Stressing Out, Lightening Up

I’ve been feeling brittle, emotionally. Nothing particularly bad has happened, just all the little things adding up and putting their own tiny weight on my anxiety, so that I don’t realize it’s ready to break until it’s near happening.

Just like the little things stress me out, the little things lighten the load.

I got my library copy of I Hate Fairyland vol. 4 by Skottie Young. Nothing like candy-colored massacre to cheer anyone up.

Cheryl Strayed’s soothing voice giving advice on Dear Sugars. She and Steve Almond released their last episode, but I think I’ll go back and listen to some of the ones I missed.

My baby toddler dancing to the concert scene in Sing. It is a sight.

This closeup picture I accidentally took of the wood on our deck. It was a pleasure to find on my phone when I was flipping through videos of my dog and kid.

And writing. Anything I can get it, getting out a chapter while she naps, scribbling a few sentences in my car before walking into work, madly typing up a blog post after she’s gone down for the night and I’ve finally finished those chores.

What I’m Watching: Nerdy YouTube and Comedies About Depression

Super Carlin Brothers is a channel I’ve watched off and on, but I’ve finally subscribed to on my YouTube account. Most of the videos I’ve watched focus on Pixar and Disney, plus some great videos breaking apart Harry Potter. They talk about the Pixar theory, the history and meaning of things like Inside Out and Beauty and the Beast, and basically out loud have the conversations that churn in my own head, waiting for someone to talk at.

Taking a different turn, I’ve also started watching the YouTube channel The School of Life. Their About page states they are “devoted to emotional education” and they are great, talking about overcoming childhood or bad inner voices, or how romanticism is bad for love in general, with beautiful animations to illustrate their points. I’ve only just started digging into this channel, and there are some videos about philosophers and writers and…oh my goodness, there’s a video called “In Praise of Hugs“, gotta watch that…

I’ve also been watching Lady Dynamite, the Netflix show starring comedian Maria Bamford. My husband and I both love her — I tried to listen to her to make packing go by faster when we were moving, but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t see or move. I was a little nervous about the show, though, because her comedy is weird, and sometimes comedians don’t translate well into their sitcoms. But no! This show reflects Maria Bamford so well, with random fourth wall breaks, sudden surreal moments, and frequent shots of her pugs. She even manages to jump between three timelines in an amazingly clear way (an issue she addresses in the show through a conversation with Patton Oswalt) and is so funny in a way that I can’t really explain, because you just have to see it. Oh, and it’s about her past and continuing battle with anxiety and depression. We’re halfway though it now, and it is a great time.

Anxiety is a Bother

Anxiety gets in the way of a lot of things.

It makes it hard to get out of bed, to set down at the computer and write even so much as a dumb little blog post. It makes it hard to leave the house, to get chores done. It’s even hard to just sit on the couch and read a book, because why, what’s the point, isn’t there something else you should be doing.

Anxiety makes it hard even when you manage to do these things. I edited for two hours, but what’s the point, there’s so much more to be done. It makes it hard to feel accomplished, and easy to feel frustrated as you fall into that awful spiral of comparing yourself. I look at my to-do list with all of its checked boxes, and I still feel like I haven’t done a thing. I might as well just stand in the shower, or lie on the floor, clutching my stomach.

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All those margin doodles…

I’m lucky, though. I have things that have to get done, and an anxiety that is just mild enough that I can do those things at least. I have to walk the dog. I have to buy groceries. I have to make dinner, fold laundry. I have to sit at the desk and pick up a pen, because even if I rip out every sheet of paper I mark, or write just two sentences and fill the rest of the page with swirls and doodles, because going just one day without doing that is worse pain than my anxiety knows how to inflict.

And as I move, my body calms. I can do one more thing, then another. I can go to one more store. I can clean the counter top. I can write one more page, edit one more chapter. It can take days to stop thinking so much on how much I’m failing, how little I’m doing. But I know that this feeling — this awful, bothersome, eternal feeling — isn’t forever, and if I keep pushing through it will fade until I almost (almost) can’t see it anymore. Then I can look back, to meals I’ve made, to piles of read books, to notebooks and journals full of words and ideas, to email chains between me and critique partners, and I can see that I have done something, despite everything inside of my getting in the way.

On Critiquing (It’s Nice to Know You Can Be Honest)

Once again I’ve sent a manuscript off to be read by my critique partner. I trust her to tell me what’s working, where I’m doing well. But I also trust her to tell me what isn’t working, where I’m failing and flailing, to type in clear language whether this story is ready for me to suit up and fling into the world.

And it’s nice knowing she expects the same from me.

Sometimes when I’m critiquing, I’m worried that I’m being mean, even if in retrospect, and when comparing my critiques to others, that never appears to be the case. It’s what I want from other people, to flatly say “I don’t understand” or “This is boring”, “I don’t believe your character” or “This whole page needs to go.” I need to know how someone outside of my brain is effected by my story, and that’s what a good critique partner wants right back.

20160501_093218Still, I’m so anxious about making people upset, about having someone angry at me (I will stress for days if I say something weird in a text message and a friend never responds), and I too often equate my being honest with being mean. It’s how I wind up being too passive-aggressive from day-to-day. But, there’s no being passive-aggressive, or pandering, when you’re critiquing — none of us have time for that. We need to know what’s wrong, so we can fix it, editing and rewriting and scribbling circles in a notebook until the solution snaps in our heads like a firecracker.

