Two months after my eighteenth birthday, my parents announced their divorce, I moved out and began college, and my childhood home was sold. By the time I hit nineteen I had gotten engaged, only to subsequently become single, a global pandemic sent me and everyone else into our homes, and I moved back in with my mom and little sister. I was a mess. It felt like everything I had ever known was flipped upside down and pulled out from under me.
All I knew was that I had to get “good” again. I was unfocused, directionless, and seriously lacking the willpower to complete the minimum of self-care and I missed the days when I had felt a real sense of purpose and happiness in my life. This was not my first, or even third rodeo when it came to battling depressive episodes. For me, the episodes were more a matter of “if” rather than “when,” so I figured I was already a pro at dealing with these kinds of emotions. I kept telling myself that I already knew how to get “good.” I had done it before and I could do it again. I was convinced that if I could just get my life back on track I would be just as happy as I had been during high school and the beginning of college. I had been extremely busy back then preparing to move out even before I knew of my parents divorce; nothing excited me more than the thought of breaking out on my own and discovering who I was as an adult. Maybe if I regained my sense of independence by moving out on my own again, I could also rekindle the sense of purpose and happiness I had briefly enjoyed while living near campus.
The following months consisted of frantic apartment hunting, an unexpected but necessary switch to a new car, and enough tears to fill a small pool. I did everything I could to push myself away from my old life, as if creating distance would lessen the grief I felt for the times that I could no longer return to. It was time to grow up, to stop dwelling on my past and face the future head on, and I became obsessed with the idea of creating a home where I could do just that. However, I noticed that no matter how much I worked to change my external circumstances, I was neglecting my internal circumstances.
Since I was a child, I had always been very experimental with my personal appearance. I was always either chopping my hair off, dying it crazy colors, or getting new piercings. It didn’t matter when people told me I looked like a boy, or that I would regret the piercings when I was older. I knew my hair would grow back. I could always take the piercings out later if I didn’t like them. Besides, how could I regret something that had been so important to me at one point in time? I was fearless—until now. Suddenly I couldn’t bear to even give my hair a trim. I was nervous to commit to any piercings and the tattoos that I had always admired were wholly out of the question.
I was afraid. So much had shifted around me, I felt that if I changed anything about my personal appearance I would finally lose myself completely. I didn’t want to do the “wrong” thing. I wanted to grow, but I was scared to change.
Over time, I began to see how that fear was actually holding me back from growing entirely, instead of just growing the wrong way. Change was scary, but remaining stagnant was even more terrifying. It didn’t matter if I could no longer recognize myself, I would just learn to know and love the me that existed now instead of clinging to a me that no longer fit.
So, I got two new piercings. A month later I got a matching tattoo with my best friend. Body modifications were something I knew I loved and these were both ideas I had been sitting on for a long time, so I decided that I would use them to knock myself out of a stasis that I had grown too comfortable being in.
I’m Finally Out – What Now?
It wasn’t long after that I moved into a one bedroom apartment with my beloved cat in the hopes that being alone would give me the time and space I needed to work on myself internally. I was completing freelance writing assignments and getting more hours at my day job. Things were looking up. I was doing the things I should be doing. I was on the path to getting “good.”
So why wasn’t I “good?”
After almost two years of feeling completely displaced, I thought settling somewhere where I knew I would live for at least a year would give me the sense of security and home I needed to start growing as a person again. I now had the space I needed to focus on myself, just as I had planned. But how much focus is too much?
I went from living in a lively house with my mom, sister, and our four animals to just myself and my cat. I had nothing but time to think about literally everything, and by the end of my first week living alone, my head was already going in circles. I began thinking about past conflicts that I’d forgotten. Things that happened to me ten or fifteen years ago suddenly came into focus and I realized how many problems I had been avoiding by keeping myself busy and surrounded by people.
At first, it was really difficult to separate my past and present issues. I couldn’t differentiate between which problems needed to be dealt with immediately and past problems that were not so pressing.
I kept telling myself, “Once I get this thing for my apartment, it will finally be a home, and I can relax.” Whether that thing was something as big as a desk for my work computers or as small as a clock to hang in my kitchen, I felt as if I couldn’t begin to settle myself in until I had it. My “home” was forever incomplete and all I could do until it was finished was sit and wait. I was convinced that I couldn’t begin to grow until I had a comfortable and stable base to start from, so I stayed paralyzed until I could have that.
Obviously, the problem wasn’t with the apartment itself, but with me and my internal sphere. I forever felt restless, incomplete, and guilty for not appreciating the amazing place that I was able to live in. That guilt drove me to take on more and more obligations, as if completing real life events would somehow propel me forward and force me to grow out of whatever funk I was in. I was overtaxed and underwhelmed.
I began taking on more freelancing jobs as a way to validate my progress and alleviate my guilt of not being as productive and ambitious as I used to be. I remembered how busy I was my senior year of high school, and how good I felt completing everything that needed to be done. By taking on more jobs, I tried to replicate that sense of purpose I felt back then and couldn’t get the idea of achieving normalcy out of my head. However, these jobs blurred the lines between my professional and personal life. I was stressed 24/7 because I always felt that there were other things I should be doing at once.
Learning the Importance of Boundaries
It wasn’t until two months ago when I finally took a vacation to my family’s cabin in the mountains that I finally gained some peace and perspective. Spending a week and a half in nature without reliable access to WiFi forced me to get out of the endless spiral of productivity and burnout that I had created for myself. I realized how important boundaries are and that it’s okay to be still once in a while.
I also realized just how much I had grown in the past two years without even realizing it. I was a completely different person than I had been at the beginning of the summer, a completely different person than I had been when I first moved out, and almost unrecognizable from the person I was when I moved back in with my mom. The stagnation that I was fighting so hard was actually me not knowing which direction I wanted to grow, but every event, be it big or small, had impacted my growth whether I knew it or not.
I couldn’t get “good” yet because I was trying to grow up while still holding on to a time and a me that no longer existed. My circumstances have changed since high school. The events leading to this particular depressive episode were completely different than the ones that led to my last one. Instead, I needed to honor the person I’ve become in the time since then and learn new coping skills to get myself to a new “good.”
Growth is natural. It is constant. All we can do is decide which way we want to grow.
The adjustments and progress were immediate. As soon as I went home, I began making changes and setting boundaries to benefit myself and others. Whether it was the amount of time I was allowed to think about work each day or cutting off a mentor figure who often said inappropriate things during business calls, I was determined to listen to my needs instead of trying to push past them.
It’s barely been a couple months, but I can already feel the effect these changes have had on my growth. I am no longer directionless, nor am I afraid of becoming stagnant. In learning to have compassion for myself and my needs by placing boundaries where necessary, I have actually become more successful and productive than I ever was before. In the end, finding peace within myself did more to facilitate my personal growth than changing my external circumstances could ever hope to accomplish.
So my question for you is: What boundaries are you setting to help facilitate your growth? Are you giving yourself the time, space, and compassion you need to help you get or maintain your “good?”
About the Author:
Currently a student at UNLV, Perri is pursuing her bachelor’s in English while working as a content writing intern for the Love Yourself Foundation. She spends most of her time writing, crocheting, sewing, and playing with her two cats. After graduation, Perri hopes to expand her freelancing business for writing and editing while she travels around the country.