Aiming for Balance

One of my goals for this year is to find balance in my life. While it might seem like this statement is so vague as to be entirely useless, I kind of planned it that way. I get so caught up in my goals and working on projects that I find it difficult to split my attention or to stay focused on big goals instead of little ones. So, instead of giving myself narrow, specific goals to work on or work towards, I’m keeping them general and focusing on the big picture. Instead of trying to lose weight this year or trying to prioritize my mental wellness, I want to be healthy. Instead of updating my blog every day, working on a book, or running three D&D campaigns, I want to create. Instead of trying to stay three weeks ahead in blog posts or reading a book a week, I want to find balance between work and relaxation.

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NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 12 (11/12)

Well, I had a marginally effective day yesterday, despite deciding at 10:45 pm that I was just going to do maybe two hundred words of writing so I could keep my daily update streak going on the National Novel Month writing website. I wound up doing ten times that in about an hour and then decided to also write the blog update for today before going to bed as well, instead of waiting until the morning to do it like I’d planned when I’d decided yesterday was going to be a low-key day. Honestly, I really needed it. Yesterday was the only day I had that wasn’t stressful in one way or another since I got news that my grandfather’s cancer was back in a way that meant all the treatment options were more about making him comfortable rather than curing him. Also, I did enough processing around the video game playing to finally get my feet under me and get myself to a place where I can be open about what’s going on. All thing’s said and done, yesterday was a really productive, good day for me.

I was supposed to go back to my alma mater for the yearly important event for my social group (a fraternity that only exists at one college, basically). I decided I didn’t have it in me to spend six hours driving, three of which would have started around the same time I started writing today’s blog post. The worst part, aside from missing the event that was the reason I joined the group and continues to be my favorite part of the group, is that I suggested a group education activity for the active members of the group (the ones still in college who pay dues) that was supposed to happen today. It was supposed to be a talk about mental health focused on suicide prevention and how to support people who are struggling with their mental health. As someone with a lot of experience with both of those things and tons of personal experience with the latter, I was planning to be there as sort of “witness/personal experience” voice to help bridge the gap between the actives and the alumni who were sharing their professional experience working in the mental health industry. I’m sure they managed it quite well on their own, I have the utmost faith in the people who volunteered, but I was looking forward to a more literal approach to what I try to do here on this blog.

I’m not famous in the group or anything, but people who are active still feel the effects of some of the stuff I did while I was active (namely, I created a new position in the group and gave it such a rich fake lore that everyone just assumes it has been around for forever). It would have had a humanizing effect on a lot of the stuff the professionals talked about. I probably could have also shared some coping strategies because I’m great at those. Mostly, I would have answered questions and talked about what to do when nothing is working and you don’t know what to do next. I have a lot of experience with those moments, both in my personal life and as a member of the group that people went to when they were struggling.

Instead of doing all that, I took my own advice and spent a bunch of time and energy on my mental health. I did laundry, tidied up my room a bit, made myself a delicious meal, and played several hours of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. I also spent some time with my pet bird who is finally, after almost three years, starting to want to interact with me. I pushed my face up against her cage, my latest approach to trying to get her comfortable with physical closeness since she’s finally grasped the idea that nothing can get through the cage to her unless I open the door, and she came right over to me. She’s never done that before. It seemed like she actually wanted to be right next to me. She even went so far as to nibble my nose a bit and pull at my beard hair. It was adorable and the most time she’s spent in close physical proximity to me in the entire time I’ve had her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she spent more time voluntarily that close to me yesterday than she’d spent in all the months between when I got her and yesterday. It was a sweet, touching moment that reassured me that I still have a reason to keep trying to coax her out of the terror PetSmart instilled in her of every person who walks by her cage.

Yesterday was a good, relaxing day. I need more of those. It was nice to be able to get to a point where I wasn’t writing because I felt I needed to keep an obligation to myself. I actually chose it over the game I had running the background for an hour and a half. My poor computer, forced to split its attention between the game and greedy Chrome. I could hear its poor fans working to keep up with the processor demands of holding the game in stasis while I wrote in a web browser notorious for using extra processing power with a program that dynamically saves in such a way that it makes the browser’s load even heavier on the computer. I’m just glad everything ran smoothly.

I hope today is a good day for you! I hope you find the love of writing that lead you to this challenge and that you’re able to continue working with a renewed love for the craft as we work our way through the middle third of this month. We’ve got eighteen days left still, plenty of time to catch up if you’ve fallen behind. Just take your time, keep working every day, and you’ll get there. Good luck!

