Once I finish a book and I turn the last page, I feel untethered. For the last few days, I’ve been grounded in someone else’s words, learning someone else’s story, yearning for a different life. When it’s over and the book is closed, it’s an ending of the story but also my relationship with it. Now, with no story to make a home in, I’m a refugee until I find another world to live in. I’m a kite flying in the wind waiting to come back down to Earth.
But it’s not all loss. When I’m soaring up there, I reflect, the sun on water below, thinking about what I’ve just learned. With my new findings, I can turn east or maybe south. The wind is unpredictable. The way you go is never known or set in stone. The scary thing is you can fly anywhere, and that’s the most beautiful part of it, too.
It’s important to be able to fly by yourself. Books teach you how. If you take the lessons learned in the stories you read—and by lessons I don’t mean heavy, moralistic conclusions, but literally anything a story teaches you that enlightens you in some way—you figure out how to become the leading character in your own story.
Not in the U.S? Go here for a complete list of crisis centers around the world.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
We’re nearing the end of May, which is Mental Health Month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my recovery from a debilitating depressive low I experienced late last year. Thankfully, I’ve since recovered.
In the darkest moments, I struggled to get out of the continuous, negative, self-hating way of thinking I slipped into. I wanted to harm myself and just leave it all behind. It seemed like nothing could get me to stop thinking about self-harming. But there were some things that helped.
1. Text/call the crisis hotline.
Thinking about harming yourself is no joke. You may be used to feeling that way because it feels like it’s all the time, but don’t let the frequency of your thoughts dictate the seriousness with which you observe them. If you seriously feel like cutting yourself, or jumping in front of a car, or starving yourself over the weekend, know that there is help for you that will make you feel better.
Above, I’ve provided links to crisis centers that are working 24/7 to help people going through hell. Call/text them right now if you feel like hurting yourself.
Sometimes simply thinking about calling or texting the hotline scares you into action away from your terrible thoughts. One time, I called a suicidal crisis hotline and spoke to someone on the phone for ten minutes. It was clear by the questions he asked that he was waiting for the green light to send the ambulance over. The weight of the situation finally hit me.
Oh my god. I don’t want an ambulance to come. What the hell?
I remember jumping out of my seat. I had been on the edge looking down, so to speak, and now I had retreated away from the cliff to a safer place.
Of course, some people may actually want to go to the hospital. One time after work I dragged a co-worker, who happened to be a social worker, into a conference room and told her just how bad I felt. She asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. Part of it was so appealing to me at the time. I was sure it would provide great relief. Another part seemed terrifying. I’d have to tell my parents I was that bad. I’d be ‘admitted’. It would be on my record. She said it was okay to go to the hospital, but eventually, she managed to calm me down and I said I was fine. Well enough to get to a friend’s place. She directed me to get my favorite food for dinner, get on the train, and go to my friend’s place. I did that, in every single step she had me repeat back to her.
If you think you need to go to the hospital, please go. If you need to chat to someone, text/call the crisis hotline. Don’t think you’re making a fuss. Please. Your life is 1000% worth making a fuss about.
2. Call a loved one or friend. Better yet, meet up with them.
If the thought of talking to a stranger makes you feel uncomfortable, call a friend.
This seems like an obvious thing to do when you’re feeling really shitty, but when you’re locked in the prison of bad thoughts it seems like you’re all alone. Even when surrounded by roommates, coworkers, and friends, we can feel like no one cares.
I remember thinking that my depression was so obvious in the workplace. I wondered why people didn’t just reach out and help me. Much to my disbelief, I found out later from a coworker that I had been putting up a good facade of happiness as I went about my day. Some people just thought I was having a bad week or a bad month or that I was going through something difficult. Everyone has problems, right? Well, I certainly did. And they weren’t just problems. They were severe life-threatening problems.
(Side note: Some people think that having a little stress and worrying is the same as having anxiety or being depressed. No, it’s not. Depression is far worse! Stress is kind of normal. We all have our worries. Having depression is not about having worries or thinking too much. It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. It’s a condition that prevents you from being happy in the moment and prevents you from living your day as you’d like to. It’s an illness.)
Reach out to a loved one or a friend. Please remember that there is someone who cares about you. Call them. Call whoever pops into your head. Ask them to come round to your place. Ask them to meet you at the coffee shop down the road. Nothing too big or fancy. Just a small outing. Tell them you really need them right now. If they’re a real friend, they will come.
3. Go for a walk. Preferably outside.
I’ve realized that getting fresh air is so important for my mental health. Much more important than I understood when I was living in a tiny apartment in New York City. I thought I could live off of love, books, money, good meals, and music. It wasn’t until I moved away to Florida that I noticed how much fresh air, trees, and water improved my mind. It was an instant change. Almost overnight.
People love to tell you that if you have problems now, you’ll have problems wherever you go; that it’s in your head. I totally and wholeheartedly disagree. They often say it to validate their own life and their choices about their lifestyle, job, and family. Please be discerning around these people. Environment plays a huge part in affecting our energy. We’re humans, which means we have bodies and these bodies take up space. That’s why the space in which we take up space is so important. We’re in direct contact with it all our lives.
