Permission to Feel Shitty

I’ve been feeling pretty shitty lately. So shitty, in fact, that I don’t especially want to be writing this post right now. I’d rather curl up on the couch and close my eyes and shut out this world that, at least for right now, holds no appeal for me. SO shitty, that when I went for a walk this morning past the golf course and heard the ‘thwack, thwack’ of the golf clubs as they propelled little spherical rockets across the green grass, I wondered to myself what it might feel like to get hit in the head with one. And then I almost wished it upon myself, in the hopes that perhaps the resulting force would knock out that part of my brain that causes me to feel so shitty. Perhaps the ball would drop out of the sky, slam into my skull, and after I got over the initial pain and shock, I would wake up a new person. But it didn’t happen.

It’s a gorgeous day outside, but inside, I’m kind of numb.

You know what, though? I’m weirdly okay with it. Because by now I know that this shittiness is just one shade on my color wheel, and that in a few days, the wheel will turn again. I’ve felt shitty enough times to know that however bad and permanent and hopeless it seems in the moment, shittiness does not last forever. It goes away. Things get better. And that helps me to hold on.

What also helps me through these rough periods is when I’m able to accept them for what they are: rough periods. That’s all. They don’t necessarily mean anything is wrong, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t mean I’M wrong. It’s actually quite normal to feel shitty every once in a while. Fighting it is a waste of time. I know, because that’s what I usually do: I usually try to figure out exactly WHY I feel shitty, and then I fight like hell to make it go away. I beat myself up for feeling this way, trying all sorts of things to help myself “snap out of it.” Society tries to tell us that smiles and happiness are the only acceptable ways to navigate the world, and so I assume I must be doing something wrong. I try to fix what in reality, isn’t even broken. And all of this fight and struggle only makes things worse. One of my favorite meditation teachers would call this “adding the second arrow.” Not only am I suffering the first arrow of being depressed, but I’m adding a second arrow on top of it by struggling and beating myself up for how I feel. It’s like a dog pulling at its leash — it might suck for the dog to be on the leash, but then it goes and makes it even worse by pulling so hard it practically chokes itself. By not accepting my feelings, I’m choking myself.

So today, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I’m allowing the shittiness to be here. I’m not allowing it to pull me down into an even deeper, darker hole, but I am accepting it as today’s state of being. Sure, I hope tomorrow it’s gone, but for right now, I can sit with it and acknowledge that today, it is how I feel. Somehow, that acceptance is soothing. And as this newfound attitude of allowance registers in my body and mind, I even begin to notice the shittiness back off a little bit. Funny how that works.

Accept.

Slowly. Reluctantly.

Hesitance settles down upon your shoulders.

Fear and Doubt gnaw at your bones.

One step at a time.

Blind trust. A leap of faith.

Release.

Let Go.

Struggling only tightens the reins.

You belong in the world —

Flying.

Soaring.

No chains to tie you down.

Free,

At last.

©Jennifer Horton

R E S P E C T (just a little bit)

Part of the reason I started this blog was to help people understand what it’s like to live with something like an eating disorder. (Or anxiety, or depression, or any other type of mental illness.) There is so much misunderstanding out there about mental illness that I hoped to serve as a beacon of light in the overwhelming darkness. Somehow I thought my words could help paint a clearer picture of what we, the survivors of mental illness, face on a daily basis. Hopefully, I’ve done that to some degree, but I’m also beginning to see that perhaps understanding is too much to expect. I mean, heck — even I, someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression and anorexia for a good chunk of her life, don’t fully understand the issue. So how can I expect people with no experience whatsoever to “get it” just after reading a few blog posts? It’s simply not realistic. It may not even be possible.

But you know what? That’s okay. They don’t have to understand. YOU don’t have to understand. I’m okay with that.

What I’m NOT okay with is people making broad generalizations or assumptions about a whole community of people simply because they don’t understand. It happens every day. And not just with mental illness, but with all sorts of differences, from skin color to religion, to political affiliation. You know what I’m talking about — people with depression need to “cheer up.” People with eating disorders are vain, selfish and should “just eat.” Muslims are extremists and not to be trusted.

ALL LIES.

But that’s what people do when they don’t understand. Not content to just accept that they don’t understand, they seek to explain things in the only way they know how, in a way that makes sense to them. Or they decide that if they can’t understand it, something is obviously messed up about it.

ALSO A LIE.

