Writing Out my Demons

I told you that the beginning of school years were a bitch. The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of deadlines, doctors’ appointments, paperwork, and obligations. Balancing all of that crap has been overwhelming and for a while, I didn’t know if I could juggle it all. I can and I feel as though I’m headed toward an even keel. I’ve decided to celebrate by writing, my favorite thing to do!

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One of my four tatts. Maybe someday soon I’ll share all of my ink on here….

I have a tattoo on my left arm of a feathered pen. Around my wrist are the words “Writing out my demons.” I got that tattoo when I finished my first book (unpublished and likely to stay that way. It’s a great story, but it’s not saleable. I’ve made my peace with that and there will be other books). Those words sum up my experience with writing and depression. At times, I need someone standing over top of me, holding my head in place and forcing me to write each word until I’m in a better place.

Starting this blog was a huge step for me. While I adore writing, my forte is in making up stories. I spin tales of fantasy and horror that emerge from the ether of my subconscious, spawn characters from the depths of my dreams. And I’m not going to lie; a lot of that comes from the pain of depression and anxiety. Many of my stories were born from a panic attack or a night terror. It’s therapeutic to write about fantastical horror to ease the real horror of suffering from these illnesses.

It’s not as easy to hold a mirror up to myself, take a snapshot, and then show the world. This has been hard. Posting things that I usually only share with my closest friends and knowing that anyone who wants to can access them has been …. well, it’s been a bit surreal. At first, I panicked every time I posted, afraid that I would be judged, that people would look at me different or treat me different.

I still have moments like that. When things get bad, as they did over the past two weeks, I can grind myself into complete inaction. I was unable to write a single word without worrying what the world might think.

The experience of sharing my stories, though, has been completely positive. So many people, people that I never would have told about my struggles, have told me that the blog has helped them. Hearing that they both understand and can relate has been extremely beneficial for me. And realizing that they don’t judge me for my demons? Well, that has been eye-opening as well.

hiding

I think all of us who suffer with depression and anxiety worry that people will judge us for our illnesses. I know that for myself, I worry that people will only see the illness and miss the rest of me. I work very hard at that mask I put on for the world. Though it hides me and gives me the comfort of putting up a wall between myself and the rest of the world, it really isn’t designed for my comfort. The mask is designed to protect those around me from what I go through every day.

Opening up and letting all of my readers see inside has been difficult, not just because my wall is gone but also because there are now so many people on the inside. So many people look at me after reading these blogs and know that I’m struggling. I worry constantly that they are going to feel like they need to take care of me. Or treat me differently. Or stay away. I struggle with that constantly.

It’s been nice, though, to know that reality is so much different from my worst fears. People in my life who are now reading the blog are learning so much about depression and anxiety. And in learning, they are not distancing themselves from me or treating me any different. For the most part, people have been truly excited to learn. A surprising number have also come forward and said, “me too.”

I started this blog on a whim, realizing after Robin Williams’ death that I had a lot to say about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. I never expected it to be “big,” nor did I expect that I would want it to be “big.” The truth is, it hapurposes become extremely important to me and I do want that. I like reaching new people and knowing that my words have touched them. I like knowing that my struggle means something, in a bigger way than just getting through the day. I like helping people. And if I’m able to do that with my words, with writing which brings me so much pleasure, all the better.

Thank you for taking this journey with me and holding my virtual hand as I take these first shaky steps at opening up. It’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you and I hope that we can continue to open up together.

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A Happiness Interlude

I’ve been quiet this week. Sorry about that. Been busy pretending to be extroverted. ha. But actually, the meetings have gone really well thus far. The kids’ teachers are fantastic and I didn’t have to engage in long, drawn out schmoozing. WIN!

I thought that since it is Friday and I’m in need of a huge dose of happy right now, I’d share with you some things that float my boat. Something you should know about me right off the bat is that I have an obsessive personality. When I find something I like, I freak the fuck out about it and find out everything I can about it. Same goes for hobbies. I don’t dabble; I go in whole hog.

obsess

this right here? this could be me.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my obsessions likes. Prepare for a picture heavy post.

