Sunday, June 16, 2019

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition....or the psychiatric diagnosed

So the last 3 months have been...

A lot.

A LOT.

I've been searching for a permanent job ever since my last internship ended in January. That's really fun and doesn't send me into an existential tailspin at all.

From the moment I began applying to things, I noticed something was different this time around compared to the last few times I've tried to apply for jobs. I had difficulty narrowing down what to apply to, and when I sat down to write a cover letter or tweak a resume, I felt absolutely terrified. I would freeze, like my brain had hardened from caramel to toffee. I had a vague idea of what to say, but no clue how to form the sentences, string the words together. So I would postpone applying until the post was taken down.

Even more concerning was that my passion to find a position I was excited for, to start a new life, to relocate to a new place and make it my own, all that was gone. I gradually narrowed and narrowed the circumference of where I wanted to move, until I really just wanted to remain in-state, and even that felt like a lot.

Finally, I got an interview at a nonprofit in a city about 40 minutes from my hometown. On paper, the job looked perfect: entry level, an organization I admired, overlap with my area of study, incredible benefits and decent pay for a nonprofit, far enough from home to warrant moving out but close enough to see family. I was optimistic...until a couple days before.

I didn't get nervous for the interview.  I barely felt anything. I drove along the interstate like a zombie. I miraculously found a parking space and switched into my heels. I rang the bell, greeted the staff, and nodded politely. But as soon as the interview started, I couldn't wait for it to be over with. Not in your usual, "MAKE THIS TORTURE STOP" sort of way, but in a "I'm barely hanging in here. I just want to be in my home, in my bed" sort of way. I forced myself to stay focused, pushed through answering questions about my organizational skills and database experience, and tried to cracking a joke or two. But I felt my original optimism for the position crumble underneath a growing sense of anxiety and...apathy? Hm. The anxiety made sense for me--as soon as I was in the office, I was role-playing the first day in the back of my head, imagining the terror I would feel with each mandatory first day situation. I hated it already. I felt trapped. But the apathy was strange to me. Until I realized that it had been following me around the past few months as I job searched and probably also while I was working my lonely internship.

I talked to my mom that night, expressing my frustration with myself that I could be so cowardly as to be afraid just to take a job two counties away. Then my mom hit me with some cold, hard truths. You know how people say the people around you see you better than you see yourself? Or at least I think people say that...Well, anyways, Mom shared that she thought I was depressed, but it was manifesting itself with a different set of symptoms than I usually get.

Typically, I experience a ton of inner turmoil, emotional spirals, and existential questioning when I'm deoressed. The emotional pain is so deep that I can barely cope or express it. Some days are more like dark storm clouds that affect you, oppress you, even if you're inside, but this was different even from that. It wasn't necessarily dark or gloomy in my mind, it was just meh. Numb. I barely cared, even amidst being so anxious over getting a job and making a name for myself.
 
Once Mom pointed it out, a lot clicked about the struggle of the weeks before: the lack of motivation, finding even small tasks overwhelming, feeling like my thinking was muddled. All signs of depression I tend to associate with men, so I had ignored them cropping up in big ways in myself.

I decided it was finally time to reevaluate my mental health treatment and get on a more effective regimine. I called a new psychiatrist who I hoped would be more competent and have more time than my previous one to find a medicine that worked for me without side effects

The new blur pulls I expected. The awkward silences punctuating overwhelming sets of questions...even that I expected. But the OCD diagnosis?

That blew me out of the water.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

I've (mostly) forgotten you.

Turns out it was your birthday today.

Last year, I had the date memorized and kept writing and rewriting the message I would send you in my mind. It was adoring and encouraging and full of best wishes. It's almost sickening to think of how much effort I put into building you up. You didn't deserve that kind of praise, and I probably looked like a naive, desperate, obsequious dumbass trying so hard to get you to accept my love. I meant it genuinely, but I guess all my good wishes were a little too much for you.

This year, I vaguely remembered you were born in April, but I spent almost the whole of these 24 hours that are supposed to be dedicated to you oblivious to what day it was. It was Saturday. It was a day out with my family. It was the Great Easter Vigil at the Cathedral. It was sunny and I was almost close to happy. You did not cross my mind until I happened to check Facebook before bed (bad habit, I know) to find a notification that I ought to tell you happy birthday.

My first thought was, "Fuck you."

Maybe not the best thing to be thinking on one of the holiest days of the year, but perhaps the liturgical calendar fits rather nicely with the matter at hand.

Now is a season of rebirth, new life, rising from the ashes, shedding off the old and the cold that dragged us down and kept us separated from a fuller, brighter life. I shed you like a dead skin, an ugly wardrobe, a sweaty t-shirt, a winter that has gone on far too long. I doubt you noticed my decision to move on, and if you did, I doubt you gave it much thought or care. That was never your thing.

They say revenge is best achieved by success, not payback. Living your best life in spite of the wrongs someone has done to you. Loving yourself despite the hate they have thrown your way. Picking up the pieces after the neglect they have shattered you with. Laughter amidst the carefully-worded barbs they used to crush your spirit.

At this time of year, we celebrate rising up, blossoming, and unthinkable renewal after months of barrenness.

Nine days ago, I set foot once more in a psychiatrist's office...Doctor Number 5. I wanted to see if I could try once more to try and wrestle this hurt and anxiety that had once again come to rule my life. Try to understand my mind better and find a better battle plan for conquering my "demons".

I spent three and a half hours in that office, being grilled about my past, present, and future by a woman who seemed to have forgotten how to laugh--if she ever knew how. She picked apart my answers, she handed me questionnaires to check off, asked "why" over and over, requested rankings of my moods...It was exhausting and difficult, I won't lie, but worth it. A new diagnosis left me shaken with shock, but has gradually helped me to understand myself and my struggles to live a happy, successful life. I also left with a new treatment plan--intimidating, but a glimmer of hope nonetheless.

