Help from My Friends

We moved here with so many expectations. As my husband and I did the rundown on our last six months, we were both completely dumbfounded at all that has happened. One of us said something about “expect the unexpected” followed by sardonic snorting. (I am an excellent “snorter”, by the way. Not of drugs or anything, just laughing snorts and sarcastic ones too.)

We are so jaded.

First, the whole idea of expecting the unexpected is a sham. If you expect the unexpected, then doesn’t that make it expected? I am not the first one to point this out, nor will I be the last.

Second, no matter how hard we try, humans make assumptions about the future. It’s healthy in so many ways – planning for the future, taking next steps. It’s also a sure fire way to anxiety. I literally have anxiety about my anxiety about the future. Why can’t I just let it lie? I mean, I can visualize the next thirty years of my life in the span of 30 seconds. If I tell myself to stop thinking about the future, then I just think about not thinking about the future – which is really just thinking about the future.

Oh yes, anxiety is a bitch. Sigh.

At points in my life, I have been so depressed that I had no dreams. In fact, I remember several seasons of my life in which I listened to Dar Williams’ “I Have Lost my Dreams” on repeat. Each time I hoped it would help me find a new dream, something to hope in. Sometimes, when the past and present are so bleak, we need a quality hope for the future.

I think the wide majority of my suicidal ideation is tied to a vicious combo of depression and anxiety. In those moments, when the thoughts of harm come to me, I usually don’t want to feel the pain of the past, present or future.

Growing up, I just turned music on and sang it out. I don’t know when that became socially inappropriate, but it did. I turned to fiction novels, specifically fantasy and sci-fi. Why? Because they have nothing to do with reality. I wanted to be as far from reality as possible.

Sometimes, I still do.

Honestly, I think a little bit of that is healthy. I need breaks from the onslaught of depression and anxiety. Taking breaks can be healthy, as long as that is all they are. You see, for a long time I took hiatuses (the exaggerated term for breaks) and I would return to the world, the onslaught, and the breakdown would be even worse.

I cycled like that for years and years. Shit happened. Sang myself out of reality. Shit is still happening. Read myself out of reality. Shit will happen. Try singing and reading myself out of reality. Fail. Maybe I should end it all? How can I end it all? When?

Stop.

I don’t do that anymore. I try not to at least. Now, I have this thing called a safety plan, in which I have to confess to my husband that I want to take my life. We’ve been at it for three years now and it is no easier than day one. Well, maybe it is actually. I mean, we’ve been doing the dance of communication for a lot longer now. He doesn’t ignore comments like, “I can’t handle this anymore.” And I desperately try to understand when it takes him an hour to get to me or he tells me that I need to call my sister or my best friend.

It’s been three years now. I have some dreams – things like maybe becoming a therapist or fostering kids. Yet, I know, deep down that the paragraph I just wrote likely disqualifies me from those things. How could I ever help someone else when sometimes I can’t even help myself? (Right now, I want to stop writing this shit and go eat 25 cookies.)

Yet, truth is an evolution and the truth that I am learning is that everyone needs someone. No one gets by without a little or even a lot of help every now and then. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if my dreams will ever be made reality. I do know that if I expect the unexpected from people?

Then, successfully managed mental illness would stop being a disqualifier to helping others. Rather, it would be a qualifier for helping others. Because I know one thing, those that have known the deepest pain have been the best helpers in my life.

No, not just helpers.

Healers.

Candidly,

Ash

The Story I Tell

I’m not sure how I made it to the age of thirty without hearing of the poet Rumi. Personally, I think this a basic flaw in our educational system. Of all the poets I have ever read, Rumi is by far my favorite. And today’s post is fully inspired by him.

I am not this hair,

I am not this skin,

I am the soul that lives within.

-Rumi-

(No doubt, I have a college professor snickering at me for my poor referencing skills. This is a blog. MLA and APA shall be outlawed.)

I love the simplicity of this poem interwoven with deep meaning. I find there is a constant dialogue in the world about our appearance. Even those who want to de-emphasize its importance actually end up doing the opposite. I mean, if you have to teach me that my appearance doesn’t matter at all, then maybe you are not being quite honest with me. Appearance is influential, which can make it important at any given time.

I know what “they” are trying to communicate though. Your appearance is not all you are and this poem says the exact same thing, but in a better way. It seems poetry can do what a 60 second Dove commercial does too – and in less time.

