"To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life."
Walter Pater

BREAKING: Local Resident Comes Out as Non-Binary, World Doesn’t End

Originally published at Wear Your Voice Magazine and republished here with permission.

OAKLAND, CA – Residents are profoundly underwhelmed today after an Oakland resident, Tyler May, announced their non-binary gender identity. What was expected to be the literal end of times, residents say that they were shocked to find that the event has had little to no impact on their daily lives.

“I said over and over again that acknowledging more than two genders would signal the apocalypse,” a local cisgender man explained. “But then nothing happened. Literally. Nothing.”

“I had designed a bomb shelter and stocked it up with canned goods for the next five years,” another resident said. “Come to find out, all Tyler wants is for us to switch pronouns.”

Many locals had believed that by in any way challenging the gender binary, it would spontaneously combust, resulting in widespread fires and a complete breakdown of the social order.

But to the surprise of residents, some are beginning to speculate that someone else’s gender may actually be none of their business, and that when identities are mutually respected, the lives of residents may actually improve.

“This might sound wild,” one resident said, struggling to grasp the words coming out of his mouth. “It’s almost like… if we treat others the way we want to be treated, things are… better?”

Still, some residents are disappointed, seeming to prefer conflict.

“I’m a real transgender person, a transgender man,” one resident exclaimed proudly. “I don’t believe in this non-binary thing. I think it’s just a ploy for attention. I’ve talked about this at length on my blog, YouTube channel, Snapchat, Twitter, and Tumblr!”

Pulling the microphone closer to him and smiling, he added, “Is this being broadcast? Is this going to be online?”

Other transgender residents felt similarly. “I find it insulting that they can just identify with a gender they weren’t assigned,” a transgender woman explained. “Like, who do you think you are?”

“It’s almost like someone’s gender has no bearing on my life,” another cis resident complained.

Cisgender and transgender residents alike agreed that they had hoped for more chaos or at least something to live tweet about.

“Tyler tweeted that they were non-binary,” a cisgender resident recalled with horror. “And then everything stayed the same. No pyrotechnics, no street fighting, nothing.”

With tears streaming down his face, a cis man quietly explained, “They said who they were, and nothing happened to me.”

“Naturally, I started to wonder about their genitals, how they have sex, what bathroom they go in,” a cis woman explained. “But then my friends told me I was being inappropriate.”

Pulling a pocket mirror out of her purse and gazing into it, she whispered, “Am I… a creep?”

Perhaps the most devastating part of this experience was the introspection that transpired after Tyler May explained their identity. Many residents were visibly distressed after reconsidering the idea that two genders could really encompass the complexity of the human experience.

“It’s too much, it’s just too much,” one cisgender man explained, tearing at the hair on his head. “What’s next, telling me that I’m my own individual, not defined by the presence of a penis?”

Asked what they thought of their neighbors’ reactions, Tyler May looked bewildered. “Why do they care how I identify?” Shaking their head, they added, “People are so weird.”

transition

Am I the Only Transgender Person Sick of Transitioning?

This is not your “before and after” video that shows me ten thousand times hotter than I previously was, confirming your suspicion that transition takes you from an awkward caterpillar into a glamorous butterfly.

This is not your “I found myself” testimony, where I explain how transition fixed all of my problems and how I’m now living my best life in my best body, the life and body I was meant to have.

Nope. This is your “this sucks, why does this suck, why didn’t anyone tell me that this would suck?” blog entry, by a trans person who is just as confused as before, only this time with more acne.

As a genderqueer person whose desired body leans masc, desired expression leans femme, and overall identity seems to be “alien boy” but I’ll call it “well fuck, your guess is as good as mine,” trying to transition has been a puzzle at best, and a cluster fuck at worst.

About eight months ago, I threw testosterone into the mix hoping it would ease some of the social and physical dysphoria, and maybe answer some of my lingering questions (questions like, do I want to live my life being perceived as a man? how much body hair is too much body hair? can I grow a better beard than my brother? will this make my butt more compact? you know, the important shit).

