Friday, November 27, 2009

Change :)

So much!

1) I learned that I have sleep apnea. This was severely disrupting my sleep (without me being aware of it), making my heart work hard when it should be resting, and reducing oxygen flow to my brain during night-time. While that might sound like a scary diagnosis, I was actually immensely relieved to know that there was a reason--a treatable reason--why I felt so tired all the time. There were numbers. It wasn't all in my head. And goodness gracious as if I weren't already a ridiculously lucky person, my hospital GAVE me a CPAP machine, which treats sleep apnea. My insurance plan didn't cover one (even though I have pretty comprehensive insurance and this is a necessary treatment); the doctor asked me if I had money to buy one and I (truthfully) answered that I don't. Apparently they had a slightly used machine that had been donated to their sleep department, so they gave it to me. They GAVE it to me. They also gave me the mask and tube that go with it. What a beautiful moment; I walk into a hospital with a problem, and I am given the necessary treatment regardless of my ability to pay, for free because I am unable to pay. Goodness do we need socialized medicine--this should be available to every patient, every time, not just as a random, incredibly lucky fluke.

Anyway, the machine is making a difference. I still have a lot of sleep to catch up on, but I can feel the difference. I have more energy; when I wake up in the morning I don't feel wretchedly tired. I'm becoming more awake and alive. So wonderful. I am so grateful. :) I walk more. I offer to help out people with things more. Turns out I wasn't just being lazy; getting good sleep actually makes a very tangible difference in what I am able to make myself do, as well as in what I am able to enjoy.

2) Major life plan/career/goal change!

So I was on the path to education--took the GRE, getting ready to do my grad school applications for schools of education. On a whim I had signed up for this day-long meditation retreat at the East Bay Meditation Center on finding one's purpose in life/following one's dreams. I went, not necessarily expecting much; but I nonetheless participated sincerely. And I found myself doing exercises and getting feedback ("I noticed your face really lit up when you mentioned music.") that started to let me re-open the question of what I want to do; this process was aided by the open/safe feeling the workshop created. I didn't leave the day with a new plan in mind, but I had knocked a little chink in the armor that was protecting my current plan of going into education. (Armor that was necessary to protect me against my deep fears of what would happen if I changed my mind and found myself once again directionless and, a truly terrifying prospect, hopeless.) What this workshop gave me was courage to ask questions.

So when I next went to therapy, I broached the subject by way of mentioning the recurring bad dreams I have about teaching, where serious things go wrong in my classroom and I feel horrible about myself as a teacher. My therapist asked, "Do you want to teach?" Such an obvious question, yet I had managed to not ask myself that in all this time. I hemmed and hawed about how I would care a lot about my students and there can be some good things about teaching, or how it was only a means to an end (working in the field of education eventually not as a teacher, for example, on curriculum development). But even though I was terrified to say it out loud, I knew the real answer to his question: No, I don't want to teach. We floated the idea of applying to both education and academic (such as history) programs, to give me more time to explore what felt right.

As I stepped out of my therapist's office, a little bubble of a thought hit me. Could I become a therapist? A few months earlier, a friend who I was helping through tough times said to me, "You're really good at this. You should consider becoming a professional therapist." For a moment I was delighted at his suggestion, but I quickly dismissed it with fears such as, would I want to do professional work that hit so close to home, seeing as how I do so much mental health work on myself, in my own life, and with my friends? I squashed the idea then and there.

But now I thought again about becoming a therapist. My earlier fears seemed much less significant; the draw of the profession seemed much more real. I stored this idea for a week or so and then brought it up in therapy. (haha, is it intimidating telling a therapist you might want to become a therapist? yes!) To my enormous relief, my therapist was supportive, as were my friends; within a week I had realized that I was not going to choose to go to a school of education no matter how long I left the option open; I decided to just apply for programs to become a therapist.

I feel good. My therapist asked me what it feels like when I think about becoming a therapist; and I felt it: peaceful. Relieved. I don't have to spend the rest of my life trying to act out a job that doesn't truly fit who I am; as a therapist, there will of course be professional boundaries, but at root, I will get to be myself. I will get to work closely with people, getting to know them well, supporting their healing and growth, sharing and--I'm sure--gaining wisdom. What more could I want? All my life, what's brought me alive has been love of people. Suddenly I feel like...I feel lighter, because I have figured out a way to do what I love. It is just such a relief.

I am still very passionate about education. I am still very passionate about music. I plan on staying involved with both throughout my life; perhaps even at a later point in life I will want to teach again. But at this beautiful moment in time, therapy is what sits right with my soul; it is what feels natural to me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've been having a really interesting (lovely) experience lately. An experience that, along with some changes in my life, makes me think that I'm actually...turning a corner on my depression. I am not only being told by my best friends that they see progress; I Feel progress.

I feel good sometimes. Warm and happy -type good. And I've realized that every time I feel this (which has been like, several times in the last few weeks--which is--a LOT for me) that my mind says, "I feel like Christmas." It seems that the (most) consistent reference point in my life for feeling warm and happy has been Christmas. I honestly didn't know a person could feel like Christmas at other points of the year--much less several times within a few weeks, almost a .... kinda regular occurrence. ???? hahaha

I've been unhappy a long time.

Christmas--feeling happy, warm, hopeful, loved--is one reference point that I keep bumping into. Another is my memory of this one evening during the fall of my freshman year of high school--I was in the high school marching band--our house was near the stadium where our football games were played--and I remember walking to the game (we always performed at home games) in the cool fall air, the maple leaves turning, proudly wearing my band uniform...and I felt excited about life. About the possibilities of a new social world provided by high school and band. About possibilities period. I never felt quite that feeling again in high school-nor in college-after that fall. But this fall...the air is reminding me of that hope....that excitement, perhaps even reminding me as well of younger childhood memories of being excited for my (October) birthday, Halloween, the approach of the holiday season.

Tonight, I feel loved. I feel loved and cared for in a way that I trust. It makes me feel safe. It feels like relief and gratitude and Christmas mixed into one.

Thank you to all the beautiful people in my life who give me so much love and care and support.

More soon :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What makes you feel good about yourself?

Ok, my much-appreciated readers, I am going to submit an inquiry to you, and I would love to hear any input at all that you can think of.

As you probably know, I have a tendency to feel like nothing I do is ever good enough, that there is no way for me to be a good enough person. Intellectually, I can talk myself into believing that I am a good person--but emotionally, I feel perpetually insufficient, not good enough. Guilt is my constant companion--I can always find something to feel guilty about. For example, when I'm caught up on my current responsibilities, I sometimes turn to feeling guilty about mistakes I made as a teacher--even though I was trying very hard, it was my first year teaching with virtually no training, I helped a lot of my kids, and it was well over a year ago. My therapist wants me to really challenge this belief, which is very deeply ingrained in me. So, I was like, yeah, I'd like to change this belief: I don't want to spend the rest of my life feeling like I'm not good enough, which is, of course, very painful, and which I think is at the core of my depression. But I'm not sure what to replace this belief with.

I figure I need to start by taking, "Nothing I do is ever good enough," and replacing it with, "There IS such a thing as good enough."

That's a start, and here is where I'd like to solicit any ideas from you. Do you have any beliefs about what qualifies as "good enough"? If you feel like a good person, why do you feel like this? Or even if you don't, do you have any ideas for how you *could* feel like a good person? When do you feel satisfied, or proud of yourself? What makes you feel good about yourself? Do you think that there are certain actions that make a person good enough, or do you think that all humans are inherently good enough (no matter how horrible of things they do)? etc. etc. Don't worry about whether your ideas are "smart" enough or "perceptive" enough or anything like that--I just want to hear lots of ideas! Put them out there!

I truly appreciate any thoughts! If you don't want to leave your thoughts in the comment section, you can also send me a private email at kjlammers at gmail dot com.

Thank you!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I can't believe it! (or: How to work when you are depressed)

But here I am, barely over the edge into October, and I met the goal I set for myself of applying for 30 jobs in September. October's goal is 35. Of course I only did it because I made myself accountable to other people about it, but still, I can't believe I actually did it.

My impulse is, has always been, to not feel good about achieving my goal. Which isn't to say that this wasn't a significant goal; I have long been terrified of the process of applying for jobs, and every time I submit an application it is through an immense amount of effort and will-power to overcome my fears. While it is true that as I get more practice, the actual work involved in applying--tracking down jobs, editing cover letters, choosing which version of my resume to send--is getting easier, it is also true that the fears I have around applying, and perhaps more fundamentally, getting a job, have been very strong. I have a deep fear of not being able to make myself do work, of ending up so miserable in a job that I am paralyzed; this fear is, unfortunately, the result of experiences such as at my last job working for a bankruptcy lawyer where I was having extreme difficulty just making it through the day by the time I quit. (I will also note that the circumstances in that office were particularly difficult for me because I found the practices of my boss to be unethical and had a very hard time supporting such actions with my work.) When I get depressed, I get slow, I get unmotivated, I get stuck; and I am absolutely and utterly terrified of becoming stuck and depressed in a new job.

Feeling stuck doesn't just have to do with job-related work; it also has to do with the basic work of living--being able to make myself do my chores, cook food, do laundry, exercise, and so on and so forth. I am currently not in that kind of place (at least not overall), but I have lived through periods where I felt like I was so down that I had no control over my actions because I could not trust at all my ability to follow through on my commitments to myself. It is incredibly scary (and guilt-inducing) to feel unable to force yourself to do what needs to be done. And the ultimate version of this fear, for me, is the version where I am at a job and cannot do what needs to be done in my job. Add into this scenario the uncontrollable welling up of deep sadness and a boatload of guilt over my inadequate performance, and I'm looking at a really awful situation.

