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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Grieving When Long-distance Friendship Fails

As summer rolls around, we start throwing terms around like "summer fling" or "just something for the summer" etc. I'm a "ride or die" type of gal -- I'll love you forever if you let me -- so that type of transient relationship has never really appealed to me. But lately I have been realizing more and more that maybe a lot of relationships are seasonal, and for my own protection, maybe I need to think of my relationships in that light.

If I had things my way, like I said, I would keep in touch with most friends forever, writing letters back and forth or giving a phone call every month. But the past few years -- this year in particular -- have drenched me with an ice cold bucket of Reality that people don't tend to work that way.

It first started when I was at college: On break, I would want to text back and forth with my friends. Nothing too intense, just keeping in touch and maybe complaining about some of the frustrations of being home. But I quickly found that most of my friends, once they were home, were immediately re-immersed in whatever their little world back there was. Completely understandable given the whirlwind that friends and family can sweep you up into whenever you're back home after a long stretch away, but still a little disappointing. Of course, that was nothing compared to what was to come.

After a horrible bout of depression during my junior year of college, I decided to leave the school I had attended for three years and stay home for a semester before transferring to a school close to home. Just before the school year started up, I sent an email out to friends to let them know I wouldn't be back but that I would love to keep in touch and wished them all the best, etc. It was long, yes, but I just sent it to people I had been friends with, whether one year or all three. Out of maybe fifteen to twenty people I sent it to, I received a handful of responses. Some people I could understand not hearing from, but others had been people I would have long conversations with and considered close friends. It felt like a slap in the face to not have them acknowledge that I would, 1) no longer be in their lives regularly and 2) was going through enough that I had to withdraw from school just before my senior year.

As the months at home stretched on and life as usual at college played out before my eyes on friends' social media, I felt more and more alone. I would try to text people to say hello and sometimes wouldn't even receive a reply. When people did write me months later, it was usually a light-hearted conversation that never asked how I was or made reference to what had happened to me. My heart was broken over and over again as old friends resurfaced in my life only to fade out again just as quickly.

Sometimes today, three years later, it still happens. And it still breaks my heart.

This past year, I graduated from the college I transferred to, where I had made some lovely new friends though since I was a commuter (and perhaps a little guarded because of my recent past), none of the relationships were quite as intense as those from my first school. After graduation, I moved on to an internship 10 hours away from home. I lived with several people who were in the program with me, so I formed a couple tight-knit friendships from spending hours and hours together with people, commiserating over the stressful schedule. And one of those friendships turned into a case of unrequited love on my part.

The days after the internship finished and I moved back home were brutal. My life went from 100mph to 0mph and I was sometimes suicidal with the pain of no longer being with the man I loved. I assumed that our light-hearted banter and honest confessions would continue even after separation. But while occasionally he would indulge me with a conversation here and there, my expectations were sorely disappointed. I was an absolute mess, lying awake at night trying to figure out what our relationship was, how he felt, whether I had done something wrong. Crying my eyes out when he didn't send a letter -- as he had promised -- to respond to one I had given him at the end of our time together.

I moved back up north again and got a new internship and his communication got even spottier. Eventually I just stopped talking to him for a month to see if he would initiate conversation.

Nope. Silence.

It was a pretty dark time for me -- some points were "just stay alive tonight, that's you're one goal" kind of times. I couldn't grasp at the time what was happening in the relationship, but looking back I almost feel embarrassed at how clingy I was.

Now I've come to realize that most people will just go back to their bubble once they're no longer around you. This can be tough if you're the brand of introvert, like me, who craves friendship and social contact but doesn't necessarily have the wherewithal to cultivate a social scene for his/herself. I cling to those relationships I had because I love those people and it's hard for me to meet new people, but those people, once they're back at home, shift their focus back onto their new surroundings. It's an understandable habit, but a hurtful one.

This process repeated itself two more times that year: I would live with a person, we would both open up to each other and connect over struggles and shared interests, I would get attached and they would express affection for me while we were together, getting my hopes up, but then once we parted ways geographically, I would drop off their mental radar. When I would write asking after them, I would get either no reply or a "Hey, thanks! I'm busy!" To make it all better, a friend or two from College #1 also resurfaced for emotional support and then bobbed back under once they were reconnected with friends they liked better.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me three times, shame on me.

