I had a relatively “Leave It To Beaver” childhood. I grew up in a small town. My parents are still together, and my family is close. I played 3 varsity sports, was in the theater program, and on the debate team. I got good grades, and I was a dancer until I was about 15 or 16. My family vacationed once a year.
I never went to summer camp because, as my dad put it, “We owned a summer camp.” Which was kind of true. We own a resort that always has kids staying there. We lived outside of town, so I felt a tad isolated. And my parents were semi-strict, but all around, I would never ask for another way to be raised.
I started dealing with depression in my late teens, and anxiety came a few years later in college.
At first it was extremely difficult for me to find a doctor that I liked; one told me bisexuality was a phase, another told me to go on welfare, while another offered only that I should quit drinking (I was 24). I went on and off medications, and I will never know if any of them worked since I was drinking a lot of alcohol with each one.
I spent my 20’s as the quintessential party girl. I had an amazing time! I experienced all sorts of things, and I had some great friends. I also drank and smoked to excess while avoiding anything too serious. I was definitely self medicating, and I convinced myself I was happy – looking back I truly want to believe I was.
At 28 I was hitting the end of my stride; the lifestyle was getting way too crazy. The black outs were a regular occurrence, and my hangovers lasted 2-3 days (most of the time I would get agoraphobia and never leave the house during that time). I would drive to work still drunk from the night before, and those “great friends” had turned into acquaintances I could drink with.
I met a guy. He was totally ready to jump right into the party scene. He moved in to my place, a little apartment on a street that had ALL the bars within walking distance, so naturally, we went out every night. I wouldn’t have called our relationship stable or healthy, but then again, neither were we.
Right before my 30th birthday, we moved about 20 minutes out of town. We hoped it would give us a new chance. Keep us out of the bars and help us grow up. It worked for him. He wouldn’t drink when we would go out, so he could drive home while I got shit-faced.
When I went out alone, I would still get pretty wasted and even drove home a few times. Our relationship was suffering more than ever, my job had grown increasingly frustrating, and I was completely miserable. I hated everything and everyone – most of all myself. It almost sounds too cliche to be true.
On Mother’s Day 2015, I awoke with my typical Sunday hangover except the hollow feeling in my gut was greater than usual. I showed up late to family brunch, likely still drunk. The anxiety was growing. I had a mimosa with the meal hoping a little hair of the dog would help get me through it.
It made things worse (little did I know it would be the last drink I would have for a year). I barely finished eating, immediately went home, and puked it all up. I crawled into bed and shook the rest of the day. I took a Xanax when it got dark enough to fall asleep; I prayed for relief in the morning.
I woke up, but there was no change.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday passed, and the only change was that night terrors had come. I was having hour long anxiety attacks each morning from 1 or 2 A.M. until 5 A.M. I was exhausted. I decided the next week that I had to see my general practitioner.
She had previously prescribed me Xanax for my occasional anxiety attacks. I assumed she would be able to help me or refer me to someone that could. She didn’t know what to do with me.
She prescribed me an anti-psychotic. I am not psychotic nor have I ever been.
She told me that this pill could be used for anxiety, even though one of the side effects is anxiety attacks. She told me to wait a few weeks and come back to touch base, and see if the medication was working. I trusted her and left her office cautiously optimistic.
I made it two weeks. The anxiety attacks had not subsided. I was barely functioning. She adjusted the dosage and added lithium. I felt like Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls. I was supposed to wait a few more weeks, and I was seriously struggling.
The medicine made me so exhausted. I would almost fall asleep on my morning commute and had to drink excessive amounts of caffeine to make it through my day (yea, caffeine with an anxiety disorder – genius, right?).
I was in the doctor’s office at least once a week. What I didn’t realize was that she was out of her depth. I was slightly better, but I couldn’t live. I was in bed the second I got home from work. I couldn’t do anything around the house, I was going days without actually eating (because it made me anxious). All I could do was sleep… and cry.
I cried all the time. I never left my house. I lost a lot of friends and missed everything. I was petrified of everything. I felt totally isolated.
At this point I have to give a MAJOR shout out to the boyfriend! He had zero experience with mental illness. He definitely didn’t understand it, but he held me every night while I shook and cried and hit myself during the anxiety attacks. He cleaned the house. He cooked. He gave up his life to take care of me. He was amazing. Without him and my parents I never would have survived!
July was the final straw with my general practitioner. I was paying to see her every week, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Three days after I saw her to adjust my meds, for the umpteenth time, I was having a difficult time.
I tried to call her and was told she wouldn’t take my call. I explained that I had been in two days prior and just needed a quick verbal consultation. Her receptionist told me she would call me back. She never did. This was the second time it had happened.
