Despite all of my preparations, last week was both a great week and a terrible week. I had a schedule, a to-do list, plenty of projects to work on, books all lined up for reading, some new games to play, and a new exercise regimen that would allow me to get a close to full workout in at home. Yet I made it through only two days before I started to fall apart.
Feeling like you’ve scraped the bottom of the energy barrel to the point where the barrel no longer has a bottom? So tired you just kinda want to cry and find somewhere dark to curl up in the fetal position so you can finally let your exhaustion overwhelm you? Feeling like you’re stretched beyond the point of recovery and to the point where all of the stress has invaded your dreams so now you have to deal with it while your awake and asleep? While none of these things is a good position to be in, we often find ourselves in them when the shit hits the fan and we focus ourselves on simply doing everything one step at a time until we’re finished. Or until we collapse from exhaustion. I’ve done both, and neither one works out well in the end because we’re ultimately taxing our mind and body to the point of damage.
There are ways to help prevent some of the damage, or to mitigate the negative aspects of trying to buckle down and work through long days, busy weekends, or months of ceaseless stress. None of them are guaranteed to work and they’ll all need to be tweaked to fit your specific needs, but the core concepts should definitely work for you. I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with various forms of exhaustion thanks to insomnia in high school, business and insomnia in college, and stress and business after college, so I feel like I’m pretty qualified when it comes to figuring out how to cope with mild to extreme exhaustion until you’re capable of resting.
The first thing I’m going to say, despite it making me feel like a total hypocrite, is that these sorts of situations are best avoided. Even short periods of exhaustion or sleep deprivation can interfere with your short-term memory, inhibit the formation of long-term memory, wreak havoc on your immune system and muscles, and will for-sure exacerbate any health issues you have, be they physical or mental. It is good to know your limits and to be able to push past them when you need to, but there’s a pretty big difference between “I need to just push through this” and “I think pushing through this is going to yield the best results I’m going to ignore options that would leave me feeling more rested.” I guarantee that you will always have better results if you can rest first. You can’t always rest, but you should when you can. If you rest up or take good care of yourself, you will see your best results in the long-run.
If resting up isn’t an option, you should really figure out which type of energy you’re going to be running short on. If you’re physically active during this period of low sleep or high stress, you will be short on physical energy. If you’re stretching your skills and abilities in new ways or being forced into new situations without much time to prepare, you’ll run out of mental energy. If you have to take care of people or deal with people who don’t want to be dealt with, you’ll rapidly run out of emotional energy. If you’re doing something that involves all three, then I feel so sorry for you and I wish you the best because most of my strategies for coping with a low energy of one or two types requires relying on the other(s) to help carry the weight or be turned into the type that’s running out.
If you need more mental or emotional energy, some quiet meditation or music is usually very helpful. Something that will help you feel a certain way or that will help you process the feeling you’re dealing with at that moment. Maybe you need something to make you feel powerful or something to help slow you down to alleviate some of the mental strain you’re experiencing. If it’s physical energy, I suggest taking it easy by sleeping, playing games with friends, or watching something while you let your body rest. Even a couple hours of any of these activities, while you continue to work on other things, can help get you back to a point where you can make it through the day. I’d recommend against anything that might be destructive, like excessive eating, alcohol, or drugs. I haven’t got much experience with the later, but I’ve seen enough people make that mistake to have learned the lesson.
Additionally, a change in your diet can help keep you going. Avoid too much sugar since that is going to just set you up for a terrible crash later, unless you’re eating natural sugars from stuff like fruit or vegetables. I recommend eating plenty of both to keep you going since it helps to have something to do with your mouth while you’re trying to focus. At the same time, having an idea of what kinds of foods provide the most energy for you will help a lot. I know my body processes protein very efficiently, so I can delay encroaching exhaustion by eating a lean, protein-rich diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit. It’s not really going to make you feel energized, but it’ll keep you fueled and prevent your body from taking too much energy away for digestion. Throughout it all, avoid sugary sources of caffeine. Stick to things like coffee or tea and don’t add too much sugar to them or else you will get an immediate boost followed by a crash when the caffeine kicks in so you’ll feel exhausted and be unable to rest it off. Also, drink more water than usual. A good goal for water consumption is to drink half your weight in ounces of water. If you want something a little easier, I suggest going for at least three quarts or liters. It’ll help keep your mind clear and hydration is key at all times.
The last thing, and the most effective, is getting organized and writing things down somewhere. The exact methods for doing so depend a lot more on how you think and how you tend to organize information, but it’ll help if you do it, regardless of how you do it. For instance, the only reason I’m still sane and productive these days is because I’ve taken to writing to-do lists and journaling things as the day goes on. Not only is it helping my emotional energy, but it’s take a constant source of mental energy drain (trying to remember everything) and offloading the work onto a notebook. I can write down not just how I’m feeling, but also what my thoughts were on whatever meeting I just had, save ideas for later, and get a little mental clarity when I set everything else aside for five minutes so I can write things out. For people who don’t have issues with remembering things that only exist electronically, there are a ton of applications and programs out there, most of which you can get on your phone. Heck, even Google Now does a lot of that stuff.
Like I said earlier, it is best to avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, but hopefully these tips will make it easier to cope when you don’t really have any other choice. Good luck!
It can be hard to avoid regrets, sometimes. Life is filled with a variety of experiences and every decision to engage in one means there is one you are missing out on. Everything results in missed opportunities, one way or another, so it can be easy to think of what those opportunities might have been and wish that you’d made a different choice. These regrets, even if you meant only to indulge for a few moments before moving on, can cling to you like burrs for the rest of your life if you aren’t careful to remove them. They rarely disappear on their own and they’re really good at popping up again somewhere else once they’re stuck on you.
