“We Go Together Like…”

Ice cream sandwich cookies
Photo by Henry Geddes from Burst

Forget whatever crazy nonsense you might have heard from fairy tales, social media, or your even your own family members. Relationships are meant to be partnerships. Yes, that means an even share of give and take. If you’re involved in anything else, it’s time to BAIL!

I believed the hype for a long time, convinced that that Prince Charming was going to swoop in on a white horse and carry me off to a dream castle. Not only does Prince Charming not exist, his useless cousins drag in on run-over turtles, incapable of asking for directions. And that castle? It’s a run-down apartment in a building without an elevator. (Imagine my disappointment when that particular reality waltzed through the door) Worst of all, I faced a series of morons that either expected me to cater to their every whim, claimed we were equals (and then settled into the former’s habits), or checked out completely and decided our relationship only existed when it was convenient.

Little tough to believe in fairy tales then, believe me.

It took me a long time to realize the Grimm Brothers and Disney got everything wrong. Even worse, I failed to see that my friends who were “blissfully happy” were all lying through their teeth. They just didn’t have the backbone to venture out on their own. So they stayed where they were. And so did I. Clearly, that’s how relationships worked. One person shouldered abuse, misery, and the bulk of the work while someone else sacked out on the couch with their phone or video game controller of choice. Oh, yeah, pure bliss at work!

When I finally came to my senses and recognized my full worth, I saw the situation with fresh eyes. I was being incredibly stupid. Not only was I selling myself short, I was allowing behavior I KNEW was wrong! My parents provided a perfect example the entire time I was growing up of how partnerships worked. How had I lost so much in the translation? Oh, right – because I was terrified of being alone. I let society’s dictate of HAVING to be involve thrust me into bad relationships where mental abuse and cheating got excused – just so I wasn’t single.

So much stupid.

When I woke up and started demanding better, an amazing thing happened: I GOT BETTER! (Crazy, right?) No, my fiance’ does not worship at my feet and give me everything I ask for without hesitation. Frankly, I’d smack the shit out of him if he did. I don’t need someone to do that – it’s not healthy. He DOES work beside me all the time and support my dreams and endeavors without hesitation. THAT I need, in spades. And I do the same for him. We complement one other, filling in the weak places for each other and shoring up the rough edges. Because that’s what a partnership is meant to do. That’s what the fairy tales fail to describe, and it’s why we need to set them aside.

Without saying a word, we divide household chores. We push one another when one of us lagging at something. (Such as physical therapy stretches someone might not be doing – I refuse to admit anything) We keep tabs on how the other is doing when everything decides to fall apart because the world’s experiencing a pandemic. The balance is as delicate as the tang of a sword and as strong as a mountain. If I have to work a little late on a project, he doesn’t ask questions. He might send our youngest cat in to pester me, but he isn’t phased. If he needs to adjust his schedule to take a phone call for work, I balance my workload accordingly.

There’s no complaining, no screaming, no yelling. Everything falls out in a perfect balance – exactly like the ice cream sandwich in the picture (peanut butter and jelly felt too pedestrian). It’s what a relationship is meant to be. It’s what you should aim for. If you don’t have that perfect give-and-take, then ask yourself why not.

Count to…

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

~Aristotle

My father is a blunt person (I inherited a lot of his personality – to the chagrin of my mother). When we were growing up, he took a frank stance with all of us. No, we weren’t supposed to get into fights. Why? Because the person that starts a fight is always the person that gets caught. (Definitely a fact) However, while we were never to throw the first punch, he had no qualms if we threw the second. (Metaphorically or physically)

I took the lesson to heart. While I never laid a finger on anyone (siblings don’t count), I knew exactly where to use my words. I’m a writer, after all, and I always have been. A few well-placed phrases, and I cut people to pieces. (Girls are mean. Anyone that says differently lives in a dream world) With rare exceptions, my emotions built over weeks and even months – gifting me plenty of time to build my arguments. My opponent felt blind-sided, assuming I was working off the top of my head.

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it?

Gut punches fail us. Our brains shut down, overwhelmed with furious emotion. We might as well revert back to grunting Neanderthals. The ability to express our message, our feelings, or even conduct a coherent argument vanishes. Instead, we sputter, our blood pressure surges, and we’re left with kindergarten-level taunting. It isn’t until later (in bed or in the shower), when our body regains homeostasis, that we’re able to construct the sentences we WANTED to use.

