Keeping Track of the Good Things

happinessjar

The “Happiness Jar”

Happiness Jars have been a thing for years now, and I really wish I had made one for 2015.

This was just…not my year. 2015 was the year that nothing happened; or, at least, nothing good. I had declared 2015 a failure as early as mid-September, dragging myself for all the wasted days and failed attempts/missed opportunities to make it better. Because I enjoy making myself suffer oh-so-much, I decided to write a list of all the things I didn’t do this year, all the things I tried and failed, and all the things that just went flat-out wrong.

I didn’t feel too great by the end of this little exercise, to say the least. In fact, I was livid. Angry at myself for all the things that went wrong this year, sure, but also suddenly angry at the very notion that my 2015 was a total and complete disaster. Seeing all of my failures and shortcomings down on paper made me oddly defensive, and perhaps a bit desperate to prove to myself that 2015 wasn’t all bad…after all, only a Sith deals in absolutes.

I didn’t have a Happiness Jar to fall back on, so I went back through my memories of 2015 to see if I could come up with any Good Things to pit against my list of crap.

Here’s what I came up with:

Took a really scary writing workshop that became much less scary by the end. It was taught by a Nebula nominee and the other students gave incredibly…thorough…feedback. But I pushed through and it was worth it in the end because…

…I finally began drafting the fantasy novel I’ve been sitting on for years. I brought in really rough drafts of the first two chapters, and it was surprisingly (to me, at least) well received. I was given plenty of notes on things to improve upon, of course, but for now I’m just happy having introduced a group of people to characters I’ve known and loved for so long, and knowing that they loved them, too.

Wrote a review of a book I really enjoyed and the book’s author found it, read it, and Tweeted it

Introduced myself to one of my favorite authors at BookCon. I was shaking and terribly awkward but for a fleeting moment her attention was on me, which is plenty to feel good about.

Landed a job I had wanted for awhile, then had the courage to quit when I realized it wasn’t what I wanted, after all. I wrote about it here.

Asked another employer (who I have been with for three years) for a raise and have since received TWO. Ask and you shall receive. Seriously.

Completely reworked how I thought about my day job, and it has made a world of difference. I work from home as a web content writer. It’s not a particularly fun job and it can get lonely and underwhelming not having an office outside the house to go to every day. This was the year I really began to understand that this job is my income, not my profession, and that working from home gives me the freedom to schedule in time to work on other writing projects…my writing projects.

Saw MISERY on Broadway as a “Halloween present” from my sister. I am 100% in favor of Halloween presents becoming a thing, especially when they consist of seeing Laurie Metcalf and Bruce Willis in a play based on one of your favorite books by one of your favorite authors.

Discovered new means of managing anxiety…through baking.

Saw my name in print as an editorial assistant of a lit mag for the first time.

Was invited to participate in my first literary reading. I have since been told the event has been pushed back to December 2016, but it feels nice to have been asked (and now I have a whole year to write an awesome story to read).

Quit smoking. !

Got a puppy. !!!

 

Of course I would like to see things improve for me in 2016. Of course I have goals for the coming year and hope they don’t go up in flames like so many of the goals I made in 2015. But things are going to go wrong, and I’m going to get discouraged and it’s going to feel like my own personal apocalypse all over again…I’ll just have to remember to keep track of the Good Things, too.

I’m going out tomorrow to find myself a big, fat Happiness Jar. Here’s to filling it to the brim with Good Things in 2016.

Things I’ve Learned from a Lifelong Struggle with Anxiety & Depression

Anyone who has spent any amount of time on social media this past week has noticed the recent outpour of conversations surrounding mental health on Facebook, Twitter, and various news sources and blogs. In the wake of Robin Williams’s tragic suicide, swarms of people have been coming forward to share their own experiences with depression, voice support for anyone they might know struggling with mental health issues, and start conversations aimed at erasing the stigma and misinformation so commonly tied to perceptions of depression, anxiety, and other aspects of mental health.

Seeing these discussions in my various feeds has been incredible. It has also been a bit overwhelming. Depression and anxiety are not easy things to talk about, especially if you have them yourself. With depression and anxiety comes unbelievable pain, constant distress, and moments when you really do wonder just how much more you can take. As someone who has spent a lifetime struggling with depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I felt the need to contribute, but how? I didn’t want to share my life story with my 600+ Facebook friends, because the details of my life are not everybody’s business. I didn’t want to be “that person” dishing out advice and telling people to “get help” or “talk to someone”, because it is never that easy and not all advice is relevant to all manifestations of anxiety and depression.

But I didn’t want to sit silent, and so instead of empty advice, instead of releasing an entire memoir, I am writing this in hopes that maybe, somehow, and in some way, a part of what I have learned in my struggle with depression and anxiety can help someone else.

Note: I am not a mental health professional and these things may not apply to everyone reading them. These are just some words of wisdom based on things I have learned through my experience, and my experience alone.

