What I’m Learning From My First Psychological Diagnosis

When my therapist confirmed that I have an anxiety disorder with depression lingering not far behind yesterday, I wasn’t surprised. Instead, I felt relieved OR was it more like validated? It was a mixture of both. It’s strange how visceral the rush of serotonin was that came over me in that moment. It felt like I wasn’t carrying the load on my own anymore. Oddly enough, it didn’t matter that I had already guessed what was wrong and that my therapist had only confirmed it — the fact that I was having an open conversation about it at all and that my concerns were valid…? Groundbreaking.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a diagnosis means. Does it change anything? No. Does it magically fix the problem? Not at all. What it does is offer a point of reference, an outline to work off of so we can take the actionable steps needed to function with our diagnosis. It’s like adding another flavor to the rich, complex meal that is your life. If you’re anything like me and have to work a little harder to find order in your life, a diagnosis can help break through all the abstraction and confusion to give you something solid to hold onto. The irony is, it can actually help you feel like you’re not crazy at all.

Up until very recently, unfortunately, I thought I was defective. I thought everyone around me was moving through life normally and I was five steps behind. When I discovered that drinking made the symptoms go away, I leaned on that like it was medication. It was especially bad during my freshman year of college when I was pretending to be someone else and fear filled every room I was in. I was drinking constantly, numbing myself in social gatherings to present myself as fearless and crying myself to sleep every night. Eventually, I flunked out. The sad thing is everyone around me thought I was outgoing, happy and calm. Inside, I was working overtime to make it appear that way. Nobody knew. It was exhausting and I needed help.

I look back at this time in my life and if it hadn’t been for a hip injury that forced me to sit at home for months, I don’t know how I would’ve found my way. I so deeply wanted to be happy and stable that I did everything in my power to start over. I know now that I’m very fortunate to be able to say that, not everyone has the ability or the support to keep climbing. Although I developed healthier habits as time went on, the fear was always present. That’s where the diagnosis comes in.

There’s comfort in knowing that I’m not weak, off or incapable. Those were the labels I put on myself when I didn’t have an answer for why I was struggling to do seemingly normal things. Now, when my hearts starts pounding in my chest and it’s hard to breathe, I know why. When the weight of the world seems to press down on me, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. Even when I fail to manage the symptoms — and I know I will sometimes — at least I won’t feel alone and broken. For a long time, I put off seeking help and addressing what I was feeling. It kept knocking on my door until it kicked the door down. Just last month I opened a bottle of wine at 9am to get through something that most people do every day, but that was making my whole body shake because it meant that people would have to really see me. While I feel ashamed and embarrassed sharing this, it’s worth it if my story helps someone out there who’s perfected the art of pretending everything’s fine. It’s okay if it isn’t.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you’re all doing well and intending to prioritize some much-needed self-care this year. Whether you’re planning on starting your mental health journey or channeling those buried feelings into art, I sincerely wish you the best along every step of the way.

Opening Up About My Mental Health

Let’s talk about anxiety!

We’ve all experienced it at one point or another. Maybe it was before you had to present something in front of a class or maybe it creeps into every conversation you have with someone. However constant or random it is in your life, it’s there all the same and it is the worst.

My relationship with anxiety is still very much a gray area in my life as I’ve only recently found a therapist and haven’t been properly diagnosed. I don’t have a professional’s stamp of approval that I’m an anxious person but trust me, when answering phone calls at your job makes your bowels contort and has you looking for any excuse to run to the bathroom so you can cry and breathe, you know something’s off. That’s been an ongoing pattern in my life since before I can remember.

I don’t understand my anxiety yet, but I’m looking forward to getting to know her as my therapy journey unfolds. She’s sort of like a very on and off again partner — sometimes we can’t help but fall back into our toxic patterns. In the past, that’s shown up as getting drunk before noon to head into my serving jobs — it’s how I would transform into my “calm, cool self,” into a version of me that didn’t shake in challenging situations where I was being watched. I convinced myself that handling stimuli like this was okay, that it was only temporary and that I just needed a push before finding my footing. Now I realize I was harming myself to appear like I was healthy.

Anxious feelings are a common thread in all of our lives, which is why many of us find unhealthy ways to cope with them. More often than not, people think “the anxiety label” is only for people who’ve been told they’re “sick” and need medication, when really there are millions of anxious people out there who don’t have the proper resources or privilege to even get diagnosed in the first place. They go their whole lives with that fear left unchecked and numb it the only way they know how…alone. And that, my friends, makes me so fucking sad.

Therapy and mental health education weren’t prioritized discussion topics in my upbringing, which I know is the case for many other families. In my Portuguese household (at the risk of speaking for a group of people and being misunderstood), I was taught to be resilient, to repress things and to carry on. Having a therapist or talking about seeking professional help just weren’t commonly on the menu, but Bacalhau was (gotta love a silver lining). Looking back, I know this wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just the pattern we knew best. Unfortunately, it’s the pattern most people know best.

