Last Tile

Fallen tower of blocks
Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

As I’m sure everyone is already aware, September is National Suicide Prevention Month. A month in which people organize walks, share and copy suicide prevention phone numbers, and loudly proclaim their willingness to listen to anyone who might need to talk. It’s one of the months I cringe at having to endure, and I avoid participating in those events at all costs, manufacturing excuses if anyone succeeds in cornering me.

And not for reasons people like to guess.

I don’t promote suicide as an answer to any situation. Speaking as a person who attempted suicide on five separate occasions, I can certify that it doesn’t accomplish anything. (Yes, this would be the first time I publicly acknowledge that fact – lucky you) The desperation and rock bottom level of depression you reach to determine suicide as your only option is something that defies description. It’s something that the people who organize these events have ZERO concept of. And as much as they insist they’ll sit with you through such quagmire, they won’t. Because depression isn’t pretty.

Depression LOOKS pretty on television and in the movies. It’s crying, eating disorders, and closed curtains. It’s skipped social obligations and broken marriages. No one has yet captured the reality, though. Nothing captures the true depths of crushing misery a person undergoes when their mind twists in on itself and pummels every part of themselves. It’s a suffocating tar pit that sucks you down, pulling you tighter with every tiny movement. You’re fighting a person who actually knows everything about you – YOURSELF.

And you LOSE.

Friends claim they’ll sit with you while you abuse your image. They say they’ll support you as you brutalize yourself. But they get tired. They can’t endure the days, weeks, and even months as you struggle against the image in the mirror. It gets OLD for them. They don’t want to put up with it. “Can’t you just be happy already?” It’s tiring, and it saps their energy. So they drift away. They find excuses (sound familiar?) to skip being in your presence. Your depression infects them, and they escape to preserve themselves.

Good news: the guilt from that knowledge buries you deeper.

Suddenly, saving everyone from the monster you are sounds like a good idea. Ending the burden you’ve become feels like an answer. You’ve proven that sickening voice correct: no one wants to be around you. No one wants anything to do with you, and they’ll be better off without you. It feeds into the dark loop playing in your mind. Instead of helping, their failure to understand the twisted logic of depression has created the very problem they said they’d solve.

The world doesn’t like depression. They roll their eyes at anything that isn’t bright and cheerful. You’ll even get called out for pessimism. “Why can’t you just be positive?” I faced cold reality at my previous job when I was informed my subtle cries for help “made people uncomfortable.” I was told I needed to stop.

No concern, no sympathy – I was clearly the problem, upsetting others.

Yet there’s all this shock when someone succeeds. People wonder how they “never noticed” or “never knew anything was wrong.” As if the world hasn’t created a place where asking for help, showing we need help isn’t strictly forbidden. Rose-colored glasses encourage you to see NOTHING. And you thrust them at us as if it will make that soul-sucking pit go away. Newsflash: a rose-colored pit full of spikes and slime is still a pit of spikes and slime.

It’s taken me 25 years to reach the point I’m at now. That’s 25 years of being thrown to psychologists that wanted to know why I hated my parents so much (clearly, attempting to end my life was about them and not me). A full 25 years of weighing whether or not to tell friends, boyfriends I had depression, and watching many turn their backs on me. I endured horrific medications that destroyed my body, and then suffered through cold withdrawal when I realized they weren’t worth it. I learned to drag myself back from the edge on my own, facing and fighting those demons every moment of every day. When I failed, I learned to keep my head above the muck, breathing until I could find a way to climb out of the pit again. I finally found someone I could talk to – someone who WOULD sit with me through pure hell, regardless of how long it took. Someone who gently deflected every incorrect phrase that came out of my mouth (not contradicting them, just turning them aside – something that monster hasn’t figured a way around yet).

25 years, in which I wanted to die 5 times.

Even I know those aren’t the best odds. I’ve hidden my struggles. I’ve put on the positive face people want to see while falling apart inside. Despite the cutting remarks people made, I’ve held my head up high. It’s what we do. So you can stand up and look shocked and say, “I had no idea” down the road.

The walks? The events? The fundraisers? I’m not trying to burst bubbles, but they’re not going to fix the problem. You fix the problem by opening your eyes. By not getting fatigued with us. By MEANING it when you say you’ll be there. By doing your homework and learning what depression means in the first place. By picking up on subtle cues and derailing our thought processes before we end up in the sludge. You help us more by earning our trust (and KEEPING it) than walking a thousand miles. By being friends and stepping in when we need you than telling us to go outside and get sunshine. (I could be in the fucking tropics, and it ain’t going to do shit, people – STOP making that suggestion!)

You help by opening your eyes and your ears. Not by opening your wallet.

