10/07

Fighting the Internal Stigma Against Depression: A Reflection on Creation and Destruction

Depression is heavy. It doesn’t negotiate with you. It drags you down steadily. As I spent the past week in training as a Peer Support Specialist, we grappled with our own interpretations of the meaning of “Recovery.” When I was a “Recovery Counselor,” I remember a client of mine requested that she list me as a reference and asked kindly if there is any way I could change the title of my job on her application so she didn’t give her employers the impression she was “recovering” from substance abuse issues, which is one natural and steady impression of the word “recovery.”  Aside from small interactions like that, I never really thought much about the word “recovery” before. When we were asked to pin it down, I really had to think about what made me so qualified to be a Peer Support Specialist and if I even felt comfortable saying I recovered. Collaboratively, many things were suggested in order to define recovery – things like sobriety, developing tools, finding personal supports, and being a support to others. It widened my own perfectionist view of “Recovery” which criticized me of not being fully recovered, as I am still symptomatic and deal with undercurrents of depression from time to time and don’t necessarily have an immaculate set of coping tools.

When I was able to widen my viewpoint of my own personal recovery through the viewpoints of others, I was able to soften a little and reconsider my beliefs. It hit me at an important time primarily because I was beginning to slide into a depression, and I was quite aware of it. My first instinct, like many people’s first instincts, was to fight it. To fight the depression for all it was worth. I told myself to turn to the positive. I told myself to be resilient. I told myself to be grateful. I reminded myself of how bad I got when I was depressed.

And my depression likes to remind me of how bad I have been when I’ve been depressed. My depression likes to remind me of all my personal and professional failures. My depression likes to also take my current life and compare it to all the glorious moments in my life when things went well and I was excelling at everything. My depression washes me in comparisons to unrealistic highs and sinks me in reminders of the moments I felt I lost everything and fell apart. It drags me through a timeline of truths, beating me down with “how I should be better” and how “depression/Victoria, when depressed, is bad.” Depression felt like an additional punishment on top of a series of bad circumstances.

But in the midst of this depressive episode, I remembered several things. My current bad depression is not as bad as it used to be – while I still do get depressed and fall apart and am admittedly not perfect, the picture of my current depression overall looks different. Old depression would have resulted in destructive habits like cutting, popping pills, drinking, or spending lots of money. New depression is a bit smarter – it mediates with me. I have one or two drinks instead of bottles. I buy a cheap little gift to myself instead of spending copious amounts of money. I remind myself of how hard I have worked to get myself towards better physical health this past year, and ergo how much it would actually make me physically sick to start cutting or smoking again (and is my momentary depression worth that?). I watch Netflix. I clean the house. Current depression maybe gives me one day where I don’t get out of bed, am lazy with responding to emails or responding to phone calls, or don’t leave the house. And this is the depression that’s so bad? That I’m afraid of? That I push aside and fight against?

That’s silly! Realistically, this is a depression that’s in recovery. What’s worse is, after realizing that, I also remembered the thing that helped me most when I was truly depressed – even, and especially, at worst. My former depression was demanding – it demanded bottles of wine, cutting, emotionally blackmailing friends, popping pills, listening to sad songs, almost failing classes, dragging me down to the ground (sometimes literally). My depression put a stop sign on my life for however long it wanted and slammed me down – it made me pay attention, it would not be ignored. So, I gave my depression everything. I did what it wanted to do, and I didn’t care – it was an entitlement thing, it seemed like an emotional human right. If I wanted to tear my life apart and destroy myself, why shouldn’t I? Ignoring it wasn’t going to do me any good because my depression was too strong.

The lesson I learned in reflecting upon these times is mirrored in a recent quote posted on the HONY page from an anonymous photographed woman:

“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“When a wave comes, go deep.”
“I think I’m going to need an explanation for that one.”
“There’s three things you can do when life sends a wave at you. You can run from it, but then it’s going to catch up and knock you down. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it’s still going to clobber you. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that’s how you get through the wave.”

The best part of my worst depressions was that in letting myself feel them through, I got them out of my system. I said: Okay! Hit me with it! I let it knock me down, and run its course, and then I got back up in anywhere from a day to a few weeks later, and recomposed myself and rediscovered all the things I loved in life.

There is a tattoo I got on my back of this snake called the ouroboros. Traditional pictures of the ouroboros show a snake in a circle, eating its own tail. The one I got was in an omega sign, pictured here:

Photo by Lauren Farrington

What the ouroboros means is that for every thing created, some thing else must be destroyed. Normally when we think of the word “create,” we think of positive things. When people create things, they add innovation, imagination, and intellect into our universe. On the opposite end, we imagine destruction as something negative. We associate destruction with something that takes away from, demolishes, rids. We think highly of creative people. And we try to rid ourselves of destructive people and relationships. But destruction can be very positive. I destroyed my old habits of cutting and pill popping, and in their place, I created more positive friendships, for instance. It was a very positive thing that I destroyed those habits, and it was very bad of me to create them in the first place. But, in creating them, I destroyed feelings of vulnerability, helplessness, and silence. For every habit you engage in, you’re inherently creating something and destroying something else. Sometimes it’s for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worst.

By creating the opportunity to actually let myself feel my depression and engage in the self-acclaimed negative, destructive habits, I let myself “go deep into the wave” and emerge with a transformative sense of peace. By destroying myself additionally over the fact I have depression, I create negative energy and get myself stuck between depression and being depressed about my depression. By accepting it, fully accepting it and letting it run its course and give it is concessions, I am able to walk away feeling a little more whole and reunite myself with the things I love. By letting the stigma surrounding depression dominate our way of coping with it (i.e. avoiding it or fighting against it), we ultimately let ourselves get stuck in it. By ridding ourselves of that internal stigma and creating a space in ourselves to let ourselves feel it, we can move through it all the better.

What habits have you created that are ultimately negative? What things have you destroyed actually brought you to a better place in life?

 

Love, Health, and Prosperity,

V.

09/22

“It Affects Me As Much As I Let It”

I found myself saying that phrase repeatedly the more someone tried to engage me in a conversation about my responses to my trauma, my flashbacks and triggers. I volunteered to be a part of the conversation, but a lot of the questions seemed pointed – as if they were looking for the way I lived my life years ago, disastrously. Now, my depression, my flashbacks, my trauma “affect me as much as I let it,” I said, acknowledging it was a weird response. It was a “weird response,” because I know how I would have responded if these were questions asked of me years ago. I chose to cope differently years ago, perhaps because I needed to (it seems like the best answer).

One of the scenes that I can recall most vividly, that really captures how I had coped when I was at my worst, is a time I was training to be an advocate for sexual assault survivors. Throughout that training, I was experiencing financial difficulties that came out in numerous arguments with my mom, I found out that a close friend of mine had been repeatedly raped for months (and felt totally powerless about how to respond to this even though I was in the midst of training for sexual assault advocacy), and ultimately had to deal with my own triggers which were still pretty vibrant at this point. There was a point in the training that they sent out the therapist who just happened to be “guest lecturing” (so to speak) to calm me down as I was crying in the hallway. They laid heavy hints on me that perhaps another time later would be a better time for me to complete this training. I was adamant that I should stick through the training despite all my emotional upsets, and complete it.