The past two months, I've been dealing with the most recent falling out of communication. Since early 2018, I've been coming to grips with the reality that most people just can't seem to handle long-distance relationships of any kind (romantic or platonic.) As I developed a really close (platonic) bond with a woman I was living and working with at yet another internship, I kept telling myself, "Just enjoy hanging out and talking now but don't expect her to continue things once this is over." Only problem was she kept insisting we would be lifelong friends, etc. And I fell for it, thinking we could text back and forth and keep up-to-date like we weren't really apart, meeting up in person every so often. We were supposed to be inseparable.

Months later, I am living in reality: People are busy. I typically am not.

In summation, I'm realizing that maybe relationships are seasonal. I always struggled with the thought that you could date or even be married to a person for years and years and then separate -- it seemed like wasted time -- but I've been trying to make myself see that oftentimes relationships fit a certain part of your life -- who you are, what you're going through -- but then are meant to sail on a different path. This can be really tough.

Having people leave your life can make you feel like you are inadequate and people don't want to be around you. But the reality is that it often doesn't have to do with you. Maybe that person is just in a different place emotionally or in terms of their season of life, and they need different friends. More often, I think people are just consumed with what's directly in front of them and who's surrounding them. They don't tend to have the bandwidth to check in with others, no matter how beloved.

So if you're having trouble letting go (I know I am), it's okay to loosen your fingers a bit -- that was for that season, maybe somebody is around the bend for this season. Maybe that means initiating conversation less if you're always the one starting things. Maybe it's not checking their social media every day. Maybe it's not listening to that song that reminds you of them on repeat.

If you're questioning your worth because people have let you go of you, remember that it's not necessarily about you.

When the seasons change, it can seem too soon. The buds fall off the trees just when it got sunny enough for you to finally take a stroll outside. The leaves are starting to litter the road and fade to brown before you had the chance to take a picture of them crowning the road on tree branches. Relationships can feel like this too -- over too fast, cut short, robbed of possibility. All I can say is I'm sorry. It's tricky.

Sometimes you can communicate your hurt and repair the relationship, but often no matter how hard you try, it will never be the same as when you were together. That takes some adjustment, which often takes some hurt. It's okay to grieve. It's okay to be a little angry. It's okay to hurt, even after many years. But hopefully you can also start to put it into perspective as a page of your past, a piece of your puzzle, a line of your story. And accept that maybe now, if the relationship if making you more sad than happy, it may be time to end the scene.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hopelessly in Love (or something along those lines): When you can't let go

Have you ever been so obsessed/in love with (the line feels blurry sometimes, I gotta be honest) with someone that even though you don't really have a relationship with them any more, you're not sure you want to date anyone else because you just wish it was them. And you're afraid you might forfeit the chance to be with that person should they change their mind one of these days. Essentially, you would wait around for them to change their mind. Because for some bizarre reason, you want that person that much.

Sometimes I wonder if I've just become attached to the idea of the person. He's serving as some stand-in so I can have someone to pin my hopes on when I dream of those little romantic moments.

I wonder whether my bubble would be popped if we actually got together and the cold hard reality of living and compromising with someone would rain on my beautiful fantasy sunshine world.

I wonder whether I just need the emotional stability of having one person I can stay attached to emotionally in the midst of all the change going on in my life.

I wonder whether he's just all that's available at the moment.

I wonder whether it's an excuse for me to stay in my comfort zone and not explore the scary world of dating and meeting people and having things not work out.

But then sometimes I wonder if it really is some form of love if you care about a person still after all this time and space and heartache. Or do I chronically want what I can't have?

Maybe it's a mixture of everything. But all the same. I still think of him every hour of every day. I still ask myself why he doesn't reach out, why he didn't visit when he was in the area. What he meant when he said this or that. Whether he reads this blog. Whether he's noticed I deleted my Facebook. What he would say if I told him how much I cared. Whether he already knows.

Whether he secretly feels the same.

Probably not, I guess.

Or he would have written by now.

All the same, it's nice to have someone beautiful to see and think, "I would take a bullet for you. Your life matters more to me than my own, even if you never know." There's something beautiful about selfless love.

Even if it keeps you up at night wishing you were more outgoing like him or had shown your wittier side back in July or had straighter teeth or had better taste or were beautiful and well-traveled and accomplished but also able to let loose like him and his friends. Maybe then things would be different.

