Crushing Homework is Not Going As Planned

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She’s soaking up the information through the cover by laying on it.

 

 

Well, my plans for tonight fell through. My plans of doing homework, that is. I have midterms in the next two weeks and I still haven’t started on my two papers yet. One is due in a week and a half and the other at the end of October. I’m pretty up-to-date on my readings, but I have only taken three chapters of notes out of, like, twelve chapters so far. I was going to power through the note-taking because how hard could it be? I already read and highlighted the stuff. But it took me all day to get just one chapter of notes. Chapters are around forty pages and are really information-dense so reading takes about five hours per chapter even when I’m not taking notes.

My mom thinks I’m expecting too much of myself. “I thought everyone worked on their school like this,” I said, but once I said that, I realized that maybe that’s not true. When I glance at other students in the class, most of them have printed out the PowerPoint slides that the professor posts before class and they fill in notes as the prof lectures and goes over the slides.

Whereas I’ve insisted on taking my own notes from the textbook and then integrating the professor’s notes into them. The plan was to get the notes done before class so that way I already have all the important ideas written down so I can just listen to the professor and add in anything in the lecture that’s not in the textbooks. But I’ve only done the readings and no note-taking, though I still just sit and listen in class and participate in class discussions.

I would’ve worked on (and agonized over) my homework today, but Mom said last night that I need rest. When I woke up exhausted this morning and then wonder of wonders, joy of joys, my period decided to show up, I thought maybe she was right, so today has been a day of rest for me.

I started the day off cuddling my cat. She was laying up by my pillow and purring really loud. I think she knew I was tired and hungry and sick and sore, so she was trying to make me feel better. Then I ate breakfast and went for a shower then I finished reading a book, did some packing and some cleaning, got all my laundry done, and posted two more things on the blog.

Tonight I will get a good sleep, then tomorrow I will start by reading the one chapter I didn’t read so that’s done for Monday’s lecture, take my notes as I read it, then I will read some research studies and narrow down which ones I want to use for my literature review, then I will review the PowerPoint slides. If I have time, I will get a bit caught up on my backlog of note-taking.

So that is my game plan for tomorrow. Here’s hoping I actually do it!

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Perks of being a psych major: Googling APA citation and finding Publication Manual of the American Psychological Ass

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The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Go Ahead, Feel Your Feelings

Go grab yourself a snack, because this is going to be reaaaally long.

After the break up, my feelings were so all over the place. It’s the most unreasonable and disoriented I’ve ever been in my life. I had no idea what to expect when I went in to work with my ex. It’s not just that I didn’t know what to expect of him (whether he would be moody or friendly was a total mystery, which meant I was on eggshells a lot of the time) but I also didn’t know what to expect of my own feelings.

Sometimes I would want to scream at him, other times I’d instinctively want to give him a shoulder massage because he looked a little tired.

Sometimes I wanted to hold him and kiss him, other times I’d have to repress the urge to hammerfist him in the neck anytime he was in arm’s reach.

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The fact that this turned up on Pinterest showed me that no, it’s not just me.

 

There were times where I was so in love with him, and other times I hated him just for existing and everything little thing he did just pissed me off. Like the way he stretches, or the way he flips his stupid phone and all his stupid little fidgets. (But he’s still cute when he hums and when he talks to himself while he’s trying to teach himself something…)

And sometimes I wanted so badly to be with him again and for us to be happy and in love again, and other times I want him to fall for me again only so I can reject him because going out with him again offends my sense of justice.

There was a part of me that looked forward to working with him and liked having him around, even though we’re broken up, and there was another part of me that dreaded seeing him and never wanted to see him again.

Sometimes I would think wistfully of all the good things we shared, other times I would think of when he’d been inconsiderate and how deeply he hurt me, all because he was being selfish, and I’d wonder how I ever fell for someone like that and maybe I really would be better off with someone else, but then the thought of being with someone who’s not him seems abhorrent, and sometimes I think maybe things could work with him if things changed and other times I wonder if maybe him and I are star-crossed somehow and doomed to fail…

I’ve never felt so conflicted over one person in my life. And that’s saying a lot.

So, everyone I’ve talked to says these feelings are pretty normal. The feelings I’m having are probably amplified by my anxiety and depression but the core of the feelings are apparently what most people experience after a breakup.

And no, feeling like this does not make you a bad person. I really want to drive that point home because when you have a psychological disorder, like depression or anxiety, like I do, sometimes you do everything you can and still have all these negative feelings crowding in on you and you don’t know why these awful thoughts and feelings are still hanging about and why you can’t seem to make them stop and wondering what’s wrong with you and why you’re so horrible when you’re trying so hard to be good.

So let’s talk about feelings and how they relate to you, your identity and your experience.

Firstly, they’re just feelings. You are more than just your feelings. Your feelings are only one part of who you are. They’re still important, because they’re your present experience, but you have other, more stable aspects of your identity too: your morals, your values, your reasoning, your choices, your thoughts (and yes, sometimes thoughts can be separate from feelings). Are those things related to feelings? Yes, but they also have some degree of independence, enough independence that people can retain a sense of identity even though their feelings fluctuate daily. You recognize your friend when she’s laughing at a bad pun and also when she’s upset over some family conflict. You wouldn’t think she was two separate people because she’s displaying two different emotions, right? So there must be more to a person’s identity than just feelings.

