Am I Home Yet?

 

Downtown, hometown

Downtown, hometown

I grew up in a small town about 25 miles south of Detroit, Michigan. Lakeside, farming, hunting and fishing folk. Hundreds of years before the French claimed this town in the late seventeenth century, it was settled by several Native American tribes. As with most tribes in this country, many were massacred, imprisoned or forced to flee. During the battle of 1812, Detroit surrendered to the British and from that point onward, this little southeastern city was predominately white and working class (manufacturing, farming, trucking). In fact, in 2012 92.2% of its population was white-only, not of Latino or Hispanic descent.

There wasn’t much diversity as I distinctly remember. I read that this little city contains a significantly lower than average percentage of Black people when compared to the entire state. Oh! and there were under 0.5% of reported lesbian/gay couples residing together. Even as a child growing up in the 80’s & 90’s, I experienced varied levels of racism because my skin was darker than most of the fair, mostly European descended residents. My background involves a blending of different nationalities, but I didn’t quite fit in because my fiercely curly hair, dark eyes and brown skin reflected that of a Native American, if not an African American. We humans worry so much about how we look.

I inherited those traits from my father, but because he chose not to be part of my life, I had little exposure to his family or others “like me”. Most of the friends I made were white and many of their families were actively passing down racist values. As a child I used to sit at my windowsill and pray I would wake up the next morning with blond, silky locks. I wanted to look like my mother – fair, blond and green eyed. My mother’s family was a blend of French, English, German and Polish, to name a few. I didn’t look like anybody in her family. However, I think I was only “fortunate” enough to have inherited a brawny bone structure from those Polish. At least, that’s why my mother always said.

But what I’m getting at is that from a young age I battled the concept of what it felt to belong. Even amongst my extended family, we were never close. Despite my mothers efforts to show me how special being uncommon can be, I wanted to be just like everyone else. I wanted to prove my worth by showing how I could fit in with everyone else. While in one ear I heard, “let yourself be different. Be proud of what you are”, the voice inside my head told me I was a “blackie” who came from a poor, single parent household. In this way, I didn’t feel it to be a blessing to be different.

In my late teens, I was more than ready to emerge from my high school bubble. I started talking of all these crazy ideas, “I’m gonna move to California”, “I’m gonna apply to a writing school”, “I’m gonna hop on a plane and get out of here”. Crazy talk, but only crazy because I didn’t have a plan. Or any money. I wanted to meet people with open minds. I wanted to talk about how to make changes. I wanted diversity! My high school boyfriend of several years told me to stop trying to run away. “It doesn’t matter where you go, it’s the same everywhere, just different faces”. He was the “same day, different shit” type of guy. I was angry at him for telling me this because I wanted to hear him say he believed in me. I learned I’d have to figure it out on my own.

Williamsburg, Va

Williamsburg, Va

In my early 20’s after college I moved out of Michigan, and without looking back. When I said my goodbyes to friends/family, I knew it’d be awhile before I returned, even to visit. I moved to Virginia and began working as an archaeologist. I lived with a boyfriend there for 2 years and began creating a new life. As excited as I was to have escaped, I still found it important to prove to others I was worthy of their acceptance by adopting “their ways”. Once my Michigan accent was so kindly pointed out, I chose to tone it down. Those people in Va have a way of softening vowels that Michiganders don’t. I didn’t want my voice to stand out. My newly realized accent sounded horrible! Although, I could only say “soda” for so long before resorting back to “pop”. Who was I to be calling it soda?

It was my first experience away and it didn’t end easily. My heart was torn to shreds when the relationship ended, but I began a new journey to Boston to start grad school. I moved in with strangers I met on Craig’s List and hoped for the best – hoped they weren’t going to kill me or something. I struggled to find jobs and juggle school. I tried to make friends so I wasn’t always wondering around the streets of Boston alone. I’d walk past a bustling restaurant and (envision this like in a movie) I’d see well dressed people clinking glasses and laughing amongst themselves over a delicious meal. Imagine that, in slow motion, a violin playing and I’m the sad girl standing outside the window….watching.

Pathetic…and creepy, I suppose.

Boston, Ma

Boston, Ma

I began pressuring myself to be like everyone else there – always on the go, successful, motivated, determined, creative…because, that’s what  everyone in Boston is about, right? In order to make friends, I began to adapt to certain ways of thinking and speaking. I had to toughen my skin a bit. There’s nothing wrong with taking on new characteristics, as it’s only natural when you take yourself out of your comfort zone. However, I began to fall away from who I had always thought I was. In fact, I began to feel the furthest from myself as I ever have. While the above traits are usually deemed positive, I lunged myself into believing I wasn’t capable enough. I was a liar. A phoney. I wasn’t the energetic  person I thought I was. I found it tiring to keep trying to impress others with brains and ambition. Once again, I was trying to prove my worth.

Even though I had zero desire to move back home, I realized I wasn’t finding the comforts of home within myself. The folks of Boston are a proud people, as they have right to be in many ways. But I felt it overwhelming to accept their fast-paced culture as my own. In fact, I fought it. Sometimes it made me angry with all their Patriot’s this, Harvard that, clam chowder this and extensive, impressive and interesting American history that…. you know what I’m saying. Truthfully, I was just jealous I didn’t hold the same pride about my own roots. I was exhausted and I discovered, by no means, was I some sort of prodigy.

ABQ

ABQ, NM

Fast forward a few years and now I live in the southwest, New Mexico. Yet, here I am once again reflecting upon my identity. New Mexican’s are very much different from those aggressive New Englanders, but their ideals of culture are just as prominent. The strong Hispanic background is quite foreign to me; in fact, culturally I may be most out of my element here. I find my coworkers poking fun at me because I can’t pronounce half the Spanish names in this city. Or I receive strange looks when, at a restaurant, I tell my server to hold the green chile. As I make friends out here, all of my old insecurities come to surface. Will I be too strange to them? Will they accept me?

Now is the time to ask what I find important to convey about who I am. What am I about? What do I do? One of the most refreshing aspects of relocating is the opportunity to unveil yourself anew. Nobody knows anything about you. It’s a freeing concept but also intimidating because it requires work. It means you must check-in with yourself and ask what you want. What sort of people do you want to incorporate into your new life? How do you want others to see you? What can you do differently from where you were last living? How can you be a better person?

