Let’s Talk About Self-Sabotage.

Confession: When I’m happy, I freak out.

A blog-reader-turned-bestie (yes, sometimes I befriend y’all in real life because you are lovely human beings) and I were recently talking about this over milkshakes. Being happy is terrifying when you aren’t quite used to it.

You know, that dreaded sense that the other shoe will fall? Yeah. That. It’s the worst.

The pressure of trying to sustain something that we’re not used to can create a lot of stress for us. And we might feel the impulse to self-sabotage, especially when we don’t have the support we need to cope.

Sometimes I even have suicidal thoughts when I’m happy. Do you?

The idea that I’ve peaked, and that I might as well die now while things are still good. It seems like the perfect time. Then I fall down the rabbit hole of, “Am I actually happy if I’m having thoughts like these?” (Save yourself the time: Yes. Suicidal thoughts aren’t exclusively the domain of depression.)

And of course, I don’t know how to explain this to the folks I love – that joy is triggering, because I am so used to that joy being taken away from me.

Mental illness has taught me that happiness is inherently unstable and temporary, that I shouldn’t trust it. That mistrust is the product of repeated trauma. It can make me impulsive, hypersensitive, and fearful. It makes it difficult to be grounded.

And worst of all? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I start to act out because of that fear, which reinforces the fear itself.

I thought it was just me, until I started talking about it. I actually found that lots of people with mental illness or experiences of trauma have this same mistrust of joy. It can lead us to making some lousy choices – in an attempt to regain control and cope with the fear, we make some misguided decisions and push away the very happiness we’ve so desperately wanted for ourselves.

Sound familiar?

Being happy makes me a little crazy. And if you’ve ever thought you were the only one, I assure you – it’s actually a really common thing.

When you’ve spent years associating happiness with the calm before the storm, it’s no surprise that you might associate joy with a lack of safety. In fact, maybe you find depression or anxiety to be a little safer – because it’s more predictable, something more known to you.

I’m here to tell you, friend, that this is totally understandable. Brains are very malleable things – and trauma can lead us to develop some pretty maladaptive impulses, including the impulse to self-sabotage.

I am the Prince of Self-Sabotage. Happiness absolutely terrifies me. It terrifies me because  it feels like it’s only ever betrayed me. Just when I think that I’ve gotten into a good rhythm, life throws me a curveball and I’m not only depressed again, but also grieving the loss of the stability I thought I’d finally had.

Has happiness betrayed you? If so, it’s no surprise that your first instinct is to push it away.

Recently, I’ve gotten to a good place again. Courtesy of Wellbutrin (quickly becoming a favorite of mine), the most sarcastic/excellent psychiatrist on the planet, the love and support of community, new job prospects that leave me totally ecstatic about what’s to come, and personal growth that surprises and delights me every day.

And of course, cue the terrible thoughts like, “Okay, what gives? When does the other shoe drop?” and even, “I kind of feel like taking a chainsaw and splitting myself in half” (to which my psychiatrist asks me, “Um, do you have access to a chainsaw?” Fear not, Doc. No, I do not).

What’s a kid to do? Well, in my opinion, it starts with just acknowledging that happiness is scary, and that’s 100% okay.

Sounds deceptively simple. But you and I both know this is easier said than done. I have to remind myself of this fifty times a day – that there isn’t a disaster waiting for me around every corner. I have to remind myself that I’ve been conditioned overtime to believe that happiness isn’t safe, but that doesn’t make it true.

It’s also good to check in with myself about how I’m dealing with that stress. Am I reaching out for support from a therapist and/or friend? Am I talking about my fears or ignoring them? Am I staying busy? Am I taking care of myself?

I’m a big fan lately of guided meditation when I’m not feeling so grounded. More specifically, there’s this app that I can’t shut up about called Stop, Breathe & Think, which recommends a few meditations (and even yoga videos!) based on your emotions (imagine, like, a self-care mood ring).

You tell it how you’re feeling, and it makes custom recommendations for you. When I find myself freaking out – like my skin is crawling or I’m claustrophobic in my own body – it’s the perfect thing. (Nope, they didn’t ask for the plug – I just love and appreciate them that much.)

A lot of people believe that self-care is only crucial when you’re in a bad place. But I’ve found that self-care is absolutely critical when I’m happy – because the moment I’ve stopped prioritizing my mental health is when I’m actually most vulnerable.

Let me repeat that, because it’s super important: The moment I’ve stopped prioritizing my mental health is when I’m most vulnerable.

Got it?

I know it might seem counterintuitive to reach out for help when you’re happy, of all things, but it can be very necessary if your happiness is a stressor.

And this is a process, of course, one that I know will be ongoing throughout my life. But it helps to know that I’m not alone. And I hope that this reminder can be helpful to you, too.