A simple wish that you’d made other decisions when it comes to your college education–which would resulted in significantly fewer student loans–can become a whole series of regrets when it shows up as a wish that you hadn’t needed to take a certain job after college that was possibly the most psychologically damaging thing you’ve ever subjected yourself to. A simple wish that you’d decided to try to make a long-distance relationship work instead of ending things when you moved can turn into years of pining and daydreams of what might have been. Regrets are easy to pick up, they are everywhere, and require a lot of work to avoid or get rid of. I still find myself wondering what my life might have been like if I’d stayed in college and that’s a short step away from regretting my decision to move to Wisconsin for college, but I’m still one of the better people I know when it comes to dealing with potential regrets.
In order to entirely avoid regrets, you would basically need to avoid any opportunities, never make decisions, and somehow find peace with yourself after a life of doing nothing and interacting with no one. You would need to cut yourself off from humanity and possibly even your feelings. Avoiding regrets is a terrible idea and is probably the most regrettable thing you could do.
Learning to process regrets and accept your past is far more healthy. Some people get so good at it that they seem almost like they don’t regret anything. As someone who was once one of those people, I don’t think that’s true. I think people just don’t really realize that they’ve learned a skill many people never do. It can be difficult for people to process regrets or to learn to let go of something they’ve been holding onto for their entire life, and someone who was once good at it can forget the lessons they learned or find something they’re not willing to let go so quickly.
I don’t like feeling regretful. I feel like spending time on regrets is a waste of my current potential and being able to take positive, constructive steps in my life right now is a better response to potential lost opportunities than thinking about how they might have turned out. Despite that, it can be difficult to not look back at a few things in my life and wish that they had gone differently. My student loans are a burden. I don’t have a great relationship with most of my family. I’ve given up on relationships when there were still other options. I set my dreams aside to try to earn money quickly in order to be able to focus on my dreams.
Hindsight is 20/20 and regrets are easy. It is more difficult to remember that I had a good reason for every decision I made and that each choice seemed like it was the most beneficial at the time. I had no context for how much money my loans would wind up being. I tried harder than I should have to maintain and repair most of those relationships. Things weren’t as great as I remember them being and there were enough problems that it made sense to make a clean break rather than drag out what was probably going to be an unhappy end. I couldn’t afford to focus on my dreams and, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, it happened one small concession at a time.
I made the best decisions I could at the time and I don’t regret doing what I thought was right. I’m sad things turned out the way they did, but the chances are good that making other choices would have resulted in something worse happening. Even if it is difficult to see sometimes, I got a lot out of the decisions I made.
I needed to get out of my home state in order to grow and learn about myself. I’m stronger now because of the independence I fostered and the friends I made in college. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter and did the best I could at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what is important to me in life by addressing the current state of those relationships with my therapist. I needed to get away from a city that held nothing but sad memories for me at the time and then stay away. A clean break meant I wasn’t constantly traveling back to a place where I had started to feel stuck and stifled. I know now that my dreams are my calling and I’m more determined than ever to see them through. I had the opportunity to earn material wealth and conventional status by settling into a life of compromise and passivity, but I learned I’d rather be broke and stressed out of mind as long as I get to be creating something.
I’ve learned to process regrets and to remove them. I’m no longer as quick at it as I once was, but I can still do it. What I’m learning right now is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a regret that I didn’t want to let go. Those are a different beast entirely and something I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle nearly as well as past regrets. I don’t really know how to let go of or process something that I still want more than I’m willing to admit to myself most of the time.
I don’t regret that it happened. I don’t regret anything in regards to how it went. What I regret is that it ended. I regret that we weren’t able to work it out. I regret that we weren’t right for each other and no amount of wishing on our part would fix it. Even working at it wasn’t enough, in the end. It was the right decision and I know it. I even feel it. I just regret that it was a decision we had to make and I probably will for a while. I need more time to process this before I’m ready to let go of this regret, but I’m certain I will eventually.
It just sucks right now. Everything sucks right now because regrets will expand to fill every hole in your time and attention. Soon, I will start to peel it away from me. Extricate it from my life. Pack it up and process it. In a week, a month, or maybe more, I will be back to feeling no regret, but I’m not going to hurry it up. Instead, I’m going to cut myself some slack, mourn the end of an important relationship, try to reclaim the parts of my life that had become about the two of us, and then prepare myself for the reformed relationship that’ll form out of this one when we’re both ready.
Someday. Eventually. Like I said, I’m not going to put myself on a timeline. I’m going to let myself regret and heal at my own pace. I owe myself that much.
Self-care is a bit of a difficult topic these days because a lot of the online world has begun using it to mean “indulge yourself” when it is really supposed to mean something like “take proper care of yourself and your life, even if it’s hard. ESPECIALLY if it’s hard.” It’s been interesting watching a counter movement crop up in response to the “self-indulgent self-care” movement. People seem to get quite angry or insistent that self-care means scheduling doctor appointments, doing your taxes, and cleaning your place, often while asserting that things like bubble baths, naps, and quiet activities for yourself aren’t really self-care.
Like most things, the truth lies in the middle. Self-care definitely includes getting your taxes done in time, but it can also include bubble baths, so long as the bubble baths aren’t getting in the way of living a healthy life. If you find bubble baths relaxing, then self-care is totally doing your taxes and then winding down from stressing about money by soaking in some scented bathwater and bubbles. Maybe with a good book or a glass of wine. You do you. The important part is that you’re seeing to your needs, not just doing whatever you want all the time.
