Backwards

Where do I begin? The beginning? Which is what? This has been a strange week for me. I just picked up and left my home and my life with my daughter to see if I could do better without drugs and alcohol. I was not deeply into either, but I was most definitely numbing myself with them. I was ignoring things with them. I was distracting myself from things with them. I was using drugs and alcohol for a purpose other than fun. I felt like a crap mom. I was loving but that is about it. I was negligent, I was careless, I was uninterested. I was a crap mom other than love and hugs. Those are important but so are baths and healthy meals and clean clothes. I was getting more and more depressed as I saw what I was doing. My world was getting smaller and smaller. I had no friends. None. I had no life. None. I sat in my room all day every day just waiting for the next day. I hardly went anywhere or did anything. I listened to music, read books, watched tv while I drank or smoked or both. I was meditating, doing diabetes care and paying bills, but that is about it. I had no life of my own. I was unhappy. I was discontent. I was aimless. I was just existing without purpose. 

And it had to change. I had to change. So I left. I didn’t feel strong enough to change where I was, so I figured that I would change somewhere else. And the only place I had to go was home. So here I am in my parents house—in my teenage bedroom—writing about change when it sort of feels like I am in the exact same spot I was at 20. Living at home, sitting in the alcove of my bedroom, trying to figure out where I belong and what I want in life. It is a drag to be honest. This isn’t fun, even if it is comforting. I want to just be more than I am. I want to be driven and successful. I want to be normal and independent. I am none of those things. I don’t know what I am at all. I feel like a failure. I have failed at adulthood. I have failed at life. I don’t feel suicidal but I do feel like non existence would at least be less painful than this. 

I don’t know where to go or what to do, so I am focusing on what I have to do, which is take care of my kid as best I know how. Be a good parent. Get her into school, get her with a doctor, give her baths and brush her teeth, make her read books, and play games with her. I don’t have to do anything immediately but be a good parent. A better parent than I have ever been. And once I get that going I can figure out what is next. 

Going backwards to move forward is difficult. No one wants to go backwards ever. But here I am back in my room at my parents’ house. Sitting in the same alcove where I sat as a teenager. Looking out the same window with the same existential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? And I don’t know the answers. I don’t know who I am or why I am alive. But I am someone and I do have a purpose, I hope. And I guess that I had better keep looking for the answers unless I want to keep having to go backwards.

Always Wanting More

“My life is great, but I’m so bored with this life. If only I could move on to another.”

I began keeping a journal in earnest at the age of 13. And I wrote the phrase above at that age. It really stands out to me as a feeling that I still feel at times. It stands out to me as the spark of my vulnerability. This feeling–this discontent–seems to be a place where depression sunk its claws into me at a young age. I remember always being a daydreamer. I rarely created stories for others; I always imagined myself in other places or situations. I was always wondering where I would eventually fit in and feel content. I was happy. I was talkative. I was engaged. I wasn’t popular but I was mostly known. I wasn’t isolated specifically, but I was never satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted to feel full. And I didn’t. I felt lonely or I distracted myself from my loneliness.

As I got older I spent less time distracted from my angst. I had terrible luck with boys. Maybe it was the pastor’s daughter thing. That’s the easiest explanation to give and the hardest to accept. Because, to me, it means I wasn’t enough. I didn’t fit. A minor detail derailed me from getting to just be me. I was always something else–a daughter–first. And I was bored. I was tired. I was over it.

So why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I go far off to college? I was scared. And I felt like I shouldn’t. And that I wasn’t allowed to. I would be alone. I would be more isolated. What if I never found anything better? I was young. I was naive. I was already crumbling under the strain of my illness. I was already beyond saving it seems.

When I met someone when I was in college who neither knew or cared whose daughter I was, it was enlightening. For the first time in 5 years I didn’t doubt the motivations of a friend. I trusted my closest girlfriends, but even they only knew me in the context where I had grown up. And as I longed to distance myself from that context, I pulled away even from them. I had plenty of “friends” who I spent time with but performed for.

