Tag Archives: mental health

Anxiety and Never-Not

8 Jun

I have never not been a worrier.

I can’t remember a time when the unappeasable spectre of What If wasn’t buried somewhere deep in my brain. It’s been there since before I can remember; certainly before I had any real names for it. Before I had words like anxiety or apprehension or intrusive thoughts, it was there, shivering and electric.

I say never not instead of always, because the former implies the possibility of an absence.

As a kid, I was obsessed with the binary of good/bad. There were good kids, like Heather, who smiled and ate everything on her plate and did whatever she told and never seemed to feel squinched up and mean inside. Then there were kids like Jay, who used art time exclusively to draw pictures of penises urinating some kind of black tar-like substance. It seemed pretty clear to me early on which side of the line I was on: I struggled to behave and do what was expected of me, and also I thought Jay’s dick pics were hilarious. I didn’t want to be a bad kid, but it seemed like I didn’t have a choice; it was a sort of malignancy that grew and grew in me, no matter what I did. I tried not to talk too much or interrupt or fidget, but my efforts lasted an hour or two at most. And meanwhile Heather smiled serenely, secure in the knowledge that she would never feel the impulse to scrawl a pair of hairy testicles across a pink sheet of construction paper.

I wish I could say I accepted my badness with glee, but I didn’t. Instead, I thought about how all of my teachers must hate me. Sometimes it was all I could think about, although that didn’t stop me from doing bad things.

I stopped sleeping the summer I turned seven, because I was sure that I would die in my sleep. I became obsessed with the idea that I might stop breathing and, if I wasn’t awake, wouldn’t be able to think myself into taking a breath again. How was I supposed to trust my fluttering, fragile body to take care of itself through the long, black hours of sleep? I remember the nights stretching out lonely and miserable in front of me and wishing so hard that I could just be unconscious. I didn’t want to play. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t even want to watch TV. I just wanted to not think about dying every time I closed my eyes. I thought up funny ways to try to alleviate my anxiety – like holding my breath until I passed out (which didn’t work), or sleeping in the hallway so that if I did stop breathing one of my parents could find me and quickly resuscitate me (this just meant that I got tripped over a lot). Nothing worked.

And then one day the fear went away as easily as it had come.

I used to love the high that worrying gave me – the hours before a test or a recital when I would ride the wave of glittering panic, my fingers and toes tingling with anticipating. Then I would feel the heavy needle of my anxiety shift into its groove as I sat down at my desk or stepped out onto the stage, and with my adrenaline-flushed cheeks I would outshine everyone else. Worrying made me a superbly good performer. Afterwards I would crash, hard. There was never a moment of triumph, no feeling of success – only a weepy, high-strung post-performance haze.

When I was older, I started making up rituals – they were for “good luck” I said, although what I really meant was that if I didn’t do them I would have bad luck. One of them involved spelling out a series of words in sign language; I would do this either behind my back or next to my thigh whenever I thought about it, which was often. Another had something to do with running from the fridge to the dining room table and back again before the fridge door closed – if I was able to do this even just once while setting the table, then none of the things I worried about would happen. I fully gave myself over to magical thinking, because even thought I knew logically that doing these things wouldn’t change my luck, I couldn’t stop the What If machine in my head. I still can’t stop it – it’s whirring and buzzing in my head as I type this, speeding up my clunking thoughts just as I should be settling down for the night.

I wish I could tell you that there’s an end to anxiety. I wish I could say that I took a pill or discovered the healing power of long walks or learned transcendental meditation, but none of that would be true. Every day this awful beast scoops me up in its huge maw and shakes me until my bones clink together. Some days I can outrun him for longer than others, but there’s never a time when he doesn’t catch me.

I am still an excellent performer, and I still crash and cry afterwards. I jitter and skitter through my days, gritting my teeth through the intrusive thoughts until I can drug myself to sleep at night. By now, this is the only way I know how to manage things; it’s a system of sorts. although it doesn’t offer much relief.

