How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb…sort of.
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 I’ll go back and delete things I’ve made that no longer represent me in as true a form as I’d like them to; I destroy what I’ve created because I’ve destroyed the self that created them.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”
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