the north country fair

the north country fair

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On the task of reinvention

When I started this blog, under a different name and all, I was 27, engaged to a man I was not in love with, and, really, settling into my seat for the big show of my life flashing before my eyes. I oversimplify this time in my life because the past is the past, and there is nothing can be said or done to change it. I was going through a period where I was trying to commit spiritual suicide, and the girl just bounced back from every attempt.

I fell on the good graces of an old lover and stayed in his basement for what became the tumultuous, fear-provoking and altogether stagnant summer of 2014. I lost my job, my car, and my ambition to figure out why the hell I was in this dude's house to begin with. However, I got my place downtown, started my career as a psychology student, and landed my first field job two weeks into my degree program. I took chances on better positions, more intensely challenging work, and classes I thought I was doomed to fail, and even helped teach a course of social psychology, all the while skating through my life like a punch-drunk lunatic. I had no aims or plans but to graduate, and broaden my understanding of the path I chose to lead, working with all of the things we tend to deny exist and society more or less shuns and fears (i.e., the concept of living a gainful, meaningful life with a severe, persistent mental illness). Let us not forget that not only is this my chosen career, but I, too, am diagnosed as such, which either makes me a glutton for punishment or makes me really bloody good at what I do (mostly the latter).

In the fall of last year, I took another move under my belt, and started up as head of household with friends who were kind enough to join me. I began to understand why I wound up in that basement, and as 2015 rolled into 2016, after having turned the ripe old age of thirty, I felt I had finally arrived. I am set to graduate at the end of this year, maybe even with cum laude status if I play my cards right, I have an even better job, and my tempestuous lover has mostly come to grips with himself and us, and things are swell. There are sudden talks of future and marriage, philosophical discussions of how we could merge our individual knowledge to better our careers, and hypotheticals about travel, live shows, theater, and the like. My perfect life, my imperfect, yet still awesome boyfriend, and all of the folks in my life I am truly blessed to know.

Well, now comes the time to guess the obvious. Which of these things decided to turn tail and run?

I'm hurting right now. Really hurting, to the point where I almost had myself committed during the first week he shut me down, because for the first time in about ten years, I began to engage in suicidal ideation, which, of course, I feel now, was weak and selfish. I'm still here, so obviously, I made it through without the ward.  From previous posts, as well as this one, you can guess my relationship was toxic, and really, if I didn't have a better and more intimate understanding of all the fucked up undertow in that river of emotional turmoil, I would agree. I'm the kind of girl that almost every man I've met has whined about the desire of meeting. I am supportive, educated, self-sufficient, witty, and not vain or terribly conceited. I've worked hard and been through hell to get where I am, so yes, I am proud, headstrong, maybe even bull-headed about certain things, but overall, I tried to be a swell girlfriend, and a humble, stable, and overall decent potential life partner.

Sadly, for some reason, the man I loved (and, really, to be frank, most heterosexual men I have known, in the course of my lifetime) prefer different. I could go into my catalog of worst case scenarios, both real and imagined, but I choose not to, for my sake, and for the simple fact there are far better reasons to strengthen the muscles surrounding your orbital cavities.

I made a nerdy eye roll joke. Pardon.

So, now that we've played catch up, here comes the reason I am writing this. I am in the process of creating every means possible in order to hold myself accountable for the task of being the person I want to be, for my sake, and mine alone. This is hard, because I am clinically depressed, and tend not to care about or for myself in any way, shape, or form. It's regrettable. However, calling myself out and finding new and creative ways to hold myself accountable offers the opportunity to encourage conversation, strength in numbers, and overall solace in a very lonely and altogether messed up world, and these are all things that I find very necessary to cultivate in my time on this rock. I ask you, have you ever been so disenchanted, gutted, and sick of your own life that you wanted to change everything about it? If so, we have something in common, and here are my three basic tenets for creating the foundation with which to build on.

