Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sick of it.

I should probably proceed this post by saying that I'm doing pretty well overall, for anyone who is concerned. I haven't had a dark day for a while and I'm amazed looking back at all I've accomplished and how far I've come in terms of emotional healing this year. I really am in a good place, especially when I consider where I was a year ago (lying in bed a lot, nothing to do, considering going back to school but only taking one or two classes; withdrawing from medication, feeling awful physically and pretty cranky too.) I am so thankful for that. I overheard my dad say that he doubts whether mental illness really can be treated and even though I've felt a similar way sometimes, I think that there is hope for getting better.

However, some old ghosts have come back to haunt me tonight. I texted a few different people today just to check in on how they were doing and received replies from none of them. Lately I've been pretty okay with not having many friends and I've done a lot of work this semester to get over the people who ditched and/or hurt me in the past, but that kind of made me feel hurt, angry, and lonely again. I'm sure people are just busy hanging out with their families, but part of me still worries that they just aren't interested in me any more or even that they hate me. Overall, I know that I'm not high on most people's priority list, and I guess this confirmed that, which hurts.

I mean, even some of the people I do keep in contact with, the relationship feels a bit lopsided. This one friend writes me when he's struggling or sends me the movies he makes, etc. and I always try to watch them, encourage him, listen, empathize, etc. But recently I realized that even though he sometimes initiates conversation, which is more than some of my "friends," he rarely supports my creative projects and I don't recall him doing much to support me when I was down. In fact, sometimes he tossed my concerns aside or even put pressure on me to do things I wasn't comfortable with to change my situation instead of just listening to my hurts. He rarely likes my posts on social media or watches or reads things I create. Why do I invest so much time and worry into his well-being and life endeavors? I guess because I care and I hate to think of people hurting and being ignored the way I felt I was.

I also went down the bad, dark path of Facebook stalking the guy I had a big crush on during my junior year (who broke my heart...if someone can do that without knowing it...)

First, I felt disgusted and smug..."He's not really that attractive. I look better than I used to. He's not as talented as me."

Then I felt a touch of sadness. "Maybe he is hurting after his breakup with his girlfriend. Maybe I should try contacting him again. Oh, wait. He probably noticed that I unliked and unfollowed him on everything....It would be weird to contact him out of the blue. Plus, it's not worth opening your heart to that."

But then there was the one picture where even I had to admit that his forearms looked a little sexy and I started to second guess that...

Then I noticed one of my friends who knows he broke my little heart had liked the photo.

Then I remembered how she defended him and said he was a good guy after he shattered me.

Then I just wished I had someone to call and cry to about him but realized that I had already way over-talked to everyone I knew about him and nobody wanted to hear me, a year and a half after I had last spoken to this man I had never even dated whimpering once again about how lame he is when everyone knows he's a hella lot cooler than I will ever be (on a certain worldly level. But I'm beginning to wonder if that level is all people really care about.)

Then there's my general frustration in recent months with how men - even nice, average, kind-hearted guys (who are what I like) - tend to go for beautiful women over women who, I don't know, are nice or funny or smart or creative or all of the above. Then the woman can be a jerk or snob or have no personality or be possessive or boss him around and he will just take it because she's so beautiful. And average-looking girls like yours truly with loyalty, brains, depth, etc. end up forty year-old virgins. But I guess I would rather be single than be with someone who can't appreciate me. But I don't think I'll end up with even a person who can't appreciate me because why would a person who didn't appreciate me in the first place even date me.

Anyways, life isn't bad. But I wanted to get those rants off my chest because I feel like they bottle up inside me and I have nowhere to express them and songwriting and recording the song takes too long (and then goes ignored) so it can be hard to get something expressed that way.

It's not easy, but let's reach out to the lonely and love one another. It's a harsh world out there and we need to know someone's on our side.

Friday, December 23, 2016

It's okay to be you the way you are.

I finally finished the semester last week, which was a huge relief. It's hard to believe it's over, especially hard to believe that I finished my research papers. It's interesting how much less burdened I feel now that classes are over; I can sleep better and I don't feel like the world is in danger of caving in or a deadline is looming over me. Yet I still feel a constant niggling in the back of my mind as I binge watch Season 1 of The Bachelorette (...and The Bachelor...and The Crown...and twenty Hallmark Christmas movies...) that I ought to be doing something purposeful now that I have time off. But I also don't want to burn myself out by putting pressure on myself all break and forcing myself to work on all my creative projects I don't get to work on during school.

Today though, I found myself cleaning my room which then led to scrapbooking some loose momentos I had saved and eventually I actually found myself sketching and brainstorming for a creative project. I didn't force myself to do any of those things; they all just felt right in the moment, so I followed the creative flow and enjoyed it. I guess it's a reminder to let things happen naturally. I find myself putting pressure on myself in so many areas of my life, sometimes without even realizing it. In the back of my mind, I have a program running, asking one question after another, chasing its tail, circling.

What career should I pursue? Am I on the right path? How do I even pursue any career? Am I really using my talents enough? Should I pursue a more creative career? How would I even do that? Should I really go to grad school? But if I didn't, wouldn't I always feel a void? But if I did and later changed careers, wouldn't I have wasted my own (and others') time and money and taken the opportunity from someone who really wanted it? Will I ever find someone who I'm compatible with? Will I ever have the opportunity and courage to get to know a guy? Am I even attractive to guys? Am I too closed off? What if I date someone and get my heart broken? What if I date someone and they just want to have fun, they aren't interested in a serious relationship, and I get my heart broken? Or they find out I tend to be more marriage-focused and get freaked out? What if all men are immature? Etc., etc., etc....

