mental health

Worn out

I’ve been feeling really worn down for… at least a couple of months now, if i’m honest with myself. I keep telling myself I’m just on the edge of being worn down, but that’s just silly. I’ve been here before, and I should know better.

The job I have right now (mercifully, it’s only temporary anyway) is definitely too much for me in some ways. It’s been a good experience, and great for my career, but some of the things that make up a large part of my day-to-day work right now are draining everything I have. I haven’t had the wherewithal to really maintain a good social life since the fall, and it’s definitely gotten worse lately.

A big part of what I’m doing right now at work is outreach to local schools. This is a great awesome thing that we do at the library; it lets us promote our services and programs directly to kids and teachers, and we also bring in resources that the kids don’t get access to at their schools. I also… dislike pretty much everything about it?

Classic school outreach, I like, actually. Going out to spend an hour or so with one or two classes on a specific topic is fun, and not that different from the regular programs I run (which I still love!) It breaks up my week and often means I get a bit of a walk in on the clock, which is nice.

What I’m doing right now is a larger initiative we call the “Maker Experience”. It’s a full-day affair, and it involves two library employees. We set up a bunch of different gadgets and gear in the school library and spend the day giving different iterations of the same talk to different groups of kids, before giving them some time to play with and explore some of our stuff. Sometimes the school doesn’t even bother to build in time for us to regroup in between sessions.

The kids always have fun, and the teachers are generally very pleased with the whole thing, but I’m honestly not actually that excited about the content or convinced it adds much value to their day. But that’s not even the hardest part for me.

Although this project has picked up a lot of its own momentum, and I’m not cold-calling teacher librarians to try to get them interested (they pretty much all come to me, at a rate that’s hard for me to manage as is), I do spend a lot of time liaising with strangers, (and spending my days in unfamiliar spaces). Trying to organize a date that works for the school and that the library can handle being down two employees for the full day is tough. Even tougher is that I’m spearheading this outreach for my area, to three different branches, and have to reach out to the appropriate managers as and when.

I’m usually training new support people each time, in part because we want to get as many people as possible trained in this outreach as we can – at some point, it won’t be necessary for me to be along on all of these visits, or that’s the goal anyway.

All of this is on top of the regular programs and in-branch duties I’m used to handling, by the way.

It’s… a lot, is what I’m saying.

Add to this that the one real symptom of pregnancy that I’m having is a need for more sleep than usual. But my schedule doesn’t have the wiggle room for me to get more sleep than I already get, so it’s been tough going. I’m on a sleep deficit most of the week, and desperately try to make it up on the weekends (and I alternate between one- and three-day weekends, so this can be really tough on my six-day work weeks).

So, my non-work life is suffering. I messed up and double-booked social things this week, and wound up flaking on something really important. And then I realized it’s the third or fourth social thing I’ve flaked on in this month alone. I literally don’t have the wherewithal right now to stay on top of my work stuff (which I miraculously do seem to be on top of, somehow!) and the rest of my life. Throw in all the extra doctor stuff, and the fact that I’m moving at the end of the month, and I really should have known better than to agree to do things this month, to be honest… Sorry friends, I really do love you all, but I have to interact with far too many people as it is these days.

It’s not going to be forever though. This position is only mine until mid-to-late July (though I suspect they’ll keep me on a little extra time, and not bother to transition me to my new permanent position right away, since by then my pregnancy leave will be imminent), and school outreach won’t be happening past the end of June in any case.

Better yet, we’re moving closer to where I work next month. What’s been a 2-hour transit commute each way for the last few years will become a 40-minute walk (or 15 minutes on transit plus a 15 minute walk, depending on how I feel). I’ll have time for that extra sleep soon!

In the meantime, I’m already counting down the days to my parental leave. It’s just five more months, and when I get back I’ll have already started accumulating honest-to-goodness paid vacation days, so I will hopefully never have to get this run-down again.

Oh yeah, did I mention I’ve been working full-time for 18 months now with no real access to vacation (contract work is just so fun!)? Because that’s probably a big part of this whole thing. Thank goodness the precarity has an expiration date.

