The Middle

Summer days mean a sweltering sun and lazy days, and even though I work most days of the week, I would say I’ve definitely been a model for this classic image. Catch me at the beach reading a little Stephen King or on my couch drafting my way through my novels. It’s a rough life, ya know?

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In reality, I have to start at least thinking about my future. My snap answer to “What are you doing after graduation?” is “Oh, I’m moving to New York!” Yes, that’s still my dream and no, I’m not giving up on it, but now that I am starting my senior year of college in less than two months, it’s daunting. I know that is still my dream–and I will make it happen–but I have to start looking for jobs and places to live and publishers. I’ve been hanging onto my book for so long that I’m terrified to put it in anyone else’s hands. Forty more pages and it might be time to send it into the world…

What a terrifying feeling.

It’s late on Tuesday night–or should I say a Wednesday morning–and I’m on the couch with Kristin, watching That 70s Show and talking about her latest Tinder date, our family issues, and boy things. We bought some nicer-than-Barefoot pinot grigio and are distracted by boy band videos on Facebook.

It’s kind of wonderful and it’s been distracting me from the major anxiety I’ve been feeling the last few weeks.

It’s not major, hyperventilating, crying in public, unable to control any kind of emotion anxiety. It’s more like under the rug, creeps in during a slow Led Zeppelin song, driving up PCH alone kind of anxiety. With so many wonderful things happening in my life, it’s difficult to believe that I could be feeling anything but happiness right about now. But I know very well that no moment is guaranteed bliss when you’ve been fighting a demonic mental illness since you were ten years old. And lately I’ve been trudging through an uphill battle.

I had relatively low levels of anxiety when I started grade school, but it really kicked into high gear when I was in fifth grade. I didn’t know my intense nervousness was more than that yet. It began affecting my immune system and taking over when I was a freshman in high school. Still didn’t have a name or reason for it. I didn’t know what that sickening, sinking feeling was until junior year.

It’s been hard for me to let go of that terrible, fluttery feeling in my stomach. Every day that I worked at Victoria’s Secret the last year, I felt nauseous. I walk into the store and smell the slightly-comforting scent of Bombshell and prepare myself for the inevitable stress of impatient customers who passive-aggressively snap at me when something goes wrong. Something out of my control. Retail is so important, but it is also a major stress. I quit that job for the anxiety it gave me–which is no one’s fault but my own. But now I’m a glorified Uber driver. I drive a couple of high school girls to and from summer school and tennis practice. I enjoy it, I do, and it causes me so much less stress than any retail job could.

But somehow anxiety gets to me anyway.

I can’t talk to people as easily about little things that might get to me, about a kind-of-unsafe driver who switched lanes recklessly on my way home, about how I can’t see a car that may look like a cop car without convincing myself I’ve done something wrong, about how I’ll drive through an intersection and panic because I can’t remember if the light was green (even though it was). Driving has always given me so much anxiety, but I act like it’s the normal, everyday activity it is for most people.

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I am Ross every time I’m in the driver’s seat.

I’m almost twenty-two, and I have the same sinking worries that I had when I was ten: do these people I care about actually like me? Do they think I’m worthy of their friendship? Are they going to stand by me when I can’t stand myself? Despite the evidence that they will continue to be my best friends and support me through my rough days, I still can’t help but grind my teeth in fear. Fear I’m not warranted to have.

I read a Teen Vogue article about anxiety today that completely represented how this illness has ruled my life for a decade–and how it has continued to impact me since I have completely embraced recovery from Depression. The article was mostly just a compilation of quotes from people with anxiety about the things they are afraid to tell their friends. Even though I do talk to my friends about my anxiety sometimes, these quotes hit the nail on the head on everything I can’t say to them.

“I already feel like a huge burden, I don’t want to add to it. And I honestly 90 percent of the time I can’t explain why I’m anxious. So I’d rather not say anything and just get through it on my own.”

This was one that really stuck out to me. Most of the time I can’t tell you why I’m anxious or depressed because I simply don’t know. It’s just a feeling that creeps up on me. I can’t stop it. There’s nothing anyone can really do to help, either, so I just don’t mention it. Instead of reaching out for any help (because to be honest, that doesn’t do anything for me) I shut myself away from everyone for a while. I have to let myself fall into it to get out of it.

