Fearing the End of the Story

It’s starting to feel like I’m hitting the denouement of my story. At least, it feels like I’m hitting it for this part of my story…

I’ve been living in the climax of a stressful, traumatic, gritty, exhausting story for the last four years or so. Unlike the climax in a short story, my life story climax plateaued and stayed climactic for a really long fucking time.

But I can feel myself progressing. I can see it and this week in particular, I’m having an upswing, which is a very welcome change after months and months of being depressed.

But it’s all starting to change and, to be honest, that scares me a little bit.

Okay, it scares me quite a bit. Because I harbour a deep sense of fear that healing means my past doesn’t matter or is no longer true.

I’m often scared that if I stop being an outright champion and reiterating the facts of my past loudly and consistently, then people will think (and I will feel) like they didn’t happen. That me growing and moving forward isn’t a positive thing; that it’s an obliteration of all that came before and as such, leaves no room for relapse, triggers, memories, or scars.

I’m scared of getting better, which sounds ridiculous, but letting go of the fierceness that’s kept me safe and strong is incredibly uncomfortable.

Why do I sabotage myself like this? Why stymie the progress in my life for the sake of holding onto a broken and battered story? Why not celebrate the fact that I’m safe and have moments of joy and can relax sometimes and have goals and achievements that I’ve accomplished as an individual? What the hell is wrong with me??

Well, we all know that the answer to that question—nothing at all, and a whole helluva lot.

I think I’m scared because I learned to not trust good things. I learned that setting expectations guarantees disappointment and that making goals or changes results in failure. These are some of the strongest lessons I carry with me from my past as a codependent and I resent them as much as I recognize them. I hate their potency as I begin to notice all the good shit that’s going on in my life again. I give space to my fear and allow it to bring me back to a state of helplessness, which on an intellectual level I recognize is bullshit, but on an emotional level, feels (strangely) comfortable and normal.

So how to avoid giving up? How to stop the self-sabotage? How to savour the good stuff and build my confidence while recognizing that moving forward absolutely does NOT mean that my past doesn’t matter?

My first instinct is to answer that with a “hell if I know!”, but I DO actually know! The answer lies in the capacity I developed during my trauma to survive…I can’t quit. I just don’t give up. I allow myself to feel my fear and to acknowledge it while also seeing the positive things that are happening at the same time. I get uncomfortable and then push through those feelings and keep trying. I embrace the upswing and the denouement; the falling action in the climactic journey I’ve had these last few years. I remember that every story remains for as long as we exist and that mine is still true even if I’m smiling and even if I move on.

I will always be a person with mental illness. I will always be an abuse survivor. But more importantly, I will always be myself. And being me is a nuanced, changing, shifting, growing, colourful experience; I can’t cling to one version or one time and say that it’s the only truth in my life!

I’m feeling ready to embrace more of who I am and give space to the things that come from this new acknowledgement. Maybe that sounds new-agey and super corny? Fuck it.

Yes, I’m still scared. I still worry (thanks anxiety) that I’ll fail at trying something new or that I’ll push myself too far and have to pull back from the goals I want to achieve. These are very real, very tangible fears that I’m not working at surpassing. I tell myself that being happier is something I deserve and that it’s possible, with love and support around me, to do more than just survive. It’s time to start thriving.

xxJ

I May Be Depressed But I Still Get Sh*t Done

I struggle daily with managing my mental health issues. Somehow my brain and body oscillate between frenzy and lethargy; I’m either totally amped up or completely run down.

What’s also true, is that I still have to get through the day-to-day in spite of what physical or emotional state I’m in. In my case, this means looking after my kids, my pets, my home, and my jobs. Some days, I totally rock it. I have energy and drive; I’m enthusiastic, determined, and productive! I get my shit done and feel good doing it.

Those days, unfortunately, are the exception rather than the norm.

I know that everyone experiences ups and downs, or, as one of my previous counsellors once said, we all experience “stress bubbles” in our lives. But when you suffer from legitimate mental health issues like chronic depression, your capacity to exist and to thrive feel greatly diminished.

First of all, it is EXHAUSTING to be depressed. The lack of physical energy or sense of motivation to do anything is one of the basic characteristics of depression and it’s something I grapple with constantly. Aside from my body feeling tired all the damn time, I also struggle to focus. When I’m depressed, my brain feels foggy; when anxiety decides to take the lead, I feel like a hamster running furiously on a wheel, chasing my thoughts but never managing to make any headway on reaching them. Add to these difficulties low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, lack of purpose, sadness, loneliness, fear, poor diet, poor sleep, and whatever cocktail of psychiatric meds a person might be on (+ associated side effects), and what becomes clear is that people suffering from depression have to manage a LOT in order to perform even the basics in their lives.

