We are so close to the end of the year, and that always seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? I mean, the Counting Crows even wrote the annually relevant jam, “A Long December” about what this confused, sort of gray feeling of wistfulness and closing is like. (Note to self: find time to listen to “A Long December” before January rolls around). But just like the song says – “There’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” – and I get that. I think we all do.
With a new beginning (which we all logically know is really just watching the ball drop on TV from Times Square and taping up a new desk calendar at work when we get back from holiday break) comes what we all need so desperately to keep us moving forward – the smallest glimmer of hope. Because hell, maybe this year really will be better than the last. Maybe it takes moving forward to realize that the year we are leaving behind wasn’t really so bad after all – or, in some cases, maybe it truly was an awful one, and we need to prepare ourselves to move on so that we can get some space to start to heal. No matter where you are at in your personal journey, by the time the last dregs of December are clouding the bottom of the glass, I think we can all agree that we are ready to ring in the New Year, if only just to see what might happen next.
Time is so incredibly sentimental and bittersweet. We hold on to it so dearly, using it to mark our good and our bad and our in betweens. I think that’s why I’ve always upheld a particular romanticism in regards to fresh starts and new beginnings. While it sometimes feels scary to enter uncharted territory, even if it is purely symbolic – it also feels so exciting. And that’s because of possibility. Because possibility exists, and because we, even at our darkest hours, exude hope for a better tomorrow – somewhere out there in the ether, the two mix together and become chance. “You never know” – one of the most powerful phrases in the history of language.
With the examination of time come and gone comes the natural reflection of what we have experienced in the duration. I think this reflection is wise, because I believe that we all have the responsibility to try to become a better version of ourselves every year. And reflection is how we do that – how we look back at what we have just survived, as a learning tool, as a way to honor the time spent, as a way to grow positively. We cannot learn if we do not reflect – even if reflecting is difficult and sometimes painful to do.
So, in that vein – I reckon it’s time that I mark down a little something about what 2017 meant to me. Painful as it may have been, sometimes.
In terms of how I feel about this year of my life, I guess that after sitting down and earnestly recollecting, I would just be honest and say that it really just depends on how you look at it. 2017 was neither good nor bad for me, but both: I had some of the most crippling lows and glorious highs of my life, all experienced in this same year – and neither could have been possible without the other.
Something that really shaped my year and, to be frank, will forever shape the rest of my life, happened in mid-January of 2017. My high school best friend died violently in a horrific car accident. I had just begun yet another semester of what seemed like a neverending tour through mortuary school, trudging ever so diligently along towards obtaining my Associates Degree in Applied Science. We studied slides of bodies that had been brutally mauled in car accidents a week after his death in my Restorative class. I helped reset broken bones in embalming lab on bodies that had been through crashes, and I would leave school and drive the hour and a half home crying so hard that I couldn’t even make noise. Time stopped. I stopped. His death was an enormous trigger for emotional and mental problems that I wouldn’t reach the crest of until later in the year. All I did was hurt.
But, if I can go all Jeff Goldblum here for a second – “life finds a way” – and somehow, it did. Somehow, when I least expected it, time started to move again. Slowly, at first, and then faster than I could account for or keep up with. Before I knew it, I was an honors graduate from the Mortuary Science program. I’m about to sit for the National Board Exams next month. I graduated in AUGUST. What seemed unlikely and impossible has somehow already been four months past. It has now been closer to a year without my friend than it has been since the moment that he left this world. And all it really is is just different sides of the same coin, you know? From January to December, pain to acceptance, struggle to perseverance – all just depending on the day. I don’t know if things every really get better. We just get better about learning how to survive them. Time stops. Time passes. Days are good, and then they aren’t.
Finishing school and re-starting my apprentice mortician career was my number one priority for 2017. After losing my job (the second time) in October of 2016, it became very important to me to be Top Dog at school. If I couldn’t be like the other students who were simultaneously working their apprenticeships while attending school, then by God, I wanted to be the best in show. The top of the class. The girl with the most cake. The amount of pressure that I put on myself nearly killed me – but I came close to being #1, and that should have been good enough – but it wasn’t.
