"And love dares you to change [your] ways..."

Marathon Monday is one of my favorite days of the year in Boston. It’s a day to celebrate the triumphant runners from all around the world, and since 2013, it’s become a testament to the recovery of Boston and the strength of its spirit. On Marathon Monday and the days following it, I’m typically invigorated with hope for humanity.

This year, I couldn’t escape a sense of complete and utter hopelessness. 

I’ll remember April 18, 2016 as the day I fell, a teary heap, into the arms of one of my best friends, J., outside of a Shake Shack in downtown Boston. We spent the next hour walking off and talking out my feelings instead of burying them in a milkshake. I met her in late 2013, working together for at the bakery during my food startup hustling. During those four months, we saw each other at our absolute best and absolute worst. 

For this reason, among others, J. is of the few people I don’t feel ashamed of seeing me as I was Marathon Monday, completely untethered and upset. My partner is one of the others.  

Unlike J., who lives about a half hour away by bike and who I don’t get to see more than once every other month these days, A. has been dating me for over a year. He sees me more (and sees more of me) than anyone else I know. Our relationship has been a gift, and I have no shame in expressing my feelings to him or being vulnerable in front of him.

Anyone who has met A. or heard me talk about him knows knows this: he’s generally misjudged as reserved because he's so calm and collected (and consistently so). He’s exceptionally talented, mature, and supportive. He dresses and styles his hair impeccably. But most of all, he accepts me and loves me as I am—and I never have to question it. 

Three months ago, he moved in with me. It’s been going very well by all accounts, but I can’t help but feel guilty: the emotional outburst I experienced around my friend J. on Marathon Monday has been something A. has had to witness on more nights than I’d like to admit. It’s reached the point where it has become a near-daily routine.

As an entrepreneur, he already experiences the ups and downs of his own startup during the day, and has ended up experiencing to the ups and downs of my own emotional state during the night when he gets home. When he walks through the door at 10PM, it’s a bit of a crapshoot for which Erica he’s going to see—the ebullient, motivated, passionate one or the depressed, overwhelmed, weepy one. 

On Thursday night, he was lying down next to me, practically hysterical again. The remains of my mascara were tattooed on my white pillowcase. Even without the glow of the candle on my nightstand, you’d know my face was blotchy and red from crying. In between tears and gasps of air, I found the resolve to open my eyes and look back at A. His expression was off to me. I searched his eyes for compassion but couldn’t find it. 

“What are you thinking?” I pleaded.  “Come on. What is it?” 

Nothing. No words. No change. Still quietly staring at me, not blinking and not breaking eye contact. 

From the look in his eyes, I knew I had to push my characteristically stoic boyfriend to speak his mind. I wasn’t prepared for what he had to say. 

“Tell me,” I demanded.

Finally, he did. Lovingly but gravely:

“I know you know the answer to this problem—I’ve heard you coaching yourself through it. What I don’t know is if you have the willingness to take responsibility for it. If you don’t, I won’t do this.”

By “this", he was referring to moving in together to a new apartment in July, but since we already live together, "this" had another clear implication: I love you but I won’t stand for this anymore. If you love me and, more importantly, if you love yourself, you’ll get your stress under control. Otherwise, we won’t have a future together. I’ll have to walk away from this relationship.

*****

I’m not sure I’ve ever been good at coping with stress. It doesn't help that I’m practically addicted to putting pressure on myself. Some of that self-imposed pressure motivated me into the doors of an Ivy League college and a top business school as well as into two startups in the last three years. Other times, that pressure caused me to crumble on account of the most insignificant things. I wish I were kidding when I say that losing a tennis match in elementary school used to make me feel as woeful and angry as Hamlet after discovering his father was dead and his mother married his uncle. 

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for a while, but have managed to keep them under control in the last few years. In July 2013, I went off of medication completely after four years leaning on the prescription that got me through college. But for much of my time in graduate school, and especially since the beginning of 2016, I’ve wondered if I needed to be taking something again.

I haven’t written about depression on this blog since spring 2014, because even in a community as welcoming and supportive as MIT’s, business school is not really a place where it’s socially acceptable to express anything but a networking-ready smile and sunny-side-up disposition. But I’ve reached the point where I can no longer keep up appearances. 

With the imminent end of school, start of work, and some family drama associated with both of these things, the last few months, I’ve gone from being bad at coping with stress to being unable to cope with it: I over-schedule myself and wonder why I don’t have free time. I covertly binge on food at home and wonder why I can’t lose weight. I don’t make time for self-care and wonder why I feel so ugly. The stress has reached the point of threatening the most important relationships in my life—with my close friends, with my mom, with A., and above all with myself. 

David Bowie and Queen said it best in “Under Pressure.” Right now, love is daring me to change my ways of caring about myself. It begins with being honest. And the only way that’s ever really worked for me to be honest is to write. The willingness to write all this down is the beginning of my taking responsibility for it. 

I’m in a relationship with a phenomenal man. I’m less than two months from graduating from a phenomenal school with phenomenal people. I’m three months from starting a phenomenal job with a phenomenal manager that will help me reach my goals of 100% financial independence. Provided my health situation continues to be stable, I have everything I need to build a phenomenal personal and professional future for myself. 

Now it's time for me to take responsibility for living, as the only thing I deserve is a phenomenal life.