Coming Home.

I started this post a week ago. If you had asked before I opened the draft, I would have told you it had been maybe two or three days, so warped is my sense of time. The hours between 7 am and 6 pm seem to stretch into half-week chunks, and there isn’t enough sleep to be had, no matter how long the nights. I never understood that aspect of depression- the sleep that seemed endless and never enough. I’ve never been a napper, and 8 hours of sleep nightly has always seemed excessive. Lately, though, I’ll sacrifice almost anything in favor of more sleep. Plans with friends, activities with the kids, packing and moving my two-bedroom apartment? All of it out the window if it’ll get me an hour or two under a blanket with my eyes closed.

‘Home’ is an idea I’ve been toying a lot with lately. I haven’t quite flushed out what it means to me exactly, nor can I identify a time or place that felt truly like home to me. In my imagination, it’s maybe a house I own. Jack and Carolyn are there, and there are bikes on the front porch and old, checkered tiles in the kitchen. There’s a giant couch with tasseled pillows and cable-knit throws that spill onto the hardwood floor. There are toys in the bathtub, blueberries in the fridge, the grass needs to be mowed but it’s okay because it’s nighttime and we’re all inside watching a movie before bed, myself and the kids and maybe some Human X that I didn’t even know I wanted until I met someone who makes me not want to eat breakfast alone. But that’s for later.

‘Home’ has never really had an exact location or definition for me, but lately it’s begun to take shape. I’m certain that this will change- after all, changing is part of growing, and at 27 I’m certain I’ve got a wealth of growing ahead of me- but presently, ‘home’ seems to be a particular point in time in which I am, to a degree, at rest in certain areas of my life.

All that is really just musing. Here’s the guts of this post: I moved myself and the kids out of the apartment that has felt so much like a grave for the past seven months and am staying with my Mum until I get my head together. No one is particularly thrilled about this arrangement (aside from the kids- they love their grandparents), but the alternative is for me to continue pretending that I’m in a position to function independently in the world (surprise: I’m not). When I’m at my best, I’m the kind of person who fights through adversity. When I first moved home in 2011, I was single, Jack was a year old, I was pregnant with Carolyn, and I was enrolled in two simultaneous full-time semesters at Bucks. I ended both semesters with a 4.0, and had Carolyn somewhere in the middle. I ran, maintained a regular yoga practice, and was an active participant in a local CSA. Go me. That was probably a high point in my thus-far short life. This right now, this dark hell of endless sleep…this is my low point. I have never been this depressed in my life. I didn’t even know it was possible.

Depression is the strangest, most perplexing problem to have. I hope that one day I will have the wisdom to see it as something other than a problem. I hope I can come to a healthy point and see some kind of meaning in these low moods, but I’m just not there yet. For me, it’s still a problem, something that has the power to take my life and flip it, like a game board, all the pieces flying off in different directions. I don’t understand it and I don’t know how to harness it. I’m just now learning to accept that I’m going to lose people and things that I treasure. This time last year, I could fill a swimming pool with all of the people and things I felt were concrete in my life. Today I can count them on one hand. A phrase I’ve heard repeatedly from my friends is that I ‘expect too much of people.’ I now know this to be true, and in the process of falling apart I’ve also released many of my expectations. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that I was just too much to handle. That I was bringing people down. That they just couldn’t do it anymore.

I’m not certain I know what that feels like. I can identify one time in recent memory that I felt overwhelmed by the amount of support I was dishing out, and I remember talking to a close friend about it. This was also at the beginning of my breakdown. I have not, however, felt that any one person was more than I could handle. That doesn’t mean that I can’t honor and respect the notion that I would be just too much for one person to want to wrestle with.

Do you know what it takes to be friends with someone who is miserable, selfish, needy, demanding, helpless, irritable, inconsistent, and a host of other unpleasant qualities all at the same time? Magic. It takes magic. Frida Khalo said, “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic,” and while I love this quote, lately I’ve taken the liberty of reversing it and applying it to my friendships. Take friends that YOU look at like maybe they are magic. A friend, for example, who knows you well enough to take you to your favorite University campus on a night when you are feeling your darkest, and lets you wander around outside touching the stone archways and ducking through passageways, each one opening to a different courtyard…

Moments like that do so much more than just bring a few hours of relief. Walking around Princeton reminded me that I am me, Liz, the girl who LOVES Princeton, who thinks of it as her real-life Hogwarts, who wants a Princeton PhD- who wants a PhD at all! Because most days, Liz doesn’t want to get out of bed. Liz doesn’t even want to boil water for tea, or meet her best friends for a beer, let alone have the balls to have such huge aspirations. The time I spent walking around that magical campus was a reminder to myself that I still exist. It’s a difficult feeling to hold on to.

