I would estimate that at least once every single day I have the outrageously tempting urge to completely and absolutely self-destruct.
“I think therefore I am.”
I’ve always loved this quote. In 6th grade my brain heard this for the first time and even as a fucking dweebus I still fell in love with those words. For the most part, John Locke could go fuck himself for all I truly care, however, his “cogito ergo sum” always resonated with me. It’s simple. You are. You are thinking, therefore you are. “Are” being an incredibly vague concept, “are” merely meaning present. But it’s very simple. You think. Therefore, you are.
There was never a footnote during the history lesson that warned me that I could maybe have a hard time with the whole “thinking” concept. That it could be very possible that I wouldn’t always think in a way that is constructive or healthy for me.
Which is to say, I think therefore I am…depressed.
Thankfully this song has started playing tremendously more on the radio. Mental illness has found a voice within our particular society and that voice is acknowledged and is supposed to be respected. Depression, anxiety, and the millions of other cognitive disorders are now considered to be actual illnesses in their own way. I do not feel as alone in this mental fight as I used to in my formative years.
However, I still think it’s pretty questionable how much these things are considered legitimate conditions. My ass is definitely not in any position to call into work and say, “Hey, so I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it in today………Why?…..Oh, not a huge deal, I’m just so anxious about leaving my apartment I want to drive a sword into my stomach samurai-style….No, yeah! I’ll be in tomorrow, for sure.”
But if I were to call in and say something like, “I can’t stop sweating or shaking. I’m struggling to breathe and I’ve been crying all night from all of this pain” I would probably get a legitimate response. “Don’t bother coming in”, they would say.
It’s all the same song and dance for me, though. Which is why this post is mostly about my relationship with my diagnoses and how we met and became friends in the first place. I’m gonna take you down the rabbit hole of boxing matches I’ve had against myself due to my mental health complications.
I’m talkin’ therapy.
I was diagnosed as having “severe”/”major”/”clinical” (you fucking decide) depression and anxiety as a junior in high school. It wasn’t too complicated. I was cutting the fucking crap out of myself at the time. I treated my wrists and arms as physical scoreboards for my thoughts of self-hatred, sporadically carving away until I could predict if my right arm or left arm would win the knife-fight against myself.
Something that never assisted the situation was the fact that my anxiety has always made me mentally struggle if things are not visually balanced or symmetrical. In rooms, offices, places of employment, you name it. So if I ever cut myself on one arm my dumbass was always anxious the next day about how topsy turvy I seemed to myself and only myself. It was the self-harm version of when you fuck up giving yourself bangs and keep giving yourself bangs until your ass looks like the freeky bitch from Die Antwoord.
Thankfully, I had a truly wonderful teacher and mentor throughout high school named Miss D. One day after school, that woman straight up grabbed my arm and asked me, “What did you do?” Not like a pissed mom or police officer, but a person who was really sad about my decision making. I remember how horrible I felt after she asked me. I laughed it off and dodged the question but she persisted. She was so upset that I would do that, I could truly feel how much I had managed to disappoint her. This made something mentally click.
Hurting myself could somehow also hurt other people. This concept has been something I have to actively practice mindfulness of to this very day.
Miss D threw my ass in therapy impressively quickly (the next day). I was hesitant at first, feeling like I would realistically be unable to open up about any of the thoughts I was ever having. I met a woman named Miss Noelle and she was just as lovely as her name would insinuate. She had toys you could play with that helped me avoid eye contact. I slowly opened up to her. I told her about my parents and life at home, which was the source of a lot of my pain. I told her about the struggles I was experiencing in the church I was a part of (remember how I was in a cult?). I told her about how much I hated myself compared to all of my friends. We worked out a system in which I understood that if I said I wanted to kill myself she would be forced to take actions that would cause a phone call home (so we just DIDN’T say the “suicide” word). After a couple months she explained to me that I was demonstrating symptoms of severe depression and anxiety. These were emotions I had been processing from the time I was eight years old but since I was still relatively young it was possible that it wasn’t necessarily going to be a chronic illness.
(Spoiler Alert: it’s a chronic illness.)
In a way, Miss Noelle had a small “breakthrough” with me. She gave me tools to understand my feelings of hopelessness, which were nice. Because, you know, it feels slightly nicer when you believe the world is ending to at least be able to call it something fun like “catastrophizing” (look it up, you probably do it all the time).
Once I went to college I upgraded to the more Complex and Difficult Trauma Suite. My sophomore year of college I was attacked in a parking lot by a man who tried to shove me into the back of his van. I managed to kick the motherfucker in the knee and run away from him but my sense of personal safety and comfort was instantly compromised. (Sidenote: thinking of the parking lot incident at this point in my life makes me morbidly laugh. Like, I had NO CLUE what I was in store for, but that is a blog post for a later date my friends). After the incident, anyone that I talked about it with recommended that I went to see a campus therapist. So I did.