Secondly, the only person really affected by your feelings is you. Of course, because your feelings affect you we want you to be feeling better, but my point is, you can still be good to other people while feeling this way since it’s your behaviour, not your feelings, that impacts other people. Though I’m not going to ignore the fact that feelings are motivations and as such they do influence behaviour, it’s also important to remember that feelings can be contained to the mind and that you can feel like crap and still do wonderful things.

Third, feelings change. Example: You know when you get hangry? You’re really moody and irritable and weepy and then you eat something and then you feel fine? That shows how easily our feelings are affected. They’re affected by what we eat and don’t eat, how long we sleep for, what stage of sleep we wake up from, the temperature, whether we stubbed our toes or clipped our shoulder on the doorframe walking by, whether we’re coming down with a virus. Our feelings are very linked to our environments. Why? Survival.

Feelings serve to motivate us to survive. Feeling weepy or grumpy or sore when you’re hungry motivates you to go eat, to get your body what it needs to survive. If you didn’t feel that way, you wouldn’t recognize your body’s needs and consequently would not meet those needs, resulting in your death. This is demonstrated by the few people who are born without the ability to feel pain, who typically die young because without the feeling of pain, they don’t learn self-preservation.

So, when your feelings are all over the place, it’s not that you’re going crazy. It’s just that your needs aren’t being met and you’re in that uncomfortable spot where you don’t know how to meet your needs and perhaps you don’t even know what your needs are. Once you get what you need, the bad feelings will go away.

I’ve heard people condemn feelings and treat feelings like they’re something to beat into submission and that if you “just had some self-control” and “weren’t so weak-willed”, you would be happy all the time. But that’s not the nature of feelings. Yes, we can influence our feelings with certain thought patterns and by managing our behaviour (this is essentially what cognitive-behavioural therapy comes down to), but it’s important to acknowledge that there is a biological basis to this and once that is accepted, we can work with our body’s limits instead of against them. And also to acknowledge that feelings, behaviour, environment, and biology all act on each other in a complex cycle so we can’t even say which causes which. In fact, I could argue that certain feelings and genetic predispositions can enable one to have self-control or will!

Feelings: best and worst part of the human experience.

And it’s okay for you to feel like a human. You are one, after all.

However, though I acknowledge your right to feel your own feelings, that doesn’t mean I’m telling you to act on those feelings. As already mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was the most unreasonable I’ve ever been in my life. If I’d acted on my feelings, I could’ve destroyed all the things I’d worked to build in one foolish impulse. Also, it’s important that your actions remain moral and that you don’t do harm to others. Even if he is being really moody and childish, it is still not moral for me to hammerfist my ex in the neck, for example. Or to punch his girlfriend’s face because she’s being inconsiderate and kind of a suck-up. Feel your feelings, but behave in a way that you can be proud of, a way that you can build a good future off of.

Also, I am not telling you dwell on your feelings. As already discussed in the “process” post, there is a time for everything and that means there is a time to let your feelings go. Sometimes, you need to indulge in feeling miserable. That’s okay. Go home. Curl up in a ball. Cry. Scream into a pillow. Punch your pillow. Tell your best friend what a jerk your ex is being. Complain. Listen to some depressing music. Cry some more. But only temporarily. It’s not in your best interest to remain in that state for too long and at some point you will need to come out of that. The difference between feeling your feelings and dwelling on your feelings is the amount of time spent on your feelings. “Too long” is when feeling turns into dwelling. Again, what “too long” is varies from situation to situation so you’ll have to figure out how long that is for you.

It’s okay to be angry at your ex. There are probably things they did royally screw up and you don’t need to deny that. Be honest about the bad things they’ve done. But, again, you will have to let it go at some point. With my ex and his new girlfriend, loving them was killing me, but hating them didn’t make me feel any better, either. Hate felt like a poison. What is needed was for me to come to a point between those two extremes.

At first, I couldn’t bear to hear others say bad things about him, even though they were true, because I loved him so much. Too much, perhaps. I didn’t make excuses for him, but when my mom would call him an asshole, I’d ask her not to because it made me sad.

So for me, complaining about all the jerk things he’s done is a sign of how far I’ve come. It balances out all the rose-tinted, lovey-dovey thoughts that I have to distance myself from. One day, I won’t have to be angry at him to distance myself from my love for him but right now, I need that anger to keep myself together. Remember, anger is a survival instinct and it’s okay to use it as such.

It’s okay to feel sad. It doesn’t make you weak. It means you love.

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I’m a feminist and sometimes there’s this attitude going around that accuses you of “You’re not a real feminist” and “You’re a poor role model” because you didn’t just turn your feelings off and are hurting over a man. I am grieving someone I love. Don’t you dare turn this into my life revolving around a man and don’t you dare suggest I am weak when I am fucking strong.