When we start seeing happiness as a completely understandable trigger and learn to be gentle with ourselves, instead of letting trauma dictate how we should respond, we can start to do the really important work of recovery and healing – which is absolutely something each and every one of us deserves. Yourself included.

To Anyone Who’s Ever Shamed a Teenager For Being ‘Attention Seeking’

The scars I have from cutting myself as a teenager have faded. If you looked at my body today, you would never know the hell that I put it through all those years ago.

But the wounds from people labelling me “attention-seeking” or “emo” or “dramatic” are still wide open, ten years later.

You could say that I have a bone to pick. And you would be correct.

When I was a teenager, all I understood about what I was going through was that I was depressed and detached from myself. Set adrift in my pain, I fell apart. I didn’t know why, let alone what resources were available to me or how to ask for help.

In a society which does not openly discuss mental health, it should come as no surprise that a fourteen-year-old kid didn’t know what to do when he was suicidal.

A decade later, I still don’t know what to do half the time. But I’m grateful to that teenager for doing what he needed to do to keep himself alive. I wouldn’t be here without him.

I can’t tell you the number of times that people saw me suffering – desperate, hopeless, lost – and, instead of validating my struggles, they wrote them off by saying, “He’s just looking for attention.”

I can’t tell you the number of times I hurt myself, only to hear someone say to me, “Quit being so dramatic.”

And to this day, I hear the word “emo” and a part of me cringes because I remember the way that word was used to completely invalidate my pain.

To set the record straight, if I was looking for attention, it’s because I needed it. If I was being dramatic, it’s because I couldn’t contain the depth of my own turbulent emotions. And if “emo” is just another word for mentally ill, then yes, I was certifiably insane but you were too busy laughing at my eyeliner to give a fuck.

Sure, I’m emo. I’m emotional. It’s called bipolar disorder, and maybe I would’ve gotten a diagnosis sooner if someone had paused to consider that maybe I wasn’t faking it.

Call me bitter, but I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if someone had had the courage to intervene instead of the cowardice to mock me.

Yes, this one’s personal.

Yesterday – ten years after I heard the word “emo” for the first time, ten years after my so-called friend said I was pretending to be sad, ten years after a high school counselor told me my cuts weren’t deep enough – I needed help.

A depressive episode hit me so hard, I lost my balance and I hit rock-bottom. I wasn’t in my right mind.

But instead of asking my friends for support, I felt that gut instinct that’s been ingrained in me since I was a teenager – the one that tells me not to be a burden, not to be dramatic, not to bother anyone.

Suffice to say, I ended up drunk off my ass a block away from the train station contemplating thoughts I can’t let myself say out loud just yet.

Take it from a real-life “emo” kid: When you tell us that we’re just looking for attention, what you’re really saying is that we don’t deserve to be seen.

When you tell us that we’re faking it, what you’re really saying is that our pain doesn’t matter, that WE don’t matter.

When you tell us that we’re emo, as if it’s funny to you, what you’re really saying is that our suffering is a joke.

You tell us that we don’t need help. You tell us that we don’t deserve help.

And you create the kind of world where people who are struggling feel like they have no other option but to end their own lives.

You create the kind of world where people who have a mental illness won’t find out until ten years or more after the age of onset, if they’re ever diagnosed at all. That’s a statistical fucking reality and it’s the reality I’ve been living in for a long time.

You create the kind of world where young people learn to bottle up their emotions, to lie about their pain, and to go it alone until they wind up in hospital beds, on train tracks, on concrete, in graves.

And you know what? I’ll take an attention-seeking teenager over a dead one any day of the week.

I want teenagers to shout it from the rooftop. I want teenagers to write it all over the internet. I want teenagers to make their pain known in every damn way they can.

Because guess what? That’s how you survive.

And I don’t know about you, but I want a world in which teenagers who are struggling with their mental health can get attention if and when they need it. Because every one of us deserves to have our pain seen, validated, and affirmed. 

And if that makes me “dramatic”? So be it.

To The Friends That Knew I Couldn’t Do This ‘Mental Illness Thing’ Alone

When I hear your footsteps approaching me in the dark, what you don’t know is that I’m quietly muttering under my breath, “Please, please don’t be angry.”

I hide the bite marks on my hand. I keep my face hidden under the hood of my coat. I try to will myself into disappearance.

I fucked everything up.

I’m bracing myself for impact.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

You don’t remind me what I should or shouldn’t have done. You don’t remark on the inconvenience of it all. You don’t tell me, through clenched teeth, that I should know better by now.

You both sit down next to me – someone asks me if I’m okay, someone else puts an arm around me. And while I don’t move or respond to that touch, it takes everything in me not to.

In that moment, I am afraid for you to know how much I need you.

/

When I was young, I tried to do it all by myself. I didn’t know who to talk to – so I talked to no one.

