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(Writing) Writing and the Anxious Rabbit

Writing 150Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental illness that can be difficult to talk about, mostly because it looks like one of those ‘special snowflake’ disorders that someone claims to have in order to justify certain behaviors. Even with an official diagnosis and some significant time in a group therapy class, it’s the aspect of my mental health that I understand the least but still has a huge effect on my ability to get things done from day to day. I’m not sure what to say about it, though, especially these days when it feels like everyone is on edge for very good reason. Still, I’m going to try to talk about my anxiety disorder — especially as it relates to my quest to develop a consistent and productive writing practice.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is, for me, a constant tension that travels with me every day, all day. It most often settles around performance anxiety — making sure that I send an email just right so the person I’m speaking to doesn’t get offended, or trying to tackle a case at work in a manner that’s quick and thorough, or replaying conversations back through my head to pick out possible indications that it didn’t go at all how I thought, or thinking about all of the things I should be doing, or all of the things I forgot to do, or an undiscovered asteroid that could plow into the planet, or being stopped by the police, or suddenly being fired, or the possibility that I could just lapse into depression or insanity, or something might happen to my husband, or….and so on. No matter what I’m doing, or how happy I might be otherwise, there is always some part of my brain that is screaming with worry.

Now that I know what it is, I know that I’ve had this since I was a teenager. I could never relax when I was a kid, because there was no place that felt safe to me. Even when I was alone, I worried about a home invasion, or a fire, or being abducted by aliens, or… There’s always something that needs to be done, or always a way something can be handled better. The constant pressure regularly becomes too much for me to handle, and I end up doing something mindless for hours because I can’t think about anything without freaking out.

This all happens under the hood. It’s difficult to put across how relentless worry can fray you, especially when you’ve been dealing with it for so long you’ve learned how to function through it.

However, without chemical help (like alcohol), it’s…impossible to relax. I’ve developed coping mechanisms over time, like zazen, ashwaghanda supplements, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but the disorder is still there — I just have an expanded toolset that allows me to deconstruct the underlying thoughts behind the worry, cope with stress, and forge ahead with whatever triggers performance anxiety a bit more easily.

This month I’ve been working hard to build a more consistent meditation and writing practice; I would love to bring more readers to The Writing Desk, have more folks sign up for my Patreon, and submit short stories to various publications. Doing that requires me to confront my anxiety about writing in a very real way. Every day is a battle against that screaming part of my brain that tells me I’ll never be good enough to do what I want to do; that whatever I publish will be mocked as both pretentious and pathetically deviant; that what interests me is not even interesting enough for other people to hate it.

I created my Patreon, for example, as a means to hold myself accountable for producing content on a deadline. For the most part, that’s been a failure. The first serial I wrote was scrapped after 14 or so “weekly” installments over the course of six months, and it’s been really hard to build any kind of momentum with it. The folks who have stuck with me over the past two years are saints of the highest order, and I appreciate them every day. But anxiety clearly has won out here so far. Because of it, there is no way that I can possibly write something “just for fun” — I really wish I could, but everything I put to paper eventually gets stuck in the weight of that self-imposed pressure.

So with the stuff that matters to me, the pressure can quickly reach the point of being unbearable. Over the past few months, I’ve tried to focus on ‘making friends’ with that discomfort, knowing that anything worth doing, anything that would help me to change and grow, would be uncomfortable. It’s a sign that I’m pushing myself to do something difficult. And that has helped, honestly. It’s allowed me to progress — but that progress is still very slow.

The best thing I’ve found to combat my anxiety is to focus on the story I’m telling, the characters that I’m working with, the setting, or structure, or feeling that I’d like to evoke. The more I think about the work itself instead of how it’s going to be received, the easier it gets to push that screaming aside until it fades into the background. At some point, you have to realize just how much about a situation is outside of your control; all you can do is make sure what’s under your control is handled as best as you can. It’s a really difficult lesson to learn, and I’m still in the middle of that process, but it’s worth learning for sure.

