making friends with myself

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It feels as though I have been at war with myself for some time. I think that is an accurate description of depression: an introspective war. Part of my healing process has been to negotiate a peace treaty, a ceasefire, a truce instead of antagonism.

More than that, I needed to become friends with myself again.

It hasn’t been easy. But it has been easier than I thought it would be.

I started with affirmations. My therapist asked me what Bryan would say to me when I was in the middle of a bad episode, what sort of things would penetrate the darkness and bring me back to the light, even just a little bit. Even just a pinprick. Then she wrote them on a note card and I taped it to my bathroom mirror. That was three months ago. That note card is still there. It reads: You are amazing and I love you. 

My task was to say those words to myself every day. Look myself in the eye, and say, out loud, “You are amazing, and I love you.”

It felt ridiculous. It felt absurd. I was embarrassed the first few times I did it. I made Bryan leave the adjoining room once because I felt so self-conscious having him hear me saying these words to myself. But I did it. I made it a habit; every time I came into the bathroom, I’d catch my own eye, and say it. Sometimes I’d even throw in a wink.

Slowly, it began to feel less ridiculous.

Slowly, it began to feel more true.

And I noticed that some other things were changing, too. It became easier for me to focus on the good things that I was doing, rather than wearing “bad thing” blinders. I was able to look more objectively at the things I was attempting to achieve, to see the real progress I was making and not just the setbacks. To see my worth as a person. Bryan and I went for a long walk in the coulees in Lethbridge and on the way back, sweaty and dusty, I caught sight of my reflection in the sideview mirror and thought, “Hm, I’m really pretty.” It was an idle thought, a moment where my guard was down, and those words traipsed right on in as if they belonged there. Words that I had never thought before.

I think of myself in different terms now. Not “the depressed, complicated, hard to handle girl.” But smart, creative, capable. The girl who is good at her job. The girl who has a million creative outlets because she can’t contain it all within herself. The girl who is a great sister and a great friend. I used to think it was silly to think that men might be flirting with me, because why would they want to flirt with me, but now I shrug and think, Why wouldn’t they flirt with me? That subtle shift in thinking has led to a cascade of difference.

I look at myself with more kindness now. I practice self-compassion every day. I still tell myself I love you. I don’t know what it is, therapy or medication or becoming my own friend again, or some combination therein (definitely some combination therein), but I have never felt so good in my life. If I ever have, it has been lost in the mist and murk of childhood memories.

Nothing is perfect. I still have bad days. Days that are as dark as they have ever been. But for the most part, for the majority of my time, I am doing just fine.

More than just fine.

I am doing well.

making friends with myself

the anguish of postponed motherhood

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I have no children, but I am a mother. I feel it in my bones; I have always felt it in my bones. So the fact that we “are not ready” to start our family grates at me, scraping the flesh of my heart on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is the only thing that I can think about, a constant thrum of anguish at the centre of each day. All of our “reasons” look flimsier and flimsier next to the raw need in my heart.

I work with children; every day, I look at each one and think, “I could have a child like you.” I sit with the preschoolers at nap time, so pleased when they want just me to rub their backs, melting into a puddle of goo when they make funny comments or do sweet things, like the four year old boy who took my hand in his and cuddled it to his chest, saying, “I’ll keep you warm,” when I told him I was cold. I watch every child that goes through my care and think, “My future could look like you.”

There is a list on my phone entitled “Baby Names” which I have had since I was nineteen or so. The names haven’t changed much. I’ve had the same ones picked for several years now. I have names for every eventuality: two girls, two boys, boy and a girl. A surprise third child. Except for middle names, mostly because the idea of middle names confounds me. (What is the point?) In idle moments, I entertain myself imagining the little people that will go along with the names that I have chosen. I wonder how their names will shape them. I toy idly with the name Khaleesi (though I agree 100% with my BFF when she said to me, “Jessica Michelle McGale-Cooper, I will not be an auntie to a human child named Khaleesi.” Thank you, voice of reason.)

One day, while babysitting for the sweet six month old baby boy that I get the pleasure of looking after every week, we were sitting on the floor, playing, and amidst all the babble and the joyous kicking of legs and blowing of bubbles he went still, and he simply looked at me, with his impossibly wide blue baby eyes, and he did not look away for at least a minute. He held my finger and stared at my face, and tugged so hard at my heart that I burst into tears right there.

I was born to be a mother. Of this, I have always been certain. And so it kills me a little bit to have to postpone this transition.

Not only that, but it feels like a lot of pressure. Because, it seems to me, if I am postponing the one thing I want more than anything in the world, I better have a damn good reason for it. I better be spending my time wisely. I better be accomplishing absolutely everything I have listed on every to do list I have ever made. I better be checking things off my bucket list left, right, and centre. Because if I’m not, if I am simply whiling away the time, staring at the biological clock as it ticks away, then what the hell is the point? I might as well get knocked up now, reasons be damned.

