Whoa, it’s over?

I’m having a bit of a rough day today.

I’ve been surprised at how my anxiety didn’t skyrocket after the COVID-19 pandemic started. I’ve felt fairly even keeled for the past eight weeks as I’ve stayed at my parents’ house. I was disappointed, of course, when my trips to Beaver Creek and Denmark were canceled, but I knew it was for good reason and I didn’t want to bring anything back to my parents, who both have asthma. Like my classmates and professors, I’ve trudged through the transition to virtual classes, which wrapped up this week. I’ve cherished the time I’ve had with my family, as I don’t know when else in my adult life I will get this kind of time with them. I’ve reached out to old friends. My sister and I have started doing yoga at the end of every workday. I keep moving and functioning and working. (I will admit little hiccoughs pop up that make me more frustrated or angry than they should, but I also recognize the true source of my emotions and find a way to move on.)

But today, I came across this snapshot of a scene in Parks and Recreation and its message stunned me into stillness.


I wasn’t too upset about the cancellation of my graduations (the first of which was supposed to be this weekend). I’m not good at sitting silently in a crowd for an extended period of time (assemblies were always absolute nightmares for me). Graduations are supposed to be the celebration of hard work, but my imposter syndrome always keeps me from feeling accomplished (something I undoubtedly need to work on). Moreover, I will not miss school. I love learning but hate assignments, hate grades, and hate the seemingly never-ending slog.

However, the loss of time with my friends—some truly wonderful people that I have been lucky enough to meet over this time—has slowly been gnawing through me. I’ve been accused of being robotic before—I generally hate feeling feelings, and as such I stubbornly refuse to do so, until they build up to the point that I am overwhelmed and want to sit under my desk or in a closet until they subside.

I have faith that I will not lose these new friends, but the dawning realization that has slowly arisen over the past few weeks that it will be a long time before we will ever be together—or that we may never all be in one place—brings a strong physical reaction. A lump in the throat, pressure behind the eyes and in the chest, a knot in the stomach. Graduate school, for many reasons, was at times unbearable for me, and I wouldn’t have gotten through it if it hadn’t been for these truly lovely people.

One of these friends has noted that is acceptable to feel grief over canceled graduations and postponed weddings and the other losses we’ve suffered even though our minds may convince us they are fairly frivolous compared to the extreme chaos that reigns outside our homes. I knew she was right but also felt that this thought didn’t apply to me—I’m sympathetic to my friends who are feeling these feelings, but they don’t resonate with me. Events come and go and I love to be a part of them but I am quick to move to the next thing. People, however, stick with me, and over the years I have built a strong fear of losing them. The loss of any friendship plagues me without end, popping up in my mind when I least expect it. The ease with which someone who seems to be ever-present can suddenly disappear from one’s life causes me great pain. I love new friends deeply after a very short period of time, and I find the return of that love to be the most rewarding thing I can experience, even as I fear that it will be extinguished without any notice. Even as my friends devote time to me, my brain tells me that if I vanished from their lives, they would be unaffected, and so the idea of introducing physical distance brings about sudden concern and, to be honest, despair.

And so that brings me to the thing I really want to say after all this exposition.

To the wonderful people who have come into my life over the past three years, I want you to know how grateful I am to know you. You are all astonishingly brilliant and kind and talented. Every day of school I was reminded of your grace and wits and brains and I have fostered such a great admiration for each and every one of you. I will work so very hard to maintain our friendships, and I know that while there will be gaps of time between our future time together, I will keep you in my thoughts and am so excited to see where your futures take you. Thank you for keeping me from totally falling apart. Thank you for bringing joy into my life. Thank you for being you. I love you, and I’ll see you someday. So much will happen between now and then, and it’s all gonna be great.


Some (non-ground-breaking) thoughts

My life seems to have gone from traveling at a hundred miles per hour to a complete standstill, and this leaves a lot of time for reflection. Time for reflection can also be time for ruminating, which is not great for those of us who are anxiety-prone. That said, I haven’t really felt incredibly anxious—worried, yes, but not anxious. I’ve done everything I can do to assert some measure of control over the situation, and now, I feel, it’s out of my hands.

I’m about to be a real public health professional, but I don’t want to make any statements or conjectures about the pandemic. There’s a lot of misinformation out there—some of which is coming directly from our government. I take most things with a grain of salt. (Unless it comes directly from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is walking the delicate line of being both diplomatic and pragmatic in order to maintain his position as an advisor to the administration while still disseminating actual facts and recommendations.)
So, rather than add my opinions to the cacophony of voices, I’ve just made a few lists to share.

