oh, the places i’ve been

in high school i had to write an essay titled “this i believe.” that was the only instruction and we were meant to go forth and conquer in exploring a fundamental principle by which we live our lives. this is kind of like a “this i believe” 2.0 but i’m preeminently giving myself an A+.

what do i believe? i believe in four leaf clovers and lucky pennies. i believe in making wishes on dandelions, shooting stars, and other nouns.

idk if you actually asked but here i am, telling you. i promise this ties back in eventually but you’re probably going to wonder ‘wtf are you talking about’ for like. a majority of this blog.

this is one of the hardest things i’ve ever had to write about. i also just ended a sentence with a preposition and i abhor myself so we’re off to a solid start. this is also one of the most important things i’ve ever had to write about. so i’m pulling a carrie fisher and openly embracing it. this is about mental health.

depression and anxiety. depressive anxiety. anxious depression. i mean, any way you phrase it. it sucks. unfortunately “sucks” doesn’t nearly encapsulate all of it. but y’know. for lack of elocution. it sucks.

*cue narrative here* *forewarning this is a little intense*

i couldn’t stop hyperventilating. i kept gasping for air but nothing was coming. there were 3 minutes left before i had to clock in to student manage for dinner and i was trying to get my shit together. the more i tried to calm my breathing the more i felt like i would break into tears. my anxiety had been racking my body all day and i couldn’t keep food down, even if i tried.

i passed my sous chef and he conversationally asked how i was. hoping my expression didn’t convey the tempest tossed panic within, i awkwardly smiled on the verge of hysteria, grabbed the schedule off the wall, shoved a glass of water into his hand, scooped up some nearby tongs reminisce of some kind of culinary edward scissorhands, and rushed past before he could ask anything else.

it’d barely been 20 minutes but i was also barely keepin’ it together. like wow who knew i could be such a mess. the basket case from the breakfast club would think she was living easy compared to me. after making sure everyone on shift was hydrated and drinking water, i power walked the heck over to the bathroom and went into the single stall individual restroom. i bolted the door. i felt myself collapse. there i was. laying on the cold tile like the climax to a depressing indie drama. but unluckily for me, the scene didn’t just fade to black and go to the next shot. i was still living this.

“5 minutes. i’ll give myself 5 minutes. then i have to go back out there.”

so i let myself have five minutes. which apparently was the green light ‘go’ for my body. the pain and anguish ripped through my heart. tears flowed down my face like they were trying to fill the oceans of the earth. i suffocated through heavy sobs. but once i finally slowed my breathing, i weakly dragged myself across the chilly, smooth floor and dry-heaved. if you asked me how i was feeling, all i would think was “exhausted” or “numb.” what i would actually say was “swell” or “fantastic.”

pulling myself up (tbh i thought it was an act of god) i stared into the mirror. i shuddered. my sunken eyes glared into the hollow shell of this weak body i could barely control. i grabbed a paper towel and wiped the streaks of black mascara away. i washed my hands. it was five minutes but it felt like five lifetimes. every minute was like a century. but i went back out there. and i worked my 5 hour shift. and i went through the same thing again the next week. and the week after.

the crazy part is if you were listening from outside of the bathroom with your ear to the door, you might’ve only heard faint crying. meanwhile on the other side there was a war being fought inside my soul.

this is what anxiety looks like.

part 1: let’s get physical, physical

ok so for me, depression/anxiety takes it toll. unfortunately it’s not nearly as adventurously exciting as the way the phantom tollbooth does it.

the first toll is physical reaction. anxiety. the word anxiety literally gives me anxiety. i can feel my already abnormal blood pressure rising. few people know a lot about how anxiety works. what most don’t know is that it hurts. anxiety hurts. and it’s exhausting. i rarely speak above a mumble, but with anxiety it’s like a shouting match of emotions in my body. i can’t breathe. i’m literally drowning. ok figuratively. whatever floats your sinking boat.

oh but wait there’s more. that was just the opening act. the real show comes when depression makes its grand entrance. but in a much more real sense, it thinks its a one-man-show and hogs the entire stage and you’re like ‘bruh.’

depression be the kinda feeling that hit you like:

  • wistfully staring out a rainy window wondering ‘will my husband ever return home from war’
  • the first time you see the end of the notebook when you find out they both die *spoiler except i’m not really spoiling anything i promise. i actually did you a favor.*
  • the melodramatic angst of your pre-teen years when you swear that no one really understands you and listen to a lot of fall out boy and blink 182
  • an existential crisis
  • having an ipod with only the doors on it
  • when you come home and someone ate your leftovers
  • the opposite of the beach boys
  • literal death

but multiply all those feels and somehow it still isn’t even a fraction (or any kind divisible number) of what it’s actually like. honestly, sometimes the mere thought of moving, getting up, or leaving your bed seems a truly herculean feat. where for some people it might just be a short mental hurdle, for you it’s like trying to jump over the damn berlin wall.