First, and most important: Have a conversation with yourself. These last couple of weeks have been less than productive, as there have been other circumstances bothering with my progress, but while slaloming through that bullcrap, I've been taking mental inventories about the things I feel are negative, artificial extensions of who I am that need to be done away with. Since I have some kind of grasp on self care and the daunting task of changing oneself, I narrowed my battle down to the two things I absolutely cannot stand about myself: I allowed myself to become the poster child for a perfectly wasted body after falling ill with a thyroid tumor when I was 26, and I am a creature of (bad) habit. I smoke, I drink (not heavily, but enough), I eat poorly, I don't exercise, I don't plan, I don't hold myself accountable... I can go on. Now, I can say all of these things about myself without spite or hatred of the fact. I get it. I simply gave up on myself, or I make excuses. This is also why I say it is very important to be selective and pick your battles wisely, because, innately, these things have a tendency to need subheadings when you begin to identify them, and understand why they are topics for change. A caveat: this process can be depressing and overwhelming. Do not make the mistake of dwelling on your perceived weaknesses. Treat yourself with the mercy you wish the world would give you every once in a while. You'll thank yourself for it later.

Second, practice self-discipline. Most of the things I have read about taking on goals and changing one's circumstances talk about the importance of establishing a routine. Easier said than done: Most routines take at least two months to become fully formed and established personal habits. A useful tool I found was conceptualizing the routine first, simply by writing it down. When I did, I incorporated the habits I wanted to adopt into a realistic time frame that allowed plenty of downtime and points of relaxation, free of structure. That's the funny thing about it, I found, really: Accepting that in order to appreciate the points free of structure, you approach it with a structure already in mind. Having your days planned in such a way makes you able to practice discipline. I tell myself that on a workday, I get up at 5:00, take my meds, do my thirty minutes of yoga, and then get ready for my day. I stick to my time frame, which is not unrealistic, since I report to work at or around 7, depending on the day. No reinventing the wheel, just realizing that I usually woke up at 5:30 anyway, and dawdled like a zombie until I turned the coffee pot on, so improvements are feasible. Here's hoping that is truly the case!

Third, for the love of Pete, be kind to yourself as you are now, and honor the you you have conceptualized in your daily works. I've got it sussed. I'm human, and fallible for it. I will slip, trip, and fall on my face while taking this on, but I am trying to keep in mind the general question, Is what I am doing now important to me now, or the me I want to be? It is easy to care less, especially for me, because I have a long road to hoe, but, even the concept of time seems easy to overcome when you realize how quickly it whizzes past you, and you force yourself to count the years you have been less than kind, less than present, and less able to take on the task you have chosen. You begin to tally up all of the things that brought you to that point, and that is your forward momentum, your rising tide, hell, your escape velocity, if you need that much. Know this, and take it one day at a time. You will be made better, stronger, and wiser for it.

I say these things as a prayer for myself as much as I hope it reaches someone who needs it, too.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My most recent thoughts on self, and what dating does to self

When I sit down to write, I try to have a clear objective in mind as to what I plan to get out in the open. Often, that’s a really difficult thing for me to do, as I don’t allow myself the time I really should to write, and end up with myriad topics swimming around in the brains. I should be writing all of the time. An acquaintance said to me just the other day that I should be holed up somewhere writing my novel, but I’ll stick to term papers, the eventual master’s thesis, and, well, in the present sense, this, instead, for the time being.


This photograph is me. There are tattoos underneath that sweater and stretch marks under those skinny jeans. There is a body that has been through ten kinds of oh shucky darn in thirty years…. Twenty-nine and a half, I guess. This was a photograph that I allowed on an online dating profile at a point, something I allowed myself to create and subject myself to, at a point. I found myself looking at this picture recently, and pondered how I really felt about it. I am pondering the prolonged affects of loneliness, alienation, and general disillusionment the other half of the race has caused me in a short amount of time, and how it measures up to the experiences of other females. I don't know if it can, or will, but I know what I got into, anyway.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like that picture, in a way. I appreciate my curves, my odd fashion sense, and my candid, playful nature. I feel that I beat the odds in several instances when I see this photograph. By all rights, I could see myself as a sad, fat girl with no sense of color coordination, or shame, but I don’t. I know who this person is underneath, what she offers the WORLD, much more than some dude that hits a like button or asks me if I do Snapchat, or takes the full-on gut punch of just sending me a picture of his nether regions. (What a gent!) What bothers me about this picture, though, is the climate I try to relate to men in, the general scheme of dating in general, has allowed me to not only rely on this posturing as an ice breaker, but also as a crutch and a cane when I do not find people I see eye to eye with. I am what I am, I like what I am, but what I am is the reason why we can’t hang, so what’s there to like?

