11/28/2012 06:24 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

How to Be Alone

STEP ONE: Remember that an empty house does not make your skin crawl. In fact, it makes you feel finally free. For these moments in time, you can simply exist without proving yourself to other people. You do not owe anyone anything. There are people out there who succumb to crippling panic attacks at the mere thought of spending the night without company. They need to be with others to feel at ease. For an introvert, an empty house can trigger feelings of relief, the elixir to defeat even the most tongue-twisting anxiety. If you are alone, it means that there are no surprises. You can glide through the rooms of your house or apartment, like some heiress in hiding, like some half-hearted Little Edie, the rat wheel in your mind at a stand-still.

STEP TWO: Remember that you used to live with your father, an indefinite stranger. Growing up, he had been your ally, the parent who made sure that your childhood was overwhelmingly fun, the parent who embraced his unprecedented responsibility with the humility of a martyr. He was the knight that slayed the dragons. When you left the claustrophobic monotony of suburbia first for Boston and then for New York City, their marriage had finally turned toxic and his mind seemed to fester with the poison of hate. He was enraged and upset and disappointed and confused and all of these elements churned together and created some madness akin to possession. He began to see womankind as the perpetual Eve, a united nation of vengeful sirens hell-bent on destroying men. When you came home from college like some nameless defeated tramp floating behind Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, his sympathy was conditional. He couldn't understand why you had felt cheated. He had called you useless and lazy and the more you clung to the numbness of stone-cold sleep, the more he became irritated. You had worked so hard for the legitimization of your passion into a profession. You had forced yourself to compete in the mental gymnastics spawned by the atmosphere of liberal arts students all eager to please their professors and to prove the legitimacy of their creativity. Some people called your major silly and sometimes you momentarily agreed. But you knew that this was the mysterious element that made up your life-force. Writing kept you sane. Writing gave you strength. You knew that spurts of morbidity and cynicism clung to your consciousness like frost coating tree branches. It was the same dangerous chemical cocktail that warped your father's rationality, the same case of faulty wiring. The only difference was that you were still fighting to overcome your depression (and sometimes on the brink of losing) and he had accepted it. You offered help and he refused. He has submerged himself in the swamps of unbalanced, unhinged minds, but he is blind to the very familiar state he's battling. He has admitted that he's been ingrained with the doctrine of boys don't cry; he decides these stretches of sadness are inherent weakness. The hurts of the past have never stayed buried. He recalls them anywhere he sees fit, injecting barbs that pierce below the skin. Your mother has claimed that no one on her side of the family can be suspect. No one in her family tree has battled bleak periods of self-doubt and punctured self-esteem. No one has fallen down a rabbit hole. If it were up to your mother, depression would be as convenient as the flip of a light switch.

STEP THREE: Remember to have faith in the power of music. Admittedly, you had some pretty shitty taste when you were a pre-teen. Your parents and even your closest friends forever link this phase to your identity and refuse to believe that such preferences could evolve beyond the TRL-era of MTV. But they don't know how you came to cherish your post-enlightened collection. Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths, The Cure, Elliot Smith, Hole, Nirvana. You loved these artists because after you broke through the boy-band manufactured ether that wreaked havoc on your hormones, you needed something to soothe your anxiety. The more you internalized your emotions, the more music served as a crutch, a steady translator to color the dull, grey clouds of your depression. You were a girl who needed protection because you easily shattered and thus you crawled further and further into yourself like a crab scurrying into it shell. But your self-constructed walls failed to keep out the music, the melodic confessions of the bands and singers who preached to the choirs of misunderstood and wounded young girls with a tendency for hero-worship. You gravitated towards the ones who wrote lyrics that cut right through the bone. You were beginning to expand your taste, to devour the music that charmed your rigid cynicism. These were the only people who truly listened to you. These were the friends who always lingered in the background like guardian angels or silent ghosts.

STEP FOUR: Remember that you are still alive. You are no longer that girl who wandered into the college health and wellness center finally seeking the guidance of a therapist. You know how to sleep through an entire night without the constant circus of self-hate running through your brain. You know that there is no shame in admitting that you have lost control. You take medications that quell all those unnameable beasts into submission. You can function without seeing death everywhere. You are alive and this is because you wanted to be alive. Even when you thought you'd lost the good fight and the scars on your arm remind you that the seeds had been planted at an early age, you are still here. You may not have made it yet in New York, but for a while, you'd been shooting towards the heavens like some exploding Roman candle. You were considering signing a book deal; you were running around New York from one internship to the next. No one could hold you back. You were flying, heels barely skimming the pavement. That beautiful literary life that you dreamed about seemed like it could be a reality. You had never felt so relieved to thrive in an environment catered to your ambitions. On weekends, you would catch the uptown train to the Village and walk to the NYU Library. You engorged on your surroundings as though your beloved city were a painting that shifted scenes with a few quick blinks. You picked a floor to set up camp and ensured that the table was next to a window. The library was a home away from home. There was just something so inexplicably satisfying about studying in a grand library where no one knew your name.

STEP FIVE: Breathe.