through her eyes

This morning I woke up at 4am to get the chance to have my favorite portrait photographer— Julia Trotti— edit one of my photos on her YouTube live stream. She ended up editing my submission around 6am, and while I was utterly exhausted, it was so exciting to see her process. I realized what I loved most about it was how her edit was drastically different than mine.

This is the photo I submitted to be edited by Julia Trotti, with my original edits.

One of my favorite things about photography is that there will never be the same two photographers. Everyone has a different perspective to offer; even among people you are closest to or have the most in common with, everyone sees the world differently. I remember in the first week of my freshman Cultural Anthropology course (one of the “dreaded” general education classes I was required to take in college) we learned the definition of “worldview.” I have never forgotten this word or this concept. Everyone sees the world through their own specific lens, because everyone has different backgrounds/personalities/home lives/home locations/opinions/beliefs/culture/values/etc. Some people are color blind and only see the world in monochrome. Some grew up with only one parent in their home. Some grew up in a generic, middle class, suburban subdivision. Some got their GED. Some speak multiple languages. Some were adopted. All of these things, whether based on their external environment or their biology, impact someone’s worldview.

This nature vs nurture concept plays a huge role in someone’s worldview. Not one person is the same. It’s intriguing if you think about it. Even my partner, who shares similar reactions to my own when watching a favorite TV show or movie, is still having a different experience while watching it than I am. I love that idea. Maybe it’s why I love photography so much. I can capture a moment and share it with the world, editing the image to try and help you see it how I do, and you will still see a different photo than me. You will have your own reaction or experience looking at my photo than your mom will. Or your spouse. Or your neighbor.

Screen grab of Julia Trotti’s live stream and her final edit on the same photo I shared above. Notice the differences?

Art is so subjective. As I told my partner earlier today: If you give 10 photographers the same photo to edit, you will end up with 10 very different photos. That is the beauty of art. What’s more, you can carry this concept over to the state of our world right now, and maybe it will show you how “essential” means something different to everyone, or why some people are feeling particularly tense right now while others are experiencing relief or joy in this time of isolation. Perspective matters.

Keep creating, friends. This is a scary time; allow your emotions to bleed into your art. I want to see how you see the world. Let’s allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be raw and unapologetic. Creativity breeds authenticity and vice versa. No time like quarantine to explore yourself, your perspective, and perhaps seek to understand the perspective of others.

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I Am Not Okay

*Trigger warning: suicide ideation, chronic illness, eating disorder*

I am not okay.

I am dealing with my chronic illness like I never have before. I don’t remember the last time I had solid food that didn’t send me straight to the bathroom. Last night I tried solid food for the first time in a long time (plain white rice, what could go wrong?) and I ended up puking it up not long after eating. I get lightheaded doing anything. I went to the ER earlier in the week when my pain was unmanageable and I was worried about my food intake, but I walked away with only a couple small answers that could explain the pain, and a medication that has not solved my food intake problem. I also now have to go to work, because I can’t afford to lose any more money and keep up with my medical bills, and my job has made it clear that I will be punished for any absences related to my health.

I am not okay.

Lately, the thoughts that swarm my head are of death. “It would be easier if you were dead,” or “There are no medical bills or chronic illnesses in the afterlife” have been some of the recurring thoughts that plague me every few minutes. Of course, there’s no family or friends or my partner in the afterlife, either. But those thoughts tend to get drowned out by the former.

I am not okay.

I grew up with chronic illness. It is familiar to spend the night on the bathroom floor, or be unable to attend social events because of my health. I have been told my symptoms are in my head. I’ve been told I’m being dramatic. I’ve been told to suck it up and keep going. For roughly ten years these statements have been ringing in my ears. Doctors tell me they can’t find an explanation for my symptoms. They give me solutions to the wrong problem. Often times I feel like they don’t believe me. Lately, I try to do a better job of advocating for myself and my health, telling ER doctors that I can’t keep living this way. They assure me their solution will work. They are almost always wrong.

