knowing nothing, loving most things

Today, I’m wondering what the obsession with having anything or anyone “figured out” is.

When it comes to life in general, people assume everyone else who’s doing the exact opposite of what they’re doing has it “figured out” – that nobody else is running around with fucked up internal monologues and that other people are automatically at peace with themselves because they have a spouse, a single-family home, kids, or whatever.

But also, dude, have you heard of this thing called a midlife crisis? Not to mention, your garden variety nervous breakdown?

“This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.”

When I was younger, I thought that the main thing that would make me happy would be a romantic relationship. While I definitely had standards and preferences, because I was basically just seeking out ~a relationship~, I ended up with someone whose goals and personality were completely incompatible with mine. For the first few years, things seemed mostly okay, and I was happy to live with my partner. I felt that maybe – just maybe – I was so close to having it Figured Out.

But, I found myself feeling smaller and smaller every day, and I couldn’t figure out why. Because I wanted to “make things work” to fit into my ideal narrative of what my life should be like, I was jettisoning some of the best parts of myself away to the all-encompassing sludge ocean that was my partnership with this person. 

On the eve of the day my spouse and I were supposed to sign a contract on a house (Friday the 13th, 2016), I had nothing left of myself to give away. I’d sometimes wish I’d left the moment I made the connection that my partner’s desire to control every facet of my life was abuse. Maybe we wouldn’t have gone through with getting married. Maybe I could have invested a few more years of my twenties into hobbies and interests that built my self-confidence.

But that wasn’t meant to happen, and if I hadn’t fucked up (arguable, ok) on the scale that I did, I would have never discovered how simultaneously liberating and terrifying it is to realize that I know basically nothing about life.

Or people, even myself.

But I still try, because it’s as fun as it is frustrating to try. And maybe – just maybe – if I enjoy instead of resent that the trying could last the entire span of my life, every day will seem a little brighter.

And still, some days will have to hurt so, so much. And on those days, I admit I want things that other people have, because they’ll look so enticing by virtue of being anything other than what I’m feeling in that moment. Mostly, I’ll want to not feel out of place at the supermarket or the park as I’m watching everyone laugh and laughter’s nothing but an echo to me.

I’m grateful that this isn’t most days though, and I think that’s all I could ever ask for.

 

 

 

 

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all of the orange things on the horizon are (not) tigers

I have answers to very few things. For now, this is more liberating than sad.

It is both empowering and mind-numbingly frustrating that most anxiety isn’t a fear of the thing, but a fear of fear. Anticipatory anxiety in particular is like seeing an orange blur on the horizon and having an internal monologue that goes “that’s 100% a fucking tiger!! There are no other things that could possibly be orange in the universe, and we are definitely going to die, what are you doing approaching that tiger??” and every time I approach it, it’s actually a Dreamsicle, because I’m a middle-class white woman in the year 2019.

Welcome to the paradox that is my existence.

But also, it’s millions (billions?) of other peoples’ existence, so my suffering didn’t even have the decency to be moderately unique or interesting? I guess that’s a small comfort. 

If I’m being honest, on an average day, I’m not constantly anxious, it’s just that the intensity of anxiety compared to other emotions is amplified, so every sliver of fear feels like A Big Deal compared to happiness, boredom, amusement, and all of the other more pleasant emotions I experience in a given day.

(Whoever engineered feelings is a total prick, by the way.)

Sometimes, I write here because I have some kind of an a-ha moment in my life, but I didn’t move cities or get divorced again (yet!!1 There’s still time!. But today? I’m feeling a little directionless and weary, and I want to honor that and be okay with that.

Things have been better. I run, I do yoga, I meditate, I work out, I eat well. I don’t do those things obsessively. I’m accepting that weird feelings are a part of being alive, and sometimes, the pain that happens as a result of those feelings isn’t going to make any damn sense, and I’m going to just have to push through them to see what’s on the other side.

The hardest part of pushing through is, the older you get, the more likely you are to have experienced an amount of pain that you don’t know if you have the energy to revisit. So without realizing it, we avoid activities that recall that pain. Our bright, big, beautiful worlds get smaller as a result, aaaand that’s how anxiety and depression make such great bedfellows. 

If we’re simultaneously afraid of the future and longing for a past version of ourselves that no longer exists, then we start to live in a paradoxical bubble where longing and rejection intersect, and we want any reality that is not our own. 

Since it’s me and I don’t want to brood for too long, this is ending on a positive note. The good news is: Our worlds don’t have to shrink, and if they do shrink, we should be kind to ourselves and know that we can rebuild them in bigger, more beautiful directions when we’re ready to. And if we’re not ready just yet, we’re still meaningful, worthwhile creatures who deserve kindness and compassion – from ourselves and others – while we build ourselves back up.