So the idea of working is scary to me. Thus applying for jobs is hard; not because writing cover letters is hard (I've got that pretty well down), but because the process brings up intense fears for me.

To get past these fears and be able to apply anyway, to meet my goal of 30 jobs, I've used a couple of strategies. For one, I've focused on job descriptions whose responsibilities don't sound too overwhelming. Someday, when I am more well, I will want challenge in the workplace again. For now, simply being in the workplace will be enough of a challenge. I'm also applying to some part-time jobs because I feel I would easier be able to handle a moderate workload at first. This may look like I'm trying to take the easy way out, but it's not: it's me recognizing where I am right now, listening to what my emotions are telling me, and taking a step I think I can maybe (hopefully) manage. It's also just pragmatism: if I tried to force myself to apply for jobs that sound a lot more challenging (i.e. jobs that would actually use my considerable intellect), I won't get anywhere; I'll be too immobilized by my dread to actually put applications out there.

The other strategy was suggested by my therapist: because I fear getting into the rhythm of work again and finding myself to be miserable, he said that I need to give myself an out. He set it up this way: I have to promise myself that if I get a job, I will give it all I've got for 3 months (so that I can give myself time to adjust back into the pace of working). And if at the end of 3 months I'm just miserable, I have to have given permission for myself to quit. Worst comes to worst, I could move back home for a few months until grad school starts in the fall. According to my therapist, the point of this "out" is this: until I acknowledge, and deal with, my fears, they're going to be standing in the way of me doing what I need to do, and I'm going to get very little done. And he also said that applying for so many jobs was going to be slogging through the mud, in order to validate how difficult this is for me.

So I did all this. And I still felt awful every time I planned on applying, up until the point where I would start working on the cover letters and then my anxiety would melt away and I'd become clear-minded and be able to work again. Sometimes I truly just felt too awful to start working; on those nights I would either give up and go to sleep, or try to get some positive energy flowing from another source (talking to a friend, reading a funny website, etc.). It sounds silly, but in my experience at least, when I feel just tooooo bad, I cannot for the life of me force myself to do work. In order to start working I have to first make myself feel good enough that my energy and brain can start flowing, either by talking myself down from my anxieties, or by getting happy energy from an unrelated source.

Piece by piece I slogged through the applications, and finally, at the very end of the process, it started to get a lot easier. By the time I finished application number 30 I was tossing them off easy as pie; by having this goal that I had to meet (especially because I was accountable to others for it), I think I was able to force myself through the worst of it, and by doing it so many times, I've come through, hopefully, the most intense part of my fears/dread.

So I suppose I should be proud of myself, should allow myself to feel satisfied and happy for what I've accomplished. This, in itself though haha, is extremely difficult for me. There's the eternal voice in my head: the applications weren't good enough, 30 isn't actually very many, you have other responsibilities to take care of, etc. etc. etc.: it's not good enough. Not good enough. I don't know why but my mind/heart are deeply invested in believing this, that nothing I do is ever good enough. My therapist says that I need to learn to feel satisfied about my accomplishments; and this does make sense, after all, it would be easier to make myself do things if I actually felt good about doing them. So I'm trying to feel good about this; I'm trying to tell myself that it actually was enough, it was good enough, it was actually really hard and a significant achievement. Even just typing those words is hard for me--I suppose that's the next question to explore: why am I so hesitant, almost ashamed it seems, to feel good for accomplishing my goals?

Quick thought in fact: perhaps I am ashamed to feel good because for almost all of my life I have based my identity on excellence--more than excellence in fact: brilliance, superb excellence, magnificence. Some part of me is saying: anything less than astounding brilliance is not good enough for me, so I better not let myself feel good about it. Why I am so invested in seeing myself as almost superhumanly amazing is another question: perhaps it has to do with the fact that I have such a hard time seeing myself as loveable, loved--could I deserve, could I receive, unconditional love, true enthusiastic boundless love, if I weren't excellent? Who am I if not excellent? What worth do I have if I am not constantly excellent? What value do I bring to the world if I am not constantly producing excellence? On what basis would anyone love me if I weren't amazing? (Of course I know factually that many many people love me; these questions are coming from my heart though, not my mind.) Why would anyone love this deeply-flawed, grossly imperfect, unsublimated, human human human, Kate?

(Lol, at least I know I'm still an Enneagram 2.)

Being satisfied, learning to feel satisfied, will then have to come from recognizing that there is no such thing as "enough", no achievement will ever feel like "enough", and thus, what is achieved, is in fact enough.

And it would be nice, lol, to come to believe that I am worthy of love even the way I am right now.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Sorry, again, for the long absence...I could feel bad about not writing for so long, but I feel bad about so many other things already that I think I won't go there, haha.

This past month I've been getting more depressed again, I think. I don't know why and this is frustrating. Not anywhere near my worst levels of depression or anything, but enough that I can feel it. I feel it in my body; I'm tired (but not as tired as I have been at some points); my, excuse the TMI, sex drive has decreased quite a bit. I'm sad but seemingly unable to cry, or at least I haven't had a good cry in quite a while. (And I have had good cries since starting on my antidepressants so I don't think it's those; I hope not at least.) I've had my thyroid and iron levels checked, and they came out fine. It is possible that I could have sleep apnea, so I will be getting tested for that in a couple of weeks.

Life-wise....I studied a lot for the GRE and did incredibly well on it, but have taken very little pleasure from this fact. I've been quite stressed about applying for jobs. I am pushing myself, working hard, but I feel bad nonetheless. And it feels like I've lost some motivation socially, have been a little withdrawn, been making less effort to meet up with people, etc.

I started playing this multi-player game online (a strategy game, with teams you work with); got a lot of energy from it for a while b/c it was really nice to have constant access to a social environment, but took on more responsibility within the game and it became stressful, am playing a lot less now.....

My closest relationships are all in perfectly fine shape; still have lovely roommates, good family, friends to talk with.....

I just

feel myself slowly sinking

not in the sense of feeling like I will sink very far; it's not like quickly sinking through water, but rather slowly sinking in mud

not too deep of mud

but mud nonetheless

And I don't know why.

I don't think I'll be here forever, but I am frustrated, because....I was feeling better not too long ago, and I don't know what changed.

Only thing to do is to keep plodding along. I mentioned that my therapist said I have perseverence. I have perseverence because the thought of living my entire life this way is just too awful; I have no other option but to keep struggling forward (or even keep struggling when falling backward a bit; the point is: keep struggling). It would be nice to feel good. That's possible, right?

Lol, sorry for the depressing the post. I guess that's what you get for reading a blog about depression. :p

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Perseverance/or/Holding feelings, good and bad

My therapist this past week (the new one, who I'm liking very much by the way) told me that I have a lot of perseverance; he said that even though he's just getting to know me, he can see that I'm trying as hard as I can.

Words like that mean a lot to me since I have a LOT of guilt around work-related issues; essentially, I have a very strong tendency to feel like I'm never working hard enough, and thus, since my brain long long ago adopted the belief that the work I do=my worth as a human being, I then feel like I am a bad person. My guilt about "not working hard enough" is, at this stage of my life at least, seemingly omnipresent. Hell, guilt about anything and everything is always hovering somewhere in my mind.

I didn't apply for enough jobs this week. I should have called so-and-so back sooner. I'm not studying hard enough (GRE coming up). I should have done my chores sooner and better. I should clean my room more often. I should go to bed earlier. I should eat healthier. I should exercise more. I should be more considerate and caring to the people in my life. I should spend less of my energy giving to people in my life and more on facing my own problems. I feel bad that that car had to stop so I could cross the street. I should spend less time on the computer. I should play my violin more. I should read more. I should live more frugally.

and on

and on

and on

Despite the momentary relief I felt at my therapist's words, I spent much of the rest of the week feeling very very guilty for various items on that list, and probably others too haha.

Often my response to feelings of intense guilt has been to assuage it--say, it's ok Kate that you didn't do this or that, it doesn't actually matter that much, it doesn't make sense to feel that guilty. I'm good at talking myself down, of coping with the guilt, distracting myself, removing the edge to it, dulling the pain, pushing it away..... I think this has contributed to my emotional emptiness; and clearly, all the reassurances in the world have not taken away my root tendency to assume that I am doing something wrong at any given moment, to believe that I am never good enough.

So this week I tried to hold the guilt instead of going through my usual reassurances/coping mechanisms. I tried to just sit there and acknowledge, I am feeling very very very guilty, very ashamed. Tried to just feel it, not fight it, not push it away..... So, honestly, between the guilt and the corresponding shame and sadness, it was a pretty shitty feeling week. But I am proud of myself for trying to feel what comes up, trying to not run from it.....this is all in the long-term hope that if I learn to feel these things fully, perhaps they will not continue to hold so much power over me; perhaps by feeling them I can actually move through them, move forward. (A lot of the philosophy fueling this supposition is coming from Re-Evaluation Counseling theory and Buddhism/meditation stuff I'm reading).

I started to think tonight that perhaps it's not just bad feelings I have a hard time facing. I think I sometimes run from good feelings as well. I was feeling very sad this evening and turned on some music and began to feel sooooo much better; and very soon after that I felt the impulse to turn the music off and go on with my evening the way I had been. I think this impulse came partly from a sort of fundamental distrust I have of feeling good. I think that sometimes I am so afraid of losing good feelings that I'd rather not have them or cut them off myself; that way I maintain a sense of "control" over disappointment/loss. I think that because I recognize that good feelings are so ephemeral (as are all feelings in truth), I just don't want to bother with them; I want what I know is solid; so I settle for not too bad, because I think some part of me believes that I can at least control things so that I won't feel too bad. I'm afraid to feel good because I'm terrified of losing feeling good. I'm terrified of coming to trust that feeling good can be a regular part of life, only to have it swept away. Only to be "disillusioned". Only to have to be faced with the "hard realities" of life once more.