Here I am, April 21, 2019. Starting to take my ultimate revenge on you: I will be happy. I will invest in myself. I will work towards being my best self. I will love the things I was afraid to because I knew you would judge me. I will learn to stop letting you walk into the revolving door of my thoughts. I don't know if I will ever surpass you in your field or your popularity or your charisma, and I doubt I'll ever tell you off or expose you the way I wish I could, but I will do what's more important: I will find my own place that's best for me, carve my way, and continue to, day by day, work on myself.

It's pissed me off for a long time that you said you never understood how anyone could be depressed until you were maybe 28 and finally felt depressed yourself. How unjust is it, I thought, that someone could go through so many years of life so happy-go-lucky, untouched by the chronic, inexplicable tragedy that affects so many? And no doubt pass judgment on those who do have the misfortune of living with invisible ailments of the soul. It just isn't fair.

Now I see the stunted character, the lack of empathy, the insensitivity, the entitlement...I wonder if some hard times would have changed any of that? Not that it matters, because people will love and admire you either way.

But I don't anymore.

I don't admire how you don't try to improve yourself. You don't reach out to the hurting. You self-medicate instead of putting in the work to learn healthy coping mechanisms...then let others deal with the consequences of your drunkenness. It's stupid.

I think I'm finally starting to feel my new medication kicking in, and I can't believe how much better I feel, even on the starting dose. Who knows if it will all blow up down the line, but at least today it kept me from thinking of you because I was enjoying myself.

And that, reader, is the sweetest revenge.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

All the Ladies in Toxic Relationships...Put Your Hands Up!

You're so fucked up.

So selfish, manipulative, cowardly, and entitled.

You're so fucking fucked up.

I can't believe I loved you.

I don't know why I'm even thinking about this now...It's been, what, a year and a half since we last saw each other? Nine since we last texted? We'll probably never talk again. Because I know if I never text you, you'll never bother to try and talk to me.

Shit. I can't believe I loved you...

I can't believe I was so blind to all the warning signs, the little red flags that showed me who you really were under the facade of politeness and decency. You yourself said you were a jerk. I can't believe I became yet another woman to fall into the trap of making A Million Little Excuses to explain away your selfishness ("He's just ambitious"), your lack of empathy ("He didn't have a great relationship with his dad."), your insensitivity ("But he can be quite attentive sometimes!")

I can't believe I took your side after what you did. The stupidest mistake I have ever seen someone make. A mistake I would never make, as flawed as a person I am. And even after all that, I still felt I was inferior to you.

I feel ashamed.

Ashamed I let myself be used by you. Ashamed I bought into your lies and charm and charisma. Ashamed I bought your nice-guy act. Ashamed I let you destroy my happiness and self-confidence. Ashamed I let you make me feel inferior when you are in fact the shameless, slimy, self-absorbed one.

The world may continue to be fooled by your charm and intelligence. They will buy your act of being an advocate and a social justice warrior. But I see now that it's probably just another battle strategy to get yourself ahead.

Because that's all you fucking think about: getting ahead. Being successful. Making the career you've poured your heart and soul into work out.

That's why you lied. Let us take the fall.

That's why you never said thank you. You used me and did just enough to keep me on your side, to make it seem like you cared. But in reality, you didn't give two shits about me.

You showed that every time you came to town but didn't bother to let me know.

You showed that when you didn't bother to check in.

You showed that when you didn't call when you saw my message about being suicidal.

You were friendly enough whenever I messaged you. You gave me a hug when we said goodbye. You said to let you know if I was ever in town (then said you were busy when I let you know I was.) You liked my photos. You kept me placated.

But you never went out of your way to repay my kindness or

My mom says that all that matters is that we show kindness when people need it, implying I shouldn't be mad at you for showing half the effort I put into our relationship. But I'm not sure I believe I should just give everyone an excuse slip for letting me down. So I'm calling you out.

Even if it's just on a blog nobody (much less you) will ever read, I want to take the time to say that I don't deserve to be treated like that. And that I don't appreciate being used.

Honestly, I feel stupid.

I can't believe that I let men get away with so much shit when I berate myself for the smallest mistake. I can't believe I let a shiny thing blind me from seeing the bomb underneath. I can't believe I made myself so miserable over someone so not worth my time or admiration.

I was raised never to say this, and I never have said it to anyone before. So know that I really mean something when I say the following:

Fuck you.

Damn, you're fucked up.

Damn, you fucked me up. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Can I Please Calm Down for a Second?

So I'm between jobs right now. I guess I've already said that on here, but it's important information for this post. As you might imagine, I spend a good amount of time sitting in my parents' living room in my bathrobe, scrolling through job listings, agonizing over cover letters, and periodically slamming my laptop shut after deciding there's no hope for me to ever find a way to support myself, move out on my own, and adopt a dog.

Back in early January, when I was counting down the days for my internship to end, I was disheartened I hadn't found a job to transition to, but I comforted myself with the thought that I'd have some time off to sort out my priorities, give my life a good think-over, and complete some of the projects I'd been putting off. I became more and more optimistic about what I could accomplish with some peace and quiet...Clean my room! Declutter everything I have in storage! Start an Etsy shop! Write freelance! Submit articles to other blogs! Start a new blog! Scrapbook! Discover my life's meaning and purpose through intense introspection! See a new psychiatrist and sort out my cluttered mind! Watch public television programs about old houses! Write new songs! Record old songs! Learn to paint!

I have attempted all of those things, but after awhile, I usually throw up my hands in frustration, not knowing how to organize my thoughts enough to see a project through, or questioning whether the project was "really how I should be spending my time right now." As a result, my days have included a lot of the stuff I did when I was working, only done more intensely because I don't have a job to distract myself: Worry about my past! Worry about my future! Worry about the present! Wonder what I should be doing now! Wonder what I should do with my life! Wonder what hobby I should take up! Start Etsy shop but can't finish products! Start blog but writes 2k words of nonsense, which I promptly backspace! Start vlogging, but give up after two videos!

