Happy Birthday, Dad

In November 2017, I was at my friend’s wedding. She looked beautiful, and happy, and when the music slowed and she took the floor with her father for their dance, I turned away and burst into tears.

“My father will never dance with me at my wedding.”

The words flew into my mind unbidden, but it wasn’t the first time they’d come. I tried to calm myself as I had in the past; of course he would be there to dance with me. Of course he would make it. He wasn’t that old after all. I could call him right now and hear his voice and he’d make me laugh and I could stop worrying.

But I couldn’t calm down. As one of my best friends danced with her dad, I stayed firmly facing the wall, shaking with the effort of keeping silent and trying to pull it together at least enough that I could sneak out to the bathroom and wait until the anxiety, and the horrible certainty faded. Eventually, the song ended, I leaned into my boyfriend for support, and chalked it all up to a bad mental health day.

I had less than three months left.

The day my dad died was the strangest day of my life. I was at a wedding with my boyfriend in New Hampshire and suddenly my mom was there and time became very, very still.

Over the past month, I have mourned my father more deeply than I can ever explain, even if I wished to. This will continue. Some days it will consume me and leave me shrieking into my mattress, or gasping silently in the bathroom at work. Some days it will be so bad that I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep breathing, much less be happy again.

And some days, like today, I will laugh and smile and cry and feel peace.

Joseph O’Dell Barney was the brightest person I’ve ever known. He sang loudly and often, and he played the guitar every day.

I can describe him, how he had crystal clear blue-green eyes, preferred his hair short, and had a perpetual moustache, usually with a beard (except for those times he tried to trim it and accidentally shaved his entire face).

I can explain how much he loved sweets, and Cosmos, and cigars, and annoying my mother, and really all manner of things that were bad for him.

I can try to convey just how much people liked him. Whenever we’d walk the dog throughout the years there was inevitably someone to say hello to, or talk with. When he married my mom so many people crashed their reception that the owner eventually had to shut it down for putting the entire building over capacity. There were over 600 people at his wake, most of whom waited outside in below-freezing temperatures for over an hour.

I can tell you how awesome he helped make my childhood, how he’d dance with me around the living room and swing me over his shoulder when I was too tired (or lazy) to walk upstairs to bed. We’d go on walks in the woods, and snug watching movies, we’d go sledding and swimming in the ocean, and in the summer, we would lay out in the driveway and look at the stars.

I can explain how much he loved being a Pepe. I remember how excited he was when my sister told us she was pregnant with her first baby. He loved taking the girls out for McDonalds, and picking them up from school. He went to Disney World, and soccer games, and dance recitals and everything in between.

I can talk about how much he loved his family, how often we visited my Meme and Pepe, how he worked three or more jobs to be able to raise my sister and brother, how many times I came home to one of his sisters or brothers with him on the couch.

I can tell stories, like the time when I was a little kid and we pranked my mom by having me run out yelling as she walked through the door so my dad could run out in his Superman costume and swoop me to safety. Or how he kept asking my mom to marry him for years before he finally did.

I could talk for hours, days, weeks, months, years about my dad and I still couldn’t capture what it was like to know him. And if you knew him, you know that too.

I had the best dad in the world. Hell, I still have the best dad in the world. I always will.

Love you, Daddy. Happy Birthday.

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Whole and Healthy

Before I get started I want to make a quick comment: I wrote this post a few days after I got out of the hospital. Since then, it’s been nearly two months. I found myself wanting to edit this when reading through it again, but I think in this case, leaving it as is (save for minor spelling/grammar errors) might be the way to go. Content warnings for depression, self-harm, and suicidality.

Most of the time when I write on here, it’s because I have something to say that I want other people to hear.

This post is a little bit different, because, frankly, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll ever post it. I want to get my thoughts down and reflect on a little bit of what I’ve been dealing with, so here I am.

This past week, I had a short stay in a psychiatric ward of a nearby hospital.

It was my first (and with all reasonable expectation, last) stay in such an environment. I had been dealing with some heavy lows. Not being able to get out of bed in the morning, staring at the television for hours to make being unable to move, concentrate, or speak feel more normal. Things recently have reached a pitch where I have to fight to convince myself that they could ever be better.

This Monday, I told my therapist about what had been going on, and how I had reached a point where I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I’ll call it “suicidal ideation” because that’s what everyone around me has been calling it, but I think exhaustion is more accurate.

I’ve been working so hard to get better for such a long time, with so few lasting results that being alive just feels exhausting some days.

But, perhaps wisely, most people hear “I don’t want to be alive” as “I want to die.”