So, I’m learning more and more about how to balance the desire to feel included versus the importance of finding the comfort to live as I am. I’ve always held so much fear about being an outsider even though I have a great appreciation for those who think outside the box. I admire them, in fact. Some of the most brilliant theories, inventions, words, buildings, discoveries, art etc. have come from some of the most eccentric and misunderstood people.

Regarding my childhood encounters of feeling cast out, things began to change with time. People were using tanning beds to achieve the bronze skin tone that was already natural to me. Women would always tell me they wanted to have my thick, curly hair. My sister and I are the only ones in our family to have lived out of state and do some serious traveling. I see that many of the kids I grew up with never left our little hometown. I have discovered what my mother meant when she told me to stop worrying about fitting in. You can go places, see things, learn and grow. New experiences have forced me to examine my life and come to understand the words of Plato/Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

I’m not claiming to have some uniqueness above others, as I’ve faced adult challenges that have humbled my ego and, at times, left me to have some serious doubts about my self-worth. In fact, I don’t advocate the popular concept of showering your child with compliments/praise and teaching him/her that they are the absolute greatest. But I do know the importance of attributing your own, personal culture into all that you do. Because once you leave home, you have to make a new one.

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Can You Forgive Yourself?

Today I saw a video posted on TED by Shaka Senghor entitled “Why your worst deeds don’t define you”. I frequently view videos on TED and have discovered valuable insights just by listening to presentations. The previous headline caught my attention immediately. I’ve often wondered how some people learn to find peace with their pasts and what it means to truly atone. Granted, my past “bad deeds” don’t involve murder or incarceration as Shaka’s does, but at the very least most of us carry guilt about actions we are not proud of. Please take a few moments and watch this video:

This video brought forth several thoughts. Shaka speaks of how time in prison spent in solitary confinement led him to finding himself. This became a time of examination and transformation for him. He was, for the first time, forced to look at his life honestly. He discovered literature by black authors who indirectly helped him to see past stereotypes not only placed by society, but also himself. After receiving a letter from a family member of his victim, he began to explore the concept of atonement – this person had found it within him/herself to forgive Shaka for murdering a member of his/her family. He began to write a journal and further understand how Plato’s quote “a life unexamined is not worth living” indeed applied to him.

That quote resonated with me as well. The entire concept of empathy, atonement, forgiveness and transformation sang out. Often one of the most burdensome aspects of depression is self-hatred. It lingers in everything you do. An overwhelming sense of worthlessness and a genuine belief of being a bad, undeserving person sets it. It sinks into your entire being, lacing itself throughout all of your organs resulting in one large knot in your chest. It’s a dense, heavy belief and nearly impossible to convince yourself otherwise. I always found reasons to believe I was bad, evil, soulless. I believed I was poison to any friends or family who still held interest in my life. Any sort of failings, no matter how small, I attributed to my uselessness. I would look in the mirror and ask myself what my contribution was to anything…anything at all and I could come up with nothing.

Even when the darkest periods of depression subside and unveil new instances of purpose, it’s easy to retreat back to thoughts of worthlessness during stressful moments. The negative self-talk emerges and echos throughout my mind convincing me that I’m awkward, lacking social skills, uninformed, slow, boring, cold, clumsy, forgetful, unreliable, untrustworthy, selfish etc. It’s during those moment that I want to retract back into my shell. Safe from others judgmental eyes. In reality, it is me being the harsh critic – the patronizing audience member who just won’t quit.

It requires a strong effort to convince yourself that others aren’t making nearly as many negative assumptions about you as you are.  It can also be a challenge to accept that others may find your “faults” attractive. For example, you may believe that you don’t show any interest in your coworkers lives, you don’t ask them questions, you don’t initiate conversation. You make an assumption that you’re nothing but a heartless human being because you don’t seem to be as sociable. “Aren’t humans supposed to be the most social beings on the planet? Why do I not seem to need conversation? I must be bad at being a human”. On the flip side, somebody in the office might find your lack of socializing to be mysterious and intriguing. Perhaps somebody believes you to be unique because you don’t seem interested in office politics and don’t get involved in mindless small talk. You don’t seem interested in trash talking others or bashing on the new person. Somebody might actually admire that about you. You never know.

I had this moment of revelation a few months ago about what it is to be a good, grown up, human being. I realized that I could no longer blame my upbringing, my parents, society or anybody else for my shortcomings. It suddenly hit me that everything I do shapes who I am. I have the power to make changes. But, I started to wonder if it was too late for some things. As I have many times before, I mentally relived some of my most painful mistakes and memories. In some twisted way, I’ve believed that reliving those moments was a form of atonement – a continuous, tortuous way for me to “pay” for my mistakes. I’d think of all the hurtful words I used and the way I shut people out. I put myself back in the shoes of that young person who didn’t “give a fuck”. I’d think of my apathy, my selfishness, and my addictions.  I’d remind myself just how much I didn’t care about anybody and then I’d say “You get what you put in. You’re getting what you deserve”.

But is that really atonement? Is keeping myself in a dark, isolated corner of self-belittlement going to help me become a better person? Can I grow if I’m swimming in a pool of poisonous assumptions rather than planting new roots in the ground? Can I truly heal if I’m feeding myself theories of ill will, sickness and hopelessness? Some people, though, want to see you pay. They want to watch you endure suffering and live a lifetime of pain. Some of these people wish this because you may have wronged them, but some people are going to wish this upon anybody. It’s up to you to determine when enough, is enough.

I decided that I could no longer keep reliving and punishing myself for the mistakes I’ve made. Believe me, aside from self-punishment, I’ve paid for many of these mistakes. However, life must go on. I’m still alive and I still have goals and desires for the future. If we all lived perfect lives, then we’d never acquire the knowledge, wisdom and appreciation for all of life’s moments, regardless of whether we deem them good or bad.

I realize that, unlike Shaka Senghor, I did not take someone’s life. I can’t match the years he spent in prison coming to terms with this; therefor, I find his story inspiring. However, it’s not a far fetched concept he’s discussing – hence why he shared in the first place. If you’re holding onto guilt about your past and you deeply believe that you must live your life carrying this weight, I’m gonna tell you right now, you’re wrong! Don’t let it define you, no matter what opposition you feel internally. You are an imperfect being and can not always act in an “ideal” fashion. Most of us like to believe that we are living life the “right” way – that our own way is what’s best, but we have experienced moments of regret, too. The negatives ought not always outweigh the positives!

