Strength is Found in Awareness & Help

C/W suicide, depression

Hello friends, welcome to our newest time and place. If you didn’t see the memo yesterday I am officially posting my blog on Thursdays because I have just found myself extremely tired on Wednesdays, so I have been using those days to heal. Healing looks like many things right now. Resting, first and foremost, but also scheduling my therapy on that day to help process what the last 7 days had brought me. Since I didn’t write last week, I’ll catch you up on what the last 14 days brought me.

The last two weeks were filled with a lack of energy to do much of anything. I felt completely void of motivation. I cried A LOT, more so than usual- which is A LOT, A LOT for “regular” people. My shower schedule went from every day, to every three days. I still brushed my teeth every day, twice a day which is honestly the biggest win of them all. I ordered takeout food every night, most of which was fast food, and most of which could have fed two people.

It is mental health awareness month, and with that I want to make people more aware of my experience with depression. This is something that I have sprinkled throughout all of my posts, but it is rarely the star of the show. Depression was a side character to enhance the more “important” story. I quote important here because in reality discussing depression is just as important as the other parts of the story, but the thing about vulnerability in writing is that it can be easier to write the story and hope the reader can read between the lines. Today, I don’t want there to be any messages between the lines. I want to be raw about my experience. I would also like to be raw about my experience of healing and processing and the journey that my life has taken.

This last week was a reminder that healing is not linear and as much as I hope and wish that old habits have died hard, I know they are still there, lingering around. In fact, the last couple of weeks my depression has been the worst it’s been in a year. I felt numb and tired. Anytime a person asked me how I was I would respond “Oh, ya know, just tired.” There it is again, the reading between the lines, hoping that someone recognizes the fact that I’ve been tired for two weeks and that isn’t normal. Praying for someone to ask me again, “how are you really though?” There is this fear that if we say how we really are we won’t get the response that we really need. We know we need the help though, so we leave context clues and hope one day someone picks up on it. It is interesting how subtly people ask for help because of this fear. I’ve picked up on it a lot in the work that I do. If you have someone always saying they are are tired, or when asked how they are always respond with the same answer, try asking them again. I like to call this phenomenon the folly of small talk. Sometimes people really don’t want to know how we are. So, there are these automatic lines we sprawl out like a red carpet for others to feel more comfortable. I loathe small talk. It is devoid of any real meaning and I think it should be canceled. In my opinion, if you don’t want to really know how someone is, don’t ask.

Okay, I am getting a little bit off topic, let’s circle back to my depression. Spending most of my life with, I’ve gotten good at hiding it from others and having my automatic answers lined up. My experience with depression has been a long and winding road, escalated by trauma. I have wished to be dead on countless occasions. Again, no reading between the lines. I would pray and cry and beg to go to sleep and not wake up. I recently read online somewhere (I wish I could remember where so I could give them credit) which said suicidal ideations are often the hope of getting rid of your current life for a new one. Meaning, people don’t necessarily want to die, they just want the life as they know it to be different. I wanted my life as I knew it to be different. The older I get the more my depression ebbs and flows, and the less I want a different life. I can go a long time without feeling any of it’s lingering effects and then one day I am triggered by something and it sets off this downward feeling. A feeling that is both slow and fast at the same time. I’ve done a lot of work around this and working through triggers. My recovery time is actually much quicker nowadays. Something I am proud of.

Working through depression though, is a battle. If you have watched Game of Thrones, you can recall the scene where Jon Snow is being trampled to death during the ‘Battle of the Bastards’. For those of you that haven’t seen it, he’s literally under a pile of humans all stepping on him, as he is gasping for air. While watching it you’re like “Oh yeah, he’s definitely going to die” and then somehow, against all odds, he comes out. Yeah, that is how I would describe battling depression. In fact, it’s a great title for the battle of depression as well. Those bastard voices in my head trying to keep me down and I have to come back ten times harder. It’s a muscle though and I know that the more I keep coming out of it and fighting back the easier and easier it gets. I think an example may help to get a better idea. I’ll walk you through a day of my worst depression this week. I’d also like to note that this experience is vastly more doable than what my depression looked like when I was younger. I have done a lot of work.