I've found myself worrying almost constantly about whether I'm good enough...good enough to be hired, to be dated, to be published, to be recognized, to accomplish, to write, to sing, even to talk. I undermine anything I undertake because I constantly question myself. Instead of doing what I enjoy because I enjoy it, I've turned everything into some last-ditch chance to prove myself before it's too late. What am I trying to prove? To whom am I trying to prove these unnamed things? Why is the need to prove myself to immediate?

It's the damn anxiety.

My anxiety makes me feel like I need to prove my worth by contributing to the world and gaining recognition and admiration. My social anxiety has me looking left and right for some validation. I don't want to be that shy, late blooming loser nobody notices that I was all through elementary school and adolescence...even college. After so many failed friendships and terminated romantic relationships, I want to prove my intelligence and have people recognize my value and uniqueness. After being seen as the shy girl with nothing to say when I was, in reality, bursting to show my personality but too terrified to speak, I want people to know I have talent, creativity, and a sense of humor.

All this anxiety is exacerbated by, 1) societal messaging that people's worth is measured by their notoriety (even though we then tear those people to shreds), and, 2) my religious background, which pushes a sense that you are never enough and constantly need to try harder.

Obviously, much ink has been spilled about the former point. Social media and celebrity culture ingrain in us the concept that being famous means you're valuable and getting attention means you're, well, worth noticing. And if you're worth noticing, you have a voice that people listen to, whether it comes to social activism or launching a music career. And if you have a voice that people listen to, you get paid. Being famous really sounds awful if you think and/or read about it, but we've been duped to believe it means we have worth and purpose...and happiness. So we constantly pursue it and hate ourselves when we only have 90 followers. In reality, I might very well like myself less if I had 9,000 followers, because more people would criticize, troll, and pick fights with me. But I can't rid myself of the idea that then I'd finally be important and admired.

The religious component of this is more interesting to me though. I've talked about on here before how I realized a couple years ago that my anxiety had come to rule my faith, creating a feedback loop where my anxiety about being religious enough made me scrutinize every aspect of my life and constantly make unrealistic resolutions to pray more, read my Bible more, make God more of a priority, etc. that I could never achieve, so then I felt worse about myself. I'm not sure whether my natural inclination to worry started my anxiety related to religion or the pressure I was under in my religious community prompted the increase in my anxiety, but the began to feed off of each other.

I took a break from my faith back in 2015, unsure of whether I was still religious and burnt out from all the years of trying so hard to be super religious. I had hit a wall and I needed space to examine the tradition I had grown up in to see if it still fit me. I didn't want to be a "stereotypical" young adult who sheds his/her/their parents' faith with disgust when he/she/they reach adulthood, but I had to face the fact that I was no longer as sure of my beliefs as I once was.

I have been on an interesting journey since, still trying to navigate what I believe and disentangle what is just tradition/how I was raised vs. healthy spiritual belief and practice. More recently, this has further evolved into a closer examination of the background I grew up in and whether it was healthy emotionally, spiritually, and mentally or not. I wish I had the bandwidth to write more about this, but I'm still working on sorting a lot out. So while I hope to write more about my religious/spiritual journey one day, it's hard to know whether that day will be tomorrow or in a decade.

Anyways, I say all this because I realized yesterday that this constant, unrealistic, unhealthy pressure I put on myself to perform, achieve, find my purpose, contribute, prove my worth, etc., is a continuation of that unhealthy messaging I received constantly growing up in the church. In past months, when I've gone to churches like the one I grew up in, I've been annoyed to hear the same message over and over, no matter the pastor or congregation: "Are you trying hard enough in your relationship with God? Are you praying enough? Are you spending time reading your Bible? Are you truly seeking God?" Maybe for some folks this is a helpful reminder, but I also think it can lead to an unhealthy mindset of constant anxiety and insecurity...you're never good enough, you're never doing enough, you need to have everything figured out, you need to be visibly improving as a person and contributing to the world in some way.

Realizing I was still letting this unhealthy pressure (that I think, frankly, gets away from what should be the real emphasis of Christianity...God loving us despite our flaws) still rule over my life was helpful. Today, I'm trying to tell myself that I don't owe anybody anything. I don't have to contribute anything to the world. I don't have to figure my purpose and beliefs out right at this very moment. It's okay to surrender to the process of time and circumstance. Oftentimes, it takes certain life events, conversations, interactions, books, etc. to help you evolve and clarify your beliefs and values. Same thing goes for figuring out your life vocation or even just finding hobbies or advocacy projects you love. Life involves a lot of downtime when nothing especially exciting is happening, but often those interludes are crucial to shaping us in ways we may not even notice, preparing us for the bigger projects.

I remember the summer after my freshman year of college, I somehow ended up with nothing to do. I had pursued a couple of opportunities for the summer but they all fell through, so I found myself twiddling my fingers, hoping all the doors had closed because some great project would fall in my lap. That didn't really end up happening, but something I'm much more grateful for did: About halfway through this summer of lethargy, I happened to find my sister's guitar laying out and I picked it up. I had tried to teach myself guitar in high school, but it never really caught on. This time, however, it did. I started putting some old poetry I had written to chords and wrote my first two songs. Thus, all the seemingly fruitless attempts at music and songwriting in my past finally materialized into something that has become an essential part of me. And I doubt that would have materialized had I been busy with a "real job" or grand project of some sort.

Anyways, it's incredibly difficult to get away from the pressurized mindset of "Go, go, go, do, do, do. Prove your worth. You're not worth anything unless you've cured a disease by age 25." But I think this pressure can make us too panicked to find our passion, or ultimately burn us out when we do.

It's okay to take your time. It's okay to relax. It's okay to drown out all of your parents' friends asking you what you're doing with your time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Living at home as an adult, being a sibling of people with special needs, being unemployed....it's all a lot to deal with.

