#6: On brighter days and better friends

#6: On brighter days and better friends

Wednesday 3:40 PM: My eyes felt hot as I read the text message from my psychiatrist: “use Xanax liberally today and text me tomorrow morning with how you’re doing.”

It had been twenty hours since my complete decomposition on the sidewalk outside my apartment. In the midst of a disagreement with one of my roommates about a bill payment, the thought of stepping inside my home was the final trigger to a build-up of anxiety. I had immediately called Rebecca — my lifeline in the overcrowded city that somehow makes me feel wildly lonesome — and she had showed up in what might as well had been a winged chariot: swooping me into a hug and then ushering me onto my bed while she cleaned the rubble of my room and bathroom that had fallen into detritus over the preceding weeks. While I had ignored the problem of cleanliness, it became wildly apparent that my lack of housekeeping was a major indicator that this breakdown was an inevitability rather than a freakish whim of my biological nature.

Rebecca sat with me while we chowed down on half-decent microwave meals from a local deli and tried to pin down exactly what had started the downward spiral that had begun this morning. As it turned out, I was still battling demons from years prior that I had thought were long vanquished: friends lost, guilt repented, shame accepted. Instead of letting me sit in that pit of despair, she assured me that I was not solely responsible for those pains that sat with me nearly four years later. In fact, she sat before me as living proof — the epitome of a friend who had seen me in my darkest and most destructive — that true friends stand by you through the thickest black and love you for the person that evolves from those trials. They encourage you to pick yourself back up and to grow, and when you can’t do it alone, they bring down that very winged chariot and scoop you onboard until you can command the reins yourself.


It’s now been about forty-eight hours. My Xanax supply is still within reach but it is not in white-knuckle grip. Instead, it’s the people around me who make me feel like me. It’s the way Rebecca — a social worker by profession — exceeded the bounds of normal friendship to make sure that I was secure before exiting my apartment on Tuesday night. It’s the way Jasmine stayed on the phone last night laughing with me about how tragic our lives are, in sync nearly four thousand miles apart, and how we will support each other as we seek out local clinical and therapeutic help (my trusted psychiatrist — as helpful as he is and regardless of the fact he has legitimately saved my life on two accounts — can only do so much from two states away). It’s the way Justine understands when I request an extra half hour for lunch in order to commute to attend that very therapeutic appointment.

When I was hospitalized, I had the incredibly fortunate encounter of meeting a seventy-eight year old patient committed for suicidal tendencies. And, in our discussion, she told me that what she had learned in her several hospitalizations consistently was that life is always worth fighting for. Feeling more like myself today, I can say that I know she’s right. There is always a light.

Thursday 9:39 AM: “I feel great today.”

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat-Moon

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

That’s all it took to find out about the Working Holiday Visa in Ireland. 

I remember it vividly. I was splayed on the couch in a rental beach house, on vacation with my family just one month after graduation from college. I was coming off the worst five months of my life. After a brutal depression that had cost me friends, love, and a complete sense of self, I found I was back in the pub job in my hometown I had sworn was for one summer back in 2014 to fund my study abroad — it was now 2016. And while I was putting on a brave face for my family amidst the shambling aftermath that I found my life in around me, each day brought a tightening claustrophobia. I felt my air running thin, and my ghosts were hot on my trail. 

Now that it’s 2019, we all know that the internet is algorithmic black magic when it comes to supplying advertisements that prey on our history searches. I’m not sure, however, what I was searching for that dropped Stint Gap Year into my Instagram advertisements — and no, this is not an advertisement. Yet when the image of green pastures and smiling faces popped up, I stalled for .5 seconds long enough to read the caption. 

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

I sat up a bit straighter, alert that my mother was ten feet away. She had been less than encouraging about my desires to attend graduate school in England — not just for the financial reasons, but also for due reasons after my mental break. I quickly saved the URL in my favorites and vowed to revisit it that night. 

