Everything is Wonderful. Everything is Terrible.

He said I was the happiest sad person he’d ever meet. He said, “I see you and I understand. I am here.”

I like to compare my life with anxiety to living with a huge grizzly bear. She’s a beast, really. Powerful, particular, irrational. Sensitive, territorial, destructive. When provoked, she fills the whole room with fear. She’s a bully. She’s all-encompassing. She is my oldest friend and my biggest foe.

Every night I sleep with this grizzly bear. Sometimes she keeps me up until the wee hours of the morning, discussing past conversations and confrontations, throwing what-ifs into the air like they’ll somehow fix what we’d irrevocably broken. We dissect nonverbal cues sent from across the room that day or decipher the puzzling tone of an email. That smile from a superior. A fading friendship.

Sometimes our nighttime follies bleed into daylight, and before we know it, the outline of our fears begin to take shape. They disguise themselves as truths, so overwhelming and real you can all but touch and taste and smell them. Soon, Melancholy shows up, announcing that if we don’t settle down, she’ll have to stay for the foreseeable future. She takes the form of emptiness. She is everywhere and no where at all. She is a dull pain, a sleepy sedative, a growing black void where the happy and sad once wrestled. If she hangs around long enough, everything wonderful becomes terrible. Everything terrible becomes nothing at all.

My anxiety arrived first in the form of an eating disorder. I was 19 and relentlessly ambitious. I had big dreams and higher expectations. I expected will and grit to propel me forward in life, listing self-care at the very bottom of my priority list. I kept hustling after graduation and worked hard at my job. I started to travel more. I was becoming good at my craft and had work published in national journals. I started a blog, and a readership developed. With small successes, the anxiety began to dull. I was smiling again, but continued to self-medicate with alcohol and exercise and friends and shopping and parties. I met my ex-husband. Stable, brilliant, charming, he was. I latched on to him for dear life, quietly hoping he could shelter me from my internal shit storm. It was irresponsible and selfish. At the time, it was all I knew of love.

At our first session, the couple’s counselor said, “You really dislike yourself, don’t you, Kate.” And I cried. I cried because it was true, and I couldn’t imagine life any other way.

These things have a certain way of revealing themselves, slowly and deliberately. Even if you’ve successfully outrun them, denied them, buried them, they never go away. You will come to terms with who you are. The evidence had been mounting against me for years, all symptoms of a greater problem I’d have to confront. No matter how strong your relationship or resilient your family, the fight for self-love is a battle fought from within. In the end, you’re going to have to save yourself.

Living with a mental disorder is to live with stigma and secrets. It means you are expected to withhold a significant part of who you are from almost everyone. You wonder, “Do I tell him after six months of dating? Six years? Will he still look at me the same way? When do I become honest with the important people in my life and say, ‘Hey- this is me. I’m a little sensitive, a little spacey and a little anxious sometimes, but that’s what makes me awesome.'” Talking about mental disorders is still widely considered a faux pas. They are blemishes on an otherwise sparkling resume. To accept this is to accept the stereotypes as your own, to confirm a truth in someone else’s ignorance, to divert society’s lack understanding towards yourself. People say I’m brave for sharing my journey. I see it as my responsibility.

The World Health Organization estimates that 350 million people have some form of clinical depression– that’s half of one percent of everyone on Earth. 350 MILLION of us. And still, “the blues” only happen to people who lack mental grit. There are millions of people quietly losing their own battles because of a physical ailment. There are millions who are greatly misunderstood because of their genetic disposition. Can you imagine the impact we’d have by banishing the stigma of mental illness by replacing it with acknowledgment and acceptance? If we made it easier for people to get help at school and work? Acceptance is how we create a dialogue with those who are suffering. It’s how we empower people to get the help they need. It’s how we help prevent mass shootings. It’s how we save more lives.

The brain is still very much a mystery to scientists, and while we’ve made huge strides in understanding mental disorders, the only thing we can do right now is educate ourselves and our peers. We can be curious about the complexities of these uniquely special brains. We can understand that creative genius and mental illness are intrinsically linked, and remember that gifts often come in deceiving packages. We move mountains in one person’s life through acceptance and love. We can do so much by checking judgement at the door.

Some days, everything is wonderful. Some days, everything is terrible. It’s par for the course, even for those free of mental afflictions. Being human means riding these waves. If you have one or two bad days a week, you’re doing great. If you have one melt-down every few years, you’re doing spectacular. If you are having the worst year of your life, hold on to hope, because it does get better.

