“Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.”
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
Well the name’s Caitlin. I live in Arkansas with my dachshund, Milo. I never thought I’d find myself here, but here I am. When I say here, I also mean more than just Arkansas. I never thought I’d find myself in a lot of places I have found over the years. All my young life, I looked forward to college. College was the pinnacle. My young mind never comprehended or prepared for life once I actually arrived at college. College was where all the magical things would happen that would start my normal life with a husband, children, a home, and career I loved. Then I got to college, the first year was a crazy and exciting whirlwind. I was soaking it all in, the sorority, the friends, the boys, the dances, the intramurals, the weight loss, the liberties, the attention, all of it. Then sophomore year rolled around, and everyone started to get all serious about their majors, the future, and being an adult. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t planned for this part. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. How the hell did everyone else?
Que the depression, the intense depression.
I liked Sociology so I majored in that. I told people social work, but I didn’t know. I didn’t even want to be a social worker. I didn’t even want a job. I didn’t even know if I wanted a family, or marriage, or what I thought about life anymore, or myself, certainly not my future. So I stayed depressed.
“What’s going to happen to me?” I would ask God more times than I can count.
“What happened to me?”
I cried, and cried, and cried. I began therapy, started medications, and I tried to go on with my life. Eventually, I just got use to the depression. It just became a part of my personality and lifestyle. I went to class, parties, I smiled in pictures, and I just kept moving forward. I wasn’t all sad though, I also traveled more places than I can remember, learned things that changed me, lived a beautiful life, and I graduated. I graduated college with no job prospects, and I asked my parents to send me to a treatment facility as a graduation present. Shit was real now. I was an adult in the world, with a college degree, and no plans. So I struck a deal with God, something my upbringing told me was taboo, and never to do. However, something in me knew there was a truer, more real version of a God that I had yet to experience, something in my soul always knew that.
So I said, “God, I’m leaving. If you’re the God that I think you are, I know you’ll understand. I’m going to go explore this world. I’m going to leave You, everything I know, everything I have been taught, and I’m going to go look for more answers. I’m not sure if I’ll be back. I’m not sure what will happen to me out there, but I have to go look. I have to know about this thing for sure.” I have these words written somewhere in journal, and I like to think that God smiled as I wrote them. I saw myself as a young mystic and philosopher living under the Cartesian thought of questioning everything. I questioned everything, but deep down, I knew God would not leave me, but something in me knew I had to go wandering and wondering, and God met me everyplace I went. I couldn’t see it though, my perspective couldn’t comprehend it. I didn’t have the lens for it yet. For God had always been in a box, and in a book. I never expected to find God on bar stools, in Buddhist temples, retail stores, and in other lost humans.
Enter the Buddhist Retreat Center, 2012. I had come across some knowledge about Buddhism, and by that I mean I saw some cool quotes, and I knew they meditated. I heard that helped with depression, so that’s where I was going to start. I lived in a tent, hid my snacks from the bears that roamed at night, and sat outside the temple listening to the other visitors chant. It was terrifying for me. I kept to myself a lot. I wasn’t ready to try the meditating. That was too much too fast so I kind of just roamed around. One day I found myself sitting under The Great Stupu just weeping. I was alone at a Buddhist retreat center in Colorado, and I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life. What was I thinking? I thought.
I felt like I was on a quest of some sort, a quest that would last much longer than I ever imagined at that time. A quest where I would meet certain characters, who would teach me what I needed to know in order to move onto the next soul stop. There are character I knew only for minutes and hours but they stick with me to this day.
Like the girl at the Buddhist retreat center who taught me loving kindness, a theory I hadn’t heard before but it opened my heart to the idea of building a relationship with myself and being mindful of how I treated myself. No idea what that girls name is, but I’ll always remember her sitting under that tree in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, with her dreads, and loving kindness.
Then there was this other girl who was struggling with God. She grew up kind of like me. I remember asking, “What are you doing here??” And she looked at me like, well what are you doing here? For the four short days I was there we would walk around and talk about our doubts. Doubts about religion, what we were taught, God, our experience thus far, all of it. This was the first person I had ever shared that with. So many moments in these years were so revolutionary and small. I didn’t understand the gravity of them at the time, but they changed me, little by little, into the human soul I am today.
Then something poked me, poked my soul. A lot of what poked me in these years was fear, but something told me to run.
“Not this.” It said.
So I ran, I waited till it was dark, I pulled my car up to my tent, threw all my things into the back as quickly as possible, and quietly snuck away in my silent Prius. It was riveting. I felt so alive. I danced, sang, and cheered my way back down the mountain. When I got cell phone service I called my best friend, and per usual she brought me back down to earth.
“So what are you going to do now?” I wanted to go where she was, she was my safe harbor, but she was happy, away from my depression, and building her own life like everyone else.
“Well, shit,” I thought. I hadn’t gotten far in my thinking.