I graduated with honors and was the speaker at my pinning ceremony, two major honors and accomplishments. My graduation day is a beautiful warm haze of pride that I will never forget. And, according to a piece of paper, I now have the qualifications to be a mortician! ME! I learned how to embalm human beings! It was hard, emotional, frustrating, scary, and yes, at times, super gross. But I did it. And on a conscious level, I know this. I completed the program. I graduated with honors. I was the speaker at my pinning ceremony. I am qualified and a worthy hire.
BUT – and if any word could describe my 2017 in summary, it would be but. Because I started to do this thing, inexplicably, where God himself could have declared me the greatest human being that walked the earth, and I would have smiled, but still replied … “…but…” and then listed a litany of reasons where he was wrong.
But I wasn’t the top of the class – so honors meant nothing if I wasn’t the best. But I didn’t jump right out of college into a funeral home where I could continue my apprenticeship – so I immediately decided that no funeral home would ever want me again and that my career was destroyed. I let these absolutely untrue realities that only I projected onto myself cloud the actuality, which were the enormity of my accomplishments and how well I was doing. BUT! If I wasn’t what I thought was the absolute best, if I wasn’t exactly where I thought I needed to be, then screw it.
It sounds petulant, and it feels petulant, trust me. For the majority of spring and into summer, I actually began to wonder if I was becoming so ill-equipped to handle any sort of pressure whatsoever that I was infantalizing myself and my emotions. To burst into tears when you get a 94 on an exam and not a perfect 100 felt ungrateful at best. But what I didn’t know was that, not only was I heaping an incredible amount of stress and pressure on myself for no reason at all, I was also smack in the middle of leveling up to a new tier of mental health problems that I did not anticipate. BUT! Since I was so determined to do things perfectly in 2017, I had also wanted this to be the year that I made my most conscious effort to strive to learn more about myself, my emotions, and how to live with – and not underneath – my mental illnesses. So I ignored the warning signs and red flags and assumed that I had it all under control.
Many of you know that I was diagnosed at age 17 with bipolar disorder and clinical depression. The anxiety diagnosis would come like an unexpected pregnancy in my mid-twenties. I did not take these things well, and I did not treat myself well as a result. As I have admitted several times before, when it came to taking care of my mental health and being a responsible patient … I failed. I cut myself off of medications cold turkey, simply because I did not want this to be my reality. The thought that I would have to undergo treatment for the bull in a china shop that was my mind for the rest of my life was smothering. I thought that ignoring the diagnosis would somehow disassociate me from it. And, if I’m being honest, it would prevent me from becoming the woman in my family that I had always feared being like – my paternal grandmother, who was a very ill woman, and, as I was growing up, the only clear picture I had of what mental illness was like.
This attitude of heaping pressure on myself, of picking myself to pieces only intensified. I would spend hours looking at a photo I had posted of myself on instagram until all I could see was an ugly, amorphous blob – and that helped me to feel better, because then it made me understand. Sorta like – it made sense that I hadn’t gotten x amount of likes, because I’m ugly and didn’t deserve them. I did this as a way of reassurance at night before I went to bed, because if I knew it, it couldn’t be used against me. I began to struggle more often than I have in years past with panic attacks and severe moods. While I am bipolar, I have not often struggled with extreme mania – but in 2017, I struggled. I was suicidal for a vast majority of this year, feeling guilty because I didn’t want to make my friends and family sad by going, but also feeling so angry at them for being so selfish to care enough about me to want me here.
Everything, unlike ever before, was black or white. Calm or hysterical. Situations garnered the same responses – I gained weight, I was not worthy of living. I lost weight. The future seemed brighter. I went to the gym. I was strong and capable. I stopped going. I was a slob who would die young. I went to church. Jesus loved me! I skipped church. Jesus had turned his back on me. I got instagram likes. I was loved. I didn’t. I should kill myself.
I have always been accused of being sensitive, and that’s not an off base accusation – I’m extremely sensitive, and always have been. Things that might not offend others shake me to my core. I can be staggered by the smallest slight, absolutely blown away and bereft by what I perceive as an insult. As one could imagine, this paired with my new personality developments made for an unbearable and terrifying way to live. I trusted no one. I was angry, scarily angry, all of the time. It was not until recently that I finally burst into tears during a would-be routine appointment with my psychiatrist and told him the truth – I did not want to live anymore unless I could somehow stop being so much all of the time. Because that is how I felt – like so MUCH. It was then that he diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, which can work in tandem with bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. It accounted for the extreme moods, the fight or flight behavior.
