Oopsa Cat!

I haven’t been feeling stellar lately, on an emotional level, so to counter that, I’ve taken to binge-watching Cheers. I figured it would have a few Very Special Episodes, but nothing on the level of, say, my own bleak outlook of the dull gray wasteland that is my existence.

Then I got to the episode where Diane’s cat died.

Honestly, I’ve never really been a fan of Diane. She’s a snob, which bothers me, and maybe her constant need of validation concerning her intelligence hits a little too close to home. I found it hard to sympathize with her. But then she found out her cat died, and she was an emotional wreck. Everyone made fun of her for it, and I became fiercely angry on Diane’s behalf. I connected with her then, because I know what it’s like to love a cat that deeply.

My own cat is eighteen years old, which is ancient for a cat, and it’s starting to show. He has arthritis, which makes his back legs are wobbly, and he can’t properly scratch his head, often relying on a (literal) helping hand. He had hyperthyroid, which has caused an increase in appetite and decrease in weight, and is most likely the cause of his galloping heartbeat. He’s lost none of his personality, however, and is still the chatty little brat he’s always been.

In the episode, Diane confides in Sam that, when she was younger, her cat saved her life, simply by being there. If she was to commit suicide, who would care for her sweet Elizabeth? So she stayed.

Any reason to not kill yourself is a good reason. But that one affected me so much because it was my reason, too. In high school, struggling with a darkness that had yet to be named, I thought of escape. Death seemed easiest. But how could I do that to my cat? He would wonder where I went. Why wasn’t I there to play with or pet him or be a general nuisance? Whose laundry would he sleep on?

This cat has been through all of my important life events: moving across the country to Philadelphia, learning a new religion and school system and culture, gaining friends, starting high school, losing friends, losing hope, graduating high school, being a miserable failure at college, being diagnosed with depression, gaining hope, making new friends, and testing the image-sharing function of every new social media platform. That furry little loser is my best friend, and I am scared every moment of the day that I’m going to lose him. So when Diane sat in Sam’s office and cried over the loss of her best friend, I was struck with the realization that one day, perhaps soon but God willing not for a while yet, that I would know, on an intimate level, that kind of pain.

So much for my bright and breezy sitcom binge.

My cat is eighteen years old, and I am lucky to have spent nearly all of those years with him. I don’t really know how to end this, because an ending is what I fear most. So, to conclude, here are some pictures of him in all his fluffy glory:

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O Girls of 2005

I went to my ten-year high school reunion on Saturday. It was an odd feeling. The cafeteria was different, but immediately I was taken back to awful french fries, loud talking, grace coming over a sound system from the mid-80s at best, teachers yelling, and books dropping. There was always the sound of books dropping.

I remember in my freshman year, my first full Tuesday was September 11, 2001. They made an announcement during homeroom that something had happened in New York, but didn’t say anything else. Classes continued as normal. My second period was English. In the middle of the lesson, the television turned on. The picture was fuzzy, with two dark rectangles against a lighter background. And then one of the rectangles sank out of frame. It was then that we were told the scope of what was happening. We were to be dismissed at noon. It was only ten-thirty. In that ninety minutes, stories spread about what was happening: stolen planes, stealth bombings, attempted assassinations. It was a dark time, but also an important lesson in mass hysteria.

I remember how comfortingly insular it was. Even though I was painfully shy, I never felt out of place there, even in the beginning. It felt comfortable.

I remember in sophomore year, some upperclass girls filled a condom with fruit punch and Skittles and tossed it at someone, hoping it would burst like a water balloon. It didn’t, which speaks well of the condom company. It ended up getting thrown around to the sounds of shrieking laughter, until my theology teacher picked it up off the floor, threw it away, and gave a stern glare to all of us who dared to laugh.

I remember that we drew dicks everywhere. For an all-girls Catholic school, we drew a lot of dicks.

I remember in my junior year, my friend Cait and I would lie to the study hall moderator that we had homework or a project to work on, and if we could please use the large table in the hall so we don’t disturb the other girls. We would open books, and just goof off the entire period. Study hall was across from the trigonometry classroom, and occasionally the teacher would poke his head out and see what we were doing. Once, Cait had spent half the period drawing snowmen with the circle templates we were given for trig class. As she sat there awkwardly, the teacher just shrugged and said, “I’m glad they’re getting used.”

