Category Archives: This Whole “Life” Thing

Don’t Look Back.

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Don’t look back.

If I could give myself one piece of advice, that would be it. I would tell myself this, again and again, year after year. I’d whisper it in my ear as I stare out the window, dreaming of my youth. I’d say it and tug on my arm when I look at my brother, remembering how we played together so long ago. I’d scream it to myself when I walk away from my dad, remembering how I’d run up and hug him after he came home from work back in preschool. I’d slap myself in the face and tell myself, “don’t look back” as I cried over the years for so many people….

I guess I’ve always been sort of a nostalgic person. I used to keep journals and scribble my thoughts furiously, telling myself that they’d someday matter. I hang onto pictures, pour through them and will myself to relive the happiness I felt in them. I replay my memories like an annoying film montage that can’t ever seem to pause. The past holds so much knowledge, so many mistakes, and I constantly search through it so that my future may end up differently…or the same.

But I’m trying to stop this. My nostalgia gets me in trouble because it plays on all the softness in my heart. In those moments when I long for the closeness I once felt for my family, guilt, pain, and anger start appearing. When I remember my happy childhood I often feel sad, because it ended too soon. And when I think of the good times, the times I’ll never get back with the people I’ll never get back…well, then I start questioning. Did it have to end up that way? What did I do wrong?

What. Did. I. Do. Wrong.

That used to be the thing I whispered to myself in nights spent alone. Instead of advice, I repeated that question to myself, gradually chipping away at my self-esteem. The depression that kept coming back to me came back through my memories. It attached itself to my past, sucking away all the happiness I once felt and leaving emptiness, leaving blame. If the present sucked, it was my fault. And everyone knows you can’t repeat history. But I tried, anyway.

I went back again and again to the same relationships, the same friendships, because I loved those people and I missed them. But what I loved and missed more were how they once made me feel…whole. Happy. I had so much trouble letting go, because I was always looking over my shoulder, wanting to make the past a reality again.

But things can’t be undone, can they? A fight will always be remembered; the words said can never be unsaid. The carelessness that someone gave toward your heart will always leave behind a new insecurity, just like a love once felt will always leave behind some pain. Even though I would try my hardest to rekindle laughs, wild nights of summer, unhinged passion, and unblemished trust…I failed. Those friendships would fade again when I wasn’t looking, and those relationships withered away in my hands.

So I tell myself, “Don’t look back.”

It’s true, the past will always be a part of the present; I cannot pretend to be indifferent to the things I once held so dear. But the past doesn’t have to remain my vicious cycle of retracing my steps. I can accept my mistakes; I can let go of the rose-colored glasses peering into my recollections. The past was never perfect, just like the present, and I can’t let myself cherry-pick the good times. Life goes on…One happy memory can always be followed by another, and sometimes you find happiness where you don’t expect it to be.

By welding my own destiny, and following the path of the present I can move on. So when I dwell on the dysfunction of my family, I think of how independent it has made me. When I feel the sting of rejection from old friends who have turned into strangers, I remind myself of the new friendships I have created. And yes, even when my stomach drops in disappointment when recalling the relationships that have gone awry…I manage to hold strong, reminding myself why things ended the way they did. Because I find that the older I get, the more I define my experiences, instead of the other way around. If I’m looking back at my past I won’t get to see what’s coming up next. Life moves forward so I look forward…So I can look forward to life.

Alone, But Not Lonely

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About three weeks ago, I decided to make a change. I wanted to be alone. As a person who has spent the better part of five years unconsciously trying to avoid being alone, this was sort of a big deal for me. For most of that time I had been jumping from serious relationship to serious relationship…out of love, yes. But also out of fear. After many bouts of depression, I was petrified of being alone and facing my demons; I liked the safety and security of knowing I could always pick up the phone and run to someone who loved me. And while I will never deny the beauty and selflessness of that kind of reliance, I acknowledge now that it wasn’t always healthy for me.

Last January, my partner moved out-of-country. I was screwed, to put it frankly. My friendships were shot to hell; my courage was buried under self-loathing and pity. I withdrew from the world and everyone in it. And from that spiral of depression I hit rock bottom—quit school, quit my job, quit my life in that town and ran back home. Though I was ashamed of these decisions at the time, I don’t regret them. They were scary and awful…and exactly what I needed.

Everybody says to do the things that scare you. This has been my mantra for years. But during most of the time I took that as my excuse to dive into relationships headfirst without taking a breath. What I should have done was take some time: for myself, by myself. I realized all of this about three weeks ago, in the midst of yet another serious relationship.