As always, the things I write are just as much for self-soothing as they are for anyone who might be reading. But I do believe them at the core of my being, even if they sometimes feel out of reach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

it’s cool; everything’s fine; i love myself now

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US.

I spent the holiday with friends here in Austin as opposed to going on a trip like I’d originally planned, because I’m sorting through some things.

To be completely transparent, I recently started going back to therapy, went back on my anti-anxiety medication, and have started indulging in more self-care than usual after getting sick about a month ago and simultaneously falling into a rut.

I love y’all, and I know this comes from a good place when people do it (I also need to be better about this), but for fuck’s sake, if I seem a little out of it or not like myself, don’t hit me with any variation of this:

“I’m worried about you.”

I know it comes from a good place, I really do – but worry is the last thing I need more of in my life, and generally speaking, that applies to most people who are going through stuff.

If there’s anything I’ve learned by this point, it’s that the following things don’t happen in a linear fashion, and they take work every day. Some days, weeks, and months are harder than others:

  • Healing from trauma
  • Loving yourself
  • Loving others
  • Grieving

Honestly, if I were to sum up the primary emotion I’ve been feeling lately, it’s frustration. Not with myself, but with the fact that a lot of what I’m going through is stuff I’ve already “beaten,” and now I’m meeting the acceptance stage of grief and trauma in a strange way. And that’s okay.

Lately things have been better, but being alone with my thoughts still isn’t super fun right now, so I’ve been keeping busy.

On the plus side, I’ve been making a lot of art that I’m super proud of, and I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the wonderful people and places that have given me solace while I process a few things. I’m working on seeing all of the activity going on in my brain as “creative energy,” and that’s been helping a good bit.

I guess I’m mostly writing this for me and for anyone interested in hearing candid perspectives on the ups and downs of my life, but I’m also writing this because I’ve heard more than a few friends mention that they’re going through some things as well. Growing pains, grief, old wounds being reopened – whatever you want to call it – even if I know “this too shall pass” and all the familiar mantras, sometimes I’m just fucking tired.

The other day, I voiced my frustrations as clearly as I could: Imagine a bunch of junk thoughts flying into your brain about basically anything you can think of. Then, imagine that, because this isn’t your ~first rodeo~ you know the thoughts are ridiculous, but that doesn’t make them any less hurtful. You think “I love myself! I’ve worked hard at this. But if I love myself, why is my brain making these thoughts happen?”

So, I sit down, resigned, because there’s really nothing I can do but let the thoughts exist and not react to them too much. But this is also – paradoxically – exhausting. On the surface, it takes minimal effort to just ignore the thoughts. But since it goes against everything my body wants to do, sometimes I cling to the thoughts that hurt the most.

So yeah. In spite of this happening, I don’t want worry or pity. Compassion is plenty. In fact, compassion is everything, because nobody knows for sure how long the healing process will take, so knowing that there are people who will be there whether things last a day or a month is so, so important.

I’m a resilient human being, and things have been better lately. I know the steps I need to take to make things better, and while it’s frustrating to acknowledge that I may have to take prescription medication to cope with the effects of trauma and grief for the rest of my life, it’s not the end of the world, and I need to be kinder to myself about it.

I hope that, if you’re going through something as well, you remember to be kind to yourself too. People maintain friendships, family connections, romantic relationships, and self-love through struggle all the time, and while we might be alone in the world between our ears, that world doesn’t have as much power as we give it when we’re feeling down.

Here’s to trying to be as vulnerable in person as I am in writing more often, as it’s not always easy.

 

the worst winter

I need to sit and reflect and be grateful for where I am at this point in my life more often; doing so changes everything.

When I was experiencing the worst anxiety of my life in January of 2016, there was an entire week where I couldn’t sleep more than an hour a night, and the only food I could swallow was bananas and oatmeal. I weighed 108 pounds – less than I weighed in middle school.

That winter, I was in a state where it seemed like no amount of meditation, magnesium supplements, self-help books, or mindfulness mantras helped me at all. During that week, I could barely listen to music or find enjoyment in much of anything, and to make matters worse, I was snowed in with my parents and now ex-husband.

Because I could barely sleep, I struggled to make rational thoughts happen. The line between my waking life and the little sleep I got was blurred, and I felt like I was barely in tune with reality. After I developed a phobia of brain aneurysms out of nowhere, I started thinking I was going to lose my shit, until I read one of the most instrumental sentences I’ve ever heard when it comes to pulling myself out:

“If you think you’re going crazy, you’re probably not.”

