Find a safe space

You’re having a panic attack, struggling to see straight, calm your racing thoughts, slow your pounding heart, and breathe. You tell yourself you’re okay. You aren’t in actual, physical danger. But something triggered your alarm system, which sent a message to your amygdala, which made all this shit happen in your body in order to keep you safe. Too bad the danger lives more internally than externally. Still, your fight-or-flight instinct has taken over (even though you can’t run from or fight the source of your crippling anxiety), and adrenaline is surging through you, all because we inherited such a response from our ancestors thousands of years ago and our brain systems just haven’t caught the fuck up. So what do you DO?

You can try to force yourself into breathing normally. Inhale slowly, hold it, exhale slowly, hold it. Repeat. Repeat. Or you can try to “ground” yourself, to reconnect with the fact that you’re exactly where you are, here and now, to live in this present moment instead of the impending future. You can try (almost desperately) to distract yourself. Solving math problems is great for that. So are word puzzles. Your brain can’t focus on figuring things out and panicking at the same time. The same is true of experiencing a rapid and drastic change in temperature. Take an icy cold shower if you can. Your brain will stop processing the paralyzing fear you’re experiencing (or so I’m told). The scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but personally, I open a familiar perfume bottle and breathe in the comfort it carries for me. I always use that perfume before I do happy, relaxing things. So I’ve (almost) effectively trained my brain to associate it with happiness and relaxation.

But something that’s been particularly interesting to me lately is visualization. A kind of intense mental imagery. A purposeful relocation to a safe place.

I have a pretty active imagination. Maybe that’s the writer in me, but I have a particular proclivity for getting myself lost in whatever place I’m thinking of. Like, I force myself there. I picture everything vividly, paying careful attention to detail. I mentally feel the sensations that accompany that place. I let myself experience the feelings that would go along with being there.

Sometimes it’s a made-up place in a random, made-up scenario. Sometimes it’s an actual place in a scenario I wish would happen there. There are the typical escapes. The beach, with sun shining, the waves crashing, the smell of sunblock wafting through the air. And the perhaps less typical cozy cafe, with a good cup of coffee and a book I’m completely absorbed in. A lot of times it’s a memory that, a moment in my past that I’d love to go back to. (Again, that might be the writer in me; I love the quote “we write to taste life twice,” and I think reliving memories is another way to do that)

I haven’t had a full-on, gasping, clutching, gut-wrenching panic attack in about a month. And after being prescribed an as-needed benzodiazepine about two months ago, I definitely feel more in control of those situations. Knowing I have a pill in my bag that can alleviate those sickening physical symptoms is often enough to reduce the unrelenting (and usually unnecessary) fear. And if that isn’t enough, I put the pill in my mouth and swallow.

But I’m still an anxious person. That probably won’t ever change. So I’m trying to get this visualization thing set in my mind so I can get a better handle on my general, day-to-day anxiety. I’m trying to set up predetermined safe places that I can teleport to at a moment’s notice. So here’s my attempt at collecting them and getting them ready for use:

Disney World. The Happiest Place on Earth. In any park, with any loved one, either in memory or projection. Perhaps it’s the Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA in the early morning with my parents and sister. There’s time-appropriate music playing from seemingly nowhere, and we’ve just turned the corner to see Cinderella Castle standing majestically in the distance, and I feel like I’m Home, like nothing else matters because this moment is perfect. The love I feel around me is palpable. The excitement is tangible. All is well.

Driving down Ocean Parkway, looping from one Long Island beach to another, singing loudly to a crazy array of music with the man who’d soon become my boyfriend. It’s late at night and we’ve been driving for hours, alternating between deep conversations and enjoying the fact that our tastes in music are so similar. I’m calm and happy and fulfilled.

The bookstore. Summer 2010, the summer I really came into my own. My best friend just walked in the door and we greet each other by immediately launching into talking about exciting plans and things to try and what’s been going on since we’ve seen each other a day ago. We get matching cups of coffee and sit by the window and we bounce ideas off each other while simultaneously bouncing off the walls. When we’ve exhausted that, we wander the bookstore, admiring the books we hope to buy, feeling the peace that comes with being surrounded by such an awesome amount of written knowledge. Things are good.

Christmas morning. My parent’s living room. The day that we’ve been anticipating for an entire season. Surrounded by my family and presents, the Yule Log on the TV, love and laughter and magic filling the entire room. It feels right.

I’m at a concert venue about to see my favorite band play. My friends and I are standing by the mosh pit, being bumped by someone dancing in circles every now and then, and we’re all screaming the lyrics to the songs we know by heart. The music fills my entire soul and leaves me feeling energetic in the best way. They start playing my favorite song. Then the singer cuts out and he points the mic into the crowd so that the crowd can take over the song. We’re all different but also so similar, most of us with tattoos and dyed hair and checkered vans and band t-shirts and the like. I feel connected and important.

It’s Monday morning and I just sat down in my therapist’s office, on the floor by the window, where we can watch the clouds go by and the wind blow through the trees and the cars driving by. But we’re talking about important things and processing the chaos that is my life, and occasionally veering off topic to easier things, and oftentimes looking at funny memes. I’m wiggly and all over the place, but there’s safety and comfort sitting across from me so it’s okay.