Hours too late.

Which is where the adage “count to ten” starts to make sense. When you stop, breathe, and think, you regain common sense. Your blood pressure may not return to normal in that time, but at least it won’t surge into stroke-risk zones. Some call it holding a grudge to bank embers over time before releasing statements. I call it reasonable. You save your brain, you maintain better health, and, honestly, they’re just pissed they can’t respond to your eloquence. Patience is a virtue, after all.

I’m not a person that believes anger is unacceptable or has no place. It’s an emotion, same as happiness or misery; you have a right to feel and express it. I’m not one to condone violence, but getting angry has it’s place. You FEEL angry for a reason, and people have a right to know they’ve pushed you past your tolerance limit. There’s no guarantee they’ll change, but at least you let that frustration into the open.

Holding anger in ISN’T healthy.

Take your time to examine WHAT, exactly, bothers you. Think through your reasons and arguments. THEN let your words out. You won’t dissolve into name-calling and ridicule (or, at least if you do, it’ll be elevated above schoolyard terms), and the vein in your forehead won’t threaten to explode. Calm anger IS a thing. It’s damn hard to react to (and a lot of fun, frankly). Staying ice cold while the other person pushes themselves towards a stroke is therapeutic.

I don’t apologize for feeling and expressing my anger. I’m a human being, and I’m entitled to EVERY emotion I’m capable of. I won’t start a fight. I never have. But I have finished a lot of them.

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.

The Constant Battle

“You may have to fight a battle more than once.”

~Margaret Thatcher

Chronic illness sucks. Actually, let me clarify that: chronic illness SUCKS! When you have a chronic illness that brings pain along for funsies…suffice it to say there aren’t enough expletives available in every language in the known universe. Don’t get me wrong, we all get good days. We get days without pain (ha, just kidding – we get days with manageable pain). We get days where we get to function like semi-normal human beings. Those are usually days when we overdo it in a heady rush to catch up on everything we’ve slacked on during the bad days.

Because the bad days…

Pain takes a big toll on mental health. Not just for people with chronic illness, but anyone. Nerves screaming for your brain’s attention diverts blood flow and resources away from – well, pretty much everything. (I’m not making this up, either. This is genuine science) There’s only so much the brain is capable of handling at one time. When pain demands too much focus, that beautiful machine sacrifices other functions to try to cope with the raw nerves. Guess what that leads to?

The dreaded FOG!

Doesn’t matter how well-educated you are, how fluent your usual vocabulary. You are suddenly reduced to a complete and utter idjit. You lose entire sections of the dictionary. Not just the big words, either. I’ve stared at a table and come up with nothing more than, “flat thingy.” (Oh, yeah, people look at you with respect then!) Sentences trail off to nowhere. Focus? Forget it. Your poor brain doesn’t have time to help you concentrate. You stare at computer screens while clocks tick by, wondering what you’re supposed to be doing. You wander into rooms with no clue why (assuming you remember what the room is in the first place).

And you’re mental health tanks behind it. You KNOW you’re intelligent. You KNOW you’re competent. You KNOW you can write and speak and read at more than a kindergarten level! But you’re sure as hell not demonstrating that fact! So you hide away from friends and family. You avoid speaking aloud lest some brainless phrase escape your lips. You frantically run documents through spellcheck and Grammarly to save yourself from looking stupid. You feel less than a milometer tall.

All from a physical reaction.

Pain is a powerful thing. It really can sabotage your brain that easily. I don’t want to say those of us with chronic illness are used to it, because we’re not. We hate sputtering through our flares. We hate canceling plans to avoid looking like certifiable morons. But we at least know it comes with our diagnoses. Someone experiencing nexus-level pain for the first time? Yeah, no clue what they’re in store for.

Spoon theory works for chronic illness when measuring physical activity. But it fails when we try to account for our mental well-being. How many spoons to speak like an educated person? How many to write a thought-out article? How many to describe a room? How many to understand a Dad joke? Who freaking knows?! It never comes up in all of those cute memes displayed around social media. But it matters. Our mental health and well-being is just as important as our physical capabilities.