I’m still not sure what to do about this anxiety. I think I need to go back into therapy to deal with it and a number of other issues that are increasingly difficult to fight against. But for now, the march of progress goes ever on.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2017 in mental-health, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Personal) What Makes Me Anxious

Myth 150One of the new podcasts I’ve picked up recently is Fear The Boot, this great gaming podcast that talks about aspects of role-playing in tabletop games, MMORPGs and other things. It’s really a bunch of gamers who get along really well shooting the shit and offering their perspective on games both modern and…historical? They recently had this deep dive into one of the first D&D boxes that one of them found at a yard sale, and it was really interesting.

Their most recent set of podcasts talk about RPGs and mental health, and they’re amazing. I’m all about talking openly about mental health issues in geek spaces, and it makes me so happy that other people are relating the experiences and perspectives that have shaped them. The gang talks about depression, anxiety and PTSD, offering perspectives that hadn’t occurred to me before. One of the biggest things I took away revolves around talking to people who don’t quite understand the irrationality of these things: if there were a legitimate cause for my depression or anxiety, it wouldn’t be a disorder — it would be a rational response to the things that are happening to me. The thing that makes depression and anxiety disorders is the outsized response they force us to make.

Since learning about my anxiety disorder last year, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the anxiety responses within myself. They typically manifest as avoidant behavior; when I sit down to confront something that makes me anxious, my brain develops a Teflon coating that makes the task slide off until I focus on something else. This can happen with difficult issues at work, interpersonal communications (it’s a big reason I’m so bad at email), or projects and hobbies I’ve given myself deadlines for.

This is especially bad with things that need to be done by a certain time. I get anxious about them, procrastinate, and feel guilty about not being productive. When I try to work on them again, I’m *more* anxious because I know that I’ve failed to work on it before and the deadline is even closer, so I can’t take the pressure and procrastinate some more. I miss deadline after deadline, because the worry that I won’t be able to perform this task perfectly freezes me until I just…don’t do it.

I really hate that this prevents me from doing what I want to do, or being as present as I’d like to be with the folks that I know — especially in difficult situations. I can be paralyzed by the desire to say the right thing or do the right thing; when it really matters what I say or do, the worry of doing the wrong thing is so strong. A lot of the time, it’s irrationally strong; during normal things, where the consequences for mistakes aren’t so bad, I still can’t figure out how to move forward.

This feels like the result of a few things in childhood — the fact that I was considered gifted when I was a kid and the expectation was to excel; the time when I misspelled a word during a spelling bee and my mother stopped coming to any of those competitions because “I always lose when she’s there”; the stress of going to a really tough high school without learning how to work hard on anything I didn’t get right the first time. When anything less than perfect is viewed as a disappointment through most of your primary education, you tend to develop a bit of a complex around these things.

I don’t want to make this another “My mother didn’t love me enough and it fucked me up” kind of posts, but…it’s true. I know that this is a really common narrative in geek circles, and everyone navigates their way through and past it in different ways. But for me, the fact that I had no one who I felt loved me no matter what I did made it very difficult for me to accept myself for who I was. And when it comes to anything I do — whether it’s fixing a customer’s problem or finding just the right order of words — anything less than perfection is a disappointment, and disappointment can lead to abandonment and rejection. If I don’t do things perfectly, I cannot be a person worthy of love. So it’s better to do nothing than to make mistakes.

Of course this isn’t healthy or productive, but the behavior has been ingrained within me beyond a rational point. Uncovering that rock to see what’s there, then doing the difficult work of cleaning out the toxic self-talk, is one of those things that takes time and persistent effort. It also tends to happen in stages; cleaning it out might only enable you to see there’s more there, more deeply ingrained, stuff that will be even harder to scrub out.

I am a fundamentally anxious person. I care about getting things right. While that’s a reasonable impulse, the fear of getting things wrong is not. It’s time to start working on that, which means leaning in to the things that make me uncomfortable, making mistakes and learning how to recover from them. I know that my husband loves me no matter what; I know that I have friends who support me no matter what; I know that no matter what, I am someone worthy of love and life. But there is some scared little child deep within me that believes none of these things, and it will take a lot of coaxing to change his mind.

I’ll talk about more of my progress here occasionally, as part of that work. If you have issues with anxiety, performance or other mental issues, please consider this a safe space to share your experience and perspective. I welcome you. Let’s work through this together.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) What I Learned by Being Alone

Buddhism 150There’s this idea in Buddhism about the Noble Eightfold Path — after you’ve taken every step along the path, what comes next? You’ve attained Right View and Intention, Right Speech and Action and Livelihood, Right Effort and Mindfulness and Concentration. Where do you go from there?

