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.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move: Baby Got Back Problems

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

When I posted the first installment of my LA blog series, I had been on a writing high all day – something I hadn’t felt in months. I can’t tell you how long I sat down to write that particular post, but I can tell you that when things like this happen I’ll sometimes forget to eat or piss. It’s like the idea might fade so I have to race to get it down before I can return to being a person.

Unloading all of that “I’m like totally chasing my dreams” euphoria onto a document and sharing it had me feeling pretty on top of the world. It might be silly but, to me, I had committed to something and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I hit that “Publish” button and got up ready to take on the next challenge. I was invincible. The last thing I thought was going to happen was almost instantaneously falling to the ground in scorching pain. I think that’s fair.

What had happened (and this is where the universe’s dark sense of humor comes in) was that while I had recovered from a muscle tear/strain in my lower back before moving to LA, the pretzel position I sat in all day to write about the move reignited the injury with a vengeance. And it really got me good this time around. A stark contrast to how indestructible I had been feeling just moments before. Of course, still riding the excitement of posting something I was proud of, I ignored it. I stood up even though my back could barely hold up the weight of my upper body. I didn’t allow myself to accept that this was happening. So, I convinced and dragged Rich (the boyfriend) out to celebrate the blog post and indulge in some beer and wings instead. Why not?

On our way to Buffalo Wild Wings, people driving beside us must’ve assumed I was in labor. I had my legs pushed into my chest cannonball-style and was taking the deepest breaths of my life, trying to force the pain away with each exhale. It wasn’t working, and we frantically drove around for twenty minutes just looking for a parking spot. There were none. There never are. We kept getting stuck at the same lights and driving around in the same circle before committing to yet another absurdly priced parking lot. This is driving in LA by the way. Parking is impossible, traffic is endless, and nothing is free or cheap. Eventually, we commit to a parking lot. When I get out of the car I’m waddling in slow motion like a duck and crying. Rich is in a panic, urging us to go home. To anyone watching I imagine it looked like a scene from Days of Our Lives. Regardless, I wiped away the tears, told the pain to fuck off, and set forth toward the wings. This would be a night of FUN!

Sitting while the fire in my back bubbled with buffalo sauce on my lips and a cold Blue Moon in my right hand, I realized I had unintentionally embodied the content of my very own words. What was it I said in the last blog post? Oh yes, that in a moment of pure bliss at the Santa Monica pier I had felt “fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last”. How fitting that I had just finished typing those words only to have thrown out my back seconds later. Yin and yang, my friends.

When I got up from that bar table, I had to muster a force from the gods not to crawl on all fours to the nearest bathroom. Somehow, I made it to the door and placed myself in line. For that two-minute wait I started to think the sweet release of death might be better than moving another inch. I only really caved when the room started spinning, which is when I realized the pain had won. I assumed my duck position once more and waddled all the way back to the car. Peeing or any other bodily function would have to wait.

It took everything in my power not to feel sorry for myself as we drove home, but all I could think about was how I had wished for inner peace to last and found myself here instead. How I had signed up for dance classes that I may not be in the condition to attend for a while. How I had written about fighting to be more present. And I had. So, what the hell?

It’s been a little over a week since all of this went down and I’m happy to say I can see from outside the melodrama and self-pity now. I can see that recurring problems can’t be ignored, and that unfortunately being present or grateful won’t make them disappear either. Unwelcome stressors will always come up, much like my student loans. While they can be avoided in some ways (in my case: not sitting in a terrible position for hours like I had been advised not to, yoga, core-strengthening), the true test is how well you can improvise and apply what you’ve learned from previous setbacks. Of course, that’s assuming you have the means necessary to do so. Not everyone has the proper resources to overcome the negative hurdles or injustices that plague them. I wish there were more ways around this.