Here’s what I am worried about (not an exhaustive list):

• The elderly and the immunocompromised
• The low supply of medical equipment and PPE (for my MBAs, this is personal protective equipment, not property, plant and equipment)
• The front-line service workers who have to encounter a large amount of other humans every day
• Small local businesses
• People who have been laid off or furloughed
People taking medical advice from Trump
People who need to go to the doctor or emergency room for a reason other than COVID-19 (note that I said need)
• My family’s health
• My friends’ health
• My friends’ families’ health
• The government failing to take the appropriate measures to contain this thing
• My dad forgetting I have meetings and classes and walking past my live camera in his boxers

Here’s what I’m not worried about:

• Toilet paper (???!??!?!) (though get back to me in a few weeks on this)
• Martial law??? (you will not believe the number of people who have mentioned it)
• My graduations being postponed (in the long run, not a big deal. Already did the whole college thing—I am bummed for undergrads)
• Every single cough I hear
• The cough I have
• “The Chinese virus”
• Running out of things to read or watch
• Pants. Or makeup. Or my hair.
• Online classes. Professors are doing the best they can. Let’s give them some credit for turning this around on a dime and working through a medium they’re not used to.

Here’s how I’m staying sane(ish) and healthy:

• Getting outside (running, walking, playing with my dog). Yes, there’s pollen out there, but as a reminder, sneezing is not a symptom of COVID-19. It’s just a sign that it’s spring, and that your body hates you and hates fun.
• Cuddling my dog
• FaceTiming friends
• Checking in with folks I haven’t caught up with in a while
• Eating a lot of vegetables
• Trying to not check Instagram or Facebook too often, because bored people are getting OUT OF CONTROL. (I DO NOT WANT TO SEE ANOTHER PICTURE OF YOU FACETIMING YOUR FRIENDS. I JUST DON’T. WE’RE ALL DOING IT. I GET IT.)
• Sleeping a normal amount, but also getting up at a regular time every day
• Working really hard to not think about what I’m missing out on. I can’t always do it, but to me, there is absolutely no point in thinking about the “what ifs”. I’m here now and I’m going to make the best of it.

Now, here’s what I’m really worried about:

Our healthcare workers. Every level of healthcare worker is facing this pandemic daily. EMTs, paramedics, nurses, physicians’ assistants, doctors, chaplains, environmental services, administrators—an enormous amount of human capital is going into fighting COVID-19 and keeping people alive. Some hospitals have limited workers to one mask per day, and that could even go to one mask per week. Healthcare workers have to wake up every day and go to work, knowing that they could contract this disease, that they could pass it on to their loved ones, that they could even pass it to their patients. They’re having to separate children from parents and spouses from their partners to keep them safe. And there is likely a day (probably sooner rather than later) where our healthcare providers will have to make decisions about who gets treatment, and who does not.

This kind of sustained stress is trauma. I’m not just worried about these individuals’ physical health, I’m worried about their mental health. I’m worried about burnout. I’m worried about PTSD. I’m worried that these people are carrying a weight on their shoulders that will eventually crush them. And I’m worried that we as a populace are not doing enough to support them, to appreciate them, to help them defend us against this threat.

You may think there’s not much you can do to help. But there are a few things:

• If you hoarded masks, you can donate them to your local hospital. (Staying home is what will keep you healthy.)
• If you can sew, you can make masks out of fabric (from your home) and donate these.
• If you’re Elon Musk, you can make ventilators (?)
• If you can breathe and blink and form thoughts, STAY HOME.

Here’s the thing. If you came into contact with someone who has the virus—even if they’re asymptomatic–you could have it, and you could be passing it along to others. That quick trip to the grocery store to grab more toilet paper? You could give it to the checkout assistant, who will still come to work for several days, giving it to more people. That trip to the bar to meet a few friends? You could give it to them, or the bartender, or other patrons, just by touching door handles. And each person you give it to is at risk for hospitalization, which means they’ll land on our healthcare workers’ doorstep and keep adding to our stressed-out system.

We don’t have enough tests. We know this. So here’s what I ask:

Please stay home. Don’t wait for symptoms. Don’t wait for someone you’ve come into contact with to be diagnosed, because that diagnosis may not come.

Don’t insist on living your life as normal. This isn’t a normal time.

This, too, shall pass. There will be time to go back to doing the things you love. But don’t do them now, because it could cost you the people that you love. And if someone you love does get sick, there will be heroes trying to save them, at great risk to themselves. For the most part, we might be able to get back to normal. But our healthcare workers may be forever changed.