Aside from my tendency to be the type of person who likes to complete what she starts, I lived my life back then in the mindset that there was no point in backing away from your own psychological truths because they only catch up with you through your interpersonal relationships – I felt my own truths, and the truths surrounding the oppression related to my trauma, should be faced head on. I have no regrets about that approach because, at that point in time, I needed it to be that way. It affected me as I much as I let it – which is to say, I wanted to feel the pain, I wanted to get it all out of my system, I wanted to figure out my truths even if they hurt, just so I could move past them.

During this point in my life, I had one roommate attest that living with me put her in a state where she was constantly afraid something would set me off. During this point in my life, my depression was deep, my medication was inconsistent, my friends and I were pretty cynical, and there were drugs. It was a miracle if I could keep my days straight. Everything felt sad and blurred. I remembered, and re-remembered, and lived those sad, traumatic moments over and over again. I saw how all these moments were a string of sequences and emotions and responses that built upon each other and brought me to Now. I saw the repeating of my trauma, which saddened me the most. And, so, I also went to therapy multiple times a week (which was an improvement upon years before that when I was so depressed that I would watch the clock digits click forward and feel too paralyzed by depression to get up and walk across campus to get to my therapy appointment).

But it was also the time I was working several jobs and taking an extreme amount of credits. It was also the time I dedicated myself to learning about my trauma. It was also the time I approached learning about my later onsets of traumatic incidents almost immediately after the events, as if to say I’VE BEEN HURT, BUT I NEED TO BOUNCE BACK NOW AND I NEED TO KNOW WHY THIS HURT SO MUCH. This was a time in my life I was very confused, and that confusion lashed out on everyone else as I tried to find my middle ground.

I needed to learn where my pain came from, had to work through the feelings of whether I (and whether society) felt my pain was justified, and I needed to learn how to stop the pain. And for overachieving me, this not only meant stopping my personal pain that was stemming from what felt like a looming repeating past-present trauma stream, but also approaching societal pain and societal responses to trauma. I wanted to see where my hurt fell on the spectrum of things – and in order to do that, I… well, needed to hurt.

I needed to hurt all the time before I could understand my own hurt, because learning to understand my hurt would give me a way to integrate it into my own life in a healthy way – I could learn what to avoid, where to set boundaries, what to anticipate, what to approach, what to forgive, so on and so forth. Hurting taught me plenty of valuable life lessons, however unpleasant.

Flash forward to now. Do I still get triggered sometimes? You bet. I’m not sure that ever fully goes away. Little things are usually what bring my triggers up: things people say, their attitudes, or even the way they approach situations. But the most vital tool in learning how to cope, integrate, and find healthy has also been learning to let go. The last therapist I had in my undergraduate career gave me that saying (“Let Go”) on one of those gift inspirational rocks as a going away present. “Letting Go” is in an invaluable tool, especially in the age of the internet. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen threads on Facebook that I can tell are going to irritate me: sometimes I read them and walk away, other times I ignore them completely, and sometimes I actually respond. If I fought everything that triggered or upset me, I’d choose to be upset a lot of the time. But I can’t live that way – it’s not constructive to who I am, what my goals are, and how I want to feel. I have to choose to walk away sometimes. Like that saying: does it serve you? does it grow you? does it make you happy? Nope.

“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves yougrows you or makes you happy.” -Robert Tew

If it doesn’t do any of those things, then I don’t need it. At one point, the pain served me – it taught me valuable things about my self, my family structure, my society, etc. It brought me to the beginnings of better intellectual understanding and emotional coping. If I rehashed my bad moments now, having already learned that information, what good would it do me? It wouldn’t serve me, it definitely wouldn’t grow me, and it certainly wouldn’t make me happy.

The other day, as I was unpacking my belongings, I stumbled across an item I purchased as a gag gift for self at a bookshop: one of those little flip stands – this one being “The Daily Mood”. This little flip stand would let other people see your mood of the day (including a definition). I got it because of the old joke we had at work, after having worked in a frustrating situation (with a provider or client), turning to one another and saying deadpan, therapeutic, “And how does that make you feel?” I felt it would be appropriate for my new job, whatever that may be.

Having moved twice this past month, imagine my simultaneous moments of relief and overwhelm as I unpacked for the second and final time. As I flipped through all the words they had available, I thought of all the negative things I was feeling – how worn down I was, tired, in pain, frazzled, scattered, etc. and how I could’ve easily picked any of those words. I chose inspired – not because that was how I felt, but how I wanted to feel. It made me smile. I wanted to be inspired, so why shouldn’t I get motivated to be inspired?

So, when something negative hits me now, and I evaluate whether it serves or grows me, makes me happy, or even contributes anything meaningful to my life – and choose to briefly thereafter move on, I know I’m not doing something destructive, as the pointed questions felt like they were indicating. Rather, I’m choosing to let it affect me as much as I want to let it – and by choosing to want to move on, I take one step closer to actually making that piece of recovery true.

09/04

New Beginnings: A V. Meredythe Recap of 2012-2013

I’ve noticed I have a tendency to judge the success of Victoria Meredythe (site, social media presence, etc.) by the rate at which I blog. I believe I think this way if only because writing has usually come so natural to me – so if I’m not even finding time to write blog entries, chances are I’m not finding time to do much else. As some of you have more than likely noticed, my blog has almost been nonexistent this past year. I’ll skip the “what happened?”s because you know what happened, as seen in several other blog entries.

So, I got really sick. Being really sick took up a lot of my time and a lot of my mental space and my overall emotional threshold for handling my life. But those who know me know that I can’t simply “do nothing” for very long. I’m horrible at being lazy, even when my emotional threshold is shot.

So what have I been up to this past year that you might not have heard about?