Que the panic and vagabonding.
I called my aunt who I had not talked to in years. It was late, I was hours away, but I called anyway.
“Hey Aunt Shannon…it’s Caitlin…so I’m in Wyoming with nowhere to go…and I was wondering if I could stay with you.”
“Of course,” she said.
And there she stood outside her mountain home somewhere around midnight to greet me as I pulled into my next soul destination.
My aunt taught me so many things. Man, she was the coolest. She still is to this day, but in that time and place, she was this anomaly. She broadened my perspective of what my life could look like, what else was out there, and that I could create a life instead of getting stuck with one.
Aunt Shannon welcomed me into her life like I had always been there. I joined her softball team, began a Paleo diet, hiked, trained for a triathlon that I would never participate in, I did yoga, and I spend a lot of time in the woods. I spent a lot of time with myself. Aunt Shannon provided a haven for me to find myself, or maybe truly meet myself for the first time in my young adult life.
Then as always, the restless set in, it was almost my best friends birthday, so of course I had to visit her in Wyoming where she was working at the Grand Teton National Park. When I got there, I decided I didn’t want to leave. It was far too enticing. I interviewed for a housekeeping position in cut off jeans and a tank top. It was a little slice of heaven. It was like this little beautiful island where the rest of the world didn’t exist, and only camp sites, mountains, bonfires, beer, horses, and rodeos existed. It was the stuff of dreams. But as life moves on, we decided it was time for us to move on. Callie was ready to start a career, and I, well I didn’t know what I wanted, but I followed suit. I mean when you don’t know what you’re doing, might as well follow the crowd right? They usually know what they are doing. I had no plans of my own. I was jumping from train to train, hoping someone was going to drop me off at my destination. The funny thing about that is that other people’s train never take you to your destinations, only to theirs. My train sat in the station for many years, just patiently waiting.
Callie was ready to get a job. She was chomping at the bit to start her career. I however was not, in any way, shape, or form. But, like I did for many years, I tried to keep up with Callie, my siblings, my peers. I tried to keep up with the idea of what I thought life expected of me. I got a corporate job. Callie and I got the same corporate job. Callie thrived. She thrived like she was born to do it. It felt like everyone I knew was thriving. Everyone went and got their jobs, their partners, their babies, and their beautiful lives. They were doing it, and I felt like I was drowning. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t do it, but that nothing in me wanted to. I dreamed of living a life like the character from Into the Wild. I wanted to disappear to a place where no one expected anything from me anymore. I wanted to escape to some place where I didn’t feel like I was failing or disappointing the people around me. My parents had given me the world. Literally, I had traveled the world over, graduated college, they connected me with job opportunities, and in return, I was floundering. I jumped from job to job. I had become an afterwork and weekends alcoholic. I craved the attention of boys like a drug. I was some kind of a self-loathing narcissistic. I had become this fun party character, with a soul that was begging for more. This life got old more quickly that I was prepared to give it up, so I kept living it.
However, one day I decided that I had had enough, so I packed up my things, quit my job, and moved to Arkansas to live the same plot all over again. That’s another thing about my misery that I am grateful for, it kept me moving, but I kept greeting the same life in each new place. It’s funny how I never saw the common denominator, myself. I spent two and half months up to the same antics except I had the comfort of family and friends nearby. They had no idea. Well, Callie did. I was living with Callie. She knew it all. She had seen it all. For 8 years, she had seen it all. The 18 year old naïve and sheltered me, the newly depressed and confused me, the frail and wild Colorado woman, and now the pathetic drunk and still depressed me. I was there, she was there, a lot of people were there, but none of us knew how to fix it, mostly myself.
Then one night, on March 6th 2016, I reckoned with myself. I laid in bed for hours thinking about what I had become, what I had always thought I would become, how different the two were, where I was going, and where I wanted to go. I wanted to die. I was just so tired. I was tired of the whole thing. I didn’t want to get a job. I didn’t want to pay my bills and do taxes. I didn’t want to keep failing and struggling. I didn’t want to have to report to the things that life requires you to report to. I didn’t want to be a human anymore. I wanted to be in some afterlife where I could just watch everyone else do this, they were better at it anyway. So I laid there thinking, weighing my options, and deciding. I turned my head on my tear soaked pillow and stared at the bottle of prescription pills sitting on my night stand.
One thing I had learned over the years is that when I have nothing left or don’t know where to go, there are things that I know for sure.
“What do I know for sure?” I asked myself.
I knew I wasn’t a mistake. I knew that couldn’t be true even if it felt true. I knew I was here for a reason, even if I had no idea what that was. I knew I wanted to fight, even though it felt like I had absolutely nothing left. I knew that I wanted to give this life thing one more shot, and that I was going to try to start over, for the nth time. March 6th turned into March 7th, and I decided to call my mom. (Chapter Two: If Mental Illness Ever Befalls You)