The opposite of darkness is life

Coco Chanel had it right when she said “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life”. And I can only assume she was referring to me.

Somewhere along my journey of growing up, I became this closed off person. My friends would joke about my heart being ice cold, and they all knew that I wasn’t the person to go to for heart-opening, tear-jerking conversations. I was never one to talk about my feelings, and I’d be the last person you would want to run to for a comforting hug on a bad day. This is making me sound like a really crappy person, and a horrible friend but what I’m trying to prove is this isn’t quite accurate anymore. I’ve changed. Sure, I’m still probably not going to give you a very satisfying hug, but I will tell you about my feelings, and I may shed a tear. Just one though. Don’t get crazy.

I think this change happened when I started finding happiness. This happiness came from finding smiles. Every waking hour I search for things that will make me smile. It can be a delicious cup of coffee, a squirrel running across the yard, or even my friends. I needed to stop letting the bad keep me under water, and let the good pull me up for air. That being said, life is a lot like water, theres currents and an ebb and flow, and there are going to be days when you struggle to stay afloat. I’ve recently gone through a bit of a backslide, I let the water push me the wrong way. Instead of being upset over it I’m trying to embrace it and turn it around to a good change. Hey, I didn’t capsize!

Im taking the words of my dear friend Coco quite literally. I’ve cut and dyed my hair, and I’m going to make a change. I might not know exactly what that change will be yet, but I’m determined to do something, to change something. I’m starting with mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. Thats a big reason behind this blog, and its the reason I’m going to be brave and let the world know who I actually am. 

I’ve been in dark places more than I’d like to admit, and I think I’ve been in dark places without even fully realizing I was. It’s cold in the shade and maybe thats why I was. But coming out of the darkness and into life has opened my eyes and the light has poured into my soul. Each day I step further from those dark places and I can feel myself changing for the better. I might not be proud of who I was, but I’m already proud of who I’m becoming.

“I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, till the backslide brought me down”

Am I even getting better? Will I ever not be depressed?

Everyone who has clinical depression, has accepted the fact that they may never be “cured”. Depression isn’t something where one day you’ll wake up and magically feel better. You’re probably never going to wake up and jump out of bed dancing like you see on those ridiculous Tampax commercials. That begin said getting out of bed will eventually get easier, however there will be days when it seems just as impossible as going back in time. This is called a backslide. No, not backside. Backslide. Both are pretty shitty though..

You’ll be feeling great, you’re energetic, positive and dare I say it, happy! Then all of a sudden, like a truck hitting a wall, your mood plummets. You can be sitting there and physically feel yourself slowing down and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it. Backslides can last anywhere from hours to years. Well shit. That blows. But don’t worry they can actually be good for you, you just have to find a better way to view them. Don’t think of backsliding as a failure, think of it as your mind’s way of keeping you modest, and reminding you to keep working towards happiness.

When you’re depressed people always try to make you feel better by saying “think how bad some people have it, be happy for the life you have”. Yes, I realize I’ve had it easy compared to other people in other countries across the world. But growing up we are also taught not to compare ourselves to others. So what do you do? I’ll tell you what not to do and that is look up documentaries about people in war-torn countries. That will make you 100% more depressed, unless you’re stone cold and have no heart. But hey, who am I to judge.

So what do I do when I’m stuck in a backslide? I sing some Stevie Nicks, and swap out the word “landslide” for “backslide” and call it a day. Not really.. but I wished that worked! What I do is compare myself to myself. I take the stupid saying “think how bad some people have it”, and change it to “think how bad you have had it”. I think back to the time when I was at my absolute worst, and compare it to where I am. I try not to dwell on how I used to feel, but how much I’ve changed. I think about how much better I’ve gotten, and how much I’ve accomplished.

Of course, this is only what I do and different things work for different people. I mean, it takes diff’rent strokes to move the world, right? Throwing it back and watching old sitcoms can also help with backsliding, or thats what I keep telling myself at least. Anyway, back to what I was saying. Different things work for different people, but remembering a situation that makes you feel proud will never be a bad idea.

