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I have withdrawn money from an ATM once in my entire life.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

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Walk, Don’t Run: 4 Things that Mental Illness Recovery Taught Me

The image features a road cutting through a forest of tall trees.

Sometimes the road is not as predictable as we’d hoped.

The first time I saw a psychologist was nearly a decade ago now. I was just fourteen years old, trapped under the fist of a heavy and unexpected depressive episode.

After bouncing around the mental health system for all of these years, I’m grateful to say that I emerged on the other side of all of this feeling whole and happy and fulfilled – all things that I never imagined were possible given the hand that I was dealt.

While not all neurodiverse people view their difference as an illness (which is 100% valid!), this framework has helped me personally in my healing; in this particular article, I am speaking to those who share that framework. However, everyone should use whatever language works best for them!

We have plenty of narratives about struggling with mental health, and while those are crucial stories to share, I think it’s also important to have conversations (often!) about recovery.

Because for many of us, we don’t know what to expect, what our recovery might look like, and how we can move forward with our lives after trauma that has often persisted for decades.

So in the spirit of shedding some light on this topic, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout the process. Here are four lessons (of many) that mental illness recovery has taught me:

 

1. Honor your own pace.

Mental illness can make a person impatient. This shouldn’t be surprising – for many of us, our episodes have persisted for months, even years, and at the first sign of light we’re eager to reclaim our lives and finally begin living instead of being stuck in survival mode.

This can often lead to us feeling more overwhelmed, intimidated, and downright exhausted. Ugh!

This is where the phrase “walk, don’t run” is critical. Because while it would be fantastic to address all of the neglected aspects of our lives after trauma – wilting relationships, weak finances, failing grades, returning to work – recovery gives zero fucks about your ambitions and only concerns itself with your ability at any given time.

And while you may have the urge to hit the ground running, in reality the best you may be able to do is sit up. That’s okay! Mental illness is trauma and trauma takes time to heal.

Be mindful of the pace that you’re setting for recovery. Are you pushing too hard? Are you punishing yourself for not reaching impossible goals? Are you setting yourself up for failure?

Keep realistic expectations and be kind with yourself as you navigate the initial recovery steps. You don’t need to take on the world right now. It’s true that this stuff takes a lot of patience, but giving yourself the time and space that you need will help make your recovery a more sustainable one. Trust me.

 

2. There is no such thing as “square one.”

This scenario might sound familiar to you. A lot of us, when we find ourselves struggling again after a period of relative stability, lament being “back at square one” and beat ourselves up about it.

I vote that we eliminate that phrase from our vocabulary effective immediately.

What the hell is square one? I don’t think it really exists. Because even if we find ourselves struggling again – whether it’s having suicidal thoughts after years of not considering it, or having a huge panic attack after effectively coping with anxiety for some time – I’m not sure how that negates the amount of work we’ve put into our recovery since the last time we struggled.

I used to beat myself up every time bipolar disorder or anxiety made a “guest appearance” in my life after being booted off the cast. This is problematic on a few fronts. First off, it suggests that I’m somehow at fault. And two, it dismisses all the self-care, therapy, and emotional investment I’ve put into my healing. It basically says, “I am an identical copy of the person I was years ago.” Not true.

No panic attack or depressive episode can take away all the skills, reflections, epiphanies, support systems, and tools we’ve gained in our recovery. There can be setbacks, to be sure, but it’s impossible to be exactly where you started by virtue of the work you’ve been putting in, big or small.

As a famous fish once said, “Just keep swimming.”

 

3. You are allowed to be angry.

When I reflect on the amount of time bipolar disorder and anxiety have robbed me of – years of fighting just to stay alive – I feel a kind of rage and grief that I can’t say I’ve ever felt about anything else. The sheer injustice of it makes me angry. To this day, despite mental illness having a very diminished impact on my life, I still have to take a moment from time to time to let myself feel that rage.

Give yourself the space to feel angry. That anger is necessary in confronting trauma.

You don’t have to pretend that you’re some kind of reformed, respectable survivor. While I do consider myself a survivor, I am, in equal parts, a victim. There’s this false dichotomy that we’ve created – you’re either a survivor, who has overcome mental illness and you are an inspiration to all, OR you’re a victim, wallowing in your own suffering with no intention of moving past it.

Why is it that victims get so much shit while survivors are celebrated? Is it because they don’t make as exciting or inspiring of a story?

Trauma is real. And we all need to give ourselves permission to grieve. We need to give ourselves permission to acknowledge our own pain, and yes, to even sit in it and wallow in it and acquaint ourselves with it. Anger can be part of healing, but not if we suppress it. If that makes us victims, so be it.

 

4. Recovery, in some ways, is harder than any episode you’ll ever have.

Depression, while it gutted my soul completely, in many ways felt safe to me. I knew what the rules were. I often knew what to expect. It was consistent, reliable even. Everything was easier without hope – because there was never disappointment, never unpredictability, never ups and downs.