For the first two years, I sobbed into my pillow so no one could hear me at night. I left cuts and bruises where no one would see them. I ran off into cold, Michigan winters and laid in the snow until I couldn’t feel my body.

No one looked for me then.

There came a day when the weeping stopped. When it took so much energy to scream that I ceased making noise altogether.

I hid in my closet and pondered how many minutes I could cut off my own breathing without dying.

No one asked about me then.

I thought that I was protecting people. I thought that if they knew about the darkness, the darkness would trap them, too. I thought that I would rather endure the pain alone than inflict it on someone else.

I thought I was being benevolent.

I didn’t yet call it “dying.”

/

The first time I ever loved someone, ever trusted someone with the darkness, it swallowed him whole.

I still remember late at night, curled in a blanket on his couch, when suddenly shadows were falling out of the ceiling and crawling across the room.

In my paranoia, I was convinced that the shadows had come for me.

I was screaming, and seizing, and I couldn’t form words – and the next thing I know, my head is hitting the fireplace, someone is holding me down against my will, and I hear him yelling the numbers, “911.”

Those numbers will always be burned into my mind, a looming threat, a weapon to be wielded.

Six months later, dialed in, the phone waving in front of my face as I stutter, as I weep, standing in a cookie-cutter Midwestern suburb, begging, “Please, please don’t be angry.”

He says, “You shouldn’t have run away.”

I say, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

He says, “If you don’t come with me, they’re going to take you away.”

In my desperation, I lunge at him, grabbing the phone and breaking it on the ground.

And I run.

Because all I knew to do back then was run.

/

You tell me that we’re going back to your apartment. I keep my eyes closed for the entire drive because if we’re going to the hospital, I don’t want to know until we’re there.

It wouldn’t be the first time that I woke up in a hospital parking lot.

The first time was after a film – a film which spoke candidly about suicide, which I later realized must have set me off – when I have a panic attack so bad that I think I am dying.

In the chaos of his screaming and mine, I start hitting my head on the car window.

I black out.

I wake up to someone shaking my shoulder. I try to make sense of where I am when I see the words “EMERGENCY ROOM” in bright lights. I start to scream again. He tells me he had no choice.

I don’t know what is happening, but I know that I’m not safe here.

I run out of the car and towards the street. He catches me, grabbing me by the shirt, telling me that I either go willingly or the police will find me.

911.

I tell him he doesn’t love me. I tell him he wants to ruin my life. I tell him that he’s not helping. I tell him that no one will believe him. His grip loosens on my shirt, his eyes softening.

He begins to cry.

I see my opportunity.

I don’t console him – I break free from his grasp, running into a lane of oncoming traffic, the sound of car horns and screeching tires piercing my eardrums.

/

We don’t go to the hospital.

Like you promised, we are back at the apartment.

When I step out of the car, I am stunned that no one has grabbed me or is forcing me in. No one is fighting me.

And I’m not running.

I was not tricked into an emergency room. I was not carried away in handcuffs. I was not screaming and neither were you.

No one is angry.

I am still hiding inside a jacket that is two sizes too big (maybe more). Someone asks me if I have everything I need to stay the night. And someone else puts an arm around me again, and an unexpected emotion overtakes me.

It’s hard enough to understand that I am allowed to walk up to that house on my own. It’s even harder to understand that someone is now holding me.

Why isn’t anyone angry? Why isn’t anyone yelling?

I want to cry but I’m afraid of being vulnerable. I’m afraid, still, that you’d know that I failed to take care of my shit, that I couldn’t do this by myself.

So I sit as still as possible and I desperately hope that my stillness doesn’t make it seem like I don’t want to be touched.

I do want to be touched.

I won’t tell you that.

I don’t remember what we talked about but I remember the calmness in everyone’s voices. I remember waiting for a lecture that I never received. I remember conversations about pop culture and I would expect nothing less from you both.

I remember laughing and how good it felt to laugh.

I remember being told, gently, that we would go to the crisis center the next day – I would be picked up in the morning, and my friends would be there, and my partner would be there, and I wouldn’t be alone.

There was no trickery.

And I remember being surprised that no one was trying to trick me.

/

Three years ago, my therapist asks me why my eyes well up so often but I never cry.

“I can’t cry,” I tell her.

“Why not?”

“It’s just not something that I do.”

She pauses, waiting for me to say more. In these pauses, I always tell myself that she’s doing it because she knows I’ll fill the empty space, and that I should stop obliging her.

Even when I tell myself not to, the silence between us is compelling.

I always oblige.

“I’m afraid that if I start crying, I’ll lose control.”

“Would that be so bad?”

I remember this conversation when you are both looking for food for me to eat in the kitchen.

I know that if I start crying, I won’t stop. I know that if I don’t stop, I’ll start screaming.