I can do this.

Name some media you connect with queerly: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 16

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: Name some media you connect with queerly

This is one of those prompts that is so open its a little paralyzing to me, so I’m sure that whatever I put here will be kinda arbitrary and not super representative of the ways in which I engage queerly with media. I am also choosing to interpret this prompt as referring to media that is not intentionally queer, but that I headcanon or otherwise engage with queerly.

…Really, I would argue that I connect with all media queerly, because that is the perspective and experience I bring to the table with everything. But I guess I can give some examples of what that looks like?

Connecting Queerly Type 1: Queer/Trans Headcanons
Example: Inside Out
inside-out-why-does-riley-have-male-and-female-emotions-549434This one is not terrible original or personal; many people have pointed out that it is very easy to make a case that Riley from Inside Out is non-binary – everyone but her has feelings personified as only one binary gender, while hers are a mixture of men and women. She even has the nearly obligatory gender neutral name going for her. I also particularly like this reading because of just how utterly and completely I relate to Riley – the onset of her depression so completely mirrors my own experience from around that same age, it is downright eerie.

Connecting Queerly Type 2: Connecting with different characters
Example: Gravity Falls
gravity-falls-finale-1280jpg-c74659_1280wAlthough there are kids animated shows that are way more easily related to queerly (I’m looking at you, Steven Universe!), I definitely do this with Gravity Falls. It’s a really interesting show about a pair of 12-year-old twins (Dipper and Mabel Pines) who have been shipped off to spend the summer with their cranky great-uncle at his sorta sleazy tourist-fleecing destination the “Mystery Spot”. Of course, the mystery spot turns out to be full of real mysteries and supernatural phenomena, and the duo and their friends take on all kinds of danger. The show has amazing messages about friendship and chosen family, and is generally pretty great.

The show is definitely centred on Dipper, the boy-twin – the show creator has spoken directly about how he based the twins generally on himself and his twin sister, but ultimately Dipper is your very standard, blandly nerdy NiceGuy McEvery(White)Boy. The audience is clearly meant to relate to him and write themselves into his position, but he mostly just annoys the shit out of me and I want him to shut up and listen to Mabel.

Because Mabel? She is amazeballs. She is written as a silly and occasionally annoying counter-point to Dipper’s self-importance, and is *very* Manic Pixie at times, but I can’t help but love her. She is an amazing unapologetic femme, smart and creative and full of boundless energy. Every episode she is found wearing a new sweater that she knit herself, she has a new crush on the boy-of-the-week (while Dipper spends the entire summer boringly pining away after one unattainable cool older girl), and just generally being awesome.

Those are the main ways I can think of that I connect queerly with media. Tell me about your queer headcanons plz!


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Why does my brain do this? The difficulty of recognizing first-person experiences of abuse and mental illness

I know this isn’t just my brain. I know it is an absurdly common experience. But still, I can’t believe my brain continues to do stuff like this.

Me, at many points in the past: “I have lots of badfeels about this past relationship and there were issues with having my boundaries respected, but it’s not like I was raped or whatever”

Actual facts: this past relationship involved me being repeatedly bullied into doing things sexually that I had set as hard limits. My ‘no’s were next to meaningless. He did sexual things to me when I explicitly told him I didn’t want to.

For the record, I know I was raped. I just still have trouble with saying it.

Me, very recently: “I don’t think I have PTSD

Actual facts: Although it’s been a while now since this last happened (I may have mostly recovered), I have experienced repeated, vivid, uncontrollable flashbacks to the aforementioned relationship. On more than one occasion during these flashbacks, even though it was years later, I have been momentarily genuinely scared that I was still in that situation, and that the intervening years had all been a weird dream. That’s how real they were.

I don’t have a diagnosis of PTSD. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get one now – though I do still sometimes have the sorts of trauma-related dissociative symptoms I described in my post on being triggered, I think the diagnosis would be different. But yeah, that was a thing my brain was doing for a while. And yet at the time I never made the connection between that and PTSD.

