CW: mental health, depression
When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with depression. When I was fifteen, I was diagnosed with major depression. When I was eighteen, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then immediately went to another therapist because that was definitely off. At twenty, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1. I’ve seen over twenty different therapists (I’m only 29) and I’ve been on at least six different kinds of medication/pills that I can remember.
I think as a country we struggle to talk about mental illness. I used to try to hide the fact that I was bipolar and because I’m high functioning, it really wasn’t that hard. I still have many, many people tell me I don’t seem “bipolar.” And yet, anyone who has seen me manic or just terribly depressed, they don’t understand how other people don’t see it.
In college, my mom was so worried about me that when I stopped picking up the phone because I was actively raging, she flew to see me. I always tell that story like “haha my mom is so overprotective” but really it’s “My mom witnessed two different failed suicide attempts on my part and not calling home is a warning shot. She wanted to make sure I was still at school and still alive.”
What’s always been interesting to me about getting to do something I love so much (write + travel) is there seems to be this perception that just because I am following my dreams that I can’t possibly be depressed. That I have to be happy because I’m doing this impossible amazing thing.
But. That’s not how depression works.
In Orlando, I was living a literal dream. I adore college campuses and if there was a way to do it in a sustainable way I’d probably still go back to teaching. I love working with students. I love pedagogy. I love fun silly conversations about all the what-ifs theatre can offer. And I got to be there to workshop a brand new play that it seems like everyone else is too afraid to touch? This is paradise, right?
Well, while I was living a dream come true, I was also battling a really rough downswing. I was horribly depressed. Crying myself to sleep, forcing myself out of bed, intentionally stepping out of the apartment when I had thoughts of cutting or suicide, all of it.
And I was trying very, very, very hard to be okay. I went out on my own. I explored the city. I made jokes and stayed friendly. I opened up to heavy talks even though I was incredibly heavy myself.
I even wrote a play in a single night because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway and I was tired of crying in my room alone.
I did all the things to show that I was okay. Because I felt this enormous pressure to be okay. Because–again–I was living the dream.
There’s this idea that if you have everything you want, if all your dreams come true, then the depression goes away. That’s simply not true. It follows you. It latches onto you. Everywhere I go I carry my depression with me.
And some people are lucky enough to meet manic Rachel. The upswing. The “will drink you under the table and then be totally fine the next day” Rachel. The “will meet random strangers and get into all kinds of trouble” Rachel. And yeah that Rachel is definitely more fun but also more reckless. More dangerous. More lost.
I carry both of those Rachels with me everywhere I go. Whether it’s Chicago, LA, Orlando, wherever. It’s who I am. It’s who I’ve been since puberty. I just didn’t always have the word for it.
I know this post is a bummer but it’s important to remember: Dreams coming true do not equal the cure to mental illness. And we each have to do whatever works best for us. I haven’t found the right medicine for me yet but I’m old enough to recognize very soon I will need to.
Some people use exercise to battle their demons. I like to do “mental timeouts.” In those moments, I go outside, I put on some music, and I use all that anxiety and depression and darkness and push it into an imaginary situation. And work it out as I’m the writer to the story rather than the person living it. And it helps. For now.
Self-care is important. It’s probably so much more important if you travel frequently. The sexy thing about traveling to cities where no one knows you is you can be whoever you want to be. The scary thing about traveling to cities where no one knows you is you can be whoever you want to be. It’s a double-edged sword.
Find out what works for you. Know that even when you’re living in the moment that you “should be” absolutely happiest, you may not be. And that’s okay. We’re gonna be okay if we care for each other.
Okay. Deep breath. Now enjoy this adorable picture of my guinea pig, Charlotte.
If you need help, there are so many resources out there.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
If you’re struggling with sobriety: My friend’s got an awesome blog to help: https://www.thewhitneywasson.com/single-post/FAQs1