If you've ever experienced anything close to breathless sadness or profound loneliness, I understand. If you've wondered what tomorrow holds -- and how you'll get through to another morning -- I've been there. And if you know the indescribable feeling in the pit of your stomach that accompanies a cocktail of uncertainty, confusion and bewilderment, you're definitely not alone.
For the past two years, I've cycled through all of those feelings -- and more -- while facing some extraordinarily challenging personal circumstances.
Was I depressed? You better believe I was.
I seriously wanted anyone else's life but my own, and often compared myself against
--who I was before my challenges hit.
--anyone who didn't face these struggles.
--the future self I hoped to become.
During my darkest times, I'd sometimes feel paralyzed by my feelings. They were vulnerable and raw, and they left me wanting to cocoon. Somehow, though, I never curled up. I sure did think about it, though.
And on this eve of a brand new year, when we often take stock in our circumstances and goals...I find myself in a surprisingly wonderful place, one that I've worked so hard to reach. I'm finally in a place that generally focuses not on what I hope for, but rather, and quite simply, on what IS.
•What IS true is that we are here.
•What IS true is that aspects of our circumstances are sometimes out of our control.
•What IS true is that we can't look too far back -- or too far ahead -- without losing the beauty of what IS before us.
•What IS true is that it's amazing -- and enough -- to simply open our eyes and breathe. It's a miracle, actually. A beautiful gift that, for many of us, happens without even thinking. Revel in that, if you can, and, if you're feeling low, oblige yourself of nothing more than just opening your eyes and breathing.
•What IS true is that we're all doing our best with what we can. While those efforts might never be enough for others -- 0r even sometimes for ourselves -- it's ultimately up to each of us to accept who we are at THIS POINT IN TIME.
To be sure, all of that might sound like a bunch of hooey... a bunch of self-help dribble. So, let me tell you a story that might make these points a little more personal.
Last year on New Year's Eve, I was invited to a party. I wasn't in the mood to go. Not even a little. Nevertheless, I made myself dress up, all the while wondering how I'd make it through the NYE evening without falling apart. My feelings were mixed -- I didn't want to be alone, but I didn't want to be around others while feeling emotional. It was a weird space to be. Still, I went, thanks in no small part to 1) some wonderful friends (and you know who you are) and 2) two words I'd often say to myself through gritted teeth: Keep Going.
While I was at that NYE party, I'd occasionally duck into the powder room, feigning the need to powder my nose or adjust my outfit. What I was really doing, however, was looking in the mirror, asking myself why the hell I'd surrounded myself with happy people, all the while feeling like I was dying slowly.
When I came home that night, after taking off my makeup, I looked in the mirror again and faced those same two, sad, tired eyes -- and all those same questions:
What am I doing?
What do I need to make things better?
Why is all of this happening?
What are the answers and how do I reach them?
My thoughts filled with so many "if only's":
1. If only I'd been more prepared for my circumstances.
2. If only I'd done some things differently.
3. If only things were different.
But guess what? The answers were very simple:
1. I hadn't prepared for my circumstances and, in many ways, I couldn't have.
2. I hadn't done things differently and, even if I had, the results might still be the same.
3. Things weren't different. They were what they were.
I crawled into bed that night feeling my lowest and most powerless -- until I made these three New Year's Resolutions:
Focus on what's happening right now
Determine my happiness by MY standards (rather than others')
Embrace -- rather than fight -- feelings of vulnerability
I went to sleep that night wondering how it might all go, and whether or not I truly had any of this in me. Then, I woke up. And...
In January, I went to the Women's March in Washington D.C. and a concert in Chicago -- both by myself.
In February, I performed a new monologue I'd written in front of a live audience in Chicago. It wasn't great, and I didn't know a soul in the audience. Still, I got through it.
In March, I addressed all the issues in my home in need of attention, then was invited to the Caribbean to write a travel piece.
In April, I wrote my first cover story for a magazine and turned 49. Yikes.
In May, I packed up my house and moved all my things out.
In June, I received an award for a column I'd written long ago -- about vulnerability -- then signed my first book contract. Hooray! I also completely forgot one of my best friend's birthdays. Take one guess which item stuck with me the most? Ugh.
In July, I witnessed our governor signing a bill into law that I'd assisted in passing through the state legislature, then accidentally caught a bride's bouquet at a beautiful wedding.
In August, I took care of two of the world's sweetest dogs, then spent a week in New Orleans with one of my kids.
In September, I finally learned that I can stand on my own two feet just fine, thank you, spent time at Wellesley College with fiercely strong women, then watched P!NK swing over an audience singing about resilience. It was my defining month of 2017.
In October, despite ridiculous anxiety about playing cards, I learned how to play Euchre. I also navigated my way through Washington, D.C. for work, went to an amazing musical with a dear friend, then watched another friend's performance during a Halloween concert that -- to this day -- still gives me the chills and -- I suspect -- always will.
In November, I watched another friend reading some beautiful poetry, experienced a sense of freedom I hadn't felt in years, traveled to Denver to breathe some of the freshest air I'd ever known, took a 3 day trip entirely for myself, spent Thanksgiving with my extended family, then got news of another family member's devastating medical diagnosis.
In December, I faced a mountain of emotions following such an unbelievable year and tried letting everyone I love know just how much they mean to me.
Still, throughout the past 365 days, I also had times when I cried and came up short, or owed someone an apology, or felt weak and completely lonely, or had blues I couldn't shake and days I looked like total shit. There were times I missed events, gave half-assed efforts toward others, or felt wishy-washy about some events (and people) that I'd otherwise felt very positive about.
Call it situational depression. Call it the grief process. Call it what you will. I used to look for labels for everything. Now I just let it all happen. It is what it is. It's called life, and the thing is, it's ALWAYS changing. We're always changing and growing and our circumstances always have the chance to improve if we're open to change. So keep going.
Maybe your life has been like this, too -- filled with highs and lows and everything in between. If it's not, I wish for you peace if you do hit a rough patch, and that you're kind to yourself during the aftermath, because believe me -- you'll want that.
I share this all with you because I think a gentle reminder never hurts, especially on nights like this -- New Year's Eve -- when there's so much pressure to be festive and upbeat and (what I call) "Happy Happy Two-by-Four". The thing is, we feel what we feel, and it's not always happy and light. News Flash: There's nothing wrong with that! There's nothing wrong with you if you're feeling blue or "low energy" or just wanting to stay in and go to sleep before the ball drops. It's how you feel. That doesn't mean you're depressed or worse off than all the revelers. Trust me...they're having down times too, and half of the ones you'll see on TV or social media tonight are putting on their own "faces" to get through this night themselves. Trust me.
And so, if you're one of those people, the ones feeling really, really down -- and I mean SO DOWN that you just don't think others can comprehend the pain, well -- let me tell you: I get it. And, you'll feel better. You really will.
That first step toward feeling better might just be sitting with the feelings you have, rather than comparing them to how you WANT to feel. That right there, Buddy, might help you to reset. Give yourself permission to feel down for now, knowing that it will pass.
And please remember: there's so much more good to be enjoyed if you accept it all: the rough, the velvety, and the unpredictable wonder that is life.
Happy New Year to you.
Fear not and please hang in there. We're all in this together.
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