Goodbye.

This is my last post on this website. Over the last year, this project has evolved beyond the tagline and I am excited to share its next progression. Check it out at annalisesinclair.com.

Thank you for your support!

Transitioning & Sadness.

This time of the year is filled with transition for so many people- teenagers graduating from high school, college students going home for the summer, graduates taking the first steps into the ‘real world’. Summer is a time of change and with that change can come so many emotions, good and bad.

Walking away from what is comfortable and familiar can be scary, heartbreaking, and sad. Often, during times of transition, we are told to focus on the positive outcomes… “but you are starting the best years of your life” or “just wait to see what the future holds for you!” That can make it feel wrong to be sad or scared. Those emotions can make us feel guilty for not appreciating the good things that may be coming.

But it is okay to be sad. Transition means leaving something behind. No matter how grand the new venture may be, there is still something that will remain in the past. Something that doesn’t come with you.

Tomorrow, I am leaving my first professional job- the job that I have had for three long years. I am leaving the coworkers that have become family, the students that have shaped me, the office that has felt like home. I am turning three years of work over to someone else to do what they want with it- to build upon it or tear it apart for something new. Although I knew that this transition was coming and I am leaving to chasing an exciting new path in my career, I can’t help but feel sad.

This isn’t my depression. This isn’t something to be fought or overcome. These are natural feelings to be embraced, feelings that will go away with time. When you live with depression, you become hyper-aware of your feelings or moods. The first hint of sadness is usually accompanied with an “oh-no” because it is often followed by depression’s choke-hold.

Yet sometimes, sadness is just sadness. It is natural. It is okay. Transitions aren’t easy and saying goodbye is the worst. Embrace the feelings that come with transition. Temper them with the hope that the future holds something wonderful, but don’t push them aside or run from them. Let that sadness remind you of the good that has come thus far. Hold onto it and when you are ready, let it go.

The Masks We Wear.

Recently, my fiancĂ© and I started pre-marital counseling, which has been an odd transition for me after 8-plus years of seeing counselors individually. We are supposed to work through things like “how will you raise your kids” or “what is your approach to money management”; yet, our conversations haven’t been able to address those topics quite yet. We have had to talk to death a challenge we are currently facing. While a necessary part of the couples counseling process, it has been painful and unpleasant. But it has also led to some pretty astounding revelations.

Last night, my crippling fear of masks was the revelation of the hour.

Not masks like Halloween masks- albeit I will be the first to tell you that I am truly terrified of costumes that cover peoples faces- but the masks that we create and wear to protect ourselves from other people, from hurt, from ourselves. For years, I wore a mask. Every day, I worked tirelessly to make sure that no one would see the real me- the girl struggling with depression and anxiety, who felt like she couldn’t keep herself glued together no matter how much primping took place. I wanted to be the perfect daughter, sister, student, sorority woman, employee, friend, sweetheart. Mental illness isn’t perfect; it is messy. My mask covered that mess.

Until January 28th, 2016, when I decided to publicly take off my mask and toss it aside. That day, I promised that I would be authentic and real. I committed myself to sharing stories in order to help others see that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I gave up the mask and it was scary and painful, but so worth it. Yet now, over a year later, I have found myself wearing a mask once again… pretending to be someone I am not. I find this mask suffocating and cruel. I want to fight it. Everything in my body is telling me to rip it off and throw it away with spite and anger.

But I can’t. Because this mask isn’t for me. It is for someone else. Sometimes we are asked to wear a mask in order to help others… like when visiting a sick friend and bringing cheer and smiles when all we want to do is cry. It may sound counterintuitive, but there are times when pretending is the best way to be authentic. Deep, meaningful love and tremendous care for others may mean gently settling into a part, a role, a place, a mask. It may be uncomfortable. It can bring great sadness.

That is the gamble that comes from sharing your life with others. There are days when you must wear a mask for someone else… to ease their suffering or to make their life better. But that doesn’t mean that you lose yourself behind that mask. My revelation was that, although I hate wearing a mask, there is so much freedom in being able to decide when and where I will wear it. You have the control to decide the fate of your story, to decide who get to be apart of it and who gets to know it. That freedom is liberating. It is cleansing. While we all must wear masks from time to time, know that the decision to embrace that mask is yours alone.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter

Say Its Name.

Language has so much power. While in college, I had to take a linguistic anthropology class, which was as boring as the name suggests and seemed like a tremendous waste of my time. I admit that I was a terrible student in that class and spent 90% of my time on Facebook or reading pointless articles, thus I probably missed many profound moments with that specific professor… until the very last day of class. On that day, I had actually forgotten my laptop at home and was forced to pay attention to the knowledge being dropped upon the class- I feel very fortunate that I did. My professor ended the course with a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein…

“The limits of my language means the limit of my world.”

