Oh hey it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Whatever that means. Are we not all aware of mental health? I guess I’ll use this time to tell you that, from your friendly neighborhood mentally ill, it’s okay. Whatever you’re dealing with, whatever you’re going through, it’s okay to be dealing with and going through it. It’s okay to handle it in whatever is the best way for you. If you need meds, take them. You’re not lesser because of it, your brain chemistry is just off and needs correcting. Same as if your thyroid is off and needs help (mine does), or if you’re diabetic and need insulin, or whatever.
Sometimes it will be impossible to get out of bed. Sometimes it will be impossible to put food in your face. Sometimes it will be impossible to go to class or work or even to go outside. Sometimes the weather will be so beautiful and you’ll be desperate to enjoy it, but the best you’ll be able to manage is to open windows. Sometimes you’ll kill plants by neglect because if you can’t even feed yourself, how are you supposed to water them? Sometimes your house will be a mess, the dishes won’t be done and the floors won’t be swept or vacuumed and the bed won’t be made.
Sometimes you’ll want to die, really and legitimately, not figuratively or just in an overwhelmed way. Sometimes you’ll even have a plan for how to accomplish it. Sometimes you’ll have to check yourself into the hospital, sometimes you’ll have to call your loved ones and terrify them by asking for help with this. Sometimes you’ll just have to cry and rage and do what you can to weather the storm. Sometimes you’ll barely be hanging on by your claws and teeth.
People will have reactions to this. They’ll be understanding and helpful and supportive, sometimes. But sometimes they’ll also be dismissive, won’t understand, will think (and maybe even tell you to your face) that you’re weak, lazy, overdramatic. These words will embed themselves in your brain, they’ll repeat on a loop for days and weeks and even months, in the quiet moments when you’re just trying to unplug for a while and not have to deal. You might even start to believe them yourself, because if people who love you are saying it, why would they do that if it wasn’t true? This is hard, and I don’t know a decent way to combat it. I am, after all, right here with you.
But I’m also right here to be the dissenting voice, to remind you of all the ways you’re lovely and strong and brave. You’ve made it this far, haven’t you? You’ve lasted this long. You’re still alive, still breathing. That’s all that matters, when you get right down to it. When you throw out capitalism and ablism and mental illness stigma and every other toxic system that’s in place to keep you feeling like garbage, what counts is that you’re here. We’re here. We’ve survived so long with our brains wanting to kill us, with well-meaning but ultimately harmful loved ones encouraging our brains to want to kill us, with society wanting to kill us. We’re still here, and we matter. You matter so much. Look at what you’ve overcome. Look at what you’ve seen within yourself and chosen to fight. It doesn’t matter how unconventional or useless that fight looks to others, it matters that it works.
Take just this second, while you’re reading this, to stop and be still and praise yourself for continuing to exist. Thank yourself for the gift of your life. Remember all the little things that are so personal I couldn’t begin to make them universal here that have kept you going when all you wanted was peace. Add things to that list, if there are things to add. Never stop looking for and adding things.
Donald Trump is president of the United States. The president of the United States is Donald Trump. Our President-elect, Donald Trump.
No matter which order I put the words in, they don’t make sense. They don’t penetrate.
Except, this morning, when the results came in, when the most boring and pointless acceptance speech of all time was given, when people all over my news feeds were crying and sick and scared and upset. When I saw my friends saying that it feels like America doesn’t want them, that it hates them, that they don’t feel safe, because they’re immigrants, because they’re people of color. Their parents did not bring them to this country for this. Their parents did not endure decades of racism and poverty and struggle and sacrifice for this. For a country that says they’re unwelcome, that they should go back where they came from.
I and my disabled friends are afraid, worrying about insurance and the Affordable Care Act and Trump’s policies threatening to directly negatively impact the care we receive. It’s unclear at this point exactly how and how much we’ll be affected, but this is a man who has loudly and repeatedly proclaimed his disdain and disregard for our lives and our basic human rights. He doesn’t care about us. But he’s our president. We have to respect him.
His vice-president, Mike Pence, is no less terrifying. He advocates for conversion therapy for lgbt youth, which is not only ineffective but also inhumane, and leads to more trauma than peace. He was in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood, which, as we should all know by now, provides so much more than abortions. He has, multiple times, voted for things which oppose lgbt rights, including same-sex marriage and “any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage”.He tried to block aid to Syrian refugees in Indiana, which falls neatly in line with all of Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric.