I still exist. Right now, it’s in a pretty frustrating capacity, but as miserable and exhausted and confused as I feel, I don’t feel hopeless. I’ve struggled with the feeling in recent past, but lately it’s occurred to me that while things are so far from where I want them to be, putting things back together isn’t impossible. Am I up for the work it’ll take? Who knows…but that’s no reason not to try. That all sounds so much more optimistic than I actually feel.

Here are the things I am capable of (read: the things I’ve been able to get myself to do): writing this blog post (it took me two weeks). Going to the movies tomorrow night, at a friend’s suggestion. Watering my plants. Going to a job interview tomorrow afternoon and not acting like Wednesday Addams. Cooking simple meals for Jack and Carolyn. Laying on my yoga mat and staring at the sky. Finishing my first packet for Graduate school and sending it off for feedback. Spending this weekend with my incredible bespectacled boyfriend. Crossword puzzles. Showering (sometimes). Loading the dishwasher. Finding Waldo.

Here are the things I am not really capable of: feeding myself (seriously). Getting myself out of the house for any kind of social interaction. Organizing my thoughts. Remembering to call places and people to set up appointments and sort out obligations. Keeping myself calm for more than a few minutes. Getting out of bed in the morning.

Every day is a struggle. Every morning I wonder how I’m going to make it through the day, and often it’s through a fair share of tears and hours curled on the couch. Each night I wonder how I’m going to get up the next morning. The anxiety is crippling. I’m afraid to leave the house alone. I’ve gained 40 pounds since January. I have lost my connection with my yoga practice, my running, my passion for food and gardening and intellectual pursuits. The bark of my life has been slowly stripped away until all that remains is a skinny core the width of a sapling. In some ways it makes me very sad. I don’t like goodbyes. But in other ways, it makes me cautiously optimistic. If all that excess has been shed and I’m still here, still existing, then there’s been much room made for new growth.

I want to believe my life will sprout anew like a Birch cut back. I want to be optimistic about my friends, my future, the boyfriend I feel such wild affection for. I want to be the engaged, enthusiastic person that lived two summers ago in the same skin I’m dying in now. For me, I guess, that’s home- being the best version of myself.

I’m hoping I’ll be there soon.

Marrying Myself.

Initially, my intention was to write a follow-up post detailing my time in the hospital and laying out what our schedule looked like each day. I’ll probably still write that post because I’m eager to share what it was like for me day to day, but a thought occurred to me last night as I was folded into child’s pose during an hour-long yin yoga class, and I thought it was more pressing and worth sharing.

Here’s what I realized: I would not want to be in a relationship with the person I am right now. That thought was enough to jolt me out of my practice for at least five minutes as I turned over all of the implications of this realization. A good friend of mine recently sent me a TED talk in which a thrice-divorced woman talked about the value of marrying yourself. It was a sweet talk about committing to treat yourself the way you’d treat someone you were in love with- in essence, loving and committing yourself to yourself.

I’m prone to extreme loneliness. It’s something I’m continuously working on. It’s not that I’m unable to enjoy my own company, but it doesn’t last for very long, and I find myself feeling hollow and sad and eventually panicked if I’m alone for too long. In the past year I put myself in two emotionally vulnerable positions that ended up really scarring me, and I was left wondering what was wrong with me that I continued to be faced with so much solitude when all I wanted was someone to share my time with. But I have someone to share my time with- ME. I’m here for myself always, and while it feels great to sling my legs into someone’s lap and lean my head on a shoulder and connect with another human being, the person I need to have the strongest connection with is the one I’m with 24/7 for the rest of my life. If I can build that relationship and take comfort in the fact that I can always count on myself, then there’s never any need to feel alone, and anyone else that comes into my life is just a complement to the whole person that is me.

I know who I want to be. I know who I have been in the past, and I know who I can be if I take the right steps and put the necessary pieces in place. I want to be someone I’d be proud to know. This is not completely out of the realm of possibilities, but it’s also going to require a ton of work, because right now I am sad and lonely and frankly pretty boring. I don’t do the things I used to do. I don’t cultivate the interests that used to fulfill me. I let everything fall to the wayside, and now it’s up to me to rebuild. I don’t think this will be some great tale of me overcoming my depression- I think it’ll be a struggle every day for the rest of my life, and I’ll probably have my fair share of setbacks, but I think that if I can keep my sights fixed on where I’d like to see myself, I’ll get there eventually.

That being said, I’m still struggling. Waking up in the morning sucks. It just sucks. Trying to get through the day when my antidepressants make me feel dull and my anti-anxiety meds make me sleepy and my sleep meds give me a hangover…it feels unmanageable. I’m trying to remember that it’s a process, that it’s going to be a long while before I work out a good medication regimen, and that I need to have patience and persevere. Despite the side effects, I’ve been good about staying on top of my meds and taking them on time and getting every dose in.

