Let Me Be A Part Of The Narrative

Depression is a word I tend to avoid.

It’s something I don’t really talk about. Because talking about it makes it real.

Instead of facing it head on, I mask it. I refer to it as darkness. I pass it off as a “tough time in my life” or a bad day, week, month, year. I cover it in metaphors in an attempt to make it sound prettier than it truly is. Because if it sounds poetic, it can’t really hurt me.

But the fact of the matter is, avoiding it hurt me even more.

By avoiding the words, by never saying it out loud, by never admitting:

I am struggling with depression.

Five simple words that were–and still are–anything but simple. By avoiding these words, I believed I was preventing it from being real. If I never spoke the words, this didn’t need to be my reality. But with every passing day, pretending it wasn’t happening only gave the depression a stronger control over me. Instead of only being a part of my narrative, it became the whole thing; it took away every lovely, good, and light part of me.

Depression stole my story, effectively removing me from the narrative entirely.

For most of my young adult life, I was fighting a nameless darkness. When it first began, I’m not sure I realized this all-encompassing sadness had a name. There were the same excuses every time–high school is tough for everyone, teenage girls are mean, stress and lack of sleep, the reality of bullying, high school heartbreak. I can look back on these moments now and understand adolescent me a bit better: she deserved to understand what was happening in her mind, her heart, her life.

Following those years, I can pinpoint the exact moments when my life was overcome by darkness. By a sadness that was more than sadness. Periods of time that were triggered by sadness, leading into weeks of feeling nothing at all. In my early college years, these periods were brief; I was surrounded by people who were able to save me from myself without even realizing it themselves. I never needed to explain or put a label on my sadness; it was a part of who I was, and as long as I had my support system, I was more than capable to dealing with it. I was twenty years old and still unaware that this was not normal. The sadness, the emptiness, the darkness should not have been normal.

No person should live in a world of darkness and accept that as their normal.

At age twenty one, I lost all sense of normal. The brief moments of darkness that I was so accustomed to stretched out from days to weeks to months. The darkness was strung together with small moments of light–few and far in between. One moment with great friends on my birthday, another falling for a boy who was always leaving me behind, accepting my dream position on an executive board, and a final moment with my best friend on a vacation in a small beach town surrounded by strangers. I say final moment because that was the last true memory of light I have before I lost control of my own story.

It was August 2015 when depression took over my narrative.

Nearly three months passed before I came to terms with my darkness. In those three months, my life was a blur. Every day, I struggled to get myself out of bed. I forced myself to go to class, to meetings, to coffee dates with friends, to live my life. Those days, weeks, months are blank to me now–looking back on it all. It was like watching my life from the outside; the person living my life was no longer me. Three months into the darkness, my very best friend listened to me on the other end of a phone–miles and states in between us, but she knew from my words (or lack thereof) that something wasn’t right. There was something I was not saying–something I was avoiding. She sat up with me until three in the morning, as I sobbed and fell apart, as I finally found the words to explain my life.

I have depression. 

Admitting this to myself and to another person was a liberating moment. As soon as the words fell from my lips, as soon as I let them exist openly in the world, there was a small shift in my universe. There was a weight lifted from my shoulders that I hadn’t realized was weighing me down. My darkness was still with me; it stayed with me for nearly a year. From twenty one to twenty two, I struggled and I fought. I had moments of extreme lows, moments that I didn’t want to come back from, moments where I just wanted to say “you win” and curl back into my blankets, moments where the dark was too much to handle. In that year, I lost a lot. A lot of battles with the dark, a lot of goals that I didn’t have the energy to fulfill, a lot of dreams that I watched crumble, a lot of friends who walked away and I didn’t stop. But most of all: I lost me.

I am not sure I will ever have the words to describe what depression feels like. It’s the feeling when you’re trying not to cry–the tightness in your chest making it hard to breathe, the clamminess making you break out in a sweat while simultaneously being unable to get warm, the rapid heartbeat causing you to hyperventilate in order to continue breathing at all. It’s how it feels to be trapped in a dark room–there’s no entrance or exit, there are no visiting hours, there is no source of light, there is only darkness. It’s a constant state of drowning and no one is there to save you. It’s screaming and no one hearing you.

It is feeling nothing and everything at the same time.

Feeling too deeply, feeling nothing, feeling everything, feeling empty.

It is watching your life happen without your consent. It’s life moving forward and you’re not there to participate. It is missing out on your senior year of college, it is losing your best friends, it is choosing sleep over socializing, it is watching everything slip away. Worse, it’s knowing all of this is happening and not being able to bring yourself to care until it’s too late. It’s not being able to apologize because they don’t understand what it is like to be trapped in your own darkness and not have the words to ask for help.

It’s wandering in circles in the dark, in the woods, hoping to find the way out again.

August 2016: I started over. I’m finding my light again. I am happy, for the first time in a year, and I am terrified of losing myself at any given moment. I know there will always be a chance of slipping back into the darkness; I know this, but something is different now. Because there is a label on it now, because I know the signs to look for, because I know how to move forward from the darkness, I am going to be better.