More Bees with Honey than Fire

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

~Thomas Edison

In less than two months, I’m getting married. (Yes, in the middle of a plague – exactly as I dreamed) I had grand plans for that day, none of which included a now four-month hiatus from my typical workout routine due to a freak orthopedic injury. (With me, there’s nothing other than freak conditions) Four months (going on FIVE) of little more than physical therapy translated into some weight gain.

PRECISELY what I wanted prior to my WEDDING!

I’ve discussed my on-going battle with body issues. I’d love to say they evaporated with the impending knowledge of countless pictures in a wedding gown, but I’m not a liar. Can you say “daily meltdowns?” I’ve harrassed my physical therapist for weeks to let me go back to kickboxing, knowing it’ll burn the most calories. He’s firmly refused. The most I’ve received permission for is walking and LIGHT exercise.

What’s a girl to do?!

After breaking down in a monumental way (and considering bludgeoning my fiance’ with the scale when he mentioned how much weight he’s lost through quarantine), I reached out to a friend who coaches an exercise program. Turns out barre doesn’t irritate my stupid hip excessively. It doesn’t grant the calorie burn of my beloved HIIT kickboxing, but it ranks above walking around the neighborhood.

I was hesitant about agreeing to the program. (Ticking clock and fucking bathroom scale and all) See, I’ve been down this road before, and it was the worst experience of my life. Not because of the exercise or diet – those are nothing big. No, it boiled down to the way the program decided to motivate you. Because, let’s face it, exercise doesn’t work without motivation. Eating right doesn’t happen without motivation. And while I’m the first to admit everyone reacts to prodding in different ways, I firmly believe there’s a right way to do it and a WRONG way.

The majority of people don’t join such programs because they like the way they look. No, we HATE some aspect of ourselves. Maybe it’s everything. Or it could just be our knees, our legs, our arms. Whatever – something needs work. For people like me, if you gave us the chance to blow the whole thing up and start again, we’d sign on the line. Depression has corrupted the way we view ourselves in the mirror. Society reinforces that twisted sight every day, crushing us under constant negativity.

Fucking heaven forbid you even LOOK at a doughnut!

So why the hell would you FORCE such people to post images of themselves? Why would you claim that it’s a NEED in order to improve and lose weight? How does that accomplish anything? As one of those people, let me clarify loud and clear, it does the complete OPPOSITE! It motivates me to throw on as many layers of clothing as possible and hide in a corner. Because even the THOUGHT of someone else seeing such an image throws my anxiety into overdrive. I can HEAR the laughter and ridicule. And now I need a banana split to soothe my sobbing psyche.

You don’t motivate people that way. That’s something people need to make a choice about on their own. When they feel safe, confident, proud. People may NEVER feel that way, depending on how their brain is wired. Being a Nazi about things and barking orders and demands is not how you motivate everyone. It doesn’t uplift people who are more fragile. Some of us have trauma buried inside, and the nasty edge pushes us further into our walls. It’s never going to bring us out.

And when I dared to speak up, I got slapped in the face for it.

The usual pattern I’d come to expect. Disheartening isn’t a strong enough word. And then, throughout this summer, I had to sit and watch my fiance’ enganging with my kickboxing crew without me. THEY are an example of how to motivate properly. Probably why it hurt so much. Instead of beating people down or barking at them, they encourage the best in a person. They never ask for more than you have to give. They’ve built up a determination and belief in myself I didn’t realize I had (which is why I didn’t completely crash after the Nazi bitch got ahold of me).

My fiance’ started going to classes while I was in physical therapy. He felt it lessened the blow to me, eased my depression. I got supportive messages from the class instructors, telling me they missed me, and asking how things were going. I WANTED to hear those encouraging words in every class. I still want to be there, to get the drive to be better than I was the last class. They’re always beside us, working with us. The message is positive, affirming, and when you can’t do something, there’s a reassurance you’ll get there. The motivation is 100 times better.

But I’m not allowed back yet, not for at least another month.

Imagine my fear and terror at trying another exercise program. My hands were shaking when I talked with my friend. I had to force my teeth not to clench. My stomach was so nauseous, I had to consider reaching for one of my precious stock of Zofran. (Can we say trauma reaction?) I was ready for more of the same. But I needed some kind of framework. Trying to piece things together on my own wasn’t working. I told myself I trusted her.

My trust paid off. The positive motivation mirrors what I get from kickboxing. There’s no demand for anything. There’s gentle encouragement, promises that if I can’t balance today, I will down the road. (I want to laugh since my ankles are atrocious, but it’s nice to hear) It’s the kind of motivation someone with a fragile body image needs to hear. No threats that if I don’t do something, I’ll fail. Just encouragement to keep trying. No demands that I cut this, this, and this from my diet. Suggestions on what to eat, and if I happen to have a cupcake, it’s not the end of the world.