Perhaps this is why I can't hold onto my therapist's words of praise, or any words of praise, or any feeling of accomplishment, for very long. I'm deeply afraid of *actually* believing something good about myself, and then being proven wrong and crushed. I felt crushed often at other points in my life; I learned to cope, it seems, by never letting my hopes get too far ahead of me, never letting myself feel too confident, too happy, always keeping the highs low enough that the seemingly inevitable corresponding crash wouldn't be too painful. I think some part of me believes that emotions look like a sine wave--up always followed by down--and writing the equation to make the wave as narrow as possible will mean that my downs don't go too far into the negatives.

So here's to rewriting the equation to open up my sign wave wider and wider; here's to learning to hold the really painful stuff, and perhaps even harder, learning to hold the really good-feeling stuff. Here's to learning to value not only lack of pain, but to actually value feeling good. (In the words of a good friend, "Kate, just because you're used to being miserable doesn't mean you actually have to be miserable all the time." oy! haha) Finding the courage to actually believe something good about myself, or to actually hope for my future.

When my therapist said that I am trying as hard as I can, that I have perseverance, it rang true to me. I know, on some level, that I am reallllly trying hard; I know that I have not given up; I know that I am determined to continue putting one foot in front of the other. So what is the next step? I am not going to try to force myself to feel good of course; I am going to continue to try to really let myself feel whatever comes up for me, and I'm going to be conscious of trying to let myself hold/feel both the sharp pains that I normally turn from and the good feelings that I normally truncate. Phew, good luck to me! hahahah

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Letting Go

I feel so so so so alive after an amazing evening talking with a good friend.

This feeling is so invigorating--engaged--deep--my friend is so deep, I love exploring depths of people and life--I love hearing wisdom--the poetry of my friend's language, the breadth of his experience--I am, I think, a person who loves to learn from all different life experiences, I seek out wisdom from experiences, from others.

So alive!

I want to keep this feeling, feel anxious about keeping this feeling. Then I remember something I read in "Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart" by Mark Epstein, which is a book about the intersection between psychotherapy and Buddhism/meditation. The author writes that his habit of trying to hold on to good experiences/things/feelings/etc. was so ingrained that after he learned to achieve a sense of deep letting go through meditation, he began to fear losing his sense of letting go. In other words, he was trying to hold on to letting go. He eventually realized what he was doing and worked to let his sense of letting go come in and out of his life, worked to trust that it would come back.

Scary scary scary that I cannot keep experiences, hold on to them, make them always be there for me. I feel like one lesson I'm starting to try to embrace is the fact that life is change; everything is always changing; part of really living is accepting that you cannot keep things the same, and by accepting this you perhaps can learn to really be present with whatever is happening for you at the moment.

My friend and I both have deep, deep love for music, and we were discussing last night some of our experiences and habits around listening to music. Since I was a child, I have had a fear that if I listen to a song I love over and over again, I will rob it of its potency. I used to have a rule for myself that if I really liked a particular track on a CD, I would have to listen to the entire CD rather than just that track so that I would not get bored with it. Similarly I limit myself on rereading of favorite books, rewatching of favorite movies; contained within these habits is the fear of the inevitability of loss; the fear that next time I pick up this piece of art, it won't give me what I've come to expect. I think these habits demonstrate a way in which I limit my ability to enjoy things that I love by focusing so much on my fear of losing them.

I experience so much less anxiety if I stop worrying about keeping good feelings indefinitely alive. Feeling amazing from my evening with my friend right now; goodness life is amazing, so so much more out there! This feeling cannot be kept permanently alive, things come and go, always changing all I can do is experience it right now. Perhaps learn to trust that good things will come into my life just as they go out; trust that other good experiences will come in, probably at some points experiences like this feeling...but in a way, more to the point....whether I have that trust or not, no matter how much I try to hold onto my feeling right now, I cannot do it; it is impossible. In that light, the only thing to do is, insofar as is possible (and for me at this point in my life, I do not know that it is possible to all that deep of a degree), to accept the reality that everything is always changing. Enjoy this moment, do not add anxiety by trying to hold on, by trying to do the impossible.



Thursday, August 6, 2009

I switched therapists, oh my!

It's been a while, and for this I apologize. It's been an odd month, but I'm starting to feel a little more settled in myself again, and I want to come back to writing here.

I switched therapists. Holy cow! This was a scary decision, but I'm feeling good about it now. I made this decision for a number of reasons. For one, I've been feeling kind of stagnant with my former therapist. While I've learned a lot from her, and was still learning some things, for the most part I felt like we were talking about the same things over and over again without really moving forward. For her part, she expressed that she thought that what we were doing was important and was actually building toward something, but I got to the point where I didn't want to wait anymore, had begun to lose faith that it was actually going to prove productive in the long run. I'm open to the possibility that I may have been wrong about this, but I also respect my own thought process; in other words, I respect my own urge to try out a new therapist and see how it feels, see if it's better, see if I can feel like I can get more forward momentum again.

I also decided to leave my therapist because I had grown uncomfortable talking to her. This is probably the root reason why I decided to leave; I probably would have put up with the feeling of stagnancy and kept trying had I felt more comfortable with her. The very first time I met with my therapist, I had a slight sense of discomfort with her. However, I liked her a lot in other ways, and I was leery of challenging her when she said she thought we would work well together, so I pushed my sense of discomfort to the side. And I must say, I got a lot out of working with this therapist; I am in so much better shape now than when I first started working with her.

However, at one point several months ago, she expressed strong disapproval of a personal decision I had made. This was very out of character for her, and she later acknowledged as much, but this incident really shattered the sense of safety I had had with her. I tried for a long time to rebuild this sense of safety, but within the few months I kept seeing her was not able to restore this sense to its previous strength. I think my inability to rebuild my sense of safety rose perhaps in part from the original discomfort I felt with my therapist; a feeling of not quite wanting to open up fully to this person, of not trusting them to see me fully, not trusting them to not judge me. I have no idea how she actually sees me; as she pointed out, it is very possible that my discomfort with her has nothing to do with her and everything to do with my fears of being judged. She did not want me to stop seeing her; she said that it was quite possible that if I started working with another therapist I would run into the same issues.

I felt a lot of guilt around leaving this therapist: I've been working with her for almost a year, and she has given me a lot of help. I took her words to heart and worried that maybe I'm just running away because it's getting tough. While I was in the process of leaving her, however, I began seeing another therapist (recommended by a friend), who I really like so far and who gave me some very helpful ideas about the decision of whether or not to leave my old therapist.

"Maybe you are running away. So what? You're running away! Fantastic!" What a concept--I don't ALWAYS have to take the hardest path available?!?!?! Wow! hahaha ;) (I actually don't always take the hardest path available, but I pretty much always feel guilty about doing that, at least on the level of gut reaction.) The new therapist pointed out that if I am running away from some issues, they'll pretty surely come up for me again and I'll always have a chance to face them again.

In my own brain, this idea strengthened my confidence in the thought that popped into my head when my therapist said that I'd probably run into similar issues of discomfort/feeling judged with another therapist. So what? If I run into the same issues with another therapist at least then I'll know for sure that it's me, and not the therapist, and then I can work on it.

At root I think my decision to leave is a decision to listen to the part of myself that all along was saying, I'm not so sure about this therapist.... Wherever that voice is coming from, I'm deciding to trust it, try something new (I can always go back if I begin to see it in a different light). Honestly, I don't think it's just me and my issues, I do think it's at least a little bit her. Whether or not I'm right, it just feels good to go ahead and try it out, and so far I'm having a really really good experience with the new therapist I'm seeing, so.... Here we go! I feel good, I feel not stagnant, I feel kind of excited. :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

...or you will be taught to fly

I would like to share some poems and art friends/family have given me at least partly in response to my blog. :)

First, a poem:
When you come to the end of all the light you know,
and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown,
faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen:
Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.
--Edward Teller

I don't know what kind of faith I have, if any; I do know that I have to keep moving forward one way or another, and I very much like the idea of transforming by learning how to fly.

Second, a painting created for me by one of my best friends:

This painting, not to mention the amazing love and friendship this friend gives me, means so so much. :)

Finally, another poem:


This being human is a guest house,
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


I have found this concept to be helpful. Often when I'm feeling bad in some way or another, I start to feel bad for feeling bad--I assume that I'm doing something wrong, that my emotion is a result of some sort of failure on my part, some inadequacy, etc. If I remind myself to think of an emotion as a visitor within myself, however, I'm much more easily able to feel it without adding all this extra suffering onto it. Of course this poem is rich and has much more to offer than just that, but it's a start. :)

Thank you my dears for sharing with me; your support is deeply appreciated.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thoughts on Love of Self

I want to stay focused on the question: what does it mean to love myself?

It doesn't mean being able to acknowledge all my strengths, though I suppose that doesn't hurt. I know I have plenty of moments where I don't believe good things about myself; but I have as well many more moments where I do believe good things about myself. As my friend said, "You know you're hot shit."

But somehow knowing all the great things about myself doesn't matter. I do truly believe good things about myself, but however many good things there are, they are never enough. What is good when you could be better? What is good when along with all your strengths there are ever so many flaws?