And I know that if I scream, you will know a part of me that only two people in this world have ever known – the part of me that is profoundly broken, the part of me that breaks hearts – and you will never see me the same way again.

One day, I will let my guard down and you will know what it’s like to hear something so painful come out of me that your heart collapses like a trapdoor.

But I am not ready to break your hearts.

Yet.

/

You let me sleep in your bed that night. You replace your ex’s water cup with mine, which strikes me in that moment as really meaningful. We watch television and I laugh at your running commentary, which is so perfect and makes me smile, even when I don’t want to.

Sometimes you touch my arm and I don’t have the words to tell you what it means to me when you do.

Just then, I am reminded of all the nights I spent alone as a teenager.

When I was too afraid to call anyone, when I was too afraid to tell the truth, when I was too afraid to break hearts.

I am reminded of how close I came to dying because I was never brave enough to say, “I need help.”

Tonight, I will not die. I will sleep next to you. I will wake up occasionally, look over at you, and feel relieved that you’re still there.

I will remember all the nights that I rejected the people I cared about, thinking I was some sort of protector, some sort of martyr. Thinking that these walls I built were so tremendous, that I had done the world a favor.

When I hear you breathing next to me in the middle of the night, I will wonder why I ever thought I was so noble for going it alone.

I wasn’t noble.

I was just scared.

/

“What happens if I’m hospitalized?”

“It will be okay.”

“And what about my parents?”

“They will be okay.”

Quietly:

“And me?”

“You will be okay.”

/

When I leave your house in the morning, you say – in your very particular way of saying things – that today is going to be an adventure.

I stop in my tracks, looking back at you.

“An adventure?” I repeat back.

When you tell me that everything will be okay, I believe you. I’m learning to believe in you.

Everything you said yesterday was true, too – when you promised that no one was plotting against me; when you promised I could take a nap and not wake up somewhere else; when you promised that if I told you where I was, we would make things right.

I don’t know what you mean by an adventure, but I believe you when you say it.

/

The psychologist at the crisis center has assessed my responses.

“Rapid cycling,” he says, “Brought on by the hormone fluctuations when you ran out of testosterone. It set off your bipolar disorder.”

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“You mention here,” he says, looking at the dozens of papers that I filled out, “That you were experiencing some bouts of suicidality.”

“Yes,” I say quietly.

“What kept you from acting on your impulses?”

I think about it for a moment.

“My friends.”

He pauses, in the way I guess all therapists do, in the way that makes me feel like I need to fill in the spaces.

But this time, I don’t fill the space.

Some Days, I Can’t Leave My House

As a rule, I don’t tend to write about things when I’m in the midst of them. I write about my struggles after I’ve done some processing, some reflecting, and it isn’t too painful to share.

Which is all just to say, writing this today is going to hurt.

I have agoraphobia.

I am afraid to leave my house without someone accompanying me. I don’t visit my friends’ houses because it’s too panic-inducing to get there. I go to the same restaurant to hang out because nowhere else feels safe.

If I want to go somewhere new, my partner R has to go with me repeatedly to help me practice – sometimes dozens upon dozens of times – before I can work up the courage to go by myself.

I cancel on people constantly because I think I’ll be brave enough to see them, but then I break down an hour before when I realize that I’ll have to leave my apartment alone.

Since living in California, I’ve never once gone grocery shopping by myself. I’ve never once gone to the doctor by myself. And not once have I gone to a pharmacist by myself.

If I run out of food, or I’m sick, or I need medicine, I wait until someone can go with me – even if it’s at the expense of my own health or sanity.

I’ve turned down interviews with big publications, passed up the chance to meet phenomenal activists and writers, cancelled speaking engagements at big universities, and otherwise fucked up career opportunities because instead of pursuing them, I was in my bathroom vomiting because I was terrified of going outside.

No matter how badly I want to go to the birthday party, or how desperately I want to leave my apartment for some fresh air, or how terrific that event promises to be, I am trapped.

I am sitting by my window at the end of nearly every day, watching my social media light up with happy faces – wondering, worrying if I will ever know the kind of freedom that they know.

Freedom, like when you can walk out your door without it being a complete and utter fiasco.

Freedom, like when you aren’t suicidal just because you missed your train stop and you’re convinced you are in imminent danger because you’ve never been in this part of town before.

Freedom, like when your friend wants to spontaneously grab coffee and it doesn’t make you hyperventilate at the thought.

Freedom, like being able to go somewhere without the petrifying fear that your anxiety will creep up on you and no one will be there to help you when you snap.

For the longest time, I made excuses. I told myself I couldn’t leave because I’m “just an anxious person.” I told myself I just didn’t like being alone. I told myself moving to a new city is always scary. I told myself that I just didn’t like being around people.

