Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sick and tired.

I'm tired tonight. Not just physically, but in, like, every way possible. I'm sure you've felt the same way before. Overwhelmed. Burnt out. Treading water. Running on a constant treadmill of doing work, answering emails, meeting with friends.

I'm tired of putting all this time and effort into work I don't care about while neglecting the projects that matter to me.

I'm tired of never getting all I need to done, never being able to throw away a to-do list because some new thing is always getting tacked on.

I'm tired of being underappreciated, especially by friends, after I pour so much time and heart into friendships and get so little in return. Tired of dropping everything to be there for people when they're hurting only to have them send a few measly words my way when I need the same support.

I'm tired of seeing other people get awards, attention, and praise when I do better work.

I'm tired of being ignored and overlooked.

Stuck in a never-ending forest of tireds.
I'm tired of hearing hate all the time, of reading hate everywhere I go on the Internet. I'm tired of the insensitivity. I wish we could all just open our eyes to the hurt in others' hearts and make the effort to imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes. I am sick and tired of judgment and hate.

I'm tired of trying to figure out if other people appreciate me. Tired of trying to market myself and figure out how to package myself in a way that is appealing, not posting too much or being too annoying or too ugly or too fat. I just want to be me and not worry what others think. I just want to be me and be accepted.

I'm tired of Facebook (probably because of the aforementioned point).

I'm tired of crushing on people who couldn't care less.

I'm tired of being single (and terrified to mingle).

I'm tired of realizing I'm doing life wrong.

I'm tired of overthinking.

I'm tired of underappreciating myself and others. Tired of being selfish and cynical.

I'm tired of living with my family sometimes, but I also know I'd hate to live without them.

I'm tired of watching friendships die. Tired of having to let people go because they hurt me too much with their lack of investment.

I'm tired of having to make my own decisions. Of not doing what to do with certain situations.

I'm tired of figuring out what to make for each meal. And I'm tired of not being thankful for each meal that I get to eat.

I'm tired of dragging myself from day to day, feeling like I can never get a break but knowing that I'm the one who needs to make time for a break for myself. I guess we all, deep down, want someone to just take care of us once in a while.

Feeling trapped in a life that's always being chosen for you.
I'm tired of feeling like I don't have a voice or people don't care about what I have to say.

I'm tired of worrying when everything always turns out fine.

I'm tired of being sad when there's so much to be joyful about.

I'm tired of being so hard on myself when there's so much about me to celebrate.

I'm tired of looking to other people to validate myself and I'm exhausted from worrying about whether I did X or Y wrong and upset or offended somebody.

I'm tired of missing opportunities to experience the beauty of life because I'm afraid to diverge from my every day route and doing something different.

I'm tired.

Maybe you're tired too.

I guess the good thing is we're not alone.

And maybe someday soon we'll get to pause for breath.

Sometimes it's nice to just get everything on your mind out in the open. Sometimes it's nice to just admit that you're tired and things might look better in a new day.

This is my favorite photo I've ever taken. It reminds me that the future is
wide open, full of possibility and hope. And there's a lot of beauty to
enjoy along the way.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Do you ever have days where you wish you could crawl out of your skin and go run around doing whatever you want for a day, carefree from whatever burdens are weighing on your mind or whatever flaws on your body you keep staring at and hating? I feel like that today. Maybe it's the lack of sleep or maybe it's just time for the good mood I was in yesterday to come to an end (because good moods can never last, I've come to learn...) but I'm starting to feel the walls of my mind cave in on me again, like that seen in Star Wars where they're in the room where the walls are slowly squeezing together and Han and Leia are desperately trying to press back against them, all to no avail.

Yesterday, I felt confident in myself and in the future. I was able to be patient and reasonable with myself when I started freaking out about how I should talk to people in my classes. I told myself that maybe I just needed to give these things time and work on myself in the meantime. In zumba class, I was in a "let's do this! I'm gonna dance and have fun!" mood and when I couldn't get the steps to a song right, I reminded myself that it takes time and practice to get there, so I shouldn't get discouraged.