Humans are complicated, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I’ve been lucky enough to manage my anxiety, depression, and ADHD with sleep, exercise, healthy habits, and a little help from a light dose of Adderall. For others, the stigma and physical journey is much more challenging. We all could use a little more practice accepting our own (and others) limitations and afflictions. Because once we make peace with our inner grizzly bear, we are free to open our hearts to those brave enough to stand by our side. It may not be the cure, but it’s a great place to start.

Additional Reading:

How Not To Be A Dick To Someone With Depression, by Mai Steinberg (xoJane)
“When you tell someone with depression that they should maybe try harder to be happy, it’s essentially like telling a diabetic that they could totally make an adequate amount of insulin if they just concentrated a little harder.”

Secrets of the Creative Brain, Nancy Andreasen (The Atlantic)
“A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.”

A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success, by Alain de Botton (TED)
“Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.”

Are You Lonely? Humans of New York (Facebook)
“One benefit to being big is that people don’t bother you. I’m shocked that you came up to me. Nobody’s ever done that. When I started to go to therapy, it took me several sessions before I even spoke a word.”

Hungover Bear and Friends: Not All There, by Ali Fitzgerald (McSweeny’s)
“Ali Fitzgerald lives in an urban bungalow on top of the former Berlin wall. She often draws Hungover Bear in bed while watching poorly dubbed episodes of the Golden Girls.”

Depression, The Secret We Share, Andrew Solomon (TED) – (Thank you, Molly!!)
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”

(Photo: Drew Berrymore, by Ara Gallant, early 1980s)

  • I check your blog every so often, not having nearly as much time to cruise the internet these days. Somehow, I seem to read your blog at these pivotal posts, revelatory, exposing, and far and away, the most beautiful (despite all the eye candy of the “lifestyle” posts and your tumblr) for your courage to go there; to be vulnerable and broach a subject that affects more of us than we collectively realize (in the last year, I was stunned to find out 4 of my friends, or their spouses, suffer from acute depression and anxiety- I’d had no idea). I appreciate you starting the conversation and bringing awareness by bravely sharing your own story. Real life is messy, but I, for one, have come to see that is where, paradoxically, real beauty lies: right there in the mess.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story so openly. At various points in my life I’ve dealt with depression, and it’s shockingly easy to never tell anyone — especially when you think of how many people we usually complain to when we come down with something as simple as a cold. Sharing your story about mental illness is such a great move towards a space where people can speak freely and without stigma about these issues.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever commented on your blog before, although I’ve followed it for a awhile, but I also wanted to say I’m really excited about the new direction you’ve decided to take this space in — so far the articles/posts have seemed incredibly real and powerful, and I can’t wait to read some more!

  • Kate, thank you so much for this post. I too have suffered from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, and was recently diagnosed with ADHD, so this really hit home for me. My boyfriend had a heart transplant five years ago, and when people see his 10-inch scar, they are amazed, and praise him for his survival, his strength, but I notice daily that the same admiration is not applicable to mental disorders, which are still seen as vain, selfish, self-indulgent, and weak. Your message of acceptance, both for ourselves and other, is one I’m still trying to work on.

    • Lena: Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re a strong woman!! Acceptance is so much easier said than done, and it is nice to hear from thos who have made strides to understand the people they love, especially when it can be so hard to do so. <3

  • You are so brave for sharing your story with your readers. I’m a silent follower, but felt compelled to comment today. You are so inspiring in all that you do. Sometimes it’s easy to hide behind beautiful instagram snaps, product posts and the wonderful life of blogging, but it’s so nice to see a blogger dive deeper so that their fans can see what’s really there. Sometimes people need a reminder that bloggers are real people too, with real problems, and real accomplishments and real stories! I love this!

  • Thank you. This is so so important to talk about. I’ve struggled on and off with anxiety my whole life (oldest child/perfectionist complex…) and spent last fall and winter in a deep depression. But for me this topic is paramount because my husband is manic depressive, and was diagnosed at 13. His story through doctors, medication, special ed programs, and self-realization and determination is intense but redemptive. But it is a daily battle that we fight together. Email me if you’d like to hear more.

  • Thank you so much for sharing! It’s so inspiring to see someone successfully doing something that I admire openly discuss these issues. Sometimes it is easy to feel alone in dealing with mental illness and I am so appreciative of you for sharing your story.
    I hope one day we can all live in an open society where we can communicate our fears and emotions without judgement or shame!

  • I wish I had something inspiring to say… but I don’t. Only that you are not alone in your depression and you rise above with your bravery.

