“2019 already?!” & other existential crises
My husband and I drove through the mountain pass yesterday. We climbed steep, curving roads lined with dirty banks of snow. Skiers and snowboarders looked like ants coming down the white slopes, zigzagging between thick evergreen groves. And it was strange to witness, because this winter hasn’t felt like winter to me, for reasons I’m struggling to explain. Maybe it’s tied to the weather. Maybe it’s tied to the depressive episode I endured over the holidays. Or maybe it’s tied to the sheer disbelief that time has propelled me here, into the year my debut novel will release.
My life has reached a point of fullness I’ve never known before. I have a loving spouse, a house we’ve transformed into a home together, a brilliant and enthusiastic publishing team behind me, a family tree that doubled itself after my wedding in August, and which continues to grow as life pushes irrevocably forward, etc. This should be a joyous time, yet I’ve been struggling to hold any joy in my body. In recent weeks, I’ve felt like a sieve. A distinctly melancholy and over-analyzing and barely-functioning sieve.
Honestly, the fact that I’m writing these words at all feels like a small miracle. Because over the past few weeks (months?), I’ve also been struggling with my writing. We can call it Second Book Syndrome or Imposter Syndrome or Writer’s Block. Picture Goldilocks eating scoops of porridge, each of which is fine and edible, but not quite right—that’s me, with these terms. They all feel relevant, but am I really stuck? Or depleted of ideas? No. I’m full of ideas. Do I grapple with the sense that I don’t “belong” in the writing community? No. I’ve worked hard to earn my place here, and I’ve never felt “unwelcome” as a newbie author. Am I overthinking my process with Book 2? Probably. But there’s more to it than that, though I’m not sure what it is.
This post is also a small miracle, because mental health issues have impacted my life in ways I rarely discuss with people. Especially on public platforms. And I’m not about to open it all up right here and now, but I want to become more transparent about my own mental health, and I want to reach a point where I feel okay with naming my symptoms. (Note: I’ve had depressive episodes before, but I’ve never used this term until now.)
It might seem silly, but until this past December, I thought my symptoms were “cured.” I had been so happy and present in my life/thoughts/body for such a long time, I truly believed that depressive episodes would no longer impact me. I was plagued by intervals of depression throughout my middle and high school years, but I didn’t enter that deep abyss once in my early twenties, and surely, this meant it was over. Surely, those episodes weren’t as serious or excruciating or overpowering as I once believed them to be. Surely, all I had was a case of teen angst.
The joke was on me. Because I developed other recurring ailments in my adolescence, right? Pimples, tendonitis. And obviously, whenever I go months and months without getting any acne, or experiencing that sharp, aching stiffness in my lower back, I don’t think to myself: “Oh! I’m cured! That was a Teen Christine thing!” So why did I believe this to be true about my mental health? It’s a question worth pondering.
And I pondered it a lot, as my husband and I drove through the mountains. As we drew near the pass, my cell service suddenly came back. And my new Apple Watch chimed with a notification from Moodpath, an app I recently downloaded to help me track my moods and manage future symptoms. And the floodgates opened to several text messages at once—an onslaught that would have felt ominous or overwhelming, in mid-December—but right then, with the music playing and my husband beside me, the sky so blue and open above us, and all those skiers working their way steadily down the mountain in the distance, I felt good. The notifications lifted me up. I had enough energy to unlock my phone, to smile and laugh, to immediately type out my responses, and then resume my conversation with Mazen. I felt light and present, and very much like myself in that moment.
Which is why I’m counting it as one of my first personal triumphs of 2019.