When I was in Burbank in May and my dad was driving me to the train station to come back to SLO, he brought up the ever-difficult topic of anxiety. I know my parents read my blog sometimes–so does my grandma–but it doesn’t make it any easier to talk to them about any of this. It’s my way of putting everything out on the table, but we never talk about any of it when we see each other. Except this one time.

My dad told me that he used to struggle with anxiety. I guess I wasn’t surprised, but I just didn’t think about it. I’ve always felt so distant from my parents that it just felt like they would never understand what it’s like in my dark little world. But my dad did. He said my grandmother struggled as well–I never got to meet her, but I’m so much like my dad and his family that I guess it makes perfect sense. He said that if I ever have bad anxiety to talk to him and my mom about it. It’s probably the nicest sentiment, to actually talk to the people that can help me, but it’s far easier said than done. And like I said, it’s so much easier to get through an episode on my own.

Maybe one day, Dad.

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I’m trying to find a point here. Maybe it’s that I need therapy–which is something I mentioned to Kristin during our wine-induced venting session. I’ve made a lot of progress on my own, but it’s still hard. I mentioned to my boyfriend (yeah, you read that right) that I’m so much less responsive, talkative, and emotional when I text him when I wake up because sometimes I still can’t feel anything in the morning. I wake up and I feel numb to the world. It takes a little while for actual feelings (of any kind) to kick in. That’s why it takes me so long to get out of bed every day. That’s the Depression in me, but it all stems from my anxiety. Sometimes it’s still hard to be a real person, even with the people I care about the most. Every day I try to be better at it for those people and for myself.

I hate that all of this still gets to me, but at least I can feel now. At least I know that there is more than the numbness. And when I feel (or not feel) like everything is hopeless, I remember that it’s not. I’m better than that.

See? All I need to do it write it all out to find that silver lining. I’ll see you when I’m out of this little funk.

Thanks for listening.

Ash

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Lostmyhead – Having Anxiety Abroad

Since arriving in London, I have been living quite the dream: traveling from country to country, dropping into museums like it’s my job, and going out with my friends for cheap drinks and a good time. Oh yeah, and going to school. It has all been a lot of fun and games since September—until one Saturday night in Copenhagen.

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I was so excited to go on this adventure to Denmark. Copenhagen is beautiful, and I could not wait to see Mads. Ben, Ryan, Luke, and I flew out on Friday morning, and when we arrived in the city (though we could not check in to our hostel yet), we were not homeless! After checking in and waiting for Jaci and Becca to find the hostel (since they had taken a different flight), we met Maddie by City Hall. I haven’t been that excited to see someone in such a long time. I definitely let my friends fall behind so Mads and I could catch up—texting every other day could not live up to an in-person chat. She showed us a Christmas Market nearby, where we got some warm holiday drinks that put Starbucks to shame. A Gingerbread Latte is delicious, but Glogg tastes like Christmas. There is really no other way to describe it. After that, it was time for some street food, which meant going to an indoor farmer’s market-type place. I am not kidding when I say that fries deep-fried in duck fat are a thing. A good thing. Back at our hostel, we played cards games and got drunk—per the usual.

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The next day we did a little sightseeing: the view from the spire of the Parliament building was spectacular. You could see Sweden! Three-hundred-sixty degree view of the city, with Maddie pointing out all the important buildings and sights. Then came some coffee and a cool library, followed by a walk to the Little Mermaid statue in the harbor, which was nice to see but not too exciting. The lighting was perfect, though, so we got some good snaps.

Now, here is where things take a turn for the not-so-great. I did not want to get too drunk, since a whole bottle of wine Friday night may not have been the best choice, so I stuck with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice. Just one. We played Thumper, a fast-paced drinking game that involves a lot of clapping. I was out of my drink by that point, so the game gave me some anxiety—but not necessarily the bad kind. I kept losing, but it was okay. I was okay.

I don’t know when exactly the switch flipped, but the next thing I remember is laying my bed. My feet were freezing, and my back was hurting a lot. I was just watching my squad having fun, teasing each other, climbing from bed to bed (the bunk bed situation made for quite the jungle gym), and having a great time. It was almost hard to watch since I was so miserable. Nausea hit me, as well, and tears prickled my eyes. I had already decided that I didn’t really want to go out, but Becca and Jaci wanted me to rally.

