers got the brunt of it; I gave every scrap of emotional energy I had to my clients, while behind the scenes I was raw and sullen. One exceptionally hard day I asked a trusted coworker for a hug, blinking back tears. After he embraced me he told me I could have one whenever I needed – even if he was with a client (I would never, but the offer was enough). I was open with my manager, and she gave me all the support she could. There were weeks I only came in for the few clients I already had on the books and took the rest off.
For months my life was work, yoga, meditation, walks, therapy, meetings. I had Movie Pass and would escape to the cinema 3 or 4 times a week. I over-scheduled myself days in a row; maybe if I was busy enough I wouldn’t have time to feel. I withdrew from my friends except a few (including my mom) with whom I felt comfortable sharing how bad I felt, since that seemed to be all I could talk about.
At its worst, my inner dialogue was a loop of my favorite insecurities, but like if a really nasty internet troll was yelling them through a megaphone. What was the point? I just kept repeating the same tired mistakes. I was either stupid or a glutton for punishment. I was so boring and narcissistic I had nothing better to do than wallow in self pity. I was a miserable waste of space and it would be better for everyone if I just called it. Quit dicking around and kidding myself that I was ever going to change, and snuff it. I was going to die alone in my cave anyway, eventually; might as well get it over with. The voice wasn’t dramatic, emotional, or overwrought. It was quite matter of fact. And it was persistent. And it was LOUD.
I stopped riding my motorcycle because I was afraid I’d be too distracted or give in while I was riding, do something stupid and permanent.
Sometimes the voice would start while I was getting ready for work, putting on makeup and watching myself in the mirror. Sometimes it played while I trimmed someone’s bangs or folded foils in a highlight. The absolute worst was when it happened during yoga. While in class, while in a pose, my head screamed at me to get up from my mat and run into traffic. If that didn’t kill me at least it would get me a break from myself – someone else could take care of me in a hospital, because I obviously couldn’t do it. This happened more than a few times. And that brought the disquieting realization that if I wanted to kill myself during yoga, I was fucked.
So why didn’t I listen? I knew that voice was not me. Even though it was the loudest and nastiest it had ever been, I recognized it. I’d been hearing it off and on since before I started having a period. I knew, logically, that my objective life was no different than it had been the year before, when I was feeling pretty good (except the cat I’d lived with for almost 22 years died at the beginning of the year – I majorly underestimated the effect this had). I knew I had people who loved me. I knew I was depressed, because I had been depressed before. I knew… it took a lot of searching and remembering… but I knew I hadn’t always felt this way.
I specifically remember one evening when the loop was really bad, and I was tired. I was tired of this round of depression, but more so I was tired of my mental health issues as a whole. I knew once I was done with this extreme bout I wouldn’t be “done” with it. It would only be a matter of time before there’d be something else, except next time maybe it would show up more like anxiety, or a drug I’d start to use too much, or I’d catch myself leaving passive aggressive notes on my neighbors’ cars. I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted to be happy.
It felt like a prayer, this plea for peace. I don’t know to whom. But a softness came over me, and with it understanding. This was me. It’s a package deal, and with my package comes this. I wouldn’t be the same without it, and it’s made me who I am. My struggles have taught me so much about empathy and made me a better human. I’ve been able to help others who are struggling.
On that night, in my bathroom, I made a promise to my future self that I would give her a chance. I knew, down to my toes, that this would pass. It would get better. I’d feel better. And I asked my future self to not forget me, and to try to send some love back to myself.
As I was bouncing down the road on my and my husband’s new-to-us tractor, I did just that.