If I were speaking with you, reader, in person, this conversation would first begin with me screaming into the nearest throw pillow for a minute straight.

Then I would stare into the distance with a blank, slightly melancholic look for three minutes.

Then I would turn to you and brightly ask how you've been doing since we last talked, nodding along as I listened.

But the screaming part pretty much captures my mental state right now.

I have been unemployed for 37 days now (at least this time around.) Technically, I wasn't really that employed before, but let's move on.

Seriously...CAN I MOVE ON?!?!

I have been living with my parents since mid-2015, when I dropped out of the college I had been attending, took a semester off, and ended up finishing at a school close to home that I commuted to. I don't regret any of this at all as I grew a lot through the process of commuting and learning to navigate in the normal world outside the college bubble. As someone with social anxiety, I had a lot of fears around daily interactions you can sorta manage to avoid when you live on campus, so I was able to get more comfortable interacting with cashiers, ordering at restaurants, and just driving around.

I also was, for the first part of my time at home, just living with my parents and my brother, who is older but pretty low-key. Then my sister moved back home as well after leaving her first job because of a toxic work environment where she was targeted because of her mental health issues. Fun stuff. Cost of living is quite high in our area, so she moved in with the fam. This turned into something much more long-term when she decided to go to grad school online...Then drop out. Then she was unemployed for a solid stretch. Then she got a job in the fall, also in the area, and here she is. Still at home.

During that time, I've been at school, graduated, left three times for two-month internships far, far away, but also spent a significant stretch at home, including the past year. My sister has always been my best friend and partner in crime. We are a comedic and creative duo who often speak in a language of our own inside jokes and interests. My nickname for her used to be twin, even though we're almost five years apart. But I'll be the first to say...

My sister is really fucking hard to live with.

I think this blog is a testament to how much I care about and respect people with special needs and mental health struggles. But I also acknowledge that it can be a huge strain to live with people who are suffering.

My sister was Bipolar Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome (aka high functioning Autism). These diagnoses do not define her, but they do contribute to who she is. I would say the same about my own disorders. She is a talented, extremely intelligent, compassionate person, but she also has qualities that make me want to scream sometimes. She has meltdowns on a daily basis, she spends hours shouting about how stressful her job is and worrying about what to do tomorrow or whether people like her, she has an intense personality and a lot of anger that can well up at unexpected moments. I find being around someone so intense extremely exhausting. Shouting makes me deeply uncomfortable, and lately noise and the presence of other humans in general overwhelms me pretty quickly. My mom and I are basically de facto in charge of calming my sister down when she melts down and trying to prevent meltdowns from happening by doing our best to make sure she's gets food at certain times, isn't left alone too long, isn't disturbed by my brother or dad playing music or TV too loud when she's asleep, answering her anxious texts about work, etc. It's honestly pretty emotionally exhausting, and I've been doing this sort of thing for at least a couple of years.

I didn't realize the extent to which this family dynamic affected me until the past few weeks. I feel like I can't get enough alone time. I groan inwardly when family members start to arrive home from work, one by one, destroying my peace. Eating family meals is a nightmare for no reason other than I just don't want to, at age 24, sit down when someone else tells me to and eat awkwardly in silence, listening to forks scraping teeth and mouths chewing.

If I was shutting my emotions out and operating on autopilot during my internship, these days, my head and heart are on sensory overload with the flood of thoughts, questions, and feelings I have streaming into my head on an uninterrupted 24/7 broadcast. I know the term is over-used, but I honestly do feel quite existential. With my future unmapped, I keep coming back to questions like, "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What is my purpose?" "Will I ever find life fulfilling?" Two nights ago, the thought kept crossing my mind: Why the fuck can't I just be happy? Why am I spending so much of my life miserable and anxious?

Being at home so much worsens my agoraphobia. And my anxious mind has plenty of excuses and reprimands to fend off any temptation to try and combat it. No, I shouldn't go swim laps now...I finally have peace and quiet to write a cover letter. Oh, it would be miserable to drive to the park for a stroll now, rush hour is about to start. Sheesh, I would love to get out and miss my sister screaming, but should I really spend the money on gas and coffee when I'm trying to save for an apartment?

To make matters worse, I'm really isolated emotionally. I only have one friend who I'm in regular contact with, and another who I actually hang out with (with my sister.) All my friendships are just texts here and there. I know I need to step up and figure out a way to meet people and get out of the house, but this is a pretty high anxiety threshold to overcome, and it feels hard to invest in relationships when I want to move out ASAP. Planning to do things and then forcing myself to get out and do them is inexplicably difficult for me, and even harder when I have to do them alone.

I think this is all temporary, but I've gotten a lot of "no's" recently from job without even getting to the first round of interviews, so I feel quite discouraged. I'm looking into freelancing my writing, but even my confidence in my abilities as a writer is waning. And when I put fingers to keyboard lately, my thoughts come out all discombobulated (see above.)

Okay, get me that pillow again...

I know I'm making progress in ways that are hard to measure: I've been doing a lot of soul-searching regarding religion and the tradition I was raised in, disentangling the effects they've had on me, as well as reflecting on my family dynamics. It's hard to be in your mid-20s and still be at home. It's embarrassing, it's limiting, it puts a damper on seeking independence and establishing your own set of values and life plan. I know I'm blessed to have a family to fall back on, but lately I feel more and more the need for physical and emotional space. Distance from the religious messages I've grown up with broadcasting in my ears constantly so I can have a chance to suss out what I really believe.

I started going to an Episcopal cathedral recently and have found it extremely refreshing. This is a big deal for me because ever since my big nervous breakdown in 2015, church has been contentious for me. I hate going, but it's also the best way I know to come into contact with other humans. Not to mention that I've grown up being conditioned to go or else be a terrible human, and I can feel my parents and family friends waiting with baited breath for me to "find a church family"...that they approve of. Every time I go to a church of Evangelical tilt--the style I was raised in--it feels all too familiar and tired and soul-sucking and even irritating. The cathedral is inspiring, novel, feels like a spiritual experience, and approaches the Bible in a completely different way. They also let women speak. They let women speak. It's bananas.