And I had this one friend who didn’t know or care about my context. He seemed to like me and what I chose to share about myself rather than what ran down the gossip pipeline. I could be weird. I could be sad. I could be dramatic. I could be dumb. It was all okay.

But with my college and sorority friends things were different. I began performing all the time. I could no longer distract myself from my feelings of isolation. I was always pretending to be more palatable than I was. As I lost full control though, I began to see rejection everywhere. I became paranoid. My college friends were disgusted by me. My roommate hated me. My parents didn’t understand me. My sorority wanted to humiliate me. My one friend didn’t really care. No one cared. Not enough. And I couldn’t escape.

There was nowhere to go. I would always be a daughter first and a person second. I would never find love because I wasn’t lovable. I would never be accepted because people were cruel. I would always be bored to madness with the life I had been born into. I would never feel full and I would always be left wanting more.

In truth, there was no escape at that point. But there was rescue. For me, there was rescue.

I still have a wandering heart. I’m still a daydreamer. I’m a romantic. I’m a sap. I still get bored. And it is surprising to see those things in myself 22 years ago. It is strange to see how young I was when my vulnerability—although not my depression—showed up on paper. Depression is like a vine. It begins in one spot and grows and entangles itself, latching onto any vulnerability that it can use to strengthen itself.

I haven’t changed dramatically from my 13 year old or 19 year old selves, I have just adjusted my life to accommodate my personality and how it makes me vulnerable to my illness. I try to call depression out for what it is. I’m not unloveable. Sometimes depression just makes it hard for me to see or feel love. I’m not unacceptable, I’m just stubbornly myself. I’m not only something in relation to some other person, I am singular. I’m just smarter and better equipped. I know the difference between me and my depression, or at least I try my best to tell the difference. It’s a constant game to parse through my thoughts and feelings and label them as real or imagined. But the work is worth it. I get to walk the fine line of being myself—a person who lives with and is influenced by depression—and being the depressed woman. Depression is always there, it’s just a constant battle for control.

Don’t keep your struggles secret like I did. Don’t keep your feelings of isolation hidden. Depression will use those feelings but they are easier to twist and distort if they are secret. If you don’t tell anyone then depression will manipulate you into something else. Much love and strength to you as you parse though your own feelings to discover truth.

(No) Mistakes


The other day I went through the first photo album I ever made—like an actual album with the glue and plastic covers. I made it sometime in the early 2000s and it is filled with pictures from my freshman year of high school through the first half of my senior year. They are fun and cute generally—lots of plays and dances. But that was high school for me. That and church choir. 

One picture stood out to me though. I was at my friend’s house sometime in the fall or winter of my senior year, so 1999. She took a picture of me sitting at her computer (a dinosaur). You can’t see what I am working on, but I remember very clearly. I was filling out an application to Baylor University. I hadn’t told anyone I was going to do it.

It had been in my mind that I might because the friend whose house I was at was planning to go there, although I’m not sure that she had made that public knowledge either, and my best friend was going to go there. Everyone thought that I was going to go to The University of Oklahoma. I had already been accepted, but I didn’t have any friends going to OU. I was afraid to go off on my own. I was already depressed. I didn’t think that I had it in me to strike out on my own. I felt too weak.

My parents were quite surprised when I said that I was going to attend Baylor, but they let me make my own decision. I thought that I would be happy because I was going to room with my best friend. At OU, where my sister had gone, I could never do and be all that she was, and I didn’t really want to anyway. But I felt that I would be expected to be like her. I would join her sorority and everyone would expect me to be her all over again. And if there is one thing I am not it is my wonderful sister. So I went to Baylor. 

