Staying afloat

This post was originally published on on Medium on Dec. 31, 2016.

*Trigger warning—this post contains anecdotes about depression, anxiety and suicide. Proceed at your own risk.*

A year ago today, I was sitting in a different apartment, on a different couch, with a different man. Staring at a different computer screen, with a different show playing on a different television. I had a different job. A different life.

They say what you’re doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve is what you’ll spend your year doing. Last year, I was on that couch, with that man, with that life.

On the first day of 2016, the year I welcomed with open arms, full of possibility, we awoke to the news that my boyfriend’s grandfather had shot himself. He was dead, almost exactly two months after my boyfriend’s older brother had taken his own life in the same manner.

We laughed when we got the news. It wasn’t funny, not remotely. But on the first day of 2016, I learned that right when you start to think, “At least it can’t get worse,” it can. It always can.

Seven days later, he left me. He loaded up a Budget truck full of all of his earthly belongings and he drove to South Dakota. I was wearing his T-shirt; he was wearing a down vest I’d gotten him for his birthday the month before. It’s how I’ll always remember him — bags under his bloodshot eyes, ragged like a man who’d lost everything. He had. And I was about to lose everything, too.

It was all I could do to resist running after the truck as he drove away from the home we’d shared. I didn’t go back inside. I couldn’t. I went to work. I cried in the bathroom. I called him on my lunch break. He was in Dallas. It seemed unbelievable that he was somehow still in my state, when it felt like he’d been gone for months, not hours. We tried to make our long-distance love work, but it didn’t. It was cursed from the day he left. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Two broken people don’t make a whole.

The spring was a blur. All I wanted to do was stay in bed. I did, but I was rarely alone. I found comfort in a man I’ve known since I was a teenager. My phone would ring with his photo on it, and my heart would leap. I hadn’t thought that would happen for me. Not again, not this soon.

I landed my dream job in April, somehow, between hangovers. I thought everything would change.

It did, but not in the way I thought. The man I’d fallen for had not fallen for me. I would say we broke up, but there was nothing there to break.

My new job allowed me to work from home. At one point, I went five days without showering or changing out of the same ratty pair of pajama pants.

I realized, for the first time in my life, that I was depressed. I laughed out loud when the thought hit me. It was ironic. The man I’d loved, the one who had left me, was chronically depressed, and for two years I struggled with finding empathy for his fight with a disease I couldn’t understand. I laughed because I finally understood. I cried because I finally understood. I cried because I missed him, my whole body missed him. I physically ached for him, the man I thought I’d spend my life with, who was now a stranger.

It was summertime. I met someone. It was terrifying. It was easy. He changed everything. I moved into a new apartment and shed my skin. I started anew. He held the broken parts of me in his hands, breathed new life into them.

Two days after my 25th birthday came the layoffs. I was one of them. Just when everything had begun to come together, I fell apart again. Even after I found a new job, I mourned the old one. I struggled to pay my bills. Everyone parroted how lucky I was to have found a new job so soon. I didn’t feel lucky. I still felt broken.

At least it can’t get worse, I thought.

During my second week at my new job, he showed up. The one who’d left me nine months before. He was in the parking lot, asking for some old T-shirts of his I’d kept and meant to mail to him but never did. He was back. He was here. He was in front of me. We talked. He hugged me. I remember none of it. I threw up in a trash can in the parking lot at my new job. I threw up in the bathroom at my new job.

The old wounds were torn open, violently. I began flaking on social events, on friends, on my new boyfriend. I was terrified of the world and what it held next. So I stayed in bed, alone, leaving only to go to work. I was afraid of everything. I couldn’t bear to think of what could happen next.

I started going to therapy. I started sharing my fears with a total stranger, and that made me feel brave enough to share them with my friends. I apologized for who I’d become, this person who was too afraid to put on clothes and face the world. Some understood. Some didn’t. I healed, ever so slightly. Honesty makes you see the world in new ways.

I am still afraid of everything, but perhaps less so. I have stopped convincing myself that it can’t get any worse, because I know that it can. I think perhaps it will, and I can only hope that I will be better equipped to handle it next time.

This has been the most difficult year of my life. But it’s also brought me great joy. Just when I thought it would never happen, I found someone I can truly call a partner. I’ve lost friendships but strengthened others. I have been so very loved, even when I felt my most alone.

I have spent most of this year mere seconds away from drowning, but I stayed afloat. Sometimes that’s enough. I’m still fighting. I hope you are, too.

(P.S. This thing from Rupi Kaur helped me, and her book “Milk and Honey” changed my life this year. Also, I was inspired to share this very personal tale today because of this thread on Twitter from Chris Jones.)

Image via Rupi Kaur on Facebook

Image via Rupi Kaur on Facebook

P.P.S. If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

If you live in the Austin area and are looking for therapy services, I highly recommend Alive Austin. They will connect you with a therapist they feel will best suit your needs mentally, emotionally and financially. They are truly amazing people who do amazing work.