Sleeping with the Window Open

I used to sleep with the window open.

 

The washed out yellow street light
Standing sentinel at the corner next to my driveway
Throws wild shadows on my shelves and walls
That are occasionally stretched into thin waving lines
As the bright pale blue light of the patrolling cop’s
Fluorescent headlights roll past my yard.
The silent murmur of the woods holds sway
Broken by a passing car on a distant highway,
The echoing sirens of a police car needed somewhere quick,
Or the mournful blare of a train lost somewhere in the hills.

Continue reading

My Mind is a Battlefield

My mind is a battlefield:
a land ravaged by war
where the once green fields
and luscious forests
are now gone,
replaced by blasted earth
and barren, burnt wastelands
full of sad, lost refugees
who shy from everyone they meet.

My mind is a world at war:
full of brutal savagery
and the most wondrous beauty
locked in some twisted dance
that never ends
while someone wanders
searching through the misery
to find the scrap of truth
that makes 
this travesty
worth it.

Maybe you can understand why
I do not like to dwell on things,
why I often seem vacant
and perhaps unmindful of
the people and things around me
or why I might not be listening
when you’re talking to me.
There’s a war going on and
I don’t have much energy 
to spare
because I’m the general
of both armies.

While you’re talking to me,
I’m trying to navigate through my mind,
watching out for landmine memories
and avoiding guerilla anxieties,
not to mention all the other soldiers
I have sent to sabotage me.
I usually never make it out.
I know all my own tricks
and there are too many landmines
to avoid them all,
especially when the guerrillas
are chasing you.

Yet I go in, the external me
who watches this all unfolding,
and hope to find
the 
sepia photograph
or inspiring tale 
of truth
that makes enduring
this constant, ceaseless war
a viable option.
The armies leave me be
but the guerrillas will not stop
planting landmines and
chasing me towards them,
despite the call of peace
and my humanitarian efforts
to stave off the nuclear winter
the generals consider simply for the sake
of concluding.

 

I Just Want to Let You Know You’re Not Alone and Someone Understands

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.”

Patience and Perspective: Anxiety Feels Like a Nightmare

I’m really good at waiting. I can sit and pass time easily since I usually have a book or something on me at all times. I can even do it, though less easily, when I don’t have anything to do. I’ve got plenty to think about, can doze easily, and have no problem letting time traipse past when I need to. I never fret about being early because I don’t mind waiting and I feel more comfortable having to wait than having to rush.

The one catch is that I’m only good at waiting for things with set times. If I know how long I have to wait, I don’t mind waiting. If I don’t know and it is something important to me, then I will be a giant ball of anxiety counting seconds until whatever it is I’m waiting for comes to pass. A lot of the time, it comes up with stuff like waiting for important results or waiting to hear back from people. Job applications, medical procedures, the arrival of important packages, a return message from someone, a phone call that will make or break my plans. All of them will get me anxious, some more than others. I can distract myself, but not always and generally not for very long.

When it happens, I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can feel the tension in the air around me and it drives me crazy. I feel like something horrible is about to happen or I expect the worst and the seconds drag by because I can’t let my mind focus on anything else. I can feel the weight of it on the horizon and I can’t look away for fear of missing the chance to be ready for it.

Sometimes, when I am getting sick or have something preventing me from sleeping soundly, I have strange dreams. They’re almost always the same or incredibly similar dreams as well. My perspective is distorted, no matter what I do, like when you stare at a computer monitor for so long that it starts to take up your whole field of vision and the text or image you’re staring at seems like it is drifting further and further away as your brain attempts to reconcile the fact that what you’re looking at is actually very small with the fact that it uses a few tricks of the light to appear larger. In these dreams with the weird, elongated perspective, I have to roll up some tiny black and white grains into a ball. It requires “swooping” down to the floor for them because I can’t see them any other way thanks to the distorted perspective.

They make my brain hurt. If I have that dream, which sometimes includes a blanket made of the same black and white grains that keeps trying to cover me in what is supposed to be a comforting manner, it is a sure sign that I’m getting sick. There’s a similar one, with the same perspective and grains, but this time they’re arranged in straws or strings that are tangled in a knotty ball that I have to smooth out in order to continue traveling towards my destination. This one hurts my brain even more because the ball is decided non-euclidean and the normal ways I have of interacting with it and defining it as “smooth” don’t apply on account of its strange, irrational shapes.

A lot of the time, that is what waiting for a long but definitely unknown amount of time feels like. A brain twist that knots up my guts and leaves me feeling sick or nauseous. Distractions are like waking up. Sooner or later I’m going to go back to sleep and then I’ll be right back in the middle of it. There’s no escaping it until the night is over.

I’ll admit the comparison is a bit over the top, but waiting three hours past when I was supposed to get a phone call is just as exhausting and mind-bending as non-euclidean dreams fulled by anxiety and some inner part of myself that freaks out when I get sick. It fuels my anxiety like an energy drink fuels a small child. I try to set my expectations so that I am not left waiting for a long period of time. If I don’t expect to be called at a certain time, I cannot be disappointed when I do not get the call. If I don’t set an exact time, it can be easier to wait. Not always, but sometimes.

A lot of managing my anxieties is about setting expectations correctly. Managing my outlook so that I’m never in a position where I’m expecting something that is unlikely to happen or filling my head with all the horrible reasons that could explain why I’m still waiting on something. This is probably the easiest way to address my anxieties and something that every single therapist I’ve ever seen has recommended. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at it.

