No Rhyme or Reason

I’ve never been depressed. Sure, I’ve had bad times and I’ve had my own share of craziness. I’ve laid in bed at night and started crying for no rhyme or reason at all. But overall, even when things are as dark as can be, I am lucky enough to have the ability to say “I’m feeling depressed,” as opposed to “I have depression.”

I’ve never been depressed, but I’m slowly learning that there’s a big difference between those statements, and the key word is feeling.

In Driving Off a Bridge and Other Fears, I discussed a very confusing and difficult situation between Wilbur and myself. It was written out of pure and raw emotion at, what I thought, was the end of a promising relationship. That post was written from the perspective of a sad, rejected, and very confused young woman with no idea of the horrors depression can have on a person; this post is being written from the perspective of the same woman, now humbled and contemplative of what two months difference can make in understanding and education.

Following that post in January, Wilbur contacted me only three short days later. We talked. A lot. And some hard things were discussed as to what had caused the entire “Hiccup” in our relationship. The underlying factor was his depression.

I had known he struggled with depression, but I didn’t know to what extent. In all honesty, I hadn’t considered his condition to be more than just something to be aware of, and I definitely never thought it would wiggle into our lives and cause such destructive thoughts. Since our make-up, though, I’ve done a lot of reading on depression and cannot believe how off I was in my thinking of the condition.

Depression is literally one of the most helpless and frustrating experiences a person can face. It’s sometimes feeling sad, but it also brings feelings of emptiness, isolation, and self-hate. Those afflicted can feel paralyzed in their own minds and bodies. It’s not something they can simply “get over.”

People who suffer from depression often feel frustrated with feeling like they are a burden to those they care about. With this, they tend to push away people they need the most and end up mentally exhausting themselves with worrying about if their sadness is bringing down their loved ones as well.

Does this sound incredibly disheartening to you? It does to me. It breaks my heart that this person I care so deeply about has this internal battle going on and there’s nothing I can do to help. And that’s the worst part: there is nothing I can do to help!

In addition to taking the time to educate myself on what Wilbur goes through sometimes, I also have been teaching myself some self-bettering skills. One is patience. Another is that words are not always the best gift. Seriously, saying things like, “Things will get better.” or “You’re going to be okay.” are not ideal. Instead, I’ve begun training myself to simply be there for him during the times he needs me, and stressing that I will be beside him through everything for as long as he asks me to be. Offering advice isn’t helpful because, well, I simply don’t know exactly what he is going through. So just being there for him, believing in him, and encouraging him are some of the only things I’m able to provide.

I won’t pretend to understand depression as a whole. I’m not sure if anyone can actually claim such a thing. However, I am slowly treading the waters, becoming more knowledgeable of an invisible poison hidden in this sinful world and also becoming more compassionate to those in our society who have suffered for far too long from something beyond their control. Educate yourself, friends! And maybe then the world will begin to become a bit more welcoming on an environment for all…

Change has to begin somewhere.

Staging Lies

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The stages of grief: a method to gauge and measure grief. It is the belief of observation and theory that when a person is grieving (specifically the loss of a person in their life) then he or she is expected to move through this series of clearly defined stages and eventually come to a completion of acceptance. It is the belief of professionals that there is a right way and a wrong way to grieve. The right way is to process grief in an orderly pattern, the wrong way is to never actually heal.

If I were a professional psychologist, I would definitely say I am failing at grief. Being a writer, however, I feel fully comfortable saying I am winning at grief. That is because I have come up with my own stages of grief, and let me tell you, I like mine a whole lot more than the majority of psychological science’s stages of grief lies.

The stages of grief were not meant to tell you what to feel, how you should feel, or when exactly to feel it. The stages are simply five common experiences and not five requirements; they are meant to normalize and validate the emotions someone might go through in the chaos that is loss.