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“If this song doesn’t get you to rally, then I know it’s over.” These are the words Becca said to me before she played a song by The Maine, my weakness. Well, it got me out of bed and ready to get the rest of my night going. I still was not at one hundred percent, but I was not about to let a little anxiety and some pain ruin my trip. No, sir. So I rallied and went out with my friends.

Only on the walk to the club, all my energy was gone, and I just wanted to go home. I felt like I was going to throw up—not just nausea, I could taste the bile and stomach acid. No part of me wanted to socialize with my too-drunk friends, so I walked alone in the cold, near tears. I wanted to snap at every little thing they said, regardless of what it was. I wanted to scream for it all to stop. So when we got to the club, I immediately was ready to turn around and go home. I thought I would go alone—it would have been ideal for the mood I was in—but Jaci, Ben, Becca, and Ryan all walked back home, too. No one had really wanted to go out in the first place.

So I walked alone again while my friends paired up behind me. I don’t know if I liked it or if I didn’t. I don’t know if I wanted my friends to talk to me or not. I was silent, but the screams were far too loud in my head. Ryan and Becca tried to link arms and skip with me. No part of me wanted to be there. My face and my hands and my feet were numb from the cold, and my mind was numb from the world. I could barely breathe, and I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.

This was bound to happen. You knew it. I knew it. We all knew it.

I haven’t had an anxiety attack in a while. I have had moments where I thought I might, but I have fought it off. I am so happy living here. Quite a few people have told me they have never seen me like this. They’re not wrong: I don’t know when I have ever felt this happy and this free. London has had such a strange and wonderful effect on me, and I am not saying this place is too good to be true, but my subconscious has been waiting for this ball to drop. Maybe my conscious was, too.

Saturday night was not a good one, but I don’t think that it happening was a bad thing. I would not call it a good thing, of course, but definitely not a bad thing. I haven’t had to deal with her in such a long time that I forgot what to do when she forced her way out. I was lost that night, and I did not like it. But it reminded me of everything I have fought to become the woman I am now.

I have been living such a fabulous life abroad that this anxiety brought me back to earth. It was a reality check, for sure. When I return to the States, things are going to be different—that is stating the obvious. I have been afraid of going back because my Good Day streak here outnumbers any streak I had going before. I am afraid of not having the freedom I have in this city. I am afraid that this is all a dream, and I am going to wake up and be ten years old, about to embark on a long and dark journey I don’t think I can live through again. And the days following my anxiety attack…well, I keep thinking I might have one again. No, I am not sitting here waiting for it, but the fear is there.

“I will be.”

That was my answer to the question, “Are you okay?” that night.

At that moment, I felt powerless and broken, unable to feel anything but the wind stinging my face. But I knew that I just had to wait it out, keep breathing and everything would be fine. I would be fine.

And the next day when we took a spontaneous trip to Sweden? I was a great.

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With about a month left, do I expect another anxiety attack? No, I don’t expect one, but it could happen. I am certainly not going to stop living my life and wait for it. I am done doing that. My life is in my hands, and I intend on doing great things.

So take that anxiety.

Lonely Girl

Being a self-proclaimed introvert who exudes extraverted qualities, this summer has been quite interesting for me. When I am not at work, I am alone in my bedroom, watching Netflix (burning through psych like it is nothing) and reading (four books down since you last heard from me) and writing (a few thousand words of Book 2–trying to make it over a plot hump) and sleeping (naps for days).

It does not bother me one bit.

In fact, I did not even notice that, for three days, I spoke to only two people–and briefly. One day, though, it dawned on me that I was so alone. My group chats were dead and everyone seemed so busy. For me, busy was having my nose in a book and snuggling with my body pillow. It felt weird that I was not having any real human interaction.

Maybe I did not notice because I talked to customers at work. I laughed with my coworkers. I was not being completely reclusive, so it seemed okay that I came home and hid myself away.