“How do you feel about the new diagnosis?” a friend asked me – and honestly, I felt okay about it. It wasn’t like giving a name to it would make it any better or worse – and frankly, having something to relate the extremes of myself to and a plan that my doctor and I made to alter my treatment made me feel hopeful.
I started to come around a bit. Medication was adjusted. I agreed to start therapy. I became more active and engaged in things in my life. I faced my fears and got ready to start preparing for my National Board Exams. I’ve been working and everything has gone very smoothly in that department – but I was still having these inexplicable bouts where I dipped lower than low, and I truly didn’t know if I could stumble my way back up to the surface. There would be a few days most every month where I could feel something that was offbeat inside myself. I’d sit at my desk at work with my heart racing so hard I was convinced that I was going to have a heart attack, panic bubbling for no reason under the surface. I would become afraid of irrational things, like driving a car, or social media, or what so and so thought about me ten years ago. I couldn’t talk to anyone, couldn’t stop crying, constantly thought about suicide and was intentionally messy with following prescriptions. And then, like a cold spell that lifted, I would snap out of it and the fog would clear and I’d be okay again.
The most recent time I had one of these episodes was my last trip to Disney World – Disney World, for heaven’s sake. Christmas Cheer all around, fun and fellowship a guarantee – and all I could do was walk around like the wind had been knocked out of me. I felt like I was walking around without my skin on, that my heart and brain could be seen by anyone who looked closely enough. I was edgy and felt harassed, uncomfortable.
One morning during our trip, a girl I knew from high school that I hadn’t seen since she was ringing up a stack of books behind the counter at Barnes & Noble for me blew up at me over an instagram story, and she used my mental health, which I have been increasingly more honest and vocal about as the years go by, as an excuse to speak to me the way that she did. It felt like being shot in the face. I have always, always, always feared what it would do to me personally and professionally by speaking up and admitting that I suffer from mental illnesses, and this was proof positive that I was right to worry. I wonder constantly if people think that I’m crazy. If they talk to their friends and family members about me and how sensitive I am, about my moods and my ups and downs. And in this perfect storm moment, where I was already in this wild tunnel and she dropped this bomb on me, I snapped.
I did my best to get through the day, but I knew from the moment that it happened that I wouldn’t recover from it in the state I was in. It was like a just behind the eyes headache – I could feel it all day, but I did my best to keep it cool. I know that sounds silly, but until you experience it and know exactly what I mean, you’ll never understand. By the time I had spent a full day in a theme park, marinating on the situation, guilting myself for being so stupid as to make this person angry, and generally spiraling from there, I decided it was time. I will never forget turning around to silently say goodbye to Spaceship Earth with tears in my eyes, because I planned to leave Florida and take my life. In my opinion, the universe had given me too many signs for me to ignore – I was no longer wanted or welcome here.
I messaged several of the people that I love most in this world and told them that I planned to end my life. I said goodbye to them, told them I loved them – told them what possessions of mine they could have when I was gone. I wrote my obituary and let it be known where it could be found in my telephone. I know being on the other end of that was scary. I have been on the other end of it, and it scared me shitless – but I did what came instinctively – listen first, and do whatever I can to help second.
Several of my friends immediately responded, terrified. As one of them later told me, she’s been through my suicidal storms before, but this time she was honestly unsure if I was going to come through it and make it back home. I couldn’t and didn’t say much to them in that moment, but just holding the phone as I cried alone in the hotel bathroom, feeling them pulling me back to planet Earth by my ankle made my breathing slow itself down. My mom and Robyn were quiet and kept an eye on me, and I finally put myself into a restless sleep, having ultimately convinced myself not to take my life at Disney World, because I could not bear to do that to my mother and Robyn.