After that I called six psychologists’ offices. I couldn’t get a call back. I was astounded. It’s a hot button topic, mental health, but I couldn’t get any help! I was feeling hopeless and ready to commit myself to the local in-patient facility.
I thought about quitting my job and collecting disability, but without my job, I would have no insurance. I was in so much pain! I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to exist any longer. My bed was the only place I felt OK.
I finally got into an office. The doctor barely noticed I was there while he asked me the necessary medical background questions and logged them into a lap top. I had to tell him twice that I had, in fact, never been committed. He adjusted my medications, ordered some blood tests, and advised me to come back in a month.
I did feel slightly better with the recent adjustment, but when I went back for my second visit, I told this doctor I wanted OFF the anti-psychotic. I was starting to notice word loss, memory issues, and a general fuzziness. I didn’t feel like a person, and the anxiety attacks were still a daily occurrences. He didn’t acknowledge my request and took me off the lithium instead. I was prescribed an alternative to it.
I did start feeling better but no huge advancements. The anxiety attacks were every other day instead of daily. I was still exhausted, that “fuzziness” was getting worse, and I had developed INTENSE acne! I started seeing a dermatologist, an acupuncturist, and a reiki practitioner.
I had 2-3 appointments every week. I was working really hard to heal.
The acupuncture and reiki were great. They were providing me with the only relief I had felt in months – even if it was only for a day or two, it was worth it! I also started meditating with this great app, “OMG! I Can Meditate,” which was so helpful.
Flash forward to October, and I am back in the doctor’s office for a checkup before I flew to Charlotte to see my brother and sister-in-law for the weekend. He had the results of a recent blood test and told me I could stop taking the anti-psychotic all together. I was psyched!!
That is until I was 30,000 feet in the air having withdrawal symptoms and an epic anxiety attack! My mother looked on helpless and worried as I silently sobbed, shook, and gobbled a couple Xanax to try and calm down. The flight was only an hour and forty-five minutes. I spent an hour and a half freaking out!
I tried everything! After a third Xanax, healing crystals, meditation, and essential oils, I still couldn’t pull it together. By the time we got off the plane and to my brother and sister-in-law’s house, I was heavily sedated and immediately fell asleep.
I stayed pretty sedated that whole weekend, determined to let the drugs flush out of my system. I gave that up the next Saturday night as the impending flight home approached. I got back on the anti-psychotic – the flight home was uneventful.
This was my lowest point in my recovery. I thought I was never going to get better.
I thought this was the only option available, and I had to take what I could get, that THIS was as good as it was going to get. Welcome to your new life Lia!
I quickly realized this doctor was useless. I had to remind him at least 2 times every session I had never been in a mental hospital (still). He didn’t care about me. I was a dollar sign to him. I had also left my therapist who was a nice enough fellow but kept insisting I exercise, as if it was the ONLY way I would feel better. I am sure he was right but the medicine was leaving me so drained that I just couldn’t.
I got sick of hearing it and tried another woman. She began by opening up and rehashing every wound I had ever had in my entire life – I did not want to talk about being beat by a boyfriend in 2007, I did not want to talk about the time I got roofied at a bar, and I did not want to talk about my friends that had died. I had addressed and come to terms with all those things years before.
I wanted to talk about how to heal myself now.
December rolled around. I had done one or two holiday activities but nothing crazy and had been home by 8 to go to bed. People noticed I was acting weird. They could tell I was jittery and shaky. I was completely uncomfortable in my skin and the acne, which wasn’t going away, was making me even more self-conscious.
I just wanted to stay in bed.
The thing was, I couldn’t. I had to continue with my process. On a “good day,” I got ambitious and booked my first vacation with my boyfriend to Florida at the end of February. I thought about canceling it, but I didn’t want to lose the money.
Thankfully, the woman who does my acupuncture recommended a different doctor. I called this doctor, but she wasn’t taking new patients. She recommended a second doctor who was moving in a couple of weeks, so it would’ve been pointless. She recommended a third doctor. The third doctor was taking new patients, and I made an appointment for January 7th 2016.
I had been sick for 242 days when I had that first appointment. I went to my first appointment with low expectations. I stepped into her office and sat in her big leather chair. She asked if she could go over my history to help her grasp who I was. I reluctantly told her everything.
She never pried or prodded, just listened taking active notes. She asked for clarifications on some names and some dates but basically, just took notes. As I talked, I glanced around her office. I was nervous and uncomfortable. I was telling another stranger my life story.
I noticed some things about her office that put me at ease; she had angel statues, healing crystals, and elephants. The more I looked around, the more at ease I became. Towards the end of our session, she told me to start weaning off the anti-psychotic, from twice a day to once. This made me scared, but she comforted me and told me she wanted to help me.