I’ve been trying to practice it as a part of my meditation and reflection, but that makes it feel like it is making things more difficult rather than easier. I remember being able to handle all of my mental health issues easily as a result of meditation and reflection back when I was in college and so getting back into the habit now is unfortunately giving me unreasonable expectation of just being able to fix whatever is on my mind with a single evening’s work. As I’ve said previously, that’s not how progress works. That’s not how I’m going to grow and continue to make healthy improvements. Things take time and setting that expectation is the most important thing I do every day.

Still, there are times I find myself settling in to meditate and wishing that I could quickly fix my own problems and figure out what to do with whatever it is I’m feeling. Now, it takes time and I grow impatient. Worse yet, it takes an unknown amount of time and it is difficult to prevent those anxieties from building. My mind creates a silent mantra of “why haven’t I fixed this by now?” that is hard to ignore.

I’m really glad I’ve been writing things down. It makes it a lot easier to remind myself to go easy on myself when I can read my own personalized reminders. I feel like a jumbled mess, still, but I also feel more stable. A lot of my mental structures may be shakey and built on fault likes, but they’re more reinforced than they’ve ever been. I just need to keep working and wait for the progress to become more noticeable.

Anxieties Can Grow into Fears and Trusting Again is Like Going for a Swim in a Lake

One of the worst parts of my anxiety is how it can make something entirely reasonable feel like something I don’t dare ask for. A five-minute midday phone call to help settle all the nagging thoughts that are threatening to take up my entire day? Definitely not something I can request without at least an hour of writing the message and then half an hour of psyching myself up to hit send. Sure it SEEMS reasonable, but what if it isn’t? What if they’re busy? What if they’re actually pissed at me because of what we talked about yesterday and I couldn’t tell then because I’m horrible at reading people over the phone, meaning sending them a message now is only going to make them angrier at me.

It sucks. It was a reasonable request because we needed to talk about what happened and verbally recognize that we needed to continue the conversation. I felt much better and I can only hope they feel better as well, now that they know I want to continue working this out. It should have been easy. A two-sentence message and then a wait until the appropriate time for a five-minute phone call. I spent more time worrying about what might have happened, trying to figure out how to properly say what I wanted to say, and whether or not it was appropriate to say anything at all than I spent on the conversation that spawn all the anxiety this morning.

My anxiety can run away with me, more than my depression or my OCD can. If either of those ever feels like it is running away with me, it is usually because it is fueled by my anxiety. The thought spirals that consume me are driven by anxieties I can’t squelch. The internal storms that threaten to sink me are whipped up by anxieties that I can’t deny. A lack of information is the greatest challenge to controlling my anxiety and a strong enough anxiety can make it a monumental effort to ask for any information, let alone figure out what to do with it.

As I reflected on this, my worst anxiety attack in a while, I realized that I’m not really prepared to deal with something like this. Almost all of my coping mechanisms involve heading things off or reasoning them away. That can work with my depression because a lot of that is based on not dwelling on any one thing in particular, waiting it out, and reminding myself that it will end eventually. It works alright with my OCD because most of my OCD is based around obsessions and I can usually reason with them so long as they don’t have an anxiety behind them. It even works with most of my anxiety since I usually know I’m worked up over nothing or have evidence to directly contradict my anxiety.

The fears though, the big anxieties that don’t have answers and prey on uncertainties, don’t have evidence I can trot out and are usually about things that I should be able to assume but really can’t. They’re what feeds into things like my resistance toward being emotionally open and vulnerable with people or the nagging fear that everything and everyone I love is going to disappear without warning. I know most people aren’t going to try to manipulate me using my emotions or use any time I’m open about my feelings as a way to hurt me. I know that it takes time for people to leave and there are almost always warning signs.

The problem with knowing those things is all the evidence to the contrary. I’ve got a lot of experience with people using my feelings and what I’ve shared with them to hurt me in new and horrible ways. I’ve seen how people can suddenly vanish, either because they decided you weren’t worth their time, because it was easier than working things out, or because something horrible happened to them. A lot of these were fairly isolated events, but there were still a lot of them.

I try to recognize that there’s also a ton of evidence supporting the idea that people aren’t out to get me or that what I love won’t suddenly vanish, but it’s hard to remember it all the time. Also, it is hard to say being emotional vulnerable with people won’t be used against me when I don’t really do it anymore. I also can’t use evidence to prove people won’t just vanish because it is almost always sudden and almost always happens in ways you wouldn’t expect. How can you disprove something you don’t expect? Someone randomly getting run over by a bus or going to a movie theater or club that gets shot up isn’t exactly something you can work to prevent or say won’t happen to someone around you. It isn’t likely, sure, but it happens to people and every person is a part of that group.

The worst ones, the ones that can bring in my depression and OCD, creating the hurricanes I mentioned in my other post, are the ones aren’t wrong. If I get going on something like “my anxieties make me annoyed and frustrated and I’m more willing to put up with myself than anyone else is, so how much everyone around me feel when I’m acting particularly anxious/depressed/obsessed/neurotic/what-have-you?” then I run the risk of heading straight toward meltdown city.

That isn’t a fun place to go. I definitely do NOT recommend the vacation package, the over-night bargain, or even passing through it. Once you’re there, it is incredibly hard to leave and a pass-through always turns into a full-stop. You don’t just visit. You take up semi-permanent residence and usually need outside help leaving since the stationmaster is hard to find and the population generally isn’t interested in actually trying to help you leave.

