NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 29 (11/29)

I wanted to give up yesterday. I sat down at my computer around six, hoping to get a jump-start on the night’s writing so I could finish earlier than previous nights, and I didn’t even get started until nine. My moods are rather mercurial and yesterday had been particularly draining, so I wasn’t really surprised by my sudden lack of drive and ambition. Disheartened and frustrated, sure, but not surprised. I’ve been working with myself too long to be surprised by this. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I haven’t been getting enough sleep for a long time, so I’m not surprised I hit a wall. The fact that I was humming along on Tuesday, managing six thousand words over the course of the day, doesn’t mean much since I can keep working at full capacity right up to my moment of complete exhaustion. It’s probably why I tend to work by burnout cycles rather than in any kind of moderation.

If I took it easier, I’d maybe be in a better place, energy-wise. I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect and I’m usually pretty good at figuring this kind of thing out. Too bad I’m apparently only good at it after I’ve wiped myself out. The flip side is that I wouldn’t be able to avoid a night of low energy and exhaustion if I hadn’t pushed myself. I’d have needed to get even more words done that I did last night, and it wouldn’t have been a choice. I’d have forced myself to do them. Instead, I was tired and inclined to give up, but I was able to choose to keep working and then pack it in a bit earlier than usual. I didn’t get an amazing amount done, but I got enough done and that’s what was important to me. I did something.

Out of every year I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, this year’s attempt has been the one I’ve wanted to quit the most. Since November fourth, the day I found out about my Grandfather’s failing health after being kept up all night by my neighbor, I have entertained daily thoughts of giving up and taking some time to rest and meditate. There have even been a few days where I half-decided to give up but wound up being able to make myself do it when it came time to write the “I gave up” post. I mean, I’m a few thousand words away from finishing the month and so close to my goal of having written one hundred thousand words this past month, but I still want to give up. It’s not even me feeling defeatist or incapable. It’s my bone-deep weariness. Just like my worst days of depression, it isn’t the feelings of failure or of ineptitude that get to me, it is the feeling that I am so tired I could just lay my head down to sleep and never get up again. The feeling that whatever it was that once pushed me forward has wound done. Gone out. Been destroyed. Decayed into nothingness. Any or all of the above. The rationalization hiding behind the worst intrusive thoughts coming from my OCD. They both come from the same place and they’re a mixture of depression and actual exhaustion.

Which is why I know exactly how to handle them. Which is why I managed to get some writing done last night despite wanting nothing more than to lie on my bed and be still until I fell asleep or ceased to exist. I know that this is just a feeling of legitimate tiredness being amplified by my depression that has latched on to a combination of my anxieties about whatever wore me out that day and my anxieties about how I’m going to manage my exhaustion. They get all bound up together and create a feedback loop that will eventually wear me down unless I manage to escape it somehow. I can meditate my way out most of the time, but that’s really close to the whole “lying down on my bed and not moving” thing that I’m trying to avoid so I prefer a more active solution. Like writing about it (which is why I wrote this bit about how I felt yesterday before doing my day’s writing and then came back to fill in the before and after parts to tie it to the rest of a daily blog post). It works. I wish I’d gotten more sleep, of course, but I needed to stay awake long enough to reframe “going to sleep” as something I chose to do rather than something my depression-based exhaustion made me do.

A lot of managing yourself, and by extension your mental health, is finding little tricks to convince yourself to do whatever it is you think you should be doing. That’s what most of my tips are this month, ways to trick yourself into focusing on work or into doing more work than you originally planned. That’s what the previous paragraph is, a way to trick myself into dealing with my mental health so I can write more before the day ends. Or write anything beyond a couple hundred words. Anything that gets the job done and doesn’t cause additional harm. I’ve got hundreds of little coping mechanisms I’ve developed over the years that can be adapted to fit almost any scenario and I bring a lot of them to bear during months like this one, where I’m constantly exhausted and stressed from working hard, all while trying to cope with the bad news I keep getting. Sure, taking a night off to sleep would be nice, but the guilt would be horrible. I’d feel like I’d abandoned my writing goals if I just took a nice off. So I found a way to get some writing down and get some extra sleep. A little bit of compromise can go a long way.

Anyway, I hope this made sense and I hope you got something useful out of it, even if it’s just an example of someone who is doing really well with their goals wanting to quit. We all have those moments and it’s usually better to deal with them out in the open than to try to hide them away or pretend they never happened. Denial gets you nothing, so learn to cope, learn to process, and know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re feeling. I hope your last two days of writing go well! Good luck! I believe in you!

 

Daily Prompt

As you look over your story and all the work you’ve done this month, you probably start to get an idea of what this story is really about. Sure, you planned it to be about one thing, but that really pans out. Too many changes get made during actual production for any plan to stay intact unless you’re entirely rewriting something that you’ve already finished or you’ve strangled your story in an attempt to get it to fit the narrative you initially chose. Now that you know, though, find the right place for this idea and work in a scene that solidifies it in the earlier part of the narrative. Maybe do a couple if it’s a complex one. Just make a few small adjustments so the story’s message says what you want it to say.

