I WOULD PREFER NOT TO
As I sit here at my desk, struggling to think of the right words to say, to comfort you, reader, on a topic that is so personal, I sip some whisky and diet coke and think back to some of the worst times in my life. But let me get something out of the way first. I am not a medical professional. Take my words with a grain of salt and heed my sage advice at your own free-will. If something happens to you, I nor this Mowgli team are responsible. Yes? Yes. Good. Now, let me think…
Depression hits hard. The struggle is real. The effort put forth to do normal everyday tasks is real. The amount of said effort it can take to simply get out of bed at times is real. Life can feel overwhelming and sad and sometimes there is no why. It just happens. You watch others be joyful and you wonder when you will feel that way again... if you will feel that way again. You try to think positive thoughts, and the moment one emerges, it gets pinned down by a negative and the feeling of defeat consumes you once again.
These feelings come and go quite often for me, but a few years ago, it all hit me a little harder than usual and lasted for months, the longest stint of depression I ever had in one sitting. I was going to the local junior college and living with my grandparents at the time, so I had to leave the house and “go to school” so as not to raise any suspicion. The first day it hit, I didn’t go to classes. I grabbed a book and went to the ocean (I’m incredibly lucky and thankful to have lived near the ocean during this time).
This became routine. Get lost in a book while the waves crash in the background. I had to go to classes occasionally to not fall too far behind, but I ended up ditching too many and was put on academic probation (don’t tell my parents). I finally got my shit together and everyday eventually felt a little better and it all became a little easier. Life continued.
While in university, the best piece of fiction I ever read (of the many as a Lit major, so this is a very good story, trust me. go read it) is Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street.” Moral of the story is apathy can kill you, but I took away the most meaningful phrase in the English language and started applying it to my everyday life and it has truly helped my mindset – “I would prefer not to.” It took me too many years of precious life to realize there are many obligations thrown at you that aren’t, in reality, obligations at all. Thinking back, I could have just left school to deal with myself. No big deal. Lives would not have been lost and, worst-case scenario, I could have re-applied later when I was mentally better. So it goes.
Negativity happens and you learn from each stint of it. You grow. The point I’m trying to make is that nature always saves me. Books always save me. Get lost in some way, heal and mature, and then find your way back as a better and stronger you. Don’t always trust your mind. It can turn on you and, if handed the reins, doom will win. Those joyful people you saw earlier were probably crying their hearts out an hour ago. It’s all about perception.
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LET YOUR RED FLAGS FLY
I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.
That’s a quote from a character played by Robin Williams (as he processes the death of his son) in an obscure, brilliant, dark comedy film written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite, World's Greatest Dad. Not until the pandemic shelter-in-place did I have those words echo in my head as I’ve always been comfortable being on my own: alone but not lonely.
Once this pandemic began, though, my noggin and body began to give me signs that I wasn’t doing as well as I thought. I felt not just over-whelmed but exhausted. As if a hundred pound rucksack was on my back and blinders over my eyes. Work and interactions with the public became even more of a stressor as I was deemed essential. People around me were more isolating and obtuse.
My reaction to it all? Not well.
I began to eat my feelings, engage in anxiety attacks, and sleep… a lot. Realizing that I needed to change this, I decided to reset my noggin to a time when I had balance and focus.
Guess what? It’s been hard! I am not as young as I once was. Not bad, not hopeless, just more challenging than I remember in achieving that mode. Especially during a pandemic!
Cynicism high; empathy low!
I’m also reminded during this time of something Mr. Vonnegut once said: “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterwards.”
I don’t know what the secret to mental wellness is. Everyone goes through stuff differently. Maybe it’s to be good to yourself even in the smallest of doses? Forgive yourself of all the little knuckleheaded things you do? Look up and out and notice something—anything—that makes you wonder? Listen to others without interrupting them? Remember others are probably struggling, too? Remember to breathe?
I do know my family and friends are dearer to me now than any other time in my life. I also know that without them and my beloved cat I would be in a far worse place than I am now.
There were red flags everywhere. I saw them clear as day but tiptoed around them because... Because I didn't care about myself. At all. I thought I was doing good in the world. I thought I was a decent friend, sister, daughter, dog mom. I thought I was a good girlfriend. But none of that defined how I felt about me. Which I didn't. I didn't feel anything about me. So... red flags? Feverishly ignored.
Within two years of this relationship, I had let him move in without a job. I found out he had a drug problem. I didn't realize the extent, and he said he wanted to get help... So he stayed.
After the second time I caught him using, I had an identity crisis. This happened once in a previous relationship. That time, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and not knowing who I was... I called a number, no idea who I was calling. A woman answered and grounded me. She reminded me my name was Anni, where I lived, who I was. Thanks, Mom.
This time when I lost my identity it felt suicidal. Beyond scared by this feeling, I reached out to two local friends who knew what I was going through and had the strength to be there for me (depressed people can be energy vampires trapped in victimhood—myself included. I'm not saying we're being dramatic or don't deserve compassion. I'm pointing out how an imbalance can present itself). I found my footing and carried on. Red flags now jabbing me in the sides. Nothing to see here... So he stayed.
After the third time I caught him—this time at home, my safe and sacred home—he left, and I didn't let him come back. I honestly wish I could say it was for me, but I did it for my dogs.
What the hell happened? I'm a strong, intelligent woman. Why? Just... why? [spoiler: mental health has nothing to do with intelligence.]
I started going to Codependents Anonymous meetings, and for the first time I felt validated in a way I couldn't understand before. While grateful for my experience, after about six months I realized 12 steps wasn't for me. I stayed on with my new therapist though and slowly unraveled a lifetime of stuff.
The thing that sucked the most from all of that wasn't the betrayal by someone I loved, the massive amount of anger over the money he stole, or learning all the lies of a pathological narcissist... It was realizing I didn't care about myself so much so I let all of that happen.
Enter the most beautiful word in my healing: boundaries. I struggle with saying no. I definitely hermit away as to not deal with people at all. I feel shame when enforcing boundaries. But learning what my boundaries are—listening to myself to know what would bring out my best me and how to secure that—is pure magic. I won't budge my boundaries for anyone.
I now love my super sensitive, introverted, care-about-everyone self. I consider those parts of me my superpowers. I turned all those red flags into a glorious cape flowing in the wind... with my arms akimbo.
Do I trip on my cape and fall on my face sometimes? Sure do. Am I still in therapy, because I consider it preventive medicine? Sure am. Does my energy deplete faster than ever before when I'm around people? Sure does. Do I take Wellbutrin for depression every morning and a THC gummy for anxiety every night? Yep. Will this be a lifelong journey of self-care and betterment? I hope so. Am I up for it? Most days.