Ad astra per aspera.

Posted on

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 was my 36th birthday.

A year previous, I was just coming off of a nervous breakdown. Which is a phrase usually relegated to hyperbole, except this time, it was true.

In early December 2012, my already fragile enough mid-divorce-living-at-a-friend’s-place, trying-to-write-a-book-about-wedding-planning-on-deadline-while-dying-of-heartbreak, scared-to-death-of-what-comes-next world got rocked when I found out I needed emergency surgery on my eye (bringing the total count to 14 at the time), and also found out that my fertility was questionable, at best. I was collapsing under the stress, so right around Christmas, my psychiatrist suggested changing up my depression medication, to try and help lift me from the deafening numbness that encompassed me, and thus began weaning me off of the Pristiq that was only tenuously holding me together, and introduced Viibryd.

Within a week or so, I felt noticeably different. But… not better. I was painfully exhausted, and was beset with terrible headaches. Even worse that that… rather than numb, I began to feel empty. Desolate. Hopeless. And gradually, day by day, I became increasingly aware of a new feeling: a fear. Unlike I had ever felt before.

I was afraid of myself.

Afraid of what I might do to myself.

If left alone with myself.

And here’s the confusing part: I didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t wish I were dead. No. I wanted to live. I wanted desperately to believe that I could, once again, experience happiness and stability. I know that depression lies. I know better than to believe its insidious, manipulative whispers. My logical mind knows this very well.

But, almost as though my self were split in two, like some terrible after-school movie about a girl with split personalities, my emotional mind couldn’t trust myself not to do something stupid. I felt involuntarily pulled toward dangerous behaviors. Like I might inadvertently toss myself off the balcony. Or slice my skin open. Or begin walking into the distance and never stop. Or swallow all the pills in the house. Or drive off a cliff. Like a woman possessed, I felt as though I were being pulled against my own will towards self-harm.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Luckily, I had enough sense of my logical mind to recognize that no good could come of this feeling. So I immediately alerted my psychiatrist, who agreed it was wise to discontinue the Viibryd, and ease myself back onto the Pristiq. And I mustered the strength to tell the friend I was staying with that, in no uncertain terms, I didn’t feel safe to be left alone. And thank god for him, because he had been in a similar place once, and he held me while I sobbed. He canceled plans to stay in and babysit me. Without judgment, he saved me.

And when he couldn’t be there, I called someone else. Which is no easy feat. Not many people knew how lost I had been to begin with. And finding a way to communicate that I was having terrifying urges, and inviting someone to just come sit on the couch and marathon Law & Order with me so I don’t end up accidentally taking a swan dive off the 2nd floor balcony was not the easiest call to make. I think Allie of Hyperbole & a Half said it best, in her incredibly spot-on depiction of what depression can be like:

“I discovered that there’s no tactful or comfortable way to inform other people that you might be suicidal. And there’s definitely no way to ask for help casually.

how to tell someone you might be suicidal

I didn’t want it to be a big deal. However, it’s an alarming subject. Trying to be nonchalant about it just makes it weird for everyone.”

But, surprisingly, my friends were really awesome about it. They came, without question, and sat with me. There was no excessive comforting, no uncomfortable attempts to “lighten the mood” or play therapist… just acceptance and understanding and loving concern. I’m so grateful, because if I had no one to call, I absolutely would have committed myself for my own safety.

And in the brief moments that I was left alone, or the periodic moments when, even with my roommate beside me, I felt so inconsolably anxious and bereft that I could no longer bear it… I remembered that Jenny once suggested that squeezing ice cubes in your hands can help quench those feelings a bit. And it did. (Thank you, Jenny.)

After a couple of weeks, the Viibryd eased it’s way out of my system, and my familiar friend Pristiq oozed back in. I started to feel, bit by bit, more myself again. Less at risk again. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see it. And for the first time in a while, I believed that I’d soon reach the end of that dark and lonely tunnel, and feel the sunlight on my face again.

By the time my birthday rolled around, I was almost there. And, as terrifying as those weeks previous had been, I always wanted to remember them, so that I’d always know that no matter how dark and hopeless things get, I can make it through. To remember my past, and look forward to my future – honoring my worst moments as essential parts of the journey leading to my best moments, and recognizing them for their beauty. Serendipitously, I was given the chance to share my story with an anonymous audience through The Listserve, which provided a great outlet, perspective and support in my healing process. And as a 35th birthday gift to myself, I got this tattoo:

Ad astra per aspera. Latin for “Through struggles to the stars.”

ad astra per aspera tattoo

Also, notably, the tagline for this blog 🙂

 


That time I won the lottery

Posted on

Back in January, I was mid-way through “the worst of it” in my depression when I won the Listserve Lottery. The Listserve is a daily email service wherein one subscriber each day “wins” the opportunity to write (up to 500 words) to the whole community of subscribers. There are currently over 23,000 subscribers in countries all over the world.