I’m in our room, sitting there on the bed under my weighted blanket, laptop propped up on a pillow, and I’m scrolling tumblr. He’s sitting next to me, and every 10 seconds we stop to show each other something stupid we stumbled across online. We’ve been sitting there for like an hour in relative silence, but it’s the epitome of what love looks like. I don’t have to worry about anything because he’s there and he understands and he loves me.

My favorite places, my favorite moments. There are more, of course. And I’m sure throughout my life I’ll continue finding ones to add to the list. But for now, I’m gonna try to remember that I have these to escape to whenever the need arises.

Happy things to appreciate 💙 (updates!)

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

The tippytap of my dog’s paws as he comes to me when I call him 🐾❣️

Family!! 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Fairytales about princesses and castles 🏰👑

Classic Disney movies °O° 📼

Waking up without an alarm ⏰ 🌅

Selfies when I’m really feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️ enjoying that first cup in the morning 🙂

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or mentallyyy)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling for no particular reason 😃

Roller coasters!🎢 the anticipation at the top!

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

When it all comes together like a puzzle 🧩

Old school video games 🎮

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Gettingggg love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Binge watching a good show on Netflix/Hulu 🖥

Tropical vacations 🏝

The smell of mom baking apple pie on a fall morning 🍎 🥧

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Cute cats 🐱

My favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫 -notice the miracles

Getting a good night’s sleep 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎 appreciate that 👈🏻

Shooting for the moon 🚀 🌕

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Making someone happy 😃

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Comfy pajamas ✔️

Jeans that fit just right 👖

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas💡 on paper

Pride 🏳️‍🌈 for whatever I am

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Good fortune 🔮

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Shopping sprees! 🛍

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

Funny memes 😂

The incredibleee excitement the night before a Disney trip 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the world’s differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how so many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuffed elly!)

My favorite perfume 🥰

The first snow ⛄️ of the season 🗓 [peaceful!]

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Tattoos 🌀

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

My infinite internal power ♾ 💥

The journey 🛤

Climbing into bed feeling accomplished after a long day 🛏

A new haircut (or color!) 🆕👱🏻‍♀️💙

Reliving memories 💭 / looking through keepsakes 🎟🎫

Being the perfect amount of energetic🔋

Finding light in the darkness 🔦

When good things fall apart but better things fall together 💔➡️❤️

Counting down on New Year’s Eve just like the entire rest of the world 🎆🎇

Making someone proud (even if it’s myself)☺️

Late night adventures 🌙

The fact that I kicked the fucking shit out of anorexia once and I can fucking do it again 🍽

Happy things 💙

Random acts of kindness 💕

Cloud watching ☁️

Giving something my all💯

Stories about princesses 🏰👑

Selfies when I’m feeling myself 🤳🏻

Coffee ☕️

Meeting up with friends 👭

Getting stronger 🏋🏼‍♀️ (physically or emotionally)❗️

Proving my resilience ⬇️🆙

Beer with friends after a long week 🗓🍻

Going on a trip ✈️

Pretty bows 🎀 (and other accessories) 💍

Smiling 😃

Roller coaster parks 🎢

Fruit salad 🍒🥝🍍🍎🍉🍇🍐🍌

Leaving love notes (or any notes!) 💌

Getting love notes (or any notes!) 📬

Good news in the paper 📰

Enjoying nature 🏔🏕

Karaoke 🎤

Flowers on a spring day 🌷🌻🌺🌿🌸

Cookies and milk 🍪🥛

The smell of rain/ thunderstorms ⛈⚡️

Balloons 🎈

Tea 🍵 with honey 🍯

Tropical vacations 🏝

The sun, rising every day 🌅

A fresh notebook waiting to be filled 📓

Cute puppies 🐶

Your favorite music 🎼 🎶🎵

A stack of books waiting to be read 📚

Seeing a rainbow 🌈

Photography that captures feelings 📸

Improving myself 📈

The sun coming out 🌥⛅️🌤☀️

Fireworks 🎆🎇

Cosmic phenomena 🌙💫

Getting into bed after a long day 💤😴

City skylines 🌇 🌃

Office supplies 📎✏️ 📋

Magic✨/ unicorns 🦄 / etc 🌟

Being alive!! 🌎

Hot chocolate 🍫 on a cold winter day ❄️

Deep conversations 🗣 with close friends 👥

My perfect nephew 👶🏼

Learning something new about science 🧬

Frantically writing ✍🏻 getting ideas 💡 on paper

Connecting w people I love on social media 💻📱

Self-care 🕯 🧼🛁🧖🏻‍♀️

Really appreciating stars 🌟 in the night sky 🌌

Getting into a video game 🎮 (or watching one)

Fall 🍁🍂🌾🌼 bonfires 🔥

Achieving something to be proud of 🎓

A big paycheck 💵

Late night car rides🚙 with Andrew🥰 singing🎶

The anticipation the night before Disney 🔜

Waking up on Christmas morning 🎄🎁

Feeling lucky 🍀

Winning something 🎰

Classical music that brings back memories 🎻

When things fit together perfectly 🔐

Making art 👩🏻‍🎨🖍🖌🖊

Appreciating all the worlds differences 🗺

Becoming the best version of me 🏆

Learning 👩🏻‍🎓

Books 📖 & how many of them exist📚

Making wishes 🧞‍♀️🧞‍♂️✨

Things that comfort me 🧸 🐘 (my stuff animal!)