I was surprised by how much more difficult, in some ways, recovery really was. Physically, because all the medications I was trying came with a host of wild side effects that came and went with no warning. Emotionally, because just when I thought I was making progress, I came crashing back down.

And intrinsically, too, recovery was hard because so much of who I was depended on my episodes – and when I was stripped of that, I came to realize that I didn’t know myself as well as I’d thought. So much of what I came to associate with “me” was actually just depression or mania talking. When I was no longer in the midst of it, I realized I had to start over and evaluate the very core of who I was.

So much energy went into just maintaining myself – when did I have the luxury of figuring out who I was apart from that? But when the noise quieted down, it felt like I was a stranger to myself.

The predictability of sickness – the flat line that we never depart from – in many ways allowed me to revert to auto-pilot. That ultimately meant not dealing with the unknowable and unpredictable aspects of life.

Sometimes it’s actually harder when you’re just healthy enough to feel a full spectrum of emotions and be fully present for it, but not yet equipped with the tools to cope.

The emotional labor that goes into recovery is very different from the upkeep that goes into survival when you’re dealing with a mental health crisis. It creates its own challenges – many of which we’re unprepared for.

But I consider these challenges to be growing pains. These are muscles that, after being out of use, will be stronger with time. The best advice I can give? Take it day by day, keeping in mind that any major life change – good or bad – can still be disruptive and difficult in its own ways.

* * *

Recovery is a bit of a misnomer – because while mental illness is treatable, for better or for worse, it doesn’t just disappear.

Really, I think of it more like rehabilitation after an injury; we have to learn and relearn skills to help us get back on our feet and get back to the living we were meant to do. We aren’t trying to pretend the trauma didn’t happen – we’re trying to become more adaptable in the face of that trauma.

It starts slow, with small victories and of course, the setbacks, too. But with persistence, we can build a better foundation that allows us to become more resilient in the face of our struggles.

I believe that as we share our stories – not just those of struggle but of healing, too – we can ensure that those who are on this journey will never have to feel alone, no matter where in that journey they are.

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9 Affirmations You Deserve to Receive If You Have a Mental Illness

Originally posted at Everyday Feminism and shared here with permission.

The image features two people smiling at each other - one holding a coffee cup, the other holding a book.

“You are doing a good job.”

I remember the first time my therapist told me, “Sam, you’re doing a good job.”

I remember how overwhelmed with emotion I was. I had worked so hard to keep myself steady and had spent so much time just trying to survive, but I never got any credit for this invisible battle that I was fighting every single day.

For a moment, I couldn’t catch my breath as I repeated the phrase – you are doing a good job – in my head a few more times.

When she saw me – really looked at me and saw my pain, my struggle, my willpower – I felt like my whole soul was being nourished. I was being given something I didn’t even know that I needed until that moment: validation.

People with mental illness don’t get enough credit, enough affirmations, enough love. More often than not, the words we get can feel a little hollow.

In a world that tries to tell us that we are too crazy, too much – in a world that says we are less than in so many ways – I just wanted someone to say to me, “You are exactly enough, and yes, I see how hard you’re fighting.”

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you need someone to acknowledge you, especially when things get tough. So here are some of the affirmations that I wished I had, and that every person with a mental illness (or illnesses!) deserves.

1. You Are Worthy of Love

Yes, even on your worst days, you are absolutely worthy of love, care, and compassion.

Sometimes it can feel like the folks in our lives are doing us a favor by loving us, but this stems from a really problematic idea that we aren’t worthy of love in the first place.

Bullshit. We are. Struggling with our mental health doesn’t make us unlovable, no matter what our exes or so-called friends say.

That’s not to say that we’re perfect. No one is. But perfection is not a requirement for love. We have trauma to work through by virtue of the difficult journey that we’ve been on. But many of us, whether we have a mental illness or not, have things that we need to work on.

Just because you’ve got work to do, it doesn’t mean that you should deny yourself love, or goodness, or happiness.

Mental illness does not make you unlovable. Mental illness does not mean that anyone who loves you is doing you a favor. Mental illness is just one layer of a complicated, beautiful, and whole person.

2. You Are Enough

Struggling with your mental health can sometimes make you feel inadequate as a person, like this so-called weakness makes you less than everybody else. If you’ve ever felt that way, I’m here to tell you something: You are absolutely, positively enough – exactly as you are.

No matter where you are in your recovery, no matter what struggle you’re dealing with, and no matter how many times you’ve broken down, I need you to know that you are enough. You don’t need to do anything extra or change who you are to be worthy of good things in your life.

Mental illness doesn’t mean that you’re somehow less important, less worthy, or less remarkable than other people.

I find myself beating myself up at times, wondering why I can’t get my shit together, wondering if these disorders say something about my character. I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m defective somehow. I wonder if it says something about my shortcomings. I wonder if my mental illnesses are a shortcoming.

But you and I are not defective. We are just people, with our own unique journeys and the struggles it took to get here.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. You Are Strong (Even On the Days When It Doesn’t Feel Like It)

You’re fucking tough. You know how I know that? You’re still here.

