Revisit, redress, restart, or: being complete within oneself.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting places that are connected with a lot of past pain. My intention wasn’t to test myself, although that was a happy side-effect, given the positive outcome. They’re just good places to go hiking, to have coffee and a piece of cake, or a burger and a beer, or a Glühwein–’tis, after all, the season. The pain is, predictably and in the most banal of ways, connected to a certain person of the male persuasion–but this is not about that story, which I’ve written elsewhere. This post is about the places. And the joy. And the ability to exist within yourself, with company or without.

It’s also about that most elusive of human goals: contentedness.

So, let me make myself comfortable, light a scented candle, and tell you all about it.

I went through a rough time last year. I’m not complaining – I’m rather lucky, after all. I had a great support system: a husband who loves me to pieces (although his high-functioning autism makes life hard sometimes), children who are a joy (although their anxiety or hyperactivity is often burdening), parents who accept me unconditionally, and friends who were there when I needed to talk. And, boy did I talk. You’ve heard of Dimitra. Several times. She’s the guest star of my life, really. She was always there when I needed her. What more could I want?

The answer is, time to myself, with myself, for myself. That’s what my therapist stressed, time and time again: you have to feel comfortable within yourself. You have to value yourself. You have to, yes, even love yourself.

“You have to travel alone,” Dimitra said. She was more right than she thought. Get to know yourself. It’s time well spent.

I genuinely love people. I have many friends, and they’re all special in their own way. It’s such a joy to be with them, share experiences, food, stories, walks, thoughts. But you need a good relationship with yourself to begin with, otherwise your self-criticism, self-loathing, self-deprecation, whatever it is that makes you less than infatuated with yourself, poisons all relationships with those around you. I’ve seen it happen. It happened to me.

When I took my therapist’s – and Dimitra’s – advice to spend time alone, something changed. First of all, I had some peace and quiet. Then, I realized I wasn’t bored at all. I could always find something to occupy myself with, be it books, writing, coloring, drawing, walking, swimming, or just plain lying around and enjoying some well-earned rest. And, finally, I realized that all my rejection sensitivity that makes me dread interactions with others is a reflection of how I see myself. So, I had to change my view of me. to look at myself in the mirror and be able to say, honestly and with conviction, “you’re absolutely fine the way you are.”

This is not selfishness. It’s basic common sense. We might think the expectations we have of ourselves are not the same as those we have of others, but that’s not entirely true. Expectations morph our understanding of the world. If you dislike, loathe, or disparage yourself, it shines through. And we all project, to a certain extent. Our relationship with ourselves dictates how we interact with others. If I hate my body, for example, I feel uncomfortable when eating, or when swimming. How can I fully enjoy myself and engage with my friends, then, at the restaurant or at the lake?

My friend Chet wrote this brilliant piece about joy. Joy by seeing your reflection in someone else’s eyes – that’s poetry! But, if I’m honest, this never expressed me, even in my days of self-loathing. The reason is clear: I never liked my reflection either.

These days, my joy comes from the inside. It comes from serenity. It comes from lying on wet leaves in the forest, alone and out of breath because I’m not fit enough to hike uphill, and looking at the sky through the foliage, and being at peace within my mind, because I accept. I accept I’m chubby and have no stamina, and that my body can’t cope with relatively simple things, and so I have to just lie there and enjoy the sky.

Joy also comes from sitting in a cafe with my friends and listening to their chatter, all the while feeling like I belong there, no matter if I have something to contribute to the conversation or not, because I am, finally, okay with myself. See, you can’t really have peace if you don’t make peace with all the parts of you that whisper to you how unlovable you are, or how objectionable your behaviour is, or how brash you are, and how not okay this all is.

Okay, maybe your parts don’t whisper that. In that case, you’re lucky. But mine did. The good news is: not anymore.

Revisiting places that are connected with pain doesn’t hurt me at all. Even when the pain was fresh and the wounds raw, the places didn’t hold any of the hurt. How could this be?