Spoiler alert, on testosterone I’m totally emotionally unstable, I’m greasy and covered in acne, I have the ability to braid my leg hair, I’m building muscles in places I didn’t know I could develop muscle, and I’m growing (admittedly very cute) whiskers on my face.

So in other words, I’m a moody cat on steroids that desperately needs Proactiv. These were not my #TransitionGoals.

Everyone tells me that, having only been on testosterone for less than a year, I should be patient. But the thing that no one told me is that medical transition – and really, transition generally – can suck SO HARD.

No one tells you that not every aspect of transition will feel right or feel good. That the side effects of medical transition may make you more uncertain than ever of your choices. That sometimes it’s trial by fucking fire, learning what you want and what you don’t as you go.

That it can take a long time before you look in the mirror and say, “Aha!”

That some of us – and this is critical – don’t know what will work for us. We only know what isn’t working, and that’s valid, too.

For non-binary folks, this delicate balance is even more challenging to achieve. Some of us end up back pedaling with our dose or coming off of hormones altogether, trying not to swing too hard in one direction of the binary or the other. Some of us have to settle for something imperfect, others of us are too afraid to begin.

Pass the Tylenol, please – navigating hormones in a binary world is enough to give anyone the migraine of the century.

Truthfully, I spend most days worried about how testosterone hasn’t been this magical, life-affirming journey that has made me more certain of myself – feeling like I’ve done something wrong, or made the wrong choice if I’m not perpetually ecstatic about it. 

I’d like to think that there’s room for trans people to feel something other than endless joy – that actually, it’s an unrealistic expectation that every transgender person on hormones will have the time of their life.

I’m not unhappy, I’m just waiting for it to come together. I look at myself in the mirror nowadays and like anybody else whose body is rapidly changing, I’m just really weirded out. I haven’t had that big moment (is there even a big moment for everyone?).

I’m just sitting around like, “Whoa, bodies are totally STRANGE” and “Did my face get uglier or is it just the acne eating me alive?”

If anything, medical transition has raised more questions than it’s answered. Questions about my relationship to masculinity, what gender identity truly is, about the layers of my dysphoria, about the fluidity of my own gender (and if it’s so fluid, how do I choose a static representation?), and most importantly, what it means to transition as a trans person who is genderqueer.

I did not sign up for some philosophical obstacle course, but here we are.

Mainstream narratives convince us that transition is reserved for people who are brimming with certainty and clarity, neither of which I have. Mainstream narratives convince us that transition will be revelatory and complete us, but I have yet to feel enlightened or whole.

Is it just me?

I’d like to think that it’s okay – and that we can make room for these experiences, too. Transition is not amazing all the time. For some folks, it isn’t amazing at all, but necessary still. And if we don’t acknowledge this, we’re just being really fucking dishonest about what transition is actually like.

So y’all, I’ll just say it: I’m tired. All these bodily changes, all these lingering questions, and the work that goes into deciphering your non-binary gender in a binary world – it’s exhausting, and it sucks.

Word on the street is that it’s worth it, though. And I may not know exactly what’s in store, but there’s no way in hell I’m going back.

afraid

6 Things People With Mental Illness Might Be Scared To Admit

You know, it’s possible that everything on this list is just me. But working in mental health advocacy for some time now, I’ve learned that it’s never really “just me” or “just you” – if we’re struggling, it’s almost guaranteed that someone out there knows that struggle.

Confession: I was hospitalized four months ago and I’ve been afraid – afraid of myself, afraid of my friends, afraid for my life – almost every minute since then.

Of course, I was scared to open up about it until I realized that it’s the fear that holds us back. If we never admit that we’re hurting, we can never find the support and reassurance that we need to pull through.

It’s true that I don’t know your story or your struggle. But I hope that, by knowing mine, you’ll feel less alone.

Because it’s okay to be scared – and you’d be surprised at just how many of us are putting on a brave face, hoping that no one sees just how afraid we really are.

Since I got out of the hospital, I’ve been faking it with the hopes that no one sees how much pain I’m in. But today, I’m letting my guard down – I’m hurting and I’m afraid, but I know I’m not alone.

1. I’m afraid that I don’t deserve to be happy.

I recently posted on the LQTU Facebook page about how many people with mental illness tend towards self-sabotage when they’re happy.

