Opening the Door for the First Time

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Hello!

My name is Julia, I’m a 19 year old college student, currently living in Southern New Hampshire, and I am clinically depressed.

Not your average introduction, but if I am going to accomplish what I have set out to do with this blog, then we are going to need to be open and honest.

I have been experiencing depression and anxiety for most of my life, but have only been receiving treatment for a few months. One thing I have noticed time and time again is that people don’t want to talk about mental health.

Depression is an icky word. It’s meant to be whispered, to be thrown in a box and shoved under the bed. But here’s the thing: depression is a grower. And depression feeds on the darkness. The further you shove it down, the bigger it’s going to get.

So, that’s where the goal of this blog comes in. I want to open the doors to a wider discussion about mental health, so that those who suffer from mental illness can face their daily battles without shame or fear.

So feel free to introduce yourself, and look forward to some more content in the near future!

open door
“The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.” – C.S. Lewis
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Doors Keep Opening

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Hi Everyone!

I’m Katherine and I’m here as a guest (maybe eventually permanent co- writer?) on Julia’s blog! I wanted to take this first blog post to talk a little about myself, how I know the amazing Julia, and my journey with mental health.

I’m a sophomore American Studies major at Saint Anselm College. I’m from Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and a lot of lakes. Seriously, we have a lot of lakes. Thanks glaciers! My favorite color is grey, the love of my life is the research I do on breastfeeding and postpartum depression, I’m constantly frustrated when New Englanders call water fountains “bubblers,” and I’m not a huge fan of pizza.

I met Julia my freshman year when I got an email with information about my assigned roommate. While we weren’t immediately bffs, Julia and I have become very close friends over the past two years and I’m so blessed to be able to call her one of my best friends! When Julia started this blog, I was beyond proud of her for having the strength to share her experiences with others. I’ve always wanted to do the same, but have never felt that the time is right. My life recently took an unexpected and rough turn (to be explained in a future post) and reached out to Julia because the time felt right to open my door. Thank you Julia for welcoming me and for constantly inspiring me and others to open our doors!

My journey with mental health began this past summer when a close friend asked me if I was depressed. The idea honestly had never occurred to me and I was shocked. I thought that the feelings I was experiencing were normal things everyone felt but didn’t talk about. I then spent the summer doing research on postpartum depression and began to see some similarities in symptoms between the mothers I was studying and myself. No, I didn’t have postpartum depression, but I did have Persistent Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My doctor on campus explained this to me and we began the looooong process of getting treatment.

I’ve been receiving treatment since late August and it has been a roller coaster for sure. I’m excited to share parts of my journey with you all and to keep moving forward on the journey together! Please feel free to use the comments section to share your own stories and I look forward to whatever this brings!

 

Country Roads are Taking Me Home

B-Farm’s version of the Notre Dame “Fight Like a Champion Today” sign leading to the basement. As the daughter of two ND alum, this picture means a lot.

I’m ecstatic to start off this post saying that I’m going to be spending the next month (July 14th-August 10th) at Bethlehem Farm in Talcott, West Virginia doing service. I won’t have internet access or cell service during this time so the posts for the next four weeks were actually written up to a month before you all get to see them.

Wait, Katherine, why the heck are you going to do service in West Virginia? Well, that’s a fairly simple question that actually has a more complicated story peppered with anecdotes on mental health. Sounds perfect for a blog post!

Me (second from the left) and the rest of the students from Saint Anselm College at the farm. Also, just a small glimpse of the stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains.

My school has a program called Service and Solidarity where students go on week-long service trips over Winter or Spring break. I applied for Winter break alternative (WBA) for January 2019 and was declined at the time the office that runs the program sent out acceptances. I was bummed but it wasn’t the end of the world. A few months later, I got an email saying that they added an additional trip and that I was accepted. The trip was to a place called Bethlehem Farm and it was described to me as a place that focuses on sustainable living and service to a community with an abundance of rural poverty. And with that, I was to spend a week of my winter break in West Virginia. I listened to a lot of John Denver in preparation and went to a lot of group meeting full of anxiety.