I believe I’ve discovered some stages that seem a bit more normal for society as a whole. And these, my friends, don’t come in any designated pattern. No, these jump around, bump into each, overlap, and span for days/weeks/months at a time. It’s a wonderful loss of inhibition and longing. So here are my eight stages of grief (put in chronological order for myself):

  • Sleepvation: The highly anticipated stage of starving myself and never sleeping, Sleepvation is the best diet to date. With that pit in my stomach, who in their right mind could even think about holding down any food? Oh right, I’m not in my right mind because the one hour of sleep my body finally obtained after dire exhaustion is enough to recharge my thoughts on grief for another day of pity.
  • Ben & Jerry: I’ve come to know and cherish this stage from popular rom-coms and chick flicks. This is when I faint from not eating and realize my only solace during heartbreak is found in the cardboard confines of Phish Food. Don’t worry, Ashley, at least I’m finally eating something!
  • Bar Hopping: Usually induced by my best friends, the third stage of grief is one where things can go one of two ways: bad or worse. Dancing and drinking to forget my sorrow is one thing, as is accepting those free drinks from the cute guy at the bar. However, jumping on his boat to adventures unknown, or else falling into the fetal position and ruining my reputation as “cool” are both options I really shouldn’t accept.
  • Raging Exercise: Ah, the “It’s time to make him jealous by becoming the epitome of hotness!” stage. It is probably a good idea to relieve some stress, especially after the last two stages I went through. However, becoming a gym hermit is a whole other issue. Remember, there’s a lot of people still left in my life and isolating myself is not healthy!
  • Hopeless Bliss: I’m better off without him. It never would have worked out anyways. Better now than later. Freedom! I’ve reached the point where I realize it’s his loss and not mine. There’s nothing I need to do to change, and I’m comfortable enough to at least begin looking at moving on. And that’ll only piss him off more, right?
  • Couple Despising: Right now, I’m not sure if I hate love, him, or the couple holding hands on the sidewalk. I think I’ll go with all three. This is also the stage where I contemplate deleting my Pinterest with all it’s cutesy Pins but then… nah…
  • Movie Marathon(s): My legs are tired, I have a hangover, and all I really want to do is just sit and watch all eight movies of Harry Potter. Why shouldn’t I? Harry has always been there for me. And so have Legolas, Katniss, the Avengers, and Hugh Jackman. I have a ton of friends.
  • Concession and Compromise: I understand that I no longer am in a relationship. I understand that I am single and free to do as I wish. I make promises to myself, I set goals for the future, all while understanding that at any moment someone new or an unforeseen circumstance may change the entire direction of my life. Again.

The truth is, you can’t force order on pain. Grief is the natural response of losing someone you love and having your life torn apart. It is when reality shifts and you’re hurled into an unknown place in life. Grief cares nothing about order or stages or how you should be feeling at a certain point.

To do grief “well” means you listen solely to your own reality. It means acknowledging the love you once felt, the pain of its loss, and the promise of a brighter future. There is no time frame on allowing the truth of these things to exist; each grief is unique just like every love is unique.

I have bounced back and forth between some of my own “stages”. Though the pain may hurt sometimes, there are also many highs. Grief is like a roller coaster and no one will ever experience it the same way twice.  The concept of grief pushes people to want to believe there is a right method, or order, to grieve. But remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve; just do right by yourself. There are only a few steadfast truths to losing someone in your life, and they are these:

  • Grief has no finish line or lifespan. You might move on a day, week, month, or decade later. Every loss is unique to the individual experiencing it.
  • Pain and grief never fully extinguish. You grieve because you once loved, and upon seeing a face, hearing a song, or having a flashback to that love might bring back the hurt. Love might change, but it never ends. And this is not something to fear.
  • The “stages of grief” will happen. You will feel anger, guilt, depression, confusion, joy, and a range of other things. You will get tired of grieving and you will turn away from it only to turn back. Grief can be absolutely crazy-making, but this does not mean you are crazy.
  • There is no way to do grief wrong. Make your own stages, feel the pain and the peace, and ultimately remember that grief never has closure. Even acceptance is not final; you will rethink yourself with rapid aggression just to falter and sink back into questions. And so is the way of grief, love, and life.

