Black Cats: anxiety, depression, and otherness.

10 min readJun 19, 2017


Let me start off by coming clean: I have done many things that other people would not do. Things that I wouldn’t do again, but things that I did because I thought I had to, out of desperation. This life has been too much, and let me be clear when I say that this lifestyle isn’t fake to me. Twitter has trivialized anxiety and depression into blog posts like these, but that pales in comparison to the nuance of reality. I have cried myself to sleep more nights in the last year than I want to remember right now. I have become addicted to not being present, to worrying about things later, to wishing things away by whatever method possible. The modern college experience is a trap, because so many resources are at your disposal, negative or positive, that it’s easy to lose yourself in the place in between, both pulling at you simultaneously until your brain is stretched thin. I have been stretched to the breaking point more times in the last year than is healthy for anyone this age. I won’t lay out the details here, but there was a point this semester where I very nearly jumped off the cliff. The edge was less enticing than the finality of death. I have been at the edge of the cliff plenty of times, but I always knew I could stop myself from jumping. This time I jumped, and I came out on the other side awake and alive. I was disappointed, and I admittedly have been for some time, that it didn’t just happen then. Life since then has seemed surreal, because sometimes I think I died and went to the place between heaven and hell that many religious traditions believe in. My anxiety has become physically debilitating, and mentally draining. I am currently on a leave of absence from the summer internship i accepted because I, at most, can give 50 percent. What has saved me are the people I’m around, some of whom are going through the same thing. That feeling of togetherness has saved me from the otherness that tells me it’s not worth it. My friends have literally saved my life and I am still here because I can’t imagine not having them. I owe people money, I’m behind on all of my personal goals, I am failing miserably at life, but I can see one smiling face a day at least and that keeps me trying. Life for me has always been all or nothing, and I settled on nothing for so long. It has become clear to me that I need to stop relying on excuses I make out of fear to not be who I am supposed to be. To not tell the truth. I have nothing to lose at this point. And with that I give you, my friends, peers, and the public the most truthful outline of my soul possible.

I bought a cat, a month or so ago. Not because I was confident in the resources at my disposal at that point in time, but because i needed something, anything. I happened to stop at a vets office with my friend and there she was. A pitifully underfed little black cat, in a cage with her brother, who had quite obviously received the lions share of food. He was orange and admittedly more striking to look at. But the sister, this was an animal I immediately empathized with. She was nervous about everything at first, anxious, as kittens often are. She was only 9 weeks old then. I felt like we needed each other. We were both black cats, in a world that we felt favored our opponents. Our lives were inherently adversarial in nature, despite the fact that we had both experienced massive strokes of luck or divine providence. I was adopted by chance. My parents had set out to adopt a baby from Haiti, but a girl was the preference. I came up after a girl went off the list. Yams, the black cat who I now consider flesh and blood, wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted a healthy male like her brother, but she spoke to me in a way that her brother couldn’t. I could sense her natural predisposition to be different. A choice that was made for her at birth. She, like me, acts mostly on instinct. She does what she wants in the second that she has the thought. Loud noises can change her entire world for a millisecond, before she observes and adapts. Watching her, I feel less alone. We’ve both been born into skin society has demonized, and we both have the adaptability and survival skills necessary to make it despite what we’ve been given. As she’s grown, I have felt myself shrink. This life has weighed on me for some time, as some of you may know by now. I’ve written three poetry collections on the subject. More frequently than ever, I’ve been face to face with my own mortality every time I look in the mirror. The face I see in that mirror is weary, and drawn, and stress filled. Expressions of happiness are more forced than they are effortless. Days and days go by ahead without feeling like I’m moving in a positive direction. The pressure I have put on myself is more suffocating than ever. I quite frequently back myself into corners, almost as if i just want to see if i can get out. I don’t really understand what this mindset stems from but it’s something I’ve never been able to grow out of. In a way I’ve almost grown into it, become comfortable with always struggling because it’s at least familiar.