I am not okay.

I’m running out of room. My illness surrounds me everywhere I go, reminds me that I am trapped in this body with nowhere to run. My body betrays me.

I am not okay.

I don’t even know where to go anymore. The emergency room proved that they cannot help me. But every day my body gets weaker and weaker, without any food to sustain it. I’m starting to recognize that my eating disorder is loving all of this. I’m scared how it will be once (if) I do start eating solid food again. I also recognize that not eating makes my depression and anxiety much worse.

I am not okay.

My symptoms seem so trivial when I explain them to people. I don’t look like I need emergent care from the outside. I’ve come to detest invisible illnesses. They make me feel guilty for going to the ER or for calling off of work. I’m not having seizures, or heart palpitations, or vomiting blood. It’s hard to convince anyone, especially myself, that I am worth fixing, when it doesn’t appear that I am even fixable (or in need of fixing).

I am not okay.

The night I got home from the hospital at the beginning of the week, my city and neighborhood were hit by a devastating tornado. Fortunately, my house is unscathed, but my community is hurting. I am unable to do anything about it except offer verbal support. Pretty soon there won’t be any room for more hurting. Then what?

I am not okay.

As the election continues, following a disappointing Super Tuesday, my hope drains lower. After expressing this on Facebook, I woke up today to a comment joking about suicide if Trump is re-elected. I looked at it stone-faced. I’m sure this person didn’t know they were fueling a fire. I’m hoping they were oblivious, and intended for it to be funny rather than triggering. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels the same way.

I am not okay.

I know my posts here are normally positive or end with some kind of hopeful or encouraging message. This is not such a post. I saw something recently that said writing down your troubles will provide some relief. That sharing your troubles will offer some semblance of comfort. So here I am.

I am not okay.

Today in Therapy…

Alright, so my therapist used new language in session today that helped me cope a bit more with what I’m going through. You see, I’ve really been beating myself up because I’ve been so sick lately. My physical health has been very bad since I had a procedure done on my liver at the end of this past year, and my mental health is hanging on for dear life. I feel exhausted all of the time, I have very little interest in things I used to enjoy (what’s up depression), and now I’m having issues with my gut, so eating is quite difficult. Which also means I have a hard time living the life I used to live. You know, going out all of the time, or even just hanging out with friends somewhere other than my house (usually in my bed). Not only have I cancelled, postponed, and rainchecked plans left and right, but now I just try not to make plans at all because I know I’ll be too exhausted or sick to do anything but hang out at home.

Of course, when things get this way, I immediately bee-line for the shame train. I have no energy to hang out and do fun things anymore, so therefore I am worth less, somehow, than I was before. I am “unfun,” “boring,” “broken.” You name the criticism, I have already told it to myself a thousand times before the word is fully out of your mouth. As you can imagine, shame hits you pretty hard after a long day of depression, guilt, loss of appetite, physical pain, mental stress, and using energy for daily life tasks.

Here’s where my therapist comes in. Today, she framed my life right now as if I were in survival mode. My physical health is poor, my mental health is on shaky ground, I’m unhappy with my professional life, I feel aimless, and I don’t have much money. I also appear to have high-functioning depression: I only do what I have to do to survive, and I use most of the energy I have (which isn’t a lot, because: depression) just to get through my day to day tasks. So, when it comes time for fun things, or hobbies I used to enjoy, I have already depleted my daily energy for the day. I am surviving.

Somehow, that tiny reframe that my therapist made on how I view my life right now had a significant impact on me, and a lot of that shame that I was carrying around lifted off my shoulders. It reassured me that it won’t be this way forever. That I just need to survive a little bit longer and then things will get easier, and slowly my depression will fade and my energy will return. I cannot wait until that day comes.

