The simple, and yet hard-earned, explanation of it all

My last post, more than two months ago, wasn’t optimistic. The feelings of worthlessness, futility, the experience of having jobs and careers slither from your hands, the certainty that nothing sticks and nothing ever will. The addictive behaviours–binge eating being the worst of them. The moodiness and extreme reactions. The depression and chronic anxiety. The frequent accidents and the near-accidents caused by inattention and daydreaming. The fact that I lose stuff, break stuff, can’t seem to finish a task even if it’s as simple as hanging the washing. The house that’s a mess, and the insomnia, the chronic fatigue, the mental haze of just existing in a barely functional state.

Apparently, it all has a simple–and very obvious–answer. My friends were right: ADHD. A clear-cut case–a belter, actually. Never diagnosed in childhood because, apparently, I was a gifted kid who just glided through twelve school years without putting too much effort into it. Never mind that I always drew or fidgeted during lessons. Never mind that I could never sit still or kept talking and interrupting people. Who cared? I got good grades without even trying. Nothing to see here, folks.

And after school? Well, it got worse. Until, two years ago, I got burnout.

I’ve been trying to find out what’s wrong since then, and I finally have my diagnosis.

But who knew anything about adult ADHD in the late 90s in Greece? Who could have imagined? Nobody, and nobody did.

“You only achieved so much,” the psychiatrist said, “because you’re highly gifted. With that level of ADHD, it’s impressive that you managed to get a PhD and to have a functional family.” What’s no wonder at all is that I never could keep a job. And I couldn’t write scientific papers without being guided by a strong supervisor. Quite understandable, in hindsight.

It’s also no wonder that I can write a full novel when I’m focused. It’s the phenomenon of hyperfocus: you don’t do anything else for a couple months, you obsessively live and breathe your task. That’s why I still can’t bring myself to sit and write my next book right now. My family needs me.

So, what now? Medication. Therapy. Better care of my health–I’ve had some health issues that won’t go away that easily, I’m afraid.

I told the psychiatrist I didn’t want to look for a job right now. Damn right, she said. With that level of ADHD, we need to get the medication straight first.

The best part of all of this? The guilt is melting away. The guilt of not being disciplined, not having my ducks in a row, not being able to stick to a job, not managing to continue learning a language, or clean my house, or earn money to contribute to the family finances, or be organized and tidy, calm and not moody.

“It’s not your fault,” the psychiatrist said. “None of this.” Not the addictive behaviours, not the way you confuse people by constantly changing the subject, none of it.

“You’re highly gifted. You’re not living up to your potential,” she said. “But we can change that.”

Yes, please!

Wanted: a win, easy or hard. Not being picky.

The past three years have been hard.

That’s not accurate. The past three decades have been hard.

But let’s not think in terms of decades right now. Let’s pick up one of the themes of the last blog post again. Namely: what do you do when you’re singularly unsuccessful in everything you do?

Okay, I can’t claim I’m singularly unsuccessful in everything. I think I’m a decent mom. Not the best, mind you, but it’s a wonder I’m any good, given all the mental health issues. And I cook well. And I organize everything for my family. Oh, the joy! To be a glorified servant to mostly ungrateful people.

But, as I said last time, I’m jobless, careerless, and pretty much prospectless and likely to die in poverty because I’ll get no pension if I keep going on like this. For a person who grew up with the ooohs and aaahs of teachers, with the how-smart-you-are and the subsequent, continuing to this day, exclamations, “Oh! Astrophysics!” it’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow to not be able to get your ducks in a row.

And, boy, are my ducks all over the place.

Last time I tried to look for an industry job, I was unceremoniously dismissed for being “too unstable.” In this case, “unstable” means: PhD in Astrophysics, half a post-doc in Astrophysics, which I quit (HELLO, depression!), then baby, ruined health, ruined body, getting back in sort-of shape, a stint in web development, then climate science. That last bit went horribly wrong, and I mean badly, horribly, you’ll-never-work-in-this-field-again wrong.

And here I am, an unemployed mom of two, with several large gaps in her resume, wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life, and agonizing over petty cash. Watching everyone pass me by. To be forty, and highly educated, and to watch all your dreams shatter in slow motion, your erstwhile peers becoming financially comfortable and settling into careers, and you slipping into a different socioeconomic class than everyone you know and just not being able to belong anywhere anymore. To have lost twenty years to mental health problems and the inertia of a neurodiverse partner who always stayed at home–so you didn’t do anything in your youth, and now your youth is gone and you still can’t do anything, but for different reasons. You and your big brain are largely useless to the world, and to yourself.

So, I need a win. Any win, as long as it’s for me.

I don’t mind working for it. I don’t mind training for it. I don’t mind spending a lot of time and effort to make it happen. I don’t mind if it’s as small as earning a hundred bucks a month–even that is a dream, right now–or even smaller, as small as selling a couple books per month. Or getting a couple reviews on a book. Or getting editing jobs. Or getting fitter. Or being able to hike uphill. Or sleeping well three days in a row. Anything, anything will do.