Singing in the rain ☔️

Checking something off my to do list ☑️

Ice cream (size congruent with my mood) 🍦

Parties 🥳

Quiet mornings 🔇

Crocheting someone a hat 🧶

Ska shows 🏁

Facing fears 🕸

Bipolar and the senses

So last year, or maybe it was two years ago, I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop propped up against a pillow, listening to Duel of the Fates from the Star Wars prequels on repeat. I remember it rather vividly. I’d had a huge mental breakdown the night before, where my then best friend and soon-to-be-boyfriend drove me until one in the morning as we listened to music and I alternated between crying and singing along to the loud punk rock hitting me in waves out of the speakers. I was home from work, having called out by leaving a frantic voicemail detailing how I was insane and the thought of coming in to work made me want to die. So appropriate, I know. But there I was, sitting there trying to hold on to some semblance of calm, the vague, fleeting feeling that came and went throughout that entire day. I hadn’t eaten. I’d barely had any water. I was just existing, trying to write just to be doing something, thinking about something. Not one of my better moments.

And here I am now. That same Star Wars song on repeat. And it’s weird because I can taste the insanity of my past. I taste the feeling of hunger, acerbic in my mouth, just like I tasted two years ago. I can feel my insides grabbing for what little bit of calm it can grab. The memory of the thoughts I thought are echoing through my head, bouncing off the walls of my mind like that someone slammed a super ball as hard as they could in a gymnasium, the ball going going going with seemingly endless momentum. Or maybe it’s more like a balloon flying every which way after someone untied it and let it loose. The point is that I’m there again. I’m sitting on my bed, legs crossed, laptop in front of me, fingers flying frantically over my keyboard just because. I’m there again. Because of this song I’ve got on repeat.

It’s weird how that happens. The taste of my gummy melatonin does the same thing. That strawberry-esque flavor melting in my mouth, even now, transports me back to the nights I was plagued with what I’ll call violent, agitated insomnia.

On the flip side, I have this one roll-on perfume that calms me down. I always put it on before therapy and now when I roll it on before work, I smell the panic going the fuck away and my chest easing up. I feel full, deep breaths steadying my heart rate as I take actual air into my lungs (as much as I’m able to, at least).

I have an elephant stuffed animal that I hug close to me when I sleep at night. And I have a mini keychain with the same elephant on it. And I make a point to take out that little keychain and rub the elephant’s ears when I start to lose my cool, when I feel the anxiety bubbling up from my stomach all the way up my esophagus and ultimately reaching my head, dizziness ensuing.

And lastly, I’m comforted in the best way possible when someone I love wraps me in a protective hug, sending love vibrations into my being with the pressure they put on me, squeezing my broken pieces together with a strength that can only come from true care and concern.

It’s amazing how this shit works. What our sense can do for us.

Laura’s Bipolar Survival Guide

I wrote this “survival guide” thing like, a few months ago. I was so determined to reach my goal of making my major episodes fewer and farther between. Didn’t work right away (totally had like two more major depressions or mixed states and rapid cycled and just dealt with all the usual bullshit), but I’ve been okay since the start of June (which makes this period of stability –and I will call it stability at this point– just over a month and a half long (so far!). I think maybe, just maybe, I’ll be okay for a longer period of time this time. Anyway…dunno if anyone will be helped out by this, but it couldn’t hurt to post.

Bipolar Survival Guide

Goal: make it five full months without a major episode

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY:

When you feel the itch come on, or experience the start of insomnia, or fear what’s

