Today is my birthday and it is tradition that I blog, spend some time taking stock.
It’s just that there isn’t much to say that I haven’t already lamented about.
I will say this, though: when I heard about California ending its indoor mask mandate, my first reaction, to my surprise, was hope. If Cali-freaking-fornia, the progressive legislative beacon of this country was ending its mandate, then perhaps it was a sign of hope. I dared to hope.
What came swiftly after was terror, surprising no one. It got poured into the pot and swirled around until hope and terror made a gooey weird sludge that is my inner world of emotions.
And so, I move forward into what Brene Brown is calling The Great Awkward with those two primary emotions and others peppered in to taste.
I reeeeeeally didn’t want to. It’s raining, and it’s super cold. Which is shitty because if it were just a few degrees colder, it’d be snow, and that would make all the difference.
But no. It’s cold and wet and I forced myself outside because I’m told it’d be good for me and because I’m desperate to feel better.
I wake up most mornings these days feeling like there’s a sack of flour on my chest. I don’t know why. It’s become automatic at this point. Sometimes, a lot of the time, I forget what it’s like to feel relaxed. Truly, simply, relaxed. Calm. Peaceful. Content.
It makes me sad. It makes me frustrated. It makes me feel despair. It makes me feel broken.
It makes me feel like my anxiety and depression is my fault. Because I’m type A, numero uno on the enneagram, I like feeling in control (or at least having the illusion of control). And if I’m in control, that means that things are my fault. That I should be able to feel a certain way or not feel a certain way if I want to. That if I can’t feel a certain way, then I must be doing something wrong. Only I’m doing ALL THE THINGS. And I still feel this way. And I’m fucking exhausted.
So, clearly, logically, it’s not my fault. Go figure. I think that’s been the single most impactful intervention my therapist has said to me in the past 6 months. That my anxiety is not my fault. You know what? No one had ever told me that before. I don’t think it had honestly occurred to me until then. Well, shit.
At the same time, the part of me that knows this isn’t my fault wants some more fucking credit for all the shit I’ve been doing. And when a professional implies that I should be doing more, or that I’m not doing enough, I implode. Do you know how hard I’m working?! I want to scream, Don’t you get how much effort I’ve put into getting healthy?!
My therapist asked me if I’m journaling. Fuck you, was the response in my head. You want me to do one more thing? Like I’m not already doing enough?You don’t know me. (Those of you who are Brene Brown fans and follow her podcasts will especially get that last line.)
My psychiatrist wants me to get some kind of exercise every day, if I can. Is that good advice? Yup. Is it always feasible? Nope. Do I want credit for busting my ass to get to 3 classes a week and taking walks in the freezing rain? You bet I do.
I’m realizing that I want to be taken care of. As a mom and a woman, I take care of everybody else’s shit. All day errday. I don’t get people cleaning up my messes or kissing my boo-boos or telling me what a great job I’m doing. And I’ve been seeking that out from paid professionals in my life. In the past 6 months, I’ve employed a physical therapist, a chiropractor, an individual mental health therapist, a psychiatrist, a couples therapist, two yoga instructors, a pilates instructor, and a partridge in a pear tree. That’s me asking for help. That’s me getting the care I need and I deserve.
And through this process, I’m realizing just how closely linked to shame my anxiety and depression are. I’ve never had them stick around so long before, and it’s freaking me out. It’s exhausting. I am depleted. Something must be wrong with me. And I want a parental figure to say I’m doing a great job. Look at all the hard work you’re doing! I see it and I give you credit. It’s such a primordial need; such a young and vulnerable feeling.
I took a walk today in the freezing rain. I closed my rings today. That good enough for you? Am I good enough?
You want me to find time to journal on top of everything else?
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.
It’s dark in here. And cold. I don’t like the cold but the dark is kinda nice. It wraps me up so your pity cannot see me.
I’m not sure how I got here or how long I’ve been. I have no idea how long I’ll stay or how I could leave if I wanted to.
Do I want to? I don’t even know what’s outside anymore.
I want to drive and meet people.
I don’t want to drive and meet people.
I need to pack.
I’m excited to pack?
