“Isn’t it strange how the seasons just pass, when you’re lost in the farce of the past” Mikel Jollett
I moved out of Portland, Oregon two days before new year’s day of 2015. I had lived there full time since 2008, part time since 2006, and I was ready to leave. So I thought. As it turns out I would only be in Louisiana for four months before returning to my “home” home of the Seattle area of Washington. I had backtracked into a sea of anxiety and depression, one that felt all too familiar and reminiscent of what my life was like in Portland. I used to always look for geographical fixes to problems that it turns out I brought with me wherever I resided. For some reason I believed if I just could go somewhere new, start over, that I’d feel better. I tried it several times and it just never worked. Cincinnati. Portland. Shreveport. Las Vegas. All ended with me struggling with my mental health and fleeing to go back to “home” home in Washington.
When I go to Portland, Oregon anymore, it’s generally just passing through. I’ll stay on I-5 and maybe stop in Tigard to get some lunch at Busters BBQ. But mostly I skip the city. When I passed through on Halloween a few weeks ago going back to Grants Pass, this song from Airborne Toxic Event came on my shuffle. Everything I love is broken.
It’s probably my favorite song on what has been my favorite record of 2020. The chorus lyric that I started this blog with, it resonates with me. So much of anxiety was living in the ‘farce of the past’. I realized as the song came on and I looked over at Portland from across the Willamette River on I-5, that going through Portland makes me feel a certain way. A weird mix of nostalgia and sadness. I think about friends that I made there that I don’t stay in touch with. I think about Portland Meadows, which is now just another boring warehouse. But I mostly think about so many of the bad times I had there. They were truly the worst years of my life. And for a long time I think I associated Portland with anxiety and depression and with my hardest times.
Like many people with mental health issues, my struggles ebbed and flowed. I’d go for months doing alright. Working, socializing, dating, doing things. Then I’d start slipping into isolation and go months where I did nothing at all. I remember stretches of time where I only left my apartment for curbside food pick ups and to go sit at the hospital. I spent entire days reading in hospitals because I was so scared and anxious that I knew if I had a panic attack or wanted to hurt myself, at least I was already at the hospital. I made the hospital a “safe place”. One day I’d go to Providence Portland over off 47th and Glisan. The next day to St. Vincents on the west side. From 2011 to 2013 I mostly went to O.H.S.U. because I lived right next to it.
In 2013 I announced an entire season of horse races from an office downstairs because I was too scared to go up to the booth. I had started having panic attacks there and just couldn’t make it anymore.
There was a stretch of time where I’d leave the track after barely getting through the races and I’d drive to Legacy Emanuel Hospital and sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes and try to calm down. Then i’d drive across the broadway bridge to Good Samaritan Hospital and park there. Try and calm down. Then I’d either go to OHSU and eat dinner or go home and try and distract myself until the bliss of tiredness came upon me.
I missed a couple weeks that season because I finally checked into the hospital after a particularly frightening episode. I remember being up in the psych ward and one of the other people there telling me “up here there’s either people having psychotic breakdowns or sad kids.” I was a sad kid I guess. Anxiety was always my primary symptom. But it got so bad that my life was in near complete isolation, that depression became a problem. I skipped coming home for Thanksgiving. For Christmas. I just sat in my apartment hoping to get better and feeling like I never would.
I get sad thinking about those times. I’m so happy that I made it through those times and maybe without the struggle I wouldn’t be so appreciative of how much better I’ve done these last two or three years. But I still grieve about all that time. Time spent being scared. Hopeless.
I remember a great therapist I worked with, devora, one time telling me to bring in a picture of my younger self. We were working on self-esteem issues and we talked about how I was so hard and mean to myself. I would constantly belittle myself about my weight, my looks, my anxiety, my abilities, everything. She had me look at this picture of me from when I was in first grade.
She would tell me to look at that child and would I say those same things to him that I’m saying to the 30 year old him? Of course not. He didn’t do anything to deserve that. We spent months working through my early years, my relationship with my dad, my relationship with myself.
In a weird way, the last few months, I feel like i’ve been working through my years after therapy. My last years in Portland and my first years back in Washington. Working on trying to accept that those years are gone. That ‘youth’ is in some ways gone. Maybe that’s just part of turning 40, reflecting on where you were. I do think I’m getting better at just realizing that I was sick, and I was doing the best I could with my illness. I don’t think 30 year old Jason would be so kind about his struggles. I’m glad his older counterpart can be more forgiving and accepting. I’ve moved on from shame about my anxiety and those years. I think I’m moving on from feeling sad about those years. I don’t know if I’ll get to feeling grateful for those years, but I can certainly continue working on acceptance of them.
I’ve made some incredible strides in recent years in regards to my anxiety and mental health. Who knew happiness was so much work. I used to always hope it would just show up one day. Turns out it doesn’t work that way. To me the biggest difference between then and now is that back then I truly dreaded a new day beginning. I would be upset when I woke up because it meant I had to try and get through the day again. Now I truly wake up ready for a new day, excited about it, and hopeful for what the day and the week and the month will bring. I can’t convey how grateful I am for that to be the case. Because I know how hard it is when it’s the other way.
Today when I passed through Portland I had those same feelings of nostalgia and started to feel a little sad. But I tried to shift my focus back to acceptance. I pulled off the freeway and drove around. I went to a couple of my old residences. They looked exactly the same. Much of downtown looked the same. Some looked different. But overall, it’s still Portland. I texted some old friends from there I hadn’t talked to in years. Just to tell them hello and see how they are. I met some of the most caring people I’ve ever known in Portland. It’s a great city in that way.
I want my relationship with Portland to move forward. We’ll still just be occasional acquaintances, but I hope going forward that visits to PDX, or even just passing by, will be more celebratory and enjoying the beauty of the Rose City and what is happening now, as opposed to what was.
“All the things we’ve done, trying to harden our shells”