life update // mental health chat

Thoughts

Hey there lovely friends! It’s been a while since we have chatted on here, how are we? It is full on summer now in Canada, which means I’ve been spending all of my free time outside soaking in that beautiful, beautiful sunshine and neglected the blog a little in the process. There’s so many posts I am dreaming to share with you, but first I wanted post a little life update/chat/pouring of my heart and soul onto the internet… as one does.

Well, where to begin… first things first, I’m (Jessica) living and working in Vancouver and have been for the last 7 months now, which is just blowing my mind as I type this. How does time go by so fast? It’s crazy. Lindsey has been traveling Mexico for nearly 6 months now, and let me tell you, I miss that girl like no other! From all that I’ve seen and heard and read, she seems to be enjoying herself immensely over there; having the wildest adventures and meeting the most beautiful people, meanwhile I’ve spent my time back in Canada doing a lot of reflecting and feeling a lot of feelings. 2018 has been nothing short of a wild ride for both of us so far!

Okay, this update is beginning to sound a lot like a yearly Christmas letter, no? So I’m going to get real with you- this winter was a tough one for me. In fact, it was easily the hardest, saddest, most hopeless 6 months of my life. It kind of feels like a lie for me to just breeze right past the emotional journey I’ve been struggling through and move straight to the fun posts, so I recon it’s time for me to share my experience on here with full transparency (always).

Before we start, I want to first say that this is just my personal story, and I’m in no way telling anyone what to do- mental health is an extremely complicated and personal subject, and it’s a journey that we all share collectively. I hope my experiences can give feelings of support and hope to anyone struggling with their mind, or even just having a bad week, and to remember that we are all connected.

how it started:

Looking back on where this all began, I would say that the lingering sadness and hopelessness I’ve been feeling started during my final weeks in Asia, almost a full year from now. We were in Vietnam at the time, and had been on the road for nearly a year and a half, and I think the exhaustion, the heat, the noise, and the backpacking lifestyle was catching up to me. I felt irritable, judgemental, and less patient than usual. I was super overwhelmed about moving back to Saskatchewan, and wasn’t able to talk myself out of the overwhelming thoughts like I normally could. I had no idea what direction my life was going to take in the coming months, and for whatever reason, this was very hard on me. Every day, little by little, doubt, pessimism, and judgement started to sneak into my thoughts. “What am I doing with my life? What is next? Can I take on the future? Am I making the right choices? Am I capable? I don’t think I’m capable.” While this was going on, I did my best to push down and ignore all these feelings so that I could try to enjoy the final weeks of our travels.

When I returned to Canada, my mind was wrapped up in a whirlwind of emotions, and I was in desperate need of rest and time to reflect. I moved in with my parents, and although I technically had a lot of down time, there wasn’t much space for me to rest. My parents are very busy people, and their lifestyle was exhausting for me. I continued to live mostly out of a suitcase for the next few months with them which meant I never had the time I desperately needed to process my emotions and give myself space to decompress. If anything, being back in Saskatchewan felt just as foreign and exhausting to me as anywhere else I had traveled because I had no friends, no routine, and every day felt like a struggle to be understood (and to understand myself.) I knew I was extremely fortunate (and happy) to have this time with them, but after a couple months of life in Saskatchewan it became clear that this lifestyle wasn’t healthy for me. I was so exhausted and just needed time to be alone myself.  At this point in my life I had very little energy and even less money, but I knew in my heart that I had to move back to Vancouver… so f*ck it, thats what I did.

I flew into Vancouver on November 1st and immediately started up my life. I moved into an apartment, bought myself a bed, started working, and spent a lot of time alone. I set out lots of time for rest, and that’s precisely what I did. I settled into a routine with lots of down time, and just like that, a ton of buried emotions rose to the surface, and my mind got intense real fast.

