Two mornings ago, I woke up in a funk. My neck hurt, my head hurt, my face hurt, and I couldn’t breathe through the humid, pollen-saturated air. It was dark and cloudy and the feeling of the day was the worst kind of oppressive (if there ever can be said to be a good kind!). My morning at work was unproductive. I sent a few emails, created a few accounts on our database, started a folder for Monday’s board meeting agenda and attachments. Even the fresh-baked muffins my boss brought for us (side note: happy administrative professionals’ week/day/whatever) couldn’t quite lift my mood.

As is usual at lunch, my coworker fetched me to go for our midday stroll – which may be a little bit of a misnomer, as we walk briskly and somewhere between three and four miles – and it was still gray. I glumly stumbled to the bathroom and changed from pencil skirt to compression capris and pink flats to tennis shoes before stumbling glumly down the back staircase and out into the fresh (HA) air.

And then! The wind rose. The clouds cleared. The sun peaked out and in the space of a block, the weather went from hideous to stunning.

It was as if my morning had never happened. My lingering food-guilt from having the muffin dissipated. I practically skipped up the killer hill we elected to tackle. The walk, in short, was awesome.

Once back in the office, my mood started to flag again. My headache returned. I ate another muffin out of directionless stress and I was buried in guilt over it half an hour later (not helped by the fact that I spent the weekend eating junk food – yes, it was vacation, but the sheer amount that I had felt like a four-day long binge).

Clouds make me cranky. Wait, correction. I am a naturally cranky person, and clouds make it worse. They separate me from my precious sunlight, the sunlight that absolutely does not love me back, as my bright red shoulders and forehead can attest.

Storms, though, excite me. There’s power in them and a forward-rushing that gives me a huge boost of energy. I wonder sometimes if my dislike of clouds is related to them being dirty teases, promising me a storm that never comes.

Case in point, yesterday morning. I was woken up by thunder and it was awesome. I was revved. I was happy. I was ready to go. Then the thunder stopped, and it was just rain, and like a thumbtack in a basketball I went from totally pumped to totally deflated. I think I used that simile correctly but I’m not too up on sports equipment.

It’s not that I’m incapable of being happy when I’m not in the sun. I’m frequently quite pleased when I’m sitting in a dark room on a computer like the basement-dweller I am at heart. But the weather has an awfully strong effect on my mood, and one that has either gotten stronger over time or I’ve never noticed to this extent before.

The clinical term for this type of phenomena is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the aptly-acronymed SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder refers more to pervasive low mood relating to the seasons changing, rather than the sun hiding behind a cloud, so it doesn’t entirely apply here. However, it does lend credence to the idea that the presence or absence of sunlight can, and does, have a profound influence on mood. There’s fairly strong evidence that moving towards the equator, where the sun is stronger, can even completely cure SAD. I guess I didn’t move equator-wards enough.

Clearly my mood being tied so closely to the weather is less than healthy, but it’s not uncommon. Now that I’m more consciously aware of it, I’m trying to harness the power of sunlight to be extra productive when it’s lovely out, so that I’m free to wallow a little when it’s gross. Like everything in life, it’s all about finding a balance. And like my childhood self who fell over a lot, I’m not good at balance, but I sure am trying.

(As an aside: this blog has 2,000 views and 20 comments and the numbers being sort of even like that make me really happy. Thank you all!)

Today, on the bus, I was advised to watch out for Nazi rappers.

This past weekend my sister visited. We had a wonderful time but my utter exhaustion today reminds me why I take such care to do nothing most weekends. I need air. I need space free of people and thoughts and emotion. I need to lie on my back in a patch of sunlight and breathe. Joy is draining.

I always feel as if I’m rattling around in a shell, my mind too small for my physical form. I’d fit better in a raindrop or a photon or a soft breeze. The space between my mind and my body fills up with feelings that I can’t begin to sift through. Learning to feel again after months of depression is painful, and stretching, and like eating Thanksgiving dinner on a full stomach.

Feelings are confusing. I have dozens of them and they’re sometimes about other people and they have impact unlike any I’ve felt in a while. They constrict my chest and fill up my lungs and they’re as thick as the pollen in the air.