Backslides happen to everyone. Take me for example, I’ve been feeling great these last few months, I feel like a new person. I’ve been more productive than ever before, I’m doing good decent in my classes, and I’m stepping up at work. But three days ago I fell off my cloud. I’ve been tired, unmotivated, uninterested. I’ve been detached. My mind, body, and soul came out of alignment. I spent two days impersonating furniture, then today I finally came up for air. I thought about the days when I didn’t think I would make it to the next, when I didn’t want to make it to my 22nd birthday, and I compared those feelings to my current feelings. I don’t think about those things anymore, I don’t even come close, and that makes me proud. I’m proud that I saved myself, and I’m proud to be a survivor. I’m proud to be me.

I’m so cheesy, it’s making me sick right now (Which is very possible because I happen to be lactose intolerant). I’ll cut to the chase so it doesn’t too sappy here. Backsliding is inevitable. It’s going to happen and it’s going to suck, but sliding can be fun. Remember being a kid and sliding down a hill, the joy and exhilaration you felt? You’d immediately race back up that hill. So although you may have backslid, it’s just a slide, you’re not stuck. You can get back up and race back up that hill.

I’m a 1 in 5. Break the stigma.

One of the worst side effects of mental illness is frustration. The frustration can start to take over your life, slowly pushing you into oblivion. 

When I was first diagnosed with depression I was confused. I’ve had a great life so far, and everything has always been so easy. How can I be depressed? Doctors would ask me questions to try and figure out why. Are your parents divorced? No. Did you go through something traumatic? No. Were you ever abused? No. Did you have a rough childhood? No. Do have friends? No. I mean, yes, great ones! There were questions upon questions, all of which I seemed to have the wrong answer to. There wasn’t a reason for my depression, it was just some sort of chemical imbalance. This was the start of the frustration. I was constantly wondering why I felt the way I did. It was frustrating not being able to sleep because I’m too awake, then even more frustrating not being able to get out of bed the next morning. It drove me crazy having to get blood work done, and have to go to councilors, and psychologists, and psychiatrists, and everything coming back “normal”. When this is all happening to you, you get used to being told it’s just the way you are, and not in a cutesy Bruno Mars sort of way.

Frustration is often tied with guilt. Which in turn is another one of the worst side effects. You’ll be stuck in your room, with blackout drapes shutting out the sun, frustrated that you’re feeling so down on such a beautiful day, when your friend asks you to hang out. You get out of bed, get dressed, put on makeup, then crawl back in bed, you can’t go. You say you’re sick. You’re friend says, “Again!? You’re always sick!”, and you’re struck with a wave of guilt. You become really good at listening for the sighs of frustration when telling people you have to bail. But passing your frustration on to other people doesn’t take it away from you, it just adds guilt to the cocktail of emotions you’re already feeling. 

I wish I could lie to you and say that your friends and family are awful, and they don’t understand, and how could they? They’re perfect. But I can’t for 2 reasons: 1) I’ve said that lie to myself so many times, that if I say it once more my nose may actually grow so big I topple over from the weight and die. and 2) It’s not true at all and if you believe it is, you’re oblivious.

(Would you look at that? A flawless segue!)

Oblivion is defined as the state of being unaware of what is happening around you. Based on that definition, I think the majority of humanity lives in oblivion. You never really know what could be happening to someone right next to you. There are times in my life where I was not only unaware of what was happening around me, but what was happening inside me. Thankfully, I have finally crawled out of the tunnel of oblivion I was stuck in. Now I realize what is happening inside me, and what is happening around me. I guess you could call this my “spiritual awakening”, but I’m just going to say I took my head out of my ass. I’m going to try to say the next sentence without sounding completely out-to-lunch. It’s as if i finally see things for not what they are but for what they have become. Let me explain. I don’t just see my best friends as people, I see them as these amazing people who has gone through so much and still remain so strong. It’s as if I finally understand what living is supposed to feel like, and I don’t want to go back.