I don’t know if any of this is ever going to happen. I don’t believe it will, to be honest. Things don’t usually work out for me. But what else is there to do? Sitting and waiting for death is just dumb. I’ll keep trying to make things work, although in my heart of hearts I know it’s kind of futile.

Bleak, I know. If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that’s just my pessimism, of course things can work out.

— (What the hell does he know? Things work out sweetly for white men with full resumes. They get relentless women who break themselves to make dudes’ lives work, so that people look at them and say–oooh! A hands-on dad! How awesome!)–

But I, being strictly logical and a scientist, look at past evidence: everything I touched crumbled and burned. It’s not the jobs, it’s me. I’m unable to bring things to fruition. I know many people want to see themselves as victims, want to believe what happens to them isn’t their fault. Thing is, this is as much true for the good things as it is for the bad things – but people never credit the good things to chance, do they? They credit their ability, hard work, and challenge.

I won’t do that. If the good things are part talent and work and part luck, the bad things have to be partly blamed on me, too.

As I said, it’s been a bad three years. Burnout, a huge emotional disappointment – a betrayal, if you want, by someone I thought was my friend – my daughter’s debilitating anxiety, the near-disintegration of our family, which took dozens of hours of counseling and a large change in school to save, the discovery husband’s high-functioning autism; all those things have left us reeling. I’m reeling. And my own inability to do anything with my life, earn money, be productive in any way…

But then again, maybe I’m too harsh on myself.

My daughter’s five-year-long anxiety, which culminated in her not sleeping and not being able to go to school, was resolved only last fall. We’re still recovering from that.

My husband was finally able to get evaluated by a professional re: autism. After lots of family therapy – he can’t go to therapy on his own; he literally doesn’t know what to say, so he ends up not resolving anything – he exhibits great progress with the regulation of his emotions and temper. He’s more open, calmer – and people notice. Our house isn’t the arena of daily shouting matches anymore. Our daughter sleeps at night. She goes to school. She does homework, on her own, for the first time in her life.

But this all doesn’t count, does it? Because that’s not how success is measured. It’s all unseen, unappreciated, unpaid work. And so, the danger remains that if I don’t manage to find or create a job for myself, I’ll keep not being able to follow my friends to outings and trips. And from there, greater dangers – like old age without pension – loom ahead.

…past the ice cream place at Kirchplatz

We sat here, you big, bumbling idiot.

I passed by that artisanal ice cream place at Kirchplatz today. You know, the one in Starnberg. Where we had ice cream on a tonka waffle, on the day of my mental breakdown back in 2020–although that happened later. You saw a lot of tears that year, but that you didn’t see. At least we were both spared the embarrassment.

And so, I found myself at Kirchplatz today. They’ve had no tables out for nearly two years, but now the world’s slowly starting to turn again, and the tables are out. So, there you go. We sat here. I know the exact table. I know my exact thoughts.

Something was missing, both for you and me—although, who the hell knows if you’ll ever admit it. As for me? I found the missing pieces, one by one, in all the places we sat after that; all the places where we had a beer, a burger, a slide down a muddy track during a rainy hike, an awkward selfie, an awkward scratch at the violin. I collected them painstakingly, put them together, edge to jagged edge. The picture that emerged was beautiful–not with the beauty of perfection, but with the beauty of scars and a life somehow lived.

You’d think I’m angry, but I’m not. You might think I’m sad, but that was over long ago. Hurt? Disillusioned? That all happened. It’s over.

What I am now is wiser. I learned so much, both thanks to you and because of you, and also despite you. But the most important thing I learned is this: the relentless energy that drives me to pursue stuff with an obsessive passion? I’d better use it on projects—not people.

Because the people who are good for me will find me in the end. I don’t need to expend all that energy on them. And if they don’t find me? Well, I’m good enough for me. And I found me in the end.

You keep ghosting me. That’s fine. I know you’re scared. You shouldn’t be. Whatever I could do to you, I already did. Whatever you could do to me, you already did.

I really, really hope you’re well.

Wading out

Like so many other things, mental health sneaks up on you.

In June, you can’t breathe. You wonder if this torment that calls itself life is ever going to end.

In July, through sheer effort and lots of time to yourself, you can begin to exist within yourself again.

In August, hope is on the horizon, although the pain is still very much present.

In September, the tears are starting to melt down the pain.

In October, you face the facts.

In November, you decide to care for yourself.

And December? In December, your energy comes back.

As my faculties return, I marvel: is this the level of mental energy humans have at their disposal when they’re not overwhelmed and obsessed and running two parallel processes on the single processor that’s in our heads? How can I describe this transition from the absolute brain dullness–too long my companion–to the lucid state of my mind now? It feels like wading out of the sea. First, the water is up to your neck, and it’s such an effort to take a single step. You think you’ll never make it. Then the water is up to your chest, and you have to keep your arms raised to reduce resistance, and it’s slow going, and you’re panting, but your determination carries you on. By the time you’re knee-deep, it’s child’s play. It can’t get easier, can it?