First and foremost, never feel guilty or ashamed for being depressed.
This is something I wish I had learned a long time ago and am just recently coming to terms with. An all-too-common response to people with depression, far more damaging (I think) than the “cheer up” nonsense, is to tell people to think about how much worse off ‘other’ people are. When you are depressed, you can’t imagine feeling worse. But that doesn’t make you selfish, or whiny, or unappreciatively privileged. It doesn’t make you narcissistic or apathetic to the suffering and struggles of other people. Similarly, you are not a burden to those around you, and you are not ruining anyone else’s day/life with your anxiety or depression. Your thoughts, feelings, and concerns are VALID – always – and they’re nothing to feel guilty about.

Crisis hotlines serve more than one purpose.
Crisis hotlines are not only for people on the verge of taking their own lives. Calling a crisis hotline does not automatically rope you into treatment, and the person on the phone will not force you to do or say anything that you are not ready or comfortable to. Seeking treatment can be scary, and feeling alone when you are depressed or mid-panic attack is scary, too. Calling a crisis hotline is a great way to just talk to someone, completely anonymously, on your own terms and for any length of time you choose. The people on the other side of the phone are trained professionals and can give you advice, but they will also just listen if you ask them to, or sit on the phone with you in complete silence, if all you need is to know that someone is there. They can discuss treatment options with you (again, anonymously) if that’s what you want, give you tips on how to cope day-to-day, or talk you out of a bad moment. You can talk to them for 30 seconds, 30 minutes, or three hours. They are there for whatever you need them for.

You don’t have to consider yourself mentally “ill”.
This is a matter of choosing the right way to represent what you feel as you struggle with your own depression and anxiety. I’ve come to prefer the term mental “difficulties” in place of “illness” because it more closely resembles what I experience. I don’t consider myself ill or sick and so finding another word that better describes what I do experience has been paramount to how I approach these difficulties on a daily basis. If mental illness is a term that works for you, then that’s fine! But if it’s not, that’s fine, too. Just as there is no one way to talk about mental health, there is no one way to describe or identify what your experience actually is.

Similarly, find the method of treatment that works best…for you.
I can’t stress this enough. I understand that telling someone with depression/anxiety to “get help” is like telling someone to lift a car, but there are options out there, choices to be made, and only you have the final decision in these matters. Medication is not the right course of treatment for everyone (I choose not to take meds), but works for some people. A good therapist is hard to find, but you can find one (I did!). It takes time to find the right treatment method and treatment is hard work, but you’ll know you’ve found the right approach when you see that hard work paying off.

It’s okay to spend some time alone.
The answer is not always to surround yourself with tons of people all the time. While it is definitely necessary to have a strong support group (even just one or two people), giving yourself time and space to breathe can be really important, too, especially for those who also experience anxiety. As long as you’re careful not to turn alone-time into isolation (which can happen very easily when you’re depressed), a little breathing room once in awhile can do wonders. The trick is to spend your alone-time doing something. Read a book that makes you starry-eyed. Write something, even if it’s an explosive rant of feelings that you tear up, toss, or burn afterwards. Take a walk listening to your favorite music. Or just watch something mindless on TV for an hour.

Separating yourself from your mental illness/difficulties is desirable, but not always achievable (and that’s okay!).
The mantra, “It’s not me, it’s my OCD,” is one that has been engrained in me by nearly every therapist/counsellor since my diagnosis, in attempts to reinforce the notion that my mental difficulties are not who I am. Similarly, the #notmymentalillness hashtag has, over the last few days, flooded Twitter with beautiful messages from people showing and telling the world who they are outside of their mental difficulties and diagnoses. It’s all an important reminder that our depression and anxiety issues do not have to define who we are. As anyone who suffers from these difficulties knows, however, it is sometimes impossible to not feel overwhelmed and as if there is no way of existing outside of these bad feelings. And that’s okay. Don’t kick yourself on those days you just can’t say #notmymentalillness, because it will only make you feel worse. Bad thoughts and feelings come with the territory, unfortunately, but remember…

…at the end of the day, it’s all about self-preservation.
You will be in good shape if you can find ways to self-preserve. This goes for “good days” as well as “bad days”, because you will have both and every day you will have to do the one thing that is often so difficult – live. The only person you have to live with is yourself, and you owe it to you to make your life livable. This is much easier said than done, but learning how to self-preserve for the moment, for the day, for the week, is just the beginning of learning how to cope with your depression and anxiety, and the people/events that trigger them, for the rest of your life. Deep breathing, having mantras set for certain triggering situations, channeling bad energy into exercise or art, learning when to let go of toxic people, learning when to reach out to good people – these are all pieces of self-preservation. Write a list of techniques that work for you, and keep it close.

And always remember, in the words of the brilliant Lucille Ball, “It’s a helluva start being able to recognize what makes you happy.” Everything is just one day at a time, even happiness. We can get there.