Best things of 2016

Tonight starts the final countdown to this long and complex and difficult year, but instead of adding to the general negativity, I thought I’d reflect on the good things that have happened to me.

I don’t intend to diminish the bad things that have happened to people, but I do want to ring in 2017 by celebrating what made this past year a little brighter. If you have something of your own to celebrate or if you want someone to talk to about 2016, feel free to leave a comment below.

  1. I got into my professional program of choice. This was by far the greatest thing that has happened to me in a long time because it meant the years of work and choices all the way back to when I was a wee one finally meant something tangible. I still have a long way to go before I start, but I am so happy that I can pursue a career I love.
  2. My family got a puppy! (Picture included below as a gift to my followers.) It was exhausting at first since she was much like a needy newborn for a month or so, but she’s been the light of all of our lives since then. I can’t imagine my family without her anymore; she is a blessing and a joy.
  3. I started reading more books again. Maybe that would sound strange to some people who know me as an insatiable bookworm, but I stopped really reading books, even those useful for classes, for about a year and a half or so. I read maybe one or two at most during that time when normally I’d read at least one a week. Something clicked this past summer and I started to read books for fun instead of viewing them as a chore or something not worth the time investment. I’ve enjoyed so many books since then. It’s made me a better reader, writer, and thinker these past few months.
  4. I finally sought out a therapist when I really needed help instead of pretending I could continue to fight on my own. Without going into too many details, having a therapist has helped me because I had an objective outsider advising me on my behaviors and mental health. It made all the difference for my motivation. (It also helped me to see that I am very much an unreliable narrator of my own life, something I will try to work on in the future.)
  5. Through a combination of seeking out support groups and different communities, I have realized and accepted some important things about myself and others. I enjoyed the countless stories, the great entertainment, developing friendships, attending events, and feeling more comfortable in my own skin.

As for 2017, I intend to keep working on myself and to try to be a source of support and lightness in others’ lives. I want to be more comfortable with both accepting and giving. I want to read more books, listen to great music, rock the dance floor, walk the dog, and enter my career program with a spectacular start.

I wish all of you strength, happiness, and good health in 2017 as well.

puppy_may2016

Continue reading

Advertisements

Thoughts on Skating and Failure

I grew up in the Southwest, so ice skating is still a bit of a novelty for me. Out there, you could rollerblade or skateboard, but winter sports were out of the question unless you had enough money to travel.

On the other hand, I’ve always had a soft spot for winter sports, dating all the way back to when I first tuned into the Winter Olympics on our family’s fuzzy television (Salt Lake City, 2002).

It wasn’t until I got the chance to try winter sports for myself that I realized how strongly I loved it. I love feeling the cold chill in the air and being bundled up against it in a much-too-bright athletic jacket and gloves. I love that feeling of my feet flying beneath me across the ice or the snow. I love arriving indoors, breathless and rosy-cheeked, and brewing a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa after a long workout. I’m not great, but I look forward to all of my little wintertime adventures as the days grow colder.

Continue reading

I’ve recharged

Without really thinking about it, I’ve taken yet another long break from blogging. Two full months, to be exact. I’ve never been good about blogging regularly, but I’d hoped the summer would have made it easier to write more often. That didn’t happen.

I could excuse it on account of career/future planning demands (true). I could try to excuse it on a lot of family matters and shifting dynamics that have come up (also true).

But I know I could have made time for it, just like I’ve made time for other things in the past two months. I really just didn’t feel like blogging for a while; I didn’t feel like publicizing my thoughts/experiences on the Internet. I held them close in my journals instead.

Maybe it’s because (hormonal or stress-related or otherwise), my thoughts/words took a dark turn in June/early July and I wanted to wait until I was okay again. I felt like my writing (essay, fiction, or research) was a lie. False, broken, nothing. I felt like a fraud. Like I had all these hopes and dreams and others hoped and dreamed for me too and I was going to let them all down horribly. I was cranky and rude and cried myself to sleep for over a good week when it got really bad.

I’m still not sure how got the strength to I pull myself out of the rut, but here I am, blogging again with my usual rambling and insertion of personal details that are maybe a bit much.

One thing I did do is recharge. The last few months (and year, really) have been stressful and emotionally draining for an idealistic dreamer like me and I haven’t been practical enough to let some of the burdens go or make real progress in talking them out with others. It’s been too tempting to escape instead, but fortunately I’ve had time to turn some of those escapes into chances to recharge.

So, I’ve done things I haven’t been able to do in a long time. I’ve hiked. I’ve slept in. I’ve woken up early. I’ve eaten healthy food and junk food and experimented with recipes. I’ve paid for a ridiculous amount of Kindle e-books and finished two book series within days of each other. I’ve updated my library account and avoided reading too many current events or negative websites. I’ve reached out to old friends and new friends. I’ve visited a place where my career could take me and loved the experience. I’ve tried not to stress to much about my future or how difficult it is to articulate what I want in 4500 characters or less. I’m starting to think about being kinder and practicing more self-care and including more socialization—even dating—in that category of self-care (something that used to terrify me).

So even though the summer has mostly gone by without my blogging input and I’m not sure if I’m able to keep it up on top of everything else without sacrificing bigger priorities, I’m glad to be back on my feet, more or less, and I’m grateful that I had a chance to at least talk about it here.

I hope all of you are doing well, but know some of you might also be struggling to stay afloat. If you need to talk to someone about it, I’m happy to listen. Best of luck to all of you today with your current problems, your hopes, and your pursuit of dreams and futures and happiness.

– Cinnia

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.

Continue reading

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

 

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

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?