I think it’s because, somewhere within all that drama I put myself through last year, I learned to enjoy things with an eye turned inwards and a mind to savor all the joy in my environment. Today, I put this theory to the test: I returned to a place that is a landmark of last year’s pain.

The place is a small lake, and the last time I found myself in its vicinity was in January. To be precise, it was Saturday, January 16, and I went for a hike around it. It was frozen. The sun was shining. The landscape was an unbroken, otherworldly white, the air was frigid, the sun sinking between the trees holding an eerie quality in the silence. I walked and tried to reach that place within myself where whispers of you’ll be all right become true and convincing. But on that day, I wasn’t all right. Still, I learned something: I enjoy hiking alone. I enjoy it a lot. I could envision a day, after all the pain had dissipated, when I’d hike alone and I would be abolutely and unequivocally all right.

That day came ten months later, on the day I lay in the forest unable to hike uphill.

And what about today? Today, I didn’t hike alone. Sara and Christiane were with me, and it started snowing – big, fat, languid snowflakes – and we had a blast. We took photos. We ate and drank hot beverages. We froze while sitting there, at minus temperatures. We agreed we’d soon come back to that magical place, drink more warm drinks, eat more sweets and fries.

And what about the pain?

I’m glad to inform you, the pain has exhausted itself and left me to prowl for other victims. Because it never had anything to do with the place. Because I can and will be steadfast within myself, wherever I am, whoever I am with. Places can’t impose feelings on me.

Here, look at us three, enjoying ourselves in the cold!

High tolerance

“You have high tolerance,” Therapist said.

“Huh?”

“When something negative happens, when someone’s behavior hurts you, you analyze and look for the reasons inside yourself. Then you try to find the underlying causes for the behavior. You don’t just dismiss the person.”

Other people more often than not say, “what an asshole,” and are on their way. But I don’t do that. Take my last work experience: I left my job on really bad terms with my former boss. I don’t like her work mentality, and the strife caused me considerable distress and not a few tears. It cost me not only my job, but also my last chance for an academic career. Am I mad? Am I bitter? Am I resentful?

The answer is a resounding no. I understand why she is the way she is. I understand she must think I am a bad person, indeed. Her view is that I behaved horribly towards her. I get it. But I chose not to let it define my professional life. That’s just the way it is. She sees the world differently than I do. For all the stress and tears she caused me, I don’t blame her. It couldn’t have worked between us. In fact, the only reason it lasted as long as it did was my high tolerance, if I believe some of my former colleagues–but that’s their view, which might or might not be true, if such a thing as universal truth even exists.

It’s the same with personal relationships. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” people tell me sometimes, and I wonder at their hesitance, because I can’t imagine an occasion where I’d actually take things the wrong way. I might think I’m wrong, or I’m behaving suboptimally, or they just misunderstood, but I rarely ever think, “they’re being unfair to me,” or, “how dare they!” This kind of basic self-righteousness was stomped out of me pretty early on. Was it my family? Society? Misogynism? Who knows? As for the things people sometimes tell me, those I could “take the wrong way,” I never felt they were particularly hurtful or negative when they were finally uttered. “You appear arrogant at first” just gives me useful information: I appear a certain way when one first meets me. Why on Earth should I be mad at the person who shared their honest view with me?

So, high tolerance. Who knew! I should probably reduce the tolerance, though. No reason to remain in situations that cause pain and discomfort.

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.

Hey, you. Walk away. No excuses.

I can’t count the times I’ve made excuses for others.

And I can’t count the deliberations that have been going through my head when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Do they care? Was that thing they said a sign they care? Was the other thing a sign they don’t? How do I know? How do I judge?

The thing is, a simple metric exists, but many of us refuse to see it. It goest like this: if someone cares, they make time for you. Doesn’t have to be much. Five minutes are all it takes.

