It’s not a downward spiral, it’s a fluctuation

It’s a regular pattern, but I can’t recognize that in the moment. When I start to feel it coming on, the irritability, oversleeping, lack of motivation, eating garbage, racing, uncontrollable thoughts, frequent panic attacks, I think, this is it. I ruined everything, and all of the stuff I’ve worked towards is meaningless. The strategies I tried didn’t work. I failed.

It’s awful enough just to have those feelings, but it’s even worse whenever it feels like all of the good steps I took prior amounted to nothing and ultimately failed. That’s how I view it. I see my downward spirals as signs of failures of whatever I was doing beforehand.

This thought seemed totally reasonable to me. If something works, it works. It fixes me, and I’m all better, and as long as I can keep it up, I’ll never have a rough spell again.

I’ve been thinking about it this time because I’m in the middle of a good period right now, and I’m on a new craze where I’m focusing on sustainability and only eating foods that are in season and unprocessed. This hype I’m on has given me more energy and optimism, so I’ve also been waking up early (willingly!), exercising, and reading more. I’ve felt great, and it’s costing me substantially less money, so I feel less guilt as well. I started to get worried, though, because I was wondering how long this was going to last. It seemed far too extreme to be sustainable, so there was bound to be a breaking point where I would sink back into my despair and abandon all of my new habits.

Then I had this radical thought. Or I should say, a very obvious thought that shouldn’t have even been a question, but for some reason seemed very radical and exciting to me.

I can just go back.

If I get depressed and lose control and turn into a sloppy puddle for a few weeks, I can just come back to what I’m doing now after the depression passes. Sure, it doesn’t help my coping in the moment, but it’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t have to reevaluate my life and come up with a new approach every time I slip up. I can just come back to what I’m doing right now.

So now I’m starting to think of my mental health not as an inevitable spiral into complete incapacity, but a sine wave. I oscillate between very good and very bad, and it’s flexible. I can’t prevent myself from feeling depressed, but I can come back from it. I know there will always be another down turn, but I also know there will always be another upturn as well.

Basically, it’s allowing myself flexibility and forgiveness for things that, as of right now, I can’t control. I’m taking steps to try to control it, but it’s a slow process, and I’m not going to be able to just flip a switch to make it better.

Three weeks ago, I went on another mega Dorito binge. A few weeks before that, I was eating well-balanced meals and exercising three days a week. A few weeks before that, I didn’t get out of bed for three days straight. A few weeks before that, I was meditating and practicing mind-body connection. It’s a sine wave.

Posted in Depression, Mental Health, My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Well sorry if I don’t want to be your friend

This is going to sound very whiny and privileged, but I’m sick of people forcing their friendship on me. I’m sorry, but I’m under no obligation to be your friend. It’s one thing to be polite to people, to reciprocate kind gestures, and to engage in pleasant small talk while at work, etc. However, I shouldn’t have to hang out with someone during my personal time if I don’t want to and they’re not family. I don’t get a lot of free time these days. I barely want to spent it with actual friends, so I sure as hell don’t want to spend it with people I don’t even like.

Whenever I’m talking to a potential romantic partner and find out that they’re just looking for friends, I can’t just say, “no, sorry, I’m not interested.” I can say that if they want to be in a romantic relationship with me, but for some reason, I’m not allowed to turn them down if they ask me to be friends because then I sound like an asshole.

There is a group of people that I work pretty closely with in lab. We sometimes would go out to dinner to celebrate something, like when someone passed an important milestone in the graduate program, which totaled to maybe 3 times a year. That’s fun and totally reasonable, but recently, we’ve been hanging out more often, for birthdays, Galentine’s Day, and random outings. I keep declining invitations, but I have to keep coming up with excuses, and they know when I’m not working late (my usual excuse). Even worse, the one woman is my neighbor and our living room blinds are broken, so she can easily see in from the sidewalk and see me lying there on the couch staring at the wall. So I have to get really creative when I make excuses, and it’s exhausting. One of them just got married, and I was invited to the bridal shower and bachelorette party in addition to the wedding. Each of these requires a gift (and the internet tells me proper etiquette requires a $50 minimum on gifts), and the bachelorette party was in a completely different state 5 hours away. I had to hardcore brainstorm and strategically plan vital experiments to work my way out of these commitments.

Yeah, that makes me a terrible friend, but I don’t want to be her friend. I don’t even like her.