I’m being vague out of necessity. It’s not just that I can’t betray my own privacy with details, but I can’t seem to sift these pollen-feeling-clouds into shapes that I can put words to. They’re sinking dullness in my stomach, amorphous dread, gasping for tiny air bubbles in pudding-thick atmosphere. The syllables that are forcing their way through my fingers now are doing so despite rubber resistance and walls that are far too close to me.

I have work to do. Piles of it. Spreadsheets, websites, even more writing, a video that will have to be edited soon but I’m swimming through cooling lava that’s almost a rock. I forget each letter as soon as I’ve typed it. I’m distracted by all the goddamn feelings. They run from elation to mortification to adoration and all around and up and back and I’m dizzy with them and it hurts.

The trees are blooming, and the flowers, and my head is stuffed with pollen while my mind buzzes around it. I hate bees.

It’s hard to find time to take a moment and exist. With each exhalation I’m losing precious moments of my day, of my life, to feelings and walls and my rattling shell and the ache of wanting things I can’t have or put names to.

My decision-making skills are poor when the air is like this. I’m too tired to eat properly. I eat far too much or not at all. It takes energy to start eating, energy to stop, and I’m too wrapped up in confusion.

Breathe in. I’m alone. I’m at my desk. I’m with six billion souls.

Breathe out. I’m sniffling. I’m sneezing. I’m feeling.

Breathe in. This sentence has no punctuation

Breathe out. If I’m a poet, I’m a poor one.

I’m trying to break my dependence on caffeine, but often it’s the only way to bring clarity to this cloud. It sharpens the edges of feelings, turns soft affection into passion and foreboding into anxiety. It’s not ideal but it’s better than dullness, it’s better than being in the middle of the cloud and unable to tell the difference between selfishness and selflessness. It helps me stop obsessing over the lost time and savor it as it passes.

Every so often, there’s pinpoint lucidity. One tiny aspect of the world comes into perfect focus. Last night it was my own sudden, unexpected smile. This morning it was a warning to avoid Nazi rappers. A few weeks ago, it was a phrase from Oscar Wilde, exquisite in its simplicity and its truth, words that I try to remember even when my own words are failing me:

“Ah! this morning! You have lived since then.”

Breathe in. Live.

Breathe out. Live.

Because this blog is (supposed to be) a place of honesty, I’m going to be honest. It’s been a rough few months. Work has been demanding, and it’s been frustrating, and it’s been full of horrible hang-ups and technological trauma. Despite living with my best friend and working with people who I enjoy the company of, I’ve been hideously lonely. I’ve been terrified of the future and of the present in equal measure and seemingly numb to anything except the most deeply negative of emotions.

I can safely say that I hit rock bottom two weeks ago, using my carefully hoarded comp time to take a morning off to lie in bed and wallow in soft, pillowy thoughts of nothingness. I dragged myself to work at noon and managed four hours of staring at the computer screen before dragging myself back out the door and down the street to my brand new therapist. Though a seasoned professional, even she seemed a little stunned by the sheer flatness of my affect and kept me in her office for nearly half an hour over our allotted time.

A depressive episode, at least in the way I get them, drains you of love. I had no love for anything or anyone. I had no passion. I took no joy in a sunny day or a picture of a puppy. There’s a section in the Hyperbole And A Half book that expertly expresses how much of a toll this can take on a social life – you forget how to express the appropriate emotions, make strange faces, say the wrong things, make people angry because it seems like you’re not listening even though you’re trying to. Add this to my normally short fuse growing even shorter, and I turn into a robot who is programmed only to be sullen and irritated.

So this is where I’ve been at. It’s little wonder I’ve lacked any motivation to post. But slowly, carefully, incrementally I’m clawing my way out. It’s two steps forward, one step back, but at least I’m netting gains.

I’ve started cutting overly processed things out of my diet as much as I can (except for those pseudo-healthy cereal bars, like Kashi and Trader Joe’s, because they’re delicious and also great for breakfast when I’m running late and need something that’ll keep me full until lunch). I’ve been experimenting with green smoothies for more iron and more calcium (best recipe so far: two bananas, a cup of blueberry Chobani, and packing the rest of the single-serve blender with spinach). I snack on fruit. I briefly started yoga but it made the floor creak too much and I got unbearably self-conscious. But at least I tried, which is more than I usually do. I’ve also started walking more. The end game goal is to actually run, but for now doing a mile or two at lunch is a good match for my physical abilities. I don’t know if any of this is actually helping, or if the increase in positive mood motivated the life changes and not the other way around, but I like where I’m headed.