I applied that night in my bed, glow illuminating my apprehensive face as I pressed submit. Three weeks later, I took a phone interview with Aoife. Within another twenty-four hours, I was told I was into the program. The program would — for a fee — guide me through the visa application process, provide initial housing in Dublin, and set me up with a temporary employment agency should I wish to go that route. 

Approaching my parents with caution, I presented the reasoning. It offered maturation opportunities. It would give me unparalleled experiences. It was Ireland, home of my ancestors. I was ready for a battle, but none came. 

On September 28, 2016, I boarded a plane at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., with two suitcases and no real idea what I was getting into. 


Over the course of eight months, I experienced more of life than I had in the cumulative of the preceding twenty-two years. From the get-go, it was an immersive experience. I dove into a community of ex-pats my first night, the program providing me a community to in which to envelope myself. The following weekend, I traveled to Connemara and the Aran Islands. I would continue to explore both The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland throughout my time: Kilkenny, Blarney, the Ring of Kerry, Cobh, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede bridge (pictured). The ease of access to Europe and the camaraderie found in my new friends and fellow travelers propelled me to new destinations: Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Scotland, and England, where I would ultimately decide to pursue my Master’s degree. 

I was pushed to challenge the very ideas that I had taken as dogma my entire life, to think for myself in ways that I previously had never given due chance. I was allowed, for the very first time in memory, to be an individual. There was no one to answer to and everywhere to experiment. 

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that being in Ireland, taking the chance on myself to be the traveler that I had always wanted to be, was the antidote to all the woes that had built up around me for so long. It quite literally gave me my will to live back. And while, yes, it was an incredible risk to choose something so potentially — and admittedly, at times, realistically — isolating, it also gave me the chance to determine the exact boundaries, forms, and bricks that build the person that I wanted to pursue being from that day forward. 

I moved back from Dublin, my home, with a certainty of self. I felt confident in my navigation skills, whereas before I would use GPS for everything. I could manage eating a meal alone or attending a concert by myself (something I do all too frequently now because I love it). I learned how to handle myself professionally in many settings, having juggled jobs from medical records to receptionist to copyeditor on varying bases. I gained political opinions based in my own thought, based in my own experiences. I learned to open my heart to more people than I thought I could, and I’m so grateful for it. 

I’m writing this today because I often find that I take this experience for granted. It gets overshadowed by the glitzier things I’ve done since — graduate school, a real career. But the humbler times of living paycheck to paycheck, scraping by to travel: those are the ones that shaped me. And of that I need to be reminded. 

Travel saved me.

On the intersectionality of fear, courage and friendship

Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

– Less, Andrew Sean Greer

I distinctly remember in my Christian Morals class of 11th grade — I know, again with the Catholic school thing — learning the distinction between bravery and courage. Bravery was paired with its near homophones brazenness and brashness, indicating a lack of thought and a lack of sensible fear. Shamelessly, they used Frodo from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as their example of a courageous hero. Their reasoning? He was courageous precisely because he was afraid and because he did not seek glory. He was on his quest because for no other reason than it was his burden to bear and his burden to bear alone…excluding, you know, that entire band of brothers that travels with him, namely good ol’ Sam, but I digress.

I hadn’t thought about that example until today, when I sat down and looked at this quote from Greer’s Less. I had highlighted it in my kindle (how bourgeoisie) because the example of fearing buying a stick of gum reminded me of fearing grocery shopping at one point in my life and I fully intended to unpack that experience, but on second glance that isn’t what this quote is about at all.

This quote is about Frodo and that quest to throw that damn ring into the fiery pit of Mordor.

When you reach a point in your life in which you fear everything, you simultaneously reach a point in which you surrender control. This invariably takes several forms, not all of them healthy. Many have succumbed to some terrible, terrible choices in this: drugs, radicalism, low self-esteem, to name a few and that’s not even exhaustive with my bias. I did for a little bit (ah, see, there we go with the mental health reference).

The important thing is to find healthy fears. Fears that give motivation and purpose. Fears that propel you, that guide you, that give you credence and boundaries. Fears that say “no, not today” quietly when you veer to far to the left or right, or a hard “NOT TODAY, SATAN” when you do a complete 180-degree turn from the path. And if that means you fear everything for a little bit, until you hit that numbness, so be it — but have the resources like (and I hate myself for saying this) Frodo with his Gandalf and Legolas and underappreciated and reliable Sam — did I mention Sam?