(Fun addendum: the one time the moderator came out to check on us, I was working on a huge French project, and had enlisted Cait to help color it in. Moderator was delighted at our hard work, and never bothered us again.)

I remember always finding a place to sleep: study hall, homeroom, a bathroom stall, bolt upright in theology. One year, there was a tiny alcove next to my locker. I spent a lunch period napping there. I nearly always got caught, because I was never that slick. It never stopped me from trying again, though, which I thought spoke of my perseverance. No one else ever saw it that way.

I remember in my senior year, I lied. I told everyone I couldn’t wait to graduate. Admittedly, a small part of me wanted to be done with high school, because I was certain that was the cause of my torment. And yet, it was a known entity, and I didn’t want to leave it. I wanted to freeze time, to stay in those last moments. To figure out who I was within the safety of school. I was already scared of what was happening in my own head. To have to deal with the outside world as well? The thought terrified me, cripplingly so.

I remember standing outside of the church, waiting to process in for our baccalaureate mass. The last time we would all be together as Hallahan students. I knew I should feel sad, but instead, I just felt hollow. My bubble of safety had popped. Now what do I do?

I remember years later, meeting new people and telling them stories from high school: discovering a closet full of gold cups, sneezebangs, throwing projects together six hours before they were due.

It’s funny what things stick with us. What our brain deems worthy of holding on to. Those walls, those girls, those teachers, they all became a part of me. We became a part of each other. It may have taken ten years for me to realize it, but we are bonded for life by blue and white. By Mickey Mouse and colored shoelaces, fountain jumps and secret lives of bees.

The sisters I never had.

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Ill Humours

Once upon a time, I spent an evening arguing with a complete stranger about my dominant humor.

I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles, and she brought me along to a get-together at her friend’s apartment. We sat on the balcony, doing shots of rum as we watched the sun set through the LA haze. The conversation wandered to medieval medicine (as it does), and the subject of the four temperaments came up.

“Melancholic,” I said immediately. I was still coming to terms with my new identity of “clinically depressed college dropout.” It seemed the obvious answer.

“No, you’re not,” said someone else. I had no idea who this person was. He was sitting across from me on a cooler, wearing a suit and smoking a bong he made out of a Jack Daniels bottle. Blue-gray smoke surrounded him like a halo. “You’re phlegmatic.”

“Melancholic,” I said again. Who was this asshole? I’ve spent years trying to figure myself out. I finally knew who I was. And then this stranger was going to correct me in between bong hits? Fuck this guy.

He shook his head. “Phlegmatic.”

“I am not!” I knew my voice went shrill, but I didn’t care. I needed this jerk to stick to what he knew, which was apparently stoner arts and crafts. I knew me. He wasn’t taking that away from me.

“You’re fuckin’ choleric,” interrupted a third. “Quick to anger.”

“He doesn’t know me!” I snapped. “Fuck you ‘quick to anger’!”

The guy with the bong shrugged, completely unbothered (unsurprisingly). “I say what I see.”

“I see an asshole,” I said, and tried my best to walk away with dignity. As one can imagine, this is a bit more difficult when you’re five deep with a contact high. But I made it, and spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. Never saw the guy again.

I remembered this because I took a quiz recently to determine my temperament (the things you do when you’re bored, eh?). I got melancholic. When the result popped up, that night (at least, what I remember of it) hit me full force. I remembered clinging to that word like a life preserver. It was my identity. It was a definite.

I’m not the girl on that balcony anymore. There are so many things about that person that no longer apply to the person I am now. All these things, all these facts that I thought had such permanence, and I can’t remember them. But I remember the guy in the suit. I remember the breeze as I sat under the indigo California sky. I remember not knowing who I was, and being terrified of that fact.

I still don’t know who I am. Not really. And I’m okay with it. I think that’s the biggest difference between me and her. I’ve gotten more comfortable with the unknown. Other things still terrify me, of course, but I’ve come to terms with change. It is the one constant in life. Everything is fleeting. Just like that breeze. Just like that sunset.

Just like now.