Encouragement courtesy of "The Latest Kate"

Even though my anxiety isn't overwhelming, dominating my thoughts the way it used to, it still is operating in the background of my mind in many ways. Wondering if I'm making the right decision in something as small as choosing what to order for lunch or something as big as what career field to work in. Worrying whether I said the wrong thing or came across the wrong way in a conversation. Debating whether I offended the friend(s) who didn't reply to a message I sent. Wondering whether I should put the effort in to keep up or reignite friendships that have stalled or that I purposefully ended. Worrying whether I'm taking too many classes in the spring semester. Debating about whether I screwed up in this way or that way, trying to nitpick the ways I might have failed today, yesterday, two months ago. Going over conversations from weeks, even months, ago in my head and kicking myself.

I spend so much time regretting, second guessing, obsessing, questioning. I like the times where I just get to be unashamedly me. Where I revel in the moment. Go with the flow. With mental health treatment, it's easy to get to a place where you're just pressuring yourself to improve and berating yourself for messing up or not making enough progress. But the standards of progress are pretty arbitrary. Beating yourself up turns into another impediment to your progress. You become your own worst critic, worst enemy, feeding all the lies and inner darkness that have been pulling you down all this time.

From The Latest Kate
For a good month and a half or more of this last semester, I put a ton of pressure on myself to make more friends, talk to people, make conversation with guys I was interested in. I didn't do much of any of that. It was too uncomfortable. And honestly, I'm kind of glad I didn't force things. It would have been awkward and weird. (And sometimes there's a benefit to waiting around and observing a guy for a while before you try and make a move on him...He seems great until one day he says something in class that makes you think, "Gosh, I'm glad I didn't get involved and emotionally wrapped up in him...But that's a side note.) I think there's something to be said for following your gut: if a certain situation arises where it feels right to assert or push yourself a little, go for it. But don't beat yourself up for not seizing every moment or for not forcing yourself to grow. Sometimes therapy can push to hard and we need to give ourselves a break or else we'll end up back in an emotional wreck.

Looking back at this semester, I didn't achieve everything I dreamed of, but I did good work in my classes, I forged relationships with professors for the first time ever, I made some acquaintances, and I continued to work on myself in therapy. I am learning to both be more open to possibilities and opportunities, but also to back off of forcing myself to fit a mold I think I'm supposed to conform to. And I'm realizing that many of the accomplishments I made this semester, even if they were small, were times when I just saw an opportunity arise and took it. I didn't push something. I didn't awkwardly start a conversation with the guy I sat by in class, but when he passed by me on the way to a presentation, I wished him good luck because it felt natural. It wasn't a complete game-changer, but it was seizing the moment and being braver than I used to be.

I have a sticker of this on my computer as a reminder. (The Latest Kate)

The holidays can be a time of comparing ourselves to others and being confronted with ideals we think we should live up to. We remember the New Year's resolutions we didn't fulfill. We read the Christmas cards and wonder why our family can't take a good picture or why we can't get it together to have a Christmas card-worthy life. I personally wonder where all the time went and regret (and beat myself up) for not using it better, enjoying it more. I see and hear so many things - on TV, from friends, in music, even in therapy - so many ideas of what I think my life should be and how I'm not measuring up. I keep worrying about times this year that I might have messed up.

I hope you and I both, reader, can put aside some of those worries, that pressure, and enjoy the break from stress. And carry into the New Year the knowledge that we don't have to be perfect, we don't have to fix ourselves. We don't have to have all the answers. We are allowed to make mistakes. We are allowed to not care for a little while whether or not we made a mistake. We are allowed to accept, even embrace, ourselves just the messed up way we are. We are allowed to revel in our own uniqueness and stop hiding the parts of ourselves we're afraid others will judge. It's too tiring.

You are making it through each day, and that is progress. You are surviving, and that is accomplishment.

I am trying and that is enough. I am taking baby steps and that is moving me forward.

"Progress is progress no matter how small." (Thanks for that wonderful mantra, Kate!)

Monday, December 12, 2016


Social anxiety is overwhelming.

For maybe the second time this semester, I spent the entire day at the school I commute to. I only have classes in the mornings, so I usually just leave after I finish class because I don't really know anyone on campus and the school cafeteria is expensive. Today though, I had to wait around for a few hours to go to my professor's office hours in the afternoon, so I decided to hang out in the cafeteria while I waited. In recent weeks, I've made one friend on campus who I think also has social anxiety, so I started the day hanging out with her after class, but then other people from my major came and talked to me over the course of the day, and finally I talked to my professor for almost forty minutes.

Tangent on friends with social anxiety: I tend to gravitate towards other people with social anxiety because they tend to understand me better and I feel more comfortable around them. On one hand, it's nice to have people who aren't overwhelmingly loud or who force their opinion on you and who tend to be good listeners and who understand what you're talking about when you say you're terrified for the group discussion in class on Wednesday.

On the other hand, sometimes it's nice to have that one impulsive, outgoing friend who will find a way to get you to talk to the guy you like or who will push you to get out of the house and go on a spontaneous day trip every once in a while. Since so many of my friends are shy, I have trouble meeting new people (especially guys) because they tend not to have many friends themselves and I have a really tough time finding people to go to events with me. Sometimes I brave it and go alone, but I do occasionally wish I had a friend who invited me to do stuff and who would actually go to events with me, especially now that I'm a commuter and I've become such a homebody. It's weird to hear classmates talk about going to bars and hanging out with friends on the weekends because I spend almost all my time outside of school at home. I've started to feel embarrassed about it. But after days like today, I wonder how those people even enjoy going out and drinking and talking about stupid stuff.