So we decided to take a break. I needed to know I could still accomplish my dreams of traveling the world, and I needed to know I wasn’t in that relationship simply because it was comfortable. It wasn’t exactly an easy time for us either—medication had made my libido completely evaporate, and the passion between us went with it. I constantly felt guilty because of this, which made me start to distance myself from my partner.

And just like that, we were broken up yet again; I was on my own. And for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t struck by paralyzing fear. I felt okay…the world wasn’t ending; the sunlight had not been buried by clouds. I was free to do whatever I wanted, and I did just that. I spent time at home more, I tackled projects I said I’d do months ago, and I planned new activities to try. I slipped back into a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time: self-reliance. I was alone, yet perfectly content.

Only then did I realize how stressed I had been. The combination of a full-time school schedule, a part-time work schedule, and squeezing relationship-time into all my free time had done a number on me…it wasn’t until I sat in my room one night and let it dawn on me that I had nothing to do…not one thing…that I felt delirious with joy. No more living half my week at my partner’s place, no more driving, packing, planning, and no more feeling guilty for being tired and drained when we finally had a chance to enjoy our time together!

This time by myself has been so important to me… I have woken up, taken charge of my life, and decided what needs to change and what doesn’t. Sometimes that means burning bridges and disappointing the people you love, and other times it means building bridges and letting yourself love more. Like always, I had let my tendency to people-please get the best of me these past months…But now, I feel self-aware enough to say no sometimes, and make my own plans. After all, if I’m not taking care of myself then I can’t give the people in my life the love they deserve.

And they deserve so, so much…

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Trusting Yourself

All my life, I’ve been searching for answers.

Like most little kids, my favorite question was “Why?” I’d ask my mom about everything and anything, wanting to know why people did the things they did, how things worked, and what my mom thought about them.

As a teenager, I explored different experiences to find who I was and who I wasn’t. I tried being the over-achiever, the slacker, the arty kid, the theater kid, the choir kid, the daredevil, the music snob, the loner, and the social butterfly (at least as much as I could manage it).

Now, I’m a young adult. I’ve got an idea of how the world works and who I am. But like most young adults, I’ve struggled with another big question: what do I want in life?

For the past few months, this question has been interrupting my life almost every waking moment. It all started with my ex Jessie telling me that all of his relationships have fallen apart because he’s still in love with me. While this wasn’t exactly a shocking revelation, it still threw me off guard and left me thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this information?” That got me looking at my current relationship with my boyfriend Fred. Would our relationship allow me to pursue my dreams of traveling in the future? Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. And then I started thinking about the other big black hole in my future: my degree and my career. I thought I knew what I wanted, but the hoops I have to jump through to get there sound miserable. So, all day everyday I have been thinking, “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?”

The more I realized I hadn’t thought things out, the more questions seemed to be hurdled at me: do I want to get a Ph.D? Do I want to be in a relationship with Jessie? Am I willing to give up on travel? What type of job should I pursue if I don’t get my Ph.D? Would I be willing to let Jessie go? Would I be willing to let Fred go? Should I just be on my own? Should I start traveling now? What do I do if I take a year off? How did I not think about all of this before now?

The trouble with happiness (as weird as it sounds) is that you quit questioning things. The way that sadness makes you hyper-analyze your life, happiness makes you under-analyze your life. After all, if you’re happy, why should things change? Isn’t that the goal, to be happy?

When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to change peoples’ lives. Probably not in a fancy way, like being president or discovering a planet, but changing them in a small, meaningful way. That’s why I chose to pursue psychology, so I could help people manage their everyday lives. I also knew I wanted to travel, to see every continent (except maybe Antarctica) and discover how other people live, and how different life could be. I held these two goals close to my heart and promised myself that no matter how far away they seemed, that I would do them because that is just who I am…I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have these goals.

Now, I’m in my early twenties, and I feel as though every decision I make right now will influence whether or not those goals will become accomplished. I’m terrified of waking up in ten years, stuck, and wishing I had done something different. I’m terrified of choosing wrong, and being unable to make it right.

So I had to make a choice. It all happened in one night, when I sat down with my mom and told her everything I had been thinking. I didn’t exactly want her to tell me what I should do, more like her perspective. What did she want when she was my age? Did she get what she wanted? What about the things she didn’t get—does she regret the decisions that stopped her from getting them? What happened? What changed?