  1. I started doing a feminist podcast with two of my closest friends and avid feminists, called “Her Kind” about mental health and feminist issues. The name “Her Kind” comes from the titled poem “Her Kind” by the confessional poet Anne Sexton who, like Sylvia Plath, was known for her beautiful poetry as well as the pervasiveness of her mental illness. I use them as inspirations for the need for better advocacy for mental health for women as well as an example of the wonderful creativity that can be born out of mental health issues.
  2. I did a few runway shows! I helped out a makeup-artist friend of mine (who aside from being super-talented has an awesome personality) named Melanie Page Robinson work on one of her graduating projects from Paul Mitchell and owned that catwalk with a very stylish do and very elaborate facial makeup. I then had the immense pleasure of working with Rubenesque Latex during their feature at RAW Boston – it was my first experience ever wearing latex, and I loved it. The creators of Rubenesque Latex are very fun, friendly, and knowledgeable. Their latex is great for ladies of ANY size. And how could I almost forget about doing a ballroom walk, wearing attire for Concetta’s Closet. Her stuff is AMAZING and you’ll seriously have to resist the compulsion to buy it all.
  3. I did manage to find time to sneak a few shoots in (as both model and photographer) during the past year, even managing to finally get myself to the Ohio State Reformatory group shoot (which was fantastic if not painful the day after :p). Photos from these shoots can be found on my facebook page, Victoria Meredythe.
  4. I wrote a 180 page thesis while working 60-80 hours a week between my two jobs. YIKES! They said it couldn’t be done, but I clearly proved them wrong ;) I also provided a presentation on my thesis a few short weeks ago during my graduation weekend, which can be seen over here.
  5. I wrote a feature on my transition to gluten-free eating over at one of my favorite blogs written by one of my favorite people (I know I’m throwing that word around a lot here, but Tara is great – and I’ve known her since high school), titled “Footloose and Gluten-Free” over at her blog called “My Organic Life.” Tara is up to wonderful things in her own artistic and wellness careers – even if you don’t want to read my blog entry, her site and facebook pages are definitely worth a visit.
  6. My OWN photography got featured at RAW Boston back in early March. How could I almost forget about that?! It was a great first experience being featured in a venue and I got to meet a lot of wonderful people and even sell a print. I got to repeat this experience on a much lower-key level by displaying my works at Salon 241 (Northampton, MA) for a month. It’s a gratifying experience to know that you work is going to be viewed by all different types of people and that people think your work is just that wonderful to consider hanging on a wall ;)

What’s planned for the next year? Both you and I want to know! I’m working on pulling some projects together as I write this, and am opening my horizons to some new creative activities in my new home state (what up North Carolina) and am looking forward towards going wherever my creativity takes me!

What fun, creative, exploratory things have you embarked on this past year? Share with me! I wanna see/hear about it (seriously).

Sharing the creative love,

V.

08/28

The Coping Cha-Cha

Two steps forward, one step back – this creative quote going around Facebook says you shouldn’t look at this as a going backwards, but rather, doing the cha cha! I admit I thought it was a little corny when I saw it, even though I knew the main point was that we should encourage optimism. As corny as cynical Victoria thought that quote was, bottom-line Victoria knows there’s a good dose of truth in it that should be carried around on a regular basis.

Recently, I’ve been struggling a lot with trying to establish routines in my new home state without being employed. I realized a long time ago how much I centered my sense of self worth around my employment status, but what was more surprising was how I also used it to center my routines. For the past few years, my life has been tediously planned around when I would be on shift and if they would need me to work extra hours and/or if I had to do homework for my Master’s program – and surprise, surprise! I am no longer in school and am not currently employed. I just threw out my whole routine that I’ve had since…. Birth? Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But, if we can handle the corny cha-cha statement, we can deal with my dramatic statement that reveals the underlying truth of I don’t remember what it’s like to live without the expectation of taking on a serious work load.

I did what most people do when they lose something pivotal to their routine, and beat myself up a little bit over somehow not knowing that one magical component that is somehow keeping me from a job, I beat myself up over doing fun or otherwise mindless activities in my abundant free time (I mean, I should be searching for more jobs), I beat myself up for even having free time. And then I overcorrected, thinking about how I would treat my clients, and began telling myself that no good comes of denying myself of my own down-and-out feelings and told myself I should let myself feel sad and whatever comes with that. AND THEN, I overcorrected again. “Okay, enough of letting yourself feel down-and-out, Victoria! Get back to trying to establish a routine!” You can see how dizzying this logic is. The coping cha-cha.

The most important thing, though, is that I know I’m not the only one who thinks like this. Our society is inundated with ways to pressure yourself into dizzying thought cycles like this, constantly pushing you to improve and crave a certain amount of routine – and usually all in the name of wellness and stability. Lose weight! Get a job! Get a better job! Go out and date! Do yoga! Take your vitamins! See your therapist! Go to the gym! DO IT ALL AT ONCE, BUT SLOW DOWN AND TAKE SOME TIME FOR YOURSELF, for crying out loud – but remember, you can die from loneliness, and introversion was almost considered a disorder. How often do we start a routine with good intentions for self and end up with a set of habits that dominate our free time and come with a corresponding pressure to maintain them?

People are full of suggestions about ways you can improve yourself, usually with some form of anecdotal basis or reference to a TV show or book. We really like the idea of establishing routines to better ourselves. And usually the push in most of these pieces of advices is to try it NOW. The past is for comparison nostalgia (for a lot of health fad pushes: look at how much she used to weigh/how she used to feel/how she used to be and look at how she is NOW) and the future is for all the things you’ve been saying you’re going to try one day, and the present ends up being the mush stuck between the two where you end up trying to weigh out which way to go. Pastpresentfuturerepeat!

These approaches we have towards wellness habits quite obviously lead us into a logically dizzying thought pattern. Buddhist practices, for all intensive purposes, call this “monkey mind,” referring to our capabilities to fling our thoughts backwards and forwards and sometimes in the present, emphasizing that most important meditative and wellness tool would be in helping our mind stay in the now, and just the now. People who study happiness trends would argue something similar. There have even been studies done about how much our multi-tasking thought patterns, very much in line with this past-present-future thinking, are ultimately damaging in our capability to perform tasks and process information.

So how we approach the coping cha-cha and stay on top, in the positive and the present? There are lots of different ways to approach it, depending on your personality and interests. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing lately to keep myself on the good side of the cha-cha:

  1. Using a daily gratitude journal. I’ve found this exercise to be excellent for tearing down #firstworldproblems and reminding me of all the small things I have to be grateful for in a day, also keeping me in the present. I can’t count how many times I end up listing “simple” things I’m grateful for, like: the internet, my laptop, and my cell phone – things we frequently take for granted.
  2. Trying to meditate. I put “trying” in there for a reason. While I may not be the Queen of Distraction and Multitasking, I definitely have to be a high-ranking officer of it. I grew up in an environment that encouraged multi-tasking, and in order to manage all of my jobs and schooling simultaneously, I became very efficient at this skill. Whenever I’d try to sit down and meditate, I’d get annoyed at myself for getting distracted so easily and would discount moments where I was, in fact, meditating (being in tune with the environmental details and senses). I was under this illusion that if I had any distracting thoughts at all that I wasn’t meditating. Meditating is a matter of tolerance and trying and trying again. Try to find some time during each week to clear out your head and focus on the now.
  3. Happify. They’re not paying me to advertise them, but I love this website/application. Happify is great for me because it helps you structure your own “track,” as they call them, that provides suggestions for ways to challenge yourself and broaden your coping skills based on your personal needs. You can take however long you want and you don’t necessarily have to do all the activities they suggest (and they usually give you at least 2 other alternatives to each activity). Happify has been a great response to my normal rebuttal to therapists of “Okay, I’ve tried all the normal stuff like taking deep breaths, taking medications, expressing myself creativity, etc. etc.” by giving me small activities I can participate in [in] a regular day that make a huge difference in overall happiness.
  4. Resisting the urge to stay inside all the time. For me, that translates into days spent driving around doing errands (I love driving on highways), walking on a nature trail, or going out to a coffee shop. Spending even a few hours outside of your personal bubble and joining the world is a good way to ground yourself in your community, which is vital to health and happiness.
  5. Taking what I need and removing what doesn’t work for me. It sounds simple enough, but a lot of time, we find excuses to avoid doing things we know are good for us and frequently hold onto things we know are bad for us. Trying to get myself healthier has been a step-by-step process of removing the negative, painful, and otherwise detrimental aspects of my life and trying to replace them with healthier habits like light exercise, herbal supplements, meditation, gratitude, and creativity.
  6. Establishing boundaries and advocacy. See above. If you’re going to take what you need and remove what doesn’t work for you, you’re going to need to learn to establish boundaries and advocate for yourself… or to paraphrase what I said to a client once, “Who is the most important person in your life? You are.” There are a lot of people and situations that will try to demand your time. Remember that, for the most part, it really does come down to you to take care of you. So, learning to be your own best advocate is a powerful tool.

