Past, present, future: an update

It’s been awhile friends, and a lot has happened.  
2012 was a very strange, very intense year for me.  Let’s breakdown:
  1. After my school visa, work permit, and two-months-to-get-out-of-America grace period expired, I snuck back into the U.S. on a visitor’s visa (after a visit with my parents in Canada) to live out the last 5 months of my lease and life as I knew it with my partner.
  2. I plummeted perhaps farther than ever into depression and anxiety I had been nurturing for years prior.  I got back on two kinds of medication and saw two different psychologists: one for me, and another for me and my partner.
  3. My five-year relationship ended.  In couple’s counselling.
  4. My then ex-boyfriend drove me and my entire life (sans himself) on a 4-day cross-country/international trip from Pittsburgh, PA to Vancouver, BC, Canada.
  5. I lived a very awkward 3 months with my aunt and uncle (before getting my own place), trying to get my bearings, until they essentially kicked me out on the grounds that they couldn’t deal with my depression/hermit tendencies (read: couldn’t accept me as a person.  Or so I took it).
  6. I completely rediscovered all aspects of my spirituality, which I apparently inexplicably buried circa 2006 for reasons I can only attribute to my (then) complete inability to be my true self in the overwhelming presence of other, less spiritual human beings. 
  7. I realized, truly, what a complete waste that was.
  8. I fell in love.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, again.  And despite all efforts not to, with ANOTHER American.  Whom I retrieved from the United States to come stay with me.
  9. And then…oh wait…this is 2013…
  1. I married him.
  2. …wait, what?

It’s possible I’m certifiably insane.
It wouldn’t be much of stretch in any situation.  Then again, I feel more on track than I’ve ever felt.  It’s been overwhelming—sometimes good, sometimes bad, but still overwhelming.  Hence my regrettable absence.  After the marriage thing happened (which is not as big a deal as it seems, really; more on that later) stuff got kind of…blah.  It’s kind of a blur actually.  In short, the place in which we were living (and even more accurately, the people with whom we were living) sucked, which left us feeling totally trapped, uninspired (hence my continued lack of posting once the crazy romantic dust settled), and at odds with everything around us.  We finally got away a couple weeks ago and moved into our first real place together, which is (so far) much better.  I feel clear-headed and motivated again!  And I’m hoping to use the momentum to turn my life into something I can be happy with.  Or, since things take time, happier, anyway.
Illustration by Andy Gilmore

Since I’ve been gone I’ve realized…well, a LOT, actually.  
Namely, I’ve realized that I have to love and trust myself above all others, and keep myself safe from people and situations that breed negativity and feed my dis-ease.  I’ve always had a problem with letting this slide, and don’t have room for it in my life.  I have the luxury of organizing my relationships and arranging my surroundings any way I want to ensure my comfort.  So I’d damn well better keep doing that.
I’ve also come to understand more deeply these 3 things: 
  1. It’s incredibly difficult to learn how to truly be myself in a society that generally doesn’t want difficult people like me in it.
  2. I’m finally taking real steps toward being myself anyway, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
  3. 1+2=ugh.  But then I always knew it would be hard, which is why I’ve been a depressed, anxious wreck most of my life.  The good news is I finally understand that the payoff is worth it, and most importantly, that I’m worth it.  I always knew life would be difficult for me, but at least now I know I’m living it the right way, in every way I can, one day—and one lesson—at a time.
Consequently, I realized this blog isn’t primarily about dealing with depression and anxiety, though it does deal with those things.  It’s about being who we are, living the life we want, and making sure no one stands in our way or makes us feel inferior for wanting something better than what society trains us to want, to strive for, to be.  
This is what life is about.  
It’s about saying YES to who we are at our core—what we feel, what we radiate, what we knew with all our hearts when we were children—and saying NO to what they (yes, they, the media, the government, the patriarchy, the church, our parents, our peers…the list of common offenders goes on) tell us: be this, do that, think this, want that, wear this, eat that, believe this, achieve that, money this, money that, trust us, follow us, get fucking happy about it.  
I, like most of us, have already been corrupted by much of that rhetoric, and the damage is difficult to undo, but I have never believed it felt normal or right, even before I was aware of what was happening to me.  This is something I have struggled with my entire life—ever since I was a small child capable of independent thought—and still struggle with daily, because I’ve never accepted that reality.  I never got complacent about the state of the world I inhabit.  And that resistance is the root of my frustration, which leads to my sadness, my anxiety, and basically everything that makes me who I am (in this life, anyway).
Hexad by Andy Gilmore