I might be okay today. Tomorrow. Next month. Next year. Five years.

But there will always be that fear of getting lost again. It will always be there. Darkness will always be there. I am not naive enough to think–to allow myself to believe–that I’m in the clear. Just because the fear is there, the chance is there, the darkness is there just out of sight–doesn’t mean it can stop me from living in the light now.

Depression stole a lot from me in the past year, but it’s about time I take it all back.

I’m putting myself back in the narrative.

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For courage, just add thyme.
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It’s Okay to Put You First

Around two months ago, I left behind my world. Everything I knew, everyone I love, and a city where I built my life. I packed a red truck full, piled high with boxes and suitcases filled with every belonging I would need to live on my own. I watched as my white house–the house I called home for 22 years–disappeared from view. I sat silently in the back seat as we drove through state after state before coming to a stop in Virginia. Middle of Nowhere, Never Going to Be Happy Here, Virginia. I put on my best smile as my parents prepared to walk out the door and leave me behind; yes, I was the one doing the leaving, but in that moment, it felt like I was being abandoned. As they drove away and I locked the door behind them, the only thought on my mind was: how am I going to be happy here?

My first month in Virginia, I lived life one day at a time. If I could make it through this day without wishing I was home, it would be a good day. If I could find a silver lining in this tiny town today, I could make it through one more. Day after day, one day at a time, for a month. August to September seemed to drag on and on, on and on. Despite reminding myself that this tiny town, in this tiny apartment, in the middle of nowhere, was only temporary, I knew I wasn’t going to last like this; I have lived the one day at a time life before. I lived this chapter of my story before; I knew how the chapter goes. One wrong step, one day too close to the edge, and I would be back in the dark for the next month, two months, year. After struggling, fighting, pushing through to find a new normal, I wasn’t willingly to sacrifice my light, my life, my mental health for temporary darkness.

The greatest lesson my depression ever taught me was to fight for myself. Saying yes to your own happiness is okay. Sometimes, you need to put yourself first, and there is nothing wrong with that.

It’s taken me a month to write about this because for a while, I was still trying to pretend there wasn’t a problem. That everything was truly fine. My friends and family would receive daily or weekly updates–all was well, Virginia is great, my classroom is wonderful. How could there possibly be anything wrong if I wasn’t talking about it? This was everything I wanted. But this was not the way I wanted this new chapter to pan out. At 22 years old, I was finally learning to put myself first–and in the middle of September, that’s exactly what I did.

But not before hitting the floor. It took my first big girl paycheck–a moment that should have been something to celebrate–to break me. Living more than thirty minutes away from my parents for the first time in my life, it was this moment when it hit me: I was a poor twentysomething. Even with a steady income, it was a teacher’s salary. And if I was going to be poor, I wanted to be poor in a place that made me happy. Instead of celebrating my first paycheck, I spent that Friday night sobbing to my mom on the phone, curled in a ball on the floor of my tiny bedroom that I rented from a nice couple in an even tinier apartment. There was nothing my mom could do from five hours away to stop the tears; once they started, all of my hidden unhappiness from the past month poured out with them.

I cried over money. I cried for missing home. I cried over the family renting me this tiny room. I cried about telling them I needed to move out. But most of all, I cried over the new house that was waiting for me. A tiny house in Alexandria with a bedroom and a kitchen waiting just for me. A beautiful white house that I had no means of getting all of my belongings to without someone to come and help take me out of the tiny room I currently called home. I cried until the tears finally ran dry, and I could hear my mom clearly on the other end of the line. In that moment of my twentysomething life, I realized something else: moms are the real superheroes in this life.

That same weekend, there was money in my account–money I knew my parents didn’t have to spare, but was somehow there for me–and my boxes were packed once again. The money and the packing and the moving was the easy part compared to telling the couple I was renting from that I was moving out. They were nice people–a little bit quirky (read: extremely weird)–but they had provided me with a cheap room and a place to live for my first month as a real grown up. After my first month was up, though, I knew I couldn’t stay. Despite their hospitality and generosity, I needed to do what was best for me. I needed to put me first–even if I felt like the worst human in the world as I handed them my key with only a day’s notice. Putting me first was still so new, and knowing I was letting someone else down was truly the hardest part. But as I closed the door behind me for the last time, I have never felt so empowered and light in my life. This was a turning point in my life; looking back, I know this was the most important part in this chapter of my story.

For the second time in a month, I carried my belongings down the same stairs I had carried them up a month earlier to pile them into the back of another truck. This time, it wasn’t my parents in the front seat, but a teacher I lovingly refer to as my “work mom” and her husband. In less than an hour, I was staring out the window in the backseat, watching this tiny, nothing town disappear from view. Knowing I’d be back for work there tomorrow, but already unable to control the smile spreading across my face because my real Virginia life was about to begin. As the last box found its place in my new room and I waved goodbye to my fairy godmother/work mom, I cried again. But this time, it was because I was home.