Basically, that conversation with her reminded me of every other moment of doubt in my life. Time after time, I’d feel so lost and helpless…and what did I do? I did what I had to. I chose a college, I chose a degree, I chose to drop out, I chose to go to therapy and get medication, I chose to go back to school. I’ve always done what I had to, and when I found myself lost again I made a change. No matter what has happened, when I’ve had no other choice than to trust myself, I’ve ended up happy and content in the end.

So I chose to make it work with my boyfriend, and try to let Jessie go. I chose to pick a career within psychology that would get me a job easily, so I could have the money to go back to school later if I didn’t like it. I chose to make a choice—to suck it up, pick a direction, and trust that I’d take myself where I needed to go.

Weeks later, I’m more or less the same. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to get into grad school, and I’m still working on letting go of Jessie, despite not talking to him for weeks. But I feel better, I feel confident in a weird way. I may still be a little lost, but I know it won’t last forever. Eventually I’ll move on to different problems, circumstances in my life will change, and I’ll still be the one calling the shots. The problems I’m stuck on now will seem smaller; the insecurities I face will have faded. Life goes on.

So maybe down the road I’ll change my grad school plans. Maybe I’ll decide to travel on my own. Maybe it won’t work out with Fred, maybe it will be too late with Jessie. No matter how scary it gets, no matter what happens, it’s going to be okay. I’ve kept myself safe thus far, and I know I’ll do it again.

Embracing A New Life

One thing I despise about adulthood is that you never really know if you’re doing the “mature” thing to do. No matter how hard I try to grow up, put on my big girl panties, and make the hard decisions, I always seem to second guess myself. Am I really doing the right thing? Is there even a “right thing”?

If you compared my life from back in March to now, it’d seem like I was growing up. Then, I was depressed and isolated, back at home with my parents. I spent my days watching Netflix and avoiding anything remotely stressful, and I had no goals. Now, I’m working full-time, have been accepted into a university for the fall, undergone treatment for my depression, and am working on moving out of my parents’. Suddenly the hours of the day fly by where they once dragged, and I feel the hunger of ambition again. I’m striving to be independent, both financially and personally. I have a life—one with coworkers I can freely chat with, trusted friends both near and far, and a boyfriend who wants us to build a future together. I feel a million times better than I did in March…so why do I still think about my old life?

That part of my life sort of feels like a ghost…most traces of it gone, but leftover feelings that remain. I still wonder about my old friends, but am too afraid to really reach out to them (also, what would I say?). I think about my old university, my old job, my old place. I had a very different life there, with different goals and different dreams…a life full of fear. Mostly I am happy to see it all gone…to let go of feeling lonely, left out, and fundamentally wrong, but it’s the positive feelings that get me all mixed up. The good times I had in that old life follow me around at the heels, begging me to slip into nostalgia. I guess this wouldn’t seem so bad—that it would be a much simpler thing to let go of—if it wasn’t all connected to a person, my ex.

Last fall, Jessie and I practically spent every moment together. We were best friends, lovers, but even more than that…we were each others’ means of surviving the everyday life we dreaded. Me, unhappy and lonely at a place where everyone seemed to thrive, and him, unhappy and restless in a country where he felt disconnected. We kept each other going, and kept each other company in our respective depressions. It sounds pretty twisted, I know, but when I remember it, he was my source of happiness…my everything.

Now, Jessie and I live in separate countries. Our lives don’t intersect at all…heck, we even speak a different language on a day-to-day basis. We have other reasons to be happy, we have separate dreams, separate everything… But for some reason we just couldn’t let go.

Until now, I suppose. About a week ago, our conversations stopped. I quit answering his messages/updates on his life, mostly because I’ve been struggling with what is the mature thing to do. Jessie says he can’t be just friends with me (despite living so far apart) and still keep in contact. So I got upset, had my cry, and just quit processing the whole thing. Since we can’t be platonic friends, I feel like the right thing to do is stop the communication between us, even though it makes me really upset. But the way I see it is if I keep living in the past, I’ll start messing up the present. As much as he may want to, Jessie can’t offer me anything but a “maybe someday in the future…” and I can’t do that anymore. I spent years of my life dragging myself through unhappiness in pursuit of a better future, and now is when I need the happiness. I need to be living, right here and now.