When it comes to fears or anxieties I can’t deny and the ones I have no evidence to disprove, all I can do is trust. Trust that I won’t be abused if I’m emotionally vulnerable with someone. Trust that people and things in my life won’t just disappear if they have a choice in the matter. Trust that people aren’t just putting up with me. Trust is hard. Trust is easily broken and hard to replace. I’ve got a lot of pretty convincing reasons not to trust, but trust is an essential part of being a human and living in a community. You trust that someone isn’t going to break down your door and take all your stuff. You trust that someone isn’t going to hurt your loved ones or, at the very least, that there are people whose job it is to protect them. You trust that people aren’t going to use you to their advantage whenever they can. Without that trust, you become isolated and have trouble connecting with people.

That’s where I’m struggling. I don’t trust much. Hell, I don’t even really trust myself. Misplaced trust has hurt me more than anything else in life and I’m not eager to get hurt again. I used to be able to dive back in by affirming that it is better to love and lose, to take a chance and fail, than to risk never again feeling the warm glow of trust rewarded with trust and love. Then I spent most of my time in Madison, nearly four years, getting every hand extended in trust smacked away, being around people who made it clear they only barely tolerated me, and getting my feet yanked out from underneath me at work constantly. There were people who made me feel bad about some of the most basic parts of myself.

Thankfully, I’m away from those influences now. I’ve got a girlfriend who wants to hear about all the things I love as much as I’m willing to talk about them. I’ve got supportive, helpful roommates who I really appreciate. I’ve got a work environment that is positive and appreciates me. I’ve even had one of the first and biggest metaphorical hand-slaps contact me and apologize for how they acted. I really want to dive back in again, but my fear and anxieties keep me back.

Like going for a swim in a lake, it is almost always better to just dive right in. The rush of water will feel cold at first, but you’ll stop noticing it quickly afterward. Then you’re free to swim to your heart’s content. Sometimes, though, you need to check for rocks first and take your time getting wet. Eventually, I’ll be ready to take the plunge, but for now maybe I’ll just start with my feet.

Reigniting My Own Passion Is Quite a Striking Problem

One of the most common things you hear from people dispensing relationship or life advice is to appreciate every day and never take life (or your partner) for granted. This is good advice because people tend to get used to the way their life is and either lose appreciation for what they have or they start to believe their life will always be the same. If you fail to appreciate a romantic partner, it should not be surprising if they leave. If you do not appreciate the good things in your life, you can lose sight of them or stop doing the work necessary to maintain them. While this is great advice and something I try to keep in mind at all times, I also keep it in mind at ALL times.

You know what happens when you take this sort of thing to an extreme (well, what happens when I take it an extreme, since I can only speak for myself here)? You spend your life living in fear of losing whatever it is you’re appreciating.

Every time I meditate, I read through my little notebook of questions to ponder, things to keep in mind, and the central thoughts my meditation revolved around. Last night, when I was meditating after my review, I landed on a thought from a few days ago. I invest in people so heavily because I’m afraid of losing them. I try to appreciate every day I have with people and doing what I love because I know how quickly life can change. As I meditated, I realized I was filled with a sense of dread and quiet fear of something I couldn’t quite explain. Eventually, I linked it back to the idea that appreciating every moment carries with it the implication that you do so because you never know when it will end. If you do not moderate the thought carefully, you can wind up “appreciating” your life and your partner because you’re not sure how long you’ll have them to the point of constantly living in fear of losing them.

 

My OCD and anxiety routinely have a field day with the quiet implication that all the good parts of my life are only temporary. Constantly reminding myself to appreciate what I have while I have it means constantly reminding myself that it is very likely I will, eventually, no longer have it. This is a quiet thought spiral that will sit inside me and build until I’m panicking about something stupid like rescheduled plans or not having the time to work on something I wanted to do. At which point, there’s little I can do but ride out the storm and try to stay calm enough to refrain from doing anything idiotic. While I wouldn’t say that I constantly live in fear of losing what is important to me, I can say it is a stressfully frequent anxiety of mine.

The thing is, no one tells you that you should get used to having your partner or the positive things in your life around. If you continue to do the work required to maintain your relationships and the things you appreciate most in life, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be around for a while. People make commitments to each other because they want to stay as a part of the other person’s life. People don’t just go from wanting to be in your life to leaving it aside from freak accidents. There’s usually a pattern of behavior or a shift as the relationship changes before people separate. If you’re paying attention to the relationship, you can see it coming. The same is true of things that people appreciate, like jobs or hobbies. Aside from, once again, freak accidents, people don’t just lose jobs or lose access to hobbies. It takes time and plenty of warning signs.

I feel secure in my relationship. Maybe not to the point of having nothing that needs work or not worrying about whether or not I’m putting in the work I should be; the relationship is only seven months old so there’s still plenty of room for us to grow together and get to know each other better. I just don’t worry about anything legitimate. I worry about horrific things like car accidents, natural disasters, the eventual collapse of society due to socio-economic or political factors, and whether or not I’ll have had a chance to try to prevent the end of the relationship due to something extreme and unpredictable. Just like most of my anxieties and obsessions. There is no way to predict when society will collapse or if one of us is going to get struck by a car, so there’s nothing productive I can do to fend off the anxiety. All I can do is try to put it out of my mind and focus my energy elsewhere, which is a lot like trying to not think about pink and purple polka-dotted elephants. Doable, sure, but not without a lot of practice and no significant amount of mental effort that can be instantly betrayed by a single stray thought as to why I’m so forcefully blanking my mind.