Sometimes, your needs are quiet time filled with books and video games. Sometimes it is cooking healthy meals, working out, and staying active every day. Sometimes, it can even be some ice cream after a difficult day, so long as it isn’t always ice cream and you’re not eating it by the pint. A pint of ice cream as a reward for doing your taxes is a dangerous step toward self-indulgence. A small bowl of it totally is. Self-care is complicated and varies from person to person, so it can be difficult to work out a definitive list of what “counts” and what doesn’t.
For me, self-care is a lot of the important stuff that I don’t like to do, such as scheduling appointments, updating my budget, limiting my expenses so I stay within my budget, and cleaning my room. I’m already really good at the self-indulgent side of things, which I really ought to scale back a certain amount. At the same time, sometimes I just need a quiet evening of popcorn and favorite cartoons, or a good book, because I feel every kind of drained. Tonight’s going to be one of those nights.
The occasional night like this, and every version of self-care like them, is important to me because I spent a lot of time wrapped up inside my own head and sometimes need a chance to be pulled out of it. If I spend all my time wrapped up inside my head, my thoughts get muddle, my emotions go haywire, and I usually wind up making myself feel miserable because I get so wrapped around whatever problem I’m trying to work through that every other part of my life fades away. I need something engaging and fun to pull me out, but that still makes me think about things, so I can stretch my mind out again. Pull it away from the problem I’ve been worrying at for however long. Give myself a chance to recover and the thoughts/problems time to breathe. Usually, after a few nights of this kind of peaceful relaxation, I have the clarity I need to finish working through whatever’s on my mind.
Proper self-care is important. If you aren’t taking care of both your mental and physical health, you’re going to wind up causing worse problems for yourself further down the line. Taking care of one at the expense of the other can work for a short time, if you’re in desperate need, but it isn’t something I’d recommend doing if you can avoid it and definitely something you shouldn’t make into a habit. It can be incredibly tempting to lose yourself in some athletic activity in order to avoid what’s on your mind or to indulge in a giant bag of chips or some sweets because it pushes the happy buttons in your brain. Once is not good, but it isn’t bad. Repeatedly losing yourself in athletics until you’re too tired to think or eating a bunch of junk food because it feels good becomes a serious issue.
Well-rounded self-care is key. Some therapy for the mental stuff, rest for your body and mind, healthy meals and exercise for the physical stuff, and a decent amount of the things you enjoy to keep your spirits up. Moderation in all things, of course, but that’s more of a suggestion than a rule or a guideline. You’re really the only person who can say when something goes from self-care into self-indulgence or self-harm, so make sure to keep an eye on what you’re doing and how it makes you feel.
I’ve been thinking about change a lot, recently. And not so recently. Change has been a big part of my life and a common topic during my own private musing for almost a year now. After some of the events of last summer, it has never been far from my mind. I struggle to accept its role in my life, especially the individual instances of change, but I think I’m getting better at embracing it as a whole. I dislike big changes that happen all at once and I don’t like when it lots of little changes happen quickly, but I think I’m better at accepting it than I used to be.
That’s the thing about change. You’re always better off accepting it. You don’t have to like or enjoy it and you definitely don’t need to learn to love each individual change, but it is beneficial to work toward embracing change instead of fighting it. The thing about change in life is that you can either learn to swim with it or you can get swept away by it. It is going to happen whether you want it to or not, but you can exercise a certain amount of control over where you wind up if you learn to work with it.
That has always been my struggle. I know change will happen regardless of my desires or actions, but I still find myself trying to fight it. I am a very determined, stubborn person and I tend to push back against things I don’t like or feel are wrong. Unfortunately, a lot of the change in my life winds up feeling wrong to me. I crave consistency, love my habits, and tend to plan everything out as much as I can. Change, and life in general, takes these things away from me. As a result, I tend to fight against change and try even harder to find comfort in consistency, habit, and planning. Generally speaking, this works about as well as bailing out a boat with a sieve. You feeling like you’re accomplishing something because you’re working hard, but you’re really doing nothing but wasting your time.
Thanks to a lot of work over the years, I’m getting to a point where I will only fight against change or stress-out about it for a little while before letting go and accepting it. I still fear it and I like to avoid it when I can, but I can also deal with it now when I recognize that I don’t really have a choice. Which is most of the time. It wasn’t my choice to start going bald or for the neighbor kids to start acting shitty, but I’ve learned to accept these things.
The thing I’ve learned this year, though, and that I’ve probably been in the process of learning for a long time, is that everything changes. It may sound like a pointless mental exercise or philosophical argument, but change is constant and we’re different from one moment to the next. Who we are is made up of our experiences, which means we will likely never be the same person twice as even a repeat experience is a new experience. I try to embrace this idea because it matches how I view the importance of words. You can use the same words multiple times, but they’ll mean something different each time you use them, both to the person using them and the person on the receiving end. It’s the idea behind the name of my blog and the poem that inspired the name: Broken Words. Every time you use words, they mean something new, so it is worth it to take the time to make sure you get them right the first time. You can’t take them back any more than you can un-shatter a piece of glass. You can make something new from the shards, something that seems incredibly similar to what you had before, but it will never be the same again.