I made two huge steps forward today specifically. I bought plane tickets to visit a dear friend and I messaged a cute girl on a dating site (side note: removing “men” from my “looking for” makes things a lot less stressful on said site. I’m no longer anxious every time I sign on! I get about 10% of the messages, but that’s a small price to pay). Whether or not I hear back from said cute girl is immaterial: I put myself out there again, which is a huge personal victory.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m wildly happy. It’s a work in progress. But for the first time in a few months, I can feel some forward momentum, and that’s a big deal. Maybe it’s just today, and this particular Tuesday is bathing me in good vibes for no particular reason (unusual for a Tuesday, but I’ll take it). All I can do is keep moving forward, and hope the momentum holds.

I have this problem – and have always had this problem – where I base my self-worth on what I can accomplish. As I said in my job interviews (and will probably always say, because I’ve gotten feedback that it’s a great line), I work best when I can see tangible results, whether that’s a policy change or a blast email or just checking an item off a to-do list. The flip side is that when I can’t see results, I feel like a lump of expired pudding or something equally useless.

As an academically successful teen, this worked to my favor. I got all As, therefore I was smart. I could point at my test scores and say, “see? I’m in the top 1%. I’m awesome.” I saved all the programs from all the concerts I was in, the shows I performed in, so I  had evidence that I had done something and done it well. Apart from the crippling teenage depression, my life was pretty great.

Things went to shit in college. My anxiety flared up and flared up hard. I needed to focus more on my work, not less, but focusing was hard when I spent all my time worrying about my future, about screwing up my premed program, about finding a job and not dying alone, and even about if I was gaining weight from the college food (I was, and a substantial amount in proportion to my starting body weight). I was trapped in a swirling vortex of pointless concerns and my homework was just outside of it.

Needless to say, a lot of my homework didn’t get done. A lot of my tests didn’t get studied for. My GPA went from a 4.0 to a 1.9 at its lowest, although I managed to drag it up to a 2.7 by graduation. I did my final semester at UVM, and my grades were better, albeit still not great. I couldn’t point at anything to say “I am smart.” The closest I could get was doing as many crossword puzzles as I could get my hands on.

So now here I am in the working world. I don’t get graded. Instead, I get to look at my completed projects, the website I’m building, the full new database, and say “I did that.” I don’t feel smart anymore. I feel productive or good at my job. Maybe this is a better, more adult way to look at my accomplishments, but it doesn’t feel better. I miss having something to measure myself against – percentiles, grades, class rankings.

I got a promotion at the beginning of this year. I hired my first employee already. She started today. It’s mildly terrifying, because I feel that I have no business managing anyone when I can’t even make myself eat like a normal person or wear pants when I’m in the apartment. Sure, I can manage myself to the point of getting my work projects done, but delegation is a scary word when you measure your success by what you, personally, can accomplish.

The weirdest part about the employee thing might be her age. She’s a college student, friendly and put together, and I would bet you anything that she’s older than I am, or if she’s younger, it’s not by much. Add that to the fact that I’ve only been at this job for five months and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be giving off much of an “I’m your boss” vibe. (Plus I stuttered and hemmed and hawed my way through her interview but that’s me and one on one social interaction in general.)

I’m sure that this employee will do everything I want her to do. But I’m worried that I won’t want her to do anything, because how can I feel good about myself without accomplishments?

The solution, I’m sure, is to reframe what counts as an accomplishment. Effective delegation isn’t just a selfless donation of things to get done, it’s a success in its own right. I need to find a way to point at a project and say, “See? I didn’t hoard that project. I trusted someone else. I’m awesome.”

This title’s a bit of a misnomer. I’m not going to tell you how to handle your emotions. In fact, to an extent, I’m going to tell you not to handle your emotions. And then how to handle them again. And then how to let them go.

I lied about something else in the title. There are three steps, but they’re not easy. They’re hard as hell and get harder the more intense the emotion is. No one ever said being emotionally healthy was a cakewalk.