So I am in the rather odd position of having, on the one hand, excellent self-esteem, and on the other hand, horrible feelings about myself. How do knowing that I'm great and feeling that I'm horrible add up? My friend helped me understand this: these two contradictory beliefs actually go in "different columns: being able to rationally tally up your strengths, versus viscerally loving yourself."

Ok. That helps. So I believe lots of wonderful things about myself, but somehow I am not able to relate those beliefs to actually *feeling good* about myself. Somewhere along the line, I think I lost the ability to feel good about myself.

I think--perhaps I'm wrong, but at least as far as I can see right now--I think that I have not felt good about myself in a very long time.

When I graduated from a prestigious, rigorous university with departmental and general honors, and was even selected to cross the stage with a small groups of students particularly noted for their achievements and potential....I felt nothing. I remember that day; it was gorgeous; I had family and friends; I'm standing there holding a beautiful and meaningful diploma; and I was thinking, "This is it? I don't feel any pride, any satisfaction, any joy....what did I work so hard all these years for?" Of course, my academic record gives me advantages; and the value of studying hard was that I learned a lot. But I wasn't able to feel good about myself for it, not on that auspicious day nor on any other.

At the end of the school year last year, I gave my students an evaluation form about my class. As I read their responses later in the day, I was amazed to see how much they believed they had gotten out of my class. Several (certainly not all lol) said that I had taught them to love history, that they had learned to think about race and racism differently, that they appreciated how I pushed them and believed in them and was patient with them; one student wrote, "I now know that just because someone says something doesn't mean it's true." This was immensely gratifying. After a year of hanging on by the skin of my teeth and feeling woefully inadquate at almost every moment, I was relieved. All my suffering had not been for naught. I was finally able to feel good, at least partly, about the work I had done.

But I didn't feel good about myself. Perhaps this sounds like splitting hairs; but in terms of how it affects my life, it really matters. This was one of the remarkably rare moments of my life where I did feel some satisfaction about work I'd done; but it was nothing more than that. It didn't change how I feel about myself. It didn't actually take away the shame. To this day, there is a very strong part of me that is deeply ashamed of everything that I did not manage to do for my students. My satisfaction at the end of the school year was lovely and important, but it didn't allow me to change the basic story about myself, the basic way I see myself.

Nothing I achieve, no accomplishment, will ever be sufficient to change my story about myself. I will always have flaws, and as my brain functions right now, I will always magnify those flaws so thoroughly that, no matter what my rational brain tells me about how great I am, I will feel bad about who I am.

So what does loving myself look like?

I think an important piece needs to be, accepting that I have flaws, letting go of them, forgiving myself for them. This is really, really, really, really hard to do. It is terrifying. Terrifying.

I have this deep fear that if I let up on myself, I will cease to function. In the words of my therapist, I have this idea that I constantly need "the whip at my back" in order to be able to make myself get anything done and hold my life together. I'm terrified that without my guilt holding me together, I will simply fall apart.

If I say to myself, and actually mean, and actually believe, "It's okay, Kate, that you made that mistake," then how will I stop myself from making that mistake again?

Ironically, I'm a good enough observer of myself that I've learned that it's actually easier to make myself get things done when I'm feeling good.

So doesn't it stand to reason that if I stopped beating myself up and actually accepted and stopped feeling guilty about my flaws, that I would become *more* functional, rather than less?

I'm so scared to lose my framework. But perhaps I can remind myself that there are actually reasons to do things other than duty and guilt. You clean your house because you want to live in a nice space; you study because you enjoy learning and want to get a degree; you treat people well because you believe in compassion; you eat healthy because you want to feel good and be healthy. Even activities without intrinsic pay your bills because you know it will make you happier in the long run. All these activities don't have to be lined up on a good/bad scale; they can be thought of in terms of the actual value they bring to your life.

So what is it that I'm afraid of? Am I afraid that I value my own well-being so little that without the whip of guilt at my back, I won't actually take care of myself? I must be. Because I imagine what it would be like if I just let it all down, right this moment, said, ok Kate, you're really ok, you don't have to feel bad anymore....and immediately I'm scared, thinking, but what would happen next, do I actually go on living my life?

I guess that's what courage is, stepping into the unknown.

Another piece of loving myself, I think, would be allowing myself to feel satisfaction much more often for my accomplishments, and, perhaps more fundamentally, turning my knowledge that I am a good person into permission to actually feel good about who I am. I think perhaps these may come easier as I learn to forgive myself for my flaws and thus stop focusing so intently on how I don't deserve to feel good/how it's "dangerous" to feel good. To feel good about myself...what a delight that would be.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Long Days

I have too much time. Yes, I try to keep busy; I work on job applications; I tutor; I (gasp! haha) cook; I play the violin; I make art; I read; I walk; I spend a lot of time with friends....but at the end of it all, I just have too much time. Some days stretch on and on and on....I ache when I try to think of how to fill the hours. Even after spending several hours on job applications, there are just so many hours left in a day! Dreadful, empty hours.

I used to watch a lot of TV to distract myself, but I've reached a point where it is so painful to watch TV that I'm actually beginning to break the habit.

The actual problem is not time, because when I've been employed in the past I still felt like this...all too empty at the end of the work day, beginning to dread the task of filling the evening hours. I remember nights where I felt so desperate that I actually looked forward to being at a job I hated just to escape the unbearable limbo. In this emotional state, motivation becomes a real struggle. I lose my motivation because I have such a hard time imagining myself deriving real satisfaction from any particular activity I could pick up. Often, of course, after I finally actually do something, I do feel better. Not always, though, a fact which I am all too quick to remember the next time around. My depression-brain oft repeats this chorus: "No matter what you do, you cannot ultimately escape the emptiness." Boy does that sound cheesy, but no one ever said depression-brain-voices were profound, lol. This fear, that nothing I do will actually make me feel better, paralyzes me. When I get too deep into that fear--when I lose hope that things could actually improve--I lose my motivation.

Hell, I know I'm a week late on this blog post, and I've had ideas to write about for a while. It took me this long to finally say, Kate, you have to do something, writing does actually make you feel good; go work on your blog. Or rather, I've been saying that all along; it took me this long to actually heed my own advice and take the steps of opening a window and starting to type. I literally have had my blog page open for many hours almost every day of the past week with the intention of writing.

It's a crazy thing, motivation. Growing up I had such a good handle on it. I did my homework, practiced my violin because the thought of not doing it, and of receiving dissaproval from a teacher or a bad grade, was so unbearable (brought up such intense guilt) I wouldn't even let it cross my mind. I enjoyed the work too, definitely; I often had the thought that I was grateful I was being assigned to do certain things because I really enjoyed them but couldn't imagine finding the motivation to do them if there weren't an external impetus.

This system of motivation began to unravel when I got to college; when I began to realize that no amoung--NO amount!--of approval from others would ever actually make me feel better about myself. Somehow I kept it together enough to graduate with a strong academic record--I think perhaps the specter of a bad grade was still just enough to keep me from falling off the edge.

How messed up is that! I didn't do the work for the joy of it--even though I found joy in it! I could only force myself to work with an immediate deadline hanging over my head, even though I knew that working made me feel better and not working made me feel worse.

Somewhere along the path of my life some wires in my head got majorly crossed, and I came to believe that anything under the label of "work" was undesirable and anything not under the label of "work" was desirable. Thus have I spent so many hours of my life miserably watching TV instead of doing things that took just a little more effort (thus earning the title of "work") but which would bring so much more satisfaction.

I see this picture so clearly, and it seems so obvious what I could do about it; spend less time with screens, more time with books, writing, music, art, outdoors. But any grand plan brings terror for me because I have made SO many resolutions in my life that I have not kept, and I dread another "failure." And the idea of increasing the "evidence" of how little control I seem to have over myself is...again, terrifying.

A compromise then? I read something in a cognitive therapy book about keeping track of how different activities make you feel; so I will make the very modest commitment of keeping a log of how different activities make me feel. Perhaps I will gather enough evidence to convince my depression-brain that I can actually find some sort of satisfaction out of doing? We shall see.

Activity: Writing
Feeling: After feeling empty and hopeless all day, I finally feel *something*, some sort of vitality that was lacking before. Mmmmm, thank goodness. :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Follow Your Truth

Amazingly--amazing to me at least--my plan for self-care seems to actually be working. The last few days I've started to feel much better. More specifically, I feel lighter. Less suffering, less heartache, a whole lot more lightness of spirit. :)

I went with a friend Wednesday night to a meditation and dharma talk at a local, free meditation center. I have virtually no experience with meditation, but am excited to perhaps start exploring. The talk was about desire. I took several interesting points from it:
1) Desire is a natural part of the human condition, so there is no point in feeling guilty simply for having them. On a very basic level, desire is what keeps life going--we desire food, sleep, love, family.
2) Desire takes you out of the moment. Instead of being present, your mind has taken you to an imaginary future place.
3) Sometimes, desire can cause a lot of pain. Desire says, "I am here, but I want to be there," and if there is unattainable, this can be very painful. No point, again, beating yourself up for *having* the desire; instead notice and have compassion for the pain the desire is causing you.
4) When you have strong desires, sit with them and notice them and see what they can tell you.

While this whole talk was going on, I was noticing how I was feeling a lot of pain myself, caused in large part by unfulfilled desires. So after the talk I took some time and, instead of feeling guilty as usual, decided to have compassion for my pain and to try to learn what my desires could tell me.

What I figured out was that behind my immediate desires was a deeper yearning for emotional closeness. But here's the thing: I already have emotional closeness. I have so many wonderful relationships in my life, people I can count on to hear me, support me, love me, who I can be deeply open with. So why is it that I yearn so painfully for something I already have?