Why is it so much easier to give credence to and put weight on other people’s experiences of these things? I think it especially applies to all forms of abuse and definitely sexual violence. It also seems to apply to mental illness, though – so often people will describe textbook symptoms and follow up with “but I don’t think I’m really…” or something else that suggests they don’t think they deserve to be taken seriously. People will say “I don’t think I was really abused, but…” and then go on to describe clear-cut, textbook, and/or often outright extreme instances of abuse they have experienced.

Why can’t we be kinder to ourselves? Why can’t we believe our own experiences of these things, and trust in our responses to them? Is it just that the idea of being an abuse survivor, or living with mental illness, is just so othered in popular narratives that it seems impossible it could ever apply to us? I suspect the logic often goes something along the lines of “the way I feel isn’t the way I imagine abuse/rape survivors (or PTSD sufferers etc.) feel, therefore that can’t be what my experience is”.

Or is it something else entirely?

Signal Boost: Demisexual and Proud

Today I just wanted to take a moment to point out a new blog I am following and super excited about, and that I think some of you will like too!

Demisexual and Proud is written by a demisexual person (shocking, I know), and already has a couple of really interesting blog series on the go. There’s a bunch of posts exploring the interactions between demisexuality and mental health that the author has experienced (or particularly, what it’s like to be demisexual while also seeking mental health treatment).

And much more exciting to me, the author has started a series called “I Want To Have Sex Like…” which looks like it will be talking about the ways in which demisexuality impacts (or doesn’t) experiences of not just sexual attraction, but also sexual preferences, fantasies, and eroticism generally. I’m excited about these posts for a couple of reasons: I’ve been trying to sort out these things in my head enough to write about them myself, and reading someone else’s perspective will hopefully help me crystallize some of my own experiences, but also I find myself relating to the way the author talks about their own experiences. So that’s cool too!

Jerkbrain Double-cross

y-u-no-work-brainIt’s the holidays, and I am a retail worker, so I’ve been plugging along in a general state of near-exhaustion for the last few weeks. I managed to nearly seriously injure myself on Boxing Day on more than one occasion, including falling down one of our sets of rolling ladder-stairs (I work at a warehouse outlet store, mostly in the warehouse part) and bruising my thigh super badly. So my body has been pretty beat up, is what I’m trying to say. And I’d been achy and cranky for days on end.

But yesterday was meant to be a lovely, relaxing day with my hubby. Sundays when neither of us are working are great! The entirety of our plans for the day involved getting groceries, and heading out to pick out yarn for a knitting project I’m going to do for him. Stuff that’s fun, that I enjoy doing!

And yet.

After breakfast, I wanted to shower before we went out. But before I could do that, I really, really needed to just flop down on the bed. You know, just for a minute. No reason, I just felt like it, ok?

When I got back up, and started pulling together clothes to wear after showering, it became clear that my desire to be flopped down on the bed was far more insistent that I had realized. Basically, my brain started yelling at me: “Holy fuck what do you even think you’re doing? You can’t do this right now. Why are you trying to do things?!?!?!? Stop it!!!”

This is a pretty common feeling I have, and I can sometimes fight through it when there’s shit that just plain needs done. But today was not one of those days, and though I was fully aware of how ridiculous this whole thing was (jerkbrain wasn’t even giving me made-up reasons why it wasn’t worth it to try to get up! It was just telling me not to. Lazy, much?), and even put up a little bit of mental resistance (the equivalent of shouting “No, you stop it!!!” back at my jerkbrain) I gave in and flopped back down on the bed.

Eventually, I did overcome the malaise, though. And eventually, showered and dressed, we made it out of the house for our planned excursion to the yarn store. Yarn was successfully bought!

And then.

As we were wandering through the shopping centre, trying to figure out which exit would most efficiently get us to the next stop on our route, I was overcome with physical exhaustion. We had to find a bench for me to sit on.

And it was only at this point when a bunch of things came together for me. I’d been achy. And cranky. For days on end. When I’d been at work on Saturday, I’d actually thought I was starting menstruation early, the aches were so generalized and shitty, but the menstruation part of that process had never materialized.

My brain had been telling me not to leave the house. And I’d told it to shut up. But it had been right.

