Hello to everyone who read my website last year! Here’s a little recap of what has happened in my mental/physical health world since I published my first pieces on this site in August 2015 (yep, it’s been a while). Side note: thank you also to the random readers from Russia who read my website (thanks Google analytics). To those who commented on my pieces, messaged me on Facebook and other forms of social media, and told me that they could relate to my story: I appreciate it. That’s why a writer writes.
As a writer with depression, setting and reaching goals is a huge path to my recovery. I met my goal – to write about my food allergy misdiagnosis in a way that resonated with other people – and that makes me really happy. Unfortunately, or maybe I should say fortunately since I’m finally learning this about myself – if I don’t have a second goal to follow the first goal, I lose momentum, start saying mean things to myself, and fall into a state of inaction. So, to any of my previous readers who looked at my blog again and saw no new posts after August 2015 – I’m sorry for that disappointed feeling you get when you look at a blog you like and see no sign of life on it. I hate, hate being that person. My explanation for ghosting on my own website? Read on.
The reason for no new posts was my fear of failing to live up to my own standards – this fear of reaching a “pinnacle” and then never surpassing it. It’s a common theme in my life. So to write this update now, however “imperfect.” is my way of engaging with that fear. When I decided to publish a website, I wanted to do it, like most things in my life, in the most perfect way possible. That’s how I was raised. If any of you went to high school with me or even went to the same high school as I did, you know that we were held to an incredibly high standard. When the teachers, administrators, and my parents said, “jump,” I, and many of my fellow students said, “how high?”
So when I decided to publish my pieces on my website, I wanted the best of the best. I hired a friend whose work I consider the top tier of aesthetic and professional. I loved working with her team – having meetings, phone calls and emails with them. I paid a lot for this privilege: having this team to work with for a few months. On the plus side, I remembered how much I liked working on a team where everyone was moving toward a common goal. On the downside, I sometimes remembered that most of the Paleo bloggers I admire started out with a dinky bare-bones website. Why wasn’t I slaving away by myself in a coffee shop poking around on Blogger? I pushed those thoughts away as my professional team designed the aesthetic, color scheme, and photos for my website, and I worked on my writing for it. Finally, when my sister and best friend had edited my writing, when I had checked and double-checked everything on the site with my design team, when I held a little party with friends to celebrate my launch date, and when I clicked “post” on my Facebook to share my new and exciting project, I was so proud of the website.
And then – I didn’t want to mess up this beautiful site. Though I approached my friend to design the website in January 2015, and published it in August 2015, this website was really six years in the making. Since fall 2009, when I chose to live in Prague for my junior fall abroad, I dreamed of developing a creative writing career, but I had very little understanding of what it takes to pursue that career. That fall, I opened dinky little WordPress sites in a half-assed attempt to share my travel experiences and love of eco-friendly products. Over and over, I started different WordPress sites – I think 3 total.
My junior and senior year of college, as I learned more about creative writing and the style of writing I admired, such as Anaïs Nin, I wanted to share stories of relationships: romantic relationships, friendships, family. I wanted to share stories about where I grew up. I wanted to share stories about high school and the humor and the hope of those years. I wanted to share stories about my junior year abroad. But I was nervous about sharing too much. What if I said something that my family wouldn’t like? Why was I carving out a new identity? At college, I was an Art Historian – why wasn’t that enough? Now suddenly I wanted to be a creative writer?
For almost six years, I agonized over how to tell a personal story to a public audience. What if I accidentally threw somebody close to me under the bus? What if I did it intentionally? The miracle – maybe perseverance, I guess – is that by August of last year, 2015, I figured out how to do it – how to tell a personal story without ruining my life. The only problem was, right after I did it, I didn’t know how to do it again. My website was so pristine. I wanted to leave it alone forever. This sentiment isn’t all that strange given my school background. As an Art Historian, we leave pieces of art alone for years or millennia. Look, but don’t touch.
So, since I published this website with the intention of sharing an honest discussion of mental health and family issues, I NEED to update. But first, I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Jay Leshinsky, the manager of the Middlebury College Organic Garden. My freshman spring at Middlebury, Jay welcomed me into that garden space when I was a tired wreck from Academia. Last week, Jay emailed me to say Merry Christmas and check in. I wasn’t expecting his email, but it was a godsend. In his email, he kindly said he looked at my website and didn’t see an update. He said it in a way that was like a kind prodding. Sometimes over the past year after I initially published my website, I noticed that my closest friends and family didn’t ask about my website. Were they nervous to approach the topic of my inaction? Maybe I would lash out, accuse them of putting too much pressure on me? I’ve done it before. But Jay approached it in the most kind and nonjudgmental way, which is what I would expect from someone who watches seeds turn into vegetables for a living. So thank you Jay!