We’re at an odd place in our evolution, ladies. Meghan Trainor sang a pop song that not only made it okay to be a fat girl, but to hate on skinny ones, too. Calvin Klein inspired my generation to feel horribly about being even a healthy weight with his modeling campaigns, and, I’m sorry, but “heroin” and “chic” should not be combined in a phrase, let alone a sentence, or even a paragraph. Now, recently, print ads have put women my size (five feet seven inches, 270-ish pounds) in bikinis, and have made it their aim to make obesity look pretty.  Even I don’t like it. Outisde of a bar in downtown Minneapolis, a well-meaning girl in a trucker cap and skater clothes came up to a friend of mine and I and said something along the lines of, “I don’t care what anybody else says, ladies, I think it’s great you’re out here doing your thing and it’s beautiful.”

The kind me took hold at that moment, smiled, and said thank you. My inner bitch asked her silently if she felt I should be in a dark corner in a muumuu somewhere sucking down chocolates and Diet Coke and considering the latest fad diet. Like I should kick her tail up and down Hennepin Avenue right then and there for the phrasing of it all. The middle ground between the two should have taken reign over all, however. I should have just had the presence of mind to ask, “What happens to the lady when it’s not okay to be in any body at all? What about the brain in my head? The emotions I carry? That we all carry? What good are we doing by saying this stuff?”

I say, no real good whatsoever, personally, because, in the dating realm, I fall into some distinct categories to compensate. I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes on all of them presently:

Dear BBW lover: I am a big, beautiful woman. Sorry I don’t have big tits. I have a big heart. I will cook you an excellent meal. I will let you play Call of Duty until three in the morning with your buds. I gotta study usually, anyway. I will cuddle you within an inch of your life because I’m squishy, and I hear you fellers like that. But let’s be real. You have boobs on the brain, and my boobs come with a brain some foot or so above them, and, well, my assets are more in the brain department, so you find me scary. Scroll on, soldier.

Dear fitness buff: I like that you “take care” of yourself. I’m sure you talk to your bros about how many reps you did at the gym last week, how ripped them deltoids are getting, and so on. You ask that your girl is “a healthy size”. Well, shove it. Take it and stick it in the most uncomfortable place you can and lift with it for all I care. Maybe it’ll build stamina for you. I’m fat, not lazy. I practice yoga. I can bike 25 miles without tiring to the point of quitting. It may take me a while, but I can do it. I don’t eat McDonald’s every day. Also, if you know anything, you know the idea of fitness varies from person to person, so, just take your dumbbells and go home. Particularly the ones you have for brains in your head.

Dear sensitive type: Appreciate that you say you have feelings. Try not to stand your girl Friday up next time and I’ll believe you. I have feelings, too.

Dear intellectual dude: So you read the philosophers and some new age-y stuff, can say you’re an INFJ and know what that means, and can talk politics and current issues without making me want to gouge my eyes out with my cocktail straw. Still, I can’t open my mouth, because if I show my intellect, I’m somehow less attractive. I have to bask in the glory that is your brain while I pretend to struggle towards getting the academic and career goals I have set for myself to come to fruition. Guess what? Check, please. I’m smarter than this, and don’t need to pretend anything.

Dear smorgasbord spiritualist: Take one part Buddhist, one part Christian, and one part Agnostic and you still don’t make a heck of a lot of sense until you just own up to good old fashioned human nature and your own fractured sense of self, then fix it, and if you’re an atheist, well, my experience is you just worship yourself and claim not to, and you’re definitely not God, so, you might have something there. Still, we don’t get on well. You’re pretty hateful sometimes.