Don’t believe me? It’s summed up best by this Mary Anne Radmacher quote:

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Every day that you choose to keep fighting is a testament to your strength. Every day that you keep trying, even when everything in you is resisting, is proof of your courage.

Every small victory – getting out of bed, making that phone call, preparing a meal, doing a load of laundry – is yet another example of how strong you are, despite the relentless grip of mental illness.

Give yourself some credit. You deserve it.

4. You Are Not Damaged Goods

Back when I was dating and I wasn’t open about my anxiety or bipolar, I felt like I was carrying around an enormously shameful secret. I felt like I was defective and that, sooner or later, the people that I cared about were going to discover that I, Sam Dylan Finch, was “damaged goods.”

But here’s what I’ve learned: Every one of us, in some way, is “damaged.” And moreover, those struggles, while they may have shaped who we’ve become, are not the entirety of who we are.

And whatever those struggles might be, they certainly don’t depreciate our value. We aren’t meat sitting in a freezer, slowly expiring until we’re tossed aside. We’re people – people that, like anyone else, have had our fair share of challenges to get to where we are today.

Anyone who says we’re less valuable because we’ve struggled in the past does not deserve a place in our present.

Besides, let’s be real. Deciding that someone is less worthwhile because of their disability? That says more about their lack of compassion than it does your value as a person, no?

5. You Don’t Need to Run Away

Sometimes when I’m scared that I’m too much of a burden for the people that love me, I feel this intense urge to just run away.

To turn off my phone, catch the next train and take it up the coast, to don a red trench coat and disappear a la Carmen San Diego. (Yes, this is a fantasy that has run through my head many, many times – and yes, I own the red coat.)

Years ago, I used to disappear abruptly for a day or two, sometimes even weeks at a time, much to the distress of my loved ones. I believed that I just wasn’t good company. I thought I only deserved to have friends when I was feeling good, and if I wasn’t, I deserved to be alone.

Let me save you the time (and money): You don’t need to run away. You are not a burden.

Your friends are your friends because they care about you, not because you’re a circus performer that exists solely for their entertainment. Friends are there on your good days, your bad days, and all the days in-between.

And it’s their responsibility to make sure they’re taking care of themselves, and that they communicate when they need space. It’s your responsibility to trust that, if they need space, they’ll take it.

Instead of running away, just be open about how you’ve been feeling. Give your friends the chance to prove you wrong or to take a step back if they need it. You don’t need to run away just to see who’s going to follow – all you need to do is tell them what’s really going on.

You’re not a burden. You’re a human being who has struggles from time to time. That doesn’t make you undeserving of friendship – if anything that means you need your friends now more than ever.

If your friend was going through a difficult time, I imagine you’d do your best to stand by them. Why is it so hard to believe that someone would do the same for you?

6. You Didn’t Do Anything to Deserve This

Sometimes my twisted bipolar brain would convince me that I somehow brought these illnesses onto myself, or did something to make them happen.

Gentle reminder: It’s not your fault.

And again, for emphasis: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

If you had caused this, wouldn’t you have done everything in your power to undo it? Wouldn’t you change this if you could? And wouldn’t you have done that already?

I don’t know why mental illness likes to tell so many lies (what a jerk, right?), but take it from someone who knows: Mental illness doesn’t happen because an individual magically makes it so. It’s a complex combination of psychological, social, and biological factors.

Nothing you did on its own created this monster, I promise. Your first diet or binge didn’t “cause” your eating disorder. Your first cut didn’t “cause” your depression. Your disorganization didn’t “cause” your anxiety.

A dysfunctional response to stress is evidence that the problem existed long before you responded to it. Okay?

So don’t dwell on what you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done. Instead, focus on your recovery. Be kind to yourself and be gentle.

7. Do Something Nice for Yourself

Self-care is vital. And if you aren’t making time for yourself, it’s time to make time.

Setting aside an intentional moment or two to nourish and take care of yourself isn’t just a luxury – it’s necessary for our mental health.

I wrote an article specifically about self-care for folks with anxiety, talking about how self-care is one tool that I use to help manage the distress that accompanies generalized anxiety, and what steps I take to practice self-care as a person with mental illness.

For many folks with mental illness, self-care is an invaluable coping tool to keep ourselves afloat.

You deserve nice things. You deserve to treat yourself and nurture yourself. The everyday wear and tear that comes with mental illness means that we have to invest in ourselves and our wellbeing. We need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves to mitigate the impact that mental illness can have on our health.

And yes, even when we’re feeling great, we have to keep investing in our self-care to keep it that way.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. And if you haven’t been putting in the time, now is as good a time as any.

If you aren’t sure where to start, check out this amazing video and take a look at this list of articles here at Everyday Feminism!

8. You Don’t Have to Pretend to Be Okay

I spent so much time trying to hide what I was going through. I locked myself away and I kept people at an arm’s distance for so many years; I thought that I was protecting the people I loved, but in reality, I was hurting us both.