I used to do such things on purpose. After school, I itched to get home and lock myself in my room with homework and music. Being around so many people I could not relate to or who hand-fed me to the Darkness was exhausting. Being social was draining. And then on Wednesdays, I had to go back to hell school for choir rehearsal and put on a smiling and exuberant face, while dancing and singing full out. Maybe I am just perpetually out of shape, but it made me so tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. My go to phrase was: “I’m just tired.”

That phrase has followed me to college, and I am not sure how I feel about that. I am not supposed to be tired. I should be living my life and making friends and sharing memories. Only after I have worn myself out with an adventure should I be “just tired.”

It might scare me that I slipped so easily back into the comfort of solitude.

I mean, I like being alone. It is nice to be able to hear myself think, to read in peace, to relax. People can be exhausting and conversations trivial. That’s not so say everyone bores me–most of the time, it is quite the opposite–but I find serenity in being by myself. I love grocery shopping and going to movies and taking trips to the beach all by my lonesome. Going solo has never been a problem. I get more done and I feel more independent. Independence has always been a big deal for me, since I hope to be almost, if not completely, out from my parents’ wallets and care when I finish college. It is one of the reasons London is such a big deal.

But as I sit alone in my room–as I am doing right now (shocker, I know)–I keep scolding myself for being such an introvert. I am afraid to get too close to people and I would rather not put myself at risk for an anxiety attack. Sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s happened. I wish that I was not so susceptible to letting that fear get to me. I am not afraid of taking risks (most of the time); what I am afraid of is that no one will be there to catch me if I fall, that I will have to be the one to rebuild.

I have spent so much time rebuilding myself into someone I can be proud of, someone that I want the world to see and know. But this whole “hiding away in my room” thing is not helping me burn the bridges from my old self. It is almost like I am piecing them back together. A part of me will always hold onto that self because she is the person who motivated me to change, and I cannot forget that. If I do, it will only be that much easier to let her drag me back down again.

I have fallen back into my groove of isolation, and I am comfortable. It is not easy for me to leave the safety of it. But my promise to you is that I will. I vow to put myself back out there. To laugh and smile and make memories with my friends. That work will not be my loophole to being social. That I will make plans where I am not the only one on the guestlist.

XOXO, Blogger Girl

A moment of silence please…

June 1, 2016.

UCLA.

Shooting.

Two dead.

Whole school on lockdown.

These are the words that filled my news feeds and text messages this morning as I sat in my final Econ lecture (hopefully ever). I felt helpless sitting in my desk just listening to my professor talk about the 2008-09 recession. I could not help but repeatedly refresh my news feeds, looking for any and every update on what the heck was happening at UCLA.

I immediately texted a friend to make sure he was okay. He replied in the next minute or so, but it was one of the most stressful ninety seconds of my life. Luckily, he was a good ways away from the building where the student was roaming. I learned after class from a plethora of Facebook posts that the other acquaintances I have at UCLA were all safe. Thankfully.

The official story says the event was a murder suicide, shooter an engineering student getting his PhD and the shootee a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, William Klug. It all occurred within a few hours: on lockdown sometime around 10 am, off lockdown by 12:45 pm.

While all this was going down, I heard from multiple Cal Poly students that there was an armed person in our library. My first thought was that this was happening all over the state in public universities. Administration quickly shut down the rumors by having the police search the enitre library and sending out an email and text assuring our safety. Maddie was there while they were searching, and she told us not to worry. After that briek period of panic, being a sitting duck in my lecure hall, I returned to worrying about those in Westwood.

Like always, we do not appreciate what we have in life until it is gone–or until we almost lose it. This professor will not get to go home to his children, and they will not quite understand what is happening at first. They will not grasp their father not being able to tuck them into bed anymore or coach them in Little League. He did not wake up this morning with the intention to be shot and killed, so he probably was not thinking about his last words to his family. A routine “I love you” and out the door, maybe. He means it, obviously, but that’s just it: it is routine, almost as if unthinking.

Because of these tragic incidents, I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful people in my life. I try to express my gratitude in some sort of way as often as I can, like eating dinner on rocky ground with my “spooky” friends for Lo’s birthday and trying to watch the sunset (only all we got was fog). Those little moments spent laughing at old memories and wildly predicting new ones matter.

There only being two victims is definitely better than having more casualties, but it is no less sad or upsetting–or unsettling. Two victims that had whole lives ahead of them, cut short by a poor coping mechanism.