 

It’s okay to be happy. Feeling happy again doesn’t mean you’re absolving them of any wrongdoing. They are still responsible for their actions towards you regardless. And being happy without them doesn’t mean you didn’t love them. It just means that you’re moving on in your life and taking care of yourself.

And it’s okay to not know what the fuck you’re feeling.

I think of my emotions as a pendulum. Right now, they’re swinging back and forth, from one extreme to the other. But as time goes by, the laws of physics act on that pendulum and the swings become slower and less extreme, until it stops right at the middle. The middle is my neutral. That is where I want my feelings for my ex to be. Not in love with him, but not hating him either. Neutral. Fact-oriented. Painless.

I’m still in the swinging stage, but sometimes I do stay in the middle for a short while. Honestly, no matter where I am emotionally at present, I’m not sure what to do with any of it. It all feels very foreign. I’ve really had to turn off the “analysis” part of my mind and just let my feelings be without agonizing over the how and why. This is I mean when I say “feel your feelings”. Feel them, don’t think about them. Centuries of philosophers and scientists still haven’t figured out how exactly feelings work, yet here we are, seven billion strong. You don’t need to figure it out right now.

I hope that all made sense to you. Since I’m in psychology and philosophy, I see feelings as the final frontier and even now science still finds human emotion mysterious. I feel like I’ve skimmed over a lot of ideas here¬†but I can’t come up with a better way to say it all than I did here and I don’t want to do anymore editing of this post.

In summary, feel your feelings, but don’t think on them and don’t act on them. Feelings are survival instincts, abilities, and tools. They are a part of normal human experience. Feeling angry, sad, happy, or confused is okay. You are more than your feelings and you are still a good person.

And I’m so proud of you. Keep going. You got this.

This Past Week’s Been Rather Tough and I’m Overwhelmed

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I think I am a sassmaster. I had this one dream where my ex was bragging about how smart his girlfriend was and she was acting all proud and I just said, “She can’t be that smart. She’s still dating you” and they just looked puzzled and offended and my one co-worker was like, “Ooh, ouch!” That’s the only dream containing my ex’s girlfriend that I’ve actually enjoyed. But it makes me kind of scared to run into them because I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep my big mouth shut if I do and will probably get myself into trouble.

Anyway, it was Thanksgiving last weekend. We had my mom’s boyfriend and his daughter out for Thanksgiving, which was fun, but we also babysat my nieces and nephew the day before and I had to write that paper so I was pretty tired by the end of the weekend.

I keep remembering that Thanksgiving last year, I spent the morning and afternoon with my boyfriend because we had the day off work and school. We drove around town and he showed me these places he often goes and we went for lunch at this place he usually goes with his family and walked around in the park close to where he used to live, holding hands and talking the whole time.

So I’m sad because I don’t get to do that anymore and I know he’s probably doing something with her for Thanksgiving and that she actually gets to do dinner with his family, which I never got to do because he never told them about me even though I was under the impression that we were kinda serious. So, yeah, I’m sad.

And this past week whenever I’m sad my mom tells me it’s been nine months since we broke up and I need to get over him and let go and that he doesn’t deserve me and now I just nod and try not to throw up my hands and scream “I KNOW, OKAY!?” I know she’s trying to help, but I’m so sick of being told what to do and what to think and what to feel. I’m sick of being told that I need to get better “somehow”. “Somehow” is useless. I can’t make a game plan off of “somehow”, I need a bit more information to go off of than that!

And I feel like every time I have a bad day where I’m feeling down, she acts like I’ve been like that forever even though I’ve made so many improvements lately. I wish she would just stop giving me advice (since it’s nothing I haven’t already figured out for myself) and just let me cry for a bit.

I’m also emotional because next Monday is the first time in almost two months that I’ll have to work with my ex. I know I’ll do fine, because I’m awesome at my job, and because last time him and I worked together, we actually kind of had fun, but the thought of seeing him and knowing he’s with someone else really hurts.

I also had my car broken into because there’s no door on the underground parking in my apartment complex and some genius left a broom down there and guess what was used to break my driver’s window? Nothing was stolen, so clearly they did not find what they’d hoped to find, but I had to file a police report, vacuum out the glass, miss a day of work because I’m stranded at home, and then shell out a $300 deductible to get my window fixed.

I was very tempted to leave a snarky note on my car the next night, like “Hope you find something valuable in here, like your conscience” or “Don’t bother, you didn’t like anything in here last time”, but figured that would be interpreted as asking for trouble.

BUT! I am pleased to announce that I am moving! My mom and I found a basement suite close to where she works and it’s much smaller (and more expensive, unfortunately) so we’ll have to downsize, but it’ll be worth it to actually have a standard of living again. I will not miss this place at all. I feel like all the misery I’ve felt over the past two years has been absorbed into the very walls of this place and that I’m breathing it in like a toxic gas or mold spores or something.

So, the place is a mess because, hey, that’s moving, and it’s very distracting for me. I’m constantly walking into boxes and clipping my shoulder on things as I walk by and it’s hard to find space to do my homework on.

