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“I’m no longer afraid.”

My favorite place to write is on my screened-in back porch surrounded by unkempt trees and tumbling plants and weeds. There I scribble onto handmade paper in my journal - thick and leather-bound. I record my moods and musings.
 
I’ve been writing in journals since I was 7 years old. I try to keep them in a fireproof box - but only half of them fit. In my life, it often felt like my journal was the only one listening to my struggles with depression and self-doubt. While other times I scrawled my most precious successes onto the page in ink of black or maybe pink.

Writing gives purpose to my experiences. As if once they have been recorded, they are truly born into existence. They can be accessed. They can be used for growth - by myself or others. I’m currently working on a memoir. I’m 32 year old. Whenever I tell people this, they exclaim that I’m too young to write a memoir. I just smile and tell them, “It’s not about the story, it’s about how you tell it.”
 
While living in Jordan at age 21, I felt I had a charmed life. I was enthralled with every sight and experience. Whether it was walking to a distant and mysterious campfire in the Wadi Rum desert, climbing the stairs in an ancient Roman amphitheater, or simply walking from the Language Center to my favorite shawarma spot. My experiences propelled me into a lifelong love of cultural experience, exchange, travel, and understanding.

I fell in love there. I fell in love with myself, with a culture, with a man. While I lost the man, I found myself – at least the first hints of myself. While the depression kicked itself around in the sphere of my mind, I found that it didn’t hurt as much. It wasn’t piercing. I approached this new culture with creativity and not with fear. Instead of dwelling in my depression, I dwelt in Amman. That was the first step.

While there, my soul poured itself into every cultural and philosophical rabbit hole. And the curiosities captivated my mind, bringing relief. I constantly dug deeper and deeper into humanity and followed its lessons like a bird in the wind.
 
Years later, I moved to Bologna, Italy, to pursue a Masters in International Relations. Everyone said, “Oh my god you're so lucky!” But I was studying my ass off! I was stressed and overwhelmed. I was fighting unbearable anxiety, and that same old depression was always creeping into my self-perception and identity.  
 
The hardest part of mental health struggles is that society tells us not to talk about them. During periods when I was enduring the most intense suffering I believed could ever exist, I was told to keep quiet about it. It made me “damaged.” It made me ashamed.

Unfortunately, I believed these stigmas for a very long time. The symptoms of depression are often misread as personality problems or poor character. Others reflected this to me, and I believed it myself. Now I realize depression is a physical disorder like any other. If someone is diabetic they need insulin. If someone is feeling depressed they may project insecurity or low energy. This is not who they are. These are just symptoms.
 
It took me a decade to learn this. For most of my 20’s, depression was my identity. I practically introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Depression.” Until I realized that I’m not. I’m Kelly. And that’s when I started filling myself up with my true identity and with my passions. So in Bologna, when Friday rolled around, I set the pain aside and immersed myself in la dulce vita by eating fresh tortelloni and drinking vino rosso with my friends.

Meanwhile, I was writing down everything: my study trip to the Balkans, my anxiety over midterms, or that thing I realized while in economics class. I wrote down “me.” And over the next 7 years I stored my passions in my heart, and I left the long laments about my struggles behind on the pages. There they assumed life in mere ink, instead of life in my being.

My memoir is about struggling through the deep dark forests that depression and anxiety trap you in and navigating out. Pushing aside the tree limbs and vines, despite all odds, and trekking back into the sunshine. It’s about a resilience within ourselves which we can all reach.

Through the support of my family, my meditation practice, and a healthy dose of sheer grit, I figured out how to live - how to thrive - while experiencing depression. It happened one day when I was lying on my couch. My eyes closed in attempted meditation, the filtered sunlight permeating my eyelids. The pervasive fear I lived with presented itself. But this was the day I decided to ask it why it was there.

It turns out the fear was just trying to get my attention. I had pushed it so far down and away, that it had taken to shouting. It had been there shouting for years and in doing so it was causing the storms of my suffering. It just needed me to hear its concerns so that I could take them into consideration.
 
That was the day I finally let it speak. I listened. I heard its message. Despite discomfort, I allowed the friction to run its course. It felt strange, but when it finished, I thanked that fear for its wisdom. And I invited it to live inside of me.
 
It was that day I figured out that “Kelly” and “depression” could co-exist. We could learn from each other. We could ride the waves of emotions and wash away the suffering in favor of self-awareness. There are no good and bad feelings in our lives, only the experience of humanness. And it was then that the peace entered. 
 
If I try to piece together the strange lessons of my life, I barely understand them. It’s sort of fantastic to finally reflect on these experiences without hiding from the pain, regret, or even joy. But it feels ok now. I have finally realized that I live in a beautiful world, and I feel fully alive.

Perhaps more importantly, I am no longer afraid.

KELLY'S 3 favorite things

“LINCOLN'S MELANCHOLY” BY JOSHUA WOLF SHENK

NOBODY talks about the fact that Lincoln had terrible depression. But through reading this book, I finally found a hero.... The biography details how Lincoln learned to adapt his “melancholy” into an immensity of personal strength and endurance which ultimately reunited the country and ended slavery. So yeah.

MY CHET BAKER RECORD

Ever since my jazz teacher in college introduced me to Chet Baker, I’ve loved his laid back tempo, fascinating chord changes, and irresistible vocals and trumpet playing… I just keep flipping the record over and over again for hours.

MY FAMILY

All of the credit goes to my family. Every single member has molded, changed, inspired, and challenged me. They’ve come both short and great distances to get to me whenever I needed them. I owe them everything.

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