I can’t begin to count the people who’ve told me “I don’t have time” through the years. Sometimes it was understandable, of course. People have responsibilities – I have responsibilities, too. But, somehow, I always thought people were more important. They came first. I made time.

They rarely had time for me, though. Those same people who among their nights out and movies and dates and hobbies and everything they did for themselves and those they did have time for, just didn’t have a couple of minutes when you needed them. They didn’t, even if they claimed to care. Even if you were always there when they needed you, no matter whether it was convenient for you or not, if you took time from your family, your work, your sleep. Because you made time for them. You stayed up late into the night, talking when they needed it. You helped solve their problems. You even told your children–who shouted at you, “Mom, why are you still on your phone, why don’t you play with me”–to wait ten minutes, or twenty, or thirty, because you were doing something important. You were looking after someone you cared about.

You made time. You prioritized them. But they just couldn’t bother.

In nine out of ten of all cases, what people mean when they say, “I don’t have time,” is: I have time for a whole bunch of things. I make time for a whole bunch of people. I just don’t have time for you.

All of us, all of us make time for the things and people that are important to us. There’s no exception to this. Don’t try to find excuses for those you hope will, someday, give you their time. They don’t want to. It’s as simple as that. Barring serious problems–health or mental health issues like severe depression or anxiety come to mind–they don’t want to talk to you. (Note: If you have a friend with severe depression or anxiety, please, check up on them at least once a week. It’s important, trust me.)

Some people will make time for you, even though they do have serious problems. I have such friends: with children in therapy, elderly parents with health issues, family members with serious illnesses, being ill themselves, or combinations of the above and more. And yet, they make time. Those I’m holding on to. I’m never letting go.

I know it hurts to let go, but you have to be brave and see the necessity. You have to see it for the truth that it is: they don’t really care all that much about you.

If you’re anything like me, it’s difficult for you to accept this. You believe people when they tell you they’re busy. They just can’t find two minutes to check in. Week after week, month after month; what can you do, life! As if you didn’t have a life, problems, shitholes to climb out of. So, trust me when I say: they won’t make time. Walk away. It will be hard, oh, so hard. But, I promise you, once you do, your life is going to be better. Don’t fall into the trap of the sunk cost fallacy (“I’ve invested a lot in this relationship, so I can’t possibly stop investing now.”). Go on, remove them from your emotional map. It hurts, I know. So many relationships in life just rip your heart out. But, as in the finance world, so it is in relationships: sometimes you have to just let your investment go, because if you don’t, you’ll lose much, much more.

Don’t keep throwing mental and emotional resources into black holes. Use them where they’ll make a difference.

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.

Should I have died?

Disclaimer: I am upset as I write this. There’s a certain disillusionment and cynicism. If you’re a close friend of mine or married to me, you might not want to read this. It might be disturbing.


Today was supposed to be a good day. It marks one year from by breakdown, which caused me to admit I suffered from burnout, which ushered in an era of anti-anxiety medication, therapy, discoveries about my husband’s autism, and of taking better care of my kids, one of whom is suffering from sometimes debilitating anxiety and needs a lot of attention and care. The number of doctors, therapists, psychologists, and social workers that have been involved in this clusterfuck that poses as my life is noteworthy.

And, nearly two weeks ago, I took my last SSRI pill. I said I’d give myself some time to adjust to the life after burnout, depression, self-hatred, and drugs. I told myself I’d just sit down and relax (didn’t I rest after I had burnout, you’ll ask? Well, no. I’m dumb, and I didn’t.)

But today is not a day for celebration. The thing is – and Dimitra has been saying it lately – I’m a punching bag. I exist only at the convenience and for the convenience of others. This would be okay if I was talking about my children, but, unfortunately, the problem is way bigger than that.

First of all, I exist for my parents. My mother couldn’t have kids because of some hormonal imbalance that presented itself during pregnancy. She lost a baby in advanced pregnancy – she had to give birth to a dead baby, absolutely horrible – but then she got the treatment she needed, so my brother was born. Fully gestated, a healthy child.

