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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Feeling Better

I feel better today. It hasn’t been a perfect day, but I’m in a much better place than where I was a few months ago. And as much as I’d like to say it’s due to something badass like demon-slaying, it comes much more from demon-befriending.

I’m in a point in my life where I’m dealing with a lot of stress (level: severe) and my anxiety hasn’t been the best for managing it, although it does help me get the work done and the bills paid. The mild-to-moderate depression flares up every once in a while (usually because of adjustment disorder), but eventually dissipates once I look around at myself and start to get my shit together.

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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.

Podcast Favorites 2015

I listened to a lot of podcasts this year. I never really though of myself as a podcast person, but after I tried out a few of them, I fell in love with the format. I could listen to a podcast while cleaning or cooking or while doing mostly mindless computer tasks (like formatting). They kept me awake through the work and I rarely got distracted. As bonus points, I could even use them to study, since certain universities offer podcast versions of their open source courses.

(I’ve even found myself listening to the rhythm and timbre of people’s voices and thinking, “They would make awesome podcast hosts.”)

Which podcasts? Here’s a handy list:

  1. Welcome to Night Vale: A quirky, highly entertaining horror comedy with a touch of modern romance. I personally love how it celebrates the weird and wonderful in every episode. (New one today!)
  2. RadioLab: Produced by WNYC, this show is like a series of mini-documentaries about scientific and philosophical concepts. I love the sounds — music and thematic — that accentuate every episode.
  3. Nocturne: Vanessa Lowe’s show is still in its infancy, but it’s well-produced and explores the intersection of people and the late night/early hours of each day. As a combination night owl and lark, I find the premise of the show extremely fascinating.
  4. Hardcore History: Dan Carlin is a great storyteller and even better historian. He offers free shows on iTunes, but after you binge-listen to all of them (ahem, not naming any names here), you’ll have to pay if you want to listen to his past shows.
  5. StarTalk: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast is very entertaining, as long as you don’t mind the commercials interspacing the material. He covers primarily scientific concepts related to astronomy and so on, but he also gets into pop culture as well.
  6. The Tim Ferris Show: For the business-inclined listener, Tim Ferris covers a lot of material on modern business basics for entrepreneurs and frequently interviews entrepreneurial people on how they became successful.

Happy listening!

– Cinnia

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

 

Strength and Darkness

Long post today. Tl;dr at the bottom.

It’s really hard for me to be honest with myself sometimes. I avoid acknowledging the core issues of my problems because I am afraid they will be too hard to confront. Or I am afraid people will think less of me for them.

And yes, I know there are people who care about me, who would love me regardless of my problems. I know there are people who can help.

And yet… That old, draining, cold voice in my head says I should keep my problems to myself. That I should ignore them as much as possible, and not impose my problems on others. That other people already have too many other things on their plate and that I should be strong enough to handle it on my own.

I know I’ve had depression for years, but I’ve only skimmed the surface of confronting it, of targeting the disease. Instead, I’ve focused on managing its many symptoms: eating disorders, anxiety, lethargy, anger, escapism, etc. etc.

Is it any wonder that the same symptoms keep resurfacing?

I finally was brave enough to read the health literature on what I should do. I’m a fucking scientist; I should have done this ages ago, but then again… Confrontation.

And one of the major things that stuck out to me (besides the things I’d already realized I’d been trying, such as endorphin boosts by exercise, keeping myself busy, and attending to my social skills) was the need for patients to have a gatekeeper of sorts. People who are aware of the problem, who can act as a sounding board on both the bad days and the good ones.

I haven’t been brave enough to triangle my family into this and I’ve lost a sense of closeness with my friends over the past years as I’ve continued to retreat inside my own head rather than accept the problem for what it is. It is a problem and it is serious and very much like a disease. I know that and I will work on improving my relationships and being brave enough to voice my own problems. God knows I don’t want it to get worse; I have been blessed with many gifts and I don’t want them continuously wasted like this.