My alarm goes off, although I’ve only been partially asleep because my body can’t seem to shut all the way down. The sound of the alarm is not jarring, it is just irritation. I calculate how much longer I can stay in my bed, how much longer can I push the time? If I skip showering.. again.. I can lay here for another 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes I am not resting. I am thinking through a million different thoughts. ‘I wonder what today will bring? Why can’t I just get out of bed, it’s not like I’m actually sleeping right now? You are so lazy. I wish I didn’t wake up today. I wish, I wish, I wish..’ I finally role out of bed. I go into the bathroom where I convince myself that brushing my teeth is necessary. As I brush my teeth I look in the mirror and stare at the bags under my eyes. ‘Why do you look the way you do? Maybe because you didn’t wash your face again last night?’ I then talk myself into washing my face. I go the kitchen to get breakfast. All I want is junk food. I eat left over, cold pizza. I take my vitamins, hoping that they are the magic pill to make this feeling go away. I realize I only have 10 minutes to leave the house and then I rush around picking out an outfit, looking in the mirror at my hair realizing there is no time to fix it and leave. I bike or walk to work, knowing that it is good for me to get the exercise. That this will help with how I am feeling. It actually does. I get to work, where I know I have to have space for others trauma, so I leave mine at the door. Before I enter I remind myself that my pain is not important right now, this space is for them. Once in that space, I feel a little break. I hold space for other people, and my pain feels lighter, but by the the end of the day I am exhausted. I now I have my pain on top of there’s and I don’t know where to put it. I bike or walk home, again knowing that this is the most helpful thing I’ve done all day for myself. I get home and want to turn it all off. I turn on TV and watch something that I know will numb my thoughts. I order take out. Most likely shake shack for the 4th time this week. I eat the food in front of my screen. I eat it so fast that I barely remember what it tasted like. I feel full to the point that it hurts. I stare at the screen wondering why I just ate so much. The pain is so familiar and it makes me feel good, in the worst kind of way. I try to stay on my screen for as long as I can, so I can avoid hearing what I know I am thinking. I know those negative thoughts are swirling in there- you’re horrible. you’re disgusting. you’re unloveable. I finally make it to my bed where I spend another 30 minutes on my phone, trying to avoid the moment the noise all stops and I have to hear those thoughts. I finally turn the phone off and count down from 100. This helps me fall asleep and avoids the noise further. Finally I am asleep, but not really.

This is what a day with really bad depression felt like recently. Each step is hard and it is something that I mentally need to tell my body to physically do, otherwise it would just stay in that state, in my bed, not moving. I usually give myself a day, when I am feeling that way. I call it my depression day. It’s like a staycation for pain. I recognize that I’ve pushed my body far and it needs a break for a moment. I just kind of melt into my feelings and give it some space. I then spend the following 24-48 hours pushing back hard. Every negative thought has an equal and opposite reaction. This last spell though was a bit longer than 24-48 hours of pushing back. I think because there is just so much going on at once. Like COVID, depression, dating, trauma, drama is a lot for one girl to handle. But I still pushed back and I finally feel like I am finding a clearing. BLESSED.

What really helped me find the clearing though is therapy. I reached out to my therapist, who I hadn’t talked to in awhile, because for awhile I was doing really well. The second I realized this time felt a little different though I sent that email. I knew I needed support and I knew, as much as I love my friends and family, I needed a different type of support. The moment she came onto the screen I burst into tears. Not because I was sad, but because I knew there was space for me to just be. It was tears of relief, of all this pressure being lifted off. We talked for the full hour. I honestly could’ve talked to her for two hours. She reminded me of my strength and my ability to reach out when I need help. I had forgotten to recognize this as a strength. She helped my brain process in a way that felt like all the static was clearing and I could get a good image. She reminded me of different ways I can help myself, ways I didn’t even think about.

The most interesting part of our session was when we discussed my work. We were discussing how I should hold space for myself between patients. When talking about what I could do I said I have a meditation app and I could listen to that between each person. She looked at me with a puzzled face and said “Sarah, that really won’t help you. When you are experiencing trauma, even vicarious trauma, you are being heightened. You are disconnecting from you body. Meditation will only make you go higher. In those moments you need to remind yourself of where you are. You need to be in that room wholly.” She said “the best antidote for trauma is embodiment.” I was shooketh. All this time I’ve been told that meditation is basically the end all be all and here is my therapist being like ‘nah, that is not what you need.’ She talked about literally tapping my body to remind myself that it is here on earth, in that chair, in that place. So, for the last 24 hours, anytime I could feel myself leaving the room, I began to tap. My face. My chest. My legs. Tap. Tap. Tap. It brought me back every. damn. time. Brilliant and simple. My favorite kind of healing technique.

