Right now I feel like I’m standing on fairly level ground looking back over the past several months of spiraling anxiety and depression like a rocky, brambly, dark, deep canyon I just traversed. Things are slowing down now and seem a bit brighter. All the sleepless nights and nightmares, the headaches and stomachaches, the loss of appetite, the repetitive, negative, racing thoughts are already fading behind me. “For now,” my pessimistic side is thinking, after all it’s a place I’ve been before a few times. And I’ve eventually fallen back in.

Something is different this time though. I didn’t just slog my way out without really learning anything like I’ve done before, or wait for some fortunate happenstance to improve my outlook for me. This time I got out of my own Pit of Despair (yup, Princess Bride fan) purposely by making a conscious decision to do everything it takes to stop feeling so uncertain and hopeless, and become the confident, purposeful, productive, generous, outgoing person I’ve always wanted to be. I decided to put worries of what I’m going to do with my life on the back burner and just focus on taking care of myself, my whole self, right now.

Every decision I’ve made since then has been with that goal in mind, and it’s launched a whole cascade of epiphanies and awesome changes. I used to be hindered in keeping a personal diary by this weird belief that each entry had to be a complete, well-written story. That I had to explain myself and justify my thoughts as though someone else was reading them. Since I realized no one else but me (hopefully) is ever going to read those words and I don’t care what they look like, it’s been easy to just spew them out almost as fast as I think them. It’s an amazing relief to empty my brain that way, how I imagine it would feel to use a Pensieve. (yup, HP fan too).

I knew remaining alone with my thoughts wasn’t enough. They got me into that mess in the first place and I didn’t trust them to get me back out. I had to work past some deeply internalized personal stigma about therapy but it was definitely worth it. So far I’ve done most of the talking in counseling but it’s so nice to talk to someone whose job it is to just listen without judgment and reflect back what you say. I then pushed past my fear of awkwardness and reached out to a fellow lonely person looking for a friend on Craigslist, finding a fun new friend and running buddy. I even broke down and told my boyfriend exactly everything I needed him to do to be more supportive, and he came through admirably. Most importantly I’ve remembered the necessity of regular communication to maintaining friendships and good relationships with family, so I’ve been trying hard to make that happen more often. At my darkest times I’ve made the big bad mistake of cutting myself off from people, feeling undeserving of their support and company. I am determined never to do that again.

Making changes to my lifestyle also seemed like a good idea. Part of my depression was coming from craving change, yet being too fearful of the unknown to leave my comfort zone. Part of my anxiety was, and still is, a result of feeling like I don’t have enough time every day to do all the things I want to do. Enough of that. My life is at least ¼ over already, who knows, maybe more. I decided to take small steps and focus on the things that I keep coming back to, keep thinking about. For example I’ve been wanting to volunteer at an animal shelter since high school but kept making excuses I was too busy. More recently I made the excuse I should get a paying job first. Fortunately I decided to move forward anyway, and I’m so glad I did.

Somehow being busy and purposeful with one thing makes me happier and more motivated to do other things, even though it necessarily limits the time I have for other activities. I feel more motivated and brave enough to write, to draw, to apply for jobs, to work out, to try new recipes, to spend time with people. The more I do, the more I feel I CAN do. Spending more time on things I enjoy made me fully recognize how miserable my job was making me, how high my anxiety was there. It took a lot of self-convincing, but my commitment to taking care of myself held true and I took the big step of resigning. People have called me brave for resigning before having another job nailed down, and to be honest, I do still worry it was foolish. I believe it was the best decision for me though. My thoughts and emotions are no longer tied up with the stress of that job and they’re free to help move me forward.

Now I’m standing at a crossroads. I’ve made short forays in several different directions to see what looks promising but now I have to wait on other people. I don’t know which way I’m going to go so I’m trying to focus just on the present and near future, working on building my confidence, exploring new things, and enjoying life how it is now. In spite of the uncertainty and occasional relapses into anxiety, I feel safer, happier, and more hopeful than I’ve felt in a very long time.

volunteer-portraitI was briefly a teacher, now I’m almost 26 and embarking on a new path in life. I’m an aspiring writer, world traveler, and dog-owner. Presently a bibliophile, runner, cyclist, photographer, nature-lover, foodie, feminist, humanist, and a morning person, dog person, and cat person. Actively recovering (hopefully for good) from anxiety and depression.

Mallorey can be found on her blog and Twitter.