Tag Archives: anxiety

Better

11 Sep

**TW: Please note that the post below is written as part of World Suicide Prevention Day and discusses anxiety, depression, suicide.**

If you are experiencing distress, please consider calling one of the following helplines:

  • US: +1 1-800-273-8255
  • UK: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90

Hey readers. It’s been a while.

Since my last post, I’ve roadtripped from California to New York. I’ve climbed cinder cones, and made the sort of friends who are really family, who are cousins, who are with. I’ve walked the entire length of Central Park. I’ve had coffee and an amazing chat with the author who is the reason I got into writing in the first place. I’ve seen the reading room of the Library of Congress. I’ve stood barefoot in the wet grass of the yard behind the house I grew up in and watched fireflies and bats swing through the muggy July air. I’ve sat in the living room of the same house and had a take-out Chinese food with my mother and grandmother.

I packed up the space that had become home in Los Angeles, put it into boxes, put it into donation slots, put it into thrift shop stock and put the few dollars I was given back into my wallet to take with me, spending-cash funds to carry an ocean away.

I said goodbye. I hugged. I cried. I kissed.

I moved.

And now I am in Scotland, typing away at this blog post from a room overlooking a garden that Mary Lennox would have loved, with hills built of ancient myths and wild green rising in the distance. I’ve all but finished my first term of veterinary school. A week of revision, a week of exams to go.

Readers, this is it. This is what I’ve fought for.

This, just shy of three years ago, is what I decided was what I wanted to stick around for. Because once I got here, so much of the malformation of my life that had come from forgetting myself for so damn long would start to remedy. I’d had the years already of figuring that out. I knew who I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted to do with myself. And I knew that here, vet school, this was the tool I needed for it.

So I would get myself here.

And that would not be the end of things. That would not be happily ever after. That would not be the close of all my trials and tribulations. That would not finish my fight.

But it would change it.

End of volume one, start of volume two.

Today is world suicide prevention day, hence why I’ve temporarily crawled out of my study paper-plastered woodwork to write something. Because today, the idea behind it, is important.

Because today, there will be so many stories popping up across the internet of people who have fought and stayed and found some kind of lasting better, telling you that see, isn’t this worth it? Didn’t it get better? Isn’t it great, this victory?

But depression is a bastard creature, and I know that that is not always how it works.

Readers, I have fought. I figured out what I wanted, and I decided that I was going to stick around and goddamn get it. I’ve had marvelous adventures along the way. I’ve also had days that were utter shit. Days where my brain told me I am worthless, and I for all intents and purposes believed it. Days where I did nothing but cry. Days where I just did nothing, because that’s all of me there was for the time. In with the days of open road and laughing with friends and making grand, glorious plans were also days where I drowned in a sea of misfiring neurons, sad or numb or anxious and trembling like a leaf in a hurricane. Some days, the storm roared in my ears. Some days, I roared back. Some days, I was quiet.

But every day, I stayed. Every day, no matter how it felt, I kept moving forward. Because when depression sat me down and asked harder than it had in a while okay, kid, what’s it going to be, I mulled over my choices and decided that even if every moment of getting here hurt, I was going to keep fighting to get where I am now. I decided that I was not going to back down. I was not going to give up.

The goal was not necessarily to be happy. The goal was to be me, even in the face of a mental illness that would try its damned hardest to tear every bit of that concept apart.

I knew that if I could get into veterinary school, that would give me enough of an anchor, enough of a leverage point to make it the rest of the way. There is strategy to battle, after all.

I also knew that even though being here, in veterinary school, in Scotland, was effectively “winning,” the war isn’t actually over yet.

That’s not how depression works. At least, not for everyone. Not for me.

There are still sad hours and days. There are still moments of the world crashing like an earthquake in my ears. There are still times when an entire lifetime comes whispering like a dark cave in the back of my mind. But I’ve done my training. I know how to take the hits. I know how to compensate, how to work around, how to hold up the wounded bits while they seal up. I know how to last till the next time my brain agrees to a ceasefire.

But in the end, this is a war that I did not sign up to fight. This was forced conscription. And I know there are others, too. Others who will not last the time between ceasefires, on their own battlefields. Because they did not know how. Or because they did, but not want to.

They are the most difficult to talk about.

Because I will not say that they lost. Because I have been there for fights that lasted, and lasted, and lasted, that were fought with tooth and nail and every last inch of soul that could be mustered, but which, despite it all, did not improve. I have been there for the fights that have gone on, but have not gotten better.

Recovery, as it turns out, is not a meritocracy.

I made the decision that even if all I ever got was living with depression, at least I was still living. And that was going to be enough.