 

Daily Prompt

Everyone has pet peeves. My roommate’s pet peeve is people who make noise when they eat. One of my coworker’s pet peeves is when people ask for his help on something and then they let him do it all himself instead of assisting. My pet peeve is people piling dirty dishes on the side of the sink where we put the clean dishes. Does your protagonist have any pet peeves? If so, how tolerant are they when it comes to other people when they play into the protagonist’s pet peeve? Do they blow up or do they brush it off? Or do they just complain about it to a third-party and never address it with the person annoying them? Write a scene showing us how they’re respond to a pet peeve.

 

Sharing Inspiration

One of my favorite video games of all time is Majora’s Mask. I’ve written an entire blog post about it, which isn’t saying much, and I’ve considered using it as the basis for a master’s degree creative writing focused on storytelling in visual mediums like TV shows and video games. The complexity of the story is inspiring, especially considering they had one year to make and release the game and used mostly visual assets from the prior N64 Legend of Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. Time travel, the chance to reflect on and fix past mistakes, the opportunity for growth, and the final lesson that you ultimately need to move forward if you want anything to really change. It’s also one of the best stories about mental illness I’ve ever seen, let alone seen in a video game, so there’s that, too.

 

Helpful Tips

Everyone talks about finding the right music, or the drink snack, or the right drink, but few people talk about the right keyboard. The steady pound of keys is just as much a part of the soundscape of your writing environment as the music you pick to play. Something like a squeaky spacebar can entirely ruin what is otherwise a pleasant experience. The “chakt” of a mechanical gaming keyboard can really start to grind after a while. I don’t know how some people do it. Even my roommate uses a different computer to do most of his writing for his classes. He uses a laptop instead of his comfortable chair, custom keyboard, and top-notch headphones. Membrane keyboards may not be as cool or as fun as mechanical keyboards, but they make for a much better typing experience in my opinion. Everything from the sound to the feel of repeatedly pounding keys is superior. Plus, I’m less worried about breaking it. That’s my own paranoia, but it’s part of why I take special care to only buy keyboards I can use in a store first or that I’ve previously owned. I’m on my second iteration of my current keyboard. The squeaky spacebar drove me nuts for six months before I broke down and bought a new one.

The Edge of Sleep

Half-dreamt thoughts on the edge of sleep. Little things seen out of the corner of your eyes. A double-take revealing nothing extraordinary. A memory of a moment in the future, forgotten until it happens.

“Anxiety” they said, “manifesting as insomnia and psychosis.” Sleep studies, sleeping pills, and sleep aids.

“You brain is just firing neurons. There’s nothing to worry about.” Pills, therapy, and even meditation, all to fix an imbalance that never budged.

“It’s a form of schizophrenia. We can figure it out.” More pills, more therapy, but also a treatment center this time.

Whispered conversations on the edge of hearing. Reports handed to parents with only the occasional word revealed to me. The knowledge they talked about me like I wasn’t there anymore and there was nothing I could do to convince them otherwise.

But it was all real. There were cracks in the world, slowly letting the magic and majesty of the old world back in. Atlantis had sunk, but not in water.

Now, after millenia, it was coming back, guided by creatures that looked like the worst nightmares of the woman in the cell next to mine whose wordless screams of pain and fear no words could have described better.

There was one other girl who knew. She showed up after I did but her family never visited. They kept us apart. “It just feeds your psychosis” they would say.

By the time they believed us, it was too late. The wards were sealed and they waited for the Atlanteans to get around to them before taking out the only people who could have stopped them.

It was easy. We were locked in cells and restrained in jackets. A flash of light and it was over.

I have that memory-dream every night, but no one believes me.

How to Cope with Exhaustion

Feeling like you’ve scraped the bottom of the energy barrel to the point where the barrel no longer has a bottom? So tired you just kinda want to cry and find somewhere dark to curl up in the fetal position so you can finally let your exhaustion overwhelm you? Feeling like you’re stretched beyond the point of recovery and to the point where all of the stress has invaded your dreams so now you have to deal with it while your awake and asleep? While none of these things is a good position to be in, we often find ourselves in them when the shit hits the fan and we focus ourselves on simply doing everything one step at a time until we’re finished. Or until we collapse from exhaustion. I’ve done both, and neither one works out well in the end because we’re ultimately taxing our mind and body to the point of damage.