So you torture yourself, over-analyzing other girls' comments on his timeline or how long it's been since you last texted or that last real conversation you had in August or his body language on that one night...

And maybe that's why you shouldn't wait around.

But, darling, please know that I really do want to wait for you.

And I probably will.

Seems on brand.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Social Anxiety Strikes Again: How School Starting Can Provoke Anxiety

Over the past year, my social anxiety has gotten a lot less crippling than it used to be. I still am "the quiet one" and don't feel comfortable saying much when there are more than two other people in a conversation, but all the meeting new people and on-the-spot introductions I've had to give while bouncing between different internships this year has taken the edge off of the anticipatory anxiety I experience before a social interaction. It's been a sort of unintentional exposure therapy.

Along with that, I've noticed that the other hallmark of my social anxiety -- worrying about all everything I might have done wrong for days, weeks, months after the event has occurred has also decreased as my general anxiety level has been decreasing thanks to vitamins and medication. I used to obsess over interviews or conversations or things I said in class for days after the event, replaying what I said in my head and trying to remember how people reacted, then trying to gauge how horrifically on the social faux pas scale I had failed. The beauty of this is that then I'll be even more afraid to say anything the next time I'm with people because I 1) start pre-over-analyzing everything I could say and how I might regret it later, and thus 2) talk myself out of saying anything, making me feel anxious about how I must look either rude or like a quiet, mousy lame person that nobody will want to be friends with.

Ah, social anxiety. How I love you.

Well, things have been a lot better than before -- I order coffee and thank waiters and go up to cashiers to pay for things, all stuff I was terrified of doing a couple years ago. I can shake hands somewhat less awkwardly than before, I spoke in a staff meeting without time to prep a speech, and I even made (appropriate, tasteful) jokes in a recent job interview...Who is she! All the same, I still have socially anxious tendencies lurking in me. When you grow up with this crippling condition, it tends to shape the way you think and live life.

If there is a self-checkout in a store, I always use it. If somebody makes an offhand comment to me in a store, I will reply with an incoherent one-syllable mutter because I'm taken by surprise and don't know how to respond. Unless I really vibe with a person or group, I tend to present my mousy self. When I talk to strangers, I sometimes can't manage to make my voice louder than a stage whisper.

As I mentioned in another post, I'm in the midst of searching for a job, which brings out the anxious mess in me. After two months of searching and a couple of almost-wins, I've realized there are some areas where my job skill set has some gaping holes (perhaps not surprising since I was a humanities major.) Since I currently don't have any job leads, I decided to sign up for a course at a community college to get some additional professional training. Tonight was the first time the class met, and the whole ordeal brought out the Hot Anxious Mess that has been lurking in me, periodically reemerging at different points in the job search.

I forgot how much school stresses me out. I love learning and I enjoyed listening to the lecture...until the professor started asking more and more questions. At first I hoped they were just a way for her to bring up a new topic because she would answer the questions herself. But then she started to pose them to the class, and there were only seven of us to answer. I started to get more and more stressed out. At the start of class, my mind had thoughts to share should the occasion arise, but they were more philosophical questions. The questions the teacher was asking required one-word spit outs that I was too flustered to come up with. In one horrible moment, she locked eyes with me as she asked something. You know when, in books, the writer says a character opened and closed his or her mouth like a fish? That was basically me. I was speechless. Too stunned to come up with words and too clenched with fear to utter them even if I had had something to say.

As the class went on, more and more happened to skyrocket my anxiety. We were supposed to have a break partway through class and I really needed to use the restroom, so I left. When I came back, the class had resumed like I wasn't there and everyone was in the midst of an activity while I spend ten minutes trying to figure out where the power button for the computer was.

More questions. More silence from me. Other people finally started to open up. I tried to nod and occasionally utter some syllable, but I grew increasingly embarrassed about not talking. I got the feeling some people were noticing, including the professor. I felt so stressed. And when another student made a passing comment to me, my mind was completely blank on how to respond, so I just muttered, "Oh." Then worried I seemed hateful or stuck up.