I feel exhausted. (Back from tangent. Thanks for bearing with me.) All I did was have a few different conversations and diverge from my normal routine for a few hours, but I want to curl up in a dark room in the fetal position for forty-eight hours in an attempt to recover. I am definitely an introvert, but I don't typically consider myself that introverted because I'm not one of those "I hate people" type of people. But maybe I've underestimated my introversion. I do spend a ton of time alone. I guess I can enjoy an interaction if it's a good one-on-one conversation with someone I feel comfortable with, as when I talk with my fellow socially anxious females and get to make jokes and express my opinions freely. But today I had a lot of conversations with people I'm not used to (who were men, who I'm not very used to talking to) in situations where the social conventions were fuzzy.

Example: How much of your life are you supposed to share with professors? I shared with my professor today a little bit about how I come from and Evangelical Christian background but I've been shifting away from that sub-culture recently. Was that inappropriate? How long is it appropriate to talk to a professor? Did I overstay my welcome? Did I dominate the conversation too much? Did I offend him? Did I change his opinion of me negatively? Did I come across as trying to convert him? Did I keep him from something important? Did he have to stay late? What if that affected his relationship with his wife? Welcome to the mind of an anxious person.

It's exhausting to overthink everything. And even when I'm not consciously questioning these social interactions, I have this general uneasy feeling and steadily deflating sense of negative self-worth. All this unpleasantness makes me want to stay in my little bubble from now on. Because as empowering as it was to talk to a list of "cool" people and feel an inkling of what it might be like to belong to a community, in the end I feel self-conscious and scared and vulnerable and stupid and restless, obsessing over one thing after another. There are conversations I had months ago that I still go over in my head and kick myself for.

I hate living in fear. I hate how isolating it is. Isolating because I'm afraid to talk to people but also because when I do talk to people, I'm being controlled by that fear, so I'm only projecting a shadow of my real self. Isolating because after those conversations, I am stuck in a cycle of overanalysis and self-deprecation, unable to connect with my loved ones because of the misery I feel. Or I over and over ask my family for reassurance that I "did okay", making myself an annoyance, making myself feel even more guilty and juvenile.

Here's to the socially anxious men and women of the world. No one ever toasts to us. Our plight is seldom recognized and often mocked. We think we're the only ones. We think we're always the one who is wrong. We live in our self-imposed prisons that we didn't ask to impose on ourselves and everyone tells us we have the key to get out of. But where's the damn key? And have these advice-givers ever tried the exhausting task of constantly facing your constant fears in order to beat this monster that rules your life? It leaves you exhausted and feeling worse than ever. And if you give yourself a little break, the anxiety starts creeping back, like weeds. It's easier just to coexist with the rabid dog or rambunctious child, giving them whatever keeps them sated in order to give your exhausted self a break.

Whatever baby steps - or leaps and bounds - you took today or yesterday or the day before to chip away at that prison cell, I salute you. Let that anxiety lie in the place where it was first formed - the cafeteria, the office, the classroom, the grocery store checkout - leave it there and move on with your life. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Give yourself a break - open the book, turn on the favorite song, press play on the remote.

The world may pressure us to change, we may pressure ourselves to change, but let us also for once we the ones to advocate for ourselves: We've tried. We're trying. We're still here. We're existing, even though it's really hard. Really damn hard. Even though people don't get that and we're ashamed to tell them because they'd label us as petty or look at us funny. We're here though. Even if we're quiet, we're survivors. We're warriors. We're on the front lines constantly but will never receive the medal of honor. But we will fight the good fight nonetheless.

Whoever you are, whatever people have said or might say, you're a warrior.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

No thanks, I don't want to be weird.

As much as I hate to admit it because I feel like such a Scrooge saying so, I hate Thanksgiving on some level. I like the parts where it's just me and my sister, who is basically my best friend. Every year we participate in a two-mile fun run on Thanksgiving morning. Lately we've been working on a screenplay together so we spent most of the time coming up with plot points and dialogue as well as rolling our eyes at the snobby parents and bratty kids jogging by.

I hate the other parts though. I hate the stress that permeates the household as the deadline of 5 o'clock dinner looms closer and closer. I hate the panic my mother sets into which then sets my sister off. I hate the way my dad shuts himself away into his study until guests arrive, just like he does every day, isolated from us as if to insulate himself from whatever it is that makes us not good enough for him. I hate realizing as the afternoon wears on just how bad at entertaining and socializing we are and how weird that makes us. But most of all I hate how much I dread having my extended family come over.

I mean, people are supposed to love their family. I see all the pictures on Facebook of people posing with their cousins. I guess I never got that experiences because mine are significantly younger and I feel really awkward around children, especially when their parents are around. And I hate that I feel awkward around children because that's so stupid. People are supposed to love children and feel free to be goofy and stupid with kids. I avoid talking to them, making eye contact with them, and even being near them because I feel so uncomfortable. I feel this obligation to be a good cousin, a cool cousin and play with them, but I feel so overwhelmed by my inadequacy that I can't bring myself to do anything. This is the first thing that makes me feel like a failure.

I also hate how I feel generally terrified by the adults of my extended family, even my own grandfather. I'm afraid to look at them, be near them, talk to them. I try to find tasks in the kitchen to keep busy or I just sit in a corner as far as possible from the apex of conversation. Most years I hide out in my room until I'm forced out by the announcement of dinner time's arrival. And while I didn't start in my room today, once dinner finished, I immediately slipped away to retreat to my quiet haven. I spent most of the remaining night there, guilty but alleviated from the overwhelming discomfort or being in a room full of strangers and potential awkward encounters and uncomfortable small talk.

I hate that I'm that shy, anti-social girl who will only talk to people she knows, leaves other people out, and is afraid to look you in the eye. I don't want to be a rude person or someone who doesn't seem to care because I don't like people like that. But I'm not sure how to conquer this deep-seated inexplicable discomfort with strange people that takes hold of every fiber of my being when I'm in situations with strangers.