Me? Not so much. She went into labour in the thirty-first week of pregnancy. They managed to delay my birth until week thirty-two, and there I was, a tiny baby who had to go into the incubator for four whole weeks. Cue early separation trauma. Still an issue to this day. Probably. What the fuck do I know.

But science saved me, and I survived. At the times of my life when I started to have suicidal tendencies, the hardships my mother endured to bring me to this world kept me from letting suicidal thoughts get too strong.

Science saved me eighteen months later, when I got whooping cough. I was hospitalised for a long-ish period. My mom was so scared she’d lose me, but, well, evidently she didn’t. Yay! Science won the second round, too.

Then nothing much happened, nothing much, that is, except mental health disasters, phobias, hemiplegic migraines – little reversible strokes, basically, during which a person loses their ability to talk and recognise writing because of parts of the brain shutting off due to elevated blood pressure; awesome, right? – shortly, the inability to live like a normal human in a human world. And then, just to fill the void of an unsuccessful and futile existence, I decided to have kids.

There’s no way I would have survived having a baby in the wild. First of all, my babies were huge for my 158cm/5’2. I saw women in the hospital, big German women, who had without an exception smaller babies than mine, and you didn’t much see the difference in their bodies before and after birth. That’s not the biggest problem – although of course I literally couldn’t walk after the sixth pregnancy month; my back pain was so debilitating that sleep (standing) was impossible for more than a couple hours (minutes), the belly supporting belt the doctor prescribed (the best in the market!) just burst open because it couldn’t support my belly (always a freak!), and after the C-sections, especially the first, I was for all intents and purposes an invalid who had large diastasis recti (gap in the abdominal muscles), which caused her innards to hang through the gap (yes, that happens – thank heavens for soft corsets) suffered from excruciating back pain, and was left to take care of a baby while she couldn’t use her thumbs (inflammations at the wrists – another sad story). All of that while my husband, who, in the case of the first child, took a month off to “help,” sat in front of the computer while I bawled my eyes out on the couch, unable to take care of household and baby because of the pain and the other pain and the inflammations, and feeling like an all-around failure, even at this thing that all women seemed to handle sufficiently, or with some difficulty, but surely not with the level of fail that I physically experienced.

But I digress. Not the biggest problem. The problem was the bicornuate uterus in combination with the huge babies. Both of them were breech. We even turned the second baby externally, but his head didn’t fit the pelvis, so he turned back head-up.

The verdict of the midwives was, neither he nor I would have survived an attempted natural birth without hospitals and surgeons. If it had come as far as a birth of a term baby, that is. With my first, I had to remain in the hospital on a contraction-suppressing IV drip for six weeks until gestation was advanced enough for the baby to not be in substantial risk.

Science saved me a third time. This time it saved my kids, too.

The question in my head now is: Should I have survived this past year?

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I collapsed one year ago. I had to be given tranquilisers to keep my blood pressure down. For weeks before that, my body hurt, my muscles wouldn’t cooperate, at times I couldn’t even walk, and I thought I was basically dying of some weird disease. Then, they gave me the SSRI (magical thing!) and the chronic stress, gathered through a lifetime of that shit you read about and much more, started getting bearable. The pains receded, the overly contracted muscles (yes, stress does that) unclenched, and I could walk, sometimes sleep, exist.

You might think that the stress wouldn’t have killed me, but high blood pressure in combination with the hemiplegic migraines – which I described above – is not very encouraging. I would still probably have survived for some years before getting debilitating strokes, like both my grandmas did. I don’t know if they had hemiplegic migraines, too. It’s a very rare condition. And, if they had, how would anyone have known? Illiterate housewives, slaves to society and their husbands, if they didn’t get visibly sick, they wouldn’t tell anybody.

