“It’s like everyone has this illusion that once 2021 rolls around, things will magically be better. And that’s just not true.”
“Yeah.” I exhale, wiping the wet rivulets from my face in the vacant parking lot in between the Regal Theatres and the Starbucks. Her name was Jules. Our conversation lasted for about fifteen minutes.
“I hate to end this, but I do have to wrap up this call…Gianna, what’s one thing you can do for yourself today?”
“Um,” I watch the cars awkwardly dance around each other, the line growing longer at the Starbucks Drive-thru. The unfilled spaces in front of the movie theatre—a ghost town.
“Go on a run,” I reply to give an answer.
“Okay, Gianna well I appreciate you calling today. I enjoyed getting to know a bit about your story. Feel free to call in later today if you need. We encourage check-ins although we do ask you to wait two hours before calling again.”
“Right. Thank you for listening.”
And just like that, she was gone. I was alone in my car with two trash bags for the donation center and a million sad feelings swimming inside me.
Happy holidays. ..
There seems to be this consensual theme going around that somehow in 2021, everything is going to be—well, better. The vaccine will be administered to the public, society will slowly return to normal. Gathering with friends and family, a reviving economy, the ability to travel without fear of transmitting death to one another. 2021 is the year of the comeback.
I wanted to believe that so badly. The new year is going to bring about this new chapter! I’ll be motivated, I’ll get the hang of my new job, and I’ll finally have my website up and running. After this year, I needed something to believe in.
But the start of December felt like entering the third act of sorts. The set changed, the lighting dimmed, and the emotional objectives of all the characters became stickier. December is always a crapshoot for me anyway. Part of me is a cheeseball who loves the holiday cheer. I get all tingly when I see lights being strung on buildings and businesses. I secretly adore hearing the Christmas music permeating the air wherever you go. Then there’s the other part—the part that’s freaking out.
December means we’re in the countdown before the New Year. For me, this means scrupulously evaluating my year thus far—what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished—and generally, feeling like I need to buy more time. Then there’s the bittersweet anxiety of being with family. Even as a 29-year-old woman, I give way too many fucks about what they think. Leading up to the holidays with my family, I go through this impractical checklist of sorts of how I should be:
- Cute, new outfits (different from last years)
- Thin and in shape (preferably smaller than the last time they saw me)
- Doing well/advancing in my career path (“impressive”)
- Mentally super strong and stable (aka, not feeling like I might cry at the mention of anyone particular thing)
Some of this weight has eased up since I now have a wildly understanding and patient partner. I have another soldier to go into battle with. And even though I go into the holidays with a small suitcase of anxieties and hesitations, most of it goes unopened, and the loveliness of my immediate family—the prosecco drenched days of playing board games, watching laughably terrible television, and the mindless eating of charcuterie—begins to shine through. And I remember that I actually do love spending this time of year together.
At the beginning of this month, as I thought about the approaching holiday with my family, I didn’t feel so great stacked up against my checklist.
“I don’t know if I want to go to Christmas,” I burst out of our bedroom, post cry and puffy-faced, announcing the news to my husband sitting on the couch.
He looks at me a beat. “Okay,” he says.
“I just don’t know if I want to be around them right now.”
I guess you could say this turned out to be one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations. We had all been hopeful by this time conditions would be safer. It was the opposite—our nation’s seven-day average of Covid-19 cases went from 82,841 at the beginning of November to 161,247 by December (The New York Times). Three couples traveling by plane from three different airports to stay with my parents started to seem highly questionable. My husband and I had just experienced our own Covid scare—having come in contact with someone who tested positive. Even though our results came back negative, our tiny county of 54,000 people was now considered purple and technically, we were supposed to be sheltering in place. The risk of flying and unknowingly contracting the virus just to pass it along to my parents—it didn’t seem worth it.
In the end, our beloved family Christmas for 2020 got canceled. I didn’t have to worry about my crawling anxieties from family gatherings, but I mourned the loss of being blanketed with all of their love. It would have been really nice to see them…
No family Christmas. No mimosas on Christmas morning, no raucous laughter as we open presents together in our pajamas, no silly board games, no being together…
Happy Holidays. . . .
His name was Vincent. In the dark of the bathroom with the low illumination of a battery-powered candle, I sat in the tub listening to him. The water turning lukewarm.
“Would you mind telling me…generally…what it is that prompted you to call tonight?” He spoke with thoughtful rests in between words. His voice the soft pressing of rubber tires on warm gravel.