And, no surprise, many people responded with comments and messages about how they’ve sabotaged their own recovery – and at the root of it, it seems, is a conviction that they didn’t deserve their recovery to begin with.

Been there, still there. What I’m scared to admit sometimes is that I don’t feel like I deserve to be happy – so I push my happiness away.

Happiness scares me because I feel like I’m going to let everyone down. There’s so much pressure to be “recovered,” so much pressure to be “better,” so much pressure to have your shit together.

Sometimes I try to dismantle my own happiness because I don’t feel worthy or good enough – like I can’t live up to the expectations of being healthy – and it feels easier to relapse and let things fall apart with no room to disappoint myself or anyone else.

For me, alcohol is the quickest way to sabotage myself – and damn, I am a skilled self-saboteur when I’ve got a glass or a bottle in my hand. But before I pick up the drink, I try to remind myself that instead of fearing happiness, I should give myself permission to feel it.

Happiness is not a prize that you win or a reward reserved for the best or sanest people – it’s just a feeling to be enjoyed and a feeling that everyone is entitled to.

You don’t have to be “good enough.” You just have to let it in.

2. I’m afraid that if people see my illness, they’ll think less of me.

When I had my breakdown, I was lucky enough to have friends supporting me – in ways that were often to their own detriment. Much of it is gone from my memory, but I have flashbacks, and when I do I’m always gripped with one thought: they will never see me the same way again.

I’ve always been afraid that if people saw me during a breakdown, they would realize that I’m not perfect.

I don’t have it all figured out, I don’t always have it under control, I can hurt people, I can be selfish, I can be psychotic – and everything that I was up until that point is replaced with the memory of me at my worst.

I’ve believed that if I didn’t control my mental illness and package it in a way that was acceptable or inspiring, my value to other people would be diminished. And these days, I’m constantly afraid that I’m not worth enough – even if nothing anyone has said or done indicates otherwise.

I try to remind myself that my worth can’t depend on how others perceive me or my illness. When I’m obsessing over how others see me, I ask myself, “Well, how do I see myself?”

And if how I see myself is particularly negative, or I am noticing things about myself that are harmful or not good, I know that I have some self-work to do – and that’s not the responsibility of my friends or loved ones. That’s work only I can do.

3. I’m afraid that I’ll lose control.

Happiness is not a guarantee for anyone, but when you have a mental illness, you can sometimes become hypervigilant, convinced that at any moment an episode will grab you by the ankle and pull you down.

I’m tapering off of my anti-psychotic medication right now, and it’s felt like walking on eggshells, tracking my mood every day and searching for signs that something might be wrong.

Every time I see something out of the corner of my eye, I worry I might be seeing things again; every time I’m sad, I panic that it could be the beginning of a depressive episode.

It can feel like any particular thought or feeling is a sign of impending doom if you scrutinize it too much – and it starts to feel like you can’t trust yourself or your perception of reality.

Especially when you’ve just come off of a breakdown or traumatic experience, it can feel like the ground underneath you will never be solid. The instability can make you a little crazy (literally).

But it comforts me to know that as I work at my recovery, I’ll slowly get my footing again.

4. I’m afraid that my illness makes me a bad person.

It has taken a long, long time to be okay with saying, “Sometimes I act in really shitty ways when I’m struggling with my mental health.”

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: I have hurt people. Sometimes I’m a walking stereotype of borderline and it takes a lot to deal with my shit, be accountable for my mistakes, and reel it in.

What I’ve realized overtime is that being “good” or “bad” is not the point. I think it’s really a question of being responsible or irresponsible about the impact of our behaviors.

I spent a hell of a long time being more concerned with denying that I was hurting other people because I didn’t want to think of myself as being “bad.” It was about my ego; it was about preserving this image of myself as being “good.” It was irresponsible because I opted for denial instead of ownership of my behaviors.

But in recent years, I’ve worked on accepting that instead of being “good,” I should aspire to be responsible: recognizing when I’ve done harm, being accountable for it, and helping to facilitate healing between myself and my loved ones.

Whether or not you are good or bad isn’t important. But your choices will determine the kind of impact you have in the world – so commit to making the best choices that you can.