You attain Right View after that.

Like the wheel of karma, the Noble Eightfold Path is also a circle; reaching one spoke of the wheel brings you to the place where you can reach the next one. There is no completion, even after you attain enlightenment; there is only the work of realization of the present. One of the reasons I identify with Zen Buddhism so strongly is its acknowledgement that perfection is an illusion. Being alive is a constant balancing act, maintaining your stance while rolling with whatever bumps and turns ripple through the wheel.

It also reinforces the concept of interconnectedness. One thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. In this way, one act — however small — sends ripples through the wheel of your life that shape everything that comes after it. This is really what karma is; the awareness of the consequences of your actions, large and small, predicted and unintended.

So: my dear husband Ryan has been in Japan for nearly two weeks. He’s been planning this trip for months, and I’m tremendously excited to have him back with me so I can hear about his experience and see the places he’s visited. I also miss him terribly. For the past two weeks, I’ve lived as a bachelor — it’s just been me and my rabbit Puckles, watching TV and eating whatever we felt like sprawled out together in bed.

Except not really. The home we share is in a condominium complex that scheduled a fumigation for the weekend after he left, which meant that I would have to get everything ready for that. All of our food and medicine had to be double bagged in special material in order to avoid contamination. And I would have to clean up as much as I could, because there’s no way I’m going to let strangers know just what kind of things we let slide in our household.

The work was more intensive than I expected, so it meant many late nights. I don’t sleep well without Ryan anyway, so that meant trying to snatch just a little more rest well after the alarm went off. That meant being unable to meditate and ease into the day before work, which meant that I arrived at the office tired, harried and rootless. That meant being less resilient to stress, which there was plenty of last week. And that meant coming back home with my willpower depleted, my brain fried and unable to rest because there was more preparation to do. Which meant more late nights…

You get the idea. For the past two weeks I slipped into a cycle where I had all but abandoned the self-care mechanisms I had been building for a while, and the effect was dramatic. My mood plummeted, my anxiety skyrocketed and my coping mechanisms disappeared. All from staying up too late.

Except, of course, not really. The contradiction here is that I made a series of choices that put me into that cycle. I could have made more efficient use of my time, or gotten up early anyway to make the best of so little sleep. I could have asked for more help with getting the apartment together before that weekend. I could have simply sacrificed precision (I couldn’t ignore the opportunity to throw away expired food and medicine) for time. Each choice I made along the way nudged me a little more firmly into that cycle, until momentum made it easy to remain there.

And once you’re there, you feel stuck. Life doesn’t pause for you to get your head on straight; there was still work and fumigation and everything else. Taking the time to put in the effort to get yourself off of a bad path can be difficult to find, but at a certain point it’s necessary. You have to stop and take a breath.

This past weekend I managed to slow down enough to consider the choices I make. I went to bed earlier, caught up on sleep, re-established my meditation practice, and took the mindfulness I gained off the bench and into the rest of the day. I’m in a better place mentally and emotionally, but I’m still recovering. Pausing and changing momentum is still energy that must be expended. I believe I’m applying Right Concentration now, making a concerted effort to make sure the changes I make today stick.

Eventually, I’ll get to a place where I can work on attaining the Right View.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2016 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) San Francisco by Starlight – Walking for Suicide Prevention

Myth 150The first time I attempted suicide was the lowest moment of my life. I was sprawled out on the couch of a relative stranger, miles away from home, certain that I would never see my family again. It was the summer of 1999, and I had been outed by my therapist to my mother as gay (long story); after several months of put-downs and pretty awful behavior, my mother told me not to come back home when I left for college in August. I moved out that week, and I’ve never been home since.

A few friends who lived nearby offered to pick me up and let me crash at their place for the summer. They were generous with their space and resources when I had no one else, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But they were also dealing with their own fairly severe emotional, psychological and relationship problems — it was a dysfunctional household, and I was facing down the rest of my life without ever seeing my family again.