My heart goes out to their families, and I am praying that they find peace. This event makes me want to hug my friends and family a little tighter and thank them a little extra for everything they do for me. I would not be here without their love and support. There is always someone out there to remind you why this is all worth it: why we go to such great lengths to push forward when life gets hard, why we bulldoze through challenges to succeed, why we must be there for our loved ones as they have been there for us.

June 1, 2016.

Rent is due. Sorority dues must be paid. Marilyn Monroe would have been ninety. Lauren turned twenty. I had my last Econ lecture.

And a shooting at UCLA to remind me that life is short and precious and we must live wholly, not just rolling with the motions.

xx Ash

Love This Pain

Addiction.

/əˈdikSH(ə)n/ noun. the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.

It’s difficult to quit an addiciton. Some say it’s impossible. People go to meetings, they talk about their struggles. What it’s like not to be able to go places or talk to certain people. They must stay away from temptation.

But what happens when your drug is inanimate? What happens when it’s all in your head and there is nothing you can do to shut the noise off. To quiet the drone of you’re not worth it, nobody cares, just give up now, no one will miss you. You could go to therapy or take medication. I have heard that works, but I cannot personally vouch for that.

I have found happiness in life, though. I am figuring out just how wonderful life can be, and I can barely hear the voices. They don’t scream at me anymore. It’s an inaudible whisper, and I don’t stop to try ot decipher what they are saying. It is not worth it to. I am much happier not bothering with it because I would rather enjoy the sunshine and the butterflies flitting around because it’s spring and the flowers blooming in every planter I walk by. It is so much easier to forget about the bad when I have all these good things in my life.

I have my days and moments where I slip backwards and feel like I am drowning. They are absolutely terrible, and it throws me back to thoughts of “well, if I cannot stay happy, then why should I stay living?” Those moments are some of the hardest I have to go through because it is exhausting to pull myself out of that black hole and remind myself that life is worth it.

You guys have heard all about that, though. You guys don’t hear much about my good, wonderful, fabulous days. I talk about them, but not that often. I don’t know, maybe I am too happy to write about them. Maybe it is because nobody wants to know about how happy someone is all the time. People want to read about tragedy. (A total exaggeration, but you know what I mean.)

But here’s the thing that happens to me when I am happy-go-lucky and loving life. The sun shines on my skin and it is the best feeling in the world. The smell of the flowers that now makes my eyes water and nose tingle is still life-giving. I want to cry tears of utter joy when I watch the sky turn a million colors for the sunset. I think about spinning in circles and dancing around to the music in my head. The smallest things remind me why I have chosen life. The big things make me stop and thank the Lord for all the amazing things he has blessed me with. I am truly thankful for it all.

But when I log onto the blog and begin scrolling through the various blogs of the day on my feed or poetry Instagrams, Twitters, Tumblrs, etc and the way that some people can so beautifully describe depression. They can almost romanticize it, and it makes me miss those overwhelming thoughts that trap me in Darkness. So much so that I can talk myself into the stomach-churning Bad Thoughts that make me cry to the point where my head is about to explode and I am left dry-heaving into the toilet and I squeeze my fingers against my scalp trying to pull my hair out. It is ugly and awful…but it is home. For so long, those actions were all I knew.

I almost feel ashamed reading those blogs or poems and being able to still identify so much with them. I still feel every little sting. I hate to say that it feels good.

Depression is my drug. I do not know if there is a better or more accurate way to describe it. I was addicted to the way it made me feel without realizing it, and I still find some sort of sick comfort in the Darkness. I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help it. It is difficult to live sometimes: to smile all the time, make happy conversation, stay interested in daily gossip. It is so easy to just curl up in my bed and not move from the same cuddled position for hours on end, not speaking to anyone for whole days. I wonder if my voice still works. There were holes in my heart that depression lived in. Filling those spaces is a journey I chose to embark on, but it has not been as simple as smiling and acting happy (I don’t know why people think that is the magical solution).

When your drug is inanimate, it is impossible to completely stay away. The temptation lives inside you. I have a backwards love for that unbearable pain, but I work every day to resist it. I know it is better this way, and I will continue to be better.

I am better than this addiction, than this drug, than this pain.