Above & Beyond

When I applied to a store belonging to a company that I’ve previously worked at for five years, I went in for the interview and before I’d even sat down, the manager asked, “Do you want to be a supervisor?”

“Yes!” I told her. I’d applied to be a cashier. The store I worked at before gave me all the responsibilities of a supervisor, but never gave me the title to avoid giving me the pay raise. Yeah. I gave five years of my life to those assholes.

Anyway, she told me my wage (quite a bit higher than minimum which is what I’d be making if I’d been hired as a cashier), and I left the interview high on life. I’d finally found a job after dropping out of school and considering that I was expecting minimum wage, I was stoked.

In fact, I was feeling so good that I texted my mom to let her know.

“That’s disappointing,” my mother responded upon hearing my wage and popping my bubble of excitement.

I promptly ignored her for the rest of the week. This in itself is huge accomplishment considering that for my whole life I’ve let her opinions change mine, making me think yeah, I guess that is disappointing about something I’d been excited about only moments before.

I’ve since been working steadily and you know what? I love it. Every aspect about this store is an improvement from my former store, and I’m happier than I ever was in the education program. I’m still living in a city that’s NOT Bumbleton, and now I’m supporting myself for the first time in my life. I’ve been thriving, having mostly good days at work and spending my evenings doing things I love (as opposed to marking and creating assignments and seriously considering setting myself on fire).

A couple of days ago, I went for coffee with a friend, and she asked how I was liking my job.

My response was weird.

Despite how I was really feeling, I said, “It’s okay.” But that’s not all I did. I avoided eye contact and put my head down when like a puppy being asked about the last time it got kicked.

What the hell, right? I’m doing so well, yet I was acting like I was being tortured eight hours a day, five days a week. Why did I do this?

I’ve realized that I lied about how I feel about my job because I felt that unless I pretended I was miserable, how dare I get satisfaction from working in retail? That is my parents’ perspective. It is not mine, not at all. Yet, I was letting their view point was make me feel inadequate.

They think of working in retail as a rung just above servitude, that the only people who work in it are “losers” like my relatives who are in and out of jail and stealing from charity. It’s just dawned on me right now even as I’m writing this how cruel saying that to me is. I’ve worked in retail for over a decade. My parents have been very vocal about their perspective the whole time. Yes, I worked in retail to get through school, but their perspective robbed me of the ability to feel pride or take joy in those 20 hours a week I spent working in a store. That’s ten years of my life that by their standards, I’ve been a loser. That should be the title of my memoir: Ten years of loserdom: a Kat story.

Their view about retail work was one of the hardest parts of dropping out. In my head was always exempt from loser status if I worked in retail and was in school at the same time. Even when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree on the president’s list and I couldn’t find work anywhere else because the economy was shit, I was a loser because I wasn’t in school. I’d just made a huge achievement, but I felt like I was a go-nowhere. A nothing. Destined to be miserable until some prince charming in the form of a career rescued me from the supposed dregs of society.

That’s why I’ve been attending post secondary school for seven years.

But not anymore.

Now I’m a drop out with a retail job. I am the epitome of loser in my parents’ and society’s eyes (even though I have a degree). Of course this job isn’t where I want to be five years from now, but…this is where I want to be right now. It took a lot for me to realize that.

I am going to stop hanging my head with shame every time someone asks what program I’m in and I have to say, “I’m not in school.” Because I’m not ashamed. I haven’t been in and out of jail, and I don’t steal from charities. I’m not my relatives.

This job pays my bills and leaves me with an extra bit that I can put away for traveling, and when the time comes, it will let me have the time off to travel. This job doesn’t come home with me at the end of the night, and because of that, I have time to write, crochet, play the ukulele etc. A career, especially teaching, wouldn’t allow for that. Best of all, I’m happy. This is especially considering that I’m trying to learn how to deal with emotions again after being on anti-depressants for the last four years.

I’ve been clinging to this Postsecret since I dropped out:

hope

I feel like I’m finally in a place where I can be “above & beyond” happy too, no matter what I’m doing.

Also, this is just one more thing I am grateful for: this city actually has a creative writing club! If my life hadn’t lead me to this city, I wouldn’t be able to attend. Boom.

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Surviving Not Thriving

On recognizing mental illness.

One of the worst things about mental illness is that it tends to creep up on you when you don’t even realize it. If I was aware that I was getting bad again, I would have dedicated time to work on my mental health with mindfulness meditation and self-reflection. But I thought I was doing fine. That is until I went to see my doctor.

I’ve realized that one of the main reasons I dropped out of school with only one practicum left isn’t that I don’t want to be a teacher (I mean, that was pretty significant part of my decision, but I could have gritted my teeth and finished the program), but because I don’t know who I am when I’m not on anti-depressants.

After I got off of my anti depressants, I expected to go back to the stellar state of mental health I acquired before withdrawal. But I haven’t. I’ve been having major issues regulating my emotions which is very unlike me. I am notorious for my cold unemotional nature among friends, family, and even my practicum supervisors (the critique I continually received from them is that I’m robotic). Now I’m losing my temper and crying all the fucking time. I knew that I couldn’t put myself in a position to care for a bunch of kids when I’m having issues like this, so I dropped out.

I told the head of the education department about my withdrawal and feelings of instability, and they agreed to hold my position in the program if I provided them with a doctor’s note verifying that yes, withdrawal is actually fucking awful (hey, that kind of rhymed) and a leave would benefit me for mental health reasons.

So I went to my doctor, and told her about my emotional regulation issues. And she gave me a test to evaluate anxiety and depression. And I scored high on both. And she suggested that after going through the hell of withdrawal that I go back on medication. Sigh. At least she gave me the note.

Although only vaguely aware that I was struggling, I attributed my current feelings of unhappiness to the tumultuous nature of my life right now–dropping out has provided me with an endless amount of judgement and condemnation from friends and family alike. It has affected me more than I’d like to admit. In addition to that, applying to a plethora of jobs has meant that although some places have shown interest in me, I’m getting repeatedly rejected. I also ended a friendship with one of my closest friends because she dropped off the face of the earth when she got a boyfriend which has made me feel like I meant nothing to her after years of being there for her. But I didn’t think I was depressed or anxious again.

I’ve been playing the ukulele, crocheting, and going for walks every day which are things that usually die a fast death when I get depressed. But I hadn’t been going to the gym, reading, or writing. In fact, my last blog post was about forcing myself to write when I didn’t want to. I had interpreted my reluctance to write as laziness, not depression. It was the latter; I can see that now.

But here I am, writing again. It’s part of my plan.

When I saw my therapist last, he walked me out after our session and he asked me what my plan was. I told him to apply for jobs. He responded, “No, not that. What is your plan to cope with everything that’s happened?” Oh. I mumbled something about going to zumba every now and then and left.

But now that I’ve recognized that my state of mental health really is in decline, I realized that I needed to made an actual plan. So I decided to start meditating again, watching what I eat (easier said than done. All I ever want is pizza or sushi), exercising, reading and writing. Most exciting is the latter. Because of my plan, I wrote chapter one of a new manuscript!

I’ve been working on revising the completed manuscript of my other novel for so long, that I haven’t let myself write anything other than short stories and blogs in years. But now, thanks to taking care of my mental health, I’ve started working on this new piece, and I’m so excited about it. What a lovely gift to myself.

I think what I’ve learned from all of this is that even if things seem to be going well, I need to stop and check in with myself at least once a week to evaluate my mental health to prevent decline and promote happiness. Everyone should do this.

In the meantime, I found a job yesterday and I have a date tomorrow!

 

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.

Snapchat-194145039520170628_225225

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 black 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 my 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:

1-cousins onback-myrecordis71secones

boobs

Each secret can easily serve as a writing prompt because it provides something 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 you the fragment turn to picture and eventually into 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 with his toilet paper.

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 Postsecret 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.

A Lesson in Semantics

On depression and semantics.

I was near tears when I opened up my laptop with the intent to write this post, but the lock screen was set to a picture of a smiling sloth. It cheered me up, so if you’re having a rough day, here’s a sloth for you too:

sloth

I don’t know if I should publish this.

I often claim that I’m very open about my depression and anxiety, but the truth is that I’m really not.

As a writer, I know the difference between showing and telling.

To show, I would say, “The numbness had seeped out from the girl’s mind and into her body, paralyzing her in the dark in her bed with self loathing for eternity.”

To tell I would say, “The girl was depressed.”

I tell.

I tell people, “Why yes, I struggle with depression and anxiety,” like it’s a fun fact. I’ll bring it up to maybe explain a certain quirk I have, or to make a joke about it. I don’t show anyone why I’m too distraught to move for days. I tell them I drink so much because I love to party and don’t describe how booze fends off the panic that comes with being in a room filled with men who are bigger than me and could overpower me if they wanted. I don’t let anyone see how I rip myself into pieces until all that’s left is a handful of bloody confetti. Only my closest friends get snapshots, and even then, they’re few and far between because I am afraid. I’m afraid that if I show my darkness, what I really am beneath all the meaningless chatter, people will run. It will be too much. A burden.

In my ed psych class we’re discussing learning disabilities. My professor keeps emphasizing that if you ever hear a student say, “I’m ADHD,” or “I’m autistic,” you tell them that they aren’t ADHD or autistic, rather that they have ADHD or autism. They are not their disorders. Meaningful semantics.

I am not depressed.

I have depression.

But I don’t really believe that, not about myself or about him.

In fact, one of the stories I’m trying to get published currently is about  him, my first boyfriend who was an obsessive compulsive, cripplingly anxious, alcoholic with dissociative disorder and was an abusive mother fucker. In the story, I refer to him only as “Illness.” He functioned in social situations only by mimicking television shows; he was composed of learned wit and good timing. The only thing beneath the visage was the illness he was hiding, and I question to this day if there was even a person left amidst all of his sickness. But I loved him, whatever he was, despite the abuse. I loved him until I was sick too.

But lately I’ve been trying to move away from relationships like that, to be smarter about who I get close to.

There’s a blogger named Jennifer Lawson who unabashedly shows and tells about her mental illness. What baffles me most about her life, is that she has a husband who isn’t mentally ill and never has been. I wondered if an unafflicted man could really understand her, really empathize, without growing weary of dealing with someone who is sick.

Her marriage gave me hope.

I thought that maybe if this woman who is so ill could be with someone who’s well, then maybe I could. Maybe the idea of a normal healthy relationship wasn’t too out of left field. Maybe a well companion could help me get well too.

I’ve been trying really hard to get better, to open up, to show. I tried in my most recent relationship, and to avoid the coldness I’ve so often been accused of. I showed, just a glimpse. And it was too much. He told me so. And I’m single again. It’s not his fault. I wanted to know, and now I do. I was right to be afraid to show my darkness.

I’ve learned that if I am depressed, then I am a burden to whomever I am with. Showing was a mistake. I need to tell, or maybe even not do that either. Maybe I should just deal with things on my own, as I always have. Hide my illness and stay on my own until I’m truly well again, if I ever will be.

I’ve been doing Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and I know that logically, I shouldn’t believe what I just wrote. Just because my illness was too much for one person doesn’t mean it will repeat every time. But logic smogic. I’m sad.

Here’s another sloth.

annother

A Life Update

On depression, education, and dogs.

I haven’t written on here in a while. Actually, I haven’t written anything in a long while. “Bad Kat!” *smacks own nose with newspaper*

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have difficulty writing when I’m depressed, and earlier this year I switched to the cheaper version of my anti-depressants because I was no longer covered by insurance.

Big mistake.

I knew I wasn’t writing, and that my outlook was kind of listless and numb, but I didn’t realize how depressed I really was until I got back on my proper meds and felt significantly better. It’s crazy (no pun intended) how much medication can alter who you are.

However, now because I’m a student again, my insurance has kicked in, I’m back on the proper medication, and here I am! Writing like the writer I’m supposed to be.

Also, yes, you heard me correctly. I’m in school again.

Since my last post, I’ve picked up my life, left Bumbleton, moved to a university town, broke up with my significant other, and started the education program at the University of Lethbridge. In the immortal words of 21 Jump Street, “Fuck yeah, mother fucker!”

I’ve been doing so well since I got here, and when I say “doing well,” I don’t mean just merely getting by while waiting for something horrible to happen as I have been doing since becoming terribly depressed last year. I’ve actually been happy. Until now, actual happiness has felt like a far away dream; I was grateful for having experienced it at all in the past, but didn’t ever actually expect to experience it again. There are moments when I’m almost moved to tears because of this feeling that I never thought I would feel again. I’ve made new friends. I’m working out on a regular basis (this is a HUGE deal). I’m not sleeping for sixteen hours every day. I’m getting all A’s. I’m writing this blog post which is another massive victory. I’m enjoying life again. What a wonderful and foreign concept.

After much humming and hawing, I finally chose the education program over the Master of Library Information Studies at the U of A for a number of reasons:

  1.  teachers have more job stability and opportunities than librarians
  2.  the pay grade is better
  3.  it is a career that I can travel with
  4.  if I get a job teaching high school English, I will still get to interact with my one and only love, literature. Swoon.

I’m very happy with my decision and my peers in the program are just wonderful; however, this isn’t to say that I don’t still wistfully moan with envy every time I interact with a librarian and dream of what could have been. As for the actual teaching part? You know, that thing that doesn’t revolve around literature? Well, I start my practicum in a grade 2/3 class in elementary school on November 14th, so I’ll really find out then if I’m cut out for this career.

Now that I’m doing so well, I’m a little worried that I will fall into old thinking patterns and sink back into depression again when my practicum starts; I’ve been placed in an even smaller town close to Bumbleton, meaning that I will be living in Bumbleton for the upcoming month. If I become as crippled by my mental illness as I have been the last year, I will likely not successfully complete the practicum. But honestly, I could handle that.

It’s this new state of mental health that I am desperately afraid of losing. For all I know, I might go home and view the familiar streets of Bumbleton with new appreciative eyes, rather than feel the crippling suffocation of a small town that I’ve never felt I belonged to. I might be just fine. I might even flourish.

But I might not.

And that scares me.

I don’t want to get as sick as I have been ever again. It would be like crawling out of hell, letting my broken bones heal and wounds scab over, only to be dragged back in again at the end of my recovery, and have my bones crushed and wounds ripped anew. After all that suffering only to face failure, I may as well just stay down there next time.

But until I am sent home, I am well. And I am going to focus on this wellness and furthering my healing until maybe I am so healed, that it isn’t even possible to be dragged as low as I have been before. When my practicum begins, I am going to continue to take care of myself, and do all that I can to stay better. I’m going to keep working out, and writing, and appreciate the time that I have close to my hometown friends, family and of course, my dogs.

I can do this.

The Write Way to Read

By my own definition, lately, I have not been a writer.

Why? Because writers write. I haven’t been doing this.

Unfortunately, my ability to write is closely linked to my mental health and for what feels like the last two centuries or so, I’ve been trapped under the ice in a lake of depression. Only quite recently was I able to finally kick through the heavy sheet of numbness above and feel the sunlight for the first time through the cracks in the ice. You never realize how much you appreciate the ability to feel until it’s taken away and given back.

Since my last post a number of things have happened. I have applied to graduate school to the master of library information studies program, my manuscript has started to resemble something similar to a novel, and I read another book from my list and Huckleberry Finn (I am excited to FINALLY understand all of the references to it in well, pretty much every movie and book ever). I’ve also been analysing my reading habits and I’ve decided to make a new goal for them.

A while ago I came across this image:

These statistics sadden me beyond words, but it’s not the tremendous amount of non-bookish people in the world I want to focus on, but the last little bit that says, “Reading one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.” I tried to look up who initially said this, but I was unsuccessful.

However, wether the information in the image is credible or not (I mean, can reading every day for an hour ever really be a bad idea even if it doesn’t make you a specialist?), it’s a fascinating idea. Since I came across this image, I haven’t been reading for an hour every day because I’ve been stumped by the idea of what to read. What would I like to be an expert in? I have so many different interests, committing myself to only one genre/topic for seven years seemed daunting and, well, boring. That’s every day. Every single day for seven years. That’s 2,555 hours of reading in the same subject. What if I chose to be an expert in flowers and a year into the project, discovered that I really couldn’t care less what the difference between flowers and weeds are? Would I start over in a different subject, or would I just give up? Thoughts like these paralysed me from acting on any impulse to train myself to read every day.

It dawned on me yesterday that it really doesn’t matter what I read as long as the act of reading actually occurs–that’s the important part. As I’ve mentioned before, I have an obsessive personality and it comes out when I read books as well. I need to take breaks from reading because the way that I read isn’t healthy. I don’t eat or sleep or really, function like a human should. All I do is devour page after page until I’ve whipped through the book so quickly, that unless it was a particularly amazing book, in a few weeks I’ll have a difficult time remembering exactly what I was so obsessed about. This trait of mine can be particularly problematic when I tackle large books that take a bit longer to get through. I tend to emerge from my reading frenzies like a strange emaciated bat creature who has forgotten how to socialize with the rest of the world.

I believe that if I learned the self control to stop my reading frenzies and limit myself to only an hour a day, but do it every single day, I would actually be a much more productive reader than I am now. It’s that whole tortise versus the hare parable (except in my case it’s really more like obsessive bat creature versus like, I don’t know, being a normal human being). In the wise words of Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So that is what I intend to do.

I am pledging to make a goal not to become a specialist in any specific topic in seven years, but to kill the bat creature by learning self control and reading every day for an hour. As a result, I will read more by doing it more productively and I am not limiting myself to any subject. It will be difficult, but now that my mental state is better, I believe I am up for the challenge; I am excited to see how many more books I will be adding to my 50 Book Pledge shelves once I’ve begun.

Bring it on, batsy.