For me, when I read this poem, I extrapolate. I am not the surly wife or disconnected daughter – I am the soul that lives within. I am not the college dropout or failed business owner – I am the soul that lives within. I try to respond to pretty much anything I dislike about myself or that I’ve failed at this way. I’m not sure its entirely effective 100 percent of the time, but what is?

Control Your Narrative

Control is one of the words that makes me cringe, truly. Yet, this is a phrase that I think people are hearing more and more. Despite that icky word, it’s an empowering process. Maybe they should change the phrase to “Participate in your narrative”. Yeah, not quite as memorable.

My best friend once saw a therapist who shared that we all tell ourselves our own story, regardless of whether it is the truth. When I said earlier that I was a college dropout – that was a story I told myself. Now, as a demonstration, I’m going to attempt to rewrite that story here in this blog post.

**Cracking knuckles. Stretching muscles. Let’s do this.**

What Happened.

My siblings were older than me and the dialogue about college was a constant in our home before I can even remember. My brother went to college when I was in fifth grade and we would visit him in the great city of Charleston, SC (seriously, my favorite). College was adventure, independence and growth to me. Those were the things I saw about college from a young age. My brother entered the Citadel as a boy. I remember him. He graduated as one of the best leaders I have ever met to this day.

Yes, college held the answers.

When I arrived on campus at Indiana University, a young inexperienced freshman, I would get stopped and asked for directions. Now, I’m a smiley person, but I also looked like I might actually know the answers to their questions. Most of the time I did or, if I didn’t, I helped them find it. I remember talking to my dad about it on the phone and laughing. I gave someone directions on my first day!

He was proud of me. He knew I was going to succeed. I was responsible. These were the loving things he said in my ear. I believed him. (Also, I have really great parents.)

I had been at college for all of six weeks when I started to feel claustrophobic. No, not in the traditional sense, but in a metaphorical, restless sort of way. Classes that were interesting at first, became boring. Quizzes, tests and papers seemed pointless. I remember turning in a paper and the teacher really liked it. She wanted to share it with the class. Then, she proceeded to give me a “C” due to incorrect formatting in my MLA citing (now you know why I hate that shit).

Maybe she was just a bitch. Maybe quizzes, tests and papers were pointless.

On a campus of 40,000 students, college felt small. I was depressed and stopped attending classes, reading, studying. I managed to pass with decent enough grades. As I looked at my courses for the next semester, I decided that maybe I just needed a class or two that would be more interesting, more challenging. My first day of class was spent outside my advisor’s office, waiting my turn to make changes.

I told her that I had hated last semester and I didn’t want to keep doing this if it was going to be so boring. She asked what I had liked. I said that I loved my Italian course. We decided to keep that one then. She noticed I had aced Spanish 375. Maybe foreign language was more of my thing than music. We added French, because it was applicable to some classical music. A way to test things out. She asked if there was anything else I was interested in.

Jesus, was my answer, because back then I was a religious zealot. We added Biblical Hebrew.

I loved it – Italian and Biblical Hebrew. French was annoying and to this day, I really don’t have a desire to go to France or know French at all. Yet, college still felt constricting and small. My depression was awful and I started going to the mental heath center regularly, without telling anybody, of course. My dad, as always, knew there was something “wrong”. I still didn’t love college. What was wrong with me?

They paid for me to move to a single person room that semester. Maybe I just needed some autonomy. They gave me a car so that I could go places when I wanted. They bought me basketball tickets. Yes, more than one! They bought them so I could take a few friends. They tried. I tried. I almost failed that semester.

(All of that support from my parents – they really are amazing people with lots of love. They just didn’t know what was really wrong, because I never told them about my depression or that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.)

Convinced that living off campus in an apartment would be better, I returned for sophomore year. I don’t even remember most of that semester. My good friend, Matthew, tried to encourage me – go to class, get out, do things. He was worried about me. I tried. I really did. I was so depressed. Again, I almost failed the semester. In fact, I got an incomplete for my vocal jury so that I didn’t have to do it until after break.

I came back after Christmas break and didn’t even bother going to any classes besides Italian. I even skipped my voice lessons. I wanted to die, but I told no one. The one bright shining star in all of it was my engagement to Jesse, who didn’t know I had suicidal thoughts either. I’m pretty sure that without his love, I would have killed myself that January.

It was the beginning of February, I was still lying in bed at 2 pm. I didn’t want to get up, because I was pretty sure that I would hurt myself if I did. My phone rang and it was my dad. I’m not really sure why I answered, because I was definitely not up for talking. I am so glad I did.