It should be apparent at this point, if somehow it wasn’t already, that this is not an unbiased post. I am not an unbiased person. And while I do care about the legalities and political specifics, what I truly care about are the people they’re impacting. My friends, my loved ones, but also the people I’ve never even met who are now living much less stable, much more unsafe lives. The people who don’t deserve any of this, who could never deserve any of this. The people being assaulted, insulted, disrespected by the people who have been validated in all their bigoted, vitriolic beliefs after this election. Hatred has won. Bigotry has won. Fear of that nebulous, unknown “other” has won. Land of the free as long as you’re straight, white, cis, rich. Home of the brave who are never recognized for their bravery, the people who get up every day, leave their houses, work, go to school, just walk down the street, exist in public, despite everything, everything, everything telling them they don’t deserve to.
This is me, just one lone voice in the howling wilderness, telling you that you deserve to. I see you, I respect you, I honor you, and I’m right here with you. I’ll stand behind you, stand up beside you, sit and cry with you, hold your hand, hold you in my arms, anything you need from me. Because while I’m marginalized in multiple ways (I’m a poor disabled woman who really, really likes other women), they’re not the ways that make me genuinely fear for my life or my freedom. I have a platform, albeit a fairly small one, and privilege, a very large amount of it, and I’m through tiptoeing around the things I should be using it for. I have a safety net in the form of close family who understand why this election is so devastating, who voted against the world we’re now forced to live in, who I know would shelter, protect, and hold me up if I needed them to. Not everyone is that lucky, and so, I want to be that for you if I can. This is an open invitation to ask whatever you need from me, whenever you need it, and this is me promising to be there, to give what I have, to do what I can. I love you.
Love is not, despite what the song says, all we need. It’s not even close. But right now, it’s all I have, and I have it in spades. I’m extending it as far outward as it will reach. I hope you can feel it. I hope it can provide even the tiniest modecom of relief in what is a truly awful day, the start of a truly awful four years.
It feels hopeless today. It’s a lead ball in the pit of the stomach, a genuine ache in the heart, a lot of crying, tension held in every part of the body. It’s calling in sick, struggling to navigate relationships with friends and family who voted for this, who claim to love and care about us but then prove that when it really counts, we’re not their priority. Their fear, their hatred, their ignorance trumps (if you’ll excuse the pun) our lived realities. It’s struggling not to be angry with those who didn’t vote, who protest voted, who third party voted. Who didn’t actively cause this, but didn’t actively stand up beside us and fight against it, either. I know. I feel all of this, too, acutely. And I’m not sure where to go from here, or how to go about undoing what’s been done.
But I have claws, and teeth, and a voice. I’m sharpening the former and preparing to unleash the latter. I’m going to fight, scream, sing, write. Whatever I know how to do. I’m going to keep living, if for no other reason than to spite all the Trump supporters and, let’s be real here, the man himself, who would rather I didn’t. I’m going to keep being visible, even though the prospect of that already made me want to crawl out of my skin before any of this happened. And I have a house, with lots of room, where you’re always welcome if you need a tangible safe space.
Words are all I’m really good at, and so this is where I’m starting, but it’s far from where I’m stopping. Right now, I don’t have spare pennies, but when I do, here is a list of possible worthy places to donate them, and maybe, if you have some spare right now, you could consider donating to some of them, too. I’m going to continue to use my voice in whatever way I can, even if it’s as small as a social media or blog post, in support of humanity, love, tolerance, equality. I’m going to keep doing the work of dismantling the systems that have gotten us here: white supremacy, the patriarchy, heteronormativity, all the various isms.
And I’m going to start by saying this: if you voted for Trump, please unfriend me, on whichever platform you’re seeing this. If you didn’t vote at all or if you third party voted, I won’t cry if you unfriend me, but you can also just not talk to me for a while, and stay silent on issues like giving the president the respect he deserves. Because here’s a hint: he doesn’t deserve it. He has done nothing, literally nothing, to prove he deserves it, and a ton to prove he doesn’t. He’s not a good man. He’s not the man I want to be leading my country, and, since he is and since so many of his supporters said the same thing about Obama, I’m going to say this, too: he’s not my president. He isn’t qualified to be my president and he’s done nothing to earn his spot as my president. Don’t tell me to respect him. Don’t tell me to give him a chance. Don’t tell me to honor him. And don’t you dare tell that to any of the minorities he’s denigrated throughout his entire career and particularly throughout his campaign.
