The title could say it all, but please allow me to elaborate. I am not okay. In so many ways, I am SO NOT OKAY.
I barely write on this blog anymore, and it's not because I don't have a lot to say. It's because I feel like the world's biggest Debbie Downer. I am afraid that people are sick of hearing about my problems. I feel like a gigantic burden on my friends and family, when there has been so much tumult, pain, trauma, and chaos for so many years. Logically, I know that the people who truly love me would never feel this way. They are always there, and they always listen. But when it feels like it has been so long since you've had anything positive to report, sometimes you just stop talking. And that's when things can get dangerous for a woman like me who has lived in varying states of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation resulting from PTSD for most of my adult life.
The darker it gets, I start to withdraw from life little by little. I stop talking about the endless doctor visits that are bleeding my bank account dry yet providing no real answers or solutions to my intractable chronic pain. I lose hope that there is any real purpose in continuing to advocate for myself and my health, because if I hear "the results are normal" or "the result's AREN'T normal but there's nothing we can do to help you" one more time I fear I will actually shatter into pieces. I kid myself that I have a social life, because I am around people all day every day - at work, at the gym, teaching my spin classes. But there are so few people I can actually bring myself to invite into my inner circle that my world is getting smaller by the day. Even the people I can allow in, I find myself holding them at arm's length, as if to say "I need you, but please don't come too close because I can't bear the searing pain of losing you." Historically, I have been one of the most affectionate people I know, and recently I have noticed myself pulling away when people hug me. Not people I don't know well enough to share that intimacy with - we're talking about the people I love the most. Some of that comes from the trauma that has been uncovered in therapy recently, I know that. But some of it is just because I am scared that the next person I lose will actually be the end of me.
They say grief can't actually kill you, but I wouldn't be so sure. When my husband died of glioblastoma on July 11. 2015, a part of me went with him. That part has never healed and I have accepted it won't, and that's the consequence of loving someone so thoroughly - there will always be a Patrick-sized hole in my heart. What I didn't expect was the PTSD diagnosis, the ensuing fear of new people and relationships, the deep-dive back into disordered eating, the overspending that I am going to be dealing with for years... the hole that I dug, just trying to survive. Now, I am left with the guilt and shame of those decisions that I made. Yes, I know that I was literally trying to stay alive. But no, I haven't been able to extend enough compassion to myself to accept it.
Something that came up for me today in therapy was the realization of just how heavy the weight of my astronomical student loans is. I went to law school as idealistic as they come, thinking that I was on my way to saving the world. I took out the maximum I could in loans because I was working as a volunteer throughout my years in law school for the public defender in the county where I went to school, assuming that's what I would be doing once I graduated and that I'd be eligible for loan forgiveness in ten years. I graduated second in my class and passed the Bar exam the first time, but low and behold I entered a tanking economy where every county in my state was on a hiring freeze and I could not get a job doing what I loved. Instead, I had to find work, so I stumbled into a series of insurance defense jobs over the past ten years that have never felt like I was doing what I was meant to do. Yet, I have never been able to re-enter the public sector or take a non-profit job, simply because my student loans are so huge that I cannot afford to pay them AND live in California on the salary of one of those jobs. Then enter into several years of having to go on disability during the time my husband was sick and after he died, first to take care of him and then to deal with my own mental health, and you've got years of interest accumulating at a pace that cannot be thwarted.
I graduated law school with $160,000 in student loans. Ten years later, they are closer to $240,000. I owe almost a quarter million dollars because I wanted to help people and not push paper for a living. Now what do I do? Mostly push paper, and cry because I have taken one vacation in the past 12 years since I feel too guilty to spend the money when I have so much debt. It's the albatross around my neck that there's no way out of. I have no financial back-up, no spouse to chip in on the bills, and a system which has zero empathy for your personal circumstances. I should know. When I first went back to work part-time, for a few months I had to delay payments because they miscalculated my income-based repayment plan. They reported me to the credit bureau and my credit dropped 250 points, during the time my car lease was up. My dad had to co-sign my loan because my credit had been destroyed. I was 35-years-old, a lawyer for nine years, and my dad had to co-sign for me. I was humiliated. Thankfully, after six months of fighting it was finally resolved, but the emotional toll it has taken in knowing that there is literally nothing I can do to negotiate or deal with my loans has been done. If there was, I would have done it. (I remember Googling "what countries do not have extradition treaties with the US" in my first year of law school, wondering how I could hide from the IRS. Let's just say I saw the writing on the wall early... and also, that the list of countries was not ideal.)
I am not going to apologize for the word vomit today. I am struggling and I know that if I keep it all in like I have been doing, I am going to actually lose it. It's hard to explain what it's like to someone who has not dealt with mental health issues before. I am not sitting here with a plan to off myself - please let me be clear about that. But it is scary and so sad to feel like you're often asking the Universe to end your suffering, even if that means ending your life. (Please do not 5150 me. If you have more questions about this, please just ask.)
I want to tell you that I believe I can be both grateful for my life and the things that I have, and angry, sad, and overwhelmed by the ongoing struggles. These feelings do not exist independently. I am not a believer that fear and faith cannot coexist, because they do frequently in me. I do a lot to "get out of myself" and to focus on being of service to others. But sometimes, I need to be able to tell the truth and acknowledge my feelings, because they are valid.
Thank you for hearing me.
Lisa O'Leary is a lawyer, cat mom, widow, sports enthusiast, truth seeker, soul searcher, meditator, and consciousness practitioner who is actively engaged in quieting down the mind to allow the song to play.