But the first step, I thought about was to voice it on my blog. In my journal, my words may not be read by someone who can see the problem for what it is. And I’ve never really been brave enough to confess my problems outside of the therapy sessions I’ve been in. My “everything’s alright” facade that I like to project isn’t really me… It’s my wall, my barrier that I think is protecting me even when it isn’t. In some ways, I think my other blog comes from the “true me” better, despite it consisting of fiction.

But I have depression and here I am on this blog, letting it sink in. And I think that if I am strong enough to say it even anonymously, I will become strong enough to say it to the people I love.

Sorry if this seems like a lot of rambling. I will try to be more coherent in future posts. Today, though, I just wanted to get this out there, make it irrevocably exist somewhere before I decide to delete it, erase it, or pretend it never happened.

To the kind people who will recommend therapy, anti-depressants, or similar treatments, I thank you for your concern and I have considered (and even tried) them before. I am safe and not considering self-harm. As someone with more intimate knowledge than usual of health care and depression, I am aware of clinical treatments and of all of my options with which to access them. But for the purposes of my blog, I would like to focus on the life, rather than clinical aspects of treating the disease here. I will mention the clinical part if needed, but it’s not my primary reason for writing.

Thank you to my kind readers and I hope you have a lovely and safe holiday weekend.

Tl;dr: I have depression, but haven’t been brave enough to confess it to others before now. I am confronting it from a combination of science and other approaches. I am safe. More on it later.

Notes: Image by Biswarup Ganguly

“Work” – Kahlil Gibran

Work_Kahlil Gibran_640x800

“Work is love made visible…
For if you bake bread with indifference,
You bake a bitter bread
that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes,
Your grudge distills a poison
in the wine.
And if you sing as though angels,
and love not the singing,
You muffle man’s ears
to the voices of the day
and the voices of the night.”

From The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

What makes me happier?

Some of the answers to this prompt were easy, but some were a little trickier. In retrospect, I’m a lot more home-oriented than I thought. Here ’tis:

1. Spending time with my family

We’ve been through many hardships but also many wonderful experiences together. Those connections keep us close, even though we aren’t all blood family. But we talk, work, argue and play like we’ve known each other for decades; we look out for each other. My family members are my strongest supporters, and I am both honored and grateful that they offer it to me, despite all my flaws.

2. Listening to my favorite songs 

I keep a playlist on my phone of my favorite music, a mixed bag of all styles with great strings, drums, and rhythm. When I’m having a bad day and feeling really stuck inside my own head, I turn on my music and let it work its magic. My attitude usually improves significantly within a half-hour or so.

3. Cooking

This is especially effective when I’m in the process of creating a new recipe. This can make my emotions make a complete 180, as my family has observed over the years. I often come home upset or angry or stressed out, but if I spend the next hour and a half cooking, I can even get into a good mood. (It shocks anyone who observes this in action, so I guess my mood swings are more apparent to others than they are to me?)

4. Spending time with animals

I like all animals with the exception of arachnids (though that’s not their fault). I grew up with dogs and love to see how excited they get about the simple things like walks and food. Cats are lovely and fierce, and both dogs and cats can sense human moods, including bad ones. Domestic animals like cats and dogs can also be surprisingly empathetic and comforting. As for non-domesticated animals, I get a mood boost by observing them on hikes, listening to bird calls and occasionally spotting deer or the sudden orange flash of a fox. There’s that sudden reminder there that, hey, I’m a part of nature, too.

5. Well-written stories

Although I mostly mean this in terms of books, this also applies to the stories I see in shows or movies. My favorite stories change me in some way after I’ve read them. Initially, after a good story ends, I feel emptier with out it and a little lost. But as I notice the changes, I notice the marks that the story has left on me, the ways I feel more human or more educated or more empathetic towards others. (In my opinion, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief best describes this transient quality of storytelling.)

What makes you happier?