But if any of this agony is to have any meaning, I need to be doing something with my time. And so, anxious person that I already am, I have become exponentially more anxious about how I am spending my life. Am I doing something productive? Am I moving forward on anything? Am I achieving anything at all?

Some days, it feels like I will buckle under the pressure: the anguish of postponed motherhood, and the pressure of it, too. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, and no matter how I wiggle and twist and push, I cannot seem to find a way out.

Someone hand me an exacto knife.

Do you have any suggestions for improving the situation I find myself in? Have you ever experienced anything similar? (Doesn’t have to be baby related.)

 

the anguish of postponed motherhood

If I Were Prettier

Sometimes I think life would be easier if I were prettier. If my face was more symmetrical or my teeth were straight or my skin was better. I literally thought, “This wouldn’t be happening if I were prettier” as a server in a restaurant continued on his way, oblivious to my repeated attempts to catch his eye for a beer refill. And some things in life would be easier. There are many studies that show that strangers are more likely to rate a physically attractive person as more intelligent, or nice, or a bunch of other positive things. (It’s called the physical attractiveness stereotype, or the halo effect, and 30 Rock’s take on it is pretty hilarious.)

But…who cares? I’m not a model or an actress or anyone else who might rely on looks to get by. Why should it matter at all? I have now been married to the most incredible man I know for more than six months, and we are surrounded by amazing people who love us. They don’t love me because of how I look. My little sisters wouldn’t love me more if I was thinner or had a perfect smile. There would not have been more love at our wedding if I was more traditionally pretty and had a perfectly toned back. Maybe total strangers would be more likely to think highly of me, but I am not looking for the love of total strangers.

It is hard to shake the societal standards of beauty. I try to shake them off every day, which can be exhausting, but it’s also worthwhile. I don’t want to look at my wedding photos and think, “I wish my arms were more toned” instead of “Oh my God, we look so happy.” I want the women in my life to see an example of someone comfortable in their own skin so they can be more comfortable in theirs. When we have kids, I want to teach them to love themselves and see their intrinsic value, and not teach them to measure their worth based on aesthetic standards.

That starts with me. It is hard. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle. But I don’t ever want to give up on it. Because I am beautiful, because I am happy and capable and creating an amazing life for myself which has nothing to do with how I look or how much I weigh. I appreciate my eyes that let me see the beauty of the world, my arms that let me hold the people that I love, my belly that enjoys a good laugh and holds me up for a 5:03 plank, the legs that carry me over many miles as we explore new places (and I finish half-marathons). I am grateful for the blood that flows through my veins and animates my limbs, the lungs that contract and expand and allow me to experience the world for another second, the billions of components that work together to keep me alive for another minute, hour, day.

I am alive and I cannot think of anything more beautiful than that.

If I Were Prettier

The Depression Chronicles: Volume One

I have been depressed for a long time. I’m not 100% sure when it started; sometime in my early teens. I have spent over a decade of my life dealing with this insidious disease, and I think, after a while, it became part of my identity.

I mean, of course it did, right? Depression isn’t a quirky habit that you pick up and then drop a few months later, it isn’t something that you try on and then decide isn’t right for you. It is something that you don’t get to pick. For a long time, I thought it was my own fault that I was depressed. That I couldn’t “just choose to be happy” like so many people desperately wanted me to.

A little part of me kind of … liked it. I felt like being depressed made me a special snowflake, somehow. I felt like it made me a little bit different. Like no one could understand my special brand of pain because I was depressed. 

I hate being depressed, don’t get me wrong. It is awful. Feeling hopeless, like life isn’t worth living, even when your life is actually great, is one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had. To look around you and know, intellectually, that you are damn lucky, but to still feel like you’re living in a pit of despair is a war zone of guilt and agony. How dare I be unhappy when I have so much? It’s terrible. Which makes me feel even worse to think that some part of me wanted the depression to stick around for a while longer so I could continue thinking that I was special. But depression is not a simple problem, and deeply ingrained thought processes are not so easy to change, and I am learning to cut myself some slack.

Six years ago, my doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I carried that prescription around in my wallet for a long time. Months. Eventually, I lost it. (Maybe on purpose, I don’t know.) I never did fill it. I had a vehement opinion about taking medication; it was great and life-saving and life-changing for other people, but it wasn’t for me. More than any other aspect, in my mind, depression had come to define me. Maybe I was afraid of giving that up. Maybe I was afraid that being happy because of a pill meant that I was fundamentally broken, and that I would be living a lie; like, “I’d rather be myself and miserable, than be happy and fake.” I never could quite parse out why I was so resistant to the idea of medication.