Do you think one ought to spend a lifetime atoning for mistakes or wrong-doings in the past? Do you believe that people can change?

 

When Turning Off Is A Turn On

 Social Networking Website Grows

Lately, I’ve felt a bit distant from myself.

I don’t regularly practice yoga, meditate or keep a journal as a form of “checking in”. Perhaps that’s part of the problem, however, this distance I’ve been experiencing seems to have derived from living on auto-pilot. I’m somewhat surprised to find myself displeased with this being that my depression has often created a longing to be free of emotion. Auto-pilot is just that – I find myself performing daily tasks without putting much thought into them. It’s not that I don’t put effort into the tasks, it’s that the tasks often feel meaningless.

A large part of life, for me, involves discovering and attributing meaning. However, I realize not all daily tasks must revolve around self-discovery. For example, I do laundry so I have clothes to wear. There need not be any further meaning required for me to perform that task because it’s rather mindless. What I’m referring to are the moments in between mindless tasks – the moments we find to absorb our present and all that we do to determine our future.

Not only am I running on auto-pilot, I’m downright flustered.

I decided to turn off the tv, put my cell phone in a different room and close out all of the nonsense tabs I had open on my computer. I opened a blank word document, just like I used to do when I would write for my eyes only. I sat alone, in my apartment and decided I was going to write without distractions. No checking my phone to see if I received any notifications. No bouncing around the internet checking “my accounts” and social media. No tv with it’s relentless advertisements trying to convince me there’s something more I need to buy. Or even, something more I need to be. All of these messages swarm around me, these opinions, demands, criticisms and “truths”. I can read an article online claiming research proves stretching is good before a run, people who drink in moderation are healthier than those who abstain, the soap I’m washing my face with is polluting the water, it’s impossible to catch up on sleep, vitamins are actually ineffective, a bachelor’s degree isn’t worth anything anymore, marriage is biologically unnatural, I’m not attractive enough, smart enough, thin enough, healthy enough, responsible enough, wealthy enough, sociable enough and the list goes on. People in this world, complete strangers whom I will most likely never meet, are sending the message that I need to be happy, but that I can never be because I’m not doing enough of the “right” things.

I realize that I’m looking at this in a holistic manner – each individual article has its message and the message itself usually is intended to be informative, helpful or inspiring. However, there are so many floating around that it becomes exhausting sorting through them. This obsession with finding happiness is making us all a little crazy.

It’s not always easy to sit alone in a silent room with your own thoughts, but what happens when we no longer find those moments? What happens when each spare moment of our time is spent on a technological device? What happens when we’re constantly plugged in to an internet realm where we consume information with little thought? With people hiding behind the anonymity of a computer, the internet can often be a place of cruelty, among other negative characteristics. It seems we are free to express our opinions on just about any site now. But the comments we leave are generally opinions – tons of worthless information that so many people take to heart. We believe much of what we read online. We form new opinions about societal norms and expectations based on what we read and what others seem to think. We judge ourselves against what we read and the images we are shown. But how often are we reflecting upon these messages? Which remain with us and which do we dismiss?

I suppose the answer depends on the individual, but as a whole, we live in a society which thrives on the consumer. Without our spending, the world as we know it would come to a halt. I won’t delve deeply into economics (I’m no expert by any means), but I think it’s important we take time to look at who we are. We are not JUST consumers. Humans weren’t always consumers. Our existence cannot simply be to acquire things and to judge ourselves and others based on what we don’t have. All of these headlines vividly popping up before us demand our attention, “Read me! I will change your life!” or “Look at me! I’m beautiful so I know what’s best for you!”

I’d never consider myself a mindfulness expert or claim that I don’t participate in any societal trends; in fact, I’d be contradicting this whole post if I claimed that. What I have been experiencing is an absence of direction and knowing what is important to me. The flood of limitless information and dependence on it as “truth” is turning me off. I’m growing bored of daily conversations with people revolving around tv shows and “amazing” youtube videos. Perhaps this auto-pilot phase would pass if I could free myself from believing that happiness is a destination and that I’m not doing enough or the right things to achieve it.

Do you ever allow yourself to be alone to ask yourself what it is YOU need? How often do you respond to your own personal headlines?

 

Looking For The RIGHT Gift For Valentine’s Day?

Obviously, this Valentine’s commercial is geared toward men, as are most Valentine-related commercials, but this one is…well…scary. I don’t care how depressed I am, I don’t want that as a gift. Imagine – you’re at the office (or where ever you work) and one of THESE suckers is delivered to you? It has to sit by you at your desk AND you have to get it home somehow. I first saw this commercial last year while living in Boston. I worked in the city and used public transportation to get around (the subway). I can’t imagine what I’d do if one of these was sent to me at work. Would I have actually had to carry a 4.5ft bear on the train home with me? I wouldn’t have been able to leave something so ridiculous at work, so I’d probably try to pawn it off, give it to a homeless person laying around outside (it could be bed-like). Or if I couldn’t even do that I’d trash it. That’s right. That $99.00 that some guy splurged on me for a bear would be wasted because I’d have thrown that beady-eyed giant into a dumpster.

Does that sound a little insensitive? I don’t care. This commercial emits the message that all women are simple minded and uncontrollably pleased (aroused even) by a mindless gift. How much thought goes into going online and clicking “purchase massive bear”? It’s the thought that matters, right? Oh, and you know what a woman will do when she’s made happy – FUCK ALL NIGHT!!!! That’s right, when you give a woman a giant bear she won’t be able to resist you. She’ll take the bear straight to bed and have sex with it and as she’s stroking it’s overstuffed pot belly, she’ll be thinking of only you! Score.

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve had sex with PLENTY of stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes. There’s something about the glint in their shiny little indented eyes that makes me feel, loved.

For months after receiving a massive bear, every time she walks past it she’ll say to herself, “Damn. I’ve got one hell of man”.