 

Sharing Inspiration

Last year, the writer who inspired me the most was John Green with his novel, “Turtles All The Way Down.” This year’s story is an updated and slightly adapted version of last year’s, so it bears mentioning that I was inspired by his candid way of writing about mental health. When the book was coming out and for a while after it came out, he also spoke more frequently and openly about his mental health and struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It means a lot to me that someone who struggles with OCD more than I do was able to openly discuss and still manage to make great art despite the struggles it often presents. While I can handle my OCD better than most, I’ve always kind of shied away from talking about it because I don’t really like admitting how constant and severe it is. Reading John Green write about his experiences, through the story of a teenage woman, inspired me to try to write about my own experiences since that’s a story I’ve never seen before. Hopefully I can get it finished and shared with the world. I feel like it’d be really helpful for people like me to read a story like that. I know my life would have been a lot easier from sixteen to twenty-five if I’d read something like this.

 

Helpful Tips

As we get to the end of the month, I just want to say that it isn’t a big deal if you failed this month. Failure is something you’re going to encounter frequently if you take risks and attempting to create something without taking any risks will get you nothing. No new lessons, no new skills, and quite possible no end result that you’re satisfied with or proud of. Last year, my entire department read a book about creativity and failure in an R&D department as my boss tried to foster a more adventurous and engaged attitude in his employees. The book suggests that failing early and failing often is the best way to approach any task. If you spend all of your time planning, you’re still going to come up with one or more failures later in the process but you’ll have less time to correct those failures than if you’d just dived right in and started failing immediately.

Writing is hard work. National Novel Writing Month is also a lot of hard work. I’ve failed it twice, once because I decided to give up at the beginning of the month and once because I told myself I didn’t need to register–that I didn’t need to be accountable to anyone but myself. The former was a good decision on my part, a choice to focus my time and energy on finding a new job to leave one that was slowly killing me (and already almost had). The latter is a decision I regret because it was made out of a desire to avoid the appearance of failure. The first one wasn’t really a failure because I learned and made a change that helped me succeed in the future. I dove right in and took risks by starting a new job. The second was one of my worst failures as a writer because I let the fear of an ultimately meaningless goal prevent me from doing my best. Better to try and fail rather than not try and fail anyway. You always get something out of it when you try, even if still fail. I’ve learned this lesson many times through life, but my first “attempt” at National Novel Writing Month is the one that has stuck with me the most.

I want you to know that, even if you know you won’t finish in time, don’t give up. Keep trying. Make your failure the best failure you can because the things you learned this month will all still be there whether you succeed or fail. Every attempt is a learning experience and the ones that teach us the most are almost always the failures. So try hard, dive in, and fail quickly. You’ll be surprised just how much you learn when you learn to not fear failure.

I’ll Always Love the Legend of Zelda

One of my first memories of playing video games was sitting on the carpet with my friends while we took turns playing Super Mario Cart. I remember the ease with which I made turns, hopped over puddles, and the ways we laughed whenever we ran into the moles that appeared in a couple of the levels. It was a fun, social activity. It set the foundation for the way I still view video games today, as an activity best done with friends. As I grew, and my friends all moved away or disappeared as such things do, I found myself less and less able to find people to play with other than my siblings. That was always fun, but my older brother wasn’t very interested in playing because he always won and my younger sisters weren’t as interested when I initially needed people.

Around that time, the N64 came out. I wanted one so badly, so I could play the new Mario game I got to try when we visited some of my dad’s friends, but no amount of begging or pleading would sway my parents. It was just not in the cards for us. Long after I’d given up, though I of course still asked frequently as a matter of course, we got the limited edition, see-through green edition that came with the expansion pack and Donkey Kong 64. I was so excited that I woke up at five in the morning or earlier every day during winter break to play it. Donkey Kong 64 was one of my first experiences with a game that was meant to be played by a single player and it was way more fun than I expected. Then, I don’t remember when it happened or who gave it to us, but I got my hands on a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and my world changed.

I honestly hadn’t expected much going into it. My first Legend of Zelda game was A Link to the Past, because we borrowed it from a friend for a while. My older brother enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was five or six while I was trying to play it and I just couldn’t figure out where to go next at one point, so I didn’t get very far into it before we had to give it back. When we got Ocarina of Time, I was excited by a new single-player game of course, but I was a little skeptical that it’d be nearly as fun as Donkey Kong had been. I let my brother take the first turn and I immediately fell in love as I watched him play. There was just something about seeing a child who looked like he was my age fight against evil and go on these adventures before ultimately growing up to continue them. Most of the thematic elements of the game went right over my head, but I had so much fun wandering around the world, searching for heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas before ultimately trying to look up guides online, that I didn’t care about anything else.\

