Withdrawal, Dating Myself, and Mental Illness

On getting better. Like, for real this time.

 

Aside from the past few weeks, I have been the happiest I’ve ever been.

I’ve been going to counselling regularly and then began reading a book called Joy on Demand (I know, super hokey title, but the content is all about making Buddhist practices accessible for the average person as well as scientific studies around happiness) by Chade-Meng Tan, and I’ve started dating myself. Yes, you heard me. I’m in a relationship with me.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

After being hurt again by the same friend who’d hurt me recently, I realized that I can’t control other people. Even if I give them as much love as I am capable of, I can’t stop them from doing what they do. *drones in waily country voice* I can’t makeeee you love meeeeeee. But I can go on hikes and walks, to music festivals, Shakespeare in the Park, dinner dates, and have more fun than if I asked someone else to go with me.

In fact, loving the time I spend with myself has made me more carefully consider who I do spend my time with now because I now know that I can do anything on my own and feel joy; if I don’t get joy out of your company or if you’re someone who knows that you’re hurting me but do it anyway, I’m not going to waste my time on you anymore. I’ve removed so many toxic people from my life with this realization, and I have been so happy ever since.

It’s really been a beautiful, beautiful time in my life.

 

The reason these most recent weeks haven’t been the happiest is simple: I’ve been going through withdrawal. My coverage for the most expensive anti-depressant in the world (probably not even close) ends in November. Considering that I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, I figured that this would be a good time to get off of them.

I’ve made it through the thick of it.

The worst symptoms of withdrawal were the brain shivers (also called brain zaps). In case you’ve had the pleasure of never hearing of or experiencing these, they are a withdrawal symptom of desvenlafaxine which feel like imaginary metal panels have been placed on your head while a series of electric bolts are fired through them into your brain. They’re like having mini seizures that are triggered by looking at screens, moving your head, blinking, breathing, laying perfectly still with your eyes closed or you know, existing. They’re awful.

There were days when I was confined to bed because the brain shivers didn’t stop for hours. Now, aside from a little zap here and there, what’s left of the withdrawal symptoms is the instability of my emotional state.

Crying for no reason is a withdrawal symptom. The first time I went off this drug two years ago, I distinctly remembering sitting in my car in the parking lot of Walmart, sobbing for no reason, and laughing because I thought sobbing for no reason was hilarious, and then sobbing again, then thinking of how crazy I probably looked and laughing, and then sobbing again.

I was crying for no reason this morning, but this time I didn’t find it so entertaining. Instead I began to mentally pull apart my whole new perspective on life like the frayed ends of a rope. I thought that going off of the drugs was a mistake and that I was destined to be anxious and depressed forever, that my career choice was a mistake, that I am hopelessly trapped, drowning in debt, and that I should just go to bed and sleep for the next ten years. Sleeping in excess is my biggest symptom of depression.

Instead, I tried to meditate.

It didn’t work.

I almost let myself go to bed, but I remembered my doctor asking about my exercise habits when I went to see her about getting off the drug.

So I worked out instead, and then meditated. And boom. Here I am writing and feeling like a star. Apparently doctors really do know what they’re talking about with that whole exercising thing!

One thing that I’ve been realizing through counseling is that I am an adaptive person. Prior to counseling I’d been bitterly looking at my survival as a kind of side effect to my specific kinds of tragedies.

I have survived a lot of strife, strife that would be too much for some people. But I adapted to the pain and made it through. Just knowing that about myself makes the process of going through this withdrawal a little bit better because, well, I’m not hopeless anymore. That’s huge.

I’m going to make it.

Don’t Call Me Shirley

On beautiful nights, romanticism, and the magic of silence.

I just had the most lovely night at my pond.

After a friend cancelled our plans this evening, I went for a walk to avoid sitting at home and allowing myself to get grouchy, and I am so grateful to have had this night.

