Finding Happy

Feeling good is such a foreign thing. From the time I was small, if I felt anything, it was fear or shame. Even before I learned that feeling was vulnerable and unsafe, embarrassment and anger were mixed in with any positive emotion. Now that I’m beginning to feel good, it’s been a process of learning how to manage myself.

When I started taking medication, I didn’t really experience any side effects, per se, but I had developed habits and coping mechanisms that I don’t need anymore. Previously, I had to push myself past the clouds. None of me would show unless I forced it to. Being myself was a more conscious action. Figuring out which habits I no longer need has been a process. I don’t have to analyze my personality and then decide to act that way. I can exist, and it’s me. There’s still mist sometimes, but it’s not the pea-soup fog I had lived with for so long. It’s strange; I’m happier.

Sometimes I feel like people liked me more when I was more depressed. I was quieter. My social anxiety was more prominent and I made every effort to blend in with the crowd in hopes that people would accept me. In some ways, that seems to be a ridiculous assertion. Being depressed doesn’t exactly make you a good friend.

Quieting my anxiety uncovered a lot of things about myself. I frequently have a difficult time with sensory processing. This had always lead to anxiety attacks before, but now manifests in confusion and irritability. I forget that I don’t have to try so hard to be myself anymore, and I overdo it. Truthfully, I can’t tell if I’m overdoing it or if I’m just a very exuberant person. It’s probably a bit of both.

When mental illness is a part of your life from such a young age, getting healthy feels like becoming a different person. You have to find the bits of you that have always been there, even if they were deeply hidden.

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Being an Anxious Extrovert

One of the strangest things I have been working on in therapy is empathy.

In the past I never really considered myself an empath. I was emotionally volatile, but nothing exists in a vacuum. When we started exploring the possibility that I might be an empath, things began falling into place.

A while back someone pointed out how much of a paradox it is to be an extrovert with social anxiety. It shouldn’t work that a situation that gives you severe anxiety also gives you energy, but in a sense, that’s my reality. That’s why I will sometimes leave a place very quickly or linger in an entryway.

For most of my life I dealt with other people’s emotions by rejecting any emotions at all. Feelings were too strong and too big. Because of this overload, I adopted a very stoic demeanor, at least internally.

Before beginning to pick apart the reasons for my behavior, it was frustrating. It doesn’t make sense to crave company, but also be afraid of it. I don’t like things that don’t make sense. Now that I understand, at least in part, that I am susceptible to the emotions of people around me, my moods are more manageable. When in a tense situation, it’s important to take time to remind myself that other people’s emotions are not my own, my past emotions are not my now emotions, and that all feelings pass. It makes sense that the uncertainty of other people’s feelings would be distressing.

Sometimes I have a hard time differentiating my emotions from those of the people around me. Not knowing what you feel is hard to explain, if you haven’t felt it. Emotions are complicated, and sorting them out is even more complicated, especially when they aren’t all yours. It can be hard to find the balance between fulfilling my extroversion and not exacerbating my anxiety. Sometimes I have to wait through one to get the other. I don’t like waiting.

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I Can’t Wait

For our whole lives, we’re told to wait for something. Wait for dinner. Wait until your dad gets home. Wait until you have kids of your own. Wait until marriage. Wait until the weekend. Everything seems to revolve around waiting for conditions to get better or change. Time is made out to be this magical cure-all. But the reality is that there’s no way of knowing if the right time will ever get here.


The concept of waiting is highly personal for me. I’m an avid procrastinator and perfectionist. The myth of the right time is something that is constantly in my head. Because of my chronic illnesses, I find myself waiting until I’m in a better mindset to do anything. I miss assignments and cause myself more stress. I don’t take opportunities because the conditions could be better. I don’t spend time with people I love because I’m not a happy cheerful friend, even though I know that being alone is the worst thing I can do when I’m upset.

Waiting is passive. Even in the case of a healing wound or illness (*cough* mono) that must be rested, the body isn’t waiting. It’s actively working to mend what’s wrong. When the time really isn’t right for something, don’t wait for the conditions to just appear; assess the situation and see what you can reasonably do (You can’t do everything though!!! I’m looking at you). When I am feeling especially Wrong™ and my inclination is to isolate myself, I can’t just wait to feel better. Sometimes I do need to be alone and rest, but the root of that is the need to find peace and balance. If I’m in a state where my internal equilibrium is off, I need to bounce off of others to help me get back in harmony with myself.