These are just some suggestions of things I do on a regular basis to keep me “sane.” What are some ways you cope? How do you do your coping cha-cha? Let me know! 

Health and love,

V.

 

08/21

A Series of Comebacks: Juggling Multi-tasking Ambitions and Finding Health amidst Toxic Stress

“What happened?”

What happened to me? What happened to my health? What happened to my modeling? What happened to my job? What happened to my writing? What happened to my photography? What happened to the workaholic machine that could crank all these things out at once? I feel like I’ve asked and answered these questions in a variety of ways, strung out across numerous blog posts. I ‘ve asked these things of myself because others have asked them of me, but in being “my own worst critic,” I’ve asked myself these questions over and over again as if asking them one more time might bring me back into the downbeat of who I was.

There is a concept in psychology called “toxic stress,” wherein the body deals with so many traumatic events, or otherwise psychologically demanding circumstances, one after the next, that a chronic level of stress develops to the point that it eventually becomes debilitating.  Psychological professionals will warn against self-diagnosis, but I do believe this is what finally did me in. Through my psychological onslaught of “survival of the fittest” as I’ve fondly called it, I never stopped or slowed down. Homeless? Whatever, I need to get straight A’s because that’s who I am and what I do. Psychological breakdown? Well, why should that stop me from going to college. Several sexual assaults in a year? Take a job and some summer classes and spend 4 hours a day commuting and make it a record 36 hours awake: get straight A’s and transfer to another state and take another 18 credit semester while working 2 jobs. Propel harder – spend every other semester afterwards taking a minimum of 20 credits, even in the midst of another psychological breakdown and three jobs. Graduate, move, and go into graduate school while working full-time (and sometimes basically the equivalent of two jobs) and experience the mental onslaught of studying trauma and mental health while working in those same fields. Try to find some time to carve out space for yourself.

Try to find some time to carve out space for yourself.

There is something to be said for how much the human spirit can take, can stand, and can fight back against. I’m sure, aside from the perfectionist in me, there was a part of me persisting in all these emotionally lofty goals despite the burn-out from stress if only to prove that I could – as if creating my own stressors was a neurotic one-up over being the recipient of random life stressors. Like hah, you think you can beat me – look what I can do to myself and still survive. Look at what you can do to me and I can still survive. It sounds pretty masochistic, doesn’t it?

The freakish part of it is that I know I’m not the only one who does it. I will repeatedly attest that growing up in NY, the suburbs of NYC, made me the feverishly hard worker I am. I see some of the same people I grew up with in high school still juggling work/personal loads I can’t even imagine – I will call some of them my heroes, my inspirations. If you can carry a heavy workload and juggle it successfully, you will have me impressed.

But it’s not healthy, I eventually learned.

I’m just going to let it sink in that the workload I listed above was something I had to learn as unhealthy. The worst part is that I didn’t even learn it voluntarily. Basic psychology is as basic psychology does and the lesson kept beating me over the head until it sunk in, and I finally got so sick that I lost my job.

I had just lost a promotion I was seriously gunning for, transferred out of the job, and finished off my second semester at graduate school, and all of a sudden, I got really intensely and randomly tired. This wasn’t the type of tired that could go away with a good night’s sleep. It was the type of tired where I’d say I was going to lay down for a nap and wake up 15 hours later (seriously, that happened). The type of tired that I would be working and the next thing I knew, I’d be waking up in my bed with no recollection of ever getting there (“blacking out” I called it, as it felt – “sleepwalking,” my doctor reframed). There were nights I only slept a few hours. My bills began spiraling out. Work got harder. Being known for my writing, you probably couldn’t imagine the fact that I actually couldn’t even string together a paragraph writing a simple interaction I had with a client. I existed in a constant low-grade panic, worried my bosses would walk into the office and see me staring at the same screen for 40 minutes, trying to write a paragraph. Thinking was straining, and words were hard. I became scattered. I began forgetting more things, and having more panic attacks as it felt like my body and mind were slipping. I kept trying to tell myself it was some temporary thing – some bug that’s going around, or emotional burnout, or a bad sleeping pattern I’d get out of. Until I made a serious error at work and got a written warning.

Me? Written warning? You must be mistaken. I don’t get written warnings. I get straight A’s while having psychological breakdowns and working 3 jobs. You must have me mistaken with a bad employee. I am not a bad employee.

I am not a bad employee, became the shame-ridden second-guessed sentiment I’ve been repeating for a year since. I’m not a bad employee – I’m just sick. Yes, I’m just sick.

What should’ve been a quick one month medical leave turned into a two month medical leave to only eventually quit my job for another three months before finding and feeling capable of handling employment again. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and identified as a likely candidate of Fibromyalgia (a chronic pain disorder).

I could tell you that these disorders have considerably lessened and otherwise (to be dramatic) ruined my life – because it feels that way sometimes, and to a certain degree, is true. But in the midst of all the way these disorders lessened me, they also very much did spark a much greater realization and change in me. The very obvious realization dawned: “You’re working yourself into sickness. You need to balance your life better.”

Since then, it’s been about a two steps forward, four steps back sort of process, involving what feels like a lot of judgment from a lot of people. I eventually ended up “firing” my doctor over the treatment I needed, I received a lot of implications that I was a “flake” on the modeling/photography scene when I needed to call out sick, and I dealt with the perpetual self-doubt that I was a bad employee and that my sickness would be continually limiting my interaction with my career.

But, during this time, I also very adamantly worked to not overwork myself in grad school, ensured I got enough sleep between shifts, prioritized meeting up with friends and going out every now and then, worked the most I could within reason to address my stress around finances, changed my medications several times over, changed my diet to address newfound food allergies, repeatedly followed up with doctors, and very firmly (but politely) stated my boundaries when I felt someone was crossing them. I still have a very long way to go to achieve complete peace of mind, but I’m likely a lot closer than where I was when I was perpetuating my toxic stress.

The biggest challenge I’ve had across the board this past year was the acknowledgment that my disability could jeopardize my employment, make people think ill of me, and make me seem unprofessional – especially because it’s not a visible disability. A supplemental challenge to that one was the fact I found myself repeatedly dealing with the conflict that when people see you have potential in a certain area, they want you to work it all the way – even if you actually physically or emotionally can’t. Working around these agendas and discriminations can be tedious and tiring, but the advocacy of self-care is vital. Without self-care and advocacy, I would be a lot worse off in my conditions than I am currently.