The part of me that I had thought was the rational part, seeing through my depressed jerkbrain’s (really rather half-hearted, now that I think about it) attempts to keep me from doing things I wanted to do, was actually my jerkbrain, talking me into ignoring my very real need to rest. Because I was very obviously sick wih some sort of winter bug, and probably had been for days, but I hadn’t let myself even consider that as a possibility.

I spent the rest of the day with a mild fever and achiness. And thankfully, I have today off work as well, so with any luck I will actually be able to recover. But yeah, I am apparently not as good at identifying what impulses are stemming from my depression as I thought I was.

On Not Committing Suicide

semicolonToday is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve been dithering about whether to actually post this, but it seems appropriate now. This is about one of the reasons that I am alive today.

This isn’t going to be a post about general long-term management strategies with depression, or even my list of short-term methods for dealing with depression in the moment. I think that writers better than me have said everything I could possibly have to say about those topics.

What I wanted to talk about here is a sort of last-ditch defense system. It’s about what happens when whatever coping strategies you may employ have all failed you, and you find yourself absolutely in the grips of depression. And your jerkbrain has taken over, and everything it tells you is making perfect sense, and is totally correct, and it’s even convinced yourself that you would be better off dead.

It’s about what kept me from committing suicide through my late teens and early twenties, when I didn’t have coping mechanisms, not really, and I had suicidal thoughts on a fairly regular basis. I actually made a suicide attempt when I was sixteen; this is about what happened after that, and I why I never tried it again.

And it’s a simple thing, really. The reason I haven’t attempted suicide again is that I promised I wouldn’t. I didn’t promise myself, of course. That wouldn’t have done me any good, because I would have absolved myself from that promise when it came down to it.

I made the promise to the person who, at the time, was the most important person in the world to me; my first love. When I told her about my suicide attempt, she made me promise that I wouldn’t do it again. And when I made the promise, I wasn’t sure if I meant it, or if it was something I really had any say in. But I made it anyway, because I didn’t know what else to say, really.

But the thing that I found, as the years passed, even as she broke my heart, and we both moved on with life and found love in other places, that no matter how hard my jerkbrain fights to convince me to just kill myself (Just do it. Life is too hard. It’s so much work, all the time, just being alive. And it never stops being exhausting and painful. And it’s always going to be this way, you know. It never gets any easier. So you might as well just stop.)

No matter what it has to say to me, it can’t tell me that I didn’t make that promise. It can’t argue me out of it, as long as I insist on clinging to it. And it’s a tiny, almost meaningless thing, but it’s what has stayed my hand many, many times. It doesn’t make me feel any better, and it doesn’t make my life any easier, but it ensures that my life will continue beyond that moment, and eventually, I always find my way out of that hole, and am grateful.

It doesn’t even really matter that I haven’t seen or spoken to her in probably half a decade, at least. Of the few things in my life that I am sure of, I know that at one time she was the most important person in the world to me, and that I made her a promise. And the only way I have left to honour the love we once shared is by keeping that damn promise, and so I will.

It’s not even a question anymore. It’s just the way things are. And because I have this one solid thing to cling to, this one tiny sliver of reason to keep on leaving, that has nothing to do with myself, and therefore can’t be unseated by my internal monologue, I am still alive today.

 

—-

I’m not really sure if this is an experience that other people will find useful, and I don’t know how generalizable this anecdote is to other people, but it’s one way of approaching bare survival that I’ve found immensely valuable, and if it’s useful to even just one other person, than I’d be glad to have it out in the open, and so that’s why this is here.

And if you are feeling suicidal right now, and have found yourself here for whatever reason, please reach out to someone. Call a suicide hotline in your area. It doesn’t matter if it feels silly, or if you don’t know what to say to them, do it anyway. It certainly won’t make you feel any worse than you already do, right?

Welcome, Mentalpod-ers!