Think about that one for a minute. Have you ever tried to explain something to a toddler? At times, it can feel impossible because the scope of their language feels so small and limits how you can describe, explain, and teach them. Language has so much power over our way of understanding, our way of defining the world around us. That is why it is critical to start using the right words when tackling mental illness. There is so much power, so much freedom in language.

For example, I recently found myself wedged in the middle of a conflict between someone close to me and their parents. I like to think that I know the person quite well and am able to have open, genuine conversations with them. They know my story… they helped me find the confidence and vulnerability to share it with others. I know that they sometimes struggle with depression as well. We can talk about our good days and our bad days… mental illness is a conversation topic we do not shy away from. Yet the same cannot be said about my friend’s relationship with their parents. The word ‘depression’ is somewhat taboo. Instead, they refer to feelings and behaviors as “moodiness”.

I get it. Sometimes depression can manifest itself in ways that others may perceive as “being moody”. Sometimes I describe myself as moody AF, a result of my lingering teenage angst coupled with a ongoing love for My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco. But reducing depression to simply moodiness creates a host of problems that can cause great harm to the sufferer. When people complain that someone is moody, they may tell them to change their attitude or (if you are a woman) they may ask you if it is ‘that time of the month’. Depression is an illness, not an attitude choice. It can seriously impair daily life and should not simply be reduced to PMS or moodiness or having a gloomy outlook.

For when we use the wrong language, we transform the power to get better into stigma and shame. Instead of being able to seek help for a treatable mental illness, sufferers may become hard on themselves, feel embarrassment, and exacerbate an already difficult situation. As my professor once explained, language can limit our world… but it can also liberate us. Say its name- depression.

Forgiving Self-Care.

How many times have you been told that self-care is the best care?

For me, I think I am somewhere around the million mark for how many times I have heard that I need to take care of myself. Yet when it comes to “taking care of ourselves”, we can often find that there is not enough time in the day to do it all.

Sometimes taking care of yourself means saying no… to yourself, to loved ones, to employers, to friends. Albeit this sounds easy in theory, there is a major hurdle that we sometimes don’t think about when it comes to carving our time for ourselves by saying no to others: guilt. With each no, a little bit of guilt may creep in. I am THE WORST at saying no to others. I am a super woman until I am knee deep in ‘have to dos’ and stretched so thin that I am barely human, let alone super woman. When I do say no, I find myself feeling tremendously guilty or fighting a hefty dose of FOMO.

I see this same cycle of yes, yes, yes, breakdown, yes yes yes, breakdown a thousand times over when working with college students and young adults. It is ingrained in our generation to take on each opportunity with gusto. However, in most cases, that is doing more harm that good. We need to say no. We need self-care. Without it, we turn into miserable zombies drifting from one half-assed project to the next.

That’s why I took a break from this blog. I needed to say no to something. The guilt of not writing has slipped into my subconscious a million and a half times since March 19th when I last posted. Each time, I tucked that guilt away and remembered one of my favorite adages: you cannot pour from an empty cup. My cup has been drained by travel, job-searching, moving, wedding planning, and a million other things. The guilt will have to wait. My cup needed some filling. It needed some self-care.

So what are you going to say no to next time you need to make time for self-care? How are you going to tell the guilt to GTFO? If you can answer these two questions, you are well on your way to a full cup.

Goodbye, Armor.

Next week, I start the process of moving for the 2nd time since July… 9th time since 2008. By this point, I have mastered the art of moving to a new home- I know the best ways to package dishes, how to transition my cat to a new place, and the list goes on. This time is a little bit different though.

This time, I am moving into the house that my fiance and I purchased together. There are a million things that I am freaking out about. This will be my first time with a roommate since college. We are buying a FREAKING HOUSE. We will have a mortgage and lawn and things to fix all on our own. I feel like I am able to jump into the ride of my life. I will write more about the process as we tackle each obstacle, starting today.

Today, I took on a massive challenge. Today, I downsized my closet.

I know, that sounds absolutely ridiculous. How can getting rid of clothes be so hard? Isn’t that the most first-world, stereotypical woman thing you’ve ever heard? Let me explain…

Getting rid of clothes is impossibly hard for me. Over the last 10 years, I have worked so hard to keep an imagine- the girl that is well-dressed, pulled together, and perfect in every way. By wearing this armor of pretty clothes, I kept people from knowing my secret. By looking the part, I thought I could trick people into believing that I was okay… maybe, I could trick even myself. Clothes protected me from the stigma associated with mental illness. They disguised my depression. They fed my anxiety.

Now that I am on the road to becoming myself- the person I am choosing to be beyond the mental illness- I am ready to start leaving that armor behind. Staring at me from across the room are 7 boxes of clothes ready to find a new home. This time, they are no longer armor. They are just clothes. This is one little battle, but it feels amazing to win nonetheless.

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What Chrissy Teigen Taught Me.