5. I’m afraid that I won’t survive it next time.

I can’t tell you how many mentally ill folks I’ve spoken to who have all said, “I won’t make it past [insert young age].” Episode after episode, it feels like we barely scrape by, and when we get to the other side we’re certain that we could never face it again.

Sometimes when I try to imagine battling another psychotic, depressive episode, I swear up and down that I could never survive it. And when I imagine trying to live with these illnesses for much longer, I despair about how it’s almost guaranteed that I won’t live a long life.

But when I’m convinced I won’t live to see 30, I remind myself that there was a time when I thought I wouldn’t live to see 20.

I also remind myself, like I explained in this article about depression (it’s one of my favorites, you should read it), that sometimes mental illness tricks us into thinking we can see the future – the simple truth, though, is that we never could and we never will.

Back when I was attending AA meetings (which was… interesting, to say the least), the thing that stuck out to me was the idea of taking it one day at a time. Sobriety, just like mental health recovery, feels huge when we look at the long term, the big picture.

But they both can feel a little more manageable when we keep our eyes on what’s in front of us, because that’s what’s within our power to control.

This seems (1) cliche and (2) laughably simple, I know. But even so, the only way we can move forward is one step at a time – so every day I remind myself that the only moment that’s relevant right now is the one I’m living in.

Believe me, I understand the fear. I don’t know how long I’ll live, and that scares me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage the next episode, and that terrifies me.

But what I do know is that the choices I make today – the ways I choose to take care of myself in the now and the support I put in place – can make a difference tomorrow, and even beyond that.

And really, for better or for worse, that’s the best I can do.

6. I’m afraid that this illness is all that I am.

Everyone likes to remind me that I’m more than my illnesses. But this struggle is my every day – if I’m not drowning in a depressive episode, I’m fighting hard to keep my head above water and my life intact. There isn’t a single moment that I’m not somehow impacted by these labels.

Sometimes I fear that this struggle is so central to my existence that it overshadows everything else that I am – if I am, indeed, anything else.

And sometimes I worry that it has consumed my life to the point where it’s the only thing anyone else can see.

Every day, I’m still trying to uncover who I am apart from all of this. Trying to get in touch with the joy and passion and thrill that is buried underneath all this, the part of me that lives for something and comes alive for something.

I want to know what that part of me is like, what it takes to bring it to life.

I’m never going to pretend that these illnesses aren’t ever-present in my day-to-day.  I’m never going to pretend that my choices won’t always be informed or influenced by my struggles. And I’m never going to pretend that the impact this has had on me hasn’t touched every aspect of my life.

Just looking at this list of fears, I ask myself if mental illness will always have this kind of grip on me – if I’ll spend every day of my life afraid.

But all any of us can do, really, is try to cultivate something beautiful for ourselves. Something that makes us feel whole. Something that gives us a sense of purpose. Even if the garden is barren, even if it’s covered in snow, we find a way to make something – anything – grow.

We can have something more for ourselves, something that belongs to us. That may not define us or help us put the pieces of our identity back together – but it gives us a place to start.

Let’s Talk About The Transgender Community, Body Positivity, and Fatphobia.

Y’all, I did this super scary thing where I talked, unscripted, for half an hour about the intersections of fatphobia and transness, along with sharing SO many feelings that I have about body positivity.

I did this with the amazing Elizabeth Cooper, founder of the Queer Body Love Speaker Series! You can learn more about it by clicking this link right here.

Their introduction to my interview is super generous and makes me feel important! Check it out:
Sam Dylan Finch

More people have recommended Sam Dylan Finch as a speaker for this series than anyone else. He’s the most famous advocate for trans inclusivity within the body positive movement, and in this candid interview he shares about his own experience as a non-binary trans person who has both learned from and has critiques of the body positive movement. This topic of navigating a fatphobic, transphobic society is SO important and has something to contribute to us all.