Growing up, I was taught a very strict ideal for relationships. Wait until you meet the right man. Wait to kiss him. Wait to fully let yourself love. Now I find myself waiting until I’m in a healthier place to pursue any sort of relationship. “No one else can love you until you love yourself,” they say. I call BS. For one, that’s sounds a hell of a lot like saying you don’t deserve love unless XYZ, and that’s malarky (I’m still working out the why, but let’s go with it). There’s also the issue of consistency. “Loving yourself” isn’t a constant thing. Objectively, I love myself. I love the life I’m building and the direction I’m taking it. Some days, when I’m balanced and satiated, I deeply love myself. Subjectively, I’m as moody and dramatic as the weather here in the midwest. Love begets love. Sometimes you need a jumpstart. I certainly did.


As with all my posts, none of this is meant to as a be all, end all, it’s just my experience. In the meantime, go listen to Kesha’s new album. Or at least Learn to Let Go.

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To My Almost Girlfriend:

I still love you.
It’s been years, but I do.
It’s very different from what we shared.

I remember that day when we first met.
We were introduced and the connection was instant.
Your eyes sparkled.
You made me feel warm;
Warm like a field of wildflowers in late summer.

It happened slowly, or it felt like it,
And I’m not even sure how long it lasted.

You took me on my first date
And you didn’t know it.
Anyone else in the restaurant knew.
We got looks.
“I think people think we’re on a date.”
You laughed.
We were good christian girls.

Dancing with you first clued me in.
Holding you in my arms,
Leading you through the steps,
Looking into your laughing eyes.
In that moment, it felt like absolute right.

You said for the next dance you would do my makeup.
We didn’t go to another dance.
You still haven’t done my makeup.

Remember the day it turned cold and windy?
I gave you my scarf and we held each other as we walked to my car.
you got cold so easily.

The day you had a seizure was most important.
I knew you were ok,
But I was so scared.
As I held you after it passed I put a name to the feeling.
Love.
We had said it more times than I can count.
“I love you.”
But this felt different.
You were vulnerable and let me care for you.
Then as you recovered, I found I didn’t want to stop holding you.
Waking up your stiff limbs,
Stroking your hair for comfort,
That’s when I thought, “Oh, no. I am gay and I’m in love.”

I still remember the last day I saw you.
You never knew that would be the real goodbye.
I couldn’t keep pretending that we weren’t in love.
I cried the whole drive home.

You seem happy now.
Your child is beautiful.

I do still love you.
Nothing like I used to,
But it’s still love.
I love you for what you gave me.
You showed me what it felt like to love a girl.

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Yer Killing Me, Smalls

Content Note: Suicide, self harm, religion

One of the most consistent terms that gets tossed around when mental health professionals talk about me is PTSD. I’m not sure if it’s an official diagnosis yet, but from my first psychologist appointment back in April until my most recent therapy session, PTSD has been mentioned. The only thing that has been talked about more is anxiety, and that is usually linked.

This makes some people uncomfortable, specifically people in the christian church. The trauma of my PTSD makes them uncomfortable, because the christian teachings I was raised with are largely to blame. But I’ll let you in on a secret. If that discomfort results in silence or defensiveness, you are part of the problem and a huge part of the reason I left the church in the first place.

Three years ago this week, Robin Williams killed himself. At this point I was barely becoming aware of how much of a hold mental illness has on my life. That Sunday the pastor spoke of how selfish suicide was, the congregation clapped, and I never heard another word he said. I may have gone back to a service or two, but I wasn’t listening. All I could hear was the echo of judgement of any human that felt like I did. We were selfish for hurting. (And a huge part of my illness is the feeling that everything is my fault, so yes, I am self centered, thank you for reminding me.)

The church has done nothing to encourage me to get mental health care. Individuals have, but the church as a whole has done nothing. Until support becomes the norm, you will continue to push us away.

Carrie Fisher’s death last year hit me hard, but in a way it was still hopeful. She won. She didn’t let the demons kill her. She outlived her illness, and not only because her work will be around for forever.

Not everyone gets that end, even if their work will be around forever. Any time a Linkin Park song comes up on my playlist I feel a pang. Chester Bennington faught. His words became anthems for us kids with sadbrain. I don’t have the same sentimentality as a lot of people because I’ve only been listening for a few years, but it still feels like one of my teammates lost.

Today was the last day of GISHWHES. It’s only by chance and pure stubbornness that I was actually able to participate instead of spending my time in intensive group therapy. Honestly, I probably should be, but I’m glad I’m not, because I got to see something today that gave me a little hope.