Hi! If you just came here from my guest appearance on the Mental Illness Happy Hour blog, I’m really happy you’re here! For starters, I’m working up an FAQ about genderqueerness, so please feel free to leave any questions in the comments here, or email me at valprehension@gmail.com

Beyond that, feel free to browse around, and stay awhile. I’ve taken the liberty of making up a list of posts that you might be most interested in, broken down by topic, but you know, you can obviously go ahead and read whatever you want. You can click any of the topic titles to see all of the posts with that tag, or you can just browse through the posts I’ve hand-picked in each category for you.

But first, this might be a good place to start. This is the post where I touch on almost all of the things that are most important to me, and that I like to talk about. It also tells you all about why this blog is called “Valprehension”.

Gender Identity

  • A Gender identity Primer and Follow-up are two pieces I used to come out to my friends about being genderqueer.
  • Navigating the Gender Binary, in which I talk more about what it’s like going through day-to-day life as a genderqueer person, and some of the challenges I face in a world that regularly requires people to identify themselves as belonging to the binary.
  • Attraction, sex, and gender: what’s going on here?. Here, I admit that I really don’t understand what it means to be attracted to people of only one sex/gender, or how that works. This is a post on which I’d love to have your input, and to hear about your experience.
  • Genderqueerness and the inadequacy of language. Here, I write in more detail about the distinctions between gender identity, gender presentation, and biology.
  • The relative nature of gender presentation. Gender presentation also gets a whole post to itself, because it’s the aspect of gender that (because it’s about how others see us) is in many ways defined for us by other people. And that’s super-fascinating.

Mental Health

  • The breaking point, in which I discuss the near-complete mental break-down I had in March of this year.
  • I could have sworn that I’d written about my struggles with depression, but it appears that my depression ate that stuff, and it never made it onto the blog. It’s certainly a topic you can expect to see in the future, if you’re kind enough to follow me.

Emotional and Sexual Abuse

  • The “asking for it” narrative. Because I think that everyone who has ever been abused has spent years blaming themselves (I know I did), I think it’s important to talk about why we feel this way sometimes, and also where the idea that victims of abuse are “asking for it” comes from.
  • Stranger on a train. A guest blogger talks about the constant stream of boundary-crossing that women experience in their day-to-day lives, and how that effects her interactions with people.
  • “Abuse-logic”. Here, I talk a bit about what happens in the brain of abuse victims, and some of the mental gymnastics we do to convince ourselves that it’s not that bad, that we should stay, and that it’s really all our fault.
  • Abuse-logic and memory. This one is about how the effect that abuse has on a person’s brain sticks around long after the abuse has been escaped. I guess it’s mostly about why (in my experience, anyway) so many people answer the Shame & Secrets survey question with “Some stuff happened, but I don’t know if it qualifies as sexual abuse” and then go on to describe clear abuse.

Oof: Productivity Fails

In the nearly two weeks since I last managed to write something here, I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and initiative. The thing is, I’ve kind of had a lot lately, and I’m taking on new projects with a kind of gusto I rarely achieve in any aspect of my life.

And, I must admit, I’ve kind of been cheating on this blog in favour of writing dumb, newsy posts for the place where I work, and soon I’ll be adding fun, newsy posts for the library where I volunteer to that list. It’s not that I’m not doing anything. And it’s not that I don’t have all kinds of ideas for things I want to write down bouncing around in my head. It’s not that I don’t have a bunch of half-baked posts in my drafts. It’s just that I’m not quite inspired to sit down and write any of those ideas down lately.

And this is worrying me, because I kind of love having this blog. It’s a good thing in my life. But I think that my desire to maintain a semi-regular posting schedule is starting to make me treat writing like one of the regular, never-ending chores that have to be done over and over in order to simply be a person in the world.

I’m talking, of course, about things like dishes, and laundry, and shaving. You do them again and again, and they never get you anywhere but back to square one. And it doesn’t matter how many times you do it, you’re going to have to do it again. To me, very often, the thought of doing dishes is simply too exhausting, to defeating to contemplate.

Now, I’m under the impression that this is, in fact, a characteristic attitude of depressed people toward these kinds of tasks. And I mean, if you’re not really in love with your life in the first place, it makes sense that you wouldn’t be willing to put so much work into maintaining it, and chores would fall by the way-side. I’ve been reading Prozac Nation this week, and it’s certainly one of the aspects of her depression, and she even references how, in The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood wishes at one point that she could simply shampoo her hair once, and just be done with it.

