Revisiting Stories: Bitterblue

From my past experiences of reading books and watching movies, I know that I tend to intensely identify with one or two of the characters. Sometimes I think about how they would behave in my life situations and how I would in theirs. I don’t think this habit is all that uncommon, but if you want to read up more on it, see exhibits A and B.

This post, in contrast to the thousands of reviews on Kristen Cashore’s Bitterblue novel, explores the connection I developed while reading this book a few years ago and my recent re-reading to explore why it affected me so strongly. Rather than focus on the plot, I’m focusing more on the points of personal connection as a bit of a psychological exercise.

Slight Spoilers Ahead!
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Tarot and Engaging Magical Thinking

I may be a science student, but every once in a while I find myself itching to do a tarot card reading. I’m sure my colleagues would consider this habit highly irrational, but I find some value in it, though maybe not for the same reasons other readers draw them.

I was introduced to tarot by my stepmother, a very wise, fiercely intelligent lady who’s absolutely brilliant at card readings. I attribute most of her skill to her ability to read people quickly and accurately (by their words, actions, body language). I think she also deduces their current or past problems as well as ways to improve their lives prior to and during the reading. As I understand it, the cards are a means to draw attention to these elements, discuss them, and give advice without appearing too much like Sherlock.

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Emulated darkness

There it is. That disquieting feeling in my gut when I look in the mirror and brush my hair. That feeling when I mix up my words or drive improperly. That feeling, worst of all, when simply getting out of bed or starting even a small task is all but impossible, and my routes of escape seem so clear and easy.

The feeling that I am no better than the worst traits of my parents, that I am doomed to repeat the habits (depression, addiction, etc.) that have brought my family nothing but suffering. And even though I know this feeling is a mental distortion, it sits with me heavily until I push past it.

A curious fear, isn’t it? That I am afraid of emulating the traits I dislike (and sometimes despise) about my parents? It must be an outcome of some sort from distorted thinking, that my thoughts emphasize the bad and forget the good. (Like the fact that after they separated, they both found love and community in different ways, and that my father discovered a whole new life for himself through his work.)

I grew up watching bad habits play out in others’ lives and witnessed their resulting consequences. I was afraid that I would become the same and found ways to run from it, inadvertently emulating what I feared. I’m not proud of the all of the time I’ve wasted by doing this or of the tasks that went neglected. I’m not proud of the fact that I could give my best work more often, or of the anxiety that I’ve fostered to the point that I’ve stunted my ability to form emotional, trust-based relationships. I am afraid of having another nervous breakdown, another panic attack, another falling domino towards spiraling out of control. Most of all, I am afraid of driving my friends and loved ones further away from me.

What keeps me going is the knowledge that I can and will get through this irrational and disordered thinking, that I am most certainly NOT the worst of my parents, and that I can improve one moment at a time. As past experience has shown me, whatever problem I have at a given moment is rarely as bad or as hard as it seems.

At any moment, I can turn off the Internet, set aside my food, stop, and breathe for a bit. Return to my own skin for a bit, remember who Cinnia is, and get moving again.

Once I start up my momentum, I feel almost unstoppable. I get away from those dark thoughts and unhealthy habits and feel so incredibly like my best self that it’s hard to believe that this other person lived inside me for awhile and was so unhappy.

I’m not sure there’s any trick or anything to preventing the fear (and habits) from ever returning, but recognizing its source, flaws, and countermeasures is incredibly powerful for me.

Dear brain, go to sleep.

I am a chronic insomniac. I’ve had trouble falling asleep as long as I can remember, with the exception of nights when I’m so exhausted that I pretty much pass out.

Recently I’ve started noticing this trend:

  1. Wake up feeling a little depressed, listless. Maybe even anxious or sad for no apparent reason.
  2. Go through day as usual. Feels like swimming through molasses. Everything is slower and harder to accomplish. I usually don’t accomplish very much on these days.
  3. At night, have trouble falling asleep:
    • If I’m self-aware, I force myself to write or read a book and shut down all technology until I fall asleep around 11 PM.
    • If I’m not self-aware or avoiding some sort of problem or trying to block out some anxious feeling, I stay on the Internet or some other task until I crash around 1-2 AM. And I can’t seem to force myself off the Internet until my eyes physically refuse to stay open.
  4. Wake up the next morning feeling significantly more cheery and energized:
    • If it was a “good night”, I feel much better and get a lot of stuff done and feel genuinely optimistic about my day.
    • If it was a “bad night”, I still get a lot of stuff done, but the quality of the work is lacking, I feel anxious and stressed out, and I tend to crash and go to sleep much earlier in the night (10-10:30 PM).
  5. Repeat for at least once every week or so.

And there is significant psychiatric data ([1], [2], [3]) to support the idea that insomnia and sleep disturbances are associated with (bingo!) depression and anxiety.

It’s simple: Control the sleep habits, get a mood boost.
It’s also complicated: Controlling the sleep habits means managing my Internet addiction by developing completely new, self-aware habits. Easier said than done!

My goal for the next while is to break the nighttime habits that keep me awake while in a bad head-space. If I feel moody, I have to force myself to get some sleep, because I know I’ll feel so much better the next day. And that means giving up the news, Reddit, YouTube, and tumblr for  a significant amount of time… (*sigh*)

At least I still have you, WP.

Notes: “Late Night” by Jani Ravas