At the time, this seemed contradictory, but then I realized why it made so much sense – if you’re in a place where you can recognize that holy shit, something is wrong with me, and I’m not myself for some reason, you’re in a better place than you think.

But, as I quickly learned – I couldn’t just stop at recognizing something was wrong.

I’m a sensitive person, and I indulged in certain substances for a good five years of my life more than I should have. Although I never got addicted to anything in particular, I did become dependent on using outside sources to turn my brain off whenever I had thoughts that were inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Whenever my head started to clear up enough to think “uh, what the hell are you doing? You used to travel the world, make new friends all the time, laugh, and engage with new people, and now you’re engaged to a man who barely knows you and treats you poorly,” I’d get high or drunk, play Skyrim for ten hours straight, and shrug it off.

I stopped drawing, I stopped seeing my friends, I gave up on traveling and studying Russian, and I didn’t see any of my favorite bands play. When my relationship was at its shittiest, my former partner and I would occasionally drop acid together and pretend like we could rebuild a weak foundation on how weird Futurama episodes look when you’re tripping balls.

Side note: I do think that research into the usefulness of certain (usually recreational) drugs in helping mental and physical illnesses is a great idea. But for me, personally, I got too high too often for too long, and it fucked with my mental health, because I overindulged for all the wrong reasons. So that’s on me and not on weed or small doses of LSD or whatever~

I realized that my anxiety wasn’t me going crazy, it was my own brain telling me that the way I was living my life wasn’t healthy or sustainable long term.

So, for thirty days that winter, I cut out everything – alcohol, caffeine, all drugs (which ended up being permanent), gluten, dairy. Maybe some of that was excessive, but I knew there was something within myself that I needed to confront in the most sober, clean state I could imagine.

The first two weeks were miserable. The insomnia continued, and I couldn’t smoke a bowl and drink red wine until I fell asleep like I’d been doing, so I was left to lie in bed and think about everything. It was like I’d been procrastinating facing all of the faults in my life for years, and now they were breathing down my neck, forcing me to acknowledge them and change my life for the better.

But then, toward the end of that winter, a clear picture started to emerge, and it took me all of three more months to rekindle all of my closest friendships, leave my unhappy marriage, confront my PTSD and drive my car in the city, and move to a new place I’d fallen in love with years before. It really, really sucked, until it didn’t, and I can’t stress how rewarding it is to feel like myself after what felt like years of being in someone else’s life.

I hope that none of this sounded sanctimonious and like the path I took is the right path for everyone else. I’m honestly annoyed that I had to de-fog my brain so much that I couldn’t even drink coffee for a month, but it was so worth it.

There’s no such thing as being completely free of anxiety because it’s part of being a human, and humans are weird, but after that shitstorm of a winter, I know how to use my anxiety as a barometer for the changes I need to make in my life, and I see it as a gift, rather than a curse. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m grateful for the worst winter of my life, because it’s the only thing that could have forged a version of myself that I’m okay with – and even love sometimes.

 

 

 

two words

I was excited to go home earlier than usual today.

I thought to myself: “I get to see some of the daylight before bed, it’s a beautiful day, and I can listen to my music as I walk through the city and wait for my bus.”

Then, as I’m sitting on the bus with my headphones on, I feel something hit my head. “Huh. Maybe it was a bug.”

Then, I feel it two more times. I turn around, and I see several pieces of paper on the ground and a man smiling at me – a man who is way too old to be thinking that a woman with her headphones on while riding the bus home alone wants to be flirted with by having shit thrown at her head.

I do that thing all people (especially women) do when they realize they’ve made eye contact when they didn’t want to: look away, pretend it didn’t happen, and chant internally “please don’t come over here, please don’t come over here…” on repeat.

Of course, that would have meant this dude had any ounce of self-awareness, and if the whole “grown man throwing paper at a complete stranger on the bus” interaction is any indication, hell no he doesn’t.

The man comes and stands right next to me, and he says “I just want to get to know you.” Visibly tired and immersed in My Own Dang Life Because It’s Public Transit, And You’re A Strange Man, I respond with “I’m sorry (why was I apologizing? Okay), but I’m tired, and I’m not interested.”

I quickly turn my music back on and look away, but not before I hear two words anyone can understand anywhere, even underwater (I’ve tested it):

“Fuck you.”

…Welp, now I’m uncomfortable. To make matters worse, some other guys that know this man get on the bus. They start talking about me audibly using derogatory terms, and in just thirty minutes, my day went from “Hooray! The sun is out today, and I’m getting home early!” to “are you fucking kidding me?” to “who on this bus can I potentially ask for help if these guys try to get off at the same stop as me and follow me home? Who can I potentially sit next to if this escalates?”