Leave me alone so I can pack.
What do I need again?
Put things in the car. Don’t forget.
Get gas. Wait.
Run errands. Hurry.
Maybe coffee will make me feel…how I’m supposed to feel. Why, I have no clue.
Remember. Don’t forget.
People are waiting.
Pull over. It’s too much. I can’t see.
Driving fast. Novel sights, new smells.
Missed turn. Racing heart.
Engine cuts out, so do I.
Resist the urge to run. Keep driving.
Moving fast feels like standing still.
Get out of the car.
I made it.
Say hello to my new Depression Translator.
Me: “Hi. Where’s the bathroom?”
DT: “Hello, friends. I am happy to be here but I’m depressed, exhausted, and fear human interaction. I’m going to go hide in the bathroom for a moment and try not to cry and/or hyperventilate. It may take me a while to calm down and warm up to this social situation. I’m sorry if I seem weird or rude. I know how this must look. I can’t seem to fix it. But I’m here. I made it.”
I feel the need to accompany content like this with disclaimers because I’m aware that I’m writing for an audience. I want to normalize depression and anxiety and I want to suck the stigma out of it. I want to normalize expressing depression and anxiety because that’s healthy. I fear judgement for writing stuff like this, but I feel compelled to do it nonetheless. Take from it what you will, and leave your advice at the door. Thanks.
I like to blog and take stock of my life on my birthdays, but this year I don’t even know where to start.
I usually get a massage on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. (There is a part of me that just wants to say fuck it and go do whatever I wanna do, but the rule follower part of me won’t allow that fantasy to become a reality.) Even though holy crap I could really use one because I can literally feel the weight of junk that’s been collecting and that I’ve been dragging around with me. After said massage, I usually go and sit in a Starbucks where I drink coffee without kids and I blog and read. As I type this, I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a park overlooking a river. I have my Starbucks and I just inhaled a birthday donut. At least it’s quiet and there are zero kids in the vicinity.
Usually, my birthday evokes feelings around my long-ago cancer diagnosis. This year, I have some (because how can I not), but mostly I’m struck by how covid/the pandemic/quarantining has shoved my cancer history to the back burner. Comparatively, it’s made my cancer feel more like a distant memory than ever before. Not sure how I feel about that.
It’s been exactly a year since I’ve had a date night out with my husband. I haven’t seen my parents in 15 months. I haven’t seen my brother for even longer. I can’t count how many face masks I own now. It’s good to acknowledge loss and take time to grieve, and I do that from time to time, but….how do I keep doing that when the trauma isn’t over? And this is me, who’s specifically trained to help heal trauma.
I often wonder how time and perspective will shape how I feel about this experience, this season in my life. How will I remember it? What stories will I tell? How and when will this all end? How will this shape how I live the rest of my life?
I’ve realized that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Or content, at least. In a time when I’ve been stuck at home and can’t have nice things, it’s been the little things that have gotten me through. Kickball with my kids. Watching disaster movies with my husband. Reading really good books late into the night.
At the same time, I feel like it also doesn’t take much to trigger my anxiety. I anticipate having to retrain myself what safety feels like once this is “over” and we decide we can be social again. (Notice I didn’t say “normal,” because life won’t go back to the way it was before. In many ways, we’re forever changed.) About 3 years ago I went back to therapy for severe postpartum anxiety and in many ways I feel like the progress I made then has been shredded by covid. Covid is my anxiety’s best friend. Fuck you both.
I’m getting to the point where I am craving human contact and mentally crumbling under the cumulative weight of this crisis. Two of my peers lost their fathers recently, one to covid and one not, but both can’t grieve the way they want. I still don’t know anybody personally who’s died from covid but it’s getting closer and closer to home. It’s unsettling and I don’t like it.
I’m getting so sick of my family. I love them, but we’re always together. I have no opportunity to miss them. It’s a blessing and a curse because I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sweet baby jesus I’m ready to travel and go to the movies and hug my friends and have more personal space. I have never wanted a shot in the arm so badly in my entire life. I still have hope, of course, but what I need is some relief.