Fast forward six years. I have been battling depression for all of those six years. On and off. I have done yoga and exercised daily, changed my eating habits for the better, started getting enough sleep. I have practiced meditation and gone into therapy. I kept a gratitude journal and practiced bringing mindfulness into my life. I changed careers. All of these things worked, for a little while. But, inevitably, I would end up right back there in that pit of despair. I think it turned into a kind of hubris, believing that I could do it on my own, that I had to do it on my own, even long after it became clear that I could not do it on my own.

And so, a few weeks ago, while laying in bed, tears soaking my face, I said to Bryan, “No matter what I do, I always end up back here.” There was a pause. “Maybe I need to try medication.”

Last week I went to my doctor. She asked me a lot of questions about my symptoms, how I was feeling, what life was like for me right now. She flipped back through her notes. She said, “The first time we talked about this was in 2009.” Flip flip flip. “Then again in 2011.” Flip. “And 2013.” I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had thought that dealing with it on my own made me stronger or something, healing myself by myself. Like I wore my constant suffering and struggle like a merit badge. She closed my file, laid her hand on top of it, fixed me with a kind smile. “You have done enough on your own.”

I had to get here on my own. I spent a lot of time over the past 13 or so years suffering. But I made a lot of healthy changes in my life too in order to help with it. And there is no one in the world that could have said to me, “You have to take this medication. This is the right and only way.”

I’m willing to try it now. I am willing to see if it will help. I am willing to see if there is the possibility that I will not have to suffer with this illness for the rest of my life, a belief that has plagued me for years. Every day now I take a little white pill, and I stare at my reflection, try to see if I feel any different.

It has only been six days, but I am seeing a difference: for the first time in a long time, I feel real hope.

The Depression Chronicles: Volume One

Split Personalities

There are two halves of me.

One longs for roots. Thick, deep, strong roots that will anchor me to a place and never let go. A warm home, with a well-curated library, comforting possessions, a garden. Children running wild, a shaggy dog, a purring cat.

The other yearns for freedom. The kind of freedom afforded by owning next to nothing and living in a camper van, or taking to the road to travel long term. The kind of untethered existence that sets a person loose upon the world and allows them to float wherever they damn well please.

One is anchored in comfortable convention, the other blazes like a bonfire, seducing me away from the conventional. But as of now, I have not been brave enough to turn my back on what I have always known to explore what I have always dreamed of. I do not know how to put down roots that will also allow me to float around at will.

There is a cliff approaching, and I do not know if I am brave enough to jump.

I close my eyes, repeat my new mantra: I am courageous enough for this. 

I see the edge.

What do I do?

What do I do?

Split Personalities

Doing Something is Better than Doing Nothing

This past month has involved a lot of sitting. And a lot of sleeping. And a lot of not engaging with the world in general.

It has been a less than fun time, because I feel like I’m being eaten alive by depression.

Yay!

Things have begun to lighten somewhat in the last week or so. I have somehow managed to get off my ass and do something every once in a while.

Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

I often find it difficult to get my butt in gear. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) it feels so much easier to stay on the couch and let Netflix play the next episode (and the next and the next). Then at the end of it, I feel like a zombie, and I kick myself for not getting anything productive done. So, to squash that guilty feeling of hiding from the world through television, I either watch more TV, delve into a book, or go to sleep. (Obviously, I have nothing against reading, except when it is being used as a means to hide from life instead of get more from it.)

About a month ago, we implemented a new system in our house that has made life a lot easier: Sundays, we prepare for the week ahead by doing some deep cleaning (kitchen and bathroom), laundry, and meal planning for the week, as well as a little bit of relationship housecleaning where we discuss our past week, what we have coming down the line over the next week, and the state of our finances. I cannot even explain to you how much this has changed the dynamic of our home.

Suddenly, the bathroom takes 15 minutes to clean instead of an hour (don’t even ask how often we used to clean it). Suddenly, we have clean clothes when we need them. Suddenly, we are communicating better and feeling closer to one another. Suddenly, when we sit down on the couch to watch an hour or two of television, it doesn’t feel like something guilty that we have to sneak, in case all the other tasks we should be accomplishing happen to see us.

On those days, I feel better than on most other days, because doing something is better than doing nothing. 

I try to remind myself of this when I am drowning in depression. Sometimes it works. More often, it doesn’t. But on those days when I say to myself, “Hey, self, you’ll feel so much better if you get up and do something” and then I actually manage to get up and do something, it is like a tiny miracle.

And maybe, if I keep telling myself that, the balance will tip, and more often than not, I will do something.