I get to be a human being. And I’m acknowledged as a human being. Better, I’m seen as a human being with bruises and tender spots. I don’t have to be a brick wall bracing for the cannon ball. To me, that makes all of the difference.

Even if Your Voice Shakes

“We need someone who is going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people who need help, for the people who have been discriminated against.”

~John Lewis

No one is ever going to question that I have ZERO qualms speaking my mind. Actually, most people that know me would prefer I had a mute button, off switch, or at least a little modicum of tact to moderate the words that come out of my mouth. I won’t deny that my words (spoken and written) have gotten me into trouble. Has it stopped me or curbed the habit? Not a bit.

Why?

Because I spent A LOT of my life with what I felt buttoned behind my lips. I was afraid to speak up. Even if I felt something was wrong, or saw a cause that needed support, I sat in the corner in silence. I didn’t want to “rock the boat” or draw attention to myself. After all, people who raised their hands became the target of everyone around them. I didn’t want to deal with opposition or ridicule. My psyche wasn’t capable of handling the abuse. And silence was (is) so much easier.

But it doesn’t accomplish anything.

Once I found the ability to accept myself for ME – which meant acknowledging my anxiety and depression – my voice came with it. So did my spine, oddly enough. I’m not saying I enjoy the heckling (no one does), or that the barbs don’t still play directly into my depression’s hands. I have to pry every spine out of my brain at the end of the day and push the resultant shadow back. I have to swallow my panic before I utter a single word, cope with shaking hands (okay, my entire body vibrates like I’m having a seizure), and go through breathing exercises to reassure my body the world isn’t ending. But I still SPEAK UP.

And I’m BETTER for it!

Why? I’m finally standing up for what I believe in. Instead of holding those causes inside (where they do absolutely no good), I’m letting them out into the air and providing one more voice where it’s needed. I place my feet, stand up, and meet opponents directly in the eye. I reaffirm myself as a person by saying “yes” or “no” to something that defines ME.

Starting this blog took a lot of debate in my head. Acknowledging that you have a mental illness is still taboo. People look at you sideways. They laugh, they cross to the other side of the street, or they do much worse. There’s a negative stigma attached to mental health, even in this so-called advanced age we live in. Making the decision to openly discuss and PROMOTE discussion of mental health took weeks, three nervous breakdowns, and multiple silent pep talks. What if people reacted negatively? What if I faced nasty pushbacks? What if no one responded? I went around in circles. But I kept coming back to a single thought:

I felt it was important.

This meant something to me. I wanted to put my voice out there. I wanted to reassure someone – anyone – out there that I, at least, understood what it was like to cope with such things. That’s what standing up for a cause DOES. It tells other people you get it. You understand. No one says you need to champion a major cause if you don’t feel up to it. But I bet there’s something you feel strongly about. Something that you catch behind your teeth for fear of ridicule. Something you want to say but hesitate to out of fear. Believing in something is part of who you are. And denying those words denies a part of you.

I had someone close to me remark that they were glad I had made a post that wasn’t about mental health last month. It stung. BECAUSE of how important a topic it is to me. And also because of the hell I endured through my younger life coping with anxiety and depression. When I was afraid to speak. When it was taboo. When you shut such things behind locks and bars and pretended it didn’t exist. The comment told me that they still believed I shouldn’t speak about the state of my mind. That I should confine my thoughts to whispers, at best.

Which is why I SPEAK UP.

Never feel ashamed of the things you believe in. Never hide parts of who you are. Keeping the truth behind closed lips denies everything of who you are. The world deserves to hear you, to see you. Get out of the chair and speak up. Scream your words. Make the world acknowledge you. Your voice WILL shake. Your hands will tremble. You’ll tear up. But you’ll feel like yourself.

And THAT is what’s most important.

Brain 180

Collection of blue arts and crafts supplies
Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst

Overcoming the need to constantly achieve perfection is difficult. Remembering to take a time out and allow the brain and body to reset is crucial to our general well-being (and sanity – though that’s overrated). I’m the first to admit that I continue to struggle with both on a daily basis. However, I’ve found an outlet that’s set me on the right path:

Creativity.

Now, I could cheat and say that my speculative fiction fills that creative outlet, but that’s an outright lie. Writing is writing, no matter how your dress it up. Sure, I have complete creative freedom with my own writing (though, to be honest, I have pretty loose reins with most of my freelance work). It’s still work, though. I demand nothing short of perfection from myself. Watching me edit makes a deranged serial killer look like an angel. I’m ruthless. I hack and slash with the best horror movie monster. Even the writing process is terrifying; no character is safe. (Not even main characters – no one gets my sympathy!)

