Everyone is on Meds

Social anxiety, for me, happens when I go out into the world and I feel like everyone is watching me. I can feel eyes on me watching my every move, even reading my thoughts… It’s that feeling that there are a bunch of cameras hidden, and they’re all pointed at me; I can’t see them, but I know that there are people watching me. They’re judging, critiquing, mocking, maybe even laughing at me. Every move I make is seen, and thought or feeling I have, even though I’m not saying them out loud, are broadcast throughout the land.

My social anxiety often feels like The Truman Show.

When a wave of social anxiety approaches me, I start to assume that everyone I meet is on medication. Every person surrounding me is on one medication or another, so they’re no different than me.

Like my father always said, “Better living through chemistry.”

I like to look at people and think, “I bet you’re bipolar, aren’t you?” Or “You’re so taking Ritalin,” and then I identify my Xanax homies and Lorazepam bros.

It’s a device, like picturing the audience in their underwear. It’s a means to make an uncomfortable situation bearable. By assuming everyone I meet is also on medication, I feel I am on equal terms with them. I don’t feel inadequate, I feel like I get where they’re coming from.

Telling people I’m on meds is disarming. It makes people feel either uncomfortable, confused, or relieved. The uncomfortable don’t know what to do, and usually end up saying ignorant hurtful shit that ends with me telling them “well then you’re not really someone I want to associate with, so fuck off.” Confused people offer an opportunity to educate individuals about the importance of mental health and wellness. The relieved feel blessed, “I’m on meds too! I’m not alone! We can be messed up together!

Medication is a great way to make friends, connections, learn something new, and most importantly: just all around feel so much fucking better about being alive.

It’s hard to feel good about being alive sometimes. Meds make it easier to feel good about being alive.

My depression, when untreated, feels like a wound/injury that I feel all day everyday. I wake up in the morning and think, “ugh I’m alive, but I’m in pain! It hurts! This sucks! “ but then I get aid, be it in the form of a band-aid, therapy, or medication and everything starts feeling better again. Feeling alive starts to feel good again.

Before medication, my anxieties were crippling and my depression made living miserable. I once told a counselor, “I’m alive, but it hurts, being alive actually hurts. Having to function hurts. Going through the necessities of life is hurting me. Paying bills, taxes, laundry, recycling, driving, ordering, appointments, etc.”

Basic life functions may be easy for others, but when you wake up already in pain, going through those functions is like pouring salt on an open wound.

It’s like I have a broken leg but I’m walking on it anyways and going to work thinking, “I’m here, I’m getting what I need to do done. But it hurts like fucking hell while I do it. It’s making me more miserable, it’s making me worse….” If you walk on a broken leg without treating it, it won’t get better and it won’t be tolerable. Even if what you have to do is something that is necessary for life, you won’t be able to do it until you take care of that broken leg.

So I’m on medication to manage my mental health, I have been for the past three years. I used to feel shame about that fact, the stigmas of mental health were gossip fodder for my anxieties that made me want to quit meds and stay in my cave of shame. But then something amazing happened; I began waking up and feeling excited about being alive. I could face my days not dreading the pain I’d endure, but instead determination and motivation began flooding my system.

I started to become less socially anxious when I began trying to assume who was on what medication, then silently sympathizing with that person’s pain. When I make these silent assumptions, it is not done in search of truth. I am not looking to diagnose anyone or correctly guess what medication that person may be taking. Instead, it is a way for me to filter my social anxieties so that I may not feel inadequate or unequal with whomever I’m speaking to. Being in social situations is hard, especially when I feel like there’s something wrong with me all the time. By assuming that there’s something wrong with everyone else, I don’t feel I am the only one struggling.

You’re not alone. Even if it’s not being said aloud, everyone’s medicating their pain one way or another. You don’t need to be ashamed, but you don’t have to talk about it either. You do you.

Follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

This piece was edited by the magical Sarah Fader @thesarahfader on twitter

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My Days in Mud

I feel as though most days I'm swimming through mud. This is neither a good or bad thing, it's just my state of being. I've accepted that having mental illnesses (yes, I'm using the plural) means almost everyday is going to be muddy in some way, shape or form.

Some days I just wanna walk through it to get somewhere, not really caring if I get my clothes dirty on the way, I just want to get through it and get it done. These are the days I can't be bothered with crap being around me, I just know I have to trudge through to make it through the day.

Other days I walk carefully, gingerly stepping over muddier spots and doing my best to hold the hems of my pants up and away from the grime. I get anxious and nervous, struggling a lot some days just to leave my house because I'm terrified of the minefield that is society.

Then there are days I get stuck, my feet sink in and I can't budge an inch no matter how I pull or scream for help. It sucks when I get so stuck in my head that neither I nor anyone else can pull me out, frustration at my mental health is something I continue to struggle with.

The worst are days I decide to fuck it and lay in the mud, feeling it seep through my clothing till it hits my skin and covers me whole. That deflation of defeat can be crippling, those days I have to take time alone to figure out where my head and heart are at. I believe these are the days when my head and heart fall out of sync, which dampens my spirit.

Occasionally I'll roll around in the mud, not really giving a damn about the mess but not caring enough to stand up and get out of it. There are weird days where my depression clings to me like a wet blanket, but I really can't find myself to care all that much about it. I'll somehow have the energy to go do random activities to occupy myself from my head, like dancing on my favorite hiking trail or going to a movie all by myself.

Then a day comes and I'll get back up and start fighting my way through it again, knowing I'll likely get dirty along the way but nevertheless persist. Some days I wake up and just know I have to get things done, and that's what I end up doing.

I can never tell you what kind of mud I'll encounter on any given day. Occasionally I'll have a day be going fine and dandy when suddenly I take a step and my feet slip right out from below my and land my ass in a muddy puddle. Other days the ground is dry and sturdy enough for me to skip and dance through, not giving a damn about tripping or falling.

Life is muddy. Most days we'll be lucky and the mud will settle down and the water's surface becomes clear again. Others things get stirred up and thick so it's impossible to move forward without making a bigger mess. Life is about as clear as mud, we just have to figure out what to do with it whenever it's encountered.

Follow on twitter @JoyPearson

Braids 

As a kid, I picked at my scabs. Any cut or scrape I got took forever to heal, because I was always scratching and picking at the scabs. It’s always been an unconscious reflex, I’ve never really aware I’m doing it until I’ve got bloody finger nails and brown blood stains around the wound. This sounds horrifically emo, but it was how I dealt with anxiety. Same goes for bruises, I could never stop touching and pressing on them. The few times I’ve had stitches were dicey, I couldn’t stop poking and prodding bandages. 

I’m not going to be dramatic and say it’s because I like pain. In fact, it has little to do with the pain of these acts, its about the relief I find afterwards. I’d pick at a scab and cover it with a fresh bandage, the wounds always warm with irritation that fades comfortably into a healing stiffness. Poking bruises and the instant relief of covering it gently with hands feels soothing. It’s kind of like pain is the payment for relief. 

I’ve tried a lot of healthy replacements to these behaviors. Fidget cubes are my best friends, as well as play dough to squeeze, yarn to knit, and nail polish to pick. However, while these tools gave me a replacement for my nervous energy, they did not bring me the same physical relief. 

I have long hair. I’ve been growing it out from a pixie cut I got three years ago, and thanks to vitamins and care, it has grown past my bust line. As soon as it was long enough, I began braiding it. Just basic braids, I haven’t mastered the French braid nor the fishtail. Sometimes it would be a simple ponytail braid, or a side braid down my right shoulder. More often than not, I’d constantly keep a tress or two from the base of my skull tightly braided. 

It wasn’t for vanity I began doing this, rarely were the braid ostentatious or noticeable. The braiding had much more to do with how I was handling my stress and anxiety. At 23 I’d been in treatment for depression, PTSD, and anxiety just under a year. After experiencing a mild panic attack on a six hour plane trip home from Boston, I calmed myself by braiding my hair. 