Like I said in the post I linked above, I need to invest less emotional energy in the sort of panic-inducing line of thought revolving around whether or not something crazy is going to happen that will take away everything I love and enjoy. Chances are REALLY good my significant other will still be around tomorrow. And next week. If I just assume she’s going to be around forever, then I run into problems. Same is true of my writing. I will have opportunities to write tomorrow or next weekend, but I can’t just keep putting it off by thinking that I can always do it later. I need to find balance between my anxieties about losing everything and the trap of assuming there will always be more time. Being this high-strung all of the time is really time-and-energy-consuming.

One of the ways I’ve been considering pushing back against my inclination to over-invest and get caught up in disaster-focused thought spirals is to put more time and effort into choosing “me” over other people. Doing the lazy thing I want to do or advocating for the activity I’d like to do. Currently, I don’t do that very much. The past week and a half of writing reflective blog posts and not trying to write as soon as I get home from work has been pretty much the only time this year that I wasn’t caught up in trying to get something done. I’ve played more video games in the past week than in the month leading up to it. I haven’t read much more, but I’ve actually been buying books again, which is what leads to me reading books.

This is a common theme to a lot of my posts and the “what do I do about this?” part of each reflection. I need to spend more time and energy on myself. I need to value myself more and give myself the same benefit of the doubt I extend to everyone else. I need to work on living my best life and not sacrifice all of my todays on the altar of a potential, far-off tomorrow.

I wanted to make this year about writing. I wanted to write a blog post every day and work on some of my novel projects. But that’s just one thing. That’s just one part of myself and my interests that I’m address. I also want to hike more. I want to get back to reading at least a book a week. I want to continue strengthening and enjoying my relationship with my girlfriend. I want to do new things and stretch myself in ways I considered too scary or too difficult before. I want to be more than I am today. And yet all I’m doing is writing more. Yes, this is good. Yes, this is an amazing goal and getting nothing done but a year of daily blog posts would still be a huge accomplishment. None of that means anything if I’ve sacrificed every other part of myself to make it happen. I can do it for a month, to pump out a whole bunch of NaNoWriMo words, but I can’t, and shouldn’t, keep it up forever.

Every other year, after NaNoWriMo, I’ve always felt burned out and spent at least one month not writing anything. That obviously didn’t happen last year, and that was because I decided to stretch myself in a new way. Look how wonderfully that has turned out! I’ve made over two hundred consecutive daily blog posts! I never expected to make it this far without missing a day and all of this growth and new confidence is the result of a whim. A stray thought and just enough whimsy to decide to pursue it. I need to bring that dedication and discipline to the rest of my life. I need to do new things. I need to advocate for myself. I need to be open and honest with people, even if that’s scary. I need to figure out what I want out of this summer other than another ninety-two blog posts and then work on getting it.

I’m all fired up and ready to go, but I still have work to do. After work, I’ve got my weekly foam-fighting practice. Then bed and work tomorrow. I’ve already scheduled my next twenty-four hours and I can feel the thought of my ordered life draining some of the fire away from me. Pretty much every time I write one of these posts, the same thing happens. I lose the fire between finishing the post and leaving work. Then I go about my day’s activities, find a way to amuse myself for a bit, and then go to bed after meditating for a bit.

I need a way to keep that fire burning. I need to recapture the passion I once felt about everything I did. I want to be that person who used to be excited about everything and could get other people excited about stuff. Maybe trying new things and getting past the inertia from the past four years of doing less and closing myself off will help. It’ll be a real struggle, though, since I feel even more down and discouraged than I did before I got excited.

It won’t be easy, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Swimming in an Endless Sea

I like to describe my depression as an endless sea. I describe living with my depression as floating in said endless sea. I also describe my depression spikes–the times where it gets all-consuming and I have to put all of my effort into not letting it swamp me–as storms on that sea. I feel the metaphor works well because I do not feel like my depression is an emotion or something that comes and goes. It is always there. It changes the way I interact with the world and how I evaluate every decision I make. When it spikes, it turns a relatively simple and routine task into an all-out fight.

A lot of my metaphors for dealing with my depression center around this image. It comes out mostly in my poetry, but also in the way I talk about it to the people close to me. Just like describing my anxiety as wind (which can be anything from a gentle breeze or even still air to raging tornadoes and hurricanes) or my OCD as a spiral (thanks to the lovely imagery from John Green’s Turtles all the Way Down), I try to find a good image based on something that other people can relate to. It usually works really well because mental illness and our experience of it are subjective. There’s no way for someone else to describe someone else’s experiences with an illness that exists in the realm of their mind. There are biological descriptors and terms we can use that deal with diagnosing and treating the illness, but our experiences are our own. The same is true of physical illness. Sure, you can diagnose and treat a broken arm based on certain tangible facts and descriptors, but you can’t describe someone else’s experience of having a broken arm.

I’ve always liked my depression metaphor because it does a great job of conveying the weight of it. I am treading water in an endless sea because I can manage my symptoms, but I’ll likely never be entirely free of them. My depression colors every thought I have, it weighs in on every decision I make, it is as much a part of my life as being a guy is. It is a part of me. If you can imagine being stuck in an ocean without land or a boat in sight, you can imagine the sort of helplessness and hopelessness that can strike me when I’m struggling to manage my depression.

The endless sea metaphor also lends itself well to the ways I try to manage or interact with my depression. It can pull me down, which is a lot like going under the water. I can’t breathe, but I know that I can hold my breath for a while and swimming in the right direction will bring me back to the surface. When I’m on the surface, I can work on assembling rafts from what I find around me as I float.  It takes a lot of work to make one and they rarely survive a storm, but they let me take a break from needing to work at treading water constantly.