This is not the future we deserve. I was never entirely “with her”, but I was always entirely not with him. I voted my conscience, as the saying goes, and everyone else did the same. Now we’re dealing with the fallout, and if you aren’t willing to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and start doing the work, then please do the bare minimum and get out of the way so the rest of us can. Spare me your platitudes and your soft liberalism and your unwarranted optimism. These are going to be long, hard days and I don’t have time for it. Neither does anyone else.
Lastly (for now): if you’re struggling and need help, don’t do anything permanent. Call or text any of these numbers, depending on the specifics of your crisis, and stay alive. Stay safe. Keep fighting. You shouldn’t have to, but we need you. The world needs you. This country needs you, despite the messages you’re being sent right now. And, whether you know me or not, if you read this post and there’s anything at all, whether tangible or intangible, that I can do for you, please, please let me know. You’re not a burden, I have all the time in the world. There’s a contact page with a form you can fill out on this blog, or you can leave a comment, and I can connect with you in a more private setting. I love you. I love you. I love you. I got you. We got each other.
“Marilla,” she demanded presently, “do you think that I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea?”
“A—a what kind of friend?”
“A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life. I never really supposed I would, but so many of my loveliest dreams have come true all at once that perhaps this one will, too. Do you think it’s possible?”
–Lucy Maud Montgomery, “Anne of Green Gables”
Today is the birthday of one of my very best friends and one of the very best people ever to be born into this world. I wanted to write a post for her since I can’t celebrate with her in person, but now that I’m trying to do it, I’m finding that, as is so often the case with feelings, I don’t know the right words.
I don’t want this to be all about me, but the thing is, I can’t think of one of us without the other. We’ve spent a tragically short amount of time actually in the same space, but we’ve been in each other’s orbits for so many years. Our edges overlap, bleed into one another so that we’re an amalgamation of girl. Our blood rides in tandem, we been wove on the same loom. I love her and so I’ve had to try to learn to love myself.
She is a queen, the brightest star, the truest good. She singsbeautifully, writes wonderfully (there’s no sharable evidence of that, so you’ll have to trust me), speaks honestly. There are layers to her that have been slowly and quietly peeled back over time, and even now I don’t claim to have seen beneath them all, but there’s also a bluntness to her when she’s comfortable that is more valuable than anything. I don’t have to worry and worry at her words until they become meaningless, searching for the things she’s not saying. I don’t have to distrust her expressions of feeling. I can’t even begin to tell you how important that is to me.
We sat together in silence for hours. Exchanging ocasional words, laughter, but mostly just being. She didn’t expect more than I was able to give. She didn’t offer more than I was able to take. She fit effortlessly into my established routines. We had sunshine, and we had cold, and we had bad movies and ice cream and picnics and late nights, and everything was wonderful. I was so afraid, but the first day she spent here we sat in my room and talked for hours and that was all it took. She patiently untangled my hopelessly tangled mass of necklace chains and, come on, do I need to spell this symbolism out for you?
Our temperaments are very similar, sometimes too similar, they crash against one another and sustain minor damage, but we always end up okay. We’re both a little difficult with regard to intimacy, whether romantic or platonic, we both feel a lot for and need a lot from the people we love, we both have a hard time verbalizing those feelings and needs and believing we deserve to have them honored. We separate sometimes, but inevitably find our way back together again because no one knows our siren songs like we do.
Often, I feel like my words aren’t saying what I want them to say, and I think that’s because, often, what I want to say is simpler than the words I use to say it. What I want to say is I love you, as vast as the salt sea, as bright as the moon, to me you are like breathing, you’re like food. What I want to say is I’m crossing all my fingers and making all my 11:11 wishes for seven, eight, nine more years of friendship to chart the as yet uncharted waters. What I want to say is I solemnly swear to be faithful to my bosom friend, as long as the sun and moon shall endure.
what I want to say is happy birthday, kindredest spirit, my Diana, the mermaid to my unicorn. I’m so indescribably glad you exist. Happy birthday, favorite girl.
This started out as a Facebook status, but then I kept adding words until I realized it was actually a blog post. So.
A fascinating (to me) thing about depression and anxiety is how insidious they can be, and how completely they can warp your thinking and perceptions and your baseline for feeling okay. I spent so long being miserable and exhausted and apathetic about everything that it became the normal state of things, and if anyone asked me how I was doing, I said I was fine, because I really thought I was. I thought that was just the way I was meant to feel, that maybe I was a little lazy, introverted, not a fan of going out, but mostly fine. And if I wasn’t fine, it was only because I was being silly or dramatic or having an off day/week/month/year/life.