Time and time again, I told myself there was a logical reason for why I hadn’t left my place in a week.

My friends asked me, “I always see you with your partner. Do you ever go anywhere by yourself?” No.

My friends asked me, “I haven’t seen you in a while. Is everything okay?” No.

My friends asked me, “I noticed all your selfies are in your apartment. Do you ever leave?” No.

Why?

Because I am afraid.

Do you know what it’s like to be afraid of yourself?

To be convinced that you aren’t safe if you’re left to your own devices, that at any moment the panic will take over and you’ll be rendered an inconsolable, chaotic mess?

Do you know the longing of wanting to go to the beach, just to remember what the tide feels like when it glides across your feet? To want nothing more than to stroll down to that new cafe, the one you’ve pictured in your mind a thousand times?

Wanting to meet your friends at the park, so you can lay in the grass and feel the sun on your back? Wishing you could join them at that queer club so you could dance the night away, sweaty and laughing and alive, surrounded by electric bodies and beautiful souls?

Talking yourself up, saying that you’re going to do it this time, that there’s no logical reason why you can’t – you RSVP with a “yes” while shaking your head “no” – knowing that it’s inevitable, that disappointment of being alone again, of missing out.

Too afraid to admit the truth, just to say, “I can’t.”

Too afraid to tell your friends, “I’m not as strong as you thought.

And so everyone goes to the beach, to the cafe, to the park, to the club, while you are curled up beneath the covers, promising yourself “next time” but knowing that there will never, ever be a “next time” until you say those three little words:

I need help.

Just to go to graduate school, my partner had to accompany me across the city – two busses, an hour’s trek – three days a week to my classes. Still, I wouldn’t say it. I dropped out.

Just to get to the psychiatrist’s office, my partner had to go with me then, too – four stops on the train, a shuttle – and no matter how many times we practiced, I couldn’t do it alone. Still, I wouldn’t say it. I haven’t seen that doctor in months.

I ran out of groceries and I was too scared to ask someone to drive me. I ate whatever I could find in the back of the cupboard and sometimes I didn’t eat at all. Still, I wouldn’t say it. I ordered my groceries online.

Last week, I typed into a search bar, “I can’t leave my house alone,” knowing full well that it was going to tell me what I already knew.

I can tell myself until I’m blue in the face, until this lie feels close enough to the truth, until I run out of food again or run out of pills again, that everything is fine. I can tell myself that it’s the city, or it’s the bus, or it’s the people – I can tell myself a hundred thousand times that it isn’t me.

But it is me.

I’ve slowly started telling my friends. Now, I’m telling the world. In part because maybe, in holding myself publicly accountable, I’ll actually reach out and get the help that I need (I’m working on it, I promise).

But I’m writing about this, too, because I know somebody out there is going to Google “I can’t leave my house.”

And if that person is you, this is your sign.

 

Maybe My Mental Illness Does Define Me. And?

Every so often, I’ll get an email from a reader that says something like, “Sam, you can’t let your mental illness define you! You are so much more than that!”

(Has anyone else noticed how this is a distinct theme in my life? Since when does everyone know me better than I do? But OK.)

What if I told you that my mental illness does define me? And what if I also told you that I am much more than that? That these two realities are not mutually exclusive?

I know, it’s mind-blowing.

Fun fact: I have early onset bipolar disorder, along with generalized anxiety and OCPD. Which means, for most of my life (if not all of it), mental illness has shaped and impacted my lived experiences.

It is the filter through which I have seen the world. It’s as ubiquitous as the air around me.

The ways that I struggled to adapt in the face of this trauma has taught me so much about who I am and where my values lie. It has taught me resilience, persistence, and optimism; I’ve also glimpsed a kind of darkness and despair that has undoubtedly left its mark on me.

So when someone tells me that mental illness doesn’t “define” me, I’m totally perplexed.

How could something that I’ve grappled with for my entire life — something that has not only impacted and contextualized my experiences, but also helped to reveal the character and values that I embody — have no bearing on what defines me?

People will go ahead and define themselves based on the weirdest things, like their taste in movies or their passion for knitting or their sailing hobby (no judgment here, you do you). But I can’t say that my experiences with mental illness are a major part of who I am?

I think what I find particularly annoying about this suggestion is that the person who says it to me is basically saying that they are in a position to determine what does and does not define me.

And, you know, it’s almost always someone who has no experience with mental illness.

Which begs the question: Why are people of privilege always trying to overwrite the narratives of folks who are marginalized? Why do they not trust us to tell our own stories, to name our own identities?

As a transgender person with mental illness, this is especially frustrating. Everyone has an opinion on my identity and how I should (or shouldn’t) talk about it. They know my gender better than I do. They know my illness better than I do.

Apparently everyone but me is an authority on my life.