But all of yesterday I kept obsessing more and more about something that happened during my class where I was worried I had made a social mistake and upset my professor. I interpret social interactions for the worst, so I tend to assume people are angry or judgmental when they weren't. As my day went on, I kept obsessing about this incident, feeling stupid and embarrassed and worried. I've also been feeling worse about my body lately, starting to hate the stretch marks and extra weight I've put on, It doesn't help when my own dad made a comment about my appearance recently. And I've been gathering up my old "skinny" clothes to sell and marveling at how tiny I used to be. It makes me feel like some kind of monster now. It even makes me feel kind of disassociated from my body, like I'm just inhabiting it rather than that it's part of me; I'm no longer that size 00 girl that I see in pictures (and I can't seem to wrap my head around the idea that that was me) but when I look at my new body or see pictures of how I look today, I have a hard time comprehending that that's me either. It looks like someone else, it doesn't feel like me, it's not what I'm used to. So who am I? Is my body part of who I am or just a place I inhabit?

I don't know how my body changed so much, so quickly and I wish I knew when exactly it happened. I don't want to hate my body, but I don't really like it either. I know it will probably take a long time to adjust to this "new" body and there will be a process of accepting it, but there's always that voice inside you that says, "Haven't you moved on yet? It's been almost a year. You should be used to this by now!" I think that voice is my perception of how the world sees me and what people would say if I complained, but I have to let go of that voice because it's harmful and wrong.

Of course it's understandable that I'm having a hard time adjusting to my body changing so drastically. Of course there will be days when I hate how my body looks now. Of course I will feel confused and shocked looking at picture of myself before and now. Why don't we give ourselves permission and space to feel these things and grieve even the small losses? Why do we assign judgments to everything? Why do we always have to give our opinion on what other people are doing and how they should have done things? Why do we always have to be judging ourselves? Why can't I just let go and accept how I look today, and let go and accept when I don't like how I look today?

Apparently other people put pictures in their blog posts. So I thought
I'd try it too. (Credit - author; taken in Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island)
My body has been through a lot in the past two years, just as much as my mind has. It has been beaten up by racing adrenaline from panic attacks that kept me from sleeping. It has been dragged down by medications it could not tolerate. It has shaken uncontrollably from medication side effects, endured withdrawal symptoms and rapid medication changes, and weakened further and further to the point where it could barely drag itself out of bed. It's no surprise that at some point one of those medications flipped a switch on my metabolism and I started piling on weight.

My body has endured a lot and remained strong, and I should respect it for that. But the most important thing is that I should celebrate that today it is healthy, regardless of the aesthetic shape it's in. I may have stretch marks, but at least I no longer have self-harm scars because I am no longer in so much emotional pain that I can't cope any other way. My stomach may protrude a little (okay, a lot) more, but I have energy to leave the house again, to make myself food, to go to school, and to accomplish anything else my little heart desires. My more-shapely hips may no longer be able to squeeze into that favorite pair of jeans, but I have the energy to get out of bed at 9 am instead of 2 pm. I would rather be in my current mentally (and for that matter physically) healthy state, than skinny and still depressed.

Which brings me to my obsessive anxiety about the awkward interaction in my class yesterday; life is full of awkward. I'm sure most of the class felt awkward. I'm sure nobody cares about what I said. I am blowing the whole thing out of proportion. What matters is that I talk in class now. I. Talk. In. Class. That's amazing. Like, almost every single class I contribute. I couldn't do that a year ago. It's time to celebrate myself, not berate myself! Why is that so difficult?