I was hurting them because, in truth, they wanted to help me. They were more hurt that I didn’t trust them or ask them for help when I needed it. And I was hurting myself because it meant that I was battling these illnesses alone – something that I just couldn’t do by myself, no matter how hard I tried.

I’m going to issue a challenge to you: Stop pretending to be okay when you aren’t. You don’t need to be “okay” all the time or even most of the time.

I’m giving you permission to struggle. I’m giving you permission to be sad. I’m giving you permission to be angry. Feel whatever it is you’re feeling, and let the people in your life who want to be there for you actually be there.

Let people in. It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to do this alone.

9. You’re Doing a Good Job

You knew I was going to say it, and here it is: Yes, you’re doing a good job.

Living with mental illness(es) can be hard work. And we seldom get any credit for the work that goes into keeping ourselves alive.

On the outside, it seems like what we’re doing is very simple – getting out of bed, cooking ourselves a meal, and maybe dragging ourselves to work. But with disabilities like ours, simple tasks can require a monumental effort.

I see that effort. I know that it’s hard work. And I want to tell you that you’re doing a good job. You’re doing an amazing job. Despite every obstacle that is standing in your way, you’re still doing the best that you can.

I am so, so proud of you for the work that you do, day in and day out, to keep going.

If I could, I’d teleport over to you right now and give you a trophy. I’d also bake you a cake. And then we’d watch Netflix together – because who has the energy for anything else?

I know that it might not always seem like you’re making much progress, especially on the days when you can’t do much other than sleep (I’ve been there, trust me). But even on those days, knowing what you’re up against, it’s a miracle that you’re still around and I’m so happy that you’re here.

Keep taking it one day at a time. And every step of the way, don’t forget to pause and acknowledge the hard work that you’ve done to get where you are.

If you can’t, just tweet me and I’ll do it for you (seriously).

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It’s Been a Year Now and I Still Miss My Old Therapist

The image features a single white flower standing tall beside a window.

“I count myself lucky to feel this kind of sadness.”

This is one of those “I’ll write this article and assume that I’m not the only one” sort of posts. I’m going to pretend that at least one other person out there is still hung up on an ex.

An ex-therapist, that is. Because I have to confess this: I miss my old therapist.

Veronica* was an extraordinary therapist. When I met her, I was seventeen years old and, let’s be real, I was the poster child for Mental Health Crisis. She was compassionate, non-judgmental, sensitive, and perceptive in ways that I had not expected.

I spent three years (and a half, to be exact) in awe of her calm, even when I sat curled up on that couch, describing my depths of my suicidality or my utter despair for things ever improving. She created a safe space for me to explore the darkest parts of myself, with a passionate and relentless commitment to my well-being.

The cherry on top: Despite not being a gender specialist by any means, when I came out as transgender, she told me it was her responsibility to provide the best possible care. She educated herself, sought out resources and guidance, and did a damn good job at helping me embark on my transition.

By the time we parted ways, I had gone from being completely despondent to being the happiest and healthiest I had ever been. It’s no coincidence that some of my most important realizations and growing happened under her care.

So I’m not sure that anyone can blame me when, in the midst of a crisis, I find myself thinking, “Ugh, shit. What would Veronica say? What would Veronica do?”

Followed by an ever-so-small part of myself still grieving for this person who was so significant and yet, for professional reasons, is completely gone now from my life.

If this sounds anything like your own experience, I suspect we aren’t alone in this. When you spend a good amount of time with someone, divulging difficult experiences and intimate secrets, an attachment happens whether you mean it to or not.

I certainly never meant to get so attached that I would actually miss my old therapist. In fact, when I entered into therapy as a depressed teenager, I was convinced nothing could help me. Oh, how wrong I was.

I like to think that the occasional sadness I feel for not having Veronica as my therapist means that she did something incredibly right. It means that I felt supported and cared for, but not so much so that I couldn’t move forward without her.

In fact, the happiness that I have now is fostered, in part, by the many tools and skills that I learned during our time together. Whether or not I understood it when I first left, I was ready for this next chapter, and our sessions laid the groundwork for the life that I’m leading now.

Nonetheless, the sadness still comes around once in a while.

I count myself lucky to feel this kind of sadness. Lucky because it meant that I was one of the fortunate ones who could find a therapist that had such a profound impact on me. A therapist who could disarm me, who could provoke such unwavering optimism in me, and could create a safe space when it was difficult just to feel safe inside my own head.

Finding a therapist can sometimes feel like a cruel game show, auditioning total strangers with the hopes that you can trust them with the deepest and most important work you’ll ever do.

But if we’re lucky, really lucky, some of us are able to find the Veronicas of the world – the therapists whose empathy and validation convince us that there is, indeed, some good out there – and we trust them with this work, forging the kind of bond that’s needed so the real healing can begin.

I am the person I am today because there was a therapist who believed in me. I can honestly say that, even at my worst, there was never a moment when Veronica seemed to doubt my potential to do something meaningful, to do something important with my life.