I don’t want to be any of these people’s friends. I like our work relationship because it makes lab more pleasant and I know I can count on them, but I don’t want to invest additional time into them.

And I shouldn’t have to. It’s my personal time. I’m incredibly intorverted, and I need time for myself. I have my close group of friends that satisfy all of the requirements I need to get by, and none of these other people fit into any of the categories I list for friendship.

So why isn’t there an easy way to say no. When I don’t want to be someone’s significant other, I say I’m not feeling a romantic connection or I’m not looking for a partner right now or I don’t think we’re a good fit. When I’m not interested in collaborating with someone on a research project, I say that I don’t need their tools at this point, I don’t think our projects are interdependent, or just that I can’t do what is being asked of me. Why can’t these lines work for friendship without turning me into a monster?

That’s my new mission. I’m going to figure out a way to say no to friendships. And I’m not going to feel bad about it.

Posted in My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I need to rethink how I de-stress

I’m not used to dealing with stress because I’ve always thrived on stress. My greatest work came at times when I was the most stressed out, and it’s hard for me to get things done if I’m not super stressed out about it. I used to be able to put off taking care of my body and it will do what it needed to do for me. That isn’t quite the case anymore with my old age, and now I have no idea how to manage my stress and it’s eating me alive.

My first response was to buy a 5-liter box of Franzia and have a glass of wine (or several) every night to deal with it. I would also force myself to just not think about stressful things. That worked for a while, but it felt like I wasn’t actually dealing with the stress, I was just pushing it into a closet or something.

Well, now it’s coming back for me and I need a new approach.

One of those ways, as I mentioned before, was to seek therapy. That’s been taking care of, and I have my appointment made and I’m all ready to go with that.

Making an appointment to see a therapist has had a ripple effect on my life. It felt so good to take care of myself in that respect that now I want to take care of the other parts of my life. While I was on this self-care high, I finally went grocery shopping and I bought breakfast bars, which is a big deal because I usually skip breakfast and I usually feel terrible all morning as a result. I also bought vegetables and chicken and such to make a low-carb, dairy free dinner that didn’t have any processed ingredients (except a tablespoon of flour, if that counts?). I even bought a bag of apples (I never ever eat fruit) and so now I have a healthy snack option.

The whole time I was buying this stuff, I kept thinking “this is for me. This is for my body.” Instead of thinking that I needed this stuff to be healthy etc., I just kept thinking about how I was taking such good care of myself. I even bought a magazine for my roommate that I knew she would love (a Life magazine featuring Audrey Hepburn), so I felt like I was taking care of her, too.

The feeling then trickled into my romantic life. I made the impulsive decision to delete my Tinder account. As much as I absolutely loved using the app, it has become a major source of stress in my life. There would be the frantic swiping, trying to find my soul mate, the loneliness of not having matches, and then feeling completely overwhelmed when I did get matches and had to respond to everyone. Moreover, I barely had enough time for myself because I was always going on dates with nice people that I didn’t want to turn down but also were complete strangers. It felt so goddamn good to just delete the bastard. I’ll probably start using one of those apps again, but I’m going to give myself a nice, long break.

All of that happened yesterday. Today, I came home at a reasonable time, and I’m eating leftovers of my healthy dinner. Later, I’m going to learn how to draw with pastels while listening to a podcast with my roommate (hello My Favorite Murder <3). I’m going to break it off with someone that I’ve had a weird on-again-off-again short term relationship with that has left me feeling vulnerable, used, and unappreciated. I’m going to drink chamomile tea and eat an apple and go to bed early. Tomorrow, I’m going to wake up and exercise.

This attempt at self-care is different from my last because it’s not about hiding the stressful feelings. It’s facing them dead on and changing my behavior to eliminate or decrease them. I feel like this is a healthy way to handle stress in my life, but I recognize that not all stress factors can be eliminated, and so I still need to learn how to overcome those situations. Hopefully therapy can help with that. Either way, I’m making progress in the right direction, and it’s all about the experience.

Posted in Mental Health, My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I wear my stomach problem like a badge of honor

Why do I do that?

I mentioned this briefly before, but I really want to dive into how mega fucked up this is, so let me quickly recap.

