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.

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Driving Me Crazy

Almost a decade ago when I was 15 years old, all my friends were getting their driver’s licenses and permits. Naturally, wanting to stay up with the in-crowd, I bounded over to my parents tail-a-waggin’ and asked if I could get my permit. The answer, contrary to what they say now, was a resounding “NO.” I asked more than a few times before eventually losing interest. After all, my best friend had just gotten hers, so, ultimately, I had little need for one.

The years slipped by unnoticed and suddenly I was 18 and Dad was demanding to know when I would drive. This was a couple of years after I had begun consciously collecting phobias. I thought about his question for a moment and realized just how thoroughly the concept terrified me. I had been so removed from thinking about it that the mere idea had me hiding behind walls of aggressive dismissal.

How could I, a girl who barely controlled her mood swings, let alone her life, be expected to control a ton or more of moving metal at high speeds on highways and back roads, bullied by the traffic teeming around her? It was too much.

But why did it scare me?

There’s a car downside up. There’s a girl half outside it, half in. There’s a girl, her insides half outside. She’s a puddle on a low tide beach of glass cubes and gravel, shining in a sunset of flashing blues and reds. It’s harder to hear than to feel. Everything muffled by her pained pulse. There’s a man, his edges indistinct, blurring into the blinding lights behind him. He doesn’t understand that she doesn’t understand.

He asks again, touching her. Did he ask if it hurt? Stranger danger! The childhood chant summons itself into the hollow hole of her mind. She wants to laugh. There’s not enough air to laugh. Why? What was on top of her? A glance up gained comprehension. The door was on her, off its hinge. The door was off its hinges, in her.

“Miss, you’ve been in an accident. Try not to move.”

Why does driving scare me?

Because my brain never stops writing. But rather than be a one trick pony, my innovative little brain started writing excuses on top of its frightful fiction, each as logical as the last.

“I’ll get a license when I go to college.”

“I’ll practice this summer when the roads are clear.”

“I can’t drive the Jeep while she’s using it to get to work.”

“I can’t practice if you keep loaning the car out.”

“I’ll get it when I have a car.”

Between 18 and 22, I drove a grand total of ten times. I hated it. It set flaming nails to my nerves and pounded them in with each passing car. How could I be expected to survive? An irrational fear that I would die in an accident at 23 (spoiler alert: I’m 24) tightened the tension and my grip on the wheel.

Fear mixed with a wounded pride when my brother got his license at 16. My brother is four years younger than I am. Worse still, was the discovery that of all my teachers, he was by far the best when it came to driving. Despite our fights and differences of opinion, we somehow managed to click while driving. It was a Goldilocks kind of thing. My mom was too hot, gasping, grimacing, gripping the door, and crying “Careful!” at every move I made. My dad was too cold, disinterested, ambivalent, and inattentive whenever we drove, more focused on his phone than the road. But my siblings were just right. My sister calmly corrected and talked, pointing out that I was doing fine and my fears were unjustified, though perhaps she was a touch too supportive. My brother was laid back but impressively aware, keeping up conversation while course correcting and offering advice I’d never heard before (“Don’t turn the wheel back into place, loosen your grip and let it slide back on its own so you don’t overcorrect.”). However, no matter how “just right” the meal is, it can’t last.

Eventually, our different mindsets brought our conflicts to the road as well. Like my dad, my brother lacks the ability to empathize with my worldviews. He doesn’t understand why I don’t just drive down and get my license. His logic (or lack thereof) is “Just do it.” Those words still make me cringe, regardless of what they’re referring to. Just do it. What on this planet or any other is that simple? More to the point, how could someone tell that to a person who was quite literally prone to anxiety attacks at the thought of driving and expect said person to not be offended? Offended is putting it lightly; I was livid. Nothing frustrates me quite so much as being misunderstood, and for him to think that it was so simple proved that he had misunderstood a great deal.