Anyone with long hair will tell you how sore the scalp gets after being pulled tight, be it in braids, ponytails, or buns. In my experience, I find the sensation of taking my hair out of tight braids incredibly soothing. I slowly unwind the twists and then massage my scalp, which always calms me down and relaxes my mind. It’s the least destructive way I can achieve a relatively calm physical state when I’m tense from anxiety. I keep my fingers busy from picking at scabs, and I have the sensation of relief from unbraiding my hair. 

I don’t know anyone else who does this, or anything similar. Part of me feels like I’m insane for even admitting this out loud, but I’m hoping someone else will relate and know they aren’t alone in how they physically cope with anxiety. It’s hard, I used to scratch myself until I made new wounds to scab over and pick at, it was unhealthy and it concerned my family. It was something I couldn’t help doing when I was anxious, thankfully I’ve worked hard in therapy to find healthy substitutes for this behavior. 

Braids are simple but beautiful. They date at least 5000 years, appearing in every culture around the world. The relief I get from massaging my scalp after braiding is far more beneficial to my wellbeing than picking at scabs. I used to be embarrassed by this behavior, but now I’m more outspoken about my mental health struggles, I’m going to proudly own my braids for what they are: symbols of an anxious human trying to cope with the world. 
For more anxiety inanity, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Learning to Live as a Conflict Avoidant 

It came as no great surprise to me recently when my therapists (that’s right, PLURAL) told me that I am ‘conflict avoidant’. If you need a crash course on conflict styles, google it and catch up because I’m going to jump straight to the point: I do not like conflict. If I’m being honest, conflict feels like a creature with a thousand claws is scratching down my shoulders and squeezing my neck until I choke. But thankfully, through therapy and a hefty tool box of mental exercises, I’ve (kinda) tamed that creature and have made it (somewhat) my bitch.

Like all conflict styles, being Conflict Avoidant (CA) is no better or worse than the others. Every human being has a different manner in which they deal with conflict, and all manners have pros and cons. However it seems that humans get really frustrated when different styles of conflict are confronted by one another. I know this because I maintain close relationships, and each person has a different conflict style than myself. Some are easier to manage, while others often get tangled up in a mess. It’s a work in progress learning how to dance with each style.

I can only speak from my own experience being CA, so I try to be understanding of all other conflict types. I feel that as a CA, I’m far easier intimidated and am more susceptible to pressure and persuasion. I have often found that when I’m in situations of conflict in which the person I’m arguing with has a stronger personality and (perhaps) thicker skin, I often give up or give in. It’s rarely because I agree with the other person’s argument or I’ve changed my mind; it’s always because I can’t stand the pressure of conflict, I always feel like I’m about to suffocate and/or cry. 

This is really hard for me to write about, as it’s really my biggest fault. Standing up for myself is a huge overwhelming effort, one that I can pull off once in a blue moon but leaves me drained for weeks. More often than not when faced with conflict, I back down and walk away because I don’t want the negativity to germinate in my chest and take over. It’s just always been easier that way.

I think the reason I’m writing about my biggest weakness is because I’ve been examining self-esteem lately. My therapist has been asking me for ages, ‘where does your self-esteem come from?’ And I’ve never had a really good answer. Every answer I gave was half-hearted or desperate guesses, I’ve never really been sure where it came from. After recently going through some rough patches and putting my frustrations under a microscope, I had the answer: Solitude.

Two years ago, I moved into my own apartment. I had never lived alone before, after high school I went to college where I had a string of roommates then moved back in with my parents post-undergrad. Living with my parents for a year in my twenties was both a blessing and a HUGE pain in the rear. Sure, I was in my twenties and I was an adult. I had finally quit my soul-sucking job selling shoes at Macy’s to work for a school district that paid me better and didn’t make me hate humanity. But I still had that awkward need to ‘ask’ my parents permission before going out late, and when I got into a serious relationship that meant ‘sleepovers’ I was ready to leave the nest. I was ready to be on my own to fly.