But then you hit the shore and you run like the wind. This is easy!

Was life ever so easy?

In the past weeks, I’ve even started entertaining thoughts of going back to work. I have no clue what kind of job I can do or will be able to get, and it’s not going to happen soon anyway since my family needs me to care for them right now. But, oh–my–God, is this possible? The mere thought of it doesn’t exhaust or terrify me anymore. I occasionally clean the house. I keep my family fed and clothed in clean clothes. I kind of sleep. I sleep. I can cope with everyday things.

And why did all this happen? Because I gave myself license to feel.

Feelings tucked inside eat you up from the inside. I say, let them out. Okay, maybe you don’t want to write a 65-thousand-word memoir about them and share them with everyone in the English-speaking world–I am, after all, an extreme case, the eternal over-sharer. But don’t let feelings fester. They can become malignant.

Oh, man, it’s so good to be able to run on dry ground.

A love, regrettable but not regretted

I have a confession to make.

For eighteen months now, I’ve been lying to you. Okay, not really lying, just not telling you the whole truth. You’ve been reading about my mental health struggles, my family, my husband’s recently discovered autism, the difficulty handling everyday tasks, the stress and the chronic anxiety and the antidepressants.

But there was this one big thing that made life so much harder than it needed to be. I’ve hinted at it before, naming it The Boulder. Such an apt name, don’t you think? A rock you lug. Or can’t move. Or need to blast away in order to move forward. An obstacle. Something whose sheer volume can’t be overlooked. Something heavy. The parallels to the burden in my psyche are endless.

But I’ve reached the point where I can talk about this. Finally!

And I think you can relate with this one. You’ve been in love, right?

Yeah, it’s that unoriginal.

So, here goes: there’s this man I love. He’s not my husband.

(Yes, my husband reads this blog. Yes, he knows about that man. No, he doesn’t mind. Really, I promise you, he doesn’t. He’s weird that way. We both are. Yes, I love my husband. I’m still here, aren’t I?)

Where was I? Ah, that man. You might have noticed the present tense. I can’t put him in the past. I can’t say “I loved” him, although he’s very far away from me in every possible sense, not really present in my life anymore, and not really willing to be. But still: no past tense. Love doesn’t evaporate just because you haven’t seen someone in nearly a year. Love doesn’t care if said person causes you so much pain you want to physically vomit. Love doesn’t care about any contradiction, apparent or real.

In short, love is a huge asshole.

And it doesn’t like being neatly defined. So here I am, unable to put my love into a neatly tagged box. Sure, I loved that man. (How did that past tense slip in? I might as well leave it.) Was I in love with him?

(YES, my therapist will tell you. Don’t kid yourself, Frau Arka. You were head over heels in love. You were heartbroken when he left. We spent half a year talking about him in every single therapy session. You wanted to roll into a ball and disappear. You’re still talking about it, aren’t you?)

(Yes, my husband knows about all of this. We kinda live together. He wouldn’t miss me crying for weeks at a time, now would he? I told you. We’re weird.)

So, the answer, I regret to admit, is yes. Yes, I was in love. And he was my best friend for a while. And a bit of a teacher, in more ways than one might think. And a bit of a student. And partner in crime. All of this and more.

Was I any of these things to him? I have no clue.

The point is: today I can talk about this. Today, I am not ashamed. I had feelings. I have feelings. My feelings are valid.

This man didn’t want to be loved by me. At all. My feelings – which, let us savor it, I am not ashamed of anymore, not one tiny bit! – were a thorn in his side. A burden. He’d rather have the fun memories (we did have a lot of fun together, a good amount of burgers, a saturation of nearly-unreal sunsets, and a lot of music). But we don’t always get what we want in life, and boy, did he get a whole lot more than he bargained for. He got complications. He got the ultimate complication: me.

I am, indeed, a lot more than people bargain for. Take this any way you want. Ask my husband. I assure you, I am. I’m also a shy person’s nightmare: if you’re in my life, I’ll probably put you in a book, and you’ll surely appear in a blog post.

Why am I writing all of this?

The short answer is: because I can. And the fact that I can is glorious in itself. Two years ago, I’d have thought, “Who are you to dare have feelings for a younger, attractive man? You’re hideous and fat, and so beneath his league. Everyone is going to laugh at you. Everyone would ridicule you if they knew what you dared desire! You’re not worthy of having feelings!” But writing about this helps me realize this is only my self-deprecating internal monologue. Talking to my friends about it and receiving their reactions shatters the self-hatred. And putting it out into the world makes it real.

I’m here. I don’t loathe myself anymore. I can talk about this.

You, my dear reader, are my license to feel.

And I can only smile at how far I’ve come. The latest person I fell in love with is my not so humble self.

Sacrifice and loyalty, to the point of stupidity

Have you seen those affirmational posts on Instagram about wronged gentle souls? They go like this: “Don’t stop giving, you wonderful human! Yes, I know that everyone else is so mean, hurting you, taking advantage of you, taking you for granted. But the world needs souls like yours! Keep being the awesome, self-sacrificing being you are!”

