This week, I’ve been struggling with depression, and a general feeling of apathy towards life. I’ve been overwhelmed by this feeling that most of what I spend my time doing isn’t something that makes me happy, isn’t something that makes me feel fulfilled, isn’t something that helps me grow as a human being. I’ve been feeling that nothing I do really matters, and if I were to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn’t really make much of an impact in the world, beyond causing sadness to my family and close friends.

It all started with the bad news about my job, and the realisation that if I want to turn this writing thing into a career, I’m not going to achieve that unless I’m constantly on the lookout for opportunities. Yet, simply the thought of having to search for new jobs exhausts me; I don’t have the optimism and energy level I had a year and a half ago, when I started with all of this. I realised from reading the boards that very few people made a decent living doing what I was learning to do, and that for 90% of the people out there, it was simply an alternative to every other crappy $8 an hour job and gave you the freedom to work at home, whenever you had the opportunity. Somehow, I determined I was going to be the exception. I was going to teach myself a brand-new skill set and excel. And for quite some time, I did. It was a career move that not only improved my life, but made me feel as if I were actually good at something.

Having that taken away from me, being put in the position to struggle and churn out as many articles as possible with a rather limited energy source to make up for the fact that not only was my pay being cut a good deal, but I wasn’t as good as I thought I was—well, it made me feel defeated. Ultimately, I’ve been depressed since getting this news.

The trip to the doctor had much the same effect. Weirdly, it cheered me up after my ENG when the person reading my test results said it appeared I had an issue in my left ear, because I do. It bothers me, often. It cheered me up even though I knew the results involved expensive and potentially painful surgery, because it was a diagnosis. It wasn’t in my head. It was a real problem with real solutions.

As I blogged about earlier this week, the audiologist was mistaken. Further testing revealed that I most likely do not have any sort of hole in my ear. I have TMJ, which can be fixed by extensive and painful dental work, and TMJ therapy. I also have another vestibular condition, one that supposedly improves over time and with rehabilitation exercises, but for which there is no cure.

Today, I felt extremely depressed because it was a bad ear day. Bad ear days seem to happen when there are abrupt changes in the weather, and in Atlanta, we have a new season every week. I woke up lethargic and tired, and all day, noticed my pulse rate and blood pressure were extremely low. (I may have to speak to my doctor about lowering my dose of medications, because they are working a little too well.) I had flashes of dizziness, pressure in my ear, and listening to music for about an hour made me feel crappy. Lo and behold, it became extremely windy later in the day, and even started to snow in some places….so of course it’s all related.

What depressed me, though, is that there was a problem for which there’s simply no solution. I have anxiety, which can be tough to deal with, and seems to center around scary physical symptoms, namely vertigo…which is the most common symptom of my disorder. I am on medication to help deal with the anxiety, and I’m supposed to go talk to a professional about learning new ways to cope with my anxiety, and the fact that, deep down, I’m really, really scared of dying. Not just when I’m 60 or 80 or 100, but now. It’s odd, for a person who went through life either never thinking about the future, or actively engaging in activities that I knew could go horribly wrong and kill me. As soon as I had my first panic attack—which, for those who have never had one, feels a lot like a heart attack and you wouldn’t know the difference—I started to become overly aware of everything my body was doing and feeling, and became afraid of what it would feel like when my body stopped working. I’m in my early 30′s, and I’m scared most nights when I go to sleep that I won’t wake up.

Much of this started, oddly enough, when actress Brittany Murphy died. It bothered me extremely that someone I kind of identified with, someone who was around my age and finally starting to get her life together, could just die from a combination of pneumonia and OTC drugs. However, it became a larger problem, and I started to have some fairly obsessive thoughts about not waking up every night I went to sleep after the night I dreamed about getting shot, and I woke up, and realised the SWAT team had shot my neighbour. That was followed by a co-worker of The Guy I Am Currently Dating, who was around my age, feeling sick, taking NyQuil, going to bed, and simply never waking up. A few weeks later, a guy I knew from Burning Man died from taking some tainted drugs. Then, a body was found in the dumpster of my apartment complex, barely wrapped in a blanket with a hole through his head. Later in the year, a good friend’s brother, also my age, passed away. It was right after that, when I developed some kind of illness after a visit to the beach and didn’t feel right—and at the same time, was visiting my parents, who are plagued by difficult health issues—that I started having these attacks. My pulse was over 120 for days, until they found some meds to help keep me calm.