There are ways to help prevent some of the damage, or to mitigate the negative aspects of trying to buckle down and work through long days, busy weekends, or months of ceaseless stress. None of them are guaranteed to work and they’ll all need to be tweaked to fit your specific needs, but the core concepts should definitely work for you. I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with various forms of exhaustion thanks to insomnia in high school, business and insomnia in college, and stress and business after college, so I feel like I’m pretty qualified when it comes to figuring out how to cope with mild to extreme exhaustion until you’re capable of resting.

The first thing I’m going to say, despite it making me feel like a total hypocrite, is that these sorts of situations are best avoided. Even short periods of exhaustion or sleep deprivation can interfere with your short-term memory, inhibit the formation of long-term memory, wreak havoc on your immune system and muscles, and will for-sure exacerbate any health issues you have, be they physical or mental. It is good to know your limits and to be able to push past them when you need to, but there’s a pretty big difference between “I need to just push through this” and “I think pushing through this is going to yield the best results I’m going to ignore options that would leave me feeling more rested.” I guarantee that you will always have better results if you can rest first. You can’t always rest, but you should when you can. If you rest up or take good care of yourself, you will see your best results in the long-run.

If resting up isn’t an option, you should really figure out which type of energy you’re going to be running short on. If you’re physically active during this period of low sleep or high stress, you will be short on physical energy. If you’re stretching your skills and abilities in new ways or being forced into new situations without much time to prepare, you’ll run out of mental energy. If you have to take care of people or deal with people who don’t want to be dealt with, you’ll rapidly run out of emotional energy. If you’re doing something that involves all three, then I feel so sorry for you and I wish you the best because most of my strategies for coping with a low energy of one or two types requires relying on the other(s) to help carry the weight or be turned into the type that’s running out.

If you need more mental or emotional energy, some quiet meditation or music is usually very helpful. Something that will help you feel a certain way or that will help you process the feeling you’re dealing with at that moment. Maybe you need something to make you feel powerful or something to help slow you down to alleviate some of the mental strain you’re experiencing. If it’s physical energy, I suggest taking it easy by sleeping, playing games with friends, or watching something while you let your body rest. Even a couple hours of any of these activities, while you continue to work on other things, can help get you back to a point where you can make it through the day. I’d recommend against anything that might be destructive, like excessive eating, alcohol, or drugs. I haven’t got much experience with the later, but I’ve seen enough people make that mistake to have learned the lesson.

Additionally, a change in your diet can help keep you going. Avoid too much sugar since that is going to just set you up for a terrible crash later, unless you’re eating natural sugars from stuff like fruit or vegetables. I recommend eating plenty of both to keep you going since it helps to have something to do with your mouth while you’re trying to focus. At the same time, having an idea of what kinds of foods provide the most energy for you will help a lot. I know my body processes protein very efficiently, so I can delay encroaching exhaustion by eating a lean, protein-rich diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit. It’s not really going to make you feel energized, but it’ll keep you fueled and prevent your body from taking too much energy away for digestion. Throughout it all, avoid sugary sources of caffeine. Stick to things like coffee or tea and don’t add too much sugar to them or else you will get an immediate boost followed by a crash when the caffeine kicks in so you’ll feel exhausted and be unable to rest it off. Also, drink more water than usual. A good goal for water consumption is to drink half your weight in ounces of water. If you want something a little easier, I suggest going for at least three quarts or liters. It’ll help keep your mind clear and hydration is key at all times.

The last thing, and the most effective, is getting organized and writing things down somewhere. The exact methods for doing so depend a lot more on how you think and how you tend to organize information, but it’ll help if you do it, regardless of how you do it. For instance, the only reason I’m still sane and productive these days is because I’ve taken to writing to-do lists and journaling things as the day goes on. Not only is it helping my emotional energy, but it’s take a constant source of mental energy drain (trying to remember everything) and offloading the work onto a notebook. I can write down not just how I’m feeling, but also what my thoughts were on whatever meeting I just had, save ideas for later, and get a little mental clarity when I set everything else aside for five minutes so I can write things out. For people who don’t have issues with remembering things that only exist electronically, there are a ton of applications and programs out there, most of which you can get on your phone. Heck, even Google Now does a lot of that stuff.

Like I said earlier, it is best to avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, but hopefully these tips will make it easier to cope when you don’t really have any other choice. Good luck!

