I got to spend several hours with Ron today, mostly just relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. We went for a brief walk on a nature trail and got a late lunch. Ze told me ze has been super busy and very stressed, not getting enough personal time and rest, and everything feels “raw.” I could see the pain in zir eyes and wanted to do something, anything, to help … if I couldn’t take away the pain, to at least be there with zir in it.

“You’re not zir therapist,” a committee member reminded me. I’m having trouble naming ‘her’ – I think it’s a ‘her’ – but she’s kind of motherly, kind of authoritarian, the one who ‘encourages’ me to do the stuff on my to-do list and wants me to get my act together professionally. The one who’s willing to go along with the whole entrepreneurship thing for now, but won’t call it a career until we start making money. In addition to being an important personal boundary, it’s also unethical to provide therapy to loved ones. She was getting at both of those concerns with her comment. “And I thought you didn’t want to do this kind of thing, anyway…”

“I don’t want to do it professionally,” I thought back curtly, “but I have learned these skills. I want to use them to help people I care about. How can I do this without crossing that boundary?”

I basically told Ron I could relate, asked if there’s anything ze can do to create a(n emotional) space for zirself, and listened.  I tried to be as supportive as I could. I chose my words carefully, and it took some effort, but it wasn’t draining or anything. It actually felt good. And I hope it helped… but whether it did (in the way I’d intended) or not, it was a moment of connection that we were able to share. It was real.

If the work I did in graduate school enables me to love the people I care about better, in ways that support my mental health as well, then it’s worth every penny.

I listened and sang along to the Moana soundtrack on my way home, getting into character and dancing and reveling in all the sensations. I thought about how awesome it must have been creating that music, and I can do that too, and even if I don’t do it professionally I can do it for the sheer joy. “My music is for me,” I thought, “I want and need it to be for me.” I felt myself connecting again to the passion I felt for music in undergrad, playing in the orchestra, studying theory, composing – back when I was focusing on the music for the music itself, not so I could ‘use it’ to ‘help’ others. And I felt grounded in who I was a decade ago, who I am now, who I’ve always been… maybe even who I will be. I felt whole.

“You should share your gift. You would make a great therapist.”

Maybe you’re right. But I don’t want to – not now at least. You can call me selfish, but it’s my choice to make.

It feels good to make that choice. I’m grateful that I can, and for the journey, and to everyone who supported me in getting here.

Zen and the Art of Letting People Make Their Own Decisions

Today Fox and I cleared out the last of his stuff from his apartment. I spent most of the time bringing things either to the car or to the trash, while he sorted through and packed his belongings. Every time I was taking something not obviously garbage to the trash, I was filled with anxiety. He was getting rid of a thing that might be useful! Maybe he would regret getting rid of it. Maybe I wanted it. Should I pack it for him?

There were a couple of times when I said something, but for the most part I was able to talk myself out of it. I remembered how my mother could be about me getting rid of things: whether it was her intention or not, I tended to feel guilty about getting rid of whatever item she was commenting on. (“Oh, you’re getting rid of that?” “This is nice, if you don’t want it maybe I’ll take it.” “I remember when so-in-so gave that to you!” Etc.) It really doesn’t help the process, which I find difficult and stressful anyway. I need to be able to make a decision – and not second-guess it – if anything is going to get done.

Once I realized I was “being my mother” I was able to make the choice to stop. “He’s an adult. He can make his own decisions about what to and not to keep.” “We’ve been living without this thing for how long? You didn’t even know it existed! We really don’t need it now.” “There’s no way all this stuff would fit in the car, never mind finding space for it at home.” Whatever form the rationale took, I used it to try and ease my anxiety.

There was no need for me to make decisions about what to keep or trash, because Fox was the one moving; the one all the stuff belongs to. The decisions were his to make; part of my job was to trust him to make them. I was just helping him out by expediting the process of packing the car and tossing the trash, which had the added benefit of clearing out the space where he was working.

As I realized this, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I was already doing more than enough just by transporting stuff. I could easily do that – satisfying my need for exercise – and let go of any sense of additional responsibility. (Trusting that, if Fox needed me to do more, he would have asked.)

Out of the Darkness Overnight

“What do you have to live for?” the voice asked, suddenly snapping me out of my thoughts about the day.

Everything I’ve listed as my hobbies, my career of choice, suddenly all of it seemed completely superficial. I struggled to think of something. What gives my life meaning? Why am I still alive?

“Love,” I replied. “My family and friends. I want to have children someday. I want to make a positive difference in others’ lives.”

“So you live for other people,” the voice sneered, adding: “Pretend that they’re gone. You can’t live for them, you have to live for yourself.

“Why do you want to live?”

… … …

I had to think about this one for a minute. I was actually worried that the answer wouldn’t come. There have been times when the only thing keeping me alive has been concern for the emotional well-being of the people closest to me – or, alternatively, fear that death would trap me in my torment, instead of granting the relief I sought.

But these reasons bring no comfort. They keep me here, against my will, suffering. They are not enough.

I cannot live for others’ comfort. That just feels like a waking nightmare. I’ve had a taste of it – and spent too much of my life suffering from severe depression.

I need something for myself.

I suppose another way to frame my fear of being trapped in torment by death is that I still have hope – hope that things will get better. Hope that, if I keep at it long enough, someday I won’t need to ask myself these questions.

But hope is not enough either. Hope fades. And so does my vision of the future.

I can’t live for a future that I can’t see. I need something here – and NOW!

What is here and now and worth living for?

Suddenly, all the little things came flooding back:

the feel of the wind on my skin and in my hair

the changing seasons; sunsets; grass under bare feet

water running over my skin; surrounding me

spending time with cute loveable animals

feeling loved by other people; receiving hugs

making love – or good conversation

my heartbeat

the joy and sense of mastery that comes from expressing myself, whether it be through music, dance, drawing, or the written word

FOOD – especially the taste of chocolate

the joy of learning something new, solving a puzzle, rising to a challenge

soaking in an amazing work of music or other art

feeling the physical presence of my own body

Knowing that it is my choice to continue to live. And I do, every moment of every day.

But a painful number of people don’t. People like me. People who really aren’t any different, in any meaningful way, from everybody else. There is no “us” and “them” when it comes to mental health. As Kiara put it so eloquently in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, “They are us.”

And that is why I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Overnight in Washington, D.C. on June 1st.

I am walking for my comrades who live each day with depression and/or other mental health issues, and struggle, and contemplate or possibly even attempt suicide.

I am walking in memory of those who have taken their own lives.

I am walking in solidarity with those who have lost a loved one or otherwise been affected by suicide, including some members of my family.

Above all, I am walking for myself, because everything we do to promote mental health and prevent suicide benefits me directly. I am walking to save my own life.

I am walking for us.