They always make me think–doesn’t everyone think they’re a fundamentally good, giving person? Sure, I feel like this, but what right do I have to proclaim to the world my saintly victimhood? (Because, don’t be fooled, those posts are a glorification of victimhood and a plea for more of it, thank you, sucker!) Actually, if you think about it, only a small percentage of humans will actually be those benevolent, self-effacing individuals these posts talk about. So it’s hypocritical for the rest of us to pretend we are. After all, it’s downright baffling how many utterly selfish, emotionally stunted people there are (I’ve met them, trust me) who shout it out of the windows: I’m a victim! People always take advantage of me! I’ve been so wronged in my life! Just before they treat you with the sort of cruelty that makes you wonder whatever in the world you did to deserve it.

So, I always have reservations about identifying with those Instagram posts. I know I can be deceiving myself, just as all those selfish non-victims of my past were quite obviously deceiving themselves.

Somewhere about here, my husband and my friends start protesting: “What are you talking about, Ioanna? You are a giving person. You kinda give too much. Stop that! I mean it!”

So, okay. Maybe I am one of those gentle, giving souls, if the people who know me best keep insisting I am. Right?

Husband: “You are. You always do so much for everyone. You take good care of me and the kids. Too good care. You should take less good care of us and better care of yourself!”

Varvara: “You have to learn to protect yourself!”

Dimitra: “You’ve given enough! You have to focus on yourself!”

Okay, okay, got it. Less for others. More for me. On it!

For years–who am I kidding, decades–I’ve been laboring under the manifestly wrong impression that loyalty in friendships is the number one quality one should have. So I’ve been steadfast to the point of stupidity (only recently did I realize that it was, indeed, stupid). I was always there. A friend you could count on. Day or night. People come first, right? What’s more important than the well-being of people? I’d leave everything and run to their help. I’d be there to chat whenever a friend needed me. No matter if it was the middle of the night and I had to get the kids ready for school first thing in the morning, and I had a deadline which I would surely miss because I’d be too tired. Because that’s what friends do, right?

Interestingly enough, no, it’s not. That’s what I do. Very few of those people ever did it for me. Were they in my position, they’d prioritize. Kids, deadline, yup, more important. Upset friend has to find someone else to chat to. Or wait until tomorrow.

Lately, I decided to be strong and start letting go of mentally and emotionally taxing relationships. And, oh boy, is it hard to let go. For me, it’s hard even when a relationship is destructive for my mental and emotional well-being. How can I ever leave someone who may need me, or need the support I can give, even if I, myself, am not all that important to them? I know I’ve had enough mental health problems in my life. I truly empathize. I sure as hell have been a burden, and a rude and aggressive burden at that, and some folks–husband included, Stevie is another one–did not abandon me. What right do I have to abandon someone else?

Well, this line of reasoning can go really wrong. It can make you stay in emotionally draining situations in spite of your better judgment. When your whole inner self screams, “leave!” and you don’t, because you just can’t bear to disappoint a person you care about. Because you don’t come first, right? They do. Others always come first. You’re strong, after all; you can handle it. Just like that time I pushed down my inner need and stayed with someone who needed me, even though it caused me a significant amount of pain to do so.

When I told Dimitra, she was understandably unhappy.

“I couldn’t leave him,” I told her. “He had tears in his eyes.”

And, because she knows me, she replied, “You have tears in your eyes, too, Ioanna!”

She was right. Right then and there I realized I’d been comparing five minutes of tearing up to crying myself to sleep for months. Months. How did I put that up on the scales and judged it equal?

And the other thing I realized with this oh-so-concise statement of hers, was that I consistently believed to my core that my tears, my pain, my feelings, I myself, don’t count. Only his did.

Letting go is a new skill for me. I’m still learning. I have to be careful not to regress to past patterns of behavior. I have to constantly remind myself of the fact that I count. My feelings count. My tears count. My pain counts. I don’t have to sacrifice my mental well-being for anyone. I must admit here that I don’t quite feel this yet. I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that I count just as much as the next person. I always thought I was somehow less worthy of love and care, and therefore my emotional health was somehow less significant than that of those I was trying to take care of. Not only that: it didn’t even figure in the equation. Punching bag Ioanna, with me giving all the punches myself.

Dimitra is bristling up as she reads these lines. She’s right. Why in the world am I less worthy of care than anyone else? Why, indeed? Dimitra thinks I should just stop taking care of others. Sit back and be the queen of my little universe. Let others take care of me. The end.

“You’ve done enough,” she said to me last year. “Now it’s time for others to invest in you.”

Amen to that.

No more one-sided relationships.

No more sacrificing mental and emotional health for love, or friendship, or for someone else’s well-being.

No more crying alone in the night.

No more feeling obliged to take another person’s burden because they suffer and you empathize.

No. More.

Can I overdose on…

I have ten Lorazepam pills left.