Going for a five-minute walk can do wonders to your mind. You might see a baby struggling to walk. You might feel the wind in your hair. You might see a dog wagging its tail. You might see the light of a streetlamp reflected in a puddle. You might hear a distant song or hear someone say something funny.
Sometimes these things can jolt us back into life. Give us a lifeline to hang onto. Remind you that you want kids or that you always wanted to get a dog. Other times these things might cause even more pain, which isn’t good. After a breakup, whenever I saw a redheaded child (my ex is a redhead) on the subway it felt like someone had punched my stomach. Once, while on a walk, I heard the siren of an ambulance and it triggered me into full panic mode.
If walking outside if too much, just get up off your bed, couch, chair, and walk to the bathroom. Walk to the kitchen. Walk down the stairs. Lift your legs up. Do handstands. Do a sad dance to your favorite song. Baby steps. Just get your body moving. Remind yourself you’re capable of movement. Your body is worthy of this thing called life.
4. Listen to/watch something.
I don’t think I need to say this but music can be very therapeutic. If you instantly smile when you hear a certain song, then play it! That’s a no-brainer. If you’re not smiling at it like you usually do, don’t beat yourself up over it. And please avoid sad music. For a year I couldn’t listen to Adele. If I was in a store and she started playing, I would drop the things I was going to buy and run outside. Either that or I’d grit my teeth and bury myself into something else to distract me long enough for the song to finish.
Have you tried podcasts? There are a ton of great ones out there. If they bore you, that’s fine. You might not want to hear some gutsy, high energy person chat into your tired ears.
Have any movie favorites? For me, it’s any Studio Ghibli movie. I have to be careful, though. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really vulnerable, they can trigger happy, nostalgic memories that take me back into the past. Then, it’s a downward spiral from there. Be aware of how you’re feeling and what makes you feel worse or better, and go from there.
I can’t count the number of shitty poems I’ve written when I’ve felt overwhelmed. Write it out. Get that crap out of your head. You can make the page look ugly. You don’t have to show anyone. It’s yours. And for all those high achievers out there: you do not have to create a work of art. You don’t have to submit it to be published. Give yourself a break. Your head isn’t making sense right now, so don’t expect your writing to either.
Writing can make you realize things about yourself that your soul knew but you hadn’t yet registered. One day, I decided to go through my journal from the last year. What did I notice? I was writing about how much I wanted to leave New York about twice a month. I read the entries and wondered how I had been so blind. When we are really lost we can’t hear our soul crying. Writing is the soul cries made visible. It’s easier to dismiss a thought than a sentence glaring at you from the page.
Write and you’ll be surprised at what comes out. I believe wisdom is inside all of us. It’s right there right now. We just need to chisel it away like a six pack or a statue out of stone.
6. Play a computer game.
When I was at my lowest and living with a friend of mine, he said why don’t you try playing a computer game? Initially, I scoffed. I wasn’t about to drown my sorrows in fantastical storylines and armor. Surely, playing computer games was a suppression of my sadness and that, in turn, was a sign of weakness. I was so wrong. Don’t let society’s stigma of nerdy gamers get you down.
I started playing a game every day. It was a life saver. When you don’t want to live anymore and a game makes you want to live, you sure as hell play it. I dived into designing my character, choosing a class, a race, and got playing. It was addictive, and usually, someone would say that’s bad. But I realized that if I happened to be addicted to computer games, that was totally 100% fine. I was alive, goddammit. At that time, I didn’t feel like I was going to last the week, let alone a month. Playing a computer game for a couple of hours meant I was alive for a couple more hours. As sad as that sounds, it gave me something to look forward to, and that wasn’t sad at all.
7. Read a book.
There are way too many books that I haven’t read yet, so that means I really need to stay alive to read them. This is a real thought I’ve had. Simply thinking about the sheer volume of books and wisdom and words out there can make my heart ache in a very good way. Reading is medicine. It’s an anti-depressant.
I’m currently on a self-help book escapade. When you survive the dark night, you are forever a seeker of the light. I’m taking in a load of teachings in books written by others who have gone through hell and back. I’m also not taking in some teachings. What I’m learning about the self-help industry is that if someone tells you there’s a one-size-fits-all way to heal yourself, they’re lying. I’m discovering that some methods work better than others.
I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs, too. It’s strange to say this but it makes me feel better when I read about how someone else dealt with their suffering. It makes me feel less alone and puts my life in perspective. That’s not to say that you should compare your suffering to others (never!) but that by reading how others have overcome obstacles in their life you can better equip yourself to overcome your own.
Some words meet our pain and unlock our suffering. When we hear that our ‘failures’ aren’t the end of us, it’s a revolution for our mental health.
8. Have a shower.
What is better than having water fall on your body? If you feel really bad and you already had a shower, have another one. Seriously, no one is going to notice. You can have another shower. Go ahead.