Lately I've been wishing I could make friends and be normal. Go out and do stuff. Get a boyfriend. I think about what a freak I am for being my age and not having dated anyone. I berate myself for not having the courage to talk to this really funny guy who I sit next to in not one but two classes. But he's always so absorbed in talking to other people and I hate breaking into conversations. But I hate not even getting the chance to get to know what a guy's like.

I guess though, on this day of thanks, I should take time to realize that I've come a long way. It's small steps that take you places. We can't put too much pressure on ourselves in recovery. And even if I don't have a boyfriend or a lot of other friends, I have my sister who I have so much fun with, my mom who is always there to listen to my stupid ramblings, and a couple other people who I sometimes adventure with. Sometimes that's all you need. Maybe a boyfriend would just end up being disappointing. After all, what guy would want to listen to my emotional rants, rambles on historical theory, petty daily grievances, in-depth evaluations of Dancing With the Stars, or gossip about friends and celebrities?

I think we spend a lot of time making up stories about what we should have, what we should be like, what our lives and families should look like, but we're just making up stories. We're just jumping to conclusions about other people's lives. I'm sure most people's families are embarrassing, awkward, and/or dysfunctional too. I'm sure a lot of people feel awkward at holiday gatherings. I bet a lot of people feel like the don't have enough friends, or if they do they feel like they don't have many friends who really care. Maybe it's time to stop focusing on what I "should" be and accept myself for what I am while striving to achieve realistic goals for what I can be.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Happy Anniversary

This is a bit of an odd post, but I just remembered today that I started this blog back in November of 2015, so I went into the archives to see exactly what day I first posted on to see when the anniversary of this little thing was so I could celebrate it.

Well, to my surprise, the first post was actually on November 4, 2015, so I missed the official anniversary by quite a few days, but I thought it was worth celebrating anyways because I really am so proud of this little blog, even if it isn't a viral sensation or anything. I'm proud of it because it's been an honest representation of my thoughts and a genuine attempt to try to help other people going through what can be a very isolating experience. I've published 91 posts on here, six pieces on The Mighty, and one article on the blog of To Write Love on Her Arms (all accidentally under slightly different names, haha).

I tend to get discouraged about my writing from time to time, seeing other people get thousands of likes on their pieces or hearing that their writing was picked up by a big-name website or finding out that they've written a hundred articles. But, hey, for someone who started posting her unedited, stream-of-consciousness thoughts because she had nothing else to do but sleep at the time, I think I've done pretty well for myself.

And regardless of whether my work is or isn't popular, I'm really, really proud that I produced something out of what was so awful and difficult. I'm glad I decided to be open with people about what happened and turn something terrible into something that might be able to help others. Most of all, I'm glad I have a record of my life during this pivotal time of growth and transition in my life that could have easily gone unrecorded because of how exhausted I was feeling at the time.

I started this blog when I was feeling absolutely gutted. At the end of myself. Useless. Worthless. Directionless. I didn't know what life held next for me. I had left my college home of three years because of the severity of my depression. I had tried to go to community college but had dropped out after a month - a previously unthinkable action for me - because of crippling social anxiety and panic disorder symptoms. I didn't know if I would be able to finish my degree while my friends were heading their way to caps and gowns that coming May.

I was at odds with God even though faith had been my bedrock and identity for a decade. I felt abandoned and disappointed; how could I trust someone who had let my life go to complete ruins. I felt embarrassed that I wasn't in school or working, but I also could barely get out of bed. I was tired of trying to figure out polite ways to explain what had happened to me, reassuring answers to the polite "How are you doing?"s that inevitably faced me. I dreaded going to the dentist or meeting my parents' friends out of fear that they would ask why I wasn't at college any more.

I felt purposeless, always having been a creative person who wanted some task or another to keep my hands and mind  busy. I guess that impulse was what this blog was born out of. And it really has been my baby. I hope it will continue to grow and evolve. Mostly, I hope it will help people know that no matter how dark or strange or lonely their life is, they aren't alone. Countless other souls feel just as lost, confused, broken, directionless, hopeless, guilty, angry, frustrated, afraid, etc. as you, and I'm just one of them.

And I hope you'll consider writing your own journey, whether in a journal or on a phone or on a site like The Mighty (which welcomes contributors with no publishing experience) or on your own blog. Write it for yourself, to honor your story and to remind you how far you have come. And to remind you what you've endured and survived. You are all so strong and I salute you.

I guess I should also add that there's hope. Today I am working my butt off again at college, set to graduate in May - a year late, but I have learned so much in this past year that I wouldn't trade it for any university president's handshake. I am learning and growing so much each week, not just academically but emotionally. I am gaining perspective on my life and self. I have had the opportunity to work with two wonderful counselors in the past year and even though there have been bumps in the road and stretches that seemed unproductive, that work really has transformed me.

Overall, the most exciting thing is that I have hope and ability restored to my life. I have hopes and dreams for the future and I have the energy to pursue my interests and hobbies and academic plans. The world is wide open. Usually I feel overwhelmed by that, but today is a reminder to embrace it. I've been so caught up in how stressful school is lately that I've forgotten to be thankful that I can physically, emotionally, and mentally handle doing work again.

And as much as I hate to admit it, in a lot of ways, the awful period of my life actually worked for many good changes in my life. I was prompted to get treatment for my anxiety and depression, which has made me much healthier and happier than ever before. I was motivated to finally leave the toxic environment of my previous school and transfer to my new institution, where I can live with my supportive family instead of judgmental roommates and I have had the opportunity to pursue academic fields I'm very interested in, to form relationships with professors, and to be involved in campus activities, unlike at school #1. And I'm being set up to have much brighter career opportunities with the connections I've formed and training I've received. I'm very thankful for all of that.