If I thought of myself as having made mistakes in life, this would probably be at the top of the list. I felt like I was suffocating there. Everyone felt fake. I remember people from my hometown talking to me that had completely ignored me my entire life. It felt weird. It felt unreal. I was already losing touch with reality, so rushing to join a sorority was practically surreal. It was a bad trip. It felt fun at times, but it always had the worst come down. 

I remember being in physics class and a boy who had never talked to me turned to me the first day I had on my sorority shirt and started chatting me up. I wanted to punch him. I hadn’t existed without those greek letters. And it made my life seem so meaningless. I felt so alone. I would sneak out behind my dorm and smoke cigarettes, which I wasn’t supposed to do (sorority rules) along with chewing gum, walking on grass, forgetting to say hello to people I didn’t know. It was ridiculous. It was a game that made me want to kill myself. Literally. I chose death over that life. 

Some people love that stuff. I don’t. But I was born into it and too young and unsure to step away. I thought that that life was my only option. I hated all the rules. I hated being required to be friends with people because of a social organization. 

After my suicide attempt—which happened the week of our initiation, I received one message from my “sisters.” It was a small card with some generic flower or pleasant phrase mailed to my parents’ house. Inside were 2 sentences. 1. They hoped that I felt better soon. 2. Could I please return all of my sorority stuff so it could be given to someone else?

I doubt I need to analyze or explicate that for you. People are strange. Priorities get skewed and reputations become more important that people. But some people love that stuff. 

So when I look at the picture of me applying to Baylor, I wish so desperately that I could scream at myself, “Stop! Don’t do it! It’s the beginning of the end! Run away! Stop!” But I can’t. I can’t do anything about the past. 

But I have to remind myself that I might have missed some good things if I hadn’t been in that situation. I met a couple of people then who have made very happy at different times in my life, and I don’t know if I would have met them if I hadn’t been so miserable where I was. I also wrote quite a bit during that time as a way to escape how miserable I was. I read a lot, and I listened to a lot of music. I found ways to escape until I felt I wanted to escape forever.

I’m not quite sure what this post is about. It’s about me. And what should you take from it? Maybe that high pressure social constructs can drive a depressed person over the edge. Maybe that sometimes we get so caught up in the game that we miss an opportunity to see people who are in need. And maybe some people just don’t care. And that’s okay, I guess. I had enough who did care, and I certainly learned a lot about friendship and truth. 

I look at this picture of me willingly asking to walk into the darkness without knowing that it would be so dark. I didn’t know that this was a mistake. I didn’t know that things would get so terrible that I would lose my mind. And so I don’t think of it as a mistake. I think of it as a turning point. The moment where I took a steep path down into a shrouded valley. A valley that I came back out of. A valley I try my best to stay away from but I don’t always succeed. And this picture is when I took the quickest path there. 

No regrets. No mistakes. Just choices and consequences. Just life. Good and bad, keep moving forward. 

Just a passing thought…

 

There’s this Cure lyric that I laugh at, which goes “the way the rain comes down hard/that’s how I feel inside.” It’s from the song “Open.” I laugh because it is so dramatic, but at the same time I get it, too. Today has been beautiful outside, but I have felt rainy inside. And I’m working and doing the things I’m supposed to do, but I don’t want to do anything. Because I’m more concerned with the existential matters of love and purpose. Dishes and dinner seem unnecessary, but the joke is that they aren’t. I have to do them anyway or deal with the undone consequences. So I go and I do, but inside is not only a creative deluge but also an emotional downpour.

“Madame Bovary c’est moi”


I’m in the process of transcribing old (16+ years old) poetry I have handwritten in a journal to my computer so that I have digital copies of everything I have written. I started at the beginning; the first poem is about a heartbreaking encounter with my crush at 18. The second and third are about 2 other crushes (is one love ever enough?). Finally, though, something interesting comes out in the fourth poem titled “Roses and Shoelaces.” The poem is as terrible as the title mostly, and I remember writing it. I began by just writing about what I could see in my room, but it developed into something more introspective. In the fifth short stanza I write, “Oh, Emma—how adamant I was out of fear/ and truth made me silent with realization/and who is more miserable/the person who makes mistakes or/the person who never has the opportunity to?/…/sometimes I wonder if my/blood still pulses/only my unsatisfied and unacknowledged/passion proves my existence.” 