You get where I’m going with this. I guess what I’m trying to say is, perhaps my goal to help everyone understand was a little misguided, and admittedly borne from a place deep inside ME that yearns to be understood. But the older I get and the more I try to explain my issues to people, the more I’m beginning to see that not everyone will understand. And that’s okay. Even those of us struggling with the same issues don’t experience those issues in exactly the same way. My experience with anorexia is not the same as everyone else’s. That’s okay too. Have I fully understood the issues of everyone I’ve encountered on my recovery journey? No way. And I actually tried. But that’s also okay. People do not have to understand everyone else’s experience. My journey does not have to make sense to you.

But what we DO need to understand, is that a lack of understanding does not warrant a lack of respect. We can respect one another without understanding one another.

I may not be able to wrap my head around why my best friend cuts herself when she’s hurting inside. I may even think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. But I can still love her, and support her, and respect her.

You may not understand why a loved one who is obviously underweight has such a hard time eating a decent meal — it may seem like the craziest thing in the world to you — but you can give her a hug, tell her you care and respect her.

Because the truth is, EVERYONE deserves respect. I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done, they are a HUMAN BEING with feelings and a beating heart. You don’t know what kind of life they’ve had, or what factors have shaped them into the person you see, or what inner demons they’re battling. We all have a hard enough road to travel without encountering disrespect from our fellow travelers along the way.

Why not help one another along?

 

Facing the Music

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing as much lately. I don’t really have a good reason for that except that I’ve been feeling pretty shitty.

I tend to go through little ups and downs like everyone else, but lately, my downs have been more frequent and more lasting. I’ve felt depressed, hopeless and overall just pretty disinterested in life. It’s a rough place to be, and when I’m in that place, the last thing I want to do is talk to other people about it. Think about it: when is the last time you went on Facebook to update your status to “I feel shitty” or “Life sucks right now” ? I’m thinking never. It’s just not something we go around broadcasting to one another. So it goes without saying that I wasn’t exactly feeling any motivation to write.

Well, I’m back. And as much as I hate to admit it, my latest funk taught me an important lesson: that I don’t have to feel shitty. I have the ability to fight back. True, sometimes it can be helpful to allow yourself to feel shitty — to mope around a little bit and grant yourself some down time. But never for very long. That’s where I went wrong. I felt it, and then I let it compound each day until I was just wallowing in one big pile of shit. It stunk.

Last night, however, I decided I didn’t want to feel shitty anymore. I decided that the next day — today — I was going to take some action. And you know what? It worked. I feel much better today, yet the only thing different is that I DECIDED to feel different. I had been sitting around waiting for things to just magically get better on their own, when the power to change things lay within me all along.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. What I realized last night and this morning is that I’ve been doing the exact same thing with my eating disorder/anxiety/depression as I did with my latest funk — waiting around for things to magically get better on their own. Now, clearly I do not want to have an eating disorder. Clearly I do not want to feel anxious. And I certainly do not want to feel depressed. But wanting something doesn’t make it so. That requires action. And that’s what I’ve been sorely missing. I’ve been waiting around for my fears to diminish. I’ve been sitting here, thinking that one of these days I’ll wake up and all of a sudden eating will be easy, and I won’t encounter any anxiety and I’ll just be happy and chirpy and feel fucking fantastic. Well, NEWSFLASH Jennifer: NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

Recovering from an eating disorder is fucking hard. Getting to the point where anxiety doesn’t cripple you is hard. Overcoming depression is hard. Y’all, what I’m trying to say is, THIS SHIT IS HARD. There’s simply no way around it. Doing the things that will be required of me to live a more healthy, balanced life is going to be the most difficult thing I will ever do. It’s going to provoke anxiety. It’s going to make me feel really crappy at times. But that’s okay. I know now that to get to the other side of this journey, I have to go THROUGH all that stuff. I can’t just hop on a magic carpet and bypass the tough stuff. But I’m okay with that, because at least now I’m in control. I’d rather be driving through a rainstorm with my hands on the wheel than careening around a lovely meadow in a car without a driver. So while my goal before today was to avoid anxiety at all costs, my goal now is to walk through the anxiety at all costs. Not to shy away, or wait until tomorrow, or use one of my million excuses. I’m going to go on record right now and say there ARE no more excuses. I’m done with that. I’m ready to face the music. I know I’m about to embark on the most difficult journey in my life, but I’m ready. I know it’s going to be hard, and I’m ready for that too. I’m tired of waiting on the sidelines. I want to play in the game. I may get banged up and bruised, but you know what? I’m not afraid. Because I know what’s waiting for me at the finish line, and it’s a hell of a lot better than what’s lurking in the bleachers.