The weather here is humid–which is strange. Our heat is always sweltering, but dry. The sky is often that cloudless blue that goes on uninterrupted forever aside from a far away sun hanging in a corner of the blue. My fair skin often feels like it’s in a toaster oven set on broil in our usual heat. But not tonight.

This heat was the kind that makes you feel like you’re swimming in the air, the kind that has low hanging clouds that seem to threaten to shower you with thick warm drops. This kind of heat breathed life into nostalgia for playing hide-and-go-seek on a summer night years ago with my old neighborhood kids. I switched my music to my oldies playlist, early 60’s and late 50’s Duwop music–my favourite when I was a kid.

As I approached my pond, I kept my eyes on the sky. The clouds were going a sort of yellow colour, and I expected lightening or thunder to crack at any moment. A depressed thought slipped into my mind, still bitter about my friend cancelling on me, with my luck lightning will strike me even when it’s not raining.

I shushed the thought away, but the bitterness lingered. As I came around a bend on the path and my pond came into view, my depression died a quick death.

There was a complete rainbow tucked behind the trees bordering my pond. Beneath the arc like shower curtains hung the yellowing clouds, and above like an artist had begun but left the brush-stroke unfinished were the broken remnants of another rainbow.

I can’t remember the last time I allowed myself to stop and look at a rainbow and actually appreciate it. Not since I was a child, surely. But here was a rainbow, on this gorgeous humid night, over my pond, light of my life, fire of my loins.

What was more, on the opposite side of the pond, the sun was setting, like melted copper painting the spaces between the leaves.

The heat of the day broke and it was as if someone above threw little rain drops like scattering glitter. They touched my skin, cooling me before dissolving into the air. Just as quickly as the rain started, it stopped.

I sat on the bank of the water and just looked, and listened, and breathed.

Further down, I watched as a family moved to sit on the rocks of the water to watch the sunset, and my heart swelled. I was alone, but I wasn’t–not really. This beauty was shared.

On a different night not quite so magnificent as this, I snapchatted a photo of the sunset to my former beau, teasing him that it would be a perfect night for a date if we were still dating (there has been a never ending flirtation and sexual tension between him and I, so the snap was not out of the ordinary). He responded that we could still watch the sunset together, not touching on our new estranged status.

I thought of this as I looked out at the sunset with the rainbow and sheet of clouds behind me and realized that I didn’t want him there with me.

He would likely have been chatting, making jokes and making me blush, and somehow the breaking of the silence would have broken the magic of the night.

I’ve been realizing more and more that what I want in a partner is someone who reflects the parts of me that I like most (Narcissism? You tell me. I mean…we are talking about a pond, here). In that moment I wanted someone artistic and contemplative.

I’m one of those kinds of people who always have at least one person in love with them. At least, they think they’re in love. On paper, I look like perfection. I’m educated, a bit of a nerd (but not too nerdy), I’m okay on the eyes, I work out (but not too much), and I’m the kind of awkward that’s charms people into woosy fools. I can also reference Lolita, Narcissus, and Airplane in one conversation, and don’t you get me started on quoting Anchorman and how Brick killed a guy. I seem to be so easy to love. It’s not until I let people get close that they realize that, Oh, I guess depression and anxiety can’t be fixed with compliments. Who knew? And I either make them walk the plank or they jump ship. I can’t blame them.

But right now I’m learning how to be happy with myself. I felt good that I didn’t want my ex there with me. It was a victory, and my reward was the beauty I got to see and breathe in. With this new optimism, I let myself dream.

I dreamed of someone who could sit next to me on that bank, and look out at a night like that and know that we don’t need to speak. It was someone that I wouldn’t need to worry about making uncomfortable with my own silence because the silence is beautiful, and they’d know that. I wanted someone who understands that it’s not their job to fix me, but who is kind, and empathetic, and able to put me in my place when I need it. I wanted someone with the eyes of an artist who, on our walk back after the sun had set and the rainbow had faded into grey, would see not just trees, but the way the lamp light made the arc of leaves above us glow like magic.