I had no idea what was happening at the time, but I can see now that within a couple weeks of rest, I started to completely break down. In hindsight, I can see that sometimes in life we have so much healing to do, the only way to begin is to first break ourselves open, and once all the walls are down and emotions poured out of our chests, only then can we start to pick up the pieces- deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. I spent the next 6 months breaking open, a little more every day, going deeper and deeper until I was an empty shell. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had been carrying around so much emotional baggage in the form of questions, confusion, joy, pain, and complicated emotions from my travels and summer spent in Saskatchewan. It was all crammed deep inside of my chest, just waiting for me to give it the space to burst out, and when I finally gave myself some time to rest, thats exactly what happened. Everything broke right open and poured out of me, and I was left shattered- mentally, physically and emotionally.

how it felt:

During this process, I was sad. I don’t know how else to even say it, I was just so so so very sad. Sad to the point that I don’t even think I felt sad- there really wasn’t any pain there- I just felt numb. I didn’t understand the “point” of life anymore. I remember writing entries in my journal like “ I know I have felt happiness in the past, but I don’t think it’s possible for me anymore” and “objectively I can see the beauty all around me, but it brings me no joy, and that makes me feel extremely alone.” I had decided and accepted that I would never be as happy again as I had once been. I would stay numb forever, at least in my mind. I saw no way out of this, so I just accepted this life as my fate forever and lost so much hope for the future.

This hopeless, foggy, numbness was all I had… but you know what? That wasn’t even the worst part.

The worst part is that I blamed myself for everything I felt and was convinced that I deserved the sadness. I felt like I brought this numbness onto myself because I was somehow a failure and couldn’t control my life. I screwed up somewhere along the line, I didn’t make the right choices, and now here I am because of it. I wasn’t grateful enough for the life that I had, so I deserved to be miserable. I let myself spiral and get out of control, therefor I had no right to think I didn’t deserve what was coming to me. I did this to myself. I was so ashamed of “letting” myself get to this point that I didn’t even want to feel better, because I didn’t believe I was worthy of happiness.

For the first time in my life, I hated myself.

It was a bleak and lonely time. I don’t think any of my friends or family knew what was going on- I guess I hid it pretty well. To be fair, I don’t think I knew either. If you would have asked me how I felt at the time, I would have said “I love myself and deserve happiness,”  and thats truely how I thought I felt, but my inner dialogue could not have been more opposite. I was so disconnected from my thoughts, yet they were controlling me. I had no idea the magnitude at which my hateful thought patterns were eating away at me. I couldn’t see that it was my mind that was toxic; instead, I thought it was my character. I had no context to be able to understand what was going on in my mind, I just thought that somewhere along the line I had became a failure and now this deep sadness was my punishment.

In addition to my mind changing, my body began to transform as well, and it made me super uncomfortable to witness. I started to loose weight, my skin freaked out, my hormones were all over the place, and it made my body feel foreign. (I see now that all of these changes occurred because my body was actually healing and beginning to reset, but at the time it felt like I was falling apart). My mind on the other hand was either spinning in a destructive loop, or trapped under a thick layer of fog. I felt completely out of control. Most days I was so miserable, but didn’t even have the energy to cry. I didn’t have the energy to do anything, really. I would just lay in bed and think, over and over “…What is the POINT of all of this? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I even? What do I want out of my life? What is important to me? This can’t be it, it just can’t be it.” I was so overwhelmed with sadness, with change, with all of these intense emotions coming at me all at once, and I felt trapped, hopeless, invisible, and numb.

the first step to healing:

This lifestyle, cycle, spiral, whatever you want to call it, continued on for months, and it wasn’t until February that I actually thought to myself “Am I depressed? Is this what depression feels like?” It couldn’t be. I shared my thoughts with a friend who has gone through similar experiences and was told that, “Yep, the way you are describing everything right now sounds exactly like depression.” I still didn’t believe it. I decided that I couldn’t be depressed because other people had it so much worse than me, you know? I mean, I was able to still go to work, hang out with friends, live my life, and no one else seemed to notice that I wasn’t okay? Sure, I guess I felt numb and hopeless most of the time and completely disconnected from everyone, but that didn’t make me depressed? It’s not my mind that’s making me miserable I thought, I’m just an ungrateful, pathetic person.

A couple of weeks and a handful of conversations with my friend later, and I finally admitted to myself that I was in-fact depressed, and should probably do something about it. “Maybe my sadness isn’t ONLY due to the fact that I am an unappreciative, unworthy failure,” I thought… “maybe a part of it is depression, too.” I decided that even if I did deserve the sadness for whatever reason I convinced myself of that day, I was exhausted by it and ready to try and move on.