  • I hurt for you. I can’t imagine the strength it takes to stand up to something that battles you and will not go away. This took courage to share and you made my life better for it, realizing that we don’t always know what is going on in someone else’s life/head. Thank you! You have grace.

  • Beautifully written. And this honestly made me feel a bit empowered to be more open and honest with my own past struggles with anxiety. Those I have shared with, they revealed they also dealt with similar issues or knew others who did. Reading the numbers in your post actually didn’t surprise me. I hope this post helps others who have or haven’t dealt with mental illness be more open and accepting of it. Thank you so much for your courage and honesty.

  • this was a really comforting read, though i’m sorry you’ve struggled! i’ve had generalized anxiety disorder/OCD since i was eight (almost 20 years now) and i understand how you feel, how it becomes SUCH a part of you. therapy is a slow process, but i’ve been feeling better recently (at least in regards to being honest with people) when i think of my disorders as the most interesting part about me, and as something that is a really strange gift–i think the anxiety i face makes me a more sensitive and understanding person, as a friend and as a member of a larger community. it seems like you are too, judging from your thoughts on the stigma surrounding mental illness. so, yeah: anxiety is the worst, but imagine the changes that can occur if all of us living with mental health issues could talk about it openly. thanks for being honest!

  • I needed this today. I suffer from almost crippling social anxiety. You are so brave and totally inspiring and I’m continuously amazed by your honesty and openness!

  • Kate,

    Thank you for sharing this. You are a brave soul for sharing your story. Thank you for being so inspiring to so many!

    Mailinh

  • Kate,
    Thank you for sharing. Every person who shines a light on a problem makes it a bit brighter for those who struggle in the dark.

  • Very well written, Kate. My husband has ADD and my brother is bipolar – I’ve struggled with coming to terms with these (particularly my brother’s condition) in the last couple of years. It’s nice to hear the dark, honest thoughts of someone experiencing something similar. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for this. Every time someone opens up and shares their personal experience with mental disorders it does SO much good and I am so grateful for your courage to write this, I’m sure it wasn’t easy. There are quite a lot of people in my life who have mental disorders and I have seen the how damaging it can be when people lack the knowledge and compassion to love and accept them. I hope the stigma disappears soon. I can’t imagine how much easier that would make it.

  • About six months ago, I was sitting on the couch and my heart randomly started racing. I had butterflies in my stomach. It was a familiar feeling, but intensified. It took me so long to realise I suffered anxiety. I get anxiety everyday, and avoid a lot of things in life because of it. In the last few years I have felt like I’ve haven’t been able to fit in, and that I seem to disagree with a lot of people. Whether I have depression as well I’m not sure (it runs in the family) but after doing research it’s reassuring that it is not uncommon. Social media, although has its benefits, makes me wonder if anxiety has become so common because of it. We compare our lives to others all the time, we make assumptions about people’s lives. It has helped me being aware of all this, as it means I don’t have to put so much pressure on myself, wondering why I don’t have a perfect life like those that ‘appear’ to have one.

    • Tash: I think you’re on to something. My anxiety has gotten worse this year, and I think it has something to do with how connected I am at all times. I had to rethink how I was using my phone and it really helped to keep my phone out of the bedroom for a couple weeks.

      Assumptions (and assuming) have caused so many issues in my life! Sometimes they’re small, other times they can cause problems in my relationships. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m doing it, and that helps diffuse the anxiety.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story here! xo

  • I never comment anywhere, but I really appreciate what you are doing with your blog and wanted to let you know. Its so refreshing to read a post like this, a rarity but its really what I crave out of blogs anymore. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life as well, and I can relate to so much of the above. Plus, Alain de Botton is one of my favorite authors, I was excited to see the link:)

    • Christen: Alain is one of my favorites, too! I especially love his tweets. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I was certainly the hardest post I’ve ever written. <3

  • Kate, this is beautiful. As someone who struggles with similar internal ‘issues,’ I can relate so well to this post. I want to thank you for being so honest and open. As much as I have loved wit+delight for the ‘lifestyle’ blog it was, I am so excited for an honest-to-goodness ‘LIFESTYLE’ blog– exploring issues like this is incredible! Kudos, Kate!

  • I loved this. I too struggle with anxiety, depression, and suspect I have a touch of ADHD as well (though maybe it is a byproduct of the other illnesses).

    One of my favorites is this TED talk on depression by Andrew Solomon. Maybe you have seen it but I highly suggest watching it of not (and he has a more recent talk that is also great but less about mental illness directly).