Let’s call this last part a half-win for science. Science probably didn’t exactly save my life, except maybe by delaying all the strokes I’ll surely get later in life and by helping me take fewer risks. For example, at about this time last year, I had a strong urge to take the car and start driving on the Autobahn as fast as I could. I wasn’t exactly suicidal, but I didn’t think there would be something wrong with me hitting a truck and dematerialising. I’m not adding much to the universe, after all. Except, I take care of others. That seems to be my only role.

Of course, my parents would be devastated. My kids would have no mom–huge trauma, that one. Couldn’t do that to them. My husband – the man whose failure to give emotional care, and whose emotional gaslighting (“it’s not that bad,” or the you’re too needy implication, never uttered, always felt) needs me, too. Do I need me? Do I absolutely have to exist, just because others want me to?

After the breakdown, I said I’d take care of myself, so I started going on excursions. I recruited a friend for that purpose, a post-doc at the institute I used to work for, who loves excursions and trips and adventures, and who was excellent company for all the things I planned to do without kids and without a grumpy husband who gets and causes stress whenever he puts his foot out of the door.

But my friend (who still had six months on his contract and would leave Germany at the beginning of 2021), had a hard time adjusting to COVID Germany. This pandemic has been hard on all of us, after all. I felt for him, stranger in a strange land, as Heinlein wrote and Iron Maiden sang. I tried to help.

Actually, I didn’t just try to help. I went in full-on saviour-syndrome mode and tired myself out in the process. Why the fuck do I always do that? I think it’s because it’s the only way I feel even remotely useful. My friend didn’t really ask for much. I just overexerted myself all on my fuckin’ own. Because, that’s what I’ve learned: I exist for others. The universe refuses to give me reasons to exist for myself.

A couple months ago I tried to get off the SSRI for the first time, but I found I couldn’t cope. I asked my doctor, who said, “you’re the one holding this family together” – daughter in therapy, husband trying to adjust to being around us, the usual. This struck me as true, but also weird. Why doesn’t somebody else have to take the measures I do? Others don’t have to lift a finger. I have to be stuffed with drugs for the sole purpose of being able to take care of everyone else. That’s the main objective. Because, newsflash: I don’t matter. My only function is to be a nanny, a cook, a manager, a therapist (I’m constantly acting as the therapist in my family, because even after all of this, I’m still the most psychologically capable adult around here. Which says a whole fuckin’ lot.)

January to March was a hard time. The friend mentioned above – who was my only company last year, other than my overwhelmed and overwhelming family – had left for his home country. We were in full lockdown, and my daughter’s stress was through the roof. She wouldn’t sleep, she would cry all the time, she was pale, and school and homework were given zero attention, but they did exist in the background and caused more stress. Of course, like every problem in the family, this was my problem to solve, and I desperately tried to find help for her (thankfully, I did, with the assistance of one of the therapists and social workers who’re on our case).

In that state, I tried to reach out to the aforementioned friend, telling him I was kinda sad he didn’t keep in touch. The answer was that he’d been overwhelmed because his employment situation hadn’t gone as expected – totally understandable, of course – and – I remember the next part word for word because of the sheer unfairness of it – “I can’t fulfil your expectations, friendship-wise.”

The thing is, I could tell you the exact date and time when I told him I had no expectations. I know where we were (at a parking lot, southwest of some lakes about 50km south of where I live) and what we were doing (parking the car, and forgetting to pay for the spot, because my brain barely functioned for a full year) and what the weather was like (low temperatures but sunny enough to make you sweat) when I, disappointed by a life of lacking emotional support and now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t friendships, told him that, although I’d miss him, and I’d like for him to be in touch, my experience has been that people move away after their PhDs and post-docs, and they don’t keep in touch, and I’d just wait and see what would happen, because he’s not big on, well, keeping in touch. I was the one consistently keeping the relationship going, as I do with most relationships (I am not important, remember? I don’t really matter enough for someone to exert any effort for me). I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was up to me. I’m many things, but I’m surely not stupid enough to think people can change their ways from one day to the next.