Interview highlights:

  • Why “every body is a bikini body” body positive beach photoshoots are exclusive (and how to reframe such projects to be trans inclusive)
  • 2 impactful lessons Sam has learned from body positivity
  • Why Sam literally sits in front of a mirror staring at his body (this is a unique exercise I haven’t heard of before)
  • How to deprogram internalized voices of oppression
  • The difference between dysphoria and dysmorphia 
  • What it means for Sam to be a non-binary trans person & how this relates to his relationship to his body

I’m not sure if I’d call myself famous (read: I would not call myself famous), BUT OKAY ELIZABETH. I am flattered!

If you sign up on the website – which just involves sharing your email address – you’ll gain access not only to my interview, but to dozens of other interviews from queer folks and queer-competent clinicians, talking about the many complexities of queer body image!

And before you tell me, “Sam! You’re only saying this because they paid you,” umm, EXCUSE ME. I did this for free!

I did this because I genuinely believe these are some of the most important conversions to be having right now, in a society which tells transgender people in particular that they are inherently broken, and as fatphobia and gendered ideals fuel disordered eating in our community.

And if you’re not interested in watching my face make weird expressions while I talk about this, or if it’s simply not an accessible format for you, there’s also a transcript available so you can simply read what I (and all the other speakers!) had to say.

It’s rare that I put myself on video without a script to talk about these things, but this was a unique occasion in which I wanted to connect directly with folks who, like me, are trying to navigate body positivity – which is a profoundly cis-centric movement – while also being transgender or non-binary.

So really, go sign up! I promise it’s not a scam (well, if it is, we can be victims together, okay, because I totally signed up too). It’s just a bunch of queer people who want to talk about our bodies in a way that we seldom have the space to do.

And be sure to spread the word! I can think of countless queer and trans people who need access to these conversations. Let’s bring everyone to the table. Let’s support and uplift one another in our journeys toward self-acceptance.

See you there!

NOS

Not Otherwise Specified: The Pain Of Hearing ‘I Don’t Know’

For the last six years, I’ve held on tight to my bipolar diagnosis – it kept me afloat in the midst of very turbulent seas. It was a framework that helped me understand my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; it was a word that helped me find a community of people who were similarly struggling.

I remember listening to Mary Lambert’s song “Secrets” for the first time, with its opening line, “I’ve got bipolar disorder / my shit’s not in order,” and feeling the immediate connection and kinship that only comes from two people with the same endless, chaotic battle.

I felt like that song was for me.

I felt seen in that moment. I felt seen in every moment when someone I knew or someone with visibility came out and said that magic word: Bipolar, bipolar, bipolar, making me feel more and more real every time they stepped out of the shadows.

“Bipolar,” as a label, made me feel safe – like there was sense in the senseless, an anchor in an uncertain storm.

And that’s why, after a painfully long and involved evaluation, it was difficult to hear a psychiatrist say to me, “I don’t know if you have bipolar disorder.”

Mood Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, they told me, otherwise known as the grey area between depression and bipolar. Because they couldn’t just let me have depression, either – they left it ambiguous, leaving me straddling two words and two communities and two answers, pulling the ground out from underneath me.

In so many ways, this label was hollow. It was a question more than it was a statement. I couldn’t turn to the world and say, “This is what I’m going through” or “this is how much it hurts.” There’s no measure of severity, or list of symptoms, or a simple story to tell the world, tell my parents, tell my partner what’s happening to me.

Not Otherwise Specified is an empty place that tries to hold the entirety of your struggle, tries to say everything there is to say, without really holding or saying anything at all.

As if to say, “Your mind is out of bounds and we are out of words.”

My suffering has colored outside the lines like a child with no sense of where it all starts and stops.

I have no sense of where it all starts and stops.

In addition to my Mood Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, they have other things to specify: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which I should’ve suspected but never knew, and Borderline Personality Disorder, which they suspect is the root of my misdiagnosis.

It all feels true enough, but it also feels too new.

This, in addition to my agoraphobia, in addition to my alcohol use disorder, which both come with their own pain, a pain that I sometimes feel all over my body instead of just in my mind.

What happened to me?

There are so many names for my trauma, and so many names still missing, some more precise than others.

Just like that, I was OCD, I was borderline – two things I’d both always been and never been before – and bipolar, the very center of it all, slipped from my grasp and became an unknown, as if it were never here.