If you’re one of the people who, like me, shared your #metoo story, I’m probably preaching to the choir. You, also like me, probably have at least one story like this, and it’s also likely not your worst story. You probably know that it’s the culmination of stories like these that make you feel unsafe in certain situations on a regular basis, and that’s why sharing this shit is so important.

Or maybe you’re one of the people who was dismissive of #metoo and felt, for some reason, that the people sharing their stories owed you more of an explanation than they gave. Maybe you thought that anything short of rape or physical assault wasn’t “enough” for someone to warrant sharing their experience. Maybe you just didn’t believe us, even though there are so many of us, and there’s so little to gain from sharing but a whole lot to lose in many instances.

In that case, at least for now, because I’m tired of being on guard all of the time in situations that should be innocuous. Because I’m tired of feeling like I don’t have autonomy over my own body on a daily basis. Because I’m not alone in feeling this way, not even a little. Because this should be rare, but it isn’t.

At least for now, other than “me too,” I have two words – not just for the dicks on the bus, but for people in the second category who feel like our stories aren’t enough for some reason. Two words you can even hear underwater:

Fuck you.

(I’m me, so also I love you and believe you’re capable of doing better in the future, but yep, fuck you.)

chicago/it doesn’t take much to convince me

What’s good, 2am? We’ve been seeing a lot more of each other lately, but I’m not mad.

I probably shouldn’t be advertising this, but if you want me to do something (within reason), all you have to do is word it to me as if it will be the adventure of my life, and I’ll probably say yes.

I’ll say yes right away with enthusiasm, and I won’t change my mind.

(See, parents? I can commit to things!)

This happened about a month ago when someone I’ve known longer than I’ve been dyeing my hair convinced me to go to Chicago to do a 12-mile obstacle course for his birthday. I hadn’t seen this friend since I was a teenager, but something told me that if I didn’t do this, I’d have missed out on a life-changing experience.

Everyone I know had the same reaction when I told them what I was doing: “Uh, you’re doing what now? Uh, good luck with that.” For the understatement of the year, I’m not much of a runner, let alone a traverser of obstacles. I’ve also never been to Chicago, and I don’t know anyone there except for this friend I hadn’t seen in years.

Well, I did it. And now that I’m sore, bruised, and smiling back in Austin, I’m still full of light after this weekend. I still feel that surreal glow and the sensation of “did all of that even happen?? What is my life?”

Not that I need to define the sensation, but all I feel is the high of challenging myself and finishing something that terrified me coupled with the realization that I can pick up with someone I haven’t seen for over half a decade as if we’d never stopped talking.

I’ve always been told that when you’ve had an intimate relationship with suffering, the beautiful moments in life seem that much more pronounced. Most of the time when people tell me this, I’m in the midst of the “suffering” bit, and digesting those words feels like swallowing steak knives.

So, I need to remember to pause and be grateful when I’m in the midst of happiness. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite authors (yeah, some of what he writes is poppy, but I adore him, so ~suck it~ I guess)

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Murakami isn’t the first to say this, but this is my favorite variation, and the words resonate with me most in this order.

Sometimes, I catch myself choosing to suffer. You might know this same kind of suffering, because there’s nothing special about it: You start reflecting on bad experiences, and before you know it, you’re picking at all of the scabs that are still healing in your life. The older you get, the more it becomes clear that there’s nobody to smack your hand away except your own sad sack self.

I catch myself choosing to suffer, and then I remember that my life is full of positive experiences. I can go back to this and remember that I spent more than an entire weekend in a new city laughing and smiling and opening up rather than shutting out.

It’s nice, for a change, to feel the good kind of restlessness that leads me to find inspiration in small things. Endless thoughts and ideas are running through my head after this weekend, and although I haven’t processed everything I’m feeling, I’m so grateful I said yes to something that initially scared me so much I almost got sick on the train.

 

unsolicited advice

I haven’t shared anything in a while, mostly because I needed to pause and think about why the hell I post anymore. I think I know, for now.

When I write about my past experiences, I try my best to present those experiences in a way that makes whoever is reading feel less isolated in the world around them. If someone reads something I wrote and feels less alone in the world and more comfortable with the decisions they’ve made and the people they’ve become, that’s enough for me.

I don’t intend for any of my posts to be teaching moments, and the last thing I want anyone to take away from reading any of my posts is “huh, why am I doing/not doing that the same way she is?”

Because holy shit, I don’t have anything “all figured out,” including myself. You have my word: I’m ~under construction~ at all times.