Back to the update: as you may have seen on my website, as of summer 2015 I was considering finding a treatment center to address my anxiety around acne and food, and the depression that fueled that anxiety. What I didn’t say is that I had already decided on a treatment center and was leaving on September 14. It was two weeks after my website launch. I went to the treatment center, Timberline Knolls in Chicago, where I completed 4 weeks of treatment for depression and eating issues. I have A LOT of thoughts about my time there. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. Since it’s been a little more than a year since I’ve been there, and I’m not 100% sure my time there was a good idea, it’s hard for me to admit that spending a vast amount out of pocket (thanks to not understanding insurance) to be engulfed by the American Medical System was possibly not a good idea. I also think the fact that I didn’t find a more holistic alternative is also an interesting topic. What did come of my time in Chicago is that I met about 30 amazing girls who changed my life. These girls on my lodge, Maple, opened my eyes to the beauty and craziness of this world. When I left, I didn’t feel particularly hopeful about the future, and I didn’t feel fixed, but something interesting did happen after I left.
Strangely, about two weeks after I got back from TK, I was compelled to apply to graduate school, which is something I’d always wanted to do. As a 22 year old fresh off the boat from undergrad, I had been unable to imagine going to grad school due to about a million life roadblocks, including but not limited to lingering fears of academia, a death in the family, confusion about money, and a general feeling that my life wasn’t worthy.
Graduate school. It’s a loaded topic. Back when I was young and naïve in high school, I wrote in my college application essays that I wanted to go to graduate school. By the time I finished college, however, I never wanted to talk to another self-obsessed professor again. I never wanted to open another Word document. (Literally the refrain in my head as I wrote my last essay for college: MY LIFE IS WORTH MORE THAN A MICROSOFT WORD DOCUMENT!!!!!!!). I also was severely depressed and didn’t want to eat or shower, let alone figure out the GRE. November of last year ended up being the strangely perfect time for me to get on my local university’s website (which I had done about 3 times before, until I got frustrated and closed my browser), find the Historic Preservation Certificate page (which I’d also been to before), and actually MAKE THE PHONE CALL to the College of Architecture main office (which I’d never done before). To my surprise, I actually liked my courses – AND my professors! This from the girl who spent 45 hours in therapy post-college crying about how my college professors had ruined my life.
Elizabeth Gilbert says, “God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout Cookies.” For me, it’s actually the opposite. God usually gives me a box of Girl Scout cookies and THEN slams a door in my face. This fall, when I was working hard on my grad classes and actually enjoying them, my hypochondria got worse. I finished all my exams and suddenly realized that, because of old injuries I’d been ignoring, my body felt empty, fragile, and broken. So now I have to focus on that – though I’m NOT quitting school while I take care of my mental and physical body. I’m learning that I can balance things. That’s all I can really say for now – because I need to go eat breakfast, a feat which luckily I do better than some other things I should be doing for my body.
As for my plan, I’ve been working hard with my sister to create a plan for dealing with my issue of hypochondria/exercise avoidance and the very serious muscle weakness problems associated with that. I’m trying to balance letting friends help me with my need for solitude and reflection. I’m not counting on therapy anymore to help me – I’ve spent enough time sitting in a chair. Now it’s time to sit on an exercise machine and regard my body as an object that can sustain me as I move through life. I want to build my body up, not watch it break down. And I want to count on friends, not people I pay to listen to me (except for my physical therapist bc that’s going to be necessary for a couple of months).
Finally, a little piece of self-promotion: check out my pieces on The Financial Diet! I actually asked to get paid for two of my contributions, which is a huge step for me. I love writing for Chelsea and her team at TFD.
Finally finally, if anyone reading this has any information about hypochondria, I’d really like to hear it. Please email me at the address on the “contact” page of this website and I’ll email you back. Of all the kind, smart, well-intentioned therapists I’ve seen, none has taken the time to fully explore what treating hypochondria means for mental health recovery. I imagine the reason for this is because they were never taught. I’m fascinated by the issue of hypochondria and its lack of visibility in the mental health world. There’s more to say and I intend to post more about it. I’d love to hear from others who’ve experienced this awful syndrome. Lastly, I’m very serious about publishing my “College Depression” piece that I’ve been piddling with for a year. Please look out for it in mid January (ok maybe late January if we’re being real). On that note, Happy New Year!