Life is like that. We’re like that. But we’re not the only thing that changes. Everything and everyone changes. People from the past, things we wanted to leave behind, even things we didn’t actually leave behind but just aren’t watching all the time. As a lot of wise characters in media often say, life goes on whether you’re paying attention or not. Change happens whether you’re there to witness it or not.
Everything I thought to leave behind in my life, as a means of coping with pain or trying to move on from things I want that aren’t possible, all of that is still there behind me, but it’s different now. The situations and people involved are different. The most recent is four years old now and I’m so different that, looking back at it now, I barely recognize it when I compare it to the memories I have. Four years isn’t even that long, but it has been long enough that I don’t recognize the pain and anger I remember feeling. I barely recognize the other person involved. We’ve both changed so much.
My past is full of situations and things I’ve left behind that changed when I wasn’t looking. A few of them, the ones I could never entirely leave behind, actually made me miserable because I was trying to fit back into them the way I did when I left. I don’t fit in them the way I used to, and neither do any of the people involved. Trying to slip back into the way things used to be is not only a disservice to myself, but to everyone involved. It keeps the pain alive. We’re all so different now that I have a hard time justifying my attempts to hold onto the feelings I have leftover from then. Right now, as I’m trying to see what has changed in those situations when I was blinded by what I thought they would always be, I feel two forces warring within me. I want another chance at what I feel I lost, but I still have these intense feelings formed from the pain and hurt I felt when I finally got free enough to actually recognize how awful everything was. I can’t let either of them gain any ground because they’re both agents of what I wanted and felt back then. I need to go in with no expectations, no hopes for what might be, and just work at finding out what is.
I feel like this realization is one that a lot of people with painful pasts eventually come to, as they grow. This sentiment I’m feeling as I write this matches the feel of a lot of stories I’ve read about people trying to recapture their past, and learning they can never go back. Hell, I’ve only gotten to this point because I found a story that was literally all about this, about the inevitability of change and way things can quietly change when you aren’t looking. I found it the days after my view-altering event last summer, and it startled me out of my mopey sulk. Right now, as I’m trying to deal with my depression and a lot of stuff I’ve been working through alongside my depression, I went back to that story and was reminded that everything changes and sometimes things just come and go without any reason. Life is fluid and change is constant.
Maybe, someday, I’ll finally get to a point where I’m not struggling to accept change and the shifting nature of existence. That would be nice. In the mean time, I hope this helps you with your own struggles. I hope that my writing is a bit of light and a new way of phrasing things that makes you think. I know that the act of writing this out settled half of the questions still in my mind from the past few days and made me realize that the rest are things I can’t answer right now. Whatever happens, I think I’m going to be alright. I’m ready to stop fighting change.
One of the most important parts of any mental health awareness campaign is helping people see that they are not alone. When you are wrapped up in your depression, anxiety, or OCD, it can be incredibly easy to forget that you’re not alone, that other people have felt this way and understand how you feel right now. I can only imagine that other mental illnesses are similarly isolating. The simple act of letting people know that they are not suffering alone, of being able to reach past the barriers they have created and show them other people feel that way as well, can often be enough to help someone who is just starting to live with a mental illness.
Even if you’ve been doing it for years and consider yourself an expert and handling your own shit, it still feels good to know that other people know what you’re going through. That other people can understand your pain and you’re not the only person who ever got in an argument with a loved one and felt like you weren’t worth their effort anymore. Or that you aren’t the only one who freaks out at the entirely-unlikely-but-still-possible interpretations of the subtext of a conversation you had with someone import. Or that you aren’t the only one who feels like your thoughts have been taken over by a whirlwind that refuses to let you think about anything but your deepest, darkest, most ridiculous fear that you know is unfounded but can’t seem to ever let go of because what if it isn’t that ridiculous. Feeling understood is the best feeling when you’re in pain you can’t seem to stop that’s coming from inside your own head.
One of my friends messaged me last night, as I sat on the couch and watched Adventure Time in an attempt to reinforce the ideas of growth and slow change I’m trying to focus on. She had read yesterday’s post and wanted me to know I wasn’t alone, to let me know someone understood what I was feeling, and to thank me for being open on my blog. It was a little thing, a few messages and a few moments of shared emotional connection, but it helped me a lot. I may be past the point where I need to know I’m not alone, but it always feels wonderful to be reminded of it. It was just the boost I needed to get through the evening and to set me up for today. A lot of the comments I’ve gotten from friends today have been incredibly helpful, even if they didn’t explicitly remind me I am not the only person to feel this way. The kind understand and supportive comments, combined with a few frank observations, made me feel seen for the first time in a long time. As someone who gets so wrapped up and isolated in my own head that I can completely rewrite reality in order to have a “plausible” doubt to gnaw on, all my friends today reminded me that I’m here and so are they.
I want to do the same thing for other people. I want to be a beacon, a lighthouse on the shore, a little light in the darkness that says “you aren’t alone and there’s someone out there who understands how you feel.” That’s why I write about things in an open and honest way I struggle to do when I talk to people. That’s why I don’t hold back in my writing unless I’m protecting another person’s right to privacy. I want to talk about how I feel because it is good for me to process this stuff and because I hope someone else out there sees what I’ve written and feels it resonate in them. I want to create stories and write poems that make people feel things. I want to meander my way through drawn-out essays about the tribulations of my life so other people see someone else struggling with the same pain they feel. I put this up publicly in the hopes of one day helping one person who needs it.
This is why I tell stories. This is why I tell the stories I do. I want people to see and feel things that I’ve felt in the hopes of reaching someone who hasn’t made that connection yet. I want to promote understanding by creating art that conveys what it feels like to be anxious, depressed, and suffering from OCD. I want to capture it all so people who have no experience can get a glimpse of what other people feel, to promote empathy. I want to display it so people who have these same feelings don’t feel so alone anymore.