As a disclaimer, this post isn’t the advice of a professional. I’m a degree short of that. This post is the advice of someone who has an awful lot of emotions and doesn’t always deal with them appropriately, but is learning to, slowly and surely, and is the amalgamation of four years of formal study and almost ten years of formal therapy. That said, let’s get on to the tutorial.

Step one: Feel.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. When you have an emotion, feel it. Feel it all the way. Don’t think about it too hard, just experience it, wallow in it, soak it up. The hard part is limiting yourself. The length of time you feel for shouldn’t be out of proportion to why you’re having the emotion. If you spill milk, feel sad for thirty seconds. If your dog dies, feel sad for longer. Don’t feel until you’re sick of feeling, but feel for just as long as you need to, then…

Step two: Deal.

Okay, so you have all these feelings that you’re feeling. Now find somewhere to put them. Give them somewhere to go. Put your sad feelings in a diary entry. Put your angry feelings in a drawing or on a treadmill. Don’t let your feelings be lazy; make them work for you. Create or destroy, whatever you need, or do a little bit of both. Don’t limit yourself here unless you find yourself getting obsessive. Generally speaking, doing is a good thing.

Step three: Heal.

If it was a minor feeling, it should be gone by now. It might even have been gone after step one. But if it’s a big thing, one round of feeling and dealing won’t be enough. The emotion will keep coming back, and that’s fine. Accept it as fine, feel it again, deal with it again. Wash, rinse, repeat until it’s not distressing anymore. Give yourself a little less time to feel each time, but be patient with yourself, and don’t try to cut down too quickly.

These steps won’t magically make you happy, and they’re only marginally effective for dealing with clinical-level emotions like depression or a phobia. But for the everyday shit that life throws at you, give it a shot. Feel, deal, and heal. As I’ve heard it said before, don’t get over things, get through them.


On a different but semi-related note, I have way too many feelings to know which ones are worth writing about, so I’m asking you directly: what do you want to know more about? Anxiety in the workplace, in my personal life, in general? Stories about the bus? Coping techniques? Leave me a comment and let me know, and I’ll see what I can do.

[Written on my Kindle c. 1:00AM]

Losing control of your mind is horrifying.

It happens to everyone sometimes but for discrete periods – you know somewhere that it’s going to come back and that your madness is temporary.

I don’t know how to deal with losing control of anything, let alone my mind. Whenever anyone shut up about my tits long enough to compliment me on something real, it was usually my wit or my poise or the way I could hold the attention of a room. Now I’m trapped in a pathetic little shell that JUST. WON’T. LISTEN. and I can beat at the walls as much as I want but I can’t get out and no one will ever hear me.

I hear an abyss every second of every day. I smell burnt plastic and taste charcoal. I burn alive from the inside out.

I am the abyss. I am enormous and magnificent and as infinitely full as I am infinitely empty.

I’m slowly sliding down a blackened glacier towards the frigid sea and my descent has never stopped, not once in all these years, just slowed or sped up and the water is waiting and the abyss is waiting.

I’m more than that and less and the same and I weigh now what I did in high school before I started riding the glacier down, before I lost 14 pounds in 14 days and wished it was fifteen because that was my age and I’ve always loved symmetry.

My masks are many. I make the faces I’m supposed to unless I’m tired and then the madness leaks through the cracks and shines bright behind my eyes and people get annoyed with me for not being the mask and not caring about them when I’m busy fistfighting an abyss.

Do you hate me? Of course you do. I’m frightening and icy as space and as emptiness and twice as honest because what do I have to lose? All that’s waiting for me is the sea. It’s alright because I hate you too.

I love you I hate you I hate me I love me

I bought a skirt that was too large because I didn’t want my real size to hurt your feelings. According to Express, I don’t exist twice over.

I keep wracking my brain for my diagnosis: schizotypal, maybe, or cyclothymic, or mood disorder NOS or borderline or plain old anxiety like it said on my discharge paperwork last year. There’s no diagnostic code for “abyss.”

I’m sure I’m not real. The glacier is real and the sea and the inevitability of my complete opacity (which, poetically enough, is nearly the same word as insanity when typing with Swype, although I was going for the opposite of lucidity) is real but me myself I don’t exist except in my own mind.