I don’t have a recipe for avoiding the hiccups that pop up however big or small in each of our lives, but I do think that Imogen Heap was right in writing that “there is beauty in the breakdown”. With the extra recovery leisure time, I succeeded in applying for my own health insurance (I’m a grown-ass woman) and gingerly introduced walking back into my routine. This time, absorbing a totally new environment and spending some quiet time with myself. I have more to look forward to now and a heightened awareness of how important prioritizing health is, whether it’s physical, psychological or a mix of both.

I started this blog wanting to draw attention to the elastic band nature of our lives, the extreme highs and lows. I thought I could tell the truth – dive into the sticky vulnerable muck and prove that it’s just as therapeutic to write as it is to see yourself in the raw experiences of others. It’s a reminder that we’re a collective of both good and bad experiences. So, while I had plans to fill this second installment with all of the incredible things I’ve done and seen since I moved to LA, I didn’t want to gloss over the not-so-Instagram-worthy bits. Not only are they pretty hilarious to look back on sometimes, but they’re also a reminder that life is just one long improv exercise. You participate, laugh, and keep moving.

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.

Listen to Yourself: On Achieving Self-Discipline

“The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.”

fortunecookie

When was the last time you sat in silence and felt yourself slip into nothing? Do you ever tune out the noise around you and pay attention to what happens next? If the answer is ‘yes’ and you’ve allowed yourself moments to stall out, this cryptic message taken from a fortune cookie might stir something inside you.

The more I write, the more the yin and yang of human existence comes up as a theme. It almost writes itself. It’s no surprise, as you can probably tell by my latest blog posts, that I’ve been struggling to find my place in the world after completing my education. It was all too cozy being intertwined in structured collegiate strings – classes, professors, friends, clubs, all keeping my mind and soul active. As I walked across the stage during graduation I felt the strings snap and release their hold on me. It took feeling the diploma in my hand, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime achievement with my family and friends, and simultaneously suffering the grief brought on from losing the safest chapter of my life for me to understand life’s dark sense of humor. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Slowly after this shift, I began to look to myself for guidance. The discipline came to me in “the emptiness of everything” — from the moments when I had let my life become cyclical, structureless, and empty. By that I mean, clarity would find its way to me when I was stuck.

When I was a freshman in college, I developed a hip fracture from a combination of dancing for 10+ years of my life and gaining a drastic amount of weight too quickly. I had to drop out of school for a semester to live at home and keep the weight off my legs. Though this could have easily been the worst time in my life, the solitude and quiet gave me time to get to know myself again, to let my mind wander, and to make plans for a better future. It was in those few months that I dedicated time to this blog, wrote poetry every day, painted again for the first time in years, took care of my body, and got accepted into Salem State University where I would eventually complete my education.

I often look back at this time and use it as fuel when life feels uninspiring again. I remember the yin and yang and that I am solely responsible for pulling myself out of the hole, for bringing passion back into my routine. We tend to move so quickly all the time, always set to autopilot at work and in our relationships. It’s easy to lose yourself if you’re not paying attention to the voices and urges inside you. I had to learn that the hard way. I now make time for myself a priority.

When I graduated I let the ensuing emptiness consume me by neglecting the things I loved to do most of all. I stopped writing and felt the strain of that on my entire body. Nothing was expected of me anymore, no schedules were put in place to keep me in line. It was on me.

I’m writing this because I wish it had been available to me around the time my life shifted drastically and I couldn’t keep up. I’m writing this to remind everyone that “the greatest medicine” in life is you. It’s remembering to read, write, think, sit with yourself and feed your intellect, even if no one is expecting that of you.

It’s ironic how much we hate going to classes, dread doing a homework assignment, and can’t stand being graded constantly throughout the majority of our lives, but feel dependent on it all when it’s gone. Most people won’t admit it, but the void is there.

Long story short, sometimes a fortune cookie from last night’s take-out can lead to an epiphany — but only if you give yourself the time necessary to reflect. Though I don’t have anything figured out yet and feel stuck quite often, I am steadily emerging from the fog. Adulthood is intimidating and isolating, but it won’t overpower you if you fight back. Listen to yourself.