“We really need to stop seeing each other like this”

It’s been a rough week—two weeks. Rough is probably an understatement. It’s been a week of little sleep, mind wandering, dark thoughts, bad dreams, and grief. I’ve got this little habit of making one thing into a million and these circumstances are no exception. When someone leaves my life, it serves as a reminder of every precedent. I work myself into a depression and that is always tough to pull out of. But I am getting along.

 
So, I was really thankful it worked out that I could attend a memorial for a friend Sunday. The first hour or so was pretty difficult being there. I was overwhelmed by the extent of his reach in the community. I went in there very sad—sad that he chose to leave, sad about the method of which his chose to leave, sad that it had been so long since I’d talked to him. I opted to drink my courage and hold myself together. I drank more than I intended to. I stayed out longer than I intended to. But I sort of had a symbolic evening of hugging and chatting with the people that Chaz loved most and I was really honored to be around people that loved him so much. I may not remember much from Sunday night but I will never forget it.

 
Now that I’ve got a family, I realize that I am not as available to my friends as I would like to be. In fact, Sunday night was the first time I’d seen many friends from High School (that still live in Ames, mind you) since Georgie’s memorial. What the fuck…

 

To make a tragedy into something of positivity, I am vowing to have more of a social life. I need to be present. I need to be better about approaching people and putting my heart on my sleeve and telling someone that I might not know very well, “Hey, this shit really sucks, I’m here for you, let’s get together again.”

 
Especially in light of the current political climate.  I think we could all use some like-minded conversation and support nowadays.

What I’ve gained from losing Facebook

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. The first form I had was a Xanga blog when I was 13 or 14 years old. At that time in my life, I was depressed, anxious (and not medicated yet), angsty, rebellious,… well an all-around pubescent teenage girl, I suppose—but the extreme case scenario. I used my Xanga, aptly called “broken dreams”, as an outlet to complain about my life. I don’t remember anything specific but I’d be embarrassed to read it now. It’s tempting. (Unfortunately, I’ve looked into it, and either it’s been deleted or archived–which I could access for a fee. Maybe someday when I have realistic goals of penning a memoir I will fork over the money to access it. Otherwise, it’s been lost in Internet oblivion).

From the Xanga, I went on to MySpace (with a year or two gap between the two). My MySpace profile had been up and accessible up until about 3 years ago. It was an interesting profile, to say the least. During the duration of that account, I entered my first serious relationship, left town, was shipped around a lot, was treated like complete garbage during said relationship (High School romance FTW), was coping with the death of my dad, and coming back home at 17 years old to so many changes. It was a very vulnerable and volatile time in my life and thanks to MySpace, every Tom, Dick, and Harry could watch it happen. Something just didn’t sit well with me as I was looking back on all my posts. Most of them documented these very personal epiphanies I’d had about myself and changes I wanted to make to become a better person. Maybe I had felt that by putting it out there publicly, someone (particularly my friends), would see it and want to talk about it.

And that’s where I hate social media. It allows people in without asking anything in return of them. It’s a public show and everyone who’s invited gets to just sit back and watch without having to put in any effort. Social media is everything I hate about human interaction. I hate the small talk. I hate the fake friends. I hate the posts that people make to rouse envy and form life comparisons.

Having already somewhat figured this out after my MySpace account, I still went and signed up with Facebook. It was the cool thing to do, OK? I had to try it out. Facebook is “meh.” I mostly used it to try and be humorous or rant about things. But it became a problem of routine for me. Much like people watch the news or read the newspaper, I was scrolling through my feed trying to keep up with things and people I hardly see. I had the app on my phone so would get “binged” anytime someone commented on anything I liked and blah, blah, blah. I’d end up scrolling through my feed any downtime I got. It was.. emotionally draining for me. I felt reliant on it to feel relevant.

