Monthly Archives: October 2011

I Had to Go and Ruin Everything

Someone unexpected popped up in my dream last night. It was a person from graduate school.

I earned my Master’s in English in the spring of 2010, and I’d originally planned to get my Ph.D and become a full-fledged academic. But then–I don’t know if the circumstances were out of my control or if I somehow self-sabotaged–that dream became impossible. I could still go back and try again, but after that time something about me–this is the period that I’m terming “the big break”–changed. I no longer desire to be an academic.

In fact, I don’t have many desires at all. It just crushed me somehow–all of that drive evaporated. Perhaps I’m afraid of failing again, like I did in graduate school. (Yes, I did successfully get the Master’s, but just barely . . . all a long story that could probably take several entries to share.)

It’s not like I’m a radically different person. I still have the same interests, but I no longer have the same goal in life.

Now, we return to the dream. I’ve never made friends easily. I’ve had very few of them over my lifetime. It is probably because of the social anxiety, but sometimes I worry that it’s because I’m unlikable.

In graduate school, I felt like I belonged for the first time. Though I wasn’t wildly social, I did get along with everyone and enjoy their company. It was probably possible for me to become good friends with some of them. (And I did with one at least.)

But then I had to go and ruin everything.

There are several ways in which I accomplished this. First of all, I used to bring up my insecurities in conversation, somewhat casually, to see how people would react. In other words, my insecurity was obvious. I’ve now learned that such behavior is inappropriate until you’re sure that the other person is a close friend. But back then (and even now, to an extent), any time I made an acquaintance, I got excited that the other person actually seemed willing to be talking to me because that doesn’t happen often. So I would perceive more closeness than was there. In addition, I did meet someone who evidenced their insecurities in similar ways. I found it awkward and annoying, so these days I try to restrain such impulses in myself.

The other thing is that I eventually started withdrawing from the social scene. All of my problems at the time magnified my social anxiety. Any time I did venture out, I found myself trembling so much that I could barely function. I believed that no one truly wanted me around. When I withdrew, no one followed up on me or invited me to events anymore. At the time, this confirmed my suspicion that no one liked me.

If it wasn’t for the big break, I would probably have a much better life right now. I might finally know people that I enjoy hanging out with. I might be academically thriving. I might foresee a contented future.

But now I have none of those things. I have few friends (and none who live near me). I don’t foresee much of a future.

All of this has made me passionate about mental health. If I’d sought help when my big break was first beginning, things might be different. Instead, I told myself that I could handle it all, just as I’d always done. I told myself that it was temporary and that I merely had to wait for it to go away.

Therefore, I would urge anyone who experiences troubling signs to seek help immediately. Don’t try to keep it to yourself. It will only fester and get worse. I might not even be here if I hadn’t finally caved in and sought assistance.

(As a sidenote . . . now I think that eventually letting people know this is my blog might be problematic. What would happen if someone I knew from grad school decided to read this? . . .  Could be embarrassing.)

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Whence a Purpose?

There are way too many topics on my mind. I’m going to try to see if I can articulate my thoughts . . . I’m finding it rather difficult at the moment.

My whole life, I’ve desired that my life have a purpose. Yes, even as a child. I would never take things at face value, always wanting to get to the meaning deep underneath. (Apparently, this is not something that “normal” children do, but that’s another topic. Okay. Focus.)

I want to do something meaningful with my life. I want to discover my purpose. But I feel bereft of one.

Where does one find a purpose? This is, I believe, a personal and subjective question.

I know others wouldn’t agree with me, and I won’t get too much into ideals here, but to me the most logical and satisfactory answer is that we each have a given purpose. (Or, at least, I do.) Who but a divine being could bestow this pre-ordained purpose? We spend our lives on a course toward our purpose and eventually stumble upon it, intentionally or not.

I have no idea what I want to do with my life, and this distresses me. I used to be quite ambitious, but ever since my big break (a gradual breakdown over two years in the making), I feel like doing only the minimum to get by.

