the hard day plan

Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport
Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport

The walls shimmer with shifting blue shadows. The lapping sounds echo off the tile floor. The smell of salt water fills my nose.

I plunge into the cool water without hesitation, letting it envelop me completely, closing over my head, caressing my face, pulling me under, but not against my will. I open my eyes to observe the wavy blue depths I now inhabit.

My feet push off the bottom, my arms propel me, clumsy but somehow still elegant, through the uneven waves. Under here, I hear nothing but the rhythmic workings of the system that keeps the pool full and clean, and, occasionally, when I tune in, the beating of my own heart. My head breaks the surface momentarily so I can suck down a deep lungful of air – the silent, perfect world broken – and then I am under again.

I don’t know what it is about water. Pool water, lake water, ocean water. Bath water, even. It cleanses me, somehow. Washes away my anxieties and fears, the squicky lies my depression tells me, and the tendency I have to ruminate on issues beyond my control. It brings me back to a more primal, more present, me.

Maybe it’s a womb thing. Maybe it’s a childhood thing. Maybe it’s a vestige of some primordial something or other. Whatever the reason, water makes me feel reborn. It is a physical reset that tells me, “Yes. You can do this. You can survive.” Nothing can touch me in the water.

***

When I met with Blake to be photographed and interviewed for her project, We All Believe In You, I didn’t know what I was going to say. For a long time, I have been quite open about my struggles with depression, but suddenly, it seemed like my story was too small. It didn’t compare to the tales of immense struggle and pain that other people had been telling. I don’t self-harm and I have never attempted suicide, and it seemed like that meant my pain and my experience of mental illness were less than.

Blake did away with those fears immediately, asserting, quite forcefully, that everyone’s story is relevant and everyone’s experiences are important. We talked briefly, about when my depression started, about how it has affected my life, about how I have dealt with it. She asked me what advice I had for other people who may be experiencing similar difficulties, and I told her, “Have a plan in place before the hard days come.”

I forget this advice all the time. In the middle of a depressive episode, it is really easy to forget all of the things that I have previously done to make myself well again. So I have posted a list on my wall, entitled, helpfully, Self-Care Cheat Sheet. It lists 12 things I can do to make myself feel a little bit more okay when I feel depression tapping me on the shoulder.

Recently, I finished reading Jes Baker‘s book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. (It is a revelation. Read it.) She has a whole chapter dedicated to mental health, which made me do a kind of happy dance. Then, as I read it, I stumbled upon something awesome:

Her main piece of advice for those of us who struggle with hard days – so, everyone – is to have a plan in place ahead of time.

Whoa. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I SAID.

So that was pretty cool. And it also gave me a bit of a push to revamp my Self-Care Cheat Sheet. Now, instead of 12 items, it lists 53. It’s tucked away inside my journal right now but I fully intend on making a poster out of it for myself, bright and colorful and pretty, so I can put it somewhere where it is very easily accessible. (When those hard days come, they come fast, and I don’t always have time to remember where my list has been stashed before I am curled in bed, unwilling and unable to drag myself out of it, come hell or high water.)

Some of my items:

  • Pet an animal. Visit the SPCA if possible.
  • Sing along to Taylor Swift. Loudly.
  • Light a candle in the dark and watch it dance.
  • Have a bubble bath.
  • Take 5 deep breaths. Then another 5.
  • Wash the sheets and roll around on them while they are still warm and smell amazing.
  • Go to the movies alone.
  • Make tea.
  • Snuggle a baby.
  • Indulge in some (controlled) retail therapy.
  • Swim.
  • Smile. Fake it til you make it.

***

My skin felt too tight, my limbs twitching with barely contained energy that zipped through my veins like tourists in the treetops of Costa Rica. I wanted to crawl out of myself for a while. I could feel my teeth gritting, trying to tamp down on increasing anxiety and restlessness.

I went into the bedroom, changed as quickly as possible, and headed into the hallway. I tapped my foot impatiently as I waited an interminably long time for the damn elevator to arrive. Didn’t it know I was on the verge of collapse?! Finally, it dinged and the doors slid open. I wedged myself in between two other passengers and watched as the numbers rapidly descended. The doors opened once more, spilling us all out into the foyer, and I hurried around the corner, swiping my key fob, and pushing open the door.

The shifting blue shadows. The lapping waves. The smell of salt water.

My whole body relaxed.

***

Do you have a hard day plan? What does it consist of? Feel free to share the things that make you feel more human in the comments. <3

the hard day plan

yes to being alive

I came to a realization the other day. Not a fun one, either.

I am closed down.

I am joyless.

I am sleepwalking.

I have been saying no for a long time. As a method of self-preservation, which seemed like an honorable, even necessary, choice at the time. I was emotionally devastated after my miscarriages, and I needed to take care of myself. That is true. But I took it too far, curled too far into myself and shut out the light completely. And if I’m being honest, I have been saying yes (the wrong yes) to inaction and complaining for much longer than that. For years. For most of my life.