And I have a lot of homework to do.

For my one class, there’s a major paper due at the end of October that I have barely even started on. It’s just the rough draft due, which only counts for 5%, and the good draft isn’t due until mid-November but that good draft counts for a quarter of my grade and I want to give myself enough time to work on it. For my other class, I have another three papers to write over the course of the semester and I don’t even know what to do my next paper on. And in both classes, I have midterms to study for and though I’ve done all the readings up to date and attended the lectures, I haven’t taken my notes yet so I have to do that this weekend along with getting a start on those papers.

And it smells weird in the apartment, like someone rubbed their armpits all over the place, not even kidding and we’ve cleaned pretty much everything and that smell is still there and that is just depressing. It’s been like this for months and it’s not the furniture and it’s not the laundry and it’s not us, so I guess it’s the apartment itself.

And I need to submit some receipts to my health insurance and apply for bursaries and make an appointment to get the cat to the vet before we move.

And I’m worried about my cat because she’s old and arthritic and I don’t want her to die.

And we ran out of laundry money, which means I have a huge pile of laundry– including my bedsheets that are dirty from my cat laying all over them– taking up space and that I can’t make my bed until they’re clean, which is distracting.

And between the deductible for my window and the damage deposit and the pet deposit, things are very tight financially, which means I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for my cat to go to the vet, or how I’m going to buy sparring gear that I need for my martial arts class, or how I’m going to pay for massage therapy which I would really like because everything hurts, or how I’m going to buy a new sports bra which I need since my old one doesn’t fit anymore. And I’m just so sick of having no money.

And I weighed myself and thought I was gaining weight and I was so excited. “Mom! I’m 125!” I shouted. She was excited at first then looked at me and said, “Are you sure? You don’t look 125. You look more like 115.” She looked at the scale and it turns out the thing isn’t working quite right and that it’s set forward ten pounds. So I’m not 125 pounds. I’m only 115, which is even less than what I weighed when I weighed myself at the doctor’s and decided to work harder to gain weight. I just wanted to cry because I’ve been working so hard and nothing is happening and my old clothes don’t fit and I can’t even wear my favourite pair of jeans anymore and same goes for all of my really nice bras and bathingsuits.

And I’ve just been so sore lately. My whole body hurts all day and I’ve been getting sharp pains in my arms and chest. I haven’t had them for years, since I was in high school, I think. I know the pain is from anxiety because I’ve already had my heart and stuff tested a couple times, but, ugh, I thought I was done with the anxiety pains. Granted, I’d rather have the anxiety pains in my body than the crippling panic thoughts I’ve had over the past six months and the headaches from crying so long and hard over those thoughts, but it’s certainly not fantastic.

And I was going to get together with a friend of mine and watch movies with her, but she cancelled because her parents planned something for them instead so now I will be at home, doing homework, so I want to cry because my whole life looks like homework right now.

And I haven’t really had the time and energy to work on the blog (I told myself I had to complete my paper first) and I’ve really missed it. I feel like school is taking up all my resources then wonder if maybe my problem is that I’ve been spending too much time on Pinterest and that’s what’s eating up my time. I decided that since I can’t focus on homework right now, I might as well write this and get it off my chest. At least I’ll get something I want done this weekend.

Really, though, I think it was that damn paper that did me in. All that other stuff is a lot, but working so long and hard on that paper really exhausted me. And it’s hit me how much more self-care I need than other people in my life. I need more rest to recover from even normal stressors. It’s taken me all week to recover from writing that paper and I dread having four more like it. I’m just glad I’m only taking two courses this semester because I could not keep up with more than that right now.

And it takes me literally all day to eat because of feeling sick to the stomach, which is why it’s been so hard for me to gain weight since eating takes so long that sometimes I’ll decide eating is just too much work and go to bed. This is what I mean when I say I have a disability. I might be able walk and run and speak and move like I’m able, but so many daily functions like just eating take such a toll on me.

There. I should be done complaining for a bit. I know things will get better. It’s just been a tough week, having one “bad day” after another. Next week will be better, I’m sure. And next month better yet once I’m in my new home.

Now it’s time to go crush some homework.

Paper-Writing, Exposure, and Cognitive Therapy

I’ve spent last weekend alternating between exploring Pinterest and working on the paper I’ve been procrastinating on for the past three weeks. The weekend before, I looked at the actual outline for the assignment and realized it was a bigger project than I’d anticipated, so good thing I didn’t procrastinate as long as I usually do or else I’d be screwed.

My mom says I’ve always been an anxious procrastinator and that I’ve always freaked out whenever I was assigned essays, but this time was more of an anxiety-driven, hope-it-will-go-away-if-I-ignore-it-long-enough-but-I-know-it-won’t kind of procrastination than usual. A couple years ago, whenever I had to write something for a class, I would put it off but it was more of a “Whatever, I know I can write the whole thing in one sitting and pull a B, if not an A”, though well-seasoned with thoughts of “But what if I don’t?” Now, I dreaded it and felt like anything I wrote would fall short of my standard, like I would be embarrassing myself by even trying.