I am very blessed to have been living alone for two years in my apartment now. My true introverted self flourished in my solitude, and there I finally met my true self and called her friend. I still live close to my family and have sleepovers with my boyfriend, but being alone has really allowed me to find myself and where my true strengths lie. I’ve set up an etsy business that I’m slowly (because I’m absolutely terrified) branching out into farmers markets, I’ve embraced my desire to make art, and I’ve learned how to clean the toilet (are you proud of me yet, Mum?).

I imagine you can see how my self-esteem is now so well matched with my weakness. They often hold hands as they skip through the minefield of emotions I experience on a daily basis. In my solitude I can find clarity and thought in any issue I’m presented with, but being CA often means I take longer to respond to an issue than others. When immediately confronted with conflict, I’ll often back down and give in to find some immediate peace, only to later examine the situation in solitude and find thoughts that I wish I’d shared earlier. My need to sit on any issue to mull over in solitude has cost me many relationships with impatient individuals; ones that were more open to conflict than myself, but I ultimately wouldn’t miss. 

I’ve gathered some tools lately to help me bear out being CA. First is the word “safe”, there is more power in that word than any superpower found in the Marvel Universe. I telling someone “I don’t feel safe in this conversation…” or “I don’t feel safe when…” automatically stops the other person. Unless they’re a real asshole, no person wants to be told that they make someone feel unsafe. It’s a terrible feeling! Because if someone doesn’t feel safe talking to you, that means you are not a safe person. Unless you’re a psychopath (in which cast, stop reading my blog and go get some help), no one wants to make people feel unsafe. I know that if I tell someone, “I don’t feel safe right now,” they cannot tell me I’m wrong. They are my feelings, and they are 100% valid. Anyone who tries to invalidate someone’s safety is an asshole.

My second tool comes on the heels of the first, and that is using statements that start with “I feel…” I have found that in using statements such as “that makes me feel…” or “When you did this, it made me feel…” you have already blamed the other person for whatever it is they’ve done. In stating “I feel…” You are taking ownership of your feelings and where you stand in any given situation.

The thirst tool is time.  This can be both a healing balm, or a slow poisonous death. Taking time to step back from a conflict to think and gain insight can present better solutions, but if the wait is too long the other person may grow impatient. Not all conflict can be dealt in the heat of the moment, but neither can they be left on the back burner forever. There is a mastery to asking for time to examine the conflict, the returning to it later enough that insight has been gained but the battle hasn’t been abandoned. This tool is one I’m still training, as being CA often means letting conflicts drop and pretending they don’t exist anymore. 

I’m still learning how not to see being CA as a weakness, but the setbacks tend to be debilitating. I am learning how to turn conflict into conversation; choosing to share feelings and ideas with others rather than engage in a battle of words that leave me with wounds more painful than the victory itself. This doesn’t always work, especially when the other person isn’t open to receiving feelings and thoughts with respect and mindfulness. However it can be a start to giving myself some inner peace in trying to resolve conflict in a non-hostile manner.
That’s not to say I’m now perfect; I’m still the queen of passive aggressive anger. I will cold-shoulder the hell out of you if you so much as think about hurting a loved one or stealing my food. I also make poor judgement calls, and I don’t think I’ll ever have any volume control. But I am trying to do the best I can with the tools I have to make daily conflicts more bearable to deal with. I’m learning how to embrace being CA without beating myself up over the setbacks. It has been, by far, the hardest task I’ve yet to face, but not one I’m willing to give up on. 
Follow on twitter @JoyPearson

Make up and Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about makeup lately and how it’s effected my life. My mother has been coming to me more and more for makeup tips and suggestions for her appearance. My mother has always had impeccable taste in fashion and her appearance whereas my idea of a good look is yoga pants and an Avengers camisole with a built in bra. Where my mother excels in fashion and appearance, I’ve always aimed to excel in makeup and beauty. I think that’s why our relationship has always been so beautifully supportive of one another because we can teach and learn from each other on how to make ourselves feel better in our own skin.