    • Molly! Thank you so much for sharing. I loved this talk so much, I included it in the links above. Sounds like we could be soul sisters 😉

  • Your writing is wonderful and inspiring – makes me less afraid to dig deep and continue to learn and explore and accept myself, perhaps in ways I never knew I could. Thank you for sharing such personal depth and detail. I adore your heart.

  • I really needed to hear this today, I am in the trenches of accepting who I am & how to manage my anxieties/fears/over-analyzing/depression realistically. It’s a love/hate because you realize having a creative mind comes with a “price” sometimes, which makes it unique to you to figure out your own journey with it all; which is kind of a beautiful thing. Cheers to your journey & I hope this post gets into the minds of others who need to feel accepted, as well. This world needs more acceptance & less pressure to be picture-perfect. Thank you, Kate.

  • Ah friend. This is so beautifully written, I’m in awe of you. I’m only beginning to realize that, once you’ve suffered from depression and anxiety, they never totally go away. They’re the roommate that we learn to live with and, with conversations like these, maybe learn to embrace as gifts and opportunities, not flaws and weaknesses. Something we can continue to tackle over bourbon—in moderation 🙂 xoxo

  • I could not have expressed this better myself. It is always comforting to learn that I am not alone in this daily battle, and for that Kate, I thank you for expressing it so eloquently.

  • Hi Kate, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and I was excited when I read your post the other day about the new content you wanted to incorporate here. I have been struggling with an issue of my own for a couple yesrs now and I have finally started taking steps in getting help. I have felt so alone in my situation and even talking about it with my closest friends and family I still experience feelings of shame and embarrasment. What I’m going through is different from your situation but your words have given me such comfort. None of us are alone in this.

  • so beautifully written. thank you for sharing. i’m going to link to this from my blog – i’d like to share it with as many people as possible.

    there is SO much unnecessary shame around mental illness.

    good luck on your journey! know that we are rooting for you, and we are grateful you’ve chosen to share with us!

  • I subscribe to a lot of blogs and this is one of the first posts I have ever read that is real, raw, and a true reflection of what it means to be human. Thank you for sharing this and for letting others see what it really means to know oneself. I have just recently been learning what it means to intimately know myself, not just the beautiful parts, but the ugly ones as well, and it has been liberating. Your writing is a light in the darkness. Thank you for sharing!

  • I don’t know that I have ever loved or connected with a blog post more than this – on any site. I feel you so, so much. My (sometimes crushing) anxiety disorder has always mostly looked like ambition on the outside and took years to fully acknowledge myself… I’m still learning to deal on a million levels. This was really lovely and hit home for me in a pretty significant way. Thank you for opening up about something so many of us also experience.

  • I feel a little less alone when I read your post. Living with anxiety is the pits isn’t it. I think of it as a big black bird that lives with me and I have to be health or it will peck me to death. Ouch. I have been admitting to people more and more that I have anxiety, well I had to realize it myself first I guess, but I think it helps create understanding. And patience with each other. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Looking at it as a grizzly bear… a friend sometimes… I like that. I looked at mine as a dragon, but I never thought of her as a friend, or someone I live with. Thank you for sharing this. It is definitely helping me feel less alone.

  • I also suffer from anxiety and have dealt with it in many forms, some self destructive, like yours. I think the more we talk about these issues, the more ‘accepted’ they will become. We need to realize that we aren’t alone, and to learn to help one another and appreciate our struggles rather than looking at them as faults. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for sharing this. You really nailed it. The metaphor of the grizzly bear is perfect and so spot on. Anxiety led me to self-medicating with alcohol & self-destructive behaviors over the years. It’s an easy trap to fall in, and one which is hard to get out of, but worth working at.

  • Thank you for talking about this. I’ve recently been thinking about broaching the topic of my intermittent but ongoing anxiety flare-ups with my boyfriend. I decided the other day to broach the subject because it’s something I’ve tried to conceal from him, thinking of it as a kind of weakness. But actually, I realise that it’s a reason to be proud of myself. I have to do extra mental acrobatics a lot of the time to keep on the kind of even keel many people possibly quite naturally experience. It’s a kind of work that some of us have to do, and we should be so proud of our (and each others’) dogged efforts. Thanks again, Kate x

  • So beautifully powerful. Since you’ve written this I’ve come back to reread quite a bit and you’ve brought me back down.

    Very important piece here, thank you.

  • So well written! I am grateful to have found this post.
    This makes me want to stand on the roof tops and scream “I have depression”. The never ending feeling of being misunderstood and the general uncomfortable reaction from most people if I mention it always seems to make my soul cringe ever so slightly. I remind myself that people just don’t understand and that can’t effect my own perspective but it’s challenging.
    Just because a person experiences more rain clouds than another does not mean they are contagious or deserve love less. Accepting my own mental illness has made me a more compassionate person. I wish that part were contagious!