My mom, who grew up Episcopal until she "converted to become a true Christian", isn't exactly pleased because the Episcopal church is considered "mainline" (aka liberal) by most Evangelicals, but she's glad I'm going to a church. Do you feel the pressure? Well, anyways, going there has got me out at least and it feels kind of empowering to go somewhere different from my parents. Just like it feels empowering to talk about my family's effects on my development with my therapist. These microrebellions create a little bit of space that poke a tiny air hole into what often feels like a suffocating environment.

I know I sound really negative, I just have lost perspective since I've been unemployed. Quite frankly, my anxiety is out of control and my depression is creeping back. Some days I even feel tempted to self-harm again. A few times I've even been in the gray area of suicidal. I don't really tell people (there's not many people to tell anyways) but it just ain't pretty in my mind lately. Dark cafe days. Speaking of which, I should really just go to a cafe. The $4.50 for coffee is worth the peace of mind it gives, if only for a couple hours.

My therapist told me to focus on peeling back the layers of life to reveal my core self, throwing away what does not serve me. And I guess that staying up too late writing about my feelings is part of my core self.

I'm glad of the reminder because today has been rough. I feel like I can't stand another second in this house, and I have applied to all the jobs I found that fit...sooooo what's next? Do I have no place in society? Am I useless?

Just the job search spiral at work.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The mindf*ck that is unemployment.

Today is one of those days where I feel like I'm losing it and the world is caving in on me. Like I'm such in a mental version of the garbage compactor in the original Star Wars movies, trying desperately to throw my body against walls that will never budge.

Since it was a sunny Saturday, I wanted to get out and do something, but it was just a weird day. My parents hosted a prayer meeting in the morning, so I just slept in to avoid awkwardly running into people, but then I slept until 11:30 and felt lame. Woke up to my sister having a meltdown, so I stayed in my room a little longer, hoping to avoid getting caught in the midst of the yelling.

I made the mistake of looking at jobs and ended up feeling like a failure who's unqualified for anything. Yesterday, I got another rejection from a position I was actually excited about. They tried to be nice about it, but it still hurt. Each rejection makes me feel even more discouraged about finding a job with limited experience and no graduate degree in such a competitive field....which is frustrating given how much time and unpaid labor I've put into trying to get experience that will give me a chance in the field.

These moments when I realize it could be months and months before I get a job (and who knows if I can get a job I can support myself with), I despair that it will mean more time stuck in this mindfuck that is unemployment. Unemployment means living with my parents, dealing with my sisters' tempestuous emotions, not having emotional or physical space when I need it, and not feeling settled enough to feel like I can start attempting to make friends, find a place to belong, maybe even try to meet a significant other.

When you're looking for a job, it feels like a constant state of tumult, which is weird because it should be a time to finally relax and pursue hobbies since your life isn't eaten up by a 9 to 5 job. But the moment my internship ended, I became consumed with anxiety over figuring out what would be next. And when you don't know where you'll be next, what your schedule will be, etc., everything feels unsettled. I've been more and more lonely, but it seems like a waste of time and emotional effort to try and get involved in groups if I might leave in a month. Not to mention, a lot of great ways to meet people (volunteering, theater productions, etc.) require long-term time commitments I can't assure people I have. I feel more and more like I could benefit from more competent psychiatric care, but I'm not sure if it's worth the effort of establishing with a new doctor if I'm going to leave in a month. On the other hand, if I don't get a job for four months, my condition will probably continue to deteriorate, and maybe I'll wish I'd made that appointment, just as I wish I'd done six months ago when I first committed to my last internship but talked myself out of seeing a new psychiatrist b/c I wouldn't be here long.

I'm sure plenty of this sounds petty to most people, and I acknowledge that I am making mountains out of a lot of molehills, but that's the frustration of unemployment: You get into a state of mind where you lose perspective and fixate on your problems with little to distract you. You lose the rhythm that normal life has. It's easy to start losing motivation, to hear rejections resonate louder and louder, to get caught up in unproductive cycles of questions that have no answers.

My social and general anxiety has been spiraling out of control every couple of days. I thought this time off would finally provide me the opportunity to work on new writing and art projects, maybe even get ideas to pursue a new career path, but instead I'm just paralyzed by anxiety and obsession over how to use my time productively and use my creativity as well as I can. Am I making a difference? How can I make a difference? Will I ever make a difference? Am I worth anything to the world if I'm not making a measurable contribution? It's overwhelming to be in my mind right now, more so than it usually is.

I feel like I need to move out on my own to make progress in my life and figure things out about myself, but I'm stuck in this in-between, chasing my tail.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Toxic people leave their mark on you for a lot longer than they hang around in your life.

There are a lot of people in the world who can seriously fuck you up. Screw with your mind, your heart, your soul. Intentionally or not. They don't care what happens to you...or maybe they actually want to screw with you. In general, they're pretty fucked up themselves. It's awful, it's tragic, it's disgusting, but it's true. Those people are out there.

Sometimes you work with them.

Sometimes you live with them.

Sometimes you fall in love with them.

Sometimes you do everything in your power to avoid them, but they still end up in your life. And you can't get their voice out of your head, telling you nobody will ever want you and you're not good enough for this job or that person because you're stupid or ugly or "crazy". Even when they're gone from your life, their memory haunts you like a ghost. 

You try to live up to their expectations and avoid their criticism. They have left their imprint on your mind and life, retaining their power over you years and years after they've dropped off the radar. It's a cruel joke. You're still living to please them and they're not even fucking here. You barely cross their mind, but they've crept into your thoughts, infecting them for years to come. It's a cruel irony. 