I had never felt so alone. I grew up in a religion that encouraged its adherents to keep a distance from the rest of the world, so my congregation was my life in many ways. I didn’t have many friends; I didn’t have many appreciable skills; I didn’t have any money. As far as I knew, I would live on campus, struggle through classes as best I could, and sleep on couches for the forseeable future.

The thought of that, barely surviving through a series of tests with few friends and no prospects, was too painful to contemplate. Who could possibly love me? I was sad all the time. I knew nothing and I couldn’t learn. In a very real sense, my life was over and I had no idea what could replace it.

So I bought sleeping pills, and took as many as I could swallow. I slept like the dead for ten or twelve hours, and when I woke up I took more. Then more, and more. After three or four days, one of my hosts shoved a sandwich into my hands. I ate automatically. And I began to recover.

Before I dropped out of college at the end of the year, I lost a friend to suicide and another friend made an attempt on her own life. I’ve known others — friends of friends, people in the furry community, folks from back in the old neighborhood — who have tried to kill themselves. Almost every single person I know has been touched by suicide, an act of desperation made by people who say no other way out of their deep suffering.

A 2005 study found that suicide was the third-leading cause of death among young black males in this country. A CDC report found that between 1999 and 2004, the suicide rate among black males was the highest in the land. There is a whole culture of us who feel trapped in broken neighborhoods, targeted by those in authority, with no hope of anything getting better for us. In addition to turning to crime, drugs and anti-social behavior, suicide is a recourse that so many of us consider.

The same holds true for LGBTQ youth. Those brave teenagers and young adults who are open about their alternative sexuality and gender expression face bullying, rejection from friends and family, isolation, confusion about their own minds, and depression almost routinely. So many of us have felt like there is simply no place to go, no other option left to us. We have no idea what kind of help or resources are out there.

There is a stigma about mental health and suicide in the black community, and in the fandom/geek community. There is so much misinformation about there about the nature of suicidal thoughts, expressions and actions; there’s an incredibly damaging attitude about self-harm and what it means. It’s incredibly important to me to change that. I need to speak up about my own experiences and advocate a more responsible and compassionate conversation about this. I want people to know that they’re not facing this alone, that people see and support them, that we understand and want to help.

So I’ll be participating in The Overnight, an event in San Francisco that begins at sundown on May 21st. I and hundreds of others will walk 16 – 18 miles across the city, visiting landmarks by moonlight and connecting with others by sharing our experiences and losses. At sunrise we’ll gather one final time to reflect, share, mourn and celebrate the fact that we’re still here.

If you’re in the Bay Area — or New York, where an Overnight Walk will take place on June 4th — I highly encourage you to join me. If you can’t, please donate whatever you can to support me and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The AFSP is a charity that focuses on education and outreach about mental health and suicide, provides support for those who have been affected by it, and promotes legislation that encourages a more compassionate response towards those of us dealing with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts. If you would like to help me raise money for this important work, please visit my participant page here: http://theovernight.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=18579

Every little bit helps, and I’d be incredibly grateful for your support.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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Self-Care and Conventions

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2016 will begin tomorrow, and for most of us furries we’re just counting down the hours until we can head to San Jose to immerse ourselves in fandom for four glorious days. I know I’m itching to get there myself. But one of the things that rarely gets talked about at these conventions is how big a disruption they are to our daily lives, and what that disruption can do for those of us coping with mental illness. While the potential is there for a brilliant weekend, the craziness of the convention alone can throw us off-kilter.

For many of us, FC 2016 is one of our only chances to be with people we feel truly understand us; for four days we can put aside the problems of our regular lives and enjoy company and kinship in a way we rarely get to experience. We become so attached to the promise of a non-stop great time that any disappointment or gap in pleasure can send us spiraling into dark places. Unfortunately, downtime and disappointment are both facts of life; we can do ourselves a huge favor by learning to roll with them.

I want folks who are going through rough times at the convention to know that I see them, and I sympathize with what they’re dealing with. I’d like to share a few things that have helped me get through conventions and have made sure I have the best time possible.

Absolutely take care of the basics. 6/2/1 is a mnemonic I’ve seen floating around recently to remind people about the basic things you should do every day during a convention. 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day (at least), 1 shower. Making sure you’re well-rested, well-fed and well-groomed can have a profound effect on your mood — this goes doubly so for those of us with mental issues.