So do your part. Suit up (in your sweatpants) and get ready for battle (on your couch). You are essential. And you can help.


Reflections: (Almost) One Year Later

As I returned to school, I ran headfirst into the realm of a thousand triggers. Memories of all the events I went to with my friend. Memories of our time spent studying together. Memories of our inside jokes. And while I’ve dealt as best I can, I’ve also realized I had stopped thinking about him as a person and started considering him something that happened to me—which isn’t fair to either of us. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral or any of the memorial services so here, as we approach the anniversary of his death, I’d like to remember him here.

A week and a half prior to his last day on this earth, we went shopping. He owned one pair of jeans and they were…not great. I’d taken him to the mall, and our first stop was J. Crew. When we got there, I asked him what style of jean he wanted. “There are different styles?” he responded, marveling. I laughed at him and found four different options in his size, and he picked one immediately after trying it on. “This is it.”

Afterward, we wandered around the mall. He walked with a slow easy saunter, and I tried to slow down my often frenetic pace to accommodate him. We talked about classmates we admired over pumpkin spice lattes. He was always calling people “wonderful”. “Skye is wonderful.” “Sarah is wonderful.” “Your parents are wonderful.”

I cut our time together that day short so I could go work on class assignments. I still regret it.

Still, we shared so much in such a short period of time. When classes had first started, I had proofread his pun-heavy personal statement for a class election, laughing as I read. We were then fast friends. He helped me learn to care about marketing, and I broke down statistics for him. He cheered me up when I needed it, and I calmed him down when he needed it. I felt stronger and safer knowing he was there.

He had a big smile that would often start creeping across his face when he was being intentionally obtuse, and a deep voice with an exquisite timbre (it was easy to remember why he had majored in Vocal Performance). He would often hum quietly, a tune just for himself. He laughed easily and would throw his head back—I sometimes felt this was intended to make the joke-teller feel good.

He so deeply wanted others to be comfortable and happy, often to a fault. One of our first serious conversations was about his social anxiety, and how cognitive behavioral therapy had helped him. He worked so hard at everything, and building relationships was no exception. He cared deeply for so many people after a matter of weeks into the program. He wouldn’t have left such a big mark if he hadn’t been so involved in so many of our lives, but he was, and he did.

On Returning

As a Chronically Depressed Person™, I almost always have nightmares. But as I look toward returning to school, a place that I have spent much time being fairly miserable, my dreams have become much more specific (ask me about my Donald Trump tennis match for the Presidency dream sometime).

In a recent dream, I found myself walking up the stairs past my friend who passed in November. In the dream, I saw him—his face expressionless as he walked down the stairs listlessly—and in dream logic, I knew he was dead and I concluded that I was hallucinating. And I also came to the dream realization that I would hallucinate him until I left campus for good.

I am deeply apprehensive about returning—every event in the first three months of business school will hold some kind of significance that relates to him and our friendship—but also somewhat eager, looking to rip off the Band-Aid. My dream seemed like an acknowledgement of my subconscious worry that this one event will haunt me for the rest of my life.

In the past eight months, I’ve screamed and cried and raged at the world for being so cruel. It is easy for me to feel like I got the worst life has to offer, but it is also easy for me to recognize that my life has been far from terrible. In the winter, I gave a classmate of mine a ride home and asked about his day. He sighed, and said it had been tough because he had found out his friend from home had passed away. Home, for this classmate, is Yemen, and in that brief exchange I realized that my singular trauma, this awful event that had no reason, was nearly an everyday occurrence for people all over the world.

Now, comparing traumas is never a good idea and everyone’s experience is valid and meaningful. I sincerely believe that. But as I sat and ruminated over the next several months, I started to catalogue the awful events that have happened to those I know and love. Some people willingly opened up to tell me about the traumas in their lives, and I started to realize that this one event was not the definition of my being—something I had started to embody daily. It can’t be, because I had almost 29 years of life before it—and some of them were terrible and some of them were wonderful and through all of them I learned and grew and changed.

Some people say that life and/or God won’t hand you anything you can’t handle. I don’t really believe that—that assumes there’s some kind of rhyme or reason behind the terrible things that happen and the deity that I believe in is far too much of a clockmaker for that kind of hands-on involvement. No one was trying to mold me into a better worker or a better leader or a better person by having me go through something terrible. But that also doesn’t mean I can’t become a better person or build resilience because of it.