I wanted to travel. Instead of saving the money and going, I complained that I was too broke, then spent all my money on other things.

I wanted to be a writer. Instead of sitting down and writing, then sending those pieces to publications, I complained that I would never get noticed.

I wanted to find a purpose. Instead of pursuing what I was interested in, the things I already knew were my passions, I turned away and complained about not knowing what my path was.

It was all so much easier. Saying no, protecting myself, taking the safe route and never taking a chance. Those things are so easy.

But I can’t do it anymore.

I have this deep fear of wasting my life. Soul deep. It paralyzes me sometimes. Okay, it paralyzes me a lot of the time. It gets so huge and so overwhelming that I end up freezing, doing nothing, so overcome with the need to make it count. So, of course, I have ended up doing nothing most of the time. Which is such a waste.

Oh, the irony.

The other day, I finished reading Shonda Rhimes’s book, Year of Yes. I powered through it in a matter of days. Everything she said spoke right to my soul. Spoke right to the thing in me that was saying no to everything that came up in my life. And I realized that I was hurting myself. By saying no to living, I was attacking the core of who I am.

 

I want to live. I just want to live while I’m alive. I want to be here. I want to take up space. I want to say yes, I want to fail, I want to succeed, I want to try and try and try some more. I want to open up to life. It doesn’t have to be big. I don’t have to be Shonda Rhimes or JK Rowling for my life to be meaningful (but hey, if that’s in the cards, great). I just have to, you know, live.

So from now on, I am saying yes. I am saying yes to things that scare me. I am saying yes to stepping outside of my comfort zone, to taking steps, to doing. 

From now on, I am saying yes to being alive.

yes to being alive

the December 26th blues

I seem to have the December 26th blues (yes, I know it’s January). The blur of Christmas is behind me and now… Well. It isn’t that I want more or I was disapppointed by the holidays. It is that I am so, so tired.

Christmas requires a lot of family time. There is a whole lot of together time and not a lot of me time. Disappearing into a quiet, empty room to be alone for a while is only tolerated to a certain extent. My family has a better understanding of my introverted needs now, but still, vanishing for more than an hour invites questions, and feeling the weight of that dread ‘should.’  I should be with my family right now. I should be playing a game with my sister. I should be talking to somebody. I shouldn’t be playing Candy Crush on my phone, alone in the dark, finding time and space to breathe.

I will admit that most of this pressure, these shoulds, are self-imposed. My youngest sister is even more introverted than I am and requires even more alone time in order to function socially. Through her, my family has come to understand a bit more about introvertedness, and no longer views our need to duck away as an abnormality, or a comment on the company. They recognize that it is simply something that we need to do in order to be our best selves later.

But there are some memories from my adolescence that have been imprinted in my brain, that make it hard for me to take those times, guilt-free. Times when I was castigated for removing myself from a party in order to read and replenish some of my energy because it was rude. Times when others were still struggling to understand this need I had and fumbled through it inexpertly. Times when I felt like there was something wrong with me because the rest of my family was living it up upstairs and all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and read until I fell asleep.

So I have to force myself to take the time that I need. And in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is easy to forget about it. It is easy to tell myself that now isn’t a good time, that I am needed, that I will do it later. But then…I don’t. The “right” time never arrives, and so I am left in the wake of the day, drained and frustrated and cranky.

My patience and tolerance have been at an all time low for the past few days. Everything Bryan does or says, no matter what it is, grates on my nerves. Our families are big; I have a blended family, and Bryan’s parents are split, too, which means that, inevitably, we end up having at least three Christmases. Sometimes four. This year, I found myself almost completely unable to muster any energy or enthusiasm for any of our subsequent Christmases. I was over it. So very done with Christmas and all of the socializing it requires. All I wanted to do, for days on end, was stay at home, read a book, and be by myself.

The slump is slowly lifting. I have had some time, now, to do those things that I was craving. To read, to write, to do art, to workout, to be alone. I feel somewhat recharged. As I head back to work and fall into a routine once more, I think it will get better. I will start to feel more like myself.

But this sharp dip into melancholia has shown me how important it is to anticipate when I am going to need to be alone, and to make sure that I take the time to be so, regardless of what else is going on and how guilty I might feel about it. No matter who is over, and how many games are being played, and what conversations are going on around me, I need to ensure that I take the time to slip away when I need it. Even just for a few minutes. Even just to pop outside and breathe some fresh air. I need to make my mental health more of a priority, and do so guilt-free. I think people understand more than I think they do.

Hopefully, this time next year, I will feel less like a zombie and more like a real person.

How was your Christmas? Do you experience the post-Christmas slump too?

the December 26th blues