But still, overwhelmed by the year I’d had, I craved for someone to make an effort for me, too, for a change.

And it appeared he did: on that cold and sunny day, he tried to convince me, with many eloquent words and lengthy explanations (he’s exceptionally good at words and explanations) that indeed, I matter, and indeed, I shouldn’t think I don’t, and that he’d do everything in his power to ease my mind. I remember that vividly, too, because nobody had ever promised before to do whatever they can to ease my mind. They mostly didn’t bother to ease my mind at all. I didn’t even think my mind was worth easing. My husband can’t use words, so he never even attempted to ease my mind, even in my worst years of bawling into my pillow and not wanting to exist.

See? Someone was kind to me for a while. And then he accused me of having expectations.

Crash. Burn.

So, here I am. I have no expectations. Not of my kids, not of my husband, not of said friend, not of Dimitra, not of my brother, not of the state who’s failed to vaccinate me even as I am teetering on that precarious edge of the “second breakdown” gorge. I don’t even think I can believe anyone’s promises anymore – except maybe Dimitra’s, but she doesn’t promise me stuff, and I’m sure she’s wise not to do so. See, I take promises seriously, and she knows and understands that. I still love my family and friends, of course – I just have to adjust for what they can give. I shouldn’t judge others by the measures of my ability for self-sacrifice. My therapist says that, to them, what they give is a lot. I am the one who has to understand that.

There have been so many other ways I’ve been a punching bag throughout the years. My sister-in-law who bashed me in front of husband’s family, while I sat there and nobody – nobody – came to my defence, not even husband himself. The girls at elementary school who shunned me for taking an ice cream from the tennis club fridge at a party (It was a rich fucks’ school. I wasn’t rich, just a teacher’s kid). Even the parents joined in the assault towards a nine-year-old. The culmination came yesterday, when I was bashed and insulted – for the umpteenth time – by a close friend whom I’d gotten to trust, and whose behaviour I’d always been excusing because he has serious mental health issues. After being shocked by the excessive brutality and vindictiveness of this latest assault, and while still trying to get my bearings after quitting the antidepressants (let’s see how long that’s gonna last) I was shaken enough to shift my perspective entirely. Suddenly Dimitra’s (and Sasha’s, and Kate’s) words, which they’d been trying to get through to me for the past year, blazed in front of me:

It’s not your job to save everybody. Not even if you feel for them. Not even if you understand them and where they’re coming from and you don’t want them to be in the situation they’re in. Your mental resources are not infinite.

You have to protect yourself. Just because you can handle something that hurts you doesn’t mean you have to stay down and keep being beaten. You don’t have to accept the hurt. You can also walk away from it and avoid the bruises.

Your mental health matters, too. Just because you’re strong doesn’t mean you have to take on additional emotional injury. Others understand that and protect themselves. You should do the same.

And, Dimitra’s favourite motto: The only person you should be investing in right now is yourself. I don’t do that at all, she accuses me. “You take too little care of yourself and too much of others,” says my husband. “Even the kids. Even me. Take better care of yourself!”

Here I am. After nearly forty years, finally breaking free of saviour syndrome. I should fuckin save myself.

It’s been a year since my breakdown. Maybe I should have died many times over, but I’m alive, and it looks like I’m going to be functional, even without the antidepressants. The universe wanted me dead, but here I am, mother fuckers. I’m still alive.


If Jane Austen wrote erotica, this is how she would have written.”

John and Stella have lived, loved, and been hurt. But now they’ve found each other: a middle-aged couple who know what they want, they start exploring kink after decades of self-repression. But their relationship is tried by strong external forces – and by John’s tendency to always, always have his way.

Self-acceptance and fitting in

My therapist is adamant: in the core of all mental health progress is the concept of self-acceptance.