I realized that I feel lonely. I hadn't been able to put words to this before that moment because whenever my heart started to cry out, it would be cut short with a reminder, Kate, you have so many good, loving people in your life; you are less alone than you've ever been before. My mind said, it doesn't make sense that you would feel lonely, and I never gave my heart to voice its objection to this logic.

But now I realize that I do, in fact, feel lonely. This raises a very interesting question: why do I feel lonely even though I am not alone? I think that this is the answer: I feel lonely independently of whether or not I have lots of friends and love in my life. My loneliness, at least right now, is not a reflection of the actual circumstances of my life, but rather it is a reflection of something internal, something within me.

No amount of love from others can fill this gap. I'm getting so much love right now from the outside, and I feel only marginally, if at all, better. Something in my brain refuses to translate the intellectual knowledge of others' love for me into a deeper, intuitive knowledge that I am loved.

Some part of me, and not a small part, believes that I am unloveable. I have a fear that at any moment, those who love me will finally realize the truth about me, about how "bad" I am (lazy, selfish, incompetent, insufficient, etc. etc.), and they will stop loving me. Because on some level I do not believe that anyone who truly knew me could love me.

In other words, I struggle to accept love from others because I do not know how to love myself. So yes, I am lonely, because there is a deep, gaping, impossible need for love, and no matter how much keeps getting poured in, too much falls right back out. I do need to say: I am so deeply grateful for all the love I am given. I would not have made it this far without all the support I have received from others, and that support continues to play a critical role in my recovery.

Ultimately, though, the solution must be for me to learn to love myself. To somehow come to believe, solidly, confidently, dependably, that I am actually okay.

I do not know how to do this. I know only that I need to do this. This may not be the only thing I need to do, but without it, all my other gains will be ultimately fragile. Because what life can be built upon the treacherous foundation, the wretched pain, of the constant knowledge of one's own inadequacy, unworthiness? I deserve more than this from life.

A good friend suggested that I begin by keeping this thought in my head: "What would my life look like at this very moment if I loved myself?" I like this approach, because to be honest, I do not even know what it looks like to love oneself, to accept oneself, and perhaps it would be helpful to begin creating a vision of what it is I want to achieve.

The other words this friend left me with were this: Follow your truth.

So what does this moment look like in a universe where Kate loves herself? I think that what I am doing here, writing, figuring things out, trying to give myself permission to be kind to myself, I think that is an act of love. And I am feeling...satisfied in a way. The truth that I am following is that I want to think and write and share and learn, and I feel good that I just did this for myself. It's a good first step. :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

And self-care

Too much ache, too much grief-space; I've figured out that I need to take a little space for myself; the pain I was feeling about the loss of my friend's son was beginning to get in the way of my living.

I've never had access to so much empathy before (an effect, perhaps, of me learning how to open myself up more and more emotionally), so I guess this new empathy ability is something I'm going to have to learn how to live with in a way that doesn't drain me. After all, feeling others' pain (not that you could ever really feel it, but feeling whatever approximation your brain creates) does not ultimately take away what they're going through, and if done too much can reduce your ability to be supportive. A friend of mine was speculating today that empathy is most useful in forgiveness, i.e. in understanding someone you are angry at; sympathy is most useful in supporting friends/loved ones, as it does not sap your ability to function and support.

So project self-care, here I come. Taking a bit of space to try to get out of this grief head-space I've been living in; trying to return my focus to noticing and meeting my needs, and thus rejuvenating my ability to function. My heart is still ever-so-full, but a little lighter; the content weighted just a bit more toward joy. I hope before too long to be truly emerging from the depression space I've been sinking deeper and deeper into the last few weeks. (And please, let me note, that my recent depression has by no means only been an affect of being close to this family's loss; I've also been dealing with a lot of stress around finding a job, dealing with losses other people I am close to are suffering from, and dealing with some physical symptoms of feeling realllly tired again, which may have to do with my meds--thankfully I have a doctor's appointment coming up!)

I am going to get out of this hole; here I am to fight another day. :)


I've recently (in the last month) become good friends with a person who lost a young son to cancer in the past year. This has set me kind of reeling emotionally, but I'm slowly finding my way back. What a thing to witness, such soaring love, such wrenching grief.

I am inspired by the way this family raised their son; I hope someday to raise my children with a similar kind of love and validation; I am grateful to be a witness to such deep and tender love.

And I am torn apart over the loss of this beautiful boy I never even met, the way his parents have been savaged by this loss. I am in awe of the strength and courage with which they continue to face each day.

So much...what a thing it is to be witness to such grief and beauty and love and loss....

I am grateful; every ounce of sadness I have experienced I would take over my old days of emptiness--just to feel! is so important. But I'm having a hard time figuring out a balance, figuring out how to both feel the sadness (not block out my emotions), and also how to not let myself become overwhelmed.... I do not want to use words like grief to describe my feelings because the loss was in no way mine, but in whatever way it is possible to say so, I have been in mourning. So now the challenge is to honor both the depth with which I feel for this child and his family, and my own need for balance and self-care. We shall see....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

I've made so much progress but there are those days when I'm struck by how far I still have to go.

I've been reading about "Re-evaluation Counseling" (also known as "Co-counseling") in the last few days (see While I can't follow its theorists to the full conclusion of their beliefs (at the very least, I am prodded to skepticism by my belief that people are always more complicated than you can put down on a piece of paper), I find their root point very compelling; hurts that we have not healed from stiffen and entrap our thinking and thought patterns.

Say that you suffer some form of hurt; perhaps someone says something mean to you. According to rc theory, either you are able to discharge the hurt by finding a caring eye/ear who will patiently let you cry/talk/tremble/laugh out your hurt *entirely*, or you do not get to fully (or perhaps even partially) discharge the hurt. In our society--fraught with sentiments of "don't cry, it will be ok," uncomfortable with strong displays of emotion--the latter is much more likely. And the latter is what traps our thinking. This theory says that if you are not able to feel/discharge the hurt, it doesn't go away; even if it becomes hidden, it remains as a scab clogging up the pathways of your thoughts. The more un-discharged hurts you have, the more limited your thinking becomes; the effects are cumulative.

This theory makes sense to me. I can feel myself shy away from certain thoughts because of the pain they portend--pain born of the memory of hurts that I didn't allow myself to feel, that I didn't know what to do with. This is actually a very good description of depression as I experienced it; sometimes acute, but more often this incredible stagnation of diffuse hurt, fear, sadness--at the worst periods of my depression, everywhere I looked held the expectation of pain rising from the incomplete way I had processed past experiences of pain. And nowadays, even with all the progress I've made, I have moments (or hours sometimes or days even) where I begin to fall back into depression patterns and feelings--and it is very often an experience of feeling trapped between ominous thoughts--thoughts that old hurts, old dreads, are predictors of my future.

It is interesting the way fear has crept into me yesterday and today. Perhaps reading rc theory has caused me to articulate to myself some things I'd forgotten about; perhaps it's just a case of the Wednesdays (quite often the low point of my week, for whatever reason); perhaps there's some area (or areas) of my current experience that I am not allowing myself to feel fully. I was feeling so strong, and suddenly, I feel so afraid.

Deep breath, baby. Keep going. You are strong and brave; just take a deep breath, take another step.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Growing Up

As I stumbled into the kitchen this morning in search of breakfast, I was hit by this thought: I'm really growing up; I'm pretty damn grown up. Not that there isn't more growing to do (there is *always* more growing to do, which to me is truly a joy to know--I don't plan to ever stop!), but for the first time in my life, I feel like an adult. I feel strong and confident and ready to face the challenges ahead of me with wisdom and integrity. Holy cow!

Strength has always been part of my make-up; I've survived tough times (parents' divorce, loneliness as a youth, years of depression); I've done hard things (nerve-wracking tests and performances, challenging university coursework, teaching eighth grade, questioning my religious beliefs); I've always lived with integrity, always been mature for my age. But what I feel now is different.

I was raised by a hard-nosed realist who insisted on responsibility and integrity and hard work and never taking the easy way out. I deeply absorbed these values and am very much indebted to them, but they also came at a cost. I came to see the world as a place where a truly joyful life would never be more than a fantasy, always to be intruded upon by the reality of hard work to be done and hard decisions to be made. I came to fear "hard truths" because I believed they would either puncture my current, fragile positive emotions, or they would add yet another layer of burden to my deep sense of emptiness and void. I did face "hard truths" and choose hard paths, but only out of a sense of duty. And it was oh-so-draining. Depression is so hard, ay!

In recent years, because I simply couldn't take it anymore, I've backed away from the "hard truths" model of life. For years the idea of responsibility has terrified me and I've shied away from it; the specter of dread duty sucking the life out of me has hovered increasingly too close for comfort. I've tried to learn to take it easy on myself and to enjoy things without feeling guilty, and I've made a lot of progress on both counts. I've tried to give myself permission to do what I want, to not worry about the truth all the time, to not worry about integrity all the time, to just live.

I am learning to just live, which is to say, I am learning to live, and it is beautiful and wonderful. And as I have given myself permission to do this, and as I have begun to find the real joy in life, I find myself coming full-circle. I now have the energy, courage, even desire to delve into the hard truths, the challenges of life. I can now brave pain, because now it is not pain on top of excruciatingly low self-esteem, or pain on top of a grey and hopeless world-view; now it is pain that is just part of the flow of life, that does not have the power to undermine my joy in the world or in my new-found confidence. Hard truths no longer threaten my positive emotions because I now know that joy is not a fantasy, but that it is the real stuff of life.

