I would write you an apology about the fact that this is the first CAPS LOCK since July, and the CAPS LOCK before that was in April, and the CAPS LOCK before that was in October 2018, but this newsletter wouldn’t be CAPS LOCK without a highly irregular posting schedule, now would it? Hopefully the fact that I’m here, writing to you from both Oxford and the unknowable void of the Internet, is enough of an apology for y’all to forgive my protracted absence. (If not, then… uhh, I’m very sorry and I can send you some pumpkin or banana bread next time I’m in the States. I make great pumpkin and banana breads.)
I wish I had some extremely cool excuse for not writing—something along the lines of “wow, my new life at Oxford is just too glamorous and I simply don’t have the time!” or maybe “goodness me, my weeks between work and starting grad school were jam-packed with vacations to fabulous locales”—but no, it’s just me being me, the same as always, a little flighty and waiting for inspiration to strike. And that’s what I want to write about today, the whole idea of “it’s just me being me, the same as always,” the concept of taking yourself with yourself wherever you go.
I’ll start by saying this: it’s not that I thought Oxford would cure my depression. It’s just also the case that... I didn’t not think Oxford would cure my depression. Things were so rough in New York at times (and especially toward the end at LM when people were trying to fire me for having migraines) that Oxford did become somewhat of a fantasyland. When I get to Oxford I’ll have time to cook the really cool and intricate recipes I’ve been meaning to try! When I get to Oxford I’ll be able to see friends so much more than you do when you’re working a 9-to-5! When I get to Oxford I’ll be intellectually stimulated and feel like I have a purpose! When I get to Oxford maybe I’ll stop hating my body so goddamn much!
Except, WHOOPS, it turns out that your brain is still your brain, no matter what time zone you happen to be in. You can’t just wish yourself into a better lifestyle because you’ve embarked upon a new and exciting adventure.
And that’s really why I didn’t write y’all. What was I going to say? In my mind, you were expecting summer updates about my funemployment and then breathless descriptions of how incredible life at Oxford is once British fall settled over me like a perpetually-drizzling blanket. Well, as regards summer, Tacoma, WA is lovely; Dewey Beach is always the GOAT; and Bring Up the Bodies remains one of my all-time absolutely favorite books. Other than that, not much to report. And Oxford? Yeah, dude, it’s as lit as you’re imagining. Last month I held a Greek vase from 540 BCE in my own two hands and last week I looked at an original fragmentary papyrus that had Sappho 16 (my fave!) written on it. I play in a wind orchestra, and I seem to have made friends in that group and my college and my faculty, and I have really interesting conversations with my academic supervisor. Shit is, in fact, LIT.
The problem is that shit is, in fact, ALSO REALLY BAD, BRAIN-WISE. I have been so, so depressed and low for several weeks now and it’s fuckin’ just so tough. I have a theory, which I’ve told to my mom and a few friends—in New York, the job was so goddamn draining and dramatic and all-consuming that it was easy to blame my depression on that, plus a few other factors. It was easy, in a way, to pick apart threads of black-and-white thinking and examine my own behaviors with an objective eye because there was a voice in the back of my head saying something along the lines of, “This whole job thing will be temporary! There’s brightness on the horizon for you!” And that wasn’t incorrect—things are pretty bright and shiny here. I really don’t want to mislead y’all or have you thinking that I’m regretting coming to the Ox. I’m not. It’s just… now that I am, in many ways, feeling happier and more fulfilled, I’m also more exposed to all the ways my brain is lowkey (or highkey?) broken.
Now that there’s so much more of a dissonance between the things I’m experiencing—making new friends, playing fun and challenging music with a fresh group of musicians, learning Ancient Greek with an instructor whom I REALLY like, talking every week about gender roles in Augustan poetry, seeing some SWEET good fall foliage, going to study in the Bodleian Library and being like “oh lmao this is one of the world’s greatest libraries of the modern age and I just get to come in here whenever!!!!!”—and the actual factual ups and downs of my mood, the Ol’ Depresh’ is so much harder to ignore.
Like, you want to know something I DEFINITELY should have spent way more time in therapy working on, before I stopped seeing a therapist regularly? MY RELATIONSHIP TO MY BODY. It’s so much worse than I ever realized. I talk and think about myself like trash 24/7, and if I heard someone talking about my friends the way I talk about myself I would drop kick that person directly into the SUN. Yet here I am, thinking cruelly critical things about myself most of the time. You know something else I should’ve worked on? Like, something that I actually thought we had addressed and then it turns out the Rough Thinking Well runs SO much deeper than originally anticipated? Perfectionism! God! I don’t even think I need to tell you why having exceedingly unresolved issues around “self-worth being tied to the quality of a thing you produce, which you can’t judge objectively because you are cruel to yourself, so in essence you’re playing a fucked-up game that you’ll always lose” is a problem for someone who wants to go into academics, let alone someone just trying to walk around and enjoy their day.