So you can see my plight, I’m sure. There is true hurt underneath all the snark, but when I write, I write to relate. I write to laugh. I write to get it out in the open. I write this because I understand that these men have also chosen to pigeonhole themselves into one neat little cubby, and if one deviates from the norm, it’s all kittywhompus. Or maybe they haven’t chosen that route, and their lives have become subject to the lifestyle choices they have adopted. I don’t rightly know at this point. All I know is, I can’t do bar scenes, I can’t date online. I haven’t met my college sweetheart (read: I thought I did, but, nope). In a roundabout fashion, I have illustrated the problems with dating. Knowing what you want, being secure in yourself, happy with your life more than not happy, yet still unable to share it with anyone but the cat.

I suppose in closing, the only thing I can offer is that deleting your OKCupid profile may very well be one of the larger acts of self love you could commit, if your experience is as good as mine. If your mates or potential ones kind of make your tummy ache just thinking about them when you turn the key to your flat, if you thank the brightest, shiniest star that you in fact DID NOT have to pay for that dinner… Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe you should be your own best mate, best date, until someone as awesome as you comes along, and you can be together then. Until then, it’s a jungle out there, ladies. Tread cautiously.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

things seen (and heard) at the palace (not safe for children)

I want to think my life looks on the outside to be as young, urban, and active as it can be. I like the fact that most who don't know me think I'm at least five years younger than I really am, as the crackerbox apartment I call home isn't exactly what most who are nearly thirty would dig as dwelling accomodations. The twenty year old me on the inside wishes she'd found this place first, though, believe me.

This was my place two months ago, the night I moved in. It's a small studio with a checkerboard floor in the kitchen and a claw foot tub that I would diagnose as bipolar 1, if a tub's disposition towards temperature regulation could lend itself to mental illness, and if my tub had a brain, and all that jazz. It's home. Trixie and I have loved it dearly, for some of the cheapest rent you could ask for in one of Minneapolis' most expensive burgs. What really seals the deal at this joint, however, is my neighbors.

In my stay in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, I never really had much in the way of community. I hung out with the nice, aging gay couple above me when I stayed at Franklin and Pillsbury, and I drank heavily with a next door neighbor when I first came here in 2006, down on 32nd and Lyndale. Up here, at the foot of the Nicollet Mall, the times are a little more schizophrenic. Literally. There are so many people with the illness in this neighborhood, it's unbelievable. The caretaker of the building informed me of the numbers here in the building, and the common behavior you are to expect.

I have one neighbor lady who believes electricity is alive. I used to think that when the light in the laundry room would be off after I had turned it on, there was some mechanical reason for it, but nope. Lights cannot stay on for her if there is a switch. If she comes to the basement and the washer is running, she has to stand there and watch over it until it stops.

This is also the woman who, on my second day of being here, waltzed right into my house. I was putting some things away, and turned around to assess who was welcoming themselves in without knocking.

"Oh! I thought it was still empty!"
"Nope. I moved in yesterday. Hi. I'm Meg."
"Oh, hi. Well, you have a very nice place."
"Well, thanks very much. Have a nice afternoon, now."

My caretaker informed me that she does this to every new tenant, to make sure they are not making the building sad. If they take care of their place, she is happy, and so is the building in her mind. If they do not, she calls the office and complains.

Also to note, blinds are an issue for her. If there are blinds open in a common area, they must be closed. Open blinds means the building is structurally compromised.

There's my next door neighbor, a perennial, raving alcoholic. He's a nice guy enough. He has a cat named Goat that walks the halls all of the time. We have had few interactions, though most of them involve cats. He is busy trying to figure out why Goat likes me, when he's not busy screaming at people that come calling for him at the front door.

And, of course, the reason for this post. The neighbor upstairs.

The neighbor. Upstairs.

I don't think there's a more hated individual on the planet, do you? They're right up there next to Stalin and Hitler whenever you hear about 'em. Mine is a flight attendant with a penchant for playing Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" ad nauseum. I handled it. The walls are paper thin here, so you always get a general gist, but this was back when the windows could be open for the weather, making the noise more acceptable. He's a flight attendant who's usually out of town, but lately, he hasn't seemed to be on as many flights lately, oh, no. He's got himself a girlfriend, and he's busy fastening her to his nether regions on a schedule that rivals JFK.

Now, usually, you wouldn't be privy to this information as a neighbor unless you were a gigantic pervert, something I am not, though I do have the sense of humor of a fifteen-year-old boy, at times. Like I said, these walls are paper thin, and the girlfriend, bless her heart, is keen on letting everyone in this entire building know she's either being stabbed to death, or having sex with someone.