No, when I say you need a creative outlet to escape to, I mean something outside of your wheelhouse. Something you maybe aren’t good at but enjoy. (Don’t torture yourself – that’s bad for your anxiety and depression) Something that engages the other half of your brain, taking pressure off your overworked synapses. An art form that sparks your imagination and gets you excited in a different way than your usual goals.

A break that isn’t a break.

Sneaky, right? You’re still actively participating in SOMETHING, but you’re not driving yourself crazy with work. You step away from assignments and a need for perfection (that’s a cardinal rule, by the way), and you just PLAY. It’s not a complete reset, which appeals to those of us who struggle with the need to STOP, but it gives your brain breathing room.

The kicker is finding something creative you WON’T stress over. You have to relinquish the reins of perfection and be willing to create a mess. Remember, this isn’t something you’re pursuing as a goal. This isn’t a lifelong dream. This is just a creative outlet. Something that catches your interest. A 180 from your usual interests and work pursuits. Something you’re willing to complete suck at. (No one else has to see the results except you)

I have a couple of creative retreats. I have a scrapbook I’m slowly moving my old pictures into. Is it Pinterest worthy? Not by a long shot. Am I proud of it? Of course I am! I love all of the papers, stickers, and various scissors. Looking through the old pictures relaxes my brain, flares old memories, and drops my shoulders back where they belong.

I sketch and draw. Are any of the pictures going to sell on Etsy? Not even for a penny. But I like them. The movement of the pencils across the page does something to my body. I feel my blood pressure come down, synapses quiet, and my lips curve into a smile. The sound blends with the music I listen, soothing the thoughts in my head until there’s nothing troubling me.

I’m trying to learn to crochet. I have the chain down, but I haven’t figured out any further. The feeling of the yarn under my fingers is soothing, even if the hook and I aren’t sympatico. (Not to mention that fending off cats from the yarn gets annoying after a while) And, while it sounds crazy, knowing that I’m struggling with something my sister is a sheer genius at (she even creates her own patterns!) calms my brain. I SUCK at something! It’s humbling.

Simple, uncomplicated, and WORTH it!

When everything starts overwhelming me, I go to my creative outlets and resettle. When I feel like I can’t take time out (guilt’s a terrible thing, by the way), doing SOMETHING eases the feeling. It’s a break, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an active break. My brain still gets the chance to reset some of the circuit breakers, and I get to wake up some of the breakers that were asleep. It’s a win-win, of sorts. And I’m creating SOMETHING! I’m using my hands to create something of my own that has meaning to me.

Find a creative outlet that works for you. You won’t regret it. And your brain will thank you.

STOP!

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.”

~ Maya Angelou

Have you ever reached a point where you opened your eyes and had absolutely no clue where you were or what you were doing? I’m not suggesting you lost consciousness, just that your brain completely blanked out and abandoned you. Not a fun experience, am I right? Especially because those moments like to come when you LEAST need them (exams, interviews, traffic lights). Your brilliant intelligence leaves you looking and feeling like a complete and utter moron. All because of one simple fact:

You pushed yourself too far.

If you have anxiety, you know there’s a limit to what your brain can handle. Trip that line, and the system goes down. Then you’re left struggling to put two syllables together. Same with depression: drop too far down the hole, and standing goes out the door. We KNOW this! Yet we still let ourselves get worked up to the edge, and we even trip right off the cliff, over and over again. And the payment is a system shut-down while the brain tries to reboot and make sense of the gibberish we’ve created.

Even without the struggle of a mental illness, you can overload your thought processes and crash your brain. Everyone has a threshold of tolerance, and so many of us push and work right up against that line. We set unrealistic deadlines, impossible standards of perfection, and bars so high that even Godzilla couldn’t reach them (if you know of a taller monster, feel free to sub their name). Exhaustion depletes our brains of resources, frazzles our nerves, and the body has no choice but to shut down.

Why?! Why do we do this?!

We’re clearly intelligent, and yet we forget the importance of STOPPING and TAKING A BREAK! Even a five minute breather to let the system cool down! We deprive our more cells of a chance to settle and reset before returning to the grind. We know the importance of that break, of stopping to reassess and think, but we ignore it and plow forward like an idiot. Then we wonder why our brain abandons us. It’s smart, that’s why! It’s trying to preserve function! Instead of letting us completely burn out and collapse, it’s enforcing the break we skipped!

This is probably a good time to mention this is one of those posts where you should do as I say and not as I do. I’m TERRIBLE at remembering to take a break. I panic at the very thought of stopping to breathe. If I pause…you know, I’m not really sure there’s logic applied to my thought process. I think if I pause, the entire world will collapse into chaos. So I work late. I throw myself into assignments until I’m cross-eyed and mind-blurry (a great frame of mind for working, I might add). Then I have to redo everything, taking MORE time.