Call me a romantic, but don’t call me Shirley.

 

The pictures below were taken at the same time like two sides of a polished penny.

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Writing Prompt: Self Portraits

On writing self portraits to create dynamic characters.

I was really excited because I thought the nerdy guy who lives above me had a girl over for the first time since I moved in a year ago. It turned out that he was just watching anime louder than usual.

Anyway, I’m one of those people who is drawn to water. Lakes, ponds, oceans, and rivers are all endlessly enticing to me. I see my ideal home having a window seat in a library which overlooks the bay of an ocean or even the precipice of a cliff that leads down to water while rain constantly splatters against the side of the house. The latter version I envision as something from the Jim Carrey A Series of Unfortunate Events movie I could be happy in that kind of darkness as long as there is water.

I genuinely believed that everyone felt this way about water until I met the guy I was recently seeing. He is terrified of water and thunderstorms unnerve him so much that he has to drive or go somewhere with loud music so he can’t hear it. I love thunderstorms. I should have known it wouldn’t work out.

Anyway, there’s a pond near my place which is one of my favourite places in the city; I fondly refer to it as MY pond. Yes, I’m like a toddler in the “mine!” phase. The only thing I see as having as much of a right to my pond is a family of geese that hiss at me from time to time. I’ve been watching the growth of their two formerly fuzzy babies for months; I can hardly tell the difference between the adults and the goslings anymore.

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My love of water brings me to my pond every day, sometimes more than once.

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I was at my pond today laying in the grass when I had an interesting idea.

My high school English teacher once cautioned against looking for literary tropes in your own life. The tone in which he said it was foreboding and ominous, emphasized by his following silence. This been a reoccurring theme in my life from the professor of my first university class, Intro to Fiction, saying, “Fiction is history” to Doctor Who: “We’re all stories in the end.” If that is the case, if life is really just a story, then it can be analyzed like a novel can. Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero of a Thousand faces, looks at how cultures throughout time who never interacted with one another created myths and stories that (aside from smaller details, like names) were exactly the same. This means that there are really only a very small number of stories. Every story is simply a retelling variation of these stories. Thus, if there are only a number of stories, once which type of story being told is discerned, the end can be predicted. If life is just a story, then life can be predicted. As someone who always sees herself in tragic characters, I understand why my English teacher cautioned against looking at life this way. It is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down.

I was thinking of this at my pond when I began to wonder how someone would describe me as a character if I was in a novel, and I don’t just mean appearance-wise. We know as writers that a good character comes to life when they have quirks and ticks that make them people. How would someone turn me into a well-rounded character?

Then it occurred to me that artists paint or draw self portraits all of the time. What if wrote myself as a character as a kind of self portrait? What would look the self portrait of a writer rather than an artist look like?

This lead me to a problem: I know too much about myself, and if I didn’t find a way to dictate what  information to include and what to omit, I would end up writing an autobiography instead of a character description.

Genre was the answer to this.

How I describe my character will depend if the genre is realism, horror, tragedy, romantic comedy etc. For example, I likely wouldn’t want to describe my obsession with snapchat filters if I’m in a high fantasy setting similar to Lord of the Rings.

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What role the character plays in the story (protagonist, antagonist, anti-hero, supporting character, comedy relief etc.) will also impact the character description too. Me described as comedy relief wouldn’t be an epic saga of everything bad that’s ever happened to me. Instead it would likely include my penchant for going on dates with crazy people and falling down stairs.

Writing to a genre and accounting for character type will provide completely different character descriptions even though it’s all coming from just one person–little ol’ me. It’s like there’s a whole rolodex of characters waiting to be plucked out of, well, me. How cool!

Not only is this a really neat opportunity for self reflection–I think I want to create a whole book of them–but it will also provide inspiration for characters that I can use when writing for publication.