On February 12th- three and a half months after the depression took over my mind, I wrote in my journal “I’m realising that pretending these feelings aren’t there doesn’t help and only makes everything worse.”  I acknowledged what was going on in my head, and that was the first step to healing.

how I spent my time:

One of the hardest parts of all of this was feeling like I had no control over anything, including how I felt, how my brain functioned, my own happiness, and my own life. After I acknowledged the depression for what it was, I started to connect the dots a bit and recognise patterns that were affecting my happiness. One random day, I decided to mediate. I have meditated on and off in the past, but something about this time was different. I felt calm and clear for the first time in months, and I suppose that allowed me to see my life more objectively; in a more rational way. It was then that I realised that my daily habits had a direct connection to my mental health. Something clicked for me, and I decided to write a list of all the daily habits I had that drained my energy, and all the activities I knew that used to bring me joy.

The list looked something like this:

What drains my energy:  What brings me joy:
  • negative self talk
  • scrolling though social media
  • “time filling” videos of no value
  • online shopping
  • most things on the internet
  • being outside
  • taking photos
  • cooking
  • reading
  • writing
  • learning
  • yoga
  • drawing
  • dancing
  • time with friends
  • riding my bike
  • meditation
  • music

It was so simple, but this list clarified a lot for me in that moment. I saw it and I realised that lately I had been spending the majority of my time doing activities that drained my energy, and very little time on activities that brought me joy. Usually I would wake up feeling terrible, so all I wanted to do is whatever took the least amount of energy (which was usually sleeping, scrolling through social media, letting another video autoplay on Youtube, online shopping, ect…) and that is precisely what made me feel worse. This cycle was a negative loop that only made me spiral deeper into depressive thought patterns, and in turn, I was less likely to do anything healthy for myself and more likely to continue participating in destructive activities… and the cycle continued on, day after day, one feeding the other.

Another big positive is that I was reminded that I did actually enjoy doing stuff, or at least I used to. I remembered that I used to be a very interested, curious, creative person with many hobbies, and seeing all of these activities I knew I loved gave me a small sense of hope, and an inkling that I was more in control of my life than I thought. I decided that if I couldn’t control my mind, at least I could control how I spent my time, and this gave me a sliver of hope.

forgiving myself:

So here’s the thing- the way I spoke to myself during all of this truely sucked, and I didn’t even realise I was doing it. I was my own worst enemy. For example, now that I had made the connection between which activities helped and hurt me, if I ever “slipped up” and spent my time on activities that were negative for me, I would speak terribly to myself, hate myself, and spiral into a looping, destructive headspace. The entire day (or week) following would then be a total, miserable, write off, and I would have to struggle to pull myself back out of the hole I just created- I was never going to be good enough.

At that point, for whatever reason, I decided to read  I Thought it was Just Me by Brené Brown, and it completely changed my life. Again, something just clicked for me. In this book, Brené talks all about shame – what it is, how it feels, how it sounds, and how destructive it is. Through learning about shame, I realised that the most painful part of the depression I was feeling wasn’t the sad and hopeless feelings themselves, but the shame I had for feeling them. Don’t get me wrong- feeling hopeless sucks, but hating yourself for it and thinking that you deserve to feel it sucks so much more. I slowly started to become more mindful of the voice inside my head, and when I truely listened to what it was saying, I was horrified with what I heard.

Why do we let ourselves speak to us in ways that we would never allow others to? Imagine for a second that you spoke to a friend the way you speak to yourself… Would that foster a loving, healthy, relationship? Would it foster a toxic relationship? Or better yet, would you wind up alone? We all know that the relationship we have with ourselves is the foundation for everything in our life and the most important relationship we’ll ever have, so why don’t we give ourselves the same patience, love, forgiveness, and support that we give to others? Why are we so damn hard on ourselves? 

I knew that my friends and loved ones deserved support and forgiveness- I just had to remember that I deserved these things, too.