If nothing else, making sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat is absolutely essential for managing your mood. Sleep allows the brain to recover from daily stresses, and your body needs nutrients to keep it running properly while you’re awake. And making sure you’re clean and wearing comfortable clothing you feel good about being seen in helps tremendously with self-esteem. Those three things alone are vital, easy things we can do to keep us on a stable footing emotionally.

I know that sleep and showers can go by the wayside pretty easily, especially for those of us stricken by FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. It can feel like leaving our friends is a guarantee of not getting to see or do something awesome. But it’s important to remember that the convention (and your friends) will be there when you’re awake, cleaned and your hunger is satisfied. It’s a trade-off of quantity of time for quality time. When you feel better, you will have more fun. Trust me on this! I’ve stuck around for things way longer than I should have, when I was hungry or tired, just because I didn’t want to leave. It was miserable.

For those of us who need a little extra self-care, I would recommend sleeping at least 7 hours a day, eating 3 square meals, taking 1 shower and making absolutely sure you take any medications that you’ve been prescribed.

If possible, adapt your routine for travel. One of the ways I manage my mental state is by doing my best to establish a routine. I get up at a certain time, I go to the bathroom, I meditate, take my medication, then get to writing. Doing this every day gives me a nice foundation to center on through the craziness of the day; it’s how I try to put my best foot forward. Obviously, it’s a lot harder to stick to it when traveling, but I give it my best shot and I recommend you do the same.

If you have a small set of activities you do at certain times, find ways to stick to them when you’re traveling — especially if it helps to center and calm you. If that’s just not possible, think of alternate activities that provide you with the tools you need to be mentally resilient through the day. It can really help you through the marathon of interaction that conventions tend to be.

Learn to be OK with being alone or having downtime. This can be difficult, especially if the convention is the one time you get to spend with friends you only know online. But the fact of the matter is sometimes your friends will be doing something else or you’re waiting to join up with someone; you will find yourself alone with nothing to do. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; there’s an enormous convention happening all around you, with new people to meet and all kinds of interesting things to do.

If you find yourself having downtime — unexpected or otherwise — take advantage of the events being set up by the hard-working convention staff. Take a look at the schedule to see what’s open and where things are; the gaming area tends to be open most of the day and night, and there’s a number of meeting areas that you can camp out in and hang out. If nothing grabs your fancy, pre-planning an “alone time” activity or two to fall back on can help keep you occupied for a while. Take advantage of downtime to center yourself and collect your thoughts. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely.

Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and careful planning, we’ll fall into a bad mental state. That is OK! No one — not even at a world-class furry convention — feels great all the time! Sometimes we’ll be sad, or bored, or angry and frustrated. There’s a huge emphasis on avoiding the negative feelings we have, but that can make things worse. I know for me, I’ll think that I “shouldn’t” feel the way I do and that guilt or frustration (What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy?) just makes things that much worse.

If you’re having a bad time, or you’re feeling low, take a moment to tell yourself that it’s OK you feel this way. It’s a valid emotion to have, and it’s only temporary. It will pass in time, even though it might not feel like it. What’s more, you don’t have to necessarily *do* anything about what you’re feeling. It can be a powerful thing to accept your feelings, even when they hurt. You may not feel better, exactly, but it can ease the pressure that we can feel about our emotions.

Further Confusion is a wonderful con, and I hope that everyone who attends has an amazing time. If you find yourself struggling to deal with emotions, please reach out to someone. You are not alone, even though it may feel like it. But you have to take care of yourself before you can expect others to take care of you.

Make sure you get enough sleep, get enough to eat, and present yourself as best you can. Plan to take care of your needs ahead of time if at all possible. Accept who you are and how you feel. It can be difficult work, I know, but the work is worth it. I’ll see you folks in San Jose in about 24 hours.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2016 in Furries

 

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(Personal) A Rabbit Thinks About Fear

Self Improvement 150Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I’m still wrapping my brain around it. I never thought of myself as a particularly anxious person; sure, there were a lot of things that I had an outsized reaction against, but I always thought that was tied up with self-esteem issues or concentration trouble. It never occurred to me that my anxiety response was a significant piece of the puzzle — until I went to a group therapy class about it and learned how GAD works.