For some people, that is not enough.

 

And today, on world suicide prevention day, those are the people I am writing for. Because I can offer you nothing better than my anger that the world cannot yet guarantee that a decision to live is synonymous with life actually feeling worth it. Because it is not fair, that fighting the thing that hurts us does not always result in us hurting any less. Because I want to be able to tell you that staying means it will get better, but all I can tell you with certainty is that when it comes to sticking around and all this shit getting better, the word is could.

It is such a small word.

It can be powerful, though.

Dumb luck. Blind possibility. Stupid forces, but sometimes, so many times, they are what better is made out of.

Stochasticity is a shit deity. But it can also be a surprisingly useful one.

I want to be able to give you a definite answer. I want to be able to tell you, for sure, that yes, this will all change. That yes, if you stay, it will be worth it. That yes, you will stop hurting this way. That yes, it will get better.

It will get different. You might like the different. You might not.

But at the very least, there’s potential.

Which, even outside of depression, is all we humans really ever get. Even those not fighting this war aren’t guaranteed that they’re going to like the way things turn out at the end, or at any point in the meantime.

Potential. That is what there is. That is what we are. That is what, no matter what, will not change.

Potential means that sometimes the pendulum of probability pushes me so I am slumped against a closed bedroom door, crying angrily over a mind of spilt serotonin. Potential also means that sometimes I am sitting here, at my desk, looking out at the hills of Scotland, a place that a year ago I didn’t know I’d be. There’s a coffee shop down the road with good roasts and decent people. There’s a park behind my flat with dogs that run up and say hello. There are ducks and a flower-fenced pond beneath my window. There’s depression nestled between my neurons, but dreams live in the synapses, too.

Sometimes, I am happy. Sometimes can last a while, these days.

There is pain. There is potential. There’s tomorrow.

It’s enough.


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To the Woman Who Taught Me of Compromise and Courage

8 May

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who decided that being there to wake me up and make me breakfast and pick me up from school and take me to extra math lessons and tuck me in at night were more important than maintaining an untarnished sanity. I knew about the yelling at night, but I didn’t understand the compromises until later.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who taught me how eyes speak and the turn of a head threatens and the grasp of a man’s hand about his silverware tells you the degree of appeasement you will be serving that night for dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman whose sharp and endless questions fueled by the anxiety to just keep me safe taught me to be prepared, to think ahead, to see not just the road before me but the seven hundred ways it could be different. I may have inherited the endless chatter and vice-grip-on-the-heart of your invisible traveling companions, but at least I know how to answer their whispers.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who’s shown me that heroes do not always come with laurels. They are found instead in years of loaded dishwashers; bags under the eyes and wrinkles frowning about the mouth from a tongue kept too long; the silent ferocity of a mind that knows better but is trapped behind a white picket fence of housewife civility; a backstory unknown till long after one’s own has been collected. I got a clean page; still, I mourn your palimpsest.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman ineffably practical who saw my books with titles with words like “wizards” and feared my proclivity for the fantastic and the magical, till you insisted one day on reading “this Harry Potter” and after hitting the last page asked if perhaps you could borrow the next one, after it came out, and I’d finished reading it. Just so long as I didn’t tell you any spoilers before.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who raised me in care and caution but has not begrudged me my edges and little bits of reckless. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who laid in my skin the practice of being hidden and invisible and yet blesses the ways I have chosen to make that skin stand out. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who for all her practice in dustbowl acceptability didn’t even bat an eye when I told her I like girls as well as guys, and who answered with confused silence when I asked if she’d have been so supportive if I’d told her back when I was young, because she did not understand how, loving me for me, there could have been any other option.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman whose jawline I’ve started to see when I glance in the mirror, especially back when I’d cut my hair short, and stripped it blond. I am not yet accustomed to the idea of looking anything like you, but I will not begrudge my face its ancestry. The jawline is strong, and a graceful one, even if we do sometimes clench it too hard.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

My Anxiety Is Not A Lie

12 Mar

Let’s talk about anxiety. (Oh, and for those of you back home who’ve been keeping track since that last post, yes I have actually started editing my thesis. I swear. I know this looks bad. I mean, another blog post… no way she’s working on that thing she needs to graduate! But… c’mon, guys, a girl needs a break! I’ve deleted and changed and fixed and added in three whole fucking pages of new content from three new primary sources so look, it’s getting done, okay?!)

Right. Um. Anxiety. So, there are all those websites out there that talk about what “anxiety” is, right? All those ads with comic character-style people in it spewing out some symptoms for you and telling you which drug they’re promoting you absolutely need to buy? Maybe even a couple of helpful informational pamphlet things you shoved in the bottom of your purse the last time you visited the doctor’s office?