Things that are still difficult for me:

Writing. Every word needs to be forced out, every sentence re-checked. I have no motivation to write anything creative. I’m having a lot of trouble getting back into the rhythm of writing like I was, where words flowed like a stream and I could bang out six or seven poems a week without breaking a sweat. I haven’t written since I got home from the hospital. I have a weekly workshop beginning this week, and I’m hoping that will help spur me to get writing again, and maybe eventually I’ll find a new sustainable rhythm.

Housework. Really, anything that involves doing anything. I’m still so fatigued all the time, I look around my apartment at the toys and the dishes and the carpet that needs vacuuming and it still all seems like so much work, I don’t think I’ll ever get through it. I’ve been setting myself one task to accomplish each day, and it helps, knowing I just have to do that one thing. Vacuuming one day, laundry the next, and on and on, day by day. It makes me feel like a child, because really, I should be able to take care of basic tasks, but I’m trying to remind myself that if the alternative is being totally overwhelmed and foregoing activity altogether until I’m back in the hospital, maybe one task a day is the way to go until I’m feeling more…functional. Tonight’s task: organize the book room. Someone say a prayer.

Eating. It’s so easy for me to skip meals. I don’t get hungry so much as I crave certain foods, so most of the time when I eat it’s because I wanted that specific thing, not because I’m satisfying a need to eat. When I’m depressed, I tend to throw food to the wayside and eat nothing. That, or I’ll binge on trays of Oreos. I’m trying to combat this by a) not buying Oreos (FAIL), and b) making sure I get to the grocery store as soon as my fridge starts to look too empty. Usually if I’m running low on spinach and kale, it’s time for a restock. I’ve also been making smoothies every morning, because I can load them up with all manner of fruits and veggies and add-ins and they end up being packed with nutrition. I just force myself to slurp down a pitcher every morning. Right now my go-to is: frozen green fig, mango, raspberry, banana, carrot, apple, kale, yogurt, honey, flax, hemp seeds, maca powder, and almond milk. It gets me the nutrients I need and I can just close my eyes and chug it down. I’ve also been making sure to plan a few meals a week so I’m not ending each day wondering what the hell I’m going to cook for dinner. I’m trying to keep it simple- tonight is tomato soup with cashew cream and toasted baguette croutons. Also, steamed southern greens. Totally manageable and appetizing.

I’ve actually been playing around with some meal delivery services- so far I’ve tried Plated and HomeChef, and honestly, they make it so much easier to ensure I’ve got a few solid meals each week. It’s not something I’d do every single week, but if I know I’ve got a tough week coming up, it’s a really nice break for me- all of the ingredients are included and pre-portioned, so all I have to do is put it all together. It’s definitely a nice option to have.

Yoga. It’s not as much of an effort as other things, but getting onto my mat and getting through a full practice is so hard. Mostly I just want to lay in child’s pose all day. I’m going to try to get back to the Yogasphere donation classes on Sunday nights, since the kids are with my Mum then. I think being back in a studio space will really help. In the meantime, I’ve continued my subscription to YogaGlo. For anyone who is trying to establish a home practice, I cannot recommend it more. It’s loaded with classes for all different styles and levels, and it gives you access to so many wonderful teachers, many of whom I had the great fortune to practice with at Wanderlust last year, so it’s a treat to be able to sign on to YogaGlo and experience more of their classes. Definitively, without YogaGlo, there would be no yoga happening for me at all.

I guess in a nutshell….most things are still challenging me every day. The difference is that now I can actually get through the day, even if I’m dragging my feet. I’m not lying in a coma on my couch. That’s something.

I was glad to hear from a number of people about their own experiences with depression. It’s so bizarre and misunderstood, because it’s an illness of how you feel, but it can be physically very debilitating. I find that people are hesitant to open up about their struggles with mental health because there is still such a stigma against it. When I was in the hospital, a number of people close to me seemed to think that I was somehow different from the other people in the ward. I heard a lot of sentiments along the lines of, “well, you’re not like the rest of the people there, you’re just depressed.” And it’s true, in some ways I was very different from many people there. But there were also plenty of people just like me- depressed, unable to function, and in desperate need of medication and psychiatric help. There were husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, boyfriends and girlfriends, people with full-time jobs and stable, fulfilling relationships. One man was a Philadelphia police officer suffering from PTSD. My point here is that mental health issues are not limited to the obviously troubled. I’ve had so many people approach me with their own stories, and for that I am so grateful. While it’s hard knowing that people I care about are facing these kinds of struggles, it’s also good to know I’m not alone, that the problems I’m facing are more common than not, and that there is a huge network of support available to me.

I’m going to keep working and writing and sharing my experience here. I’ll try to type up an overview of my week in the hospital and share the nitty-gritty of what it was like at the week-long pajama party living the no-shoes, no-bra dream. Until next time.