So how the hell do I get anything done? In my case, I tend to put things into two categories in my mind, the first being the “must get done; totally NOT optional” tasks and the second being the “could be done now, could be done later; totally optional” tasks. Some things, like feeding my children breakfast, walking the dog, paying my bills, running my tutoring sessions, or preparing meals, sit firmly in my “not optional” category. These are things that just need to be done and I can’t opt out of them (at least, in my mind that’s what I tell myself, because truly I *could* opt out of some of them but that would have dire consequences) so I have to do them, plain and simple. There’s no way that I can avoid them; they just have to happen.

I also use other strategies to get my butt in gear. Things like, having someone hold me accountable for my plans. Writing a list and ticking things off as I complete them. Setting reminders on my phone and calendar for specific tasks. Giving myself something to look forward to once I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, whether it’s some Netflix time, a visit with a friend, or something tasty to eat. I put good music on whenever I’m doing tasks that can have background noise. I try to make sure I’m comfortable while I work. I get outside and let the fresh air rejuvenate me. In short, I do whatever’s necessary in that moment in order to get my jobs done.

This is my “I don’t want to work I just want to binge-watch Netflix and cry but I’m trying anyway” face. The tea helps. A little bit, at least. #shamelessslefie

It isn’t a perfect system—I’m not a perfect person! I struggle constantly with seeing things through to completion and not procrastinating important items on my “to-do” list that need to get done. Some days I don’t do a whole hell of a lot. Some days, I just give in and sit and let the heaviness take over my body and try to rest. But I try hard to have more days that are productive and fewer days that are not. I put effort into moving forward, meeting my goals, managing my day-to-day, and striving for increased wellness and success.

When you’re depressed, it’s hard to be productive. When you’re anxious, it’s no better. Depression is a legitimate disease that causes legitimate difficulties with navigating life and getting what you need and want out of it. But if you’re at all like me, you still have at least a tiny bit of motivation to keep trying, and that’s really the catalyst for making any steps forward, whether big or small.

xxJ

Do It Anyway

“You might put your love and trust on the line
It’s risky, people love to tear that down
Let ’em try
Do it anyway
Risk it anyway”

Ben Folds Five

When I was a kid, I was terrified of roller coasters. There was absolutely no way in hell anyone was getting me to strap myself into a rickety bucket seat and go hurtling along a bumpy, terrifyingly tall and twisty train ride.

Nuh-uh. No way.

The truth was that I desperately wanted to be brave enough to ride a coaster. I was embarrassed of being wimpy and emotional about it and I hated feeling left behind by my peers. It took me until I was 14 to get up the courage to try a roller coaster. In Ontario, where I live, the quintessential theme park is Canada’s Wonderland. Living nearby in Brampton, my sisters and friends and I spent many summer days hanging around this wondrous playground. Resolutely determined to NOT be left behind again, I had to come up with something that would make the big rides less scary.

So how did I do it?

I told myself that all I needed to do was get in line and nothing more.

If I could just get into the line-up (which often took 1-2 hours to work your way through), then I could consider myself committed and unable to back out. (I know that technically I *could* have backed out, but in my mind that was NOT an option.)

This idea—the idea of just “getting in line”—has become a quintessential tool for me whenever I face seemingly scary things in my life. When I’m feeling anxious in anticipation of something new or something uncomfortable, I can simply tell myself that if I just take the first step and “get in line”, I’ll be able to manage whatever comes next.

I mean, I haven’t lost a limb on a roller coaster yet, so clearly the technique works!

This week I’m doing my first ever professional speaking gig. Damnit I’m scared! And excited! (But mostly scared…)

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I couldn’t get myself in line to do it. Finally, a few months ago, I felt ready to step into the queue and commit myself to whatever happened.

It’s been a slow climb to that inevitable drop at the top since then, and tomorrow, my stomach will lift into my chest and I’ll be free-falling into my first experience of talking publicly about my history as an abuse survivor and person with mental illness. Yikes!

The song I quoted at the beginning of this post, Ben Fold Five’s “Do It Anyway”, takes to heart the idea that I’m hinting at with my roller-coaster-line-up analogy. We all have moments in our lives that feel scary or uncomfortable, but we have to do it anyway. The cost of NOT doing it is far too high. And in a world of too many people ignoring or undermining what really needs to be done, those of us who are brave enough to speak up and face what makes us feel icky are desperately needed.

So tomorrow, I’m doing it anyway. I’m going for it; taking the leap. Jumping off the cliff. Putting it all out there… Choose your cliché; I’m doing them all!

And on the other side will be the thrill of the ride; the rush of trying something new and the pride of speaking my truth. All of head/strong is an exercise in speaking up and speaking out, so I feel armed and ready to take another big step (publishing my blog was one of the first ones, obviously) and reach out even farther into the fray.

xxJ

Here we go! Weeeeeeeeeeee!