I did an important self-care thing today. I had an appointment with a psychiatric provider here in Montgomery so that I can continue refilling my prescriptions for anti-depressants and anxiety medication. It was also a first step toward potentially connecting with a therapist, which I can’t decide if I want to do again or not. I managed to find a mental wellness practice that is run by a black woman, with one other black woman working under her, the person I met with. It’s difficult to say what I found more reassuring, her quiet and gentle demeanor, or her dark skin and natural hair; arbitrary traits, except they aren’t so arbitrary, because in this life, skin and hair are enough to dictate a large number of your experiences, and having health providers who can relate to my own experience is paramount for me at this life stage.
For those who’ve never had a mental health intake performed for them before, I’ll describe the process to you. Questions, questions, and more questions. What is your height and weight? Do you work? Part time or full time? Do you live alone? Do you feel safe at home? What is your relationship status? What is your mental health history? Do you currently take any medications? How are those medications working for you? Do you have any family history of depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, or other mental illness? Do you have any history or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse? Have you ever had surgery? Do you smoke? Do you drink? And on and on.
Again, her gentle demeanor made it much easier to offer up answers to these questions to a complete stranger. It wasn’t very pleasant to dredge up the history of my emotional, mental, and medical health. In part because providers tend to focus on what needs fixing, and less on areas of strength and resilience; but also in part because – and I don’t know how I forgot this – I’ve been through a lot the past 6 years. Seeing a stranger’s reaction when I told her that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, and when I told her that my oncology provider recommended I find a new antidepressant to prevent interactions with the medication I now take to prevent a recurrence of cancer, and when I told her that I ended up being hospitalized because that new antidepressant didn’t work for me, and when I told her that the recommended solution was to go back to the original antidepressant and hope for the best in terms of avoiding a cancer recurrence – after all the research is inconsistent… seeing these reactions reminded me that these aren’t experiences any young person should have. But then again, can we assign “shoulds” to any of our painful experiences? None of us should have to confront grief, loss, heartbreak, hospitalization, abuse, assault, or relational toxicity, and yet we experience these things, and we endure.
I’m sort of addicted to Instagram these days. (I know, I am like so far behind the curve, now it’s all about snapchat and apps I’ve never even heard of.) I love curating a photo journal of sorts, mostly of mundane moments that make up the majority of my day to day. I also love seeing other people’s pictures. I love your selfies, because they show off how fabulous you look and feel today. I love your pictures of your kids, because they demonstrate that you made this incredibly reckless choice laced with uncertainty, to bring life into the world, and try to raise your child to be a compassionate human who leaves the world better than they found it. I love your landscapes and your sunsets and your plants and your dinner plates. Today, I found myself perusing the feeds of people whom I knew years ago, and was struck by how divergent our paths seemed to be. You have a one year old and a mortgage. I… have a dog and an herb garden that probably won’t make it to spring.
Seeing these picturesque Instagram feeds on the heels of my mental health intake from the morning, I felt a wave of disappointment and self-pity begin to overtake me. And then I had to remind myself that my envy has no place here, for you too have endured grief, pain, loss, heartbreak. You too may know regret intimately; like me, you may have said things you wish you hadn’t, withheld love you now wish you had offered freely, without expectation. Neither you nor I are our worst mistakes. And you are in the midst of healing, just as I am healing from the ways my life has been torn open.
Isn’t it a miracle what we can endure? Isn’t it a miracle the goodness what we are able to create from barren emotional landscapes? Isn’t life… something else?