And I'm thankful for being made aware of the silent struggle of so many around the world. I'm thankful for being pushed to be part of the warriors who will speak up for these people who deserve a voice, who deserve to know they aren't alone. I'm thankful for being pushed to find my own voice and start to speak up for myself and others.

(Wow that was a lot longer than I had planned. Classic Dark Cafe Days post, I guess...)

Without further ado, here is my first post from November 4, 2015:

"Just a Phase
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes, dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days.
                           - Joni Mitchell 'Last Time I Saw Richard'

 "I've known for most of my life that I am not quite right upstairs. I first started being consumed with anxiety in first grade. The tyranny of my Type A teacher triggered the anxious tendencies I had inherited from my mom and I turned into a nervous wreck who would cry all the way to school and beg to stay home. The anxiety would manifest itself again throughout my school life. In fourth and fifth grade I became obsessed with the fear of getting detention, which was regularly threatened to us to "prepare us for middle school". When I was doled out this prison sentence in fourth grade after forgetting to do my math homework, I must have had to choke back tears, feeling thoroughly chastised. In fifth grade, my mom eventually told my teacher about my terror because I remember her pulling me aside one day and explaining I had nothing to worry about...I was a model student and she would never give me detention.
"I remember crying while packing my bag for the first day of school every summer for the next several years of secondary school. I wept every night the first week of my junior year of high school because of the complete overwhelm I felt at the thought of taking three Advanced Placement classes (but it is an official decree of suburban high schools that if you don't take as many AP's as humanly possible, you won't get into college and so will work at McD's and die a premature death.) You can imagine the terror that was the first weeks of college and, well, the whole of college, for me. Five minutes after saying good-bye to my family, I called my mom and begged her to come back an take me home.
"Here I am now after a year and a half of official treatment...concoctions of pills, heart-bearing sessions with stony-faced psychiatrists and counselors (conversations that cost a small fortune, may I add)...an unemployed, virtually housebound college drop-out who can't get a job or fit into any of her favorite clothes and is sometimes gripped with inexplicable terror of leaving the house.
"Who sits dreading tomorrow because I have to 1) possibly interact with the maids coming in to clean the house, and 2) go to an appointment with my counselor. And dreads the day after because I'm supposed to 1) sit around the house anticipating going to the doctor; 2) go to the doctor with heart beating and stomach twisting; 3) talk to the scary receptionists who hate life and even more, hate YOU; 4) sit in a large napkin and talk to a stranger about all my shortcomings as a human being and than be mercilessly tickled and prodded and made to feel as uncomfortable AS POSSIBLE.
"To make things brief: anxiety is crippling. It sucks the life out of you. And it takes you unawares. A month ago I was driving myself to community college four days a week and ordering bagels from Panera like nobody's business. I was still a hot mess, but I was semi-functional. Then something snapped inside of me and I found myself lying on my bed in the fetal position, whimpering like a little rescue puppy that I just couldn't go to class. I couldn't. I could barely get out of bed.
"I know a lot of people won't get it. I sound pitiful and lazy and cowardly, no doubt, to many. I look that way to myself a lot, too. I have spent over a decade pushing myself to overcome this monster of fear inside of me, bullying myself for backing out when things got too overwhelming. This year, I finally just fell to pieces. And I seem to be stuck that way. My efforts to pull myself into some kind of passable working human being seem to just lead me to explode again. It's embarrassing. It's frustrating. It's a process of constantly going back to Square One...or Square Negative One.
"I thought healing would be a lot easier than this. I thought this failure to meet basic human standards for living would just be a phase. I thought I'd have an epiphany or a turning point or a saving grace...It seems to happen to other people that I read about. When I went on medication a year ago, I never guessed I'd be one of those pitiful people you read about who has tried umpteen meds and is still a sad 45 year-old overweight TV addict on Unemployment. But I can't keep track of the opportunities that have fell through and the medications that haven't worked. And, damn it...I'm still waiting on a breakthrough.
"This is my journey. It isn't too nitty gritty and dark, thankfully, but it isn't the blue skies I like to portray it to be. I want to honestly share my struggles in life because it has meant so much to me to hear other people do so and because I want people going through similar things to know they're not alone. I guess this may be hard to read because it's not exactly uplifting or optimistic, but if you will bear with me, I hope this can give you some insight into what life is like for those who struggle with mental illness.
"The song I quoted at the beginning resonates with me a lot because it has this dark, desperate undertone of trying to convince oneself that you're on the mend and better times are just around the bend. I feel stuck hiding behind bottles in a dark cafe, dreaming up schemes to break free of the dark cocoon suffocating me -- a cocoon I was supposed to shed as my fellow pupae have done. But maybe healing, like so many things in life, is a long-term process full of setbacks and pitfalls and shortcomings.
"For some people, mental illness is not just a phase, but a lifelong battle."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Election fatigue, etc.

Obviously, it's been a whirlwind of a week for Americans. A week ago we split in two like the curtain in the Temple after Jesus' death. And everyone is making a really, really big deal about every.single.little.thing. People have turned into religious fanatics about their candidate of choice, decrying all those who would vote for someone else as unrighteous. As my tone might give away, I'm really sick of it.

I'm not downplaying the importance of dealing with all of the difficult issues this election has brought up, and I certainly don't want to minimize the hurt and fear that many people feel, but I feel like the politics is getting in the way of addressing those issues or healing those hurts. Maybe I'm biased because I hate politics and I think they're more divisive and tedious than helpful. Maybe I'm frustrated because of my tendency to want to defend the other side when I hear one side decry the other. I guess you could call that playing devil's advocate, but for me it comes from more of a place of empathy than wanting to mess with other people's heads.