There are many ridiculous gifts out there when it comes to Valentine’s day and I, by no means, will try to define what a “sexy” gift is. Each to his own with that one. It’s not the bear itself that’s a stupid gift, I’d probably have loved to get that when I was 7. I’m curious to know what this things Valentine’s Day sales are. Ladies (generally), I would re-evaluate the depth within your relationship if you’re given one of these, unless, it’s given as a joke. If my boyfriend gave this to me I’d know he was kidding and I’d find it funny. But then I’d be like, “you just donated $99 to GoodWill”.

Would you ever give this big ass bear as a gift? What would you do if you received one? Don’t worry, I won’t make fun of you (online).

giant-vermont-teddy-bear

What Do You Do To Fight The Blues?

Busy-man

Do you ever look back at a version of yourself from a few years ago and say, “how the hell did I used to do ALL of that?” Maybe you were running around your house like a mad person scrambling to get your kids out the door for school followed by unloading the dishwasher, hopping in the shower, making coffee for the road and then heading into work. After a busy day (regardless of the job), you come home to your second job of “parenthood” and tend to all of it’s often unpredictable physical and emotional demands. You also kept up with emails and making/going to appointments. You made dinner, or at least took the time to figure out what to do about it, you went grocery shopping and took the car in for repair. You settled a health insurance conflict, which took months to resolve, and you frequently stopped by your parents house to do the laundry and clean up a bit since they were both not as spy as they once were. MAYBE you were even able to squeeze in a little “you” time and go for a walk, or have coffee with a friend. Just maybe, you were able to manage something along those lines in. Regardless, you were able to “do it all”, or at least it seems that way upon reflection.

Perhaps you were doing all of those things even while you were living with depression. That may give you even more reason to ask yourself in wonderment, “how?” I have moments when I look back about 7-8 years ago while I was an undergrad student. I have no idea how I found the energy to live the lifestyle I did. I was depressed then, too! I was a full time student and worked nearly 40hours per week as a waitress. If you’ve ever waited tables, you know exactly how exhausting it tends to be. It truly tests your temperament and your patience. I used to go out after work ALL of the time, too. My schedule was all sorts of screwed up with me often working until 2am, getting home around 3 and not falling asleep until around 4 or 5. After a busy, chaotic shift, it was often difficult to wind down. I’d sleep until 1pm and scramble to accomplish as much as I could, including homework before having to return to work at 4:30pm. My days off consisted of classes, studying and taking care of any appointments or running errands. Just thinking about all of that exhausts me, but I somehow feel a sense of accomplishment about it.

We do that don’t we? We feel proud of ourselves when we’re able to accomplish things. Naturally, our energy levels are higher when we’re young, so go ahead and cut yourself some slack for no longer being able to work all day, party all night and do it all over again the next day (sans hangover, too!) We set long-term goals like getting a promotion at work, losing weight, going back to school/graduating, being an active member of a commendable cause, writing a book, traveling the world etc. The list is infinite. But as we’ve learned or are currently coming to understand – things don’t always work out as planned. Things just keep “coming up”, don’t they? It’s disappointing when you realize you need to put something off for a “less hectic” time. That sense of disappointment can hang us up a bit, but we continue on with our daily responsibilities.

But what about when you’re experiencing a depressive episode? What happens to those goals and dreams? Sometimes it’s as if they never existed in the first place. That’s often the scary part of it all. Those goals were what set you apart, they were the driving force in your life. Your dreams – they were the fuel which ignited the light in your eyes. In their absence, not only do you feel disappointment, you feel empty. You no longer feel like you. I would panic as my mind took me “there”. I was abandoning myself by allowing my dreams to slip from my psyche. Depression does that, though. Suddenly, everything seemed silly and pointless. “Who cares if I ever write a book, I have nothing of importance to say.” “It doesn’t matter if I travel to other countries, the world is just a rock filled with people who don’t give a damn about anyone.” “What does it matter if I lose weight? I’ll still be an unworthy, bad person on the inside.” The ambition you once had is whittled away by the coarse grain of depression. I’d look at myself in the mirror and ask, “what happened to you? Fuck you.”

Having said all that, not only does depression rob you of your soul, so to speak, it often makes daily tasks arduous. Things that ought be simple and mundane like, running to the grocery store or washing your bedroom sheets become challenges. Sometimes we can’t take a shower because the thought of getting wet and then having to dry off seems exhausting. Eventually, I would NEED to go to the grocery store and I’d find myself aimlessly pushing a cart. Outwardly, I appeared normal, I’m assuming, but in reality my blank eyes were glossing over the dozens of bread brands and the unnecessary varieties of toilet paper. Plush? Pocketed? What did I used to buy? What does it matter? It’s toilet paper – it’s going to be used to wipe shit from my ass, right? In each hand I’d be examining a can of soup. Which was better, Campbells chicken noodle or Progresso? Suddenly I’d realize that I wasn’t even thinking about soup and I’d set them both down. Why so many choices? Why can’t I just pick one? Eventually, I’d check the time and realize I’d spent 45 min in the store with nothing but oreos, pizza rolls and 2 free-rolling apples in my cart. “Fuck this.” And with that, I’d walk out empty handed.

empty_cart580

So, not only had I lost sight of my goals, but I could no longer accomplish small tasks. Realizing this made me feel even worse about myself, subhuman. Remember how I mentioned that we feel good when we’re productive? Yeah, that wasn’t happening. My sense of self-worth was dissolving. “What good am I to anybody if I can’t even take care of myself?” For me, it was not only difficult to realize I wasn’t needed by anybody, even friends, but I had become a burden to some people. I had my mom worrying about me like I was a newly licensed 16 year old driving around on my own. She worried about me losing total control and putting myself in danger – causing harm to myself. She had every right to worry. I had contemplated suicide dozens of times. I could never go through with it because I was scared of the pain. I was at least “well” enough to know that my emotional pain wouldn’t be as bad as the pain of hurting myself.

Once the depression has lifted a bit, whether it be due to therapy, medication or a combination of treatments, you realize that you have to start cleaning things up. You’ve made a mess – you were an absent landlord when your property was falling apart. I was taking each day as it came and had to relearn the meaning of accomplishment. At one point, just doing my laundry was a big deal. The simple act of doing it was negating thoughts of it not mattering what condition my clothes were in because I didn’t have anyone to see. I just did the laundry. With each task I completed, day after day, I started to feel a small sense of routine again. The sense of accomplishment was reintroducing itself to me. For anybody that hasn’t experienced depression, this entire story may read as pathetic or lazy. Believe me, the depressed voice inside my head whispers this from time to time and it’s not easy to ignore. But, moving past depression involves learning how to combat those negative voices with actions.