In all this time, no doctor or therapist had said or made me feel like they wanted to help me.
I wept in her office. She took over the role of my doctor AND my therapist that day. It was the best decision I have ever made.
She had me off the anti-psychotic in two weeks. She put me on Lamictal, and I still had Xanax. She listened to everything I was saying. She was interested and attentive. I loved her! After a month or so, she did a divination reading for me, and then we did a meditation for one session.
This was the best therapy I had ever had! When it came time for the vacation, I felt prepared. I was going to kick its ass! I totally did too.
I went to Disney and had a blast!
When I felt more confident in my standings, I started making other healthy choices. I made drastic changes to my diet in hopes of healing my mind and my skin. I cut out gluten, dairy, and cane/ white sugar as best I could.
I started taking all sorts of vitamins. I upgraded my essential oils to Young Living. I started reaching out to friends again. I am still trying to get a stable yoga practice going, but I’m not too hard on myself about it. I had my first drink in one year on May 13th, which felt pretty good; I will only drink on weekends and never more than 3.
I still have an early bedtime, but I’ve moved it from a strict 9 to a more reasonable 10-11. I booked every weekend from May until August with social events. I am determined to shove as much into a summer as possible. I’m documenting it all on Instagram, and I love the support I find there.
Sometimes it gets hard, and sometimes I have to rest. But I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have. I have an incredible team that helps me: a doctor, dermatologist, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner, and massage therapist. Now, I just need a chiropractor and a psychic.
I’m spending my summer focusing on really living and having fun. Not fun like I used to have, not let’s get sloppy at a bar fun… Quality fun with quality people. Once the summer is over, I will change my objective to a new career, something that can utilize my experience.
I want people to know they MUST advocate for themselves, specifically their health care.
Every day is a new day. It takes effort to focus on the positive, but it is necessary and so much better than the alternative. If I have to leave anything, in closing, I just hope that my story encourages someone. I want you, the reader, to know you are the only one who knows your body… whether it is an ingrown hair or something more serious.
If you do not feel confident in your recovery plan, if your concerns are not being validated, or if your feelings are not being recognized, then you must make a change! Get a second opinion, a third, a fourth…
Get as many opinions as you need to feel confident in your process. There are good doctors out there. There are alternative medicines to explore. There are people that want to help. Find them. It takes work. It takes perseverance. Nothing good in life comes easy. You can get through this!
It’s 4 am. The sinews
in my legs are on fire and
my chest feels like it’s caving
Like I’m being
Like I’m being interrogated
as a witch, when I know full well
that the witchcraft
doing this to me is coming
from somewhere buried deep within
and I don’t want to afflict
Why does It even begin?
The walls twist and spin, my heart races,
and my mind is the only thing
that outpaces it.
And I. Can’t. Seem. To. Fucking. Breathe.
My sick, slobbering, staccato mind wrings the muscles
in my abdomen, in my thorax,
in my gastrocnemii, (to put it medically)
while my vision wavers
I force myself to move, to stretch, to push
out anything deeper than the shallow breath held
in my lungs with each passing second.
I scroll through my instagram feed
searching for an escape.
Pretty landscapes, Pretty people,
Something prettier than this,
prettier than me.
Something whole or
Something that at least has the visage
because right now I feel
This is new.
This poem is about my experiences dealing with Anxiety and Panic Attacks. They’re very new to me. Up until last semester, I had never had a panic attack, never felt what it was like to have crippling doubt about if I was normal, if this was normal, if I could control something like this. With the help of my friends, family, and the love of my life—my sweet and supportive girlfriend—I’ve been able to keep myself in a good place. Some days, it still hits me for no discernible reason. Some nights I wake up with cramps and attacks out of nowhere, like I described in this poem. I hope that by sharing my story, other people dealing with anxiety, especially those who are just finding out what it entails, can find comfort in knowing that someone else knows what they are going through. Anxiety doesn’t define you. There is always a way to combat your anxiety and you should never stop searching for what it is that makes you feel grounded and safe!
Thank you so much to Emily Covais, Dana Sauro, and Kyle Marchuk for your efforts in partnership with Active Minds Loyola, Maryland Chapter.
It has been about two years since I came off my anti-anxiety medication. Well, it’s more like I was forced off. When you become homeless, you lose all of the benefits of a home and parents, including health insurance. But, that’s another story. This is the story of my severe anxiety and how I’ve managed it.
A few days after I didn’t have my pills, I suddenly remembered how much I needed them. There were so many things that sent my thoughts through the roof, and I swore I was going to die. It was an absolute nightmare of a sensory overload.