I’m a SuperWhovian. That means, I watch Supernatural and Doctor Who like it is my job. For the record: Dean girl, Sam curious, and I ship Megstiel; imo, Dean and Cas are like brothers, not lovers. Nine is my Doctor. Love Rose, but River is just the shit; seriously, no one has ever been better for the Doctor than River Song. (If you’re not in those fandoms, I apologize for the gobbledygook that you just had to read. But in all seriousness, what the hell are you waiting for. Put on Netflix and start watching those shows.)

sexy and baby: two of the most important objects in the universe. in their female forms of course. it makes sense if you're in the fandom. sorry...

sexy and baby: two of the most important objects in the universe. in their female forms of course. it makes sense if you’re in the fandom. sorry…

This leads me to my next thing: Cross Stitch. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Jen. How does this even relate to your nerdy fandom? I’m glad you asked! I’ll show you the project I’m currently working on in just a second. But the real reason that cross stitch is one of my favorite things is that it does wonders for my sanity. There are many, many people who have watched me counting out stitches and told me it would drive them batty to do what I do. I get it. It takes a lot of counting and patience. But that is exactly WHY I need cross stitch. When I’m working on my projects, my brain doesn’t have a chance to work overtime. It calms and quiets my mind and lets me breathe again.

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brand new aidia canvas and all those colors. *sigh* happiness.

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what i’ve done so far. i know. doesn’t look like much yet. but wait until you see what it’ll be!

yup. exploding TARDIS, baby. told you i was an obsessive fangirl...

yup. exploding TARDIS, baby. told you i was an obsessive fangirl…

Happiness to me is a cup of coffee, a good book, and my animals curled up at my side. These little rascals are my furry children. Meet Dug the Chocolate Lab and Hermione the Tortie princess. Yes, they live up to their names. Dug loves everyone he meets, just like Dug in Up and Hermione is practically perfect in every way, just like her namesake. 😀

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If you’ve read my profile, you know I’m a black belt in karate. I started practicing about three years ago now and earned my black belt this past June. Teaching those kids gives me immense joy and being able to hit a heavy bag to the point of knocking it over ain’t too bad either.

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this is the day we got our black belts. some of my best friends are pictured here, faces obscured to protect the awesome. 😉 i’m the one with my back turned on the right, with the pig tails and tattoo showing.

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And last but certainly not least, my family. These smiling faces bring me joy all the time. Those people in the middle? They’re my mom and dad, two of the best people I know. I am, and always will be, Daddy’s little girl. He’s a superhero to me and no one has ever been able to prove any different. And that lady right there is my hero in every way you can imagine. She makes me proud to be her daughter, and now that I’m grown, her best friend as well. And those kids? Well … they’re the apples of my eye. Little man can pull a smile out of any one with his quirky sense of humor and little laugh. And he’s scary smart too. And that lovely little lady is my baby girl. I couldn’t be prouder of the brave, smart young woman she’s becoming. She’s on her way to be a kick ass ninja just like her mom too. 🙂

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Thanks for allowing me this time to share some of the things that make me happiest. I hope you enjoyed learning about my favorite things and got to know me a little bit better in the process. If you have things that make your day brighter, I’d love to hear about them. All of you readers out there and another part of my happiness and I’d love a chance to share in yours.

This Overload

I have a confession to make: while I absolutely love humanity, I really don’t like people very much.

people

That probably makes me sound like a bitch. The truth is that I find people really exhausting most of the time. They expect so much from you. They expect a smile and small talk. I don’t always feel like smiling and small talk makes me want to gouge my eyes out. It’s not people, really, I guess. It’s the social expectations that go along with being in a group of people.

That said, I’ll take a lazy day with my people any day. Give me quiet on a sunny day with one or two of my best friends and we’ll dissect the world together. Or make inappropriate jokes all day long. It could go either way and that’s just fine by me.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t really allow you to walk around in a bubble of only the people you choose. Well, I guess you can if you’re a hermit or you invest in one of those bubble soccer get-ups (Seriously, have you seen those? They are amaze-balls and I totally need to play that game. Anyway….). For the rest of us, you can’t cocoon yourself away from the world and still function.

Bubble Soccer. AMAZING, right?