Yes, I want to know what I’m going to accomplish each day. (And, yes, I overspend my spoons pretty much every day) But I also want to know how much fog I’m going to cope with. I want to know if I’m going to sound like a moron with a new client. I want to know if I’m going to have a sentence fade out when talking with my fiance’ at the end of the day. I want to know if I’m going to just curl into a ball mid-way. Not just because the pain is getting to me, but because I feel like my brain is failing on me.

How many spoons to feel like a real person again? That’s what I want to know.

Finding the Closure Store

How many times in your life has someone insisted you “need closure?” You end a relationship – you need closure. You get in an argument with a friend (or even just an acquaintance) – you need closure. You have some kind of incident (I’ll leave the details up to you) – you need closure. Your barista hands you the wrong cup of coffee in the morning? Dammit – you need closure!

Closure starts to sound like a physical object after awhile doesn’t it? Either that, or it starts sounding like some kind of talk show “professional” advertised on late-night television. (Personally, I’d prefer the kitschy object) Everyone has the opinion you need it, they strongly recommend you seek it out, but no one quite knows where the store selling this magnificent solution is located.

Where IS that elusive closure store?

Allow me to clear things up for you. Closure is different for every person and every situation. Which is probably why you’re having so much trouble tracking down that store. (And please DON’T try booking yourself onto a talk show) Also, whether you NEED it or not is entirely up to you. You NEED to breathe. You NEED shelter. You NEED food. You NEED water. Closure? Nah, not in the essential pyramid.

So what is closure?

Closure is nothing more than the point where you can finally move on from a bad situation. (Which means you should probably let your barista off the hook. Seriously, was one wrong order THAT detrimental?) That is the entire magical definition. It’s also why it’s different for every person and every situation. Some people do have physical objects – like baseball bats to their ex’s heads (please note: I’m NOT advocating this!). Some people are subtler: they finally manage to tell their story without crying. You might even achieve closure and NEVER REALIZE IT! All of a sudden you look back and realize you’re miles away from that nightmare. Who knew!

If you’re still fixated on something, then you haven’t achieved closure. No magical store is going to do it for you, either. Trust me. You think I haven’t hunted for that store over the years? Of course I did! I wanted that wand (baseball bat – I’ll admit it; I wanted a baseball bat) in my hands SO many times. I never found it. Instead, I found paper shredders (paper shredders are awesome – just watch your fingers and remember they overheat), Unfriend buttons, and weeds in the yard. Did you know you can rip weeds out of the yard without any repercussions? True story.

You do what it takes to mark something OVER.

The point of CLOSURE is to END it. You don’t revisit it, you don’t bring it back to conversations, and you don’t give it space in your mind. You want that anxiety OUT of your head space. If that means visiting a gun range and turning a target to Swiss cheese, so be it. If it means turning old records to confetti, do it! Take the burden of liars, manipulation, and misery OFF your shoulders. Dump it in a hole and bury it out in the woods where no one can find it ever again. (No physical people – I’ve been informed this is illegal)

But stop looking for the store. It’s just not there. And what works for one person won’t work you, anyway.

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.

Be Anyone but Yourself

I've always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be. - Dita Von Teese

One of the biggest lies you will ever hear from another human being has to be, “Be yourself.” Those two little words come from everyone: family, friends, teachers, motivational posters in medical offices. The words come in the form of empowered scripts, cute kittens, every range of emoji, and endorsement by any number of celebrities. Indoctrination begins way back in kindergarten and follows you into adulthood, becoming more and more of a parroted line with every recitation. Now, I’m not condemning the sentiment or even every person who tells you to, “Be yourself,” because there probably are people who were – and are – genuinely honest. Let’s be real, though: the vast majority of people say those words with a little tiny caveat attached.

Be yourself…with the following conditions.

People really don’t like us to be ourselves; they like it when we’re THEIR version of ourselves. So, be yourself…but don’t wear that, don’t say that, don’t speak up, don’t join that group, do join that group, don’t write that way, don’t associate with those people, don’t vote for that person, do vote for that person, don’t support that cause, don’t color your hair that shade, don’t color your hair at all, don’t wear your hair in that style, don’t wear glasses, do wear glasses but not that style, don’t listen to that music, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on and on, and suddenly you’re no longer yourself, you’re a ridiculous clone of the person who told you to, “Be yourself.” Sometimes, you can’t even remember who you actually ARE. Did I really like Top 40 music? Do I even like reading mysteries? Have I always liked the color green? When did I sign up as a member of the Walking History Tour Fans? How did I ever end up with green braids in my hair? Suddenly, you find yourself staring in the mirror, struggling to figure out who the hell that person is looking back at you – not because of depression or any other mental imbalance, but because you’ve lost your personal identity under a tidal wave of, “Be yourself!”