And maybe it wasn’t.

People say that we invest too much in labels, that we aren’t our diagnoses. I can’t say for sure that they’re right or wrong.

But I suspect they don’t know the loneliness of suffering something nameless. I suspect they don’t know the confusion of lacking the words to convey your pain. And I suspect they don’t know the relief when the words lead you to someone else who knows that pain, too.

When I lost “bipolar,” I lost more than just a label – I lost the story that helped me make sense of it all, the words to describe my pain, and the connection to other people who understood both.

Not Otherwise Specified is not a story, not an answer, not a connection. It’s a placeholder, a seat saved for something or someone that hasn’t yet arrived.

And what am I supposed to do with that?

tooill

When You’re Too Mentally Ill To Transition

Nearly seven months ago, I made the decision to start testosterone as a part of my gender transition.

I remember feeling so overjoyed that this part of my journey was beginning. The torment of being in a body that caused me so much distress, and being misgendered left and right adding salt to my wounds, made HRT not just a desire of mine but a real necessity.

If you’d asked me where I’d be by now, my self of seven months ago would talk about how high my dose would be, all the changes that would be happening, my desired date for top surgery (would it be September? December?), and how I’d be so much closer to the body I needed to have – closer than I’d ever been.

But none of that is true. In fact, I’m almost exactly where I started.

I’m still here because my testosterone dosage is only half of a typical starting dose – extraordinarily low and nearly ineffective, because there’s not a single doctor willing to increase it.

I’m still here because I was denied the recommendation needed to move forward with top surgery.

I’m transgender and I’m trying to transition. But the door keeps getting slammed in my face again, and again, and again.

There’s not a lot of conversation happening around the specific challenges that transgender people with mental illness are facing. I first wrote about this when I discussed my experiences in a psychiatric hospital, where I was almost denied my hormones altogether.

As someone with bipolar and a whole assortment of other diagnoses, I continually come up against obstacles in my transition that I would not otherwise face if I were neurotypical. 

I’ve been told before to stop taking hormones. I still remain on a dosage that barely alters my body – because there are concerns about how the hormonal changes will affect my sanity, despite having no evidence that it will and knowing we could lower the dosage if it did.

Most recently, I was told that I couldn’t move forward with top surgery because I was in a mild depressive episode, and that we would have to wait a few months to revisit the possibility of surgery. Seeing as the waiting period for surgery can be anywhere from six months to 2 years, it’s unclear to me why we couldn’t address my depression while I was on the waiting list for surgery.

Transition can already feel like it takes centuries just to get an inch closer to where we need to be.

So imagine, then, that you are a transgender person with mental illness, who not only has to deal with the typical challenges of gender transition, but you must also navigate the exhausting barriers that therapists, psychiatrists, and doctors place in front of you.

Imagine having no idea when you’ll be permitted to access the care that you desperately need – that you’ll remain imprisoned in a dysphoria-induced hell until you pull it together and become acceptably sane for your doctors.

It’s true that transgender people with mental illness have needs that are unique and important, due to the biochemical nature of both medical transition and mental illness. And it’s true that making life-altering changes during times of turmoil can sometimes do more harm than good.

But it’s also true that countless mentally ill transgender people have been denied hormones or surgery to their own detriment, causing real and even lasting damage.

It’s true that the woeful lack of research around mentally ill transgender people means that many medical professionals simply don’t know how to support this vulnerable population.

And it’s absolutely true that being unable to transition can worsen a transgender person’s mental health – and clinicians who do not take this into account, treating medical transition as optional rather than urgent and necessary, are contributing to the very mental health crisis they wish to avoid.

As I sit here with the inability to go further in my medical transition – stuck in a desperate situation that continues to eat me alive every day – it is obvious to me that mentally ill transgender people are being failed at every level.

If our only “solution” is to not transition, we need new and better solutions.

Assuming my bipolar stabilizes further, there will most likely be a time – I don’t know, hopefully this year? – when I can move forward, after more than half a year of being held back.

And while I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to resume my transition, I remain paranoid and fearful that it can be taken away from me at any time.

If this is what it looks like to be a mentally ill transgender person in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m terrified to know what it looks like elsewhere in the country, where care is even less accessible and trans-competent clinicians are few and far between.