Sometimes it's really hard to tell the difference.

I deal with this every night, three or four times a night. I think, well, it's a good thing I don't keep much company here, otherwise it might be downright embarrassing. Try having tea with someone while listening to a porno film going on upstairs. Or imagine it. I'd suggest imagining it first. Then you know how it would feel to entertain here. I turn the ceiling fan on, I play my music. When I'm trying to sleep, there isn't much relief except to grab my umbrella and throw it at the ceiling a couple times. Get some exercise between REM cycles, that's my motto.

I was talking to my mother about these lovely kids earlier this evening. She knows about them. Heck, they're my only complaint about this place. I don't know if it's just the sheer disgust I feel towards other people who feel the need to disturb others with the soundtrack of their sexual exploits, or if it's that I'm a bitter, single, educated cat lady who deserves to be boned just as much, if not more. I dunno.

"I'm finally doing a write up of my neighbors for the blog now that all of my papers are written. They sound like monkeys now. I've had it. They're being immortalized on ye olde bloggity. I hope it's the funniest damn thing you read for a while."
"There you go. Print out a copy and hang it on their door."
"Oh, jeez. I won't do that. It's not their fult this place is old and they clearly haven't heard of ball gags. I mean, you would think with all the sex shops in this city, it would make for a wise investment on their part, but what do I know?"
"Well, then print out an ad for one of those and hang it on their door."
"I love you, mom. This is going in the blog, by the way."
"Well, it's darned inconsiderate of them. Just think of how loud it is in the apartment!"
"Hey. At least after this one, the guy said thank you. He has manners."

There's the guy who is always sitting at the back door with a beer and a cigarette during warmer days, whose vocabulary doesn't get too far past the word "yup". There's the cute lesbian couple a few doors down from me. There's my new next door neighbor, who plays her music loudly every once in a while, a fact which I am thankful for when she's drowning out the folks going the distance upstairs. She must have a sound system in there. I need to invest.

There's my caretaker's son, who I nanny for at times. He is two, and practically MENSA material already. I thought he was a tiny four year old when I met him.

And all of the cats. It should be on the lease as a prerequisite to being here. Goat, Ninja, Roxy Moxie, and my personal favorite, my Trixie Rue, and all of the others I haven't met yet.

It's a nice enough place. We're all mad here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

the stuff we don't like to talk about.

With the holidays approaching and everyone getting their capitalist game on, I am in the process of beginning my weekly volunteer time at the local homeless shelter. It got started as a "diversity project" for a class, one I took on very begrudgingly, as I didn't like the idea of volunteerism being a means to gawk at the disenfranchised for a letter grade, but this is college, and you do as you're told. To keep myself from it being a flash in the pan, however, I do intend to continue volunteering as much as I can afford to.

The project called for me to write a paper describing my experience, and I wanted to post it here. With Thanksgiving approaching and Black Friday rearing its ugly head, I find it fitting that I recalled all of this now. I don't need to be reminded on a daily basis that I have it okay, and while I don't think the whole free world does, this is just a slice of what goes by unseen in the city where I live. I encourage folks to look into situations other than their own, and consider that as an alternative, and how that must feel. So, without further ado...