So many people of privilege have heard me articulate my truth, but instead of accepting it as I’ve written it, they insist on squeezing me into a framework that they prefer — whether it’s misgendering me or asking me to separate who I am from my disorders, the implication is that my identity does not belong to me and that my lived experiences are invalid.

The simple truth is that I do not know who I am without mental illness because I’ve never lived a life without it. 

Does that make me a “perpetual victim”? Does that mean, while I wallow in my past trauma, I’ll never be able to find happiness because I’ll be stuck in the past?

Uh, no. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.

But it’s weird how many people write me to suggest that I won’t be happy if I keep talking about what I’ve been through. They seem to have missed the memo — I am happy. Being silent about what I was going through was one of the major sources of my unhappiness, actually.

Coming face-to-face with what I’ve been through, writing about it publicly, and integrating it into my identity has been super empowering for me. I’ve let go of the shame and sadness and, instead, begun to do the important work of healing by no longer attempting to outrun my past.

I’ve found community, too, in being honest about my struggles. That community has been essential in affirming my experiences and feeling whole again.

I’m not a big believer in pretending that my trauma never happened. I actually believe in confronting the scary shit so that I can begin to heal. If that makes me a victim, I don’t really care. By all means, call me a victim if it helps you sleep at night.

Honestly, though, even if I chose to label myself a victim and described my experiences that way, that would also be my prerogative. I can choose to engage with and process my suffering however I damn well please.

This obsession with telling people they shouldn’t call themselves victims or identify with their struggles — as if there’s anything wrong with affirming what we’ve been through — seems to imply that we should ignore the realities of our lives and, instead, pretend that our pain does not exist.

This whole conversation around not defining ourselves based on our struggles (or otherwise taking on a role of “victim”) looks to me like a really shitty attempt at erasing and overwriting the experiences of folks with trauma and/or disabilities.

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand the impulse to tell me how I should and shouldn’t identify, but what I will say is this: Until you’ve lived my life, it’s probably safe to say that I have a much better idea of who I am than you, Reader-Of-One-Article-I-Wrote-Six-Months-Ago.

(Do you go up to someone you’ve just met and say, “I know your whole life story”? Because, if not…)

And really, let’s be honest for a quick sec. Before you tell me that being a “professional victim” will never make me happy, it might be better to work on your own insecurities first — starting with why me being honest about my trauma is so damn threatening to you.

 

10 Ridiculously Simple Things I Can’t Seem To Do Because Anxiety

Some people (read: people not living in my version of reality) like to say that there’s usually a method to be found in the madness. If there is a method or a shred of reason to my anxiety, I have yet to find it.

And trust me, I’ve looked.

The truth is, my anxiety is the equivalent of an infant screaming and throwing things in my head all day long.

No logic. Just really disconcerting noise.

One thing about my anxiety that I have yet to understand is why, for the love of all that is good, that I can’t seem to do really simple things without panicking.

The logical part of my brain says, “This is easy. It’ll only take a minute.” But the anxious part of my brain starts making a racket until it’s so loud that I just avoid the thing altogether.

Maybe you can relate?

I don’t know whether to laugh about it or cry. Today, I’m choosing the former. Here are 10 of the most ridiculously simple things that my anxiety does not, under any circumstances, want me to do:

 

1. Wish my friends a happy birthday on Facebook.

I have 400+ Facebook friends. And it seems like every single day, at least three people have a birthday.

Facebook likes to remind me of this fact with a notification informing me. Sometimes the notification goes straight to my phone, as if to say, “Hey, asshole. Your friends are having birthdays today, WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO, CHUMP?”

Nothing. I’m going to do nothing, Facebook. Because if I wish one friend a happy birthday, I have to wish all of them a happy birthday. If I wish all of them a happy birthday today, what about tomorrow? The next day?

This is a commitment of over four hundred well wishes.

Maybe it’s just me, but I honestly can’t handle this kind of pressure.

And don’t even remind me about when it’s MY birthday. Do you want to guess what I did when I received all those “happy birthday” posts on my wall?

Yes, exactly. I did nothing.

 

2. Go to an ATM and withdraw money.

I have withdrawn money from an ATM once in my entire life. I am a 24-year-old adult and the idea of going to a machine to withdraw money stresses me out. Why? I don’t know.

First, I have to find said machine, which means going out in public (which I hate), potentially taking public transit (which I also hate), and handling finances (again, hatred). Then I have to figure out what kinds of fees are involved.

Why would I involve myself in this headache when I can just use my debit card for literally everything?

I always know who my best friends are because they never ask me, “Hey Sam, do you have any cash on you?”

No, I don’t. And I never will.

 

3. Cook anything that requires something more than a microwave.

If you’re detecting a theme here, it’s because there is a theme. The theme is, “Why do something that involves multiple steps when I can do something that involves one step or, better yet, no steps?”