Reader, I hope you'll take some time now to take the negative thoughts and tell them to stop in the name of love. It's time to give yourself a break. It's time to celebrate yourself and your victories, no matter how small. It's time to look at the flip side of your coin instead of berating it for not being a dollar; look at the shortcomings you've been grieving and find the celebrations. Even if you're still in a really dark place, celebrate that you are still here.  I am amazed by each person I come across who has fought the dark, nasty, thorny, painful battle of mental illness and has survived. Even if they are not "functioning" the way the world would have them, even if they're not "recovered", they are here still. They are fighting every.single.day. That is a huge testimony to you and your courage. And that is an incredible story to have, even if a lot of people in the world would downplay or deny it.

It's your story. And you are beautiful, brave, and strong.



Sunday, October 9, 2016

Discouraged.

Isn't it frustrating when things that are supposed to make you better actually make things worse? I guess I should know a thing or two about that. Tonight, I'm feeling generally pretty discouraged about life, and my frustration with how things are going with my new therapist isn't making me any cheerier.

I feel hopeless yet again. I was going through a pretty good phase for the last few days - having good talks with friends, feeling optimistic about the future, having a piece published and receiving some heartfelt responses - but today I took a turn back down into the gutters. I don't know why my mood keeps going back down, it's so frustrating and discouraging that I can't just be happy or at least just stable. It's frustrating to get your hopes up that things are getting better only to be plunged back into the numbness of hopeless discouragement, even despair.

I realized yesterday that I am kind of self-absorbed and selfish, obsessed with seeing how far I've gotten and how many views my pieces have garnered. Maybe I need to take yet another social media break. And a publishing-on-other-sites break. And stop trying to get this blog or my other projects attention. Maybe I need to find a way to give back somehow. I feel so selfish, complaining about my life and feeling constantly dissatisfied with all I have when so many are out there suffering. I whine about school but I'm so lucky to be able to attend school and to have my family support me in doing so. I complain about not having a boyfriend but I am so blessed to not have been married off to a decades-older man as soon as I entered puberty.

Yet, I hate the game of comparing lives and "who has it worse". But I do recognize that I have become a bit too wrapped up in my own life, especially now that I no longer live in a dormitory with friends. I neglect encouraging people even though there are still plenty of people around me who need encouragement and a listening ear.

You know, part of me feels a little scared lately. I'm scared because I'm thinking about the possibility of dating a person and how much that puts me at risk. Emotionally, I'm at risk of getting my heart broken. I'm at risk of investing a lot of time and heart in a relationship and having it not work out and feeling like a failure as a result. I'm at risk of getting wrapped up in a person and not dedicating the time and effort I should to other parts of my life. I'm at risk of becoming enraptured with a man and ignoring his faults and then getting burned by his flaws. I'm at risk of being abused or even assaulted. I'm at risk of getting sucked into someone who seems wonderful on the outside but once you're trapped within turns out to be poisonous.

I'm scared of having fights. I'm scared that he'll turn out to be insensitive (or just a typical young guy) and will hurt my feelings and I won't have the strength to communicate that or he won't have the maturity to listen. I'm scared I'll get involved with someone who isn't taking care of their emotional (or even physical) health and I'll get sucked into being his counselor or I'll get frustrated watching him cope poorly with situations and unravel but refuse to seek help, just as I do every day with members of my family. I'm scared I'll make a wrong choice of guy. Heck, let's be real...I'm scared I'll try talking to a guy who I'm interested in and get judged and rejected and disappointed in the first place.

I also feel overwhelmed by the thought of navigating my career. (Which reminds me of another boyfriend fear...what if he turns into a workaholic and our relationship grows distant and I become sad and lonely and...okay, let's stop going down this rabbit hole...) I feel so ill-equipped even though I know I have a lot of promise, ambition, work ethic, and talent. And I'm afraid of getting far along a career path and then ending up hating it. And all of that doesn't help with the whole "feeling hopeless" thing.