To my amazing friends and family who have come over with food or flowers or hugs, who have sent kind messages to cheer me on, who have shown up for me in so many other ways: thank you so much. To the bottom of my heart, thank you. You mean more to me than you know. To my friends who I’ve cancelled plans on, or who I haven’t seen in a while: I am sorry. If you are patient, I promise I’ll show up soon. I’m just surviving right now.

 

 

 

PS. I may make these “Today in Therapy” posts every so often with new stuff I’ve learned in session. Because, if you’re in therapy I’m sure you know, when you have a breakthrough or a big moment where you understand a bit more of the puzzle of your brain or your life or whatever it may be, that provides enormous relief. And I’d love to maybe offer some kind of relief to any of my readers who may be going through similar situations or feelings or times in their lives. And if that reader is you: you got this. You are so much stronger than you will ever know, I guarantee it.

2020 Vision

I’m stepping into this new year- into this new decade- feeling a sense of calm and clarity. I’ve realized that I finally have some semblance of a grasp on my health, both physical and mental. I was planning on diving into what led me to this eye-opening moment in my life, but decided to save it for a future post. Got to keep you wanting more, I suppose. Instead, I will say this:

I have never shied away from discussing my mental illnesses on this blog. And I’m not about to start now. 2020 will be the year I embrace the role of advocate, and start being more proactive about trying to help others who struggle with their mental health like I do. I have many goals for the new year. I aim to reclaim my identity as an artist, and embrace my creativity, however messy or even lackluster it may be at times. I aim to allow my individuality to continue to exist while I grow alongside another human, my partner, and recognize that I can do both at the same time. I aim to push myself to be the best version of me that I can be. I aim to pursue my passions, especially the new ones that terrify me. And I aim to work harder, and share more of my journey here with all of you.

When I created this blog during treatment for my eating disorder, I awakened part of myself I never knew I needed. Writing on this website helped me in ways I never imagined, and taught me a lot about myself and the kind of person I want to be. So, here we are in a new year and a new decade, and I’ve decided not to hold myself back. To acknowledge that I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, and that sometimes pursuing my dreams and pushing myself through depression and anxiety will be hard as hell. But I will continue to move forward. I will continue to pursue my dreams, be ambitious, write freely, and try not to judge myself too harshly along the way. I hope you will join me for the adventures.

Happy New Year, all. Congratulations on making it this far. Let’s keep going.

Spreading the Wealth

Welcome back, everyone! Whether you are a first time reader or a seasoned veteran of Putting Down the Rope, I’m happy you’re here. This post started as a way for me to blow off some steam, and then it morphed into something beautiful and productive. I hope you get something out of it, just as I did.

 

To catch you all up, life has been pretty good for me over the last few months. I’ve found a group of friends I consider family here in Nashville, I have an amazing partner (who I still wake up next to feeling unbelievably lucky that I found him), I moved out of my parents’ house and now live in a part of town that I love with some really awesome roommates. Life has been good.

But we all know that mental illnesses exist, even in the happiest of times. Sasha (remember her?) has snuck her way back in and has been pointing out all of the unhappy parts of my life. Since she started doing that, all of the bad things have just seemed to pile on, one after the other, and now I find myself at the bottom of a pit, staring up at the rays of happiness that seem so far out of reach now. We all know that I write to process and vent, so here it goes…I hope you missed me.

Due to my depression, I stopped taking the medication needed to maintain the health of my liver. (For those who don’t know, I have auto-immune hepatitis, which means that my immune system really doesn’t like my liver and tries to kick it out of the Vital Organs Club.) For the last few years I have been in remission, while still requiring consistent and constant care to make sure I stay that way, as my disease is not curable. I learned last week that I am no longer in remission, and will have to have another liver biopsy to figure out the severity of my condition and decide how intense my treatment will be. Treatment that involves medication with heavy side effects…side effects that I didn’t handle too well last time I was on them.

In addition to this fun news, my boss recently informed me that, because I didn’t qualify for an intermittent leave of absence (basically designed for people with chronic health issues), anytime I call out of work due to my illness it counts against me. Which has been happening more and more because of my chronic GI issues, too. To top it off, I have a cold. Aren’t I just the picture of health?