If I ever become a millionaire or make a pile of money from lucrative publishing deals, I’m going to secure my relatively simple lifestyle and spend the rest founding a charity to promote people creating art as a means of coping with their mental illness in order to foster understanding in the wider world about what it means to suffer from depression, an anxiety disorder, OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and everything else that people depict their stories and art. Journals, magazines, art galleries, short story collections, related websites, the whole kit and caboodle. Everything I can throw money at to get creators exposure and to get the world to understand through art. Music, performance art, literally everything that helps promote understanding. It’d take winning the lottery to fund an organization like that, but I think I can get it started slowly with a more reasonable amount of money if I get the right people involved.
Ideally, the charity would help prevent people who are suffering from ever feeling like they’re alone again. I’d also like to raise mental health awareness in the US and the world in general, get funding for better treatment options for those suffering from mental illness, and remove the stigma associated with mental illness. There are enough problems facing people with any mental illness without them also feeling shame for being ill. No one needs that.
Until I have the money, though, I’m going to keep writing on my blog, keep reviewing and sharing wonderful art other people do that speaks about mental illness, and do my best to always be a voice saying “You’re not alone. I’m here and I understand.”
Yesterday’s poem and my weekend binge of doing literally anything but think about the problems I’m facing got me thinking. Eventually. It wasn’t until last night, after a stupid amount of time playing borderlands, ignoring my roommates, and pretty much ignoring every part of my life I could get away with ignoring, that I started thinking. As I stared blankly at my blog and thought about just giving up on the daily updates thing, I realized just how toxic my mental space had gotten while I stewed in frustration and pain for almost three whole days. I forced myself to find an old poem to post and took a brief moment to bask in the coincidence that the first one I found was “Self-Harm.”
After a brief disclaimer that help put things in context for myself (and hopefully kept anyone close to me who might read it from worrying), I posted it and decided to stop playing video games. I took a hot shower, had a difficult internal debate, and then took a few deep breathes, all of which helped me push through the fog of depression that I’d let into my mind. I was finally back to reality. There was work to be done, a difficult conversation to be had, and the demeaning specter of my depression to face. All at the same time.
The conversation was productive, my fears were quelled, and I proved to my depression once again that I am not an unlovable wretch. There is still work to be done, there are still conversations to be had, but I feel up to the task now. I don’t think my depression has entirely returned to the calm sea it usually is between wave events, but it’s calm enough for me to work with.
I haven’t been doing much writing aside from the daily blog posts in a long time. I keep making plans to write more, but I never seem to get it done. Every time I sit down to write, I have trouble focusing or I get caught up in blog stats. I lose track of what I sat down to do and content myself with trying to track metrics that’re ultimately meaningless. Feeling productive as a writer is helped by tracking the total number of words I’ve written each month, but actual progress on my goals is far more helpful. Blog posts every day is a great goal, but I know I can do so much more. A year of consecutive blog posts is going to feel amazing, but I’m selfish and want more.
Honestly, there really isn’t much stopping me from writing more. I’ve got plenty of ideas, I could easily work ahead in any number of blog post projects, and I’ve got enough time each week to easily do another thousand or so words a day without losing the time I spend on recreation. The only thing getting in the way of me writing more is myself. It is entirely self-sabotage. Some of it is subconscious, like when I got to this paragraph I realized I hadn’t checked all of my webcomics, so I took a quick break to see if any of them had updated since I last checked. I clearly don’t want to face the topic I’m heading toward because it makes me uncomfortable. Some of it is conscious, like when I decided to put off writing this until the morning because I knew I’d have to hurry through it and might not be able to get it all written before I had to leave for work. At the very least, I wouldn’t be able to think about it very much until after I’d done the work of writing it.
I get in my own way a lot. I’ve never engaged in cutting or any kind of physical self-flagellation, but I’ve been absolutely horrible to myself in terms of criticism and preventing me from working on goals or feeling positive. All my self-harm has been the non-physical kind that tears you up inside but never leaves a mark. There are a lot of people who do the same thing and we all call it just a part of anxiety, mental illness, depression, and so much more. After this past weekend, I’m inclined to call it all a form of self-harm.
I literally spent three days being miserable, basking in my own misery, telling myself I wasn’t worth the effort it’d take to proactively fix things, and wallowing in the waves of my depression as they repeated everything bad I’d said about myself since Thursday but magnified many times over. There was nothing preventing me from actually doing something productive, either to fix the problem or to make use of one of the various positive coping mechanisms I have that help me reflect on and find the truth in my internal conversations. If I’d written something about what I felt, I’d have discovered what was actually bothering me and what to do about it. If I’d talked it out with someone, they could have explained I was being far too critical of myself and that my depression was making everything seem worse than it was. If I’d done almost anything but what I did, I would have felt better.
Normally, I’m not this hard on myself. I don’t normally spend that much effort and energy on creating the ultimate stewpot for myself so I can bask in my own misery. This was a particularly bad weekend because it followed on a week of severe depression which was following on a week of growing-pain conversations with my girlfriend. It was a hurricane. The “perfect storm” of my depression, my anxiety, and my OCD and I swam right into it.