It’s funny looking back on that week because it was both the worst week of my life and the best week of my life. It was the worst week because I had a really difficult time fitting in with the other students from my school on the trip. The vast majority of them were amazing people who I love to run into on campus and say hello! They made me laugh and tried to cheer me up when I was down that week. These amazing people made it a phenomenal trip. But there were a few students on the trip who I clashed with severely.

The two student leaders, while they are both great people, did not know how to work with me when it came to my mental health. I was not in a great place in January with my health. Add that to being in a new place with new people and my anxiety and depression were through the roof. I disliked group discussions, I disliked free time when it felt like everyone was in conversation but me, and I especially disliked feeling so excluded from the group, especially my small group. I broke down sobbing three days in a row, walked out of one group discussion, and completely retreated into myself when I was around the people from my school. When I did this, my leaders told me they were concerned about me because I wasn’t becoming friends with the other students on the trip. They had the specific agenda of making all the students friends and I threw off that plan so I was taken aside and forced to call our school’s counselor on calls so I could work out my problems.

The thing is that I didn’t have any problems, I just wasn’t going to leave the trip being best friends with anyone. I accepted that because I went on the trip to do service so I fully committed myself to the service we did every day. The funny thing is that I actually did leave the trip with friends; I became close friends with many of the people who work on the farm and they encouraged me to consider coming back in the summer. Despite being told that I was being problematic, I felt at home with the workers on the farm.

Snuggling up with blankets and nights without electricity are my jam.

Before I even left, I knew that I was going to apply to do a month of service in the summer, and I was accepted! I wanted to go back because I love everything that Bethlehem Farm stands for and does. Their four cornerstones are faith, service, simplicity, and community. You wake up at 6am, have group prayer, do morning chores, have group breakfast, work on the farm, go out into the community and help people in need, come home to group dinner, and end the day with prayer. You also take bucket showers, use compost toilets, hug everyone, welcome people when they come back to the farm, eat organic, and hang dry clothes. I spent every day covered in dirt and I loved it!

I love the people who work on the farm, the people who dedicate their lives to serving the community. I was so inspired by their love of what they do and the more I’ve thought and reflected on my time there, the more I realize how much I loved it. I live everything about the farm and I can not wait to go back! Below are some more pictures of work I did when I was there in January.

Taking down the wood panneling covering the ceiling and staircase of an old house.
Digging plastic waste lining an old hoop house to be reused by a new organic and sustainable farm. Featuring my pants with the paint smiley face on them.

Unpacking

Not an actual depiction of me unpacking or the kind of unpacking I’ll be doing in this post. I Google Image searched “unpacking” and this was the first result. I found it too funny not to share.

I’m sorry that this week’s post isn’t more upbeat. I wrote about three drafts for posts about how I actually am doing a lot better and feel a lot better about myself, but they didn’t feel genuine given how I’m feeling right now. I have a lot that I’m excited about in the near future (more on that in my next blog post) and I know that this feeling will eventually lift. But for now, I wanted to share this process of unpacking how I’m currently feeling and what I’m currently working through. A lot of times, I find that journaling or writing in some capacity helps me clearly articulate what I’m feeling and is actually very helpful. Most of the time, these “unpacking sessions” get deleted from the drafts section for blog posts or ripped out of my journal. What I’m going through right now, though, has really been influencing how I feel and my ability to write a more upbeat post about my progress so without further ado, here’s “Unpacking”:

One of the things I dislike the most about having anxiety and depression are inexplicable periods of prolonged depression. No real triggers, just a sinking feeling of discontent and unhappiness. It’s a weird thing to say, but I’m just not happy.

This feeling can come for a day or two, or weeks, or sometimes months. I can’t pinpoint exactly when this one started, but it has definitely worsened over the past few days. It’s like more and more I want to fall into those bad depressive habits that I’ve worked so so hard at stopping. That confident voice in my head has a harder and harder time fighting back against the irrational depressed voice.

Maybe it’s because I’m not happy where I am right now and maybe it’s because I’m not happy where I’m going. Or maybe it’s both. I am with my family, which as I talked about in a previous post, is difficult for me. I’m not working right now so I spend most of my free time cross stitching and watching The Handmaids Tale. It’s not all that exciting and I know that having things to do really helps distract from those depressive thoughts.