I am so strong! I am ready to challenge myself, to ask hard questions, to do hard things, and to not only survive the pain but thrive in spite of it, to rejoice in the knowledge of my own strength, to rejoice in my continued growth. I am ready to go out there, take risks, experience magic, feel pain, and LIVE through it all! Integrity and responsibility are not dread duties; they are challenges that I elect for myself, because I know that I am fantastic, and I plan to see how far I can go in this incredible journey.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Waking up

I feel fuller, on a consistent basis, than I have felt in years. I am coming alive; waking up. This doesn't mean I'm happy all the time; I'm okay with that because I finally don't feel empty. I am FEELING things. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've really felt things.

I've been going through a bit of heartbreak, to tell the truth. I met a great guy. It was brief but we had a deep connection, and it was just enough to give me a taste of what I've been longing for all these years, and then it was gone. I never expected to be drawn to someone so fast (I'm not much of a romantic), but I went with it and allowed myself to feel. Partly, I have felt gratitude for the amazing time spent with this person; when I was with him I felt inspired and deeply appreciated. This experience, indeed, helped push me to believe that the richness of life that I long for belongs not only in fairy tales but is real, attainable. Also, I have been feeling a longing for him that has been slowly replaced by sadness. I am sad partly because I miss this particular person, but also because I have been alone for too long, and it is painful to have the need for companionship momentarily filled but then left empty again, more wanting than ever. The sadness, heartbreak I feel has shown remarkable longevity given the brevity of the actual encounter.

There was, of course, pain before; what distinguishes this pain is my new-found ability to feel it fully. To face it, to not shrink from it. That ability, in turn, comes from the more fundamental change, the most important change: I am learning to value myself, to love myself.

For most of my life I have suffered from low self-esteem, unending guilt, feelings of worthlessness and deep inadequacy. Now and again I'd believe good things about myself, but the moment I encountered even the slightest hint of my supposed inadequacy, my confidence faded and words of praise (from myself or others) became grey, meaningless, impotent. My brain reasoned: sure, the fact that I'm kind to people is good, maybe makes me a "good person", but what good is a little, easy, boring kindness in the face of my inability to .... (work hard enough, be responsible enough, make a big enough impact on the lives of others, be confident enough, try hard enough, etc, etc). Nothing was enough; no amount of accomplishments, kind words, or good deeds could change my essential, irredeemable inadequacy.

As I write the words, I still feel the deep ache that they brought to my life, the sorrow that I have not yet fully moved through. How sad it is to spend your years mired in the knowledge of your failure. What incredible, unnecessary grief have I endured at my own hand, though not by my own choice.

I believe that the fleeting nature of my self-confidence greatly reduced my ability to deal with pain. For example, in the past when I was rejected by a love interest, I immediately put the subject out of my head, because the pain in store for me was not just the loss of affection from one person but a confirmation of my harrowing fears that I might not be loveable. I survived for years by feeling as little pain as possible--avoiding painful situations, shutting thoughts out of my head--because I did not have the reserves of self-love to pull myself back up after being knocked down by the small and large hurts of life.


Writing those words reawakened my self-doubt, sadness, hopelessness, so quickly and deeply that I had to stop writing and cry and then sleep, taking respite in the night.

But here I am the next day ready to continue. :)

So, yes, I am letting myself feel pain. New pains of heartache, old pains of doubt; but even the old pains, the old pains that were not just sadness but also dull and death-like, cannot hold me for more than a few hours. My spirit has awakened. I am not yet fully confident in its steadfastness but I am not worried, for it is here now and I know it is strong. I have hope. I am here. I am alive!

I am learning to love myself. So now I can feel heartache over a lost lover, because at the same time that I am sad for his absence, I am also rejoicing in my own beauty and wisdom and depth and splendor. My heart beats, throbs, with joy.

I still have lost moments, sad moments, dull moments, but I am so grateful for direction and for abundance of love and for cool breezes. I am reading again, because my heart is now able to engage; I have the energy to appreciate books again. I will be applying to grad school in the fall, and I've already found some programs I'm excited about. Hope is now a real presence in my life; hope for a rich life filled with love, for myself, for others, from others, for my work, for my music, for the beckoning earth.... Who knows, maybe under difficult circumstances my depression will relapse; surely I will still feel many moments of painful self-doubt; but I am not so cowed by these things anymore, because I am now experiencing that they are not all that there is to life; I am experiencing that more is possible. I still have fear; but I am going to be brave and give voice to my growing hope. :)

Yes, indeed, when the pain begins to sneak back in, and the fear shows its face, I find it very helpful to remind myself that I have courage to call on, and I can use that courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And one foot in front of the other has taken my this far--it's not so unreasonable to expect that a good life could actually be in store for me. I have courage; I have strength; I know this about myself and am proud of this, and that pride and confidence is a beautiful place to start.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Letter to a friend

Subject: Before they leave my head


I'd like to share a few thoughts! About what you were pondering, with regards to your career (whether you ought to stop working on so many projects and settle down as a full professor somewhere, or focus more deeply on just one project, etc).

Now, I don't know the answer to this question, because it's your life. But I've been figuring out some principles that I'm trying to put to use in my own life, that could perhaps help you think about this question.

Prestige is not all it's cracked up to be. I first began to realize this when I would get awards, and would feel thrilled for a moment but then the happiness would fade all too quickly. At first I thought it meant I just needed bigger awards (with my twisted self-esteem, as soon as I got an award I "realized" that the award must be pretty worthless/easy to get after all), but bigger awards didn't bring bigger happiness. But I was still driven to do something "impressive" because I just could not imagine the disappointment of living an unimpressive (non-prestigious) life. I joined a prestigious teaching program after I graduated; part of what drew me to it was knowing that people respected it and would be impressed with me for doing it. And boy did this teach me the lesson good and hard: I was SO depressed that year, that I finally really realized that no amount of prestige and respect was worth feeling that awful. I'd finally been humbled (in the best way possible), by being brought to a point of desperation that helped me see what really mattered in life, which was my own happiness. Prestige didn't bring me happiness and it never will; external respect didn't bring me happiness and it never will; doing things because I thought I "should" do them didn't bring me happiness and it never will. My "should" drive had, in fact, crippled my ability to work; the unhappier I was, the less I was able to do. There are people like your friend, who do everything out of sheer force of will, like wringing the last drop of water from a towel; you don't want to live like that, and you know it. There are people like me, who lose the ability to even act as they lose happiness; you don't want to live like that either. Prestige is not worth it. Happiness IS worth it, true self-respect where you yourself fully feel the value of what you're doing IS worth it; impressing others, even those you love, is not.

I was pondering why you love your projects so much, and the best guess I came up with (please do forgive me if I'm wrong), is that you love the feeling of creation, of manifesting your extraordinary potential into real, tangible creations in the form of helping to build the opportunities and thus lives of others. Whether it is for that reason or for another, please be careful before giving up something you love so much, something so joyful and life-affirming. There could potentially be valid reasons to change the course of your life; perhaps you want to focus more on a particular project, perhaps you truly love academic study enough that being a professor would be equally fulfilling, perhaps you want a family. But don't don't give it up to make someone else happy, to make someone else approve of you, to get status or prestige; such constraint is a kind of soul-death. Live a life you love, it's the only thing worth it. Truly truly.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Loved and inspired (Or: My dream. Or: Profundity. Or: JOY)

I've been having a hard time deciding how to go about this post. I had a fantastic weekend; profound even; so much so that I'm not sure how to do it justice in the format of a blog post.

My friends, here and elsewhere, really really love me. I'm starting to believe this not only on an intellectual level, but also in my heart. I am a person who can be, and is in fact, deeply loved. I am deeply loved. I wish I could properly express how long of a journey it has been, how far I've come, to begin to understand these words. Thank you, to all of you who have given me so much, who give me so much.

I also met an incredible person this weekend who gave me, among many other things, this question: "What is your dream?"

The question of what to do with my life has terrified me for years. Through the lens of my depression, every time I dared peek at my long-range future, all I could see was a deathly boredom, a quiet despair. I'm incredibly intelligent, talented, passionate, but any career I imagined brought with it the specter of eventual boredom, of emptiness, of confirmation of the fear that life could not bring me satisfaction. I've avoided the question, "what is your dream?" because I feared it would reveal an unbearably dark truth: that I have no dream, that I will always be unhappy.

The person I met this weekend beautifully exemplifies a life lived free of the fear that plagues me. He is audacious; when he has an idea, he brings it to life. And he audaciously, persistently asked me again and again, "What is your dream?" I floundered at first, but within the spirit of possibility he provided, my brain found room to work on the question. And it found, I found, a potential answer.

I would love to create, or help create, a curriculum for K-12 social science education that develops strong critical thinking skills in students. I would get a double-phd in education and history. (Is such a thing even possible/sane? Maybe one phd would be enough haha.) I would also teach for several years, and go back to the classroom every few years--it's so important to stay connected with the realities of teaching. This project, this kind of work, has the potential to combine my love of people, my passion for education, my fascination with social science, my intellect, and my writing skills to let me do something profound. Also, I have the relatively unique position of having grown up in and really understanding "normal" middle America while also having had access to rigorous education and radical ideas, which could (combined with some luck in the wind) give me the ability to write a curriculum that truly promotes critical thinking while remaining politically palatable to state governments/boards of education.

I'm somewhat afraid to put this idea out in the public sphere because it's very big; perhaps it reads as a pipe-dream, or sounds horribly out of touch with the realities of public education in the U.S. But this blog is about courage, no? So world, here is my dream: I want to make the kind of education I was so so lucky to receive at an elite university accessible to the children, the people, of America. I can actually see myself spending my life in this kind of work; I can look at this future without cowering in terror; I can face it with energy and hope.