In my day to day life, I slowly am losing that once irrepressible urge to talk incessantly about this one event and this one person. If this blog shows anything, it’s that I like to put my feelings into words because it makes those feelings digestible for me, and cements them in a way that I don’t often realize is happening until I’ve clicked “Post”.

That’s not to say that I’m healed or “over it”—but more that I still have so much else to work on and figure out about myself that my brain doesn’t override any other thoughts with one presiding memory. It’s still there and it’s still raw and it still hurts and scares me. But all I can do now is give it more time, and keep trying to improve in other ways every day. And in the end, that’s what my friend would want. I can go back to school and finish my degrees because to not do so would be to dishonor him and myself by reducing us to a single date in time. He was much more than that, and so am I.

Fake it Til You Make It and Get a Dog

This week is three months since everything happened, and it’s also Valentine’s Day, and my birthday. It’s a lot. But then, I’m a lot.

I came back from winter break and threw myself into everything with gusto. I committed myself to everything that came my way. I signed up for extra classes and extra activities. I go out when I’m invited. I avoid saying no to anything if I can help it.

I can feel myself vibrating. I don’t sleep well because I go to bed after long days of running around and my mind is still spinning. I laugh too loud and too often. I talk too much and too fast and I can’t stop myself. Everything about me is elevated. The good, the bad, the ugly.

It’s almost as if I’ve convinced myself that if I don’t stop moving, if I just keep moving and talking and going and going, I don’t have to live in my own head. I don’t have to remember the things I remember.

That would be great if it were true.

Instead, I get hit in the middle of class. Breath knocked out of me. Tears welling as I feel my entire body flush. I remember his eyes. I remember when I realized there was nothing I could do. I remember hoping I was wrong, that I had somehow missed something, and then realizing an ambulance never came and that I had been right and that I never wanted to be right again.

The grief has lessened, I think. But grief is normal and standard and I have grieved before and I will again. I watched my grandfather die in college. I noted his last breaths after we took him off the respirator. I cried and mourned and healed. This is not that.

I think, to a certain extent, the part of me that has always smiled through pain has taken over. No person in their right mind wants to see someone else suffer, and the last thing I want to do is make people feel like they are putting up with me because I am sad.

Instead, I overdo it, and now my subconscious is telling me people are putting up with me because I’m too much.

It’s similar to depression in that I’m compensating, but different because I’m not really faking it. I’m happy to be with friends, almost too happy. I’m even okay when I’m alone because I have a dog now, and she makes me laugh and smile.

But I quickly become overwhelmed and when I become overwhelmed I also become overwhelming. As my voice rises in volume so does my anxiety and I feel that everything I’m saying is wrong and that no one wants to hear me speak.

This is, as we say, sub-optimal.

Still, I know it’ll keep getting better. I’ll keep getting better. I have to. I don’t have any other choice.

I tell people my dog has helped me. She’s done more than that, I think. She’s saved me.

My friends are amazing and wonderful and they got me through the grief. But I’ve had friends my whole life, and I’ve had depression for most of it. The problem with friends is it’s easy to convince myself that they’d be better off without me.

My dog, however…

I have to get out of bed in the morning because she needs to go out. I have to go for walks and get fresh air because I want her to expend some energy and practice her leash training. I have to go to bed at a reasonable hour because she tells me when it’s time.

Even as I sit here, body aching from constantly being tense, chest tightening from all that life has thrown at me, mind racing from all that is to come and that could come, my heart is lightened by the strange magic that is my dog.

This sounds insane, I think. But it’s true. Just watching her breathe as she sleeps fills me with a giddiness that relaxes me ever so slightly. I can’t ever be mad at her. I love her completely. And I want to be here, with her.

I can’t replace the people I’ve lost. I can’t rebuild my blind trust that universe is fair. But I can love, and I do, and I am so glad to know that hasn’t gone away.

So I will keep working on myself. And try to forgive myself. And hug my dog.


As some of you know, I recently discovered my close friend in his apartment after he had passed away from natural causes. I don’t wish to write about our relationship, as he cannot consent, but a mentor of mine reminded me it often helps me to write about what I am feeling, so here I am.

The moment I found him, it was as though cold barbed wire wrapped itself around my insides, a tangled thicket coiled from my throat to the pit of my stomach, piercing my heart and my lungs and my very soul.

Every moment is pain. And the moments that are less painful, when the coils loosen briefly, when I can laugh and smile and enjoy a second, lead to a re-tightening, a constriction of guilt and remorse and grief. I feel guilty for living. I feel guilty for taking pleasure in my life. I feel guilty for being here when he isn’t.