And yes, I know this is easier said than done. And I certainly know that when you are in the place of complete fear, of overwhelming fear, of fear so strong you’re even fearing buying that stick of gum let alone traveling the world (feared both), you definitely don’t want the help of anyone. In fact, you want to be left the hell alone to be paralyzed.

Don’t let yourself be left the hell alone.

This is where I go a little extra preacher-like, so bear with me. A few months back, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I would also quote above if I hadn’t taken my copy back from my apartment to my childhood home for safekeeping I loved it so much. In it, Eleanor hits rock bottom — shocker! But she has good people, really good people around her who care enough to pull her back up. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the world. If you let yourself be helped, chances are there will be people there to ferry you upwards when you can’t carry yourself any further on your own. Sometimes the most courageous thing is admitting you can’t do it on your own.

I’m excited to keep reading Less because I know that Arthur, the protagonist, will find his ferrying people like Eleanor, his tribe like me, his band of brothers like Frodo, and will be able to face the encompassing fear that he is running from so fervently in the early chapters. And I hope you, dear reader, know that you will too, if you have the courage to do it together.

 

 

 

On attaining integrity

Admitting one’s own faults is the first step to changing them, and it is a demonstration of true bravery and integrity.

– Phillip Johnson

When I was seventeen years old, I attended a religious retreat held by my Catholic high school titled Kairos. The premise was secretive to those who had never been before (aka all underclassmen) but it was a great privilege to be asked to attend during your junior year. Usually it was something restricted to the senior class.

Anyway, it was our last day and we were broken into small groups, as we had been all weekend. The core group we had been spending to had been a family of sorts as we went through what can only be described as an emotional roller coaster. The first time I implied to peers that I had an anxiety disorder was in that retired monastery office. And so, on that last day, as we sat around in a circle and gave each other affirmation based on what we had learned about each other during the week, I was told by one of the B.M.O.C.s (Big Men On Campus for those Non-Americans) that he respected my “integrity.”

Instantly I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I felt fake. I felt undeserving. I felt phony. I felt unseen. I felt misheard.

I felt guilty because I did not see myself as in possession of integrity.

This happened a year after I lied to my theater director to hide my biggest panic attack to date in order to get out of rehearsal by saying I had an orthodontist appointment. When I was caught in the lie, I said I just wanted to sleep, something that haunted me until graduation as being lazy. And so when Sean called me a person of integrity, I felt a flush of embarrassment at these contradicting versions of Rose.

And, if I’m being really honest with myself, I think seventeen year old me had it right. I didn’t have integrity then. Because I was still in my very mutable development. I had the right idea certainly, in trying to have integrity. I knew certainly that I was aiming for it, and that I was on the track to possessing it, but I didn’t have it yet.

Today, however, if you asked me, I’d say yes, I have it. But almost entirely because I own my faults. I’m no longer afraid to say, I fucked up — something I most certainly would not have admitted at seventeen, regardless of the profanity. I’m willing to own up to my flaws, and I even celebrate them, maybe a little too stridently.

It’s a new me, this Integrity Rose. She came to the forefront when she stopped hiding her mental health and trying to lie her way around what had been a very big part of her life for fourteen years. Thank you, blogging! But making that first post on We Are Alive on January 1, 2018 was a huge change for me. It led me through the big declaration and that has made the smaller ones even easier. The smaller ones like remembering that compliment from Sean in 11th grade and the guilt it brought on me. And the incentive it gave me for every day forward to be an even better me.

 

On returning home

I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.

– “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, Raymond Carver

Here you will make many friends, and perhaps a few enemies. Do not let the latter prospect frighten you — if you haven’t made any enemies in life, you’ve been living too safely. And that is what I wish to discourage.