Since I’m not able to work at my current job without being punished for having chronic illnesses, I’ve been looking for a new job. Not only that, but I have been searching for other work that will be more aligned with what I want to pursue as a long-term career. After years of tossing the idea around, I’ve finally decided that I want to pursue my dream of becoming a therapist. Which means grad school; another excessively expensive endeavor. It’s difficult to find a job in this field, however, without already having a Masters or an undergraduate background in psychology or social work. And the jobs I do find that don’t have any crazy prerequisites, I don’t land interviews for because I’m too young or don’t have enough relevant experience. After being turned down for jobs I was really excited about, my pit seemed to deepen. After all, for the longest time, my career was the root cause of my happiness. I was passionate about my work, I was ambitious, and constantly searching for the next big thing I could be a part of.

However, I do have a light down in my pit. My partner tosses matches down for me to light so I don’t feel so alone in the darkness. But I’ve realized recently how heavily I rely on those matches to provide me comfort, and it isn’t fair to expect one thing (or one person) to be the sole source of happiness in me. I used to be full of happiness, from all different sources. Whether it was theatre, writing, photography, poetry, spending time with friends, etc…I usually had at least one thing outside of my personal relationships that sparked joy in me. But moving home disrupted a lot of that happiness. I had to start over, find new friends, find a new passion. Theatre in Nashville is obviously very different than theatre in Los Angeles. Suddenly, the career path that I had been working towards since I was a kid was pulled out from under me. Suddenly, I had to find all new friends. I was used to moving and having to start over, but those transitions were often aided with school, or jobs, or a house full of 20+ roommates. I didn’t know what to do now that I was an adult living with my parents in a brand new city where I didn’t know a single person outside of my family. When I moved home and got my emergent mental health under control, I started going out to photograph local concerts and discover new bands, meeting people along the way, but not many I was keen on spending tons of time with.

And then one day I helped out a friend, someone I hadn’t gotten to know too well yet, and our friendship clicked. It took some time, but we started spending more time together. Some six months later and here we are, the best of friends, and, as it happens, very much in love. As someone with a track record for screwing up relationships, I tried vehemently not to get involved with him. But when my brain realized my heart was involved, it all went out the window. So, now I am in a relationship with the most wonderful man I have ever known.

When we first started seeing each other almost half a year after we met, my happiness was palpable. At this point I had found a couple close friends, all who noticed and pointed it out to me, but that didn’t erase my other problems. I still had no career path– I wasn’t working towards anything, and had settled on a job that I liked fine, but wasn’t a long-term career by any means– and my depression had sapped my creativity. I didn’t want to acknowledge my depression because people in happy, healthy relationships didn’t have depression…right? Yeah, everyone reading this knows just how wrong that is. But my ignorance shoved the desire to deal with my mental illness out the window. Which, as these things tend to do, came around to bite me in the ass once my partner and I decided that, for the health and strength of our relationship, we needed to spend more time away from each other to maintain our individuality outside of the relationship. I agreed, but as soon as we spent days apart, my mood dropped noticeably. I didn’t understand why, as I was 100% on board and perfectly ok with our plan. I didn’t want us to become absorbed into one another. I had always been a strong, independent person. So then why was I falling apart when I willingly spent time away from my partner?

Well, it’s hard to find your own sense of self when you still feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. I lost myself when I moved home, and when I met my partner, I hadn’t found all of myself yet. It’s a weird feeling not to have a path in life…I had one for so long until I didn’t, and only then did I realize just how much stock I had put into my career and following my dreams. Hell, I can’t complain. I did the damn thing! I got my degree in theatre, I moved all the way across the country and worked at all of the places I dreamt of working at. But dreams can change. My last job on a theatrical production was when I was the most unhealthy. I had major depression, I was self-harming, I had an eating disorder that I hadn’t addressed or even acknowledged, and I had no money. All of this had started causing burn out, and I no longer enjoyed going to work like I used to. To this day, I am unsure if I will ever work in theatre again. It was difficult for me to step away, without knowing where I was going next.

