The Scary Slope of Self-Growth: Running on Empty in an Attempt to Find Myself

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Looks like I’m in the middle of an existential crisis. I imagine for most people if they actually get to this place of “Who am I? Who do I want to be? What makes me feel fulfilled? Why am I here?” they are terrified. It’s a really scary place to be. For me, this process has me terrified, feeling like it’s slowly sliding me into an uncomfortable depressive state.

I started asking myself “what is the point of me?” around second-grade, and it hasn’t stopped since.  Even when I was a high-functioning, I just didn’t feel I was needed, and that my burden was greater than any gift I could provide.

But that was the depression, right? Depression tells you, you are worthless. That you will never be able to contribute enough to make yourself worthy of existence and that honestly, you look pretty fucking pathetic trying. You ask “Who am I?” and it tells you “A piece of shit.” “But who do I want to be?” “Doesn’t matter. You’ll never be good enough at it.” “What makes me fulfilled?” “You can’t feel fulfillment! To do that you have to stop being such a fucking nuisance.” (Evidently, my depression has a foul mouth.) “Why am I here?” “Good question. And like I’ve been trying to tell you, you probably shouldn’t be.

Let me back up a step. This all started because when I got to grad school, I felt like the one thing that was really missing from my life was intimacy. I never really had a boyfriend, between the depression, bullying, rejection, body dysmorphia, self-harm, and sexual assaults, the idea of being that vulnerable, it was just too overwhelming to take on. Then, to add to this delightful menage of fucked-up factors, my medications killed any sex drive I might possibly have. Needless to say, my childhood rom-com dreams slowly shriveled over time.

But there I was, in graduate school, in shape, making friends, having my “shit together,” and I just felt so fucking alone. (Ok, I do feel so fucking alone.) And I look all around me, and there are so many people, just as fucked up as I am, and they are in relationships. And I just thought, I can figure this out. So I stopped DBT and I decided to go to a sex therapist. Turns out, you can’t just be like “Hey so I have a super fucked-up relationship with intimacy and I would love to go ahead and just resolve that. Thanks.” In fact, she didn’t even want to get into my trauma the first session.

Instead, we have been diving into my identity and the questions I posited above. Now I think anyone in my place would be overwhelmed – these are life-long questions that are never truly answered. But what freaks me out is that these questions feel oddly similar to the questions I asked myself when I was suicidal. I know (and am grateful) that I’m not in that space anymore. I know that when I ask myself “Why am I choosing to live” it is in a different context than when I asked myself in the depths of depression. But I still don’t have an answer.

In the past, I stayed alive because I knew that killing myself would destroy my family. And I felt like I already was such a burden that while I felt in the long-run it would benefit them, I just knew it would hurt them too much. And so I stayed alive – for them. I kept fighting – for them.

So why do I get up now? Why do I choose to live? Because doing it for them isn’t enough anymore – nor should it be. I asked a friend today why she chooses to go through all the bullshit of life. What makes this arduous journey worthwhile? She noted joy, pleasure, achievement, helping others, possibility, and growth. She also noted that while she has bad days, she never has had a day where she wonders why she exists. Duly noted. And that makes sense to me. Joy and pleasure (which you can derive from helping others, growth, and possibility) are fucking awesome. But I don’t feel joy or pleasure. Ok, to be fair, when I help people, I get a little high. When I make people laugh, I feel good. When I have a really good workout (if I can remember that far back,) I have a good hour of “Fuck yeah, life!” But in general, I have a dull feeling in life. I get what feels like a pleasure wave, but it never crests, it just breaks. And that’s a problem. Because I can work with living to help others and make the world a better place, but I don’t know if that will sustain me for a long period of time. I need more than that; I think we all do.

I’m not really afraid of an existential crisis, per say. I think being introspective, intellectual, emotionally intelligent, and hyperaware, it just comes with the territory. I’m okay not knowing who I am yet. It’s scary and frustrating, but I get it. Depression was my identity for so long, I never developed a sense of self. What scares me is whether I have the energy and wherewithal to find myself. We can use our body, but if we don’t replenish it with food, liquid, etc. we will die. Emotional energy is the same. If I keep expending energy, getting things done, doing things that challenge me, helping others, but I don’t grow stronger? If I can’t get fulfillment and strength from the joy and pleasure of exploration? Then I’m not sure how to keep going. I feel like I’m running on empty and I don’t know what I can do to fuel up. And that is scary as fuck.