The thing with healing through, and depression, and mental health is that our stories all look different. Yet, we all have pain, we all have mental health, we all have feelings and we are all constantly trying to heal. The reason there is a month dedicated to awareness is because there continues to be this stigma that nobody else experiences these things and if you do experience this you are “not normal”. I have to argue the exact opposite. I can’t think of one person in my life that hasn’t experienced pain or that couldn’t benefit from therapy. We go to the doctor when we break our leg, but when we feel pain, when our hearts shatter into a million pieces, we think we have to heal it on our own. This is cultural. There are people trained in healing broken hearts. I beg, urge, and plead with you to help me break the stigma. Tell people that you hurt too, just like every normal human being, and that there is ZERO shame in seeking support in that. Isolation creates and perpetuates negative self-talk and feelings of depression. Culturally, we think we are being strong by not getting help, but in reality we are actually harming ourselves in ways we don’t even know. The reality is that being strong means we know we can ask for help and then doing just that.

Today, be strong- reach out for help and tell your story.

A[wo]men

P.s. Not sure where to start? May I suggest right here.

tap. tap. tap.

you are here 

in this space.

you are breathing

in this space.

you are living 

in this space.

you are

in this space.

-grounding

 

Gut Reactions

Hi friends, it has been a wild ride these last 7 days and I can’t wait to tell you about it. Well, if I am being honest I can’t wait to just let it all out and maybe it will make me feel better and more at ease. Before I dive into the events of the week though, I would like to say that I got a lot of feedback about my winter appreciation post and there are definitely great things about winter that I forgot to include. Most importantly, the solitude found during a winter hike because everyone else is at home afraid of the cold. That is a solid addition to that list.

C/W sexual assault and violence

Now that I’ve updated that, let’s just dive right in shall we. On Friday morning I was in a fantastic mood. I had a delicious breakfast and a great nights rest and it was Friday. Even though I work on Saturdays, Fridays are inherently great because everyone has good energy about the weekend. It rubs off on ya. Here I am boppin’ along, when I get to the train station and realize the D train is crowded AF. I was already cutting it a bit close with getting to work, so I took a deep breath and said ‘Sarah, ya just gotta get on this one. You don’t have time to wait for the next one.’ Some context to this fear of crowded trains might be needed.

My first year in New York I had an internship that required me to take two trains and a bus. It was a nightmare, especially for a new time New Yorker. One day I entered this extremely crowded train. About 2 minutes into the ride, I could feel a man groping my ass. The train was so crowded, I could barely move. I froze. I just remember making eye contact with the woman across from me who could see what was happening and we both had a tear in our eye. In our fight, flight, or freeze response we both seemed to freeze. I couldn’t breathe and immediately got off at the next spot trying to catch my breath. It felt like I was being suffocated. In that moment, I made a vow to never get on a crowded train again if it didn’t feel safe to do so.

Fast forward to Friday, where I felt uncomfortable entering that train, but did it anyway. I even thought to myself ‘Sarah, we don’t like crowded trains.. can’t we just wait for the next one’ but then I was like ‘no, we’ll be late to work then’. There I am, denying my gut response. DAMN YOU CAPITALISM. Then, I get on this train and I was doing everything I could to focus on being calm. This train was so packed I couldn’t even manage to move my arms to take my backpack off, so I left it on not thinking anything of it. I had meditation playing in my head phones, I was rubbing my fingers together, and I was doing some heavy deep breathing just to keep my cool. Then it happened. I felt movement on my back and my brain immediately had me freeze. ‘It’s happening again’ I thought ‘this man behind me is trying to touch me.’ I focused even more on my breathing as the train conductor announced “folks, we are stopped due to some train traffic ahead of us. Should be moving shortly.”

When I get in situations where I start to feel panicked I repeat to myself ‘you are safe. you are safe. you are safe.’ I also knew I had to do something to get this man to stop what he was doing. I made eye contact with him and began to shift my body so he wouldn’t have access to my backside. The movement from behind ceased after the eye contact and the train began to move again. As we pulled up to the next stop this man said ‘oh, is this grand street?’ in a very booming voice. All I could think in my head was please leave, please leave. He bolted off the train and I felt like I could breathe again.