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Depression Diary: The Dull Ache of Melancholy

I’ve been doing some thinking, which isn’t necessarily how I want to spend my time, but brains are hard to turn off and thoughts never really form so much as appear, so there’s no preventative measures. So I think.

I haven’t been feeling great lately. Not in a physical way (though it’s spring in Philly, and therefore my sinuses are freaking out, so that’s it’s own brand of awful) but more in terms of my mental state.

The best I can describe it is “meh.” Which is a weird feeling, I’m not gonna lie. And on the surface, it sounds like a good idea, because you stop caring. Not in a cold or cruel way. You just lack the energy.

It’s like a phone battery. You only have so much of a charge. And it doesn’t matter if you put it down and walk away. Things are always going on in the background, using up that limited resource. Eventually, you run out, and your phone needs recharging.

It’s the same with me. I only have so much energy to put into my life, to put into caring, to put into pretending.

“Oh, Anna, you don’t have to pretend.” No, but I do. I get tired of being asked if I’m okay. People mean well when they ask it. I know they do. But my stock answer of “yeah, I’m just tired” doesn’t really fully explain how I feel. Because it’s a different sort of tired. I once tried to describe it as an emptiness, but that’s not entirely fitting. There’s a weight to it that drags down everything. Everyday life takes on a heaviness. Tasks are more difficult. There’s no will to accomplish anything.

And yes, I realize that all sounds terribly dramatic, but that how it feels. Simple things become Herculean tasks. A litterbox can very much become the Augean stables when you can’t even bring yourself to get out of bed.

So, if you’re asking, I’m not okay. I feel kind of shitty, if I’m honest. I’ll probably feel like that into the foreseeable future. It never really goes away, but time does goes on, and eventually, enough time will pass that I will forget that constant dull ache of melancholy isn’t supposed to be there. And I’ll get back to whatever my version of “okay” is.

So yeah. I’m here. I’m not great. But I’m here. And for now, that’s enough.

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Something Fishy

Smell is probably the most powerful trigger when it comes to memories. Case in point: at work, one of my co-workers heated up a meal that involved fish. I started remembering vividly my days of elementary school science. There was a schoolwide program called MARE Week. Each grade had their own theme, but one of the things we had to do every year was a squid dissection. That’s what her dinner smelled like: strong and seafood-y.

I could probably still do it, if I had to. Squids are not complicated. The final step of each dissection was to write your name across your worksheet using the squid’s beak and ink from its ink sac. This was actually the hardest step, because squid ink is designed for protection, not calligraphy, and the beak is worthless as a pen. Half the time, we just used toothpicks (part of our arsenal of scientific tools, along with safety scissors and a popsicle stick).

Looking back, this was completely bizarre. But at the time, it was just what we did in March.

The worst year for MARE was third grade. Our theme was the wetlands. It was interesting to learn about, and as I was living in northern California at the time, there were plenty of actual wetlands to go see.

The week culminated in a schoolwide assembly where each grade performed a song based on their theme. The third grade’s song was a charming little ditty entitled “Butts Up!” It was about how ducks fished around the bottom of the marsh for food. For our performance, we made little duck bill visors and little duck tails out of construction paper and paper plates. We would do a little dance that culminated in us turning around and bending over and shaking our little paper ducktails.

It was mortifying. And I refused. I stood in the back and simply crouched down whenever we got to that part of the dance. And I got glared at every single time. I wasn’t one for class participation on a good day, but this? Even as a seven-year-old who was (at the time, surprisingly) hesitant of cursing, I knew this was some serious bullshit. A phone call home was made, and my teacher explained that I refused to participate in the school performance. My mother replied with something like, “So you’re telling me my daughter refused to, essentially, shake her ass in front of the entire school? Good for her.”

But this wasn’t the worst part of that week for me. Oh no. You see, in third grade, we got a special assignment: clam dissection. You may be wondering just what there is to dissect with a clam. I have no idea, because I didn’t actually do it.

When I got my clam, I poked at it with my popsicle stick, and the clam snapped shut. Because living things tend to react when poked. So I held up my hand, and informed the teachers that there was a slight hitch in their whole dissection plan. The clam wasn’t supposed to be alive. And yet, there it was, clinging to life (and my popsicle stick). Well, of course, dissecting a live clam wouldn’t do. So the science teacher did what was quite possibly the most horrifying thing ever: he stuck it in the microwave.