Now that I’ve graduated grad school, I’ve moved to another area whose climate better suits my medical needs, which pays more for the same line of work I’ve been doing, and oh my goodness, look at that, without school I have free time for hobbies and more self-care! Excited for this future, I have great plans of more meditation, some self-defense, a generally better exercise routine, changing my diet again to better help my body – oh and go back to writing, modeling, photography, and all those other things I used to do with pretty good consistency.

How are you helping yourself develop your self-care skills? What helps you make time for self-care? What are the lessons that helped bring you there? 

Love and health,

V.

 

08/08

Creating Something Every Day: Survival Skills and IAP Formation

They have something at my job called an IAP or ISP, an “Individual Action Plan” or “Individual Service Plan,” which is a set of goals constructed with a client of things they want or need to work on and accomplish within the next year. The person constructing this plan with the client, and reinforcing it, will be sure to note smaller steps of progress, “baby steps” if you will, to monitor how the individual is continuing to work towards the goal in the larger frame of things.

A while ago, out of sheer frustration with the stagnation and setbacks in my life, I wrote my own IAP. I initially imagined myself writing faux “objective” case notes of my daily progress… an idea born out of the realization that I monitor, reinforce, motivate, and support my clients more than I do myself – but then I realized I could never truly be objective of myself and it seemed awfully silly to write about myself in third person.

So, I reduced all these anxieties and ambitions into a simple excel spreadsheet of y/n?, columns, rows, desired outcomes – writing a simple “yes” or “no” didn’t seem very judgmental, and it ultimately helped me realize which goals I was struggling with most (hint: it involved going to the gym and doing graduate school homework, etc). One of the more interesting goals I gave myself was to “create something everything” – being a person with passions all across the map, with an equally diverse and fragmented attention span for each passion and interest, I decided to leave it open ended. I created that goal out of the idea that forcing ourselves to create something everyday is subversive and educational. Creating something compels you to do something beyond just surviving, asks you to contribute to the world, and pushes you outside of your own boundaries and propensity towards stalling (I know I’m not the only procrastinator out there). Under this goal, I could create something small or something large, a draft, a photo, a mindmap, a song, a podcast, a journal entry, etc: anything to document and move forward.

Move forward.

I’ve spent the last… well, I would say the last six years – the last six years of my life existing in a perpetual state of hypervigilance, survival driven by a dire (i.e. generally more destructive than constructive) set of coping mechanisms, and an overall state of being that swirled around anxiety, stress, and being extremely burnt-out. I propelled from one state of crises to the next, all while carrying a heavy workload. It’s not very sustainable, and it’s not very healthy.

Health is vital to creativity. Failure to take care of my mental health and physical health and/or failure to use creativity to help take care of that was a huge flaw. Health and creativity go hand in hand.

While letting my health issues run out of control, my creativity was slowly slipping away.  Creativity is not only good for the more obvious projects – such as photography, music, or writing – but also shows up even within our decision-making process. When we don’t foster our creativity, we naturally stunt our growth and our own capabilities for thinking, acting, and engaging in the world around us.

Although my goal of “creating something every day” ended up falling on its face as life demands increased, it was a good exercise in getting myself out of my comfort zone, of creating a new inspirational rhythm, and of motivating myself to stick to routines that I know are good for me. Creating something every day, for the short period of time I did, kept me “on my toes” and forced me to engage with my possibilities and potentials that I could otherwise very easily let slide. It tapped into the parts of me that wanted to explore and change.

Take a moment and consider where you creativity lies and if you feel you’re engaging in your creativity enough. What creative endeavors are you working on daily? What creative endeavors do you wish to take on?

For a little inspiration, check out this Ted Talks video on forming habits.

07/29

A History of Antidepressants: a guest post by Arabella Flynn

Sadness is an integral part of the human condition. Chronic sadness, perhaps even more so — in order to be persistently unhappy, one must also be persistently aware of things to be unhappy about. Depression, historically known as melancholia, has been known at least as long as humans have kept records, appearing as central motifs in myths dating back to ancient times

Efforts to alleviate depression have been around as long as the condition. The first substance widely used as an antidepressant was invented by the Sumerians: beer. Beer is not a true antidepressant so much as it’s an anxiolytic (a substance which reduces anxiety), and it prevents you from concentrating too hard on things you don’t like. Whether it works is a toss-up. Alcohol is technically a depressant — that’s something that slows or reduces the function of the central nervous system; a thing that makes you feel depressed is instead depressogenic — with diverse modes of action, the primary one being as a GABA agonist.

Biopharmacology time. ‘GABA’ is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid. It’s a chemical present throughout your entire nervous system, and it functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which is a fancy way of saying it’s the main chemical that turns things off. GABA, like the other neurotransmitters, works like a key in a lock — there’s a hole called a receptor in the surface of each neuron that is exactly GABA-shaped, and when a molecule of GABA clicks into it, it activates a switch that tells other parts of your nervous system to stand down.

Each kind of receptor is supposed to respond to one and only one kind of neurotransmitter. Clever monkeys that we are, humans have discovered and/or invented a number of substances that skirt around this limitation by being close enough to the shape of the proper neurotransmitter to wedge themselves into the receptor, or by hanging onto the edges of the receptor and preventing the proper neurotransmitter from latching even if said proper neurotransmitter is in place. Chemicals whose fit is ‘close enough’ to activate the switch are called agonists; chemicals that prevent the switch from being thrown are called antagonists.

Alcohol is an indirect GABA receptor agonist, which means it binds to a thing that pulls a thing and a few steps of jiggery-pokery later, it makes your central nervous system react as if there’s much more GABA circulating than there actually is. GABA shuts things down, so alcohol makes you relax. GABA mediates both mental function and physical function, so it makes your mind stop chattering at the same time as it makes your body less tense. Those of you who have comorbid anxiety problems will immediately grasp why this can temporarily lift mood.

Unfortunately, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Our brains are miraculous devices that try very hard to keep themselves on an even keel, even if they don’t always succeed very well; taking anything that affects the level of neurotransmitters will cause the brain to compensate, putting your right back where you started. Alcohol makes GABA more effective, so after a while, the brain just stops responding so strongly to GABA. (The process by which the brain becomes less responsive to something is called downregulation; the opposite, where it becomes more sensitive to a neurotransmitter, is upregulation.) It takes a little while for this to happen, and it takes a little while to unhappen again if you remove the regular source of booze. Alcoholics who dry out too quickly are subject to hallucinations and seizures, as the lack of GABA off-signals has neurons firing off at random.

Next up on the list of tarnished miracles is opiates. Opium poppies grow around the world; tea made from the plant has been used as a painkiller and sleeping draught since before recorded history. Broadly speaking, opiates work by activating the same receptors normally activated by endorphins, chemicals produced naturally by the body in response to extreme stressors. The source of the stress can be good — being in love, for instance — or bad — like being in pain. Endorphins, and therefore opiates, induce a state of euphoria and a relative insensitivity to pain.