And my brain goes into self-preservation mode.

I’m still learning the importance of taking my fingers off the keyboard and walking away. Closing my eyes, breathing, and letting my poor synapses collapse into overworked puddles. Which is hysterical because the times I DO take those breaks, I function better. My work flows better, and I FEEL better.

You’d think I’d have the system down by now. But that drive for perfection, the anxiety to get things done still raise their heads. It’s difficult to overcome. And so I get those blank moments of, “Where the hell am I?” Eventually, I might learn my lesson. I’m hopeful.

Talk

“I usually know almost exactly how I feel. The problem is, I just can’t tell anyone.”

~Meg Cabot, Princess in Love

So here’s the thing: mental illness carries a stigma. We’re supposed to be enlightened and advanced in this day and age. (Pardon me while I pause to laugh hysterically) If you dare to stand up and admit to having a mental illness – any kind of mental illness – people look at you sideways. I’m not really sure what they picture, but you can visualize the box they shuffle you into.

“Uh-oh, crazy person right there.”

Imagine the shock when the majority of people opt out of standing, speaking up, or bringing any kind of attention to themselves. Why would you? Why would you voluntarily welcome getting tarred and feathered? Why would you step onto a stage and wait to get doused in a bucket of misconception and hatred from an uninformed public?

Odds are, you wouldn’t.

Here’s the catch-22. Mental illness and mental health demand conversation. Not just for people to understand they’re being morons (that’s a big part, though). No, we need to stand up and talk because that’s how we HEAL.

Oh, yeah – HEALING? Remember that?

Not a single person with mental illness is happy with their diagnosis. Not a single person battling with anxiety or depression or manic-depression or ADHD or any number of other illnesses is HAPPY. They don’t wake up, cheerily greeting the imbalance in their brain. We confront our reflections every day cursing our biochemistry to the ends of the universe and beyond. We run through checklists to even GET OUT OF BED! You think we want to exist like this every day?!

We want to heal. Which means admitting a need to talk about the things going on in our screwed-up brains. It means sitting down and discussing the thoughts rattling around in ours heads. We know they aren’t always logical (somewhere), but until we get them out in the open, we can’t deal with them.

Want an example? My anxiety amps up beyond my limit to control it. Worries stack up and stack up and stack up. If you think I haven’t thought of something to worry about, you are in for a surprise – I’ve got EVERYTHING mapped out with every possible scenario. And I know I can’t control 90% of those things. But I CAN control a lot of things. Like the way the towels in the kitchen and bathroom are folded. Like the way the dishes are stacked in the cabinet. Like the way the books and movies are organized. That order is my way of staying calm and organized and in control in a world that is literally planning to fall apart around me.

So when my fiance’ decides to ignore that order, my world comes apart. And I break down. It took me a long time to finally open up and explain why the towel folding was so important. That it keeps my tiny part of the world SANE. I had to TALK to him, to sit down and TALK through my insane logic. Is it his logic? Of course not. But when I finally talked to him, he understood. He laughs, but the towels are always in place now. He understands he’s keeping my world safe.

If you don’t talk, people don’t know. They don’t understand what you need. They don’t know what you’re feeling, what you’re going through. And so they can’t help. People out there DO want to help, they really do. They just need to understand. Which means opening your mouth.

No, not everyone.

But we fix that by talking, too. Mental health is repaired by making discussion open. By not shuttling it into the shadows. By not stigmatizing it as “crazy,” or “disturbed,” or any other number of fucked up labels. The world has done those of us battling these diseases a disservice. And we fix that by standing up and speaking up. It’s the only way things are ever going to get better.

Check the Fertilizer

Wasn’t exactly intentional, but I’ve stumbled onto a theme this month concerning dreams and goals, and this post circles around that same concept. When you sit down and start to figure out how to break down your dream into goals, it’s natural to look around at the people you love and admire – especially if they’re successful and living their personal dreams. It makes sense, too, since they’ve achieved a lot of their goals and climbed higher on their ladders than you. I’m not saying this is a bad idea by any stretch. The problem comes in when you start to compare and contrast them against yourself.

The grass is greener on the other side for a reason.

You are NOT that person. The two of you don’t have the same pedestals, don’t have the same ladders, and you aren’t even standing on the same level ground. Comparing yourself to them is going to start a round of self-defeating thoughts and behavior that will guarantee one thing: you aren’t going anywhere. You don’t know how many goals they’ve checked off the their list to get where they are today. How many sacrifices have they made? How much work have they invested? What kind of commitment are they putting in every single day? And how long have they been at things? You’re not even at DAY ONE – expecting brilliance is asking too much of anyone (not even superheroes save the world on their first day).