But I needed to write it. I told myself, “This is the first paper. It counts for 5% of your grade, which isn’t too much. You have another three papers to write for this professor this semester, which in total will make up 20% of your final grade. You need to complete this paper and see how she marks it and figure out what she expects.”

In my head, I know how unreasonable it is for me to be anxious about writing this paper. There’s no reason for me to think I’m anything but good at writing. People keep telling me I’m good at it. I have a stack of high school and university papers–history papers, psych papers, philosophy papers, analyses of English literature and of music– all marked with Bs and As, telling me that I’m good at it. In the English course required for my degree, my one professor assigned a paper and when he handed it back, he said that most people scored quite well, but no one ever gets perfect marks for this paper… except this time, this one student wrote too good a paper for him to mark it at anything less than 100%. When he handed the papers back, I found out that student was me.

But this past two years, I feel like I really haven’t been able to rely on any of the skills I thought I had. Easy, breezy test writing? Gone. Easy, breezy paper writing? Gone. And this paper is a lit-review type paper for a second-year course and it needs APA citation, which I’ve never really done before. And it requires research, which on the one hand should be great because research means reading and I love reading, but on the other, reading scientific research can be very dull and very hard to focus on because one does not take poetic license with science. And I’ve heard this professor is a hard marker…

But I’ve been thinking about something we’d covered in class, exposure therapy. It’s probably most well-known for treating phobias, but is often implemented in treatment of other anxiety disorders as well and is considered one of the most effective treatments. The idea behind it is that you expose the person affected to what they’re afraid of to show them that those worst-case scenarios that occupy their mind won’t happen and when you build up those neutral and positive experiences of the feared object, eventually the person will learn that the object does not need to be feared. Exposure can be combined with cognitive therapy to help the person interpret the situation to be less negative and so reduce their fear.

So I decided that writing this essay will be exposure therapy for me. The past couple years have been filled with so much stress for me and the recent negative experiences in my academic work (mostly related to my anxiety) are crowding out the older positive experiences, even though those experiences probably outnumber the negative. It seems that having recent positive experiences is really important so I need to create those, starting with this paper.

And on the cognitive end, I told myself that it’s just been a really long time since I’ve done academic writing, I just need to get in the habit again, that I will probably do okay and if I don’t, I can use this to learn what this professor expects from assignments. These things I’m telling myself are responses that I come up with to combat my “I’ll never finish it on time. I’ll probably do really poorly on it” thoughts– cognitive therapy.

I put the finishing touches on my paper the morning right before class, leaving the specifics of APA citation for last. For anyone who is unfamiliar with APA or MLA citation styles, the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) has a lot of information on it. My old English prof recommended it to the class and I’d recommend to other university students. I also noticed Purdue OWL has some sections for different kinds of writing, including academic writing, ESL, and job search writing. I haven’t read through those sections so far, but if they’re anything like the stuff they have on APA citation, it should be helpful and straightforward.

I actually feel pretty good about my paper. I was talking with a classmate during break and asked her how her paper went and she said “Okay, hopefully”. When she asked me about mine, I was able to give a lot of details about what I wrote about because I’d immersed myself in it, which I don’t know if other people did. I’d memorized a lot of the points in my paper.

After hearing others talk about their papers, I think that I probably put a lot more work into it. Sometimes while I was writing it, I thought, “This is an awful lot of work for 5%.” I wrote about double or triple the maximum word count and had to hack it down to a thousand words and end the body of it with a derivative of “And there’s much more, but that’s beyond the scope of this paper, so there.” I’m wondering if maybe I put the same kind of effort into this paper that most people do for a final paper counting for half their grade. So, yeah, I am still perfectionistic but if this paper is up to my standard, then maybe it meets my professor’s standards, too.

Of course, sometimes I still have some anxiety about it and don’t check my school email because “What if my prof emails me to tell me how awful it was and it upsets me so I can’t focus on my other homework?” But really, that’s ridiculous because a) professors don’t email you about that, they write, ‘Come talk to me during office hours’ on your paper when they hand it back and b) my paper couldn’t be that bad.

But I finished it. One down, four to go.

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Here’s my study buddy. She’s been snoring and purring contentedly next to me the whole time.

 

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And this is her sitting up to investigate the thunder.

The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Let Yourself Go Through the Process

I’m writing this bit first because I think it kind of serves as a model to fit the rest of my suggestions into. See, a process has multiple stages that require different behaviours and such from each stage, so it’s very much about context and so all the rest of what I will say fits with different stages of the process, so I think this is an excellent place to start.

Dealing with a break-up (or any loss) really is a process. For me, it’s been a very long process.

This has been my life:

I dreaded my shifts at work so much that I was nauseous pretty much all the time. Because of this, I ate less and lost a lot of weight and even had to have someone cover my shifts, losing precious wages as a result. I was tired all the time. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to because I had a job and I needed to survive somehow. I kept busy all day, trying to distract myself. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I also dreaded falling asleep because I kept dreaming about the two of them together, which is somehow worse than any dream I’ve had about my abusive father or about that guy who stalked me in high school or the nightmares that would leave my heart pounding when I awoke. And then, of course, having dreamed about them, they were the first thing in my head when I woke up. And I just wanted them out of my head, but I couldn’t get them out.