Also, I feel so good that I find myself turning to the words of Alanis Morisette, "that I would be good even if I did nothing." These words are not the paradox that they seem.

It is the belief "that I would be good even if I did nothing" that will give me the freedom to embark upon a journey toward such a grand vision. It is not the work that will make me good. I am good; it is my knowledge that I am good no matter what that creates the freedom for me to explore my potential.

Oh joyful, joyful day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I stood up for myself today

And I feel great!

Whenever somebody criticizes me in any way, I take it to heart. I see criticism everywhere; any hint from anyone that they think I've acted other than perfectly is perceived by my brain as "You're a bad person, Kate." I'm so ready to see my fault, and in my fault see my essential inadequacy, that I automatically assume that the other person is right. And by "right", I mean that they are right to have realized the deep, dark truth that I am a failure.

Now, over the last several years, I've begun to learn to produce a counter-narrative in my brain that takes apart my reaction of self-criticism. For example, my former boss sometimes yelled at me for how I completed a task, and I would feel really bad and inadequate. But I would also remind myself that I actually did the task the way he told me to, and that I wasn't responsible for him changing the procedure without telling me. This type of counter-narrative, this self-defense, has helped me weather criticism more than I used to be able to, but it has not erased the fact that my gut still wants to say, "you're guilty Kate." After all, I am so ready to believe that I'm a failure that I internally agreed with my boss every time he yelled at me despite the fact that I fully understood that he was fickle and abusive.

So if being criticized by a person who I know is wrong still has that much power over me, you can maybe imagine how I feel when I'm criticized by someone who I'm close to and who I trust.

Last Thursday, my therapist criticized a decision I made. This was very unusual behavior for her, and I took what she said very much to heart, assuming that she was right to criticize. I spent much of the time between then and today (Tuesday) agonizing over what she said. I felt guilty--if my decision was wrong, my emotions reasoned, that had to be a sign of how bad of a person I am. I felt sad--my trust with my therapist had been violated in a way. And, dare I say it, I even felt a little angry. But I also talked with some friends about what had happened, and they helped me regain some confidence in my original decision. The more I discussed, and the more I thought, the more I was able to realize that I disagreed with my therapist's analysis. As my confidence grew, my guilt and sadness and anger subsided.

And when I went to therapy today, I told all of this to my therapist. I told her how what she had said made me feel, how bad it hurt. I told her specifically why I disagreed with her criticism and where I thought her analysis was flawed.

And god bless her, she truly listened. She acknowledged that what she said last week was out of character and outside of her role as therapist. (As both she and I see it, it is not a therapist's place to tell you how to live your life; that in fact would be very counterproductive.) She acknowledged how much it hurt me, and she respected the reasons I gave in defense of the decision in question.

And that felt amazing. It felt amazing to actually stand up for myself, to tell someone I care about that they hurt me. It felt amazing to have my concerns acknowledged and addressed. I've never before been able to so fully work through a criticism someone gave me, to so fully triumph over it. I actually, truly don't feel remnants of guilt about the decision I made. I feel confident in it. I've quieted my doubts and self-criticisms surrounding it. I'm proud of myself for how I handled the criticism. I'm proud of myself for my courage. I feel strong and alive.

It's okay to be sad. Really?!

I met with my psychiatrist (different person than my therapist) today to check in on how welbutrin is going for me. I told him that I've had a very good experience with welbutrin generally, but that I felt really knocked down by some of the things that happened last week (close friend's five-year partnership ending, painful moment in therapy, and more recently, sort of getting stood up on a date). I was assuming that my sadness was disproportionate to the events that caused it; I was assuming that how sad I felt meant that I hadn't made that much progress on my depression. The psychiatrist said something really unexpected and helpful about this: given those events, he thought my emotional reaction was pretty normal, and not necessarily overblown by depression (or at least not too much). He said if I was still feeling bad in another week or so, then it might be worth looking into to increase my dosage; but since these things happened so recently, and since the sadness wasn't interfering with my ability to get out and do things, my emotional reaction was really pretty reasonable.

Whoa! So I can have a bad week and feel sad, and all that means is I had a bad week? My depression hasn't returned with a vengeance? So awesome. Just hearing him say that, and realizing that I can have bad days or even weeks, and that's just part of life, made me feel a lot better. I think I'd been thinking, on some level, that my feeling bad meant that I was failing at fighting depression. It's a good and very helpful lesson to learn that I can feel bad sometimes and that doesn't mean I'm regressing or failing. I can handle the fact that life has downs if I also believe that life is capable of offering me some real happiness. :)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Grey today

I have so many ideas for great posts, but I just don't have it in me this week to write them. I had been feeling like I'd been making a lot of progress, measured by increased energy, happiness, and enjoyment. But with just one not-great week those feelings have gone into deep hiding; I guess they're still pretty fragile.

So much in my life right now is good: I have a great apartment with great roommates, I met several cool people this week, I've been social, I've been attending tutoring training for a volunteer program I'm excited to be joining....

But with just a few daily-life challenges (a friend in a tough spot, a painful moment in therapy, and rapidly mounting feelings of guilt), I feel like the wind has gone completely out of my sails, or even that the sails have been torn. I am now unable to catch the wind; good things cannot penetrate my mood. For example, for a few minutes today I felt excited about meeting my student in the tutoring program. But quickly the feeling faded; it was not strong enough to withstand the unhappiness flooding my system.

I am taking a minute to sit with my sadness. I feel it pull on my body like gravity, beckoning me toward the earth, toward slumber. I can feel my heart beat, its pulse slow and steady. I don't know why I'm so tired; is it just the sadness manifesting itself physically?

I am choosing to give myself over to rest. Perhaps if I lie here and let myself feel the sadness pulse through me, it will then move on. I am trying to practice letting myself feel pain, because that is part of getting back in touch with my emotions. It's a fine line to walk though, because you want to feel the pain but not get mired in it. Maybe I am feeling so down now because I was not letting myself feel the smaller bits of pain day-to-day; maybe I was trying to force myself to be happy; maybe it's something you cannot force.

So I will lie here and rest, feel. I will say to myself, "I feel so bad, so guilty, so sad." And then maybe that will allow me to move on; maybe after that there will be space again in my body for good feelings. I'll let you know how it goes.


Letting you know how it goes: I think I do have to feel the pain, but then I also have to actively work through some of the scenarios I'm feeling bad about and try to gain some perspective on them. Otherwise I become mired. So, on to that now. Hmm, even just saying that gives me a bit of a smile, a bit of lightness to my mood.


Hahahah, or maybe it just takes is a couple of cute songs and videos, such as and . Maybe I really did just need to feel sad and (in my personal journal) articulate some of my sadness, because I'm actually feeling better, at least for the moment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Person of size

"Person of size" is a tough phrase for me. Sometimes I like it; I hear in it echoes of the phrase "person of color," which to me conveys self-respect in the face of rampant prejudice. Sometimes I do not like it; this is when it feels euphemistic. Let's stop dancing around the issue and call fat fat.

I am fat. I'm a person of size. Perhaps the reason I feel ambivalent about calling myself a "person of size" is because I feel like a fraud in claiming a title of self-respect.

I'm fat. I'm learning to believe that I'm also attractive. Fat doesn't have to mean ugly; it's just villainized in our culture. We are surrounded by the message that fat is the most singly repulsive characteristic a person can have, and sometimes I like calling myself fat because I want to challenge that incredibly damaging belief. Fat and attractive: they can coexist in the same phrase, the same person.

Some days I believe I'm attractive, more days than I used to. Hey, I'm hella soft, that's pleasant to touch isn't it?

I met this amazing person the other weekend. She was so brilliant, so perceptive, so sharp; she was gorgeous; she had true depth of soul. I was blown away.

I friended her on facebook and was looking at some of her pictures. I was like, cool, that's the super-amazing person I just met; I feel so inspired! And then I saw some older pictures of her when she used to be bigger. I knew it was the same person; I could see that it was the same person; but my orientation toward the woman in the photos changed. Suddenly, I couldn't believe that this bigger person could also be brilliant, perceptive, refreshing. I tried to convince myself that she was--"remember that fascinating thing she said," "of course she was just as smart a couple of years ago"--but to no avail. My brain could not truly believe that someone who looked like that could be as amazing as the person I'd just met.

Is that how I see myself? Can I only recognize myself as a brilliant, capable person if I'm far from a mirror? I think I really struggle with that. Sometimes I see myself, I catch my reflection, the light hits just right, my cheeks are rosy, and I think, you're really pretty Kate. But I can't look at the reflection too long, otherwise I'll start to notice the double chin, the enormous stomach, the pudgy arms. How could someone who looks like that be smart?

I am trying to improve my body-image. I say to myself, Kate, you are pretty, many people find you attractive, your curves are sexy, look at those shapely lips, those high cheekbones, that light in your eyes. I'm trying really hard, and it helps, as does being around people who are not size-phobic and who offer compliments freely. More and more, I believe that a fat girl like me can be attractive.

Not beautiful though, not yet. Too often I catch my reflection at a "bad" angle and am met with that feeling of dull disgust. Even a good angle contains the threat of the slightest shift of position or light; while that threat remains, it is hard for me to accept myself as a beautiful person.

I want to work on this. I'm going to start saying, Kate, you're beautiful. Maybe when I learn to see myself as beautiful I'll feel more at ease claiming myself as a "person of size."

In fact, I am beautiful. I have beauty in my soul. I like saying, Kate, you're beautiful. It feels like I'm acknowledging that my outside is a reflection of the beauty that lives within me, that I'm acknowledging the deep and complex nature of my beauty. Kate, you are beautiful.