I can’t say what my life would look like without anxiety, but I know that even with it, I’ve managed to create something good. That might sound absurdly hopeful, but I can’t help it. The only way to live with it is to be absurd about it, even in the face of all the known facts. So I pace and cry and don’t sleep and drag myself to therapy and take my pills and believe so hard in never-not instead of always. The idea that this jolting misery could be here forever is unbearable, so I stick with never not when I can.

I have never not lived like this.

But I could someday.

Maybe.

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Suicidal Student Kicked Out Of Dorm Because He Might Negatively Impact Other Students

10 Feb

TW: talk of suicide

Imagine this: a student living in a university residence contacts his Residence Life don. He has fallen and injured himself, and there is blood everywhere. He is afraid he might die. He needs help.

Surely in this scenario the don would seek immediate assistance for the student. They would bring him to a clinic or perhaps a hospital. Once the student had recovered, they would welcome him back to residence – maybe even put up a banner or throw a little party.

Certainly the student would not be asked to leave the residence.

Yet recently when a similar situation happened at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, the student in question, Blake Robert, was told to pack his bags and get out.

The difference is that in the real-life version of this story, Robert wasn’t physically sick or injured. Instead, he was depressed and struggling with suicidal ideation. After reaching out to his Residence Life don, Robert was told that he could no longer remain in student housing because he was “a threat” to other students. He was told that if he were to die on campus, it would have a “negative impact on the psychological well-being of other students in residence.”

As he put it so succinctly in his article for Acadia’s student newspaper, Robert was basically being told to go die somewhere else.

Normally I don’t like to compare physical ailments with mental health issues, mostly because I feel like doing so often validates the exact position that it’s trying to deconstruct – namely, that we still live in a society that considers physical injuries or illnesses to somehow be more real and more worthy of time and attention than mental illness. I don’t want people to accept my mental health struggles because they’re pretending it’s the same as me having diabetes – I want folks to accept that I’m struggling with something that is scary and occasionally makes me want to die and is in fact nothing like diabetes. However, in this case I think examining an institution’s reaction to a mental health crisis versus how it would likely react to a different type of health crisis is fair; doing so shows the clear stigma and lack of understanding that still persist when it comes to mental illness.

The bald facts are that had Robert contacted his Residence Life don about a broken leg or the stomach flu or a bout of pneumonia, he would have been given prompt medical attention and no one would have breathed a word about him leaving student housing. Instead, the don spoke to him in person, set up an appointment for him with student counselling, and then two days later was part of a team of people telling Robert that he needed to leave because he wasn’t “safe” in residence. Apparently the best way to ensure someone’s safety is to remove them from their support network without any plan or offers of assistance. No wonder Robert felt as if he was being sent off campus to die; he was basically being told that the university wanted him to go to a place where he was no longer their problem.

At no point did anyone take Robert to the university health clinic or the hospital.

At no point was he given the chance to advocate for himself.

Instead, Robert was subjected to a disciplinary meeting where he was told that he might perhaps be allowed back into residence in September, if he was healthy enough. He was told that the Residence Life manager’s word was final; there was no chance for appeal. The Residence Life manager said to Robert that Residence Life dons are essentially like “landlords” and can’t be expected to care for students with mental health issues. Of course, this completely ignores the fact that an actual landlord wouldn’t be able to evict a tenant because of mental illness.

Says Robert:

“… Had I actually broken clearly expressed rules, or otherwise willingly threatened the safety of other students, I would have been afforded due process through Non-Academic Judicial, perhaps involving the RCMP. But suffering from a life-threatening mental illness is apparently seen as such an egregious crime and so dangerous that Student Services’ executive director, in charge of counselling, accessibility services, Residence Life, etc., found it acceptable that I was promptly ejected from campus without warning.

Just let that sink in – a student accused of committing a crime would likely have found themselves in a safer position than Robert did.

A student with pretty much any type of physical illness would have been offered some kind of care.

Instead, Robert was treated as if he was worse than a criminal.

Imagine being in a place that is so dark and frightening that you are sure the only way out is to die. Imagine being in that place and allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share how you feel with someone else. Now imagine that this person’s response is to tell you to get the hell out before you scare anyone. Imagine that, unlike Robert, you don’t have parents who live less than an hour away and can come pick you up. Where do you go? What do you do? And more to the point how is any of this supposed to alleviate what you’re feeling?