When my depression gets bad, because my anxieties start a storm or I get caught in a thought-whirlpool, it gets more difficult to tread water. Can you imagine how a raft might not survive a storm, dashed apart as the waves swell and crash? Or how it might get tossed aside after getting sucked down a watery vortex? Then I’m back to sinking or swimming under my own power. What if my anxieties and OCD start acting up at the same time? A raft would be useless in a hurricane. Which is why I prefer an anchor to a raft. It might not help me stay on the surface, but it keeps me from getting swept away in a storm or pulled into a whirlpool so long as the rope is strong enough. Even in a hurricane, the anchor will remain. I may not be able to breathe under the water, but I can hold my breath for a very long time at this point and the ocean is always calmer under the surface. Clinging to it often means going under a bit during a storm more frequently that I’m used to, but it also means I always know which way leads to the surface.

The metaphor isn’t perfect, as no metaphor is, but I’ve spent years and years thinking about this and it is so far the best one for me. If I ever come across a better one, I’ll immediately switch to that, like I did with my OCD and thought-spirals. I used to describe it like being unable to stop making a ticking noise with your tongue: it is annoying as shit to you and can get on the nerves of the people around you; it interferes with communication but can be worked around if you try hard enough and people are patient; it is something you know you should be able to avoid doing but can’t for reasons you’re unable to explain (which also frustrates you); and feels like an involuntary bodily reaction once you’re sort of accustomed to it. Spirals is so much simpler and so much more accurate because it gets at the core of what my OCD is and how it affects me rather than being focused on the symptoms.

For a long time, I was tempted to see the people around me as rafts. I could invest myself in their lives and problems, trying to help them and support them, so that I could use my effectiveness at helping them as a means of buoying myself. My past romantic relationships and closest friends were rafts because I could lean on them when I needed help. The problem with that is that I can’t rely on other people to get my through my depressions spikes. Not because other people won’t do it or that getting help from people is bad, but because I can’t expect them to fix me or be emotionally available all the time. They have their own problems to deal with. They can’t be there all the time and that’s fine. That’s a normal part of human relationships. We like to say that we’ll always be there for the people who mean a lot to us, but “always” is a tricky word. That’s a lot to expect from someone else, even if you’ve married them.

I don’t mind asking people for help and I do it when I need a little boost. If what I’m asking won’t cost them too much and will help me through the latest storm or whirlpool, then of course I’m going to ask for help. I just don’t expect it. I also need to be ready to handle all of them on my own because I’ve had times when no one was available to help me and they could have gone horrible wrong if I hadn’t been prepared for that.

There’s a fine line, there. I want to be willing to ask for and accept help from the people close to me, but never in a situation where I absolutely need it. There are resources for those moments, help lines and therapists, but those are people with training for those moments. Putting the need for that level of help on people close to me would be an incredible amount of pressure. I think they’d all be willing to do it if I said I needed it, but, having been in the situation of someone needing that from me, there is a cost that comes with it. I’m glad I have people who’d pay it, but I’d prefer they didn’t have to.

None of this, of course, is to say that I’m in a situation where I need anything. I had a depression spike yesterday that is carrying through today and was made worse by an unfortunate connection between some of my mental health issues and the movie I saw with my girlfriend, but I’m doing fine. I appreciated being able to ask for some comfort from my girlfriend while we watched Rise of the Guardians to clear the other movie from our minds, but it wasn’t something I expected to make me feel better. It helped in the moment and it gave me an hour’s reprieve from the storm I was fighting (we couldn’t find the movie anywhere but on 20th Century Fox’s website and they only let us watch an hour of it), but I eventually left and had to deal with it on my own again. If there was more she could have done to help, I’d have asked for it, but sometimes the only thing that helps me is time.

Before I went to bed, as I meditated on my depression and my girlfriend’s wonderful offer to help me if she could, I couldn’t help but think of the ways I’ve dealt with and talked about my depression over time. I went from dealing with it on my own in an unhealthy manner to relying on other people to dealing with it in a constructive and nominally healthy manner on my own. Even if the metaphor hasn’t changed and I sometimes need to remind myself that it is okay to ask for help as long as I’m not putting too much pressure on people, it is nice to see how much better I’ve gotten at handling it.

Threading my Way Through a Knotty Problem

As I start spending time in my evenings meditating and trying to figure out what’s going on in my head, I sometimes feel like I’m failing because so much different stuff keeps tumbling out. I start in on one thing, but then my attention shifts and I’m suddenly following some other string in the tangled mess that is my head these days. It makes me feel like I’m not making any progress.

Which isn’t true. I’m making progress. Just like untangling anything, sometimes you can only work to untangle a single thread for a little bit before you realize there’s something else is preventing you from making progress. Then you shift your attention to the next thread and get back to work until you run into the same problem again. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you can make the whole thing easier by finding a single thread you can untangle and pull out of the knot entirely.

That did not happen to me last night. I spent a lot of time shifting between threads and I made significant progress on one of them, but I think I’ve got a lot more work to do before I’m ready to start pulling things out entirely. I’ve been writing down the thoughts that come out of this so I don’t lose track of what’s going on and so I can return to things that feel like they’re not finished or like there’s more I want to consider before moving on. I started folding laundry as part of my meditation and that worked really well because it gave my hands something to do while my mind was engaged but I started falling asleep as soon as I tried meditating without laundry to fold. I need more sleep because, right now, my main limitation to how much time I can spend meditating is that I keep falling asleep while trying to meditate.