I had to check my shoes to make sure they were double-knotted because, if I didn’t, I would trip crossing the street and get run over. I had to make sure when I plugged something into an outlet that it was in all the way, otherwise I would start an electrical fire and die. I had to make sure every single zipper on my book bag was closed, otherwise everything would fall out when I was crossing the street, and everything would fall down the sewer drain. Honestly, I thought I could relate to Aunt Josephine from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I almost went back to the abusive home I had been thrown from, because at least there I would be medicated. And it was with that thought – going back to being abused just so I could get medication – that I realized I needed to reevaluate a lot of things about myself.
A few days turned into a few weeks. I was still wired with fear of any and everything going wrong at any and every moment. But, nothing ever did.
My behavior was still a little on the obsessive. It’s probably the main reason why my stomach and chest always felt tight. Back then (and now) I would get hours from my job, and I would calculate exactly how much I would be getting paid for that week and the next, and I would write out a list of things I needed to spend on three checks at a time. It created (and still creates) a lot of unneeded pressure on myself, because I am always in fear that one week something will happen and I won’t be able to work. You get the idea.
The weeks turned into months, and, would you believe it, nothing happened. I wasn’t falling in the streets, I wasn’t burning to death, and, you guessed it, I wasn’t losing everything in my book bag while crossing the street.
But, the anxiety of it possibly happening was always there. By now, I had gotten really good about deflecting the tight stomach and chest feeling by entertaining something else.
I would sing. I would whip out my phone and play a game. I would read something. I’d listen to the grossest, mushiest, and lovey-dovey-iest song I had on my music playlist, and I’d find a way to giggle about it. Holy shit, I was gonna be fine.
I was so embarrassed when I told him that I had a mental illness, but he couldn’t connect the pieces as to why I felt that way. He just didn’t get it. I was embarrassed because I wanted to fit that unattainable image of “perfect girl,” and “perfect girls” don’t have anxiety. He made me realize that I was already perfect with all of my quirks.
Once I got my life back in working order, there were many times where I could have afforded the anti-anxiety medication I needed. But, I thought it was weak to go running back to the pills because it would make me feel better. I’m also extremely stubborn, and I told myself I could fight off the feeling I got without the pills.
My fiancé has become so tuned to my responses that he knows I’m getting overwhelmed long before I do. Sometimes, I’ll be writing at the dinner table and he’ll come and take my hands away from whatever it is I’m doing, and put them on his chest and breathe.
That’s it. I’ll copy his breathing, and realize that my own had been shallow before. I’ll feel his heart thumping, and, holy shit, is that a soothing feeling. He’ll let go after 20 seconds, say, “there,” give me a forehead kiss, and go back to what he was doing. And it works. Every. Single. Time.
I’ve realized that I was right about not running back to taking pills because it was easy. There are so many other alternatives to anti-anxiety medication, and I never thought I’d be marrying the best one.
For those of you who don’t know, this week is National Suicide Prevention Week. So, I’m just going to start this off by throwing some statistics at you. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. On average, there are 117 suicides per day. Each year, 42,773 Americans die as a result of suicide. So, are you listening now?
While mental illness is not the only cause of suicide, it is the leading factor. Mental illness is not something we can keep ignoring. As a society, we’ve created such a negative stigma around those who suffer from mental illnesses, but in reality, 57.7 million people in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental illness every year. Having dealt with my own depression and anxiety and watched others do the same, this is something that I hold very near and dear to me.
I am here to be a voice.
Mental illness is not something that you just “get over,” so stop telling people who are depressed to “stop being sad.” Depression is so much more than just being sad. It comes in waves. Some days you are the happiest person in the world. Other days you feel like the entire world is crashing down around you, and sometimes you don’t even know why.
Mental illness is not something you can just explain, so stop telling people to tell you what’s wrong or what they’re freaking out about. Sometimes even on the brightest days, depression can make you feel like the world is coming to an end. Sometimes you wake up at 4 in the morning feeling so much anxiety you could throw up. It doesn’t always have an explanation, and sometimes it just happens.
Mental illness is not always something that can be seen with the eyes, so stop saying it’s not real just because you don’t see it. Sometimes anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are suffered internally. Just because someone seems like the happiest, most outgoing person in the world, doesn’t mean they aren’t dealing with anything. As a matter of fact, most people who deal with mental illness are dealing with it alone, which really sucks.
Mental illness is not just for “crazy people,” so stop making it a “no-go” for conversation and causing people to feel so alone. Quite honestly, there are so many people who deal with mental illness of some form on a daily basis. The only “crazy” thing about it is that we try so hard to ignore it. Mental illness is something that we should be able to talk about as easily as the common cold.
Mental illness is not a cry for attention. Seriously. IT IS A REAL THING AND PEOPLE DEAL WITH IT AND WHEN YOU TELL PEOPLE THEY ARE JUST ASKING FOR ATTENTION YOU ARE JUST MAKING THINGS WORSE AND YOU NEED TO NOT.
