I filled about four journals this year. The journey that they represent is my proudest accomplishment. I skimmed through those journals today, and I’m left with the conclusion that surviving this year has been the most challenging and decentring thing I’ve ever done.
A consuming depression accounted for much of this year, compounded by my dad’s emotional abuse and some previously undiagnosed anxiety issues. It was difficult to come to terms with the diagnoses, but they’re helpful as tools to understand what was previously formless suffering. It’s been a scary process. For many months it sincerely felt like the depression was winning and that I wouldn’t make it anywhere close to the end of this year. But things are moving forward; I’m learning about psychology and cognitive patterns and actively seeking to understand what in my cognitive and emotional life keeps me from functioning the way that I want to. I’ve also been reminding myself, with the help of my friends, that my value is independent from my ability to function. Maybe these things are trivial. But convincing myself of them – convincing myself that my existence is justified – has been difficult and constant work.
I write some of these things out here to mark the end of this trying year, and to celebrate that I’ve made it this far. If you’re reading this, thank you for celebrating with me.
It isn’t easy sharing that I struggle with mental illness, and I often don’t want to. But I need to share the profound gratitude that I’m feeling. To everyone who checked in on me and visited me in the hospital, and for everyone who sent good wishes without knowing what was going on, thank you. I’m grateful for the Christian spaces that have accepted me with all my questions, and for the queer and feminist spaces that have nurtured and challenged me. I’m grateful to the friends who – I say this in all sincerity – saved my life this year. And finally, to A., who modeled self-sacrificial love in a way I will always be grateful for
I’m trying to follow in the footsteps of my powerful, beautiful, kind friend M., who (with others) has been a light to me from the very beginning of this process of figuring out my mental health a few years ago. I aspire to be that kind of friend: someone who is safe.
Despite struggles with family and mental health that felt insurmountable at the time, I’m still here. I’m still part of the communities that have carried me along. I’m still breathing, and I’m still striving.
So where to go from here?
I had to marshall a lot of support to get to the relatively healthy and stable place I’m in; those resources aren’t available to everyone. And that’s not okay! I didn’t feel okay until I found my therapist, but waiting lists are long, private psychotherapy is expensive, and it’s hard to find good clinicians. And I’ve been learning too about the ways that colonialism, capitalist neglect of the disadvantaged, racism, and sexual- and gender-based discrimination impact mental health outcomes – and how the psychiatric care system fails to account for these problems, and in fact actively makes them worse.
Things aren’t as they should be. I’m angry and I want to be in solidarity and I’m scared and have a lot of things I want to write. I hope I’ll be able to get some of those thoughts down on paper next year. And that I will trust myself enough to put the thoughts out there. My greatest vice as a writer these days is being self-effacing to the point of extinction. I guess my resolution for the new year is to work on that. And to make my own health and healing the top priority for now.
There is so much healing work to be done, so many things out there to investigate, so many ways to be in connection with others and with that which is beyond our comprehension. I don’t feel this way all the time – sometimes the sorrow and apathy overwhelm – but right now, I’m pretty grateful to be a part of it all again.
I turn to Tennyson again this year and think about what it means to hope for renewal. The sun sets early. I light a few candles and put on a few of the albums that have sustained me through this year. I see my best friend’s face on Skype, and we and laugh and sip white wine as we marvel that we’ve both made it this far.
Mental health stigma does a bunch of harm, so another reason I’m being transparent about my struggle with mental illness is to try to cut through that stigma a little. Mental health is health, and health matters. There really isn’t any shame in struggling. So, friends: keep struggling. And may 2017 be a manageable struggle for all of us.
Photo: a portrait of Simone, my lil roommate.