The mood-lifting properties of opiates have been known since time-immemorial, and they were used for treatment of chronic major depression all the way up until the 1940s, mostly for lack of a better alternative. Opiates have the same problem with downregulation of receptors as alcohol does, only worse: one type of receptors they muck with, indirectly, are the dopamine receptors. One of the major functions of dopamine is as a “reward” indicator — it’s released when we accomplish physiological goals, like locating food when hungry, and psychological goals, like successfully learning a new skill. Dopamine makes us perk up, concentrate harder, tire more slowly, and just plain feel good.

Which is the main problem. Humans are notoriously bad at moderation, and if we find a way to achieve the feeling of sparkling awesomeness at the press of a button, we will hammer on that button until our thumbs wear off. Extra dopamine is an excellent cure for misery — cocaine, for instance, increases the amount of free dopamine swimming about in your brain, and works ducky as an antidepressant. So do amphetamines, which were also a popular choice back in the days when they were still commonly used as diet pills. It’s just that dopamine has a lot of other very important functions in the body that make it a bad idea to tinker with. It plays a large role in voluntary muscle movement, for one. The jerky, wooden motions of Parkinson’s disease are a result of the death of dopamine-generating neurons in a portion of the brain called the substantia nigra. It also plays a role in regulating blood pressure, and people who OD on cocaine die by way of a heart attack or catastrophic stroke.

On top of which, downregulation of dopamine receptors happens quickly and, after long enough, can become permanent. Withdrawl from opiates or dopagenic drugs like cocaine won’t actually kill you, but you’ll spend a while sincerely wishing it would.

The first purpose-built antidepressant was discovered by mistake, having been purpose-built for something else entirely. In the early 1950s, clinical trials for a tuberculosis treatment called iproniazid took an unexpected turn when someone noticed that the TB patients getting the active pills were becoming strangely happy. The 1950s were the epitome of the old DuPont slogan “Better living through chemistry,” and the idea of psychiatric medications was beginning to take off, so naturally this was of great interest to mental health professionals. Another TB treatment, isoniazid, was discovered to have similar effects, and elsewhere in the world, a drug called chlorpromazine — originally intended to treat psychosis — was observed to lift the mood of patients receiving it.

Iproniazid and chlorpromazine were the great-great-grandpappies of the two main families of antidepressants available today, the monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and the various neurotransmitter reuptake inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, otherwise known as MAOIs, inhibit the action of an substance called monoamine oxidase, sensibly enough. Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme responsible for breaking down the monoamine neurotransmitters, which include all of the big important ones — dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, melatonin, things that regulate very basic bodily functions like sleep and heart rate and homeostasis. MAOIs bind to free-floating monoamine oxidase, taking it out of circulation before it can break down any of the neurotransmitters, and resulting in a higher level of all those important things milling about in the brain.

The main disadvantage to MAOIs is that if you’re taking them, you can accidentally kill yourself with cheese. MAOIs inhibit monoamine oxidase irreversibly — once it catches an enzyme molecule, that molecule is out forever, and it takes your body a couple of weeks to build back up to normal levels. Some foods, like aged cheeses, some alcoholic beverages, and smoked meats, are high in a monoamine called tyramine, which happens to be one of those ‘close enough’ chemicals that trips receptors normally keyed for norepinephrine; normally this is broken down easily by the body, but in the absense of free-floating monoamine oxidase, enough tyramine can accumulate to cause a hypertensive crisis, e.g., raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. Likewise, tryptophan, present in high levels in a number of foods including turkey and very dark chocolate, is normally scavenged by monoamine oxidase, and in its absense is converted en masse into serotonin. Serotonin has a rep these days as being a happy chemical, but there is such a thing as too much, and hyperserotonemia is the opposite of fun — high fevers, hallucinations, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat, nausea and diarrhea, the whole nine yards.

More popular these days are the reuptake inhibitors. Fluoxetine (Prozac) is the most famous of these, being the first of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to make it onto the market. Fluoxetine is about a third-cousin-once-removed to diphenhydramine, which is the main ingredient in Benadryl and some varieties of Unisom, and dimenhydrinate, which is the active ingredient in the original formulation of Dramamine. This makes it a peripheral member of the class of anticholinergic antihistamines, which both explains a lot of the common side effects (drowsiness, dry mouth, inability to recall where you put your keys, a temporary case of mind-blowing stupidity) and gives it an important advantage in terms of safety. It’s possible to take enough of the stuff to give yourself heart palpitations and scary hallucionations, but the difference between the effective amount and the toxic amount is so great that it’s exceedingly difficult to poison yourself, even if you’re trying. (This is a valuable quality in any drug, but you can imagine that it’s considered particularly important when you’re handing a bottle of pills to someone who is severely depressed.) The anticholinergic antihistamines also have few if any dangerous interactions with food or other common drugs, and you would have to be a truly special kind of mutant to be allergic to a drug whose major purpose in life is to suppress allergic reactions, so they’re generally safe to give to patients who have pre-existing prescriptions that might react badly with other classes of antidepressant drugs.

The main problem with the reuptake inhibitors is that nobody has any idea how they work. At all. Though the SSRI class is the most commonly prescribed, there are other sub-classes that have since been derived from it, all of which are known to inhibit reuptake of one or more neurotransmitters — that is, the brain likes to clean up from time to time by absorbing free-floating serotonin, norepineprhine, dopamine, and others, and these drugs prevent that from happening, thus ensuring that the extras are always up for grabs by whatever neuron wants them. It’s reasonably easy to see the causal relationship between dosing someone with one of these drugs and the change in the level of free neurotransmitters in the brain, but the missing piece is why the level of those specific chemicals has anything to do with being depressed or not-depressed in the first place. Other conditions that result from a shortage of some kind of hormone or transmitter have directly observable chemical results — diabetes, for instance, is a shortage of or a lack of response to insulin, and if you examine the disease process, you can see directly that no insulin means no drawing glucose out of the bloodstream, and that the resulting overabundance of glucose in the blood directly causes all of the external symptoms.

No one has been able to find such a directly visible relationship between neurotransmitter levels. There’s not much of an indirectly visible relationship, either — a vaguely embarrassing fact which the pharmaceutical companies like to forget to mention is that there is a drug called tianeptine which functions as a selective serotonin reuptake enhancer, and has been shown to be just as effective versus depression as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in studies. Monkeying with the levels of your various brain-things sometimes helps immensely, sometimes helps only a little, and sometimes does nothing at all. Nobody knows why, and so far no one has had any success at predicting who will respond well to drug therapies and who won’t. It’s entirely possible that what we call ‘depression’ is actually a multitude of disorders that happen to have similar outward symptoms, and that only some of these have anything to do with endogenous neurotransmitter levels.