But I am who I am. 
I may have been bullied into looking and acting like someone more ‘acceptable,’ but underneath I’m still myself, and not so easy to manipulate.  Though I’m constantly evolving, at my core I still believe the same things I’ve always believed.  I simply need to learn how to better attract love and meaning into my life so that I can avoid feeling frustrated and having to constantly resist my reality in the first place.  If we can strike a balance in life between pursuing our truth and rejecting the fear it incites, we’ll be set.
So let’s take that lesson and move forward (more coming soon!).  The future looks bright, my friends. 

♪ Geographer – Original Sin


It is not your fault

“Welcome to today
How do you feel?
This is what today looks like
Is it what you expected?

There will come a time when you will
wake up and realize that there will come a time
when you will not

There will come a time
when the version of you on this day
will seem stupid

It is not your fault.”

- Matthew Good


Loving yourself and all that other crap

Broken by Dave Coba

It’s April 2, 2012, close to midnight.  I’m sitting next to my boyfriend of five years—who is drifting into sleep—on our carpet-hugging queen mattress, listening to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”  I’m trying desperately to connect with him, to lull him to sleep in the tunnels of black sheets and blankets with dreamy piano while my wide awake eyes drift back and forth between his bare back and a dark, abyssal landscape that exists only in my head.  I know this, and yet I can feel it around me more surely than I can my own palms or fingers, and I’m dropping my thoughts into it like snowflakes—words and imaginings that seem to come from nowhere and melt as quickly as they crystallize.  
I feel completely alone.  I can’t concentrate; I can’t remember what I was thinking moments before, and as I realize this my eyes refocus, and what seemed like emptiness or some other, far off place is now a row of books—most of which I’ve had for years but haven’t had the mental stamina to read—and a doll with sleek flaxen hair and cobalt blue eyes that drift with the same lifeless gaze I’m prone to.  I can’t seem to shake this invisible heaviness that clings to my body like a wet suit, swirling slow and galaxy-like with memories that shackle my past to my ankles, and fears that cast all possible futures like broken limbs in bone-white plaster.  This doom is a part of me now; this moment is all I have, and I’m not even present for it.
On May 24, 2012 my boyfriend will leave me.  He will drive away in a rented van that carried the last of my things five thousand miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to my aunt and uncle’s home in Mission, British Columbia, as I stand in the middle of the street behind him in a strange suburbia—but not before I wedge my shoulder into the closing driver’s side door to keep us together one minute longer, before I tell him with tears sliding down my face, “I told you I would make this difficult.”  Not before we cross the border (a mere half hour away) the night before and surrender my status, pass through the city in which we fell in love and spent much of our best years—and I cry and ask him if we can stop, just for a minute, because I want to remember us that way, not this way.  But we won’t.  
