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

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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

Word Generator Inspiration

Lately I’ve had a desperate need to write, but I suffer from a lack of inspiration these days. To give myself a kickstart, I used a random word generator online to give me a set of six words that I would then craft into a poem. The words I received were ‘extract’, ‘betrayal’, ‘contagious’, ‘messenger’, ‘union’, and ‘smart’. 

Using these six words, I came up with the following poem:

To extract thoughts and ideas from my mind

Seems so impossible, I take it as a sign.

A betrayal from my hand to my brain

A tenuous union that’s driving me insane.

If I were smart, I’d find hobbies more contagious

Things I can do that will be more advantageous

Someone get a reliable messenger for my hand and head

Before things remain silent, sadly left unsaid. 

For more poetic ridiculousness, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Random Rhymes

I’m on a weird rhyming kick currently, which always happens when I start listening to too much rap combined with watching Shakespeare films (Words, words, words). Rather than let them rot on the page of a random notebook, I’m publishing what I wrote out today. It’s probably not good (no wait…. it is DEFINITELY not good) but I know that if I don’t publish my writing more, the less motivated I’ll be to continue writing. So here I present, for either your enjoyment or torture, some bars I wrote out today.

Sure, yes sure!

I’ve got words to say

Say them or don’t

It’s all the same

My body shows peace

My mind wondrously strays

Lovers, liars, cheaters, sneakers

I know all their secrets

But I’m no snitch or squealer

Unless you do

Something found rude

Or just not true

I’ll let it stew

Until I need to serve it up, I’ll drink some booze

and watch you lose

Whatever dignity that’s left for you

Ha! Okay, okay I’m not that dope

I’m a girl hidden in the crowd

Not on display riding a float

This is no joke

I have no hope

Everyone will look at me say “you should not have spoke.”

Take from that what you will, I’m going to go write some more clunky rhymes and pretend I actually know what I’m doing when it comes to writing. For even more convoluted thoughts, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Art Therapy at Studio S Fine Arts

I took a big step for myself this weekend. I could wax prose on the subject, but I’m just going to get to the point: I posted my original art up for sale in my etsy store Wandless Wanderers where I also sell greeting cards and bath bombs. I honestly don’t expect anyone to buy it, but I’ve been pushed and encouraged by so many people that I figured I may as well post them just to get them to stop nagging me!

So I did. Yesterday I was filled with near paralyzing anxiety, going back and forth between posting and not posting for a really long time. I took a long sojourn to the beach nearby to sit, read, and think it through. All my thoughts went to the same conclusion: If I want to be an artist, I need to attempt to sell my art.

So I posted my art up in my shop, and it sold within minutes! I’m just kidding, it hasn’t sold. But wouldn’t that be a great way to end the story? Or begin it? Who freakin knows, I’m getting existentially off topic. The point is, I got over my fears and anxiety and did it!

One victory down, I figured I needed to keep the momentum running. I’d been contemplating attending a free art class a friend of mine was running. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, so I was erring on the side of “calling out sick”, but overall I knew not going would have been a dumb choice. I was correct in that assumption.

Just getting from my apartment to the class was a major anxiety struggle. Everyone is outside enjoying the sun, so the roads were crowded and I ended up straddling cross-walks with my car more than once (and nothing induces driving anxiety in me like having pedestrians walking around my car, glaring at me for not judging the distance better). So by the time I arrived and parked my car, I was pretty amped up and not feeling too sociable. But I’d already posted on twitter that I was facing my social anxiety, and I couldn’t back down!

Thankfully, it was a small class, and the atmosphere of the studio calmed me almost immediately as I began looking at the example pictures and started thinking of color combinations in my head.


To begin, I used an exacto-knife to cut out pages from a dictionary. I chose pages specifically with the words “Joy” “Wander” and “Mental” in them. It took me a long time to come up with this arrangement (I wanted to make sure I was covering words such as “menstruation” and “Menses”).


Next I used a stencil and traced flames over the pages, ideally to represent the creative fire I have burning in me (or just fire, it’s art, it can be whatever you want). Then I painted a layer of liquid masking within the flames so that water color wouldn’t seep through. 


As you can see, I did not use enough of the liquid masking, so the color bleeds into the flames a bit. But I’m honestly happy with how this turned out. The colors are vibrant and they make the disjointed flames dance a bit more. I also love that you can still read the dictionary definitions underneath so you get a sense of the kind of person I am from the words I chose.

So, to sum up: I shook off my anxiety and posted my artwork on Etsy, plus I faced my social anxiety and attended a class alone. So… pretty good weekend, in my honest opinion.
For more up-to-date notifications about my art, anxiety, depression, thoughts on a Jurassic Park/Downton Abbey crossover, or even bad jokes, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Arguing with my brain

I frequently disagree with my brain, it leads to a lot of anxiety and moments of frustration. Here’s a common conversation we have on the daily:

Me: Today isn’t going well. I wish I had someone to talk to about it.

Brain: Why? No one cares.

Me: Sure they do! 

Brain: They’re only being polite.

Me: Well it’s nice when they ask how I’m doing and listen. Oh look! A friend is online! I’m going to ask how they’re doing and see if they can talk.

Brain: Good luck with that.

*30 minutes later*

Brain: How did it go?

Me: Fine… They’re doing really well.

Brain: Did they ask how you were?

Me: …no.

Brain: See?

Me: See what? They’re probably busy! 

Brain: Or they don’t care.

Me: Sometimes things spring up that need full attention. They’re probably focused on something important.

Brain: Yes they are, they’re focusing on not caring about you.

Me: I highly doubt that.

Brain: Then why didn’t they ask after you?

Me: I just said, they’re probably busy!

Brain: Busy ignoring you.

Me: Okay, you know what? I am a good person! I care about others and I like hearing about their days! Even if they don’t have time to ask about me, much less remember, at least they know that I care about them and I genuinely mean it when I ask “How are you?” So why don’t you shut up, and let me enjoy my friendships!

Brain: …

Me: …

Brain: … They still don’t care.

Me: SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!!!

Anyone else have this argument with their brain? Logically, I know that my friends care and love me. But my brain likes to lie to me and make me feel unimportant. Having a mental illness makes it hard to trust in other people, but it makes it impossible to have trust in myself. 

I spoke to my close friend, Sarah Fader (CEO of Stigma Fighters, follow her on twitter @thesarahfader) and she gave me some damn good advice, “Sometimes, you need to just ask for what you want and not give a fuck about the consequences.” Hell fucking yes. It’s not easy to do, but I’m making a conscious effort to voice my feelings and to ask for what I need from others. 
Follow me on twitter @JoyPearson for more up-to-date arguments I have with my brain.