You may be detecting a theme by now, which is that new classes of antidepressants, like most other drugs, are generally discovered by sheer dumb luck. Emphasis on the ‘dumb’ part. One of the more recent series of clinical trials I’m aware of involves ketamine for treatment-resistant major depression — the only way anyone could have possibly figured that one out would have been to knock back a load of stolen horse tranquilizers in an attempt to improve their mood and subsequently discover that, in complete defiance of all common sense, it actually worked. Other, non-drug treatments for depression are sometimes also discovered this way, although an equal number are offshoots of stupifyingly weird medical fads of yesteryear. Electroconvulsive therapy, for instance, ultimately stemmed from people in the 18th century thinking that there was no such thing as an illness that couldn’t be cured by running some current through it.

 

 

 

Arabella Flynn is a writer, analyst, artist and model (under the name Circe Rowan),  who spends most of her time trying to explain people to other people. Her diploma  says ‘sociology’, but that doesn’t stop her from poking her nose into everything else.  Her blog, “Unsolicited Advice,” covers most of the miscellany. She lives in the Greater  Boston Area in a stack of books and papers, with a cage full of small rodents for  company.

 

07/22

Gaining Ground, Growing Silent

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told myself that I’m going to write a blog entry… and then I half write one, or just simply never write one at all. I find excuses – that I’m too busy, that nobody might want to read it, that it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things – but what it really came down to was being afraid and maybe also being too tired.

When attempting to summarize my thesis to other people, I try to explain that the main point my thesis is that our society has a tendency to overdiagnose mental health conditions and place the blame on the individual when really some of these conditions are a result of social influence and reinforcement. I, in particular, wrote about women trauma survivors and the high rate in which they are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder – but there are other disorders too that frequently get abused and debated… like Attention Deficit Disorder or Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The recent DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, used by clinicians to diagnose individuals) has sparked a lot of controversy over changes they implement in their newest version, with the greatest critique being that they are updating so many of these diagnosis with such vague, sweeping generalizations that these diagnoses can begin to include a much larger population under what would otherwise be considered normal responses to trauma. There is a danger when a normal response to trauma can be so severely misinterpreted that it can land a person a mental health diagnosis – and one can imagine this would influence how one thinks of one’s self, interacts with the world, and how others receive this individual. It’s also an example of social conditioning.

In my case, similar to my thesis argument, I’ve hit repeated moments of social reinforcement surrounding what it means to be a woman and have a voice, be in a workplace and have a voice, and be in a friendship and have a voice, bringing up questions that revolve around the thought “What is the strength of a voice in these environments? What are the limits to where this voice can take us in these relationships? When is it even okay to have a voice in these situations?”

As evidenced in Texas with Senator Wendy Davis, who spent 11 hours attempting to filibuster the Senate in hopes to block a bill that would eliminate 90 percent of the abortion clinics in Texas, the overwhelming effort against her seemed to say: “Shut up and sit down.”

I’ve heard a lot of “shut up and sit down,” and it’s affected me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I think one of the ways it became really noticeable to me, aside from mysterious reluctance to write blog entries whereas I used to write everyday, was the fact that I stopped taking self-portraits (and made excuses for that too).

I had a photographer once say to me that he felt that was what made the difference between simply being a model or simply being a photographer and instead being an artist. Another friend I told this to scoffed at it – but I can’t help but believe there’s a slight bit of validity to it. Who am I to turn my lens at other people if I can’t turn it on myself? Who am I to let other people take photos of me if I can’t handle taking photos of myself?

After enough of “shut up, sit down,” being told of my limitations, being told I was “reactive,” etc. I stopped wanting to vocalize or display my emotions. Having grown up in a house where vulnerability was a flaw, I slowly began locking myself up – keeping any crises I had inside me until something external flared and I imploded, learning to keep friends out of my emotional ups and downs, decreasing the amount of time I spent writing and yes, no more self-portraits. The excuses came – I’m too busy, I’m too sick, I’m unattractive, nobody wants to see/hear/talk about my emotions, I don’t know how to use the equipment, if I’m not going to use this professionally why do it at all. So on and so forth. If you let enough time pass, you’d be amazed at how many excuses you end up coming up with. Granted, there was some perceived grounding truth in all these excuses, I let them overcome me and overwhelm me out of doing the things I very much used to enjoy. I grew up reveling in my emotions, especially because the display of them seemed forbidden.

Recently, I’ve been trying to crawl back out of this cave – accepting my disabilities for what they are but trying to work past them, develop positivity but still acknowledge and appreciate negativity for when its there, work towards healthier development of time constraints (and work less hours), and find more time for fun and self – both of which are vital. Before going outwards, moving inwards with hopes of restoring the artistic and expressive side of myself, so I can ultimately give more back to the communities around me.

What artistic sides have you been neglecting? What has been difficult for you to accept? What techniques have you used to move past it? Let me know, and I’ll let you know mine! :)

Peace and love,

Victoria M.

03/24

Branding Your Life

 Those who know me know that I enjoy most types of writing – and yes, I will even enjoy editing your papers – because I’m like that. Aside from strictly academic writing (and bibliographies, oh my!), I’ve routinely had difficulty with two types of writing (three if you count the times people tell me I need to be less verbose): cover letters and bios. While I can acknowledge the importance of both, my struggle with them hits a deeper philosophical cord: how do you summarize yourself… and how do you ethically and morally justify selling your personality… and how do you sell a personality anyway and what makes one personality more valuable and interesting and worthy than another?

I’ve long known the importance of a right word, and I’ll edit an essay down to the bone just for the sake of it, if I really invest myself. For instance, when I began working in the human services field, I’d edit over my service notes/case notes several times before submitting them into the database. In the human services field, at least within one of my companies and the department responsible for funding it, it becomes important for us to use the correct type of words in order to justify funding. Certain words make my job more worthy than others, provide funding where others won’t – it’s a somewhat radical notion when you sit down with it.

Regardless, when I come to this web page and any creative work I associate myself with, I have the requirement that it keeps to the core of myself. Implementing the idea of setting up your own person as your focus of business, your creative model and your mode of enterprise, can become dangerous if only for the thought that you leave yourself open to living your life for the external audience perhaps moreso than you normally would. Life becomes reduced to buzzwords or “whether or not you would want someone to find that out about you if they googled you.” And then, furthermore, gauging our own societal approach towards the acceptance of emotions – what is the line of acceptable emotion within work, which lines of work, and how does that impact your “business.”

To be frank, I don’t totally rely upon this website and the associated persona to secure work for myself – I’m not at that point in my life – but it does give me pause to think about how “who I am” and “who I express” might be interpreted when attempting to use this as a main vehicle of business. Would you hire someone whose emotional problems you’re somewhat inadvertently aware of?  What about her past history with medications or unsavory situations? Could you convince yourself of the normalcy, enough so much as to look at that persona and acknowledge it as part of a larger body that can provide “professional” responses despite the emotional front (and since when did being “emotional” become “unprofessional” anyway)? Can we make a difference between the accepted forms of emotional versus downright unprofessional emotional?