We recently went shopping and I took Mum to some shops to help her get the basics for a great natural look without the need for a million different products (I love fussing with lots of products, Mum doesn’t). In doing so, I thought a lot about my beliefs in my appearance and my relationship to makeup and came up with these:

  • I’m not happy if I’m not comfortable, so I want makeup that feels good on my face. If I’m uncomfortable throughout the day and constantly thinking about how something feels weird on my face, I’m unhappy so therefore it is not a product that is worth wasting my money on.
  • I want to forget I’m wearing makeup. It’s like a happy surprise when I walk past my reflection and see a different/new me (albeit sometimes the ‘new’ me looks like she’s cosplaying Rocket Raccoon depending on the eyeliner situation).
  • I start by creating an appearance that I love, then I’ll invest in that look. Don’t get sucked into buying random, shiny new products. Get invested in a look that works for you, then gather the tools for it.
  • Variety is a spice in life, so don’t be afraid to try something new. A New look, a different product, don’t feel like you need to be consistent with your choices. Makeup was invented to be experimented and played with, just as paints were made to be mixed and blended together to create new art.
  • Makeup is as essential to some people as medication is to others. Don’t judge or mock what is critical to another’s self-confidence and soul.
  • Makeup should NEVER hide your true self. It should accentuate every and any nook and cranny you choose to draw attention to, not make the world wonder what character you’re attempting to cosplay as.

I have more, but these were the key ones I found myself relating to my Mum as we sat for drinks after shopping. Makeup can be a key that opens a portal to a whole other person you might have never known existed within yourself. There is nothing wrong with liking it or investing in yourself if it makes you feel as good inside and you look outside.

Writing on and off screen

I started a bullet journal. I know it’s a huge fad thing that’s happening right now, and I can see why. I’ve been using one for a little less than a month and already there are positive changes. I look forward to filling in my habit tracking charts every day, I have specific symbols assigned to meanings behind every note I make every day.

I can go on forever about my journal and new habits, and I’ll undoubtedly will in a future post. Right now I just feel like explaining why I feel I need it.

It’s simple really. There are a million things I want to shout into the void; 90% of those times I want to scream at the void in a temperamental tantrum form that isn’t unlike a small child. But I don’t, because unlike a lot of people on the internet, I recognize that the internet is not a private journal nor a therapist. Someone will read my words, and I don’t want them to be hurt if I don’t mean it.

I started this blog as a place to shout into the void, and I plan on continuing with this thing until I run out of weird crap to spew, but there are some things that are meant to be placed on the quiet pages of a moleskin notebook rather than posted carelessly where anyone can read it.

Privacy is important, crucial if you ask me. I always feel for celebrities who are clearly uncomfortable with the amount of attention that is drawn to their personal private lives. While I wouldn’t mind reaching ‘celebrity status’ some day, I wouldn’t ever want my private thoughts and feelings out for the world to scrutinize and pull apart. So I have a journal now. A place where I can place wild thoughts at a moment’s notice to leave to gestate while I determine whether it’s something I’m ready to share with the world or remain private.

My journal is my way of taking control of my smart mouth and my insane choices. Writing down a stupid thought or idea in my journal is healthier and safer than shouting it out to the world where someone might misinterpret my meaning and feel hurt.

So if it seems I’m not posting as often on here, it’s because I’m being more cautious and conscious of my words and my feelings. The last thing I want to do is unintentionally offend, dishearten, depress, trigger, or generally hurt someone by a thoughtless post I didn’t think twice about before clicking ‘publish’. I’m taking my time to digest the words I’m thinking of saying before rapidly dancing my fingers along the keyboard to make a hasty statement.

