I have a wall in my closet full of pictures i’ve tacked on over my years, most from when I was 18 and felt like I could live forever. It’s almost innate in us to chase a version of ourselves when we felt untouchable, when we felt on top of the world. To keep a framed picture from years ago when your smile lit up the room a little bit more, or when you laughed so hard you peed a little.
Around this time of year I always feel myself start to slip, I start to dim a little bit. I start to worry that I won’t be able to catch myself. It’s kind of like a karmic relapse that feels like it just plays and plays and plays until somehow I figure out how to break the cycle. But, for a lot of us, we can’t. I have a hard time trying to give advice towards bringing a spark back that was only meant to burn once, or a chapter of our lives that was going to come to a close no matter what. I’ve been asked how to cope, or how to shield from oncoming hurt. I’ve been asked how to smile when all you want to do is hug your mom or sleep on the couch. The hardest part, the hardest advice i’m ever asked for, is how to prevent the glass from breaking when it’s going to shatter no matter what.
Around this time of year, if you start to slip, to dim a little bit, I think it’s most important to remember that you aren’t trying to catch a flight, there isn’t always a destination. Rather, you’re meant to move in general, or just walk, if you will. You don’t have to beat the clock, because when it comes to mental health, and taking care of yourself, there isn’t one.
I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to meet landmark deadlines. My biggest one (it’s okay to laugh here), is that I wanted to be married by 23. I am laughing with you, because if you know me, at ALL...it’s safe to say we can tack on a few years, or ten.
Our generation as a whole has done wonders for de-stigmatizing mental health conversations, but that does not mean that it is wrong for you to still struggle, to feel alone. Pieces of ourselves that we see as broken, not painted as beautifully as everyone else’s...they’re still ours, they’re valid. We all have the same predisposed notions of how things should be, it can be quite competitive at times. On instagram she looks like she’s having the time of her life, doesn’t she? On instagram he just posted his brand new apartment in a city 10 hours away, he’s really living the life, isn’t he.
You do not have to graduate in 4 years if your path takes longer. You do not have to move to a brand new city straight away, just because everyone else does. You don’t have to stick with that 9 to 5 just because you have a degree in the field. You don’t have to change your major just because they told you journalism is a tough field. You certainly don’t have to hide your voice just because you’re afraid no one will listen.
You do not have to rush yourself. What is yours, will wait for you.
I saw a list one time, a list of progress disguised as weakness:
You’ve lost relationships. We do not lose relationships because we are not worthy of them. We lose them because we’re mismatched and that means we’ve grown. We need to realign with people who understand who were becoming, not just who we’ve been.
You’re slowing down. Instead of trying to push through your body’s signals that you’re doing too much, growth is when we slow down and start to listen to what they’ve been saying all along. In this stillness, we often find answers we didn’t know we were looking for.
You’re aware of what’s wrong, even if you don’t know how to make it right. Real change is almost always catalyzed by discontent. The truth is, most people won’t find the courage to ask the hard questions, so they don’t give themselves the opportunities to find the right answers.
With every falling apart, there is a coming together. We owe it to ourselves not to rush, and to allow ourselves the grace in patience, in waiting.
I have days when it kills me to even roll over in bed, or brush my hair. Days that I just let my phone ring and ring because if I answer the call I don’t know if I can even get a word out. Sometimes it takes so much effort in me to even move to the living room, though it seems like a small task. I have these parts of myself that I understand, but I don’t ask others to fully comprehend. I’m on my own time, giving myself the grace that we should all give ourselves. It can disguise itself as irritability, or lack of interest. It can creep up on you as subtle doubt, or paranoia. It does not have one face, and that makes it all the harder to identify, and to manage. Some people are wearing multiple masks this year. It won't look the same every day, some are better than others. It’s easy to dismiss depression in a friend as laziness, or lack of motivation. It’s easy to call a few hard days, a “funk”. Even easier than this, however, is to be conscious of struggle, and to be gentle when someone is trying their best.
It sounds cliche to say everyone is fighting a silent battle, but it’s true. We can do our best to understand, or to empathize, but sometimes all we need is someone to listen. Someone to squeeze our hand a little bit tighter when we start to let go. Someone to remind you that you’re heard, even when the room is far too loud.
Though I can’t squeeze your hand, I can tell you this: one of these days you’ll meet someone who speaks your language so eloquently that you won’t need to translate your spirit. You’ll land that job you’ve dreamt of since you were still sleeping with a night light. One of these days everyone is going to tell the world about how they knew you, they might even ask for compensation when you put their name in the book.
You’re going to get there, we all are. Be patient and be mindful. It’s okay to stand still. It will wait for you. I’ll wait for you.
One time someone really wise and smart and charismatic and beautiful told me life has hiccups. They come and they go, but they never last. Life moves upward and downward, and sometimes sideways, too. But it’s never stationary, and it’s never permanent. Be gentle, be cognizant, be still. We will wait for you.