Yes, they make it look easy, and it’s depressing. When you reach that stage, you’ll get to depress everyone watching you from the ground floor – so there’s that to look forward to (don’t make that a goal, please). As soon as you sit down and FOCUS on what steps you’ll need, you’ll figure out it isn’t easy and gain some perspective. Whatever the dream is that you’re chasing down, there’s work involved that demands your attention, blood, sweat, and tears. Nothing that requires those things is easy. Anyone that tells you differently is selling something – usually at a steep price.

Are there people out there willing to sneer down at you from their ladder? Of course – people are shit. They live to make you feel bad because they aren’t secure on their own journey. Maybe they didn’t plan very well and are stuck without a new rung to go to. Maybe they realized what they were chasing wasn’t their dream (NEVER follow someone else’s dream!). Or maybe they’re just an asshole – those people do exist out there. Yeah, they’re standing above you, but if they aren’t doing any work, you need to stop and think before you try to compare yourself to them.

Sometimes the grass is green because it’s full of shit.

Is it hard to stop comparing yourself with the successful people around you? Of course it is. I spent years hearing my parents tell everyone who would listen about my sister being the only one in the family who used her college degree (newsflash – I’m not using any of my degrees). I watched my brother move up through the ranks of his military career (you get medals there, too). Then my other brother got a job where he was PAID to go to movies and got free tickets to ComicCon – I mean, come on! Meanwhile, I was sitting in a career that didn’t really offer advancement and wasn’t exactly thrilling me – yay.

I was embarrassed, I was depressed, and I avoided family functions whenever possible so I didn’t have to admit that I was a pathetic nothing in comparison to my fabulous – younger – siblings. It took me YEARS to realize that my siblings didn’t feel they were any better (or worse) than me, nor was there really any comparison. None of us are even in the same REALM as one another when it comes to our dreams and goals!

Comparison can get your nowhere – FAST!

What I DID finally get was a blueprint for my own success: I stopped being an idiot and realized what I wanted to do with my life. I thought over how my sister followed what she wanted to do – I could do that (and I have). I looked at how my brother has continued to pursue his dreams despite all of the changes in his life – hell, I could do that (and I am). I admired my other brother’s commitment and constant genuine self – yeah, I could do that (and I figured out how to). I picked out the RIGHT comparison to get myself moving forward, instead of continuing to stagnate.

Pick out the elements of those people you admire and decide how they benefit you. If they don’t, dismiss them and move on. If those people look down on you – get rid of them, because you don’t need that kind of negativity. Compare, don’t contrast; you can find the right model to help you adjust your goals and planning appropriately.

Remember: the only person you’re in a race with is you and where you were yesterday.

Stage This

‘And if one day, she said, really crying now, ‘you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, if you feel bad for being so angry at me that you couldn’t even speak to me, then you have to know, Conor, you have to that is was okay. It was okay. That I knew. I know, okay? I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud.’

~Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Grief impacts everyone at some point in their lives, and it can come in a lot of different forms. We experience loss of loved ones: family members, friends, pets (though I rank them in the first category), significant others. We lose jobs or opportunities that meant the world to us. We have property taken from us through various means. All of it strikes us to the soul, and we’re plunged into despair – which people understand. After all, psychology informs us that there are five stages of grief we’re allowed to experience.

And then we move on and get over it.

Except that’s a load of crap. We aren’t robots – we don’t follow programming, regardless of what doctors with medical degrees tell us. Stages or no, everyone goes through the grieving process differently. Maybe we mix up those stages, maybe we skip stages entirely, or maybe we decide to stay in a single stage and never progress beyond it. Does that make us wrong or backward or [insert medical jargon here]?

Of course not!

Everyone experiences grief differently. How you go through the grieving process depends on the kind of person you are, the loss you experienced, and how the loss came about. I have not grieved the loss of any of my cats the same way because I haven’t lost them in the same manner (you may not relate, but I can’t have children, so they are my kids). Mischief was hospitalized for several days for a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis and rapidly declined. Nimue had lymphoma, and the second round of chemotherapy was failing. Talisman developed acute renal failure. Necile declined over several months (likely cancer) and was wasting away.

Each time, I had to make the decision, and each time was pure agony that ripped out my heart. But the grief wasn’t the same. I wasn’t prepared for Mischief or Talisman because their conditions were sudden – Tali’s more so than Mischief’s. I knew Nimue and Necile were coming, and the knowledge hovered in the back of my head for months, but the grief was no less for that. Did it hit me any less when the time came? Maybe, but it still ripped through me.