It’s wonderful, to find other writer-people that you can be honest with. People who trust your opinion, who know the difference between constructive criticism and petty meanness.  People who you aren’t overly concerned with hurting their feelings (they’ll get hurt eventually) because you’re focused on helping them mold their story into the most near-perfect shape you can.

And if you can trust them to give the same back, that’s a pretty good deal.

My Anxiety, Like a Lingering Kick in the Shins

I’m a bit of an anxious person. (No kidding.) But sometimes I feel a little weird, complaining about it. After all, I’ve seen some people who are truly anxious, to a near or actual crippling effect. There are things they actually can not do. My anxiety doesn’t quite keep me from doing things. But boy, it makes it hard.

(Rambly blog post, coming up.)

Read More »

Obsessing Over a Trip (Anticipation is Part of the Fun)

In about 30 days, my husband and I will be going on our next Disney World trip. Since the circumstances of this trip are a little different from last time, I was able to spend more time planning everything. That meant digging around for travel agents, booking reservations and Fast Passes, making an itinerary to make sure we fit in the things we’re most excited about, and overall just obsessing over the whole thing.

I took the lead on planning the trip, which my husband was fine with (he’s usually in charge of planning trips, so this was probably a nice break for him) but at one point, during my tweaking and rambling and restaurant review-reading, he had to ask me — was I okay? Was I stressing myself out too much?

Part of the answer was yes, I was making myself a little stressed about it (I’ve always had a deep fear of being prevented from doing what I want to do, even though this is a trip with two people controlled by me). But, part of the stress was from the excitement. As I looked things up and watched videos, anticipation for what we were going to do grew more and more. I got myself excited about the restaurants, and the rides, and the things we plan to see that we’ve never checked out before (we’re heading to Trader Sam’s for a big ol’ overpriced souvenir cup drink). Thinking about the fun I’m going to have is part of the fun, and as much as I stress over whether a lunch reservation should be at 12 or 12:15 (really) knowing that all the bits I don’t want to miss are accounted for with plenty of time to spare gives me a way to calm myself down when my anxiety tries to override, and also I know will help me feel relaxed about the whole thing once we’re actually there.

I’m looking forward to my trip, and that, I’m realizing, is half of the fun of it.

Do you obsess over plans and trips? Do you do it too much? Does it make the trip more fun, or do you keep ruining it for yourself?

French Milk by Lucy Knisley: “Sometimes It’s Just Like This.”

Ever since I read Relish a couple years ago I’ve been a Lucy Knisley fan. A comic artist who loves travel and food? Sounds like a great person to me. I recently convinced* the library I work at to get her two newest travelogues, An Age of License and Displacement, and I loved them both, particularly the latter, where she battles with selfishness vs. selflessness as she cares for her aging grandparents on a cruise.

I realized, though, that I’d never read her first book and travelogue, French Milk, where she records a month-long trip to Paris with her mother just before her last semester of college. After some digging around to figure out if I could get it from the library, I had a copy sent to me.

You can definitely see a difference in quality between this one and her newest books. There’s more cohesiveness in her current books, a theme or problem she tries to piece together from her experiences. French Milk is a bit more “This happened and I felt this way, then that happened and I felt that way.” Which is fine, I was still engaged, but not as absorbed as when I first read Relish.

Then Knisley hits a point on her trip where she has a panic attack: she’s about to graduate from college, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her life, and she’s suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. And I felt for her.

The couple of years after I first graduated from my undergrad is still a time I look back on with regret. I was writing, but I didn’t seem to be moving forward with getting published** or even improving, I had no sense of community aside from the few college friends I stayed in touch with and my then-boyfriend, and they all lived a minimum of an hour away.*** I was working with the family business, which I did not want to do, but I could not think of what else I wanted or even COULD do for money otherwise. As far as I was concerned, especially during that time, those years were a wasteland, and I spent so much time being anxious, depressed, and crying because I could not stop hating my life.

I realize now, however, that this isn’t exactly abnormal. In your 20s your life takes a huge shift, and I can’t think of many things that really prepared me for it. Maybe getting into college, but that wasn’t something I was ever concerned wouldn’t happen: I got good grades, I was above average for most of the schools I was applying to, I was getting in SOMEWHERE. But getting a good job, having my own life, feeling satisfied with myself — I wasn’t sure about that.

While Knisley is in the middle of all of this, lying on her stomach with storm clouds over her head, she draws her mother, sitting beside her, hand on her back, giving this little piece of wisdom: “This is just what happens in your 20s. Sometimes it’s just like this.”

I never heard anything like that when I was going through my own crisis, I was never given a sense that feelings like this were normal and it was all right that I was going through this and processing it in this way. Not that words like this would have yanked me out of my funk — it doesn’t do so for Knisley, even though they were obviously important enough for her to give the words their own page — but I think hearing something like that would have made me feel less bad about feeling so bad. If that makes sense.

So, conclusion: French Milk is rougher than her other work, but even though I’ve never spent a month in Paris (what a lucky lady, right?) the raw emotions she was feeling at 22 are so close to the state I was in at that age, that I can’t help but love the book, and love her, and feel more connected with the world knowing it’s full of people who react to it like I do.

 

*”I think we should get this.” “Yeah, okay.” Some complex arguments there.

**Yeah, about that…

***The exception here is a high school buddy, but she was still in college during those two godawful years, so that was only helpful a few months.