But I was only going outside when I absolutely had to, and I was forcing myself through every day and then sleeping for hours in the middle of the afternoon because it took so much effort to be awake. Even when I was awake, I was mostly still in bed. I was hardly reading, wasn’t writing at all, was doing the bare minimum of connecting with people. I didn’t care about anything enough to commit to it in even the smallest ways, let alone in bigger life decisions ways. If I did commit to something, I quickly became panicked about it and wanted to distance myself from it. Winter was my favorite season because it was so cold that staying inside under blankets was what everyone was doing and I didn’t feel like I needed to make myself go outside. I was on edge all the time and cried at the drop of a hat. I called myself a misanthrope because it was easier to say I hated people than to say I was terrified of and exhausted by them, by their very existences. It’s unfathomable to me now that I existed in that state for so long and maintained even the vaguest semblance of being functional, and it’s unfathomable to me that I actually convinced myself I was more or less okay.
Now, I can’t get enough of being out in the sunshine. I want to go out and do interesting things and find interesting places, and meet new people (even if that’s still a little terrifying), and move my body (even if it’s just for fifteen minutes on the treadmill). I’m no longer ghostly pale and it turns out, all I had to do to get some healthy color was leave my house sometimes. Who knew? I make my bed when I get up every morning and I make a point of not getting back into it until I’m ready to wind down for the night. I still don’t eat as well or as often as I should and I still need excessive amounts of quiet alone time after being around people and I’m still too much in my own head, still carrying Xanax around in my purse just in case, still crying at the dentist and the gynecologist, still panicking about the passage of time and how much of it I’m wasting being crazy. I’m still not as good a friend as I would like to be, still too neglectful of the relationships that mean the most to me because distance complicates communication and sometimes, I’m just so tired. I’m still tired a lot. I still cry too easily. I still feel reflexively guilty for so much that isn’t my fault and so much that doesn’t even warrant guilt and so much I can’t change now anyway, and I still seek validation for everything from other people, even after I’ve already validated it for myself.
I’m not perfect, in other words. But now, I’m learning to be okay with that. To not tear myself apart for the slightest flaw, to not hold it up and magnify it until it eclipses all the good things about me. I’m learning that there’s no reason to be uncomfortable about saying I’m kind and funny and creative and good at the things I love doing, or that I’m strong and resilient and braver than I often feel. I’m learning that those things are a lot more important than all the things I think are so wrong with me, and that it takes good and bad to make a whole person.
And I’m learning to be proud of myself for how far I’ve come. I had to hit rock bottom, emotionally, to get here, but it’s okay. I’m sorry for the things that destructed along the way, or, more accurately, I’m sorry for the way they destructed, but it happened. It’s the past. I made mistakes and I didn’t handle things perfectly, and I’m going to make more mistakes and handle more things imperfectly, and that’s how life goes. But when it happens in the future, I’ll have more solid emotional structures to weather it, and I’ll be able to curb my catastrophizing tendencies and not self-destruct, and that’s not nothing. I’ve worked so hard over the past year or so, both in therapy and out of it. I’ve done so much. Just because the bulk of it has been internal doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
This wasn’t just intended as a rave about how great I am. I also want to say that if you’re anything like I was, if your position is even vaguely similar, you don’t have to live like that. And you don’t deserve to. Perpetual exhaustion/sadness/apathy, extreme reluctance to leave your house/apartment/whatever, fear of everyone and everything, those things aren’t normal. They don’t have to be your normal. This isn’t to imply that there’s something inherently wrong with you or that you’re failing by not fixing yourself/your circumstances. Ultimately you have to do what seems right and best for you, and that’s not always therapy or medication or exercise or any of the other things people always recommend. “Recovery” is a loaded concept that isn’t right for everyone. It’s just to say that if you aren’t happy with the way things are, if you don’t want them to stay that way forever, they can change. You can change them. Depression lies. It tells us that this is how things will be until we die, and, furthermore, that it’s how we deserve for things to be because we’re fundamentally terrible, unlovable human beings. But we’re not. You’re not.