We deserve better than this. If a medical intervention is what a person needs to be well, why would we ever treat it like it’s optional? How are our gender transitions any different?

depressed

5 Reminders For Anyone Who’s Depressed

I’m a little over two weeks into a depressive episode. According to my therapist, anyway. I’ve been a human slug, inching my way around my apartment, dramatically sighing and eating microwave meals and watching the dishes stack up in the sink.

You know the deal.

This, just two months after being hospitalized (can I just catch a break?). You’d think that all the intensive therapies, support groups, medication changes, and workbooks would have prevented this. But alas, here I am – sometimes depression manages to get a foot in the door despite your best efforts.

Sometimes when I’m entering into a depressive episode, I like to write down reminders that I want to hold onto as I go through it. They can be affirmations, reality checks, or words of wisdom.

Anything, really, to keep some perspective when I’m dealing with my episode. I try to write down the words I think I’ll need to hear as I struggle – because too often, we lose sight of the important stuff.

This time, I figured, why not share my list? And even better – encourage people to write their own.

Here are five of my own reminders to get us started.

1. Sometimes what’s best for us is the thing we resist the most.

I wrote about this recently in another article – how mental illness can encourage us to do the exact opposite of what we need to be doing. For example, my depression often urges me to stay in my apartment, even though going out into the world and socializing would actually boost my mood.

When you lack energy and motivation, and you don’t find the things you used to love as pleasurable as you once did, it can be damn near impossible to find a reason to do anything but curl up in bed.

Our instincts, clouded by the depression, often leave us opting for behaviors that are worsening our mood.

Some days, I am simply unable to move or participate in things. And that’s totally okay! It’s most important to be compassionate with ourselves and take care of ourselves.

But I’ve found that sometimes, telling myself to ignore my depressive instincts and do some self-care – even if it sounds unappealing, exhausting, or boring – really does help me.

You get to decide, ultimately, what’s feasible for you and what’s not. But it’s good to remind yourself that depression does not always have your best interest in mind.

2. Surviving depression involves being skeptical of 95% of your thoughts.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was something like, “Not everything you think is true.” This is especially relevant advice when dealing with depression.

Too often we forget that depression doesn’t just impact how we feel, but it affects how we think.

Things like low self-esteem, pessimism, suicidal thoughts, catastrophizing, rumination, and harsh self-criticism are just a small slice of the impact that depression has on our thinking.

Which is to say, it’s important to approach our negative thinking with a certain amount of skepticism.

Some healthy questions worth asking yourself: (1) Have I always felt this way?, (2) How do I know, logically, that this is true?, (3) What advice would I give to a friend who struggled with this?, and (4) Could depression be impacting my feelings about this?

When I’m grappling with low self-esteem, for example, and I go down the shame spiral of feeling like I’m not worth anything to anyone, I can go through these questions.

No, I haven’t always felt this way. And logically, none of my friends have told me I’m not worth anything to them – quite the opposite. If my friend were struggling with this, I would encourage them to reach out to their friends and express how they’re feeling. And yes, it’s possible that depression is impacting this because I guess it’s neither permanent nor logical.

Sometimes the questions help, but sometimes I’m too depressed to think outside of my situation. Regardless, it’s one useful tool amongst many in my toolbox that I can call on any time, and it’s helped me to push back on a lot of the negative self-talk that is so typical of depression.

3. Asking for help is sometimes the most difficult but necessary thing we can do.

My recent breakdown required that I call on my friends and ask for their help despite desperately wanting to leave everyone out of it. And while in hindsight there’s a lot I would do differently, I can’t say for certain that I would be alive today if I hadn’t reached out.

Asking for help is really hard. I will never invalidate the very real fears that come with reaching out.

We’re afraid of the possible rejection we’ll face from others. We’re afraid of being burdens on the people we love. We’re afraid that we’ll push people away. We’re afraid of being ostracized by our communities. We’re afraid of being further stigmatized.

And sometimes, we’re just ashamed to say that we’re hurting. We don’t want others to see us when we’re vulnerable. We don’t want others to see us at our lowest. I can assure you that I know how that feels.