After everything I’ve been through, I feel so proud of myself for making it to this point I’m at now. I have stability and balance in a world that was once upside down…and even though I don’t always feel confident in my maturity, my finances, or my future, I’m confident that eventually this decision will feel okay… Eventually my heart will learn to let go, and be okay with letting go. I can see myself in my future, working hard with my boyfriend to achieve our dreams, and being at peace with the love that Jessie and I lost. In that future, Jessie and I are happy in our separate lives and wishing each other well still, but our hearts don’t ache and our minds are clear…we will have grown up, and realized that everything is as it should be.

I guess the bottom line is: if I spend my whole life second-guessing myself, I won’t ever get the chance to truly live…

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Outpatient Treatment: An Experience

For the past month, I’ve been receiving treatment for my depression via an outpatient program run by a nearby hospital. For three days a week, four hours a day, I am immersed in a world of people who know I have severe depression before they know anything else about me. Together, we all sit in a room and deal with our messed up lives. It’s an interesting experience.

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The first day of outpatient is usually the worst. You walk into this place thinking, “This probably won’t work…” “What am I even doing here?” or “God, could things get any worse?” It’s like being in a zoo, only you’re the animals and spectators…you feel like everyone is looking at you, wondering why you’re here, but at the same time you are looking at everyone else and wondering why they are here, too. It’s a room full of strangers who know you have a mental illness before members of your family or your closest friends do. You are instantly humbled, and incredibly defense. “What will these people want from me?” you might wonder. Yet in outpatient, questions never last long…

The day begins in community group, where everyone in the program (roughly 30 people) congregate in a big room and listen to the group leader read off a little thing called “The Daily Promise”. “The Daily Promise” is a book that has a passage for each day that asks you to think about your life, your choices, and your attitude. For instance, one day might ask you to contemplate whether you dwell on the past, present, or future. The group leader will then go around and ask everyone this, and then offer some bit of advice about their situation. It’s not really met to be therapeutic so much as it is meant to start your day off with some positivity, and get you to hold yourself accountable for your feelings and choices. It’s also a little bit of social time, where you ask about people’s weekends and if they caught the game last night. Some people tend to utilize this more than others. You have a strange set of cliques: the middle-aged ladies who discuss cooking recipes, the middle-aged men who are gruff and bitch about traffic, the really old people who make occasional small talk to the people next to them, the young women who are gossipy and thrive on scandal, the young guys who talk about the same stuff you heard from guys in middle and high school, and finally the quiet people, who sit there and do anything except talk to other people. The cliques are present, but fade when it’s time to open up.

There’s a strange sense of community at outpatient. People say hi to another or smile even when they’ve never spoken to each other. While people may ask why you’re there, there’s never judgement in their voices or criticism in their advice.  Everyone understands the hoops you must jump through when dealing with  health insurance, and everyone takes some kind of medication. We are each other’s community, and we understand each other in a way that most people in our lives don’t. While my parents or friends don’t understand how or why I can say in bed for days, people in outpatient nod their heads and murmur “I know what you mean” in agreement. When I mention not having the energy to see or talk to people, other patients offer suggestions while everyone else asks, “Why?” Even though the people in outpatient don’t necessarily know your story or know who you are, most of them know how you feel, which is a really big deal.

In the real world, no one talks about their problems or struggles with them due to abnormal brain functioning. In outpatient, everyone has problems, everyone has an illness. You look at people and see that they have a history, a whole story that leads them to where they sit in front of you, and you see the possibilities in life. I see old men grieving for a spouse they had for forty years. I see middle-aged men fighting their addictions for their families. I see women who have been beaten up and betrayed by those who claimed to have loved them, and I see children who yearn for parents that love them as they are. We all have problems, we all could be worse off, yet we are here, we are surviving. Everyone in the room is trying and fighting for their life, for their happiness. And it gives you a sense of hope in the world…all from a bunch of strangers.

The day continues with group therapy. You’re assigned to a room with about ten people total, and throughout the day two or three therapists come in to give lessons or facilitate conversation. This is where you learn the famous coping skills, the relaxation techniques, and the tips for effective communication. It’s also where you are put on the spot and asked about your life. You hear a lot of stories in group…from spontaneous marriages and trouble with the law, to dead-end jobs and ungrateful families. Some people open up right away and others need prying. But we all get our turn to say what matters, and why. It’s been in these group meetings where I’ve discovered something I had long forgotten: that I have a voice.

