by Caroline Nelson
Not everyone is lucky enough to remember, or to find, their true passion in life and know what they love to do. I’ve loved to read and write from an early age. At the age of 7 I started my first diary, and kept one continuously since. When I was 9 years old, I blossomed into a bibliophile, reading all the Nancy Drew novels my elementary school library had and read all of them by the end of the following year. I would go on to progress to different authors or series, read them all, then move on to the next. Many of my childhood nights were spent staying up late reading the Babysitters Club series, Sweet Valley High series, Judy Blume (Tiger Eyes!) and Paula Danziger (I have an autographed copy of one of her books!) Eventually I moved on to the horror genre reading the likes of V.C. Andrews, Steven King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, and Anne Rice. I could go on and on about the books that I adored… Barbara Kingsolver, Louie L’Amour, Anne McCaffrey, Aldus Huxley, John Steinbeck, Louisa May Alcott… Let’s move on.
When I was about 11, I started a family newsletter called “What’s New(s)” and enlisted the help of my nieces and sister for story contributions. My awesome and encouraging Father bought me some publishing software with clip-art that would layout the words in columns and we would write about family matters (floppy disks). We attempted to sell subscriptions and sold the paper for 50 cents each as we were trying to earn money to fix up a dilapidated bunkhouse we had at our mountain property. When my Dad bought a VHS Camcorder shortly after, the news stories became fiction and my father would sit in his lazy boy recliner, popping open beer cans, and would film us reading our scripts. One time I interviewed Dolly Parton, my sister with two balloons in her sweatshirt, about what it was like knowing Kenny Rogers. My love of journalism eventually got me on the school newspaper for the full 4 years, with one trip to journalism camp at Pepperdine University. I had goals, plans, and a future that was attainable. Until I became subservient to the impending darkness that began to envelope me.
I started to develop “episodes” around the age of 16 and had no idea what was happening to me or how to control it. I felt like I didn’t belong or fit in anywhere or with anyone even though I was in journalism, choir, sports, and held school office. In other words, my feelings of isolation were self-imposed and self-inflicted. My mind told me that I was awkward, shy, and not interesting to anyone around me although I had many friends. Sometimes, I felt like I was two different people. One person who wants to laugh and go out and enjoy the world, and another who curls up in bed, draws the curtains, and doesn’t answer her phone. When I was in an episode, I could feel the two personalities fighting each other inside my head. I became self-conscious to talk to people and afraid of what they would think of me. In the many journals I’ve filled throughout my lifetime you will find poetry, descriptions of my day, deep thoughts about life, and a list of all the boys I ever kissed in chronological order (I add this because it is so adorable to me!) It is fascinating for me to read these musings and follow my progression in this world to a life of darkness and despair. Into a girl who went from happy-go-lucky to my up and down world of mania and gloom with no hope. My interest in sports, academics, and more was fading. My sweet mother was worried about me and knew that this wasn’t your normal teen angst she was working with when I attempted to jump out of a moving car, so she took me to get the help I needed.
I remember telling this wonderful sweet lady psychologist about how I could hear whispers in my ear sometimes, but it was just that I was in tune to the other side. I claimed that there wasn’t anything wrong with my mind, it was just that I was so highly intelligent that I had caught on before most people my age about what a sham our world was and how there was no purpose in growing older and having babies because why would I put children in a world like this??? She gave it a title, “Bi Polar II” and medications were ordered, which only made me feel more isolated than before. I got reckless in my behavior making irresponsible decisions soon after that. I started to hang out with a new crowd who smoked weed and drank. I found that, hanging out with them, after a few beers, I felt more interesting, brave, and outgoing. Liquid Courage! After one evening hanging out with, what I called my friend, Captain Morgan, shit hit the fan. I knew that I had to have a change of scenery or I was afraid I might do the most drastic thing that depression makes us want to do of all (I don’t want to say it, but you know what I mean).