I’m facing a few weeks of having to be “on” a lot. Like, a lot a lot. My youngest just started kindergarten, my oldest is in third grade and a social butterfly, and this is the week of back to school activities. Or as I like to call it, Introvert Parent Hell. There’s the Kindergarten meet and greet where they have fun activities for the kids and the parents get to schmooze (read: small talk). There’s back to school night where you walk around a crowded school and cram into children’s desks with thirty other parents to listen to the teacher talk and schmooze some more. And then the week is capped off with the back to school picnic. More schmoozing.

It’s not so much that I don’t want to be involved in my children’s school life. I do. I just wish I could do so from my house without all of that schmoozing. There’s no way to be in a big group of people without having to small talk your way around. Unless, of course, you sit in a corner and just stare at people. Believe me when I say this: it is tempting.

Being “on” for me means smiling and faking small talk with a bunch of random strangers. The truth is, I enjoy learning about people’s lives and talking to them about meaningful subjects. I love exploring what makes people tick. But how often do you get past the weather and how picky an eater your child is when you’re in a group of four or more people? Rarely, if ever.

There’s nothing I can really do to change this. Interactions with strangers will always be superficial at best. Even if I run into a like-minded individual, it’s rare that we get past the pleasantries. See, most people like me are also hesitant to push too much because so many people find our probing questions intrusive and weird. It takes time to get to the level where we’re comfortable and large groups don’t provide that kind of time.

So I’ll be spending the week outside of my comfort zone. That can go one of two ways for me. If I’m smart,social hangover I’ll take time for myself to decompress before and after each event. And I won’t get so overwhelmed that the week’s events pile on top of me like a herd of angry elephants. If I’m not smart, well … angry elephants are assholes.

I’m already thinking of ways that I can decompress somehow. Time with a friend in the middle of week, maybe. Or coffee and writing by myself one morning. Just something to balance out all of those people with all of their demands. I’ll get through it. Won’t be the first or last time, I can assure of that. What are your strategies for getting through rough patches? Do you have coping methods that work for you? I’d love to hear what you do to get through.

Why Being Labeled Sensitive is Bullshit

I think everyone has heard this at least once. You may have even said it. I know I have. “You’re being too sensitive. You need to lighten up.”

I’m here to tell you those words are utter bullshit.

sensitivity

Think about every time you’ve ever been called sensitive. Chances are, you took words that someone said to heart and it hurt you. Maybe you called them on it. Maybe you withdrew a bit to protect yourself. Maybe you just changed the way you dealt with them. Or maybe you started to question yourself, and your reactions. Maybe you blamed yourself for feeling hurt.

Let me be very clear: we are not always right in our interpretation of others’ words. Our feelings, however, can’t be wrong. How you feel inside when you hear someone’s words is never invalid. And when someone tells you that you are too sensitive, that is exactly what they’re saying. Your feelings are invalid; my right to say what I want is more important than your feelings. So suck it up.

Bullshit. Don’t let them get away with that.

I’m honestly the worst with this. People don’t even have to tell me I’m too sensitive; I just naturally think they think that about me. So if something that someone says hurts my feelings, I hide the hurt and make a joke. Or I just smile and nod. I bury it and keep it with all of the other things that poke at me at night when I can’t sleep.

It’s time to stop that shit because my insides are beginning to feel like a worn out pin cushion.

Yes. I am a sensitive person. I feel deeply All. The. Time. And you know what? That’s a goddamn super power. If I tell you I love you, you can be sure I feel it from the tips of my toes all the way through every inch of my hair. If I believe in a cause, I will support it with every fiber in my being. And if I don’t like you, well … I guess we’re done then. Because I feel that to my very core as well.

fucks

I also apologize for myself pretty much constantly. I caught myself today. I was walking into Wawa (a local convenience store for you non-PA people out there) and a gentleman held the door open for me. As I walked in, I nodded and said thank you. And then, almost immediately, I said, “I’m sorry.”

Sorry for … what, exactly? Walking into the store? Taking up space? Existing? Seriously, there was no reason to apologize, but I did out of habit. It made me think about how many other times I apologized for no good reason. Let me tell you, it was a lot.

This all ties into being “too sensitive.” I’m not sure what it is in our culture that makes some of us feel the need to apologize for our very being, but it is there. I have a number of friends who apologize when they give an opinion, when they missed a phone call, or when they didn’t find something funny. Why are we so eager to apologize away our very existence?