I need to be put in a box so I can understand but I know too much about minds that aren’t mine and madness that isn’t mine so what should I do? What can I do? My words create me and they can destroy me.

First: Don’t.

I’m not being cute here, or glib, or sarcastic, or even woe-is-me-I-am-not-worthy-of-love. I believe that I’m fully worthy of love. But please, please please please, do not fall in love with me.

Second: I’m not kidding. Don’t do it.

With such a strong directive, I owe you an explanation. See, if your taste is good enough that you will fall in love with me, I want to like you. I think we’ll be amazing friends. We’ll spend hours talking about great music and good movies and how stupid other people can be sometimes. Don’t ruin it by falling in love.

I have some great references, available upon request, who will tell you what happens when you fall in love with me. I will grow distant. I will resent you. I will become suspicious that you’re doing me a favor, or in love with the idea of me rather than my whole self. I will be angry and hateful and spiteful and will push your boundaries, try to see just how awful I can be before you stop being in love.

Worst of all, if I never push enough, if you’re so devoted that at the end of it all that you’re still in love with me, I will hate you for your dedication and your stupidity and your utter lack of self-preservation. I will walk away and won’t look back. We will never be the same.

By all means, love me. Love my whole self. But love my anger and my hatred and my spite. I will love you back whole-heartedly…eventually.

Being in love is fast and shallow. It’s a false bottom on a drawer filled with poisonous spiders. Don’t fall in love with me. Don’t fall into that drawer. Love me instead. Learn me from the inside-out from top to bottom from morning until night and take your time with it. Let it take years. We have years.

Let me love you first. Keep yourself at a distance and when I’m in a frenzy with how much I adore you, then come to me. Come slowly, with open palms up, so I know you won’t hurt me and I won’t cower like the scared little rabbit I am deep inside. Don’t make me be afraid of loving you back. Don’t be fire. Be coals. Don’t dazzle me with your affection – warm me with it.

Love me like you love your favorite childhood memory. Don’t be giddy. Be enthralled. Love me quietly and softly and in half of every moment so your love will last for twice as long and so you still have room for other things.

Don’t fall. Descend gracefully and slowly down a curving staircase while I wait half-visible at the bottom. I don’t want you to break your neck before you even get a chance. I don’t want to lose you before I have you.

want to love you, I promise. But I can’t love someone who’s in love with me, because when you’re in love with someone it’s despite their flaws, not because of them, and if you don’t love my (innumerable) flaws, you don’t really love me, and that’s, as the kids would say, not cool.

Don’t fall in love with me. Love me. I’ll do my best to do the same.

  1. Stop being scared of open windows. They let in light, not the world.
  2. Eat more food. Eat better food. Listen to your body. Don’t sit around in hunger because of laziness. Eat a damn apple.
  3. Commit to something. A book, a blog, an exercise plan, a rubber band ball.
  4. Keep your desk clean. Work smarter. Stay organized.
  5. Make better friends, not more of them. Grow relationships.
  6. Try.
  7. Cry. But only when appropriate.
  8. Breathe deeply at least once a day.
  9. Buy things you want.
  10. But only if you can afford them.
  11. Make the world more beautiful.
  12. Kiss someone who deserves it.
  13. Fight for something you believe in.
  14. Don’t covet. Get.
  15. Don’t pick at things. Not your skin, not your insecurities, not your friends.
  16. Go somewhere new. A coffee shop, a country, it doesn’t matter.
  17. Dress up for no reason. You don’t need a reason to be fancy.
  18. Stop holding grudges. Stop letting grudges hold you.
  19. Say “yes” sometimes.
  20. Plant something and let it grow.
  21. Play. Be silly. Don’t care.
  22. Do things for no good reason. “Because I want to” can be the best reason of all.
  23. Explore the world. Be amazed by bricks and dust bunnies and shafts of sunlight and moss on trees.
  24. Don’t make plans you won’t follow through on. Know your limitations. Know your self-control. Accept them and work with them.
  25. Worry less. Live more.