Like, y’all, I really thought I was doing well. I really thought I was getting better. AND IT TURNS OUT… I WAS GETTING… MORE MEDIUM. The therapy took me so far—and let me just say, the therapy really did take me so damn far; I know without a shadow of a doubt that without therapy I would not be at Oxford right now—and yet there’s still many cobwebs in my head that need clearing. For example, I can now recognize that the voice in my head saying, “lmaooooooo Lena everybody hates you, your new friends at St Anne’s hate you, they’re all just tolerating your presence and then as soon as you leave the room they’re so glad that you’re gone” is a liar. I can recognize that! But I can’t take the next step and convince myself that it’s not true, at least not on really low days. And I’ve been in a fuckin’ absolute canyon of low days recently.
It’s hard, is what I guess I’m trying to say. Taking care of yourself is hard and it takes work, and taking care of your brain when it’s constantly telling you unrealities is even harder and it takes more work. Am I extremely ugly, do all clothes look terrible on me, and will no one ever love me because of my impossible-to-manage chronic illnesses? NO, OBVIOUSLY NOT. GOD, NO. (god, I hope not?) But is that what my mcfreakin’ brain is telling me whenever I try on a new dress or attempt to find the British equivalent of an American eczema cream? Yes, and it sucks. A lot. I don’t know why I thought I would just magically get past thinking that sort of stuff about myself, I really don’t, and yet here we are.
It’s not going to magically happen, is the thing. That’s why therapy is a profession, and that’s why there’s a public conversation about taking mental health issues as seriously as physical health ones, and that’s why the good ol’ Brain Drugs that I started taking for my migraines have been really useful for my mental & emotional wellbeing. (I can’t imagine how much WORSE things would be without that sweet, sweet daily dose of sertraline + vitamin E + vitamin D.) But the fact that it’s so extreme right now is really tough. Knowing that I can’t just snap my fingers and erase this intense negativity and deep, pervasive SADNESS is even tougher. It’s confusing and exhausting when you feel an overwhelming GLOOM despite also feeling so glad and so, so lucky to be experiencing the things you do on a daily basis.
It’s like—I don’t know. I’m sure a lot of you know what I’m talking about, as I think a lot of my readers have dealt with mental health struggles at one point or another in their lives. But it’s just shitty. You know? It’s shitty. I was walking down to college yesterday (walking, and not taking the bus or riding my bike, because the Four Years In Brooklyn Lena was really craving a long walk) and the song Too Many Colors came on shuffle and there were some BEAUTIFUL trees and for those thirty minutes, I felt solidly happy. I was like, “OH, RIGHT, OKAY, DUH. GREAT. OKAY COOL.” Then it was back to depression for like, the next eight or so hours, like a really intense depression where I cried in the bathroom at college for no reason, and then at 10:30 pm I went on a run (I promise I was wearing a lot of neon and reflective gear!) and it Smelled Like Winter and I saw the constellation Orion and I felt better. And then I woke up this morning and was fuckin Sad, Just So Sad, like I genuinely was experiencing “what if I never leave this bed, I am a tragic ugly blight upon the earth and my friends hate me” levels of nonsense, but then I went to Greek and was like, “yo, this shit is interesting; actually, I’m doing well.” And now we’re here. It’s these weird ups and downs, and what’s tough is that the downs are SO down. The negative voices are SO loud, and the positive ones are like, “We are trying our best here but we can’t play triple forte all the time Lena!!!!” I know, Positive Voices, I know. I can’t keep making y’all play at fortississimo just to drown out the Negative Voices; it’s just not sustainable. We gotta figure something out.
Exactly what that “something” is, I’m not quite sure. It’s a work in progress, I guess. And I’m sorry I don’t have something better to tell y’all—but I’d rather be honest (the most brutal of the Sagittarius traits, All Honesty All The Time And Often To Their Own Detriment) than try to sugarcoat things for my loyal readers. I’ve missed you and I want to try and write more in the coming year. *Cue a lot of disbelieving laughter, which is perfectly understandable.* I hope your Late Fall November Times have been okay, all things considered, and that you have some fun plans coming up in December. (Let one of them be celebrating my birthday, ja?) I love you all very much and will catch you on the flipside. Preferably with less depression. xoxo.