Enter Colleen. I began seeing a therapist at the on-campus medical center. I went in with a strange itinerary of conflicts with a lack of awareness of where to really start. Shall I begin with my drug addicted father? Nah, that’s kinda overdone at this point. What about the fact that I’ve relapsed into cutting myself after two years of not doing so? Nah, too strong, should keep that one for later. I ended up just beginning with why I was there to begin with. A bad thing happened to me which caused every other bad thing in my life to feel much less manageable. And then I figured we would just work from there.
I told her about the incident in the parking lot and she empathized with me, told me it was okay to be sad and all that shit. I then explained the element of the whole situation that was the hardest for me to process. For some reason, I wished the guy had succeeded in taking me. Because then all of this hopelessness I felt all the time would hopefully be over.
There was a cap of six free sessions per year for the therapy program. Colleen said fuck that shit and asked to see me once a week. She wanted to consistently meet and talk with me to discuss how I could feel better and improve. What followed was one of the strangest relationships I’ve ever carried with a person.
In that first year with Colleen, she tested and diagnosed me with all of the fun badges I had been tentatively awarded in high school. We met every week and she discussed options and mindfulness. Medication became a topic that I explored and very quickly tossed to the side due to side affects that worsened a lot of stuff for me. I enjoyed her company and she enjoyed mine and even if I felt like none of it was working (man, why the fuck can’t I stop cutting myself?), I knew that I at least was doing the thing. Doing the “wanting to live and not jump out of a building” thing the way I was supposed to be doing.
The awesome part of depression is that it makes it SUPER easy to blow off your therapist sessions. And the dope part of anxiety is that if you miss one of those sessions you have a horribly difficult time gaining the courage to show up for the next week’s session. And if you’re me and allow both of those to take over, two weeks can be enough for you to avoid an entire section of campus for the remainder of a school year.
There were times that I missed Colleen and wished I had the balls to go back to her office and just start from where we stopped. But I’m a prideful sonofabitch so that never happened. Sophomore year ended. Junior year started. To be able to afford living on campus I became a Resident Assistant for one of the dorms.
There were two scenarios in the realm of Residence Life that I always said would make me quit being an RA if they happened to me. The first being a school shooting, which has always terrified me as it should horrify everyone on this damn planet. The second scenario was student suicide. It would feel way too close to home for me and I didn’t think I would ever be able to recover from handling that.
So, naturally, one of my residents killed himself in his dorm room.
I was the RA that was notified when the student’s friend had found him. I was in my room, having skipped class that day (for no reason other than symptoms of depression at the time). I found him in his bed quite unresponsive and as I stared down at his body, I knew he was dead. He didn’t feel “here” anymore. I mechanically told students to contact 911 and campus security. The hallway filled with students sobs, the ambulance arrived and students choked through their words explaining to the authorities how they knew him. How they remembered him. How horrible they felt that he was gone. That they just couldn’t believe that he could do such a thing.
I didn’t cry at all while handling the incident. I had gotten nursing students to attempt CPR on him. I had explained to detectives every detail of finding the body. My bedroom was the room that Residence Life chose to notify his parents of the death. No one at the school was prepared for a situation like that, it was the first on-campus student death. I listened on my bed to his mother being told that her son had died, a week before winter break when he would have been home for Christmas. The sound of her screaming still visits me at times. The entire ordeal lasted over five hours but I didn’t crack at all until everyone had left the dorm. And when everyone had finally left, I shattered. I shattered because in this horribly tragic situation, I had stared down at this poor kid and felt a surge of jealousy toward him. He was gone. I wished that I was.
The next day I avoided Residence Life to no avail. I was pulled into my supervisor’s office for a wellness check. I told him I was fine. He explained that I needed to go to the campus grief counselor and that she was available all day to work with the individuals that were closest the incident from the day prior. I turned him down. He then explained that it was not optional and told me he would go to the clinic with me. He explained that the grief counselor was great with people and I was required to go at least once, to at least be able to respond to students on the floor who were close to him. He took me to the clinic and waited in the lobby with me to ensure that I actually went to the appointment, like a dog going to the vet. And sure enough, the grief counselor came into the lobby and called my name.
Colleen entered the lobby and my supervisor stood and introduced me to the grief counselor that I knew simply as “Colleen”. We didn’t, like, high-five or fist bump with recognition or anything like that. I glanced at my supervisor and back to Colleen with a subtle glare as to say, “Hey, this guy let’s me monitor and supervise 35 college students as a mentor, teacher, and resource, please don’t allude to the fact that I’ve told you that I find solace in razor blades?”
She caught my drift.
My supervisor left. And then all of a sudden I was with Colleen again. And I’ve never been very good at ignoring when elephants enter rooms and I didn’t make an exception there, I instantly addressed the fact that I ghosted her. She said she was pleased to see me again but very upset about the fact that it was triggered by such traumatic events. She apologized for what I had been through. So many people apologized and I never understood why. And to be perfectly honest, I was in such a place of mental torment that I could not tell you much of that visit other than the fact that I agreed to a second session which led to many many sessions that followed.