And boy, do I empathize with that sentiment (even if I happen to actually take joy in showers and shampooing). And, I mean, I am certainly a person who suffers from depression, a depression I used to be able to trace back to when I was nine years old (though I can’t remember those young ages as clearly any more as I used to, and am thus less sure about it all). But, really, when I think about it, it astounds me that anyone, anywhere, regardless of how mentally healthy the may be, could possibly see day-to-day tasks that get in the way of our just plain living as anything other than utter drudgery.

Like, if anyone thinks about it for more than two seconds, this *has* to be obvious, right? Is there actually another way of looking at these things? Some positive (or even neutral) light that can be shed on them?

I don’t know.

And for the record, I don’t really think I’ve been feeling quite that negatively toward this blog. I just haven’t quite had the will-power to get myself to sit still for long enough to produce something real. But hopefully, I’ll be back up to snuff soon!

The breaking point

The last couple months for me have been pretty heavy. In fact, over the Easter long weekend, I found myself on the edge of a complete mental break-down. And that’s a really pat way of putting it, that doesn’t even remotely explain what happened or what I was going through, but I want to try to describe what happened in my head at that time. Because “mental breakdown” is a really vague phrase, and what happened to me was very concrete and, well, intensely real.

But first, some context: I had been working the same job for nearly four years. It was my first “grown-up” job, and I’d landed it right when I was about to run out of money and have to move home with my parents, by a great stroke of luck. And it was a mildly interesting, and certainly reasonably challenging, job doing administration for a law office.

And let me tell you, on paper, this job was absolutely ideal for me and where I was at in life, and has remained so throughout the years. It paid reasonably well, had benefits (both practical ones like health and dental insurance, and extra perks like free concert tickets in a premium section now and then), and the real kicker was that when I enrolled in a master’s program (which I’ve been taking part-time for the past three years, and is the best thing in my life next to my husband), because I had already established myself as a great worker, I was allowed to cut down to a four-day work-week when my class schedule required it, without even taking a pay cut. It was pretty awesome and cozy.

But, it was also an incredibly toxic environment. I don’t want to get into too much detail on this point, but suffice to say that my politics were diametrically opposed to those of the people I was working with, and I overheard an awful lot of racism, victim-blaming, and general disdain for people who are poor and the mentally ill. My boss also had a bad habit of, when something was stressing him out, calling one of his senior associates into his office and yelling at them (almost always about something someone else had done wrong) until he felt better. I tended not to be on the receiving end of his vitriol, fortunate as I was not to be involved in the legal aspects of the work we did, but I often had to comfort the people who were wrongfully attacked.

Anyway, I hadn’t, strictly speaking, been happy there since the glow of new job, and being able to support myself, had worn off after less than a year. But I had stayed for another three years after that glow wore off, because as I say, on paper it was the perfect place for me to be. As time passed, my dedication to the job started to evaporate, and it reached the point where I would spend half of my day dicking around on the internet and not actually being productive. But by then, I’d figured out how much I needed to do to stay on top of everything, at least enough to not get called out on it. So that’s what I did.

And it started getting harder to get myself to leave the house in the mornings, sometimes. Not so much, that I was ever actually late; just so that I was sometimes not as early as I used to be (’cause that’s how I roll). I was frequently miserable, and spent whole days hating anyone who dared to try to talk to me at work (didn’t they know they were interrupting my lack of productivity?) And I started looking for jobs on and off, but I felt trapped by the sheer flexibility of my hours, something I had only gotten because I had already proven myself in that position. There was no way I would find a job with commensurate pay that would allow me to continue my studies. So I mostly didn’t apply for anything, and just felt more and more backed into a corner about the whole thing. I really didn’t think i had any other options but to stay on for yet another year, until I graduate and find a job in my chosen field (hah! I know).