There was an unclear assignment given for "homework" and a lot of vague directions. I felt like I was treading water and I just wanted to get out. In the back of my mind, I could already feel all the existential career and life questions that are always hanging out under the bleachers of my mind, waiting to come up and bug me -- I could feel them banging on the closet door I had locked them behind to focus on taking notes. Should I have studied this stuff in school? Why didn't I choose a different major? Should I go to grad school? What is my calling?

It's all pretty overwhelming and I doubt I'll ever have the answers.

Class finally ended and my social anxiety came out again in classic fashion: While part of me went into the class hoping to make friends, once I was faced with the possibility of human interaction, I was terrified. I prayed nobody would end up walking the same direction to the parking garage as me so I'd have to force conversation or feel awkward and antisocial avoiding them. So then I consciously avoided the chance to bond with anyone.

But sometimes it's just one day at a time. One step out of your comfort zone at a time. We're not superheroes. We can't do everything at once. Fighting these battles is a process, and sometimes we -- I don't want to say take a step back...more like the not-so-recovered parts of you that you were able to mask before, they sometimes come out when you're placed in a stressful situation. Which makes sense because stress affects all of us, whether mentally ill or not. It throws us off our game and brings out insecurities and can leave us speechless.

I keep reminding myself it was just day one, which is always overwhelming. And that I should be proud of myself for pushing myself by enrolling. But it's easy to just beat myself up for not being social enough. And then tell myself I'll never have more friends or be successful because I'm too shy. That doesn't really help anything though -- it just perpetuates the cycle. I am bullying myself into being scared to live my life. That's cruel and wrong. What's more is it's counter-productive.

Part of me wishes I'd never signed up for the stupid class -- I hate being stressed and having to anticipate something unpleasant periodically. But I need to keep growing, stretching, pushing. Otherwise you become boxed in by fear.

I still am boxed in any many ways, but I've dug my fair share of tunnels out.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Tell Me What's Wrong: The Difficulties of Being a Chronic Empath

This past year has been a kind of chaotic one for me...I have lived in different places, worked different jobs, met people and then parted ways. It's a lot of turbulence for a person that change is hard for. But one thing has been consistent at each place I've been in over the past year: People confided in me. I was able to listen, show compassion, and empathize with different individuals wherever I was.

I love having the chance to connect with people on a deeper level. I cherish being able to lend a caring ear. My goal in life is to be an empathetic, helpful person so these moments - on a selfish level - make me feel fulfilled as a human, like I'm having a small impact on the world. More than that, I would love to see a world where people feel comfortable talking about their pain and getting help for their difficulties, so if I can be a part of helping people work through tough times or be someone they feel comfortable opening up to for the first time about something, I embrace that.

Naturally, after having these moments of openness and emotional intimacy, I often end up growing emotionally attached to the person. It feels like we've bonded on a deeper level so I typically feel more connected to that person, like we've been in the trenches together. When someone has entrusted you with their secrets, you feel like they care about and trust you more than others. As someone who's never been very popular, that can be a very powerful feeling.

The difficult thing I've encountered is that oftentimes people who aren't used to being open about their feelings will, after sharing with me, feel uncomfortable that they did so and then close up again, sometimes even more than before. This leaves me feeling confused, hurt, and betrayed. I especially find that once I'm no longer in the same geographic place as the other person, they'll stop communicating what's going on in their head, heart, and life with me.

I've been trying to remind myself that being open just doesn't come as naturally to some as it does to others and everyone processes emotions differently. Even I -- Queen of Emotional Word Vomit -- can clam up about my struggles except maybe to one or two people very close to me. But, being an intuitive empath, I can often tell when somebody is struggling, so it hurts when I also know they aren't choosing to confide in me about it any more. I, also being the Queen of Taking Things Personally, instinctively feel like that person doesn't trust me any more and doesn't value our relationship as much as I thought.

In these situations, I also just feel anxious because I know something is wrong but I don't know what's up or how bad things are. I worry about whether the person is okay but also don't want to pry, especially if I've already asked or if communication with that person has been spotty. It's a stressful place to be in and I've been finding myself in it a lot lately.

I don't really have a point or inspirational message for this post...in fact, I'm not sure it made a ton of sense -- I just needed to get this stress off my chest. But if you're a fellow "chronic empath", maybe you can relate to what I'm talking about. And maybe we can all remind ourselves to open up and be honest about our feelings when we're struggling. It's difficult, but I believe it's important and maybe even makes the world a better, more tender place.