I retraced the moments leading up to the bathtub—there was the screaming into the throw pillow on the bed while punching the mattress with my fist. Before, a concerned husband standing in the doorframe, “There are people you can call. There are free resources.” Before that, the stark expression on his face as he tried to give me advice for the unsettling tickle that had been fucking up my mood that day. Attempting to diagnose exactly what was happening felt trite. I don’t know if I have clinical depression or anxiety, and therefore I don’t feel confident pinpointing this physiological experience as an episode. Something I brought up to Vincent:
“I mean…that’s definitely something I wonder. Not that I don’t think it’s normal to be feeling this way, but sometimes I ask myself—is this more than just feeling overwhelmed every once in a while?”, my voice creaked under stifled tears. A blubbering pale blob in a bath.
“Well,” another thoughtful pause before the warm gravel, “You know some people really like to have that diagnosis so they can label what they’re experiencing and say ‘oh, that’s my clinical depression’ but regardless of if it’s clinical or not—it seems to be a recurring part of you that you’re going to have to learn to deal with.”
We talk a while longer. The water becomes cold. I get out before I begin to shiver. As I put on my favorite jersey sweater, he politely asked the mandatory question:
“Okay, Gianna, I have to ask you this before we go. On a scale of one to ten—one being the least likely, ten being the most likely—how likely are you to hurt yourself tonight?”
“One,” I say, sounding like a stuffy-nosed child.
“Good, good.” Some thoughtful pause. “Well, Gianna I hope you do find the help you need…it was nice talking to you.”
“Thank you for listening, Vincent.”
As I hung up the phone, I felt like I had just lost a friend. More so, that I was being let go.
How can he just leave me? I sat on my bed. I couldn’t decide whether our phone conversation had made me feel better or worse.
I always thought my sadness would be something that I would kind of…grow out of. As if it were a common cold. It would eventually flush out of my system. This sadness—if I had to pinpoint it—stems from over-arching anxieties I have regarding my own expectations of myself. It isn’t constant. Even I can say objectively that I’ve been able to do many things in my life that one could use as proof that I’ve overcome these obstacles. I’ve made close connections with others, held a job, moved to entirely new cities without knowing anybody from the atom, gone on a handful of solo travels—road trips, train rides along the west coast, hitchhiking, and thru-hiking five hundred miles. None-the-less, I feel like I’ll make a measurable amount of progress—go to therapy for a while, get into a healthy workout routine, build up my self-esteem—I’ll forget about my anxieties. Great! They’re gone! I’ll think to myself. I’m finally the real Gianna, the one without breakdowns and tantrums. That was never the authentic me, right?
It goes without saying that quarantine has brought about introspection—whether we liked it or not. We all had to stay put, with ourselves (or perhaps a partner or small group of people) and figure out how to live life on the inside. No going to bars to sit amongst lonely strangers and down a shot or two. No going over to your friend’s for gossip over a bottle of wine, venting about frustrations with your partners, and laughing over their peculiar habits. No shopping, (perhaps my favorite form of therapy) no fashion show with yourself inside the fitting room at the funky thrift store where you always find a special gem to take home.
Stay home. We all did it.
This pandemic has affected everyone in some way. How that manifested for everyone’s mental health—I think it goes hand in hand. In June, the CDC conducted a survey with 5,470 adults. Of that group, 40.9% reported experiencing an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes 30.9% who reported dealing with anxiety or depressive disorder, and 13.3% who said they started or increased substance use to cope. This comes as no surprise.
With my sitting and staying over the past eight months—waking up every morning in our five hundred square foot apartment, just to sit on the couch, look out the living room window, and make a list of what felt like important things to do with the next eight hours—I had a sobering realization. Believing my anxiety and depression would ever completely evaporate was denial. Regardless of being impacted by varying factors—moving to a small community with zero friends, getting laid off, three months of pursuing unemployment benefits, starting a new at-home job—all these things definitely pressed heavily into my stress threshold. But when I look back and reflect…I’ve kind of, in a way, always experienced these feelings. On a drive back from a hike with my husband, trying to understand my most recent bout of darkness, he asked me “When was the first time you started feeling this way?”
It was as early as fourteen when I wrote my first suicide note.
It was the same feeling at sixteen when I stole the remainder of oxycodone pills prescribed to my brother from a dental procedure to take with my parent’s vodka.
The same feeling when I was at college in New Jersey before I dropped out since I couldn’t bring myself to do any coursework.