to come is actually coming soon, or think it’s all about to start in any way…

  • Have someone make you accountable for taking your fucking medication; don’t fucking fuck with your meds EVER, especially when you’re heading for trouble
  • Start thinking all that positive shit; do it now while you’re still able to; tell yourself you’ll get through this, give yourself a pep talk, read inspirational quotes, etc
  • Take supplements that are supposed to help, too; Magnesium, B12, and fish oil are all supposed to help, and passionflower extract does wonders for your anxiety; and I fucking know you have plenty of all of those
  • Hide all the knives and shit; don’t cut yourself, you aren’t a fucking child and you know it’s a stupid thing to do; you don’t WANT to anyway, you really fucking don’t
  • Do NOT drink alcohol; you always do that when it gets rough and you always regret it; you don’t have to make this shit worse and you know if you were fully in your right mind you wouldn’t drinkkkkk
  • Warn friends & family what’s coming in a smart, mature way; tell them what you need now & anticipate needing soon; do it in advance, while you still have clarity of mind
  • Exercise as much as possible; get the wiggles out, get the energy out, get the frustration out; plus, it’ll help you sleep better
  • Eat healthier than you normally would; fruits and veggies and all that shit; it couldn’t hurt, and it’ll make you feel more like a functioning human being
  • Drink water like it’s your fuckin’ job; again, it couldn’t fucking hurt
  • CBD oil to relax and stay calm (worth a shot, right?)
  • Mindfulness and all that nonsense; meditation apps and youtube videos; breathe with that thing that goes in and out and just focus on fucking breathing; affirmation youtube videos, and if anything just leave them on in the background while you do something else; adult coloring pages; etc
  • If you need an immediate reset: 
    • Take a shower, either really hot or really cold; the change in temperature helps reduce anxiety because your brain can’t process anxiety and a sudden change like that
    • Call someone to talk; it’s distracting and they might be able to actually help (fuckin’ imagine that)
    • Remove yourself from the situation that’s causing emotional distress (if you can)
    • Count the number 1-20, but out of order (again, your brain can’t focus on doing that and being anxious at the same time)
    • Sleeeeeeep; just escape it all and take a nap, if possible)
    • Use one of the many mental health  apps on your phone to reset yourself; there’s CalmHarm and ClearFear and What’s Up and Aloe Bud and Virtual Hope Box and Mood Shift and Rootd; etc
  • If you need to make sure your day really goes as planned:
    • Drink a full glass of water when you wake up
    • Take your fucking meds, all of them, right away (don’t wait otherwise you won’t take them, you know that, dumbass)
    • Take vitamins and supplements and all that too, while you’re at it
    • Clean something; it makes you feel accomplished, and a clean space leaves less room for anxiety, and less external chaos means less internal chaos
    • Turn music on; happy songs are probably best, but the usual hardcore screamy stuff will do just fine
    • Take a shower; you have the time, just fucking get in the shower and wash your body and do your hair and get all nice and squeaky clean, you’ll fucking feel better, you idiot
    • Journal; get those feelings out, you have the compulsive need to do it anyway, so just do it now in the morning, for as long as possible or as long as it takes to be emptied of the bullshit
    • Do some of that meditating or mindfulness crap; just do it
  • Remember that the torturous parts of this disorder are temporary. Yes, it fucking BLOWS to have to remember that when you’re in the throes of it or if you’re heading there soon. But seriously. You’ve been through this before, you’ve been through it more times than you can count, and yes I realize that sounds like a bad thing, but motherFUCKER if anyone can survive this one, it’s YOU ‘cause you’re a fucking badass bitch from hell and this bipolar shit ain’t got nothing on you. Boom.
  • Be aware of triggers:
    • Stress at work or in any area of life, really
    • Being physically sick is a big one, so stay healthy and take care of yourself if you feel a cold or something on
    • Too many good things happening may trigger mania, although I don’t think you’ve written down enough data to make that hypothesis seem correct; just be careful of that anyway
  • Other things that help:
    • Video game music helps you focus
    • Lavender spray makes you calm down, at least a little
    • Lighting a candle makes you happy
    • Turn on a show you can watch mindlessly (Family Guy, probably)
    • Fidget toys help when you start to get too twisty and fidgety
  • Continue to keep track of your moods (Daylio and eMoods are absolutely necessary, but use the other ones too as things get trickier), and then ACTUALLY MAKE SENSE OF THEM and FIND PATTERNS so you can PLAN FOR THE FUTURE BETTER
  • Read a book about bipolar disorder (it helps you feel like you can make sense of all this shit and maybe have some semblance of control over it all); “Brilliant Advice from my Bipolar Life” is a really good guide with tons of tips, and it’s got lots of fun cartoons in it; or “Bipolar Survival Guide” is another good one; or “Bipolar Disorder: a guide for patients and families” is another; orrrr just research biochemistry and other related information, because if anything it’ll distract you
  • Write!!! Work on something, anything. Just write. Throw yourself into it. And if you’re already at the point where you can’t fucking focus or form coherent thoughts or whatever, do something that’ll improve your writing eventually; like reading about writing (books with tips and advice or even just advice from other writers on tumblr or online somewhere)
  • Maybe it’ll help to focus on the good things that come with being bipolar
    •  You’re creative, can’t deny that, being bipolar is at least somewhat tied to that
    • You’re kind and compassionate, and that comes at least partially from having such a wide range of emotions and emotional experiences, so you can relate to and help so many other people as a result
    • You’re braver and stronger than most people just by being alive still, just by having survived your own fucking life, be proud of that, keep building upon that
    • Think of as many more of these as you need to (even though it’s gonna be a hard thing to do in the moment)
  • Look up Carrie Fisher quotes (RIP Space Mom), either the ones about being bipolar or any of her other famous quotes, because she was fucking awesome; if she could do it, so can you; and furthermore, you wanna do her proud, don’t ya?
  • Speaking of quotes, here, have some inspirational ones (generic or not, just fucking read them, it’ll help you and you know it):
    • This too shall pass
    • “In the depths of winter I finally found that within me was an invincible summer”
    • Every little thing is gonna be alright 🙂
    • If you believe in something, believe in it all the way
    • You don’t have to know where you’re headed to be going in the right direction
    • Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire
    • Attack every day with enthusiasm!
    • It’s going to be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay it’s not the end
    • Leap and the net will appear
    • Wake up, Drink coffee, Kick ass, Repeat
    • “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”
    • Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it
    • What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us
    • I am an optimist; it doesn’t seem much use to be anything else
    • Life is a mirror; it’ll smile at you if you smile at it
    • Be the person who can smile on the worst day
    • If you want a different outcome you have to do different things
    • Without struggle, there can be no progress
    • “Keep your face always towards the sunshine and the shadows will always fall behind you”
    • If you don’t know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take
    • Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come
    • You’ve survived 100% of your worst days so far
    • Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted
    • Cut yourself some slack, you’re doing better than you think
    • “Surviving is my best revenge, what hurts you once won’t hurt you again”
    • Find one small thing that doesn’t suck and hold onto it
    • Everything is figureoutable
    • “Make a wish and do as dreamers do…and all your wishes will come true” ❤
    • When life gives you 100 reasons to be sad, show life you have 1000 reasons to smile
    • “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”
    • “The sun comes up every morning; hope gets lost but never dies; love is so much stronger than hate; seasons change; don’t forget the smell after a storm”
    • “Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise!”
    • “Follow every rainbow til you find your dream”
    • Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves
    • If life shuts a door, open it again; it’s a door, that’s how they work
    • Believe in the happily fucking ever after
    • What if = fear ; Even if – faith
    • You can be  both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously
    • The energy we use is never wasted
  • And don’t forget the ones tattoed on your fucking body:
    • It takes rain to make a rainbow
    • Happiness can be found, even if the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light
    • Have a magical day!
    • Just keep swimming, just keep swimming
    • Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise
  • Things you can control:
    • Your beliefs
    • Your attitudes
    • Your thoughts
    • Your perspective
    • Who your friends are
    • What books you read
    • How often you exercise
    • The type of food you eat
    • How you interpret situations
    • How kind you are to others
    • How kind you are to yourself
    • How often you say “I love you”
    • How often you say “thank you”
    • How you express your feelings
    • Whether or not you ask for help
    • How often you practice gratitude
    • How many times you smile today
    • The amount of effort you put forth
    • How much time you spend worrying
    • How much you appreciate the things you have
  • Real Talk: be kind to yourself; this shit sucks and you’ve been handling it for too long, and you’re handling it right now; so cut yourself some slack and give yourself the credit you damn well deserve, even if no one else does (ESPECIALLY if no one else does)

Morning Affirmations

The sky woke up with a dull, gray covering this morning. And although I usually prefer when dawn chases the night away, forcing it to retreat while purples become pinks become oranges, I’m trying to view this rainy, stormy day as a potential adventure. The heavens are open, life-giving water is pouring into the earth, and the sound of rolling thunder is somehow calming. I’m at my favorite coffee shop. The meditative, chattering background noise along with the raindrops pitter-pattering against the large window in front of me soothes my mind —which is fairly quiet this morning compared to a typical day in my life. I’m taking slow, full breaths, inhaling the deep aroma of freshly brewed coffee and positivity. Exhaling thoughts of today’s potential chaos. My insides are expanding to allow space for observation; today I will watch my emotions flow back and forth, melting into one another, as an impartial judge. I refuse to contract, to fold into myself. I refuse to decrease in size, to shrivel into fear, to let myself tighten when I needn’t let myself tighten. I am vast and all-encompassing. I greet this day with a curious disposition. And as I sit here in contemplative stillness as the world and I wake up, gaining conscious preparedness, following the tried-and-true routines that keep us safely secured amid the rush of life, I know I can retain the cozy comfort of this rainy, stormy morning.

Still some fight in me

My car has always been a sort of limbo;
I wait here, time passing.
I am not patient but still content
to stay here listening to classical music
(some of which I remember playing, years ago)
that reminds me I have a past
that was full of pain and torment but
also of
music and its reverberating explosions that send shockwaves of unimaginable hope through my being,
out my arteries, down through my fingertips,
and carried back to my heart with triumph.
I cannot always hang tight into that hope
(I don’t know anyone who has a right to blame me).
I cannot always see a way to weather the storms
(that come fast and hard, quicker than ever now, gaining intensity and ferocity)…but
I am intensity. I am ferocity.
I cannot always know this, see this, understand this, feel this.
But it doesn’t change that I am.
So I sit in limbo. Waiting, time passing…
Minutes march on,
thank some sort of god that they do,
and I’m surviving
(though not always actively).
How often have I sat here in the in-between?
Does it even matter?
Does anything?
I don’t have to know.
I’m wearing makeup and earrings
and a shirt that says “hello sunshine;”
I clearly have some sort of fight left in me.

How do you expel sadness? How do you chase it away? How do you take the sadness that has crept into your being and, graciously or not, show it to the exit? How do you repair the wall that sadness tore down, and how do you ready yourself for its next intrusion? How do you heal from the hurt left in its wake?

Any number of analogies would work beautifully here. Countless metaphors would suffice, and goodness knows I’d love to sit here and type them all out in long, eloquently phrased paragraphs. But ambiguous words don’t exactly help me solve the issue at hand so much as explain it. And fluffy descriptions and fancy words simply won’t help; I’d much prefer concrete and definite instructions to vague, unreachable concepts.

So how can I explain to you the ways in which you may hope to overcome the sadness? How can I help you to tear yourself free from the vice-like grip of internal desolation?

Sadness is a poison and I know an antidote exists. The problem is I’m well-versed in what the former entails but I’m not so clear on the latter. I long for a manual, a set of instructions that can serve as a guide. I doubt there is one. I am left to write the directions on my own, to learn the steps through my own efforts and energy. I only wonder if I can.

I’ve tried to do it before. Trust me when I tell you I’ve given it a God’s honest attempt. And of course I have, how could I not, having been through the ringer. I’ve seen hell, countless times. You don’t think I’ve scrambled to make a mental note about how I got my hands on the rope I used climb back out? To write down exactly how I survived? And furthermore, to figure out why? Believe me when I explain that I’ve given it my all to figure it out!

In my darkest days, when waves of depression were crashing into me, the riptide pulling me hard and fast away from the comforts of sanity at the shoreline, I tumbled with the current and couldn’t find my footing, but eventually caught my breath and treaded water and surfed my way back to shallower depths. I’ve been sucked back into the ocean many times over again, finding it rougher each successive time. I am afraid of it. Bodies of water represent the terrifying repetition (the tide comes in, the ride retreats, it repeats continuously). I am afraid. But that doesn’t stop me from going to the beach. I have never let it stop me from going to the beach.

I guess that’s the first step, then? Resilience? We’ve got no choice but to get back up, time after time. It sucks, and you may get dragged for miles, but eventually you get back up. As long as you’re taking air into your lungs, you still have time to do so. And since you’ve gotta get up eventually, there’s no harm in doing so with as much hope and optimism as you can muster.

Then a few steps away, somewhere down the staircase is another critical issue: the self-talk, the internal monologue, the script forever running on and on in your head. You’ve certainly heard it before that your thoughts become your reality, that you attract what you think about. You’ve gotta make your head a positive place to be because you’re there all the time. You’re literally never fully away from it. So choose wisely the words that you say to yourself. Pick each idea carefully, and pluck from your consciousness the ones that don’t promote happiness, the beliefs and perceptions and opinions that don’t serve a valuable purpose. Weed out the dead flowers, filter the muddy waters. Affirm the fact that you’ll be okay, you’ll always end up being okay. Even if you aren’t right now, you will be eventually because that’s the way it works. Collect the inspirational quotes, litter your life with positivity. Surround yourself with it; you might as well.

The next step is just as cliched, if not more. But it helps, so you’d better get going on that self-care. Images of bubbles baths come immediately to my mind. The kind where bath bombs have colored the water and candles are lit around the edges. Face masks and body scrubs and special conditioners, all of this seems to be what’s marketed as the prime examples of taking time for yourself. And I value such things for what they are and what they do. But caring for yourself spans a wide array of actions, all of which are supposed to help you meet the needs you might have been neglecting in a calm and relaxed way. This could mean taking a walk outside in the sunshine. Or making yourself a healthy meal. Or meditating on things you’re grateful for while focusing on steadying your breathing. It could mean treating yourself to that overpriced coffee, coloring mindlessly, or just taking a nap when you need one. But whatever it is for you, you’ve gotta do it.

Continuing along the staircase away from melancholy brings you to distraction. Keeping your mind busy is an indispensable means of taking sadness by the collar and kicking it to the curb. Channel the bad feelings polluting you, put them into something positive and productive and helpful. Don’t think about anything but what you’re doing. Focus, consciously. Give it effort, and work hard, and reap the benefits.

Let’s never forget to reach out for help, either. Get that support, surround yourself with love, jump into all that is happy and positive. You are enclosed in a semi-permeable membrane, the fact that sadness has entered is a testament to that. So it’s logical to marinate in the good, the beautiful, the special. If you don’t, how do you expect to let it seep in? Utilize your loved ones for they are all around you. They choose to be a part of your life for a reason. They are prime examples of tools that can help. And if they cannot do the trick alone, there are other minds that may hold an answer. But it’s all dependent on you seeking the help. Ask for what you need. Ask for light and you’ll soon find it shining on you.

if nothing else, you can wait it out. You’ve got more time than the sadness does, you are more expansive and contain more power. Within you is all that you’ll ever need, in fact. Remember this truth while you stay where you are as the clock ticks you closer to freedom.

Through all of these steps, you’ll surely gain some forms of protection for the future. You’ll learn from what you’ve gone through, building upon a foundation of inner strength and using cumulative knowledge as material. You’ll make mental notes, write down how exactly you survived. You’ll do this subconsciously as apparently I have done, and think that maybe all of this is easier than it seems.

You wanted to know how to push away sadness. You asked me how it is actually done. It turns out I knew more than I gave myself credit for, so I’ve tried here to answer your question in earnest, but the truth is I’m still not quite certain. The process I’m describing might just have to be trial and error. Or maybe you just have to do what you can with what you have until the sadness gets bored and vacates the premises of your mind and body.

Either way, I hope you find metaphors that apply to your journey. I hope you can explain your plight and triumph with fluffy, fancy descriptions. And I hope the ambiguous collection of words that don’t exactly solve anything help you, at the very least, to find meaning.

Evolve

I love words and decorating my life with them.  I have signs throughout my bedroom and living room with words like dream and smile.  I fill my planner with stickers that say things like be unique.  Even my body is marked with words that are important to me; an outward expression of who I am inside, most of my tattoos are phrases that I need to literally carry with me when my inside forgets them.  It takes rain to make a rainbow to show that can find good in the bad, and that in fact, we must.  Because without both, we’d appreciate neither. Happiness can be found (even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light) to symbolize my ability to create happiness in the down-periods.  Have a magical day to remind me of my escape even on days where finding the magic is difficult.  Just keep swimming, etched on my thigh, is what I know I have to do when I don’t know what else to do.

As a writer, words are my means of understanding and my source of power.  I use them to process life. Choosing the “right” words allows me to make sense of life, and see the bigger picture I am being shown.  I can live my days over again using words, tasting the sweet parts once more as I write about whichever details I want to preserve for eternity.  Words are how I make you understand, too. The things that need to be understood and the things that need to be celebrated…with my words, I can get you there, too.  I can make you feel sublime as I bring you to places you love and state of beings where you are safe and comfortable and happy. Or if I chose to, I could make you feel the exact opposite.  I can drag you down to hell with me and spit you back out wherever you happen to be reading. To be able to transport you to where I want, to facilitate your transcendence above where you happen to be, is an amazing thing.  Twenty-six letters, mixed and matched as I please, give me that power.

I realize that the majority of people aren’t quite as aware of the importance of words as I happen to be.  But their importance always remains there nonetheless. They influence us. That’s why those decorative signs exist, why those stickers exist, why people (even non-writers) get words inked onto their skin.  It’s a communication thing, a symbolic thing. It’s a human thing.

Alright, maybe it’s mostly people like me who have this obsession with words.  My affinity for them may very well be solely related to my self-given title of Writer.  But my point is that ascribing particular meaning to one can be a phenomenal influence.

The reason I’m bringing all of this up is that in my therapist’s office, there’s a block with the word evolve on it.  I noticed it when I first saw her, but it wasn’t until she related what I was saying to the word one day, excitedly pointing at it across the room, that I felt myself really thinking about evolve.

It looked cool written on that white block, thanks to a font I particularly enjoy.  I liked how it sounded, how it felt in my mouth when I said it. It also sounded cool rattling around in my brain, and it blended well with the other thoughts rattling around, so I kept it there.   And there it has stayed. Evolve.  It’s a great word, but I want to decide why it’s a great word.  What better way to do that than with more words?

 

What I Realized About My Carefully Constructed Comfort Zone

I’ve always had trouble getting myself from where I am to where I want to be.  I have these ideas in my head that are so big they overflow onto the ground surrounding me, and I certainly have enough enthusiasm to water each one until it begins to grow.  But the growth is halted just shy of actually blooming into flowers. I don’t know how to finish what I start in terms of reality, how to make ideas from my head take hold in the real world.  It’s disheartening, to say the least.

I tell myself that no one begins by being finished.  If we all began at the finish line, no one would be doing anything or going anywhere, and that’s not what life is.  We don’t start out where we want to be because we have to get ourselves there. We have to embark on the journey that starts at point A, growing and changing and developing gradually, adapting and improving as we internalize what we’ve learned, until we are able to reach our point B.  We have to evolve. Because that is what life is.

This thought-process works on another level in addition to that more metaphorical one:  When you look up ‘evolution’ you’ll find an explanation of how living species on our planet have become what they are.  Over like, a super long time, a given species will go through small changes in characteristics that ultimately lead it to become more adapted and developed.  It will “internalize what it has learned” by way of beneficial genetic mutations being passed down through reproduction, until a species is ultimately actualized.  Humans didn’t start out as humans; we had to work our way here through the evolutionary pathways. Talk about that journey, right?

So to continue my line of thinking using the analogy, who cares if I’ve spent “too much” time closer to point A than point B?

Which brings me to a somewhat tangential point that I’ve JUST realized is absolutely relevant and that lead me to title this section the way that I did: point B lives outside of this thing called a Comfort Zone.

If you read the first portion of this essay-thing of mine, you won’t be surprised to hear that I looked up the term.  (Yeah, I already knew what it meant, but isn’t the definition a great place to start an in-depth analysis? Because that’s what you’re in for, so strap in.)  A comfort zone is “a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.” It’s a mental state, I guess. It’s where things feel familiar, where life can be controlled.  It is safe from anxiety and stress.

The general connotation of the term is a negative one, and a quick search for “comfort zone memes” proves this.  Good things can only happen outside of it, apparently (picture a Venn Diagram where the ‘comfort zone’ circle and the ‘good things’ circle don’t overlap).  The quote “you’re only confined by the walls you build yourself” also shows up in that search, meaning that our comfort zones confine us, keep us away from those aforementioned good things.  And even if we don’t label the term ‘bad,’ we still get the overwhelming feeling that there’s nothing productive or helpful about the concept of staying in one’s comfort zone. We won’t grow or move forward if we remain in their safety.  And aren’t growth and forward motion kind of key in life?

Isn’t evolution key in life?

We won’t evolve if we aren’t willing to feel uncomfortable or vulnerable or awkward or even scared.  The best parts of life happen when we push through all that crap and come out successful and proud on the other side.  And even if we fail, whatever that word may mean, the effort of pushing our limits would still be valid. Effort is never wasted.  You will still be closer to your point B having tried. You will still have evolved, in some way.