She was the first to hear my authentic voice and to teach me of the power that my voice really had. In a way, the work that I do now was made possible by her conviction that my voice mattered.

If you haven’t found this therapist yet, fear not: They exist. They’re out there. Sometimes it requires jumping through obnoxious hoops and navigating a health care system that doesn’t look too fondly on us neuroatypical folks. Sometimes it requires paying out of pocket and dealing with an empty wallet at the end of the week. Sometimes it means getting yourself out of the house when you’d rather hide under the covers.

Whatever it takes, if you can, find the person who deserves your trust. Find the person who deserves your time. Find the therapist that is worthy of taking this journey with you.

And years down the line, when some smashing opportunity arises and you decide to move to California or something equally spontaneous, you’ll have that moment when everything goes awry and you start to think about them. You’ll start wishing they could offer just one more bit of advice or lend their ear, calmly reclining in their chair as you rant and rave about the way that things never go as planned.

Because, oh man, do they ever go as planned?

You’ll miss your old therapist and, like me, you’ll be glad that you do.

*Editor’s Note: Names have been changed to protect the identities of those mentioned.

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5 Things I Learned When I Blogged Every Week For An Entire Year

My blog turned one year old and I have SO MANY FEELINGS.

When I reflect back on this last year, my heart swells ten sizes and I feel the urge to hug every single one of my readers.

I can still remember being that twentysomething who had just graduated from undergrad with those degrees (you know the ones – the ones that everyone says will not result in any kind of job… haha, joke’s on you). At the time, I had no idea what to do with myself and felt completely unprepared to enter into the world as a college grad.

Not yet ready to be a grownup working 9-5, I did what plenty of people in my situation do – I went to graduate school.

I left everything behind and took a flight from Detroit, MI, all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area to go to my dream school. And realizing I still had a few months to go before classes actually started, I decided to take up blogging as my hobby.

This surprises most people. For some reason, people think that in creating this blog, I had a master plan to become a lucrative, famous blogger. But in reality, I was just anxious to be living in a new place, and had a lot of time on my hands.

Like, so much time on my hands, because I couldn’t figure out how the train system worked (which train will take me downtown? UGH I GIVE UP), so I stayed in my apartment and ate ice cream and watched Netflix.

With an abundance of time and nervous energy, I figured I might as well be writing. After all, my Facebook statuses were turning into novels, and I think my friends will agree that I was in desperate need of a soap box so I could stop preaching to them all the time.

I honestly believed back then that my blog was going to be a space where a couple of dedicated friends (and their creepy mutual friends) decided to read my weird opinions about politics and pop culture.

Almost 6 million views later, all I can really say is, “Whoops.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve learned a lot in this last year of blogging and it seems fitting, on the birthday of Let’s Queer Things Up!, to share some of those magical lessons with the readers who made this platform possible.

Then afterward, we’re going to hug it out, okay?

Please?

  1. Maybe, just maybe, one person can change the world – or at least shift the conversation.

The image features a student standing on a desk saying,  When I started blogging, I had no idea that writers like myself had the ability to make things happen. I always figured blogging was primarily shouting into the void, especially for newbies who haven’t built an audience yet. But I can tell you, without a doubt, that just one voice is enough to make an impact.

In October of 2014, I wrote an article, “Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness.” I was fed up with the way people with mental illnesses were treated, and it frightened me that this kind of ableism was on display for the whole world to see.

I had seen headline after headline about celebrity breakdowns, and I was tired of the complete and utter lack of compassion for folks who were struggling.

Up until that point, my blog was averaging, at most, 1000 views per week. But I woke up one morning to find that my blog had amassed half a million views before breakfast. I didn’t think it was possible but, lo and behold, a virtually unknown blogger had gone viral.

After that, the headlines did a complete 180. Suddenly every major news outlet was singing a different tune – one of compassion and understanding for Amanda Bynes. The conversation had shifted. Not long after that, Bynes came out and told the world via Twitter that she was grappling with bipolar disorder.

Boom.

I didn’t single-handedly cause this, to be sure. But I was a part of the shift in this international conversation that challenged people to be more compassionate. I was part of a movement to humanize people with mental illness. My voice alone reached millions of people and, yes, it made a difference.

I know now that sometimes all it takes is one courageous person, just one, standing up for what’s right. That person can be me, that person can be you. So why not us?

 

  1. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

I’ve had to deal with my fair share of jerks on the internet. I could be saying something so sincere, so earnest… and still get that ugly tweet telling me how I’m apparently the worst human that ever lived. And as a sensitive people-pleaser who writes from a really vulnerable place, it can be difficult to cope with the negativity.

I never want to suggest that we should just roll over and accept online harassment. I also don’t take it as a sign that I’m “doing something right,” as if this is an expected and even desirable outcome of speaking my mind.

But I will say that it’s helped me to keep in mind that some folks on the internet will always have something shitty to say, no matter how brilliant or witty you are (I like to think I’m a little bit of both, but I could be wrong).