Actually being yourself means NOT listening to those people. It means closing out all of the other voices when you make your daily decisions, not worrying about what someone else is going to think about your choice. Not everyone is going to agree with you (that’s a good thing, by the way), and they’re going to make faces, and they’re going to roll their eyes, and they’re going to say things – usually worded quite cleverly – to make you question yourself. They do that because they want you to BE LIKE THEM! Consider that when you hear that slight inflection at the end of their words questioning your decision. After all, cutting your hair super short and dyeing it ice-blue isn’t going to end the world (personal experience, here). Speaking your mind, rather than keeping things bottled up and eating you alive inside, may or may not be detrimental – depends on how you say things – but it’s a thousand times better than keeping pain inside, allowing it to fester and destroy you. Honesty isn’t going to win you a lot of friends, but it is always, always, always the best policy.

If you can look in the mirror and see YOU – 100%, genuine, YOU – and be content, then that’s a win. It likely means disappointing people, annoying people, aggravating people (all of which has the potential to be fun, if you look at it the right way), but where lies the greater peace? Making everyone else happy, or making yourself happy? Looking in the mirror and seeing the Indianapolis 500 version of yourself, created by everyone around you, or looking in the mirror and seeing the you that you have worked so hard to create yourself?

The Neverending Battle

Perfection, to me, means you spend much too much time trying to be perfect.

~Walter Matthau

Truth time: I AGONIZE over these posts. I spend hours and hours thinking through what I want to say, how I want to say it, deciding whether to go with an image or a quote, coming up with just the perfect clever title (side note: I am terrible at titles – not just here but in my other writing), re-writing what I wrote, fixing the formatting, all before letting myself hit that Publish button. And, honestly, half the time I then go back and make edits anyway because I feel like what I said isn’t good enough, or I notice something was worded wrong. Why?

I’m a crazy perfectionist.

I am the kind of person who gets hives if there isn’t a dot above every “i” and a cross over every “t.” And don’t get me start about pictures that are just that nth degree off of center in people’s homes – we’re talking nails on a blackboard. I am that person who has their DVDs, music, and books in alphabetical order (books by author, of course – I’m not psycho…well, manga is by title), and woe-betide the prankster who dares to touch that system. When I hung the pictures in my house, you bet I used the tape measure to make sure everything was precise and even…and then I dared to let someone else move in, and everything went to hell. Now, I gave him a full course on how the house was laid out, where everything went, and how things were to be done. Did he listen? Of course not. He just did as he pleased, and I had to cope with absolute chaos and towels that weren’t folded right. It’s a wonder I ever agreed to marry him (there will DEFINITELY be a part of the vows where I promise to never look at his desk – for my sanity…and his continued existence).

I’ve survived, though – and, more importantly (to him), he has, too (with a lot of suppressed screaming and some additional tutorials). It still doesn’t stop my nasty habit of trying to inflict perfection on my day-to-day life. There is nothing quite so aggravating as finishing cleaning the entire house and watching one of the cats scatter food all over the freshly mopped floor. (Cats, by the way, while believing themselves to be the most perfect creature on the planet do not strive for perfection – fun fact) You want to really destroy a perfectionist? Ask them to sweep up cat litter with a broom and dustpan; that damn last line of litter dust NEVER goes into the pan! The spice jars have to be turned with the label facing forward, the plates and glasses have to be in a line, and don’t get me started on the labels from the Good Thins boxes in the cabinet. It’s order, it’s organization, it’s PEACE. When everything is exact and precise and PERFECT, then the world is set to rights, and everything is okay.

Perfectionism is a cousin of anxiety.