Yeah, so all those things, they’re probably telling you about how anxiety (and its devil spawn, panic attacks) can make it feel like your heart is beating really fast, you may be hyperventilating, basically it feels like you’re being run over by the pounding feet of a herd of elephants while your heart and stomach and brain are getting convulsed and squeezed and honked like clown horns?

Yeah, no. My anxiety isn’t like that.

Obviously, I’m not saying that *nobody’s* anxiety is like that. I know people who have given that exact description before (okay, maybe not that exact description) for what they experience. Fast, frenetic, some other f words – that’s the dealio for them.
But not for me. My anxiety, it’s… slower? When I am “anxious,” I am not fidgety. I am frozen. Instead of feeling like a hot mess, I feel like a cold… nothing. My anxiety doesn’t make me want to dash out of the room – it hardens my insides like ice, paralyzing me right where I am. I can’t think. I can’t focus. It’s like my brain’s eyes rolled back in their sockets or something. Like I’ve suddenly hardened into a block of cold, black metal.
And fuck, is it uncomfortable. Rather than feeling like my lungs have suddenly become a pair of poor over-filled balloons being torturously squeezed by some manic two-year-old, my body, all of it, suddenly feels like it’s been… compacted. Like someone took all my muscle fibers and coiled them. I am tense. I am not bursting. I am strung. I get this kind of general ache everywhere, like the kind you get when you’re heading into a particularly bad cold. Or like somebody decided to wash my insides with lactic acid. Or like my entire body is suddenly a uterus and it’s that time when Mother-In-Law Nature decides to come for a particularly nasty week-long visit.
There is a nervousness, and sometimes I do shake and spasm (but hey, at least I get my core exercises in for the day, right?), but it’s not, like, heaving or hyperventilating or any of that. And the world doesn’t spin, it… fades. Like a movie shot does when you suddenly pull out from a freeze frame so that the llama protagonist can make snarky comments and draw red marks all over everything. (The search terms I had to use to find that image… dear NSA surveillance workers who are currently incapacitated on the floor from laughter, you’re welcome.)
Anyhoo. This anxiety thing. It’s different for me. But I’m still pretty sure what I experience is anxiety. I mean I’m nervous, right? I feel overwhelmed, I’m incapacitated to a degree, I hug my knees and stare through a fog of muted blind terror – that’s still anxiety, right?
If I go through the traditional symptom list, pretty sure the answer is no. The phrasing that list uses, it doesn’t *quite* fit with my set of descriptions. And it can feel really damn invalidating. There are multiple brands of depression that get talked about in all the different mediums, why can’t my type of anxiety get its share of internet space? Sure, thankfully the first psychiatrist I came into contact with way-back-when knew her shit, and “anxiety” was definitely a word she brought into our conversations. But my current psychiatrist? Mental health site “anxiety reduction” self-help articles? Cultural chatter at large? Nope.
But… I know what I know. I know what I feel. I feel what I feel. And I know it’s anxiety. I know that my anxiety is not “just in my head” (my core muscles can attest to that, thank you very much). I know that saying I have anxiety is not just some cop out to try to stick some label-excuse on some personal shortcoming. I know that my anxiety is a very real obstacle in my life that I have to deal with. (Btw, by “deal with,” I pretty much mean “sit on my boyfriend’s couch or on the floor of my dorm room being miserable through it until it eventually goes away because I managed to distract myself with the internet well enough. Sorry, I don’t have a magic – or even better – solution to anxiety to give you. I wish I did, really.)
So, whatever the chattering “experts” may say (or really, not say), whatever the eternal skeptic in my head that constantly looks to pick a fight may hurl at me, whatever doubt may well up from inside me and pump up the disconnection from reality I sometimes experience by telling me that that experience itself isn’t even real, in my more sane moments (and somehow even in most of my un-sane ones), I still know that my understanding of what’s going on inside of me is true. I know it isn’t made up. I know that even though it might be different, my anxiety is not a lie.

Justified

6 Mar

I have always felt the need to justify my existence. I’m not really sure when it started; I have no particular experience to point to, no exact moment in time when I can remember its instillment. There is neither any gradual buildup that I can trace; this need has just always been there, within me, existing.