 

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Raise Awareness about Veteran Suicide

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Click on this image to view the website and learn more about this initiative for understanding and preventing veteran suicide.

I posted this a few weeks ago when I learned about it, but in light of Memorial Day, I wanted to repost and encourage people to get involved with helping veterans in their communities.

I don’t know if you have all seen this in the news, but there is a new initiative to get the public educated and involved in the rampant veteran suicide that plagues our country. (According to statistics, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.)

I cannot do it justice, so I suggest going directly to the website to learn more. While the push-up challenge is a great way to get people through the front door, it’s the bigger message and larger actions we as a community need to take to be there for our veterans.

There are so many things to be angry, scared, and frustrated about in today’s world. But maybe today is the day to learn more about our veterans and the struggles they have once they come back…and get involved.

#22kill

Help Raise Awareness about Veteran Suicide @ 22Kill.com

 

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Click on this image to view the website and learn more about this initiative for understanding and preventing veteran suicide.

 

I don’t know if you have all seen this in the news, but there is a new initiative to get the public educated and involved in the rampant veteran suicide that plagues our country. (According to statistics, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.)

I cannot do it justice, so I suggest going directly to the website to learn more. While the push-up challenge is a great way to get people through the front door, it’s the bigger message and larger actions we as a community need to take to be there for our veterans.

There are so many things to be angry, scared, and frustrated about in today’s world. But maybe today is the day to learn more about our veterans and the struggles they have once they come back…and get involved.

#22kill

Pillow Talk: Can You Fail at Becoming Yourself?

Tonight, as I got prepped in bed to battle the anti-sleep demon, I began to think about London. Ever since I got in to graduate school again, and basically made the decision that I have to go, I think about it several times a day. And really, London is really just an analogy for decision-making in general.

I hate to harp on this, but I can’t seem to find a sense of peace with it – making decisions without losing my mind. And tonight, I really did. I turned off the lights and London popped into my head. I started thinking about the feeling of being lost, stupid and clueless, which will inevitably be a constant for the first month at least. I get lost a lot – even in places I know. I actually don’t mind it so much, especially if I have time and shoes that don’t give me blisters – but I know I’m going to have to ask someone where the hell to go. And with my American accent, well my fear of judgement rolls over me like this giant wave, and I feel like I can’t breathe. I detest being a tourist – it drives me mad with embarrassment.

And then just for a moment, I thought about leaving completely. If I was gone, I wouldn’t have to make all these decisions. I wouldn’t have to know if I was right or wrong or deal with the fear and anxiety before the decision has been made. I wouldn’t have to hear people telling me different things and not knowing who to trust. I wouldn’t have to feel so fucking lost in knowing who I am. All of this fear would be gone.

And I would be an unknown. Still young, without a career, partner, or lifestyle, people could only imagine the person I would have been. You hear it when people talk about those they’ve lost too soon: “She would have made such a difference” “if only she had more time.” People would just fill in the answer of who I might have been for themselves.

I cannot believe I thought this. I’m so frightened of myself. I know I’m not going to do anything, and this thought has drifted in my head a few times over the year, usually as a passing thought of why I had wanted it when I was clinically depressed. But it’s not fair. I don’t want my fear to overtake me so violently that it makes me want to vanish from all the questions life provides. ‘Cuz that’s what life is, right? Exploring questions and choosing answers that eventually form who you are.

Isn’t this why I spent years trying to get better? Why I left my life and moved home? Why I did ECT? Why I’ve spent two years trying medications and exercising and challenging myself to leave the house every day?

I’m okay now. I know that the thought I had was basically a flight response to another fear of something that isn’t happening until September. I know it has something to do with my first DBT class tomorrow, and meeting new people, and how much I really do not like mental health groups. I have so many fears in my head, big and small, though they all seem to carry the same weight of anxiety.

I’m here. I get that. Maybe I’ll figure this out. Maybe I’ll have a breakdown. Hopefully it will be a mix of something in between. I’m just so exhausted of being so terribly frightened of life. I worry that my failures of simple decisions might be indicative of larger decisions to come. I never really thought much of the future because I never thought I’d have one. And now there is a prospect of perhaps having one, and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Can you waste something that is undefined? Can you do something that is only within you, incorrectly? Can you fail at becoming yourself? Can someone please invent a worthy sleeping pill, for fuck’s sake.