This was after my Madame Bovary epiphany (which you can read about in my post “Art at 18: Three Vignettes here). It was a big moment for me–my first adult epiphany. Maybe it was depression; my epiphanies often feel ephiphantic only because of depression. This one took place in my senior English classroom in highschool. And I can still see the room in my mind, but only set up in the specific Socratic circle we were working in that day. If my teacher was sitting at 12 o’clock, then I was at 4. And it hit me so hard. I wanted to cry. I was Emma Bovary, too. 

In the poem above I cover it all–I was adamantly, vocally opposed to everything that she represented until I felt like I was slapped in the face by the truth that I was everything I hated about her. And then I shut up. I was stunned into silence. 

But then I get to the real meat of the poem: “and who is more miserable/the person who makes mistakes or/the person who never has the opportunity to?”

I felt like I was Emma Bovary–I had so much that I felt that I could not express. I wanted to experience the world rather than stay stuck in the bubble of my hometown and upbringing. And I felt like I couldn’t. I couldn’t go out and live. There were already too many rules holding my back, and I would have to break them to live as myself. And I felt that I was more miserable than Emma Bovary. I should have known then that I was headed for dark times. I felt that I was as miserable as she was, despite all the “good” things that I had in my life. I was so unfulfilled. I felt so empty. I had friends, family, comfort, and yet I didn’t have happiness. 

Not long after I read Madame Bovary, I read another book that was very important to me: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow. A quote from that book does a better job of describing how I was feeling than I can: “My soul is like a pawn shop. I mean it’s filled with unredeemed pleasures….” I felt like I had collected so many dreams that I could never fulfill. I knew that they “broke the rules,” but they were my dreams. And even if they were mistakes, I thought that I ought to be able to make them.

And I felt so stiffled–I felt like I was being smothered to death. I questioned if being alive was enough to feel alive. I wondered if I was living or just walking around dead. But my heart longed for more. My dreams of living my passions kept me going, just like my music and my online friends kept my going for the next 9 months. I felt like I could be my Emma Bovary self with them. I felt like I was accepted. And it felt so wonderful, but I was also secretive and guilt ridden. I felt like I was living a double life–the life that made me happy and the life that I was supposed to live. 

And when I felt like I could no longer keep up the charade–when I felt like I also couldn’t have what I truly wanted–I went full Emma Bovary.

I guess I write all this because it is like putting together a puzzle. There were so many clues about what was happening to me. There were so many opportunities to see the pieces and get help, but no one could see the finished puzzle. No one knew what all those pieces would be when they were all put together. And one different piece could have changed everything. One change and the outcome could have been different. Or maybe not. There is no way to know now. 

Now I can only work with what I have. Now I can piece together my story, but I can’t change it. I can only change the future by making change in the present. But I can also look to the past to determine how to act in the present in order to get to the future I want. I am still an Emma Bovary, I think, as awful as she is. I try to be less selfish, but my heart is still like a pawn shop. 

Live the life you want. Make the change you need to be happy, but also know that if depression is lurking in your life, then it will overcomplicate everything. It will lead you down dark paths. It will offer you what you want and then take away everything you ever had. Don’t let depression control you. Take control of your life and your dreams. And maybe you won’t be an Emma Bovary.

I also wrote a poem on this topic. You can read “Mistakes” here.

Using Music

You all know that I listen to a lot of music; many days I listen to music almost all day. I take off my headphones for conversation only. I have about a dozen playlists that I cycle through plus lots of old and new albums. But I am not great at writing about music. I don’t play any instruments. (2 years of piano; I was terrible and hated it.) I sang in church choir, but I didn’t like singing solos. I was always self conscious about singing. I love to sing though. When I lived alone in college and grad school, I sang a lot. Loudly. At all hours. But my husband is a good singer, and it put me back in my shell. He’s the singer. So I dance foolishly. That’s my musical “talent.” 