That said, months later I now stand on the verge of “just doing it.” As of August 25th I have my own car and drive to school with Mom almost every week. I’ve conquered driving back roads and highways, I’ve mastered not turning the wheel when I check my blind spots, and I’ve even parked in the garage next to Mom’s car without hitting it. Parking in general and backing up still pose a bit of a problem, though they are far from the monoliths they once were. Admittedly, I’ve never once attempted to parallel park. Presently, my issue, the last lap keeping me from the awkward photo-finish that is any form of identification, is yet another concept: driving alone. I’m comfortable driving now, to a degree, but so much of that has to do with the person in my passenger seat, the person who saves me from mind slips and calls out “Red light!” or “Blind spot!” the person who plays the pivotal role of failsafe, of safety net. I know that when I’m finally forced to do it alone, the anxieties will return, the unsteady lack of confidence that can be all too fatal.

I promised them the test at the end of October. I promised them the test when I got my car. I promised them so many things so many times. I promised myself. I feel the excuses behind me, see them pointing out exit strategies and pushing me towards the escape hatch.

But I have a lot to do.

But it’s Halloween next week.

But it just snowed.

But I am busy.

But I can’t do it right now.

But I can’t parallel park.

But I can drive.

Background: Building & Breaking a Boomerang

Rather than Tarantino-ing it, I’ll start my story with a bit of background otherwise known as the Beginning. If we were to take a glance as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from birth I would be placed on the third tier, which deals with belongingness and social needs. I never wanted for food or safety. My parents toiled amongst technology and the top-secret, building a better life for themselves and their babies-to-be. They met and worked together at Lockheed Martin in California building a career, in my father’s case, which eventually led us to Colorado. With their accomplishments and persistence came means and with those means, I was spoiled.

It began in part because I was the baby (my sister is ten years my senior) and in part because of how my parents were raised. Both teachers, my father’s parents raised him and my uncle in a world of scholastic achievement and discipline, instilling in him the value of hard work and the pride of a self-made man. My mother in contrast, was the baby of a bigger and occasionally turbulent family, at the head of which was my exactingly touch-the-TV-to-make-sure-it’s-cool-upon-arriving-home strict Grandfather. In both cases, my parents took to heart the things they lacked and sought to provide them to their own children whenever possible. A couple of months back, whilst discussing some of the topics that spawned this blog from their bilious depths, Dad said, “My greatest weakness is that I want my children to be happy.” It struck me with the blunt force of epiphany, embedding his wince-inducing expression of resignation and disappointed acceptance on the wall of my memory, a permanent monument to my codependent failures and yet another reason to overcome them. My Mom shares a similar fault to his: she has always been compelled to wrap us in a world-blocking blanket of affection—both emotional and material—vowing to never repeat the mistakes of her own parents. Alas, it is from these good intentions that a monster comprised of equal parts gluttony and guilt was born.

I was a horrifying brat from birth on through the better part of High School. Some would argue that I still am. I discovered at a very young age my propensity for logic, arguments, and typhoon summoning temper tantrums. The word “No” was temporary at best, a weak-willed obstacle in the way of my constant overindulgence and unearned demands. My parents found it easier to clear the clouds and wipe away my tears with wants than to stand their ground and weather the wailing storm. Unfortunately, this instilled in me a sense of profound entitlement. What need did I have of work when my desires were so easily gratified through battles? This belief extended to my academic career as well. In elementary school primarily, but even on through high school to a lesser extent, my Mom held my homework-hand, guiding the pencil with her own, giving answers wittingly and otherwise. In terms of chores, they were optional and my Dad consistently paid more than their worth. Cleaning the dog run alone was $20 task completed in half as many minutes. The truths of this past taunt me.