For the remainder of college (admittedly on and off again at times) Colleen got her hands dirty with my bullshit situation. We studied cognitive exercises and really got into the why of a lot of my anxiety. About six months into the process Colleen revealed to me that throughout our sessions she had noticed numerous patterns and behaviors that made her feel that my diagnosis was probably more than just the good ole’ depression and anxiety combo meal. At the beginning of my senior year she officially diagnosed me as “manic depressive” which is the more politically correct term for what most people just call “bipolar disorder”.
And with time comes age and with age comes my ass graduating from college and suddenly no longer having a form of health insurance.
If you follow this blog or know me personally you will understand that after I graduated from college was when I had a massive existential crisis that led to drug abuse, alcoholism, emotional manipulation, and self-destruction. And then a rebirth and renewal with my move to Chicago to pursue my passions.
And like discussed in other blog posts and future blog posts to come, many things have happened to me while living here that have actually led me to look back on my past struggles and be forced to acknowledge how worse it all could have been. And I’m 100% positive that it could have been worse due to the fact that I have already lived much much worse.
Which forces me to confront….
After some of the incidents that have occured to me here I have had numerous friends ask me if I would consider therapy. I’ve been given numbers, referrals, google map directions, you name it. Most people who listen to these experiences lack anything else to really say because truthfully, there isn’t much to be said. Shit happens. It’s horrible. And no one can really do all that much to help me other than listen. And therapists are literally paid to do just that.
Still, a hesitation persists. I know I need a therapist. But for the first time in my life, there isn’t a teacher who lovingly throws my ass in an office with a specialist. There isn’t an overbearing supervisor who forces me to attend grief counseling. It’s just all of the same horrible incidents and pre-existing mental imbalances but with no forceful hand to push me in the direction I will eventually appreciate. To push me in the direction in which I keep fighting and keep pushing forward.
The only forceful hand in Chicago is my own. My body and mind are exhausted. And sometimes I really fucking hate fighting.
“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am. I am thinking, therefore I exist.”
A lot of people know “I think, therefore I am” because Mrs. Hannigan or whatever taught them about John Locke before hashing out the American Revolution unit. However, Locke STOLE THAT SHIT from some French bitch named Rene Descartes. Locke simplified the shit out of it when bringing it to the states but the original quote is, “dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum”. This translates to “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” Which to me, makes a huge fucking difference. This quote becomes even more mentally reassuring.
To me, to doubt is to struggle. And to struggle is to think. To think is to exist. And some days, existing is all I can really manage to do.
On Monday I watched the sun rise and set from my bedroom, unable to leave. On Sunday a painting on the wall in my living room fell and it made the entire living room unsymmetrical. This caused the room to feel empty and in turn for me to feel empty and kinda stressed me out. Correction, I would hyperventilate any time I was in the living room. My quick n’ easy solution to this was to not exit my bedroom at all because then I wouldn’t ever need to enter my living room. I developed a horrible migraine and proceeded to blow off friends, overbook plans to compensate blowing off my friends, and entirely compromise my intentions. This made me feel self-hatred and unworthy of my friends. Which made me feel alone. And this mental bullshittery visits me every week, and which day of the week that is has always just been kind of a toss up.
I know what you’re thinking: Just fix the fucking painting. Put it back up. Stop this.
Which is kind of my point. I really wish that it was easier for me to do the things I know I obviously could do. I wish that solutions were as simple for me as they are to other people. And these solutions range from putting a painting back up on the wall to finding a licensed professional to discuss my symmetry anxiety with.
I’ve decided to treat this blog as a silent “Supervisor” pushing me to find a therapist. I’m currently in the market for a therapist which feels like just the beginning of the struggle (Can I find one? Do they accept my insurance? Can I afford it? Is the therapist I find even going to be someone I can actually talk to? Will I be able to keep trying if the first one doesn’t work out?). But this is a struggle that I’m recognizing as a necessary step toward progress.
To doubt is to think, to think is to exist. I have doubts on doubts on doubts about my success in the therapeutic realm. But as it stands, I’m still here. I still exist and I want to take steps to ensure that I’m not simply “existing”. I want to live.
I don’t have all of the answers. In fact, I would say that I have very few answers when it comes to battling depression, anxiety, and mental illness. However, one of the very few answers I have found is this: creation is the opposite of depression. Creating content, friendships, solid foundations, a knitted pair of socks, anything. Creativity puts a pretty strong muzzle on the ferocity of depression.
In creating this blog I’ve found something. I don’t know what that quite is yet, but I feel good. And whoever is reading at this point helps with that. I feel less alone in you and less alone inside of this boxing ring of a brain.