A year later, not that long after my brother and I had gotten tired of finishing Ocarina of Time, we got a Nintendo Power magazine telling us all about the new Legend of Zelda game that was going to come out, Majora’s Mask. I demanded the game immediately, which didn’t get me very far, of course. I had to save and beg and wheedle and convince my parents to get it for the family since no one person could have a game console (there were four of us kids at that point and we used any power we had to get one-up on each other). I don’t remember the day we finally got it, but I remember how excited I was and then how frustrated I was when I couldn’t get through the first part of the game. At that point, due to how much we played video games and how many of us wanted to play, there was a strict thirty-minute restriction on how long your turn with the N64 could be. If you’ve played Majora’s Mask, you know that thirty minutes is barely enough time to get through the first part of the game even when you know what you’re doing and that there’s no way to save the game until you’ve finished. Needless to say, it took a lot of tries to figure everything out so I could actually finish the first part. My brother cheated by getting up in the middle of the night when no one would call him on playing for longer than thirty minutes but, joke’s on him, I beat the game before him using that method.

This game was different from Ocarina of Time, though. I’m not sure if it was because of how much I’d grown in the year between starting Ocarina of Time and playing Majora’s Mask or if it was because the themes of the game more closely matched the issues I was struggling with at the time, but I finally starting to realize what was going on behind the missions and adventures. I saw all these crazy characters who were struggling to deal with the things that happened in their life and they went from being hilarious or weird caricatures to being sad but truthful depictions of the way we struggled to cope in a world were we ultimately have no say in how things turn out. The big moment for me was watching the Zora hero, Mikau, tell his story and then die. I didn’t really understand what was going on and what the game meant back then, but it has stuck with me for over a decade as something that opened my eyes to the fact that lots of people feel powerless and want someone to help them.

I mean, even the hero can’t accomplish everything he wants. He has the power to help other people, to fix some of their problems or at least act in their stead when it is too late for them, but even he can’t find the person he’s been searching for throughout the entire game. It’s a lot like the stories we tell ourselves as we try our best to live our lives. It can be really easy to step in for someone else, to help them fix a problem that feels insurmountable to them but that we have the tools to address, but we often find ourselves unable to help ourselves in the same we. We struggle and fight our way through whatever comes up, but can’t always guarantee that the struggle is going to be anything but an obstacle to overcome. Winning doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get the prize we seek. Or any prize at all, for that matter.

As a ten-year-old kid, I couldn’t have put this into words, but I understood it. I felt it deep inside my heart and recognized it in this game that was a rush job slapped together using old assets by a team of people who had a vision and a plan and not much else. It reach into my soul and let me know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way or had experienced these feelings. It was a revelation and the reason Majora’s Mask is always going to be my favorite Legend of Zelda game. Even with Breath of the Wild’s amazing open world and the hundreds of hours of joy it has brought me, Majora’s Mask will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart because it taught me about depression and how to handle it before I even knew that’s what I had. It set the stage for a lot of the most important mental developments in my life and is more a part of who I am as a person than anything but “stories” as a whole. I’m glad I got to experience it when I did and I’m glad I can go back to visit it and find it the same after all these years so I can measure how I’ve grown and changed.

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.

 

Everything Changes

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.

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.”

Real Talk, Without Talking: Real Writing, I Guess

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.

 

Self-Harm

Sometimes, when you’re having a rough week and trying to deal with something really upsetting, you write really emotional poetry that exaggerates the reality of the situation because you just feel so wretched. That’s what this poem is. A mixture of metaphor, over-exaggeration, and the desperately awful way I feel sometimes. It is also rather old. I wrote this a while ago. It is not about anything going on in my life today, though I do feel a certain attraction to the dramatic pain this poem displays.


 

Daydreams of what I wish could be
Shatter in the thunderous sea
Of impinging reality
While all my hopes so quickly flee
My every desperate plea
To stay a bit longer with me.
Now all that there is left to see,
In all of its banality,
Is the somber painful decree
That what I want can never be.

~ ~ ~

Every lesion in my head–
So sharp and sweet in welling red–
Suppurates as hope is bled
In the face of rising dread
Now my dearest dream is dead.
Is every single blood-stained shred
Of the wishes I have shed
Crushed beneath my drudging tread
As I pursue the truth instead
Of allowing myself to be misled?

~ ~ ~

Self-flagellation at its best
As I put all I am to the test
And face the truth that I detest.
I laugh and say that I’m just stressed,
To worry not and get your rest,
As I clutch the truth to my chest
Hoping that you never guessed–
Those few words we never addressed,
Memories you’ve all but repressed–
Are a big part of why I’m depressed.

Filling

When the days are long
And everything turns to ash
At your touch;

When your favorite things
Are just another way to forget
The march of time;

When you pour in words
Or images like an alcoholic
Pours drinks;

When you escape with
Fleeting success the drudgery
Of your life;

When you are simply
Trying to fill the hole inside
With anything, like dropping coins
Into a well–
              Coins carrying dreams
              And whispered prayers
              As if the weight of each
              Did more than weigh
              Down your soul–
Hoping that the next one
Is all that you really needed
To fill it up;

Do you ever fill the whole inside?

Hope for a Brighter Tomorrow is All the Light I Need

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.

Between Now and “Normal”

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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