I mean, go to any of your favorite public figure’s Twitter mentions. How can someone talk shit to Margaret Cho, for example? How can you tell Lorde or Betty White that they suck? But people do this! Because haters gonna hate.

So I just shake it off, I shake it off.

 

  1. Your struggles can be your strengths.

When people talk about my work, the first thing they usually mention is how open I’ve been about a lot of difficult struggles that I’ve had in my life. Folks wonder why anyone would choose to be so vulnerable on the internet. And I’ll admit, it is a really scary thing. But it’s also been the most empowering decision I’ve ever made.

Taking my scars and using them to teach and empower others has been an amazing way to reclaim my struggles. I took what used to haunt me and I made it into something that can set me free. It feels amazing.

I stood up and said, “Yes, I am trans. Yes, I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I am not ashamed. And you don’t need to be ashamed, either.”

If you had told me years ago that I would be sharing this journey with millions of people, I’m not sure that I would’ve believed you. But now, in being honest and embracing myself, I’ve found so much strength in being unapologetic about who I am.

And to think – my journey could be affirming for someone else! My words could be a teachable moment to make someone else’s road a little easier to travel! That’s a privilege and an unexpected gift.

Writing a really good article that helps people basically feels like Christmas every damn week. I’m able to give something to the community that has given so much to me.

So no, I don’t regret wearing my heart on my sleeve. It’s scary as hell but it’s so worth it.

 

  1. You are not alone.

The image features Ariana Grande saying,

The thousands of emails I received in this last year have convinced me that we – trans folks, neuroatypical folks, marginalized folks of every sort – are not alone. We often feel alone, because we find ourselves isolated and disconnected from the larger community.

But actually, there are a lot of us. Like, millions of us, waiting to connect with each other.

On the days when I’m feeling particularly despondent, I remind myself that there are countless activists and organizations that are working, day in and day out, to make this world a better place. And if I’m feeling isolated, many of these folks are just a click away.

On a bad day, I’ll let myself fall into this rabbit hole of affirmation, inspiration, and support. I read Jes Baker’s blog and suddenly my body is more marvelous to me than ever before; I read an article by Melissa Fabello and suddenly the gospel of Feminism is as electric as ever; I explore Genderfork and am reminded of the diverse beauty in my own community; I read something at Everyday Feminism and I realize just how many people are fighting for good in this world.

Isn’t the internet a magical fucking place?

Nowadays, I go to bed at night feeling comforted, knowing that these folks exist and that I’m not alone in all this.

There are a lot of jokes about “Tumblr feminism” and “social justice warriors” but, y’all, I’ve seen the life-changing stuff that happens when people use their voice for good in this world. I’m completely sold on internet activism. Changing the world from behind a computer screen is not only possible, but it’s also one of the most accessible ways to reach people when they need us most.

A year ago, I felt so isolated in my struggles; now, I feel connected to an entire web of amazing people doing amazing things, including you, readers, who remind me of why this work is so important and are doing AMAZING work of your own.

We’re in this together!

If you’re ever finding yourself crushed by the weight of the world, poke around the net. Your people are out there. And they’re waiting for you, I promise.

 

  1. You can’t count yourself out just yet.

The image features Amy Poehler exclaiming,

I find it hard to believe that just a few years ago, I had hit rock-bottom with my depression, and was convinced that my life would never be meaningful or worthwhile.

To say I had “had it” is an understatement. I was on my way out.

Sometimes when we’re bogged down by depression and it’s all we’ve ever known, we count ourselves out – we think that we’re destined for a life of failure, desperation, hurt.

I’m not here to tell you that “things get better,” because I really can’t say for sure. But I will tell you that for many folks, we count ourselves out before we ever truly had the chance to shine or even live. We convince ourselves that we already know what the future looks like and that the future is set in stone.

It may be. But it isn’t always.

If I had let that despondent voice dictate what I did with my life, I wouldn’t be here today. And I definitely wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing now – writing for magazines, connecting with folks who need support, and educating people on the issues that really matter.

I never saw it coming – not in a million years – but I’m grateful every single day that I survived, that I hung in there, that I gave my future self the chance to experience all of this. I never thought I would make a difference. But against all odds, I have.

You never know what life has in store. I hate to be a bucket of exhausting, useless clichés, but seriously, none of us can see the future and sometimes, that future will surprise us.

So don’t count yourself out just yet.

* * *

This past year has been, far and away, one of the most unexpectedly awesome years of my life. While I entered into this project completely unsure of myself, I stand before you (well, sit before you I guess, behind this computer) a much happier and more self-assured person.

Being able to share my thoughts, however weird and ranty they were, with such a caring and curious audience has been an absolute honor. I have no idea what the future holds for LQTU, but this is a journey that I’m so grateful to have undertaken and thrilled to continue.

So I want to wrap up this entry by saying “thank you.” Thank you to the readers who supported the site, either through donations or with your encouraging comments and critically important feedback. Though most of us have not (yet) met in person, I am glad that I can call so many of you my friends.

The lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable and are lessons I will carry with me for a lifetime. And I’m excited – so, so excited – for everything I have yet to learn as we continue queering things up here on the site and beyond (see what I did there?).

I hope this entry could give you a little inspiration and a little more insight into the story behind the blog. If for nothing else, I hope it’s a reminder of how powerful we are when we work together. Look at this brilliant thing we’ve built together! I’m so proud of us.

The image features two people hugging.

Phew. Now that I’ve gotten all that off of my chest… group hug?

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A Love Letter to Anyone and Everyone with a Mental Illness

loveletterConfession: Sometimes I feel unlovable. Sometimes I feel unworthy.

Sometimes I look at the scattered marbles strewn across my mind and think to myself, “Who could love something so disassembled, something so broken?”

In this society, we are taught that the worst thing for a lover to be is “crazy,” and that being “crazy” makes us deserving of our loneliness and our longing.

To be “crazy” is to be unworthy, to be unwanted.

Confession: Sometimes I want to run away. Sometimes, even after getting married and even after a thousand “I love you, I need you, I want you’s” – written, spoken, texted, felt – I fantasize about taking the train as far away as I can go, up the coast where no one can find me.

Sometimes in our desperation, we isolate ourselves, fearful of what it means to be seen, to be visible, to be known.

Confession: I am often afraid that having bipolar disorder means that, if someone gets too close, they’ll get burned.

But then my lover holds me and I see that they are still whole – not a single burn, or scar, or wound – and I realize this impulse to run is yet another lie, another deception of a disorder known for its deceiving.

Maybe you are like me. Maybe you are afraid, too.

Confession: We are, and have always been, staggeringly, astonishingly, magnificently beautiful and worthy of good things.

You and I – we deserve good things. We deserve love. We deserve happiness and we are worthy of the people who make us happy.

The gears of our minds may turn a little differently, but it makes us no less worthy of that happiness than anyone else.

Whenever I feel that instinct to run or to hide, I affirm myself as an act of resistance.

And I put passion into my resistance, I resist with my whole being. When I hear the dark voice, echoing from the corner of my mind, telling me that I am not enough – I straighten my spine, curl my fists and say, “No. I have always been enough.”

Because, confession: We are enough.

Which is not to say that we don’t make mistakes, which is not to say that we are perfect, which is not to say that we have arrived at our destination, exactly as we’d like to be.

But we are human.

So long as we are committed to being the best versions of ourselves that we can be, and so long as we hold ourselves accountable as we go along, we should be gentle with ourselves.

Gentle, like putting a bandage on a hurting child; gentle, like placing a baby bird back into the nest. We should be tender with ourselves, we should be soft, we should be kind – we deserve no less than kindness, especially when we are sore, especially when we are hurting, especially when we are lonely.

Mental illness can make us so sore. Sometimes we resist love because we are hurting, because we only know what it means to hurt.

But there are other ways of being.

Confession: Kindness is difficult when we are acutely aware of our shortcomings.

So every day, I practice. I write love letters to myself. I remind myself of when I’ve done something good. I light candles for myself. I take long showers and afternoon naps. I go to the beach and dig my feet into the sand. I drink lots of water. I smell the roses and the eucalyptus and the daisies.

And at first, I didn’t know how to be nice to myself. I’d spent years practicing the exact opposite. I knew all my worst mistakes by heart. I could rehearse every imperfection. It wasn’t difficult to pick myself apart.

Sometimes, though, we must do the more difficult things because they are also the most important.

In a world that tries to reduce you to “crazy” – a world that tries to tell you that you are inherently flawed – it is necessary to do everything you can to build yourself up.

It is powerful to be loving in a world that tells you that you should not be loved.

Because, confession: Letting yourself love and be loved is a radical act.

Which is to say, you are enough in this moment and you always were.

Which is to say, mental illness does not make us damaged goods.

Which is to say, mental illness is a part of us but it is certainly not all of us.

We are not enough “in spite of,” we are not enough “all things considered.” We are enough, full stop, human in every sense of the word.

We are bright, we are luminous.

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Mental Health Recovery Isn’t Always Daisies, Puppies, and Rainbows (And that’s OK)

marypoppinsA lot of folks are surprised when I tell them that, despite having a great combination of meds and coping skills, bipolar recovery, for me, does not look like complete and total stability.

I still have ups and downs, and sometimes those mood swings are more intense than you’d expect for someone who calls this phase of their disorder “remission.” I wallow, and I cry, and sometimes it takes a minute before I’m back on my feet.

I say this because I want people to understand something: There’s this idea that mental health recovery is supposed to be some kind of fantastic, magical place where we never experience a negative emotion ever again. But it’s a myth, and a lousy myth at that.

I will probably always feel more intensely than neurotypical folks do. I will have some inexplicable sadness from time to time. I might find myself anxious about a worst case scenario that I know isn’t going to happen. I may even have to take a day or two off of work to get my shit together again.