Why am I googling this? What the fuck’s wrong with me? Of course I can’t really overdose on ten milligrams of Lorazepam. I envisioned drifting into a nice deep sleep, just maybe not hurting that much anymore, if only for a couple hours. I mean, sure, if I didn’t wake up from said sleep, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Not that I’m suicidal. I’m not. Never was. What an absurd idea. I’m strong. This is why I have to suffer. Life doesn’t throw metaphorical bricks on people who bruise easily.

I used to have more of those pills, but I gave some to that friend I tried to care for last year. I couldn’t bear the thought he’d be left alone with his panic attacks, with nobody to help him. Of course, I knew he’d taken them before, and he wouldn’t be in danger of an adverse reaction – I do think of everything, after all, I wouldn’t endanger someone like that. Well, friend’s gone, so are my pills. My soft heart might have saved me from, I don’t know what. Temptation? I don’t think you can do much with sixteen milligram either, so nothing’s lost. Nothing’s gained either.

The pain is growing. In the past months, years, decades, I’ve been verbally and emotionally abused, accused, ignored, even neglected by people who should have been there for me. I’ve been made to feel as if I were completely worthless. I used to attribute that to my Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, but it’s not only that, I realised – and Dimitra agrees, so this is my sign that I’m on to something. Some folks just treat you like that, won’t even realise they’re doing it, or, even worse, they’ll feel justified in doing it. My former boss did it. My husband, the man who I now know always loved me, neglected me – unknowingly, because of his emotional handicap. Although now he has understood, and he’s transformed into my greatest supporter. Still, the hurt remains. Can I detach my worth from having been treated like that? Maybe. Can I detach my worth from still being treated like that by some people? Am I worth anything, after all?

The pills. I have a whole bunch of SSRI in the box. Can you overdose on those? Would my husband notice if something was wrong with me? I guess he might. He’s getting better at this. A couple years ago I bet he’d find me dead in the morning and wonder what’d happened. But now I think he’s more sensitive to signs of depression – like me lying in my bed all day, crying, and not being able to do anything at all. Which is how today has been.

I mean, I did put on pants. They’re pyjama pants. I still count it as a win.

How am I going to take care of my kids? They start school tomorrow. And, whatever do they gain from having me around, always in tears, asking myself why, why this is happening, why does everyone else seem to catch a break – lots of breaks, some of them. Why don’t I get to catch a break, too? Is this how it’s going to be? Dreams being broken, one after another, until you’re too old to make any of them come true, and then you just die?

I mean, if this is how my life is going to be, why not accelerate the inevitable?

Of course I won’t accelerate the inevitable. These are just thoughts. Depressive thoughts. I might need to up the SSRI dose.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never had such a bad case of depression before. I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how I’ll survive this.

I found this beautiful sign on an excursion yesterday (an excursion which, happily, kept me from crying for a whole day – thank you, Nicolas, for such a nice time!). It says, in German,

“Always have more dreams than reality can destroy.”

It seems to me that reality is winning.

About (my) privilege

I can’t watch anything on TV – concentration isn’t there.

Books. How about books? I said I’d spend the kids’ holidays reading. But today, my thoughts keep drifting.

Okay. Take a walk? But it’s stormy outside.

I could try yoga, but yesterday’s attempt didn’t work out. I can barely climb the stairs today. Something’s wrong with me.

Something’s wrong.

Was it the attempt to get off the SSRI that caused this, one of my worst bouts of depression ever? Or was it, oh, I don’t know, the fact that I’m finally strong enough to start thinking about the future, which includes my rather hopeless job situation and all the plans I’d made for a life whose best – they say – half is now over, which never came to fruition? Is it that I constantly think of my 86-year-old dad, and the fact that he dreamed of going to Bergen someday, and all the things I’ve been wanting to do someday, so that it’s been someday for the past twenty-odd years, and how these things still haven’t happened, just as my dad never got to go to Bergen, and his someday never came to be, and how – I see it, and it fills me with despair – my someday will not come to be, either?

Or is it my bad habit of comparing myself to the luckiest and most privileged people I know instead of taking a good sane look at my life and being grateful of where I am and what I have? I should be grateful, after all, given my initial conditions: I grew up in Greece. I’ve done well, all things considered, even if it’s only by getting married to someone who can give me a quasi-secure life in Germany while I keep struggling with mental health disorders for decades. In Greece, I’d be the village fool. I wouldn’t have the extensive mental health care I have here practically for free. I wouldn’t be able to go for hiking in the Alps. Now, the Alps are a short drive away, and that’s worth something.

See, what most people don’t get is that more important than any amount of work you can invest in anything is pure luck. Where you’re born, to what parents, in how educated a family, to how steady a home, in what country, with access to what schools, with what kinds of opportunity around you, which gender you have, who you happen to meet and marry (although, I should get some credit for that, because I only ever liked the safe and boring guys – those who are solid and loyal and steadfast). Sure, there are those rare cases of people who’ll pull themselves up by their shoestrings, rising from a very underprivileged position to heights nobody in their environment ever reaches. But these are memorable exactly because they’re not the norm. You can’t blame the rest for not making it – and sometimes they don’t, no matter how much they try and how much effort they put into it, because, in all we achieve, there’s a crucial factor: the random factor; in short, luck, whose importance for our achievements we all tend to underestimate.

