Managing My Mess

This is the moment I make myself.

In the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner, this was the mantra I wrote for my year, the power phrase utilized not only to trigger my future-oriented mindset while planning, as the book’s creators intended, but to check myself, to pump the brakes when I’m at the crossroads between the right call and regret. I have not used it as much as I meant to and I all but stopped saying it when planning. Even so, it resonates with me every time I remember it. It reminds me that the now, this moment, is all I have and every moment builds it, builds on the last, creating the next, making me what I am. It’s a lesson I shouldn’t ever forget. And yet I do.

This semester has been a shit storm. Just check the dates between this post and the last. I drastically lowered my medication, my mood stabilizer of 13 years, to half the original dose. Even doing this with my shrink on board, it was shit timing. I was only just starting school again after over a year off, and I was not coping well. My parents routinely fight, making home toxic. Two of my best friends were going through break-ups and near-breaks ups, and my sister, who has five kids, is defeating a deeply abusive relationship. Everyone kept asking for my help with school, their own emotional needs, favors, watching kids, watching animals, editing, and even just boredom and amusement, and I kept saying yes. Throw in the group work in my classes, volunteering for the homeless and in-need, doing piles of bookwork, essays, struggling in a shitty French course, and my free time became sleep time. My partner was destabilizing due to his own mental health, living situation, and horrendous luck. Then, before he’d had even two days to breathe after his last crisis, his father died, leaving him a mess while I was a mess without either of us having a partner fit to lean on (which was predominantly circumstances rather than either of our faults directly). I broke. I broke hard and I said I was going to leave for a while, delete our chat app and deactivate Facebook. He didn’t believe me. And why would he? When I got dark I’d said that before but codependence and loneliness always spurred me back within a day, if not an hour (I call it the borderline bounce-back effect). But when he said, “I’ll probably see you tomorrow.” I just…I couldn’t. It resolved me to prove both of us wrong.

We ended up not talking for a month, during which I neared a nervous breakdown and fell back into the savagely dark and self-destructive side of borderline traits. I deactivated my Facebook for the first time ever, which was actually a smart move because it’s an addicting, shallow, and dopamine-driven timesink (I regret recently reactivating it as my addiction has completely surged). I dropped my French course because it was so poorly designed that the only way to pass was with Google and I was not learning anything, even with independent study to supplement it. I hate the idea of cheating, and the stress was chest-clenching so I dropped it to spare myself and my GPA. This choice also cost me my ability to double major in Communication and English, as the latter requires language credits which I didn’t get in high school. So boom, yet another worry, another stressor. Things got so bad that not only was I talking to my other two teachers about accommodations, but I got a note from my shrink. I got a fucking doctor’s note from my shrink.

It fucked me up. I don’t know why. I’m a mental health sufferer and outspoken advocate. I talk about my baggage publicly to normalize it, and yet the idea that I needed a doctor’s note to explain why I hadn’t turned in assignments and why my work was slipping chafed my pride. But why? If I’d gotten the flu or broken a leg I wouldn’t have felt shame or guilt. I’m friends with my teachers. They knew I was crazy long before it fucked things. So why did I feel so shitty about it? Because even I wonder how much is my head and how much is an excuse. I don’t think the line is clear. I’m not even sure there is a line.

But I know it was becoming self-perpetuating, an excuse. The more I focused on my condition, the more power I gave it. While I was away from my partner and Facebook I journaled and talked to friends who reached out. I vented, and initially, it helped, or so I thought. But the plan had been for isolation, contemplation and detoxing. That didn’t happen. It took me a couple weeks before I realized it. Instead of gleaning perspective, I fell into the BPD narrative rewrite mode, constantly repeating and bitching about my perspective and my view of the situations fucking things up. Constantly bitching about him. But it wasn’t all his fault. Yes, we have several years of unresolved issues. Yes, a fair chunk of that is on him. But the more I focused on that, the more I lost sight of the present context, of just how much shit had been dumped on him, how much bad had happened, how much he hurt, how stressed he was, and how fucked his head was. I objectively knew these things, but with each repetition, each venting of my own issues, I erased a little more objectivity with subjectivity, a little more him, a little more us, coloring it with a little more me.

When we started emailing to resume contact, his letter slapped me back to reality. Or as close to ‘reality’ as anyone can get (as Nabokov says, it’s a word best used in quotations). My partner wasn’t right about everything, maybe 60%, but he was right about enough. And I needed that reminder. I needed to stop talking about shit and start thinking about it. Interrogating it myself. Reminding myself to question my reads, assumptions, opinions, and feelings, to find the sources, to ask more than I claimed.