Outpatient has given me a strange sort of confidence boost and slap in the face all at once. After many weeks, and many contemplative conversations (not to mention getting on meds), I’ve sort of woken up from my depression fog. The colors and happiness in the world are coming into focus, and actually seem within reach. By getting out of bed, driving to the hospital, and spending a significant amount of time with the sole intent of bettering myself, I feel productive and proud of myself for the first time in ages. I’m accomplishing something that is difficult but necessary, and I’m doing it because I am worth it.  After months of a downward spiral, I’ve finally gained the motivation to start fixing my life, one baby step at a time. This isn’t to say that I haven’t gone over the mistakes that I’ve made. I look at the things I am learning, the skills I am building, and see all the times I should have used them. Throughout my depression I’ve broken a lot of trust, hurt many feelings, and pushed away a lot of wonderful people. Some of it I can fix, but others I’ll just have to learn from. Acceptance is a major part of healing, especially when there’s a mental illness involved, so accepting my mistakes and letting go of my self-hatred have been essential during my time in outpatient

I know no matter how much I describe it, there will always be people who don’t understand outpatient, or why I needed it. Depression is an invisible illness, and a lot of people have trouble accepting that, especially when treatment is expensive and/or intense. But, for the people who are reading this and learning about my experience in outpatient, I hope what you take away from this blog post is that you never know how deeply treatment can effect and help someone, so please do not judge it. Anytime anyone admits to having a problem and commits to fixing it, they are taking a fundamental step toward recovery. So remember that recovery takes time, and looks different for each person. I don’t know how long my recovery will take, and I don’t know how long I will be on meds, or struggle with depression, but I do know this: I am a strong person, I deserve to be happy, and I’m glad I chose to go to outpatient.

Reflections on Central America, Part II

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Somewhat recently, I went on a ten-day journey to a country in Central America to visit my ex Jessie, who moved there in January from the United States. I had never been there, didn’t remember a lick of my high school Spanish, and was utterly lost in terms of what I was expecting/what I wanted from the experience. I just showed up and said, Alright, I’m here. Show me why Jessie fell in love with you.

Because of this go-with-the-flow, nonchalant attitude I’m warning you that my impressions of this particular country in Central America is nothing close to expertise—after all, I was there a little over a week and stayed primarily in one city…a mere glimpse into what this place and its people could offer. So these observations should rightfully be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, here’s what I learned:

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I want to go back. I got on that plane and felt remorse in my heart for the lack of time I had to get to know this place…but I knew it was beautiful. In the central valley, mountains surround cities like endless arms, reaching high into the clouds and reaching outward to wrap the citizens in a protective hug. They are green, silent giants that seem endless, and can be seen from virtually any spot in the city. The natural beauty was on the outside, and inside the cities was a different kind of beauty. Loud, compact, and dirty are three words you could use to describe the cities there, but in this busy chaos I found beautiful treasures of culture. The people were friendly, with warm smiles and confident questions. “What do you think of [this country] so far?” they would ask. “How does it compare to America? Tell me about where you come from. Let me tell you why I like it here…” They didn’t seem to shy away from talking about themselves or showing their pride, and they weren’t afraid to acknowledge my inability to speak the first language. They are frank and realistic, but far from impolite. Jessie’s roommates and friends all were very welcoming to me, whether they offered food, paid for my drinks, or did the courtesy of speaking English for my benefit. The warmth of the people was indeed a treasure of the culture. I could see the importance of family everywhere—at parks both parents would play with their children or push them on swings, at markets fathers held hands with their children and kept them close, in conversation children (even when they were adults) spoke highly of their parents and longingly talked of home… Families take care of each other, and it shows. But even strangers seemed to show a sense of camaraderie and affection. On street corners, it is not uncommon for the person next to you to put their hand on your shoulder/back if you’re about to walk when a vehicle is approaching, or when it is time to cross the street. When meeting someone, you greet them with a kiss on the cheek and hand on the shoulder. There is less of a fear of touching, and if you bump into someone on the street slightly they might not even notice. Because people walk everywhere or take the bus, there is more of a sense of community and interaction than in American suburbia. The city has a rhythm and energy to it that makes it just as wild as the forest or sea. Car horns howl and motorcycles roar at another as if they were jungle cats in a brawl. Rightfully so, because the driving on the streets would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up… Stop signs are merely suggestions so drivers would blare their horn to alert others they were passing through an intersection. Blinkers are a joke as well; drivers zip in and out of lanes quickly, barely missing a brush with the closest car. The fearlessness of the streets didn’t seem to alarm citizens, but rather give them confidence in their knowledge of the city. There was an unspoken mentality of learn fast, and you will find things here you won’t anywhere else…but learn slow, and this city will leave you in the dust. Drunk on the energy of the city, I spend many days following Jessie on the haphazard sidewalks, remembering words in Spanish I heard that day and clarifying what they meant.

