When I was a little girl I was swimming in a crab hole at the beach with my sister. We didn’t notice that the tide had changed and the sand bar hemming us in had been submerged. We just kept swimming around, buoyed by our life jackets as we raced around the deepening cove. It took a while before we noticed that we were drifting out into the ocean. And when we realized that our feet couldn’t touch the sandy bottom anymore, we bristled into a full blown panic. ‘Just swim back’ everyone said- a simple solution coming from someone sitting safely on shore. But we weren’t strong enough or big enough to fight the outward current. We just kept slipping slowly with each wave. Finally my cousin swam out and towed us back, all in a row like wayward ducklings. That event never stopped us from plunged back into the frigid ocean, but it did make the dangers more poignant. It kept me aware as I grew up that sometimes you can be swept away by something much stronger than yourself.
As writers we feel everything deep in our souls, magnified tenfold; joy and pain, peace and chaos, love and hate- we mirror the emotions swirling in the world around us, our hearts bear the sweetest burden of empathy for this life and those who struggle and persevere alongside us. It is one of our most pronounced strengths, and also one of our most misunderstood weaknesses. Oh, what a strange curse; to feel the world so deeply, to carry all these stories in our hearts, swarming with every emotion imagineable. Some days I feel like I’m crazy. The very power that makes me able to create is also the very thing that can cut me to the quick when wielded incorrectly. That being said, it should come as no surprise that at times those darker shadows hidden inside can pull at me, sucking me in to an uninvited embrace.
I’m known for being a positive person, for finding the silver lining, for rolling with the punches that life can throw, for shaking it off and moving forward. Most people in my life don’t realize that this trait is one I’ve intentionally fought for; I see the light because I remember when my world was full of darkness. I say positive things because I need to hear them in order to believe them. I was young the first time I slipped into my own version of Dante’s Inferno. I walked through my nine circles of hell, climbed my mountain of Purgatorio, and found myself on the other side. I know the value of this journey because it’s seared into my soul.
I made my way through and felt a genuine peace on the other side, but there’s something that no one talks about when it comes to the taboo of mental health. Even when you ‘win’ your battle- that doesn’t mean it’s over. I am able to embrace the small joys in life, but there will always be a piece of me that remembers. There will always be a sliver of who I am that is holding its breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. A part of me cannot help but wonder if and when I may slip back into that abyss.
It started with an anxiety attack. I’ve always had these to some degree, so I wasn’t all that worried at first. But then they got worse, culminating in one that left me physically shaking and trying not to cry in the back of a car on a short road trip just a few weeks ago. It’s just stress, I told myself. Everything is fine. I didn’t notice when the rest of the warning signs started jumping out; looking back it is so obvious that I was heading for deeper waters, but I couldn’t see it. I lost interest in everything, didn’t have the motivation on for the simplest of tasks. I told myself that I was just getting lazy when I didn’t clean or write (this Nano has been an ongoing struggle), but it went deeper than that. I couldn’t focus anymore; realizing halfway through a conversation that I had no idea what the other person was talking about. Or rereading the same line over and over again because the meaning wouldn’t soak in. Editing my novels became a nightmare of repetitive actions with nothing truly behind them. Some days insomnia kept me awake, and other days I could barely keep my eyes open, my sleep schedule moving up into the double digits.
Even the dog noticed before I did. Link is not particularly cuddly; he only wants to be close like that when someone is sick. I should have known that he sensed something was wrong when he wouldn’t leave my side, pressing himself close beside me when I lay down; one day even going so far as to flop down right on top of me and lay flat- like he couldn’t get enough skin to fur contact. And then on Saturday I could barely get out of bed, opting for sweatpants and a baggy shirt because I didn’t have the energy to do my laundry or put jeans on. I had no choice but to admit that I’d been blind to all of my warning signs once again; I had lost my footing, and had slipped for no real reason. There I was, halfway out to sea before I even realized there was a hint of danger.
There’s something about depression that makes you feel so damn small, so insignificant, so pointless. There’s something about that darkness that makes you feel so weak, so helpless, so broken. It’s hard to admit to yourself and to others that perhaps you can’t do it on your own. People want to fix you without realizing that you are not a math problem to be solved neatly on graph paper and turned in on Monday morning. Not everyone understands that you can be sad deep in your soul without having a reason you can articulate. You can have a good life and still feel like you are drowning.
I’ve been down this road before, and the only real benefit is that I learned all of the wrong things to do once upon a time. Mainly; trying to fix it all on my own. It goes against our nature to admit out weaknesses. But at the end of the day, it is the bravest thing you can do. Instead of pasting on a plastic smile, this time I took a deep breath and I opened up.
We always forget that we are not the only ones who have been forced to face our demons. We are not the only ones who have hurt deep down in our souls. When I made my confession I had a certain expectation when it came to their responses. And yet I was so wrong; instead of judgment, I was met with compassion. When I couldn’t force myself out of bed, my fiancé curled up beside me with healthy snacks and turned on our favorite show. When I wanted to stay there all day and melt into the mattress, he coaxed me out with simple goals that would nudge me back towards normalcy without sending me diving under the covers again. He didn’t try to offer solutions when there were none to give, he didn’t get frustrated with the fact that he had a hundred other things more important to do. He just gently reminded me that I wasn’t alone and that it was okay to let myself feel it all for a little while without wallowing in it.
My friends forced me to get up and go out with them- no questions, no expectations, just a group of us in the woods on a rainy Sunday. I always forget how healing nature can be, how easy it is to put your life and your problems into perspective when you are surrounded by so much beauty.
There are some battles you should not face alone. And that’s why I’m here right now, spilling the less-than-glamorous secrets of my life for anyone to see. So if I don’t post as often as I used to- be patient with me, I’m still trying. Every day is still a bit of an effort; some more so than others. I’m just reminding myself to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. I slipped, got in over my head, and now I just need a little help to tow myself back to shore. I can do this, but I do not have to do this alone. Sometimes the bravest thing you will ever do is admit that you need someone else to help you on your path.