part 2: i get lost in my mind

for this one just pretend there’s a head and the heart song playing in the background. the second toll is what it does mentally.

mental health is cool because you can pretend it’s not there and someone can look at you and not know you’re a basket case. but mental health is really uncool because someone can look at you and say “well just stop being sad.” to anyone who has ever told someone to stop being sad: first of all, how dare you. second of all, how dare you. like, wow what a novel concept i wish i had thought of that sooner. no. it doesn’t work like that. depression doesn’t just turn off and on like a switch on command. it’s physical chemistry in your brain that plagues you like. y’know. a plague.

it’s not like a broken femur or phalange where you can visibly see someone’s pain. if you’ve never felt you can’t possibly fathom it. if you have felt it, then you know. this is the worst that life will ever be. this is the suffering of our existence simply unfathomable sans experience. perpetual isolation that devours hope and suffocates with despair.

it is such raw emotion. but it’s all in your mind. which is why it’s so easy to get lost in it. (hence the well-suited title for this section) since it’s so impossible to see, it’s that much easier to pretend it’s not there.

one of my favorite professors this semester kept telling me, “it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.” at the time i couldn’t help but think, “dan, please. know your audience. of course it has to be perfect.” but then i turned in a shitty, half-assed essay and killed it. it’s so difficult for me because in my mind i keep thinking, “i know this isn’t the best i can do.” i know what i’m actually capable of, so the anxiety kicks in and is like, “no keep going” and before i know it i’m turning something a month late and wallowing in self-loathing/chocolate/various caffeinated beverages.

part 3: dead men tell no tales

yo ho, yo ho. a pirate’s life for me (but y’know, if that life is filled with crippling sadness and anxiety).

it hasn’t killed me yet. i have this truly horrible mindset that if i’m not dead, then i can keep going. i’ve been pushing myself to the beat of a kelly clarkson song, but i’m finally realizing that what doesn’t kill me doesn’t necessarily make me stronger.

it’s kind of like a car. it’s running fine. then the check engine light comes on. but you keep driving it. then the windshield wiper fluid light comes on. but you keep driving it. then the service oil light comes on. buuut it keeps running so you keep on driving. before you know it you’re on the side of the road waiting for AAA and life is no longer a highway that you’re gonna ride all night long with rascal flatts. now you’ve become a human embodiment of the troll song from frozen and you realize that ‘you’re a bit of a fixer upper.’ so basically, take care of yourself. just because you can keep running, doesn’t mean you should. get the hell over to jiffy lube because you probably should have changed the oil like 10 months ago.

that’s what mental health is like. you can keep ignoring the problems, but the more you do the worse it gets. because suddenly you’re in a hospital gown, curled up in an emergency room chair, waking up long enough to sob your eyes out for the 18th time, wondering why your four leaf clover wish didn’t come true or why it’s possible to hurt so much.

yet somehow. you survive. you survived when your life ended.

not every person survives as you did. and you ask god why, why is it so much worse for me, why do i deserve so much more pain. it’s not understood why right now. but this happened because god needs you to come to the awakening, in time, that your strength is incomparable. not every person can find their way out of a darkness so opaque. but you did. it is your ethereal assertion that you did what was impossible. it is a triumph to have found the strength you were never capable of before.

i know mental health isn’t the same for everyone. but i wanted to lay it all out on the table like thanksgiving dinner as a way to speak to those who live with and struggle with mental health. no one talks about it. but they need to. we all do.

in high school i had to write an essay titled “this i believe.” (see, told ya it’d tie back in somehow) so here’s a fundamental principle with which i live my life.

i believe in you.

One thought on “oh, the places i’ve been

  1. “get the hell over to jiffy lube because you probably should have changed the oil like 10 months ago.”
    …my favorite analogy of all!
    So raw. I’m amazed by your vulnerability and passion. I am grateful you’ve been gifted the art of eloquent speech paired with humor. You use them both to tell your story in a beautiful way. Your ability to critically analyze your life and speak TRUTH to many of those (including myself) who have or do struggle with mental health is incredible. Thank you Elise! You are brave. You are honest in admitting your brokenness and encouraging to all those who feel the same. We are ALL, in some way, broken but nothing can be fixed or be made well unless we address these important topics and be vulnerable about our brokenness with each other. You’re a warrior and I love you!!

    Liked by 1 person

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