Unfortunately, they also put me on a medication to treat anxiety in bi-polar patients, believing that anyone having acute anxiety and heart palpitations for days on end had to be manic. The medication sent me into a head space where I thought 18 hours a day about death, and what it would be like to die, and when the best time for me to leave the Earth would be. It’s silly to say, but I was really into watching “Big Brother”, a reality show for which I’d been a finalist years ago when I was young, attractive, and vibrant, and the thing that kept me going was remembering “If I die today, I don’t get to see what happens tomorrow.” Thinking about my own life in those terms didn’t affect me, but knowing that waking up another day so I could see the latest adventures of my favourite TV show did.

Needless to say, I spent more time in 2011 thinking about death, being confronted with death, and being made aware of the fact that my own death was imminent at any time than any person needs to. It probably isn’t any surprise that the result of all of this is a panic disorder that wreaks havoc on my life, and doesn’t always let me feel in control of things. It seems ironic, because the first three decades of my life were filled with the loss of loved ones; in fact, they comprise some of my earliest childhood memories. It is perhaps the mantra of my life: people die, things change, life goes on. The one thing that bothered me emotionally, for many years, was the fact that I had to say goodbye to so many people, but I was left behind to deal with life going on. I largely dealt with it by not thinking about it too much, other than in some of the morbidly depressing stories and poems I’ve created over the years, and in adopting a “live for the day” attitude that bordered on self-destructive. It’s as if I was routinely testing the limits of my invincibility, without ever thinking or caring about the results. I was an extraordinarily self-destructive, self-sabotaging, masochistic person.

Somewhere around the age of 27, my life changed a lot. I learned, little by little, there was more to me than that person. I learned I could not let that person take over my life, because I wasn’t strong enough to handle the consequences. It didn’t occur to me that my thoughts on my own invincibility would change, as well.

I understand I have anxiety whenever I have feelings reminiscent of the illness this summer that caused my panic attacks, because those panic attacks had me convinced, to a huge degree, I was going to die. I absolutely believed I was terminally ill, because I’d never had a physical illness that manifested itself as a mental problem, and I’d never had a mental illness that didn’t diminish with the help of a few pills.

I don’t ever talk about it, but I struggled with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for years. It didn’t limit my life, but it affected my journey a great deal. It caused me to make choices I might not otherwise make, to behave impulsively, to suffer from nightmares and insomnia, to engage in self-destructive behaviour that many could simply look at as the sum total of being a “wild child”. But it wasn’t until I had dealt with those issues in a way that worked for me that I became a newer, better person. Perhaps because I did it on my own, without therapy (I had a fairly negative experience on that count) and without pills as much as possible, it was a long process for me.

This current situation with the anxiety, it makes me feel extremely depressed. It feels like starting all over again, with a new set of problems I can’t always handle. While I can rationalise it by saying that it developed as a result of a genuine physical illness, one that requires me to go to rehabilitation and do some work so that my symptoms improve over time, it doesn’t make it any easier.

It doesn’t make me want to celebrate to know that I don’t need surgery, or some medical cure for a real, understandable issue. I know it should, rationally, because those things are horrible. What I see, however, is that I have a physical issue that might improve over time, but which, in some way, will be with me for the rest of my life. It doesn’t have to control or debilitate the quality of my life, but it’s an extra challenge, an unfortunate problem that just happens sometimes, and for which there is no cure. And since the symptoms of this incurable problem seem to provoke anxiety under certain conditions, I feel a bit of despair that perhaps I will never get better.