Reaching out when you’re struggling with a mental illness is complicated, and everyone’s situation is complex and different. I can’t tell you what the right road to recovery looks like for you.

But at the end of the day, I’d like to remind you of this: Your survival is critically important, your life holds value, and you deserve compassionate care that will help you through this struggle.

Often times, sadly, that care is only within reach when we ask for it. And often times, that care is not just optional – it’s necessary if we are going to survive.

As I navigate recovery, I’m grateful every single day that there were people in my life there to help me. I would’ve died a long time ago if they hadn’t been.

I don’t know your situation, but I will say that I hope you are able to find the support that you need – even if it’s scary to ask, your life and your happiness are worth it.

4. None of this is your fault. None of it.

Damn, this one is too real.

Sometimes when I’m depressed, I get caught in this loop of self-blame that seems never-ending. If I had done this differently, if I just pushed harder, if I had better coping skills, if I went to more groups, if I did this, or that, or this, or that… apparently depression would disappear by sheer effort alone.

That’s not how it works. Depression isn’t a matter of willpower. Deep down, I think most, if not all of us understand that.

…but this is kind of incredible, right? Because part of my profession is knowing stuff about mental health, so you’d think I’d get the message by now. But depression shows up, and suddenly everything I know about mental health goes out the window and I’m punishing myself for something beyond my control.

I would never go up to someone with mental illness and say, “You need to try harder.” But apparently I’ll tell myself that twenty times a day?

(See, this is what I mean about being skeptical of your thoughts.)

So here’s the reminder for that inevitable moment that I fall back into that unending loop: It’s. Not. Your. Fault.

If it were a matter of willpower, the depression would be gone by now. If you could do something more, you would’ve already been doing it. No one chooses their depression.

But if you’re looking to make life changes to address your depression, I do have some advice. Make changes in the name of self-care – not in the name of self-blame. Because yes, you deserve a lot of care right now and no, you don’t deserve the blame.

5. It is impossible to know what the future will look like.

When I’m deep in a depressive episode, I find myself saying – with complete and total conviction – that nothing will ever get better, that my future is empty, that I will always struggle, that there’s nothing worth living for.

(Pro-tip: Words like “nothing,” “never,” “always” – or any words that exist in an “all or nothing” framework – are really big red flags. Folks dealing with depression often think in absolutes, which can feed into the hopelessness that we’re already feeling.)

As someone who both struggles with mental illness AND regularly supports people who do, I see it time and time again.

We’re deeply depressed, and then we’ve convinced ourselves we already know what the future looks like – despite the reality that none of us could possibly know.

Remember that skepticism I talked about? We’ve got to utilize it here above all else. Because our feelings about the future can drive our depression.

It’s so important to remember that you can’t know what the last page of a book says if you’re only in the middle of the book.

It makes perfect sense that, when we’re depressed, we see the future as being hopeless. But it’s impossible in any given moment to predict the outcome of our lives, no matter how despondent and awful our present moment might be.

The future is always unknowable. I’ve learned this the hard way many times, when I made rash decisions to harm myself under the assumption that nothing would get better, and later regretted it as I discovered that the future was not as predictable as I thought.

To be clear, I’m not asking any depressed person to remain hopeful about a future that they can’t see. Hope is a feeling that depression often robs us of.

But I am asking depressed folks to consider not making decisions based on a future they’ve assumed will happen, and instead, try to deal with the present, one day at a time.

It is possible that things will not get better. None of us can know for sure. But it’s also possible that they will. And I sincerely believe that every one of us deserves the opportunity to find out – and the tools to make that future as bright as possible.

On the days when I am crumbling under the weight of depression, and the future seems utterly hopeless, I try to remind myself of the many times I counted myself out, only to discover that there was something in the future that was waiting for me – something I never saw coming.

This may sound cheesy, but I had people to meet, and places to travel to, and articles to write, and communities to be a part of. I couldn’t have imagined these things in my life, but now I can’t imagine my life without it.

If there’s only one reminder that you take from this list, it’s this: There is a life for you beyond depression. 

And I’d like to believe that there’s one for every one of us.