This is where the title of this post finally makes sense (thanks for getting this far!) I’d like to know what you do to fight the voice of depression. Have you been able to find the energy to get involved or re-involved in a hobby? Have you taken up a form of meditation or exercise? Do try seeking faith or spirituality? Have you gotten involved in a group or club? Even small things count, they count a tremendous amount. There were a few things I began as a means of turning my life around. I started running, which was something I always believed I hated. Why running? One day I was so angry and I’ve never been the type to punch a wall, but I needed to exert myself in some way. I was pacing, pent up in my room needing to scream or break something. I went outside and I ran. I didn’t get far, mind you, but I ran fast and hard and it felt good. Afterward, I huffed and wheezed and massaged my knee but I told myself that when I woke up the next day, I’d do it again. I got to a point where I could run 8 miles a day 5-6 times per week. No doubt about it, it was a ROUGH start. I often thought I’d quit, and my depression told me that I inevitably would. Within a month, I saw that I was beginning to lose weight so I began to change my diet. I got into cooking again, which was something a couple years prior, I highly enjoyed. After a year, I had lost 50lbs, which put me right back into a healthy weight for my frame. Talk about feeling a sense of accomplishment.

homer runner

My journey with running began nearly 2 years ago and I now consider it to be a part of my lifestyle. I love searching for unique music to add to my ipod, put on my running shoes and go! I’ve been able to keep the weight off and I continue to develop my cooking skills with new recipes. I have down days where I don’t feel like cooking, but don’t we all? I also have periods of time where I don’t run, sometimes I take a couple months off, but I always start getting the itch to get back out there. It’s become therapeutic and, if I’m not mistaken, that’s exactly what a depressed gal like me needs.

Depression does affect my energy levels, often causing a lack of motivation but I try to stop it there. If I continue with that train of thought it can lead to “rationalizing” why I shouldn’t do things. Thoughts like “there’s no point in me leaving the house today because I’m not needed anywhere” or “I’m not going to bother applying to jobs today because I already know what’s out there and I’m not qualified”. See? I can’t allow those thoughts to run me. I’m trying my best. A big step in the healing process is just being able to identify the negative self-talk. Hear it, ask yourself if you actually believe it and make the decision about how to respond. How do I know I’m not qualified for a job that I want? My boyfriend applied to a job he didn’t think he was qualified for and ended up getting hired. That’s how we ended up here in the desert.

So tell me, what do you do to fight the blues?

Tomorrow Is Another Day

art by Piper Macenzie“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

What a great time for me to start this blog! I’m thrilled to be a participant in a cause like this. As part of this pledge and for the sake of this blog…I will tell you the short version of my battle with depression. As the blog goes on, I will share more details and individualized experiences.

I finally allowed myself to believe I was depressed when I was 24. I had an apartment by myself and one evening after an exhausting shift at work, I dared to Google “depression”. I suppose I wasn’t really afraid of it, but I knew if it was what I was actually going through I wouldn’t be able to tell anybody.

When I was 27, I responded to an email from a friend from college with a “life update”. She’s an articulate, sarcastic, intelligent (aspiring) writer. I admired her for her no-bullshit attitude and ability to (mostly) refrain from conforming to societal expectations. In the email, I hesitantly told her that I had been going through a deep depression. This was a few months after beginning grad school. Perhaps my email was sappy or pathetic or whiny…in her eyes. Because I was so engrossed in sadness, it probably was. She told me to “drop the capital D in depression and move on”. I was negatively struck by this for two reasons. Firstly, I was in grad school for mental health counseling and was planning to make a career out of working with and diagnosing depressed people. Secondly, those words invalidated all of the emotions I was experiencing and basically we’re saying, “stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take some accountability and stop blaming a questionable disease”.

One of my downfalls is that I’ve always tended to be easily persuaded. I held tight to my morals, but when somebody I respect holds a strongly differing opinion, I seem to give my beliefs a second thought. In some cases this characteristic has helped me to keep an open mind, but sometimes I’ve lost myself a bit “going with the flow”. At the time, this made me question everything, especially my career choice. IS depression real? If it is, can it EVER be relieved? Is therapy ACTUALLY going to help people learn to cope? Would therapy even help me? (I had only a brief experience with a therapist a couple years prior). After learning about some of the mechanics behind therapy, did I still believe in it? Honestly, I didn’t believe in much of anything.

Within that year, I had to stop taking classes as I could no longer focus on…anything. I lost a job because I put in very little effort. The supervisors sugar-coated it for me when they let me go, but I knew better than anybody what was happening. I was drinking alone a lot with my main goal being to eventually pass out. I ran out of money and couldn’t afford my rent. I remember I was at a point where I was eating walnuts as meals because I couldn’t afford food. At one of my lowest points and after having drank a few beers, I contemplated prostitution. I lived in an urban area where I could’ve found a customer quickly. I REALLY thought about it. As I sit here now, I can’t believe how little I respected myself. Fortunately, it was never anything more than a thought.

I was killing myself, chiseling away any dignity I had left as I went on dates with strangers I met online. A few of them I slept with. I’d get stupid drunk on these dates and convince myself I was having fun. Ultimately, I didn’t care about what the guys thought about me. If they didn’t like being out with me, then they didn’t have to see me again. I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship anyway and I didn’t blame them if they thought I was a wreck! I had moved from having a broken heart to having an empty heart and when you’re empty inside there is nothing to give. There were a few people I met who made an effort to become friends with me but the more they called the more I secluded myself. I no longer felt comfortable around people. When they’d ask me questions about myself, I’d draw a blank. I didn’t know how to talk about myself anymore, I didn’t have anything positive to say. Being around people became intimidating, so I tended to stay within the safety of my own bedroom. I even secluded myself from my family. I believed I was poison.

alone in crowd

It brings tears to my eyes to think back to this. I’ve dealt with depression since a teenager, but that was the deepest bout. I’ve come a long way from that point, but some of the damage from that time has been difficult to overcome. Not only was I damaging myself, but I was hurting some of the important people in my life. Sometimes I think back and feel disgusted with myself. I cringe and shudder remembering some of the choices I made and situations I put myself in. However, when I was in grad school, I had a few conversations with one of the clinical psychology Ph.D. students. She was a 35 year old recovered alcoholic. She openly admitted this to me, which at the time I found flattering. I later came to understand that she had reached a point in her life where there was no room for denial or shame. Her past tumultuous lifestyle was just that, her past. I opened up to her about some of my problems and she judged me not one bit. She told me, “it’s important that you have compassion toward yourself. Show yourself the same care as you would for a close friend.” The word compassion, in the form of a foreign substance, filtered through my tough skin and penetrated my being. I had NEVER held compassion for myself.

