Thankful for Tomorrow: My Most Monumental Year

(Cover Photo was taken by the author, November 2018)

Sitting at my computer and being able to write this article around a holiday of gratitude is a privilege I would not have imagined for myself a year ago. Something as insignificant as being able to talk about the difference between then and now, would have seemed impossible to the girl in the photo above. That’s probably because a year ago, there was no "now" on the horizon. Today did not exist in my mind. It was one painful, long, sad day after the other. Maybe that’s where you sit now, feeling a weight on your chest you can’t control. Friends and family post online and call, updating the world with their achievements and goals. The world seems to be moving by at lightning pace, and you’re paused on what it feels like to lose your breath. You’re 18, 19, maybe 20 or older, looking at the long life you have left and wondering how you’ll ever enjoy it. From someone who didn’t see myself getting there, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter how you get to the end of the line, it just matters how you make it to tomorrow.

 

Mental illness, particularly depression, has a tendency to take away the path from Point A to Point B. When you grow up with a monster in your mind that tells you there is no future, you stop planning for one. That seems like a good strategy, for every problem and every inconvenience, every big loss and heartbreak; the solace comes in telling yourself you won’t have to face it much longer. But as the years go by, high school becomes college, and college becomes real life, and suddenly you are unable to fathom having to want the world enough to find your place in it.

 

A year ago, that’s where I was. Hopeless, at the end of my rope. My heart was too packed with pain to love the planet I was on, and to want to find lifelong purpose within it. Every day was an out, or an excuse to stall. I was frustrated with myself. I was ruining relationships, I was falling behind in school. I was going to my car in the middle of the night just to scream. One night, I became scared of myself. I finally felt the separation between the mental illness and me, knowing that if I didn’t tell someone soon, it would make a decision for me that I could not undo. That morning, I walked into the counseling center. It wasn’t a pretty story out of a high school movie. There were ugly crying and snot-nosed tears, an ambulance to take me to a hospital in front of everyone. I sat in a hallway on a vacant bed, a tiny girl in a gown, alone for hours, waiting to be seen. There were hard conversations by the time the family arrived, and my brain felt like it was splitting in half. By the time I made it to the treatment facility, it was 3 in the morning, and I was exhausted from paperwork. I finally got to sleep in a cold, prison-like cot, and in the darkness of the room, I wondered if any of it would make a difference.

 

I stayed in treatment for a few days. It wasn’t eventful, but I can tell you I have never met people better than the people I met at in-patient. Lost souls, good hearts, and more strength than I can comprehend are only some of the ways I would describe them. When I left in-patient, I left knowing my life was about to start. MY life. The best one I could have with the commitment to live. I was placed in therapy and put on medication. I was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, and as scary as that sounds, it felt so freeing to put a face to the monster in me. I was able to reach out to all the people in my life who I needed to mend things with, and I did so. I finished out the semester and got extensions for my work. Everything seemed like it was about to go uphill, like Willy Wonka breaking through the glass ceiling.

 

And then I found out about mania. I had spent so many years depressed, I never knew what unfiltered, undiluted, intense happiness was. I thought it was what was supposed to happen when you were being treated. Finally, my salvation for a decade of sadness. My hair was blue, I lost ten pounds. I had limitless energy until my hands were shaking, I thought I was enlightened and that I knew all the secrets of the universe. Every feeling was ten-fold, I felt like I was on drugs. And I was, but I couldn’t see it. Everyone in my life watched me become impulsive with my positivity, and if they dared to question my newfound philosophies and happiness, I became enraged. I burned every bridge I could possibly think of, convinced no one wanted to see me succeed, and that I was on a prophesied path to greatness.

Taken by author, December 2018

There’s nothing like being suicidal, being manic, and then back to being depressed. Especially when it happens within two months. When the mania wore off, I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. How had it seemed so real? Was I being punished by the universe? I’d later understand that depression medication can be so foreign and potent, it can make someone manic or more depressed with initial use until it levels out with your body chemistry. For the next few months, however, I spent my time changing medications, meeting therapists and psychiatrists, and ruining even more relationships by chasing a manic version of myself that didn’t actually exist.