And now, here, he will cry, and squeeze my hands, and kiss my face, and avoid my gaze, and sigh out years of emotional fatigue with a seatbelt strapped around his chest (which I claw for fear I will never touch him again)—despite the fact that he broke up with me two weeks prior, in the middle of couples counselling, and assures me he is certain this is for the best.  I will want to scream as the van turns the corner but instead I will be flooded with calm and hot sunlight as I receive a text message from a good friend (the previous night’s couch crash, and ironically, my previous ex): ‘It was good to see you guys.  I hope you’re doing great.’  And I will text back, ‘Your timing is impeccable. This is the worst moment of my entire life,’ though won’t state why, will let him think I might be joking.  I fucking hope I’m joking.
I’m getting déjà vu.
It’s July 24, 2002, nearly ten years prior, and I’m sitting on a plane flying back to Canada.  I don’t really understand how I got here—all I know is that I’m looking out the window over Boise, Idaho, trying desperately to spot my boyfriend’s house to anchor my gaze; that I feel hollow and afraid and I’m listening (on my discman…oh those days) to the fourth track on Silverchair’s Diorama—”take the world upon your shoulders / and burn, burn, burn, burn, burn”—and THAT…that I understand fully.  And it makes me cringe right down to my cilia.
I’m wearing the same clothes I wore the day before, because I slept in them.  I ran in the desert heat in them, I sweat and cried and screamed in them.  I dreamed in them, next to him.  And when I woke, I was in the backseat of a car on the way to the airport, pulling out strands of my hair and knotting them, hiding them in his yearbook next to a ballpoint essay for him to remember me by.  And just before airport security we sit in blue chairs, run through a disposable camera to immortalize our last moments together, our separation, painful and shocking as it is.  Because we tried to avoid this.  We tried to run from this.  We said FUCK YOU to Alaska Air, Air Canada, WestJet, got in his car, and drove back home, my suitcases packed in the trunk with evidence of having planned this for months: all my favourite shoes, my tarot deck collection, my novel on a floppy disk.  Smashing Pumpkins in the CD player and a hand to hold in the darkness.  Everything I needed in a ’93 Chevy Cavalier sports car.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details.  Suffice it to say my walk through airport security was supervised, and performed twice, because the first time I tried it, I panicked and ran back through the metal detector for an emergency hug.
The difference between these events is that this last time I was over it in about a month.  Ten years ago, I suffered terribly in that pain for months, years…and in the crags of my memory, that pain is still there.  I still consider that the worst day of my life, and maybe that’s why.  Because at the time, I allowed it to destroy me.
This is the essence of self-loathing. 
…of despising oneself so much that one cannot stand to be alone.  That the thought of being without someone you love—the only one you love—severs you.  And you’re left with a huge phantom limb—this empty space still attached to you, filled with pain and longing for someone you spent five years slowly hand-sewing to your soul.  All I could think the first week after M initiated our breakup last May was that I would rather have a double mastectomy.  My brain repeated this over and over.  That I would rather lose both my breasts than lose this love.  And I completely meant it.  Because that phantom limb was more real to me than the real me.  The fact that I had already lost that coveted love long ago was beside the point.  (It should be noted that I am largely indifferent to my breasts.  Still, in retrospect, such a notion seems completely ridiculous.)
If you’re doing it right, it all sounds like common sense.  But it took me a long time to learn two very important things:

1. Anything you demand in other people is something you’re not—and should be—giving yourself.  Totally.  Fucking.  True.

2. You can love other people without loving yourself, but it’s not a good thing.  And it will inevitably fail.

Trust me.  I’ve been in love six times (give or take, depending), and there’s only one person who’s still there for me when it’s all said and done—and that’s myself.  I love so intensely that in the past I have always gotten tunnel vision and forgotten myself when I began to love another.  When I began to lose my grip on myself, and the other person, in a relationship, I began to see the relationship as a separate entity.  I mourned a breakup the same way I mourned death.  Because when I’m separated from myself, I see the relationship as its own living, breathing thing that can die, and as soon as I see it beginning to suffer I make it my life’s mission to repair it.  Which consists of the same strategy many people use to attempt to write poetry: instead of letting it unfold naturally and allowing insight and understanding to manifest, they constantly try to beat meaning out of it and refuse to leave it alone, which inevitably ends in failure (if you can’t tell, I’ve bombed at both these tasks multiple times).  
Every time I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve been bombarded with thoughts that life was not what I thought it was.  My whole worldview felt turned upside down and unable to right itself, and every time I’d have to wait for the strength to rebuild it again from the ground up.  Feeling hopelessly alone and hurt and being completely unable to comfort oneself is one of the hardest things a person can endure—that’s where the real heartbreak starts.  In the past I’ve managed to somehow overcome it, despite my persistent wallowing (how did I listen to music that sad all the time while suffering so endlessly and not resort to drugs, self-mutilation, or suicide attempts?  This still completely boggles my mind; sometimes I think writing is the only thing that saved me), but I’m honestly amazed I’ve remained on this earth as long as I have with the amount of pain I’ve allowed myself to suffer.  Yes, allowed.  Because the degree of suffering you endure on a psychological level is a choice, as soon as you recognize it as one.  
This is something I’ve been sort of feeling my way through.  There doesn’t seem to be a wrong way to love oneself as long as it’s genuine, but for me it was remembering, acknowledging, practicing, and recreating who I am.  It was saying to myself, “this is what matters to me (or what once mattered to me, and perhaps deep down, still does), and this is why.”  It was embracing the parts of myself I’d left behind in favour of practical goals like finishing grad school, and sacrificed in order to connect with people who did not share in or nurture those aspects (in some cases taking advantage or belittling me until I outright rejected those parts of myself out of misguided self-defense): my empathic nature and endless capacity for love, my spirituality, my honesty, my complete fascination with tarot cards, my intense creativity and passion for crafting.  I’ve been a chameleon, changing colours and tones to fit into new situations and get along with different people.  But not until recently did I fully realize that I had been gradually burying pieces of my true spirit in order to gain acceptance from others.  It makes me cry just thinking about how much of myself I suppressed out of desperation, out of needing to be loved by others (as if that’s love, anyway) because I’d forgotten how to love myself.
My life has been a constant battle against believing I’m unlovable.  
The name I was given at birth actually means “beloved”; it has its roots in the French word “amer” and Latin “amare,” which both mean “to love.”  Even as a child I did not feel beloved, though I felt I was a slave to love, that I was doomed to love more than I would ever be loved.  I haven’t liked that name in a long time; my first memory of this distaste (aside from the yearly instances—beginning at age six and continuing through grad school—that I felt I would always be second to some other girl with my name on the class attendance list) is when, at the age of eleven, I lied to several of my classmates, telling them my real name was in fact Amanda, which I thought was inexplicably better—and, though I didn’t know it at the time, means (and I quote Wikipedia): “having to be loved,” “deserving to be loved,” or, simply, “worthy of love.”  I find the irony in all this quite cruel (nevermind that I was once jilted for a girl with that name).  It’s possible there’s no connection, but eleven was also about the age I really stopped having faith in life and in myself (more on that later).
I’m still learning to love myself separate from someone else.  Even when an obviously bad relationship ends I become sad and mourn the loss of the happy times, like I’m mourning the loss of those people we were when we met.  It’s a mourning of the loss of the self, or one version of the self.  I die and am reborn every time this happens, and the mourning is that in-between stage after I’ve died but before I’ve rediscovered my purpose.  Though, in a way, I honestly believe learning to love more fully and purely—to give and receive unconditional love both to others and myself—is an essential part of my purpose.  So perhaps I should learn to embrace my name along with myself.
“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” – Wayne Dyer
This is true.  I know it’s true because for the past few months I’ve been mostly isolated, and falling in love again, with myself first and foremost, and with all kinds of people on various levels.  And I’ve felt happy.  But I can now tell when I’m happy because I’m loving/being loved by someone else versus when I’m happy because I’m loving myself.  I’ve experienced both several times in the past week alone (true self-love takes a lot of practice), and there is an enormous difference.  Learning how to be alone is essential to knowing oneself, and knowing oneself is essential to learning to love oneself.  I know myself—and become myself—more and more each day.  I feel the most loved I have ever felt in my life, and am by far the most loving I have ever been.  I’ve rebuilt my worldview again—and for the first time, I can sense that with a little more cognizance, it will be unshakable.