I feel overwhelmed by those nagging everyday little questions that float around your brain unresolved...How do I respond to this? How do I deal with that? Should I pursue this opportunity? Should I contact that person? When things just float around in my head, I get anxious because I know there's something I'm supposed to be worried about, but I can't quite remember what it is. Then a generally anxious feeling develops in me around that vague thought, and the problem starts to take on much more weight than it's usually really worth. Molehills turn into mountains, in other words, but in the periphery of my mind so I don't fully realize that it's happening until I feel the dark shadow of unnamed worry hanging over my thoughts.

I feel frustrated with myself because of how little work I get done. I fritter away so much time browsing this or that, slowly strangling my attention span in the process, that could be put towards just getting my stupid homework done. But I have trouble paying attention to reading (I'd much rather listen to a day's worth of lectures) so I tend to avoid it. And even though I'm a historian, I honestly have little patience for research (though I can do it if any potential employers happen to be reading, heh...) So I find myself procrastinating more and more lately, which I hate. I want to relish learning and do it well and be grateful for the opportunity, not sit around and whine about it like the over-privileged kids I lived with at my last school.

I guess the cherry on top is that I don't feel like I can trust my counselor as much as before. Last session left me pretty frustrated. I mean, first off, two sessions ago when I told her I was feeling down again, she asked me for the second or third time whether I track my menstruation cycle and then went on and on about how that really helps a lot of women to realize that some weeks they might be in a sour mood, etc. Okay, I heard you the first time, first of all. When counselors say something multiple times, it makes me wonder if they even remember what we talk about together. And if I wanted to take this particular piece of advice, I would have. Second of all, I am not one of those people who is comforted by this piece of knowledge.

So I shared with her, "Well, that's kind of a bummer to think that every month for the rest of my life, I'll feel depressed some weeks." To which she replied, "Well, join the rest of the world." I can't tell you how much this pissed me off. First off, I have been with the rest of the world on that point since May of 2006, much earlier than I would have ever cared to have been, and I have gone for years having menstrual cramps and bodyaches so bad that I would throw up and be so weak I could only crawl. So don't get sardonic with me, you little...ahem. I won't go there. Second off, I was trying to communicate that it doesn't help when you already feel hopeless to consider the idea that you will feel hopeless at some point of every month for the rest of your freaking life.

I felt like she wasn't listening to what I was trying to communicate and she wasn't respecting my feelings. Counselors are not supposed to say, "Tough. Deal with it, bitch." That is what the rest of the world tells you. Counseling is supposed to be a safe place where you can share your fears and hurts and have them carefully handled and respected, even if (and especially when) other people have laughed at, belittled, and brushed aside those experiences and emotions. One classic way people discount others' emotions is to use this move, "So do the rest of us. So stop complaining. It's a part of life. Deal."

Maybe my therapist could have delved into why that makes me feel discouraged. She would have found that it's because, 1) I was already feeling hopeless, which is a serious concern that should be addressed, and 2) I have negative feelings about the situation of being a woman on this earth. Not that I would want to be a man, but I hate how being a woman makes me feel so vulnerable and scared, discounted and disrespected. That's a pretty hefty set of issues to explore.

Next session, my counselor fixated on one topic that we've talked about for multiple sessions. Her message wasn't bad, but I was tired of hearing it. It made me feel like I was a failure for not living up to some standard she has set. It made me feel like she was pointing out yet another flaw of mine that I can't seem to change. And when therapists keep talking about the same thing over and over, it makes me lose faith in their ability to address my needs well...Are you just a one-trick pony? Also, I've never met a therapist or psychiatrist who talks so much about his or herself. Most of my practitioners barely reveal a thing about themselves, yet she has brought up her own accomplishments multiple times in sessions. I think she means for it to be helpful, but it starts to sound like bragging sometimes, even a "This is what I do (correctly) vs. This is what you do (incorrectly)" kind of thing.