I also am not excited for what’s to come. I’m not excited to go back to school in August. I don’t want to go through two more years of taking classes to get a degree in a subject area that I chose when I was 17. I’m just not interested in my major anymore and it’s too late for me to switch into something I’m more interested in. So I’m faced with the choice of finishing undergrad with an American Studies major for the next two years, switching majors and taking summer classes to catch up, taking an extra year at Saint A’s, or applying to transfer somewhere else as a freshman.

Right now, I’m just kind of sticking with Saint A’s and American Studies. I like the school and it’s just two more years and I can take a few electives in my areas of interest. I just wish that there was more freedom for me to change my major at this point because, hey, I chose American Studies when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A lot of things are still up to grabs for my future, but I at least have a general direction that I love.

Katherine, you’ve been super vague about what it is you actually want to do and study, so what is it you want to do?

I want to go into business. I know, it’s a shift from American Studies for sure. I also know that I’m still young and things in life can and most likely will change. But, I’ve taken classes in accounting and business and I realized that I really enjoy that work. I’d ideally like to get my MBA in nonprofit management and work with service-based nonprofits.

When I think of a future doing this work and studying business and management, I get really, really happy. I feel very confident that it’s the direction that I should move in going forward, but I just can’t do a lot to make things better now.

So I guess that’s why I’m in a bit of a slump right now. I’ve recently been around a lot of people who ask questions regarding what I’m doing and where I’m going which makes me think about these things. But what do I do to make today better? How can I be happy today despite this unhappiness? I’m honestly not sure. I guess I just keep going and try to do little things every day to make me happy. Little things can go a long way.

Cooking with Love

Some of my greatest memories take place in my family’s tiny upstairs kitchen, an afterthought of a room that juts out of the house, crafted haphazardly in a way that perfectly mirrored the family that inhabited it. It was in this kitchen that I was taught the love language that is food. I was taught the joy that a homemade meal can bring out after a long day at school or work. I was taught the correct spices to use to make your chicken “with love”. I was taught all of these things by the master of love-cooking, Carol Cyr – my mother.

Three days ago, I moved out of the house I called home for the first almost 20 years of my life, and into the new home I am building with my boyfriend, Nelson. I am learning now what it is to put these skills to the test. Sure, I’ve baked cakes for loved ones and even the occasional dinner, but now it is my turn to truly show my love through the food I make, and to show it towards the person I have chosen to create a home with.

So today, I am going to be trying my hand at food blogging, which I know is a bit different from my usual content. I wanted to share a recipe that my mom made for our family dozens of times, that I am now making alone for the first time. I hope I am making her proud. So without further ado….

Salsa Verde Chicken Baked Taquito Enchilada Things

Yes, this is what we call this recipe. To claim it to be any one thing would be inauthentic at best, insensitive at worst.

First, put the chicken breast into a pot of water. Season the water with salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.

How cute are my labeled spice jars!!

Next, bring the water to a boil. Once it begins to boil, cover the pot and wait 10-15 minutes, until the chicken breast is cooked through.

(My mom would have used a crock pot for this step, but I don’t have one yet.)

Take the chicken out and allow it to cool on a cutting board. Once cool, use two forks (or your hands!) to shred the chicken into small pieces.

After the chicken is all shredded, move it to a bowl and mix with some jarred salsa verde, like this awesome one from Trader Joe’s

You should probably use a larger bowl than the one I used, but seeing that I moved in a few days ago, this is all I have.

Once it is all mixed, you’re ready to roll (literally). Place a tortilla down, sprinkle some cheese on (I used a pre-shredded Mexican blend, sorry mom.), and then put a few spoonfuls of your salsa chicken in a line across the center of the tortilla.

Then, roll your tortillas, and place them with the seam down.

The best part: load on remaining salsa and cheese.

Now it’s time to bake your tortilla things at 375° for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown and get crispy.

And voila! Cut into rectangles and serve with sides of your choice! For mine I chose some roasted carrots and zucchini along with rice.

So there you go. I hope to someday master the love language of cooking like my mom, but until then I’ll continue to learn from her however I can.

8 Weeks and Counting

Photo by Lydia Bond on Pexels.com

So, as of tomorrow (the day after this post goes out) I will have gone 8 weeks without seeing my therapist or my psychiatrist.

Wait, wait, wait. Katherine, you keep talking about your depression and how it’s serious and a big deal, wby haven’t you seen anyone about it in 8 weeks?