If you’re wondering, it takes about three minutes to nuke a clam to death.

I spent the rest of class sitting in the back with the coats, refusing to do anything. I didn’t eat clams for a year. Again, there was a phone call home, and the situation was, I can only imagine, delicately explained to my mother. Within the next few days, my mother was in the principal’s office.

I don’t know if I’ve explained my mother during my time at elementary school, but she was kind of a big deal. She served on the PTA for a number of years, two or three of them as president. People knew her, the principal especially. They were on first-name terms. So when two phone calls were made home in the same week, a meeting was called.

“Look, John,” I imagine my mother saying to the principal. “I don’t think I’m asking a lot from this school. I’m just asking for my seven-year-old’s butt to not be on display to the entire school, and I’m asking for the science teacher to not brutally murder a living creature in front of her.” You can’t really argue with that.

In the end, I was given a C for the clam situation, and I imagine the year after, the science staff gave the next batch of dissection animals more than a quick once-over. By sixth grade, when we had to dissect sharks, the only thing I had to deal with were the idiot boys in my group who discovered that shark eyes are nature’s superballs.

It’s amazing what bizarre memories smell can unlock, and what roads those memories can take you down. Some can be romantic, some can be tragic, and, for me, one very specific one ends hiding under a coat in the back of a classroom.

And people asked why I didn’t take anatomy in high school.

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Depression Diary: Writing is Hard

Every time I went to put words on paper (real or digital), my brain froze. I knew the gist of what I wanted to say, but finding actual words felt nigh impossible. I didn’t have the energy. For anything, really, but especially writing. And it was frustrating, because I was better. I was in therapy. I was back on my normal dosage of medication, and I was taking it consistently.

But it was Month 5 of the Longest Winter Ever, and I had completely given up on ever seeing blue sky again. I hibernated as best I could with a full-time job.

We had all been warned: winter was coming. It finally showed up.

After living in a gray-and-white world for eight months, color finally began to poke its way through. It was the big reveal in The Wizard of Oz: one day, I walked out my door, and there was color: green grass, orange flowers, blue sky. As the days went on, and more colors began to reemerge, I got happier. More productive. I could even, on occasion, be referred to as “chipper.”

But the words still wouldn’t come. I don’t know in what deep recess of my mind they had gone to wait out the winter, but it was apparently so far removed that they didn’t catch up with the rest of my manic need for accomplishment.

With me, my depression takes the form of emptiness. I’m not sad; I’m nothing. Things occur, and I feel no emotion towards them. My life becomes a TV show. I don’t have any real attachment to anything. I just watch it play out, waiting for a part inconsequential enough that I can leave to go get food.

With the weather becoming nicer, and my mood brightening, this lingering apathy was frustrating, but it was also scary. Writing is the thing that gives me the most fulfillment, the most pleasure. It is the thing by which I define myself.

And it was lost.

I spend a lot of the time feeling adrift. I don’t know what to do with myself, with my thoughts. Like a phantom limb. “I’m bored. I could always write… oh wait.”

It always confuses me when published writers tell aspiring writers the best advice is to “just write.” My response is always the same: write what? There are no words to write. Just… emptiness.

This is my attempt to write about the emptiness. Because maybe, through some miracle, the void has an end, and there is another side, one with stories and characters and words. And I will drop anchor there, and finally be whole again.

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Fool’s Gold

Once upon a time I saw a leprechaun.

I was on the el, going into Center City for one reason or another. It’s neither here nor there for this story. The point is, he was there, and he was holding a pot of gold.

I’ve never been a fan of leprechauns. This stems from a slumber party I attended in second grade that went horribly wrong. All of the girls in the class were invited to spend the night in a big tent in the backyard, gleefully gorging ourselves on sweets and movies. This was such a good idea in theory. The night took a dark turn when we found out that all of the movies that we settled in to watch were horror.

I was feeling good. I staked out a spot in front of the television, right next to the birthday girl. Popcorn and candy was all I could smell. Birthday girl popped the tape into the VCR and up rolled the credits for the film Leprechaun. It started out innocently enough. Jennifer Aniston and the rest of the cast bumbled their way through gold theft. The leprechaun shows up, rightfully angry, and begins his murder spree.