I guess at the end of the day, while it's good to be there for people, we also have to remember that people are complicated and sometimes they pull away from a relationship for reasons we may never know. I'm trying to learn that it's not necessarily my fault if someone pulls away from me -- our tendency is to assume that we are not enough for a person or we did something wrong. But people are often illogical and make choices based on complex, unspoken emotional reactions that often have more to do with their own issues than other people's. While I can understand why I feel hurt and lonely in the wake of people no longer turning to me as a confidant -- or even just someone they contact at all -- I don't have to take it as a personal affront or let it negate the meaningful interactions I did have with a person. It's all just complicated.

Life is full of seasons and changes, and maybe relationships are included in that cycling. People may not always be as close as you want them to be, whether geographically or emotionally or both. But maybe the universe or God or whatever placed me in these people's paths at just the time they needed support from a caring person and we've parted ways now that they no longer need me. It's tough to think about because it makes me feel a bit more like a disposable cup than an instrument of kindness, but the more I live, the more it seems like it might be true. It's just tough when you don't want to let go of people because you love them, but they seem to be letting go of you.

Maybe some new people are just around the bend for me to help. Or maybe there's even someone who will care for me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When you outgrow a lover: Letting go of people who don't appreciate you

Sometimes you meet someone.

And that person takes you absolutely by surprise.

He is not your type, but he makes you want to change whatever your type is from here on out.

He is beautiful, talented, smart, well-spoken, accomplished, sexy, silly, a joy to talk to...

You could go on all day (and sometimes you do.)

But as you start to get to know him better, while you find yourself growing more and more attached, more and more transfixed by all the little things that make up his essence,

you also start to see the cracks.

The ways the two of you are so different, you don't know how you could bridge the gap.

What's worse is when you realize that even though he might want to talk to you for four hours,

he doesn't want to drive an hour to see you because he's back with his friends.

He says he hopes you two cross paths again,

but you know deep down he's not going to make an effort to make that happen.

He doesn't call when he's in your hometown, and you certainly aren't going to call him and look like a stalker and seem desperate,

but after you wipe the tears off your pillow, you still imagine the day you'll sit down for coffee and catch up with him

be reminded of the sound of his voice

the smell of his cologne

the feel of his chest against yours when he goes in for a hug to say hello

the way his eyes glimmer with mischief when he smiles.

You almost hate that other people have been soaking in all those small miracles you live for when they don't care half as much as you.

---

I'm all for unrequited love. I will stick up for anyone who loves someone who doesn't return those feelings. I think we're wrong as a society to save the label of "true love" only for those in a two-way relationship as we recognize it. I think we're wrong to belittle and berate those who fall for people who don't happen to fall as well. I think it's beautiful and selfless to love someone when you know you won't get anything out of it.

I do it all the fucking time.

I have come to realize though that the problem lies here:

Let's go back to that relationship above.

As your heart becomes more and more attached to this man, you admire him more and more. You start to take more interest in the things he likes. This seems harmless as you start learning new things and noticing things at the art gallery you wouldn't have before.

But something niggles in the back of your mind. You know he doesn't do the same. He doesn't attempt to like what you do. In fact, he even makes fun of it or just ignores it. He only likes and actively supports the parts of you that align with his interests. And you're more than those parts. You're a multi-faceted renaissance woman, dammit.

---

It's taken some time (a year), and it'll take a lot more time, I'm sure, but I'm starting to realize: maybe I'm outgrowing this man. I love him, there will always be a piece of me that loves him. If he asked me out tomorrow, I would say yes, but I am tired of always being the one to check in.

I am tired of feeling like I have to align my interests with his. I am sick of feeling anxious to the point of actually feeling physically sick if he hasn't liked my social media in a while. I am tired of feeling uncomfortable sharing about my hobbies that he doesn't take interest in when they are what I am truly passionate about. I'm overstating my case a bit, and I don't mean to hate on him, I just want to be respected. Friendship is a two way street, and I don't think it's unreasonable to support a friend even if they love different things from you.

I know I, being amiable and eager to please and learn and love, tend to let myself be overshadowed by the men I love. And I know that that is at worst dangerous and at best a shame. Because I am an incredible, multi-faceted woman. And somebody who deserves my companionship and love and adoration is somebody who loves the eclectic (sometimes contradictory) collection of interests and personality traits and moods that make up Yours Truly.