As both an EMT and someone focused in the behavioral health aspects of public health, I am somewhat well versed in trauma, and what it does to someone. When I went to our Counseling and Psychological Services office, they gave me a handout on trauma, something that looked like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, with words that were so familiar it burned my eyes to read them. The handout reminded me to be prepared for flashbacks. For nightmares. For insomnia. I knew this, I knew what to expect, and I watch it happening. I am two people: the rational Lillie, watching my experience, knowing it is part of what I must do to deal; and the emotional Lillie, broken, scattered, tremulous and hopeless.

I know the stages of grief. I know the signs of trauma. I see them all in myself and yet I cannot stop them. I must experience them to heal but healing requires re-breaking. I have to re-set my core self before it can heal, and the re-setting is painful beyond belief.

I am lucky to have known him. I know it, and I feel it. But still I feel myself yearning for the impossible. The bargaining stage set in, and I found myself thinking, if only I could have taken his place.

I am not religious, so the part of me that seeks meaning in something so meaningless is confusing to the rest of me, but I find myself grasping for some purpose. Some reason. Some kind of place to channel this fury and horror, something other than the gaping holes being pierced into my heart with every breath I take, every extra breath I get that he didn’t.

It will take time. I know this, and accept it, just as I fail to accept my new reality. That, too, will take time.

Every flashback, I try to replace with a good memory. Every time I notice my shaking hands, I grasp something. Every time I feel inconsolably lonely, I try to reach out.

There is no sense in this. There is no fairness.

It seems difficult to be thankful in this time, but I have received such great support. Dear friends, rushing to my side as I dealt with the police, when my legs could no longer hold me. My family, piling into a car and driving the six hours through the darkest night. Those who stayed by my side, those who check in. I would not manage without them. I would be lost.

So I will try, tomorrow, to find the thankfulness in my heart. To be grateful for what I have, and to be grateful even for what I have lost—the moments I did have, the kindness I experienced.

My pain may recede, and become bearable, become part of who I am. One day. In the distant future. But my gratitude will remain.


Seeking Remission

My last post was optimistic and full of hope, but to be honest, the last few months haven’t really felt that way. I spent my Christmas holiday mostly in a fog. My mother suggested that maybe the increase in my dose of antidepressants was making me numb, so I agreed to actually seek a psychiatrist’s help.

For someone with a healthy respect for mental illness and the support systems required to treat them, I’ll admit that I don’t really like psychiatrists. I had only ever seen one before I walked in to the counseling center at my undergraduate university—in 2012, when I realized how real my ideations were becoming. The psychiatrist I saw was a family member’s doctor, and I only met with her twice: once, for her to diagnose me with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and a second time as a follow up. I then switched my medication to be managed by my neurologist, and he put me on an SNRI to prevent migraines. I’d found the medication to be helpful in managing both my psychological symptoms and my physical ones, and had stayed on it since.

It was with trepidation that I used the walk-in clinic—as many of you know, I sought help from my undergrad’s counseling center but was turned away from individual counseling due to the overlong wait list—instead, I was placed in group therapy, in a group that was mostly men, and all graduate students. I was an 18-year-old freshman girl who was scared of her boyfriend and didn’t feel like eating or being awake: I wasn’t going to talk about that with that group.

Luckily, nine years later, at a different public university, my experience was better. After my intake appointment, I left with a list of therapists to check out and a psychiatric consult the next week.

I estimated that the consult would be familiar territory: explain my symptoms, confirm my anxiety diagnosis was causing my depression, and adjust my dose.

Instead, I found an inquisitive psychiatric nurse practitioner asking me about many different aspects of my life. Are you sleeping? Some, but I have constant nightmares. How is your appetite? Fine, but food doesn’t interest me much—I eat to live. How long have you been on your SNRI? Five years. And on: How are you doing in school? Are you in a relationship? How do you usually feel? How do you feel right now?

I assumed my anxiety was the underlying problem, but she saw in me something else: “I think you have fairly severe major depression.”

Many of my friends are not surprised to learn this, but somehow, I was. I always had thought my depression was a result of my anxiety, not the other way around: for some reason, my self-perception had latched onto the concept of myself as a bundle of nerves rather than a depressive person. Not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, but to me, they seemed distinct.

Next, she told me, “Remember, you aren’t going to feel this way forever. It’s going to get better. We’re going to get you into remission.”