I’m willing to cut myself some slack here, because there’s a good chance that the current pulled me toward it, the wind pushed me toward it, and the spirals made it almost impossible to escape, but I’m not going to lay all the blame on my mental illnesses either. The first stroke was mine and mine alone. I chose this storm for myself because some part of me thinks I deserve to be miserable. Some part of me fears extended periods of positive emotion. Some part of me believes being in constant misery is exactly what is best for me.
That’s horseshit. And bullshit. And Zebrashit. If planets could shit, it’d be planetshit, too.
I’m not good at advocating for myself, not even to myself. I don’t do a good job of defending myself against anything. So, when someone says something that hurts me, my depression grabs ahold of it and tells me “Aha! I’m right! This clearly shows you’re worthless and no one will ever love you.” and I just let it. I don’t really fight it. Most of the time, I can just ignore it. Sometimes, like last weekend, it fits right into the internal narrative I’ve been constructing because I feel like I deserve to be punished for something so I just sit there and take it.
The part of me that believes I deserve misery and pain is probably the same part that is the source of my depression, anxiety, and OCD. I’m currently working with my therapist to address that and see what we can do it make it go away, but that’s always easier said than done and never a guaranteed outcome. I mean, I’m trying to talk about it now and, even after a couple of editing passes, this whole thing still feels super self-critical. Probably because I can still see and hear the words I’ve taken out, but that’s because they’re the words I use on myself all the time. How dumb is that? One of the ways I inflict emotional pain on myself is by giving myself a hard time about how I’m prone to self-harm through emotional pain. I’ve gotta be careful here, or else I’m going to start adding even more layers of recursion. It’s insidious!
It’s a difficult problem without a clear solution. If I take myself to task too severely, I tread right back into dangerous territory. If I’m too lax, I wind up inventing problems just to cause myself misery. If I get upset because someone did something that hurt me, I find a way to magnify it and make myself feel I deserved it. I rarely get angry or project my negative emotions outward.
I’m not saying that’s the solution to this problem, either. I’ve seen the pain that anger and negative emotion directed outward can cause. I’ve been on both ends of it. I hate hurting other people more than I hate hurting myself, so it is often easier to make myself miserable and spend a bunch of time feeling like I deserved it than to let someone else know they accidentally hurt me. I’m going to be in pain either way, so why not spare the other person? Ultimately, there’s a fine line I need to walk and I need to stop automatically jumping to the “embrace all the pain by yourself” side of it.
This week has been rough on me. Emotionally draining, full of waves, and I’ve been unable to find a way to work through what’s been going on inside my head. While things haven’t gotten bad enough to do anything self-destructive, I will admit to spending a significant amount of time fantasizing about running away. Stuff like smuggling myself to Europe and joining a monastery of monks who swear vows of silence, or making my way to the wilder parts of the US, somewhere with mountains, and living off the land is a shabby cabin until I’m ousted by the land’s original owners or I go completely feral. Pretty much anything that’d mean changing every aspect of my life.
These kind of fantasies have always been an outlet for me. Ever since I was a child and planned my first attempt to run away from home (I was going to live in the forest preserves near the business district of my home town, eating nothing but McDonald’s because it was cheap and no one would question why a child showed up there every day), I’ve used fantasies about literally escaping my current situation to help me cope with it. I’ve used stories to escape as well, but these mental exercises are always readily available and have the bonus of being entirely plausible. Well, mostly plausible. Smuggling myself to Europe would be a bit difficult, but living on my own wouldn’t be. I’d figure it out eventually, I’m sure, and I’ve got a car and all sorts of modern camping gear to help me get through the rough patches until I’ve gotten it down. And a Costco membership so I can spend a paycheck on buying all the cliff bars they have so I’ve got food until I figure out the whole hunter/gatherer thing.
Thoughts of literal escape always beat out thought of self-destructive behaviors, thankfully. A lot of my self-destructive thoughts are a product of my OCD, an unfortunate obsession that brings things to mind that I’d otherwise never consider longer than it took me to realize what I was thinking. Self-destructive options are so final. There’s no undoing them. If I decide to leave, I can always come back. Sure, I’d need to accept the consequences of coming back, which would be pretty severe if I left suddenly and without warning like I also imagine I would, but I would have the option.
I like these fantasies because they are about hope. They embody the hope that tomorrow could be a better day if I do the right thing. They’re somewhat extreme, compared to what I usually wind up doing or what would actually help in any given situation, but they’re fun to plan and they play into my desire for a simpler life. The hope they give me, while entirely impractical, is still usually enough to get me through whatever is going on. I know that things aren’t going to drastically change for the better or become simpler. I know running away from my life and its problems isn’t actually going to help me at all. I know that all I really need to do is just be patient and wait until enough time has passed for the waves of my depression to still. Yet the simple hope that they could be, strengthened by the imagined scenario in which they are, is enough to make it easier to bear.
Hope for a better tomorrow is important to me. In some shape or another, it has kept me going through the worst moments of my life. The simple mantra that “maybe things will be better tomorrow” is often the focus of meditations I use to calm myself down after a horrible day. It is also probably my most repeated thought. It can be exhausting and incredibly disappointing to be constantly looking for a better tomorrow that is often delayed by just-as-awful-if-not-worse days, but it is what I’ve hung onto for years.