If there is any evidence of intelligent design, it’s microwavable meals. I know that a higher power was thinking of me when said power created this convenience.

What’s the alternative? Cook something?

To be clear: You want me to set aside at least an hour of my time in which I could just be watching Gossip Girl, to look up a recipe that fits my dietary restrictions, purchase multiple ingredients from a store, assemble said ingredients correctly, make a huge mess in my kitchen to clean later, and for what?

A home-cooked meal?

This sounds very romantic (and, duh, delicious). But try telling my anxiety that. Because all my anxiety seems to understand is that this involves too many steps and therefore should be avoided at all costs.

Until you’ve had a full-blown panic attack over your (need I say it, failed) attempt at making a stir fry (YES, A FUCKING STIR FRY), do not judge me for my frozen meals.

 

4. Build or in any way assemble something with multiple parts.

Yesterday, I watched my roommate and my partner assemble a bed frame. I’m pretty sure the bed frame came from IKEA. While these angels were hard at work, I sat on the couch eating Pringles, praying that no one would ask me to help.

If my anxiety could understand English, I think its least favorite phrase would be, “Assembly Required.” I do not like things that I have to put together, especially things that are easy to fuck up. I do not like reading instructions, even when said instructions are just pictures.

No, I think I will just sit in the corner and pretend to look thoughtfully at the instructions, pass you the hammer when you need it, or fake an injury when we’re carrying the damn thing up the stairs.

The sight of an unassembled project scattered all over my bedroom floor is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me. I do not know why. If there were any logic to this, I would share it with you.

And before you say it, save your breath: All of the empty platitudes about “eating an elephant one bite at a time” or about “the first step being the hardest” mean nothing to me.

When I see unassembled furniture, I see a nightmare coming alive. I see hours of hitting my head on the wall, trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing.

And I see the worst case scenario in which I put the wrong screw in the wrong hole and suddenly I’m on the phone with IKEA, trying to get replacement parts and crying about how this all could have been avoided if I’d just never tried.

And yes, I see the IKEA representative hanging up the phone, turning to his coworker, and saying, “You won’t believe this, but I was just on the phone with a customer who was crying because he couldn’t assemble his bed frame.”

They laugh. They laugh at my suffering.

 

5. Schedule appointments over the phone.

This really only takes like, five minutes tops. But when I picture myself going through it, it sounds like the worst five minutes of my life.

 

6. Ride a bicycle.

I don’t care if there are bike lanes. I don’t care if I’m wearing a suit of armor that protects me against injury. I don’t even care if cars disappeared altogether.

I need my feet on the ground. I will ride a scooter or hop on some roller blades but do not even suggest that I ride a bike someplace. It’s not happening.

I live in a pretty eco-friendly city so it’s not uncommon for someone to suggest that we bike together. And you would think, based on the looks I get, that I didn’t say “I don’t ride a bicycle” but instead said something like, “My third arm is actually made of pasta and it is growing out of the base of my spine.”

Before you ask, yes, I actually know how to ride a bike. I used to enjoy it. You know, when there were training wheels and sidewalks and elaborate suburbs where cars seldom appeared and my Dad was ten feet away to carry me back home if I hit a sprinkler and toppled over (thanks, Dad).

The physics of a bicycle alone – the idea of balancing on two wheels and not crashing into the ground somehow – is a kind of demon’s magic that I cannot comprehend.

So I pretend it doesn’t exist. And I don’t ride bikes.

 

7. Look at a map to determine how to get somewhere.

I will ask my phone, thanks. No, I do not want to look at a map. I do not want to learn street names. I don’t even want to know what direction I’m traveling in. I just want this robot voice to tell me when and where to turn.

And if my phone dies, guess what? I’m not going anywhere.

 

8. Figure out what size pants I wear.

File this under “I don’t know why the hell this is stressful, but I’m going to avoid it for as long as possible, even if that results in owning two pairs of pants for the indefinite future.”

 

9. Clean my bathroom. Or, wait, clean anything.

You know what’s even more stressful than a messy room? An even messier room. And you know what happens to a mess you avoid cleaning because it stresses you out? Yeah, a bigger mess.

“But wait,” you might be asking. “How does anything get cleaned, then?”

In my house, we are all (involuntarily) a part of this fun competition to see whose anxiety is the least debilitating.

It happens to be a competition I almost never win.

 

10. Deal with insects or household “pests.”

Is there a spider in the kitchen? I guess I’m not going in the kitchen ever again.

Are there ants in our room? Cool, I’ll be sleeping at someone else’s house.

Did you see a cockroach in the bathroom? Great, I will now require someone to accompany me to the bathroom and I will make loud screeching noises the whole time I pee in an attempt to scare them into hiding.