But recently I have been singing more. And it is an emotional feeling to sing. Especially if you feel some—even insubstantial—connection with the song. It’s not easy to sing. It’s a deep feeling sometimes. But I listen to a lot of music. That is emotional, too, but not as deep as making music. I think it’s why, in my daydreams, I often fall for musicians. If I feel moved by listening to their works, how much feeling must they be capable to make such music? 

Music is powerful. All kinds of music. I tend to listen to pop music to feel happy, hip hop to feel powerful, R&B to feel sexy, alternative rock to feel moody, acoustic rock to feel sad, indie rock to feel “special” (ha!), and The Cure every moment in between. I don’t like all kinds of music, but I do like a variety of music. And I used it purposefully. If I don’t, then it uses me. Music directs my feelings. It is why I use it as a tool. When I need to feel elevated, I just put on headphones and let happy music carry me away while I dance like a fool. (Dance break; no, really, I just took a dance break.) 

And not all music makes everyone feel something. I recently asked my facebook friends what their current favorite songs were. And I got at least 20 different songs. A few I already loved, a few I had heard of but didn’t care for, but most I hadn’t ever heard. So I made a list and went to youtube. I didn’t listen to every song in it’s entirety, but I tried each one. And, honestly, most of them were not really my thing. But I was so fascinated at how so many cool people could love such a wide variety of songs. How so many people’s favorite songs did nothing for me, but were favorites for them. And it was cool. I didn’t feel like I needed to judge other people’s taste; I already like and respect all of them. I was interested, though in how many people were ready to share their favorite song and how different they all were. Music is funny that way.

One song suggested was from a musical theatre piece. And it was beautiful. And I couldn’t make it through. I loved it too much, and I loved the person who sent it too much. It was so moving. So emotional. So touching. Sometimes it’s lyrics; sometimes it’s music; sometimes it is a perfectly wonderfully woven combination of the two. But music makes us feel things. And we use it to enhance or change our feelings.

I have a few feel good playlists, and a few moody playlists, but no sad playlists. I can’t do that anymore. I can only get moody. Sadness mixed with anger and discontent. Sadness that does more than wallow. I used to wallow, but I can’t do that anymore. I usually use music to change my mood. If I feel sad then I decide if I want to feel happy, strong, or thoughtful. How do I want to use music to work with the sadness. If I want to feel happy then I go to pop and dance. If I want to feel strong I go to hip hop. If I want to feel thoughtful and moody, I go to alternative rock or, of course, The Cure. 

I don’t really like to tell people what to do or what to listen to, but I genuinely believe that what you put in will come out in some way. It is why I blast positivity into my head all day sometimes. I put in messages of love and strength and emotional intelligence to help me handle my depressed feelings with those messages. It is good to use music to help you process what you are feeling, but it is also possible sometimes to tip the scale with something to change your mood. Sometimes freaking Ke$ha makes me feel so happy because she sings stupid songs about feeling free and in love and young, and it makes me dance. Sometimes I am blown away at Frank Ocean’s ability to say such beautiful things about love and loss at such a young age. Sometimes I feel like Robert Smith is talking about my life and breaking my heart. Sometimes I feel like Adam Duritz is reading my mind. Sometimes I think that Kanye West is a creative genius. And what matters isn’t whether any of those artists are really great or not; what matters is that music has power, and we can use it. 

We can use music to enhance or change our moods. We do it already, but putting more purpose or intention into making music a tool can be useful. Have playlists or cds ready for whatever mood you might find yourself in. Make youtube playlists or subscribe to a streaming service (most have free trial periods). But make a project out of it—a mental health project—to use in times of crisis. Find good music that makes you feel calm. As a teenager I used James Taylor. Now I prefer Angelo Badalamenti. But make different playlists for different moods. And get headphones or earbuds. Then you can listen wherever you are. 