Last semester was incredibly stressful for me due to a variety of things, but mostly because I found out last-minute that I was giving an oral presentation at a national conference on the east coast, and in the same email that my boss told me this, she said “hopefully by then you have enough data to present ;)” which made me incredibly anxious. It sounded like she was implying that the data I already had was nowhere near enough, so I panicked and worked hardcore to collect as much data as I possibly could in the span of 4 weeks. Throughout those 4 weeks, I was working 65-75 hours per week, mostly doing lab work, and the small amounts I slept were riddled with nightmares about something going horribly wrong either in lab or at the conference.

As I mentioned previously, I also had a very poor diet, often consisting of a bag of Doritos as my dinner. Other times I would have pasta with olive oil or I would skip dinner just because I had no time to buy food or make dinner.

I didn’t notice the stomach problems until right around the time of my conference, and they got much worse afterward. It would be sharp pains that would come at random times, and I also kept getting other sicknesses.

I finally went to see a doctor about it in January, and she said it was most likely a stomach ulcer that was stress related. As soon as she said that, even though it could mean that my stomach is completely destroyed, I got super excited. I had something physical and tangible that was a direct result of my stress (and poor diet, but that’s less exciting). I had something I could point to and be like “There! See? I am stressed out. I am working hard.”

Part of it is the grad student in me talking. Grad school is a specific culture where you’re expected to work insane hours. If you’re not stressed out, you’re not working hard enough. If you go home before 7:00pm every day, you’re lazy. You’re expected to have a justifiable reason for not going into lab on a weekend day. While no one keeps track of our hours, everyone is counting their own.

So whenever I found out that my stress levels were destroying my body, I was relieved to know that I was in fact working hard enough. Anyone in the program (really, anyone at all) that even remotely encountered me since mid-January has heard all about my stomach ulcer. I need to force myself to slow down when I talk about it so that my excitement doesn’t come through too much. After telling the grad students about it, they sort of size me up and get real interested, like “Oh you’re so stressed you have a stomach ulcer? You must be really stressed. You must be working super hard.”

And then will come the sympathy and urges for me to practice self-care.

This brings me to the second reason as to why I was so excited about my body failing me. Just like pretty much everyone else, I’m super hard on myself. I think I’m lazy, I chastise myself to not doing everything on the insane to-do lists I write. I call myself stupid and punish myself when I don’t do well enough. It’s a problem that I’m working on, but it’s still there.

Now, I have an excuse to practice self-care. Stupid, but before this happened, I always felt like I didn’t deserve to take care of myself. Or I would only do “self-care” when I was procrastinating doing stuff that really had to get done. I never allotted time for recharging unless I was in one of those states where I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. In other words, I wouldn’t take care of myself until it got so bad that I didn’t have any other choice.

It’s so much easier to force myself to take breaks, check in with myself, and slow down whenever I know that I have to in order for a sharp pain in my stomach to go away, or when I know that my body needs it. At the end of every day, I have to make the decision to stop when I could just keep going. If I keep going, I’ll get more done, be more productive, be a step closer toward graduation. If I stop and go home, that stuff will be waiting for me the next day. It’ll get done, but at a slower pace. It’s easier these days to make the call to just go home whenever I have a concrete reason.

So really, this stomach ulcer thing was the wakeup call I needed. I know that I need to make changes in my life, and I’m in the process of figuring out how to do that. I know that I’m working plenty hard enough, and I know that I need to focus more on taking care of myself because my current lifestyle just isn’t sustainable.

My conclusion is that it’s okay that I’m prancing around with my stomach ulcer like it’s a great thing because in my specific situation right now, it is a great thing, and I’m oddly thankful for it. It’s not that I need people to feel sorry for me like I had suspected. It’s reassurance that it’s okay to take a step back and focus on me.

Now that I have that straightened out in my head, I’ll stop bragging about it to you guys, I promise.

Posted in Academics, Mental Health, My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never Settle

I was thinking about my Tinder addiction a lot this week. Okay, let’s not call it an addiction because that makes me sound like a sexual predator. Let’s call it my Tinder enthusiasm. Really, it’s just the intersection of my dating enthusiasm and my laziness enthusiasm, but either way it gets the job done.