♪ PhoenixI’m An Actor


How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb…sort of.

birth by agnes-cecile

We’ll say this came by snail mail.  From Mars…since my mind has been elsewhere lately.  It’s better you know now that I simply can’t be counted on to produce blog content on a regular basis…which is not to say it doesn’t happen from time to time, but that I go through phases where the creatures in my brain start tinkering with the gears, and I end up with pseudo-psychotic voices bouncing frenetically around the padded room of my mind, and half-written blog posts taunting me from Evernote.  Which leads me to today’s topic…
Making friends, applying for jobs, and eking out a living can be difficult things for anyone—especially creative types, and introverts (thanks, universe, for making me both).  Trying to do any of these things while suffering from depression and/or anxiety is like trying to accomplish them while buried up to your chin in sand and being forced to hold your breath every time the tide comes in (cue one of my favourite horror movie moments: Ted Danson in Creepshow, whereby Leslie Neilson represents…well, you get it).  Even when you’re out from under the worst of it, you know it’s coming back, can feel it looming—and so spend most free moments struggling against the burgeoning weight of it, trying to come up with a solution as your thoughts are consumed by the dread, the panic, the terrible longing and knowing.
My depression and anxiety feed off each other.  
One begets the other begets the other.  But it was anxiety that started the cycle; anxiety is the main reason I haven’t posted in weeks.  It’s the reason I’m a perfectionist—the reason I stare at the words I’ve written much, much longer than I should in an attempt to visualize them into some flawless existence.  I edit myself even as I’m speaking, I revise and revise again until I know every word, every sentence order, by heart.  A blog is as much a work of art to me as a record—like anything I write, it’s a relic, the way I immortalize my thoughts and present them to the world.  Which is a difficult thing when every year I want to remember myself differently, reinvent myself.  I’ll go back and delete things I’ve made that no longer represent me in as true a form as I’d like them to; I destroy what I’ve created because I’ve destroyed the self that created them.
And, now, the anxiety’s taken hold of me again.  Because I have two paragraphs, which doesn’t make this entry long enough for my liking (despite—or in spite of?—the fact that my first two entries were perhaps a bit longer than I’d have liked), not to mention incomplete.  And so I stare, feel at a loss as for what to write, and distract myself with something else, hoping the words will come to me eventually.  Except I will forget about the entry, lose my focus, not be able to get it back at will—that drive to write, that need.  That urge to spill my thoughts on blank canvas.  Because the anxiety has taken my thoughts and made them into other things, voices that whisper and taunt me, tell me there are other things that need my attention: my inbox (which hasn’t been checked in a whole ten minutes, and is still full of unread messages I have no interest in dealing with), a series of YouTube videos I opened during a music binge three days ago that desperately need to be watched and closed, or an article on procrastination I’ve been meaning to read but can’t keep my eyes on because ASOS is having a sale and I have to look at every single dress on the website one more time (NOW, because otherwise I might forget) in case I missed something amazing, something that will solve all my problems, that will make me giddy from the moment I see it until the moment I hit the purchase button and then two weeks later will arrive, and I won’t remember what I ordered, but my eyes will light up when I see it and then I will try it on and put it in my closet where it will remain untouched with the tags on for two or three years.  Because damnit, that was important.  That $90 travesty with an abysmal resale value made my fucking world complete for ten whole minutes.  And that’s something to cherish in the midst of the constant, nagging fear of failure that keeps me awake at night and inefficient all day: that I’m not, cannot, will never be good enough.
This is where it all starts, and where it ends.  Every time.  