That’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, drawback to getting treatment for mental health on a college campus. At my school, health services shuts down for the summer meaning that all of the doctors, therapists, and nurses aren’t available from early March to late August. Yeah, that’s a long time.

But Katherine, can’t you just go see someone else?

I absolutely can. But the thing is, I don’t want to. I have an established successful relationship with my therapist and honestly, she’s the best person for me and my mental health right now. I receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is somewhat specialized and on top of that, we just mesh well. She’s my Cinderella therapist.

Anyone who’s gone through the process of finding a therapist can tell you that it’s not easy. I was pretty lucky in that I was successful on my second therapist. Many people have to try three or more therapists until they find one who works for them. It’s like test driving a car in a way. Once you find the car that had all the features you want and that you could see yourself driving for a while, you stick with it. You’re not just going to go use a rental car for a little while as your car sits in the garage.

So yes, I could see another therapist but I don’t want to go through the challenge of finding another person who works for me. Then there’s the question of cost. Therapy is outrageously expensive. A lot of times, insurance companies won’t cover the whole cost of the appointment and unless you have spectacular insurance, you’re going to end up paying a pretty penny out of pocket.

What puts the nail in the coffin for me is that I’m traveling quite a bit this summer. I’m not spending more than five weeks in one place and it seems fruitless to me to work to establish a relationship with a therapist who I may only be able to see once or twice.

So here I am, no therapy for 8 weeks. I’d like to take the rest of this post to just reflect a bit on what that’s been like for me. Before that, I’d like to mention that the longest I’ve gone since last August without seeing a therapist has been 2 weeks– that’s just a quarter of how long I’ve gone so far.

First of all, therapists are amazing. It’s been really really difficult to work through the everyday without professional help. I’ve had multiple issues I’ve noticed and can’t talk to anyone about in a professional way. Sorry mom, but ranting to you just isn’t the same as talking to a therapist. Being able to work out issues with someone is really helpful and I didn’t even realize how nuch it was doing for me until this hiatus.

That being said, I’m incredibly proud with how well I’m doing. None of my breakdowns have lasted more than a day. The worst that’s happened is I’ve gone to bed in a bad place and woken up to a new day free of the previous days problems. A lot more often, as things come up every day that trigger me, I just move on.

It’s as though there’s a voice in my head telling me to just keep going instead of letting little triggers get to me. There’s no point in feeling inferior to someone, just move on because you’re not inferior to anyone (you’re also not superior than anyone but I digress). There’s no point in analyzing a conversation and wishing I said something different, just move on because what’s done is done. There’s no point whining to my friends, just move on because that’s how you spiral.

So while not being able to see my therapist most definitely sucks, it’s also shown me how strong I’ve become in just a year. I still have a long long ways to go, but I’ve taken some very significant steps forward.

To everyone who’s helped me along the way and to all of you who read these posts, thank you! I truly wouldn’t be in as good of a place as I am without the support, love, and kindness of those around me. And a special shoutout (no surprise) to Julia for pushing me forward every day and keeping me sane.

I’d like to end this post with a quote from my favorite author, Truman Capote. This comes from one of his short stories called “Master Misery.” I read this particular short story the other day and this stuck out to me and I think it does a good job summarizing how I’ve been feeling lately:

“I do not know what I want, and perhaps I shall never know, but my only wish from every star will always be another star; and truly I am not afraid, she thought”

Truman Capote, “Master Misery”

ARFID and Me: A (Not So) Brief History

For some backstory, I wrote this piece when I was starting my Freshman Year of college at Saint Anselm. It is a personal reflection of my time living with ARFID.

I want people to understand ARFID. I want people to understand that I did not choose this and that I am trying to fix it. I want to eat like normal people. I want to stop skipping meals and events out of fear that there won’t be food for me. I wish I could tell if ARFID causes anxiety or if it’s the other way around. Or if neither causes the other. Why do I have this disorder? What could I have done to prevent this. Not much; it started when I was 2. I have constantly felt bad that I can’t eat normally. I am often met with the choice between sitting out a social gathering and going, but being incredibly anxious the whole time/starving/faking a stomachache/hiding in the bathroom. The list goes on and on.