So, around 2012 or so, I started dabbling with the idea of living my life without social media. I finally had reached my unwritten bullshit limit. I deleted my account and after a couple days of withdraw (where I’d get on my phone to look at something out of habit), I was freeing up a lot of time to do things like read or crochet. After a couple of months, I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t let “things get bad” again and that I was in a better place emotionally and could handle all the virtual baggage from social media again. I’d reactivate my account and try and catch up on all that’d happened over the past months. And then a pattern appeared where I’d be on and off—loving and hating my time on Facebook. I was off for almost the entirety of 2014 (while Joey was deployed and didn’t need to be on the computer anymore than I was for Skype dates and college coursework). I was off for the later part of my pregnancy in 2015, got back on a month or two after Sylvia was born, and ended up breaking it off again by November of 2015. And I haven’t looked back since.

Can’t say that I am really missing out on much because, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” I know that I don’t get invited to nearly as many birthday parties because I’m missing out on mass invites (bummer, I really loved the personal touch). I don’t have people acknowledge my birthday as often because they aren’t reminded by Facebook to do so. I don’t go to businesses that only have a Facebook page because I can’t see their store hours (not because I am anti-anyone who has Facebook). I look at the losses and realize they are reasonable. And I’m all for simplifying my life since I’ve had struggles with depression and anxiety for most of my life. I’ve discovered (after many years of thinking I just need to be drunk to be social) that I am an introvert. I like being alone and putting all of my energy into things that I place high value on—like my hobbies, my daughter, my family, my home.

So, what might the advantages be? They are limitless, really. I spend more of my time being on social media in a more therapeutic way (like this blog, for instance). I spend more time getting my news from NPR and not what’s trending on Facebook. I’m outdoors more. I am more productive (I will show you sometime in a future blog just how productive I’ve been!). I am actually present when I’m with Sylvia (instead of sitting around with my nose in my phone). I, in a roundabout way, weeded out the friends that I don’t associate a lot with. I spend my time having more meaningful, direct conversations with my friends because they don’t assume they are up to speed by reading my Facebook profile. My co-workers can’t spy on me and make any assumptions about who I am based on my Facebook profile before they’ve met me. (This was seriously a thing at my last job, and they hated that they couldn’t see what I looked like or form any opinions beforehand! Apparently that’s a common thing? That’s really shitty! I mean I’ve looked people up to put a face to the name, but nothing like trying to dig up dirt. Be sure you moderate your stuff or set it to private!) I don’t sit around and pity myself for all the fun I don’t have (because let’s be honest, the pictures and the show people post are not reality).

And I sure as hell am feeling a lot better about myself. My self-esteem is going strong, and I just feel happier living this “simple, sheltered” life I have now.

Anxiety (noun): Hell on Earth

Just hearing or reading the word “anxiety” used to simultaneously make my mind race and stomach knot. For the better part of a decade, my talking about anxiety and panic attacks was taboo. To openly discuss it was to acknowledge its existence and to, therefore, welcome it into my life again and again. I don’t think I talked about it willingly with anyone until they were virtually non-existent, managed by medication. If it sounds relentless and powerful, I assure you, it is. 9/11 is the referential event I use when I talk about the roots of my anxiety. I had panic attacks and anxiety for probably a year or two before, but I know that by the time the towers fell, I was full-fledged and mangled in an anxious hell. I specifically remember that whole day being the worse day of 5th grade.

There’s this Modest Mouse lyric: “The years go fast but the days go so slow”. This is the epitome of my life with anxiety. My days away from home (five of seven being school-aged) drug out for what felt like forever until I got to go home. Then, just like that, I was older and looking back wondering how it could’ve gone on for so long. I think it’s the routine; something so second nature that it just hitches a ride with life.

How it comes, how it goes:

Anxiety lingers. It sleeps with an eye open. It waits for vulnerability—any inclination. For years, my days started and ended the same way. I had the same wish for each day: “Please just one day without an attack”. Some days started more promising than others. Most of the time, however, I knew they would inevitably end the same. Everything starts out fine; my mind is occupied and focused on outside stimuli, everything’s normal. Then a triggering thought enters my head—either by outside stimuli or mind wandering (which I do a lot). The thought constricts; routine thinking is at a standstill. I backtrack but I can’t shake the thought. I know this thought provokes panic attacks and I try my hardest to distract away from it. I try for minutes to focus on outside stimuli (if it’s a familiar environment) or I try and think of calming things. 97% of the time, I fail to redirect my thoughts. Physical symptoms start to set in. My heart starts racing, I feel hot, and my stomach is in knots. My mind is a skipping record, stuck playing “what if’s” and “go wrongs”. I try to keep my composure—I don’t want people to think I’m crazy. I try and remove myself to a quiet, safe place. Often times a bathroom. I hope no one knows this is happening to me. I dress down if possible to try to get rid of my hot flashes. I sit on the toilet and try relieving the pressure in my gut. I rock back and forth trying to trick my body into thinking my rapid heart rapid is from physical exertion. I try some deep breathing. I repeat: “This, too, shall pass” over and over in my head. I don’t stay in the bathroom long—the last thing I want is to bring attention to myself. I return either feeling better or still trying to manage my inner war. Either way, I am exhausted. Until I am able to be home, alone, in my safest of places, I am teetering on the edge of another attack. It’s in the back of my mind. I try to keep busy and focused, as not to wake the monster while he restlessly naps; preparation for the next attack is surely underway.

This was my normal. Some people use the word “anxiety” lightly. I do not and never have. When I refer to anxiety, I know full well the depths it reaches. But at nine or ten years old, I knew no better. I didn’t have the words to describe this unwelcome sensation happening to me so I settled for: “I feel sick”. These are the words that had me pegged a liar, a truant, a rebel, a pubescent girl—at ten years old. I was none of these things, of course. A proper diagnosis proved these to have been quickly made misconceptions. But I wouldn’t get a diagnosis—or treatment—for another couple of years. Unfortunately, the way I see it, the damage had already been done. Self-fulfilling prophecy has a funny way of making things happen. Within 5 years, I would be all of these preconceived things and more.  Anxiety had manifested itself and brought with it a few of its closer friends.

I am not proud that I allowed anxiety to take control of my life for so long. I had very few friends in the latter half of elementary school into middle school and the ones that I had knew something wasn’t right with me. They would pass it off that I was something of a scared hypochondriac—always sick, always gone.  I often times left sleepovers early though I’d come packed for the night with the intention to stay. I truly yearned for deep friendship—anything to help me to feel like a normal kid. But it wasn’t easy to come by and I still struggle with being social (though booze helps, I’m not an alcoholic though, I swear).  I’ve been told at first impressions that I can come off aloof and I’ve been told I have a mad resting bitch face. I can only think that my anxiety has instilled some social defense mechanisms within my being to keep others out. It’s like my subconscious knows I have too much going on already and couldn’t possibly handle anymore. It’s probably done me a lot of good in the past, but it’s an unfortunate burden now. So, if I’ve ever given the impression that I am too self-invested—well I am, but not in the way you’d think. I’m just always hard at work upstairs, still figuring out who I am. But I’ve digressed.

As of the age of seventeen, I have made the decision to do away with medication management for my anxiety. I have grown to accept that it is a part of who I am and that the best thing I can do (like other phobias) is go through it, get to know it, and learn to manage it independently. Luckily, by this time, I’d had a great deal of experience and had a much more defined sense of self. To this day, new experiences are a surefire way of bringing on some unwanted attention from anxiety. But by now, everyone that matters knows about it and won’t make me feel bad for missing out to take a mental health day. Thinking back to where I was as opposed to where I am now brings all kinds of emotions. There was a period of time that I preferred death to life. I get emotional thinking about what I wouldn’t have experienced—I’ve managed to achieve, gain, and become things I never thought would happen for me. It’s been surreal getting to this place.

Now that I am older, I’m frankly pretty pissed off that I felt abnormal for so many years. I missed out on so much. I grew into a “scary world-conscious” person way too soon. My path in life could’ve taken a totally different course had I just understood or had someone that did. I totally get that adults probably didn’t deem it necessary to talk to kids about disorders in the late 90’s/early 00’s, but I hope that there is a more open dialogue between parents, professionals, and other child stakeholders on the matter nowadays. I plan to be honest and open about mental health with my kiddo. Besides, it’s entirely possible she will be genetically blessed with “crazy” herself and I don’t want her to ever feel as alone as I did. With how common mental illness is—I don’t think anyone should be made to feel alone with it. Ever.