The following stop was my own. I took another deep breathe said ‘you are safe’ and started walking to work. As I was nearer too my job, I went to pull out my ID to get into work. Moving my backpack forward I noticed my zippers were open and I realized what had actually happened. That person behind me was not trying to touch me, he was stealing from me. I dug into my backpack to find my wallet was missing. I was upset, but also very aware that the things in that wallet are replaceable. Except for the business card I kept in there from my first job as a real life social worker, but what are ya gonna do? I cancelled my cards. I took a deep breath, I tried to move on with the day. I even saw a patient. It was helpful to talk to someone else. After my first patient I went to grab my chap stick from my front pocket… That’s when I realized, he also stole my keys.

I couldn’t breathe. Again, I didn’t care about the keys themselves, those are replaceable as well. However, all I could think was that this man now has my address and my keys. He can get into my building. He can steal more of my things. He can hurt me. I made eye contact with this person and knew exactly what he looked like. My imagination is incredible, both a blessing and a curse. I went into full blown panic attack mode as images of this person entering my home and hurting me kept sweeping across my brain. It was like a scary movie that I couldn’t turn off. Anxiety looks different for many people. For me, it is often in the form of images that play in my head over and over and over. I try to use mindfulness and deep breathing to “let the images pass like a cloud” but sometimes that bullsh*t doesn’t work; sometimes all I can do is let the anxiety take over. And I think it’s okay to let it take over. It was telling me that something wasn’t okay, and it wasn’t okay.

I left work and started to break down the things I had to do. Call landlord, cry, get locks changed, cry, go to police station, cry. FYI, my landlord, who was extremely unhelpful, shared that she would not be changing the front door lock because “it’s too many keys to replace”. Welcome to New York, where money is more important that the safety of humans.  So, this man does not have access to my apartment but can still get into my building. Also, the cops were just okay. I am scared of police stations and that made me cry more. They also couldn’t decide who has jurisdiction for like a full hour because I was on a moving train. COOL. I am not exhausted or anything. Thanks for your speedy assistance.

So what is the point of all of this? Well, many people have told me it’s a lesson. A lesson to not keep all your credit cards in one place and to not keep your backpack on your back and you know, all the blaming done to people that have a crime done to them. I, of course, think I learned all of these things, but that wasn’t the real lesson for me. The real lesson for me, and that I want to share with all of you, is about listening to the gut.

9 times out of 10 when my gut is telling me something, I tend to ignore it. Perhaps it’s from years of being told I was “crazy” “overreacting” and “stupid” when my gut would start to tell me something. Now, I often chalk it up to anxiety or being dramatic or the moon. I would like to call bullsh*t on it right now. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for about as long as I can remember. Both are significantly better, but are also used as an excuse to not listen to how we’re feeling. It’s a fine line understanding when it’s your anxiety and when it’s a man actually stealing from you and invading your personal space. Where do we draw the line and is it even a line? Does it oscillate between the two, combining reality and fears? How do I know when to listen to myself and how do I know when to not?

I think that is it really. We should always be listening to ourselves. There shouldn’t be a time that I think my thoughts are irrelevant or not important; whether it is my anxiety or not, my brains only goal is to protect myself. My anxiety is a part of me and all my parts of me care if I survive. Why shouldn’t I listen to that?

I want to clarify- I think we should do things that scare us. I want to jump out of a plane one day and I know my anxiety is going to be like ‘girllll, you cray,’ but there is a difference between feeling comfortable with the fear versus feeling frozen with fear. If I am to the point where I feel like I can’t breathe, I need to be able to listen to that. I need to be able to say something is not right here and I don’t have to brush it off or take a deep breathe to change the way my brain is working. I want to be able to say that I don’t think I should get on this train and then no get on the train.

Society today seems to be so insistent on quick changes, on deep breathes, and slowing down. Sometimes, it doesn’t help to slow down; sometimes we need to be alert and respond. This is all to say, that you, my lovely reader, are the expert of your own being. You should listen to your body and trust that no matter how you are feeling, there is a message behind the feeling, a message saying ‘I want to keep you safe’.

Stay safe my friends and maybe don’t go on crowded trains. I am re-entering that vow with myself.

A[wo]men

Go f*** yourself.

-A poem for my robber