This country in Central America could be considered “3rd world” by some American standards—there is no air conditioning in most places, the majority of people don’t own a car, and hot water is only possible in the shower, and only if you have an electric shower head. (Also, fun fact: all toilet paper is thrown in the trash instead of flushed.) Personally, all of these “inconveniences” were quickly forgotten by me, with the possible exception of air conditioning because my body hates heat. Yet I know many Americans would find the apartment I stayed at to be too lacking to live in: there were only 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen that consisted of a sink, refrigerator, and hot plate. Something I never thought realized about America prior to this vacation was the abundance of space everywhere—in between buildings, in our houses, the wide roads we pave, and the large yards found in suburbs and countryside. The modesty of homes in the Central American cities showed that its citizens were less concerned with space and stuff to fill it with, and more concerned with the people in their homes.

In a similar fashion, people there tend to work all kinds of jobs, and seemed unconcerned with the impressiveness of their professions. People work because they have to, and seem happy to do it, no matter how blue-collar. While a college education is desirable, I didn’t notice the same pressure to Mercado Central, Herediaobtain it and career climb as I’ve felt in America. Over all, I noticed that people there seemed happier than Americans, though they generally have less and earn less. Where Americans have ambition and obsession with wealth, the people in Central America have richness in their relationships with family, friends, and God (the majority of the of the population is Catholic). As I looked around the cities, in their chaotic system of maintenance, transportation, and services, I realized how greatly they contributed to happiness, not wealth. They were filled with an understated beauty that most Americans would miss if passing by. Honestly, I could see myself getting very accustomed to this country if not for one big obstacle: Spanish.

Because I can hardly string two words together, most of my social interaction came from Jessie and a few of his friends that knew English. In all other situations, I was helpless. It was strange to follow Jessie around like a puppy dog or child—waiting for him to translate or tell me what was going on. Doing simple things, like paying for the bus or ordering food became impossible, and it was strange to carry money and not know how much it’s worth. I was definitely a foreigner, but it didn’t always show.

The citizens, while Latino, varied much more in appearance than I imagined. In the US, the reference point I had to Latinos were generally Mexicans, so naturally I assumed that everyone in Central America would have cinnamon skin, dark brown eyes, and shiny black hair. In reality, people in this Central American country range from dark brown shades of skin to nearly white. One 228woman I met even had freckles! Lighter eyes are indeed uncommon, but eye shape can vary from almond-shaped to round to small to big. Some people have straight hair and others have an afro of curls. But one over all trait that everyone seems to possess is shortness. There, being under 5’5 is completely average and expected of both men and women. For once in my life I felt relatively tall. And for once in my life I stepped into the role of a minority.

Like most white people, I have lived a life of privilege surrounded by others who look just like me and talk just like me. But for those ten days, I became aware of my skin color almost all the time. I was the typical white person—couldn’t speak Spanish, dressing in shorts and tank tops because I was unaccustomed to heat, and having the general assumption that everyone knows difference by goldfishabout American culture. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and sometimes felt like I had the word Tourist! tattooed on my forehead. Not only did I not understand what everyone around me was saying, but I didn’t understand the culture, and I didn’t fit in. This bothered Jessie more than it bothered me, because while I’m fine playing the role of the tourist Jessie was busy trying to play the role of citizen, something he has trouble with because he is also white, and whiteness in general has a connotation of tourism in this country. For the first time in my life, I realized that someone was ashamed of my race for me, and that a person of my race was ashamed of themselves for that same reason, too. The second people saw me, questions popped up in their minds and showed on their faces… Questions like, “Why are you here? Where did you come from?” and assumptions like, “You don’t speak our language, you don’t understand or appreciate us.” It was a strange experience to be an advocate for my race and my culture when I’ve lived all my life in America, where whiteness is shoved down everyone’s throats. For the first time, I got a glimpse of what life might be like for minorities in the US, rather than relying on personal accounts of that experience. After my week in Central America, I definitely wish more white Americans would travel and experience being a minority, even if it is temporary… It brought to my eyes one aspect of privilege that I hadn’t previously considered, and that is the expectation that everyone knows about my culture and race, even though I do not know much about so many cultures and races myself. In my experience, the white stereotype holds true: many white Americans don’t take the proper time to appreciate culture that isn’t theirs.