Sometimes I sink into a dark memory I wish would just leave me be. I feel my cheeks flush with humiliation and experience a few seconds of anxious discomfort. But I tell myself this: You cannot change the past. It is over. It cannot happen again therefore you should not let it rouse fear in you. You are trying be a better person now. You are in the PRESENT. You are changing and you are allowed to look back at that version of you with COMPASSION. Don’t be angry. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be sad. Just let it be and move forward. This helps me to calm down more often than not and it helps me to be mindful to take each day as it comes.

Depression is something I’m living with and probably always will. Some days are more difficult than others but whether or not they’re difficult, I must keep trying. I still struggle with accepting myself. Not every day is a productive one. I’m not always able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ll always have work to do being that I live with this, but now I’m able to share my version of depression with all of you. I will be honest, as I feel that it’s an important part of the healing process – being honest with yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to type the words to explain these memories, but I can’t punish myself any longer. None of us should.

If you’re interested in participating in the Blog For Mental Health 2014, feel free to click the link to the original post on A Canvas Of The Minds for detailed instructions. Thanks for reading 🙂

FREEDOM

“Facebook, Facebook – What’s On Your Wall?”

sad computer

In today’s world, we can join a social networking site, like facebook, and have a window into the lives of our friends and family that we otherwise wouldn’t have. We can read profiles and see where people we graduated high school with are working, if they’re married, who they married, if they have children, where they live and so much more. With the posting of pictures we can see the highlights of their vacations, warm family gatherings, weddings, new vehicles and new babies. Even if we haven’t spoken in years, it’s almost as if we become part of some of these former classmates/friends/coworkers lives just by following their facebook activity. Humans are inquisitive. We strive to acquire knowledge on all levels of the spectrum, but we can also be a self-absorbed species as we spend a large portion of our lives simply trying to understand ourselves. Facebook simply becomes an information acquiring tool.

It’s no wonder that facebook and similar sites completely enrapture us. We want to know how others go about life and whether or not we realize it, we can compare ourselves. We are constantly doing this to measure where we fit in within society. Am I working hard enough? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Am I attractive? Am I successful? Am I a good parent? Am I a good person? We look to the lives of our friends, families and, now more than ever, celebrities as a means of comparison. We also want people to know about our own lives. Here I am, keeping an online blog in which I can share aspects of my life with the hopes of reaching out to others. Facebook places all of that personal information right at our fingertips. Even when we declare (on facebook) that we are going to ‘take a break’, we often find ourselves right back on the site within a few days. I always found it contradictory to post on facebook that you’re “quitting” facebook. It seems that if you’re serious about it, you’d just do it without having to make an announcement.

Facebook-like dislike

But it’s true. Sometimes we should take a break from social networking sites. Personally, I’m not convinced that having this degree of access into the lives of others is positive. Various studies have yielded results indicating that increased internet use leads to feelings of alienation. This article from the New York Times explains the phenomenon. While there are many positives to social media like keeping in touch, sharing educational and inspirational information and networking, these forms of communication are still unnatural to us. We don’t yet know whether we’re losing touch with humanity or if we’re making great strides as a species. What I do know is that, while having access to a plethora of information is liberating, not all of the information displayed is true.

On Facebook, people can post false information they’ve found on the internet as truth, but we also tend to broadcast our own lives in an inaccurate way. Facebook creates a “boastful” environment where people mainly post the highlights or positive events in their lives. I recommend reading this article, “7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook“. It has an interesting section about bragging and creating a virtual illusion of perfection. It’s a new form of showboating. Think about it, do you ever see people post pictures of their dead cat or how messy their house is? Are they showing pictures of their rusting car, college/job rejection letter, or of disappointed children on Christmas morning? What about even deeper issues? We don’t see posts about having to make yourself vomit after every meal. Nobody’s posting about hiding a bottle of vodka and sipping on it all day or how they decided to abandon their children. We don’t share our struggles with our friends/family on facebook. Perhaps it’s because we believe we shouldn’t burden others with our problems. Maybe it’s because we don’t think it’s anybody’s business. Or it could be because we feel shame for our struggles. We view them as failures, so we conceal them.

Perhaps you enjoy facebook because you find it to be a light and positive environment. You may enjoy seeing the inspirational quotes and all the pictures of new babies and vacations. You can send a loving “hello!” to a friend and see what your cousins on the other side of the country are up to. To that I say, fantastic. However, I’d find it difficult to believe that you don’t walk away from the site feeling slightly envious of…something.

It’s not that I advocate a facebook filled with posts about hatred, anger, apathy and aggression – there’s already enough of that floating about the internet. I’m asking for us to remember that the lives we see projected online aren’t the whole truth. After looking at others pictures or reading their cheery statuses, you may ask yourself why YOU seem to be the only one suffering or having a difficult time. Don’t believe that for one second. I’ve done it and it made me miserable. At one point, I felt utterly inadequate, so I followed suit and juiced up my “facebook resume”. I had just moved to a new, beautiful city, moved into a new place, and started graduate school. My life appeared great and filled with opportunity as I wondered around the city taking exciting photos. I tagged myself at popular restaurants and bars. I’d post about how “tough” grad school was and follow it with some insightful quote I read in one of my psych books. I was out there dating and seeing the city. It was easy to make it appear as if I was on top of the world.