Today, we spent almost an entire class period discussing the election. I got frustrated because it took me back to high school when I was a conservative Christian, very much in the minority, and people would, because we live in a solid blue state in a pretty secular area, assume that everyone was a liberal atheist. It was very uncomfortable, lonely, and marginalizing to feel like I was the only one who believed what I did. It was even worse when people made fun of the group I belonged to generally and sometimes made fun of me personally for belonging to that group. So even though I was of the majority opinion in my class discussion today, I couldn't stop thinking about how I felt in high school when the vocal people attacked the other side to such an extent that anyone on that other side would feel uncomfortable speaking up. That's how persecution starts.

I'm tired of people painting all Trump supporters in broad brush strokes, not listening to what they have to say. I know many people who voted for Trump, some of whom are even family, and I know their reasons for voting are multi-faceted and don't necessarily have to do with racism or xenophobia. Calling all Trump supporters racists is not fair and not going to help us understand what happened this election better. In fact, I think that's what gave Trump his power in the first place; a group of people felt marginalized and unheard. On a certain level, I can relate to that, having been part of a group (practicing Christians) constantly being mocked in the media and in school and the workplace.

What this election has driven home to me is that all people deserve to be judged and heard as individuals. We have a tendency to hear that a person is part of a religious group or a political camp or hear that they are mentally ill or disabled or LGBTQ or even that they're from a certain region of the country or have a certain hobby or drive a certain car and make a whole set of assumptions about them. Sometimes many of those stereotypes can be true, but sometimes they're not. And when we jump to those conclusions, we rob those people of their voice, personality, and experience and rob ourselves of the chance to hear that person's rich tapestry of a story.

To bring it to a personal level, I have gone through a lot of different emotions and thoughts regarding this election. After last Tuesday, I was initially shocked and horrified, much like my classmates. I was scared about what would happen in the future. I was frustrated when my sister tried to rationalize the election results and tell me it wasn't worth worrying about. I wore black to class and tied my scarf in a pussy bow, determined to look mournful all through the lecture. The only problem was, my professor, perhaps sensing the heaviness of spirits that day, was really, really funny that class. I left smiling and my soul was sunny again. I didn't want to ruin that. It's not often you get to feel that way.

But part of me felt guilty - I was supposed to be angry and disappointed, wasn't I? It wasn't right to move on. But then I realized that it wasn't bad to move on. If there's anything I've learned from struggling with anxiety, it's that you have to keep yourself from writing the history of the future. You can't assume the worst for tomorrow and let it ruin today. I've lived so much of my life doing that and it's time to stop, especially for something so unpredictable and out of my control. I can't control Donald Trump's actions, but I can control, to some extent, my thoughts and actions.

With that thought, I'm also reminded anew of the importance of showing love to others and continuing to do my own work to try to make the world better. I've felt guilty for hating politics and not wanting to debate the ins and outs of this election cycle, but that's because I think it's more worth our, or at least my, time to focus on the people and tasks right in front of me and the hurts and needs that go unmet regardless of who's up for reelection.

I guess what this morning's class discussion really underscored for me though is how isolated and alienated I feel in my current state in life. I don't feel like I fit in with the kids in my class who make fun of Jesus and talk about how much better America would be as a socialist nation and drop the f-bomb every other sentence. But I feel even more uncomfortable in the emptying pews of my family's church, listening to my pastor decry those who support gay marriage or who don't fight against abortion. The election did make me feel even more disillusioned with Evangelical Christian culture. I was disillusioned before, frustrated with the lack of love, compassion, and acceptance that I saw. Disgruntled with the political agenda that had become part of our theology. Upset with the injustice, hate, and ugliness perpetrated in Jesus' name that reflect the behavior of the Pharisees he decried much more than the Savior himself.

I heard a guy say after class that he didn't like anything Jesus said. My immediate response (in my head) was that he probably doesn't even know what Jesus said. He probably just knows what Christians say and how they have portrayed Jesus. The more I read about Jesus' words and actions, the more I realize how far his followers today fall from the ideals of love and selflessness and the example of reaching out to the misunderstood and marginalized that he displayed. But not many people are of that opinion, at least that I've come across. Most of the Christians I know are either clinging to Evangelicalism or leaving the faith entirely. How do you walk the line and temper the two extremes? How do you do the same for politics? How do you deal with always seeing the other side of things, making it difficult to feel at home in either camp? Why can't people be moderate about things...Why do we have to swing to extremes?

I feel like I don't fit in anywhere. I never have, but I had forgotten about it somewhat and now here it is, hanging right in front of my face again. Before I would say that I fit in with my family, but now that I'm no longer a conservative Evangelical, I don't. And it's uncomfortable, I can't deny, especially for someone who's never been rebellious and doesn't know how to be.

I could go on about the other life problems...the social anxiety, the anxiety-induced insomnia, the brokenness of the mental health care system, the despair of never finding a man who will accept and understand me and who isn't irrational, judgmental, over-idealistic, and immature and who I can feel comfortable with and actually be able to get to know. But I think I've gone on long enough.

I wish we could live in love instead of judgment. I'm sick of all the hate and judgment that we pass on each other, whether during election season or not, whether Republican or Democrat. I wish we could respect each other and listen and love and go beyond politics to stories. Stories of people's lives and loves and the lessons they've learned along the way. That's what I want to dedicate my life to: Telling stories and listening to hearts.

11/19/2016 Addendum: After receiving some feedback on this post, I just wanted to clarify that I didn't mean to invalidate any concerns people have concerning the president-elect and the future of our country. I know that for many people, there are some very real and valid fears, threats, and concerns surrounding this incoming presidency. I don't take that lightly and my heart goes out to anyone for whom that is true. 