You cannot wait for other people to put you first. You cannot wait and pretend and hold in the unhappiness until it drags you down to the floor. You cannot allow yourself to get lost in the dark because you’re afraid of admitting you need help.

You have to fight for you. You have to be there for you. You have to want your happiness.

Most of all, you need to understand that it’s okay to put you first. 

Because once you learn that lesson, once you stop worrying about everyone else, once you realize that you matter most, the whole world will be at your feet.

It was time to stop wandering around in the dark. It was time to step out of the woods.

It was time to say goodbye to Triangle, and hello to Del Ray.

It was time to put me first.

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On the subject of leaving…

I’ve always been the one left behind. One of my earliest memories involves being left at a climbing net area at SeaWorld; one minute, I was climbing directly above my mother, and the next, she was no where in sight. (We were reunited shortly thereafter, but that’s not the point.) This is not to be dramatic–this is just a simple fact, a recurring theme in my life, something that cannot go ignored. I am the one who remains when all others seem to exit through a revolving door that continues to elude me.

There is a lifetime of being left behind. Life happens, forces people to move elsewhere; other times, there was no choice in the matter. Times when the leaving brings a silence so loud, it takes nearly ten months to fill the emptiness of being left behind. No one tells you how deafening silence can be–no one teaches you how it feels to be the one left standing when everyone else is gone.

I’ve never been the one who does the leaving. I was the one saying “you do these things, and then you leave” before being left in the rain outside my dorm. I’m the one who waves from the front porch until your car disappears around the corner of my street. I have always been the one who is always there where you left her, for when you come back.

Until now. On Saturday, I sat in the backseat of a red rental truck packed full of my belongings and watched as my childhood home disappeared from view. I watched as my familiar small town faded, replaced by state welcome signs–Wild and Wonderful West Virginia, Maryland with its flag obsession, and finally settling in the state for lovers: Virginia. Four and a half hours between everything I’ve ever known and my new life. As I sat and watched from the backseat, all I could think about was how my parents would take this same trip back on Sunday, but the backseat would be empty.

For the first time, I was the one doing the leaving. 

I accepted a new job without a second thought. It sounded so exciting, so romantic to say “I’m moving to Virginia, I got a job in Virginia, I’m packing my bags for Virginia.” It was all so new and unknown; it was romantic and daring. It meant new people, new places, new things. It was the first time I said “yes” to being brave in a very long time. 

As I packed up my life in Pennsylvania, all I could focus on was the new experiences that awaited me. There was an empty classroom with my name outside the door, waiting to be filled with Young Adult novels and witty grammar posters. There was a Dunkin and a local library within a five minute walk down the street from a new apartment that I was going to call mine. There was a train that would take me into the heart of one of my favorite cities. All of this was going to be mine; all of this, right now, is mine. It never occurred to me, as I loaded the last box into the truck, how terrifying this whole thing was going to be.

This fact remains true: no one teaches you how it feels to be the one left standing when everyone else is gone. I never could have been prepared for the feeling of locking the door to my new apartment as my parents walked down the stairs to the parking lot. No one told me how small you will feel waking up in a new room, in a new town, in a new state for the first time on all your own. There’s not a “Welcome to Adulthood” sign that greets you at this milestone–it happens silently, the way leaving does, even when you feel like it’s the loudest sound in the world.

Welcome to Virginia–Virginia is for Lovers. Welcome to Adulthood-Ready or Not. 

Leaving was my “ready or not” moment. Choosing to be ready, choosing to leave. I had every opportunity to stay, to choose familiar and safety, to sub in local schools every day and fall asleep beneath the glow in the dark stars I’ve had since I was six. I chose ready, I chose now, I chose leaving. You either choose ready or you choose to stay. You get out there and experience new things or you don’t. You say yes to being brave or you stick in your comfort zone. You’re ready or you’re not. I needed to be ready, I needed to say yes.

I wish I could say I’m still as brave as the moment I said yes. I wish I could say I’m adjusting to adulthood with ease. I wish I could say this wasn’t the most terrifying series of moments in my life. I wish I could say I was 100% ready when I chose ready. But I’d be lying–and I believe anyone who says otherwise is lying. None of this is easy. Adjusting is hard, adulting is hard, being brave is hard. But I’m here, we’re here, and we all do it.

At some point, you need to let go of the hands holding you up. You need to face this world on your own, and when it knocks you down, you need to pick yourself back up onto your own two feet. The people you love and who love you are always going to be there for you, but now they’re a phone call away rather than the room next door. It’s time you find new space–a space that’s all yours for the taking, for the changing, for the growing. So, cry your tears and accept the awkwardness, the scariness, the emptiness of leaving and starting new. And when those tears are done, get ready to start the next page of your story.

Leaving is terrifying and lonely, but it doesn’t have to be forever. I’m ready for new adventures, for new people, for new experiences, for new stories. But the best part about leaving that no one told me? You get all of these new things–but eventually, you get to find your way back to home with all the stories, experiences, and adventures to share.

Welcome to New Adventures–They’re Ready For You.VA is For Lovers.jpg