The same feeling when I lived in Chicago—my family in town for Thanksgiving and I cried on the sofa because I hadn’t written down a grocery list for the dishes I would be making.
Or when I fucked up my brother’s birthday cake recipe.
Or when I fucked up my brother’s wedding cake (even though I managed to salvage it, but that was after I slammed the refrigerator door on the lopsided confection and ran out of the Air BnB my parents had reserved for the weekend and my husband had to come search for me in the foreign L.A. neighborhood).
After I finished hiking the Colorado Trail and felt, in the end, like I had accomplished nothing.
When I moved to Washington, before meeting my husband, and envisioned a cool, blue demise in the Wenatchee River.
Or when I called out of work from the preschool—lying, telling my boss I caught whatever the kids had gone around—just to stand in the shower and feel the hot waterfall across my face.
Or when I walked out of the party, brimming with self-pity, and threw my red Nalgene bottle on the asphalt just to watch it explode into pieces.
In many ways, I’ve grown considerably. I’ve made huge strides in how I cope with these feelings. Especially regarding how I deal with it when it includes my husband. But so often, I still feel full of the same angst as that fourteen-year-old girl in the bedroom with the orange walls. She is still there, and she is demanding to be heard. She is demanding that she is cared for.
. . .
In December’s past, I’ve made a big deal about resolutions. In December’s post, I’ve put myself into a tizzy trying to be “my best-self”. A neatly put together version that is well equipped to tackle everything the New Year has in store. At the beginning of this December, I found myself driving back from errands with my husband and panicking over all the goals I didn’t accomplish this year. Staring out the car window at gold meadows dotted with oak trees, seething over the fact that I had yet to launch my website.
You did it again, Gianna. You fucked up.
So far, this month has been a grieving process of opportunities lost. Of all the ways I didn’t measure up. In the mornings, I am jolted awake by a list of all the things I’m needing to get done, a never-ending reel that seems to mock me. On top of my own to-do list, we are preparing to move—transition our lives into the back of a Subaru for the next three months. So, yeah…there’s a lot going on.
A couple of weeks ago, I was longing for an extension of 2020. Feeling ill-prepared, mentally weak—wouldn’t it be better if this year could go on for a little bit longer? As if by remaining in 2020, I would have an excuse to be feeling this way. A place to point the blame for my anxiety and depression, and continue to ride the wave of self-loathing and hopelessness.
But the train cannot be stopped. 2021 will be arriving at the station for all of us, whether I’m wanting to get on or not.
There are a few things this December has shown me. One, my mental health issues are real. Now and forever. Two, the number of resources for mental health are scarce. There have been multiple times where I was scared and felt like I needed to talk to someone. Sometimes your friends aren’t available or know how to respond. Calling crisis lines is helpful, but only goes so far. Going to therapy in our society is a luxury. It is for those who can afford it, regardless of if you have health insurance (because that shit isn’t fully covered). Plain and simple. I have gotten to the point where it feels like a necessity going forward, one that I am willing to take the backlash for financially. This summer while I was three months deep into being unemployed and still fighting to receive benefits, finance was the main reason I didn’t talk to someone sooner. I am a white woman and it was challenging for me to make therapy happen. What about the black, Latino, indigenous, and LGBTQ communities? The access just isn’t there.
I want to see this change. This needs to change.
. . .
Christmas is just around the corner. Our apartment—which once was stylishly furnished—is now reminiscent of its tattered state just eight months prior. We won’t be going home for the holidays. We won’t get to be with my family. But we do have a tiny fake tree, a one-thousand-piece puzzle to finish, and each other.
Today, I officially found a therapist. It’s not the ultimate answer, but it feels like a step forward.
This New Years’, I’ve decided to give myself the gift of no resolutions. Nothing specific anyway. I will not be attempting to go on the Keto diet. Or sign up for a marathon. I won’t say that I’ll be more organized or nail down my time management. I will not set strict parameters around my writing goals, or career goals for that matter. Despite popular belief, I am not anticipating 2021 to be some great come-back. If anything, I expect it to be just as challenging as 2020…just packaged differently.
In 2021, I hope to read and write more. I hope to do discover new growth through therapy. But more than anything, in 2021 I’m going to continue the uphill climb of self-love. For myself, and for that fourteen-year-old girl—alone in her bedroom, listening to Joanna Newsome clenching her journal. With the well of despair and the most dazzling dreams.
It’s about time I sat down with her and gave her my full attention.
If you like this article, check out ; https://www.harnessmagazine.com/thicker-than-water/