To this day, I see pictures of them, and I cry. I hear the song, “Memory” from Cats and think of Mischief (she always sat with me when I listened to the soundtrack). I watch the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast and sob because Tali sat with me when I first brought the DVD home. I can’t let go of the sadness attached to the memories and “move on” as everyone insists I should. They were a huge part of my life, and I cannot detach that and pretend it’s gone. What insane moron would expect that?!

When the grief was fresh, I isolated myself and ignored everyone around me. They all wanted to hug me and say the same exact thing:

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking about you.”

“I know how you feel.”

Tripe.

It’s what’s said when you have nothing better to say – when you’re mind goes blank because you KNOW you can’t say anything. You have NO IDEA how that person feels! You have NO IDEA what they’re going through! But not saying anything is frowned upon. And if they continue beyond the proscribed grieving period, you’re supposed to nudge them forward into sunshine and light.

Leave them be!

Let a person feel the emotion they need to feel! Don’t spout the conventions! Be honest: Tell them you can’t imagine what they’re feeling! Let them scream, let them break things, let them cry for hours or days or weeks. Let them sit in silence. Let them experience the grief how they need to. If you’re a friend, let them do what they need to, and be there for them.

It rips my heart out every single time I read it, but A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is the best book I have ever read on the subject of grief and letting go. It’s a quick read (a couple hours), but don’t read it before bed because you’re not going to sleep, you’re going to cry. It’s a realistic portrayal of grief, and the movie was a faithful representation, though it does leave a couple of key scenes out.

Take the time and the means you need and grieve your losses. The world is still going to turn (I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true) while you do. If you make people uncomfortable, good – more people need to be.

Our New Normal

The human world – it’s a mess.

Sebastian, THE LITTLE MERMAID

Right about now, everyone’s definition of “normal” has shifted a few degrees. I’m one of the lucky ones: both my fiance’ and I already work from home, and our children have four feet and don’t require school (in fact, the little black and white one is already too smart for her own good), so those aspects of our lives didn’t change. But we lost our ability to go to the gym, our grocery habits had to change, we’re still planning for our wedding, and we like to have a monthly game night with friends.

Enter a level of chaos.

My fiance’ reads the news, and I can feel his stress level increasing (for the sake of my sanity and everyone around me – not to mention inanimate objects in the immediate vicinity – I avoid the news).

I encountered people on Facebook that I thought better of suddenly deciding they were entitled to “hazard pay” and extra vacation time when other friends and family members are working on the REAL front lines, in ACTUAL hazards, without any extra pay or benefits – just begging for proper PPE, and I wanted to scream and demand they take their piece of shit petition down and replace it with an apology (frankly, I still do).

I stare at the wedding prep calendars and the boxes that are unchecked as tasks are delayed due to businesses being closed down as non-essential. It wasn’t too bad when the first orders came out, but now the orders have been extended into June, which eats into my timeline. I’m an organized person who lives by checklists and deadlines, and my stress level is starting to bubble.

Kickboxing has been one of my biggest stress relievers, but that’s closed now, and my only consolation is the classes via Zoom…without a bag. Shadow-boxing isn’t the same, I don’t burn the same level of calories, my living room feels cramped compared to the studio, and I have interference in the form of my four-legged children. I have two other exercise routines via my Nintendo Switch and my Wii U, but it feels lacking, and I miss my partner drills and the camaraderie of the studio. We could kayak, providing we could find somewhere to park the car, but there’s that question mark.

I find myself looking at the frustration, the uncertainty, and my anxiety and depression hover right above my shoulders, waiting to pounce. There’s a lot of negativity feeding both of them, and the outside world is doing it’s damnedest to provide fodder. It is the easiest thing in the world to succumb to either one right now, and those of us who suffer from either are the most susceptible.

So what do you do?

I don’t know what YOU can do, but I can tell you what I’M doing. Maybe somewhere in there you can find something that will point you in the right direction.

First, much as I want to, I’m not giving in to the worst of my desires (other than removing those people from my Feed so I don’t have to see the crap I don’t want to). We have the power to choose what we see and don’t see, what we accept and don’t accept – much as we like to forget that. Clean out the trash. I felt better for it.

Second, I’m helping the people I can. That means, where we can, we’re ordering things for the wedding from Etsy – finding people who are local (i.e., this country) who can use the income. Artisans are hurting right now, small businesses are hurting right now, and going to them helps. We’re ordering take-out/pick-up from restaurants that are still open to provide income to those workers. We’re being smart and ordering ahead of time and not fussing about any delay in the pick-up process. We’re being patient with every person we interact with when we go to the store because we know they’re stressed.

Third, I’m maintaining my routine. I have my schedule set for myself, and I’m sticking to it. Sure, it’s hard to get motivated to write at times, and I know that I’m going to edit a lot of what I’ve written because my heart’s not in it – at least I’m getting words on the screen. If I don’t dissolve into a lump on the couch, I hold the clouds at bay a little bit longer.