The next morning, I still felt off – rattled and vulnerable. When I checked my phone, I could not help but notice that three of my closest friends in the world had not answered my cries for help from the night before. I thought about this while I slapped Minnie Mouse ears on my head and stuffed my sore feet into shoes, while I ate a breakfast I didn’t taste before riding over to the Magic Kingdom. What the hell kind of person do you have to be to not answer?
It flipped the switch again. It was another sign. If three of my best friends didn’t even care to say something to me, then clearly I was not wanted. I felt confident in my plan to end my life when I returned to South Carolina.
I continued to think about it, though, in general and in the scheme of my life. Around midmorning, the first friend answered with a long message about how she understood how I felt and how lonely life seemed, how easy it would be to just give up – but that we had each other and we would make it through everything together. She recommended that I call the suicide hotline, as she had recently done, because the anonymity had been calming to her, and to keep in touch via text until I got home.
The second friend, one of inexplicable importance to me, a sister of several decades, eventually texted back over a day later. She was polite; clipped but caring. She expressed her hope that I wouldn’t do anything drastic, and cited her busy schedule as a reason why she couldn’t be more involved in our friendship at present. She got in touch with my mother to warn her to watch over me, and was kind enough to link her to suicide resources via facebook message, telling us all to take care.
The other friend said absolutely nothing, This was the hardest to bear, because I could not, and honestly still cannot, imagine being a person who said nothing. As I stood on the ferry that was headed straight for the Magic Kingdom, I saw this friend casually tweeting and carrying on with her life in a laissez faire manner, and I just grew darker and darker and retreated more and more inward. After I typed out a dramatic tweet about being ignored in my darkest hour by my friends, I finally broke. Emotionally raw, I confronted her directly over text message and asked her why she had ignored me when I reached out. She immediately wrote back “what the fuck was I supposed to say?”. She was angry that I had “subtweeted” her, and expressed that she wouldn’t just jump to attention for me. She quickly let me know that she refused to engage with me, accused me of guilting her when I started to stumble emotionally, trying to act cool and unbothered by her verbal lashing while simultaneously trying to apologize. She had her own shit to handle, she said, and she was tired of watching me burn bridges. I needed to get help. She didn’t want to see me struggle anymore. She eventually said she loved me and to have fun at Disney World.
I immediately wanted to blame myself for this, because I blame myself for everything. I couldn’t believe that I had triggered such an angry and seemingly callous response from this friend, as she’s a therapist who specializes in bipolar disoder and borderline personality disorder, and who surely understood the severity of the situation. If she couldn’t even respond with a LYLAS after I threatened to take my life without immediately blowing up, what did that say about me?
I felt humiliated, imagining all sorts of possibilities – had she felt I had been taking advantage of her when I would discuss the goings on in the mental health portion of my life when we spoke? She knows me so intimately, and to just hurl my issues right back in my face in a moment of anger made me feel like a dog having my nose rubbed in my own shit. Panicked and feeling like even the world wasn’t space enough for me to hide in, I immediately deleted all social media temporarily for the silence. I wish I could say that the day at Disney went well, but it didn’t. I could never quite get it together after that, and we ended up leaving the Christmas celebration early.
Meanwhile, my friend blocked me immediately on all social media, assuming that I had blocked her when I had taken my break. Is that what people really think of me? I wondered. “Burning bridges”, the phrase that she hurled at me, kept replaying over and over in my mind. It wasn’t until I literally showed her a screencap that I had indeed deleted my social media that she believed me and changed her tone with me. It was sobering to know that I illicit such a reaction in people.
Fortunately, I made it home from Florida. And I’ve been here and haven’t felt that way since. The rest of the people in my life that love me despite how hard I try to force them not to banded together immediately, dispatching panicked texts to one another, making plans and reaching out to mental healthcare professionals to ensure that I would come home from Florida in a Honda Pilot, and not in a body bag. They linked their arms together in a circle around me, and carried me home, and promised to still love me when I came out of the dark.
I’m not angry at my friends who didn’t respond how I would have liked them to, which was simply at all, or at least not angrily – because it isn’t really my place to be angry. I guess you don’t really get to choose how people respond to things, especially of a serious nature. I just don’t care to be mad, because it does no good. With clarity comes indifference.
