When It Really Does Get Better

TW: Discussions of Mental Health, Suicidal Ideation, and nausea/vomiting.

I wrote a suicide note around Valentine's Day of 2019.

It would have been the fifth anniversary of when my ex and I had gotten together, but I had broken up with him the November prior. I found out that he was cheating on me, and had been for at least a few months. This breakup was a long time coming, really. It wasn't good for me, four and something years of constant stress and feeling unappreciated, but it was my first ever relationship. I couldn't quite pull the plug up to that point.

So, things had gotten bad. I fell into a deep depression and things had gotten terrible. I was suicidal and anxious to a point that I had never been. I was having panic attacks almost daily on my college campus. Things seemed to have stopped for me. This was the end of the road.

It was probably around 6 or 7 AM as I wrote it. Word vomit, really, of a lot of things that I felt like I could never tell my friends (though, at the time, I had essentially none after the break-up) and family. As I stared at the google doc, though, I made a promise to myself at that moment. I had never been to therapy before, and maybe, I thought, I would try that. Just see if it would work. I doubted it would.

Here I am over 3 years later.

I tell this story a lot to anyone who is comfortable hearing it, because I don't consider it a great shame that I was at this low point in my life. No one should consider that shameful. I find it hopeful, now, because my life has improved so much since then. I have met more people, I have made great strides in my mental health and the way I view the world, I did things I never thought I would.

I even stare at birds now.

That's right, this is an article about birding. Well, kind of. An article about birding and how it relates to all the bullshit I mentioned before.

I go outside and I sit and I stare. Sometimes I have a camera or a phone in my hands and I'm desperately trying to get a good shot, but sometimes I just watch the bird feeder or the tree-line that surrounds my backyard.

A story I hear from my friends who have glasses is that getting glasses after not being able to see well feels like a veil is lifted on the world. You see the small things that you never would have seen before. Birding has been a similar experience to me, something I could only ever appreciate now that I'm in a much better place mentally. When I was on campus those days I had panic attacks, those many many days, my routine to get to class was just bouncing from one trash can to another. I never looked at the trees around me, or the squirrels that wrestled each other, or the birds that made nests and lived and continued to thrive. I stared at the ground. I stared at the trash cans. I thought about the humiliation I would feel if I vomited in front of all these people.

As things got better, I let myself look around a little bit more. I no longer felt bound by how close I was to something I could vomit in without making too much of a mess. I was able to, for the first time in what felt like years, just sit outside and watch nature.

When I was a kid, I was nature obsessed. I constantly was watching some nature show or documentary. I wanted to be an entomologist above all else, obsessed with insects. Digging in the dirt was one of my favourite pastimes and I would put everything I found into a jar, or maybe just carry it inside to my disgusted but supportive family.

I had stopped doing that, though. I got older, got so self conscious that I could barely function. I got diagnosed with agoraphobia within the first three trips to the therapist because it was ruining my life. I couldn't go into a store or restaurant without having a panic attack. I couldn't leave my house without nausea.

So, things got better. I went outside more. Slowly, mostly just for school, but I would eat outside and I would start to notice all of these things that I had been attuned to at one point but no longer. I saw the squirrels, the bugs, the birds, in high definition. This small, writhing world that I had once been apart of had been lost to me and I hadn't even noticed it. In an effort to regain this sense of childhood whimsy, I started to pay attention more. I went into my front yard to turn over rocks and just watch everything crawl out. I went into the backyard, and I started to watch the birds. Even the birds that I had once considered too common to notice became interesting to me. Robins, birds that you can't throw a rock without hitting in most of North America, became fascinating to me because I realized that they had their own worlds that I could only glimpse. I saw them feed their children, screech when danger was afoot, and stare at me with the same intensity that I stared at it.

I had this little world too. Maybe they noticed that about me. Maybe they saw the ways that my legs would bounce or the fact I would bite my nails. This didn't bother me, though, not in the way that the idea of people staring at me did. We were both scientists in our own ways, as amateurish as we were, and I liked that.

As I regained this world, I regained the child that I had lost when my mental health had plummeted around middle school. Here Vincent was, in all of its glory, covered in dirt and slugs, asking me to play with him again. Begging me to pay attention to these little worlds again.

So I did.

I feel its gidiness any time I see something fly past me, any time I see where a spot of land has gotten wet and I know that the creatures within will likely be awakened. It's an apology to myself, for locking that childlike wonder away for so long. I had spent a decade focused on my own feet, on the nearest trashcan, on the stares of others around me.

Now, I notice the joy that the world has in store. The constant movement and activity, chanting, "We're here too, you're not alone, we see you." The world is not just the next bad experience, but a machine of sight and sound.

All I needed to do was look up.

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