So, I forgave myself- like really, truely, forgave myself, (for being who I was, for being a “failure,” for being depressed) and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I acknowledged that I deserved to feel happiness- not wanted it, but actually deserved it, and that no amount of failure or screwing up could ever take away my right to feel happiness, joy, and love. Everyone deserves forgiveness, so I forgave myself, and it was like I broke through a wall- it was crazy. I sat there and I cried and cried, and it felt SO GOOD.

I was no longer numb; I could feel again.

feeling it out:

I guess what happened next is I just allowed myself to feel whatever it is I needed to feel without any judgement. I still had (and will always have) a ton of difficult emotions to work through, but I’ve learned that these emotions don’t need to come along with shame. I opened myself up and allowed myself to work through each emotion I was feeling, one by one, without any shame for feeling it- then when I was done, I released it and moved on to the next. Allowing myself to feel emotions without attaching shame or judgement to them is one of the biggest, hardest, most important lessons I’ve learned from all of this, and I’m so thankful that I did. Humans feel- it’s just what we do, and there is absolutely no shame in feeling things deeply. In fact, isn’t feeling deeply the best way to know that we’re alive? Feeling emotions isn’t whats having a negative impact on us- it’s attaching shame, guilt, and self-destructive thoughts onto the feelings that turn them ugly, not the emotions themselves.

I’m not perfect, obviously, but now I practice simply noticing my emotions pass by without judgement. I sit back, listen, and notice what my mind is saying without it feeling so personal, and it is crazy how much this small switch changes everything.

For example, when I have a serious case of road rage (on my bike- I’m cool like that) I will simply sit back and observe the angry, judgemental thoughts go by, and say to myself “Well, that’s interesting.” I won’t be disappointed in myself for being judgmental, I just see the feelings as information, not a judge of my character. I’ll then think “What can I do with this information? What are these feelings telling me?” I now know that when I become highly judgemental of others, it’s a sign that my mental health is starting to decline and depression is sneaking in, so I stay on high alert for this. Judgment isn’t something I hate about myself- it’s simply an alert that shows me I need to take better care of myself.

I used to think of “negative” emotions as bad and “positive” emotions as good. Now they aren’t either of those things to me. I don’t take emotions so seriously or personally anymore. Instead, emotions are just emotions- they come and they go, and I can’t control them. The only thing I have control over is how I respond, how I choose to move forward, and how I speak to myself in the process. I may be feeling a “bad” feeling, but that doesn’t make me a “bad” person.

learning to surrender:

When my depression started, I tried so hard to fight the feelings and pretend like they weren’t there. Being depressed wasn’t what I had planned for myself this year, you know? I had other things that I wanted to spend my time doing. I wanted to continue moving forward at the same pace I had been in previous years, having wild adventures and laughing my days away with friends. I thought that if I just pushed my feelings to the side and instead, kept my eye on the lifestyle I wished to be living, I would surely get there, but I see now how false and dangerous this mindset was.

Of course we all want to be in the phase of life where we are on non-stop adventures, falling in love, feeling inspired, and getting everything we want, but that’s not how life works. Like everything in nature, our lives, our bodies, and our minds work in seasons, and fighting against the season that we are in simply does not work. We can’t force ourselves into a phase of life we aren’t ready for, or at least not successfully. We have to fully move through the phase we are currently in in order to get to the next, and we can’t rush the process. What does work is learning to surrender- to life, the emotions, and the season you’re are in, and see where it takes you, because more often than not, it will take you exactly in the direction that you need to be. Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post (and will continue to mention again and again) is that our bodies are smarter than our minds will ever be. If your body is hurting, spinning, shutting down (mentally or physically), and in need of rest, then shouldn’t we listen to it? Check in with yourself- the answers for what we need are already inside of us. Our bodies are holding all the answers, we just need to listen to them, give them space, and learn to surrender to the process of it all.

One of my favourite sayings is that “nothing in nature blooms all year.” I think about this often and  remind myself that we are a part of nature, and it isn’t realistic to expect people to be in a blooming phase all day, every day, 365 days a year. It’s beautiful to bloom, yes, but we need quiet rebuilding phases to grow, evolve, and come up strong on the other side too. Sometimes the rebuilding period lasts for a day, a week, or several years. This is not only okay, it’s necessary and completely natural.