Mental illness is not discriminatory. I first started going to counseling for depression when I was 8 years old. It is something that impacts regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, age, what your favorite football team is, what your favorite color is, or what you ate for dinner last night. It can be anyone.
Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. People who deal with mental illness of any kind are some of the strongest people there are. They are fighting a battle bigger than you could ever imagine every single day of their life, and most of the time you don’t even know.
Most importantly, mental illness is not something you have to take on alone.
I challenge every single person who reads this to change your way of thinking. Say something kind to someone this week. Do some random act of kindness. You never know who you could be helping or how much it could mean to someone. Most importantly, act as a voice, whether that is in the form of sharing this blog post or sharing your own words. We can’t continue to ignore something so big.
For anyone dealing with your own battle with mental illness, just know, you are not alone. You are strong. You are amazing. Shine your light for the world to see.
I don’t think anyone understands mental illness. Even if you’ve seen a friend after they’ve finished up having a panic attack or experience fairly severe anxiety yourself. And that’s not to discredit or invalidate whatever feelings you yourself may have sometimes.
But this feeling. It’s like a drop of ink into water. It slowly and seductively spreads across my mind like a blanket of mist. So quiet I don’t even realize it. But once it’s settled there is no missing it.
I instantly become completely filled with grey and any idea of wiping it out of my head is deemed impossible. To rid my brain of these thoughts after they’ve settled is something that’s never been done for me. Thoughts like no man will ever love you, you are disgusting, you are stupid, you are worthless, and that no matter how hard you try, success will never come to someone as pathetic as you.
I purposely go look in the mirror just so that I can see how pathetic and humiliating I truly am. The easy solution is to turn the bathroom lights off and sit in the fetal position. But this soon proves a mistake as the darkness of my mind and the complete lack of vision combine, and I can almost see the thoughts racing through my mind in front of me.
My body begins to physically react to the negative thoughts. It’s no longer just crying, it’s muted moans. Like maybe if I focus hard enough, and cry loud enough, I can force the thoughts out of my mind. But there’s no luck.
I gather my strength to make it back to my bed, but the episode continues. My brain is pounding against my skull, and my solution is to start slamming my fist against my head. Though it doesn’t help push out the thoughts, the physical pain becomes a distraction for a moment. That hint of physical pain and the distraction it brought from my mental agony sparks another idea. I latch my fingernails into my forearm, a sweet spot for me where a scar resides from past abuse from almost a year prior that involved a knife. After about ten seconds, I release my grasp and am thankful for the relief that comes with.
The amount of energy that has been exerted throughout the episode is more than my brain typically deals with in a day. I become sleepy and my eyes puffy, heavy, and still streaming with tears. The bad thoughts are still present in my head but going down. They’re settling into my brain deep down where I typically prefer to keep them. But always on high alert, ready to seep out any opportunity they get.
It’s over. It’s passed. The tears are pooled in the corners of my eyes, where I’m too lazy to wipe them away. I’m going to rest, and hope and pray that this doesn’t all happen again tomorrow.
I am a college student dealing with my daily depression and social anxiety.
I have a constant internal struggle because I suffer from loneliness, but having social anxiety makes me afraid to put myself out there to new people. I want to build connections, but I’m too afraid of being rejected. So, I stay at home, often alone. At first, I chalked it up to just being annoyed by daily occurrences, but then I wanted to be alone too often. I would find comfort behind a closed door in silence, but knowing the need to progress, I knew I needed to make a change.
She was the cutest and sweetest kitten I ever met. Her head was way too big for her body, and the way she always looked lost and confused warmed my heart. I hadn’t been much of an animal lover. Even when my mother bought me a puppy for my sixteenth birthday I said, “Mom, I don’t even like dogs.” This time though, it was different. I took her home from the shelter and I began to spend even more time at home, but this time, I wasn’t alone. Cali was with me.
People laugh when I say that I love Cali, but I do (probably too much). She keeps me company when I’m lonely. She gives me space when I need it. She loves cuddling in the morning (which I am not too fond of because I’m not a morning person), but no matter what my day has been like, she is always there for me; no questions asked. I don’t have to explain myself to her, or feel inadequate when I say the wrong thing.
She took a lonely suicidal college student, and gave me piece of mind and love. Of course, human interaction is still a necessary treatment to loneliness, but with Cali, I have more confidence to meet new people. She’s taught me how to love unconditionally, even when she wakes me up at 4am by sitting on my face, or when she scratches holes in new t-shirts. Cali has also taught me how to love myself. She’s taught me that I am good enough.
It may seem as though I saved Cali when I brought her home from the shelter that day, but actually, she saved me.