The therapist leading the class told us that our emotions are like the warning lights on our cars — they’re general indications that we should pay attention to something. If we get angry, it more than likely means our sense of order about the world is being upended and we should probably react to that. If we get sad, it means that we’ve lost something or must pay attention to something’s absence. And if we get anxious, usually it means that there is something coming towards us with stakes that we care about — our survival, our success, or our happiness.

You know how sometimes our low-pressure tire gauge comes on even though the air pressure is fine? Our how we can’t rely on our gas indicator because it comes on way too late to do anything about it? A lot of mental illnesses can be related to our car’s warning systems going out of whack in some way. In this case, my anxiety light is really sensitive and this can cause me to over-react to certain issues in ways that don’t really help me to deal with it.

At work, this manifested as a resistance to doing more technical work for years. I was convinced that I didn’t have the attention to detail necessary to be good at that job, and if I did something wrong I could royally screw up a customer’s system. Other, better support people would have to come in and save the situation and it would be all my fault. What if I did something that couldn’t be fixed? What if I never actually learned how to work with the command line? What if I disappointed friends I worked with, or troubles at the job followed me into my personal relationships? It would be better if I never touched the command line and left it to people who were inclined towards such things.

In my personal life, that anxiety kept me from writing. I could never finish anything because I wasn’t sure how endings were actually supposed to go. I tended to write from the hip, and the endings I loved most were the ones that felt like the only possible one for the story. You could see how each bit of the track in a story lead to this inevitable place that was both surprising and satisfying. I wanted to do that, and I wasn’t sure I could; when I tried to outline my work, I would often end up surprised by what a character did. They would tell me that they simply didn’t work that way, or would do something that caught me completely by surprise. Often when I’m writing a story, the characters “grow legs” and start wandering all over the place. Control over these guys is an illusion; an outline is a joke. I’m not the kind of writer who can plan meticulously.
So what does that mean for my work? Will anything I write just never be as good as I want it to be? If I don’t have the ability to tell the kind of stories I want to tell, what’s the point of writing in the first place? If I can’t get behind my writing, then who will? What if I put something out there and it’s so bad, people realize that I’m nowhere near as smart or wise or thoughtful as they might think? What if my own writing exposes me as the fraud I feel like?

When I stepped back to think about it, most of the anxiety I feel comes from a singular place: the realization that people will realize I don’t have the control it seems I do. That I’m all too often lost and frightened and that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. The command line scares me because it’s a binary — either the command you put in works or it doesn’t. Putting my writing out there scares me because in many ways it’s something I can’t take back — it either succeeds in what I’m trying to do or it doesn’t; either the audience reacts positively towards it, or it doesn’t. It either connects me to my audience through shared or expanded values, or it divides us.

I learned that I tend to “catastrophize” a lot. Possible mistakes I could make taking a course of action will have consequences far greater than the mistake warrants. If I can’t be perfect doing something that I’ve set out to do, then I would rather not do it at all. It was the main reason I could never push myself into doing something different, something more. Thinking about stumbling outside of my comfort zone gave me the worst feeling, and my immediate reaction was to retreat somewhere safe.

Realizing just what GAD is and how to deal with it is a process I’m still learning. Over the past year I’ve learned how to be comfortable with discomfort, and to even see it as a blessing — being unmoored with an activity is actually a sign that you’re stretching yourself and trying something new, and that’s one of the best things to do in life. Dealing with a situation not completely inside your control is just the price you pay for stretching yourself and learning new things.

Still, progress is slow. My tolerance for the new and different is rising, but it’s still lower than most. I still catch myself retreating to the familiar and the easy far more often than I should. But that’s a part of the process, too. We’re never going to get it right the first time we try something new; making mistakes are a part of the refinement and learning portions of building a new habit.

I’m still quite frightened about working with the command line at work. And I’m still nervous about posting up the stories that I’ve written online. I’m still worried about the endings of short stories I haven’t even begun to write. And I’m still learning how to deal with all of that. For now, it’s enough to recognize the anxiety is there, take a few deep breaths, and move through the discomfort to push myself anyway.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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Rabbit-Hearted Guy

Myth 150No Shame Day was last week and I completely missed it, so I thought I would take a bit of time to open up further about my mental health issues. I believe that the more we discuss these things openly, the more people understand the nature of mental illness and the more we destigmatize those suffering from them.