Remission. That was another word I wasn’t used to hearing in the context of my own health: to me, remission is something you want with a life-threatening illness. My illness is an imbalance of chemicals in my brain, or, if you ask many people, the result of laziness. What is remission, for major depressive disorder? Will I be on medication forever? Will I be able to stop one day?

We determined a plan of action: she raised my dose higher than it had ever been, put me on a medication that was intended to stop my nightmares, and told me to look for therapists practiced in cognitive behavioral therapy.

I didn’t realize how hard it would be.

I’ve been relatively lucky: I’ve only tried one medication in my mental health journey that just plain didn’t work. But it appeared my trusty SNRI was starting to fail me. We raised my dose and I suddenly felt more jumpy and irritable. We raised it one more time and I started having uncontrollable tremors in my hands. I started acting stupid: I spilled gasoline all over myself at a gas station. I started the microwave without ever putting food in it. I turned on the stove without lighting it.

We switched to another SNRI.

Anyone who has been on SSRIs or SNRIs can tell you the withdrawal is awful. This certainly was. Even with another SNRI in my system, I spent over two weeks light headed, with tingling running down my limbs. In one moment, I was running when the lightheadedness hit: I got dizzy, and hit the curb at an odd angle, spraining my ankle, pulling a ligament, and fracturing my foot.

I had thought I was irritable before and now it was worse: every single thing that was out of place bothered me. Every single interaction I had with my friends was suspect. I felt like they all hated me and didn’t want to hang out with me.

I’ve leveled out, since then. I went on spring break, and started working on truly relaxing. I can smile and laugh a little more easily. I have more energy—I can get out of bed in the morning, and I don’t want to get back in at lunchtime. I feel excited about the future, about my summer internship, about scheduling trips to see my friends. I’m not moving listlessly though my day: I’m starting to seize it.

Anyway, my point is:

It’s not easy.

Anyone who tells you it’s easy to fix mental illness is selling something. It’s a battle. It’s an every day battle. It requires checking in with yourself regularly. It requires patience. It requires forgiveness. It requires taking time to recognize your own bad habits and wanting to fix them. And it requires help.

I know I’ve had a lot of friends who share the struggle. I appreciate those of you who to reach out to me and offer your stories and your words of encouragement. And I want to remind you, it’s hard for everyone who shares the burden. But you’re worth the work to fix it.



I haven’t written in a while, because, quite frankly, I’ve just been fatigued by the preponderance of horrible and outrageous news for…well, for the past year, as well as fatigued by life. I have interviews from six months ago, which was before I broke my collarbone and needed surgery, before I left a place I loved to move to Chapel Hill and into uncharted (for me) territory as a graduate student, and before my latest battle with depression.

I probably should have recognized the signs sooner—the aching in my bones, the struggle to rise in the morning, the listlessness with which I moved through my day-to-day life. But it’s easy to ignore the signs and symptoms of depression when hopelessness and exhaustion are prevailing for almost everyone who pays attention to the news. My disease has always been something I hide from others and myself by throwing myself into things with manufactured energy and excitement—and even I can’t distinguish my natural tendency toward goofiness and its more shrill, forced counterpart.

But part of getting older and wiser is knowing myself. Noticing that sleep is more elusive during the night and more enticing during the day. Recognizing the difference between normal sleepiness from a long day doing schoolwork and a deeper tiredness that has set itself beneath my skin and can’t be shed from a normally refreshing eight hours of sleep. Seeing the self-destructive tendencies start to take over as I push logic further down into the back of mind.

I sit a little too long in the car when I come back from running errands. I stop taking care of my basic needs. I long to reach for the pain pills my doctors gave me for surgery. I start to feel numb toward my friends and family, building barriers to protect myself, to protect them from me.

This time, I was lucky. As I laid in bed, unmoving, no longer able to ignore the despair ripping its way through my body, and my thoughts became darker, bleaker, I suddenly had a moment of self-preservation, and reached out.

Telling friends and family about my depression is difficult. I don’t want to hurt them. Even as my disease works to convince me no one cares, my heart knows the undeniable truth. It’s easier to stop talking and begin to push people away than bring them closer and risk causing them pain. But accountability is critical in managing something that can make you forget your true self. If I tell someone, I acknowledge what is happening is real. And that I need to take care of it, and of myself.

I’m lucky to have friends and family that will listen without judgment.

I’m lucky to have friends who sympathize, and friends who empathize. Friends who let me know they care even if they may not be able to fully understand, and friends who know the same demon well enough to sound a war cry.