I try my best to be careful about coming off as an authority on anyone else’s life, mostly because I’m not, but also because I’d like to give anyone who’s reading the one nugget of unsolicited advice I’ll ever intentionally drop on anyone:

Stop giving people unsolicited advice.

Nine times out of ten, when you think you’re dropping a Truth Bomb™ of “tough love” on someone, you’re making them feel cornered and overwhelmed at worst, irritated at best.

Unless someone is in a dire situation where their mental or physical health is in danger because of their actions, chances are, your unsolicited advice is just smothering the hell out of your loved ones, and it’s not cool.

I’ve been both the deliverer and recipient of unsolicited advice, but mostly the recipient. If you know me, this is not a surprise. As a young-ish woman who has whatever the complete opposite of resting bitch face is, people tend to throw me in the “submissive” bin with little thought and feel the need to bombard me with career/relationship/underwater basketweaving advice without my consent.

When you assert yourself as an authority in someone’s life when it’s neither accurate nor necessary, you might have good intentions, but you’re inadvertently fucking with the power dynamic between you and that person and making it difficult for you to maintain an equal relationship with that person.

So, with love: Cut that shit out.

Generally speaking, when most adults are looking for advice and are in a good place mentally to receive said advice, they’ll know:

  1. When to ask
  2. Who to ask

Getting/receiving advice when it’s wanted and makes sense looks like this: My brother is a mechanic. (Hi Brett!! You’re probably not reading this because my feelings are moderately annoying to you, but I love you!) I ask him for advice on cars all the time, because I know he went to school to work on cars and does this 60+ hours a week. We have a mutual understanding that I know way less about cars than he does.

In return, he’s asked me for advice on job hunting, writing stuff, and video games in the past, and I’m happy to give that advice. I’ve always seen my brother as an equal and feel like he’s treated me as such.

Unsolicited advice looks a lot more like one person vomiting “suggestions” onto another person until the other person either pushes back or agrees to get them to leave them alone and stop spewing self-righteous bullshit everywhere. 

I think the most hurtful thing about giving someone lots of unsolicited advice, aside from the fact that it can really fuck with that person’s ability to feel like an equal in their social interactions with you, is that in most cases, if you really want to help the person, you’d be much better off letting them vent (which is what they usually want) or letting them know you’re available with a simple “please let me know if I can help in any way.”

That way, if someone is looking for advice, they feel like it’s invited rather than forced on them. Generally, most adults will be comfortable asking for advice if they need it after they’ve been invited to do so. And if they’re not? Respect that and let them make their own choices at their own pace. Timing is a huge part of why unsolicited advice is shitty, and people need different kinds of support at different times in their lives, depending on whatever they’re juggling.

The flipside of this is that, if you find yourself listening to someone vent, and you don’t have the bandwidth to be as supportive as you’d like, you’re allowed to change the subject or hang out with that person less if they insist on talking about something you’re not equipped to handle.

So yeah, there you have it: The only real piece of advice I ever want to dispense without anyone asking me to is to tell people not to bombard others with advice when they didn’t ask for it. Take that as you will.

Bonus section!! Here’s a list of awful pieces of unsolicited advice I’ve been given throughout my life that made me feel like junk and didn’t change my life in any meaningful way:

1. You care too much! Show people you don’t care about them, and they’ll find you much more interesting/want to date or befriend you. (I was in middle school when I first heard this, and fuck if I’m not still picking up the pieces after realizing how much this negatively affects my ability to confide in and open up to people. No healthy relationship is built on this way of thinking, and I wish I could go back in time and tell small me that.)

2. Treat your anxiety with [insert dubious natural remedy here] and just talk about your feelings with your friends instead of going to therapy!! (This advice is the worst, and I am able to drive because of years of professional therapy for PTSD. I’m no longer in therapy, but it’s nice to know that if I ever have to deal with heavy stuff again, it’s an option I’m not ashamed of. Talk therapy rules, and most of the people I’ve known who’ve knocked it probably could use it. Also, please don’t use your friends as therapists. That’s exhausting for your friends. Deciding whatever medicine is best for you works too, because you are the only one who lives with your dumb jerk brain.)

3. Stop playing video games, they’ll make you violent. (I played Mortal Kombat on Sega Genesis with blood mode on when I was three, and I feel horrible when I accidentally step on my roommate’s cat’s foot. I am a cinnamon roll of a human being; I’m soft as hell, and I own that. Video games are fun, and as long as I’m still going outside and letting my eyeballs take a break, I’m good.)

Anyway, I love anyone who reads these things and most of the people who don’t. I’m not sure know when I’ll post again, but feel free to reach out to me if you want me to yell about stuff I don’t like more often, but also if you disagree with me.