We were in the car driving past the hubby buildings of Athens, Georgia and I was scared shitless.
They were classic American structures no more than five stories high made entirely out of brick. Refurbished factories converted into retail hotspots and trendy bars. Athens was a complex in the middle of a vast expanse, like a sturdy tree shooting high above a flooded valley that said yes sir, how’re y’all, and we’ll pray for you. Out in the distance the rolling, rolled-over fields allowed the last of the February chill to carry through town. Bryan Wish was in the front seat with his mom talking about what he was going to say when everyone arrived at the event. The Wish Dish One Year Anniversary.
I was sitting in the back holding some banners that covered my face silently venting what the hell are you doing. I was terrified. Didn’t look it but I wanted to jump out the car at the next red light and rush into Pauley’s Crepe Bar. Have a drink at the end of the bar and forget it all, that’s what I wanted. Don’t bother with these people, Matt, just go back inside yourself. But then I had to remind myself of how some wise ass kid from Reston, Virginia touched over 200 peoples’ lives in ways he couldn’t imagine.
We were living in Virginia, both in 6th grade, and we played youth football together. Never really took to each other but that was mostly my fault. I never spoke–to anyone. I was a shy kid who liked to knock his big head around. After that, we happened to play on the same house league basketball team. Don’t remember much except losing in the semi-finals.
After that we didn’t talk for over a decade. We both had amassed different lives over the years. He went into sports and marketing while I tried to be a poet, still trying. One night I remember sitting in the living room of my apartment at Providence College, after an evening of trying to forget that college was coming to an end, I get a Facebook message; it’s Bryan. His mom had caught up with my mom at a Christmas party. That night there was this distinct March chill, like it belonged among the hills of Athens but laid to rest in small, grey Providence. Bryan found out I was a creative writing major (I wanted a lucrative career…) and asked me to write a piece. He said there were no boundaries, no limits, just something true and authentic. Right away, I said ‘sure.’
Damn Matt. What are you going to write about, you’re a fiction writer, you tell lies and call them stories. You’ve never written anything true in your life. After a couple of days thinking on what I should put down, I decided to write about something I had never talked about before. Bryan’s point to make it authentic and providing a place for it to live gave me the balls to go all out. Nothing held back. It was called “The Invaluable Luxury of a Second Chance.” I’ll admit it was tough getting it on paper. But after the tears and anguish and memories washing over me, it was over. It was actually over.
My body felt underweight. Like a tumor I’d grown attached to had been extracted and what filled up was understanding, relief.
The response to my piece was incredible. Thousands of people read it. I received messages telling me how raw and powerful it was. Truth has a way of settling in people’s hearts. To this day, I hope I will never feel as proud of a piece of writing.
He asked over the next few months leading up to and after my graduation if I’d be willing to help him edit a few pieces here and there. I thought ‘sure, why not.’ I was the unofficial associate editor to the Wish Dish. People wrote me back and forth asking me: a guy who didn’t have anything figured out beyond what he was going to do in the next three hours, to lay out their deepest thoughts in the best way possible. I was more than happy to help.
Nurturing a story, a narrative of a life coming from someone where he or she expresses themselves most through language, is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Fast forward a couple months after graduation, Bryan asked me to be the manager of all content. I said, ‘sure.’ Yup, I was on my way. But not everything was so smooth in my life.
For the better part of a year after taking on the role, I went through a rough time. A combination of a bad breakup, entrenched anxiety, depression, and post-graduation uncertainty sent me down a twister of drinking, erratic behavior, and self-destructive tendencies. Longstanding issues I chose to ignore for several years came back to the forefront, like a bad chemical reaction. I reverted into a version of myself who acted savage and selfish. Kept thinking you’re nothing you piece of trash and who do you think you are Mr. Writer? Those voices plagued every portion of my mind and drinking was one of the only things that made it quiet. Drink until it went black, that was the prescription.
The time was approaching for the Wish Dish One Year Anniversary. It had already been one year…my God. I began to accept that there was no escape from what I was about to witness. Bryan was about to finally integrate this eclectic community of writers and artists that all had one thing in common, the essence of truth. I was going all-in, a commitment. There’d be no bars or dark corners to hide in.
We’d pulled up to Nuci’s Space, this venue dedicated to the club owner’s son. Nuci was a talented guitarist on his way to becoming a real staple in the Athens music scene. But he took his own life at the age of 22. On the back wall right next to a stage riddled with guitars like a shrine there was this eight foot tall picture of Nuci standing in the middle of a field looking up to the sky. It looked like he was thinking why can’t I be up there, maybe if I jump high enough…and a jab of realization got me right in the mouth. That could have been me. It was a real possibility that if I let shit get bad enough then I probably wouldn’t be able to dig myself out. If the drinking got that bad, and kept on feeling bad for myself–Right now I could be sailing the clouds up there with Nuci looking for a place to land on the sun. After a full year of looking through hundreds of stories from hundreds of people, I realized that apart from having the love and support of a wonderful family, these stories had formed me and kept my legs planted on the ground.