Watching the movie now, it is, at best, a mediocre slasher flick one watches to try and remain awake. At age seven, it was a gorefest with which my mind could not cope. I cowered in my sleeping bag, watching in horror through my fingers. No one wanted to be the one to cry uncle, to beg for the tape to be turned off. But they weren’t in my seat. They didn’t see the blood-weeping gashes up close. They didn’t hear the snap of a neck echoing through the trees. They didn’t see the leprechaun’s eyes gleaming as he cackled maliciously.

The party was on a Saturday. When we returned to class on Monday, no one had slept. But the others seemed to get over it quickly. I didn’t. I saw him around corners. I heard him skateboarding down the street. I spent the St. Patrick’s Day after the party choking down tears, constantly reminded of the little creature I knew wanted me dead.

Sitting on the el so many years later, I was faced with my childhood foe. A rotund man, hair and beard spray-painted the same florescent orange usually used by road crews, he was dressed all in green and carried a large cauldron with him. I don’t know if it was full of gold, but I wasn’t going to be the one to investigate. I knew how that story ended.

Other people noticed him, too. It was hard not to. But the nonchalance affected by the passengers was amazing. In the middle of a July week, with no real purpose, a man dressed up as a leprechaun and took the el into Center City. And not one person cared.

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To Boldly Go

I grew up on Star Trek. Originally, it was tiny me, watching ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ with my parents. A few yeas later, I stumbled upon reruns of the original series, and I finally understood why the one I watched with my parents was called “the next generation.” I was fascinated. These people paved the way for the Enterprise crew I knew and loved to explore the universe. I had to know about them. So I watched. And admittedly, I wasn’t terribly impressed.

At first, the original series seemed silly. The effects were nowhere near the quality I was used to, the sets always looked like sets, and the aliens didn’t look all that alien. But I have to admit, I was six years old and an idiot. The longer I was a student, however, the more I grew to appreciate the show. Here was this show about a group of exceptionally smart people who went off into space and had amazing adventures. They didn’t want to conquer. They wanted to see and do and try new things. They wanted to learn. And they were celebrated for that fact. It was amazing. It was joyous. I was in love.

As I got older, I learned the context in which these episodes were presented, and because of that, I started to really understand what the show was about. The series aired in the mid-60s, at the height of the Civil Rights movement. And here was this show about a group of people from all walks of life, coming together to explore and learn and grow. It was a story of people learning about others who were not like them, but seeing them as equal and deserving of their respect. The show wasn’t just “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars.” It was a beautiful message of peace and hope and love. These capable, intelligent people with eager minds and open hearts going off into the universe to see what it has to offer, and to accept it graciously.

The original series, to this day, remains myfavorite. It has helped shape how I view the world. It helped teach me to not be afraid of the unknown, but instead to be excited by it and the possibilities it holds. Spock showed me that knowledge and logic are the powerful weapons you can have in your arsenal. McCoy taught me to stick to my guns, no matter how much people argue with you. Uhura taught me to have grace under pressure, no matter how hectic things get around you. And Captain Kirk showed me that no matter how heroic you are considered to be, it’s still okay to ask for help.

Today is Gene Roddenberry’s birthday. He would have been 92. I want to thank him for creating something wonderful and comforting and inspiring. I have been, and always shall be, your fan.

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The Sneezebang Saga

Once upon a time, I was a poor high school student. I didn’t have a lot of money, and what money I did have went towards important things like movie tickets and CDs (in those days, we still bought CDs). I didn’t have money for hair upkeep. So I took matters into my own hands and would trim my own bangs.

I learned the hard way to never do this.

I suppose you could say that it was a disaster waiting to happen. I didn’t have the proper tools. I used cuticle scissors, which are curved and not at all conducive to cutting hair. But they were what  I had, so they were what I used. Going out and buying the proper type of scissors took money away from buying shitty jewelry from Hot Topic. I made do.

In my junior year, I was in the bathroom, trimming my bangs as usual, when all of a sudden, I sneezed. Violently, and without warning. I came back to myself, and quickly noticed that I was holding a rather large chunk of hair in one hand, and a closed pair of scissors in the other. Scissors that once were open.