Recently, Chrissy Teigen- the glorious queen of clapbacks and Twitter gold standard comedy- shared her struggle with postpartum depression with the world and experienced something that so many people who share their stories about mental health face…. a change in the way people perceive and treat us.

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When I first saw her tweet, I nearly fell out of my chair from clapping wildly and screaming “YASSS GIRL” like a madwoman. I kept my struggle with depression and anxiety a secret from the world for YEARS because I was so worried about how people would treat me differently. Turns out, this is not uncommon at all- even celebrities experience the stigma associated with mental illness- and may cause people to avoid seeking help.

Let’s have a moment of real talk, here… the best thing that you can do for someone struggling with mental illness is ask them what they need from you. Then, shower them with all the love, understanding, support, and french fries that they may need. Tell your sympathies or pity to take a back seat, as that look in your eyes feels so draining and can bring forth shame. Not cool.

The stigma is so real, y’all. So how are you? Not how arrrrrre you.

Finding a Therapist.

Recently, I started sharing my story (and my phone number) with college students across the country as I have really started pursuing a new adventure as a college speaker. One of the things that always blows me away is how willing some people are to be vulnerable- if they are simply asked the right questions. Often times, I think we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to stop and truly listen to the conversations that we have with others. One moment can change everything.

So what happens when we stop, we listen, and we ask the right questions? Recently, I was at a conference with thousands of college students and had the chance to really be “in the moment”. After facilitating a session, a young man approached me and told me his story. I listened, intently. I was surprised at what he told me. He was struggling to find himself- the person he wants to be- beyond depression. We exchanged numbers and I was thrilled to hear back from him the next day. His vulnerability was inspiring.

The conversation with the young man led to me sending him some of my favorite books on learning to love yourself. It also taught me that I had been missing a big part of asking the right questions. Whenever I speak to college students, I always ask “how are you, no really, how are you?” and tell them that it is okay not to be okay. The question that usually follows hours later via text message is “how do I do that?” Time and time again, I have found that the stigma of depression, counseling, mental illness can stop people from getting help, but there can sometimes be one other huge roadblock- they don’t know how to seek help.

Seeing a counselor or therapist isn’t what you see in the movies- no couches to lay on or ancient clipboards or ugly sweater-vests. It isn’t necessarily prying into your childhood or digging into your subconscious. It is a conversation centered around seeking hope. You get to be the guide as you work together to find solutions to what you are feeling.

Finding a therapist is sometimes a process- you want to make sure that you have the same goals, are compatible, and you feel comfortable talking to them- but it is not difficult. If you are a college student, check to see if your school has a counseling center. If you are working through an insurance provider, see who they cover via their website. If you are seeking a child, adolescent, or young adult counselor, I suggest the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy’s “Locate A Therapist” database- that is actually the tool that I used to find my current doctor.

There are so many resources out there. What are some of the ones that you have used?

The Day After The Day About Love.

Valentine’s Day is weird. Nearly everyone falls into two camps when it comes to feelings about the day- you either adore it and spend all day wrapped in bliss or you hate it and spend all day lamenting about how awful love is.

For ten years, I thought that the only boyfriend that would ever stick around would be depression; we had a horribly unhealthy relationship, but he always stuck around even when I tried to date someone else. When I was ready to take (yet another) break from dating, I just happened to match with a smooth talker who convinced me that he deserved a chance. On one of our first dates, I could not stop myself from spilling every detail of my struggle with mental illness with this introverted, quiet man that had no idea what to expect from the loud redhead that he met through online dating. For some insane reason, he asked me out again and again and again- even after that embarrassing lack of constraint on that date.

About three months later, I woke up with high anxiety and knew that I was close to a breakdown. He could tell something was wrong just by looking at my face and soon found himself holding me as wrapped myself in a blanket burrito and sobbed uncontrollably. With a tear streaked face, I asked him if he thought I was crazy and if he still wanted to be with me. I had been through this before- meet a man, start to fall for him, and then the depression and anxiety scares him away. But this time proved to be different; he pushed the hair out of my face and said “I have been waiting for this. I want to see the real you- all of you. The perfectly imperfect you.”

I fell in love with someone who sees my mental illness as just another thing that makes me unique and wonderful. On the days that feel impossibly hard, he encourages me to try to take one step- get out of bed- and then another- make coffee- and another, until I feel confidently enough to take on the day. He reminds me to take my medication every day- he is a pharmacist after all- and tells me to focus on breathing when I feel an anxiety attack creeping in. I brought my mental illness to this relationship, but that doesn’t mean that it has control over us. My mental illness is a challenge that we embrace together, every day.

In October, we are getting married. My anxiety tends to be a party crasher and will probably show up without RSVPing, but we are ready. In life and love, there is nothing that is impossible when you have the hope and fight in you to keep pushing on.

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PS Check out Ryan & Alyssa Photography! They took this amazing picture of us.