I really didn’t know what to do with myself because nothing made me happy. Watching movies and reading books were depressing because I’d see these interactions between the characters that reminded me of him and I together. I was too miserable to try writing music or journaling or blogging because writing out the way I was feeling meant thinking about what I was feeling which I did not want to do. I avoided friends and family because talking to them about how I was meant rehashing all this break-up stuff and I didn’t want to think about it.

The only thing that truly distracted me was Pinterest. Bizarrely enough, looking at photos of wedding dresses did not make me depressed. It was actually a pleasantly neutral stimulus that only had the thought process of “Wow, that’s really pretty”. But as soon as I had to pull myself away from the distraction, I fell right back into the abyss.

Things got tense around the apartment because my mom was the only person I was really talking to and so I leaned way more heavily on her while she still had a physically demanding full-time job to work, plus commute, plus grocery shopping and bill-paying, plus I was so tired and unmotivated that I didn’t keep up with any of my chores which meant she was either having to do the chores herself or expend the energy of nagging me to get my butt into gear.

Now, this isn’t what I would call “healthy” behaviour on my part and I hope you never feel this awful. Having depression and anxiety probably amplified “normal” break-up feelings and thoughts into these mutant, unmanageable, life-sucking emotions that I had. But my point is this stage will end. IT WILL END. Trust in that. It will end. You will come through this and learn to live again.

It will take some trial and error to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, when it works and when it doesn’t. That’s part of the process (and I’m guessing that’s why I hear people say the first break-up is usually the worst: because you haven’t worked out how to cope yet).

Sometimes, you will regress. There will be times when you’ll think you’re getting the hang of it and think you’re getting better, then a particularly bad day will hit you and you’ll wonder if you’ve made any progress at all. And the answer is, yes, you’ve made progress. Sometimes you’ll have bad days that seem to come out of nowhere. That doesn’t mean you haven’t been trying or that you haven’t made improvements. It’s simply a fact of life.

I’ve, ahem,¬†created a visual to show you what the process isn’t.

nottheprocess

(Please excuse the lack of artistry; I have too many other things to do than to care about whether I’ve mastered Paint on my computer)

 

I think a lot of us expect our process to look like this. We think all we need to do is cross this line, cross a certain barrier and then we’re “fixed”, like magic, and we never go back. We’re cured! Hooray!

Except, in all likelihood, it won’t happen like that.

I think the process actually looks more like this visual from page 98 of When Love Hurts (Second Edition) by Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis. The book is geared specifically towards women who have experienced abuse in a romantic relationship and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced abuse, but I found this visual so helpful that I think it would apply to all kinds of losses, even ones where abuse isn’t involved.

20170827_142522

Diagram 11.1 The Healing Process, from page 98 of When Love Hurts (Second Edition) by Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis

 

You see above that there is a figure eight. The top half of that figure eight is rebuilding. The bottom half is grieving. And notice that the arrows circle around and between both the top and bottom, through both grieving and rebuilding. The arrows don’t go one way. This isn’t a thing where you start out grieving and then BAM! You’re healed and you never go back. It’s a cycle. It’s a process.

How long this process lasts will vary between situations and people. Sometimes the process can be concluded in a matter of minutes. Other times it can take months, years, decades…. Sometimes it’s the rest of your life. Before you’re too disheartened at the thought of this process being lifelong, remember that rebuilding is also part of the process. There will be times where you do feel good. And the more time that goes by, the more opportunities you have to heal, you will be spending more time in that rebuilding stage and less time trudging through that grieving stage.

And there will be some periods that are worse than others. Milestones are what comes to mind. Things like his birthday, him getting a promotion at work, what would’ve been our anniversary, starting school again (this time without him to wander around campus with), etc are awful because I don’t get to share it with him anymore.

And little everyday things will sometimes get you down too. Things like my mom buying a DVD that I’d wanted to watch with him. Or listening to a CD and wishing I could listen to it with him because it’s just the sort of thing he’d like to listen to.

But it will pass. You’re not irreparably screwed up. One day, it’ll get to the point where the sad thoughts drop out of your mind as quickly as they popped into it. You’ve just got to stay alive and keep going and you’ll get there. I’m finally starting to get to that point (and I drift away from it… then come back to it…).

There might be people acting like you should be “over it” by now. But they really don’t have any right to tell you when you should get over something. Those people are likely well-intentioned and can’t bear to see you in pain, or perhaps you’re taking longer than they did to deal with it and they don’t understand why, but I find the process is something you need to go through yourself, in your own time. As already said, the length of the process will be different for each person and rushing it is not going to help you. Just trust that you will get through it. Others have done it, I’m doing it right now, and you can too.