Before my big break, all I wanted to do was study literature. I foresaw my life in academia, and I exceeded in scholarly pursuits. That is, I did before everything changed . . .

Jeez. I feel like I’m blathering. Point is, sometimes I wonder if my big break happened because I wasn’t on the course I was supposed to be on. But then what is that course?

The only thing I regretted about academia was that it gave me little time for creative writing. Is that my purpose? If so, I’m doing a piss poor job of it. I barely ever make time for it.

Nope. I just don’t see it. There doesn’t seem to be any point to me. But surely there must be?

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Channeling Negativity into Creativity

I am a writer and have enjoyed writing ever since I was a child. Sometimes, I doubt my right to call myself a writer, for I go through spells in which I don’t write for months. This usually happens because a) I have crippling self-doubt, b) I have no ideas, or c) both.

I need to try to force myself to write more; that might help me get back into the groove of things. Sometimes, I take this step. This often involves me writing a short story in which someone is contemplating suicide but is saved at the last minute by something, whether that be meeting another person or having any other hopeful experience. I’ve started oodles of stories with this theme, but I rarely finish them. They begin to sound trite and repetitive.

Still, under the right circumstances, perhaps mining my experiences might work.

Anyway, I’m doing NaNoWriMo in November. (This is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words by the end of the month. Quite a task . . . ) To kick start my writing again, I did NaNoWriMo last year. I actually won!

This year is more problematic, though. Last year, I worked on rewriting a novel I had thought of when I was in high school. (A much altered version, of course.) I had most of the details in my head already. This year, I do not; I merely have a vague idea of a plot I’m going to try to tackle. It’s very possible that I could get stuck.

The idea began with the aforementioned oft-explored theme, suicide. I know exactly how it’s going to open. One of the main characters is going to wake up in a hospital after a suicide attempt.

But, since this is a novel and much longer than those attempted short stories, it’s got way more places to go than that. In fact, the plot doesn’t even revolve around the suicide attempt. However, a main character frequently has to deal with mental issues. I’m going to try to insert a lot of what I know into this character, but of course she’s not me. Still, there will be some of me in her. (In fact, don’t all characters have something of the author in them since they come from the author’s mind? Bits and pieces of the author go into each character along with imaginary characteristics. At least, that’s how I seem to operate.)

So, I’m going into NaNoWriMo without much of a plan. Should I be worried? I don’t know. I am, but I’ve decided I’ll try not to put too much pressure on myself to reach 50,000 words. I have found that I work much better by letting the ideas flow and not planning ahead anyway. Rather, when I write, I like to sketch things day by day. We all have different ways of creating, and perhaps that is the style that works best for me.

However, I don’t want to neglect this blog during November. I’ll try to post something periodically. I don’t want my desire to win NaNoWriMo to prevent that from happening. Therefore, I will include what I write for my blog in my 50,000 word count. Perhaps this could be considered cheating, but I don’t think so. It might be a stretch, but I still think it’s a legitimate strategy. After all, if I reach 50,000 words with the blog and novel combined, don’t I deserve to win? Besides, this is also a writing project of mine. There are NaNoWriMo Rebels; I’ll just be one of them. I will still try to get 50,000 words on the novel, but if I have to use the blog to reach the 50,000 word count, I will. It’ll help me feel less anxiety, and God knows I don’t need any more of that.

For both this blog and my novel, I will be pulling from my own experiences with mental illness. Though they will differ significantly from each other, they’ll have that in common. They’ll both prompt me to write more again, and they’ll both help me to come to terms with parts of myself. In both cases, I will channel the negativity into creativity, use it for a somewhat productive purpose, and express what’s been simmering inside of me.

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Introduction to Cutting

Cutting is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized actions stemming from mental anguish. It is also known as self-injury, self-harm, or self-mutilation.

