After saving up for months, in February I treated myself to a 10 day vacation. I first flew to Washington D.C. for my second AWP. (AWP, if you don't know, is kind of the mother-ship of writing conferences.) After AWP, a friend and I rented a car and drove five hours to New York City. Then I stayed by myself in the West Village for a week in a bizarre and adorable little hotel called The Jane.
I planned this trip with the intention of going big. Last year's AWP triggered a monumental shift that I was eager to experience again. (Long live Los Angeles, my favorite place on earth.) Additionally, I had never been to NYC, and I was excited to make myself go it alone, put myself out there, break things down, build them back up, Eat Pray Love, blah blah blah.
But in all seriousness, I think the best two vehicles towards personal growth are art (making it/experiencing it) and travel. Both kind of shove me around a bit and make me reckon with myself in a way that is usually very generative.
I loved New York: the pastrami sandwiches, the yellow cabs all brutal against the Hudson River, the way everyone looks like they're waiting to be photographed by a street-style blog, the burn of too-hot coffee on the steps of the Met, a dog tethered to a tree, waiting for his owner... it truly feels like the pulse of the world.
I rode the subway to Brooklyn and got dumplings with my friend Sean. I read Chen Chen in a shitty diner called "STAR ON 18TH." I put my thumb over the Statue of Liberty from the 8th floor of the Whitney. I journaled on the High Line. I went to the NYC Ballet (my seats were surprisingly affordable, due to their position two miles above the stage). I had root beer floats and Bento boxes.
I discovered I'm depressed again.
When I look back at the past several months, my classic depression tells are all there. I've been quick to panic, quicker to rage. My sleeping has deteriorated (I lie awake for hours worrying, and then when I do fall asleep I dream of stressful situations, like getting fired or loved ones dying). My drinking has increased, mostly me drinking alone. That nihilistic, pervasive feeling of being forever on the outside of things has been creeping into more and more moments of life, making mundane tasks seem monumental and hopeless. I've been retreating into myself because my social anxiety has been so bad. I've been plagued by a lot of compulsive thoughts. I've also been grieving the national climate, and then feeling guilty about grieving.
This has been going on for months, and until this trip, I had been stealthily ignoring it. But on vacation, my depression forced itself front and center. My bad drinking habits were the first blaring cue: one night, I got so wasted I threw up on myself in a cab-- a stunning new low. Another night, I martini'd my way through hundreds of dollars (decidedly NOT in my budget), ended up at a jazz show in a basement (?), blacked out, and suffered through a two-day hangover that left me shaky and suicidal. (I am better now, do not worry, and taking a serious and overdue break from drinking.)
I cried my way through the city. I went to the Rose Room at the New York Public Library and cried. I watched Titanic three times in a row in my hotel room and cried. I went to museum gift shops and cried. I went to diners in Chelsea and cried. I saw 50 Shades Darker in a multiplex, ate a whole box of Buncha Crunch, and cried.
(Also-- that last image is funny. Whatever. Okay! Fine! I saw a matinee of 50 Shades Darker by myself in Manhattan! I contain multitudes... Whatever! Laugh at my sorrow!)
Make no mistake-- I am incredibly grateful for my friends, my family, my job, to be doing what I'm doing, to be able to go to New York and writing conferences. But that doesn't change the fact that my baseline melancholy is cranked up and that's just the way it is. I have had three major depressions in my life. I think I am currently in my fourth. I always feel like I'm depleted, running behind on my own life. It's this uncanny sensation of not measuring up, like I'm failing not only myself but everyone around me too. I berate myself: I should be a better daughter, a better employee, a better friend, a better woman, skinnier, less hairy, clearer skin, better at yoga. Meanwhile, the dishes pile up in the sink. I'm always nervous. This is my particular flavor of depression.
That said, there's something about naming it that makes me feel better. I know I'll come out on the other side of this in a few weeks or months, but this is not a triumph narrative right now. It's just an admission that I'm depressed and I'm done denying it or beating myself up for it while it's here. It's like a cold. You don't get a cold and talk to yourself like: "I'm so worthless because my nose is running! I'm so weak to have all this sinus pressure!"
Look: Soon the days will get longer. I can't wait to plant some rose bushes in my yard, set up my front porch with potted flowers, and make sun tea. But right now it is cold and I am mourning something endless and nameless and that's that. In the meanwhile, I'm taking care of myself in those basic ways that aren't always easy but keep me functioning. By naming it, I know it'll get better. By naming it, I stop weaving it into my persona. I step outside of it and look at it as a separate AFFLICTION.
Anyway. New York City is infinite, dirty, wondrous. It is a big holy mirror. It looked at me unflinchingly, and told me what I'm hiding from myself. For that I'm thankful, and nonetheless depressed.