If you are a sensitive person, like I am, and someone tries to make you feel bad for feeling bad, put your foot down with me and say enough. You don’t have to be mean, but offering a small education would do all of us a favor. Instead of laughing with them, next time say something like this: “Actually, that hurt me. And you probably didn’t mean to hurt me, but you did. I’d really appreciate it if you could find a different way to say that.”

And DON’T apologize for requesting that they respect your feelings. You’re going to feel exposed and vulnerable. Trust me; I know from experience. But if the person is your friend, I genuinely believe that they will understand. It might open up a dialog that in the end will benefit everyone involved. And if it does offend them? Maybe that tells you all you need to know about them right there.

I’m going to try to do this right along with you. I say try because, honest to god, I’m having a minor anxiety attack just thinking about speaking up. But I’m going to give it a go. I encourage you to do the same. Let me know how it goes!

In other news, I’m running a weekend contest over on my Facebook page. If you’d like to participate, head on over to the page, like it, and then comment on the contest post with something that makes you happy. It could be a picture or a sentence. At the end of the weekend, the comment with the most likes will win a $25 Etsy gift card for a little bit of Retail Therapy! Hope to see you over there!

Celebrate Little (and big) Victories

I love big victories. I mean, we all do, right? I love the days when I can look at what I’ve accomplished and go, damn… the world is lucky to have me.

Yesterday was kind of like that for me. I got to teach a seminar on basic self-defense with fourteen young women. I was nervous; these were teenagers and teens aren’t exactly my best age group. But the day went fantastic and the girls had fun. Most of all, I think they walked away feeling stronger and more prepared. I had a hand in that and it makes me feel pretty awesome.

Now, I’m not exactly saying that I do nothing most days, but there are days when the best thing I did was take a shower and feed the kids takeout. It’s really easy on those days to look at all of the things I didn’t accomplish. In fact, I think even on days when I’m pretty productive I tend to focus on what I didn’t do. And really, don’t we all? Isn’t it so much easier to criticize ourselves with our failures than to praise ourselves for the good we do?

self talk

I don’t think this is a habit linked solely with depression. In fact, I’d argue that our culture kind of teaches us to focus on what more we can do in all aspects of our life. We’re conditioned to never be satisfied because if we are satisfied, we become complacent. And if we become complacent, we will stagnate and never grow. I do, however, think this trend can be exacerbated by depression and turn a normal drive to do better into self-defeating, negative internal talk that is actually quite counterproductive. Let me explain.

As I’ve said numerous times in previous blog posts (Battling Invisible Wraiths, Parenting While Depressed (part 2)), depression is a dirty, dirty liar. It tells us how completely unworthy we are no matter what we do. It tells us that there is nothing we can do to make up for how awful we actually are. Add on to that society’s message that we should never be satisfied and, well … you see the dilemma.

I would like to say that I’ve conquered my inner demons enough to celebrate big victories in my life. I’d like to say that, but dude… that is why I pay my therapist top dollar. The truth is, I struggle with taking credit for even the big victories. It’s like I’ve conditioned myself to brush it off as nothing because, well, I think I am. Nothing, that is. So when all I have to celebrate is not smelling icky? I struggle hardcore.

Now, I’m not looking for reassurance. The one thing I’ve learned in my year and change in therapy is that self-confidence cannot come from outside. People can blow sweet smoke up your ass all day long about how amazing you are and you can find a million and one reasons not to believe them. They’re just being nice. They feel bad for you. You’re burdening them with your self-pity. Oh look! There’s another reason you suck.

Catch my drift?

I decided to write this blog post because teaching that class yesterday was a huge personal victory for me. As I mentioned in my last post, it has been a rough few months for me. Anxiety has been a major bitch recently and it has been preventing me from doing some of my favorite things. I find myself ignoring my phone, refusing play dates, and even skipping teaching at karate, which is one of my favorite things to do in the world. All because the thought of getting out there in front of people is crippling me with anxiety.

So getting up in front of a group of girls I didn’t know was going to be a challenge. I was nervous: about teaching them properly and about having a panic attack in the middle of presentation. In the end, I sucked it up and dealt. I taught, with the help of my best friend at my side, and those girls laughed and learned. And I did it without popping a Xanax or having an anxiety attack.

Win!