So, why should I be bitter? I’ve been very, very lucky, even if my kids complain because the neighbours have a pool and all their friends have Playstations and Nintendo Switch and their own iPhones, and we can’t afford any of those things. We can’t really afford our house, to be honest. We’ve been overoptimistic – mostly about my employment prospects – and now we’re paying the price for that. But I’m still lucky. Many would give a lot to be in my position. Okay, no career prospects, sure, but a super-loyal and loving man, two wonderful children (yes, even with all the mental health problems), a home, even if mortgaged, and an acceptable level of health, even if it’s after a lot of bad luck and trouble. And, as much as I want to travel and see the world (which will not really happen – finances, time, you see), I still have Greece. Home. If you can’t afford holidays, how lucky is it to be able to go home to Greece and hop off to amazing tropical beaches, sparkly Aegean islands (the obscure cheap ones, every bit as stunning as the more known ones), mountains, forests, gorges, archaeological sites, medieval settlements, all that condensed wonderfulness that is my home country?

What a fail it is to compare yourself to others. What an absolute, soul-straining fail.

So, what to do now?

I’m going to try to earn some money, for starters. I don’t think it’s going to be easy to do that – either with editing/proofreading, or by finding a job. “Oh, with your skills you can definitely find a job,” all my male friends say, while the women chuckle under their breath and nod condescendingly, because it’s the truth we don’t like admitting that a woman with a family at the age of about forty has about one fourth the chances a man in the same situation has – not to find a job, but just to be called to an interview, and from there it only gets worse. With my patchy and erratic CV that includes mostly academia and multiple changes in branch and type of job, and with my non-native speaker status in Germany (I’m perfectly fluent, but have the suspicion they don’t believe me when I write it in my CV) these chances are even more diminished. A couple years ago, a recruiter – overoptimistic himself – tried to suggest me to a consulting company that hired PhD physicists, only to be told I’m too unstable (which, in a funny twist of fate, was accurate in more ways than they knew). Add to that being female, with kids, no industry job experience, and you see how much fun I’ll have as I try to enter the workforce. Stick with me for the next few months. It’s going to be soul-crushing. We’ll have a blast.

Luckily – a female friend said a while back – I’m growing out of the age when women can have children, and this will increase my chances a little. Not by much, of course, but still, it’s something.

Just think about that. Go on, stop reading and consider that statement, which – I’m not afraid to say – gave me some relief. Very well, men, tell me: how happy are you to be men? Imagine all the shit you’re going through trying to find jobs, magnified by, I don’t know. Pick a number. Chances are, whatever number you pick, you’re underestimating.

But enough about the work issue. I haven’t started searching for industry jobs (again) yet. All I’ve done is look for editing jobs (ha, those don’t come easy – and to be employed as an editor for a company or website you have to be a native speaker anyway, so that’s out of the question). I’m going to go the self-employed way for a while, because there’s nothing else to do right now. It doesn’t pay, and I don’t get social security, which stresses me quite a bit.

But I’ve made a mess out of my life anyway. In all categories, I’ve fucked it up, big time. The only thing I did right was find a man who won’t leave me, no matter what I do to him. I’m not sure he’s in his right mind, to tell you the truth. No idea why he’s still here. I’m nothing but trouble. Delightful, if I believe my friends, but still trouble.

In any case, the one thing I will certainly do is keep writing and editing. It’s pretty much the only thing that keeps me close to sane. This, and the very few people who came through for me. You know the name: Dimitra.

Funny story: today, I told Dimitra I shouldn’t compare myself to others; it causes nothing but pain. And she pointed out – tongue in cheek, I think, although it’s true – that, no matter what these people have, they don’t have her.

She’s right. I’ve never had a more loyal, self-sacrificing friend. And, you know what? She has to factor in in the evaluation of the worthiness of living my life. Family, luck, wealth, opportunities, friends. Well, on that last front, there’s no way you can do better than Dimitra.

Thank the universe for women

These past days – you must have guessed – have been some of the hardest of my life.

The first anniversary of my breakdown hit me hard – especially since it coincided with the re-evaluation of certain relationships that have been important in my life. I decided to be strict with myself. I’m not letting my soft side concoct excuses anymore for those who keep hurting me. I just won’t do it anymore. My fortieth birthday, I’ve decided, this October, will find me surrounded only by people who are good for me and my mental health.