I’m saying this because it’s what I needed to hear. I knew that therapy and medication were good things for other people, and that other people’s mental illnesses were real and serious and deserving of treatment. I knew that the things I was feeling and thinking were bad. But somehow, I couldn’t connect those two concepts into anything that involved asking for help. If I couldn’t be well and happy on my own, it just wasn’t meant for me. That’s nonsense. And it was also nonsense when just months after starting to meet with my first therapist, she decided that I was well enough to be done with therapy and go it alone again. She wasn’t a very good therapist. I didn’t try again for a while, because a professional had told me I was okay. But I wasn’t. My second therapist is so, so much better. I’ve been seeing her for just over a year now, and I think, maybe, at the end of the summer I’ll be ready to decrease the frequency of my sessions. Not stop them, probably, just decrease them. I have a concrete plan for what I want to do with my life, one that actually feels achievable and sustainable and enjoyable, unlike most of the others I’ve considered. If I could get to this point, you definitely can. I’m such an unmotivated, anxious, defeatist person, and, still, here I am.
Therapy and medication might not be your things. They’re the thingsI recommend most strongly because they’re the things that have been the most transformative for me, but you’re not me. All I’m trying to say here is that you don’t deserve to feel the way I felt, and you don’t have to just accept that as the baseline for feeling okay. The story I told myself when I was in the middle of feeling that way was a cruel, destructive, completely untrue story, and I’m sad for that self and how long she believed it. If you’re telling yourself a similar story, of being unworthy of help, of being not mentally ill enough, of being lazy and selfish and horrible, I just want you to hear that it’s not the truth, and that you deserve to write yourself a different, truer one.
This is, at least in part, the reason for my current lack of blogging. November was an exceptionally difficult and stressful month, for me, but also, it seems, for almost everyone else. Personally, this has been a time of trying to love people better, trying to love some people less, trying to let some people go. It’s been a time of having to get really real with myself and my life and the ways I’ve let my mental health issues affect both, as well as other people. It’s been loss and regret and planning and packing and moving and meds and stress, and stress, and stress.
Politically, it’s been blow after blow, gut-punch after gut-punch. It’s been brutality and death and injustice, racism and ignorance and a shocking lack of empathy. It’s been don’t look at the news, don’t click the link, don’t read the comments. It’s been no emotional reserves left to deal with this world, but also the knowledge that that’s a luxury I don’t deserve to indulge, that to be an ally means opening my mouth, speaking up, engaging where others can’t and shouldn’t have to. And it’s been mourning that during a time meant for thanks, a mother has no son left to be thankful for, a woman is imprisoned for a crime she didn’t come close to committing, and a child’s life has been cruelly cut off before it even had a chance to begin.
These are the things I don’t like to blog about, because there’s already enough of them in the world, on the web. Everyone is sad, or sick, or stressed, or scared. Winter is coming and we’re all still sweet summer children. I want to write and share things that will make people feel a little warmer, a little lighter, a little happier. I want to focus on positivity so that when I’m in the depths of despair, as Anne would put it, I can look back at the good things and remind myself that they were, and are, and will be.
But sometimes, things are just hard, and heavy, and that’s all. Sometimes, you just have to sit with that heaviness and acknowledge it. Not bow to it, never that, but know that it’s there, that it’s real, and that, like all things, it’s temporary. Even if it’s recurring, it’s not forever. And then, even though it’s temporary, that it’s yours and it’s also many other people’s, and maybe it would help some of them to see it reflected back from someone else. To know that they’re not alone. Even though we know this, intellectually, we don’t always know it emotionally, and even though the news and social media never let us forget, sometimes we forget anyway.
So, you’re not alone. The world is heavy and I am heavy in the world, and if you are, too, I’m here with you. It will get better–even now, even in November, there were good, happy things–but that doesn’t make the ache less or the burden lighter, right here, right now. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be instantly better, you don’t have to sweep it away or hide it behind platitudes and positivity mantras. But you can share it, and let people hold your hand and love you through it.
I always want things to be easy, especially emotional things. I want them to be only good, and, when they aren’t, I want to ignore and rush past them to a point when they will be again, or to a point where there’s enough distance that I don’t have to care anymore. But that isn’t the way anything works, least of all emotions, and so many of the hard things in my life have been caused by these avoidant tendencies. I know that, and I’m working on it. I’m fortunate enough to have some wonderful people in my life who never stop loving me and never stop holding out their hands, even if I don’t always take them, and I’m so glad and so grateful and I hope you have that, too.
If you don’t (or even if you do), here is me loving you, here is me holding out my hand. Here is me saying I know it’s hard, I know it’s heavy. It is for me, too. But we can help get each other to better. After winter comes spring, but winter is still to be endured, and what better form of warmth?