My previous post seemed very well received so I decided to write a follow up. Today has been much better. I woke up a little anxious, but after rolling over, checking my phone and seeing all the supportive emails and Facebook messages from people who said they understood or felt the same way made me feel a whole lot better. In fact, I would almost say that I have been downright chipper most of the day. Not because I am an attention whore who craves validation, but because it’s nice to wake up from a funk knowing you are not alone.
Realistically I know this fact already. I’m a counselor from crying out loud, I work with people all day long who suffer from various forms of mental illness. That’s where your brain can get really tricky though. It convinces you that you are not like those other people, or they are not like you. “I’m not as crazy as the lady who feeds the birds and talks to herself,” or “That person doesn’t have panic attacks like I do.” To some extent this is true, not two people experience mental illness the same way, even if they have the same condition. However, the idea that no one understands your suffering is just silly and it’s a lie our brains tell us because it seeks to isolate us rather than help us connect with others. (Again, a lot of times our brains aren’t trying to be gigantic cock goblins on purpose, they are just trying to save us from the looming threat they thinks is all around us, including people.)
I’ve actually been listening to the audio book of Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things in my car (I drive a lot and get bored easily). Hearing how brutally honest she is about her struggles makes me feel like I have found a kindred spirit. It doesn’t hurt that it is also wickedly funny. I mean I’ve always considered myself good at naming pets and random animals I discover on vacations and travels, but her names seriously take the cake. She has a house cat name “Ferris Mewler” and a dog named “Dorothy Barker.” She also named the two murderous swans that live on the pond near her house “Whitey” and (my personal favorite) “Clouse Banana Snatch.”
One of the other things I love about Jenny’s writing is her ability to put into words things that I have felt for a long time, but don’t have the ability to express the way she does. One particular passage that really stuck with me was her discussion on the darkness and light of mental illness-
Without the dark there isn’t light. Without the pain there is no relief. And I remind myself that I’m lucky to be able to feel such great sorrow, and also such great happiness. I can grab on to each moment of joy and live in those moments because I have seen the bright contrast from dark to light and back again. I am privileged to be able to recognize that the sound of laughter is a blessing and a song, and to realize that the bright hours spent with my family and friends are extraordinary treasures to be saved, because those same moments are a medicine, a balm. Those moments are a promise that life is worth fighting for, and that promise is what pulls me through when depression distorts reality and tries to convince me otherwise.
I think she’s absolutely right. Like the millionaire who was born a pauper, people who experience deeply negative emotions also have the ability to experience the greatest moments of joy and appreciate it all the more because they have been in Hell and clawed their way back up to the sunlight.
Last night I cried while I wrote my post and then 20 minutes later laughed until I cried some more when Mike showed me a video of a middle aged woman in the Chewbacca mask that is circling around the internet right now. The look of sheer joy and laughter from the woman has made me smile multiple times today. You know what? Before I even got out of bed this morning I got on Amazon and bought myself the exact same mask. I figure the next time I am sad, instead of putting on my typical mask of a fake smile and “Everything is okay” through gritted teeth, I am going to put on my literal Chewbacca mask and Wookie call at myself in the mirror until I laugh so hard my sides hurt. Maybe some morning I’ll put it on before Mike wakes up ad hover 6 inches from his face until he opens his eyes and I’m all like “RRRRRRRGHGHGHGHGHG!!!” (that’s Wookie for “Good morning sunshine!”) and then he punches me because I made him pee a little, who knows?
$35 is not very much for the potential for infinite happy moments.
After yesterday’s post I had several people ask me what strategies I use to help manage anxiety, or shared with me their personal tips. I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can share what helps me… Just so long as you promise not to laugh. Seriously, pinky swear right now. Have you done it? Good.
Phoebe is my anxiety bear. I’ve had her since I was in middle school as evidenced by the fact that she looks more like a grey sort of bear, rather than the beautiful white polar bear she once was.
You know how people who have just had open heart surgery have teddy bears that they hug to their chest when they cough to keep from popping their stitches? I cling to Phoebe for dear life when I want to keep my racing heart from popping out of my chest. I curl around her when things get so bad I am nauseous and somehow she manages to keep the contents of my stomach inside where they belong. I’ve had people (including exes) give me shit for having a teddy bear as a grown adult, but you know what? Fuck those people. Phoebe is my lifeline. She has been all over the country with me and even went to Ireland with me last summer. She doubles as an excellent neck pillow.
A more recent find discovery is my weighted blanket. This guy doesn’t look like much but stuffed into its cuddly insides is 10 pounds worth of plastic pellets. There are all sorts of scientific-y reasons why weighted blankets help with depression and anxiety, and I encourage you to look it up if you are interested. All you really need to know, though, is it feels like your whole body is being enveloped by a warm hug and it’s glorious.
Other strategies I use? I talk a lot to Mike, my mom, and my brother, when I am able to put how I am feeling into words. I also write. I have kept journals for a long time. I laugh at funny videos of cats missing easy jumps, I collect pictures of Corgis on Pinterest, I watch period romance movies, I make art, sometimes I cry and hide under the covers, I do yoga, I listen to crazy goats screaming like humans on Youtube. Really anything that makes me smile is a possibility. Sometimes I eat raw cookie dough straight out of the package (that is usually a last resort, I’m feeling really low when I get to this point). I even wrote myself a letter that I pull out sometimes when I am having a bad day because if anyone knows how I feel it’s me. I’ve been there before and I will be there again. There is a strange comfort in this.
I know I am going through a weird period right now. Everything is changing, and while things are changing for good reasons (aka new job, new house) my brain sees it as strange and dangerous new territory. I am going to have to be gentle with myself for awhile until my brain realizes my new environment isn’t actually trying to kill me.
I was really sad when I left my school for the last time today. I have made a lot of memories there, and will miss the children and the community that has accepted me as one of their own. As I pulled out onto the street Semisonic’s “Closing Time” started playing on the radio, and initially I thought this was appropriate, but it didn’t really register much until I heard the lyrics-
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
Well played Universe. Well played.
PS. Here are links to some of my favorite pick me up videos, enjoy!