Birthdays are always hard for me, but this one was the hardest yet. A combination of a lot of my people hurting, the general hatred that’s flying around at every turn, and Big Scary Changes™ culminated in a very triggered Annie. I still hate using that term because it’s become such a joke to so many people. Being triggered isn’t just getting sent into a rage or stepping up on a soapbox. Being triggered is lying in a cold, dark room, wrapped in blankets needing the world to stop screaming. It’s talking too fast or not at all. It’s fear. This time, it was all that, plus hopelessness and enough energy for one thing. The next day I woke up angry to be alive, hungover, and crusted in blood. I should have gotten stitches. Instead, I got a thick, red scar that still hurts if I set my arm down too hard on the edge of my desk. I’m still angry.

Today, one of the last events of the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen was meeting up at the nearest art museum and creating a piece of art with sidewalk chalk (and eating coleslaw). In between moments of overwhelming social anxiety, I noticed the number of “Always Keep Fighting” shirts just beneath kind, smiling faces. These were people who cared. Community matters, but the community you’re in matters too.

I’m out of spoons for a while. I’m probably going to stay in bed most of tomorrow. My pain levels are extra high right now. I’m still trying to process the past few weeks. They feel like a blur. I feel like I’m cheating. I’m angry. But mostly, I’m tired.

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Try Again

Content note: mental illness, eating disorders, suicide, cutting, slight spoilers for To the Bone

I have not watched 13 Reasons Why. I am not going to. However, I think Netflix may have succeeded in what they were trying to do with 13 Reasons in To the Bone. It’s a look into mental illness that hurts. It’s not glamorous. It’s not melodramatic. It’s very matter of fact. I can’t speak from the perspective of someone with an eating disorder, but I can speak as someone who lives with self destructive compulsions. I can’t honestly say whether or not I recommend the movie, but it did something for me.

I could see myself in Eli. Her family was messed up, but trying. She carried guilt because they had to live with her. She went back and forth between half hearted compliance and outright defiance when it came to treatment and getting better.

Nearing the end, I honestly couldn’t tell if she was going to live or not. Would the treatment stick this time? Would the good maybes win out over the bad ones? It didn’t say. It was very Next to Normal in that way. But she tried again. And that’s all we can do.

It’s stories like this that keep me up at night. These stories force me to look at myself and actively decide if I’m going to try again.

This year has sucked. I was clean for a while. I didn’t cut until nearing finals. I started medication in April. At the time it felt like admitting defeat. And then I wondered how I made it this long without them. Then one month I let my refill lapse.

I was ok the first day. The next I didn’t get out of bed until 9pm. It was the first time in over a year that I was seriously and actively suicidal. I was about to do it, when I got a text. Just a random, “thought of you, I love you,” no reason, text.

I still cut. I was already bleeding, so why stop. I still cut deep. But first, I moved.

That wasn’t the last time. Either that I cut or that I was on the edge of going too deep in the shallow end. Fighting forever feels unsustainable. I’m tired. I just want to be done.

Being suicidal is the haunting of the finish line. It’s the obsession over bad “maybes:” “maybe I’ll die” and all the ways that could come about.

Being hopeful is a whisper of the wind in a branch barely within reach. It’s the good “maybes” piping up: “maybe you’ll live” and what that could mean.

Living is a lot scarier than dying.

Living means trying again.

And again.

To anyone concerned, I’m taking steps to make the trying– less trying… I am back in therapy, I’m building a support system, I’m taking my medication, and I’m making more art. I’m doing my best. Maybe eventually it’ll stick.
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A Letter to My Hair

Dear Hair,
What the quiff?!
We’ve been together for all these years and this is how you repay me? Is it because I cut you off?
I’m sorry about that.
Everyone attributed it to “the gayness,” but you and I both know that had nothing to do with it.
Well, maybe it had something to do with it. But that wasn’t the main reason.
You and I have been through a lot.
Those bangs that mom kept giving us until we were old enough to say “for god’s sake stop!”
That terrible center part that I thought was sensible and normal.
The miles and miles of luscious and heavy braids.
I guess it was the updos and buns that really marked the beginning of the end.
You were up and out of the way.
I could take you down when I needed comfort, but most of the time you were tucked away.
The decision to cut you off was hard, and I hope you know that.
I needed to forget, and you wouldn’t let me.
You reminded me of a place I escaped and never want to go back to.
But you were also my comfort and crutch.
You know how stubbornly independent I am. I needed to try to live on my own.
Of course, that isn’t a thing I can really do, because you’re just as stubborn as I am.
Which is why I’m writing you tonight.
There is no need for all this excitement.
I know you’re there, you don’t need to stand up and wave for me to see you.
If I give you some mousse will you calm down? No, it’s not chocolate but it’ll have to do for now.
Oh, hey. Thanks for being there.
See ya around,
Annie

P.S. Sorry for all those years I didn’t know conditioner was a thing.