If everything isn’t JUST SO, then worry and nerves start to get into our way, and we start to go into our spirals of panic. It’s a coping mechanism (and I am the first to admit it isn’t a healthy one, but there you have it) to keep that hulking monster of fear and anxiety at bay. If everything is exactly perfect and in its place, then everything is OKAY. If I get 100% and straight As, then Mom and Dad won’t have any reason to yell at me. If I get into a good college and get a degree, then I’ll get a job and become a worthwhile human being. If I do everything I’m told and follow all of the rules, then I’ll never get in trouble. It sounds good, right? I certainly thought so, and it was the model I followed through my life…but it doesn’t work in the real world. Because no one else follows that model. Not everyone follows the rules or even cares about the rules. Not everyone cares about working to full potential. Mom and Dad will always find a reason to yell at you (parents are parents for a reason – it’s their job). You can do everything right and still fail. Perfect FAILS you. And then what do you do?

You set up a new standard of perfect, and… No, forget I said that. You start to realize that maybe that lesson Dad threw your way all those years ago (when you were too young and stupid to actually listen) was accurate: you don’t have to be perfect. Maybe you can let the picture be a tiny bit off-center. Maybe you can let your husband-to-be’s desk look like ground-zero of a massive disaster without yelling at him. Maybe you can write out 3000 words of that next book chapter without deleting all 3000 words and just acknowledge you’re putting sand in the box to build with. Maybe you can realize that people are genuinely idiots, but that’s okay; no one ever said you had to be one of them. You’re a crazy bundle of anxiety with a need to succeed – well, okay. So do it in your own fashion and make THAT your perfection.

Fear the Spiral

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

~Frank Herbert, DUNE

We’ve all been there: ambling along, happy as can be, everything going our way, when out of nowhere we find ourselves standing on the edge of a cliff unable to see the other side. Is there an other side? Is the path on the other side as nice as the one we’re currently standing on? What’s at the bottom of the cliff, just in case we can’t make that jump? Will something terrible come up behind us if we don’t jump? We start up a spiral of fear that plants us firmly on our spot, paralyzing our brain’s ability to function properly.

Why do we do that?

Right up to that cliff, we were intelligent, rational, thinking human beings. We could problem-solve with the best of them, and we found solutions for the issues that cropped up in front of us. Now, though, doubt and fear are worming their way into our minds, and we’re stuck. It’s amazing the power fear, especially fear of the unknown, can exert over us.

What if we make the wrong choice? Fear of failure is crippling for a lot of people. There are people you’ll disappoint (real or imagined…and, let’s face it, for most of us, it’s more imagined than real – we just don’t want to admit that). The mind conjures up this giant, flashing red “F” that you’re positive the entire world is going to be able to see. Except…well, we know that isn’t real, on some plane of our rational thinking. People fail all the time; it’s how you learn and grow, and, sometimes, it’s how you go on to succeed. The fear is still there, though, grinding you into the ground and convincing you that making that jump could be the worst mistake of your life. If you miss the jump and fall – there are no save points and restarts in the real world. Your mind tells you that you have to get it right the first try; you can’t screw up – and you believe it.

What if something worse is coming? Things were going great, so Murphy’s Law dictates that there’s an end to that waiting somewhere. Maybe if you just hunker down and close your eyes, the monster won’t see you. It always worked when you were a kid, right? Except you’re not a kid anymore, and you’ve watched too many horror movies now, so you know that monster is going to see you out there in the open on that cliff. That horrible thing is going to come right for you, and all you can do is sit there, staring at it, and waiting for it to tear you apart. You’ll never outsmart it, you’ll never outrun it, and you can’t defeat it, so what can you do? You honestly believe that this horrible thing is going to happen, and you wait for it; you let it consume your entire life. You forget to go on with everything else, you stop trying to figure out a way to the other side of the cliff (just in case you can make it), and you let your mind convince yourself the end is coming.

And we lose every time we do this.

Our minds are so amazing, so strong, but they can turn against us in a heartbeat. We give them a drop of fear, and they turn that drop into a tsunami. I’m not saying fear isn’t healthy – it is. Fear gives us something to fight against; it’s the enemy we conquer when no one else is looking. We get stronger when we face our fears, as absolutely terrifying as it is to close our eyes and make that jump. The problem is when we let the fear get the best of us. If we never take a step forward, we’re forever stuck in that same place: waiting for the worst, clutching our precious “F” to our chests.

The Sound of Silence

These are my four "kids" - and the closest thing I have to therapy these days.