But what really frustrated me was when I tried to change the subject to ask for advice on something that has really been weighing on my mind, talking to a guy I'm interested in and the social anxiety and aforementioned concerns that that prospect brings up, she continued on her own agenda. I've noticed that this is a common error that mental health practitioners make, which is why I'm taking the time to write about it here. I've had almost every psychiatrist or therapist I've seen get fixated with a certain idea they have about me or what I (or people in general) need to do or know, such that they then ignore the need I'm actually trying to communicate to them. In other words, they have their own agenda or obsession that they keep harping on instead of answering your question or addressing the issue you've brought up that you want to talk about. It's like a presidential debate.

If I could go back, I would have made it more clear what I wanted from her...Looking back, I think we were just talking past each other, but I was frustrated by her continued efforts to take the conversation back to the subject she had been hammering over my head for the entire session when I was trying to get some practical help and address some significant anxieties. Now I've lost some faith in this therapeutic relationship, which is discouraging because I really need to feel like there is something that can help me get better. There is somewhere where I can figure things out. But now I'm afraid that I will run out of things to talk about or just close up and stop sharing because I no longer feel safe. I wish I could delve into more of my past and present issues that go untouched, but I'm afraid to bring them up and the more you feel uncomfortable and unaccepted in a relationship, the harder it is to open up to explore those darker parts of life. And it's frustrating to have the burden of bringing subjects up rest on you.

So that's how I'm feeling. Defeated. Discouraged. Anxious. Confused. Overwhelmed. Hopeless. Like things aren't working out quite the way I hoped they would and I'm worried I'm doing this whole life thing completely wrong. The reality is, even when I've gone down paths that turned out to be dead ends that didn't work out, such as attending the college I did (for three years, no less) or majoring in the things I did, I wouldn't say any of those decisions were a waste of time or a mistake. There are few things in my life that I would go back and completely erase or even call a "mistake".

So maybe it's time to stop obsessing about "doing things wrong", whether pursuing a career that I end up hating or dating a guy who I end up hating, things have a way of redeeming themselves in the end. I mean, even the worst, worst part of my life has given me this incredible opportunity to speak to people who are broken and to find a voice (and dare I say purpose??). A lot of bad things have worked out for good over the years, it just took a lot of time for that to happen. So maybe it's time to kick the "what if I'm making a mistake" worry to the curb and just do the best I can in each moment.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Unplugging the pressure cooker.

This past month has been stressful. This past week has been stressful. Heck, even my last counseling appointment was pretty stressful.

Even though my schoolwork is pretty manageable, just the fact that I am back in school full-time is enough to make me feel constantly overwhelmed. There doesn’t seem to be a break. I feel burnt out even though it’s only been a month. I know I’ll get all the work done, but it seems to be constantly hanging over my head. No study break is enough…I feel like I need a vacation, but there’s no time to take one.

This general sense of stress makes me feel restless. I think my anxiety and stress levels must just be in a permanently heightened state and it’s been affecting my sleep. When I start feeling stressed, I get insomnia. I raised my dose of panic medication so I stopped having nighttime panic attacks, but I’m still having trouble sleeping. And, of course, the lack of sleep makes it harder to manage my emotions, making it easier to get stressed and depressed.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been under a lot of emotional pressure too. The ironic thing is that this pressure is pretty much all internal; I’ve been making everything worse by constantly pushing myself to meet certain goals and then beating myself up for not living up to those unrealistic expectations. I have been feeling lonely and wanting to make friends on campus (and find a boyfriend, if I’m honest), but I’m terrified of striking up conversation with people I don’t know. I feel like a skiddish rodent every time I see an opportunity come up to interact with another human. One part of me screams, “TAKE THE CHANCE AND SAY SOMETHING DON’T BLOW THIS, YOU SCAREDY CAT” while another part of me wants to scurry up the nearest tree and curl up in my fluffy tail, safe albeit insular and alone.

