August has been a month of phenomenal change.
I left home, started the path to a new way of living, and have begun doing things I truly never thought that I would do. I have gone from being a worrier, a planner, and a dedicated introvert with a love for security and the idea of home to someone traveling alone, unsure of where I will be tomorrow or if my wallet will make it but pushing on anyway.
I can’t pretend like the change happened overnight. It was a slow and steady process that began with rock bottom over a year ago and finally manifested itself— with some serious coaxing— into the decisions that I made to get here.
Here being me finally doing something that feels real— like living my dreams.
The thing about here is that I am still here.
As in me, the woman with severe depression and anxiety.
It is my personal belief that depression is a complex mental illness. I believe that it is fed by many factors— brain chemistry, your formative years, and your situation in life being the primary among them. Some of depression can be situational, some of it can be a result of events in your life, and some of it may just be a facet of who you are.
This past month I was able to remove myself from the situational triggers of my mental illnesses. The last two years have been a series of negative events that made seeing the end of the tunnel very difficult indeed. Between feeling like I wasn’t reaching my potential, living in an abusive household, and realizing my life was in fact making its way past me, I was in a bad place.
That is why I made the decision to leave. I can’t say this was an easy decision to make. Even when you are miserable it can be difficult to give up the security of having a place to lay your head at night and the likelihood of at least one meal a day. For those things you need money, and for money, you usually need a pretty steady job. I had to ask myself if my ideas of what could be were worth giving up what I knew I had. I decided they were. Maybe it’s just because I grew up in the Disney generation, but I do believe in following dreams, maybe even all the way to the gutter.
By leaving my home state I was also able to leave behind me many of the triggers from my childhood. Sometimes places, people, and things can become unwilling carriers of your pain, holding up a mirror for those memories every time you pass them by. I was actively living in the war zone of my childhood. How could I not be miserable? This was another reason I knew that I had to leave.
What people like myself need to remember is that even when you leave those memory-soaked places, harmful people, and your proverbial baggage behind, there’s so much that you still take with you. While at a Persian restaurant that I’d been dying to visit in Dublin (I’d never had Persian food and Dublin is by far my favorite city in the world— so far!) I began to feel strange. We headed bank to the hostel and I slept it off. As the days progressed the feeling returned now and again, even while I was doing things that made my heart sing. I am very familiar with this feeling, but I didn’t want to give it a name because I didn’t want to give it power to exist. But I know its face and I know the feeling of it hitching a ride on my shoulders all day and crawling into bed with me at night.
I did not expect to completely escape my depression on this trip. I knew better than to think that leaving would erase all of my illness. I’ve lived with it for too long to be so naïve. I wanted to write about this because I feel that sometimes there is an idea that happiness and depression cannot exist simultaneously within a person. I also followed this line of thinking for a long time. I no longer think that is true. Every moment that I have been abroad has been a pleasure, even when I was lost and unsure. I consciously know that I am healing and growing, but I need to accept that no amount of these things will change my brain. My spirit and my heart are at peace, but my brain has been the one to create me and take the blows life has give me. It needs time, maybe it needs medicine, and it needs a break from being expected to change overnight. I need to give it that.
No matter where you go you are always there with yourself at the end of the day. Sometimes your illness will tell you so much about what you cannot do that you forget about all that you can do. I have found myself exploring castles in Ireland, hiking through fairy country, and staring at a sunset in Italy and felt my depression rise in the back of my brain like some wayward cloud on an otherwise clear horizon. Before leaving home, the cloud became all I could see, a dark stain on an otherwise glorious view. Now I see the rest of the skyline, the reflection of the sun on the water, and yes, the cloud, hanging there, just as real and large as before, but somehow not the same. Somehow the belief that you don’t deserve to live— my depression’s favorite go to— is more difficult to believe when you are conversing with a man on a train who shares your fascination with mythology and mental illness, or when you find yourself landing in a new country after a nerve-jolting two hour plane ride. Feeling okay often comes in bursts, in moments, just like feeling ill does. It’s just important to find what it is that helps you remember that, and whatever helps you appreciate the view you do have of that beautiful horizon ahead of you.
In my soul’s home, Ireland.