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And you know what? I still feel like that’s a win today. Which is a huge step for me. Four or five months ago? I’m certain I would have come up with a reason why I shouldn’t be proud of myself. I’m keeping those voices at bay today and I’m counting it as a win.

If you too struggle with allowing yourself a savor victories, do me a favor today. Find something in your day to be proud of. Catch it before the negative voices trounce on it and grasp it tight. Now sit with it for five minutes and think about how amazing it is that you had a win today. Protect that win from the voices in your head telling you it isn’t enough. And when you wake up tomorrow morning, I want that to be the first thing you think of. Can you do that for me?

Come back here tomorrow and tell me how you fared. I promise I’ll do the same for you. Maybe together we can beat back the voices telling us we aren’t enough.

Refilling the Empty Cup: The Danger in Giving it All Away

I’m not good at setting limits. Not when it comes to the people I love or things I care about, anyway. My best, I find, is often not enough to meet all of the needs that are out there. That doesn’t stop me from bleeding myself dry in order to try, however.

Times have been rough for the past month or more. I put on a good face, but inside I’m full of turmoil. I recently left the therapist that I’d been seeing for over a year and took about a month off of therapy. My timing sucked as my month off happened at one of my lowest points ever. But this week I started with a new therapist and it looks promising. It’s draining though, opening up that closet door and letting a stranger poke through all of the skeletons and dig through the dusty drawers.

I find myself exhausted most of the time. Exhausted and exhausting. I literally exhaust myself with my circular thoughts of what I’ve done wrong and how I could be better. This exacerbates my anxiety issues. I just don’t have the reserves to keep it under control and so I’ve been having more panic attacks. Which leave me – even more fucking exhausted.

several days

i feel like this defines anxiety attacks. it feels like several days just up and jump on your back all at once.

Yeah. I’m kind of over all of this shit.

You’d think, then, that I would relish the time I get to replenish. There are things that do that: sitting with a good book and hot coffee in quiet, plugging in my headphones and filling my head with music, sitting with a special friend and having a beer … all of these things help to refill and renew my energy. I just wish I could appreciate those things for longer than the time it takes to do them.

I spent last night with a good friend. Someone I can be totally honest with and put aside the mask completely. We had dinner, drinks, and watched a funny show. It may have honestly been the best medicine in the world even though it was completely mundane. Spending those few hours without the weight of a mask was refreshing. I felt lighter, able to relax for the first time in a week or more.

glad you are alive

it’s great when things that make you glad to be alive are people too.

I woke up however, to discover that in the midst of everything that I needed to accomplish yesterday, I’d forgotten a commitment I’d made. I’d forgotten a lesson I was supposed to teach and left my student waiting without any notice that I wouldn’t be there.

That kind of carelessness is completely unlike me. Promptness and reliability are things I pride myself on, even in the midst of my worst breakdowns. But I let it slide and instead, I took time for myself. It wasn’t a conscious choice, mind you. I didn’t say, hey! Fuck this lesson. I’m going to have dinner with my buddy. No… I just forgot that it was scheduled and did something for myself.

And the guilt is crushing me. I know that it was a mistake. The student is fine. I spoke with them and they completely understood: lesson rescheduled and no one is the worse for it. I know that it could happen to anyone. But it was me. It was my responsibility. And I failed.

Times like this, it becomes so very difficult to silence those voices that say I am not good enough. That I let everyone down. That I don’t deserve friendship, relaxation, or ease. It’s really hard because I feel like that mistake damns me in some way. It’s not rational. I should be able to let it go.

I can’t.

And this is why my cup is almost always near empty and why I feel like what I have to offer is never enough. Because I pour out so much more than I refill.

I’m working on it. I have friends who remind me to take time for myself. They remind me when I feel guilty that refilling the cup allows me to give more. It doesn’t help the guilt.

And this is why I need therapy. *sigh*

peace

peace: what i hope to gain from therapy.

How an Internet Quiz Changed My Life

Scrolling through facebook this morning as I was avoiding getting up for the day relaxing, I saw about fifteen friends who’d recently taken quizzes. These ranged from “Which Disney Princess are You?” (I’m Mulan, bitches) to “What is your Patronus?” (Phoenix, baby).