I am by far more than five stages, and so are you.

Staying Adrift in a Sea of Compliments

“If you live off a man’s compliments, you’ll die by his criticism.” -Cornelius Lindsey

I think every girl goes through a phase where she hits rock bottom in the “self esteem” department. For some this phase is during those awkward middle school years, or perhaps during her first few relationships. For others the phase may stretch into her adulthood and not only detriment the majority of her relationships, but also her career and social life. Still, others may never truly overcome their low self esteem and live in a fear of never being enough for their entire life.

I classify myself in the first category. I have recognized that when, after my first long-term relationship ended, I had hit rock bottom. I didn’t even find myself having low self esteem; I had no self esteem.

Looking back, this fact saddens me. Not only did I believe myself incapable of ever finding love again, I also criticized my body, my appearance, my abilities, and my reputation. With this kind of thinking, it’s now easy to see how I allowed certain people into my life who had no benefit to my overall health and success so soon after the breakup.

I had such a sour outlook on myself that the only real sustenance I consumed were compliments. There is one case in specific I’d like to share: I was dating this guy who really knew how to articulate his “feelings” well. It seemed that everything I wanted to hear, he said. I was told how beautiful I am, how strong, how determined, how special of a person I am with unlimited potential and capabilities. All these things were the exact opposite of how I felt at the time. For a girl whose mirror is so clouded with fear and sadness, these compliments became more than they were meant to be; these compliments became my life line.

To ensure my caloric-fill of compliments, I made some poor life choices. I visited the bar with this guy almost every night for a month. I starved my body of real nutrition to fend off any “fat thoughts.” I completed the bare minimum in all my coursework, denied myself of sleep in fear of dreaming, and focused more on my outward appearance than on my inner stability. I became an empty shell whose only fill was smooth words. So it’s no wonder that when the relationship ended and the compliments ceased, I felt as if I was drowning.

As I waded through the crowds, sometimes a kind statement or small gesture kept me afloat. However, I began to find that no compliment truly ebbed my insecurities. This revelation was what I had been seeking. It was as if a mountain peak had finally caught my attention. It took only a few moments to decide I didn’t want to drown, so I started to swim towards the island.

The salt-water of compliments changed to the fresh-water of clear thinking. As my swim neared the island, I found my feet skimming sandbars. I was able to stand, on my own, with my own two feet. I didn’t need any flotation devices, and I definitely didn’t need anyone’s assistance. I stood strong. I stood proud. I had won.

In hindsight, it is still unclear to me what finally caused that mountain to peak. Maybe I had a dream, or God answered a prayer through a simple meandering thought. It doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that I was once completely lost, living on compliments, and focusing solely on what the world thought of me. I didn’t care what I thought about myself. And then, out of the blue, I questioned new aspects of life and my reality shifted.

One of the biggest questions for me was this: why is it that it seems some people believe only the best about themselves, while others, especially women, seize onto the most self-critical thoughts they can come up with? Well, ladies, it may actually be a physical and intellectual habit that we cannot control. In our brains there is this thing called the anterior cingulate cortex (I’m no scientist, I just know how to use Google…) that actually causes judgmental thoughts and negative thinking. In women, this part of our brain is actually larger and more influential than that in men. It helps us observe the emotions in others, so it’s like we’re built to be responsive to the needs of those around us. We are more emotionally sensitive by nature, especially with disapproval and rejection.

So it is no wonder that my rock-bottom came after my love was rejected. My womanly worry overtook me. Yet, even in the worst of times, I somehow managed to navigate life fairly well, graduate college, earn an income, and strengthen the most meaningful relationships with my friends and family. I could walk without weaving and chew without spitting. I continued to live.

No amount of flattery can undo the progress I have made in approving of myself and loving who I have become. A kind word here or there can still make me blush, but I no longer intake those compliments to fill my heart or build myself up. Though the future is full of crashing waves, I won’t be knocked back down. I am who I am, and I could not be happier.