Perhaps I will never again be the person I was, and that’s hard to deal with. After so many losses in my life, so many times I’ve needed to start over, so many times I’ve ultimately found myself alone, with nothing to count on but myself, losing something as fundamental as my energy, my enthusiasm for life, my health, my resilience…I’m not sure I could exist without those things.

I’m not sure I could handle losing myself, abandoning a stronger and more determined,independent person, just when I was finally getting to know her.

Too many people I’ve loved throughout my life have been flames that have burned too fast, too furiously, and extinguished too soon. I used to believe that was somewhat inevitable for me, and didn’t care as much as I should have. Now, that’s the very last thing I want for me.

I want my life back, the ability to feel normal and energetic and healthy…and, yes, no surgery is good news. But it’s also something that fills me with sadness and makes me feel a little defeated, because I realise there are no quick fixes. I just have a long road to tread, and perhaps by the time I feel like myself again, I…and everyone around me…will have forgotten who that person is.

This year, celebrating Christmas Eve, and my birthday, and ringing in 2012 with the people in Atlanta I care about the most, it meant the world to me. It would mean the world to me under any circumstances, but because I genuinely wasn’t sure I’d make it to see those celebrations, it meant everything that I was.

I hope I’m not asking too much when I say I just want to know I’ll be able to do it all over again a year from now. I don’t know how much time would be enough on this earth to do everything I want to do, but I know I haven’t had enough, not by a long shot.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”~ Abraham Lincoln

I have a confession to make…..

I am the kind of person who gets depressed, introspective, and melancholy whenever her birthday rolls around. Of course, I do my very best to hide this fact, by turning my birthday (and, since I was born right between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, all the surrounding days of festivity) into a unique celebratory experience in which I am the princess and everyone is supposed to go out of their way to make me happy. Yes, when it comes to birthdays, I am a five-year-old child who wants cake and a pony and all her friends to come over and play.

Every year, I do my best to make my birthday an *event*. If I look back through the photographic memories of my life, I can remember what birthday I celebrated based on what city I was in, who was there, and what merriment transpired. One of my favourite birthdays involved a tour of various East Coast cities during the holidays, during which I celebrated my birthday 5 times in 4 different cities. I’ve celebrated by drinking martinis and closing down clubs in New York City, visiting strip clubs in Philly, and having over a thousand people sing to me on a Carnival cruise ship. I’ve celebrated with dinner on swanky rotating rooftop establishments, and by getting stuck in a small town in Ohio during a blizzard and ending up at a biker bar, which was the only thing open. I’ve celebrated by having a dear friend come visit me on more than one occasion, and was a bit disappointed that this was not in the cards for this year. I did my obligatory 21st birthday theatre-geek ritual of attempting to do 21 shots over the course of the evening. (I got a lot further than I ever expected.) I’ve even ended up at more than one celebration that involved grownups taking off clothes in the middle of classy bars and restaurants. On my 29th birthday, I fell down the parking garage stairs.

Yes, folks, birthdays are quite interesting in my world. If it’s not big and over-the-top, it’s not what I want to do to celebrate. If there are not a hundred people leaving me e-mails and Facebook messages, I’m a little disappointed. After all, it’s the one day of the year where I can proudly let my narcissism shine!

Behind it all, though, is the fact that I grow very melancholy and tend to feel more alone than usual on my birthday. I remember it starting the day after my 21st birthday, when my mother wanted to take me out and celebrate because I could legally go to the bar (She pretended to have no idea I’d been going to bars since the age of 15, and would often go sing karaoke as a teenager because strangers would buy me drinks.) I remember not wanting to go, because I’d been crying earlier in the evening. The fun of celebrating with friends the night before had worn off, and I’d just grown conscious of feeling old. I had this feeling that time was passing me by, that each time I celebrated, it was really the mourning of a loss of another year—a year I could have done something spectacular, but didn’t.

