As I’ve have started to publish my writings, I have been met with questions of “when did you start writing?” And “where did ‘Keep Going’ come from?” I did not start writing at the onset of my recent diagnosis, nor is that when Keep Going was birthed. It all began back in 2009 with a pen and paper.
This week I decided to take a trip down memory lane to remind myself. I pulled out my old journals, all 13 of them. Most of them are not full, some only have a handful of pages filled, and others are coming apart at the seams (ironically so). I carefully embarked into each page. It was hard. I wasn’t reading some other distant person’s sad memoir that I could distance myself from. I was reliving days I had forgotten. I want to share with you one of hundreds of entries that I wrote in these days. Words that I thought would never see the light of day.
I’m a record on repeat, stuck, scratching, and repeating. Asking what’s going on and when this is all going to end. My journal entries have looked the same for months, desperate pleas, cries, the same questions, hopelessly begging for it all to end. Somedays I think I’m going to make it and others, I think the pain is just too deep, too unbearable that there is no way I could survive one more day. The worst part is that there is no where to go – no where to run, to change the scenery – really to hide because that’s all I want to do. I feel like I’ve got no one, no one on my side anymore. On good days, I revel in the pretendingness that everything is going to be okay but when it’s bad, it’s so bad. My eyes hurt when I think about it because they are so use to crying. I beg God to take me anywhere but here, just shut my eyes and let the pain drift into sleep…not just due to my current circumstances but how often this sadness occurs, how long, so very low, and worthless it makes me feel. I want to cry now because I miss and crave so badly, so badly to feel safe, to feel accepted, to feel free to say what comes out of my mouth – to just not feel like a useless pain in the ass. Last night I fell asleep crying again and by again, it has to be somewhere in the hundreds by now. If anything I now know emotional pain can hurt so so deeply, but I do survive. I do wake up the next morning so for now that’s my option…to keep waking up. – March 2012, Nice, France
I share this with you because I know my recent publications have been real, but also very hopeful and idealistic. I wanted those who read my writings to know that this is what I wrote for five long years. I was able to find the first words I wrote that said, “I just feel off today. I just feel sad, and I don’t know why. Everything is right with my life. I am so blessed…but I feel so sad.” As I turned the pages, they turned into pleas for God to take the pain away. One entry said, “I didn’t know emotional pain could physically hurt. God, what I am doing wrong? Please, please, just tell me.”
It was hard to read because that was me. I remember, being so hopelessly confused, begging for something to save me.
Another reason I share this with you is because I had pages that said, “I don’t even want to write these words on paper…The way I am feeling tonight, because I’m scared that someone will pick up my journal and read my words.” And I didn’t. I couldn’t even write on paper in my personal journal that I wanted to end my life…because I was scared of what people would think.
As strong as I was in those days, I was even more terrified to say those words. I told every doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist I saw that I was sad, very sad. I told them through strong confident words though that I wasn’t THAT sad. You know, the suicidal ideations kind of sad. “No, no, no, I don’t toy with that idea.” I did though. Not in a way of planning but in a way of just wanting to stop existing so badly. I told every therapist I saw that I felt like something was wrong, but I didn’t tell them that I cried myself to sleep most nights wondering what was so wrong with me and if it could ever be fixed.
I wrote, “God, did I fall through your fingertips? Am I just an afterthought on this earth? Why can’t you hear my cries for help?”
I knew nothing was wrong with God so I resolved that something had to be profoundly wrong with me. Or that God wasn’t who I thought he was or that maybe I wasn’t worth being saved. And God was not who I thought he was, but that’s a story for another time.
“I beg with every tear that rolls down my cheeks, help me, save me, heal me, tell me what I’m doing wrong. I beg with every ounce of my being, please get me out of here.”
I was terrified of what my peers at my private Christian college would think, not only about my mental health but how I was feeling about God. I was scared of how it would affect my family and my future. I was scared of what would happen if I did say those words out loud. I was already hiding my antidepressants and therapy appointments. I look back now and laugh. Who cares? But I did, and I know a lot of us do.
Would they cart me off? Could my “image” ever recover from that or would I forever be the crazy girl who lost her marbles in college.
“Remember Caitlin McDowell?” I would imagine them saying.
“Oh yeah, that chick who checked into a mental health facility? I wonder what happened to her.”
I feared the label and stigma more than I was willing to get the help that I needed.
Please, don’t do that. Don’t gamble with your own precious life. Say it out loud. Say it to someone. It’s okay. It doesn’t make you weak, weird, or wrong. It makes you brave and strong, and yeah that sounds like bullshit, but please believe me. The words bravery and courage sound like cheesy easy pills to swallow, but the actions they require are huge thorny pills that are very hard to swallow. To me bravery is a costume that humility, vulnerability, and uncertain risk wear. Bravery is only the aftermath of serve discomfort, fear, and risk. The formula is trust, fear, and a pounding heart. The result is grace, transformation, and miracles.
Trust this girl you do or don’t know that there is another side, but its not going to land in your lap. You’re going to have to do the hard things, but only one hard thing at a time. And maybe right now the hard thing is just getting up in the morning and putting one foot in front of the other. That’s okay, just don’t stop reaching.
Recently someone said the words to me, “You are so loved.” These words struck my soul to its core because I had forgotten. You can so easily forget that the day you were born someone held you in their arms and looked at you like you were magic. You forget that your parents watched you play and shook their head because they didn’t know they could feel that much love. You forget that your siblings love you more than they know how to say, but they are busy building their lives too. You forget that some people wouldn’t know what their life would be without you in it. There are so many things you cannot see, beautiful things that people feel and think about you. You forget that we are all human, and lay in our beds at night wondering if we are enough or if we’ll become the people we hoped. You forget so easily that you are so loved. Forgetfulness is not the lack of something, only the loss of perspective.
As I read through each very sad, painful journal entry, I began seeing the words, “keep going,” scribbled at the end because that is literally all I knew to do. I write to you now because I wrote to myself first. I wrote letter after letter that said, “I know, I know it’s hard. I know you don’t know what’s going on and I know it hurts. I’m sorry.” You do not graduate from mental illness. You cannot be human and escape pain. This article was prompted by my own low swing this week, and tonight like I have been doing for years, I sit with my pain and tell myself to keep going. It does get better. It can get better. You just got to do something, try something, reach over and over, crawl to the next town. It’s scary and exhausting, but you’re life is worth it, I promise.