If you are outgrowing somebody, it's okay to take a while to admit it, but let the idea sit with you. If you are like me and tend to let yourself be overshadowed, let yourself downplay what you love in hopes of getting love, be more aware of ways you're doing this in your relationships, platonic or romantic. Ask yourself why. Maybe we're anxious that nobody will love us as we are because we have not been shown love before. Or, worse, we've been judged and laughed at when we have shown our true selves. Maybe the relationship is unhealthy and you feel intimidated because you know that person can easily change his/her mind to not like a person.

If you find yourself often changing yourself for people, do little things to re-affirm who you are. List what you love in life. What you love about yourself. When you have felt the happiest and what makes you the happiest. Make a collage or a Pinterest board of things you love or that just appeal to you. Redecorate your cubicle or room or even just a bulletin board on a wall with what makes you happy. Assert yourself in small ways: maybe just expressing an opinion when you would typically hold back or saying you don't like something or speaking up when you want something as small as an ice cream cone after dinner. Choose the restaurant. Say something hurt your feelings. Write a text about how you feel even if you never send it. It's a challenge for some of us -- believe me, my heart races just thinking about doing some of these things -- but do stand up for you. Because you're unique and add a bit of flavor that this world has never tasted before.

And if you're outgrowing a love: I know it's so painful. I know it's a process. You may go back and forth, clinging onto this love. Because you care for that person deeply and they have become part of the fabric of your existence, the path your mind wanders. But it's okay to slowly let go. I tell myself sometimes it's worth the wait, worth the fight -- he does care and maybe I'm being too dramatic and maybe he'll come around to care more...but ultimately if a relationship is making you feel like you're "going crazy" (as much as I hate the term, it feels apt), is it worth you feeling that way?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Anxiety, Sensitivity & Job Searching

I haven't posted in quite a while because now that I'm not down-and-out depressed and seemingly non-functional as a human being, it's hard to know what this blog should look like. But the truth of the matter is, even though I've been working my tail off ever since graduating almost a year ago, trying to get my career off the ground, there are still days I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up again or throw my tea cup collection against the bedroom wall out of frustration with friends who I sometimes feel always let me down.

About a month and a half ago, I finished my third internship I've completed since graduating. Since it's hard to get jobs in my field without a Master's degree, I've been taking different short-term opportunities to try and get experience hopes that can: 1) give me some much-needed career direction, 2) boost my resume, and 3) provide me with some interesting experiences living in cool places. The process has had its ups and downs, but I've gained a lot from it and I wouldn't change the path I've taken. But I have to admit, it's been a heck of a whirlwind, and now that it's all died down to me sitting alone day after day in my parents' house in my hometown, getting to have social interaction maybe once every other week...I feel a lot of days like I could scream from the weight of everything whirling around in my own brain.

Who knew sitting around doing nothing but looking for jobs, applying to jobs, waiting to hear about jobs, etc. could be SO. DAMN. STRESSFUL.?

I mean, this is supposed to be the dream, right? I have all this time on my hands, so I can write music, finish my novel, take up watercolors, read all the books I've bought the past two years (and maybe the ones I never got around to in college, amirite, ladies??), maybe actually paint along when I'm watching Bob Ross...But no. I just spiral. All I can think about is finding a job. I need direction. I know I should be doing the projects I put off when I'm working, but I feel too stressed. When I try to pick myself out of the house to do something to get my mind off of things, I talk myself out of it.

"Oh, it'd be too far of a drive." "You know, it's getting close to 3pm and traffic is going to pick up and then what." "Well, shit, it's raining and you can't walk in the rain, can you?" "Coffee would be nice, but do you really want to spend the money if you're going to get an apartment if you land this job?"

Instead, I pick through every job board I know, emailing links left and right to loved ones to get their opinion, bookmarking the sight, pasting the listing into a Word Document, writing a plan for a cover letter. I scour listings until I could cry with frustration at all the dead ends.

Too far away. Wants 7 years experience. Have to have a PhD. Need to be proficient in 5 languages. Only pays $9 an hour. Wants candidates to be knowledgeable of how to operate a gristmill. Only considering people between 5'7" and 5'9".