  • Dearest Kate,
    I have to tell you that I just finished reading this post and I am absolutely touched (basically I am sitting here misty-eyed). These insightful posts that you have been authoring as of late, leave me feeling inspired. I suppose that I find your intrapersonal growth to be incredibly exciting. There is such great passion in your words and a great deal of what you write, certainly resonates with me. I want you to know that I sincerely enjoy reading about the authentic, raw, and vulnerable side of Kate. It is beyond moving and so very compelling! Thank you for sharing. Keep it up! 😉

    Xoxo
    Morgan B.

  • “Sometimes she keeps me up until the wee hours of the morning, discussing past conversations and confrontations, throwing what-ifs into the air like they’ll somehow fix what we’d irrevocably broken. We dissect nonverbal cues sent from across the room that day or decipher the puzzling tone of an email. That smile from a superior. A fading friendship.

    Sometimes our nighttime follies bleed into daylight, and before we know it, the outline of our fears begin to take shape. They disguise themselves as truths, so overwhelming and real you can all but touch and taste and smell them. Soon, Melancholy shows up, announcing that if we don’t settle down, she’ll have to stay for the foreseeable future. She takes the form of emptiness. She is everywhere and no where at all. She is a dull pain, a sleepy sedative, a growing black void where the happy and sad once wrestled. If she hangs around long enough, everything wonderful becomes terrible. Everything terrible becomes nothing at all.”

    This is the most beautiful and perfect way to describe the haunting that so many of us feel we have to suffer through alone. It is so hard to explain to someone without depression “what you’re so sad about” or how hard it is, but that paragraph put it so eloquently into words. Thank you for speaking out!

  • Thanks for this post, Kate. You’re brave to talk about your experiences with anxiety. I have depression and anxiety, too, and am also extremely sensitive and can often let my emotions lead the way, making relationships and friendships hard at times. I’m often lonely, on weekends especially, but like you said, it’s ups and downs so you just have to look forward to the ups!

  • i missed this when it was originally posted, so i’m really glad to have the chance to correct that oversight. in this, as in so many other things, you are an inspiration.

  • Thank you for saying it plainly. It took until I was 34 years old to figure out that I am Bipolar. Why? Because “we don’t talk about things like that”, like feelings and weirdness. Thank God for people like you who will talk about it.

  • Quite simply, a brillant piece of writing. You use your words, phrases, sentences on such an issue with so much eloquence and elegance.

    For someone that’s been around anxiety/depression/bipolar/creativity for 20+ years your words speak to me strongly and connect with me – and that’s what really the written word is about: connection with your reader.

    I’m glad I found this piece ANN you site – you have a new fan!

  • Hi, Kate, thank you for being such an inspiring mental health advocate, and for creating awareness about the stigma that keeps too many people silent. We are huge fans of your writing, and hope that you will have a chance to check out some of the work that we are doing with Bring Change 2 Mind. Thank you again!!

  • I’ve only discovered your blog quite recently, but after reading this post I really just have to say a huge thank you. A lot of what you said really rang true with my own experiences, and in the middle of your blog post I actually broke down in tears. It was as though you said all the things I have been afraid to admit out loud, even though I have now reached the point of maybe one bad day a week, or even less. You have dealt with these issues in such a genuine and honest way and I really appreciate that as it is so important for people to have a better understanding of mental health, thanks so much for this.

    • Your comment made ME cry, Ana. The reason why I talk about it is because it’s so common, and it hurts SO much, yet no one really wants to admit to going through it. Thank you for reminding me to stay committed to keeping an open dialogue. Xo. K

  • I like your grizzly bear reference. My blog is on medium.com under “two angry bears”. It’s my perspective on bipolar disorder. I hope you check it out! I really enjoyed reading this blog as I can tell that you ‘get it’. Keep fighting!

  • Thank you for this article it’s wonderful. I have been trying to get my depression under control for 16 years and seems to be getting worse not better. But it’s great to see I’m not the only one that struggles but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  • I just started my own blog, TheBhaktiFox.net, and I wrote about anxiety today. It was nice to come across this post, as I’m personally still trying to build the foundation for accepting who I am and loving myself while I demolish the bs idea that I’m damaged or defective and therefore worth less. I really liked that you were more open and honest than most of the blogs I’ve seen, and less general.
    Thanks. 🙂