Brené Brown explains why surrendering is so important in a quote from her most recent book, Braving The Wilderness:

“Pain is unrelenting. It will get our attention, Despite our attempts to drown it in addiction, to physically beat it out of one another, to suffocate it with success and material trappings, or to strangle it with our hate, pain will find a way to make itself known.

Pain will subside only when we acknowledge it and care for it. Addressing it with love and compassion would take only a minuscule percentage of the energy it takes to fight it, but approaching pain head-on is terrifying. Most of us were not taught how to recognise pain, name it, and be with it. Our families and culture believed that the vulnerability it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness, so we were taught anger, rage, and denial instead. But what we know now is that when we deny our emotion, it owns us. When we own our emotion, we can rebuild and find our way through the pain.”

Pain is universal and inevitable- it touches everyone and everything. Running away from the pain, pushing it down, and fighting it doesn’t work and only leaves us more and more exhausted. While surrendering to life is terrifying, it’s truely the only way to move forward.

where I’m at now:

When I was going through this depression over the past year it just felt like it would never end, you know? Like this numbness was going to be my life forever now. Life felt so bleak and pointless, but it got better- it always does. In hindsight, I can see the benefit of the pain and how my life has changed from the lessons learned in the process. What once felt like suffering for the sake of suffering now feels almost worth it, or at least like a painful, but ultimately necessary step forward.

I’ll never be “all better”, that’s not what this is about. Mental health is not black and white- it’s complicated and ongoing. I’ll carry some of this sadness around forever, sometimes I’ll have more of it and sometimes I’ll have less. What I have gained from all of this is a deeper understanding of myself, of life, of pain, and of joy. I’ve learned to surrender to life’s many phases, and gained so much respect for myself and emotions in the process. I now know, truely know, that it is okay to not be okay sometimes- maybe it’s even necessary, and that I deserve happiness and forgiveness no matter what.

I haven’t “come out the other side” from this depression. In fact, I don’t even know what that means? I’m just me- always have been and always will be. There was no before the depression and after, it’s all the same Jessica. Some days I’ll feel better and some days I’ll feel worse. All of this is okay. I’m done trying to understand why life gives me the lessons it does when it does, and I’m done trying to control it, because it’s impossible and completely exhausting. What feels better instead is to surrender to life’s process and use the things I CAN control- the way I respond to my emotions, and my thoughts- to lead me forward.

I used to be terrified that the depression would come back, and you know what? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Whatever happens, I can deal with it. I can talk to friends, I can talk to a therapist, I can seek medical help if thats what I need to do, but I can and will get through it- that’s what I know for sure. I’m done being afraid of my own mind, I’m just so done with it; I’m not scared anymore. Instead, I am empowered and humbled and strong and soft and capable. I am sad some days, yes, but I’m so completely filled up with hope for the future and gratitude for being alive, too.

I know everyone says this- but it gets better. Wherever you’re at, acknowledging the pain and forgiving yourself for feeling it is the first step. You don’t have to be spiralling into a dark hole and unable to get out of bed to simply remember to be gentle with yourself and know that you deserve forgiveness, happiness, and support no matter what. We could all do better with a little more self love, am I right?

I want to reiterate that I am absolutely, in no way, ashamed of my struggles with mental health, and you don’t need to be either. Keeping up your mental health is an ongoing, daily practice that we all perticipate in wether we know it or not. Like I said at the beginning- we are linked, not ranked. If you’re going through something, chances are a ton of other people are going through it too, and there is so much strength and connection to be found in this unity.

I hope that sharing my story can help you to feel understood in some way and more connected to the people around you. I hope you know how incredible, strong, and worthy of love and happiness you are- no matter what, and that feeling joy is your birthright. You deserve to feel- both good and bad- but mostly just to feel, and you will. Life is crazy and beautiful and wonderful and scary and unpredictable, so just give up control- let it in, let it happen to you, feel it, work through it, and know that whatever happens, you will get through it, and you never have to do it alone.

Sending out so much love and support to you, always. <3

The Author

tree hugger // star gazer // girl with the dance moves