There’s so much more I could say about this country and my experience there, but I’m afraid the rest isn’t as organized as what I’ve written above. Like my first vacation abroad, this ten-day journey awakened my hunger to understand realities outside the US… I ache to taste food across the world, to understand customs and traditions I’ve never heard of, to gaze at natural wonders I’ve only seen in pictures, and meet people I never dreamed could exist. While I know I belong in the US for now, I believe that my travels are far from over and that I want to commit to learning and practicing other cultures and languages in the future. Ten days wasn’t enough. I want more from this Central American country, from the world, and from myself.

Life’s too short to stay in your comfort zone.

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Reflections on Central America, Part I

I’ve been avoiding writing this post all week. Sunday night I came back home after ten days in Central America with my ex, Jessie. How did I feel? I felt like it was a dream. I was incredibly sad to leave that country that I had just barely begun to know, and yet relieved to be back home and confront my life again. During that week I could see the life I would have had with Jessie had we stayed together, and it left me with conflicting feelings. Jessie left me with conflicting feelings.

It’s heartbreaking to love someone, really love them and let them deep into your heart, and know at the end of the day it’s not meant to be. Jessie belongs there, and I belong back in the US so I can fix the life I broke… It’s the hard truth that I kept avoiding by saying things like, “there’s nothing between Jessie and I.” In fact, there are lots of things between Jessie and I. There’s a whole history of moments, of laughter and love and sex and tears, where we discovered hidden parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed. There was a present, filled with tension and anger and sadness at everything that couldn’t be changed. And there was a future, one we dreamed of together, in the countryside of California and all over the world, where we started a life and a family that will ultimately never come to be. There’s a world between us, literally and figuratively, and it’s a world we both had to walk away from on Sunday.

I am a person who is without direction, ambition, or hope. My mind unravels and weaves together my experiences each day in ways that either pull me further, or further into, my depression. I don’t have much in my life—no job, no dream, no motivation, but I do have love. You don’t feel this much hurt and pain without it…because only love brings you truths so important that they become integral to your person. I have loved some wonderful people in my life, and it has given me wisdom that I will never forget. I’m so thankful I was given the opportunities to love and be loved…but the time has come to learn to love myself. I can’t keep disappearing into relationships in order to feel motivation to live…it’s time to find that motivation inside myself instead of getting it from someone else. I won’t lie, I’m terrified that I will never be able to love myself again, or find my own reasons to keep living, but I have to try.

Now that Jessie and I have gotten closure, and have freed each other from expectations and hopes of what could have been, there is nothing from my past standing in the way of my future. I can rebuild my life, with a new job, a new college, new friends, a new apartment, and a new relationship with Fred. I don’t know how any of it will work out, but I think that there is a real possibility that my life will take a turn for the better. My only goal now is to literally be happy, and it won’t happen overnight. On Monday I start intensive outpatient treatment, and while I feel dread I know it is for the best.

One chapter of my life has closed, and I do feel very sad that it is over. But maybe this next part of my life will be the best yet…

In a nutshell, that’s why I’m still here.

Starting a New Journey

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Everyone in their 20’s can relate to the same struggle: figuring out which path in life you would like to take. Even when you outgrow your 20’s, it seems that many people are still searching for this answer in their 30’s and even 40’s or 50’s. This is a dilemma I’ve written about again and again, and though this seems to be a recurring theme in every problem I encounter I am no closer to finding my path. Or am I?

Tomorrow I’m getting on a plane to Central America. My reasoning for buying this ticket to a country I’ve never been to and my reasoning for going are very distinct—I bought the ticket because I was in love and I wanted salvation for my relationship. I’m getting on the plane because I am in search of inspiration and direction in my life, and after a severe bout of depression I need to do something kind for myself. Also it was a nonrefundable ticket.

Back in January, I was in a long distance relationship and my partner had just moved to Central America. I was incredibly sad and lonely, and my depression was creeping back into my life. So I bought the ticket as an incentive for myself to keep going, and something me and my partner could remember in our moments of doubt. I thought that if I liked being there enough, maybe I could briefly move there during the summer, and then wait for my partner to move back to the U.S. in December. Life had other plans, though. My relationship disintegrated, my depression worsened, and my ability to plan for the future vanished. But the plane ticket was still there, waiting for me.

Now, in the present, my circumstances are different. My plans for the summer are school and work back home where I grew up. I’m transferring schools, finding a new job, and exploring a different relationship. Everything I’ve recently done has been to better myself, and instead of worrying about someone thousands of miles away, I’m preoccupied with changing my life in helpful ways. So I’m using that plane ticket, getting on that plane, and spending a week in Central America.