The last time my eating could be described as “normal” was when I was 2 years old, or so I’ve been told. I had no problem eating anything and everything. Then, it just changed. I went weeks where all I would eat was a fingerful of butter and a few baby M&Ms. I stressed my mother out to no end and she took me to the doctor, who told her not to force me to eat and that I would grow out of it and eat when I was hungry. That experience as a toddler began my less-than-friendly relationship with food.

Through my early childhood, I remember eating a very limited selection of foods. Most of these foods were bread/carb based with a crunchy texture. No one could convince me to eat a vegetable. Despite these limitations, I seemed to be growing like any other normal, healthy child. Family meals were embarrassing, when we did eat together, because my mom would have to make me a separate dinner almost every night. My sisters made fun of me, made me feel like a freak. I don’t blame them for that; they didn’t understand. Hell, I didn’t even understand yet. “She’s a picky eater.” Is a sentence I must’ve heard a million times. My parents tried every picky eating solution in the book.

“No leaving the table until you eat your vegetables”

“Try this one bite, it’s not going to kill you”

“Gabby is eating it, why can’t you?”

And on and on and on and on.

I distinctly remember being taken to the doctor once when my parents felt my eating habits were out of control. The doctor gave some tips to combat my “picky eating”.

“Try one new food every day/week”

“Prepare a familiar food a new way”

“Write down the food you eat every day and think of some foods you’d like to try”

Nothing worked.

When nothing worked, the doctors decided that since I was healthy, there wasn’t much else for them to do. This was long before the DSM-5.

Not too long after this fruitless attempt, I had my first allergic reaction. After blood testing, I was discovered to be allergic to nearly all the “big 8” major allergens, to varying degrees. As if my relationship with food wasn’t bad enough, this created major food anxiety for me. I was terrified that everything I ate contained an allergen. I only ate meals that my mother cooked, after asking her to wash her hands multiple times and after multiple reassurances that it was safe. I started washing my hands a ridiculous amount, looking for allergens in every item I encountered. The anxiety triggered fake instances of anaphylactic shock where I convinced myself that I couldn’t breathe and that I was having a reaction, even when I hadn’t eaten anything. I still have this problem now to7 a much lesser extent. At one point, this food phobia got so out of hand that I reserved my right hand for eating, and did everything else with my left hand, to avoid contamination. I am right-handed, so it was difficult to hide this habit and I was often questioned by teachers and family, to which I replied that I was “trying to make myself ambidextrous.” No one bought it.

The lowest point of my food anxiety was the week of my sister’s wedding. The wedding was in North Carolina and we packed up the rental van and took off for the 13-hour drive; my parents, 2 sisters, and me. I complained of a stomach ache on the way there, so I nibbled on rice cakes and didn’t eat anything else. No one thought much of it; they just assumed I was carsick. That changed when over the next days, I starved myself out of fear of a reaction. In our hotel room, my mom cried and begged me to eat goldfish crackers. She tried to bribe me at first, saying I couldn’t go to the wedding if I didn’t eat. When that didn’t work, she pointed at the hospital across the street and told me if I didn’t eat they would have to take me there to get food pumped into my stomach through a tube. She had my sister, a registered nurse, confirm this to me. I don’t remember when I finally gave in to eating a meal, but I’m sure it came shortly after nearly fainting at the hotel pool with my sister and brother-in-law. It must’ve been 2 or 3 days of eating almost nothing.

BIG DEVELOPMENT: I found one vegetable: cucumbers!! Mom and dad must’ve been thrilled. I was forced to try a piece of cucumber with some salt on it. I didn’t gag, and I got it all down. There were a lot more cucumbers in our house after that day. That’s still more or less the only vegetable I will eat, other than peppers. I don’t enjoy either, but I don’t choke when I try to eat them.
School lunch was always a challenge. Kids are brutal to each other, sometimes well-meaning, but often not. I would get harassed, even by my friends, for not eating normal food. I was constantly bombarded with questions from everyone around me about my eating habits. It made me incredibly embarrassed and I felt like it was my fault that I was such a freak. While everyone else would cheer about a pizza party, I would sit silent, already coming up with excuses to get out of it. In 6th grade, I stopped eating lunch. My friends knew I had a “weird thing” about people touching my food (fear of contamination), so they thought it was funny to mess with me and touch my food before I ate it. In another situation, this would be harmless, but it nearly always ended in me not eating anything. I didn’t want to seem dramatic, so I silently went hungry and tried to laugh along with them. Even when they got tired of the bit and stopped, I was still often too paranoid to eat my lunch.