 

I told myself “if you just do this, then this will happen, and you’ll be happy.” Or, “if you hadn’t done this, this wouldn’t have happened, and you wouldn’t be so sad.” I spent months punishing myself for every twist and turn on a day to day basis, assuming my emotions and behavior could lead to something almost magical. I relied on others, I went back to crying in my car. I finished the semester with a hole in my heart where people I’d lost used to live, and a sense that for me, mental illness would follow me forever. By June, I was convinced and ready to end everything again. But for the second time, I stopped. I asked myself, “is it fair that this force you’re fighting, that no one else understands, gets to win? Would it be fair to have a funeral for you, and not be able to defend yourself? To the world, you’re a crazy girl with borderline personality disorder and nothing more, is that what you want to go down as?”

 

The answer was no. It wasn’t fair. If anyone was going to decide what I got to be, it was going to be me. If everyone was going to give up on me, I wouldn’t give up on myself. I was not going to go down as a girl who let her brain get the best of her. I was going to fight. I was going to win.

 

I spent the summer working my normal summer camp job, the light of my life. Nothing makes me happier than working every day with tiny smiling faces. I’d look at them, grinning wide on the upswing of one of my pushes, the sky endless, and wish that they would be able to see everything, and so would I. These kids are fearless and invincible. They are kind to a fault, understanding and sympathetic. They have questions upon questions about the world and how it works, and they have not yet been scarred by its ugly parts. I look to them for inspiration and humility about my own role in the world. They teach me a million lessons to see the good in others and to see the good in myself.

Taken by author, July 2019

It was like June never happened. Skies were blue, trees green. Everything was in full color. There was no more mania, no more deep depression. It was just me. Just being happy, one day at a time. I finished the summer with a bittersweet appreciation for all it had done for me both physically and mentally and looked towards the semester. A year ago, the idea of going back to school would have terrified me. How could I possibly take on 18 credits with a full load of crippling anxiety already under my arm? How will I ever participate if all I can do is zombify myself and stay in bed?

 

But this time, it was different. I knew I could because I decided I had to. I decided I had to live, and for my life, I want to help people like me. And the only way to make that happen was to go to school, and do my work, and try to enjoy it. So I have. I take notes for fun, I study before tests. I go to class (almost) all the time, and I feel good. I wake up anxious, but I get out of bed knowing it will get better the more I get done. I spend time with my roommates, who I adore, and help out as much as I can. I’m the Vice President of Her Campus at West Chester, a passion project of mine. I paint, I read, I listen to music. And sometimes, just sometimes, I walk down the street with my eyes closed, arms wide, a smile across my face. I don’t care who’s looking. I just breathe in the air I would have given up a year ago, and thank that version of me for not doing so. Sometimes I still have bad days or weeks. I lock myself inside and let dishes pile up, I make poor choices, I stay in bed and hide. But I always awaken with vigor, knowing that this life is one I chose, and will always choose, in order to get back to the other side.

 

I haven’t reached Point B yet. I don’t know if that’s a job or a new town, or just graduating. I don’t know what I’ll do long term, or where, and I don’t worry because I know the path I find each day will get me there. I’m somewhere in between A and B, taking each day at a time. I go into the holiday season and winter knowing that today may be hard, but I’m grateful because tomorrow will probably be fine.Taken by author, June 2019

You have a million tomorrows ahead of you. It may seem like today is the last, but it doesn’t have to be. Life is long, life is short. Time passes quickly when we’d like it to slow down, and only goes slow when we wish it wouldn’t drag on. Right now it’s dragging on. But if you choose tomorrow, if you choose to stay, just for one more day, it gets easier to keep choosing it. It gets easier to want it again. And suddenly, there you are a year later, smiling on the street with your arms open wide, wondering how you got there so fast. I promise you, there will always be tomorrow, and this one has your name in the sky.

 

Credit: All taken by the author