I manage chronic depression, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had it all my life. Depressive episodes have been really bad a few times, and it was only recently (when I moved to California) that I finally got the help I needed. Now, I cope with a mixture of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and Zen meditation. For the most part this does the trick — my thoughts don’t run away from me nearly as often because I can recognize when something is being driven by depression and have tools to engage that.

However, things aren’t perfect. One of the reasons I identify with rabbit so strongly is because it’s a creature whose life is ruled by wariness. They’re constantly on guard for potential threats, and so much of their communication is about worry and the lack of it. The less they worry, the more their personality comes through; it can be hard to “get to know” a rabbit, but it’s a delight when you do.

I’m a high-strung person; most of my effort goes towards the managing and alleviating of stress — in myself and others. At work, I sweat the small stuff as much as I can, though it gets exhausting to do so and I end up dropping a lot of the details because I just don’t have the capacity to deal with them. THAT can stress me out, knowing that I’m inconsistent with my attention to detail or the ability to get things done. And since I’m stressing about that, I have a reduced capacity for new stressors in my life.

The cycle completes when I get overwhelmed. It becomes impossible to concentrate on the things I need to do. The more I try, the more my brain just seems to slide off the task and I look for anything that can provide a distraction. Sometimes I’ll end up just clicking on the same three websites over and over for distraction’s sake, not taking in anything, just doing something so I don’t have to think.

But that’s no way to live your life, much less spend your career. I’m trying to move into a position of more responsibility at work, but it’s difficult when you struggle to manage the responsibilities you have. This obviously isn’t something I can talk about my superiors with; I’m not a bad worker, I just have trouble dealing with certain aspects of my work. Still, something had to be done.

So I went to a psychologist to see if I had ADHD; the lack of concentration and focus, the excitability, the tension all seemed to point to that. After a test and a consultation, she determined that yes, that was a likely possibility as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. GAD is characterized by excessive worrying about various aspects of daily life (in my case, writing and work) with physical symptoms that include fatigue (yes), muscle tension (yes), twitching (yes), difficulty concentrating (yes), irritability (also yes).

So now I’m embarking on a new front for my treatment: group therapy classes for GAD and ADHD, with a round of medication possibly starting up today. I’m hoping that the coping mechanisms learned in these group therapy classes can help me cope with anxiety, and the medication at least puts me on an even keel for long enough to make those mechanisms habit. We’ll see how the rest of the year goes, but I’m optimistic that it’ll at least help me deal with my reactions to stress.

I know that mental health issues are difficult to speak about. You have celebrities and various seminars and self-improvement courses trying to tell you that it’s “all in your mind” and medication is never a good idea. You have the media promoting the idea that when something terrible happens (like say, Dylan Roof) it’s because the perpetrator was mentally ill. Well-meaning friends and associates tell you to suck it up or get over it without properly understanding just how difficult (and sometimes impossible) that is — like people who suffer haven’t tried that already.

But mental illness is a real thing with real causes; sometimes those causes need medication to be resolved, and sometimes developing a mindfulness program is enough. Sometimes the condition is transient, brought out by extraordinary stimuli. Sometimes it’s chronic, without any cause but chemical, and you’ll have to work to manage it for the rest of your life.

All of this is OK. We each have our own burdens, and sometimes we need the help and wisdom of people better equipped to deal with them. It takes a while to find a therapist we feel understood by; it takes a while to find the medication that makes us feel even without feeling emotionally restricted. Learning just how to handle mental illness is a journey that can be long, lonely and frustrating. But like getting to know a rabbit, the end result is very much worth it.

It’s important to me that people know mental illness is a real affliction, and that it can be managed. People who have them can live productive and meaningful lives. And most importantly, that there’s help out there. If you feel there’s an issue that you can’t manage on your own and need help, mentalhealth.gov is a good place to start. Reach out to friends and/or family you trust; a support network can be tremendously helpful. And know that you’re not alone. There are those of us who are fighting the fight with you, all the time, every day. We see you, we understand you, we love you.

 

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