The best thing to happen to my diet: hot sauce. Frank’s Red Hot drastically changed the way I eat. The strong flavor of hot sauce, which I love, helps to mask other flavors that I previously found hard to stomach. It can’t fix everything, but it definitely broadened my food horizons.
Because of the new discoveries about hot sauce, I decided to add a new, normal lunch food to my list of safe foods. Buffalo chicken cold-cuts and cheese on a roll, with extra hot sauce. I was happy and proud of myself for this step, until people started making a big deal about it. “Oh my goodness, is Julia eating a sandwich?!” bellowed Mrs. Glynn, causing everyone to look over at me. My face turned red and I faked a smile, but couldn’t eat with this much attention on me. There goes that attempt.

Things continued on more or less the same from that point. I had pretty much given up on new foods and stuck with what I had. I was at a standstill. Nothing was getting worse, but nothing was getting better either.
Then came middle school. I looked around and saw my friends and the other girls at school. All tiny, skinny, small, and pretty. I looked in the mirror. I was pudgy, chubby, and ugly. These thoughts about myself festered for most of middle school. It didn’t really change my eating habits. This was the time of “eating disorder culture” on sites like Instagram. Girls would create secret accounts where they posted black and white photos of girls with thigh gaps, with captions outlining the ways they planned to starve themselves to achieve these “body goals”. They posted pictures with captions like “for every like I will fast for one hour”. Some people I knew even had accounts like these for anorexia or self-harm. I spent a lot of my nights scrolling through these pro-ana pages, feeling guilty for envying the bodies and lifestyles of the sick girls I saw. I probably tried one or two times to starve myself, but thankfully, I didn’t have the will power. The self-esteem issues were pretty serious, and I have definitely suffered mentally as a result, but I never developed anorexia (even though a cruel part of me wanted to). That could’ve gone a lot worse, but I narrowly escaped the grasp of a negative body image induced eating disorder.

Entering high school, I was coming to terms with the clear signs of mental illness I displayed. I didn’t do anything about this, but I acknowledged it was there. I was depressed and anxious. I tried to cut myself once in 9th grade, but it was an almost pathetic attempt. I knew in my heart I didn’t want to do that, so I couldn’t bring myself to make anything more than an indent in my thigh. That’s another example of a situation that could’ve turned out much worse than it did. It’s another reason I’m grateful. I had friends who self-harmed and I knew I couldn’t help them if I fell into the same hole. So, I stopped trying.

One of the most refreshing and liberating moments I can remember was the day I came to a self-diagnosis. I was deep in a “What’s wrong with me?!” Google search, like so many times before. Unlike the other times, however, this time I found something. I came across an article about Selective Eating Disorder (SED), also known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). The more, I read this article, the more I realized that every single sentence described exactly the nameless food problems I have been dealing with my entire life. This was no cure, not even a solution, but it was a name. It was the first time I realized I am not alone. I had never met another person with the problem I had, but now my computer screen opened wide a door leading to the stories of dozens of people who had the same experience as me. I immediately sent this link to my mom, who was just as excited as I was.

I never got a formal diagnosis. I’ve never said the word ARFID to a doctor. I’ve never seen a specialist or a therapist or talked to anyone professionally about this. I’m not sure why. I guess I just have been living with it for so long, that it didn’t feel necessary. Just like the doctors said when I was a kid: I’m healthy, it’s under control. I’d like to get help eventually though. Until then, I’m living and I’m doing okay.

As I got older, my intense food anxiety reduced, but I still ate a very limited selection of foods. I still avoided going to friends’ houses for dinner. I still faked illness and made excuses at every opportunity. I explained it to some of my close friends in high school, but it isn’t an easy topic to bring up. Now I’m in college and no one here knows. No one has made the connection yet that almost every night for dinner I get a piece of grilled chicken and a side of fries. Or maybe they have, and they don’t want to be rude and bring it up, which I appreciate. It’s not a conversation I’m willing to have right now. I know I shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed of it; but I do, and I don’t want to deal with the awkwardness of telling people.
I’m getting better. My boyfriend is supportive and wants to help me. My parents continue to be very understanding. I have tried a few new foods since college started. I ate a hot dog last month. If you know me, you know that’s a huge step. I’m taking steps and that’s what matters.