I still feel that way, particularly at a point in my life where I’m NOT doing anything spectacular. I have a nice and caring boyfriend, a stable and relatively decent place to live, a roommate I don’t want to kill every day, a job where I can do something I’m actually rather good at, a family I’m still on mostly civil terms with, an extended group of friends, a few random infatuations, a fun trivia hobby, a successful social group, a dog that loves me, enough money to get by, and the knowledge that my recent health crises, while painful, draining, and not fun, will not ultimately kill me. In short, I have all the things most people my age have…and the things some have that I do not, such as a cool car, a corporate job, marriage, kids, and a house…are things I truly do not really desire.

Yet, I feel unfulfilled. Perhaps I set the bar too high in my early years; there were things I wanted, and I made certain to find them. In my 20′s, I wanted to travel, so I did. I wanted to perform, so I did. I wanted romantic love affairs and crazy adventures….check, on both. I wanted to be artistic, scandalous, unconventional…and we all saw how that worked out. I wanted to explore different ways of thinking and living, broaden my horizons. I’ve done that. I wanted to meet rich,powerful, famous, influential people for the sake of saying “When I was young, I did that.”. I wanted to live on my own, and lounge by the poolside every afternoon. I wanted the picture of domestic bliss, playing house with someone who would maybe be the right person for me.

I did all those things. I have not led a boring life, and now that I do, by the standards of many people I know…I still don’t. Becoming “ordinary”, living a drama-free life, choosing relationships over impetuous flings and crazy parties, gaining 20 pounds instead of spending my days eating 500 calories a day and drinking vodka, working a relatively normal, deadline-oriented job, having responsibilities…well, in my way, I’ve grown up. But there are still adventures I miss, still things I want to do.

For some reason, I stopped doing them. I stopped pursuing life as avidly as I did when I was young. I took my self-esteem down a few notches…or perhaps others did for me…and started caring about things outside of my own little bubble. Perhaps I just became content and complacent. Perhaps I became co-dependent, and began to think, as I so often do in relationships, “If you don’t want to do this with me, I won’t do it at all.”. Perhaps I just became older, more mature, more isolated in the suburbs, more fragile. more stuck in a life I’m not particularly sure is mine to live. I can blame a lot of things, but mostly, I had some life experience, and it left me frightened and hurt and less able to believe in myself. Sadly, the city of Atlanta has had a lot to do with that; it’s a large city with a small town attitude, including the tendency to judge, to talk behind everyone else’s back, to condemn what you don’t understand. That has affected me a great deal, taught me to limit myself, to care too much what everyone else thinks.

This year, being sick, it taught me that maybe I don’t have as many years left as I’d like to think I do. In just a few years, I’ll be halfway through this adventure known as life, at best. It’s time to make things count, to take chances, to refuse to limit myself, to love myself, to admit I have gifts and talents and not be afraid to show them.

Part of me is afraid that if I do these things, I’m going to find myself alone…as if the real me is one that’s not terribly mature or considerate of others and should likely be single. But another part of me understands that I need a person in my life who understands all aspects of who I am and can handle some of my feelings of unfulfillment and yearning for a more adventurous, unconventional lifestyle.

I can’t stay put because I’m dating someone who likes to stay put. I can’t deny that side of myself for the sake of someone else, or because it makes me feel co-dependent that I sometimes would rather not go if I have to go alone. Alone is OK, and I used to know that…but have forgotten over the years.

This year is one for healing; body, mind, and spirit. It is also one for getting in touch with who I am, the pieces that got lost along the way, what I want from my life, and what keeps me feeling so “stuck” that I stopped taking chances, stopped putting myself out there.

This year is for adventure, for making connections, for expanding horizons. It seems natural I’ll approach these things in a different way than I did in my 20′s, but as people change, so does how they explore the world around them and what they appreciate in others.

This year is for the unexpected, and deciding that makes me feel decidedly less melancholy about adding another year to my age.

After all, I’m an actress. We don’t age. We’re 25 until we’re 40, 40 until we’re 60, and 60 until we’re being shown on that “In Memoriam” page. :)