Perhaps it’s from the early Catholic training I received, the anti-hedonistic education I received since birth. Perhaps it is the messages, subtle and otherwise, that pleasure should never  be a reason, only an unhoped for side effect of righteousness, to be found only after death in a heavenly afterlife. Perhaps it’s that I was raised in an environment of business and consequences; my father, a self-employed salesman, and my mother, a harried keeper who ran around cleaning up after him. There were costs to life, and if you did not put in the effort to stay ahead of them, debt was an inevitability. Therefore one must justify every expenditure, and behind that, every whim. Can you pay the price of what you want? Can you afford the cost of what you are asking for? Are you providing enough return for this air, this water, this space that you are soaking up and taking in? Because if not, then there will be someone to come collect your dues from you. And you may not like what they take.

Perhaps it is that – I can remember creating powerpoint presentation as a fourth grader whenever I wanted to ask my parents for something: a book, a dog, a birthday party. Here, mother and father, are the reasons I want this thing. Here are the reasons that I am sure this is truly something of value to me, something worth your funding, not just some passing fancy that you will not see the returns of. Let me explain the form of my liquidated joy. Let me explain why this matters. Let me explain how giving me this thing will pay off for you, too. Let me show you how this happiness of mine is a worthwhile venture for your capital. Let me use these graphs and these bullet points and these arguments and persuasions to prove to you that I – that is, this thing that I want – is not just a risk. Let me show you why it is worth it.

Let me show you why I am worth it.

Or perhaps, perhaps it’s really that the universe somehow screwed up royally when I was born, and I was brought into this world with a piece of antimatter snuck into my core. And it’s been sitting there ever since, slowly annihilating me from the inside, destroying my internal and leaving me empty and so I have always felt this need for external, objective justification of myself because it is the fodder I have fed this antimatter core, the material I have been using to build myself up and keep the destruction at bay. I have needed to constantly build myself up because there is something else within me constantly tearing myself down. I have needed to prove myself to create a positive existence within myself that is being constantly drawn toward the negative.

Alright, alright, it’s probably not that I’ve got a bit of antimatter in me. But you have to admit, that would be more exciting.

And so I don’t know. I don’t know why I feel this constant imperative to show to myself – because it is to myself, really – over and over and over again that it is all right for me to exist. That is okay for me to be happy. The idea of doing something, well and truly and solely for my own pleasure – that is still an idea I am learning to be comfortable with. I mean, I’m still learning to be comfortable at all. In my body, in my mind, in my relationships. There is always some latent dissatisfaction, some missing piece, some screw up enfolded in the obscurity of a past that I somehow didn’t quite catch, that holds me back from every being truly happy. I mean, most days, my goal is just to not go crazy. Recently, a day without breaking down crying on my dorm room floor has been what’s counted as success.

Maybe I’ve just distorted that line about “everyone is here for a reason,” the whole “your life has a purpose” spiel. There’s a reason for me?! My life has a purpose?! What if I’m screwing up and not following through on what that reason for me is?! What if I’m doing it wrong?! What if I fail, don’t ever fulfill what my purpose was supposed to be?! What if I just fall short?! Every breath for me is a beat of “am I doing it? am I doing it? did I do it now? is this okay? oh god oh god oh god oh god…”

Heh. And people wonder why I have anxiety…

No, I am not looking for you to tell me that I am justified. I am not looking for you to tell me the right answer, to insist that I am alright, that it’s all okay, that I am good. You see, that’s part of the tricky business of the internal ruckus of mine. I require outside feedback to let me know that I am okay (because I couldn’t ever just trust myself, could I? that’s not objective observation…), but if I feel that it was given because I asked for it – well then, that just voids it right there. It’s like leading a witness in court. You said that because I directed you to. You may really mean it, but my brain doesn’t care about that. Nope, the only praise I can accept is the kind that has been spontaneously and freely given, that I have earned but not fished for.

(By the way, Miss Kim, I’m going to tell you again that I love you forever for the random messages you send me at like two in the afternoon while you’re at work that just pop up on my facebook chat telling me I’m pretty. You are a glorious, wonderful human being and I cannot exist without you. Also, I’m probably going to buy a mattress soon, like, for realsies and probably just have it delivered straight to the apartment, because fuck transporting queen-sized mattresses in a compact.)

I hope you all have a best friend like Miss Kim. Like Miss Kim, mind you. Because Miss Kim is mine. All mine.

*Ahem.* But really, I do. And I hope even more that perhaps this best friend is in fact some part of you. That perhaps you do not need an external positivity feed like I do. That perhaps you already have your own sense of justification, built into the infrastructure of yourself.

That would be nice.

But if you don’t – well, I understand. I’m here with you, too. And here’s to hoping that one day, we will be able to tear out that pesky piece of antimatter (using proper protective gloves, of course, gotta be careful when handling antimatter…) and finally fill that whole with some brick of justification that will finally stay and stick.

And until then, here’s to searching.