During the long nights of barhopping, sometimes alone, finding a shadowed corner to paint with my self-pity, waking up early trying to remember how I got back, I’d check the site and make sure everything was running smoothly. Bryan counted on me to get these stories together, these people were depending on me. I thought I had been through some shit in my time but, I had no idea how much shit life throws at you until I read these stories, your stories. They, these men and women, had allowed me to gain a perspective that my life was nothing in the grand scheme if I didn’t want it to be anything. There was this center and that was the Wish Dish.
Instead of making meaning out of every day (my old motto), I wanted people to remember that I at least tried and that was all the meaning I’d need. I was ready to leave that jerkish asshole behind and start a new chapter of my life dedicated to a higher purpose greater than my own gain—But then, another wave hit me. I was in a riptide of revelation. Shit, all those people who’ve entrusted their words to you are going to be here tonight and you’re going to see them face to face. I was finally going to see each of them, talk to them, shake their hands. Oh for the love of shit, Matt, you’re just figuring this out now?! Anxiety was kicking in two-fold.
There was no distance, no invisible fourth wall to separate me from these people. Before, they were more ideas to me who had created beautiful language, like angels. Looking these people in the eye would be like a flashback from an acid trip and that freaked me out.
Standing still in the middle of the Nuci’s giving myself a 360 degree view, I was petrified again. I needed to see if I could slug a few beers to calm the nerves. The amount of relief is almost indescribable when I found out this event had an open bar. Never said I stopped drinking and, hey, I’m not perfect. After a few Tropicalias, I got to meet the rest of the incredible core of the Wish Dish staff.
Shelby Novak, our social media director, saw me. My face was a bit flushed from the beers, Irish red, and she straight-up hugged me. I could just feel that there was a kindness and good will emanating from her, I’d like to think I picked up a little bit of that. She had the Athens vibe, happy to help someone, to give someone a blanket on a cold spring night even when she might need it more.
Not too long after we had all the chairs set up, hung all the posters, and the microphone sound tested I saw the head of content strategy, Sam Dickinson. Dressed to the nines in a blazer, khakis, and a tie he made my blue button down with Polo sneakers a bit underdressed. He shook my hand with an earnestness I don’t see in many people. Along with being as tall as a redwood he’s a great guy, he’s genuine. We three had invested so much into giving people a voice in a world where words have increasingly diminished in their significance. People use them as throwaway symbols, like inconveniences suffered through for the sake of communication. This site and these people and most importantly these stories from young, old, sad, happy, empowered, victimized—they had come into this melting pot where each was celebrated and welcome.
The event went off without a hitch. I’ll let Bryan explain it from his perspective but just let me say that he is the core of this whole thing, a molder of culture. Believe it.
Nearly 200 people showed. That’s 200 stories I’ve read. How would they see me? Would I get criticized for my methods? Do they even know who I am? Did they think their stories were just magically put up on the site?
The amount of welcome and thanks I received shocked me to the foundation.
I talked with Tom Bestul, who had written a story about his experience at Camp Kesem, a camp for children whose families had been affected by cancer. His story inspired me to volunteer more. Another one was Megan Swanson, a former Miss Nebraska who gave her perspective on the highly criticized beauty pageant process. She helped to broaden my horizons. And Denna Babul’s story of love for her dying mother-in-law demonstrated how strong a bond one can share with another. If only I could have talked to every single one of these people I would have relived every moment perusing their words. With each passing recollection and introduction the moments grew more surreal. It might have been the beer but the whole event seemed to gather this arid, temperate hue like the words exchanged between all these storytellers was adding substance to the air, filling a void. I don’t know, maybe I was sloshed. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
First I want to thank Bryan for allowing me to make the closing remarks. Standing up there, the crowd stared, all focus magnified on me like was under a hot beam on an ant hill. Matt what the hell are you going to say you have nothing prepared you never prepare for anything but can you ever be prepared for the truth, truth, yes, the truth just tell the truth—And this is a rough cut of what I said, it is a thanks to all you contributors, past and present.
Hey everyone, I’m Matt Gillick and I’m the chief editor. I’ve read all your stories and for that—well let me first that I’m sorry for any mistakes I made for any of your pieces—I’m not perfect but I try. I just thought that it would be decent of me to say a few words and to thank you all. Thank you guys for taking such a risk, not necessarily a physical risk but an emotional risk in entrusting me to nurture your words and publish them for everyone to see. Someone whom you’ve never met before and haven’t seen until right now got to see the inner you and what really makes you tick. Through language you showed me a corner of your soul. I wanted to let you all know that you are all incredible people. I have been shaped by your stories, every one of them. Let me finish by saying hopefully one day I can be a fraction of the person you all are now—when I’m older and greyer.