Saturday Morning Musing

Last week, I completely rearranged my room. Originally, I was just going to clean it from top to bottom (multiple times since a ton of dust had built up thanks to my pet bird whose full-time job is dust generation), moving things around so I could clean underneath them, but I got hooked on the idea of changing how my room was laid out so I would up permanently shifting almost everything. Rearranged my books, threw out a bunch of junk, set up a new shelving system so I’ve got space for additional books, and even figure out a way to flag all the books I haven’t read yet so I don’t forget about them.

What originally started as a project about taking care of myself and the spaces I inhabited turned into a sort of meditative rejuvenation projection. All the physical labor involved in moving every single thing in my room and the mental labor of figuring out how to improve on an incredibly packed room using what I had previously thought was the optimal layout left me with no energy to berate myself or get caught up in thought spirals. As a result, I was able to really clear my head for the first time in a few weeks and actually think about how I’m feeling after what had been an emotionally exhausting May and June. It felt good, once I got past the incredibly gross feeling of being coated in dust and sweat for nine hours.

Beyond just the fresh feeling of having a “new” space to inhabit, I feel like I finally got all of my emotional processing from my break up to finally click into place. There’s still some healing, growing, and changing that still needs to happen, but it’s all stuff that just needs time now. I don’t regret it, anymore. I also don’t really want to make any more “pronouncements” about my emotional state right now because I recognize that my feelings are going to shift from day-to-day as stuff happens and I continue to go through the post-breakup process. I’m sure I’ll have another day before too long where I’m upset about everything all over again because something will remind me of a part of my relationship that I loved and my OCD will seize on it so I can’t get it out of my head. If I try to deny that, I’ll only wind up in a negative thought spiral about my relationship and another one about how I shouldn’t be upset anymore. That wouldn’t be good for me.

After I’d finished the new layout for my room, finished processing all my emotions, and actually did most of the work of laying out my room, I settled into a couple of hours of putting things back to rights so I could occupy my room again. While I did, I thought about the difference between being emotional or mentally healthy and being able to cope with one’s emotions and thoughts. I am not terribly mentally healthy, thanks to how often I struggle with depression, anxiety, and OCD, but I’m actually pretty good at coping with my own emotions and thoughts. I process things quickly, can figure out what’s going on inside my head, and have healthy outlets for emotions that are not productive or useful in living a life that makes me feel good.

Sometimes, it can feel tempting to say I’m emotionally or mentally well-adjusted even if I’m not emotionally or mentally healthy. The problem is both phrases mean mostly the same things, so it can be difficult to find the right way to talk about this. When I meet people who would probably get a clean bill of health from a psychologist or psychiatrist but have almost no ability to cope with, process, or handle their own emotions, I wonder which of us is better off. I usually think it’s me, because at least I’m not a gigantic shitshow of a human being intent on making my issues into problems the rest of the world has to deal with.

These days, it feels like these kinds of people are coming out of the woodwork and showing up all over the news. Fans harassing actors, artists, writers, and other content creators online. Political extremists who know nothing but assume everyone who disagrees with them is some kind of monster. Horrible people who decide that shooting a bunch of people is an appropriate response to rejection or anger. It can be difficult to remember these people, for the most part, always existed and they only seem to be more prevalent than emotionally well-adjusted people because the current twenty-four/seven news cycle is almost entirely a platform for stirring up fear.

There is still a lot of important reporting that happens, but it tends to get lost in the constant stream of idiotic crap that spews out of “news” sources. I don’t remember who said it and I can’t find it since I don’t remember the exact quote, but someone said that governments and public figures used to mislead people by controlling what information they can access. Nowadays, governments and public figures mislead people by flooding them with information until they can’t tell what’s true and what is false. That’s a lot of what is going on, these days. The internet is flooded with crap until people can’t tell what is true and what is false. It’s incredibly frustrating.

I deal with this sort of frustration by writing about it, by talking about it with people, by trying to learn more about the problem and ways to counteract it. One of my favorite ways is summaries of recent news articles followed by citations from trusted news sources pertaining to said stories. A few people (including a friend of mine whose page you can find here) have taken it upon themselves to do just that and finding someone to help weed out the truth from the crap is great, especially when they cite their sources so you know whether or not you can trust the story.

This all went rather far afield from where I started and where I originally planned to go, but I wound up taking a break to read some stuff in the middle of writing this and got a little distracted. I hope you have a great day and find a positive way to deal with your frustrations!