My First Birthday in Years

I prefer my cake without your spittle, but thanks.

I don’t know when it started, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I have spent most of my life developing a strong sense of self-hate, embarrassed by my existence, judging my lack of “lived” life and goals, and basically despising myself for being alive. So the idea of celebrating my birth and continued existence in this world with a “year to grown on” has always seemed silly and hypocritical.

I don’t really like holidays in general. There’s a part of me that gets so nervous: there’s all this pressure for that day. Like, on New Year’s – this is THE day out of 365 that I’m supposed to reflect on my life goals and make plans for the future? Thanksgiving – ugh. Here’s a day, out of 365, that I was supposed to stop, look at all the people around me, and think of all I had to be grateful for and how lucky I was and how others deserve the same but do not have it? What an IMMENSE amount of pressure for a day. It always seemed to me those days should just sort of happen throughout the year, in random moments rather than set times.

So I have a tendency to avoid those kind of holidays or at least avoid them until the last possible second before everyone arrives and I have to put on my clown costume and smile. The only ones I did like were these “holidays” my mom called “Just Because” days. When we were growing up, she would wake us up and tell us we could sleep in – we didn’t have to go to school. And then we could hang out with her that day – I don’t even remember what we did. But given that she worked quite a bit, it was so special to have the day to spend with her, no matter what we did. And it wasn’t on a specific day – it was just a random day (at least it seemed for us) where we got to make that day special and have fun.

But my birthday – that’s the worst of all. After spending an entire year running from my desires, being lonely, hating my body, my face, my personality, my life. After a year of feeling as if I am missing opportunities to grow, to experience, to find joy. After a year of and wanting, waiting and hoping to die. Well, after all that, the idea of getting together to “celebrate” me just seemed rather depressing. Woohoo – another year wasted; another year of burdening others; another year of pain! Here’s to the next!

In fact, if anything, my birthday has come to serve as a horrible marker in my depression. It was a day were I reflected on where I was, who I was, and how incredibly miserable I was in both of those dimensions. Unemployed, overweight, living at home, miserable, unable to leave the house. Perhaps not the best circumstances to “reflect” on. Also, during my depressive episodes, my birthdays have always served as expiration dates. A month before I turned 30 was the first time I decided I was going to commit suicide. I decided I would not turn 30 being the person I was. I panicked and made the minor (but helpful) “mistake” of telling some people. I began ECT a few weeks after my 30th birthday. About a year and a half ago, I sat my mom down and told her that if I was still in as much pain as I was then when I was 35, I was going to end it. Not because she didn’t do enough, not because I didn’t love her, but because I was tired and that just seemed like an age where it seemed fair to give up. (Needless to say, she disagreed with my “thoughtful and rational” idea.) Sometimes I tell myself that if this medication stops working and I hit rock bottom again, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just too exhausted to keep trying.

Therefore, I have adamantly protested any “celebration” on the day of my birthday. In the past few years, we have agreed to stop mentioning my birthday on the day of. My family promised not to say anything or send cards. I might get a “gift” in the mail the week earlier or the week after, but with no acknowledgement of the birthday – more of a “love you” gift. My friends are harder to tame but given that I live 3,000 miles away from them, it does make a “surprise” party harder.

So, I am turning 34 in two and a half weeks. I’m not going to have a party. I don’t plan on making the day a romp around town, treating myself all day to elaborate “pleasures” of food and beauty. I’m not going to try and dress up or put on extra makeup or spend the day reflecting (ok, I probably will but I’d rather not.) I am not planning on blowing out candles and will not be making a wish. (I’m still not ready for “optimism” or thoughts of “the future.” Baby steps, people.)

But I think it would be nice to go out to dinner somewhere comfortable where I enjoy the food. Maybe I’ll make a yummy vegan cake and once again laugh at why everyone is so surprised when it tastes good. Maybe I’ll let someone take a picture of me, even if I know I’m not going to like it. I’m going to try and pick up the phone if someone calls to wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to thank people who email me. I will open cards and appreciate the love within them even though it is still a struggle to not protest their thoughts.

I think I kind of hope people wish me a happy birthday this year. Because while my life is still a chaotic mess of confusion, chaos, and clusterfucks – and while maybe next year I won’t want to celebrate – for now, I am grateful for the people around me; for the opportunities of growth I have had this year; for the strength and personal compassion I have found within myself; the decisions I have made; and the way I have handled disappointment and stress.

Happy birthday to me.