Recently, I was invited to interview at 3 organizations, all within a week's span. It was exciting and overwhelming and as stressed as I was at the prospect of talking to strangers and traveling to new places, I was exhilarated that a mere month into my job search, I had so many doors opening up. I ended up being a finalist at all three, and I even drove 7 hours up to interview at one place. I was looking at apartments, going to IKEA to scope out furniture, imagining and anticipating my new life as an independent career woman. I would volunteer, join a club, date, adopt a dog, have a cute little apartment with all my own furniture. I would sit in coffee shops and write poetry.

With one email, that's all gone.

I guess I find transitions difficult and job searching is like one giant monster transition fest. Every new opportunity that comes on the horizon, you have to start considering whether you could see yourself in that place, with that company, living in the area. Then if you get called back for another interview, you start looking at apartments and imagining how you'd decorate your desk and checking out the restaurants in town....Then suddenly it's back to square one until a new opportunity comes along and you start the same process. From the outside, nothing is happening in your job search, you're just unemployed, but inside is a constantly changing reality, like the waves at the beach, rolling in and out, in and out. Intermixed with all of that can be grief - grief for the little dreams and hopes you build up that then get smashed to pieces like a sand castle too close to the tide.

It's also tough because people don't have a lot of sympathy or patience for the job searcher; companies don't respect your time or the stress interviewing and applying puts on you. You could put hours into writing application materials and never hear a peep from the recruiter (did they even get my application? Or is it floating in a black hole somewhere?) You can go in and interview THREE TIMES and not hear a decision until you email and ask what's up. People are busy and just plain discourteous and as the beggar in the situation, you're expected to put up with their shenanigans, dropping everything to interview at their beck and call and putting your life and search on hold while waiting for an answer. All the while, you're not making money and you're ready to claw your face off with frustration.

It's hard to relate to people you talk to because they don't want to hear about all your options on the table and interviews where you were asked ridiculous questions...People don't always get how crushing a "no" can be, especially if it's the 100th no you've heard.

And finally, there's just the hurt of feeling like you're not good enough. The sensation comes at some point in the process, if not at many points. Whether it's when you've opened up the 20th listing that it turns out you're not qualified for or the 4th email saying they've decided to go ahead with another candidate...It wounds you a little bit. Even if the people are complimentary and encourage you to apply if there's ever anything else listed, it still stings. You've been rejected. The whole process taps into my underlying insecurity that I'm Not Good Enough. Especially these days when jobs expect you to be freaking superhuman (as a side note: My sister actually came across a listing recently that flat out said they were looking for Thor.)

I wonder why I wasn't smarter about what classes I took in college, why I even majored in what I did, why the universe led me down the path I did. I feel frustrated because supposedly people change jobs all the time but I'm only in my mid-20s and feel like I have trained myself into a corner and can't break into another field. It's discouraging to be plain and simple being compared to someone else. Then you're told you have a lot of what they're looking for. Then you're told you weren't enough. You're left wondering why you weren't good enough and why the other person was better. Yes, I know that sometimes people are just a better fit for small, even arbitrary reasons, but it can get to you.

The whole process is exponentially more difficult if you're shy, socially anxious, introverted, autistic (or have some form of Social Communication Disorder), or have poor executive functioning (ADD/ADHD). This post is long enough as it is, so I'll only briefly say that although my social anxiety is exponentially better than a year ago, interviews still make me very on edge because of the unknowns of the situation (you have to navigate a strange city and/or building to get there, you don't know exactly what the process will be when you get there, you don't know exactly what questions will be asked.) Then afterwards I tend to beat up on myself for not answering better or being more sociable and making small talk. When I don't get the job, I sometimes wonder if it was because I wasn't more outgoing. Add to that being an introvert...it's tough to think up answers right on the spot! Oftentimes a day or even a week later, I think of the perfect answer for a question that just didn't come to mind when I was put on the spot.

Anyways, this was a lot of ranting and rambling, but I wanted to get these feelings off my chest and let anyone else out there struggling with Job Search Anxiety and/or Job Rejection Insecurity to know that they're not alone. It's a tough place to be in. I could go on for another page or two about how frustrating this stage of life is, but hang in there. This too shall pass. If depression and dark thoughts about yourself, doubts about your worth or your future start to become too much, please know that even if your depression or your unemployment have been going on for a long time, life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and sometimes they're for the best. There's hope.

Stay strong, friends.