One Last Meditation Post, For Now

It can be hard to avoid regrets, sometimes. Life is filled with a variety of experiences and every decision to engage in one means there is one you are missing out on. Everything results in missed opportunities, one way or another, so it can be easy to think of what those opportunities might have been and wish that you’d made a different choice. These regrets, even if you meant only to indulge for a few moments before moving on, can cling to you like burrs for the rest of your life if you aren’t careful to remove them. They rarely disappear on their own and they’re really good at popping up again somewhere else once they’re stuck on you.

A simple wish that you’d made other decisions when it comes to your college education–which would resulted in significantly fewer student loans–can become a whole series of regrets when it shows up as a wish that you hadn’t needed to take a certain job after college that was possibly the most psychologically damaging thing you’ve ever subjected yourself to. A simple wish that you’d decided to try to make a long-distance relationship work instead of ending things when you moved can turn into years of pining and daydreams of what might have been. Regrets are easy to pick up, they are everywhere, and require a lot of work to avoid or get rid of. I still find myself wondering what my life might have been like if I’d stayed in college and that’s a short step away from regretting my decision to move to Wisconsin for college, but I’m still one of the better people I know when it comes to dealing with potential regrets.

In order to entirely avoid regrets, you would basically need to avoid any opportunities, never make decisions, and somehow find peace with yourself after a life of doing nothing and interacting with no one. You would need to cut yourself off from humanity and possibly even your feelings. Avoiding regrets is a terrible idea and is probably the most regrettable thing you could do.

Learning to process regrets and accept your past is far more healthy. Some people get so good at it that they seem almost like they don’t regret anything. As someone who was once one of those people, I don’t think that’s true. I think people just don’t really realize that they’ve learned a skill many people never do. It can be difficult for people to process regrets or to learn to let go of something they’ve been holding onto for their entire life, and someone who was once good at it can forget the lessons they learned or find something they’re not willing to let go so quickly.

I don’t like feeling regretful. I feel like spending time on regrets is a waste of my current potential and being able to take positive, constructive steps in my life right now is a better response to potential lost opportunities than thinking about how they might have turned out. Despite that, it can be difficult to not look back at a few things in my life and wish that they had gone differently. My student loans are a burden. I don’t have a great relationship with most of my family. I’ve given up on relationships when there were still other options. I set my dreams aside to try to earn money quickly in order to be able to focus on my dreams.

Hindsight is 20/20 and regrets are easy. It is more difficult to remember that I had a good reason for every decision I made and that each choice seemed like it was the most beneficial at the time. I had no context for how much money my loans would wind up being. I tried harder than I should have to maintain and repair most of those relationships. Things weren’t as great as I remember them being and there were enough problems that it made sense to make a clean break rather than drag out what was probably going to be an unhappy end. I couldn’t afford to focus on my dreams and, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, it happened one small concession at a time.

I made the best decisions I could at the time and I don’t regret doing what I thought was right. I’m sad things turned out the way they did, but the chances are good that making other choices would have resulted in something worse happening. Even if it is difficult to see sometimes, I got a lot out of the decisions I made.

I needed to get out of my home state in order to grow and learn about myself. I’m stronger now because of the independence I fostered and the friends I made in college. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter and did the best I could at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what is important to me in life by addressing the current state of those relationships with my therapist. I needed to get away from a city that held nothing but sad memories for me at the time and then stay away. A clean break meant I wasn’t constantly traveling back to a place where I had started to feel stuck and stifled. I know now that my dreams are my calling and I’m more determined than ever to see them through. I had the opportunity to earn material wealth and conventional status by settling into a life of compromise and passivity, but I learned I’d rather be broke and stressed out of mind as long as I get to be creating something.

I’ve learned to process regrets and to remove them. I’m no longer as quick at it as I once was, but I can still do it. What I’m learning right now is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a regret that I didn’t want to let go. Those are a different beast entirely and something I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle nearly as well as past regrets. I don’t really know how to let go of or process something that I still want more than I’m willing to admit to myself most of the time.

I don’t regret that it happened. I don’t regret anything in regards to how it went. What I regret is that it ended. I regret that we weren’t able to work it out. I regret that we weren’t right for each other and no amount of wishing on our part would fix it. Even working at it wasn’t enough, in the end. It was the right decision and I know it. I even feel it. I just regret that it was a decision we had to make and I probably will for a while. I need more time to process this before I’m ready to let go of this regret, but I’m certain I will eventually.