I know that many can identify with me that this year of deprivation has lit a fire under my desire to get my adult life started as soon as this is over. Life is short, and I want to go back to work. I want to see the world. I want my kids to build lives of their own, apart from me. I realize this will all happen in good time, but right here, right now, we can’t do it and I’m getting tired of waiting.
This morning, instead of a massage, I bought wrinkle cream and lounge wear on the internet.
Some days I feel fine. Great, even. Others it feels like the sky is falling. Today is the latter.
I woke up with a cloud over my head and, because I live in a glass cage of emotion, immediately began sifting through the contents of my brain to figure out why. I came up with a few reasons, and my guess is that by embarking on this blog post, I’ll discover one or two more in the process.
Recently some people close to me have gotten their first dose of the vaccine. This triggered a simultaneous range of emotions. First, I am happy for them. I want them to be healthy and protected. I was also filled with jealousy. And I’m owning this as a reflection on me, not on my loved ones. If I were in their shoes, I’d have gotten the shot too. In a heartbeat. This is about my longing to feel safe again. I see others around me getting what I desperately want, and of course it’s going to trigger a reaction. It reminds me of how I felt when friends or acquaintances announced pregnancies when my own fertility status was unknown and precarious. I remember telling my therapist that those yucky feelings were getting in the way of my happiness for my friends. It’s my own junk that I have to work through, made more difficult by the fact that I have no idea how much longer I have to wait.
This is all compounded by my firm, often stubborn, adherence to standards of fairness and justice. Oregon leadership has decided to vaccinate educators ahead of seniors, and it makes my blood boil. They have decided that opening schools is more important than saving the lives of our parents and grandparents. Even so, many school districts are charging full speed ahead and are partially or fully opening even before educators have had the chance to get both shots and have enough time to build the required immunity for full protection, all in the name of getting kids into school buildings for 8 weeks – behind masks and plexiglass and glued to desks and working on computers. All this, while thousands of seniors wait and die waiting for vaccine doses with their names on them.
I have never been more glad that my parents do not live in this state. I’m angry now, but if I had to watch my parents wait through this, I’d be absolutely livid and out of my mind with fear for their safety.
The other fairness piece is that my immediate family and I have been social distancing as health experts have advised. We have sacrificed a lot in an attempt to ensure our family doesn’t get sick and that if we do, we won’t get anyone else sick. It’s hard for me to sit here, feeling like I’ve been a good girl following the rules, and watch other people enjoying extracurricular activities. I understand that my ability to social distance to this degree is a largely a function of privilege. My husband has a white collar job that he can do from home. We can afford for me to stay home and do unpaid childcare, unpaid tutoring, unpaid-keep-the-house-from-falling-apart. We have stable housing and a reliable internet connection, etc. etc. It’s because of this privilege, including that I’m young and white and healthy, that I can afford to wait longer for the vaccine than almost all other populations. As it should be.
At the same time, we’ve also made many, many choices to stay home when we very well could have gone out and socialized and taken risks. In that sense, I can’t help but feel anger and resentment when I see others get vaccinated who haven’t “followed the rules,” whatever that means. My “fairness and justice” button is large and sensitive.
And so I continue to wait and ruminate and worry and doom scroll. (Not to even mention the slow-motion race we’re in to vaccinate people ahead of these more contagious covid mutations and that’s not even mentioning the Brazilian or South African strains that may not respond to current vaccines…welcome to my brain.) I remind myself on a daily basis that I am safe (what a relative word that has become) – and some days require more intense persuasion than others. That I am doing what is right for me and my family. That this hellscape will not last forever. In theory. You know.
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.
I just remembered, a day late, that yesterday was my blogiversary.
That’s right, folks! I’ve been blogging with WordPress for 9 whole years. Whew, that seems like a lifetime ago now.
I started my first diary when I was 8 years old. It was in one of those Lisa Frank diaries with the scented pages and the metal lock on the side. My first entry was about the trip my family took to drive through the devastation of the Oakland Hills fire. I had never seen anything like this before. I remember seeing ash and debris and a bunch of brick fireplaces where houses should be. Like a budding journalist (or at the very least, a person who enjoys properly documenting everything), I drew pictures of what I saw next to my words. Clearly, it made an impact on me, even if I didn’t completely understand what I was seeing at the time.
