Posterboard versus hand signals

I just got Jenny Lawson’s new book in the mail A DAY EARLY – the postal service must really know what they’re doing when the tracking number tells me my beloved package will be here on Saturday, and since I am a creature whose mental health depends on expectations being met or exceeded, they, well, exceeded them because today is indeed Friday (at the time this was written), a survey of my peers confirmed – and I’ve already dived into it, even though I have a library book that’s due soon and it can’t be renewed and I don’t like to read two books at one time so now I’ve gone and fucked everything up but who cares because nothing matters anymore.

Her book inspires me to write in gauche run-on sentences that include lots of italics and all caps because her writing just speaks to me. She also inspires me to write about my own struggles with mental illness, among other things.

I hesitate to write about depression versus anxiety for a number of reasons. First is that anxiety is my main course and I usually only order a side of depression, and not all that often. Also, depression just seems scarier. More dangerous. When I write about it, I always feel the need to add that I’m not suicidal (because I’m not). Depression is so much more than that, anyway. And it’s different for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to decide to go to social events because things I try to say come out wrong because my depression manifests as extreme irritability. While I want human connection and know that it will be good for me, my worry is that my depression will say something horribly rude and piss off my friends and I’d like to keep my friends. But, if I stay away from my friends for their sake and express myself only with one liners and emojis via text, I fear they’ll think I’m trying to ghost them and I swear I’m not.

My depression also manifests as a profound lack of energy. If you’re seeing me outside my house wearing pants lately, be sure I’ve used up my energy just getting to that state. Another reason I worry about group events is that I’d rather not burst into tears if someone asks me how I’m doing. See, I’m a horrible liar and I don’t want to lie but I don’t necessarily want to discuss every last detail about how I’m feeling with a group of people – partially because I don’t always know what or why I’m feeling. BUT- I do appreciate people asking. I do. Even if I suck at answering. And if I did burst into tears, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I also don’t want people to be afraid to ask – again, because I suck at answering – mainly because I don’t want my depression to become this huge, ugly elephant in the room (but not indoors in any room, because covid. the proverbial room). Lastly, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I don’t want the topic of my mental health to hijack the festivities. I don’t want to be that sick person who sucks all the fun out of the [metaphorical non-covid-filled] room, but I don’t want to ignore the obvious, either. I’d love to strike a balance between totally ignoring the huge elephant I’m riding in on versus bursting into tears and becoming the focus of an impromptu group therapy session.

Nobody, firstly me, wants to have to tiptoe around the issue of how I might be feeling on any given day. I’ve often thought about how I might cut straight to the chase. I’ll arrive at the please-wear-pants garden party and loudly shout I’M AT A 4 TODAY. I MIGHT CRY. I’M GLAD I’M HERE BUT I ALSO MIGHT LEAVE EARLY. GOOD AFTERNOON TO YOU ALL. But, to be realistic I should probably put all that on huge white posterboard and go through them one by one like the Walking Dead guy does in Love Actually when he’s totally trying to steal his best friend’s wife. (Who does that?!) Cuz if I’m actually at a 4 (out of 10), then there’s likely no way I’d be able to say all that without crying. Either posterboard or hand signals. Hand signals would be more environmentally friendly.

Hand signals it is.

Controlled Danger-Fun

You know how boundaries are on a spectrum, right. On one side it’s rigid, and way over here on the other side it’s chaotic. I was raised firmly planted on the rigid side of the spectrum, and it shows. Dinner was at 6pm, every day, never failed. The laundry was done on Saturday morning, every Saturday morning. You call your parents on Sundays. Put simply, we had clear, predictable routines, expectations, and consequences for violating those expectations. As a kid, I didn’t think anything of it. I assumed it was normal. For the most part, I liked it. I’m a person who likes to know what’s coming next, and whether that’s because of the way I was raised or happily coinciding with the way I was raised has yet to be seen. Perhaps it’s both.

Put another way, I’m a person who likes to be in control. Control, structure, predictability all feel viscerally comforting to me. I crave them like I crave my morning coffee. Feeling out of control, at the very least makes me feel cranky or irritable, and at worst makes me feel anxious and downright panicky.

I do things everyday to maintain my feelings of control over my little bubble. I make my bed. I choose what I put into and onto my body. I make lists and cross them off. I pick up clutter- constantly. I organize the fridge, the junk drawer, my kids’ toys. I plan. I think of everything that could go wrong with that plan and then plan for that, too. It’s a careful balance to make sure that I’m staying productive and healthy and not going overboard trying to make every little thing exactly how I want it. Some days are better than others.