I can’t stress enough how important understanding mental illness is, especially if you are someone who doesn’t have a mental illness. 1 in 5 people live with mental illness, so more than likely someone you know is dealing with a little more than you think. I personally believe that it is almost more important to understand mental illness if you do not have a mental illness yourself. This way you can know how your friends or family members are feeling, and what is going on inside them; Which is something they will often be questioning themselves. If you do have a mental illness yourself, reading articles and doing research is one of the best things you can do. Not only will it help you fully understand things that are, or may start, happening to you, but it will make you realize you’re not alone. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re really not that special. You’re a 1 in 5, not a 1 in 1,000,000.

The Search for Happiness Starts at Tim Hortons. Eh?

What is happiness? And how do I get it? I’ve been told happiness is something you need to “find” but I’ve never been told where to look.

As someone who has struggled with depression, finding happiness seems just as impossible as going to Hogwarts. Actually, I used to think the two shared a very similar characteristic. They were both fictitious. Now that I understand what happiness is, I realize that is not the case. That being said, getting my letter to Hogwarts would most definitely make me happy, but I digress.

Growing up my parents listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell, and her famous line, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone”, is something I often think about in relation to happiness. You don’t really realize you’re happy until your not. I guess if your search for happiness starts at a low, then you can truly appreciate the high.

My personal search for happiness starts in a Tim Hortons line up, and ends with a medium french vanilla. No, but I wish.. It really does start at Tim’s though. I was standing in the lineup waiting for the worker to take my order when the woman behind me gets irritated and moves closer to me. I’ll never understand why people think that crowding the person in front of you will make a line move faster, because it won’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re standing on my shoulders, you still have to wait your turn! (Side note: The majority of my anxiety comes from invasion of my personal space.) So, I start to get anxious and my hands get cold and shake. All I can focus on is how close she is to me and how I can feel her breath on the back of my neck. I start to get really warm, then dizzy, then my peripherals blur. I sprint quickly walk, (I don’t run.) to the bathroom where i barge into a stall and end up with my face in the toilet.

You’re probably wondering what this story has to do with my search for happiness, seeing it’s not very happy. It was this event that lead me to my doctors office, which was where I found out that I had anxiety and depression. Now you’re thinking, “Oh! This is the low”, but no. Unfortunately it is not..

During this doctors appointment my doctor suggested I go see a therapist, so I booked an appointment. I did not want to go. I was scared I would go and the therapist would call me “crazy” and lock me up. Well, I did go and thankfully, the therapist didn’t lock me up. She did however tell me that my depression couldn’t be fixed and that I should just take meds to try and keep it at bay. This was the low. I felt like I was broken. I was chemically missing something inside. A medical professional told me I wouldn’t get better. I was devastated. I felt like I had been kicked while I was down, then pushed into the ocean without a lifejacket. I had no idea what to do, and didn’t know how to deal with the things that were happening in my mind. Thats when the insomnia took shape. I’d always had trouble sleeping, but now I wasn’t sleeping at all. I was constantly tired, and I felt like I needed an IV of coffee to keep me going.

It slowly started to get better. I eventually found another therapist, who was much more optimistic, and my roommate was amazing. She was perfectly okay with me tinkering with my latest DIY project at all hours of the night, and was always up for 1am mini pizzas. Staying busy was the first step on my way to happiness. I would keep busy by working more, and reading more, and doing crafts, and crafts, and crafts, and crafts… I got quite into crafts. It fair to say that everything I could possibly cover in burlap or twine, was covered. My room now looks like a cabin. But when I finished a project, or a book, or got a bigger paycheque, I felt like I accomplished something. That made me happy.

Since then I realized that happiness isn’t something you can find in one place. It may have taken me falling down the rabbit hole to discover this but it was worth it.  Now even on the days that start with spilled coffee and rainy skies, I can find something good. I guess the thing to remember is, there are little pieces of happiness spread out through your life, you just need to open your eyes and find them.