What people didn’t know was that I was dead broke, actually, in debt. I didn’t yet have a job and was living off student loans. I worked temp jobs here and there but nothing ever lasted. My apartment was a crappy, old house and I was living with 3 other strangers (I met on Craig’s List) whom never took an interest in me. I knew absolutely NOBODY in that city, so I had no friends. (Any time I tagged myself at a restaurant I was by myself). The two year relationship I had been in painfully ended and I was disgustingly heartbroken. I couldn’t go into a grocery store without bursting into tears. I was using a free online dating site and went on dates with guys that made me feel cheap. I was delving into a major depressive episode and I was drinking A LOT, and because I didn’t know anybody, I was drinking by myself. I was gaining weight like crazy because I stopped valuing my health; therefore, I stopped cooking for myself. I had no way of getting around other than the subway or bus, which was a HUGE hassle. I was in some deep emotional pain. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt alone and truthfully, I wasn’t wrong about that.

What compelled me to embellish my life when I should’ve been doing the opposite – asking for help? Why did the opinions of my facebook “friends”, some of them I’ve never even met, matter to me? I realize that this phenomenon exists in real life, too. We tell people on a daily basis that we’re OK when we’re not. We work when we’re sick. We wait to cry until we’re alone. I understand sometimes we must wear a mask in order to complete tasks, but it’s a shame to be ashamed of the downsides in life. They happen to us. It took me a couple years to learn not to judge my own worth against the masks of others.

elizabeth-vargas-alcoholic-lead.jpg w=600

Recently, ABC’s news anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened up about her “anxiety fueled drinking addiction“. She admitted to being an alcoholic, which in my opinion, was an incredibly courageous decision. Because of the stigma associated with it, it’s difficult for any one to move past denial and admit to being an alcoholic . Vargas, however, is in the public eye so not only is she admitting this to friends and family, she’s confessing to the world. I admire her decision. I bring this up because it’s a perfect example of how the lives we portray are only a portion of the lives we actually live. Even her co-anchor, George Stephanopoulos whom she worked closely with on a daily basis, had no clue. She appeared put together, intelligent, successful, and confident but in reality she had been suffering for years with anxiety and alcoholism. She said it was “exhausting” trying to conceal her problems and she’s right, it is. Sometimes when thinking about addiction, I find it amazing how “functional” addicts (usually alcoholics) find the energy to not only fulfill daily tasks, but also to hide their addiction. I say this because I’ve been there.

If we could free ourselves from the fear of the judgement of others, even just a little, perhaps we could feel more confident about asking for help. We only perpetuate our vices as we continue to conceal or deny them. You are not alone in your pain and it’s easier to believe once you separate facades from reality. Remember to think of the limitations facebook has; it may provide a window into the lives of others, but we don’t have a clear view inside. Our deepest strengths involve confronting our problems and discovering ways to heal and grow. What is life if we don’t learn about our own selves? Sometimes are greatest opportunities to learn are when we are enduring adversity. While there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments and “the things that go right” in your life, there’s also nothing wrong with acknowledging that you and everyone else are not perfect. Whether our technological advances in communication ever become “natural”, I don’t know but I do know that imperfection is.

Today, I Turn 30

thirty

My mom once told me that she cried her eyes out on her 30th birthday. She felt bad about how little she had accomplished, or at least, how her accomplishments hadn’t met her expectations. I’m assuming we all are familiar with the stereotypes associated with turning 30. Supposedly, by 30 one should have an established (good paying) career, a vehicle, a house, be married, have at least one child or have such a successful career that you’re traveling and changing the world. A 30 year old is supposed to be reaping the benefits from all of that hard work in his/her 20’s. These stereotypes lead us to believe that 30 marks a point in your life where everything should have come together for you and all because of you.

Today is my 30th birthday. I’ve thought about what this day would be like on many occasions, particularly over the last few years. But, here I am, alive. The sun rose this morning just as it always does. It’s Monday and people everywhere cursed under their breath as they began the daily grind. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes that I’ll have to tackle eventually, like most days. I just made my typical second cup of coffee. I’ll pay my phone bill today, just as I do on the 20th of every month. Big deal if today is my birthday. It’s just another day, right? Right?

Who am I kidding; I know that’s not true…this time. It isn’t just another day, or even just another birthday. This 30th year of my life marks a milestone in my evolution, so to speak. I realize that societal pressures and stereotypes about turning 30 are responsible for some of the anxiety I’m experiencing, but truthfully the concept of time became noticeably real a couple years ago. How time flies. I can remember turning 20 and getting second piercings in my ears because I felt like an adult. I’m not sure how additional piercings represent adulthood, but that logic only proves I truly was just a kid. I didn’t yet have a clue what it meant to be an adult.

That is perhaps one of the most striking aspects about all of this – I’m an adult. In my early 20s I waited tables while attending college. I reached a burnout point and despised being a server because I was disrespected so often, but I could always pull myself through another shift as I envisioned the “adult” me as a successful professional. At 22 I hadn’t yet finished college; it took me 6 years rather than 4, mostly because I wasn’t exactly organized and had little guidance. At 23, I imagined that by 30 I’d be  this sophisticated cultural anthropologist/writer/ethnographer/women’s rights activist. I thought I’d have traveled and published some of my research but also be working on a few fictional novels. Of course, I would’ve completed my Master’s degree, if not be in the final stages of a Ph.D. I was going to change the world. That’s right. That little brunette waitress serving you your fried shrimp was going to be somebody, you just didn’t know it yet.

I don’t think my goals were unrealistic, especially because there are many people who have shared and achieved those same goals. Bless them. It was the way I believed the world functioned that set me on the path to disappointment. I tackled life with the belief that hard work always pays off and that it always should. That I’d be rewarded with prosperity, happiness and respect after completing a goal and I believed that to be true success. I thought I’d be “discovered” through and by my work – as if there were somebody watching and waiting for me to ripen. A large part of me hoped that I was special (as I had been brought up to think) or had a unique perspective and a decent chunk of me truly believed that. Because of this, unbeknownst even to me, I thought things would simply fall into place and that opportunities would pour in. It would be up to me, at that point, which path to take and any path I chose would be rewarding in some fashion. I deserved only the best right? Now I’m not so sure.

I can’t completely bash the ideals which compelled me to desire success – I am still proud of my education and my quest to find fulfilling work has not ended. However, years ago I didn’t yet know of real competition or accountability. My actions, should they be negative (and many times were) could be justified and dismissed without being a reflection of my character. It was always the worlds’ fault if something didn’t work out. Don’t get me wrong. I was and always have been hard on myself and highly critical of anything that I did. There was a love/hate relationship there, but I didn’t see myself as part of a bigger picture – one where we’re ALL striving to find fulfillment. I didn’t know that my desire wasn’t any more important than that of someone else. This resembles selfishness and arrogance (and is to a degree) but I will partially attribute this to being a product of the time. There are theories on the subject of Generation Y and its sense of entitlement. This article provides a simplistic yet accurate explanation about the very thing I have been afflicted with. I highly recommend giving it a go.