Let It Go

One of my favorite things about life since the release of the Disney movie Frozen is the expression “make like and ice princess and let it go.” I myself am guilty of using this expression WAY too much, not only because I am a fan of the film, but because I constantly feel the need to remind myself to let things go.

Because it’s summer and I receive treatment through my school’s health services, I haven’t been able to see my counselor in upwards of a month, which has been a big challenge. The thing is that, despite this challenge, I’ve been able to let things go more than I have in a long time. Just a few days ago, for example, I felt a depressive episode coming on, triggered by feelings that no one cares about me, and I talked myself out of it with shocking ease. I was genuinely shocked at the lack of effort I had put into mentally coaxing myself out of such a dark place.

The more I thought about it, I realized that I had just let the whole situation go. Instead of dwelling on those thoughts that no one cares about me and no one wants to get to know me or spend time with me, I just moved on. It’s as though I’m just so sick and tired of feeling bad about myself that I let go of that mentally clenched fist and just relaxed.

Of course, as is typically the case with anxiety and depression, the ease with which I overcame this situation was quickly replaced by a guilt for moving forward. Yes– I feel guilty for getting better and being able to manage my anxiety and depression. Yes– I think it’s crazy too.

The thing is that I’ve been so accustomed to these toxic ways of thinking about myself, especially in relationship to other people that I feel as though I’m abandoning a part of myself. This is where my dad’s voice chimes into my head saying,”don’t let your mental health define you,” and his advice is absolutely right. I can’t let my mental health define me, but how do you adjust to slowly becoming a different person? How do you embrace growth and change without abandoning the past? How do I let go of where I’ve been and embrace where I’m going?

The other difficulty with such guilt is that it goes further than just feelings of abandoning a past iteration of myself; it makes me feel guilty for abandoning all those who still suffer as a cause of their mental health. How can I have friends going through so much pain, somehow be there for them, and also be proud of how much progress I’ve made? I don’t know how to be there for people when I’m already a ways ahead on the path and that makes me feel guilty. I know it shouldn’t and that’s another reason why I’m nowhere near done letting it go.

Another image that the idea of letting go makes me think of is the meme of Arthur clenching his fist:

Sometimes I feel like the human embodiment of this image: clenched, uptight, confined, and forced. But sometimes I feel like Elsa and I’m able to just let things go. Maybe that just makes me human. Maybe I should work on when to let go and when to hold on. Maybe we should all be a little more like Elsa in our encounters with each other. Maybe I should just go watch Frozen.

As always, thank you all for reading and for everyone who’s reached out to me and Julia to share their own stories. We love sharing our journeys with you all and hearing from you!!

Floating

One of my favorite activities on a hot summer day used to be floating on a raft in the pool. Just passively laying, soaking in all the Sun and the Earth had to offer me. I was utterly content to lay still and let life happen to me.

Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/407646203754040407/

So why does floating now feel like drowning?

I’ve touched on this in previous posts, but it’s so important that I’m going to mention it again. I have always been on a very clear cut path and told that the only way to achieve success was to stay on the path. Every part of my life was a stepping stone that would lead to the next. I was to jump from school to school, and eventually climb a career ladder, with no foreseeable end in sight.

Well, needless to say, I stumbled off one of those stepping stones when I dropped out of college. But rather than try to climb back up, I decided to explore the wilderness around me.

Not being on a path feels like floating to me, and like I said before, floating feels like drowning.

I was discussing this dilemma with a dear friend of mine, and she said something so profound, I felt like I was reading a self-help book.

Why can’t your path just be towards happiness?

I never realized that could be a path. Perhaps it’s not the path in the long term, but for now, I am making the decision to pursue happiness.

I’m not certain what that means yet, but I know it probably involves a lot of therapy and a lot of introspection. Pursuing happiness sounds easy, but it’s going to be the hardest thing I ever have to do, and I can tell it’s going to be a lifelong pursuit.

I can only hope it pays off, and I learn to love floating again.