Every time the voices in my head tell me I can’t write because there are other things I should be doing, like applying for jobs, except I’m too debilitated by fear to do it, and so I whittle away the hours doing things that aren’t practical or creative, and conclude with me staring off into space trying to remember where it ends and I begin.  Every time I stop what I’m doing to look up a word or record a thought, a fact, a story—because I have no faith that I will remember it later, or know what to say when I need it, when people are staring at me and I’m frozen because I don’t remember who that author was, the idea for a poem I had last night, or how to pronounce ‘Formica.’  When my mind fixates on the unacceptable fact that I left my boyfriend’s soda in the freezer too long and have to remove it immediately, even though it’s 3 a.m. and I’m lying in bed and I know he won’t care or even remember it exists until at least the following evening.  Or when I worry that I’ve forgotten to fill out half of my worry records for counselling tomorrow, because yes, it’s important that I worry about this, worrying about this is exactly (not) the point.
The very thought of writing this blog post has paralyzed me several times (you don’t want to know how long I’ve been working on this post, any post, this blog, the idea of this blog).  I procrastinate to the extreme.  I can’t concentrate.  In mid-thought, mid-sentence even, I will often switch tabs in Firefox (I keep anywhere from 30 to 90 open at any given time, my concentration is so bad—yes, I’m serious), and will continue to switch at the rate of roughly one click per second until I realize not only am I lost, I don’t know what I’m looking for.  That in fact I’m not looking for anything, per sé, but mindlessly jumping from one possibility to the next in an attempt to occupy my brain with something less demanding than writing—the escape itself, however pointless, becoming the new, less demanding activity.  Needless to say, my productivity is extremely low, while my anxiety is extremely high (one feeding the other, as it were), and this (while a fairly mild example of my struggle with it) is not a way to live.
Yet I’m living.  In a way.  
My mind hasn’t yet been pulled out from under me like a rug, despite how often I’ve let my negative thoughts walk all over it.  So I must be doing something right.  In fact, I know I am, because I’ve been happy lately—happy.  Such an alien concept.  I’ve never felt happy.  I keep waiting for it to end—for all hope to crumble, for the anxiety to come creeping back into my life, seeping under the door, my blankets and sheets, my fingernails.  When I have an episode, I wonder to myself—is this it?  Is this where the happiness ends and I become my old ever-anxious, dysthymic self with the screams and the crying and the anger, with the sleeping all day to forget my pain and waking up in a total panic, gasping for air?  But it hasn’t, yet.  Since the middle of July I’ve been strangely content—still apprehensive, still suffering from some panic, some fear, some bitterness.  Anxiety attacks.  But now, when my mood swings back from the dark side, it stays in the light longer and more completely than it did before…ever.  I still keep wondering if it will last but I have more faith now than ever that happiness really is just a state of mind, that it’s a choice anyone can make if they know how to define it.  
Abstract Still 4 by Nicholas Alan Cope

For me, happiness is simply being myself as much as possible.  
It was finally admitting to my parents that I have chronic depression and anxiety, despite fearing what they’d think, and asking them for more help, instead of hiding and feeling guilty about it.  It was finally telling my friends how I felt about them, that I loved them, what I feared they were thinking about me.  It was finally reaching out and surrounding myself with people who shared my hopes and fears, my creativity, my joblessness, my worldview, my spirituality, my strange sense of style.  It was facing my social anxiety head-on and being more receptive to love.  It wasn’t easy; it happened gradually, in baby steps.  But it changed my life.  It’s still changing my life, slowly, day by day.
This is far from the end of my anxiety, but it’s a start.  For me, the social aspect is what beat me down, and kicked me when I was on the ground.  Which was just me beating up and kicking myself.  Which could stop—or, at least, decrease greatly.  Once that finally sank in—and it took many years—things started getting easier.
Now if only I could learn to sustain my creative focus and write when I damn well need to…

♪ Ra Ra Riot – “The Orchard”


A reminder…your life is your life.

“Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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