I am lucky to be loved.

Friends, I return that love. Fiercely and without reservation. And I’m going to remember how to love myself too.

As we approach winter, and diminished sunlight, it can be harder to remember the brightness of life and sweetness of joy. For any of you that need someone, please know I am here.

Interview 14: Kelly

It’s an odd time in our history, and I’ve spent the past four months trying to put into words my own experience, but have found myself suffering from writer’s block. Every time I’ve sat down to write something, I’ve found myself unable to string sentences together.

I mentioned my mental gridlock to my dear friend Kelly, and she suggested something new: that I interview her about her own, much more tragic, current struggle. She thought it might help her to put her thoughts down, and it would give me the impetus to throw myself back into writing.

Our interview is not my typical spirituality-based discourse: instead, we are focused on grief. I have written about my own grief before, and perhaps grief is another facet of our soul’s experience, so I don’t believe it’s too far outside the realm of this blog. I have some other interviews that get back to my typical subject matter in the pipeline, but this interview really did get me back into the swing of things—I’m grateful to Kelly for that.

I’m grateful to Kelly for a lot of things. She’s the kind of friend that everyone needs but few have: a force of nature, fiercely loyal, and unflaggingly honest. She can be intimidating at times—she seems so put together and sure of herself that she must live on a different plane of existence—but she is the truest friend. She let me live with her for a month when I moved to Denver, and we had only met in person a few times—and this was after she connected me with her employer, revamped my resume, and provided me with information about how to move across the country. Kelly is funny, brilliant, and overall incredibly caring. She’s one of the few people who notices when I’m struggling with my own demons, and she’ll check in on me and invite me over when she can tell I need the company.

That’s why it’s been so hard to watch as she’s had her own dark period—you never want to watch someone you love experience a loss, especially when the loss is that of someone who chose to part with your friend. I’ve been with friends through breakups (and imagine at some point I will be with them through divorces, but I’ll hope not), and through the death of parents, but I’ve never had to watch a friend’s parent choose to exit their lives. As someone who is perhaps overly close with my own parents, I can’t imagine the pain this would bring. Even the strongest of us (as Kelly is) would break under this kind of suffering. So I’m glad we had a chance to talk about it and check in, and I’m glad to know Kelly is working on taking care of herself in a healthy way. But I’ll defer to her words to explain any further.

Interview 14: Kelly

“Sometimes it just strikes me, ‘Oh my gosh, my mom is not going to be at my wedding.'”

Me: Would you give me a thirty-second overview of what’s going on with you right now?

Kelly: So…I guess it really all started when I moved to Denver three years ago. My mom and I had been very very close my whole life. She was arguably my best friend, but moving to Denver was the first crack in our relationship, and I think she interpreted it as a betrayal that I would leave her. And so things had been tense for a while, and long story short we considered entering an investment property situation that just fell through, and it really all culminated in my mom ending our relationship. For several months over the summer I tried to repair it, and it all came to a head when I went home in September for my mom’s birthday, whereupon she announced that she would not be attending my wedding. And that was the last time I saw her. So now I’m in this weird limbo where I don’t have a relationship with my mom; my mom has, in short, rejected me, and it’s a really really weird place to be.

Me: Thank you. It’s definitely been hard to watch, as a friend, to see that, and I’m sure I still don’t even know everything you’re going through, so….let’s go over that. I’d like to know how you’ve been coping with going through this loss, when, as you’ve said, it’s a loss where the person is still alive. What have you personally been doing to try to get through it?

Kelly: I think—the first thing I did is I recognized that I needed to talk to someone professional. And so I did go to therapy, which at least affirmed that I was feeling grief in the right way; it affirmed that I was not wrong. I doubted myself through a lot of this. So that was helpful. I’ve also just sort of allowed myself to go through the stages of grief. There was denial, there was anger…I’m sort of approaching acceptance, I don’t know. And I’ve also leaned heavily on Will, my friends, and tried to be very open about it. You know, I don’t blast it on Facebook, but I try to let myself talk about it among my friends, and to talk about how I feel, or even joke about it, is sometimes an easy way to accept that it’s just a part of my life, and it’s not something I need to hide. I don’t bottle it up. But some days it catches up with me. I still have nightmares about confronting my mom or my mom confronting me. I have nightmares about friends or neighbors of my mom telling me I’m a bad daughter. So there’s definitely feelings of guilt still there. I still struggle with it.

Me: Do you find that you’re at all reflecting on your past and you’re rethinking the memories that you have? Or is it painful to look into your past? Or is it almost better?

