Sunday, January 4, 2015

Something To Be Proud Of

Hi guys. I’m back.

I don’t really know what to say, except to start with an apology for my long hiatus from my blog. I really have missed it, as writing is very therapeutic for me and will hopefully be part of my future career, so I enjoy any opportunity to improve and explore my abilities. However, under the circumstances of last August with the whole Cosmopolitan fiasco, I felt it best to take a break from the blogosphere and to step back from anything that might create a buzz or attract the eye of the media and/or critics. I had many people supporting me through the whole ordeal, but just as many people were fighting against me and threatening me. It was quite the traumatic experience, and very emotionally draining, so the radio silence was a necessity for me as I put myself back together and decided how best to move forward.

I think in the end, it was a very wise decision. I love feminism and being involved in feminist communities, but being an activist is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It wears on you little by little, until eventually you just bust wide open. The continuous discussions, events, arguments, battles, rallies, protests, online warfare, etc. It can be overwhelming quite often. Actually, almost all the time. It really is hard on the soul. To constantly be rejected, ignored, and mocked. To find yourself repeating the same words over and over again, and still no one listens. To feel like you will never say the right thing and you can never please anyone no matter what you do. To feel your sanity slip away as society continues to defend awful beliefs that make your blood boil and your skin crawl. The anger is constant. The pain is unbearable. The frustration is maddening.

It’s definitely not healthy for someone who has anxiety and seasonal affective disorder.

I’ve been struggling with anxiety since I was about 15, I guesstimate. I didn't know this until recently, because I didn't know it was considered an actual mental health issue. But if you know me at all, it makes sense. I am constantly overwhelmed and stressed and over-involved. I’m a perfectionist with mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the littlest imbalance can send me over the edge. I’m always giving myself headaches and stomach pains, and constant stress is most likely the cause of my joint problems and muscle spasms too. College hasn’t made it any better.

I never showed signs of seasonal depression while growing up in Washington, because my hometown of Yakima is very sunny. Even in the dead of winter, there aren't very many days out of the year where the sun goes away entirely. And as I’ve never lived anywhere else until I moved my freshman year of college, I didn't know how much climate can affect your mental and physical health. Utah has an extremely high rate of depression, possibly the highest in the nation, and studies suggest this is due to the high altitude. For people like myself who go from living in a low altitude area (Yakima is a valley at an altitude of about 1,068 feet) to a high altitude (Provo sits at 4,549 feet above sea level—that’s almost a 3,500 ft. difference), such a severe change all at once can cause extreme shock to the body. Provo also tends to have very dark winters and much colder weather than my hometown. I recall there being several days in a row last January where the sun never made an appearance. There were weeks where I didn't leave my bed for a few days at a time.

Now, I’m not writing about all this to get attention or to earn your pity. In fact, that’s the absolute last thing I want from anyone. But like I’ve said before, writing is my own form of self-therapy. It helps me work through everything and keep a grasp on reality. Honestly, writing about this at all is really hard for me, because it requires me to be open and vulnerable. It means admitting that I have weaknesses, and I hate that about as much as I hate the patriarchy (FYI: that’s a lot). I know it’s not true. Having mental disorders does not make you weak or weird or inferior. But I’m always afraid I might be using them as a cop-out or an excuse. Where does my laziness end and my anxiety begin? Am I really struggling to go to class and get passing grades because of depression or is it lack of motivation? My worst fear is not living up to my full potential or missing out on opportunities that I know I could have reached. I don’t want my health to hold me back. Just like I don’t want my past to hold me back or cause irreversible trust issues and therefore affect my future. Anxiety, depression, my past; it all makes it harder for sure. But not impossible. I don’t believe in impossible.

I guess I’m writing all this out because it is a huge part of why 2014 was probably the hardest year I’ve ever had. This is saying a lot, considering I was assaulted in 2009, struggled with two addictions in 2011, started my faith crisis in 2012, and was expelled and almost dropped out of high school in 2013. Yet 2014 was still worse.

In 2014, I was put on academic warning at BYU. I had my first major panic attack, which has now become a common occurrence. I discovered I have anxiety and struggled with seasonal affective disorder for the first time. I started therapy. I wasted my entire first year of college and didn't transfer schools. I found myself unsure of my dreams for the first time in my life, and ended up switching majors. I fell in and out of love, and fell again. I had a severe emotional breakdown when I moved back home. I had a breakdown when I moved back to school. I went inactive. I drank for the first time and made some horrible, awful mistakes. (I have since sworn off alcohol.) I hurt some close friends very deeply. I lost trust that can never be regained. I had an article written about me in a national magazine that threatened my schooling, my reputation, and many friendships. I worked nights full time and was in school full time. I never slept and wasn't able to keep myself healthy. I disappointed myself and my colleagues by fulfilling my responsibilities inadequately. I had relationships with more men than I care to admit, and all of them ended badly. I quit my job. I quit acappella. I quit Women’s Chorus. I failed most of my classes. My roommates all moved out.

My brother, my best friend, my everything…passed away a week before Christmas.

Yeah. 2014 pretty much sucked. I think it’s safe to say I’ve hit rock bottom. I don’t think it can get much worse.

But the thing is, it’s not 2014 anymore. It’s a new year. We all have the chance to start over. For me, I have nowhere to go but up. I am determined to take this as an opportunity to make myself into the woman I want to be. I want to be better. I want to be happier. I want to start focusing on the things that matter. My family. My loved ones. My schooling. Things that make me happy. If I’ve learned anything from this last year, it’s that life is too short to waste time lamenting the things you didn't do. Just do them. You never know when something precious will be taken from you. When tomorrow is no longer an option, and yesterdays are full of regrets and empty promises.

So call your mother when you think of her. Hold your dad a little bit longer. Tell your grandma you respect her and you’re sorry for not showing it better. Thank your aunts and uncles for their opinions, even when they hurt because at least it means they care. Wrestle your nephews more, and give them kisses even when they push you away. Spend more time with good friends and less time online. Choose to fall in love with your significant other every single day. Be with someone who wants you as much as you want them. Take care of yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you. Avoid things that hurt you and cause you unnecessary stress. Let go of the anger and the pain and the frustration. Speak wisely, pray faithfully, serve selflessly. Laugh harder, love deeper, dream bigger.

And please. For God’s sake. Tell your brothers and sisters just how much you care about them. Every day. Do it relentlessly, obnoxiously, obsessively. Let them know they mean the world to you. If they don’t mean that much to you right now, fix it. You will wish you had if you don’t. I promise. Don’t miss out on one of the most beautiful relationships you will ever experience. You never know when they might be gone. Please. Don’t wait that long.

Don’t wait. It’s a new day. It’s a new year. Make it meaningful. Make it worthwhile. Make it something to be proud of.