All I’ve ever known is ambition; chasing my dreams, no matter how wild, or seemingly impossible. When I had to face the fact that my dreams were fading, I had nothing to replace them with. And when I was forced to leave the state I had fallen madly in love with, I felt even more lost. While I have found my home in Nashville, I still find myself picking up the pieces of myself that broke when I fell apart two years ago.

But it’s not all bad. Sasha loves to remind me that it is, but in writing this I am confident that it’s not. After all, I’ve found a new dream. Who’s to say that I can’t pursue this dream just as fiercely and unapologetically as I did with theatre? Sure, it will be hard, but so was crawling my way into the professional theatre scene in Los Angeles! I can do this. Even when my diseases and disorders and emotions tell me that I can’t.

I am learning to spread the wealth, not put so many eggs in one basket. If I put all of my joy and happiness into my new career path, I’ll become exhausted before I know it. If I put all of my happiness into my relationship, I will become codependent (and I really love this boy, so I’m not about to screw that up). If I put all of my happiness into my friendships, I will fall apart when my friends get busy with their own lives and careers and relationships.

Life is hard as hell. We all know it. I know each and every one of you reading this has dealt with some pretty heavy stuff. Maybe you are right now. But as my mom says, things can turn on a dime and life gets better, easier. Don’t put all your stock into one aspect of your life. Feed your soul– all of it!–  because your soul has many compartments!

 

Who knows how long or often I’ll blog…but it’s nice to know that I can always come here to process and learn more about myself (and hopefully help others who are struggling with similar issues along the way). I’ve shared a lot of my journey on this website, and I’ve worked through a lot of really difficult stuff for everyone to see. If this post does anything, I hope it reminds those who struggle with their own mental illness that even if life is going great, mental illness can creep in and try to disrupt that. Just know that it doesn’t make you weak. You are stronger than you realize. You got this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One Deserves to Disappear

I feel invisible. If I disappeared tomorrow, no one would notice. No one would care even if they did. I’m not special. There’s no reason to remember me.

This is what I tell myself. I tell myself this consciously and subconsciously, and I have for years. And the thing is, I desperately want that to change. I try to do things that I hope people will notice. I post on social media. I go out and socialize. But at the end of every day, a part of me whispers that it wasn’t good enough. “You are still invisible,” it says. “No one cares about you.”

I wanted to write this because I was listening to a song yesterday that really resonated with me. It’s a song I have heard many times before, but last night  it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. Here are some of the lyrics that stood out to me:

“No one deserves to be forgotten. No one deserves to fade away. No one should come and go and have no one know he was ever even here. No one deserves to disappear.”

In therapy lately, I’ve been working through my feelings of invisibility. When I was a kid I was bullied, and that changed how I saw myself in the world. I didn’t have a lot of friends as a middle schooler. In fact, I used to walk the track with my math teacher at recess because I didn’t have anyone else to hang out with. People always told me when I was a kid that I was so mature for my age, and I chalk that up to having more adult friends than friends my own age. I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t popular. I still feel that way.

“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, all you want is for somebody to find you. When you’re falling in a forest and when you hit the ground, all you need is for somebody to find you.”

It’s hard for me to accept that I may never have the life I desire. I want to be seen so desperately. I don’t want to constantly measure my life based on how many people follow me on Instagram, or like one of my photos, or comment on meaningful Facebook statuses. I want to feel that if I fall in a forest, someone will come find me.

“Even if you’ve always been that barely-in-the-background kind of guy, you still matter. And even if you’re somebody who can’t escape the feeling that the world’s passed you by, you still matter. If you never get around to doing some remarkable thing, that doesn’t mean that you’re not worth remembering.”