Regardless, the big thought that came out of last night has to do with the way I commit to things I like and the driving force behind that commitment. I realized (not for the first time, but it really clicked in the context of my writing and relationship) that one of the reasons I tend to 100% or 0% everything is because I’ve lost a lot of good things in my life and I want to make sure I squeeze every second/ounce of enjoyment and positive emotional input out of them that I can before I lose them.

I haven’t lost a lot of people, thankfully, at least not in the sense that most people mean when they say that. I have, however, not had very good luck at developing history with people. Outside of my family, I have a couple high school friends I still occasionally talk to and a handful of college friends I’m still close to. Most of my childhood friends moved away when I was young. A lot of my friends from high school and I all grew apart. Same thing for college. A few people from my life did things that made it easier to walk away than to try to stay friends with them and I got pretty good at letting people go.

The same is true of things. I’m not terribly attached to things because I’ve moved a lot and I was made to throw out some of my favorite stuff when I was younger because my family went through a “Harry Potter is bad” phase as a result of what I believe was the influence of some of the more reactionary/conservative members of a home schooling group my family belonged to. This taught me that “things”  are transient, to be enjoyed while you have them, and to not mourn them once they are gone. Which means I’ve gotten good at letting go of things I can’t find or have lost. I move on easily, when it comes to things I used to love or enjoy.

Taken together, it paints a pretty interesting picture. I obsess over the new things in my life and let the old things slowly fade. I invest a ton of time and emotional energy into people who are important to me, trying to build strong relationships as fast as possible with the people I like, sometimes at the cost of maintaining older relationships. I do this with all the stuff I have and do (because this applies not just to possession and “stuff” but activities as well) because I am very aware of the transient nature of life. “Someday, all my things will be gone and I only have so much time in any given day, so I must do things now or else I run the risk of never enjoying them or doing them.” That thought process was why I spent literally all of my free time during March and April of 2017 playing Breath of the Wild. That though process was also why I give myself such a hard time when I fall short of my daily writing goals.

With people, there’s a similar thought. “I must establish a strong relationship quickly because I care about this person and want them in my life. If I can establish a strong bond quickly, we have a better chance of making it through whatever goes wrong.” Because something almost always goes wrong. I’m sure some of the things that went wrong were my fault since I invested so heavily so quickly, but a lot of them just felt like people being people: mercurial and not always predictable. Only a few did something that was actually nasty or awful. Then, if/when things fall apart, I move on and don’t look back, investing all my energy in new relationships. It isn’t exactly healthy, even if it isn’t as stark in real life as I’m painting it here. I am still in contact with a lot of people from my past, but I don’t generally communicate with them.

While its less of a problem with stuff, since I can practice enough self-control to not let this mindset negatively impact my life, I struggle with it in my relationships. Particularly with my girlfriend. I often feel like not seeing her for a week is a huge loss. Or if we don’t do something on the weekend. Or if there’s a short trip we could be going on together but only one of us goes. It doesn’t really make sense and it often bugs me that I feel so frustrated or anxious about those things,  so even keeping it to myself and preventing myself from acting on these feelings doesn’t prevent it from having a negative impact on my life. The anxiety sits in my stomach, lurking in the dark, and rears up whenever there’s a missed opportunity to do something with her, but it spends the time between events muttering about making sure our relationship is strong enough for whatever comes up.

Which is probably the core of the anxiety: the fear that something outside of my control is going to happen to my relationship and I’ll lose something I highly value. I know that to live is to be unable to predict the future or control what goes on around me, but there’s a huge difference between knowing something intellectually and overriding the instinctual fear of loss drilled into your by a lot of your past important relationships.

Going hand-in-hand with that is the fear that no one will ever pick me over other options rooted in the fact that even *I* do not pick me over other options. Got a friend (not a close friend I spend a lot of time or emotional energy on) who needs help? Let me just throw away my need for relaxation and desire to have a calm morning before the plans I made for that afternoon so I can help them. Got a project that I feel I should be working on? Let me just ignore how tired I am and how much I need to just be quiet and breathe so I can keep working on it until I collapse from exhaustion. Someone needs something that I have? Guess I don’t really need or want it. Someone I know needs financial assistance? Good thing I’ve got this money set aside that I was planning to use to pay off my car loan early. I really suck at ever prioritizing myself, even when it should be clear the amount of good I’ll be doing for someone else is heavily outweighed by the bad I’ll be causing myself.

Thankfully, I’m working on choosing myself right now. That’s what all this meditation and contemplation is supposed to be. Also, now that I know the root of the fear and anxiety that is making me go a little crazy in terms of emotional investment and attention, I can work on addressing it. These threads might still be a part of the tangled mess, but I’ve figured out one of the big knotty bits and I can finally start working on unraveling it.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 13

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


I spent most of the first full day of the blizzard napping after one last shift making my signature fruit-and-secret-sugar oatmeal. I had originally planned to sit with a group of the newer Wayfinders and trainees, but I fell asleep as they were telling stories. I woke up in time for lunch and managed to stay awake for another hour but, just like my father would do at every family party we’d ever attended, I fell asleep shortly after sitting down.

Camille woke me in time to help prepare dinner and we had another excellent meal, filled with laughter, good food, and warmth as we all sat in a large circle. After dinner and clean up, Natalie and I managed to find the time to perform a quick review of the storerooms, to double-check that all of our lists were accurate. It wound up taking a little longer than planned, but we wanted to be thorough. Once we’d wrapped up and Natalie had gone away to file the stock reports, I checked on the Laborers and Nomads. They seemed to be getting along well and were hunkered down for the night by the time I walked by.