I walked up to 10th and Currie on a chilly and overcast Sunday morning. I watched pigeons fight over a discarded piece of processed cheese amidst spit stains and discarded cigarette butts, and a man unloaded the contents of his stomach over the middle of the road as people on the other side jeered him for his vices. This is the scene outside of the Salvation Army headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. This is the place that has shown me homelessness in its varied backgrounds and circumstances.
            I am no stranger to this place. My mother has lived on the third floor in emergency housing since she lost her apartment due to a shoddy economy and ruthless ageism in corporate sectors in August of last year. This floor is for women. There is a schedule here. You eat when they tell you, they do bed checks, and they institute curfew. If you cannot remain alcohol and drug free, you lose your room, bed, and might even stand to lose whatever personal belongings you may have. For the women who want the freedom to do as they please, there is the “Sally Side”, where you are given shelter for the night and are made to leave before a certain time in the morning as much as you’re due back at a certain time if you want a gym mat in the hallway to sleep on. There are separate floors for the men, the chemical dependency programs, and more long-term housing onsite. There is also a chapel for worship service, and this is why I aimed to volunteer on a Sunday.
            I walked into the cafeteria thinking the staff there would be setting up like they’re getting ready for an air raid, but the overall tone of staff was laid back, tough, street smart, yet still caring. Kelly handed me a hairnet and disposable apron and showed me around, giving me little tasks to do while we waited for the chapel doors connected to the cafeteria to open. The Salvation Army regularly sets up a walk up breakfast program outside the shelter very early in the morning for people on the street, but if you attend the worship service, people on the street can get lunch, too, with the tickets they hand out after service. These are people who are not in the SA programs, who may not be familiar with the rules. I asked how many people they can stand to feed on a regular Sunday, and between the residents and folks off the street, they can feed about 350 people in a two-hour period. This is done in shifts; one group eats and leaves, then the doors open again. It gives us all time to keep up the food lines through the rushes.
            The menu for the day was pressed and reformed turkey patties, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable. Bread was served alongside donated and expired bakery items from local grocers for dessert, things that looked poorly packaged or unfit to sell, yet still edible. David, one of the coordinators, brought me to the hot plate line, and showed me how to dish up a tray: one piece of meat, one scoop of potatoes, cover it with gravy, and just one level scoop of vegetables, adding, “we gotta make ‘em stretch.” I watched as the coordinators fought over whether or not to give people Kool-Aid at lunch. In the end, it was water and coffee for refreshments. I wondered if I was going to manage to keep up the line on my own. The other volunteer, Angie, was serving community service sentences and had a hand taped up. Just as lunch was about to begin, however, three more volunteers arrived and we were given places. Tiffany helped me serve the lunch trays and Lally handed out desserts. Staff and “soldiers” came in in random spurts, gave me some time to get used to my new job. Then the doors swung open, and humanity happened all at once.
I saw folks missing teeth. I saw bandages and bruises. I saw a lady helping her blind friend over to his seat. I saw whole families with young children. I saw senior citizens with walkers and canes. I saw young adults with old gang tattoos. I tried to look them all in the eye, tried to allow them preferences for how they liked their food plated. The hurry and the hardship of keeping food on the line to dish up was not the hardest thing I had to handle. It was what to say to these people in passing, how to let them know I respected them as individuals, not just one downtrodden facet of the American population. Overall, I felt at a loss. I was weakly telling people to “take care”, and “have a great day” as I served them what could only be considered to the average person’s tastes as low quality food, and to make things even more astoundingly heartbreaking, over half these people I served thanked me for it. I have been working for fifteen years, most of it spent in retail and foodservice jobs, and I was better treated here in this food line than I’d been dealing with the years of serving the financially secure middle class clientele I was used to, really. There wasn’t a single complaint about the food served. There was only the occasional expressed need for more food, which was hard for me to accept as a need I couldn’t fulfill, parroting “We can only give one piece of meat per person, I’m sorry”.
            I helped feed about 250 people in less than two hours that day. These are the people that get shooed off storefronts on the Nicollet mall, begging change. These are people that sleep under bridges. These are people that come in to use the shower facilities so they can try and look their best for a job interview, because they don’t have a place to wash up of their own. Things we all take for granted are not granted these people, and despite this, they all held a certain strength and wisdom about them, and expressed gratitude in ways I did not expect.
I came in thinking I would be hassled, hollered at. I didn’t bring a purse because I didn’t think there was a safe place to put it. I was systematically assessing and breaking down the personal barriers I held up as weak defense mechanisms to separate myself from the experience. I was confronting my biases and fears, and felt every last one of them grow more and more discounted. I found myself feeling more like these people, not because I thought my struggles are comparable to theirs, but because the experience made their struggle real to me. It’s not a bell ringer with a red kettle or a story on the news. These are hungry people with nowhere else to go but the lunch line, and it’s a bigger problem than the two hours I spent there.
The experience brought me a better understanding of life outside the sphere of my own normalcy. I signed out my volunteer hours so entrenched in thought, I forgot to take off the hairnet. Stepping outside, I thought to myself, “Time to walk home,” and my little studio apartment in a rough part of town became a lot more precious. At least I have a home to walk to. I came in steeled for what I thought I was going to see, and came out humbled by what I really saw. In fact, I had to hold back tears.