Have patience with me, as I am learning to have patience with myself. I’m forever appreciative of the small following I’ve gathered on here so far, I would never abandon something I know has the potential to be a great part of my life (or at the very least I’d try my damnedest to hold on).

Wandering Fake Stars

 

I can’t be myself when I travel. It’s a matter of fact. I don’t know how to get comfortable in a strange foreign place the way I do when I am home in my personal domain where I know everything inside out and out. I become self-conscious of everything unknown to me, which is just about everything depending on the location of travel.

I’m fortunate this week. Wednesday I traveled out to Newbury Port for the second time; an area my boyfriend is from that I’m somewhat familiar with but more comfortable being in. This time I feel more confident and comfortable in my surroundings, though only by a few inches.

Tonight I drank a bit more wine than normal, using the drink to dull my nerves and anxiety as my guy’s siblings arrived to stay for a few days. It’s not that they’re awful people, it’s that I myself feel I’m out of place on the far outer circle of here. Not uncommon given my circumstances, but anxiety inducing none-the-less.

After excusing myself upstairs for the evening, I found myself in my boyfriend’s childhood bedroom for one of the rare long moments alone I’ve had recently. His room is beautiful; the ceiling is painted in a whimsical space design, using blue and cerulean colors for the background and a dazzling combonation of browns, oranges, and yellows to create the planets of our solar system. It’s dazzling to stare up at in the middle of the day.

It was night when I came up into the room, and no one was around. After changing into my pajamas, I decided to explore the loft. That’s right, my guy’s bedroom has a ladder than leads up to a loft. I remember when I first saw the loft over a year ago during a Skype session during the early days of our dating, when we hadn’t declared ourselves as a serious couple or even knowing we were in the middle of falling in love. I remember the video when I saw his room and I went, “Oh my god WHAT IS THAT?” When I saw the hand railing ascended 10 feet above the bedroom floor. “That’s the loft,” Alex answered casually, but I was completely fascinated. Only in princess stories and tales of medieval castle designs had I heard of ‘lofts’ within rooms, I’d never seen one for myself. I vaguely explored it upon my first visit to his home last summer, but only tonight did I learn how to appreciate it.

All alone in my undergarments (and slightly drunk), I scaled the ladder and crawled tentatively onto the loft. It’s softly carpeted, a few books comfortably lined up against the wall my boyfriend had stored there for time being. There’s a small door, big enough to crawl through that leads into his brother’s bedroom, who has another door that lead’s into his sister’s room, like a series of passages connecting rooms (much like the ones I’d always read in adventure books and died to see in real life).

Hearing no one approaching, I stood up to my full height, surprised to find that I couldn’t head-butt the ceiling with my 5 foot 9 1/2 inch height. I took a step and gripped the handrail and looked down upon the floor plan for the bedroom, which was fairly standard (Bed, desk, bookcase, couple of chairs), and then I looked up.

I recognize that the ceiling of this room is not an accurate representation of the galaxy, but I couldn’t help but be mystified as I slowly reached up and let my finger tips graze the celestial ceiling above me. It was beautiful. I’m about 80% certain it was the alcohol warping my mind, but I felt like I was high enough to explore the galaxy. I imagine this comes from my utter obsession with Guardians of the Galaxy and all other space epics, but I smiled like a true wanderer while I stood on that loft looking out at the painted stars.

I felt a bit like myself when I was up there. A wanderer full of curiosity and wonder as I explore unknown places on my own for the first time with the aid of others. It gave me a sigh of relief to know that that piece of myself remains untouched by the anxieties of life. I can only wish now that I could see the ceiling, the stars and planets, at night as I drift off to sleep. Though I know that if I could, I’d never want to close my eyes again. Which would turn into a tragedy of it’s own.

It’s hard to retain or find yourself when you’re displaced from your natural environment. Without my family near me, I feel exposed and vulnerable to the world in ways many would not understand. But if I can find moments of wonder in my searching and wandering, I find myself feeling stronger and more steady within myself, no matter where I am in that moment.