I constantly feel like because I have nothing remarkable to offer the world, no one cares about me. I often feel talentless, and I constantly compare myself to others based on what I see of them on social media and out in public. I can’t figure out what I lack that other people seem to have. I don’t seem to be too different from my friends, and yet they are loved by so many, have a large social media following, and seem to have it all together. Even when I don’t want to, I find myself turning these thoughts over and over in my brain…what did I do wrong? What am I missing?

Listening to that song last night, I realized how true the sentiment of the musical, Dear Evan Hansen- where the song comes from-  is as a whole. The message is that no matter how invisible you feel, you are not alone and you don’t deserve to disappear. It’s interesting because I’m working on believing this myself, and at the same time, I believe it so strongly for other people. I want others to know that they are not alone and that their lives are worth it. It is just so hard for me to flip that on myself. But I’m starting to work on that.

I’d love to hear from others who feel similarly, or who found this post relatable in any way. I tend to do well on “islands of misfit toys,” finding that I can get close to those who come from similar backgrounds. And I’d love to be surprised; my therapists are always saying that there are more people like me than I realize. I’d love for them to be proven right.

Feel free to comment, send me an email, a message on social media, anything you like. I’d love to hear your story.

“You are not alone.”

California, I’m Coming For Ya

After a few horrible days of mourning the loss of Southern California in my life, I have decided to do something about it. In session today, I made a plan with my therapist on what I need to do in order to get back to California.

I’ve got myself on a one-year plan.

Hopefully in one year I will be back in either Los Angeles or San Diego. I plan on getting a job, saving up my money, and getting healthy so that I won’t just be able to live in SoCal, but I’ll be able to thrive.

My goal for 2019 is no self-harm. I made a list of coping skills that I plan on practicing this year and beyond. I want to return to CA with no new scars as of right now.

Some exciting news is that part of my plan involves applying for graduate school! I’ve made the decision to go back to school for mental health counseling, and I’m terrified and so excited to see where this journey will take me.

I also plan on figuring out ways to incorporate the SoCal vibe into my current environment as some added motivation and comfort while I wait. I’m lucky that I’ve found somewhere I call my home, while it’s unfortunate that I discovered it after I left.

California, I can’t wait to get back to you!

Happy New Year!

Yesterday was a hard day for me. I found myself missing California more than I have since I moved back to Tennessee. While I know I should be celebrating that I survived the hardest year of my life so far, I can’t help but wonder where I’d be if I had stayed in LA.

Though I am sad, I now know what my goals for 2019 are: find my way back to Southern California. I know I want to be in a better place when I return, so I’m going to fight like hell to live in accordance with my values of independence and ambition. While I recognize it may not happen this year, I will still focus on what I need to do to get back eventually.

TW (next paragraph only): self-harm

One of my goals of this year is no self-harm at all in 2019. Getting that tattoo was a big deal for me; I haven’t self-harmed since, nor have I wanted to. I mentioned to a friend that getting that tattoo was the best thing I could’ve done because it provided me with enough of the sensation SH would give me, but instead of a scar it gave me something beautiful. I was scared I would regret getting my first tattoo, but in fact, I feel quite the opposite. I can’t wait to get my next one. Another goal I have for 2019 is whenever I feel the urge to self-harm, I transfer one dollar into my tattoo fund. Because I now know of a more productive way to mark up my body.

In 2019 I want to spend more time on photography, the blog, and getting healthy. I want to work towards grad school, and not let my fear of what others think impact the decisions I make. I want to follow my heart and my gut; no one else can tell me what I feel in my own gut.

2019 shows a lot of promise for me. It gives me the opportunity to start fresh and really work on myself. I grew so much in 2018- it was easily the hardest year of my life so far. And look at me! I survived! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me this year, and I am so grateful to myself and my friends, family, and mental health professionals that I am still alive to see this year. I am so glad I have the chance to continue my story.

Happy New Year!