Brace yourself, complete and unvarnished honesty is coming: I have depression. *gasp* I fully admitted it! I put it out there in print – in this day and age when there’s this huge taboo against mental health! What am I thinking?! Well, frankly, I’m thinking that the stigma against depression and other mental health disorders is unfair and one of the reasons that we have a high suicide rate in this country. I’m thinking of the injustice of people battling horrendous demons, frequently on their own, without a voice. I’m thinking of the too-familiar phrases uttered of, “I never knew there was anything wrong with him/her.” I’m thinking that’s what happens when a blind eye is turned to people like me when we don’t speak up and admit that we spend most of our lives tumbling around in this black void of our minds.

Ah, but there are so many answers for us in this day and age! We have come so far from the horrors of electroshock therapy – a veritable cornucopia of solutions! Let’s see, there’s the always popular psychological sessions where your every thought (however mundane) is scooped out and examined from every angle until you can’t remember what your original feelings might have been in the first place. Psychologists inevitably lead to psychotropic medications with their endless lists of side effects and titrations…usually followed by recalls when someone figures out that one of those side effects isn’t so benign. We can’t forget the neutraceutical industry, either (coconut oil fixes everything…or is it CBD oil now?) with herbs, tinctures, soaks, and even prescriptions for sunshine. Depression frequently locks you into a world of immobility, which is why people like to remind you to exercise, to boost your endorphins to “feel better.” Nothing cures feelings of worthlessness and doubt like squeezing into Spandex and venturing into the public eye, after all. And then there’s my personal favorite: the circulating memes of people insisting that they will always be there to listen, regardless of circumstance…until you hit that really bad day, or your stretch of bad days turns into a bad week, or they realize that depression doesn’t go away after a couple of sessions of sitting on the couch with chamomile, or they realize you’re not going to stop crying regardless of what they say, or…well, you get the picture. Plenty of options, plenty of answers to “fix” us and allow us to join society.

So do I have the answer?

Yes! And for the low, low price of just $19.99 and a subscription fee of only $7.99… Please, come on! No, of course I don’t have an answer because I don’t think there is one. I spend every single day battling against those demons in my head that tell my I’m a failure, I’m worthless, I’m ugly, I’m incompetent, and I’m better off dead, and there isn’t a single item on those lists that I haven’t tried. They never worked, not even a lingering placebo effect. The closest I’ve come to effective therapy are those four “kids” in the picture above (I’d like to say they’re free, but the costs of caring for them is actually kind of ridiculous…and I’m not even allowed to claim them on my taxes!). They let me cry on them as much as I need, they sit with me no matter how long the darkness pushes down on me, and regardless of what I might think of myself on a given day, they think I’m amazing and wonderful.

The battle is daily, though. Sure, some days are easier than others; not every day is the battle of Helm’s Deep. This is a reality that I and a lot of other people cope with, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. We perform some of the best acting in the world, finer than any actor in Hollywood could dream because most of those around us have no earthly idea there is anything wrong. We smile, we complete our daily routines (often with a perfectionist streak), we laugh, we engage in conversations we have zero interest in, and we appear functional and ordinary. While inside our heads we’re dying a little bit more with every grin, with every forced giggle, with every completed project. We realized a long time back how uncomfortable people are when we show our “depression side;” they want to cross to the other side of the street and put up warding signs! So we hide the tears, hide the grimaces, hide the downcast eyes, hide the slumped shoulders and put on a fantastic performance.

Meanwhile, inside our heads, we’re screaming at demons most people could never imagine in their worst nightmares. We’re sitting inside of swirling voids that would swallow entire cities whole if they escaped the confines of our brains. We’re sinking slowly into the coldest, thickest murk that never seems to have a bottom, clutching at rungs of a ladder that continually snap apart in our hands. We’re curling up into balls and wedging ourselves into corners of pitch black rooms, clutching our hands around the tiniest slivers of light that shrink every time we breathe. We’re suffering self-flagellation at the hands of someone who knows every tiny detail of our lives – every mistake, every regret, every flaw. We are tearing ourselves apart, piece by piece, while also frantically trying to save the scraps and put them back together, praying we haven’t lost any of the pieces.

That is what the silence sounds like in our minds.

I don’t have an answer. I fight my battle every day – same as many, many others. I’m not sure there is an answer, to be honest. All I can do is provide an insight into the battle and share one of the voices. If the taboo is broken, maybe more will be done. I don’t mean these sweep-it-under-the-rug “cures” they champion today, but actual in-depth research and understanding. Or maybe it’s as simple as opening a few more minds, creating a little more reality in the world.