Do I travel to run away from my miserable self?
A few weeks ago an article by Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, appeared in New York magazine. She wrote about how twenty years since her book was published she’s still depressed. Wurtzel has been criticized for being a privileged white woman complaining about fake problems while unaware of the world’s real ones. I feel a need to defend her, and I think it is a “real problem” that our society victim-blames people like Liz, who while we label “privileged,” are struggling to enjoy life and not getting the community support they need.
Reading Liz’s article felt like catching up with an old friend. I read Prozac Nation years ago as a depressed fourteen-year-old and related to Liz on a number of levels. We were both native New Yorkers from lower-middle class families with a natural talent for simultaneously overachieving and feeling unhappy. It’s an act that many pretty, white girls like us know well; the art of appearing to be moving forward in life– going to the right schools on scholarships, getting perfect grades, keeping physically fit– while silently dying a slow, painful death inside.
I’M IN A SLUMP
I feel miserable for no particular reason. I always surprise myself when I fall into these funks. Anyone who has been in my life the past few years would probably describe me as positive, optimistic, and generally happy. I think I am those things, too, until I feel like this. After a few days of feeling depressed as I do now, I can no longer remember if I am a happy person who is feeling down or a sad person who has been lucky with a phase of happy.
I can no longer remember if I am a happy person who is feeling down or a sad person who has been lucky with a phase of happy.
I’ve been doing some historical self-exploration to figure this out. The first time I felt legitimately depressed was the seventh grade. One year after my neighborhood became a post-9/11 war zone, I opportunistically entered puberty, started therapy, was diagnosed depressed and prescribed Zoloft. I took the medication and felt better for four years and came off it just in time to discover a love for self medicating with drugs and alcohol. I spent the next few years sugar-coating my unhappiness with vodka and ecstasy. When I got that out of my system a couple of years ago, I turned to yoga, meditation, and anything holistic. My latest habits obviously have the appearance of a healthy lifestyle and a happy ending for me– but I’m beginning to question if they are just as much a coping mechanism as the two former were, and thus hold no true long-term potential for keeping me feeling good.
I’ve come to realize that I naturally experience life in a heightened, hyper-aware, hyper-sensitive way. I learned to avoid alcohol and drugs, realizing that my natural state is mind expanding enough. I experimented with substances for years and when intoxicated or coming down, I reached highs and lows of vast proportions. These days I do anything to feel even. I exercise. I do yoga. I meditate. I eat vegetables. I get plenty of sleep. The relationships in my life are nothing less than nourishing. I feel like I’m doing everything right. So I wonder, why do I still feel so crushed, so devastatingly depressed some days? The other night I felt an overwhelming sense of wishing to be someone else. As I write this, I feel so very hyper-focused that time does not exist. I’m beginning to scare myself.
MAYBE I’M JUST SAD
One of the many perks of moving back in with my parents after college is that I get free psychological diagnoses. My mother asserts that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. A quick Google search has led me to conclude that SAD is code for “I hate winter,” and my Mom’s Bachelor degree in Psychology isn’t convincing me. Then she suggested that I go tanning. “But Mom,” I protested, “Tanning is expensive and it gives you Cancer,” “So?” she asked, furrowing her brow and taking a drag of her Marlboro Light.
I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS
Predictably, I ask myself “When was the last time I felt really happy?” My thoughts immediately travel four months back to when I was backpacking around Thailand. Suddenly I feel my blood rush into a sensory reminiscence of unbound spaciousness, freedom, and joy. Why did traveling give me these feelings? Was it that I had zero responsibilities and was nine thousand miles away from anyone who might make me feel differently? Perhaps. If so, is it ludicrously immature of me that I only find happiness when removed from the expectations of the “real world”?
I feel my blood rush into a sensory reminiscence of unbound spaciousness, freedom, and joy.
Then I wonder, is the only truly enjoyable lifestyle for me a nomadic one of continuously traveling? Is that possible for me? Well, anything is. But how will I realistically fund it and will anyone in my life understand and accept me for it? Then I begin to mourn the typical, settled-down life that I may never be able to enjoy. I glimpse a translucent house, spouse, kids and dogs who then quickly fade away. I ask myself, do I travel to run away from myself? Is that healthy?
“NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, BUT YOU’RE KILLING ME”
I consider blaming New York City for my misery. I have often felt that it is simply not the right place for me to live. In conversation with friends I refer to my relationship with New York as “The Native’s Dilemma.” This refers to the predicament of being born and raised in the center of the Universe. Where do you go when you are already from the greatest city in the world?
Where do you go when you are already from the greatest city in the world?
People across the Earth would love a chance to live in New York. It’s a city filled with starry-eyed small-town kids and immigrants who come to build a life on adrenaline induced dream chasing. But those like myself, who are from New York, have just as much of a longing to leave home. We want to escape the familiar and discover a new, exciting place. I love New York City and I feel its magical appeal, but all the while it is my boring hometown that I’m dying to run away from. But where do you go from here? Where can you find as much culture, diversity, and opportunity? Really, where? I’m taking suggestions.
EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY
One consoling thing that I’ve gathered from many conversations with friends this week is that despite where and how you live, it may not be possible for anyone to feel happy, or even level all of the time. One friend whose family has a deep history of mental illness reminded me that what anti-depressant medications do is even people out so that they cannot feel highs or lows– just a bleak, flat plane of numbness. Upon reflecting on that I felt a sense of gratitude for my heightened emotions. It is good to feel. The highs could not exist without the lows. Pain is what happens right before you grow. There is equilibrium to everything in nature, including me.
It is good to feel. The highs could not exist without the lows. Pain is what happens right before you grow.
As I write the final remarks of this post, days after I began it, I notice that my mood has ascended out of a low into a high. The sun is shining, my yoga clothes and running shoes are on, and the day feels promising. I cannot predict how long this feeling will last, or how hard I’ll come down crashing from it. I can only breathe, be present, and welcome the uncertainty of the next moment.