If turning 30 indicates some element of wisdom, I’d say that I’ve been humbled. Life has not been easy and I have made some terrible decisions – some I’m still shuddering over and cleaning up. I am not special in the sense that my life will be any more influential, helpful or that my struggles are more deserving of acknowledgement. Maybe I will make a difference in the lives of others in some way, but I’d deserve no more gratitude than others who help, too. Hard work can pay off…but only if I keep it up and believe in the reasons why I do it. I’ve learned that I can find success without needing consistent praise from others and that my personal success should be defined by me, not everyone else. There will be no finish line swarmed with cheering fans applauding me simply for living my life.

I suppose that could all sound like I’ve thrown in the towel when it comes to my dreams. This is not true at all. With each mistake and setback I’ve had I discovered just how human I am. Some of my biggest setbacks include being penniless and having a drinking problem, having to quit grad school due to a depressive episode, being fired from a good job and having to move back in with my mom for a while at 28. Let’s say that on the surface I appeared to have everything together but I was secretly (and eventually not so secretly) living the life I thought I was above. I thought I was “special” and “talented”. Yet, there I was scrounging together coins to get on the subway so I could make an attempt at a job interview. I remember once having to ask the guy I had just started seeing if he could buy me groceries. I had become pathetic. It was a humbling moment to have realized that I was just as susceptible as everyone else to a future filled with pain and struggle; in fact, that was exactly where I was headed. Deep shame filled my heart and I finally realized that NOTHING fulfilling was ever going to just happen, I had to do the work. I wasn’t born more deserving of anything than anyone else.

I’m in a much better place now, and I’m on the brink of making some major life changes such as a new career, marriage and children. I’m living with my boyfriend whom has taught me much more about love than I thought humanly possible. Selfless love. Love free from guilt. Love was probably the first thing I thought I was undeserving of but I’ve been learning that it’s the opposite. If turning 30 required from everyone a single phrase about life, I’d say – IT GOES ON. Let your mistakes, no matter the scale, be your teacher as you move forward. Don’t let giving up be an option. If you need to slow down, take a step back or even pause for a moment in life, don’t feel that you’ve failed. When you’re ready, you can make your next steps the best yet. Don’t bog your life down by proving how “different”, “special” and “unique” you are, rather, reveal your true character through actions – actions you can feel proud of. You may discover aspects of yourself that set you apart, but don’t do them just to be different. Apply meaning to your actions.

Over the last few years, I’ve feared turning 30, but this decade is one where I hope to keep my biggest mistakes behind me. Many wonderful memories come to mind about my 20’s and I can remember a time where I never wanted to grow older. Life was just that much fun. But that life was exhausting…and empty. There was little stability and I was lonely whether I admitted it or not. Perhaps the loneliest feeling is being a stranger to yourself and letting it get so far that you don’t even know who you are anymore. Nor do you care. I’m choosing for this day, my 30th birthday, to not be tear or regret filled. Naturally, getting older isn’t an easy pill to swallow but I am ready to feel the freedom that comes with granting myself acceptance and moving on from there.

I have been plucking out the grays that have begun sprouting and I just ordered a 3 pack of retinol cream. THAT part of aging is another story, for another time.

Birthday cake with sugar clown decoration and candles

This Is Who You’re Reading About

It's DRY.

It’s DRY.

I recently moved to the desert after living near some form of body of water all of my life. From a scenic standpoint, it’s drastically different but ultimately I have all of the comforts I’ve usually had…like Taco Bell. I moved here with my boyfriend after he accepted a great job in his field. We moved from the northeast coast all the way to the southwest. It was a big move for him as well, being that he’s never left his hometown. I, on the other hand, have lived in a handful of states and have moved countless times now. Most of the time it was by choice, and other times necessity.

I’m 30, all of a sudden. I’ve never been married and have no children. Currently, I don’t have a job (and I hate typing that). With the move, I had to quit my work but it wasn’t really MY work anyway. I had been waiting tables for the last 7 months and before that I was working at a wealth management firm. That one almost did me in. Those are some stuffy, stuffy folk. So basically, I have no career. I didn’t always have this much free time – I was in grad school for a year studying mental health counseling. I didn’t finish. Mid-way through a semester, I had a depressive episode which resulted in me making horrible decisions. I ended up having to move back home with my mom.

I have plans now though, sort of. I’ve considered using my B.A. degree in anthropology to get somewhere, but then again, I’m not sure I can use the words “get somewhere” and “anthropology” in the same sentence. I was an archaeologist once. Yup, I sure was. I was at the bottom of the rung, but I suppose I was actually doing the work people seem to think is so cool. Excavations are brutal, especially when you’re working on a scorching, humid afternoon. The machete was pretty cool, though. I was laid off from that during 2008 when the economy tanked. There didn’t seem to be much hope for the future as archaeology projects were coming to a halt/close. Through people in the field, I realized I’d need to get a Ph.D. if I wanted to ever see any money. That wasn’t going to work. That’s when I decided, for various reasons, to get a master’s in mental health counseling. I BELIEVED in it. I just lost myself in the process. I couldn’t protect myself from the very thing I was studying.

Since that extreme episode, I’ve been slowly rebuilding my life. While living with my mom, I took up running, which was something I THOUGHT I despised. I ended up losing 50lbs. I got into cooking with fresh, home grown herbs and making healthy meals. I have a thing for pepperoni pizza. That ain’t goin’ no where no time soon. I’ve been proud of these achievements, but I still have so far to go. Depression doesn’t just go away – you have to stay active. But here I am, living in a place where I can wear cowboy boots everyday and never get a second glance. I actually think I might get into it. I’m embarking on a new adventure, so to speak, but that doesn’t make it easy, especially with depression. I’m happy to share my stories with you through this blog and I hope to help in any way I can.

I got these boots for my 30th birthday. Never owned a pair before because I've always been a northern girl. These things are awesome.

I got these boots for my 30th birthday. Never owned a pair before because I’ve always been a northern girl. These things are awesome.