I was dating this amazing woman for about 3 weeks. She was the whole package, charming, outgoing, funny, gorgeous, and worldly. We got along great, and every date we went on was so much fun. I could go on and on about how great she is, but I won’t because you get the point. Anyway, we made plans last week to watch a specific movie at my house. We originally planned for Tuesday because I had stuff going on Wednesday and Thursday. Then she later said she couldn’t do Tuesday because her work shift got switched. Totally fine. We made plans for Friday. Then she said she forgot that she was going to a concert on Friday, so she couldn’t do that. Again, totally fine. Neither of us could do Saturday, so we decided to do Thursday after I got back from a dinner I was going to. Thursday rolled around, and about an hour before we were supposed to get together, she texted me saying that she was feeling really tired and couldn’t make it. Disappointing, but it happens. I know the feel. (I just cancelled on someone tonight for the same reason.) At this point, things were still going great between us, texting every day, sending flirty emojis and sexy one-liners, it was all fine. Then, we made plans again for Monday night. Sunday night she texts me saying that she forgot she had to go to a birthday party on Monday, so we’d have to do after that. Totally fine, but I had a weird feeling about it. My feeling was correct because Monday night, she texts me and cancels because she’s too tired. I’m neither surprised nor bothered by this; I kind of saw it coming. I text her back saying that it was fine, she said she’s sorry, I said let’s not bother rescheduling, she said she swore she wasn’t blowing me off it was a crazy week blah blah, I said okay.

And that was how we broke up. And I felt nothing. At all.

Right after that, I updated my Tinder profile with a nice, academic-looking picture, and got right the fuck back on the market.

This is one example of many where things are going great with a really awesome person, but something inside me just thinks “Nah, let’s call it off. Right now.” And so I call it off, move on, and never look back. This behavior worried me a lot for a while, as I talked about before, but then I got to thinking about why I do this, and I realized that it is totally fine and has nothing to do with my Tinder enthusiasm.

I realized that I’m just streamlining the process.

After my former significant other and I broke up after 4 years of dating and plans to spend our entire life together, the biggest thing I got out of the relationship is that I can never ever settle for anyone other than my soul mate (or someone that I am 100% compatible with, if you’re one of those lame people that doesn’t believe in soul mates). I was so depressed and apathetic about my future when I was with him. Being around him after the initial fun parts just aggravated me and caused more stress. Everyone says this, but I know for absolute certain now that I am SO much happier by myself than with anyone other than the person I’m meant to be with. This guy was a nice guy, it’s not that he was unpleasant or abusive. It’s just that he wasn’t the one.

Now, I’ve completely streamlined the process. I know exactly what I want and what I absolutely won’t compromise on. For example, if they don’t identify as feminist, I want nothing to do with them. If they’re not liberal, no thanks. If they are intimidated by my intelligence, require their ego to be constantly stroked, think they’re funny when they tell overused jokes they found on Google, I don’t need to waste my time with them. It’s incredibly liberating.

Posted in My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working my way towards getting therapy

So first let me just do a quick complaint about the university mental health services. Remember in my other post about therapy, where I described the procedure at my old university? They had the mandatory phone call triage appointment before you could see a therapist. Talking on the phone gives me crippling anxiety, so I never made the appointment and I never went to therapy.

Here, at my current university, it was different. All triage appointments were in person, so I didn’t have to deal with an unpleasant phone call. Apparently, I found out today, they changed the game since I was last there. Now, all triage appointments are conducted via phone interviews, but they state on the website in bright red angry letters that there are a limited number of in-person appointments for people who don’t have access to phone services or for some reason cannot complete the appointment by phone. In red letters, I’m not exaggerating. I hesitated because I didn’t have a disability that kept me from talking on the phone, and I had both a cell phone and office phone with unlimited calling access. So then I thought, okay well, no appointment for me because I can’t talk on the phone.

Later, I thought, “This is ridiculous. If the only thing keeping me from making this appointment is the fact that I can’t talk on the phone, then I’ll take one of those in-person appointments.” So I click through all the things I need to, and then I get to the checkbox for either phone or in-person. Under in-person, it says in all caps “ONLY SELECT THIS IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO USE A PHONE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT.” Like they were literally yelling at me.

Again I hesitated and closed all the windows because I felt so attacked. Like, I absolutely cannot discuss my mental health over the phone. There’s no way that could possibly happen, and so I would just end up lying or shutting down.

But then I got angry because I had already done the triage appointment once, so I shouldn’t have to do it again because it’s already on record, but there were no buttons anywhere, no people to contact, and not even a phone number to call to book a normal appointment or talk to someone about how to schedule an appointment. The lack of resources was shocking for a health services website.