I’m questioning my personal comfort zone now (because exploring ideas through writing never fails to launch me into these near-existential crises).  Where do I feel safe and at ease? Where am I without stress and anxiety? I’m gonna NOT make a joke about how I’m never without stress and anxiety, because using humor here would feel like a maladaptive coping mechanism.  And because there are definitely a few places where I feel safe and calm.

For example, I’m in such a place as I’m writing this.  I’m sitting at my desk which is tucked in a nook by my bedroom window.  I’m warm and cozy. I’m surrounded by my books and decorations. I have my planner out next to my laptop (where I’ve written my to-dos for the week in pastel pens and added stickers that say choose happiness and dare to be different in matching colors).  I have Disney World Area Music playing (the music you hear while walking around the parks, I find it incredibly relaxing).  I am in my own world. Things are alright.

And I feel that way because I’m being a bit reclusive.  And there’s safety in that. I’m alone, the way I want to be right now.  I’m in control. My therapist pointed out that anxiety tends to breed recluses, but that in addition to being an anxious person myself, I’m also an extrovert.  She’s right (she tends to be right quite a lot all the time).  I crave human connection in a pretty obvious way.  Which is why I also feel safe and secure when I’m with someone I know and love and respect and relate to, particularly when someone like that hugs me.  I feel so comfortable in the protective hold of someone I love and trust. Letting myself melt into another person is my favorite because whoever has their arms around me acts as a shield against whatever worries had been harassing me only moments earlier.

Guess what, though?  I can’t live my life inside the hugs of my friends and family.  And I hafta leave my desk at some point. I’m fully aware of that.  ‘Cause even though I wish I could live solely where things are comfortable, I’ve had plenty of incredible experiences outside of those places.

Seriously.  One time I was doing this obstacle course, this Tough Mudder race, and I was on this platform like a billion feet above a pool of water.  I had to jump. I had no choice. I was fucking terrified, but then some muscular dude took me by the shoulders and shouted in a forceful but not-unkind way that I had surely done things in my life that were much harder than this.  So I took a running start and with every ounce of strength I could muster, strength that I got from surviving those harder things, I jumped. And holy hell was it the fun.

That’s a pretty specific experience.  I could have cited countless other examples of having fun outside of my comfort zone, of finding these great aspects of life outside of where it’s safe.  But I think that one sums it up nicely: I was scared but I pushed through, I learned a valuable lesson that I believe helped me mature as a person, and I came out more evolved (and sopping wet) on the other side.

 

Making The Connection (Finally)

There’s nothing wrong with spending time at point A.  It’s probably a pretty great place. But that’s probably because we’re comfortable there.  If we make an effort to get to our point B, if we work hard to finish what we wanted to start, we might, well…we might get there.  We might finish. That’s scary. We might look around at where we got to and at what we finished, and we might not really love what we see.  And then, dammit, we’ll have to call that place A and set out to find yet another B. But staying at that A is still easier than pressing on, so, ya know, the cycle continues.

Life is a journey (ugh that sounds so cliche but go with me here).  It is full of different points and places and experiences.  That’s kind of what makes it fun and great and worth it.  But we have to move. Preferably in the forward direction, but sometimes any direction will do.  We have to adapt and change.

I realize I switched tenses or something.  I’ve been saying we have to do this, that, or the other thing.  But I have to tell myself that this is what I need to do.  And not hide in the safety of we.  

Staying in my comfort zone is not conducive to living an evolved life.  And I guess that’s really my reason for writing this? Clearly I had some thinking to do about the world EVOLVE, and it became obvious that I connected the word with letting go of shit that’s holding me back.

Before I started writing, I wrote down a bunch of words and phrases that I thought related to evolving.  Things like “self-improvement” and “a positive or beneficial transformation” and “a deliberate awakening.”  I dunno, I was just spitballing ideas. But all of that, all of those phrases I jotted down, relate back to doing things that scare me regardless of how anxious I am.  How else will I improve? How else will I wake up to the wonderful things life has to offer me? I have to jump off the ledge because “I’ve done things so much harder than this” and because that’s how I’m gonna get through life.

 

You Made It To The Conclusion, Congrats

I think life has many different comfort zones and I think it requires many different evolutionary processes.  I think we should enjoy the comforts we find and enjoy the processes we go through, so long as we keep going. Life’s about balance, after all.  And although my life has been separated into opposite poles for so damn long (thank you, Bipolar Disorder), I think I can at least balance enjoying life and working at life.  Plus, I’m a writer. So I figure this grandiose shit out in elaborate essays that I can reread at any time. It’s super helpful, I recommend it.

Anyway.  What I’m saying is I don’t believe that staying where it’s comfortable and secure and controlled is always a bad thing.  I don’t think I’m bad or stupid or weak for staying at any point A for too long. I just want to stop living there exclusively.  I want to evolve into what I know I’m capable of evolving into, even if it means digging deeper or challenging myself or going beyond my perceived limits.  Because I’m fairly certain the result of meeting all that with passion is gonna be really fuckin’ cool.