I signed up for it last fall, and have really enjoyed the snapshots into people’s heads that come through: inspiration, ideas, experiences… all kinds of people share all kinds of things when “their number comes up.” Sometimes it’s crap. Sometimes it moves me to tears. I never really thought I’d be chosen to write. Until I was. 3 days before my 35th birthday. And many, many moons since I’d done any personal writing.

I felt unprepared. And scared. But, I didn’t want to shirk the opportunity. It seemed like the Universe was saying “hey. you’re a writer, right? THEN WRITE, ALREADY!”

So I listened. And I sat down, and wrote.

And this is what I wrote to an audience of strangers.

I really wanted to write some big, deep retrospective on challenge and perseverance for my Listserve contribution. That kind of thing is kind of my thing.

Well, it was.

It’s what I did, when I started my blog, The Broke-Ass Bride, which grew into one of the top blogs in the wedding industry. It earned me a deal with a major publishing house to write a book about using creativity as currency to rock bad-ass weddings without breaking the bank. (coming this December!) Born as a coping skill for life’s imperfections, my chronic auto-immune disease, financial struggles and artistic stagnation, I developed a reputation for my ability to spin obstacle into opportunity creatively and with a trademark cheeky irreverence. It seemed like nothing could keep me down.

But I guess the universe watched me leap life’s hurdles on my triumphant unicorn of resilience, turning piles of strugglesome shit into rainbows with my magical brand of fairy dust, and decided (in its infinite wisdom) to up the game and see just how much I could take. I had been focused on maintaining my success, so desperate to remain self-employed and free from corporate cubicles, that I neglected my health and personal life.

I got hit with an aggressively progressive depression, disease complications and a rare illness necessitating a flurry of surgeries, growing medical debt, and a sexual assault. And just like that, my self-destructive and addictive tendencies took control and bullied my moxie and persistence into submission like overgrown schoolyard tormentors.

I was ashamed and guilt-ridden about how burdensome I felt. Hell, if *I* was so tired of caring about me, I couldn’t imagine how exhausting it must be for everyone else. I withdrew from my husband, friends and family, in a ridiculously misguided effort to “protect” them all from my demons. What a foolish girl I was, to believe the lies my depression told me for so long.

With the help of great doctors, treatments, perspective, support, faith and forgiveness, I’ve begun to find my feet again. Reconnecting with those I’ve hurt, pushed away or neglected, and trying to make amends. Letting people love me (or not) on their own terms. Grateful for the chance to evolve, painful as it was, into a stronger, deeper, richer version of Dana LaRue: rider of my triumphant unicorn of resilience, spinner of obstacle into opportunity, going from broke-ass to bad-ass.

In an earlier Listserve email, a writer shared the phrase “ad astra per aspera” – latin for “through struggles to the stars.” This Wednesday the 23rd is my 35th birthday and I can’t wait. Not eager to see where this year takes me, but rather where *I* can take this year. To celebrate, I’m having “ad astra per aspera” tattooed on my wrist to honor where I’ve been, and to remind me where I’m capable of going.

Well, hey, how ‘bout that. Looks like I did end up writing a true-to-form deep, retrospective look at challenge and perseverance. I guess I really am back in the saddle, after all. Yeehaw.

Thanks, Listserve, for the chance to share my story. May it help someone out there through his or her own dark hour. And thanks, listserve nation, for bearing witness. Pass this on if you know someone who might benefit from it. Or share your own story with me, or encouraging words, or drawings of me on a unicorn turning piles of shit into rainbows… whatever you’re inspired to send!

I got flooded with emails in return. Emails from complete strangers — overflowing with words of encouragement, compassion, hope, support, and love. People shared their own stories of struggle. They encouraged me to keep writing and sharing my story. They thanked me for my honesty, and for casting light on an issue so rarely discussed so transparently. They showered me with compliments and kindness and enthusiasm so much that it renewed my own enthusiasm for writing (not to mention my faith in a humanity so generous).

One girl even drew me this bad-ass picture!

558371_10151399331825342_1377036543_n

I share this with you today, to give you a bit of insight into where I’ve been, and where I’m going. My Listserve experience is a huge part of what inspired this new blog. I needed an outlet to keep sharing my story, to keep writing, and filtering my experience to strangers everywhere.

Because whenever I do, good things seem to happen 🙂