I’ve mostly given into the temptation to duck my head and stay silent. Last week I had the perfect opportunity to talk to this guy in one of my classes who I’m interested in; we were walking right next to each other in the hallway and I was desperately scrambling for something, anything to say to break down the wall of isolation between us, but I found myself second guessing everything in typically socially-anxious fashion. “No that’s too stupid…that’s too weird…that’s too random…” – I objected to everything and then the moment was lost. The reality is that most conversations start with stupid questions, like “How are you?” or “How about the chemistry homework?” I’m probably in a worse place overthinking things and saying nothing than saying something that seems stupid and actually getting a conversation going with a person.

I realized last week though that because of this pressure I’ve been putting on myself to make friends, talk to people, and be “normal”, I’ve been leaving school almost every day feeling like a failure because I didn’t talk to anyone, which isn’t really healthy. Berating yourself only makes the social anxiety and negative energy within yourself grow, bringing you down instead of lifting you up and empowering yourself.

It’s interesting how difficult it is for me – and I would venture to say most people have the same problem – to give ourselves credit for our accomplishments, to acknowledge our strengths, to express optimism for the future. I think over the course of my life I’ve fallen into the bad habit of beating up on myself in the hope that someone else will say the things I want to hear about myself. Since it’s considered egotistical to ask people for affirmation about ourselves, we sometimes say negative things about ourselves in order to spur other people to deny them, thus getting the praise that we crave.

Once, when I was in elementary school, I was doing a painting with a group of other girls. I started saying how ugly my part of the painting was because I knew that people would then tell me it was good. Sure enough, it worked, and I kept berating my work so I could get them to praise me. I cringe in embarrassment because I know this is a quick way to get people completely exasperated with you, not to mention a generally pretty shallow move. But I also have to have a little bit of pity for my younger self because I know I must have felt isolated and low on self-confidence if I was desperate enough to speak up to people I didn’t know very well like that.

Over the past year, I’ve been realizing how entrenched I am in this mindset of seeking external validation to feel positive about myself, to feel like I’m valid, appreciated, and have a right to be here. The problem is, it doesn’t make me feel positive about myself. It’s never enough. The more external validation you receive, the more you need. The less each compliment or social media like means because you focus more and more on how many more “likes” other people are getting. Then you stop enjoying the things you do, or even give up doing them entirely, because you aren’t receiving the amount of affirmation you want. The reality is that people are lame or feel awkward and often don’t express to people how much they appreciate something. So if you base whether or not you do things on other people’s approval, you end up disappointed and the activities you enjoyed lose their appeal.

I think that it’s for me to realize because there are a lot of areas of my life where I have become driven my external validation instead of doing things just because I’m passionate about them or I want to help others. But this realization of yet another shortcoming that I can’t seem to change is also frustrating and seems to reiterate my underlying feeling that I’m not good enough even though the whole concept I’m working on with my counselor is that I am enough. I guess I’m having trouble seeing how to reconcile the concept of accepting myself as I am with the process of recognizing my shortcomings and trying to change myself. I’m starting to miss my former counselor, who I felt more comfortable with and who didn’t push me as much. I am learning a lot from my new counselor but I also sometimes leave feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of the task of altering thought processes deeply ingrained in me. And I feel a sense of failure because I can’t seem to change them…and because there are parts of me that need to be changed.

The reality is, this all takes time. And I have to give myself credit for even trying to make the changes. And for being vulnerable enough to admit that I am not perfect and I need to improve. I guess it’s hard when you only have forty-five minutes to explain and issue and therapists can misunderstand you and vice versa just like in any other type of conversation, but you might not realize it until after you walked out the door. I mean, I have to admit that the things I wrote about in this post and the things I talked about in therapy today make me afraid that people (including my therapist) will think I'm egotistical and self-absorbed, but I guess we all are.


I guess my goal this week will be to acknowledge my own accomplishments each day and not let my fears about the judgments others might have about me get in the way of my joy. 

And who knows, maybe I'll even try and talk to that cute guy in history class...