For a moment those words are real, and I feel good about myself. Then the doubts set in--how could someone so imperfect be beautiful? The meaning seeps out of the words; I am back to my drab, grey self-perception. But I'm going to practice recognizing and naming my beauty. Perhaps, just as I've started learning how to feel that I'm attractive, I'll start to grow a more confident sense of my beauty.

I believe I will.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How I got help with depression

This post is written for anyone who may be having some feelings of depression and is wondering what to do about it. This post is long because I want to share enough details that you can maybe find some commonalities and learn from my experiences. I want to tell you what I wish I had been told back when I started feeling depressed in college: Your feelings are real. Your pain is not your fault. You deserve help; you deserve better than this from life. Not only is it okay to get help but it is actually a good, smart, productive thing to do. Please go for it!

I first experienced depression in the wake of my parents' divorce when I was in 1st and 2nd grade. I remember very little of the pain I felt (this, I imagine, is when I first became adept at blocking my emotions), but I do remember that at that young age I considered myself depressed. I didn't receive any treatment at that time, but upon moving to a new town in 3rd grade my circumstances improved and I became much happier. I still tended toward loneliness, self-criticism, and intense feelings of guilt. Nonetheless, I had enough going for me that these tendencies were not debilitating, and I had increasing hope for the future.

My depression came back during my first year of college, and since then it has been seeping in and out of my life with increasing frequency and duration. In other words, I've had depression for the large majority of the last six years. Yet I've only sought serious, sustained treatment for my depression during the past two years.

I waited so long because I didn't believe that I deserved treatment. I believed that I was at fault for not overcoming my problems--if I just tried harder, worked harder, exercised more, studied more, had more self discipline, was more likeable, did more extracurriculars, applied to more internships, was thinner (read: prettier), was more cultured, was wittier, had better social skills--then my problems would be fixed. Sometimes I managed to voice a counternarrative in my head that would say "Kate, you're not actually a bad person," but I rarely actually believed those words. Attempts at compassion toward myself were always overwhelmed by guilt--"Kate, you're just being too easy on yourself; you should work harder; you should be able to fix these problems." Going to therapy seemed like giving myself undeserved, wasteful attention; antidepressants were nowhere on my radar.

I also doubted that my depression was real. Early on in my college years I did not know that my feelings of emptiness, guilt, and apathy were symptoms of depression. Thus, I only paid attention to my pain when it came in the form of sadness or hopelessness.

Twice, in the midst of episodes of deep sadness and hopelessness, I sought out therapy. Both times, I went to the free counseling services for people affiliated with the university. I saw my first therapist during the winter of my first year of college. The therapist was very kind and had a few helpful suggestions, but I left the sessions feeling somewhat unsatisfied. I knew we weren't getting at the heart of the matter, and I felt like she never quite understood what I was trying to express. After several weeks, as I started to feel better (thanks to my social science class and the onset of spring), I decided to stop going. I tried counseling again my second year, briefly meeting with an academic counselor to help me stop procrastinating and focus better. Again, I found the counseling to be mildly helpful, but because it was limited to the subject of academics, I didn't feel like I was getting to the root of my problems.

Both of my first attempts at therapy were relatively unsuccessful because I did not know that I was allowed to try different therapists until I found a good fit. Here's what I needed to know and want you to know so you can have a better experience than I did: when you're trying out a new therapist, after your first session, sit down with yourself and think: do I feel like they were able to challenge me in a helpful way? Did I get something out of that? Do I think I could develop a connection with them/feel safe with them? If the answer is primarily "no", then politely call and cancel the next appointment/ask to see a different therapist at that facility/try a therapist at a different facility. If the answer is "I'm not sure" or "yes", then try another session with them and see how you feel at that point. If at any point you become uncomfortable with your therapist, it is okay to switch and try someone new. Therapy is for you. It is not your responsibility to try to avoid conflict or protect the feelings of the therapist; any good therapist will be professional about the situation if you want to see someone else. Therapy works best if you feel a good fit with your therapist, so keep trying until you find someone who you think can truly help you.

I didn't seek therapy again until the end of my fourth year in college, even though I experienced a lot of depression in the intervening two years. During this time I was no longer having many episodes of deep sadness and hopelessness; thus, I doubted that my depression was real. Every time I had a good week, or even just a good day, or even just a good afternoon, I would convince myself that my earlier feelings of emptiness, guilt, sadness, and lack of motivation were just "all in my head." I took online tests for depression time and again and consistently was told that I had depression, anywhere from "mild" to "severe." But my fear of being too easy on myself and getting therapy that I didn't deserve was so great that I doubted my results; I wondered if I had rated my symptoms too severely in order to give myself an "excuse" to say I had depression and get treatment.

Finally, after dozens of tests, countless hours logged on wikipedia and psychology websites, and endless conversations with my supportive and patient best friend, I began to believe that my depression was real. With only a couple of months remaining in Chicago, I went back to the student counseling center and worked up the courage to ask to see a different therapist. My request was met with grace, and I began seeing a new therapist. This therapist provided what I'd been longing for--he was incredibly smart but also compassionate, and he quickly picked up on what I was saying and helped illuminate the relationships between my feelings and experiences.

Unfortunately, I had to leave Chicago very soon after I started therapy again. A small part of my brain was telling me that I needed more of this kind of therapy, that I wasn't emotionally equipped to jump into teaching in struggling schools. But I was in no way able to let that thought fully speak, and I moved to New Mexico and began my life as a teacher.

Once I began teaching, I experienced the worst depression of my life. I needed immediate relief, so I started trying to find a therapist. I asked some people I worked with if they knew of any good therapists, and I searched on the internet for therapists in a city a couple of hours away. Unfortunately, because I was living in an isolated rural area, I suspected it would take me a long time to find a therapist who was a good fit, and I couldn't stand to wait that long. My mom and best friend started suggesting that I try antidepressants.

I was resistant to the idea of antidepressants for a couple of reasons. For one, I was worried about how they would make me feel; maybe I'd feel like a "zombie" or have bad side effects. I was also worried that taking anti-depressants was taking the "easy" way out, that it was somehow cheating. Luckily (?!), my pain was so bad that my resistance quickly faded. I made an appointment with a primary care physician in town and she wrote me a prescription for Lexapro.

Lexapro was a godsend. Within two weeks of starting Lexapro (it always takes a little time for antidepressants to build up in your system) I felt lightness of spirit again. Teaching was still incredibly difficult, but I did not dread every second of every day; the world was no longer entirely dark; I was able to see positives and look forward to things. I didn't feel falsely cheery or zombie-like; I just felt okay enough that I could live again, could have more good days than bad. The main side effect that I noticed was increased sleepiness. This was kind of helpful though, since I'd been having trouble sleeping and now was able to go to sleep instead of lying awake and worrying.

Lexapro made it possible for me to survive the schoolyear, but I was not able to do anything more than survive. Despite trying several therapists I was not able to find a good fit; the options were just too limited in such a rural area. I finally decided to focus fully on treating my depression, so at the end of the year I moved to Oakland, CA.

I want to suggest a couple of methods for how to find a good therapist. If you are lucky enough to know someone who has a good therapist, ask them to get recommendations from their therapist. My friend in Oakland had a therapist he was very happy with, and she offered to call me to discuss my options. She looked at therapists on my current insurance plan to see if she could recommend any of them, and she also recommended a sliding-scale clinic in Berkeley. I chose to try the sliding scale clinic because I did not want my ability to see my therapist to be dependent on my insurance (and thus my current job.) I ended up getting matched up with a fantastic therapist who I have been with since. (Based on the wage I was making as a legal assistant, 17.50 an hour, my sliding-scale price per session is $65.)

If you do not know anyone to ask for recommendations, call the local university's counseling department. Explain that you are new in town and are looking for recommendations for a therapist. I've done this a couple of times to help friends find a therapist or a sliding-scale clinic, and the people I've talked to have always been very willing to help.

I've been seeing my current therapist for over six months now, and I feel like I am finally making true headway on recovering from depression. I have also more recently made a change to my antidepressants. My therapist began to wonder if my antidepressants were doing all they could for me because I had some persistent systems, most importantly a tiredness that would not go away even when I was taking good care of myself. I thus saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed Welbutrin in addition to Lexapro. Since I've started Welbutrin my energy levels are much higher, and I have seen a large increase in my ability to motivate myself to do things and engage with the world around me.

I now recognize that the depression I have experienced for the past six years is, in fact, real, and that nothing in my life is more important than recovering from it. I see depression almost as a physical presence in my life. This visualization helps me to recognize how serious the thing I'm up against is, which in turn gives me more power and determination in fighting it. I know from hard experience that if I deprioritize my mental health before I am healed I will end up right back where I started. The depression is there and it HAS to be dealt with.

Saying those words gives me a great deal of satisfaction and peace, because they mean that I have finally accepted the importance of loving and caring for myself.


If you're having any of the thoughts or feelings I described here, I deeply encourage you to reach out. Reaching out might mean starting by telling someone in your life what you're going through; it might mean visiting a doctor and telling them about your symptoms to see if antidepressants could help; it might mean calling your local university to start searching for a good therapist. If you can take any lesson from my experience, I hope that it is this: blaming yourself for your problems will only paralyze your attempts to move forward. True, it is your responsibility to do what you can to help yourself get better, but you did not choose to have these problems in the first place. Depression is an illness, and like any person facing a major illness, you deserve to get treatment. Not only is it okay to get help but it is actually a good, smart, productive thing to do. Please go for it!