After Disney World, I went back to work, still feeling disparaged and desolate – and it was only when I went into the bathroom one morning that a thought occurred to me – “Why am I always suicidal during my period? Is that a thing? Why do these events only seem to happen during my period?”
I ran back to my desk and immediately googled “suicidal during period”, and it popped up immediately. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Holy shit. As I read the symptoms, I felt like I was looking in the mirror. Typically a week before a woman’s period, until she begins to bleed, she feels hopelessness, depression, mood swings, intense anger and conflict with others, sleep problems, fatigue, out of control, and so on.
Between 3-8% of women suffer from this. I’m one of them. According to wikipedia, “Bipolar depression, anxiety disorders, and other Axis I disorders are more common in people with PMDD than in the general population. In people with PMDD, there is a 50-78% lifetime incidence of various psychiatric disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder and major depressive disorder”
Borderline Personality Disorder and now PMDD are new to me, but hell, at least now I know, and I can move on from there. I know that I have to go to therapy to relearn how I display emotions and manage anger. I know that the week and a half before my period is a dangerous time for me emotionally, and what to stay away from. I’ve started tracking my moods on a daily basis, and it has been especially helpful as I approach my period.
It is hard to know who I am so many times because I have so much fighting against me that clouds my judgement and makes me question myself. But at least now I know – there is no one to blame. I just have to agree to buck up and play ball, because the game is going on, with or without me.
So, in summation, in the year 2017: My friend died, I did not get the job of my dreams, I graduated with honors, gained two new mental illnesses, and definitely did not have my most healthy or balanced year yet. But despite the bad, it has been an invaluable year of learning and accepting. I learned who loves me, and who deserves to be loved by me in return. I learned how to be a better listener and communicator. I learned more about my triggers and how to safeguard myself from situations. I am learning to accept – because I’m not quite there yet – my sensitivities. My emotions. It doesn’t mean I’m dramatic, it doesn’t mean I’m trouble, high strung, childish, or wild – it means that I’m me. I cry when I’m happy, sad, or frustrated. I’m sensitive and get offended or hurt easily. Words and actions hold a heavy weight with me. Sometimes, I hate myself more than anything in the world. Sometimes I can’t see past my own assigned shortcomings. There’s nothing wrong with that. The ones who want to tell me that there is something wrong with it are the ones who are wrong. Because it’s all about learning what works – who you should surround yourself with, what situations you should avoid, etc.
The people that love you, truly love you, are like a bridge that you can walk across the proverbial troubled water on – and that only works if you agree to do that for them in return. I will be your bridge if you will be mine. I will carry your weight on the days you can’t bear it if you will sit with me on the nights when I need to cry and just let me get it all out. And I guess if you piss me off, I’ll turn right around and burn that bridge to hell and back on a dime. At least that’s the word on the street. (Just kidding!)
Looking ahead to 2018 – I think I’ll make “let it be” be my mantra, because it’s going to be no matter what, anyway. And truth be told, there are plenty of things about myself and my life that I’d like to work on at any given time of any given day, so making resolutions seems silly. I know that I want to to keep up the good work with my mental health, read a lot of books, and I’d always love to go somewhere I’ve never been before. One thing that I’m sure of: I’m not going to stop talking about my “troubles”, but I am going to stop calling them my troubles – because I don’t have troubles. I have mental illnesses – and that’s not my fault, and that’s not something to be ashamed of. I truly considered not sharing mental health related things with anyone anymore, because I worried so much about what people may think or how they’ll judge – but I’m not doing that. I’ll continue to speak up because someone who felt alone and afraid, like me, might stumble upon it and realize they aren’t.
In closing, I want to say that I miss you, Baby Shark, and I always will. I forgive you and I hope you forgive me. Thank you for every single cardinal and butterfly, for the dream where we laughed and laughed and laughed together like we were 15 all over again. It’s been hard to go places that you won’t follow – turning 31, anticipating the year 2018 – but you’re always here, and you always will be.
To everyone else: Happy New Year, in whatever way that may mean something to you. Be your best self whenever you possibly can. And when you can’t be your best self, that’s okay, too. Because even when you aren’t your best, you are still you – a work in progress. And if you ask me, progress is always an indication of something pretty incredible to come.