Anxiety and Mental Health

Spotlight on September

For our second month of the Life Reboot project, the roller coaster continues twisting and looping. There are good points and bad points, but I’m glad that the trend is headed for steady improvement overall.

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As T.H. White’s Merlyn says,

“The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love… There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

To sleep, perchance to be productive

Thirty days into our Life Reboot project, and it’s time for the first check-in. When I embarked on this revised version of the project, I was hoping it could serve as an engine to bring me closer to various long-term personal goals. Has that been the case? It’s too early to tell; even so, some readjustments might already be needed.

But first, our point-by-point evaluation:

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Life Reboot: Revision

A while back I posted about making some necessary changes to my life and daily routine, mostly for the sake of my mental health. These past couple of weeks, I’ve taken time out to evaluate my long-term goals and try to map out the paths I can take to achieve them. One consequence of that has been a shift in the daily routine changes I’m prioritizing these days.

To recap, these were the goals I’d set for myself back in March:

  • Get better sleep
  • Eat better food
  • Exercise more
  • Read more
  • Write more
  • Listen to more podcasts/Watch more movies

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Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells These Stories: Orlando and Narratives of Trauma

“There are no words.”

There’s also no counting how many times I’ve said that in response to various facets of the Orlando shooting: first, the burst of reports; then the rising death toll; then the slow unraveling of each victim’s biography; and then, the aftermath, the responses — in forms both heartwarmingly compassionate and shamelessly opportunistic.

The extent and range of those responses isn’t surprising. Forty-nine people died and 53 were injured at a mass shooting in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. This is the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the shooter targeted the LGBT+ community, a group that — despite significant progress in recent years — remains a minority in every sense of the term. Many members of the community have already spoken about how jarring, how traumatic this attack has been; many more have continued to speak about how subsequent responses have been disrespectful, exploitative, damaging, or unhelpful at best.

I found myself unable, somehow, to join those engaged in the former. So far, the most I’ve been able to do is retweet messages of support and guidelines for volunteers, because secondhand sentiments are the only things I felt comfortable posting about the matter. Let me be clear: 140 characters, no matter how many sets I retweet, will never be enough to articulate the grief, anger, and despair I feel about this attack. However, shameful as it is to say so right now, 140 characters are more than enough to be a potential breach in the illusion of safety that stems from being a straight-passing, low-key member of the community.  (more…)

Life Reboot 2016

Since September last year, I’ve been mired in a work environment that has quickly spiraled down into a morass of high pressure and even higher stress. Every day I’m plied with more and more responsibilities beyond my job description, and too often the fulfillment of these responsibilities depends heavily on factors (and people) that are completely out of my control. Coping hasn’t been easy, and for the longest time I’ve felt like so much of my life has quickly gotten out of my hands. This is the most helpless and beaten I’ve felt in recent memory, on par only with the awful experience of law school — and even then, the latter comes out a few points higher, because I at least had the power to leave.

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The drip, drip, drip of existence

I’ve recently started catching up to Season 3 of Elementary. The series remains great – brilliant, even, especially when we consider the self-assurance and deftness with which it ventures into topics and themes beyond the scope of the weekly procedural thread.

The Eternity Injection, one of the episodes I watched yesterday, demonstrated this fearless precision well in a standout scene between Sherlock and Joan. Near the end of the episode, Joan asks Sherlock about his recent skipping of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and Sherlock answers with an explanation that opens the way towards a thoughtful, nuanced dissection of addiction.

The problem, it turns out, goes deeper than the run-in Sherlock had with a fellow NA attendee in a previous episode, and I’m glad the show actually went out of its way to acknowledge and highlight this. When he finally opens up, Sherlock laments the endless grind of sobriety, describing the process as the constant, tedious attempt to fix a leaky faucet. “Is this it?” he says, a question that encapsulates the underwhelming “triumph” of staying sober.

I found the scene immensely powerful, as much for its emotional resonance as for its sheer objective accuracy. As someone dealing with mental illness – depression and severe anxiety, to be exact – I saw, in Sherlock’s despair, a clear reflection of many of my own struggles with getting better.

There’s a euphoric moment – which, for me, occurred some time after I’d first started therapy – when you first notice significant improvements in your condition. I can actually get better, I’d thought then, staring blankly down the hall outside my therapist’s office, dazed from the strong and sudden blow of hope that hit me upside the head. “Better” is possible. Well. It’s not that the idea is wrong; it just glosses over the everyday realities that constitute “better.”

The thing is, “better” is not an endpoint. It’s not a place you reach, one that you’re then guaranteed to occupy for the rest of your life. As I’ve discovered (and wanted to cry about many times), “getting better” is a long, often difficult, certainly tedious crawl, and there’s no definite end to it. There’s no point where you can plop yourself down and stop trying, content that you will never be at risk of anxiety attacks or depression again.

Staying “better” will never be completely effortless. I developed good routines, but these will need adjustment as my circumstances change; some days, no matter how closely I stick to my “game plans,” all these little measures that add up to help keep me healthy, things still go wrong and I find myself unable to breathe and wholly paralyzed by a mind racing away from me at the speed of frenzied, burning thought.

This doesn’t mean the effort to “get better” is futile, of course. There is immeasurable value in trying to keep hold of the ground you’ve gained, as there is in striving, always, to gain a little more.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes “better” isn’t that first joyous, expansive burst of possibility, that realization that you can have a future that is actually worth looking forward to. Sometimes “better” is having just enough energy to roll out of bed when you couldn’t even bring yourself to consider it before – and of course, sometimes moments like those don’t feel like they’re enough, don’t feel like they ought to qualify as improvement. And sometimes, as happens to me quite often, you’re doing okay, but you realize that you still need to perform all these dull, tedious, repetitive tasks, just to ensure the possibility of “doing okay” tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

That’s when it becomes tempting to ask, “Is this it?” That’s when it becomes tempting to, as Sherlock puts it, surrender to the drip, drip, drip of existence.

What I found impressive about The Eternity Injection, beyond Sherlock’s eloquent and strikingly precise description of this struggle, was the characters’ – and the show’s – acknowledgement that there are no easy resolutions to this problem.

Faced with Sherlock’s answer, Joan at first tries to offer answers, reassurance: “You have your work. You have me. You’re alive.” But as Sherlock points out, these sources of reassurance won’t always carry the same potency. One can remain appreciative of these things, even as one reaches the point where these things have been turned to so frequently that they lose all meaning.

Well, what do you say to a problem like that, then? I love how perfect Joan’s response was: simply asking if there’s anything else she can do to help, and then taking a step back, to just be there.

From my own experiences with friends and loved ones, there’s often this expectation (an insistence, even) that there is a ready answer just waiting to be found, some perspective or other that one need only discover and cleave to for this problem to be happily and permanently resolved. But it’s true, it’s not always as easy as, say, simply reminding yourself of the good, fulfilling things in life. Because who hasn’t done that, who hasn’t attempted this way or that to save themselves in those precarious moments of possible relapse? Receiving the same attempted answers from others rarely changes these answers’ effectiveness, or lack thereof. As Sherlock and Joan’s exchange illustrated so well, sometimes the best “answer” you can receive in such a situation isn’t a frantic search for reassurances, but a simple, quiet affirmation that being well is an unending process that you will nonetheless never go through alone.