Panic set in because there was no way to fix this. I had semi-even bangs from my right ear to my nose, a giant chunk missing, and then long bangs the rest of the way. Everything was ruined. I’ve never really felt I had a lot to go on in the looks department, but my hair was the one thing I was always complimented on (which is probably one of the reasons I connected with Jo from Little Women, but that’s neither here nor there). But it was a bit more than that. I clung to my bangs because I could hide behind them. I could peer out from behind my hair and be that little bit more disconnected from the world. They were my security blanket. I needed them. And I had ruined them.

So I did what any self-respecting sixteen-year-old would do: I called for my mom.

She didn’t have any answers either, but she did have a lot of questions, most of them beginning with the word “why?!” But she got my some headbands, and I spent about eight weeks with my hair pushed back. No one really questioned it, and when they did, I told them the truth: I was growing out my bangs. They didn’t need to know it was just the one section of them.

My friend Cait christened them “sneezebangs,” because that is what they were. To this day, I am teased mercilessly about them. And they have made me very particular about the way my bangs are. I get them trimmed by a professional now, but that doesn’t always mean they turn out the way I want. If they’re off so much as a hair (this is not a joke, I mean this quite seriously), I obsess over them until they’ve grown into something workable. I’m pretty sure everyone wants to shave my head after about minute fourteen of this. I can’t help it. It is now ingrained in my psyche.

That, and finishing the statement “let’s get down to business” with “TO DEFEAT THE HUNS.”

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Depression Diary: Diagnosis à la Mode

There seems to be a trend of self-diagnosis. People run to claim they have some sort of mental issue. You’re not just sad, you’re depressed. You aren’t just stressed, you have high anxiety. You don’t just have trouble concentrating, you have ADD.

I think the draw of claiming to have something wrong is the supposed lack of accountability. “It’s not my fault, you see. It’s my disorder.” One of the symptoms of depression is lack of interest in things that you once found enjoyable. Ergo, depression makes you not want to do things, so when there is a thing you don’t want to do, pin it on your depression. Problem solved!

But for those who suffer from depression, it isn’t laziness. It’s vehement disinterest.

I have all three of those things: depression, anxiety, and ADHD. All of them prohibit me from dealing with society on a basic level. Usually I don’t have the motivation to deal with the world, and when I do, I panic about every minute detail, to the point where it drives me to distraction. I don’t get things done. Even necessary things, like making appointments or placing an order. I much prefer to sit under my rock and not do anything. It’s what I have the energy for.

When you have depression, it is very, very easy for your life to fall apart when you have depression, because very, very quickly, you stop caring. I have twelve dollars in my bank account and a very strained relationship with just about every person I know. And I sort of don’t care. Scratch that—I entirely don’t care. I should. And believe me, I would like to.  But I don’t. Because caring takes prolonged bouts of energy.

Everything takes energy. That’s the thing that I’ve discovered. Even being interested in something takes energy. I sit, blandly, trying to find something to distract myself from the nothing, and… there’s nothing. Movies, books, sports: they happen, but I have no reaction. They are there. I don’t care. I don’t care that I don’t care. I don’t care that I don’t care that I don’t care. Round and round and round, further and further in on myself, all going nowhere.

It’s cyclical.

At the start, I was sad. I was sad that I was sad. I wanted to be happy again, but I couldn’t figure out how to be. Slowly, the yearn to be happy again melted away into the void where all of my other emotions went. I was sad, but I didn’t care. Then I stopped being sad. I wasn’t interested enough to be sad. I simply was. It’s an easy place to settle into, just existing. But even that takes energy.

I’m tired. Going through the motions is tiresome, even moreso when you’re running on fumes. Which is what it feels like all of the time. Fourteen hours of sleep, and I still have nothing in the tank. But every other option–both the good and the bad–takes more energy than this, so I stick with this, my path of least resistance, on and on and on, until it stops.

The problem is, it never feels like it’s going to. Because really, it isn’t. It’s always going to be there. The medication and the therapy and the talking keep it at bay, but as proven by my current state, it can and will seep back in. It’s a slow takeover, one I didn’t notice until it was too late. It’s here now.

And I don’t really care that it is.

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