So, the past weeks have been painful. As I’ve been doing for a year now, I put my pain out there (well, here, on the blog) for all to see. I do this for many reasons: the main one is that I can’t not write about my pain. These blog posts are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve written a sixty-thousand-word book about my mental health struggles of the past year, for example. I don’t really expect to ever publish it – even if I do someday, it won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Nobody really reads my books anyway. Maybe a few close friends will read it, and that’s probably going to be it, and that’s okay. I also write down thoughts, I compose angry letters to the people who hurt me (kept in a folder on my computer, never to be read, but still serving the purpose of letting me vent), and endless chat messages to anyone who cares to read my lengthy analyses on psychology, mental health, literature, and anything else.

This blog is a slightly different matter. The blog is for giving the world a real, uncensored view into pain, despair, mental health disorders, the dithering and fluctuations that accompany one on such a journey. We all hide so much every single day. Even I, one of the most open, unfiltered people you’ll ever meet, can’t help but disguise what’s inside. When I chat with friends online or in real life, or meet someone in the street, I often put on a smile, real or digital, and I jest, I jibe, I twitter merrily along. I give a happy, breezy impression, even as I speak about how hard this past year has been (and the twenty that preceded it). You can’t survive without humour, after all. You can’t take yourself too seriously.

I’ve been told that I’m very efficient at not letting show how hard this all is. I seem confident and capable, apparently. I have no idea why that is or how I do it. Even people who are close to me, those who know I’m usually on the verge of a mental health crisis or fully in the middle of one, can’t reconcile this knowledge with the picture they have of me in their heads. Again, I don’t know how this happens. I cry often enough. I have emotional outbursts often enough. If you asked me, their eyes and ears should be telling them I’m not okay. But there you have it.

The blog is also for telling people, “you are not alone.” And, to my surprise, it does this more than I thought. The one group that it speaks most to is mothers.

The number of mothers who told me they feel similar things – always on the verge, feeling nobody really cares about them, that they exist for the convenience of others – is astonishing. What is this society doing to women? I thought I was an aberration, an abnormality; but feeling overworked, overlooked, devalued, seems to be the norm among mothers.

Turns out, a lot of us have been brought up to specifically not heed our own needs. We sacrifice our bodily and mental health for others, while when we ask for some help and support, they (do I dare say it? Men) respond with, “Wait a minute, I have to take care of me! My mental health! My rest!”

Is this a nurture thing? I believe it is. The feminist in me doesn’t believe there’s a genetic or innate difference in the male and female brain (I’ve read a little bit about that, and although male and female brains seem to have physiological differences, it seems that brains can look outwardly different but still perform the exact same tasks). So I think this is purely a societal thing. We’re taught this since birth: the boys to take care of themselves, put themselves first, take care of their well-being first. The girls to self-efface and sacrifice. To take care of others.

But still, there’s another aspect to all of this. This past year has also taught me what lengths women will go to to help a friend.

You’ve heard the name “Dimitra” often – and for good reason. She’s the one person who’s been by my side through all of this, although she lives 800 km away. In the past year she and her family have been through a whole fuckin lot. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you; I often think things should be the other way round, and I should be the one offering all the support for all this shit she’s been going through. And yet: this person with the multiple health and other crises has never wavered. Today, I sent her a message with the opening, “Well, let me talk about my little woes again…” and she said, “You know I’m always here for you.” Little or big woes. How the fuck can anyone compare to that? Even my husband comes short.

Women never cease to amaze me. A couple days ago, a friend contacted me, asking me how I was. She knew I’d been having a hard time. She told me she’s been thinking about me but reads the blog posts and didn’t want to burden me. We talked about vaccinations, and she expressed her dismay that despite my depression (yes, I’m admitting it – Dimitra has been shouting depression for more than a year now, and it’s time for me to accept the facts), I haven’t gotten bumped up the list yet.

I told her the world isn’t fair – because, duh, it isn’t. If all those people who treat me, prescribing antidepressants and having me in their practice nearly once a month, can’t bother to help me get vaccinated before I enter “getting the car and driving fast up the Autobahn” territory again, then who will?

That’s not right, she said. I should call my doctor. I should ask her for an attestation of my condition, and I should declare my mental health status on the vaccination website the German government has set up. I’d be category 2, she said (of 4 – pretty high, since category 1 are basically people with life-threatening conditions).

I have no strength, I told her. I have no strength to fight over this. I cried over my phone as I typed.

She’d help me, she said. She’d go on the website, she’d put my data in. She’d do the phone calls.

This gave me strength, and I called my doctor right then and there – before this brief surge of energy this wonderful person gave me was dissipated. I think the doctor, too, had fallen victim to that illusory picture I give, the picture of the woman who has it together even as she supports a mentally ill family and spends her days in therapy and her nights crying. Well, she’d give me the attestation, the doctor said pretty much immediately. “What should I write on it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. I’m not a doctor, I don’t know what she should write on the fuckin attestation. She’s been treating me for over a year, and she knows I and my family are being treated by a bunch of therapists. Shouldn’t she know what’s wrong with me? I told her exactly that:You’re the doctor, you write what you think is best.