Kelly: Maybe a little bit of all of that. Knowing what I know now about my mom and the true nature of what our relationship was, that it was not at all what I thought it was, definitely colors all my memories in a different way. I think the biggest thing was all the horses. I did competitive horseback riding and that was a huge thing that Mom and I did together, and I sort of see now that I don’t think it was even about me, I think it was about my mom wanting to do horses, and luckily I also enjoyed it too, and I wonder how that would have played out if I had not had an interest in horseback riding. And a lot of the things that she had done for me that maybe were more self-serving at the time—I don’t know, it definitely, yes, colors my memories in a different light. I do feel bitter about some things. It’s sometimes painful to look back and see what a fool I was, but…for lack of a better platitude, it is what it is.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Knox’s Chapel Talk

I’m trying something new today–a dear friend of mine reached out with some words he wanted to share, and I’m honored to get to use this space for that purpose.

You may remember Knox from his interview a few years ago. He now teaches at an Episcopal boarding school for boys, where students and faculty have the opportunity to share reflections with the whole school community during morning chapel services. Knox gave a “Chapel talk” last week about applying the idea of Epiphany to our lives in a time of national transition marred by division, and I think it’s especially applicable this week as we hurtle toward a new presidency. I deeply enjoyed reading Knox’s thoughtful and illuminating speech and hope you all get as much out of it as I did. 


“Chapel Talk” given at Trinity-Pawling School on January 9, 2017

by Knox Sutterfield

While going for a run on New Year’s Eve, I found myself thinking about the etymology of January. Because, yes, I am a huge nerd. Somewhere in my six years of Latin, I assume, I picked up the fact that January gets its name from the Roman god Janus. Janus was the god of beginnings and endings, of transitions, of gates and passages. And he was depicted with two faces, one looking back, the other looking forward. It’s an evocative representation and one full of meaning, especially at the turn of a new year.

The church has its own calendar, and in January, we celebrate Epiphany, or the visit of the three wise men (or kings or Magi). The word Epiphany comes from Greek, and it means a manifestation or appearance. It’s a word we sometimes use outside of church too. If you’ve had an epiphany, you’ve had a light bulb moment, an “aha!”—the sudden realization of some truth or insight.

As the Epiphany story goes, three mysterious foreigners study ancient prophecies and look to the stars for signs of hope. Following these, they, like the shepherds in Bethlehem, discover something a bit unexpected: a little boy from a small town. Not some conqueror to deliver Israel from centuries of political and military oppression. Not some fully-formed sage descending from the clouds with all the answers. But God made manifest in the most vulnerable, human way, as a little brown-skinned boy from a poor family. Yet a child who would grow up to share Truth with those around him and with us today as we look both back and forward. A child who brought light to a dark world and whose words and deeds still bring light to our world.

And I don’t know about you, but I think we need Epiphany right now. I think we need some light and truth.

This January is a time of considerable transition, as a new Congress and a new President are sworn in. It comes on the coattails of a Presidential campaign full of negativity, mistrust, polemic, and the vilification not just of the candidates but also of their supporters. And let’s be clear: there’s plenty of blame to cover the whole political spectrum.

We are walking through darkness, my friends: the darkness of division, the darkness of hateful rhetoric that alienates us from our fellow citizens—conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between. Rather than feeling like “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” it feels like we live in a country that is fractured and fractious.

I suppose elections are divisive by nature. We’re asked to choose between options, and the choice to vote for something always carries the implication of voting against something else. But division and enmity hasn’t ended with the election. Oh no, if you’re like me, it crept even into family gatherings over the holidays. Nor is it likely to end anytime soon unless there is some epiphany, some inrushing of light into this darkness. I don’t mean some earth-shattering miracle (though we can always hope for one). No, it begins with something small, and humble, and powerfully simple—but not easy.

And it can begin right here, in our daily lives.

It is up to you and me to engage each other with empathy: to listen to the hurts and needs of those who are less privileged than we are; to listen to the fears of those whose world and way of life are changing faster than they’re prepared to handle; to seek to understand people with different backgrounds and beliefs and identities, not to change their minds but simply to better know the rich tapestry of human diversity; and to speak words of kindness and inclusion when we talk with one another here and with others wherever we may go, rather than belittling and excluding those who are different or with whom we disagree.

If we do these things, we will have begun our own epiphany.

So, in this time of transition, as we, like Janus, stand looking both backward and forward, let us inhabit the threshold intentionally and encourage one another to bring light to the world in this new year.