I’m going to post some of my self portraits on here, provided the information shared isn’t too scandalous for the internet. I will also make sure to dictate what genre and character type my character is so you can see the difference.

I’m too excited about this idea.

 

Depression & Secret Writing Prompts

On depression, Postsecret, and writing prompts.

Well hey there, WordPress. It’s been a while.

Do you ever have a day where you’re just really digging you? A day where you look at yourself and don’t rip yourself to shreds? I had one of those days today. Naturally I took some selfies like a typical millennial.

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See? What a babe. No makeup, and even no filters or editing! I just like my face how it is today. What a strange concept.

I haven’t blogged in what feels like ages because I’ve been depressed. Like super mega awful depressed. But I’m doing better. The fact that I can appreciate how I look unaltered is a huge testament to that.

In my absence, I often thought of blogging, of continuing my quest to write about my life, writing, or mental health, but I was always stopped by the question, “What’s the point?” That question followed me around, bobbing behind me like a helium filled balloon tied to my neck with a dark ribbon. “What’s the point? What’s the point?” I didn’t have an answer. Without an answer, I thought, well, why do anything at all? So I stopped doing the things I enjoyed. And I became more and more depressed until a friend practically dragged me to counseling. I am grateful for that. This counselor is actually helping, unlike all of the previous ones I’ve tried.

Sometimes I still don’t know the answer, “What’s the point?” about a lot of things. But I’ve going to the gym at least once a week for the past seven weeks which is the most I’ve been since me depression became a real struggle two years ago. This is a big deal. I’m not “better,” per say, and maybe I never will be whole. But I managed to write a story, which is why I’m here today. Small victories make a difference. I’m writing today to tell you about the best writing prompts you could ever find; I used them to write my most recent short story.

Postsecret is an “ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.” These secrets are then posted on the website every Sunday. Here’s an example of a few from this week:

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Each secret could serve as a writing prompt because it provides you with something so entirely human, but so little information at the same time. It’s a fragment of a snapshot. You can shade in the rest of the image with whatever words you find and that human element of the secret will make your image go from picture to a moving film. As writers, we always want our work to breathe, and I think taking inspiration from something so real and raw as these secrets instantly provides that extra depth we all strive for.

In fact, the story that I got published recently was inspired by a Postsecret. I won’t tell you what the secret was, but if you read the story, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out. It has to do with what the character does at the end.

The story I wrote recently while in the thralls of depression was inspired by  secret that read: I can still feel it when you think of me. My story was about two soulmates who didn’t end up together. And you know what? It’s fucking awesome. That Postsecre got me to write even when I was too numb to feel.

Go to the website, pick a secret that speaks to you, and write about it. I dare you to come up with something that isn’t compelling.

I’m getting published!

That’s right! You heard me, I’m getting mo fuggin published again!

My short story, “What Counts,” is being published by a magazine called Mistake House.

This has come at the best time.

I love to write; I have always loved to write.

I was just beginning to lose my faith in my ability to be a success at it.

And now here we are again. Yay!

Student Teaching Round Two

I’m feeling better.

I turn into a completely different person when the weather changes. As soon as it becomes sunny out I’m like…I’m trying to think of a good simile. I’m like Mary Poppins? No. I’m like Joy from Inside Out? No, I’m not that manic. Am I the only one who would punch her if I got trapped in the same room with her?

Anyway, I’m happier and I love sunshine.

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows…

I’m over half way done my second practicum now. I have two and a half weeks until I’m done. This practicum has been three million times better than my last one. 

I’ve been placed in a high school this time, not an elementary school, and I love it. My supervising teacher is the bees knees, the school is awesome, and I’m actually making meaningful connections with the kids. I was sick this week, and I actually missed being there. Crazy, right?

The classes that I have are tough because the kids in them are just not interested in English. Which is maybe good because if I went into this and got super academic classes that love reading, I might go into the profession expecting every class to be like that. The critique I keep getting is that I really know the content and that the lessons I have planned are fantastic, but I lack the ability to engage the kids. This is no surprise as my passion is literature, not teaching. But I’m trying to get better, and that’s why these classes who don’t dig literature are actually a blessing in disguise. If I can engage these classes, an academic class would be a breeze.

I finally feel like a teacher for the first time since starting this program.

It’s about damn time.

Travel Writing: A Certain kind of Kiss

On joyous kissing and travel writing.

 

I haven’t talked about travel writing on here at all because it’s not something I’ve really done before. When I took my creative non-fiction writing class, I hadn’t traveled anywhere yet, and I sure as hell didn’t want to write about my hometown, Bumbleton. So I didn’t pay too close attention (sorry Karen!). Maybe there are guidelines and rules or tips and tricks to travel writing, but I can’t say that I know them. I do know that the happiest week of my life happened when I was traveling, and that I wanted to write about it. So I did.

Mad Decent Boat Party 2014 was a rave cruise that went from Miami to Nassau that I somehow ended up on. I’d never even been to a rave let alone listened to EDM, but a girl I worked with (who I’d never even hung out with outside of work) happened to have a ticket. I had money saved up to travel, but I didn’t have any plans. So I bought her extra ticket. We had the time of our lives. We turned out to be the perfect travel buddies, and have been close friends ever since.

The passage below is from a day when we went to a private island:

A Certain kind of Kiss

There’s a balloon of ebullience swelling in my chest. The sun is baring down on my barely covered form, my pale skin almost stinging as it cooks the granules of salt from the water onto my skin. The inflated raft I’ve commandeered sways beneath me on the waves. Across the water on the beach electronic music thumps from the stage and a throng of bodies, wet and caked in golden sand, thrive to the beat. A red inflatable t-rex crowd surfs, bouncing above waving hands and exposed breasts.

I hadn’t thought to pack any sunglasses and without my glasses, the edges of bodies and sand blurred like a Monet painting.

I close my eyes, feeling the movement of the waves with my whole body, and I float on, that Modest Mouse song flitting into my head. Yes, we all float on, float on.

A wet finger taps my shoulder, the water cold on my sun dried skin.

I shade my face from the sun with my hands and open my eyes, wondering if the owner of the raft has come to reclaim what I’ve stolen.

I meet the gaze of a grinning couple. The one who’s tapped me is a girl. “I just had to tell you,” she shouts over the voices and music skittering on the surface of the water, “we love your smile!”

I laugh because I hadn’t realized I’d been smiling. I had probably looked like a fool, floating amidst the crowd of people on my stolen raft with my eyes closed, grinning. “Thank you!” I shout back.

They wave before turning away. I watch as they try their best to rave in waist deep water.

I still can’t keep the smile from touching my face.

Out beyond the ocean dwellers, a speed boat races around, one of our group tethered to it by a rope lifts into the air behind.

On the beach, people are still arriving from the ferry that delivered me to the island from the cruise ship. They’re just seeing the heaven they’ve arrived in. I watch as two pairs of friends shriek in joy and promptly grab one another in a violent kiss.

I giggle at the display.

That excited kiss has been happening all day between couples, friends, and strangers; my friend Genveive and I were not exempt. We had arrived on the beach after a round of battle shots (a game of battleship where the boats are shots), and seeing the stage, the sprawling sand and blue water that kiss had claimed us too. I would have another kiss like that later on the boat again during a set on the pool deck with Aaron, a guy I’d just met from Seattle, who I would mentally deem my “boat boyfriend.”

There’s something to be said for joy like that, that seizes the whole body and is so overwhelming that it needs to burst outward into an act of affection that a hand grab or a hug could never express. No, it can only be a kiss, sloppily shoved into the mouth of a person who’s experiencing that same moment, that same joy, with you. It’s not a kiss given because you’re not in love with the recipient, but because you’re both so in love with the moment. All of us, everyone in the water and dancing on the beach, shared in that joy, that certain kind of kiss.