While I didn’t have a point when I started writing this, I guess I just wanted to remind people that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Humans have an incredible knack for burying their shame, even if what they’re afraid of is nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m still very anxious (roll credits) about sharing my own mental health experiences. I would never have made it this far without the help of all the people who shared theirs so boldly. So, with that being said, I want to open up a nurturing space to talk about it, to remove the shame and to make getting help something worth being proud of.

If you got this far, let me know if you want more blog posts about topics like this. I’d love to go more in-depth about my own experiences, too. Please feel free to share your own with me in our judgment-free zone and know that you’re never alone, even when it feels like no one gets it.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move

A 24-year-old’s last-ditch effort at “following her dreams” with her boyfriend and moving across the country to see it through

It’s been a little over a week since I stuffed my possessions into two suitcases, drained myself dry from parting hugs, and transported myself from Boston to Los Angeles where my boyfriend Rich and our new lives across the country awaited me. It’s a romantic and all too on-the-nose Hollywood concept to chase your dreams alongside the love of your life in LA, to take the ultimate artistic risk together in the city where everyone’s fighting for attention. Watch the movie La La Land, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Although, spoiler alert, it doesn’t work out too well for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s relationship. But that’s beside the point, and I’m veering away from my thesis statement. The point is, I’m here now. I’ve done this. And I’ve got a few things to say about it. Hold on to your panties.

When I arrived at LAX after 2 months of not seeing Rich and 6 hours of plane-ride anticipation, I was a nutty mess of exhaustion and eagerness beyond anything I had felt in years or at all. I spotted him standing about twenty feet ahead of me in a grey suit, doing a two-step shuffle while holding a huge sign above his head with my name on it. Suddenly my instincts kicked in and I felt two things. One, a foreign happiness that shot through my body like a rocket. Two, a primal desire to jump his bones right there on the baggage conveyer system.

The adrenaline between the two of us was enough to give me the shakes as we kissed and gushed till we could kiss and gush no more. It was another “movie moment” to add to our list, but it was the first in the City of Dreams – the movie mecca of our joint fantasies. I had never known adventure like this, never relocated my life or been farther than a few cities away from my family. The lure of possibility was intoxicating, of course, and Rich’s body wrapped around mine gave me butterflies I hadn’t felt in months. My gut was screaming “HELL yes! You really did this, you crazy bitch!” like a life coach on uppers. It all felt so right, and concrete. Concepts unfamiliar to someone with an often indecisive gut.

It’s been about nine days since this initial adrenaline overload, and while I’ve seen a few of the must-see tourist spots like the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory, I find something new or foreign to marvel at every day even just driving around. The first was the smell. LA had been described to me by some East Coast friends as a smog-blanketed concrete trash heap, to put it kindly. I found the scent to be more floral, inviting and honestly confusing against all of the concrete and trash. There is a lot of trash. That bit was true.

Amidst all of the litter, my eyes were immediately drawn to the booming culture and diversity around every corner. When you think of Hollywood, you might imagine an abundance of white girls with fat asses stepping out of their fancy cars with matcha tea in-hand, but I’m over here like…where are they hiding? I know that LA is HUGE and that the “glamorous” aspect of its reputation certainly exists somewhere, but I’ve been immersed in something vastly different and real – an image of this city I’m glad I wasn’t prepared for because I’m pleasantly surprised in new ways all the time.

People here come from all walks of life and coexist rhythmically together, bringing in an abundance of eclectic food, art, and music, which quite literally keeps the city alive. I still hear the street vendors sizzling up assorted meats and snacks for club-goers past 12am. I mean, we drive by graffiti that should be studied in Arts History courses or hung in museums and have access to some of the best Korean food I’ve ever tasted right next door. And while it may not be squeaky clean or even conventionally beautiful all the time, it’s always full of life. Honestly, I can only compare the way I feel here to the way I felt when I was in Austin, Texas: the grit, art, food, music, and heat. It feels familiar, and appeals to me in similar ways.

Even big tourist attractions like the Santa Monica pier, which I had lowered my expectations for, totally took me my surprise and left me like a rambling wide-eyed idiot. I couldn’t believe how stunning it actually is – vastly more impressive than the images and videos I’d seen countless times. And while I may be biased because this was one of the most romantic days of my life, I genuinely didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We spent the afternoon chasing each other around on the beach like teenagers, urging one another to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time. When we found ourselves a spot to watch my first California sunset, the people around us seemed to be putting on a show. Everyone was playing with the waves, laughing, creating a palpable energy of childlike happiness and serenity. As the sun descended below the mountains, it became quiet apart from a few giggles here and there and the crashing of the waves. It was then that I felt something frightening. I held it in.

The feeling was fear. Fear of being too happy. Fear of it dissipating fast. Fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last. Fear because, while Rich had come all this way for his concrete dream to pursue acting, I was still a dreamer without any tried-and-true singular pursuit. A familiar critical voice was trying to break though, trying to find reasons to remind me that I wasn’t going to make it here. That god damn ego.