I do not condone the benefits of my privileged life; they have prevented me from living one of my own, on my own. Yet my awareness of the issue should not be mistaken for a condemnation, it is merely an analysis of cause and effect. Sadly, my parents do not understand. Despite how many times I explain it, my parents think I blame them. No amount of carefully cultivated words, levelheaded reasoning, psychological references, or frustrated, “No that’s not what I mea—“s will make them accept that it is not blame. It is an inference, it is the logical deduction that led me to lap up the bounty of bread crumbs, following them back to the kindness-caressed but ultimately careless child who dropped them. As my mom says, “It is what it is.” No parent can predict the path their actions will pave for their child. Maybe they’ll eventually grasp my guilt, my understanding, my shared responsibility for what happened. After all, it’s not as though I’m free of fault. My eyes never closed on the light of my selfishness, they never turned from trials I put people through, from the unnecessary force exerted to obtain trivialities and avoid work. Choices were made (often in the form of mistakes) and ultimately, the consequences are mine to bear, and mine to best. I love my parents and appreciate what they’ve done and continue to do regardless of the outcome, and hopefully I’ll be able to fix what I’ve broken and better what I haven’t. With a will repurposed towards working my world into what it should have been all along, into a place where I pull my weight and continue to push forward, I’m going to take the first step.

It all starts here, with a blog, a brat, and a bit of hope.

Collecting Dust

A friend once told me that they—the experts-that-be—call my generation “the Boomerang Generation” because after moving out, we’ve all ended up back home at least once. Clearly, I’m just more efficient than the others because I never left. I jokingly (and sometimes dismissively) defend my failure to launch by citing a lack of need to, the availability of familial support, the economy, and of course, free room-and-board. But the truth lies between the logic.

I’m a collector. I collect stories, dreams, words, knickknacks, pens, hats, corks, clothes, people, and phobias. The latter is the only one that happens both unintentionally and effortlessly. I’m terrified of “what-ifs” and haunted by what has yet to come. Burglars, fires, car crashes, and even creeping crawlies compel me to mask my mortification beneath the guise of grownupness and a gratitude for the familiar, for family and the memories firmly affixed to our home. The world, the thought of being in it alone, yoked by independence and trudging up the treacherous mountainside of adulthood, staggered by a 9-to-5 and whipped with the worries of continued existence (rent-food-light fixtures-leaky pipes-noisy neighbors-the needs of a car-a knock on the door at midnight) on top of the weird weather patterns sparked in the bipolar blend of chemicals and synapses science calls my brain, is…too much. It stays the first step and steals breath when the notion of the last lingers too near.

But to say that the worst of what-could-be awaits me only out in the world is an overgeneralization of the threat, one which overlooks a narrower needle, a needle that pierces deeper for its perpetual presence. At home too, I feel fear. It’s muted, muzzled by the dogs who bark at the slightest shadow on the walkway, decreased by those who sleep (but could wake with a well-placed scream) upstairs during my nocturnal sojourns through laptops and televisions. It’s never worse than when they leave, when my parents head off to Arizona once a month, and move the dogs to the vet’s kennel because my ever-changing sleep schedule makes tending to them impossible. When they’re gone, I’m here alone, left to survive in a jungle of houseplants and cavernous rooms, hounded by every unknown sound at night, every flicker of maybe-movement twitching out of sight. The plight is worsened by a writer’s mind, an inventive mind that tracks down every possibility, every cause of every concerning occurrence, lessening my odds of survival with worst-case scenarios.  By the third day, fear finds in me a breeding ground and readily propagates, hunting my heartbeats for sustenance until each must skip to survive, racing over ribs and repelling reason that would slow them. I carry a pencil for protection (a weapon few would worry about if a woman held it loosely in hand). I realize how outrageous this sounds to saner people, to those who have only occasional moments of weakness, to those who were forced to overcome childish fears to win the trophy of independence. Yet these are the walls I’ve built around me, they form the box that blocks me from a life I could and should lead.

I hold no satisfaction with the state of things. I hold no desire to continue to dwell amongst fear-emboldened excuses, to cleave to the support inherent in an age I’ve long since outgrown. It’s not enough for me, it’s not enough for my parents. I want to gain the skills, the bravery necessary to claim independence. Unfortunately, I’ve been saying that for years, to the extent that it’s become a mocking personal moniker, an empty slogan. So what makes this declaration different?  This does. This blog, you, my theoretical readers. It’s my hope that the outside pressure and expectations will push me beyond the borders of the self-sewn apron strings that bind me and into something better, someplace endlessly bigger. It is clear to me now that change must come from without as well as from within. And change must come. After all, no good story is static, and as a writer, I would hate to disappoint.