After my life went to hell in February, time kept moving faster and faster. This trip has sort of snuck up on me, and honestly I don’t think it will feel real until my mom drops me off at the airport tomorrow morning. I’m excited but hesitant…my life has reached a steady rhythm and I’m nervous to disrupt the balance again. Especially because it means spending a week with my ex Jessie, who doesn’t exactly encourage my more rational side. Jessie brings up our old relationship all the time, and I’m worried he’s going to forget that there’s no relationship left. He’s in Central America, I’m in the U.S., end of story. I’ve moved on, and so has he. Nothing good can come from beating a dead horse.

Right now I’m done with planning out my future within relationships. In a few years it might be more realistic to start doing that, but until then I just want to enjoy the moment. After all, I need to find my passion and indulge that while I’m young and I still can. So I’m pursuing my passion for travel right now, and then hopefully pursuing my passion for creativity when I get back to the states. What was once a trip about figuring out the future for Jessie and I has become a trip about reawakening my hunger for life. I was severely depressed, I made changes and started to recover, I found stability, and now it is time to wake up again, and start my life over. I’m embarking on a path,  and seeing where else my life can take me.

The Process of Seeking Help

It’s been a week since I moved back in with my parents and I still can’t catch my breath. Everyday I’ve been busy, whether it’s avoiding my responsibilities, catching up with old friends, trying to fit all of my stuff in my old room, or searching for a new car. I’ve been feeling better, but it’s the kind of better that has fine print attached—“Feelings of happiness have a high probability of fading within 2-3 weeks. As your schedule clears, side effects may follow that include time to process that your life is still messed up, and that you still have no idea how to fix it. Proceed with caution.”

In the short time I’ve been back home the distractions have been endless. Somehow I’ve managed to round up a couple of dates, some nights out drinking with my old friend Val, and seeing a few movies with Fred. My parents have hardly mentioned getting me into treatment, although my mom is convinced I need to be back on medication ASAP. Rightfully so, might I add. But there’s no doctors appointments booked, or any attempt to find a new part time job on my end. The temptation to avoid the problem is winning out over my fear of not getting better, and other stressors that are less important take up space in my mind. I know I need to confront the source of my depression—not only the chemical imbalance, but all of the insecurities, the social anxiety, and the fear of trusting both myself and others. The time has come for me to grow up and face the demons of my depression.

Getting help is a process, and it’s not as simple as most people make it out to be. Like last time I did outpatient, there was an act of desperation that brought my depression to the attention of others. After that, there were the precautionary steps where I moved back in with my parents and the idea of treatment was tossed around. Now it’s come to the step where I need to put the plan in motion, to go get help.

Treatment can be a scary thing for people who have lived with an untreated disorder for a long time. Even though I’ve been going to 757f4e338ff3a58315a7e6b0a91a8f04therapy for a few months, the idea of walking through those double doors marked “Behavioral Health” for everyone to see is daunting. Depression can be a really secretive disorder, and letting strangers know you struggle with it by the mere act of being in a treatment center leaves a person exposed and vulnerable. Our society is one that praises people for “toughening up” and “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps”; sometimes getting help can feel like failure for someone who’s tried so hard to keep their disorder in the dark. It’s important in these moments not only to be supportive of the person seeking treatment, but to also let them confront these feelings on their own. You can’t force another person to reveal what is going on, as many people in my life have tried with me. You must let them peal off the layers of security slowly, and allow them to dismantle the walls they’ve built on their own. It’s a significant moment when someone with a mental illness accepts help, and it’s one that must be acknowledged, respected, and given patience.

After I completed outpatient the first time I felt better than I had in 08c38db83b874a6759dea67bb14a321da long, long time. I was seventeen, and for the first time in five years  I believed in myself. I believed I could fight for myself, protect myself, and find happiness. I knew I had something worth living for—I knew I owed it to myself to live a full, happy life. Now I’m back at square one, utterly confused and hopeless, but there’s a difference. I remember that feeling…I remember that once I survived, I pulled myself out of the hell I was living in and I fought back. And I have hope that I can do it again.

So I guess this is all to say that if any of you readers are going through treatment or even considering treatment, I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I know that you might feel like you’ve set yourself up for the impossible, but keep trying. No matter how many sessions in therapy, no matter how many pills you’re prescribed, no matter how many treatment centers or desperate phone calls to your loved ones…You can do it. You are worth rescuing. You deserve a happy life. Hope exists, and it’s waiting for you.

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