The second day was a little more quiet and somber. The wind had picked up overnight, which meant the worse of the storm was approaching. There were no restrictions on noise, thankfully, but it was hard to be anything other than quiet. Knowing that the only thing keeping you alive was preparations you had finished a few days ago was frustrating because there was nothing you could do today to fix or improve things. I tried to keep spirits up, but only the Laborers seemed unaffected by the general mood, though I quickly figured it out that their cheer was because they had finished off the last of their smuggled alcohol when the tension started getting to them. Thankfully, no one got too belligerent.

Day three was almost silent as the screaming winds and the occasional thump of debris bouncing off the building cut through any attempts at conversation. Most of the Wayfinders tried to sleep through the day. The others played cards, cleaned their gear, or talked in groups of two or three. The nomads stayed in their rooms and the laborers stayed huddled on their cookfire for the entire day, slowly eating all of the extra food they had saved up from the rations we doled out every day. I got a couple naps in, but mostly I played solitaire while Camille, Natalie, and Lucas played poker for guard shifts.

By the end of the fourth day, restlessness had started to settle in, pushing some of the fear and silence out. People moved around more. Most of the Wayfinders were doing various workout routines to burn some energy and stay in shape while one of the more knowledgeable martial artists gave lessons to anyone who wanted to learn. A surprising number of Laborers showed up, as did all of the Nomads. I watched as the two groups mixed with the Wayfinders in the large, empty storage room Terry had set up as her classroom and was relieved to see that the Laborers practiced with everyone, not just each other. The Nomads stayed a little more insular, but a few of them had started to pick different partners by dinner time.

On the fifth day, the wind and noise started to die down. Everyone’s mood picked up, thought they still spent the day exercising or learning martial arts. A few people, the less athletically inclined, spent a lot of time between their practice sessions complaining about how sore they were, but they refused every offer to sit by the sidelines and play cards. A few of the older Wayfinders, including Natalie and myself, weren’t as stir-crazy, so we spent our day taking care of guard shifts and playing card games while watching the Laborers and Nomads knock each other on their asses. It was a good way to spend the day and, since we were crowded in a corner, it made sense for Natalie and I to sit close to each other.

The sixth day was punctuated by gusts of wind that carried a bit of debris around, slapping it into the building with a surprisingly loud noise. The tension was back, and most people stayed quiet in their own spaces. A few of the nomads and most of the Laborers were sore from the past two days of rigorous exercise, but it was mostly anxiety that kept the Wayfinders quiet. It is one thing to ignore constant wind and the almost ceaseless sound of bits of whatever peppering the sides of the building we were in, but the random gusts lulled people into a false sense of peace unless they kept their guard up the entire time. By the time we were going to bed, though, the wind had stopped and silenced reigned around us.

Day seven started out quietly, carrying over yesterday’s tension, amplified by everyone straining their ears for any sound that didn’t belong to the people around them. It was quiet enough for me to hear the creak of my joints as I went through my daily tasks. By dinner, everyone had started to relax again. The worst of the blizzard should have been over that morning and the lack of any major disturbance meant that the blizzard would end on schedule, in just three more days. All we had to do at this point was wait out the last of the snowfall and wind, and we would finally be able to start digging ourselves out.

The eighth day slowly, people now bored out of their minds and left feeling out of sorts as the tension they’d been holding onto for a week started to drain away. Camille and I broke into some of the stores that Natalie had set aside for turning this place into a base, expanding our meal supplies so we had enough to make dinner for the Laborers and Nomads as well. We had to recruit a few extra hands, the old Nomad woman, Mary, who turned out to be their matriarch and Trevor, to be able to make such a large meal, but bringing everyone together to celebrate making it through the worst of the blizzard did an excellent job of raising spirits.

The ninth day passed in a blur of activity as we started getting everyone ready to start the process of digging through the inevitable snow drifts piled against our door. Natalie handed out a few copies of her supply map that she had produced between cards and exercise routines and I walked Trevor and Mary through Natalie’s plans for gathering supplies and clearing a way out of town. We all went to bed early, everyone worn out from the busy day and the excitement they’d been feeling at the prospect of getting out into the fresh air again. It had gotten rather stuffy and a little smelly over the past couple days, and even cold, snow-filled air would be preferable to the scent of people who’d been working out.

The tenth day began quickly. Everyone was awake and ready to go by six, so we began the process of unblocking the front door, carefully peeling away the sealant so we could get a peek outside without letting out too much heat. When we finally glimpsed the outside world again, we were met with the usual light-grey cloud cover and gently falling snow that was adding to at least two feet of snow. The drifts we could see towered above us. Thankfully, the one near the door was off to the side, so we’d be able to dig our way out without needing to go through the deepest part of a drift.

I gave the order to finish unblocking the door and found Trevor and Mary watching nearby. I waved them over and took a few steps away from the door. “We’re going to focus on digging today. Supply gathering will start tomorrow, but I’d like to get paths dug before we get any sun that could turn the top layer of the snow to ice.”

“Could we really get sunlight that soon?” Trevor looked out at the grey sky doubtfully. “We just had a blizzard and you said it’s going to keep snowing for a few more days.”

“Yes, but there’s still a chance we’ll see a few breaks in the clouds.” I gestured toward the giant piles of snow. “Most of the moisture making the clouds is down here now and it will be a while before enough new moisture is gathered to return the clouds to their usual iron-grey color. We’ll get more sun in the next few days than we will in the three months between the return of the clouds and the start of the next blizzard.”