But then, at the beginning of March, I had some major family drama, involving the hospitalization of a sibling, who was subsequently disowned by my parents, and left homeless (though with a strong support network of friends), jobless, and in legal trouble. I don’t even want to begin on this one, so I’m not going to get into it. Everyone seems to be doing ok now, anyway. (And again, this one of those places where my boss sounds awesome. After a brief phone conversation with my father, I walked into his office (where a couple of my coworkers also were) and, in complete shock, just said “Apparently, my little brother was shot last night?” to which his immediate response was to ask me if I needed money to be able to fly home, because there was obviously no question that I would be leaving immediately and off indefinitely).

My visit home was extremely stressful – I have somewhat strained relationships with both of my parents, and we can really only get along comfortably when the stakes are low, which they obviously weren’t, and the disowning happened while I was a plane back home.

Anyway, after all of that, my daily struggle to get out the door in the morning worsened considerably. I found myself having to stop in the middle of putting on my shoes and sit completely still for periods of time that range from a minute to fifteen minutes, just in order to not burst into tears, for no apparent reason. Every day. I have no idea how I managed to get things done at work, but I still kept on top of everything every day. I was actually more on top of things than I had been in previous years during March. I was mostly on auto-pilot, though, because that was the only way I could function. Whenever something happened that didn’t exactly match up with business as usual (which, honestly, was many times daily, as the work was complex, and all of our clients were mold-breakers) I would react with (mostly internal) uncontrollable rage mixed with sheer exhaustion, which is quite probably the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life. That exhaustion? It was the feeling of giving up, and of submitting to my fate. I didn’t have the energy to be angry, or annoyed. I only had enough energy to do the bare minimum to keep on top of my job. And take the occasional break to cry in the washroom, always for no apparent reason.

And I mean, obviously I knew something was wrong. But I’d had similar stretches of time feeling kind of like this before, especially during busy season, and they’d always passed. And while each time, I hadn’t actually recovered back to the state of productivity I’d been in prior to reaching exhaustion, things did become temporarily bearable again, every time. So, I figured I’d be fine, and I kept reminding myself this was all temporary, and that I’d only be stuck in this job for another year, tops. I could do it, no question. It’d be fine.

Except it already pretty clearly wasn’t fine. I wasn’t just having those moments of paralysis when I was trying to get ready to go to work; one weekend, it took me four hours to get out of bed, get dressed, and get my shoes on to go get groceries. And it’s not like, four hours because I got distracted by shiny things on the internet and fell into a YouTube stupor. I mean, I sat on the edge of the bed with the intent of walking over to the dresser, seriously intending to go get my clothes, for at least an hour (though it didn’t feel like that long). It was as if my brain just got caught in a loop, and couldn’t quite finish the command to my body to move. And each step of the process of getting dressed went like this.

I stood up and opened the drawer of the dresser, and just… stared at it blankly, for I have no idea how long, because I had no sense of the time. I put on one sock, and then stared at the other one in my hands. Once my shoes were on, I stared at the door. It’s like I wasn’t even there any more, I was just a body running on fumes and a memory of consciousness.

The next time this happened, my husband and I were supposed to be going out together (though I can’t for the life of me remember what we were going to do). And this time he witnessed the hours-long process of me trying to get ready to leave the house. And he was really good about it, checked on me, but obviously saw that something was very wrong and didn’t get annoyed or try to pressure me. He sat with me when I was putting my shoes on, and I stopped after the first one and just sat there for a very long time. I don’t know what I said at first, I think I maybe just started crying, but at some point we were just sitting there, and he was holding me, and I said, “I want to go to a hospital.”

This is the point where I struggle to describe just exactly what I was feeling. I was scared, but it wasn’t just irrational anxiety, it was a genuine fear. And I was fearing for my life, though I couldn’t for the life of me, then or now, tell you why or how. But I felt like I was going to die if something didn’t change. Hell, I knew I was going to die if something didn’t change. I suddenly very clearly saw just how unwell I had been, and for just how long, and how slowly and steadily I had been declining until I found myself looking over a precipice, prepared to take that last step over the edge.