Fourth, we’re looking at the things we CAN do. My fiance’ picked up corn hole boards from our local Feed and Seed store (they’re an essential store) that are blank, so we get to paint them ourselves. I have the paint leftover from my craft projects, and now we get to figure out what to paint on them (actually, I already know – my business logo). We’re going through our To Do Lists for the inside and outside of the house and figuring out what can reasonably be accomplished (Lowe’s is open, after all). The outdoor painting has to wait for the idiotic pollen to die down, but we can still plan.

Finally, I’m just doing whatever makes me feel like ME. Whether it’s wearing something fun (I love this moto jacket I just got), playing around with my hair (face it – we’re going to have some scary hair by the end of this), or just dancing around the office for a song – five minutes of feeling great is five minutes that the anxiety and depression don’t stand a chance.

Everything is a mess and chaos right now, and we’re all going to have to face a new normal for a while. It sucks – no one is going to deny that. But it doesn’t mean we have to spiral down into our dark places. We know what waits for us there. Good can wait for us here, if we’re willing to adjust.

For Life

People clinking coffee mugs together
Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Hands up everyone who has ever spoken some variation of the following, “We’ll be friends forever.”

Okay, hands down (it’s not like I can see them anyway). Pretty much everyone, at some point in their lives, has used that phrase or something like it. And pretty much everyone has regretted using that phrase at least once in their lives. Everyone has had at least one best friend in their lives, and everyone has had at least one soulmate in their lives. And everyone has lost those same people at least once and conferred the titles to someone new.

Why?

Because we’re stupid, pure and simple. I’d sugar-coat it if I could, but I can’t. The truth is, we go through a lot of friend phases as we age, and we (hopefully) get smarter in the process and start to realize that the majority of the people out there who claim to be friends can’t even spell the word.

When we’re little (or trying to break records on Facebook or Instagram), everyone is our friend, we run around collecting them like Pokemon. You’ve seen these people – they display the counts and brag about them like it’s some kind of trophy. They can’t name all of the people if their life depended on it, and they don’t know the simplest facts about the people (middle name? last name? address? pet? eye color?). These aren’t friends. None of them are going to stand with us when the chips are down, and odds are none of them even made it to high school with us. The people that are still like this are sad and should be pitied, not envied (this is NOT a pattern you want to emulate, believe me).

A few school yard fights down the road, and we get a little smarter and choosier about who we offer friendship bracelets to. The circle is still bigger than it should be, but at least we might know everyone’s name. We still can’t reasonably fit everyone into a slumber party, though (unless you lived in a mansion, and then see the previous category), and we’re definitely missing details on a few of the people. Odds are, there are some cliques inside of this circle that aren’t keeping you in the loop (look at that – circles within circles!). Enter a girl’s most dreaded enemy: gossip. This is where you learned the lessons of backstabbing and betrayal. This is where you discovered that not everyone you liked actually liked you the same amount. This is where you learned who thought you were a nerd, a geek, a loser, a snob. This is where you learned about pecking orders. And this is where you started to really learn who your true friends were.

Enter high school and the pure hell that it is – enough said.

By the time we start stumbling on our adult feet, we’re battered, bruised, and we have a pretty jaded outlook on friendship. We know now that people will lie straight to our faces. We know that people will smile at us and talk about us the second we turn our backs. We know that people whisper as if we’re deaf (and half the time, it isn’t even a whisper – the deaf could hear them). We know that people laugh at us or joke and insist that it’s, “all in good fun” when it’s actually meant to cut us in pieces. We know that everything in Mean Girls was a reflection of reality (save the positive ending). We know that you can’t trust anyone.

Friends are now few and far between. We become skeptical of the word itself, much else anyone attached to it. That circle has shrunk small enough to fit in a standard household bathroom. We become ruthless at excising the liars and backstabbers from our lives – not always before damage has been inflicted. We build up walls, plant thorns, and we post guards.

And, yet, people still make it inside.

My circle is tiny. It is composed of people that I met in college and only get to keep in touch with via social media because we live in different states – yet they continue to be there for me. It is composed of people I met online and never in person who have done more for me than I could ever imagine. It is composed of people that have beliefs and politics I abhor, but we still support each other. It is composed of people that I get to see on a fairly regular basis.

It is composed of people who have never once lied to me, never stabbed me in the back, never given me a moment of doubt, never made me question their loyalty, and never blinked at the fact that I am an individual damaged by people who’ve done all of those things. They are the epitome of the word, “friend,” and I am beyond grateful every day that I have them. There is not a price in the world that I would be willing to pay to give them up.