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Refuse to be Deleted

This is a time when our nation is ripe. Art and media are important for telling stories that teach us things, but we must learn the lessons. It’s time to stop reading about revolutions in books like the Hunger Games. Watching Star Wars doesn’t make you a member of the resistance.

Things are changing.

But they won’t change unless we make real actions. Call your elected officials; send emails; tweet. Vote in local elections and meet your representatives. Protest and start conversation. This morning I woke up and didn’t feel like doing anything but staying in bed. The Women’s March on Washington sister event in Kansas City was today, but after a long, emotionally draining and restless week, I was tired. Then I realized that if I didn’t go to the march and be a part of the change, I would regret it. This was the kind of event that I’ve often looked at in history books and wished I could be a part of.

I assessed my spoons, came to the conclusion that I had the right ones, and went. Not everyone who wanted to march was able, whether for reasons of mental health, handicap, personal safety, jobs, distance, or transportation. If you wanted to go to a march and couldn’t, I went for you because I have the privilege to be able to. Do not feel ashamed because something you couldn’t help got in your way.

After contemplating what to write, I made a sign that says “refuse to be deleted,” with the bisexual flag colors, in reference to the lgbt and civil rights pages being deleted from the White House website. Bi and other non-monosexuality erasure makes us feel invisible and invalid, and this action was exemplary of the whitewashing of minorities that has happened throughout history. I only had one piece of cardstock, so I chose an issue that I and many of my closest friends deal with on a daily basis. There were other issues that I wanted represented, and was so glad to see signs for every single one of them. There were also signs that I didn’t agree with, such as ones with cissexist messages implying that genitalia makes someone a woman. But even still, the energy of the day was brilliantly positive. There was diverse representation of all manner of religions, skin tones, nationalities, genders, sexualities, ages, abilities, economic statuses, and everything in between. The organizers and speakers were proactive about avoiding the white-feminism that drowns out the voices of minorities; most of the speakers were queer or people of color.

Feminism isn’t just for females.

Feminism is the idea that femininity is valuable and equal. It isn’t just for people who identify as femme, but the idea that men and masculine people can exhibit and enjoy feminine things. This means supporting all people and destroying the binary mentality of one or the other. Coming up with a new term or calling it “egalitarianism” to get rid of the association with white-feminism is disrespectful to history. These marches have been going on for over a hundred years, and though they’ve been flawed, have a rich history of making the world a better place. Signs held by older women that said things like “Why am I still protesting this?” and “I’ve been there, and I don’t want to go back” punctuate this.

The organizers expected between 500 and 1,000 people to come to this event. Instead Kansas City showed up with at least 10,000. I walked past the park where the rally was held after everyone had left, and found it cleaner than I’ve ever seen in this city. The marchers were peaceful and respectful to one humans and property alike. I’ve heard some people say this wasn’t a protest it was a march, but I think that devalues and delegitimizes protests. This was a protest. It was also a rally. It was a city and a nation and a world coming together to say we are tired of being treated this way and we are ready for change.

I am a woman. I am bisexual. I am mentally ill. I am a survivor. I am a young person. I am an ally. I am also flawed and privileged. I am many more things, and I refuse to be silent.

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Drowned in Moonbeams, Strangled by Her Own Bra

2016 is both the year that won’t end and the year that’s gone by too quickly, taking far too many people with it.

It seems that we’ve been grieving someone or someones for the entire 12 months– Oh wait. It’s been a painful year. Water access is political. I know people who’ve lost their lovers and their siblings. Entire cities have been destroyed and refugees are still seen as a threat. My Papaw died in February. It’s a scary time to be queer.  We remember individuals killed by hate crimes. We remember the Pulse shooting. I have friends who used to frequent that club. So many of our icons are dying and those who don’t approve of us feel safe to act on their violent thoughts.

Claiming them as “our icons” doesn’t quite feel right to me. So many of these musicians were a part of the awakening and self acceptance of many of my peers who grew up outside of the conservative churches I was a part of as a teenager. My LGBTQ family was deeply hurt by the loss of David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and others; I looked them up after their deaths to find out who everyone was talking about. But there was one death that put me in tears instantly. When I woke up and read that Carrie Fisher had died I– stayed in bed and ached and sobbed.