The most recent song to make it on one of my favorite playlists (titled Feel Good) is “Glorious” by Macklemore. It just came out last week. And I’ll leave you with some lyrics and a link. Happy listening!

“You know I’m back like I never left

Another sprint, another step

Another day, another breath

Been chasing dreams, but I never slept

I got a new attitude and a lease on life

And some peace of mind

Seek and I find I can sleep when I die

Wanna piece of the pie, grab the keys to the ride

And shit I’m straight

I’m on my wave, I’m on my wave

Get out my wake, I’m running late, what can I say?

I heard you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave

And the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name

So when I leave here on this earth, did I take more than I gave?

Did I look out for the people or did I do it all for fame?

Legend it’s exodus searching for euphoria

Trudging through the mud to find the present, no ignoring us

Got 20,000 deep off in the street like we some warriors

My mama told me never bow your head, woo!

I feel glorious, glorious

Got a chance to start again

I was born for this, born for this

It’s who I am, how could I forget?

I made it through the darkest part of the night

And now I see the sunrise

Now I feel glorious, glorious

I feel glorious, glorious”

Glorious

Falling


Everything I really want to say is below, but I imagine that it requires a bit of an explanation. I wrote a post in January called “The Depressed woman” where I talk about how I feel like 2 people. But lately I have been feeling in between my two separate characters, and I feel like I’m falling. Here I reimagine my journey from me to the depressed woman as a fall from white to black.

White:
In the white. Up high. In heaven. I feel so good. Playing fetch with my dog while my daughter sings on a beautiful summer night. I feel glorious. Every day is a new chance to make something beautiful. So make change. Every day the sun rises and I can start over. Smash up the day before and make something with the pieces. Make new pieces out of the old. Take something small and make it important. 

Gray:
But as I start to fall, the light changes. It’s so much prettier. Colorful. Not just pure. But watercolors that fade into a swirl of oil paints. And when I fall slowly I get a chance to see them. To look closely and see how beautiful everything is. And nothing is static. I’m falling ever so slowly so everything changes as I go. Fading from light to dark. From translucent to opaque. And I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to create beauty. It spills out like blood. 

I can’t say I’m not scared. I’m scared of falling. But I’m scared of being up high, too. Up in the white. It’s so clean. And colorless. And I know that all I have to do is jump. To be enveloped. 

I never jump. I trip. I stumble. Into this purgatory. The gray. Not sick. Not well. Just right in the sliver of brightest color. It’s such a dangerous place to be. But I love it here in the gray.

I won’t stay though. I can’t stay. Gray is just between the white and black. It’s just what I see while I fall. The in between days. The possibility days. 

(Looking into the) Black:
One of the biggest lies she tells me is that it is warm in the black. That because I feel warm in the gray I will feel warmer in the black. But I never do. When I get there it is like a vacuum. No air. No heat. No light. Emptiness. All that seemed clear becomes smudged. Noting makes sense except darkness. 

And I have it in me to be the woman in the black. I have it in me to die as the woman in the black. And no matter how glorious I feel as I fall, there is no soft landing. Nothing will catch me. I’ll just fade into the black. If I stay, it will all fade to black.

Gray:
Maybe I can stay a little longer. Just for a moment. Or maybe I can leave just a part of myself here. Maybe I can visit more often. Maybe I can take a piece of this with me when I return to heaven. Bring some color to the light. Bring some dirt back to the clean. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to go. I want to stay. I’m not good enough for heaven. I can never be all white. I can’t escape the black. I keep her locked away, but she keeps ripping open old wounds. And I trip. And I fall. And then I feel like I’m home. In the color. So why can’t I stay? Why can’t I stop falling and just stay?