My decision to move to Seattle came to me in 1998 at the age of 20 and was influenced by PEARL JAM (my still-to-this-day favorite band), and the GRUNGE MOVEMENT (flannels, Doc Martin boots, Singles, Nirvana, Soundgarden – are you feeling me?). I thought this would be a place I could fit in while I worked to overcome my depression. Seattle was, after all, pretty much the Prozac capital of the world. How hard could it be to find link minded souls among the evergreen trees and the constant rain? I was able to find a job quickly and started working at a well-known tow and car service company overlooking the Seattle Slough and was making $3 more an hour here than San Diego’s measly minimum wage. At night, I would spend hours drinking coffee at the Totem Lake Denny’s restaurant over in Kirkland, smoking cigarettes, and writing stories I would never finish. I also wrote to my mother via email every few days, chronicling my life’s events living on my own for the first time. She printed every one of those emails and gave them to me when I moved back to San Diego a year later (I had fallen in love with a boy in San Diego and came back home). She asked me, on multiple occasions, to take those words and transcribe my experience into a book. She saw the potential in me then and thought maybe my story could inspire or help others. She had written a romance novel with my older sister and tried to sell it to a publisher, but they had gotten rejected. I think she thought I could succeed where she had not. (Incidentally, I did make several good friends in Washington, with a few actually moving down here to San Diego.)
But here is the Kicker…. My Point… My Biggest Character Flaw… I started stories, but didn’t complete them. I started my path to be a journalist in school and didn’t finish. Why? Because depression makes us do things that we don’t normally want to do. It takes the afflicted away from our goals and convinces us that we are not good enough to accomplish our dreams. Then we decide to “settle” for a life that is comfortable, that pays the bills, but doesn’t necessarily make us happy. I know there are a lot of us out there with the same experience. We take medication to feel more level, medication works great, we think we don’t need medicine anymore, so we quit, and then we start back where we began. It is a cycle that most manic depressed people are very familiar with.
In this age of social media, where people generalize and group people up for one trait or another, it is hard to not want to be a perfectionist and pleasing to everyone. You cannot put your opinion out to the public anymore without being blasted by someone for one reason or another. But we cannot be afraid of who we are meant to be. I do not want my daughter to be wary of expressing herself. I want to raise her to be confident and say how she feels. Just last week, a girl at school told her that being Belle for Halloween was for babies. I want her to look that girl in the eyes and say, “Belle is awesome. I am awesome. So, the costume is perfect for me. Step off!” I hope she lives her life with less self-doubt as I did later in life. I am going to pursue my dreams, succeed and lead by example!! I hope neither one of us “fit in” and just get to be our own selves because, darn it, we are freaking awesome. With the right self-care (send me a message if you wonder what medications and holistic care I use) I am back on track. For the first time in several years, I have hope, faith, and a perspective that I can accomplish whatever the hell I want to do. Why not Caroline??? I have a plan and enlisted supporters to help.
Hence, the whynotcaroline blog and my new notebook that is quickly getting filled up with ideas of new tales and reflections. I am incredibly blessed to have come to the realization that this is my life to live how I want. I don’t need to necessarily worry about what others think of my actions anymore. If I want to quit my job to focus on me for a bit, to improve my life and my mind, then why the hell shouldn’t I? If I want to write, then damn it, I am going to write! I feel empowered to be courageous!
Acknowledgements: I owe much of this to my dear friend, Cheryl Emery, and her Mom (my mom#2), Sondra Hess, who urged me to put my Italy stories on paper and start the blog. When I expressed my lack of confidence, my wonderful friend told me to forget all that and reminded me of all the years we worked together on the high school newspaper and of my skills. She is also a Professor at a University of California school teaching Critical Thinking and Writing and said she would edit my stories and give me feedback upon my request. The doors are open for me, I’m stepping through and doing this. I’m also reading this AMAZING self-help book by Jen Sincero called, “You are a Badass. How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.” (Link to the Badass Book, Author’s page) I simply call it the Badass book. It is an easy read. Not a snooze fest at all. Check it out if you are interested in giving your confidence a boost.
To my husband, Josh Nelson, who I definitely did NOT settle for. He is my rock, my hero, and my soul mate.
And since I owe everything to God, I will close with this: Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”