Star Wars feels like one of my only connections to normalcy.

Star Wars is one of my few ties to pop culture that has been a constant throughout my life. I watched the original trilogy as a kid and Attack of the Clones was one of the first movies I saw in theaters. Princess Leia has long been my favorite princess character. She’s brash and witty and knows what’s what. I could go on about how great the character of Leia Organa is and what she means as one of the first female role models in science-fiction, but there have been plenty of people who’ve done that. Carrie Fisher, the human, is who I look up to most.

She was open about her struggles and talked about them in a blunt and honest way. Some are saying that she was killed by the aftermath of heavy drug use, but that’s short sighted. If anything, Carrie Fisher was killed by her mental illness and the things she did to feel better. I’m not excusing drug use as good coping. I am saying that mental illnesses are serious, and when they are left untreated those of us who have them develop unhealthy ways to cope. Addiction, to a substance or an action, is often one of them.

That’s what made her such a meaningful role model. She lived through pain and didn’t give up.

Carrie got help and worked at finding what worked. Perhaps one of her most admirable aspects, to me, is that she never really did “get better,” yet she didn’t let that get in the way of living and making her own life. The things that she did with that life are similar to many of my own aspirations in several ways. Working in entertainment and show business is fast-paced no matter what branch you’re in, and she was in so many. She did that while her brain was attacking her. Tears came again when I read her quote about following dreams while mentally ill:

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.

Knowing that Carrie Fisher was a person gives me hope. When the world is as crazy and dark as it is right now it’s hard not to let hopelessness creep in. The temptation to give up is strong sometimes. But then, when I’m able to be receptive (I’m not always), reading about people like Carrie is just enough push to get me back to hope. She didn’t have struggles and do amazing things anyway. She had struggles, and was knocked down by them, and overcame them, and did amazing things.

Thank you Carrie. Thank you for being so big of a person. Thank you for showing us your weird and your kind. Thank you for all that you’ve left here and all that you inspire us to do.

Thank you for showing us that monsters don’t have to win.

 

 

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Organic Living

Anyone who knows me well has heard me talk about A Wrinkle in Time. I’ve probably urged them to read it, re-read it, or go on to the rest of the series. I’m a shameless fangirl and Madeleine L’Engle is my favorite author. I have a t-shirt with the original cover of Wrinkle; My first tattoo is a quote from A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Last year I was given a copy of her book A Circle of Quiet. It’s a difficult book to describe; it’s part memoir, part think piece, and all in all beautiful storytelling. Identifying distinct themes is a bit easier, although those are abstract as well. In reading her thoughts about creativity and the self, I feel like we would have gotten along. There are, of course, things that I don’t agree with, but even my disagreement kind of fits in with the main theme of living authentically.

L’Engle uses the word Ontology to describe her focus on existence and being authentic the summer she wrote the book, and it describes what I have spent the last two years working on. Not long after the start of my first semester at community college, I decided that I was done trying so hard.

This might sound like giving up, but it wasn’t. I didn’t stop trying to do well in my studies; I stopped trying to be perfect. It was killing me. I stopped trying to follow a set of expectations and priorities that I didn’t put in place for myself. I decided to live organically. To do this meant to allow myself to just exist. After spending so much time actively trying to believe a set of rules and philosophies that I grew up with, this wasn’t easy. My blog mini-series “Pieces” depicts a good part of that narrative; I started coming to grips with my childhood, becoming aware of my mental illness, and realized that I’m bisexual.

This isn’t an easy thing to do. Removing the expectations put on me by others means forming (realistic) goals for myself, which is something I’m still learning how to do. I jokingly call myself a “recovering type A personality,” but it’s accurate. The week before Thanksgiving I got overly competitive in a game of street hockey and gave myself a sprained ankle that still isn’t healed because I didn’t give it time. Professors and advisors have told me that this drive to be perfect and not make mistakes is what’s holding me back from learning some things. When you combine this with depression and anxiety, the number of unfinished projects and blog drafts that sit waiting for publishing because I can’t get them perfect is– pitiful. This post has been on the drafting board for 6 months, and posting it at all is nerve wracking. What if there’s something in here that’s wrong? What if I disagree with something at some unknown point in the future? What if it’s too long and no one actually wants to read it? Then I’ll have to apologize or clarify, and move on.

Allowing yourself to live is a long process, it would seem. Allowing yourself and your creations to be imperfect is necessary. When you start working towards that, it hurts. But, as you gradually let things go you begin to develop a taste for freedom.

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