This is the one about growth.
tw: anxiety, depression, trauma
I’m 23 today. As a gift to myself, I’m being open and vulnerable on the internet.
The past 10 months have been some of the hardest of my life. I released my first novel. I released my first novella. I got my dream job. I quit my dream job. I traveled. I got sick. I found a new job. I moved in with my partner of four years. We got a cat. Our cat got sick. Most of these events are things that would make anyone feel stressed. Unfortunately, even though I knocked each stressor down as it came, I spiraled. I have struggled with generalized anxiety and OCD-tendencies since I was in high school, but I spent eight of the past ten months denying that I was relapsing. When my doctors asked how my mental health was, I’d say fine.When asked how I felt, I’d say happy. Maybe that’s why everything hit so hard when it did.
This recent episode started with small things. Things that although weird, weren’t alarming. Clicking the “lock” function on my key fob an extra three times so I knew the car was safe. Having to check the house in order to go to bed every night to make sure no one was lurking behind the washer and dryer unit or in the furnace closet. Sleeping with scissors on my night stand for self-defense in case of a break in. It wasn’t my fault I wanted to sleep with the lights on. It wasn’t my fault that being alone gave me panic attacks. Everyone is paranoid to some degree. I said I was just a little more paranoid than others.
When preparing for common crimes wasn’t enough, the erasure began. It started with a blog I had -ironically- posted here on my author site. It was a positive, excited, and very marking sounding announcement that I was leaving my old job and going on to my dream job. I was going to be an event planner at a big publishing company. In reality, I got to that job and it destroyed me. During my brief two months with the company, I ended up in the ER twice. I was convinced I had a fistula, an abscess, a rotting tooth. When the doctor diagnosed me with a panic attack I made a scene and then left.
I’d just gotten off my SSRI a month prior to starting the new job. I was cured of my mental illness. This doctor didn’t know what he was talking about. After the utter failure that was my career in publishing, I deleted the happy-go-lucky blog. I was embarrassed that anyone might find out I was so hopeful and put so much stock into something that would go on to bring me so much hurt.
When that wasn’t enough, I started erasing photos. Anything from high school, anything with my family in it, anything from my job. When people asked why, I said it was because I didn’t want anyone to be able to figure out where I lived, worked, and went to high school. This is a good practice, but it’s not really why I started to vanish. The hate was settling in like the first frost of a bitter winter.
When it started, I hated who I was 10 years ago. Then, I hated who I was 5 years ago. Then, I decided I hated who I was 6 months ago, right when Seven-Sided Spyreleased. After that, I just hated myself.
A lot of people struggling with depression describe the “midnight parade.” The time where you lay in bed unable to fall asleep because all you can think about are the things you regret. For me, it came in the daytime. I felt like I was on auto-pilot. I’d do the things I needed to day-to-day, but while I passively participated in my daily life, I was actively living in my past. Everything became a blur of the things I regretted. The actions and thoughts I hated myself for. I was fixated on the things I should have done. And the things I shouldn’t have.
I wanted to scrub myself from the Earth. I cancelled any plans and appointments I had. I stopped answering emails. I deactivated my social media. I stopped promoting my books, because I was ashamed of the content and ashamed of ever thinking I could be a writer. I couldn’t be excited for things anymore. I couldn’t express outrage anymore. I was terrified of using my voice, having original thoughts, expressing my opinions on things, and my lack of opinions on other things, because what if I hated myself for it later? I felt like a doomsday prepper. I’d built a big bunker for the end of times. It was stocked with everything I needed for every worst case scenario I could think of. But once I built the shelter, I wouldn’t leave it. I locked myself in despite a dozen people standing at the door begging me to come out. Doomsday isn’t coming today.They’d say.It’s okay to come out and live. But I couldn’t.
I was so afraid anything I did or said would cause me to look back on it years from now and hate myself again. Unfortunately, that’s the risk of being alive and being human. Everyone is capable of being terrible. Everyone is capable of being wonderful. Most importantly, everyone is capable of change. Values change. Beliefs change. People change. Over the past 10 years, I have changed dramatically. As long as I live, I will continue to change. Writing this blog terrifies me, because what will I think in 10 years? 5 years? 6 months? So I’m taking a chance. I’m doing it anyway.
I am still re-learning to love myself in a way that is healthy and productive. I am still accepting that I have had trauma in my life, and I’m still accepting that I’ve caused pain in the word in spite of it. If I’ve caused you pain, I’m sorry.
I write this not because I feel my past experiences and current experience with mental health is incredibly unique or profound, but because I feel this experience is incredibly common. If there’s one thing all the podcasts, heart-to-hearts, and therapy sessions have taught me, it’s that talking about our struggle with mental health does not just help the subject feel better, but potentially those around them. Over the years, I have spent dozens of nights and early mornings browsing dead, ten-year old threads on obscure forum sites where people asked or talked about going through an experience similar to mine. Seeing people have the same symptoms, struggles, and regrets, provides a brief wash of relief, a clear moment of holy shit it’s not just me. The more we talk about OCD, obsessive guilt, chronic depression, contamination anxiety, obsessive fear of home invasion, etc. etc., the more likely we are to encourage people who need help to get it. The more normal we make it, the less likely people are to freak out when they find out someone they know, someone they love is going through hell in their own mind.
I have been back on my SSRI for three months and I’m finally accepting that you don’t “cure” mental illness. You manage it. Medication helps me manage it, catharsis through creation helps me manage it, but for others it may be totally different. If you need help, don’t be afraid to get it. Below, I’ve listed a few resources that have helped me through these last few months. Maybe they can help you too.
Thanks for reading,