One day you will take power back. You will be free, independent. You will be able to hear your own voice inside your head again. You will stop looking over your shoulder or looking them up on the internet. 

You will own who you are and see that person has so much to offer, no matter what anyone has ever said or did to negate that. You will be able to affirm yourself instead of waiting for a "yes" or "no" or "you're smart" or "you're talented" from anyone else. You will stop heaping insult after insult on your already wounded heart and will see that you are someone who deserves care and kindness and encouragement just as much as the people you love and admire. 

It's so hard to do, but say one thing you've done right this week, one victory you've had, one good quality. Give thanks, and include yourself on the list.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

How the Concept of Patronuses in Harry Potter Helped Me Fight Depression and Negative Self-Worth

I finally got around to reading Harry Potter this year.

Yep, I know the Hogwarts Express left the station two decades ago, but I've only now, at the age of twenty-something, gotten on it to don my wizarding robes (yellow and black, if you care to know.)

I wasn't allowed to read the Harry Potter books growing up because, well, I grew up in a conservative Christian home and my parents heard that the books encouraged witchcraft. Now that I've read them though, I realize the "witchcraft and wizardy" of the HP world is really more closely akin to the elusive concept of "magic" that pervades most other fantasy staples (the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, both widely loved in Christian circles) than the religion of Wicca. But that's a whole other discussion. The point is, I grew up in complete ignorance of what house the Sorting Hat would have put me into, the finer points of the game of quidditch, and the wonder of butter beer (though somehow I found out that Harry and Ginny ended up together...I guess that news rocked the world, rightfully so.) My friends would play Harry Potter at recess, and apparently I was excluded, my mother recently told me when she apologized for not letting me read the books when the rest of the world was hanging onto every interview Daniel Radcliffe gave.

I don't really mind that I didn't get to experience the wonder of Hogwarts until last month, because I feel like the experience of immersing myself in the stories was all the more poignant as an adult. I've always had a soft spot for children's books because of the sense of wonder, fragility, and humor that pervades them. Harry Potter does not disappoint here. It sheds light on the human experience in ways that other books haven't for me. It meant so much to me to read about characters like Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, out-of-place loners often excluded from their houses, who repeatedly express their love of Dumbledore's Army because it "almost felt like having friends." The past couple months, I've felt more and more like I have next to no friends left with little hope of making more any time soon because of my horrible shyness. Heroes in books always have sidekicks and BFFs, so to see two characters who didn't but who are placed in roles of great importance by the author, I felt a little less alone in my loneliness.

Beyond that, I related to J. K. Rowling's poignant descriptions of the effects of the Dementors (I apologize if I'm misspelling or incorrectly capitalizing names/characters...I listened to the books on tape) which I read were inspired by Rowling's own struggle with depression. It's a comfort to have the invisible demon you grapple with daily painted into a character you can identify and other people can understand. More than that, recently when I was reflecting on the concept of Patronuses (read: complaining that the Pottermore Patronus quiz had identified my protective creature as a Wild Boar. Not a graceful doe, majestic stag, or whimsical otter, but an overweight, aggressive, feral beast that senselessly destroys property.) I had a breakthrough in how I looked at my struggle with depression and the self-doubt that arises from my social anxiety.

In order to cast a Patronus, you have to think about the moments that have made you the happiest. To the cynical depression sufferer, this admittedly starts to sound like the classic adage, "Think positive and you will feel better!" But the concept of casting the Patronus gains its real power, I think, in this: You are summoning the concentration to create a charm that chases the demons away and protects you from soul-sucking darkness. In essence, you are your own savior. As I was complaining about my wild boar Patronus, I realized that the point of the "animal" is protection, not a reflection of personality. I realized what self-help sites and my therapist have been telling me all along my mental health care journey: I have to stand up for myself. Change in my mental health starts with how I treat myself, my inner dialogue. It has been so negative and filled with self-doubt for so long:

"Did you do well enough on that project? Your boss seemed disappointed. You really screwed up by getting it in so late in the day. I bet it's full of mistakes."

"Why doesn't anyone love you? Most of the people you know are married already."

"Nobody wants to be your friend. Everyone is forgetting about you. Why can't you be more interesting and appealing?"

"You're so far behind everyone else. You should really have a job and a normal life by now."

"Nobody's going to want to date you now that you still haven't had a boyfriend."

"Why do you still get afraid of talking to people, much less leaving the house? It's ridiculous. You've been in therapy how long and you're still a fucking crazy person!"


I won't regress any further into the horror of my negative thought cycles. Suffice it to say, we all can be our own worst enemy, harshest critic. As much as we decry the haters, the reason they usually get to us so much is that we have a lot of hidden criticisms of ourselves and concerns about how we measure up to different standards we've learned from our families, our peers, the media, our religious communities, etc. over the years. We seek validation that we are doing well, sometimes even when we don't realize we are doing it, masking it as "Asking advice," "reading the room," "being sensible," etc. I find that I constantly have my invisible socio-emotional "feelers" out, trying to read any interactions I have with others for signs that they are or aren't pleased with me.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I realized yesterday that I need to cast my own Patronus by putting a distance between myself and all the negativity I tend to let infiltrate my life, just in small ways at first, but gradually it accumulates and takes over. Today at work, I had a lot of moments where I felt tempted to start berating myself as a project I was working on ran off the tracks, past the deadline, and into interrupting other people's schedules. The issues weren't entirely my fault, but my immediate reaction was to include notes of sardonic self-scorn in my updates to my family letting them know I was staying late. Comments like "[Insert name of seemingly perfect high-achiever you know here] would never have let this happen." "I completely tanked. I don't know why they gave me this job." started itching at my fingers, dying to be typed out and then repeated over and over in my psyche. I began to imagine furtive conversations my boss and coworkers would have, exchanging complaints about "the intern" not living up to expectations. I started to read disappointment and frustration into every interaction I had, every email exchanged.