That’s a tricky one. Humans are fundamentally social beings. Without interaction within the species–speech develops simultaneously to complex thought–humans don’t develop to be, well, functioning humans. Today’s individualism culture tries to chip away that fundamental aspect of human existence, the inter-dependency of all people. It would have us be units, alone, while enjoying occasional interactions. But one look at societies shows this is pernicious wishful thinking: who of us can live alone in a cave without utilities, medical doctors, clothes, butchers, wheat growers? Even doomsday preppers hoard guns and cans of food–the know-how that goes into manufacturing guns and cans of food has taken millennia to establish, and the manufacturing chains, from raw materials to finished products, involve a staggering amount of experts and well-coordinated work. Wether we like it or not, we are all parts of a network, and we can’t exist outside it. And that doesn’t even get into the realities of mental health and emotional need, which make the existence in a community crucial for a person’s well-being.

Having a sense of self that’s attached to a group seems to be of fundamental importance. In many civilisations, individuals are defined by the clan, the tribe, the family. It’s a distinctly western thing to be so cut-off from the group. If you ask me, that’s good for some people. Some of us are just weirdos and don’t fit in anywhere. Our tribe stifles us, although we still benefit from its perks–high-speed internet surely being one of them. It’s just as well.

Maybe this is what my therapist means when she says, “accept yourself.” The problem with accepting myself came from my extant inability to belong in a tribe. It’s no coincidence that one of the first things she said to me was, “you’re allowed to be yourself.” I’d been trying to squeeze myself into a mould that didn’t fit me for so long that I became seriously mentally ill (okay, that wasn’t the only factor, but it surely was a factor).

I remember very well when I started feeling that I was somehow different. It was in kindergarten. As long as I was home with my parents and my brother and an aunt or nanny to take care of me, I was fine. At four years of age, though, I got to meet others of my species, and I immediately felt uncomfortable. It all went downhill from there.

So, how does someone like me survive in a highly interdependent, social, mutually-defining collection of individuals?

Therapist’s answer: “By accepting yourself. Self-acceptance should come from the inside.”

Now, I was skeptical of that at first. You can’t think you’re awesome if everyone else thinks you’re dumb. When does self-acceptance stop and delusion start? I’ve met enough delusional people in my life to know it can be a fine line. I certainly do not want to be delusional, feeling I’m a wonderful being, while others look at me and think, “ugh, that arrogant weirdo.” Because I still need to be accepted by certain people, too, for all that I don’t really belong in a tribe.

It’s a tough balance. My solution is: be picky. Instead of breaking yourself trying to fit the moulds created by different groups and communities, be yourself–like Therapist would have me be–and just accept those into your inner circle who can accept you for who you are. Also, be selfish: I don’t click with just anybody (actually, very rarely do I meet someone with whom I click), and that’s okay. I just can’t bother with parties, outings, groups of acquaintances, even with my extended family. I feel positively awkward when I’m in larger groups of people. Like the odd one out. When I try to make myself likeable to many, I mostly fail.

Now that I’m on my way to actually accepting myself, I find I need fewer people in my life. I don’t need to be validated by everyone, and this actually helps with my existing relationships. I’m also an introvert, albeit a very communicative one, and one thing’s clear: as soon as I finally started accepting myself, I started needing to be alone even more. My new motto is: if it feels better to do an activity alone, don’t be pressured by societal norms to, well, not. And these days–probably since I’ve never lived alone and the hardships of the past year have exhausted me–nearly everything feels more relaxing when I do it alone. Sitting at a restaurant: I’d rather be alone. Going to the movies: better alone.

This poses some problems. For example, I’m seriously worried I’ll alienate my few friends. But I think they’ll understand. I had a nervous breakdown complete with burnout one year ago, and I didn’t let myself heal. I took care of others instead–and yes, I know this was monumentally dumb. I’ve been running on fumes for a whole freakin year. Even small talk exhausts me now. I need to avoid a second breakdown, and if I have to retreat into myself to do it, well, this is what needs to happen.

So, friends, if you’re reading this: I love you. You’re special to me. I’ll get back to you when I have replenished some of my energy.