My voice was breaking on the phone, but I managed not to break down in sobs until the phone call was over. Everyone and their uncle is getting vaccinated, I’d wanted to shout at her, young people, healthy people, with no anxiety-ridden children, people who don’t wish they didn’t exist – but thank God I didn’t, because what good would it have done? Who the fuck cares? Who ever cared? Who cares about me? Things like this are exactly the reason people like me feel they shouldn’t be here. The burdens we carry are seen as trivial. But if – say – I died, everyone would say, “she had two young children!” And it would be a tragedy – because of the children, of course. And while you’re alive, most people are content to let you flounder.

Most people, that is, except some beautiful, glorious women.

My friend didn’t have to call or fill in my data on the vaccination website. Amidst a flood of tears, I did it myself. The kindness she showed me gave me the strength to continue. “We’ll call the vaccination center next week,” she said, “if you haven’t got an appointment yet.” This use of we made me cry again. I’m not alone here. I’m not alone here! Someone cares. Someone is helping. It wasn’t a light, thoughtless we: it was the real thing. She fully intends to help, not with mere words, but with actions.

After that, I called Dimitra, crying. Why did it have to come to this? I asked. Why didn’t they tell me I was eligible? All this time, I’ve been struggling to even exist. I can’t fathom the cruelty of the world, sometimes.

“I’m so happy!” Dimitra said. “You might get vaccinated!”

Well, that’s a friend.

PS. Just now, my son came to complain about a disagreement with his dad, who’s sitting on the couch, not talking things out with his child. Blog post idea: how I deteriorated into hysterical sobs in front of my 8-year-old, because apparently everything is my responsibility, and now my son thinks it’s all his fault and he shouldn’t express his frustration lest he make mommy sad and she starts bawling.

I’m doing well, right? I need to get on the fuckin SSRI again.

This shit’s hard.

I’ll just say it: this getting off the antidepressants thing is going less than well.

This weekend, Urban did all the housework. I cooked a little bit, but that was about it. Other than that, I kept shouting at the kids for no apparent reason (why do they have to talk when they’re in the same room as me?) and burst to tears for pretty much every reason imaginable. Just an example: on Saturday, I got up hungry. Of course, Urban – who sleeps more hours than I do – wasn’t awake yet, so I made the considerable – for a mentally and emotionally exhausted person – effort of getting dressed and going to the bakery to get breakfast rolls (that’s how Germans roll – pun intended). When I came back, Urban had picked some dandelions and clover from the garden for the guinea pigs.

I burst into tears. I’m talking inconsolable bawling here, not just your garden-variety crying. “You care more about the piggies than you care about me! I’m so hungry, but the first thing you do is go out to the garden and pick weeds for the piggies!”

What could the poor man do? On Sunday, he made me pancakes.

Today, the motivation (and my physical well-being) fell to a low: even though I slept reasonably well (okay, that means “well for my standards” – I did cry in bed, as is often the case) and longer than usual, by three in the afternoon I was exhausted. I took a nap and had to force myself to get up three hours later. I sat and read. The thought of tomorrow – when Urban has to work and I’ll be here with two kids who have questions and fight all the time and ask for things – almost makes me want to cry.

Then again, I do cry a lot. It never really stopped.

I think I have to be realistic here. I didn’t think I had depression last year, before I started taking the meds, but I was in a state of constant hyper-arousal, a frantic mental flailing for survival, complete with chronic stress. Now, things have calmed down. I’m in therapy. I’ve figured out what’s wrong with me, with my husband, with my children. I’m tackling a lot of these issues, hard and overwhelming though the whole process is. And I’m sliding into a full-blown depression.

If you know me (and chances are, you don’t, so let me rephrase) – if you knew me, you’d know my number one skill is solving problems. This is just a new puzzle I have to solve. What to do?

The first thing I did today was to take half a SSRI pill. It’s double the dose I was taking two weeks ago, but still half of what I took for most of 2020. I’ll see how tomorrow goes and decide if I’ll continue, how often, and for how long. By this point, I know how to ease in and out of this.

The second step: get vaccinated. Of course it’s been hard for me to get vaccinated, because what has ever not been hard? It would almost be a shame if life gave me something without a considerable fight, be it bodily health, mental health, children, friends, or a sense of self-value. The feeling continues to be: I exist solely to make things easy for others.

(Of course, this is partly the depression speaking. Some things do come easy for me. Writing comes easy. Let’s see when I’ll be in the mental state to continue writing my books. I just finished a 60-thousand-word memoir, but that’s not getting published. It’s just for me.)

Third step: binge eating. Yes, I’m relapsing, after a full year of doing great on that front. To be honest, I’m not too worried about that – it has been proven that this, to me at least, is a purely emotional and mental health issue. Once I get this latest bout of depression under control, I think the binge eating will recede again into the background, where it belongs.

And there are some other issues that need to be taken care of; issues of the emotional persuasion that have been dragging on for way too long. Those are the hard ones. They’ll take months, if I’m lucky. The hope is, the moment in time is not far away when, after the tribulations of the past twenty-one years, I’ll be able to live again.

Fingers crossed.