But I also had more and more moments where I realized nobody is going to step in and making me stop beating myself up. I know sometimes I beat myself up to goad others to give me the verbal affirmation I seek. That's only the motive sometimes though, all in all I realize that I often am holding my breath, waiting for either a person/relationship or a change of circumstance to magically whisk me into a happier state of mind (maybe that's why I fell in love with an escapist novel series that I'm now drawing on for inspiration for my psychological well-being and future birthday celebrations.) That's not how mental health recovery works, however.

Relationships and happy life milestones are nod bad things, but oftentimes once the novelty wears away, we're left with our same insecurities. We can probably all think of at least one person we know who is self-conscious in spite of being beautiful and having a significant other who tells them so daily. Seeking validation from others tends to exacerbate the problem, not solve it.

Casting a Patronus means taking control, remembering what we're thankful for, what makes up happy, and owning it, empowering ourselves to put distance between ourselves and harmful patterns of thought that threaten to overpower us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Unplug the crock pot. You deserve to be free from overthinking.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

SOMEBODY LET ME OUT OF HERE I'M STUCK WITH THIS CRAZY WOMAN INSIDE MY OWN HEAD THERE'S NO ESCAPE I SEE NO ESCAPE


---

Above is an approximation of how it feels to be a writer who has not had the chance to properly put pen to paper (or text to screen) and word vomit the innermost thoughts that have been circling the darker parts of her psyche like a caged animal for months.

I'm nearing month three of a long-term editorial internship. Hmm. You'd think I'd be happy for once, working in a beautiful office with a free latte machine, being paid (wellll, that's a stretch...meagerly compensated, maybe?) to write all day. NOPE. It's this pesky set of lobes up in the cranium. They never rest. Always looking for a winter (or fall or spring or summer) of discontent.

Plus, it turns out that being an Editorial Intern doesn't actually mean you just get to be a lil wordsmith pixie all day. Writing is about 10-15% of my weekly work, and none of it has to do with processing my feelings (as satisfying as it still is.) A lot of my job turns out to comprise of some of the things I hate most in life: Composing diplomatic emails asking for things, calling strangers on the phone and trying to think of things to ask them on the fly, pushing people to give me answers to questions, and, perhaps worst of all, making decisions.

I absolutely hate making decisions. Even choosing where to have lunch is pure torture on a bad day. But this job is full of it and being a Feeler-Perceiver (Myers Briggs personality shit for any fans), decisions are energy zapping and at times seem like insurmountable obstacles, especially when they have nothing to do with my value system (how INFPs tend to make decisions, as I understand it) so I have nothing to guide me through making the choice and I just spiral into stress and frustration.

BLUGH have I ranted enough yet? Well, I've spent enough time on the specifics. What I wanted to write and say was that, well, I'm sorry I've let this blog lie fallow for awhile. Writing ebbs and flows, of course, but now I'm realizing I need to write. I resisted coming back to this blog because I felt anything I had to write about I had already said at some point in the past hundred posts, but who cares. Nobody will read back that far anyways (though you should...it's a lot different early on.)

Anyways, the reason I stayed up so late tonight to scribble all this was I wanted to say to anyone out there struggling at work because of your wild mind: You can get through this, if only hour by hour, and you're not alone.

The past month at work has seen me crying in the bathroom merely because I received some tersely worded edits on a piece. Then countless more tear-ups at my desk, oftentimes for no reason whatsoever. There were the nights I begged my family not to make me go into work...as if they were forcing me or could write me a sick note like in school. The days spent dreading a phone appointment. The minutes that dragged on as I stared into space, wondering how the hell I was going to make it through another hour, much less a six-month contract when I felt so fucking numb and torn up inside.

My frustration with my social anxiety has been mounting...I don't want to be the mousy, weirdly quiet girl who avoids eye contact and doesn't say anything in meetings. I constantly compare myself to some abstract concept of the proper social life that "most people my age" have. I always fall short. My attempts to better myself keep falling prey to my lack of executive functioning, my inability to commit to a social hobby to pursue or make an appointment with a new psychiatrist.

But I keep having these moments where I realize, yes, my social anxiety is doing a lot to undermine happiness I could have, but I'm undermining it even more by being so obsessed with hating on myself. I feel like I'm in a pressure cooker constantly, and who is primarily responsible for turning the damn thing on? Me. Yes, societal expectations, friends and family, and even therapy can contribute to an overly-intense "I NEED TO DO BETTER AND FIX MYSELF" attitude, but they're only incrementally turning up the pressure on the crock pot...I plugged the dang thing in! While I should valiantly continue to examine my mental health woes in therapy and challenge them outside it, I also can do myself a favor by CALMING THE HECK DOWN. I don't need to become an accomplished writer or musician or historian within the next year. I don't need to overcome my fear of speaking to male human beings and entering into relationships that can break you by the time 2019 rolls around. These things take time, and sometimes they need time and experience before we are truly ready to make great art, find love that can love us back because we love ourselves, or figure out who we are.

I am in a state of becoming. So much has changed about me in the past few years. I'm reeling from it all, trying to piece together who I am now, especially since I once had such a strong, distinct identity based around being individualistic. I wish I would give myself a break instead of reducing myself to tears every weekend during sessions where I attempt to "Finally figure my future out."

Sigh.

Go easy on yourselves, okay? Rest is part of transformation, like butterflies in chrysalises (overused metaphor, I know.)

Friday, July 6, 2018

Facing fear: When you start to compare yourself to others, remember the little things

I went to the pool today.

I guess that's not a big deal for most people, but I haven't been in probably six years. Growing up, my family didn't love the water, and as us kids grew up, any water-related activities pretty much ceased among us.

For a long time, I decided I just wasn't a water person because my family wasn't, but lately I've been questioning a lot of the things I learned not to like because my family doesn't, including going to the pool. So today when a friend invited me, I said yes, figuring several trips around the lazy river wouldn't be a bad way to spend one of my last afternoons before I start my new job.

