My life is a mental health day.

In retrospect, I was ejected.

Rejected, committed, constrained, restrained, drained. Stressed, depressed, undressed. Panicking at a picnic. Life was difficult, confusing, and tumultuous in my twenties. The decade was mainly spent in Austin, with a brief interlude in the San Francisco Bay area in 2003 and ’04. In the middle of my twenties, I had a manic episode/nervous breakdown/wild break with reality/rock bottom moment and spent 10 days in the Austin State Hospital.

But that was just the technicolor climax of several episodes of clinical depression and depressive anxiety, which I’d experienced every summer starting when I was 20 or so. It was the culmination of a crazy situation that began in June 2004 (falling in love with a fundamentalist Christian man who ultimately turned out to be a pedophile and was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin prison) and ended around September, just a few months later, but disrupted my entire being at the deepest level and led to my leaving California and moving back to Texas. Moving back felt like it was against my will, but it was what I was choosing to do.

Austin was freedom was home was parties was beer was dive bars was dating. Wild, fun and chaotic. And a little too much apparently, for my mind to handle, that spring of 2005. I lost my shit. I was floating outside myself. I was another person. I was totally high on nothing but brain chemicals. Textbook mania.

And thus I was captured and tranquilized.

But I broke free once again, in slow motion, to Guatemala, four years and four months later, chasing a dream (to speak better Spanish, to have a unique experience, to be immersed in an exotic culture), for a job (at an international school).

Mind you, this was only after having become an alternatively certified school teacher (bilingual elementary) in Austin, having taught a couple classrooms full of brown third-graders at a low income public school in south Austin and worked one-on-one or in small groups with bilingual special ed students, having bought a house (a 900-square-foot 1955 cottage with hardwood floors) as a single unmarried 26-year-old woman, having found success but no love in my home society and culture.

Moving to Guatemala was a rebirth. I was starting from scratch, in completely new and unknown territory. I was a clean slate, practicing presence, patience and embodiment. I quit being busy in the span of a three-hour flight from Houston to Guate. I started over, a beginner, clueless, open, curious, confused. I did a lot of learning and growing, still am. And still am here, only now (and for the past 9 years), at the lake as opposed to the city, which is obviously a world of difference.

And it’s a beautiful afternoon with a soft rain tapping on the roof and all is well and good in this moment. I saw reference to something earlier today about normalizing mental health days, and I thought “yeah, my life is a mental health day!”

Because I have made it so. I have tailored my life to me. I have designed it to where I live in the woods (but close to the road and close-ish to town) with a view of a lake and three volcanoes. I stay home a lot of the time because I love it here. I am generally balanced, emotionally spiritually physically mentally, day to day and moment to moment. I haven’t been medicated, nor had a recurrence of any mental illnesses, in well over a decade. For me, nature, learning through reading, writing, and a slow-paced lifestyle are what make daily life cheerful, meaningful and special. I’m grateful for this moment, each moment, and each day. I bow my head in awe and gratitude.

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