They have a weird relationship, anxiety and control. They’re both illusions, to an extent. I don’t have control over very much in this world, and so there’s very little that is healthy and productive to feel anxiety about. Go figure. In an effort to squelch anxiety by trying to control everything, it often backfires and creates even more anxiety. Ugh.

So. What may sound counter-intuitive in my quest to try and control (or, as a healthier reframing word choice: calm) my anxiety is my charming habit to do stuff that I know makes me anxious. I still drink coffee because I likes it and I wants to. I still stay up late because I likes it and I wants to. And I still watch scary movies because my anxiety will not control my choices and I will not live in fear…all the time.

I make calculated choices and I have to decide what risks and consequences I’m willing to take. As a risk-averse person in general, I don’t like doing big, dangerous things where I don’t feel enough in control. Skydiving and bungee jumping are out, but rollercoasters are in! The perfect amount of fear/excitement and control/safety.

Scary movies also fall into this just right category. Surprising no one, I like the psychological thrillers that burrow under my skin and keep me up at night. Sure, they make my blood pressure rise but I get to make choices from beginning to end. Which creepy show do we watch? How often? Let’s take a pee break right now. Right now! PAUSE IT! Okay, now I need to turn on the lights. I don’t know why we started with the lights off because that was a shitty idea. At this point I’m going to talk my way through this scene so I can stay in the moment and not get sucked i-WHY IS SHE NOT LEAVING THIS HOUSE?! HASN’T SHE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH? Where is her sense of self-preservation?! RUUUUUUN! Aaaaand oh look this blanket jumped right in front of my eyes before the Bent Neck Lady scrapes down the fucking hall again; all I hear is scraping, hissing, and screaming so I’ll let my imagination take it from here and assume they’re defeating the evil spirits and getting the hell outta dodge because who in their right minds would go back to bed after seeing a floating specter turn a kitten inside out and not tell their parents?! Fucking psychopaths, THAT’S WHO!

This is my idea of controlled danger-fun, dear readers. Who needs to jump out of a plane when all you need to do is watch children be tortured by evil spirits in the comfort of your own home? I tell myself it’s instances like these, and people like me, for which Xanax was invented.


Day 13

Dig Even Deeper

On Monday night, a severe windstorm ripped through Oregon and caused the already-burning wildfires to explode westward and threaten many communities. My area is still technically on alert, just in case we may need to evacuate, although it seems that the threat of fire has diminished. What we’re left with is putrid smelling smoke that has settled into our valley and is seeping into homes. I’ve heard that the hotels in my town are full of evacuees from neighboring rural communities. Besides getting groceries, the mail, and gas for the car, my family hasn’t left the house in 4 days.

My outdoor yoga class was canceled. Meditation class was canceled. Farmer’s market was canceled. The library closed. School was canceled. My husband’s workplace closed for the remainder of the week. The only good part- apparently Oregonians will only pump their own gas during a pandemic firestorm. Mmm, the smell of sweet, sweet anarchy.

This suuuuuucks. Just when I didn’t think that things could get much worse, holy crapnuggets they did. Now I find myself just wishing, bargaining (with whom, I have no idea) that things would go back to how they were last week, when we had pandemic with sun and blue skies. Either that, or for the rain to come early. Imagine that, me wishing for rain.

If nothing else, all this shit just forces me…us…to dig even deeper into ourselves to cope. In whatever way we can. For me, often times it’s shutting out the world. Often it’s getting creative in how we entertain the kids.

I find that I’m giving myself more and more permission to do what feels good. Staying up late. Sleeping in. Eating sugar. Having more caffeine. Numbing out with really craptastic TV. I’m trying to choose coping skills that aren’t completely unhealthy. Finding a balance looks quite different when you’re standing on a sinking ship, with one end submerged in water and the other bobbing up in the air.

My world keeps shrinking, and with that comes a narrowed, more focused view of what’s important. I got an email about my son’s boyscout pack yesterday and IT WAS FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! This year is gonna be so great you guys!! My eyes glazed over and I sent it flying into a folder where I wouldn’t have to look at it. Not important right now.

So. This brings me to the mental list of things that I find myself newly thankful for.

I am thankful that our power didn’t go out.

I am thankful that the outside temperature has dropped, so we can shut off our AC and still be comfortable indoors.

I am thankful that we got outside and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air when it was here. Boy do we miss it now.

I am thankful that we own a beautiful home with plenty of space for my family.

I am thankful that we had N95s, a respirator, and air filters before all the smoke hit.