Sadly, Robert’s case is not uncommon – a similar story came out of Yale last year, and the psychiatrist Robert later saw at a local hospital said that universities often deal with suicidal students in this way. This is the lived reality for people living with mental illness – you’re sick, you’re so fucking sick that you might die, but don’t you dare tell anyone about it. Even the people who are supposed to help you are just as likely to hurt you.

I am so angry right now. I am angry and sad that this shit is still happening and huge institutions like universities are getting away with it.

This is why people don’t disclose mental illness. This is why people don’t ask for help. This is why people suffer and sometimes die without ever saying a word. This. This. This.

Where the hell are Bell Let’s Talk and “end the stigma” all that other feel-good bullshit when stuff like this happens?

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Resolutions for a (Mentally) Healthier New Year

2 Jan

TW: talk of suicide, body size, dieting

It’s the beginning of a new year, which means that I’ve been seeing lots of posts on social media about resolutions for 2015 and, as always, one of the dominant themes is health. I’ve seen a lot of promises to bike to work, to eat healthier, to get a gym membership, and so on and so forth. I used to make resolutions like these, although mine were almost always unhealthy and centred around weight loss. I would frame them as “feeling better in my body,” but really what I meant was, “exercise and withhold foods I love until my body is a size that makes me feel good about myself.” Turns out that magical just-beyond-the-horizon body size doesn’t actually exist, and the methods I used to try to get there were dangerous, unsustainable, and made me feel like garbage.

I’m not saying that making resolutions about your own body is wrong; I’m just saying that they aren’t positive for me, personally. So this year instead of having goals for my physical health, I’m going to make goals for my mental health. After all, that aspect of my well-being needs more attention these days than my body itself; I’m also hoping that focussing more on my mental state will help me to be kinder to my body. Hopefully it’ll be a win for all the players of Team Thériault!

So here are my resolutions for 2015:

1. Take my medication every day, no excuses

I take what sometimes seems like a lot of meds – prescription iron pills for my buzz-kill anemia, Zoloft for anxiety, a tiny dose of Seroquel as an adjunct mood booster and Imovane, the tiny blue angel that floats me off to dream country every night. Now, naturally I’m GREAT at remembering to take my sleepy time pills at the end of the day because a) they make me feel good and b) I’m a hot insomniac mess without them. I’m less amazing when it comes to consistently taking the rest of my drugs. I really have no excuse NOT to be amazing about the Zoloft and the iron pills, because I own at least two fancy pill boxes: an elegant-lady-who-takes-Xanax-with-her-tea style box from my friend Audra, and a box with a Russian cosmonaut theme from my friend CJ. In 2015, I will travel with these boxes fully stocked at all times. I will also remember to use my full spectrum lamp every day – again, I have no good excuse not to use it, since I can set it up anywhere and get some work done while it beams sunshine deep into my cold, briny soul.

2. Be more consistent about therapy

I mean, I always go to my therapist’s office, but I don’t always go to therapy, if that makes sense. I phone it in a lot of the time – as someone who can talk forever about the most unimportant subjects, I’m really good at making my therapy sessions all filler and no killer, and often when we start to edge into scary feelings territory, I bail hard. This makes me feel like I’m doing this tepid sort of I’m-working-through-my-stuff-but-not-really dance, one where I spend more time balking and shying away than actually confronting my shit. This year I want to learn to how to better work through the balking so that I can get to the stuff that matters.

3. Check in more often with the people I love (and who love me)

I need to be better about checking with my friends and family – even if it’s just sending little text messages telling them that I love them and value them. When things start to go sideways mental health-wise, one of the first things I do is sequester myself from the people around me, which of course only amplifies the misery I’m feeling. It’s a vicious cycle – I feel awful and think I’m a terrible person, and I don’t want to subject others to my terribleness so I stop talking to them, and then this social isolation just confirms everything bad I believe about myself. This year I’m going to make more of a conscious effort to check in with the people I care about, both because it will make me a more awesome friend and also because it’s a healthier way for me to be.