Thoughts on Depression, Suicide and Mental Health

With Robin Williams’ tragic death yesterday, I feel compelled to write. Whenever anyone dies prematurely it comes as a shock, but for some reason Williams’ passing struck me more deeply than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because I’ve always admired him both as a person and as an actor, but I think it has more to do with the manner in which he appears to have died. Although Williams was open about his struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, for some reason it never occurred to me that he might be suffering from depression as well. I mean, I know depression is often a precursor for substance abuse, (it’s a major player in my own issues, after all), but somehow I never connected the dots. I also know that depression affects millions of people, and that you can’t always tell which ones just by looking at them, but Williams’ death makes that more clear than ever. Because as much as I hate to admit my prejudice, in all honesty I was quite taken aback initially that someone as successful, funny, intelligent, talented, etc. as Robin Williams could EVER feel so desperate as to take their own life. It just goes to show you that you really can’t tell everything (or really much of anything) about a person simply by what you can see with your own eyes. People keep so much hidden, especially things they think they should be ashamed about or that other people might not understand. I certainly don’t feel comfortable sharing all the details of my personal struggles with people (blog notwithstanding…) — both out of residual shame and out of worrying what they might think.

But if Williams’ death can teach us anything, it’s that mental illness truly does not discriminate. And as much as I hate to quote a corny medication commercial, depression really DOES hurt everyone. In fact, in the United States, more people die from suicide than from homicide, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. That, my friends, is a tragedy. For EVERYONE involved. And while it’s a complicated issue without any quick fixes, we can start by being more open about the topic of mental health. Blame, shame and embarrassment have no place here. We need to channel all of our energy into love, compassion and understanding.

If you’re struggling, tell someone about it. If you think someone is struggling, reach out. Above all, be kind. To everyone you meet. No man is an island: We’re all in this together. So share a smile and a kind gesture with someone today. You never know what they’re dealing with on the inside.

Rest in peace, Robin. May your tragic death be a wake up call to the world that we can’t keep our eyes closed any longer.

 

 

Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway

Every so often I have what I like to call an obvious epiphany. It’s an epiphany because to me, it’s as though a light bulb has gone off in my head and suddenly where there had been nothing but dark ominous forest, a bright clearing appears. The obvious part comes from the fact that the majority of these “epiphanies” are so simple that it’s insane I didn’t see them sooner. Or maybe I did see them but just wasn’t ready to acknowledge them. Whatever the case, I had one of these “aha moments” last night. It started like this:

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I had been sitting on my couch, watching television, and just generally feeling in a funk. I think I’ve mentioned that I tend to get somewhat melancholy and contemplative in the evenings, and this night was no different. This night, the subject of my contemplation was the current state of my life. You see, the past several months, I’ve been more depressed than I have been in some time. I’ve long suspected that I have seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression or “SAD.” The way I’ve felt this winter has me convinced. Anyway, suffice it to say that I’ve been struggling to do much of anything and last night it was weighing heavily upon me — this overwhelming feeling that my life is going nowhere, that I’m simply treading water and will be for all of eternity. Then something in me went off:

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I realized I’d been waiting for something. Occasionally I had ideas in my head of things I might rather be doing, or plans for things I’d like to do once my funk passed, but last night I realized I’m tired of waiting. Screw that. The people who get somewhere in this world don’t get there by waiting; they get there by fucking getting up and doing something. Here I was, sitting around waiting for things to just get easier, when life is going on right outside my door. I’ve been waiting until I “felt like it” or it was more “convenient.” News flash Jen: It’s never going to get easy. I think my refusal to accept that has been a big part of my difficulties over the years. No matter all this evidence I’ve encountered to the contrary, I stubbornly continue to expect that things should just be more pleasant and not so god damn hard all the time. Ironically, though, I think they would be at least a little bit easier if I stopped having all these lofty expectations about how I think they should be. It reminds me of a line in my all time favorite nonfiction book, When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön (if you haven’t read it, DO IT NOW), in which she suggests we “just lower our expectations and relax.” It sounds so simple, but my difficulty in doing so has caused me a lot of suffering.

Granted, this new realization scares the shit out of me, because it means that now I have to start acting. I have to step outside of this cozy little cocoon I’ve built for myself over the past few months, throw off these chains and DO something. I plan to take it slow at first lest I scare myself right back into my cozy, yet suffocating chamber, but I’ve already started making a list of things I’d like to tackle over the coming weeks. And although I’m anxious about what lies ahead, I’m also a little excited. A weight has been lifted, and I feel pretty good. It could also be that the weather today is nicer than it’s been in a long time and as I type this the sun is streaming through the window and warming my back, but whatever, I’ll take what I can get.

Here’s to new beginnings.