We’re doing better now. I’m no longer sick with terror that I’ll lose the love of my life. I’m no longer swinging like a broken pendulum at the slightest thought or stimuli. I’m not riding out rapid ups and decaying downs, or snagging on every fear until it tangles and traps me. My moods are moving with the destructive, reactive and unstoppable force of magma, melting away reason even as it tries to contain them. The lava leaked into the ocean. It’s hardened, solid. I’ve stabilized. I’m recovering in my two remaining classes and sorting out my head. I still don’t know if going to finish dropping my medication completely. I’m afraid to given the spiral it contributed to before. I don’t know if moving will happen in June or house-hunting in May. I’m not ready. But will I ever be? Is anyone ever? I don’t even know if my friend will be able to be my roommate. And my family needs me right now, but I’m so fucking drained. Stable, but depleted. They only seem to take anymore. It’s killing me. Everyone needing me is killing me. It’s no longer fulfilling, just emptying. I just need space to be. I need boundaries that are respected by everyone, and most of all by me. So I think a change is for the best, scary and fiscally idiotic though it may be. Even so, it’s difficult to know what the right path is, assuming there is one.

I meant to write this, and did mentally, dozens of times over the last couple months. It’s changed in form and content every time. I don’t know what I originally planned to write, and I know that there are things I’ve forgotten. I also hate that it’s mostly just an update again. Narrative is my strong suit, and thus it is equally my failing because it overshadows the takeaway. The point of writing should always be to give something, preferably to someone else, unless we’re talking journals (then that someone else is you). So then, what’s the takeaway?

Check yourself. Check-in, be critical but not cruel, be analytical, question, and play devil’s advocate with your habits and comfort zones. I’ve fallen off the wagon with all of these. Two of my goals for the year were to be mindful and to be deliberate, to act with both awareness and intention. I’ve grown reflexive and thoughtless. I need to slow down again, to talk less (so much less), to draw lines around my alone time and not cross them. Both mindfulness and deliberateness are practices. You do not stop practicing. They’re mental muscles that strengthen and grow, getting easier as you use them. If you use them. So I need to pick up the damn weights and start pumping again.

When I slouch, I need to straighten. When I gossip, I need to still my tongue. When I assume, I need to ask why and on what I base that assumption. When I get offended, I need to find the hurt behind that hurt, the reason it was able to touch me. When I repeat myself, telling the same story to multiple people, I need to ask why and if it is necessary. When I reach for the phone—for Facebook, texts, messenger, TV, whatever—I need to stop and consider if it’s the best use of my time. When I move to get a snack, I need to freeze and feel into my body, to feel if the hunger is in my stomach or my mind. Which emptiness am I trying to fill with these things? Why? Is that choice good for me? In the words of Lady Speech, I need to follow my fucking instinct. I need to hold space for myself and my silence, to hear what my body, my instincts have to say. I know what is right. And I can tell myself if I’ll just stop talking and doing long enough to listen.

So this is me managing my mess. This is me pausing to see it. This is me stopping to feel it. This is me listening.

This is the moment I make myself.

Anxiety

My chest coils, churning that icy pre-post-permanent adrenal response. It’s not permanent. Right? It just feels like it. I’ve been coasting on the edge of another anxiety attack since coming down from the first. Monday consisted of 13 hours of my autonomic nervous system getting stuck on overdrive. This hasn’t happened in a long time. But it’s familiar enough.

If you don’t know the feeling I’m talking about, imagine you’re in a group. Work, school, social, political—doesn’t really matter. Now imagine that group is chatting about something and suddenly decides that they’re going to present on the topic to a larger group.

NOSE-GOES!

Nose wha…shit. You’re it. Podium’s waiting. Gogogogo! Chest tight yet? No? Okay. You’re scared of heights: welcome to the rollercoaster. You’re scared of spiders: don’t look down. You’re scared flying: please fasten your seat belts. You’re scared of dying: dearly beloved, we are gathered here today. You’re scared. You. Are. Scared.

Welcome to anxiety. Except here’s the kicker: you don’t always get to know why you’re scared. You don’t always get to see cause, but you sure as shit get to live in the effect. I get to live in the effect. That’s been this week. Luckily, I’ve been to this party before. I’ve tapped the keg, know where the bathroom is, and yes, you can hide your purse behind that chair. I know anxiety, I know my anxiety. I just haven’t seen it in a while.

I’ve been medicated for it since 2007. Anti-anxiety medication let me start college, which petrified me. I managed to chill out a lot since then, particularly in the past year or so. Staying home alone doesn’t lead to a panicked spiral, Kermit-flailing, or weapon-snatching at the first stray noise. I figured out my fear of being alone was actually a psychological manifestation of my fear of my own inability to take care of myself. The more competent I became, the more it receded. And I don’t me martial-arts competent, just general competency. That wasn’t the only factor, though.