The last two years have been the roller coaster that college is supposed to be.What I may have overestimated was my readiness to take on this rollercoaster. I’ve always put myself into the same box, and my college experience has been flawed from the outset because of how well my box works here. White liberal college in Des Moines, Iowa is more similar to high school in Olathe, Kansas, than I thought possible. The same characters exist, and pop up again with the same frequency. The means of escape are greater than in high school though, and that’s what they don’t tell you. It’s so easy to make your entire life adversarial, where its just you, and your people, against everything and everyone else. Just like in high school, there aren’t too many directions to run, because everybody’s always everywhere, paying attention to everything. Social capital means slightly more here, and that’s the only difference. In high school I was admittedly opportunistic about the whole thing. I became hypersensitive to what other people could possibly be thinking, just to stay ahead. When backed into a corner I would fight for my worth and even in defeat I didn’t run away from it. I did not think that my hypersensitivity was a problem, originally, because I told myself it only did positive things. It vastly improved my reach, networking opportunities, influence, all of the things that can only be attained through means other than money. It gave me everything I wanted, most importantly the power to affect thought in my peers. Ask yourself what social capital means to you, and why. If you don’t have a healthy, depressurized relationship with the you that you present to other people you are going to almost kill yourself. It’s going to be actually too much one time, and that’s all it takes. Ask what people’s opinion of you really matters to the inner you, and go from there. For you to be sane, both your inner and outer you have to be in sync. I’ve done the face to face and the handshaking, on top of putting out a body of work that’s respectable enough to draw an ear. This is what my attention to detail regarding my surroundings and people has paid off. This hypersensitivity had become full fledged paranoia before I really knew what was going on, and this year that became more evident than ever. I had pushed it too far, I had created too many expectations for myself that I couldn’t fulfill because I was partly who people wanted me to be and also running away from that person at the same time. College ruined me that way, but if this is what coming of age means than it’s harder than the older generations remember. Much less of you remains pure and intact and unspoiled. This may have already happened to you, the anxiety that stepping outside gives you, or walking down a busy street, or walking in a room with more than 3 people. In my freshman campaign I shook the hands and kissed the baby’s necessary to by myself enough social capital to create for an audience. That was my goal and I accomplished that, but in the process i became more and more aware, to the point where it became noticeably unhealthy to myself. It became harder and harder to have fun, I didn’t want to be in public as much, I retreated into what was comfortable more and more often. I neglected my creativity because I always had doubts about why I was even doing anything, and who I was doing it for. Who would even care? Another college student complaining about life? All of these doubts have built up a mental block that has left me feeling worthless if only to myself.

Things I used to interpret as gifts have become curses, and things that I want to do and see and experience and be a part of seem so much bigger than me. I hate institutions that are complicit in dumbing me down, making it uncomfortable to be honest about what I think. I hate anything that tells me what to do in any way because when I reach out and ask for empathy, I get somebody else’s blue-print. I can’t pretend that that’s okay anymore. Follow through has become impossible because I often can’t see the positives in actually doing anything anymore. I have become the neurotic and self-obsessed depressive that has become too typical in youth culture as of now. I have put myself in a corner once again, but stray cats fight their way out. Ideologically speaking, the black cat analogy is exactly what I see myself as. There comes a point in every mans life where he has to draw a line in the sand between what he thinks that he stands for and what he’s willing to risk everything for. For me, the ideology I have been around and socialized into is cancerous. The midwest is the bible-belt, the midwest is guns, the midwest is comfortable tans and pale greens. The brightest brights and the darkest darks are not here. Everything feels slightly dulled here, in comparison to the more worldly places I’ve visited. And when I say midwest I mean the Bermuda triangle that two thirds of my life has occurred in. The roads between Des Moines, Omaha, and Kansas City are what I’m driving on any time I go anywhere. It’s made me feel increasingly trapped, as I see friends go to countries I can’t go, as if just for Instagram. All of that has gotten to me, at the core. The self alienation seems warranted when you look at how different your life is than what you’re inundated by. And so you escape because it is the easy way to cope. The room starts spinning around you, and then you’re stumbling home under a sky full of stars so that you can see earth’s rotation. Absence passes for happiness, even if it’s momentary. Your vision blurs and then you know you’ve successfully entered a dimension separate from the one you were in a few hours ago. It’s draining you this whole time, but at the same time it’s keeping the stress at bay and that is all that matters when you’re too scared of reality to be happy to see the sun rise. The reality I want for myself necessitates me being unafraid, and this is the first step among many to unpack why I feel how I feel. I want to be bigger than the places I’ve lived, I want to do more than the mild victories I’ve accomplished, I want to be unfettered by the noose that is normative thought. I have wanted to leave all of this behind for the last 8 months, but I haven’t because I’m at least aware enough that its the people here that keep me going. I want to write, like this, about things besides myself. I want to stand on stage and make people laugh, and cry, and realize that life is both things. I tell myself that my life has been full, above all else, this whole time. If life is measured in ups and downs then my numbers are looking good. With your help, I want to help people like me do more than survive. Surviving has been hard and is still hard and day to day I struggle the same that I always have, but I foolishly have hung on to a word called hope, on the off-chance that I get up the courage to become the person buried under layers of pain and denial and self-doubt.

My cat is an opportunist, and that is why her life is full of so much wonder. It isn’t about courage for her, at this point, it’s about an instinctual ability to find new doors to open, new ledges to reach, because it’s what she knows she should be doing. I am trusting my instincts now more than ever because I have no choice. If i gamble wrong on this, than I am a statistic. If I gamble right on this, I can hopefully have an impact on people everywhere because I have lived enough of this pain. Fear has ruined my life, and I am no longer afraid. What is rock bottom at this point? For the next week I want you to ask me anything, through any medium, and I will respond honestly and truthfully if only to let you know that it’s okay to do so. This is me. Make me better.