Life

returning to fearless

It’s Monday morning, closer to noon that morning at this point, but the sun isn’t quite overhead yet and the cats are doing their best to scrunch themselves into the narrowing strips of white-gold sunshine spilled onto the living room floor. I’m nursing a second cup of coffee (gone room temperature, just the way I like it best) and the air conditioner has started running constantly in the last hour. It’s hot as rockets again today in eastern Kansas. I’m grateful that I don’t have to be outside just yet, though at some point soon I will have to venture out both to leave a bowl of fresh water for Leo, the friendly stray who likes to call my patio home, and to get this week’s groceries. It’s just another day, not completely typical, but routine in its own way.

But routine for me isn’t where I want to be.

I don’t remember being depressed a single day of my life until I was twenty. I had seen my mother struggle with depression my entire life and recognized that my brother had anxiety, but I didn’t recognize any of those traits in myself. I was bubbly and goofy and quiet and moody in turns, but nothing that would be abnormal for a teenage girl/young woman. When I went off to college I was barely even homesick, excited for the adventure of being on my own for the first time. Things changed for me in college on several levels, though. The first thing to go was my personal discipline. I found myself giving into my lazier side by sleeping in when I shouldn’t have, being less physical active, and allowing procrastination to take over. By the time I recovered from a viral infection that took months for me to kick I had lost a lot of my motivation for things. Where once I rarely ate fast food I was now eating it daily simply because it was easier. When my body started changing I had no will to try to reverse it. One of my proudest moments was fitting into a size small romper the August before classes started, but when I found myself snugly fitting into a pair of size 18 shorts just a few months later I felt only a little passing sadness. The changes had set in firmly and I had just let it happen.

Over the next several years a lot of things happened. I made some bad choices. I was proactively prescribed antidepressants (Zoloft in specific) to help me cope. I kept gaining weight. I was diagnosed with PCOS. I kept slipping further away from myself and by the time I looked for some help the vibrant, concert-loving, creative me was long gone, replaced by someone who could barely get out of bed some days and couldn’t shut up the next. The therapist the EAP line set me up with asked me a handful of questions then walked across the hall to the psychiatrist she shared an office with, declared that I was bipolar, and came back with a bag of medication samples and four prescriptions. Take these, she said, you’ll be fine. I wasn’t. She started a bad spiral of medications, side effects, nothing getting better, me seeking other help, getting new meds, not getting better, feeling worse, and wallowing in the stigma of being crazy. I functioned like this for years before throwing all of the meds away only to periodically go into a very dark place of doubt.

Then I decided to get more help. I sat down with a psychiatrist and spent two months having her ask me questions and challenge me on things. She didn’t want to diagnose me just yet, she said every time we met. None of the diagnosis that I had been given quite fit. I didn’t feel like she was helping at some point so I stopped going, relegating myself to this struggle in the dark for the rest of my life.

I believe that sometimes the universe has a way of leading you where you need to go. Last fall, I went to Las Vegas in an adventure that was so random it called back to the person I was before all of the darkness and heaviness. Then a work change sent me to Chicago alone for a handful of days and I found myself confronting the fear and exploring the city without hesitation. Then Vegas again, finding myself shutting down the anxiety that had started to swallow me every time I got on a plane. Flying is one of my favorite things in life and 35,000 feet somewhere over Utah as the panic attack started to eat into my brain I decided I was not going to let madness take this from me. Nope. I came back from the trip tired, but happy. Things were a little better, but I didn’t put it all together until a couple of weeks ago.

I love the band Third Eye Blind. I have since high school. I spent happier years going to lots of concerts, having more fun than was probably legal, and enjoying everything. When everything started to slide for me I stopped going to shows, but I kept listening to the music. The lyrics always resonated with me. In June the band released their latest album, Dopamine. New album meant a tour to support it and earlier this month they came through Kansas City. I had missed seeing the band in 2013 when they were here and the tickets were cheap enough. I had a moment of bravery and decided I would go alone. It was a crazy night. The weather was insane. The show was incredible. I am so glad I went.

Can music save your life? I’m starting to think so. I stumbled home from that show exhausted but recharged and when I woke up the next morning I just felt different. I have felt different every day since. Every single day I find myself looking at life with different eyes and it struck me the other day that I’m seeing things as my old self, the girl before the bad choices. The girl before the darkness. It’s like a decade of heaviness has suddenly fallen away and a blindfold has been removed. I’m looking at myself and my life and while there is a lot of damage and carnage around me I can actually see the good, too. Overweight and feeling crappy? Okay, we can fix that by moving more and eating better and taking our PCOS meds. Apartment messy? We can pick things up and make it better. Broken friendships? We can try to make amends and also reach out to new people. Things are still hard, but for the first time in years I have hope.

I probably do have some mental health issues. The old, careless bipolar diagnosis could be correct. Going to a concert isn’t going to cure that if it is, but it did help me find my center. Music can save your life, not by solving it, but by giving you something to hold on to. A Matt Nathanson song did it for me when all I wanted was to not exist. Now Third Eye Blind has done it for me by giving me an anchor to hold to. I keep clinging to a specific lyric, “return to fearless” and slowly over the last year I recognize that’s what I’ve been doing.

When I started this blog I called it Not Magazine Ready because I had the idea that maybe someone should write about life being imperfect and all I ever saw in the blogs I read was a bunch of curated things and people. The blogs looked like pages of a magazine: airbrushed and perfect. My life is anything but, definitely not ready for the magazine. But in the nearly two years since I started this I haven’t been able to figure out exactly just how I wanted to share an imperfect but awesome life. I haven’t been deceptive, but I haven’t been using an honest voice. I’ve found myself trying to curate my life into something interesting and acceptable with each little post I put together. I’ve been afraid to put it out there as it is, but not anymore.

I’m putting my life back together. I’m working on my health, my budget, my concept of personal style, my creative endeavors, and what I want for my future. That’s what this blog is about. Today I feel like I have it pretty together. I’m going to finish my coffee, get dressed for the day, and go grocery shopping as planned. Tomorrow that may go to shit, but it’s going to be a one day at a time thing. I’m probably going to post a lot about my cats now and again. Sometimes there will be pictures without makeup. It will be just fine. I am going to share it all, up and down, and I invite you to come along with me. Because, as Stephan Jenkins says in another Third Eye Blind lyric, life is not to fear; life is to enjoy.

Let’s do this.

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