The year of my Great Depression, I was 23. I finished grad school at Syracuse in the summer of 2011 and moved to New York City for an internship at the end of the year. My boyfriend had broken up with me in August, and I cried every day, twice a day, for months. I was living in a not-great part of Bushwick and had exactly one friend. I remember sitting on a Union Square bench in winter while talking to my mom on the phone, crying and saying over and over, “I’m not okay. I’m not okay. I’m not okay.”
I started seeing a therapist, a 70-something-year-old woman who never judged me. She helped me see that I was not just sad about the breakup, but about massive change hitting me from all sides. It was my first year out of school, and I had moved to a tough new city where I had no family and no social life. I was starting over, and I was depressed for about a year.
Last week, I had a phone call that reminded me a lot of that winter 2012 call with my mother. I breathlessly sobbed as my friend in California listened and tried to soothe me, but nothing really helped. The next day, the veil of pain and hopelessness I’d been feeling left my body, as if someone flipped a light switch inside of me. My mind went from dark to bright. I felt like myself again. Suddenly I realized: “Oh! I’m depressed.”
It might sound strange, but recognizing that I’m experiencing the ups and downs of depression lately was a relief. It’s important for me to understand that tough days of anxiety and negative thoughts might be more than just feeling sad, and harder to rescue myself from—and that there’s no shame in what I’m going through. And, because I’ve done this already and made it to the other side, I know that it will pass. If you’ve ever been depressed, you know that advice like “Just smile and fake it till you make it” doesn’t cut it. It can feel like you’re sitting inside of a cloud, like a dementor has made its home inside your chest cavity. It can be really scary. But when it lifts, man does it lift, and the satisfaction you feel is unmatched. But even then, you can harbor a dormant fear of your own body, unsure when or if depression will return, or how low it will take you.
I know the main source of my recent struggles. The end of an important relationship can feel like the death of a worldview (I think Jenny Slate said this first). Being let down by a person you love can shake depression right out of hibernation.
But there’s more. Just before my breakup happened, my best friend broke off her engagement and moved away. We talk constantly, but I miss her and am mourning her physical presence. The end of my relationship also forced me to take a hard look at my own life—what am I happy with, and what needs to change? I’ve known for three years that it’s time for me to leave New York. Now I have to face that reality and figure out an exit plan, as well as where the hell I’m going to live next. And of course, big disappointments often have the unpleasant side effect of inviting all of your demons to the party so they can dance on your shoulders while you try to go about your day; you have to conquer them in battle all over again. The bright side of all of this change is the infinite freedom I have to pursue my wildest vision of a good life—I just have to figure out exactly what that looks like first.
There’s a lot going on with me, and my body, heart and mind are coping as best they can. (I’m actually feeling really good right now—great job, brain!) But in life, there will always be something. There will sometimes be many things at once. We will repeatedly, cyclically be thrust underwater without warning and have to find our way to the surface again—but every thrash under the waves is a fresh opportunity to better learn to stand tall on our own two feet.
#CruelSummerBookClub reading list
No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny
Hi, I’m Jillian, and I’m addicted to Nora McInerny. In the span of about a month I read all three of her books, and I’m working my way through the episodes of her very sad podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking, where people tell stories of the worst times of their lives.
I first started reading Nora’s work years ago, when she was blogging about her husband Aaron’s battle with brain cancer. Aaron died at age 35 in 2014, leaving behind Nora, who was 31, and their young son, Ralph. (Nora and Aaron wrote his unconventional obituary together.) But in the weeks before Aaron passed, Nora also had a miscarriage and lost her father to cancer. The rule of threes can be a real bitch. Her first book, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too), was written in the six months directly following Aaron’s death, as Nora totes Ralph with her to cities around the country, trying to figure out how to support her and her son under grief’s enormous weight. She writes with refreshing honesty and humor about struggles like pushing away her family, insomnia and drinking too much.
Nora started a nonprofit for people going through hard times, Still Kickin, in Aaron’s honor, and a grief support group called Hot Young Widows Club, which is also the name of her third book, full of advice for the grieving and those who love them. Her second book, No Happy Endings, is my personal favorite; Nora writes about dating around after her husband dies, getting pregnant within three months of meeting the man who becomes her second husband, and the joy and pain of loving two men at once: her dead husband, and her current, very much alive husband.
This woman is monumental. She turned multiple world-shattering tragedies into a resource and inspiration for others. I hope to face adversity—which will certainly come my way, as Nora often reminds her readers—with as much strength and self-compassion as she seems to. And to forgive myself when I don’t.
I’m also reading
Wishing the world could be more soft by Kelsey Francis in The New York Times’ Modern Love column
I got kicked off the dance floor by Katie Hawkins-Gaar in her newsletter, My Sweet Dumb Brain
Stories about my brother by Prachi Gupta in Jezebel
Ask Polly: How Do I Stop Being So Obsessed With My Boyfriend? by Heather Havrilesky in The Cut
Comedian Chris Gethard’s open letter to a suicidal fan. This is seven years old, and it’s still so worth the read.
Don’t stop running by Cord Jefferson in The Awl
Why do I still live in New York City? a roundtable with Gawker writers, which birthed this quote from Cord Jefferson I think of often:
But then I moved to New York after obsessing about it for years and it was like anything else I’ve ever obsessed over (relationships, jobs, college): Some of it was as good or better than I imagined, but a lot of it was a struggle, and after a while it got sort of dull.
Nicole Cliffe’s Twitter thread of people being broken up with at awful times
Tell me: What’s the worst way you’ve been dumped? Respond to this newsletter from your inbox, or email me at email@example.com.
Support I got that you might need to hear
Questionable self-care advice
This cheered me up
I saw Ben Platt perform the songs from his solo album, Sing to Me Instead, Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall. I went by myself. I cried a lot. It was triumphant. Now excuse me while I go binge-watch The Politician.
Anthem of the week
“Temporary Love” by Ben Platt
In 2014, my friend Scarlett’s father was sentenced to 23-and-a-half years in prison for child pornography and the molestation of a teen boy. After his arrest, her reality changed overnight. At 24, she went from having a peaceful family life and a close relationship with her dad to experiencing a tailspin of confusion, betrayal and shame, plus she took on the burden of helping her recently retired mom with living expenses and the exorbitant cost of lawyers for her dad. She now hasn’t seen her dad in person for four years, though she talks to him weekly and has been planning a trip to sit with him face to face and confront him about her lingering questions. We spoke about her uniquely painful situation, how she’s reformed her life over the past five years, and loving someone who is deeply flawed.
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