The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Intro and Disclaimer

I present to you “The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition)”! I’m breaking it up into several posts because this is really long and it might take a while before I finish this series of posts since I’m on the brink of returning to school, so time and energy will be limited. Anyway…

I’ve hated this whole break-up experience, but I have to admit, I’ve learned a lot about myself. One thing I’ve learned is that I can be particularly bad at taking my own advice. I’ve doled out a lot of advice (excellent advice, actually) to family members who’ve had bad break-ups and now that I myself have had a bad break-up, I think I’m lucky I didn’t get smacked by anyone I gave advice to cuz, gee, it is really hard to take.

So I’m gonna give you a few disclaimers before I start.

Firstly, these are context-dependent. Here’s an example of what I mean by that:

I stand in court, accused of speeding because I was driving 50km/h. Was I speeding or not?

Your answer should be “I don’t know”. Why? Because you don’t know enough about the context. You don’t know whether I was speeding just by how fast I was going. You also need to know the speed limit of where I was driving. If I was on the highway, I definitely wasn’t speeding. If I was driving in the suburbs, I was going only the speed limit. If I was in a school zone, I was going almost double the speed limit. And if I was in a school zone, you also need to know the time of day I was driving at because the school zone limit often does not apply on weekends, instead going up to 50km/h instead of 30km/h.

My point is that I don’t know everything that you’re dealing with. I am not the expert on your life. You are. So you are the one who must decide whether or not these things are likely to work for you.

I do ask that you keep an open mind and consider all that I’m saying. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out a person’s tone in their writing (as opposed to hearing them speak), but I am not being bossy or telling you what to do when I’m writing this guide. I’m just writing down the things that have helped me and am hoping that you will glean something useful from it. Whether or not you apply any of this is your decision.

Also, keep in mind that these aren’t guarantees. There is as of yet no set equation for healing your mind. Some days you do everything “right” and still feel miserable. Other days you feel awesome without even trying. And still other days you fall somewhere in between; you feel unhappy but with the right strategies you can pull yourself out of that. And I hope that you find some of those strategies here.

The Saga of How I’m Taking the Summer Off (Part Four)

Reset

So, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, I’m going to use this summer to heal, to teach myself new and more helpful ways of thinking. I’m confronting my perfectionism demons, which I think warrants its own post, but here’s some thoughts to combat my academic perfectionism.

Firstly, I’m thinking “my best” instead of “the best”. My mom used to tell me in middle and high school “Just do your best and don’t fail the class.” Maybe she has a good point.

Maybe it’s time that I stopped trying to be “the smartest” and “the best” and “the top of her class” and learn to evaluate my intelligence by a different standard. I need to remember that there can be only one smartest, one best, one top of the class and that there are plenty of smart people out there competing for that so it’s not likely that I will be any of those things.

But maybe I don’t have to be any of those things. Maybe it’s okay to just be smart and not the smartest, good and not the best, and maybe it’s okay to just graduate instead of having to be the valedictorian. After all, most people aren’t the smartest or the best but they’re still getting along just fine.

And all those things–“best”, “smartest”– are relative to how well other people performing. Maybe those things aren’t even a good objective measure of what I’m capable of. It’s much more objective to think “This is what I’m good at, that is what I’m not good at. Someone being better than me at what I’m good at doesn’t mean I stop being good at it. Someone being worse at what I’m bad at doesn’t make me cease to be bad at it.”

I’m trying this new thing where instead of expecting straight As, I aim for a B average. After all, that’s all I need to get into the program that prepares me for grad school. And also, I’m trying to focus more on having intelligent behaviour than intelligent grades and am considering that there are other types of intelligence that aren’t measured in school.

I also realized that when it comes to your grades, you have to consider context. Some classes really are more difficult than others. I already mentioned that I failed one class this semester, but I got a B in the other one. I was disappointed with that B because I was so sure I’d get an A when I was studying twenty hours a week for this class.

Then I talked to an academic advisor. Turns out this class is practically impossible. Apparently it’s really difficult to begin with (it’s biopsychology, which requires a lot of memorization in Latin), but it becomes even harder when you take it fully online like I did, and even harder when you take it with the professor I took it with. Some of my classmates are retaking it this summer because they failed it. But I, mentally disordered, disabled me, got a B. (Yes, I’m aware this contradicts the attitude of “comparison is not objective”, but it feels awesome to do good at something other people are doing poorly in.)

And obviously, doing the math (see https://intersectionofeverything.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/the-saga-of-how-im-taking-the-summer-off-part-three/ ) for how much time I’d need to spend on school and realizing that spending that much time on it isn’t a luxury I have really put things into perspective.

I’m focusing on the fact that I am the only me there is, the only me there ever was, and the only me there ever will be. I may not be the best, but nobody’s mind works quite the way mine does. I can show people things they’ve never seen before. I have something that I alone can offer. I am reveling in my uniqueness.

I’m also focusing on all the little things I can do. Like, my nurse sister commented that she could NEVER put contacts in her eyes, it’d creep her out too much (luckily for her, she’s always had perfect eyesight). She might have a better education than me and be further along in her career, but I can put contact lenses in my eyes every day in a matter of seconds. It’s so small and so mundane, but it’s something I can do.

