• Lauren Gewirtz

I am happy

As I am sitting in my apartment in Paris writing this, my stomach feels like it is in knots a little and I am having occasional heart palpitations along with a few tears. This is not because I am sad or anxious or feeling any negative things; it’s actually quite the opposite.

Just a year ago, I had no idea that I would be sitting here in Paris. I had no idea I would have some of the friends that I do. I had no idea that my life would change in some of the ways that it has. I had no idea that I would be the person that I am today.

I also had no idea that in just a few short months, I would begin to feel depressed. I knew that I would struggle with anxiety, but I also had no idea that my therapist would tell me that some of the triggers I have are due to things that happened in my past for many years and that what I am feeling is panic and signs of slight PTSD.

After writing that last paragraph, that one you just read, I feel a bit less tense. Saying all of those words is still the hardest part about all of it. I know that I should not feel ashamed of struggling with mental illness, but it still feels awkward to say, and frankly, I worry that people will think I’m too sensitive or think that they can’t say certain things around me. But I’m working on all of that.

This is something that I have wanted to write for a while, but the time never felt right and I could never find the right words, but here we are.

Today, I am overwhelmed and overjoyed to say that I have not had a depressive episode in over two months. Today, I can say that although I still struggle with anxiety, I can control it a lot better now.

Today, for the first time that I can honest to God say that I remember in my life, I am happy.

I am happy with my mental state of mind. I am happy with where I am at in my life. I am happy with where I believe I am going. I am happy with my relationships with my friends and family. I am happy that the toxic relationships I had are gone. I am happy that I am alive and healthy. Most importantly, I am happy with myself.

To this day, I can’t look at pictures of myself in second grade through most of high school without getting tears in my eyes. I think about where I was at and what was going on in my life and even though I am smiling in the unchanging photograph, I know that I was not in a great place.

I am fortunate to have the resources to get help and that I wanted to go to therapy because so many people feel weak because of that. If you are one of those people, I promise that getting help does not make you weak. In fact, getting that help has made me into the strongest person I have ever been.

The things is, these things could have destroyed me. I have seen them destroy people I love -- something I hope to never happen again. I am a lot more self-aware now about these things because I know that there is no real cure for mental illness. So, I take care of myself, I listen to my body when it tells me I’m feeling anxious or something is triggering the ‘dark curtain’ as depression is sometimes referred to. Although I can’t control some of those things, I use what I have learned to recognize symptoms in my own brain and help myself by doing some of the things that help me get through what I will call an ‘episode.’

The thing that really sucks about depression is that it is essentially completely out of your control. It’s chemical imbalances in your brain that can happen whenever they want and if you’re subject to it due to genetics or because of things you’ve experienced in your life, you have to get help and possibly medication to actually get better. Fortunately, I never had to go on medication because I found other things that helped me, but that doesn’t mean that some people don’t need it and that’s okay too.

So, back to today.

Today, I went to visit the Palace of Versailles with some great people that I am studying abroad with. The Palace was beautiful and the gardens were spectacular. On my way back to our apartment, I was looking at some pictures from the day and I came across this photo:

This is (obviously) me. When I first scrolled to this photo, part of me wanted to think and be critical about how I looked. My eyes are closed, that one piece of hair is not in the right place, my shirt is crooked, my hand is awkward.

Instead of letting my brain think of all of those things right away, I thought about how I was laughing at something funny; how it was so nice out today and the sunshine made me so joyful; how I have gone through so many things in almost 20 years of life and here I am, in Paris, out of my comfort zone and I am the most me version of me that I have ever been in my entire time of existence on this planet.

I am happy.

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