However, I do want to remind people on both sides of the political spectrum that mocking, hating, and stereotyping all members of the opposite side is creating just as much of a problem as any particular issue you are concerned about. We change the world - for better or for worse - with our everyday words and actions and the way we treat other people. So I beg of you to be more considerate about the way you talk about, talk to, and portray the other side. Take time to listen to their argument, take time to understand their point of view. 

And if you are very worried about this election, consider talking to a counselor (if you aren't already.) And consider that we don't know what the future will bring, we can only take care of today. Putting the worries of things that might ever happen on ourselves today will only make life miserable. 

These were the two things I wanted to drive home through this post. I think the extreme polarity of this election should be a wake-up call to us as a nation to start listening more, understanding, seeing our similarities, trying to make sense of our differences, and gaining a broader perspective. A lot of people talk about tolerance, but sometimes that tolerance is only limited to a certain group of people. I know many will read these words and think they are pie-in-the-sky idealism, but how far has hate, division, and arguing really gotten us in life? How many minds have been changed with debates? How many have been changed with patient love? Personally, debates have driven me further away from agreeing with the point of my opponent while hearing a friend patiently explain their thoughts on a subject or seeing a family member quietly live a certain way have made me change my mind in profound ways. 

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this post or with the outcome of the election, I wish you peace and joy in the upcoming season and personal healing in any difficult situations you are or you have walked through.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

You win some, you lose some.

I've gradually found myself finally adjusting to the grind of school again. Of course, now the semester is almost two-thirds over, but that's just a small detail, right? It's a little scary to think about how fast time passes...It makes my anxiety about death and time passing and losing people and not taking advantage of every moment all come rushing back to me.

Thankfully, I haven't experienced much depression in recent weeks; I've been stressed and not sleeping well but overall I've been feeling pretty well. Of course, that makes me wonder what the heck is wrong that things aren't terrible, and I've been racking my mind to figure out if there's been any changes in medication or lifestyle that I can attribute the good mood to so I can make sure to keep doing whatever it is that's helping. But there isn't an obvious thing. In fact, I'm surprised I'm not depressed because I'm having trouble sleeping most every night.

Whatever is going on, I'm thankful for the reprieve. But I have noticed a slight uptick in my social anxiety, which has been frustrating because I'm still pitifully desperate to make friends but increasingly terrified of making conversation. There were a couple of occasions where people in my class actually initiated conversation with me, but I was so surprised and flustered that I could only manage one-word responses. My mind went blank and any conversation-facilitating responses I thought of were immediately shot down by the anxious naysayer that has taken residence in my mind over the past decade and a half.

Examples: "No, don't say that...that's stupid", "No, nobody wants to hear about that", "No, that's not something people talk about", "No, that would be embarrassing"....

The problem is, then you don't say anything, which is almost more awkward than saying something "stupid". The other problem is that most of the things people say are stupid, so it's really not worth worrying about and better to just get the words out of your mouth. But I find that there's almost a block between my mind and my mouth in these unexpected social situations, like my mind goes on lockdown because a threat has been spotted and closes all access to the outside. The sad thing is I daydream about talking to people, having good conversations, making jokes, showing the sides of myself people don't get to see, and making friends, possibly even developing romances.

But when even a hint of a possibility of talking to a guy I'm interested in arises, like say we both drive into the parking garage and park at the same time I immediately go into panic mode and start looking for ways to avoid the situation, like sitting in my car for an extra five minutes. I usually have a moment of clarity where I realize, "Damn it, self. What are you doing? Isn't this what you want? To talk to people? To make friends?" But I hate those awkward, passing conversations, small talk and banter. I'd much rather sit and have a nice long one-on-one chat over coffee, but that's probably never going to happen unless you have a few awkward waiting-for-class-to-start sets of small talk.

Even more of a bummer is how much you beat yourself up after social interaction, whether it went relatively well or not so well, which makes you want to avoid it even more in the future because it just causes so much stress, anxiety, and self-loathing. I felt terrible to not responding better to the guys who started conversations with me. That thought process sounds something like this: "Now they'll never try and talk to me again. Now I'll look anti-social and ungrateful. Now I'll never make friends. I wish I had been able to communicate that I appreciated their talking to me. I probably made them feel bad and awkward. I'm such a jerk. And a loser."

Thankfully, I've slowly been getting a little better at giving myself grace for "mistakes" and credit for little wins. On the plus side of this whole thing, I have been experiencing less physical anxiety when anticipating social encounters. I used to feel horribly sick when I knew I was going to talk to a professor or go to an event. For one thing, I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about the meeting for hours, even days beforehand. Then, the closer the event got, the faster my pulse would race, my stomach would churn, my veins would pump with nervous adrenaline. It was miserable. The natural impulse in that kind of situation is to cancel the meeting and make all of the icky feelings go away. Sometimes I tried to push through, but there were times that I would cave into the anxiety and cancel. People judged me for doing this, but I don't think they understood how terribly I felt.

Anyways, those debilitating physical anxiety symptoms have faded recently (maybe because of the increased Klonopin dosage to help me sleep) which has allowed me to go to meetings and try new things with substantially less terrible feelings than before, something I'd venture to say is worthy of celebration! Isn't that what mental health treatment is all about, after all, allowing you to function more normally and feel less miserable?

All in all, I'm trying to learn to take the pressure off of myself. I don't have to say the right thing. I don't have to make friends right away. It will take time and maybe I just have to wait for situations that play to my strengths. And even if I don't make friends at school, it's okay. Beating myself up will only make things worse.

I hope you and I both, reader, can learn to give ourselves a break and celebrate the small victories. And I hope that you can see a glimmer of hope that your treatment is working.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sick and tired.

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

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

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

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

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

I'm tired of being ignored and overlooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm tired of overthinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm tired.

