I stayed with my friend Mel recently while I was having a difficult time.
On Saturday she gave me a tour of her alma mater. We were walking through the University of Oregon’s campus when the topic of therapy came up. She told me she’d been several times before. I hadn’t seen her since we were little girls (until we reconnected in September). But I always viewed her as someone who had it together in every way. She was balancing the beginning of a successful career, a long-term relationship, family, and friends.
It still shocks me that people who have seemingly perfect lives also struggle. I’m continually reminded of this, and yet it surprises me every time.
I thought back on my own experience with therapy. I went when I was 10 years old after a year of brutal bullying from my classmates. I can still picture my therapist’s office in my mind. There was a large distance between the sofa and her desk. I remember her curly black hair, how homey the decorations felt, and how quickly an hour passed.
I asked Mel bluntly, “When did you first start going to therapy?”
“Well,” she said, “I guess when I started feeling anxiety for the first time. I wanted to know what it was, so I just dove headfirst into it and tried to figure it out.”
I had done the opposite. I was immediately thrust back six years in my memories. I remember sitting atop my queen bed in my studio apartment—four walls, one bathroom, and a backyard. I had a whole level to myself in a three-story building. Alone. Lonely.
I didn’t know what the hell I was feeling, much less how to talk to anyone about it.
Mel and I continued walking and talking, but the conversation and concept of therapy stuck with me. I’d been ruminating over returning for the last few months, if not years.
Sometimes, I make lists of what I would talk about. What I feel is wrong with me or what I think I need to work on. I’m not sure if it’s healthy, but it helps me feel better. There is something about being able to pinpoint my flaws and vulnerabilities that calms me. I catalog these often, updating the list as I go.
I often wonder if I think about these things so much because of my first experience with anxiety; I had a panic attack. I was alone and couldn’t make sense of my thoughts and feelings, so I decided I could figure out myself. I didn’t want to tell anyone, not even my family or close friends, because I felt weird.
I thought they wouldn’t understand, and I convinced myself I was the only person who felt that way. I didn’t want to be different; it hadn’t worked out in the past.
At one point, I even considered that I was schizophrenic. I figured, surely, not everyone had this many thoughts or talked to themselves so much.
Over the years, I have self-diagnosed. But I always imagine the comfort I would feel walking into a professional’s office, handing them my list, and feeling heard. I want to sit down with someone and listen to what is wrong with me. I want to know what we can do about it, and how we can fix it.
I spent a few years “fixing” myself with distractions. I didn’t want to feel it, so I tried to numb it or forget about it for a short while. I searched for distractions in every bar, every night of the week. I searched for distractions at the bottom of a bag. I searched for distractions in whiskey, vodka, tequila, and beer. I searched for distractions while exploring my sexuality. But none of these things gave me what I was looking for.
I talked with a friend the other night whose distractions had turned dangerous. We agreed that people distract themselves with the wrong things because, at one point, they were passionate about our lives. But that stopped somewhere along the way. We get lost and have to find our way back.
I don’t delude myself into thinking that once I can recognize how I distract myself that I will be magically better and able to avoid temptation; that’s impossible. There will always be distractions, and there will always be a grey area where we try to find a balance between what we want to do and what is nurturing our goals and dreams.
I think this is why I still write about anxiety, self-development, and the search for healing. I know that it is a lifelong journey to become the version of ourselves that we want to be.
What I have started doing is acknowledging and assessing my feelings when I start thinking negatively or doubting myself.
I ask: why am I feeling this? What is the root of this? Are these rational vindications, or am I holding myself to unrealistic standards?
The pandemic has caused many people to feel this same level of discomfort. It’s hard not to with so much left unanswered. We spend our days worrying and thinking about our finances, home life, work opportunities, and future in general. Many are struggling beyond imagination. Some are reaping the benefits, which points to the weaknesses in our economy and nationwide working conditions.
Regardless of circumstance, it’s not an easy or ideal time for anyone in the world right now. So, what can we do to keep our mental health on track, and our mindset focused on the positive possibilities the future holds? For me (some may have guessed), it’s making lists and following steps toward my goals and future.
In January, I made many promises to myself and dreamt of a completely different 2020. None of it has come true due to COVID-19. It’s impacting all of our lives drastically, forcing us into our homes and out of work. The last two months may have felt like time wasted, but I won’t scrap the year.
During quarantine, a lot of people (myself included) have felt a shift in what they prioritize and spend time on. While stuck at home, I’ve had plenty of time to reconsider what I value and consider important.
My dreams are changing again, and I find myself excited to turn them into reality. And I don’t intend to wait until December 31st for my new life to start.
As the nation begins issuing new policies and regulations, and we begin to phase back into “normal,” I’m ready to start the year over.
These are my resolutions:
>> I want to live in and walk the streets of a city that enchants me and begs me to explore all of its corners.
>> I want to wake up every day for a job that inspires me and urges me to grow, that challenges me to do better and to work tirelessly at something I love.
>> I want to continue learning and sharpening my cooking skills, collages, hiking, writing, and reading (expanding beyond the comforts of fiction).
>> I want to invest in a car that can carry me on many adventures. I want to venture all across the country, and into the homes of people I love and care for.
>> I want to be a dog mom again. I want to take my fur baby everywhere I can—every trail, every trip, every bar, and restaurant.
>> I want to write, regularly, and with effort.
They may be simple, but they’re where my heart is at. It’s where I think I will find passion. I feel it deep in my soul that these changes will help me on my happiness journey. They will bring me closer to a life that I lose track of time because I’m not spending every second feeling lost and out of place.
So, I’ll end by saying good luck to all of us on making it a memorable year because of what we did to make it so, not because of a virus crippling us and telling us we can’t. Here’s to passion and purpose. Happy new year!