Over the years, I continued to keep various diaries, albeit sporadically. I also wrote poetry and songs, and I tried my hand at fiction a few times. No joke- around 4th or 5th grade, my friend and I got together and wrote a full album’s worth of songs about pollution and how bad it was for the earth (spoiler alert- it’s really bad). We even recorded a few that we sang at her house with her family’s fancy equipment. I want to say that we even designed a t-shirt to be sold to help raise money for our cause. We were environmentally conscious and we were going places, you guys.
I kept handwritten diaries through my college and grad school years that were for my eyes only. In looking back through them, I noted that I usually only felt the need to write when I was either angry and frustrated or very, very sad. They made for a very lopsided view of my life, if considered all on their own.
I started my first public blog around 2003, as a way of coping after my cancer surgery. It was with LiveJournal – anyone remember that platform?! I’m pretty sure only my college roommates and a smattering of friends and creepy strangers actually read it, but that wasn’t really the point. While I wanted to get my feet wet writing for an audience that wasn’t an English teacher, the entries were mostly for me. After a year and a half of being independent in college, I was home again and briefly unable to do much at all for myself and I needed an outlet. I needed a way to process what had happened to me, how I felt about it, and how I was gonna deal with it. I made that happen from the comfort of my parents’ ginormous communal desktop computer.
At some point, my LiveJournal career peetered out (I’m guessing college and life got back to being normal and busy) and I didn’t do any online journaling for quite some time.
Fast forward to Fall 2011. I had been out of school for a few years, working as a therapist at my first Big Girl Job. My boyfriend (now husband) had just started his master’s degree while working full time. He was either at work, at class, in the car, or studying, which meant he had zero time to hang out with me. I desperately needed a hobby and didn’t have to think too long or too hard to know what I needed to do.
Fun fact: when I first signed up with WordPress, I named my blog Things My Cat Made Me Say. I suppose I decided that my cat didn’t deserve all that unearned attention. Either that, or the theme was a little too nebulous. Ideally, I wanted an overarching theme for this blog that wasn’t just look-at-me-look-at-me, but still reflected who I was and gave me a sense of direction. At the time, I was living and breathing therapy. I worked two jobs seeing clients, consulting with my colleagues, and working with supervisors. I spent my free time researching weird diagnoses and reading disturbing memoirs of fucked up people. I was in it to win it, and so my blog might as well reflect that.
I searched for the right name, crowdsourcing my Facebook friends and keeping a witty list of Freudian-inspired puns. During one supervision meeting at work, a coworker mentioned the term psychobabble in passing, and I quickly scribbled it down in my notes. That’s it! I thought. It was perfect- psychology themed with just the right amount of crazy.
And I’ve been blogging, more or less, ever since. It’s still, as it will always be, mostly for me. Will it ever lead to a more serious writing gig? We’ll see. For right now, I’m super proud of my growing body of work. I enjoy the community this blog assembles around me and I enjoy using my tiny corner of the internet to express myself, process my feelings, and maybe make people laugh along the way.
Thank you, thank you, to everyone who takes the time to read my posts!
I pull the blinds closed, so I can’t see the smoke or the creepy orange sepia glow.
Now I can fool myself into thinking things are normal.
I stand in the shower and zone out while the water pours over me, in an attempt to wash off my grief. The dread. It’s so much that it clogs the drain.
I turn the TV on and eat sugar and numb out. Forget the outside world. Forget the trauma. I get to yell at characters who aren’t real. Consequences that don’t exist. I judge their choices because I know better. People I’ll never see. Places I’ll never be.
Why not stretch it out? It’s easier when the world is dark. One more show.
I go through the routine of getting ready for bed. Like nothing’s wrong. Next I huddle under the covers and read. Old favorites or new worlds. Vampires that sparkle or dystopian kids doomed to die. I judge their choices because I know better.
Eventually, sleep. Far too late into the night, but it’s comforting.
Anything to put off waking up to a world that is sick and burning. Glowing orange and choking on its own smoke.