It just sucks right now. Everything sucks right now because regrets will expand to fill every hole in your time and attention. Soon, I will start to peel it away from me. Extricate it from my life. Pack it up and process it. In a week, a month, or maybe more, I will be back to feeling no regret, but I’m not going to hurry it up. Instead, I’m going to cut myself some slack, mourn the end of an important relationship, try to reclaim the parts of my life that had become about the two of us, and then prepare myself for the reformed relationship that’ll form out of this one when we’re both ready.

Someday. Eventually. Like I said, I’m not going to put myself on a timeline. I’m going to let myself regret and heal at my own pace. I owe myself that much.

Self-Care is an Important Part of Life

Self-care is a bit of a difficult topic these days because a lot of the online world has begun using it to mean “indulge yourself” when it is really supposed to mean something like “take proper care of yourself and your life, even if it’s hard. ESPECIALLY if it’s hard.” It’s been interesting watching a counter movement crop up in response to the “self-indulgent self-care” movement. People seem to get quite angry or insistent that self-care means scheduling doctor appointments, doing your taxes, and cleaning your place, often while asserting that things like bubble baths, naps, and quiet activities for yourself aren’t really self-care.

Like most things, the truth lies in the middle. Self-care definitely includes getting your taxes done in time, but it can also include bubble baths, so long as the bubble baths aren’t getting in the way of living a healthy life. If you find bubble baths relaxing, then self-care is totally doing your taxes and then winding down from stressing about money by soaking in some scented bathwater and bubbles. Maybe with a good book or a glass of wine. You do you. The important part is that you’re seeing to your needs, not just doing whatever you want all the time.

Sometimes, your needs are quiet time filled with books and video games. Sometimes it is cooking healthy meals, working out, and staying active every day. Sometimes, it can even be some ice cream after a difficult day, so long as it isn’t always ice cream and you’re not eating it by the pint. A pint of ice cream as a reward for doing your taxes is a dangerous step toward self-indulgence. A small bowl of it totally is. Self-care is complicated and varies from person to person, so it can be difficult to work out a definitive list of what “counts” and what doesn’t.

For me, self-care is a lot of the important stuff that I don’t like to do, such as scheduling appointments, updating my budget, limiting my expenses so I stay within my budget, and cleaning my room. I’m already really good at the self-indulgent side of things, which I really ought to scale back a certain amount. At the same time, sometimes I just need a quiet evening of popcorn and favorite cartoons, or a good book, because I feel every kind of drained. Tonight’s going to be one of those nights.

The occasional night like this, and every version of self-care like them, is important to me because I spent a lot of time wrapped up inside my own head and sometimes need a chance to be pulled out of it. If I spend all my time wrapped up inside my head, my thoughts get muddle, my emotions go haywire, and I usually wind up making myself feel miserable because I get so wrapped around whatever problem I’m trying to work through that every other part of my life fades away. I need something engaging and fun to pull me out, but that still makes me think about things, so I can stretch my mind out again. Pull it away from the problem I’ve been worrying at for however long. Give myself a chance to recover and the thoughts/problems time to breathe. Usually, after a few nights of this kind of peaceful relaxation, I have the clarity I need to finish working through whatever’s on my mind.

Proper self-care is important. If you aren’t taking care of both your mental and physical health, you’re going to wind up causing worse problems for yourself further down the line. Taking care of one at the expense of the other can work for a short time, if you’re in desperate need, but it isn’t something I’d recommend doing if you can avoid it and definitely something you shouldn’t make into a habit.  It can be incredibly tempting to lose yourself in some athletic activity in order to avoid what’s on your mind or to indulge in a giant bag of chips or some sweets because it pushes the happy buttons in your brain. Once is not good, but it isn’t bad. Repeatedly losing yourself in athletics until you’re too tired to think or eating a bunch of junk food because it feels good becomes a serious issue.

Well-rounded self-care is key. Some therapy for the mental stuff, rest for your body and mind, healthy meals and exercise for the physical stuff, and a decent amount of the things you enjoy to keep your spirits up. Moderation in all things, of course, but that’s more of a suggestion than a rule or a guideline. You’re really the only person who can say when something goes from self-care into self-indulgence or self-harm, so make sure to keep an eye on what you’re doing and how it makes you feel.

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.