Mary nodded, her face grim. “We always like to do as many outside chores as we can during these days. The sunlight feels good after being trapped inside for over a week.”

Trevor shrugged. “Alright. I trust you. Paths it is. I’ll get my people ready.”

“Thanks.” I smiled and gestured to the map sticking out of Trevor’s breast pocket. “There’s a path going south toward a supply cache, an old Menards, and I’d like for your group to focus on that.”

“South?” Mary pulled out her own map. “Isn’t that going to take them toward the group of people you told us to avoid?”

“Yes, but they’ll be fine. The store is only a mile away and my scouts found no traces of any of them coming that far north.” I pointed at a point three miles further south, past the store. “This is as far north as we’ve found tracks of signs of their passage.” I looked up at Trevor. “As long as you guys stay fairly quietly, the snow will muffle you enough that your group can just shovel right up to the doors and walk away.”

“Excellent.” Trevor smiled and pulled out his map. “I’ll get us ready to go within the hour.”

“Just go straight south. This is the longest path we’ll be digging, so try to go as straight as you can. If you can go around a big drift, do it, but only if it doesn’t take you off the marked streets.”

Trevor bobbed his head in acknowledgment and turned away. He paused and turned back. “How big should the path be?”

I held my arms out to the sides, as far as I could. “About two and a half times the size of the widest person in your group. We want people to be able to pass each other without bumping into each other so we can quickly move supplies.” Trevor gave me a thumbs-up and turned away again.

As Trevor walked away, I gestured toward Mary’s map. “I’d like to get all of your people working on some of the local paths. Feel free to deviate as much as you need to, to get around the big drifts.”

Mary started tracing a few lines on her map with a finger. “Sounds good. I’ll make sure my people know what to do. We used to do similar things around our home, that I will say we relied more on snowshoes than completely clearing a path.” She folded up her map and looked over at me. “We’ll get it done.”

“As soon as the Wayfinders have dug our way out of town, we’ll swing back to help your people finish the local paths.”

Mary pursed her lips. “You think you’re going to be able to make it the mile and a half out of town and then back again before I’m finished?”

I gave Mary a giant grin, imitating Lucas’ signature smile. “Well, we’ve had a lot of practice.”

Mary chuckled and walked away. “Fair enough.”

I watched the Wayfinders finish their job of clearing the door and then, once it was finished, went back into our area to put on my insulated gear. One day of digging, four days of gathering supplies, one day of sorting, and then we’d finally be on our way again. As much as I enjoyed the security and warmth of our shelter, my feet had started to itch as soon as we started opening the door. Safety is always nice, of course, but I was ready to be moving again.

Saturday Morning Musing

As I’ve often said on my blog, I prefer to keep busy as my main method of dealing with my depression and various mental health issues. The thing is, I like to stay a certain kind of busy. I like a fair amount of social activity, but I prefer most of my busy is working on things or playing video games. Too much social activity and I wind up feeling stressed and exhausted because I don’t have the time to do the things I want to do. It can stress me out, which starts the vicious cycle of losing sleep and getting further stressed.

This past week has been a week where I’ve had a hard time balancing my social time and personal time. After a stressful Monday and Tuesday that not only threw my routines out of whack but knotted up my emotions, I’ve been struggling to balance out since then. On Monday, I heard from someone who I had removed from my life for my personal well-being. She wanted to apologize and I was willing to listen. It was just difficult because the way it played out and how I felt about it fell into line with some other, thornier issues I’ve been dealing with and all of that emotion hit me every time I talked to her. The other thing was that my roommate had some health issues and it took almost 12 hours for my other roommate and I to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t too bad–he’ll be fine–but it was super stressful and anxiety-inducing to be able to do nothing but worry and wait for him to respond to one of our messages.

Throw in my new Monday night D&D group wanting to meet again, the extension my usual weekday date night to cover two nights, my foam-fighting practice on Thursdays, today being my 6-month anniversary with my girlfriend, and it has felt like I’ve got no time to write or rest or be quiet by myself. I’m writing this blog post after the extra D&D session Friday night as I try to avoid falling asleep on my keyboard because I used up my entire buffer during my week of vacation and haven’t been able to build it back up again. All I’ve got in the way of a buffer is tomorrow’s post so I can get enough rest between the anniversary date and tomorrow’s Pokemon Go community day.

The worst part, at least what often feels like the worst part, is that I chose to do all of these things. I could have canceled on D&D. My girlfriend would have understood if I had asked for Wednesday night to myself. I didn’t need to fight at Foam Fighting practice, I totally could have just sat and talked with the non-combatants. I wouldn’t cancel today’s date for anything but a major emergency, but I definitely don’t need to do the Pokemon Go event tomorrow.  I could have been writing and resting instead of doing stuff, but I keep choosing stuff despite telling myself that I was going to make my writing my first priority this year.

I don’t regret my decisions. I had a very nice time with my girlfriend, visiting my roommate in the hospital, playing D&D, and getting my butt kicked by fellow nerds, but I’m tired. Despite more than my usual amount of sleep, I am tired. I want to just spend a week or at least a weekend quietly by myself, doing quiet things. I already want another vacation and my last one isn’t even two weeks old yet.

I know this feeling will pass. By the time I wake up tomorrow, I will feel better. Not entirely better, but somewhat better. That’ll be enough to enjoy six months with my girlfriend and to make the most of the Pokemon Go event. I’ll be just as tired again come Sunday night, as I scramble to get my blog posts written for next week. All I need is a little time to rest and I’ll feel better. I just wish social situations and generally being me weren’t so damn exhausting.