Later on I walked outside, into the evening. There wasn’t a chill rolling from the hills anymore. Downtown was lit up and beckoning. Bryan patted me on the back as we looked out into the night, about eight Tropicalias deep, and I was happy.
For the first time in a while, I was happy.
There was one thing I always knew growing up – I loved dogs, and so did my family. We always had a full house of four-legged fluffs.
When I moved away to college, life started to become overwhelming. I had always struggled with depression and anxiety, but it didn’t start to become unbearable until the end of my freshman year. I missed the comfort of my furry best friends, my confidants, and the ones that I told all my secrets to. I began hounding my parents with the idea that once I moved off campus, I should get a dog; but, as they put it, “the timing and logistics weren’t right”. Second semester sophomore year took a turn for the worst.
Each day seemed to pass even slower. Nights became terrible with time ticking at a snail’s pace, but my mind racing at a million miles a minute. I was becoming physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. As midterms approached, I lusted for time away – to recuperate and try to get my mental back on track. One Tuesday afternoon, I was walking back to my car from North Campus, where I was skimming my Facebook feed and talking to my Mom – and there he was on my newsfeed – my future furball – sitting on death row with less than 24 hours to live.
And I instantaneously knew in my heart of hearts that we were destined to be together. Even though I knew that I wanted, needed Rescue Ralph in my life, the rational side of me began questioning our fate. – What type of dog was he? Did he get along with other animals? Can I even have a dog in my apartment complex? – to name a few.
After a call to the rescue group, Angels Among Us, I found out that a woman in Tennessee had sponsored Ralph, and his name had been taken off the list to be euthanised. I’m not sure who God was looking after at this point in time, whether it was Ralph, or me, but my heart fluttered when I heard this information. Confirming the details I had locked in place, I began researching the answers to my previous questions.
As the days of that week passed, I already felt myself having a higher sense of purpose – a reason to get up in the morning, something to look forward to, a new escape, a way of dealing with my depression and anxiety, and it was all thanks to this dog that I still really knew nothing about. And then it happened. An email was sent out saying that someone was needed to transport Rescue Ralph from Commerce to Atlanta.
Immediately, I volunteered. What better way to kick off my Spring Break than to pick up this clunky 8 month old puppy?!? This was the first time I truly believed in fate. That Friday morning, I bought a doggy seat belt and headed on out of Athens to the shelter in Commerce to pick up Ralph and take him to his foster family. Those two words foster family – broke my heart. This boy deserved a forever home. As I pulled up to the shelter I prayed that Ralph would love me back as much as I already loved him. There was a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I told the desk attendant I was here to pick up Ralph – they didn’t seem to notice me nervously fidgeting with my hands.
From around the corner I heard the vet assistant being pulled by a dog, who I assumed was Ralph, and boy was I right! This 8-month-old puppy was not a small dainty thing; instead he was 70 lbs. of rambunctiousness. Barreling towards me, Ralph proceeded to knock me over and then cover my face with kisses. Fate, I told myself, fate would make this happen. Our car ride was nothing less than adventuresome.
I was not going to pass up the opportunity to show this boy off to my parents and give them my own puppy eyes to get their approval. My parents’ biggest concern was if Ralph would get along with our current dogs. After a brief introduction to the pack, it seemed that everything I had hoped and prayed for was for nothing.
My mom volunteered to ride down with me to drop Ralph off at his foster family’s home. Heartbroken and teary eyed, I welcomed the thought of company. As I gathered my things and prepared to load Ralph in the car, my dad walked into the garage. He must have seen how much love was already in my heart for Ralph because he asked the golden question, “Are you sure it won’t work?” And without hesitation, I started to cry tears of joy; this boy was officially going to be mine.
After filling out the paperwork and getting Ralph adjusted, I renamed him Sarge because of the way he sat and observed the outdoors. Six weekends stood between Sarge and I being together full time. My landlord would not allow me to bring him up to Athens; so, every weekend I made the trek down the 316 to my parents’ house to spend Friday through Sunday with him. He was exactly what I needed, and still is. I always ask – “who rescued who?”
In the last 4 years he has helped me face my social anxiety, makes me want to get up in the mornings, and has become my best friend. Looking back, overcoming these logistical hurtles solidified the fact we were destined to be together. Having Sarge in my life has been the biggest blessing God could have given me. He is the reason I smile, he is the reason I wake up and he is the reason that I am reminded that even on my worst days, life will get better and there is always something to wag your tail at.