There’s a saying often repeated on the internet that bravery or strength is the quiet voice that, at the end of the day, says “I’ll try again tomorrow.” A lot of the people I know who struggle with mental illness or other chronic illnesses have shared that one at some point or another. It does a good job of reaffirming people who don’t give up and continue to work toward their goals or toward having a better day. The problem is that it is most-often shared by people encountering temporary setbacks. As anyone with a chronic illness can tell you, “trying again tomorrow” gets old eventually. You don’t stop trying because you’re not ready to give up and all of what that entails, but seeing the desire to try again as “true strength” or “true bravery” starts to feel hollow when all you have is a lot of trying without a lot of success. The quo
I still prefer my version over that one because it suggests the little spark of hope that maybe I won’t have to try so hard tomorrow. Not because I’m lazy (though I am incredibly lazy if I can get away with it), but because I need to be able to think that I won’t have to struggle as much as I do. I have a lot going on most weeks, and the added complication of emotional turmoil in any of its forms can create a feedback loop that leaves me exhausted and wanting nothing more than to just cease existing for a few days so I can rest and recuperate before I have to exist again. Without the hope that, someday, I won’t have to struggle as much, I’d have a hard time justifying each day’s struggle. I don’t think I’d do anything self-destructive, I’d just be a lot mopier. A gigantic sack of sadness and sorrow.
The downside is that hope can set you up for some pretty nasty falls. If I’m struggling for a long time without things improving at all, I start to feel like all my hope was wasted energy that would have been better spent blanking my mind or losing myself in some other form of escape. I usually wind up crashing even lower. If it’s a bigger hope, like a change in my personal situation or visible progress on a tough issue in my life, losing it can create tidal waves.
In a way, that’s what I’m dealing with today. I had a very strong, very important hope that fell apart today. I crashed, a new wave showed up, and I’m feeling even more worn out and beaten down that I felt earlier this week, during the first tidal wave. It took a lot more than I expected to get from that point to where I am now, but thankfully my friends were up to the task of helping me. I’d have managed it on my own eventually, but they made it a lot easier. Despite this danger, and even today’s example hasn’t changed my mind, I prefer finding and holding on to hope over trying to slog on without it.
The crash sucks, but it is important to let myself feel beaten and down sometimes. To do otherwise is to deny the reality of my situation and such denials are far more dangerous than any hope-related crash I’ve ever experienced. Denial crashes are far worse. They’re earth shattering. Hope crashes are bad, but all you have to deal with is the impact. With a denial crash, you have to reconcile your view with how the world really is and that’s like crashing all over again.
I am willing to bet that it doesn’t work like this for everyone, but trying to get along without hope sets me up for denial. I need something to help me through the bad days, even if it is only because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t have something inside myself to hold onto, and I’d rather it was hope than grim acceptance that almost always leads me to denial. A hope that comes to fruition is much more rewarding than being able to drop the “grim” part of grim acceptance.
Sometimes, the day after a tidal wave is horrible. My depression is still worse than normal, but all of the turmoil and the fight against nothingness has ended, leaving me empty and without something I can push back against. In a classic case of “the grass is always greener,” today I feel like I’d rather have the giant wave of exhaustion and apathy that was yesterday than the emptiness and casual disinclination toward everything that is today. I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. At least today, I don’t worry about getting crushed by the wave as it passes or ripped away from my anchor. Today, I don’t even worry.
Today, I don’t anything. I have a hard time telling if I’m hungry or tired, if I care about anything going on at any point, if I want to reach out to my support network, and so on. I don’t really care about anything but the things I know I’m supposed and even then, I only care because the reasoning part of my mind says I should. Nothing seems interesting and, while I know I’m capable of getting things done, I feel like there’s little reason to try to do so.
While that might sound a lot like apathy, I feel like the distinction is important. Apathy, to me, implies a certain amount of lethargy. It requires me to know I don’t want to do anything and to not care that I don’t want to do anything. It also almost always includes not feeling the need to be doing something. Today’s “casual disinclination” includes the lack of a desire to do anything, but mostly because nothing sounds interesting. I still feel the need to be doing something and that doing something would be beneficial to my well-being.
The best counters I’ve found to this include having routine tasks to do that easily flow into other things. Laundry is a good one, while making dinner or cleaning the kitchen also works very well. Turning on a favorite movie or TV show helps, as does reading in general. Video games don’t usually work because they often include performing a series of tasks or completing various objectives. Reading is the most solid of them, so long as I’ve actually got a book I’m currently reading and enjoying. If I’m not in the middle of anything, starting a new book is hard and old favorites all feel boring. The only way through this, so far as I’ve found, is to go out and buy a bunch of books because I’ll definitely start reading at least one of them.
Cleaning works the most frequently because it feels useful and doesn’t take any emotional or mental investment on my part, so I can get physically active while letting my mind drift. Then I can switch to something that requires mental effort as well, gradually moving myself up from being entirely disengaged to being completely engaged. Eventually, I’ll be doing things and it’ll be easy to continue doing things.
Ultimately, when I’m in a mood like this, that’s the goal. Once I get moving on something, if I can get myself one hundred percent involved with it, I’ll break through the casual disinclination and be able to move past the lingering feelings of depression from the recent wave. Waiting always works, but it can take a lot of time and leaves me a little more prone to rough seas until I’ve finally gotten free.
One method I don’t use much is getting other people to help me through it. If they’re the right kind of person, know what they’re doing, and are willing to help pull me out of the lingering traces of my latest episode of heavy depression, I’ll be fine. If they’re not all three of those things, chances are very good that I’ll just sink into a foul mood or another big wave still appear on the horizon.
A lot of the time, whatever I try to do winds up just being a way to help me get through the time between when the crest of the wave passes and when I start to feel like I’m back to my “normal.” Which is also fine. That’s all I really need: a way to get through the hours between now and “normal” without wallowing in negative emotions or feeling helpless. Either one of those things will turn right into an internal storm and those ones are always horrible.