“Honey, I need you to drive home today.” He said. I sat up in bed. Someone had died, that had to be it.

“Why?” I said with alarm.

“Nothing serious, we just need to talk and I have a meeting so I can’t come down there today.” I wasn’t doing anything better so I picked up and drove the hour and a half home.

We met at a Paradise Bakery. It is still very vivid to me, as I remember it. He told me that he wanted me to dropout of college. I wept, literally wept. And then, I could finally breathe.

It felt like I was breathing for the first time in years.

Life moved on and I called myself a college dropout for the next 13 years, except when I took courses. Because I did take courses, many courses. I tried to do college in different ways over and over again, different career tracks, different methods. I never finished, though someday, maybe even soon, I might.

That is the story. How it happened. What happened when I went to college.

The Story I Tell Myself

College couldn’t contain me. I couldn’t be forced into studying ONLY one thing or even two things. I needed the freedom to breathe, to search and quest. And now, at thirty-three years old, I finally have found it. This writing beast within me that can’t be tamed. She’s a writhing, living thing that must be let out.

It has been worth every tear, every college loan, every disdainful look from my family, every moment of time spent in the cage – to set her free.

And I can finally breathe again.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Future Self Will Handle It

I have goals. Lots of them. Dreams, too.

Yet, I find myself disconnected to them more than I’d like to say. By disconnected, I mean that they don’t seem worth fighting for in the moment. The desire is gone. The push to make it happen? Absent.

I know I’m not alone in this, but I do think that I’m more susceptible than others. I’m a ‘feeler’ much more than a ‘thinker’. My emotions are too often my guide. Ignoring them is like devaluing them to me. I can’t put them on pause and press play later. I do think, maybe, there are people who are able to do this.

I am not one of them.

I also think that, as a parent, I don’t get as many opportunities to feel my emotions as, say, a non-parent. When all four of my children are home, I am constantly in a dialogue with myself to keep things steady, calm. It’s that holding space thing. I do it for my children and sometimes that means I don’t do it for myself.

I’ve spent all my energy mastering the monster within (AKA Scream Mom) and the brownie calls to me with it’s sweet relief. Yes, I have that long term goal to lose weight. I am so very tired though – of not giving into myself, of choosing the right thing, of pressing pause on my desires.

The brownie is gone. Eaten.

I gave myself something, I try to reason. Yet, inside I know.

I know that I also stole something from myself – something from my future self.

My future self…

In my therapy program, there was a phrase that we often said to deal with anxiety.

My future self will handle it.

It was a way of recognizing that in this moment, I could do nothing to change the outcome or sway the future. So many times, there is nothing to be done, but wait for the inevitable hammer to drop. Yet, while we wait, we destroy the present with fictional pain from the future.

Sometimes, too, there are things to be done, ways to prepare for the future. In my scenario above, I could have NOT eaten the brownie. It would have prepared me for the future – a future with a healthier me in the spotlight. Damn, she’s hot!

Yet, sometimes, in fact most times, I find that valuing the current me is more effective. Here is what I mean…

As I ate the brownie, I reasoned that I had given myself something, but it felt suspiciously false. I knew that all I had given myself – was a pudgier gut down the road.

“My future self will handle it.” I automatically reasoned. Oh, well there it is. How will my future self handle a pudgy gut? With debasement and internal angry dialogue of course.

Damn it, future self!

And then, like a dawning morning, a light presented itself. My future self could find ways to meet present desires that don’t include brownies.

Things like watching my own TV show while the children are school. A TV show with romance, swearing and adult themes – something I NEVER do during the day.

I could also go online and find a flourless brownie made with protein powder and applesauce. I could give myself the gift of making something ONLY for me. (And yes, even chalk flavored brownies can be a gift!)sf

I could light a candle and honor all the things I gave up for the small people in my life.

I could spend 15 minutes distracting myself from the brownie urge with something else that I like – something like a game on my phone, one of those cool adult coloring books or knitting a winter hat in spring.

The point I am trying to make is that sometimes giving into your short term feelings is a good way to move forward. If I hadn’t gifted myself that brownie, then I would never have thought of all of the things I could have done instead. I just would have obsessed about the damn brownie that I didn’t get to eat!

(Or maybe I’m just reasoning my way out of my current brownie guilt? Quite possible.)

If today you are struggling with disconnect from your goals and dreams, then maybe find a way to honor it, to give in. Sometimes, it’s exactly what you need to move forward, to reroute your map into the future.

And if not? Your future self will handle it.

Candidly,

Ash