For now, I will be gentle with myself and remember that the nature of the beast that is depression means that doing things is hard. And it doesn’t make me a gross failure to not be able to do anything, or to only be able to do the tiniest of things. And to forgive myself, and try again. And again and again, as many times as necessary, because that is what life is. Trying and trying and trying until something sticks.

Doing Something is Better than Doing Nothing

the transformation of dreams

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…and it can be really hard to admit.

I have long dreamed of many things: traveling extensively; living abroad, in many different countries; being a published author; having children. Some of those dreams have stayed the same, while others have morphed and transformed. For a long time, I wanted to move to Vancouver. I thought about it all the time, often searched for apartments for rent and available jobs in my down time, and fantasized about all of the amazing things that we would do when we were finally there.

And then one day, not too long ago, I realized: Lately, I’ve been having to talk myself into wanting to move to Vancouver. 

I would forget about it for a while, and then remember, and then go, “Oh, right, Vancouver. Because the winter is milder, and, uh, the mountains! And the ocean. And, um…other stuff that they have there.” I discovered that, because I had always wanted to move to Vancouver, some part of me thought that I had to always want that. So when that part of me realized that it wasn’t really something that I wanted anymore, it tried its best to talk me back into it.

But I have realized that, sometimes, dreams change. And that is okay! If dreams didn’t change, that would mean that we were the same people that we had always been, and there are few situations in which stagnation is a good thing. Changing dreams means that we are discovering new things about ourselves, growing and changing as people, and re-evaluating our world and our wants and needs accordingly. How could that be a bad thing?

I know that it can be scary. I know that it can seem like having to let go of who you thought you were, or some idea of who you should be by now. It does mean that. Letting go of preconceived notions of who and what we should be is supremely difficult, and I do not dispute that. But embracing who you are now and how far you have come and how the things that you want out of life have changed because of that is very empowering, and I gently suggest that you try it, if you haven’t already.

I no longer want desperately to move to Vancouver, but I am not opposed to the idea if the opportunity arises.

I no longer want to live abroad in Australia, but I am absolutely down for a visit that lasts a month or two.

I no longer dream of a big house full of stuff, but am happily fantasizing about the tiny house that we are going to build.

I no longer want six children, but am very excited for the two we will eventually have.

Throughout our lives, our experiences change us. That is a good thing. It stands to reason, then, that our dreams changing is a good thing, too.

What dreams have you let go of because they no longer serve you?

the transformation of dreams

Making Friends Isn’t Child’s Play

Making friends as an adult is hard. As a child, it seemed like the easiest thing in the world to suddenly become best friends with the kid playing next to you in the sandbox. But then puberty happened in all its awkward glory and everything got complicated, and even then, it was still much easier than it is now, as an adult, to make friends.

It has been 8 months (holy balls) since we moved to Calgary. For most of that time, I have been basically friendless. One of my best friends lives in Calgary, but she is newly married and lives on the complete opposite side of town, and we make solid efforts to see each other, but we are busy people, and it doesn’t always work out. A friend from middle school lives in Calgary, as well, and we sometimes get together to watch Supernatural and eat Indian food. But I was feeling sort of lonely, and missing my sorority days when it was super easy to hang out with people: walk into the house at any time of day and you were going to find at least one sister hanging around. Easy as pie.

I was hoping to make friends when I started my new job, but let’s just say that we had different world views and they didn’t clashed in a hardcore kind of way. When I started working at my new job, I knew that I had found people who valued the same things as me, and we had a lot more in common. Friendships began to blossom. Sort of. They were like the fetuses of friendship, blobby and not quite yet recognizable for what they might become.

But still, I feel quite separate from people. I haven’t quite opened myself up to them. I haven’t quite shown them who exactly I really am. I’m quieter, shyer, less opinionated around them. I desperately want to fit in and have them like me. And I find myself acting like a freak a lot of the time.

It’s frustrating. It shouldn’t be this hard to connect with people! Do I just make it harder than it actually is by wanting it so badly? Am I doing this to myself and I simply need to relax? I don’t know. But last week I took the plunge and asked one of the girls that I feel the most connected to to go for coffee. It was terrifying. I was an anxious mess for the whole hour before I managed to ask. And I made it even more awkward by being all flustered and saying things like, “I want to ask you something, but I’m really nervous, and I feel like a freak.” Now I know how boys must feel when all of the pressure is on them to ask girls out on dates.

I am hoping that when we go on our coffee date, that I can relax a little bit more. That I can let a bit more of my real personality shine through, and stop hiding behind my insecurities. I’d really like for us to be friends. But you can’t be friends with someone if you don’t really know who they are. So I’m going to have to let go of the fear a little bit. Embrace the vulnerability. I hope I’m alive on the other side.

Wish me luck?

Making Friends Isn’t Child’s Play