I tried to use the message center to ask someone for help, but the only option it gave me was to contact a person I have already seen, the only one being the therapist I had seen previously. Not only would it be awkward to ask her to help me to see a different doctor, but when I sent her a message in emotional distress explaining something bad that was happening that I needed to sort out, she never responded. So I wasn’t about to contact her again.

I tried again, and I had to click through a total of 3 warnings in order to make an in-person appointment, and afterwards, there were additional warnings in red font about how I absolutely must be on time and I cannot cancel and some threats about fines and such. It was very stressful for a site that’s main intention is to service mentally distressed students.

And now I feel like I have to be all apologetic to the health care professional when I see her because I made an in-person appointment when I wasn’t supposed to. I’m expecting her to be mad at me and to not think my reasoning is justified. I’m worried that it’s going to make the whole encounter extra uncomfortable, but I don’t have any alternatives at this point.

Why does seeking resources for mental health have to be so stressful?

Posted in Mental Health, My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mom <3

The last post got me thinking about my mom, which made me really sentimental because I love my mom so much and she has done so many things for me that I can never hope to repay her for. I realize that there are a lot of people out there that don’t have good relationships with their moms, and I realize that I am so incredibly fortunate to have a mother who is both a loving parent and a best friend to me at the same time. She has always been there for me, looking out for me, caring about my emotional well-being, and listening to me go on and on about all the dumb shit that I worry about. This post is dedicated to you, Mom! (Even though you’re not reading this because I would never ever tell you about this blog because if someone I knew read this blog it would be mortifying…)

She always did nice little things for me growing up. I remember when I was a little kid, she would put my pajamas in the drier right before I put them on so that they would be all warm and comfy. When my brother started kindergarten and my dad was working, she would dress me up and fix up my hair all pretty and take pictures of me like I was a super model. One time, she pulled out her old wedding dress and we took turns putting it on and slow dancing, pretending we were either the bride or the groom.

In middle school, I had trouble making friends the first week or so and cried to her about it. She made me cookies and we hung out and talked about how dumb people were and then watched shitty reality TV. The next day, she came up to me with a list of ideas she thought of throughout the day of ways that I could deal with being alone. For example, since I was super into writing, she said that I could listen to other people’s conversations and use them as story ideas. I didn’t need her suggestions because by then the situation worked itself out, but it was so comforting to know that she had been thinking about my situation.

In high school, she would always try to convince me to skip school to go shopping with her. When I got detention for using my cell phone during lunch, instead of being mad at me, she laughed till there were tears in her eyes because the whole situation was so ridiculous. The policy was that you don’t get your phone back until after you serve detention and your parent has to be there when you get the phone. The day of my detention, my mom was pretty much like fuck it, and waltzed in and took my phone. The secretary and principal and whoever else were like “no, you need to wait for Iris to be out of detention,” and my badass mom just took my phone anyway.

I remember another time in high school we were all doing yard work on the hottest day of the year. My dad was in a really bad mood over something, so he kept yelling at everyone and giving them more work to do. My mom told me to just push an empty wheelbarrow around to make it look like I was doing work. Later that day, we both laid down flat on the ground behind a sloping hill so he couldn’t see us and we just hung out there for the rest of the day, watching him angrily walk across the yard looking for more work to do. (Love my dad, he just has a bad temper every once in a while. I totally inherited that from him, so no hard feelings.)

Nowadays, I call my mom and vent to her anytime I get stressed out (all the time) and she listens and provides comic relief and solid words of wisdom. Also, she’s able to tell me about the things that are stressing her out, and I can provide the same for her. When we’re together, we can just drink wine until we get super drunk and bitch about all the shitty people in our lives. It’s great.

There are definitely still things that we can’t really discuss together. This became very real to me when I came out as bisexual to her over the winter break. She did not take it well. It wasn’t that she disapproved or hated me for it. It just made her very uncomfortable and she had nothing to say about it, which might have been worse, I’m not sure. I also can’t talk about sex with her because any time it comes up it gets super awkward. It’s okay, though, I really shouldn’t be talking about that with her anyway. Sometimes it just slips out, though, you know?

Anyway, all in all, I am so thankful to have her in my life and I love her so much. I really wish that there was more I could do for her to repay her for all of the wonderful memories she gave me growing up and for always being there for me to this day when I’m dealing with all sorts of shit.

Posted in Family, My life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment