It was a big white house, at least, that's how I remember it. It was comprised, presumably, of many small rooms, not unlike the one I spent time in about once a week. This room had shelves of toys and games, a desk with someone sitting behind it and a chair for me to sit in while I conversed with someone about who knows what. I was about seven years old and this was my first experience with therapy.
Fast-forward about thirty-two years. It was the summer of 2012. I was spending a lot of time reading. Not having grown up with the luxury of a library in my town, I was now immersing myself fully in the fact that the new town in which I lived (well, not new, exactly, but different than the one I had spent the first thirty-one years of my life in) had libraries EVERYWHERE. And they were FREE! Every town deserves that, doesn't it? But, I digress. I was particularly enjoying memoirs at this point (as I still do today) and I had finally reached my turn on the waiting list to receive one by an actress I had seen in a few things (though never the project she was best known for) and I was really looking forward to reading it. It also happened that this actress was a recovering addict-alcoholic, a state I desperately wished my only brother could achieve.
To make a long story short, I devoured this book in a day and a half. When I looked at the cover, groaned slightly that she smoked (I have to admit, I hate cigarettes) but smiled at the candor of the shot, I had NO idea I was in for a life-changing book. I should say, the author of this book is Kristen Johnston and the title is Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster. I finished the book and immediately wanted to share with the world (and, hopefully, Kristen herself) what it meant to me. So, I did what every red-blooded American girl does in the age of social media - I looked her up on Twitter.
My tweet read as follows:
"Just finished the beautiful and inspiring GUTS by the courageous @kjothesmartass and seriously, if you haven't read it, you must."
Now, you have to realize something. Up until this point, I had used Twitter a handful of times. I tweeted without expectation. I certainly did NOT expect a reply. Therefore, imagine my surprise when I got one, that very same day, from Kristen herself.
"Thank you so much, Kari. Sincerely."
Thud. I was, to steal a phrase I adore from Gordon Ramsay, gobsmacked. Never, EVER, had I expected Kristen herself to reply to me. But, of course, this was when I only knew "Kristen Johnston, actress" and not Kristen, my friend.
Which brings me to this whole "new friendship/changing my life" thing. From that point on, a friendship slowly grew between Kristen and I. We continued tweeting a bit and I reached out to her on Facebook (my comfy social media place) as well. Over time, we got to know each other better and grew closer. Now, nineteen months and one day later, I consider her a dear friend and one of a handful of people I truly trust (and to think, I haven't even met her in person yet). I am also celebrating nineteen months and one day of my recovery from depression. Coincidence? Clearly not.
Yes, Kristen's book was about her journey, her experiences while actively using (one, in particular) but it's about SO much more. My husband, Brian, refers to it as my "Rosetta Stone" because, for some reason, it reached me in a way that nothing else could. It illuminated so much of what I hated about myself and wanted to change. It gave me hope that despite my lifelong depression, I could rise above and have a better life. Yes, it gave me...HOPE.
When Kristen and I first started communicating, I was understandably intimidated and unsure of boundaries. Part of me wanted to tell her the entire story of my life immediately and part of me (sadly, not the part I listened to) realized that too much, too soon was NOT a good way to start any friendship, particularly one as unique as this. I made mistakes, of course, but as time went on, I became more brave, more self-aware, more restrained (when necessary) and more...me. I am proud to say that one thing I was on day one that I continue to be now is completely, unabashedly honest. I refuse to live in fear of judgment or condemnation. Let me rephrase that. I still FEAR those things but I don't let the fear paralyze me or prevent me from sharing of myself. It is an incredible feeling.
Since August 21, 2012, I began taking meds (once again) for my depression. I had stopped them for a few years for a few reasons, not the least of which was my lack of health insurance. Being back on them has made a world of difference. But, I only started them August 1, 2013. For almost a full year, I continued my battle as a white-knuckler, completely unaided by meds or therapy (which I still need to get back into now that I FINALLY have medical again). It has been a hell of a battle. It continues to be. But I refuse to be defined by my depression for a single minute more. It is part of me, not all of me.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to share something that shames me (even though I know it shouldn't). I haven't worked in almost seven years. (The last time I tried, four days of cashier training at a grocery store in 2010, did NOT go well. Suffice it to say, the days began with hysterical crying and screaming and were permeated throughout with the constant desire to run out into oncoming traffic.) This is something that crushes me. I'm an intelligent person, I have a college degree, I have potential. I also have debilitating fear. I am trying to work on this. (I know, this is sort of a Yoda thing. Do or do not. There is no try.) But fuck, it's incredibly terrifying. I WILL overcome this in time as I have so many other things. I am now stronger, braver, clearer and it is my sincere hope that this will continue for the rest of my life. I will MAKE it happen. But, a big part of that is living in the now and that's something I still struggle with a great deal. However, I know now that I am MUCH better off than I was before. Hell, I'm better off today than I was yesterday and that is something. A LOT, in fact.
So, me now compared to me on August 21, 2012? A different person in SO many ways but in the positive ways, still me, a cheeky, funny, loving, intelligent, honest girl who wants desperately to be happy. And sometimes, she actually is. Just ask Kristen.
My husband bought me this necklace to celebrate one year in recovery. I have never taken it off.