I didn’t go to the hospital, in the end. My brain woke up enough to ask the question “what are they even going to do for you if you go?” and I did some research (somehow research is one of those activities that I can do regardless of my mental state; I feel like it’s my version of stimming, the systematic search for information is extremely calming and centring) and found that unless I was a clear suicide threat (and I wasn’t; my fear wasn’t that I would kill myself, only that I would die), the best I could hope for was a referral to a therapist or maybe a prescription of some kind. What I really needed was to for someone to take care of me, and to relinquish responsibility for myself temporarily (which is a very difficult thing for me to do – it was only very recently in my life that I learned to ask for even the simplest kinds of help from other people; I’m pathologically independent) and ultimately my husband was both better equipped and more willing to do that than anyone else.

So I wrote and email to my boss at 11PM on Sunday night, quitting without notice. And I want to be very clear here; quitting this job in the middle of the bust season without notice would have been the one thing I would have told I would never do. That’s four years of work experience down the drain right there. And it involved surrendering financial stability in a terrible job market. I had no idea what was going to happen next. It’s the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.

But I started feeling better the second I hit ‘send’. The amount of weight that lifted off of me is inexpressible. I’m not quite fully recovered, I don’t think, but I’ve been rediscovering myself this past month, and my ability to cope with life has seriously improved.

A week after I quit, I joined the ranks of the multiply-credentialed people in crappy service jobs. I’m a retail worker, and I seriously couldn’t be happier about it.

Books as therapy (kinda)

(N.B.: I am using the word therapy in this post mostly int he non-clinical, self-improvement sense of the word, and I don’t mean to imply that books can somehow replace a professional therapist.)

(via wewiorka_wagner on flickr)

A friend of mine has recently been re-reading a self-help book that she originally read as a teenager, and found very helpful. She’s finding the re-read helpful as well, but in different ways, and she has a very different perspective on a lot of the content now than she did when she was younger.

I find that this is a common experience for me when re-reading or re-watching media that I originally encountered in a different chapter of my life, and sometimes a very powerful one. It’s an incredibly powerful way of learning about yourself, of reminding yourself of how far you’ve come, of what you’ve been through, the things you’ve learned, and all of the little ways in which your outlook and experiences of the world have changed in the intervening time.

While the example of my friend is actually dealing with a book on cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness, this is a thing that also works with fiction, or with nonfiction that doesn’t have an explicit therapeutic purpose. Simply revisiting something that you have strong memories of (you have to know how you felt about/reacted to it the first time around for comparison purposes) can be a great way of increasing your awareness of your present self, even if your self-image hasn’t kept up with the very real changes you’ve been through.

I am not the person I was in high school. I’m very different in many ways. I’m not even all that similar to the person I was in my undergrad. And nothing highlights the changes to me quite so much as my feelings about various media.

As Ann-Marie MacDonald put it so brilliantly in As the Crow Flies, “There are some stories you can’t hear enough. They are the same every time you hear them. But you are not. That’s one reliable way of understanding time.” It is the constancy of stories that makes them so valuable – they are the controlled variable that allows you to explore the ways that the rest of the world has effected you. And for me, the effect can be somewhat therapeutic.

But it’s not the only way that I use reading as a form of self-administered therapy. For me, reading was a powerful experience long before I realized the value of revisiting works, and this second form of therapy actually more closely resembles the actual ways is which bibliotherapy (a form of therapy that, like so many forms of psychological therapy, has very little research on its effectiveness) is administered. The basic idea of bibliotherapy is that it can be empowering to read stories of people facing challenges similar to one’s own, and overcoming them. Simple enough, that.

For me, this is less about specific life experiences, and more about my emotional life. It is very meaningful to me to read descriptions of emotions that I have had but have struggled to articulate. This is helpful on two levels: first, it validates my feelings in a way, at least in making me feel not alone, and secondly, over time reading has been one factor that has greatly improved my ability to put words to the things I am feeling, and to express my emotional needs.

In addition to giving words to my thoughts, sometimes the things I read provide me with alternate perspectives or new ways of framing my mental-emotional state. And sometimes these new perspectives allow me to refocus my mental energies in more productive and centred ways.

Books have helped me to grow and understand myself in countless ways throughout my life, is most of what I’m trying to say.