They crawl out of the woodwork. People with baked goods and checks in the mail. Text messages to remind me I’m loved and phone calls from old friends. I’m surrounded. Held.
I imagine them at my funeral. Lined up listening to a collection of songs someone decided represent me. Watching some cheesy slideshow that covers the various lives I’ve led. Each person in the crowd failing to recognize at least one of them.
But then again maybe not. Maybe the turnout is better when you stick around. Easy to send some money, a message, make a phone call. Harder to take a day off work and a long drive south.
Doesn’t really matter.
At some point in the last week I decided to live. Had to decide to continue forward despite the dull ache of existence. That’s what people ask when you are committed. “Where did this come from? What happened? This seems so sudden.” But it’s a slow chipping. An erosion of everything I think should make me want to keep on living.
No. That’s not it, either. It is not so simple as saying everything hurts all the time and it’s always been this way. That simply isn’t true.
There are joyous moments. When I lay in bed with my partner. When I see my sister and best friend’s bellies swelling with children. When I share a simple phone call with my father. When my mom hugs me. When I make my brother laugh. When the whole family (yes, Chuck, you, too) sits down to dinner. When Vinnie and I take a smoke break. Long walks in the rain. New rap songs on headphones. Old rap songs of crackling car speakers. A new friend teaching me origami. My coworkers all talking about how much we love our job. Board games. Pizza. Rummy. My roommate asking me to a kill a spider for her. Simple things. Little ones. Depression makes it easy to not notice them. Makes it hard to start noticing again.
They’re right when they call is an emptiness. But it’s really like a slow leak. A dribble. And one day you notice you’re all out of fuel again. When that happens you don’t just stop, though. You get out and you start walking to the next station.
On Sunday, August 2, 2015 a man threw himself from the building my apartment faced. I didn’t see it, but it didn’t matter. The seed was planted. I’d stand at my window and stare up at his balcony, imagining myself crawling over its cool railing. Every building and overpass became a jumping off point. I was ready.
Mason held me close to his chest and cried quietly. Whispered weak words about how I promised never to leave. So I started going to therapy twice a week. I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. I quit my job and had serious talks about hospitalization. Every night I had to text my therapist to let him know I was still breathing. Anything to keep my feet on the ground beneath me.
Nadine and I took long walks around the lake and didn’t say much of anything. She just held a safe space for me. Let me know it was okay to not be okay. Let me know how much she loved–still loves–me.
By the end of October we’d moved out of that building, out of that city full of skyscrapers I couldn’t help but imagine myself climbing. More and different medications. New therapist. New psychiatrist. I kept trying, but I was still slipping. Changing places didn’t change anything. We both knew it wouldn’t, but what else were we supposed to be trying?
In December I moved back to my hometown. Alone. I slept in my parent’s spare room. And in mid-February I was finally cut loose by the words, “I want a divorce.” Found an apartment. Kept making weekly trips back down to Portland to see my therapist. Checked in every four weeks for medication management. Slowly started building a foundation without Mason. Tried to learn how to keep my head above water with no one to help me swim.
It’s amazing what you find yourself capable of when you have no other options.
No other options. I’d always believed I had an out. Always assumed eventually I would give into the call of balconies. The allure of tall buildings. But the medication was starting to work. And my therapist believed in me. And I reached out to my family. And I finally didn’t feel like a burden in my own home. My feet remained strong under me.
For whatever reason, it stopped feeling like everything was my fault. I was a victim of poor brain chemistry. There was nothing wrong with me. The world began engaging me. It was straight up terrifying. Strange things happen when you start to believe in your own abilities. You start catching yourself thinking that the difficult things in life are not caused by your short-comings.
Fell into a relationship. Climbed back out again. Kept telling myself that this new life wouldn’t be like the last one. It would be better. Strong and stable. That this time I really would learn to do it different. It was time to row the boat ashore. Time to prove it.
I am not in the in-betweens anymore. Not caught up in a rebound. Not waiting for my now ex-husband to finally show up on my porch and beg for me back. Not hoping I could somehow get pieces of my old life into my reality. Now I’m in it. Committed. This is the new normal now.
And so my medication management gets transferred from a psychiatrist to my primary care physician. And my therapist tells me it’s time to start thinking about what “long-term maintenance” is going to look like. And for the first time in my life, the people around me are telling me that I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. And I believe them. I believe me. I got this.
At a Target I try on a shirt that doesn’t fit me and I do not blame my body, I blame the clothing. That’s when it occurs to me that I am not the person I used to be. Not at all. Not in the least. Because I used to know I was broken. Unlovable and worthless. I used to know I was staying alive as a favor to those around me. But that wasn’t it, was it?
As we drive to dinner my new partner plays me “Teleprompters” by The Uncluded. And Kimya Dawson is singing to me, “I say these messages to you, but now I need to hear them to. I am beautiful. I am powerful. I am strong. And I am loveable.” And for whatever reason I believe her. I know her. I feel her. And it is not dependant on what my lover thinks about me. It is not hinging on how good of a writer I am. Or how often I call my parents. Or what I see in the mirror or where I’ve been or what I do. It is not something I have to fight to earn. It’s just true.
“I am beautiful. I am powerful. I am strong. And I am loveable.”
I’m sorry I didn’t believe you when you said it to me. I’m sorry you left before I learned it. But I am not sorry that it turned out this way. I’m not sorry for the road we had to take to get here. We couldn’t have done it any other way, right?
My counterpart reaches across the car and squeezes my leg and I don’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t want to be anyone else. I just want to drive with him and be exactly who I am.
At the stoplight he leans over to kiss me. He whispers he loves me while hovering a quarter of an inch from my face. And I do not question it. I do not wonder why. I just think, “Yes. I want to live my life like this.” Yes. I want to live my life.
Faith. It’s all going to come down to faith, isn’t it? Establishing belief that if I work hard on the things that matter I will see improvement.
Faith. Even when it seems like I know better, I don’t. Forgetting every time I felt like I gave my all and got burned anyway. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I am not finite. There is no “all”. No matter how empty, how hopeless, how beaten down I feel. I can always get up again. There is always something I haven’t used yet.
It’s easy to feel I’ve been doing everything I can my entire life. Easy to assume that if any of it were going to make a difference it would have by now. Harder to learn to see the difference between fighting and learning. It’s never been about how hard I can punch, only how quick I can dodge it.
Divert. Disperse. Learn a different tactic.
Don’t try to stop the river. Rivers always find a way. At some point, the dam breaks, and you’re worse off than you were in the beginning. You must be gentle. Coax it. Day by day.
We don’t need elaborate gestures. Don’t need fireworks that draw our eyes up, then fade out into nothing. We need constant pressure. And I know that’s harder.
Harder because there are no grand ceremonies. No celebrations or finish lines. We just trudge forward and hope we’re doing better than we were.
Faith. Understanding that growth, that improvement, has always been gradual and near invisible. Only observable by looking back. By remembering where we were a month, a year, a decade ago.
This is not a fight. It is a slow and steady climb. And yes, it’s easy to feel like Sisyphus. But the boulder isn’t rolling down. We never go all the way back to the bottom again.
All the work is always counting. We will continue to push our limits and surprise ourselves. It’s okay to take a moment and throw some confetti.