This week wasn’t the first time I had considered inpatient psychiatric care. I’ve been told by people who I love that I’m unable of taking care of myself on my own, that I need to do more, that I need to consider having someone else take care of me. Someone else to make sure I stay alive.

Up until now, I’ve always been able to convince myself that this isn’t what I need. It turns out that I was right about that, but when you’re unfathomably low to the point where you’re willing to try anything to make yourself better and your therapist suggests the possibility of inpatient care, it can sound like a promising idea.

In some cases, I think mental hospitals and psychiatric wings can be enormously beneficial. They provide a physically safe space where you have access to therapy, medication, doctors, rest, and reflection.

For me, the most beneficial part of being in the hospital was realizing that I did not need to be there, I did not want to be taken care of in this way, and I need to be able to care for myself in my own way, on my own time.

I realized that I would do anything, anything, to keep myself from being put in a hospital again. And more importantly, to get myself to a place where no one would consider it necessary to suggest hospitalization again.

I have plans moving forward for therapy, medication, lifestyle shifts, figuring out how to change my mode of thinking, but that’s all information for another day.

This post, and this blog overall are an attempt to explain my experience and thought processes regarding my mental health in a way that anyone, even neurotypical people who have never had to deal with mental illness, can understand and empathize with.

It can be difficult trying to explain these things in person, especially when there are people who will dismiss your views as “the disease talking” or walk on eggshells around you, terrified of how fragile they believe you to be.

I have anxiety. I have panic attacks, I deal with depression, and PTSD tends to mess with me. But these characteristics aren’t who I am. They’re part of me, they affect the way I live and think, how I empathize with others, and how I process experiences. They are something I work on daily and something people will always try to cure. But they aren’t me.

I’m not a disease.

I’m not a suicide risk.

I’m not someone to be coddled or kept from living through reality.

I’m just a person. Whole and healthy and flawed and dealing with the world the best I can.

Do I need more support than some people? Sure. Are there times where my behavior gets a bit out of whack and I need some time, or a wake up call? Absolutely.

I don’t intend for this post to be an all encompassing exploration of mental hospitals or how to treat people with mental illness. Like with any disease, mental illnesses can be treated in a variety of ways, and what’s best for one person might not help another, in fact, it might even make things worse.

I want to give myself a voice.

I want to keep my agency, and I want to help people understand where I’m coming from as I live my life for myself and build myself into a stronger person every day.

There will always be people who don’t understand what’s going on with me, who treat me differently because of my mental and emotional state. And that’s okay. Things can be confusing at the best of times and frankly, I’m just thankful that people care enough about me to worry.

As always, the biggest thing I’m advocating for here is to listen to the people you care about. Don’t invalidate their experiences, and listen so that they can find the best care suited for them.

Try to remember that people aren’t their diseases. I promise, it can do a world of difference.

Sometimes you fall asleep drunk and wake up Little Red Riding Hood

So, this is a bit off from the general theme of this blog, but it’s the most important thing that’s happened to me in a long while.

I. Love. Musicals. I love acting, singing, dancing (poorly), the whole shebang. That said, I haven’t actually been in a musical since my senior year of high school.

However, last year I found out that one of the theater groups on campus was doing Into the Woods this fall. Obviously, I spent the next 4 months stressing out about what to audition with.

Into the Woods is one of my top 5 Favourite Musicals of All Time. I have wanted to be in it ever since I saw it eight years ago, and to find out that I would finally get the opportunity, at the start of my senior year no less, was huge.

I’ve spent the majority of the past few months weeks trying to figure out what to audition with, what part I would be gunning for, and most importantly, forcing myself not to get my hopes up.

See, I have this absolutely lovely habit of completely choking whenever I have a singing audition. I get all sweaty and dizzy and dry throated and my voice cracks or barely comes out and as soon as I finish I barely have time to pitch myself into a bathroom to cry.

It’s super cute.

As much as I try never to get my hopes up about auditions, as soon as I finished, I knew that this was the best singing audition I had ever given. I got called back for one of my favourite parts of all time and decided that I was going to walk out with it.

And I did.

Callbacks ended and I felt good but could not shake the feeling that I might jinx myself so I went out for a drink or several with one of my best friends Pam. I decided not to wait up for the cast list and fell asleep around an hour before it was posted.

I woke up at 2 am to a voicemail from the music director, listened to the first three words she said and almost started crying.

“Hey Little Red!”

It took me over an hour to fall back asleep and I spent the next day screaming and dancing around my apartment by myself until our read through.

We’ve got 5 weeks to put this show together, which means rehearsal almost every single day. I’m already exhausted and stressed and completely, blissfully, happy.

Here we go!