– If We Were Villains, M. L. Rio

Home is a hard thing to define. They say a house is not a home, that a home is made by the experiences and the relationships formed within the confines of a shared space. Or maybe it’s just me that says that — either way, it’s an incredibly scientific and morbid way of approaching this ineffable tie humans feel to a particular place.

It’s particularly hard for me to define it right now because I’m not entirely sure where my home is. The smart answer, the gut answer, is that childhood “home” that I spent the majority of my twenty-four years. That’s what my parents, my brother, my friends think of when they say “You’re coming home soon right?” And while I know what they are talking about, I have a tenuous relationship with that place. A few days is fine — I’ll feel solidly grounded and built up again, like putting on a fresh coat of paint — but it’s when I start to re-assimilate that things become difficult at best. I become irritable, restless, and plagued by the guilt of my childhood mistakes even though their minutiae in reality. If I had to define it, I would call it social claustrophobia.

My answer to this unpleasant state is to exacerbate it. In doing so, I become someone that not even London-me can recognize. I rebel against the precepts about who I am, who I was. I drink — heavily. I curse like a sailor. I make inappropriate jokes at unacceptable times. I become nothing short of an embarrassment to myself and to those around me.

Why do I do this? I’m unsure. I think it has something to do with leaning into the discomfort to an unreasonable degree.

With all this considered, I am trying to be better. I’m accepting the fact that the ghosts that haunt me from my adolescence and young adulthood do not in fact own me, but I’m also accepting that they will forever hang there in the backdrop of “home.” I’m acknowledging that perhaps Annapolis isn’t the right place for me, that I feel like a fish out of water in that bayside colonial city that raised me even though I understand it better than I know myself. It is like a square peg and a round hole. I’m cognizant that my real home — the place I am happiest — is London…

…but London doesn’t want me.

No, in a few months I will have to develop a new, North American home of my own, being sent away from the U.K. And that thought is honestly terrifying.

Because if one home brings out your worst, and the other that brings out your best doesn’t want you, where do you go from there?

On anxiety

And this, [talking about it]. I’m starting to do this, which is very scary for me but very healing. To try to just talk about it and own it, and realize that this is something that it is part of me but it is not who I am, and if that can help anybody that knows this is part of them but not who they are…

– Emma Stone at Advertising Week New York

Today I woke up at 2 p.m.

I woke up at 2 p.m. and I could not manage to roll myself out of my bed and into a standing position. I had missed my spin class — I had missed the majority of the day actually. My mouth felt dry and my chest felt tight. I could tell I was on the edge without evening opening my eyes yet to face the day. When my eyes did creep open, I used them in the dimness to gauge just how far it was to my bottle of Xanax. Maybe four feet from the bottom of my bed, if that? I closed my eyes again and counted to ten before determining I didn’t want to give up going to drinks with some classmates just because I wanted to stem the potential and onsetting anxiety.

Anxiety.

My first memorable panic attack was November 2, 2005. I remember this because it’s the day The Incredibles was released into theaters. I woke up that day much like I did today but with heightened symptoms. In minutes, I was hysterical. I couldn’t imagine facing school. My mother, herself diagnosed with the condition, took me and my younger brother to to the movie instead.

Thirteen years on, I’m a pro. I can feel the tension build inside of me at the slightest point. I started psychiatric treatment for it in 2012 and was given my very own bottle of courage-inducing Xanax in 2016. I’ve been stable ever since. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days — there are plenty. But it means that I’ve been given the tools to handle them at their very worst.

It’s only been throughout the last year that I’ve come to terms with my demons, though. I’ve claimed them in their darkest truths with the public — posting about it just like I am right now — and I’ve gained a kind of peace with it.

Which I think is what a lot of celebrities are doing now. Something has changed in the normalization of anxiety disorder in the past few years. It’s become a more present force, a rallying cry among those who struggle with it. The use of a higher platform to make it more understandable and empathetic is something I hope to one day be able to do myself.

But today? Today it is hard. Today it hurts. Today I just want to sit and be left alone. But I’m writing today to point out that the hard days don’t negate the good ones.

And that is just about all I can muster.