I am not exaggerating.

The only silver lining here is that I’ve found, at least with spiders, that if I name the insects in an attempt to humanize them, they become slightly more tolerable. I once named a spider I found in the bathroom Matt and we were actually able to coexist for a couple weeks.

Until Matt appeared near my bedroom. And then all bets were off. Because we can chill in the bathroom, but when you get close to where I sleep, that shit becomes personal.

 

What other ridiculously simple stuff is anxiety preventing you from doing? Tell me in the comments. #AnxietySolidarity #LaughingSoWeDontCry #SomebodyHelpMe

I Thought It Was The Only Thing I Could Control

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. My partner asks me what I’ve eaten today. I don’t reply. They ask again.

“Coffee,” I say quietly.

“Coffee is not food, Sam,” they say sternly. “You need to eat something.”

“I know,” I reply. “But I need to work.”

“You did this yesterday.”

“Because I needed to work.”

This was Justification #897 and my partner was not anymore swayed by #897 than they were by the hundreds that came before it.

I was falling behind on my work (falling? Who am I kidding, I had already fallen, I’d all but collided with the ground). The kitchen was in disarray because we’re painting (it was, the only thing that was truly usable was the microwave). There wasn’t a lot of food in the apartment (there wasn’t, especially that which can be made with just a microwave).

When I stop eating, I never seem to run out of excuses.

Back in high school, it was because I didn’t like the food my parents bought, I didn’t like food (period), I was too busy with my schoolwork, I was too busy rehearsing for the musical,  I just forgot, I forgot a lot, I forget really often, I’m just stressed, can you get off my back?

When I get overwhelmed, I don’t make a conscious decision to stop eating. It creeps up on me – the chaos around me is so distracting that I don’t even realize I’m doing it at first. Then suddenly, the headaches start happening, my hands won’t stop shaking, and a loved one looks at me and says, “Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

And then someone suggests that I get something to eat, and I resist. And I don’t know why I resist. The excuses start pouring out of my mouth.

Buried beneath the pile of excuses, though, is a desperate plea: Let me hold onto this.

Please.

I just need to have a grip on this one thing. I just need to feel like I’m in control of something. And I think about everyone I’m disappointing, and I think about everything that’s unfinished, and I think about all the ways I could do better and, please.

Give me this.

And when I have everything back under control, I promise – at the end of the day, no, the end of the week, no – I’ll do some self-care, I’ll get a good night’s sleep, yes, I know, I’ll eat.

And I pause.

It’s been eight hours. I’ve had 100 calories and it’s been eight hours. It’s an iced coffee. It comes in a can and I drank it because I needed to stay awake so I could work from eight until five without taking any breaks.

Over on the bookshelf, there are two other empty cans. From the last two days.

This is not control.

Before it was coffee out of a can, it was apples. Well, one apple.

That’s not the lunch that my mother lovingly packed for me – it was what was left, after I stowed the granola bar in my locker, gave the muffins to some kid in my music class, gave the sandwich to someone in Algebra, and kept the apple for myself.

I was a shell of somebody then, both emotionally and physically.

I start to hate myself a little when I think about how restricting like this can feel good – can feel really, really good – because it gives me this illusion that my feet are on the ground.

It’s not true. But as long as I don’t think too hard, it can feel true.

But it’s not true.

Just now, Justification #898 makes an appearance in my mind as I’m writing: I just work really hard. It’s my work ethic. I have ambition. Dedication.

It feels true. True enough.

It’s not true.

I promise to eat something and my partner, trusting me, lays down for a nap.

I’m staring at the cans sitting on the bookshelf. I hear my roommate working in the kitchen, sanding the cabinets.

Justification #899: The kitchen is occupied.

An email appears in my inbox and I’m terrified. I’m terrified that it’s someone here to remind me that I’ve forgotten to do something, or that I did something wrong, or that I missed another deadline, that I disappointed them – this week, I remember, has been a week of disappointments.

Justification #900: I just keep saying “yes” to everything. And then suddenly I’m working 50+ hours a week. And then I panic. And then I fail. Why do I do that?

The email isn’t terrible. It’s the opposite of terrible. The email is a reader telling me that I’ll never understand what I’ve done for them.

I take a deep breath. The sharp inhale is making me dizzy, and I reach out for the bed post, trying to steady myself.

No more.

No more justifications. No more excuses. Not another day, or another apple, or another iced coffee in a can – this is not control.

This is not control and I know this, even if it feels true, or rather, even if I need it to be true.

“Your words give me something to hold onto.”

Right now, so do yours. I can’t pour from an empty cup. I can’t live on a can of iced coffee, though I’ve certainly tried.

So I start a new pile: Reasons.

Reason #1: This email.

Because an illusion of control is not more important than my life, this work, or the people who care about them both.