When I bring myself to the page, how much of myself do I bring before I reach the business acceptable quota? As I compose my Master’s thesis, I found myself drawn to one major theme, which is: “Why do we regulate emotions to the point of being unprofessional, unacceptable, uncouth, and overall awkward to express? Why do we have a culture reliant upon mood regulating medications and therapists, but one that is simultaneously afraid of asking for what they want and establishing their own safety and regulation, afraid of stepping up to the line to say who they are and what they need?” The bottom line: what’s so bad with needing, wanting, and fighting against that’s so shameful we have to pack it away inside ourselves and into pill bottles and therapists rooms, rather than embracing the moment and acknowledging the humanity of emotions (and that 1 in 5 Americans are on mood-regulating medication and that therapy is a continually growing field)? Why can’t we acknowledge the validity of expression and the usefulness even upon our own health?

Notably, it has been shown that those who engage in active journal writing and expression end up being physically healthier than those who do not. And, of course, on the flipside, a lack of expression (expressing) results in more sickness. Through numerous studies in narrative therapy, James Pennebaker nails this concept down: creative/written expression is vital to our health (we need to communicate our wants, needs, or experiences, or else our body becomes more susceptible to sickness). 

This idea is not something most people are aware of, and I find that sometimes people purposely try to stay unaware of it – akin to how I try to find excuses to not go to the gym (even though my body appreciates it). Change is scary. Health requires a lot of effort. Emotions can only be so scripted before they become individualized, and no amount of planning can fully compartmentalize our emotions (if you don’t say them, your body will talk for you, so to speak).

So, as I sit here blogging about my emotions, dysfunction, psychology – where do I cross the line? Is it professional to establish a discourse around emotions and personal strife, or does it ruin my professional integrity? Notably, I’m not an advice columnist – rather, I’m an experientialist who just cares to share. And currently, this experientialist is experiencing a lot of physical pain and emotional conflicts, but is moreso concerned that we’re so insecure about our own emotional displays that we grow afraid to admit our flaws and needs, so much so that I can’t even count how many memoirs/articles I’ve read written by bipolar authors who had successful careers and were simultaneously petrified at the idea of them being bipolar ever becoming evident at their workspace. (such as Terri Cheney and Kay Redfield Jamison). It scares me that we’ve restricted our personas so far that we’re afraid of admitting the core of who we are.

And while I wouldn’t encourage people to dump their problems on their clients, I would encourage authenticity and honesty, something I view as a step towards better health and overall better interpersonal relationships. Some of the most successful client relationships I had were ones that mixed very strong boundaries on the roles of our relationship with each other, while simultaneously acknowledging each person’s shortcomings, struggles, and desires, setting a space for us to experience a range of emotions safely, accepted.

What does a safe space look like to you? What are your hopes and dreams? Who are you at your core and how can you integrate that into your life without restriction? How do you express yourself (can you remember how to express yourself) and are you willing to try doing that regularly? How do you let emotions into your life so that you no longer have to carry the sickness of secrecy? Where do you find your release? 

These are questions I carry with me and would encourage others to carry with them. I write about my emotions, personal struggles, and trials and errors on this blog specifically for the reasons above.  I also write about it because I strongly believe I have a lot of peers that are out there, holding back but leaning forward, looking for answers –and mostly, I don’t want to be just a label: the whole point of this website is largely to break this idea we have that one should just be a photographer or just be a model or just be a business person or just be a writer or a graduate student or… but never all at once, and I want to value the “all at once” because I intend to live it.

Hi, my name is Victoria Meredythe, and I’m an experientialist: I want to express, to live, to help, to share, to talk, to open up, and to move forward, and I hope that you will take that journey with me.

 

12/30

Realism and Passions

Realism and Passions 

Fear is a closed energy, referred to as inverted faith. Fear exists when we do not trust our connection to the infinite part of who we are and buy into a story about what’s unfolding in our life. – Nicolas Perrin, Tiny Buddha (http://tinybuddha.com/blog/6-steps-to-release-your-fear-and-feel-peaceful/).

“I’m a realist,” I say – it’s one of those sound byte words people throw around that almost become meaningless, easy to shuffle in amongst “pessimist and optimist,” easy to weigh down and make concrete, and can ultimately mean nothing. I’m not the only one who says it, and the meaning seems very straightforward – pessimist meaning one who views the world in a negative bent, optimist meaning one who sees the world positively, and the realist left to see things “as they are.” Realism can be a dangerous school of thought. The majority of what made me a realist was living a little too hard on both other ends simultaneously – predicting the worst but truly hoping for the best. After enough scenarios, I became a realist, meaning that for the best and worst, I stopped seeing things for their potential or their downfalls, compounding both to equal something hard and flat, something you could grip onto.

That’s the sort of impression you get when somebody calls themselves a realist, isn’t it? Realism implies that their thoughts are reality-based and reality-focused and ergo, inherently factually based and proven true. Aside from all of this standing in stark contrast to the emotionally driven, passionate, intense everything is relative character I can be, it stands to imply that realism and those who state they are a realist have the most accurate assessment of the situation, which is naturally dangerous. I would argue that the most we can ever do is assess our own identity and reality, but in having enough retrospective conversations with myself, I can tell you that even my former selves were not very realistic or factual in their representations despite their best intents.  What scares me most about getting into the realist mode is where it brought me now.

In believing the worst but truly hoping for the best, I put myself in the tenuous and anxiety producing situation of admitting that I truly did not know what to believe, acknowledging that my experience brought me to believe that the worst would indeed happen, while also acknowledging the idealist in me that greatly and desperately believed I could be much more than a sum of my experiences and surely something would deviate from the very cyclical nature of my life. The more the experiences disappointed me, the more distant the people were, the worse the traumas were, the more isolated I became from everything that helped me be an idealist, things of which were very grounded in fact.

This is the way the world ends.

Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

It’s hard to believe in anything, let alone yourself, if you’re relying on the concreteness of your being, a being which, when infiltrated with trauma, has already become fragmented. This fragmentation becomes based on fear, the longing for something visible and tangible and “factual,” seeking a reality that does not deviate from emotions swaying between extremes. The desire to not be something so extreme. The inability to waver from the disconnection of realism.

The fact is that realism limited me, and still limits me – a mindset that is difficult to break. In all my disappointment situations and trauma collapses, I began to accept that the things I longed for would not be granted to me, and frequently the things I longed for were tangible examples of love, friendship, artistic success, and positive relationships. Buried beneath the expectations and the failure to meet them, I lost the layers of myself: I became more insecure, hiding behind “the way things are,” accepting that I will be placed in negative situations despite best intentions. My creativity slipped away slowly, but effectively, and realism put me in a state that creation and inspiration could not touch and struggled to reach out from.

Currently, I still struggle to work to form positive relationships, to breathe outside the ideas of realism, to accept creativity and return to artistic works unfinished, to hope and aspire to something better, to become something better, to become vulnerable and open and accept that it’s okay, to learn the way out of the broken expectations that have dominated my life.

And thus, “The first problem for all of us men and women is not to learn, but to unlearn.” – Gloria Steinem.

About Victoria

Victoria Meredythe: a lifelong learner of internal communication, seeking to externally live the life her intuition has been trying to tell her about… for years. More about me
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