4. Ask for help when I need it

Whenever my depression is bad, and especially once i’ve hit the slippery slope of suicidal ideation, I get to a place where I just can’t do it on my own anymore. Which is a very human thing, because humans are social creatures, and there’s a reason cave men lived in packs or whatever – we’ve evolved to need each other and rely on each other. The problem is that I really, really hate asking for help – not because I’m a noble solitary warrior or anything like that, but because I’m afraid that no one will care enough about me to help, or else that I’ll be taking advantage of my friends, or, worst of all, that people will help and I’ll still feel just as bad as ever. I know that none of it is rational, but when I get to a state of bone-gnawing sadness all reason goes out the window. Which is why I need to make plans and change my behaviour now, while I’m feeling relatively stable, instead of waiting until things are the Absolute Worst before trying to fix my life.

One thing on this front that I’ve found really useful has been asking for specific types of help – help with childcare, help with cleaning, help with food preparation, or even just help in the form of pep talks or hugs to keep me going when the going gets tough. I’ve also learned that it helps to be clear about what I want/need when I’m feeling down about something – sometimes I’m not in a place to process advice, and clarifying for my friends that I’m looking for comfort and commiseration only means that we all avoid frustrating interactions.

5. Learn to say no

See also: learn to budget my time better, learn to better estimate how long a given task will take, learn to set firm interpersonal and professional boundaries, and learn not to take on every writing gig that comes my way.

I seem to have this weird belief that Corey Mason‘s dad was right and there are, in fact, 24 usable hours in ever day (even though when Corey tried to follow this advice she wound up becoming a speed addict, but I digress), so I stupidly keep adding stuff to my calendar until I barely have time to breathe. I think I’m worried that if I start turning down opportunities, then no one will ever ask me to do anything ever again, but that’s just not true. I’m going to practice saying no in the politest, firmest, most I’m-incredibly-flattered-you-asked-me-but-I’m-super-busy, let’s-do-this-another-month-instead-of-tomorrow sort of way.

In a similar vein, I’m going to try to only take on paid writing gigs this year. I’m not going to write for “exposure” anymore, and if I do something for free it will be because it’s a cause I believe in, and to which I really want to lend my voice. My time is valuable, my thoughts are valuable, and my landlord won’t accept “exposure” in lieu of a rent cheque.

6. Be more consistent about applying skills I learned in cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy was the SHIT. I took away more concrete skills from the handful of months I spent in the CBT program at CAMH than probably any other therapy I’ve ever had in my life. When I can manage to breathe deeply, evaluate what I’m thinking/feeling and ask myself if it’s a logical reflection of what I’m actually experiencing, it becomes much easier to  squelch an oncoming meltdown. Of course, I don’t always remember/feel capable of using my CBT skills when I’m mid panic-attack. What I need to do is start practicing these mind-tricks when things are less critical, so that implementing them becomes a habit and feels less like a mental workout.

7. Learn to better live in my body and not just with my body

I have this habit of treating my body like a mostly useless bipedal meat vehicle for my brain, by which I mean there’s a part of me that honestly believes that my body only exists to transport my beautiful mind from place to place. This can lead to me feeling like I’m not so much living in my body as I am grimly tolerating my body. This year I’m going to try to actually love my body – the way it looks, how it moves, the rad things it does – rather than treating it as if its only value lies in its utility. Because not only is that view pretty unkind to myself, it’s also very ableist. Bodies aren’t just good because they can do things – they’re good because they exist, and they’re us, and we have value as people.

8. Become better at identifying my mental state

Identifying my breathless, sobbing, oh-god-the-world-is-ending meltdowns as actually being panic attacks was a huge turning point for me in 2014. I went from thinking that I am just this bad person who can’t control their emotions to recognizing that this is an actual thing that is happening, a thing that has a name and has been described by other people and is generally recognized by doctors and lay-folk alike. This gave my panicked weeping on public transit a sort of validity that it had been lacking, and made it seem more like a solvable problem and less like a huge personal flaw. I’m not saying that this is something that will help everybody, and I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong having meltdowns on buses that aren’t panic attacks, but for me, personally, this has been really useful.

I also think that in general I need to be better at identifying what I’m feeling and, if applicable, why. Sometimes even just naming things makes them easier to handle, you know?

9. Practice self-care

I pay a lot of lip service to self-care, but I’m not always the greatest at practicing it myself. This year I’m going to make sure I have more downtime, more comforting rituals, and more ways of recharging. My friend Audra has a self-care chalkboard that reminds her to do things she enjoys and that are good for her specific body – stuff like swimming, hula hooping, and drinking tea – and I think I’m going to steal her idea. I need to remember to use my me-time for stuff that I love and that rejuvenates me, rather than wasting it refreshing my Facebook page 50,000 times in a row.

10. Be kinder to myself

This is definitely the hardest one, because my natural inclination is to treat myself like garbage. I’m the type of person who’s always ready with a laundry list of all my worst qualities, and my ability for negative self-talk is unparalleled. I don’t just sell myself short – I’ll argue with you about why and how I’m a complete waste of money, time and space. But this year, that’s going to start changing.

My goal for 2015 is to give myself as much love, patience and understanding as I would lavish on the folks I care about. If I can treat other people decently, then surely I can do the same thing to myself? This is going to be the year of giving myself the benefit of the doubt, going easy on myself when I fuck up, and giving myself more space to breathe.

Happy 2015, y’all

Looking forward to the new year with a cool head and a clear eye

Looking forward to the new year with a cool head and a clear eye

On Negative Self-Talk

12 Dec

I know what it must sound like to you whenever those ugly words start pouring out of me.

Every time I tell you that I’m so stupid, I’m a failure, everything is my fault and so on and so forth forever into eternity, you must think that what I’m really doing is asking a question, namely: Do you agree that these things are true?

Or else maybe it comes off as a command: Tell me that I’m wrong. Tell me that I’m worth it. Validate me.

Maybe it sounds like a dare or a taunt: Go ahead, fight me on this. Just try.

It must seem like I’m looking for some kind of reaction – a hug, or an eye roll, or something in between the two, an affectionate sort of “there she goes again” crossed with “don’t worry, you’re not monster.”

The truth is that when I fall into the spiral of negative self-talk, even when my words seem to be directed at another person, they’re almost always meant for me and only me. These words are also a compulsion, and in the way of many compulsions they act as a sort of charm or a spell to ward off something worse. They’re a way of beating everyone else to the punch, and they also function as a funny type of pep-talk. But even when I say them publicly, they’re never meant for anyone but me.

Sometimes it’s almost like I have to say something out loud in order to know whether it’s true or not. It’s similar to how I can’t memorize something unless I’ve actually muttered it through several times to myself, except that it’s more like I have to shape my mouth around these vile thoughts about myself to see if they have a taste of truth to them. A thought seems so insubstantial that it could be anywhere on the realm of possibility, but a spoken or written word – well, that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it?  A thought is like cotton candy, melting and disappearing the moment you try to properly consume it; a word has heft. Speaking or writing something gives me the chance to weigh it against reality, to see which side the scale comes down on.

Negative self-talk is also a way of loudly and triumphantly declaring all of the terrible things you worry that other people are thinking about you. It’s a way to take the sting out of an insult, a way to toss your head and wink like you don’t care. Theoretically, what’s the hurt in someone else calling you stupid or ugly or pathetic if you’ve already embraced those awful things yourself? It’s a pre-emptive shedding of your emotional clothes before another person can come along and lift up your skirt; it’s biting your lip, hard, so that you don’t feel the needle in your arm. But of course you do still feel the needle, and even when you invite people to stare at your naked feelings their gawking sneers still hurt. You’re not really beating anyone to the punch, you’re just pounding away at yourself like a schoolyard bully landing one hit after another on some poor, defenceless, cowering kid.

Whenever I talk badly about myself, it turns into a sort of Harry Potter Devil’s Trap situation – the harder I struggle and the more I tell myself to stop, the worse it gets. Like, if I start of by saying that I’m stupid and can’t handle even the smallest things, then it escalates to saying that calling myself stupid is proof of my own stupidity, and having this meltdown is proof that I can’t handle my life, and then anger and shame that I’m letting other people see me going through this, with every added layer just making me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. Once you’re down in that pit, there’s no way out – you’re just scraping your fingers against the walls, unable to climb or dig through and ultimately only hurting yourself more. My own negative self-talk validates my low self-esteem, and in my rational moments I know that. But when I’m feeling awful about myself, the only way to fix it seems to be to drive the knife deeper.

I know that the negative self-talk serves no real purpose, no matter how I try to frame it or justify it, but it’s hard to quit. It’s an internal groove on a record and whenever my mental needle slips into it, the music needs to play the whole way through before I can put on something else. I’m slowly learning to pull off the needle mid-song, but it’s hard. If I tell myself to stop at the wrong time and I can’t or don’t for whatever reason, then that just leads to feeling awful over the fact that I’m still going. Right now I’m at the point where I can pick out harmful thought patterns after the fact; later, once I’m not sobbing stormily and feeling like the world is ending, I can look at what how wrong and harmful what I was saying about myself was. But when I’m in the middle of berating myself, I’m not in a place where I can listen or change – it’s like this howling mess that blocks out or distorts anything that doesn’t agree with what it says.

So I’m working on this. Along the same lines, I’m learning to Take A Compliment. Whenever someone trots out something nice about me, I just breathe deeply and say thank you instead of explaining to them all the particular ways they happen to be wrong. Sometimes, if I’m not too consumed in the haze of panic that compliments set off in me, I’ll remember to compliment them back. I hope that someday my negative self-talk will work along these lines – like, whenever I feel the compulsion to do it, I’ll just take a deep breath, smile, and say no thank you, brain. Not today. I’m too awesome for your shit right now.

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Fuck Busy

13 Oct

Late last night I was cruising around on Pinterest because hey I’m a boring 30-something mom and that’s what I do when I can’t sleep. Which, by the way, is every night, meaning that I’ve developed a bit of a Pinterest habit, among other things (my  insomnia-beating arsenal includes such soothing activities as: watching documentaries about the Chernobyl “liquidators,” hate-reading the blogs of conservative white dudes, and sending slightly incoherent late-night messages to my friends and acquaintances). Anyway, I was happily scrolling through pictures of pretty landscapes tragically marred by trite sayings (example: a gorgeous mountain at sunset with DON’T GIVE UP, THE BEST IS YET TO COME scrawled across it in white letters) when I came across this:

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I had one of those moments where I was like, “oh.” And then I was like, “yes.” And then I had this huge mishmash of complicated feelings that I’ve been trying to untangle ever since.

Busy is how I keep myself from having enough time to think the thoughts that might completely derail my day.

Busy is how I distract my mind from the refrain of you’re not good enough, you’re not trying hard enough, nobody likes you

Busy is word that I hold over my head like some goddamn Sword of Damocles, as in: you’re not busy enough, you should be doing more, you don’t deserve a break, just keep going.

Busy is the first thing I think of when I wake up – will I be busy enough today? Will I get enough done? Or will I be a failure?

Busy is the last thing I think about before I finally drift off into a sleeping-pill-induced sleep – have I been busy enough? Am I satisfied with my day? Or have I been a disappointment, both to myself and to the people around me?

Busy is my anxiety-charged brain, either leapfrogging from one thought to the next, stringing together conclusions so quickly that I can hardly breathe, or else fixating on one idea and spinning it over and over, like a sore tooth that you can’t stop running your tongue over even though you wince every time.

The glorification of busy is the reason that I struggle so hard to relax – because I’ve never really, truly been busy enough during the day to deserve a rest. I sometimes ask myself what “busy enough” would look like, and I can never seem to come up with a solid answer. I tell myself that “busy enough” or “accomplished enough” is just something that I would intuitively feel once I’ve reached that goal post. But I never feel it, so I always have to assume that it’s just another day of not being good enough.

The glorification of busy is why my go-to solution for anxiety and depression is to try to out-run them, as if they’re that big stupid rock in the Temple of Doom and I’m Indiana Jones, always able to stay one jump ahead of being crushed.

The glorification of busy is why I’m sitting here in my mother’s living room on a long weekend writing a goddamn blog post because I feel like I just haven’t satisfied my daily requirement of “getting shit done.” Never mind that I’m supposed to be lying in a pool of post-Thanksgiving turkey-coma drool. I tried that. It didn’t feel good; instead, it felt like I was wasting precious time during which I could have been doing something important, like maybe memorizing the periodic table.

We live in a culture that praises “busy” as the best thing a person can be – both in terms of employment and personal life. We’re encouraged to cram as many experiences and events and accomplishments into a 24 hour period as possible – and then we’re encouraged to share our interpretation of those experiences, via tweets and pictures and pithy Facebook updates, in as close to real-time as possible. Even when you’re relaxing or having fun, you’re still often tapping into that busy mindset. “Am I sufficiently relaxed? Should I be having more fun? What can I do to optimize this experience? If I’m not feeling good, is that because I’m just not trying hard enough?”

And while I would on the one hand argue that staying busy is sometimes what stops me from having a full on tear-drenched meltdown in the middle of the day, I would also say that living in a culture that promotes “busy” as the ideal has for sure shaped my ideas of how to handle the sick panic of repetitive thoughts or sharp flashes of fear that set fire to my nerves. If I didn’t live in a society that glorifies busy, would my response to anxiety be to immediately throw myself into some type or work or another? If I didn’t think that busy was the be-all-and-end-all would I maybe take a few deep breaths and try to slow my thoughts instead of crushing them with other, different, faster thoughts?

Fuck busy.

Fuck the fact that I crave busy as a way to block out all the other shit that’s going on in my head.

Fuck the impact that busy has had on my ability to zone out, to shift gears, to slow down.

Fuck tweeting about how much fun I’m having when all I can think about is what I’m doing next, and then next, and then next.

Fuck the sense of dread that I have when faced with a day full of empty, unplanned hours.

Fuck the feeling of inadequacy that the glorification of busy has left me with.

I just want to learn how to shut off the busy voice in my head for five minutes. I just want to know what quiet is like. I just want to close my eyes at the end of the day and sleep without having to Pinterest myself into an exhausted stupor.

Fuck busy.

The Cold, Gaping Maw Of Winter, Etc.

16 Sep

The winter my mother was pregnant with me was one of the coldest and longest on record. And this was in Montreal, mind you, which should give you an indication of just how deeply the temperatures must have plunged. My mother, who spent her days slogging across the snowy city to work, to doctor’s appointments, to the university where my father was a law student, and finally back home again, used to joke that I would be born with frostbite. When she told me this I pictured myself as a fetus, bobbing along inside of her, my toes and fingers turning blue in spite of the many layers of flesh and fabric that swaddled me. Even then, I imagine, I must have hated the cold.

My memories of Quebec in winter are mostly of the childhood-wonder variety; I was only three when we moved to Ontario, so they really only exist in imperfect flashes, more sensation than anything else. Tottering along on tiny skates at the local outdoor rink, stuffed into a Prussian blue snowsuit so thick that my arms stuck out at an angle. Lying on the back seat of the car and listening he quiet shush of tires moving through sleet as we drove through the twilit streets of the town where my grandparents lived. Stepping out our front door and staring at the walls of snow towering over me, the whiteness neatly bisected by the path my father had shovelled. It was like living in a fairytale forest under some witch’s evil spell; fraught with danger, but still full of magic. Like Narnia, before the downfall of the White Queen; you might be chased by wolves, or you might be invited over to a faun’s cozy little den for tea. Anything could happen.

By the time I hit grade school I couldn’t stand the cold; when I was seven, I thought up a genius plan to help me avoid it. I started faking sick every day after lunch, so that I could miss the long noon-hour recess. Instead of going outside, I would sit and read quietly in the nurse’s office, murmuring a no-thank-you every time she offered to call my mother. I remember being so satisfied, sitting there in front of the blasting heater, flipping the pages of my library book. In that moment, I was sure that I was smarter than everyone I knew.

Of course, it didn’t take long before my teacher caught on to what I was doing. She was beyond furious.

“Did you know,” she said, publicly, to all of my classmates, “that Anne has been lying to us every day so that she doesn’t have to go outside for recess? Did you know that your friend has been lying to you?”

What could I say? After all, she wasn’t wrong.

These days, winter brings out a sort of doomsday fatalism in me, as if the world, silent and blank with snow, existed always just a few grim moments away from the apocalypse. The air has a heartless, metallic taste and sun flickers weakly, as if we’ve been pushed out of orbit and are slowly drifting towards poor old not-a-planet Pluto. Frostbite seems like a exceptionally accurate term, because it so precisely describes the way the cold nips at me, sinking its sharp little teeth into my skin. My joints ache until my body feels like a feels like a sour note inexpertly scraped out of a violin; familiar, but so exhaustingly distant from what it should be that I don’t even know where to begin. The nagging pain drags on and on until it becomes my default state; I forget that it’s possible to feel good in my body, and assume that this fumbling stiffness is my new normal.

The end of this ache every spring is always, somehow, a surprise. I forget that it’s coming – I even forget that it’s possible – so I don’t think to wait for it. It’s like a gift from whatever hairy horned god it is that makes sure the clumsy old clockwork of the seasons moves forward the way it should. He’s the kind of god who should have sacrifices burned in his honour. Every year I am absurdly grateful for spring.

Most of the people I know love the fall – the smell of woodsmoke, the thick woollen sweaters, the sharp, lingering sunshine. Fall is apple-picking and flannel shirts and pumpkin-spice-everything; fall is the exhale of relief after the brutally humid summer. Fall is lovely, except that it also means staring down the cold, gaping maw of winter. Fall is a dark tunnel leading to an underground room with no windows or doors. There’s a reason that November is the month of the dead.

A few years ago, my mother picked out her grave. That sounds morbid, but I guess it’s better that she does it now rather than relying on us to figure out where she wants to spend eternity. It’s not even a grave, really – more like a little alcove on a wall in Mount Royal Cemetery where her ashes will go. Her father is in that cemetery, and so are both sets of her grandparents. All of her cousins and aunts and uncles and even a few great-grandparents are there too. I think she’s got the right idea – when I die, I want to be burned, and then I want to be near my family. At least cremation is warm; I can’t imagine spending the rest of time in an uninsulated wooden box six feet deep in the soil. I want to be comfortable, even in death. Especially in death.

I remember this one time when I was a little kid I was standing out in the schoolyard next to the climber. It was winter, and I was wearing this dorky maroon beret with a picture of Snoopy on it. I tilted my head back to look at the fat, drifting snowflakes, and suddenly I felt like I was falling up and up and up into the sky. I stopped feeling my body. I stopped feeling anything. I hovered there, as pure and weightless as the snow.

Then one of my friends yelled at me and grabbed my arm, dragging me into whatever game was going on, and the moment ended.

Whatever enchantment existed in that moment is gone; I’ve since tried to find my way back to that place, but never have. Probably I never will.

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TTC Posters pt. II

16 Aug

Tonight I spoke on the phone with Joe Burton, the president of Mystery Room Ltd., and I was honestly blown away by our conversation. He apologized right away for the posters on the TTC, and said that while he hadn’t thought about the reaction that people living with mental illness might have to the idea of a “psych ward” escape room, he now totally understood how hurtful it could be.

I feel like it’s so rare for people to genuinely examine why something they’ve done or said is problematic and then offer an apology for it. Like, so damn rare. So I just want to take a minute to recognize how rad Joe Burton is. He is a real, honest-to-goodness solid human being. Thank you, Joe.

Here is the email he sent to the reporter from The Toronto Star, which I found really touching:

Thanks [redacted] for bringing this story to my attention.

I just want to let everyone know, particularly the lady in question, that it was not our intention to offend anybody with the theme name “Psychiatric Ward”.
 
We were looking for themes/names for our rooms based on pop culture and Hollywood movies (e.g. “Psycho Ward”, 2007).
However, after reading her blog, we can truly understand how someone with mental illness can be really hurt by such a portrayal.
 
We have renamed the room to “Haunted Hospital” and we will take the following additional actions…
1.We will contact the lady who wrote the blog to explain and apologize.
2.We will contact the TTC and ask them to change the posters.
Sincerely,
Joe Burton (President)
Mystery Room Ltd.

Ahhhhhh, I think my little heart might burst. It’s so lovely to have these occasional reminders of how amazing people can be.

Happy weekend, y’all.

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