And nothing gives you appreciation for little things like taking Cognitive Psych. Did you know there’s something called prosopagnosia where people are unable to recognize faces even though they can see quite well? And that there is actually a thing called motion blindness? I can recognize the faces of all my loved ones and every person I have to work with, which enables me to do basic things at work, like make sure the parent of this kid gets that handout. And I can see motion, which means I can drive safely, among other things.

I have a new appreciation for all the complex things my body does just to keep me alive. The human body is fascinating and beautiful in all the things it can do. This is why I love science. It helps me see how blessed I am.

I’m also switching my focus from “I have to get my degree” to “I’m here to learn and I love learning”. This is part of why I’m taking longer to do my degree: because I want to really learn the material, not just memorize it for an exam and forget it once the class is over. I told my genius brother-in-law this and he thought it was a great idea.

And thinking like this improves my grades by making school fun. In a lot of ways, school is a hobby of mine. (“Expensive hobby,” my friends remark.)

And I’ve realized that we’re often taught that taking a break is being a quitter. Well, it’s not. Taking a break is nothing more than making sure you have the resources you need to tackle whatever comes your way. (Analogy: if your car is on empty, would you keep driving it until your car dies on the side of the highway or go to the nearest gas station to fill up? I think we know what the logical answer is to that one.)

And that sometimes, it’s okay to quit. If what you’re doing is making you unhappy and unhealthy, maybe it’s high time to step back from that and try something else. Maybe you’ll find a new passion in life. Or maybe you won’t, but you’ll just be happy.

So, I’m taking this summer to put myself back together again so that I’ll be refreshed and strong for school in the fall. And I’ve made the decision that I’ll probably take summers off from now on, so I have that time to rest and work on all these little fun projects I have lined up.

I’ve made this “I Can” list, for all the things I’ll have time for now that I’m not in university:

I can watch movies, and all the special features too.

I can read the books piled up in our bookcase.

I can work on my blog.

I can practice my piano.

I can write music and maybe even get something recorded.

I can take on some extra hours at work.

I can save up money for school. Or a new car. Or a real piano.

I can pay down my student loan debt.

I can cuddle my cat.

I can find a nicer place to live.

I can keep my room tidy.

I can do my laundry (which has become a luxury).

I can grocery shop and try cooking new recipes.

I can plan little trips with my friends.

I can be my best friend’s maid of honour.

I can take piano lessons, maybe even voice lessons.

I can babysit my nieces and nephews.

I can visit friends and family.

I can lay around, just daydreaming or listening to music, and squander my time in whatever way takes my fancy.

I can see the psychologist and get some answers, maybe get my anxiety and depression under control.

I can see the massage therapist (Yay!).

I can learn how to sew up the tears in some of my clothes.

I can write a book.

I can read old university textbooks at my leisure until I can wax poetic about their contents.

I can go to my kickboxing and martial arts classes regularly.

I can sleep at night.

I can go to church again.

I can spend all day on Pinterest if I want.

But most of all, I can DO WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT ON WEEKENDS BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE TO STUDY!!!

I love my “I Can” list. It makes me feel productive and like I have something to get excited about, instead of my life looking like work, work, and more work.

And these past few weekends, I did some of those things. I watched four movies in a row, without any feeling of guilt or “I should be studying”.

I finished reading the Two Towers and started on the Return of the King. I also finished reading a book on finances.

I took my mom out shopping for some work clothes.

I did my laundry. I cleaned up my room and the bathroom and scrubbed down the whole apartment.

I practiced my martial arts and did kickboxing and can already feel myself becoming strong again.

I videotaped my cat snoring and videoed her making these funny sounds she makes when she sees birds. I gave her lots of cuddles; she’s been lonely with me working and in school and with Mom working full-time too.

I went for a walk on a sunny day, and went swimming and played on the waterslide like I’ve been wanting to for ages.

I went on Pinterest, again without guilt. I read some blogs and worked on my own blog.

I had dinner with family and played card games. I babysat my youngest nephew, and later my two nieces and my other nephew.

I just sat around, listening to music I hadn’t listened to in years.

I spent a whole afternoon walking around my old stomping grounds with a friend of mine.

I went to church, got in touch with some old friends, made some new friends, and taught my mom some philosophy.

I helped my best friend pick out her wedding dress, and came along to do the registry, and goofed off making the wedding invitations.

I tinkered on my piano, sang some songs I wrote, and even got ideas for new songs. Which is incredible because I haven’t been able to write music for a very long time. I worried that maybe I’d lost that.

For the first time in a very long time, I have rested. And I’m amazed at how fast I’m recovering myself. And I’m excited to see what I’m going to do over the summer. Right now, I’m just going to focus on the little accomplishments, because it’s often the little things that we build our lives off of, the individual molecules that form the foundation.

And lastly, I just want to give a little shout-out to my family and friends. They’ve all been really supportive of me taking time off school. Even my sister, who I figured would be the most critical of it thanks to that “What do you mean you failed Info Tech? It’s the easiest class you could possibly take!” comment she made back when I was in middle school, has been really encouraging and said, “Sometimes, you just need a hard reset.”

So, here I am. Reset.