I guess, even in a new setting, those of us who are used to bringing ourselves down or who feel odd when things are too right might always have to fight a little extra to be present. I fight every day to tell the voice in my head to shut the fuck up. Even though I have my flare-ups, I know fighting against it inch by inch is making a difference. When that fear kicked in on the pier, it was new because it came with a feeling of pride too. It was like there was another version of my own voice sticking up for me and saying, “Hey! You did this, you crazy bitch. Remember? You took a risk. You’re trying!” And, to be honest, all I can really conclude about this first week of my Hollywood adventure is that I’m proud of myself for saving the money to get here, for applying to dozens of jobs every day, and for continuing to write even though I hate it sometimes. This is what it’s about. The risk. The gut. The pursuit, even if it is a little more abstract than the person’s sitting next to you. Go for it anyway.

Thanks for listening, and check out Part 2 of this LA series here!

Surface Tension

He held me on the sidewalk while bodies passed, dodging us like we were delicate birds in the middle of the road.

I stained his jacket like the rain looming above our heads threatened to stain the city.

We had been here before. Me grieving a loss of something I’d never had. Him towering over me like a building I could lock myself inside.

I used to think he waded in shallow waters while I sunk into the deep. I pictured his long tranquil body at the surface, a halo of sun emanating over the sea. I couldn’t reach it.

In the car I mourned the loss of nothing and felt myself sink. He held my hand just in time to keep me afloat. We locked eyes and fingers, igniting a forcefield to keep the world out.

Driving through the clutter, we escaped the muck that pressed onto our skin – mine always stickier than his it seemed.

When we were free I kissed him so he could feel the light he had left inside me.

It was then I knew we’d find our way together

through the rain,

the sea,

and up towards the sun.

Wasting Away

If only I could puke me out.

When I was done carving out my insides

I’d watch the ugly colorless excrement squirm on the floor.

______________________________________________________________________________

No need to kill it.

It’ll just die starving, waiting for nourishment like a newborn

– reaching out for hands.

______________________________________________________________________________

We’re all put off by our own vomit,

so I turn my back on it

because I’m clean now. I am.

______________________________________________________________________________

But wait,

a familiar acidic sting touches the back of my throat

– runs its fingers down my tongue.

______________________________________________________________________________

When I turn around the waste is standing behind me.

“Is something wrong?” it asks

– a foul smile forming on its face.

______________________________________________________________________________

And before I can answer I’m puking again.

My blood vessels burst all at once like a firecracker

And the lights go out for me too.

Slowing Down

Thoughts written on the back of specials menus during a late night serving shift

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It shouldn’t be lonely to be alone. Resilience is knowing this,                      living without relying.                                  Something I couldn’t fathom as a child when all my loved ones were drinking from a fountain of eternal youth and I was certain I’d be great.

How much can a person’s light fade before they disappear?

I keep turning onto dead ends, which is to be expected when you have no sense of direction. I dreamt I found my starting point. Feeling the sweet rush of a challenge suited for me, I embraced it like an old friend. I woke up with a dull pain in my chest. It’s been hard to b r e a   t h e.  Now I draw in tentative breaths that move as slow as I do.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck Again

I know I haven’t posted in a while and that’s honestly because I have not been writing enough. I was sifting through my journal today and came across an entry I wrote in January when I was battling with what I believe to be some form of depression though I’ve never been properly diagnosed. The older I get the more I’ve come to realize that I am constantly battling a toss-up between extreme highs and lows, which I’m sure is “normal”, but something that I know I could monitor when I decide to take the initiative. I am trying to search for insight, so I’m sharing this in part to see if anyone’s felt this way and because I need to set it free. This isn’t my strongest writing, but it’s true.

January 17, 2017

I think disinterestedness or indifference is as debilitating as depression. Whether it be a specific moment, like sinking slowly into a couch watching your friends comfortably interact with one another and feign confidence before you, or multiple days that drag into one string of monochromatic images. Nothing and no-one can do anything for you. You’re not bored, because it’s about more than just feeling like life is uneventful. Disappointment is where it begins, realizing that all of the love, time, and intimacy you’ve fed someone leaves you barren and clawing for something that won’t come any time soon – not soon enough anyway. Disappointment creeps in like cancer when you see your family for what it really is. When you see the unforgivable faults in a parent who is beyond repair, who selfishly drags it’s better half into purgatory. When childhood dreams gather dust and your body fails you. When you see the darkness in your friends’ eyes and it collectively leaves you wondering…where do I fit into all of this? The worst part is that by the time you’ve reached the point of asking yourself this, you’ve already seen too much. No amount of alcohol can black out the reality, the endless images tucked away. As the folder of images fattens your walk begins to change. You carry yourself closer to the ground with every step. You attempt normality by going to the parties, meeting the people, reading the books, writing the stuff, eating the food, trying the things, but you are heavy.

I never want to lose my soul, but I’d like to travel into a different body. I could be the Moon, I could be a blue jay. I could be everywhere all at once, absorb light, and bleed into every moment for the rest of time.