Once I had my toes in the water, I felt satisfied I had faced my fears. I felt a tad self-conscious in my swimsuit -- not only do I still have winter tummy, but being raised in a culture that emphasized modesty, this was my first time even wearing a one-piece without shorts over it -- but looking around, I realized nobody else looked especially stellar either.

When my friend asked if it would be okay if we did a few laps so she could get some exercise in, I agreed, in spite of my inner hesitance. I grabbed my goggles and hopped into the five-foot end of one of the lanes, my eyes barely over the water. As I bobbed up and down on my tip-toes, I felt the comfort of being in the water on a hot summer day rush over me. Sure, I couldn't float on my back, but I still remembered breaststroke and could once again relish in dunking my head underwater like when I was a child. Swimming laps? Why not! I never considered myself a strong swimmer, but I knew I could get across the length of the pool. So I pushed off against the wall and dove under. Things went smoothly until a quarter of the way down the length of the lane, I caught sight of the sharp drop ahead of me. Suddenly it all came rushing back to me: the reason I had avoided water so long -- my freshman year swim test.

It is a silly story really, but like most things related to anxiety, other people don't get it unless they experienced it. For some strange reason, the college I started my undergraduate education at required all freshmen to pass a swimming test. We lined up in droves out the gym center door one day in September to determine our fate: sink (and be required to take swimming as your first gym rotation) or swim.

I and three other students were commanded to jump in the pool, my first shock, as I was used to climbing down like a lady. As I plunged in, feet first, I began to panic, feeling myself sink further and further. Shit. (actually I didn't swear in those days but I'm taking artistic liberties here.) I struggled to kick against gravity and push myself back up to the surface, sputtering, my heart beginning to race. The next command came: swim freestyle down the length of the pool.

My freestyle swim is horrific. I probably look like a flailing duck being pulled under by a shark. And, quite frankly, I felt like one too. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, I could feel every once of how shrimpy my arm muscles were, I had an adrenaline drain instead of a rush, I stopped once in the middle of the pool and tread water because I was so exhausted, and to top it all off, every time I lifted my head up to breathe, I could see the gym coaches on the side of the pool, gazing at me skeptically and commenting to one another that they didn't know if I would make it.

It all got worse when I caught sight of just how damn long the lane was -- and how deep it dropped halfway through. Shit. I had to swim over that vast unknown?? I knew there wasn't a shark down there, but it felt like there should be...

I managed to pass the test because the second lap was a stroke of our choice and my breaststroke is pretty decent, but the coach singled me out and made it clear to me that I had made it by the skin of my teeth (and the fact that the swim class was filling up very quickly with all the failures.) I left with an immense sense of relief, but I held the terror of that moment perfectly encapsulated in my mind in the years that followed.

Being in the pool today, seeing the lane stretch out, seeing the sharp dip in the bottom concrete, I felt my heart constrict and my pace quicken. I tried to push but I just couldn't -- I turned back and swam to the wall like a noob and hopped out, telling my friend I'd wait for her in the other part of the pool.

I pottered about, doing my trusty breaststroke back and forth around the 5-feet-with-no-treacherous-drop section, next to some kids playing chicken, allowing myself to sink back into reveling in the sensations of the water. But the knowledge that I had caved to my anxiety hung over me. I got back out and went back to the swim lanes, reasoning that maybe if I started in the deep end, it would be easier.

I was too afraid to even get in.

I walked back to the normal section and hopped back in, well aware of how odd I must look. I kept swimming back and forth in my little corner, enjoying the sensation of swimming laps without the terror of a cavernous mouth of water below me. I found that I could keep my head underwater for two strokes to make things a little faster. I dove down and touched the bottom. But still it niggled in the back of my head that I was giving into fear.

My friend finished her laps and told me she was going to use the restroom and then we could get in the lazy river. As she walked away, I made up my mind to try one more time. Like Dory, I would just keep swimming...

Don't look down.

Shit. I can tell it's deep even if I don't look.

Ugh, this is awful. What if I lose strength in the 13-foot section and sink to the bottom...

Wait, I'm swimming over it. I'm doing it. And it's not half bad!

And with that, I faced my fear. Going to the pool, baring my thighs in my dowdy suit, swimming laps over the great unknown...Fighting anxiety is about the small victories, about not letting fear get the best of you in the tiny everyday challenges where nobody but you would notice if you gave into the hidden inner terror and opted for the comfort of the status quo instead. These little conquests may seem silly to others and not-big-enough-to-change-anything to us, but they are the foundation of building boldness and freeing ourselves to live happier lives, not controlled by the fears that have seeped into our psyche and taken over over the years.

I didn't mean to write this piece, but just before I lay down to go to sleep, I made the mistake of looking at the Instagram of a girl I am jealous of, who shares my birthday and has the affection and admiration of the man I love. She gets his time and his devoted friendship. She is accomplished in the career field I want to work in. She is fashionable and bold and confident and carefree. She parties and jokes and lives in a way I will never feel free to do but that probably gains her more friends than I'll ever have. She travels. She lives a normal, grown-up life. I know probably not everything is as perfect as it seems from the outside, but I felt insecure as I inevitably began to compare myself with her, feeling inadequate because of the lack of accomplishment and independence I perceived in myself when held up to her.

Then I remembered the pool. And I realized that I can't compare myself to other people because our situations are completely different. We have different struggles, different pasts, different obstacles we've had to overcome, different futures we're destined for. The fact is, I'm sensitive and anxious. A lot of things in life are harder for me than they are for other people. I grew up with an anxious family so I didn't necessarily get pushed to do stuff most "normal" kids would. I push myself a lot to do things that scare me, but a lot of times I get too overwhelmed to know what to do to push myself more. Or the anxiety builds up to much.

Celebrate the little victories. Cut yourself some slack. Don't stalk the social media of the people you perceive as perfect. Keep pushing.