My recovery has not been daisies and puppies and rainbows. And to my surprise, I’ve found that most recovering folks that I’ve talked to have not experienced the puppies or rainbows, either. We’re all just doing our best to cope — we are, by no means, “cured.”

One question I get asked often is, “How do I know when I’m on the right track?” We try out so many different coping skills and therapies and medications that we start to get a little lost; our baseline can change so drastically that it becomes difficult to understand at what point we should seek out help, and at what point we can call ourselves “normal.”

What is normal for mental health recovery and what isn’t? It’s a question I think about a lot.

My recovery goals have changed significantly overtime. I used to crave a kind of recovery that meant I would never have to think about bipolar disorder or anxiety ever again. But I am not the poster child for “normalcy” as I’d once hoped I would be, and having had years now to reflect on this, I’ve learned to be okay with that.

What does recovery look like for me? It’s a series of questions:

  1. Do I have enough stability and energy to meet my needs and pursue my desires (within reason)?
  2. Do I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat of my life? Do I feel like I am in charge?
  3. When my mental state shifts, am I riding the wave or do I feel like I’m drowning?
  4. Am I able to cope effectively when confronted with a stressor? What do I do when I’m stressed?
  5. Am I in survival mode, or do I feel like I’m truly living my life?

Ideally, I’d bring these questions to someone who is involved in my recovery to talk it out – whether it’s a partner, a best friend, a therapist, a doctor, a healer. I need to bounce my answers off of someone who can help me think through them, and let me know if they’ve seen red flags that I haven’t.

What does my mental health recovery look like right now? Here are my answers:

Lately, I’ve had enough stability and energy to meet my basic needs. I’m able to perform at my job, make myself food if I need to, get myself to appointments, and I’ve been showering regularly (for those of y’all who have lived through it, you know how big of a deal that is).

I also have enough energy to pursue my desires – I’ve been applying for better-paying jobs, going out with friends, taking on new work responsibilities, seeking out new volunteer and travel experiences, and finding a lot of satisfaction in the activism that I’m doing.

I feel, for the most part, that I’m in the driver’s seat; when a mood shift happens, I feel like I’m very much on top of that wave. When I’m stressed, I have plenty of ways that I can deal – Netflix, coloring books, talking through it with my partner, going for a walk, reading a book.

And now more than ever, it feels like I’m living a life that I’m proud of, instead of surviving within a life that I don’t want to be living.

So for me, my bad moods lately are more like bugs. I still have mood swings, but they are more like your common cold – very annoying and sometimes messy, occasionally so much so that I need a few days off – but not all-consuming, very infrequent, and nothing that I’m worried about.

Do your episodes feel like an ongoing disease that you’re battling, or like a bug you pick up from time to time? There’s a big difference between a disease and a bug. Namely, the impact, the frequency, and the severity.

Who knew that figuring out if we’re healthy could be so complicated? Physical health might be less complicated for most of us, because we have a baseline that we’re familiar with. But when it comes to navigating mental illness, sometimes we aren’t sure what an acceptable baseline is if we’ve never actually experienced one before.

I spent the longest time unsure of when I could call myself “recovered” because I couldn’t remember the last time I was mentally healthy, if I ever was. Not to mention, there weren’t many resources that could confirm what “recovery” feels like.

When you have no sense of an acceptable baseline, it results in creating unrealistic expectations – that we’ll never feel intensely about anything, that anxiety is a thing of the past, that we’ll be able to get out of bed every day with a spring in our step.

You’re not Mary fucking Poppins, okay?

Are you setting up some of those expectations? Because it’s time to let them go.

I can accept my sensitivity, my moods, and my intensity, as long as it still feels manageable. This is subjective to some extent, and scary, too, because mental illness often teaches us not to trust our instincts. But here’s the bottom-line: If it isn’t disruptive, dysfunctional, or distressing, it’s likely just part of the process.

It was a relief when I realized that mental health recovery does not always look like complete and total reformation. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, sometimes there are hiccups – it doesn’t mean you’re back at square one.

After all, a mental health crisis can be traumatic – and even after we’ve leveled out, there’s still trauma to unpack and deal with.

The fun never ends, right?

Let go of the expectation that you should be aspiring to some kind of “normalcy.” Because, hey, there are plenty of repressed folks that would swear up and down that they feel “normal” until you get them to start talking. There are lots of “normal” people who wait until the divorce to fall apart. Appearances aren’t everything.

I promise you, “normal” is really deceiving.

Give yourself permission to have ups and downs; give yourself permission to still have “issues.” Give yourself permission to be a flawed, confused, and feeling person. As long as you’re in a space where you can deal with it in a way that doesn’t consume or harm you, I’d say you’re doing just fine.

The reality is – pardon the cliché – that recovery is a journey and it’s not a destination.

It’s especially not a destination that resembles a tropical island or a luxurious resort.

It’s okay to be unsteady. You’re not doing a “bad job” at recovery and it’s not a “setback.” It’s all part of the process and it’s totally, 100% fine. Every journey that’s worth being on is a little messy. Take it from somebody who knows.

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