Wash your body slowly. Pour yourself a bath. Lie in some Epsom salts. Light some candles. Play some tunes.
Feel the pain rub off your body with the soap. Run the shower and lie down in the bathtub if you want. Lean against the tiles and feel the coolness of them on your warm skin.
Avoid your shaver. Avoid anything that will hurt you. Do not hold your breath under water.
Play with the water. Take a plastic cup in with you. Feel how gentle the external world can be.
9. Make some food.
When was the last time you ate? When was the last time you ate something that nourished you? I’m asking for people who avoid food and those who overeat when they’re struggling. It applies to both.
Nourish your body. It’s so important. There are a million studies out there showing how good food is good for the body and good for the mind. Just google around online and you’ll find loads of healthy recipes. But don’t let all those voices get you down. You know what I mean. The cacophony of health nuts, gym goers, and medical experts can be so damn draining. I’m not telling you to go crazy, I’m just saying sprinkle a little honey on that buttered toast you’re eating.
When I make something to eat, whether it’s as simple as a bowl of yogurt with strawberries or a coconut shrimp curry, it makes me feel compassionate towards myself. I am directly responsible for feeding my body. It feels like a reward for living. It’s an act of loving kindness, and if you’re feeling terrible, it can do wonders to take care of yourself. You must take care of yourself now and always.
Plus, it gives you something to focus on for ten minutes or a couple of hours.
Sometimes the thought of going into the kitchen to make food gave me a huge headache. If going into the kitchen means going to have a look at the various utensils that could cause damage to your body and thinking about ways to self-harm, avoid the kitchen! Take a few minutes to order delivery. Or go get some take-out. The walk to the restaurant might help you.
And if the thought of healthy food is making you reel, go get that blueberry muffin or mac n cheese dinner that you love. Treat yourself. A good friend of mine told me that if I ever wanted to harm myself, I should go out and buy a cookie. Let’s just say I ate a lot of cookies from Starbucks (of all places!) for awhile. Comfort food is called comfort for a reason. Worry about the calories later. You’re eating something yummy right now and you’re alive.
10. Go to the gym. Or the swimming pool. Or the yoga studio. Or the park. ANYWHERE.
If you’re looking at this last suggestion and you’re thinking there is NO WAY that I can do any form of exercise, I totally understand. When I was at my lowest, the thought of anyone telling me to exercise made me want to crumble away. When my ex-boyfriend took me to the gym, I walked around the interior running track and cried most of the time. I had to go to the bathroom to cry on more than one occasion. I hated everyone there. I hated every woman who looked fit and healthy. I hated their matching top and bottoms, and their perfect ponytails. I hated even their sweat. I was seething rage and sadness all at the same time.
And that’s fine. Hate away. You won’t always see the world this way. You won’t always feel so much hate towards strangers. You won’t always hate yourself. Give yourself time.
Start small. Go for a walk. Meditate in a quiet place for three minutes. Go for a ten-minute jog. Try doing yoga at home. Just be kind to yourself.
Don’t think you’re a failure because you can’t go the gym. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You might not be able to run as far as you used to. You might not be able to swim because your anxiety makes you avoid water. It’s okay. Just do what is enough for you right now and know that one day you’ll feel better.
It’s hard to do the things I’ve listed above. It’s really difficult dragging your body onto the yoga mat. If reading self-help books isn’t helping, and you start comparing yourself to the authors, stop reading. Read a sci-fi book set on another planet that you can’t hate because you’ve never been there before. If a seemingly innocent thirty minutes spent on Instagram looking at how other people “live”, makes you want to poke your eyes out, stop looking at your phone. If something makes you feel worse and makes your heart so sore it seems like it’s just going to stop and you don’t mind if it does, lie down on the floor with your legs up. Do weird shit. Draw an ugly face or weird dots on a piece of paper. Spit on the sidewalk. Throw some coffee on a canvas. Just please be safe. Don’t hurt yourself. Don’t hurt anyone.
If you feel like self-harming, please know that I want you to live. There are friends out there you haven’t even made yet. There are things out there you haven’t seen yet that want to be seen by your eyes. You matter.
Thank you for being the man in the dark room of my dreams. Your intrusions as the predator of the psyche shook me awake. Your force called the wild woman within.
(Are the people in our lives just lessons, just moments of time that teach us to shed the shit that cakes our muddy paws? Can a she-wolf find her mate and stop having nightmares?)
You showed me the killing room in my head, and I nearly threw away the key. Near death, I crawled my way out into the light.
And then, you came into my sleep. I held a baby—ours—and you turned your head away. On awakening, I wondered if I could survive the rejection. But now I know that I was being reborn and this meant everything.
Pleading for time, I gathered my strength for the first and final battle: letting you go.
The forbidden door was opened and the stench of starvation willed me to feed the soul cry. From the bones laid on the deathbed, the Bone Woman reconstructed me. I, a wild woman, rose from the ashes of sacrifice.
Now, I stalk the intruder back to his dark corner. And off I run into the horizon, laughing, howling like a coyote.