Meditation has also been huge. And of course, self-care. But sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes I realize that I went from slight nerves, to manic joy, to wow-that’s-a-lot-of-work-and-I-don’t-know-how-to-use-this-site-and-what-is-that-and-wait-how-many-assignments-are-there-and-they’re-all-do-the-same-day-and-FUCK. Seriously, fuck. Even typing this I’m tense. The adrenaline is fluttering, the icy-breathlessness is haunting my chest, and there’s a pressure on my collarbone like a thumb, pressing, pressing, pushing me back into my chair.

As you can imagine, it sucks. But again, my sideways luck strikes. I know why it’s happening. Superficially, and obviously, it’s my workload. I’m taking two sizeable Communication courses with teachers who believe in academic rigor (not a bad thing, just intimidating), one five-credit French course online (it involves quizzes, tests, fill-in-the-blank, discussion posts in French, a digital textbook, a metric shit ton of audio files, written lectures, a couple of essays, interactive slideshows and I can’t get the French keyboard I installed to work), trying to move out, trying to gain life skills, trying to drum up more editing business, sacrificing relationship time, trying to get this whole AM/sleep thing sorted, attempting to combat health issues and insecurities, and of course, writing two blogs and a book. But that’s just the surface.

It explains the stress, but not the anxiety itself. You see, I’m a recovering perfectionist. The idea of getting less than an A disturbs me, and the idea of not doing my best results in lip twitches, while the idea of my best not being good enough? Well, that’s the kicker, isn’t it? This is a lot of work. What if I can’t manage it? What if I drop the ball? What if I don’t complete it? What if I can’t understand it? What if I fuck it all up again? What if I fuck it all up again? Again. That’s the source. I’ve let myself down so many times. And I’m actually succeeding right now. I’m mostly on track. I’m getting better. And that’s fucking terrifying. Even me writing two posts a week is scary.

It used to be not doing things that upset me. I’d hide from the mountain of work and will it away. If I failed because I didn’t do it, then I failed because I didn’t do it, not because the work wasn’t good enough. I controlled the failure and protected my worth. But now I’m controlling the success, and that involves way more moving parts than failure. Success is also more finite and impermanent. For me, it’s also more abstract because I’m consistently moving the goal post. I’ll never be done succeeding. There will always be more to do, which means I’m stuck like this. I’m with the switch ON.

I can’t take a break. I can’t turn it off. To turn it off, to relax, that risks backsliding. I know me. I don’t want to work, and if I lose momentum, I’ll stop, I’ll curl up and escape into fiction and pretend that things will get better without applying effort. They won’t. They can’t. But after so long conditioning myself to avoid, hide, and only perform in small, violent bursts of procrastinator panic, consistency is fucking exhausting and terrifying.

When I wrote the first draft of this Thursday, I spent the majority of the day on social media and talking to my coworker. I was invited to things (to help the literary magazine I used to edit, as they’re short staffed; to a slam poetry thing yesterday). I avoided work. Then when I decided to start, bleakness settled in. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to work.

Yesterday passed in a similar state, except I let avoidance win. I tried to convince myself that it was rest, and maybe it was, but then it carried over into today. I’m only just now, at midnight settling in to work, and my schedule swung again. I’ll be trying to get to bed early, but I know I have to do things first. There’s just so much. I’m struggling not to look up and out at the miles of unchartered territory I have to traverse to succeed. Hell, even the easily mapped stuff makes me woozy.

Between my life and the state of the country, of the world, it’s constant overwhelm. I’m trying to stay logical about it. I know thinking about it only makes it worse, just as typing this all did (but that realization was worth the strife). The only thing that helps is looking down and focusing on the actionable steps, occasionally looking up to note my progress and make any necessary adjustments. It’s a struggle. Fear is infectious and not easily cured. Work is the only solution.

This is something. This is work. A month ago, I wasn’t writing. I’ve written over 15,000 words since then. That matters. Going to classes matters. Just as I matter, regardless of passing or failing or the quality of my essays, or the skills I obtain. My worth is not dependent upon any of this. The problem is, only the logical side of my brain believes that, and even it adds caveats. If I do nothing, what can I be worth? But what’s the point of that argument? I am doing things. And now you see the problem. What I know isn’t the same as what I believe, or what my instincts twitch toward. This is anxiety. It doesn’t care about logic or reason. This is the entrance to the rat’s nest snarling up my mind. The deeper you go, the more things get caught in the brambles.

Anybody have some shears?