Maybe you're tired too.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Unplugging the pressure cooker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Some days I don't want to be here any more. That's the honest truth that everyone would rather I lied about.

Some days life just stretches on and on like an endless desert in my mind and I struggle to see what the point is when I've just dragging myself inch by inch toward a horizon that will quickly shift once I get ten feet further.

Yesterday was one of those days. So is today.

Maybe I didn't take my omega-3 fatty acid or whatever that shit is called. Some component of the carton of pills I have to take to keep myself (somewhat) stable. Sometimes I can figure out what might be wrong, sometimes I can't. My body is a mystery to me even though I constantly inhabit it, like that picture in my science textbook of the world before human life - giant pools of ooze and meteors ricocheting through the dark sky. I don't know what it needs to be satisfied; treating my illness is all trial and error, though my psychiatrist would never care to admit it. Every time I think I've turned a corner, I plunge back into darkness again.

The worst part is that I feel so alone in my fight. My psychiatrist barely knows anything about me. She answers my emails with a couple of words. I have to pay $200 just to spend 15 minutes talking to her so why go unless you've run out of refills?

My friends...I don't have friends I feel like I can talk to when I'm hurting. They're too wrapped up in themselves or they get uncomfortable. I've tried saying things in the past and I only get more hurt by their lack of responsiveness.

My mother is supportive but I already feel bad with how much of my emotional crap I've dumped on her over the years and she can only do so much.

My counselor is great but I can only see her for 45 minutes once a frickin' week. How much can you accomplish in 45 minutes? So much happens outside of that 45 minute window that I don't get to talk through. I mean, over two decades of things have happened before I even started getting a 45 minute window to process through all of my shit. I don't know what I'm supposed to do if I feel bad between sessions. I don't know if I'm allowed to schedule an extra appointment. My counselor told me once to go to the ER if I ever feel like ending my life, but there's no way in hell I'm going there. I've heard the stories about how they treat people with mental illness.

And every time I go for my 45 minutes of fame, I leave with more work to do. I leave with a realization of yet another way in which I am falling short. I leave with another vague idea of what I need to do to improve myself. I leave with another technique for how to handle my shit the next time it comes up, which is usually the second I step out of that freaking office. Sometimes it helps, overall counseling has been a force for positive change in my life, but I have to admit that it leaves me unbelievably frustrated at other times.

Lately, I feel like therapy leaves me with this burden to fix myself. And what a crushing burden that is. I can't possibly accomplish it. I don't know how.

When I say that, I hear in my voice the ghosts of my evangelical Christian past saying, "That's because only God can fix you." But I've been disappointed beyond words with the results I've gotten from Him over the years. I still capitalize the "H" because we still have a relationship, God and I (it feels so wrong to put us together like we're equals, but it sounded catchy), but I have trouble trusting Him the way I used to. And it doesn't help when His followers are so unfeeling and ignorant, badgering me about when I'm going to come back to church instead of asking me why I left.

I guess I'm tired of being responsible for my well-being. That sounds immature and, well, irresponsible, but it's so frustrating to spend every day monitoring your thoughts and keeping careful watch over your coping mechanisms and pushing yourself to self-advocate and making your gratitude lists and recording your latest mood and taking your pills on time and then waiting thirty minutes to eat and doing your mindfulness exercise when you get upset and remembering to do your deep breathing when your anxiety flares back up...

It's all on me. My counselor says that my mood and my self-concept are in my control like it's a good thing, but frankly it's an overwhelming responsibility. I want someone else to take care of me. I want something good to just fall into my lap for once instead of having to work for it. I want a friend who will call me and ask if everything is okay.

I guess they call that co-dependency though. My counselor keeps telling me that I have to become more content with myself and secure in who I am so I'll have "good energy" and attract people who appreciate me for who I am. I guess that makes sense, but how the heck am I supposed to do that? And it all sounds like just another mammoth task tacked onto the end of my to-do list. Another way in which I fall short: Not confident enough in myself even though I'm a hell of a lot more confident than most women (and men - I think the arrogance act is just a coping mechanism for rampant insecurity) I've met. Which then makes me feel even worse about myself, which is ironic since the whole problem is that I don't feel good enough about myself. How am I supposed to feel good about myself when I am going to this therapy because I know there's something wrong with me?

People are always telling you to end on a positive note, even the mental health advocacy people. Well, I've spent too much time spinning my mental illness in a positive light because I was scared to let people see how bad it really was in the recesses of my depressive mind. Who was I trying to protect? My counselors? My psychiatrists? My family? Well, I only hurt myself by keeping them from giving me the support I needed.

I could feel proud of how much of my own weight I have borne in the process of dragging myself to this point, but I mostly just feel lonely. I wish I could have had some company. The worst part of depression is the isolation. Nobody gets what's going on in your head and no one can make you feel better. But I don't really trust people fully any more. It seems to me that they can leave you even more burned. It seems like there are some things you just have to muscle through on your own. Is it wrong for me to say that?

I hope if you're hurting you can find help. I hope you're not alone. Certainly you're not alone in feeling alone; I hope this post shows you that.

As for me, I'll close the computer and go to sleep so I can stop thinking about thinking for a while. It will be a nice relief. The only trouble is I won't even be awake to appreciate it.

I guess this is a bit of a morbid, dark post. I made the mistake of reading poetry earlier. I think it rubbed off on me. But at the end of the day, I just want to be honest because I think people who are suffering deserve to know that they're not crazy. They're one of many. Their feelings are legitimate. When we put trigger warnings on posts and tell people to remain positive all the time when talking about mental illness, we're being like the rest of the world and denying them the opportunity to feel those feelings and speak that life isn't always a walk in the park.

Sometimes it's an afternoon "hiding behind bottles in dark cafes".