At the beginning of 2020, after having moved to San Francisco for the second time since graduating from college, a few weeks into a job I was determined to keep longer than my previous track-record of six months, I sat in my little black Volkswagen Tiguan, FaceTiming my therapist like I did every Tuesday morning before work. I had parked just far enough away from my company’s office building to lower my chances of any coworkers seeing me and having to pretend it was my mom on the phone. After kicking off my shoes and assuming a criss-cross-applesauce position in the driver’s seat, I lowered the visors down (partially to block the sun and even more so to block myself from pedestrian view), crouched a little low, and took a deep inhale before picking up the call. My therapist, Dr. Jones (we’re on a first-name basis – I call her Laurie) and I discussed my current challenges and greatest obstacles to feeling stable and good, which as usual included my tendency to compare myself to every living thing and inability to accept myself for where I was at that stage in my early twenties life, constantly fearing the future and agonizing over what the hell direction I should go with my career.
Laurie’s method of therapy is known as Somatic Experiencing, a trauma resolution approach that focuses on the body’s capacity for natural healing, so her technique in helping me ease my anxiety is to direct my attention away from my mind and thoughts, towards and into my body and sensations. During this particular discussion, she helped me uncover ways to sit with my feelings of fear and uncertainty instead of shying away from them, and notice the fight or flight responses in my body shift as I entertained the different options for next steps in my life.
When I brought up the option of dropping everything to start my own company and become a founder/CEO, something I was feeling an overwhelming amount of pressure to do because it felt like every one of my peers who stayed in the Bay Area was doing so, my hands clammed up, my neck tensed, my stomach clenched, something I know now was a reaction to choosing a career path only to fit in and do what I thought was expected of me. Laurie told me that she could see me crawling out of my own skin at the mere thought of this idea that I was only entertaining out of peer pressure. When I considered, per her recommendation, observing the phase of life and career in which I found myself already, exploring what did and didn’t inspire me and making decisions about what would come next for myself from there, she pointed out that my posture relaxed, my facial expression eased, and I appeared to breathe more organically. I settled into myself when I was given permission to entertain which path aligned most with who I was and what I wanted for my life. Laurie explained to me that the body knows before the mind does what the next right thing to do is, and that’s really the only information we ever need, the next right thing to do.
I cried and laughed and wiped the anxious tears from my cheeks, and tried my absolute hardest to take in and retain the wisdom Laurie always poured out on me with so much tenderness and compassion, more like a second mother than someone I paid to make me feel better. At the end of the FaceTime call, just before hanging up to make my panicked way down the street to another day in the office I already knew I was going to white-knuckle through, I told her about my desire to write a memoir about my experience with mental illness. I said it like something I only took half-seriously, though, just in case she thought it was a silly idea.
“Oh also, Laurie! I forgot to tell you that I’ve been kind of thinking about writing something on my experience with mental illness, you know, to help people who are going through it to see that they aren’t alone and to normalize the experience of attending therapy and receiving psychiatric treatment… or something like that,” I told her with only partially-committal enthusiasm, afraid that my big hopes of telling my story to a wide audience would be met with skepticism or doubt.
“How exciting!” Her face lit up with a warmth I hadn’t seen before or ever expected from telling my little secret, like she knew that her work in me was about to produce a butterfly effect. “I’m so proud that you would want to use your experience to help people who might be similarly struggling. I think it’s a fantastic idea,” she responded with the full confidence that I had what it would take to put pen to paper.
She didn’t think it was silly. Because of her validation, I felt that I could confess that this wasn’t just something I had only contemplated but something that I really wanted to do, something I felt I was born to do, something I could feel in my bones.
“But Laurie, I’m so nervous. I have never wanted to do something more in my entire life, but I’m afraid. I’m not sure where to start and I just so badly want to write something good,” I replied in true perfectionistic fashion.
Laurie’s head cocked to the side a bit, and a smile slowly spread across her face as she leaned forward into the phone and looked into what felt like the deepest part of my soul and asked the most profoundly simple question,“What if instead you wrote something real?”
What if instead you wrote something real. She didn’t tell me to write something fancy or professional, or eloquent even. Just real.
So here I am, showing up to write, fingers on keyboard, butt on chair, in all the messy, imperfect glory of my twenties, defying my fear of failure and criticism in order to tell a story I believe needs to be heard, because we all have one. I’m coming to you with the most authentic parts of myself and my story, hoping that, whether you have experienced or witnessed mental illness or not, you might find a piece of yourself weaved throughout these pages and come to find that you are so far from alone down here. What will follow on this blog are stories about how I silently suffered from a disease I didn’t know I had and how, eventually, I found joy despite it.