sometimes I miss my meds and I get drunk on it and I’ll inhale moths into my lungs and they morph into enormous butterflies before I breathe out again

sometimes I miss my meds and I’m scaredscaredscaredawake and sadsadsadtired and every time I turn my head there’s a SNAP in my skull and I forget where I am and who I am for a hundredth of a second and I’m ALIVE, I’m so alive that the moths flock to me and I am their flame and I laugh for no reason at all

there’s a man who had anterograde amnesia who I read about who wrote over and over in his diary over and over “today I woke up for the first time” and he and I are the same man

when I miss my meds my tongue is dry as a dessicated moth wing and I can cough up a thousand coughs of nothing and the butterflies won’t move and my skin is on fire and the only way to quench it is with hands hands and more hands and fingers and mouths

sometimes I miss my meds on purpose because I can trade scared and sad for ALIVE and the fire on my skin

today I woke up for the first time

today, I woke up for the first time

I woke up for the first time today

I woke up and there were butterflies and moths and a snap in my skull and I was immeasurably scared and immeasurably sad and immeasurably alive and there was fire everywhere and your hands your hands your hands put it out

sometimes I miss my meds on purpose for your hands

Though very similar in the common lexicon, panic, fear, and anxiety are in fact distinct psychological concepts, and recognizably different experiences as well. It’s not even all that hard to sum up the differences: essentially, you are anxious when there is no tiger, but might be; you’re fearful when you see a tiger nearby; you’re panicked when the tiger is gnawing on your leg.

Very few of us experience true panic. Panic is focused exclusively on the present. It’s an intense, discrete terror that takes nothing into account but what is happening exactly at that moment. In a panic attack, for instance, you might be thinking only of how your heart is beating too fast and your chest hurts and you’re almost certainly about to die. Panic does not require the direct presence of the stressor: although a tiger gnawing on your leg can inspire panic, so can breathing too hard or fast if you’re predisposed to attacks, or being in a place where you’ve had a panic attack before. The most important component of panic is immediacy.

Fear is future-focused but requires a stressor’s presence. You see a tiger, and it might attack you, and you’re afraid. The closer it gets to attacking you, the more scared you are – scared of what it might do, if you might die, if you might lose a leg or an arm, if anyone will find your body. The future focus in fear need not be days or weeks in the future. It could be just a few minutes. It could be a few seconds. By “future,” it’s simply implied that your cognitions center on outcomes – “this tiger is going to kill me” rather than “there are currently tiger teeth in my leg and it feels rather unpleasant.” It’s a fine distinction on paper (or computer screen) but the more important component to remember is presence: the tiger is real and it’s right there.

Anxiety is future-focused, like fear, but can occur with or without a stressor, like panic. Anxiety is exclusively speculative. Anxious cognitions are invariably “what if”s: what if there’s a tiger in my closet? What if the bank teller hates me? What if I trip and fall in front of President Obama? Whether or not the tiger, bank teller, or Obama are actually there, the anxious cognitions are equally strong. They are independent of the stressor’s presence. Anxiety, then, can be best summed up as speculation. Unpleasant speculation, to be sure, but speculation all the same.

It’s important to note that these three concepts can be equally strong, equally unpleasant, and equally intense. They’re simply different sides of the same coin, if the coin had an extra dimension so it had three faces. It’s not critical to understand the difference, and there won’t be a quiz at the end of this post, but it’s helped me, at least, to isolate reasonable fears from unreasonable anxieties.

Not to make this post a jumble of terminology, but the phrase catastrophic thinking is also important to understand. Catastrophic thinking is the process of instantly jumping to the worst possible outcome. It’s common in panic and anxiety: a racing heart means a heart attack, not that you just took the stairs and are out of shape. A fleck of brown on your hand is a cancerous mole, not a smear of chocolate. I exclude fear because in fear, there is an actual tiger and it’s right about to bite you. In anxiety, there might be a tiger behind the door, and it might eat your face, and you might be hideously disfigured for the rest of your life…but it’s probably just clothes.

So here’s my challenge to you: when you feel that uncomfortable feeling, that fight or flight, determine if it’s fear or anxiety, and then determine if you’re thinking catastrophically. The tiger could come up and bite you, or it could growl and walk away. It could be behind your closet door, but there could just be a pair of boots. It’s very difficult, in the midst of anxiety, to take a breath and figure out what’s actually going on, but it’s crucial to mental health to be able to identify if you’re overreacting, even just cognitively. Just remember that somewhere out in the midwest, I’m probably doing the exact same thing.

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