I like quizzes. I like things that attempt to take information from seven questions and diagnose my entire personality. And by like I mean I find them funny as hell. I’d really like it to be that simple; and when I see a part of myself in those results, it makes me feel like maybe I’m not as fucked up as I sometimes feel. Often, however, I get such varied and ridiculous results that it just makes me more confused. Maybe that’s why the results of a test that I recently took had such a profound effect on me.

tom

this is me. i’m tom. different from the crowd… except i give a shit. lots of them actually.

A friend posted a link to the Myers Briggs Personality Test (MBTI for all of you psych nerds). I’d never heard of it before, but it sounded really interesting. Answer seventy odd questions and they’ll tell you four letters that define your personality. Being a quiz nut, I was in like Flynn.

The questions were strange; they weren’t probing queries into my inner soul, but more statements about my habits. “You are more interested in a general idea than in the details of its realization.” Yeah, pretty much. “Your actions are frequently influenced by feelings.” Can I get a HELL YES? “The more people you speak with, the better you feel.” Good God, no. And so on.

I was anxious to see where this would lead. I took my time, weighing each of the answers and being more honest with this test than I usually am to most people I talk to. In the end, it took me about a half hour to wade through those seventy-two questions. When I pressed the “Score This” button, I eagerly awaited the result.

INFJ: Introverted iNtuition Feeling and Judging.

infj2

the storm amid the calm. i’m confusing like that…

The words were familiar, but the combination was foreign to me. So I did what I do best. I researched the hell out of it.

INFJs are the rarest of the sixteen personality types, accounting for less than one percent of the entire population. We’re considered by many to be the most extroverted of the introverts, enjoying and often even seeking out groups of people (of our choice). We’re dreamers who focus on doing, and we are considered the most empathic personality type out there.

The more I researched this personality type, the more I saw myself in it. All of the quirks that I couldn’t explain, the strange curse ability to take on others’ feelings as my own, all of it was described as normal for this personality. Normal.

I’m not saying that everyone who takes this test will find meaning in it. But I am saying that for me, it was exactly what I needed. INFJs seem to be the most misunderstood personality, maybe because there are so few of us. We are often mistyped by others because we appear extroverted and very often adopt the characteristics of our closest friends. We want to be noticed and understood the way we notice and understand others, but we also hide like champs. We are a walking dichotomy.

infj1

Understanding more about my personality type has really helped me understand how it plays into my daily life and my battles with mental health. I’ve only recently begun to honor the empathic side of myself, and a lot of that stems from the understanding I gained in this test. I’ll give you a for instance.

I really dislike crowds. Always have. The noise, the extreme closeness of so many bodies, all of it combines for a truly uncomfortable experience for me. If I go to a crowded area with a stressed out friend, I find that I am more likely to suffer a full on panic attack than if I were to attend with someone more laid back.

I always dismissed the correlation, focusing more on the panic attack than the cause. But it makes sense now that I know about this empathic side of myself. It’s not just that I notice people’s discomfort; I actually feel it. If someone I care about gets hurt, I physically hurt for them. If someone is sad, I am sad. And so on.

I’m not trying to be dramatic or exaggerate. I’m just somehow more tuned in to the energy that others provide than most other people. I experience that energy in a very real and palpable way. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can approach people better. I don’t always look inward when I begin to feel sad or stressed or hurt; sometimes I need to look around me and see where that energy is coming from.

I know all of this sounds like New Age crap. And believe me, when I first started reading about it, I thought the same. The truth is, it isn’t all about crystals and auras and shit.

There is an energy to a room full of happy, celebrating people, yes? You feel it the moment you walk into the room and it carries you into their revelry. The same can be said of a room in mourning. The somberness is palpable as you walk in and without even thinking about it, you become more subdued. More quiet.

Every person carries that same energy inside of them. Some of us are just more in tune to the little changes than others. Whereas it might take 50 or 60 happy people to create that joyous energy I spoke of above, I can feel it from one person sitting next to me on the train. And it affects me. Happy or sad. Knowing that about myself makes me more careful of who I choose to be with when I’m not in a good place and it helps me take care of myself in much healthier ways.

This link is to the best, short explanation of INFJ I’ve ever found. If you’d like to know more about this personality type, start here. If you’d like to type yourself, you can go here. If you’d like to talk personality types, visit me in the comments section. I adore talking about this stuff and I love to hear from my readers. 🙂