I am thankful for firefighters who are putting their lives on the line to save human lives, animal lives, wildlife, and property.

I am thankful that we haven’t had to evacuate. We’ve been able to hunker down in the comfort of our own home.

I am thankful.

I’m just happy to be here

I have this bad habit of falling into negative thought patterns. Like, all the time.

I’m cynical. I’m sarcastic. It’s a defense mechanism. A maladaptive coping strategy. And it’s become a habit a loooong time ago, and old habits are hard to break, as they say.

Especially during a global pandemic, when the world is burning and my anxiety jumps out and says Yes! This is what I’ve been telling you about all along! Now it’s here; the end is near! BWAAHAHAAAA!

And while anxiety is my main squeeze, lately its cousin depression asked to come stay for a while, and I’m fresh out of room and energy and this is all too hard somebody make it stop.

(As an aside, I’m doing okay. I have good days and bad, and lately I am having more average-to-good days than bad, by far. It’s just that every once in a while I get slammed with a bad day and have trouble recalibrating. Rest assured, I am coping as well as can be expected.)

The point is that I am trying to break this bad habit, or at least learn to interrupt it so that it doesn’t take over and eat all my remaining sanity.

I like mantras. They are helpful reminders that not everything sucks. And language is so versatile that you can craft any mantra that speaks to you, at any time and for any reason.

Lately, when I find myself going down a negative spiral eleventy million times a day, and I actually remember to, I silently tell myself:

I’m just happy to be here.

This is the phrase I’ve used to describe my daughter’s personality. She was/is such a happy, easy-going baby, toddler, and now kid. While other kids would be whining or going into their dark places, she’d smile and ask me what we doing now, mama? She’s the kid in that story with the room filled with poop – the kid who gleefully starts digging through the shit and yells, THERE MUST BE A HORSE IN HERE SOMEWHERE! That’s her, and she certainly did not get her sunny disposition from me, but man I want what she’s selling.

As an aside, I want people who know me to know that I appreciate uplifting messages and I use them and think them…I just also have a knee-jerk reaction to want to make fun of them, too. Like, I remind myself to be extra kind and patient these days with people, but I’m more likely to wear a t-shirt with Pete the Cat on it saying I hate you all than one that says be kind. (Please know, friend of mine who wears these shirts, I like them, I like that you wear them, and please don’t take it personally when I make fun of them.)

At any rate, here I am striking a balance. I want to invite more positive energy into my life because goodness crap, we all need it now more than ever.

Readers, tell me – what are your favorite mantras?

Freedom, PSL, and Winning

Holy crap, it’s here.

Right here, right now, I’m experiencing my first little break where both my kids are in school.

The first ever. Because I don’t have family in town (or in state), and because I haven’t worked outside the home, and because we can’t afford childcare all the time, this is the first time I’m having a legit break during the week since these kids have been alive.

At the same time I’m both crazy ecstatic and utterly lost.

I’ve realized I need to construct a precarious balance in order to maintain my mental health. At least, sometimes it feels precarious. If i don’t have enough to do, or places to go, or people to see, I quickly slip into feeling depressed. purposeless. empty. And if i have too much to do – if i am going from activity to activity with little downtime – then I find myself feeling anxious. exhausted. used up. unhinged, even. Kinda wild and manic, but in a bad way. In a way that feels unsafe and uncontrolled.

Now that my kids are in school and getting into activities of their own, I am concerned that I will have an even harder time managing my own activities and obligations along with theirs, that this delicate balance between stagnation and white water rapids will be even trickier to maintain. It’ll be interesting to see how much my kids will want to be involved in stuff, especially versus how much or little I’ll want them to be involved in stuff.

Balance, balance, balance.

In order to keep myself from going nuts or feeling empty during these small, sweet pockets of kid-free time, methinks I’m going to have to plan and schedule. Even if it’s just planning to watch TV or hang out at Starbucks.

Today, I am congratulating myself on a spectacular first morning of freedom. Observe the following:

1. I dropped off my daughter without crying (I cried on the inside)

2. I promptly posted my daughter’s totes adorbs First Preschool Ever pic to the interwebs.

3. I signed up for a gym membership for the first time ever. Weeeeeird.

4. I’m having my first PSL of the season and it tastes like sweet, delicious with the crispness of a Fall morning and the excitement of a zombie chase!

5. I got several MOMS Club business items DONE with the taste of synthetic pumpkin in my mouth.

6. I just got an email from my local library saying I won a prize through their adult summer reading program and I AM STOKED. I don’t know what it is but this is me, THOROUGHLY STOKED.

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Pumpkin-flavored Freedom