Personally, I find the term “self-mutilation” much too loaded. I admit that I have problems coming to terms with this aspect of myself. Even with people who may know the worst extent of my issues, I still hide this–I’ll call it “thing” (a nice vague term)–going so far as to make the most ludicrous excuses if someone expresses even a hint of suspicion.

This is not an easy concept to explain, and I’m not sure if anyone who doesn’t experience the urge can understand it. (In general, I believe that experience provides the best basis for understanding anything.)

It is not a call for attention. I dread the day anyone will notice.

I’m not sure how it goes for others, but this is how the process works for me:

1) I begin to utterly despise myself and feel incompetent at everything I try to do.

2) I either start to feel suicidal or get the urge to punish myself.

3) I hold off on the urge as long as I can, sometimes even over a week.

4) I finally give in because the urge is not going away. In the moment, I don’t care if anyone notices; I want to do it in a visible spot, though I’m dimly aware I may regret it afterward.

5) I frantically try to cover my tracks.

Many people have a much worse problem with this thing than I do. I act on the impulse once every three months or so; others do it daily. Because of this, I’m not sure if I am qualified to speak on the subject.

Still, this might be applicable to many–it is not a suicide attempt. When I do it, it’s to prevent myself from committing suicide. It’s a way for me to express my inner turmoil without doing something that would have more permanent consequences.

I’m afraid that one day I might feel compelled, when the state takes over, to impulsively attempt suicide. I haven’t yet, and that’s something. But I have come close.

Also, the thing is a way of validating my pain. Many times, I find it difficult to accept that my problems are real. I deny them because I know others go through worse circumstances than I do. Then I feel stupid for my depression because, after all, my life could be so much worse. The thing gives me visual proof that my issues are valid, and then I feel less guilty for having them.

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A Beginning?

The first words are always the most difficult.

I guess I will begin by stating the obvious. I’m starting a blog. Right now, it’s more for myself than anything else. I have always found writing to be cathartic. It can help me sort through my emotions.

Well, why a blog? Why not a private journal?

Good question.

There is a logic behind it.  To get to that, I must first explain the purpose of this blog.

“The Mirth of Despair.” I’ve occasionally thought that would be a good title for my memoir, if I ever had anything interesting enough to write one. It refers to the fact that sometimes–sometimes–my urge is to cry and laugh at the same time. I laugh to keep myself from crying. I think that people do subconsciously use laughter to dispel an uncomfortable situation or to mask their true feelings. I’ve observed this trend in myself, at least.

Anyway, this all comes down to a root. Something I suffer from–though “suffer” is not the right word. It’s too strong. It can incapacitate me occasionally, but that’s obviously a much stronger word than “suffer.”

Okay, time to take the plunge. I have some mental issues.

There. I’ve said it.

No, I’m not crazy, even if others may not understand my actions and feelings.

What I envision–perhaps a pipe dream–is writing a blog that others like me can relate to. Sharing this blog with the world and using it to dispel harmful stereotypes about mental health problems. Letting it be a tool for mental health advocates.

That is, if I ever get the guts to associate this blog with my own name. It is much easier–so much easier–to hide behind anonymity, to hide from the world what boils underneath my surface. I’m afraid of the discrimination and the contempt others may have for me. I’m afraid others might see it as an attention-seeking gesture. And deep down, I’m afraid that that might be true, and I do feel it’s shameful to call attention to myself.

But that’s also the point. If everyone who goes through this hell  hides it, where will we be? We certainly wouldn’t get the help that we deserve. In some ways, we even perpetuate the idea that it’s something shameful. By hiding, we acknowledge the shamefulness.

I understand that. I’m ashamed, too. But at the same time, I don’t think we deserve to feel ashamed. I know that I do not look down on others who go through these issues even if I look down on myself. Rationally, shouldn’t that apply to me, too?

Everyone deserves to be heard. Everyone is a valuable human being.

For now, I will continue to hide. But one day, perhaps I may find courage.

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