Right now, that means updating my blog with what turns out to be literally the only thing I can think about, focusing on what I’m going to make for dinner, and trying to make some kind of plans for the weekend so I’ve got something to look forward to. Something to put up on the horizon to encourage me to want to work through this current phase of disinclination and emptiness. Maybe I’ll even write more tonight, since I’ve already done the work of getting myself to a place where I can write at all.
Whatever I do, I’m pretty sure I should feel mostly back to normal by tomorrow or Friday. That’ll be nice.
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Some days, as I wake, I do not turn off my alarm. The alarm on my phone marks the passing minutes by softly playing the song a once-friend recorded for me when I needed it more than I had words to say. It is a soft song, something that speaks to me of the process of healing, of starting anew, and of learning to forgive yourself for what you perceive to be your greatest failure. Unlike many songs about healing, or even most of the way we talk about healing, this song does not pretend that things will be like they were before. This song promises healing, but it also promises change. It promises that things will be different than they were and that whatever that difference is will be better than what you feel right now.
I don’t know what this song would say to you. I have a long history with this song and I’m willing to admit that at least some amount of its speech is projection. I need this song to say these things to me and, since it has said so many other, similar things to me before, I hear it say them now. So I let it play and I listen as it cycles through itself, restarting automatically because my phone is committed to ensuring I’m awake. It has no way of knowing that I was already awake before it began. It has no way of knowing that I’ve been awake for half an hour already, but have not been able to make myself get out of bed or even move until the song begins to play.
After a while, I roll over in my bed. My eyes, adjusted to the shy light of my phone as the alarm sounds, are stabbed by the bright white screen that flashes when I tell my phone to wait a bit before reminding me to wake up again. Five minutes later, it does so. I have not moved.
This time, before I temporarily silence it, I sit up in bed. The next time, I pull back the sheets. First one foot, then the other. I shuffle to the edge of the bed. Finally, after my phone starts singing for the seventh time, I stand. I tell my phone I no longer need the reminders and make my way through my morning routine as quickly as possible. I feel like someone running downhill. If I stop, if I stumble or trip, I will fall and roll to the bottom. If I can keep my feet moving, if I run quickly enough, I can stay upright.
Even when I sit to put on my socks, I still feel like I’m running. The edge of my bed folds underneath me as I lift up one of my feet for easy access, and I feel like all it would take to pitch me forward is a little shift in my balance. The first time I have to stop, when the feeling of running down hill ends, is when I put on my shoes. I have to sit in a chair or on the edge of the couch, and all of those seats are secure. As long as I keep moving, though, I’m fine. But if I stop, if I even pause for longer than a heartbeat, I might not make it back to my feet again.
This moment is dangerous. There is nothing to do in the seat. I should leave it fairly quickly, to get into my car and go to work, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes, I stay there until something happens to remind me that there is more to do. A nudge from the cat, one of my roommates coming down the stairs, a notification on my phone, anything. I will sit there until one of those happens and not realize how much time is passing until afterwards. An impossible moment where I am nothing until I am reminded, somehow, that I am something. It is like falling asleep, but without losing all awareness. Any outside stimulation brings me back, full awareness and consciousness crashing back into me. Painful, but welcome.
The day continues the same way. So long as I am moving, so long as something is happening near me, I am here. If I fall silent, if I grow still, it creeps up, washes over me, and I am gone.
These days are not storms, nor are they whirlpools. There is no OCD involved and very little anxiety, only enough to worry about how far down I’m going to go this time. Days like these are wavy days. Sometimes they’re choppy water, with small episodes spread throughout the day, and sometimes they’re a single tidal wave that threatens to crush me beneath its weight. The tidal waves are horrible. I know they’re coming before they appear on the horizon and all I can do once they’re there is to wait until they hit. Do my best to make it back to the surface after I’ve been pushed down and spun around until I almost don’t know which way is up. Wouldn’t know which way is up without all the practice I’ve had making it back to the surface.
So far, I haven’t found anything I can do with these feelings other than wait for them to pass. If I get too focused on them, my anxiety builds and my OCD starts acting up, threatening to turn the tidal wave into a full hurricane. I try to treat them like just another day while continuously denying the urge to let myself sink. To let myself stay in my bed or on my chair or to sleep at my desk. I do not give in to the desire to stay still because I am afraid that saying yes now will make it easier in the future. Losing entire days to tidal waves and choppy seas is not something I want. There’s always the risk that I’d wind up getting caught up and carried along by the waves, stuck until I finally manage to break free of the lethargy and exhaustion that tempts me to stay still.
It is sorely tempting to give in. One of the features of my depression is a desire to rest, an unending exhaustion that is beyond mental or emotional or physical exhaustion. Existential exhaustion that makes me wish I could just cease to be for a few days, until the waves have passed. It makes a convincing argument that I could use a day off of work or a quiet day to myself, but I know the day would be gone before I knew it, vanished in the haze of unawareness. I do not want that.
So I deny myself. I keep moving. I do one thing after another until I am out of things to do and then I invent more. I keep pushing until the exhaustion fades, the waves recede, and I can get back to just floating again. After all that, floating feels wonderful and I find myself almost grateful for the normal, every-day version of my depression that makes me less sociable and disinclined to take risks. Anything is better than the constant invitation to feel nothing.
This is my depression at its worst. I don’t have many days like this, thankfully, but today it is taking everything I’ve got to deal with the tidal wave headed my way. Tomorrow will be better, thankfully. They’re awful, but they never last long.