Monday, November 10, 2014

catching up.

I had lofty goals about blogging before I started classes back in August. I had severely underestimated the amount of reading, writing, and overall thinking it takes to attend a four year institution of learning. It really does not leave room for much else.

Since we last spoke, I moved, got a job, found that job to be hard to get to, hard to keep up with, and hard to wrap my head around, and found work in the psychology field, which thankfully is supremely fulfilling and enriching. I also lost touch with my therapy sessions and all cathartic methods of coping with my anxiety and depression, but am slowly regaining those. However, that is a digression. Now that life has settled out, and finals are approaching, I find myself more apt to sit here and think about things I want to write about. I hope to maintain it.

I live in a very hip and happening little burg in Minneapolis known as Loring Park. There's tons to do. Theatres, restaurants, shows, walks up and down the Nicollet Mall, and then of course, little jaunts through the park my neighborhood is named after. I have indulged in the perks of this place, to some degree, but often find myself inside, scraping pennies together and minding my own business. What I have found lately is when I am out, I take particular interest in the equally hip and happening couples that walk hand in hand throughout this joint, take my feelings of disconnect and solitude and wonder, did I ever deal with becoming a single woman again? Have I ever, in the six months I've been able, take myself fully back into account?

I find I can't give myself a straight answer, because the world seems like it's running enough interference around me, I can never find my own frequency through the static.

I take my odd habits into account. I do little inventories. Am I feminine? Does my intellect frighten men? Do I really care about that? Why is it so hard to find equal footing with people, and am I scared of starting over again? Seriously, guys, I recently googled about when it was healthy to start dating after a breakup in a long term relationship. I found it good that I was concerned for my own health, but discouraging that I'm that clueless.

There's serious politics involved in being a single lady (things Beyonce didn't sing to us about). It still seems to be to me that if you're thin, blond, and making it as a nine to fiver who rewards herself with a glass of pinot and a mani-pedi for a good work week, it's okay to be single. In fact, it's almost powerful, because you're still the epitome of what popular culture (and men) tend to tell us fringe ladies is the ideal. Now, I like me a good, sound lager, a cigarette when I'm angry, and a long walk in the cold as a means to clear my head. I don't find solace in rewards. I like experiences. I feel very secure in my not thin, not ideal, not blond frame. It's just the things bashing through my brains that I want nailed down to the floor, and it's a day to day thing. I am down to earth, loyal, affectionate, witty, and well-spoken. I'm also clinically depressed. So how do we package that for the masses?

I say, we just don't.

I had a night out recently that articulated the differences I find in myself from when I was younger. This young man had agreed to dinner with me, and I was happy. I came home from work, did some quick coursework that was due, but still set aside time to at least apply eyeliner and some lip stain (I tried). The plan was to meet at my place and we would walk to the restaurant together. This is what is framed in my brain, a nice walk, a good meal, a good chat, maybe hang out for a while.

Instead, I have to order for him at the restaurant, wait for him to show up, and then he literally disappears right after the meal. I walk home alone thinking, well, hey. At least it didn't cost me anything but time and an unnecessary walk in the cold.

What people don't seem to understand about me and my nearly thirty years of trying to relate to people is I don't tend to tolerate much these days. In fact, I tolerate less and less. This person (who will remain nameless, as we protect the presumed innocent) fails to see that I have agreed to let him be a part of my life, and have given him a portion of my time, and that was time he did not invest very wisely, for it made me think he had no business being in my sphere. Now, this was someone I claimed to know rather well, and tend to think he's a generally nice guy. Heck, I try to think the best of men, regardless of my lackluster romantic record. I give the fellas the benefit of the doubt. I would hope that I get some reciprocity in that matter.

It was this very analytical, sharpened, self-preserving shutdown of the evening as a waste that separates me from the starry-eyed bleeding heart of a child I used to be. If you don't want to be around, just don't be. You'll do yourself a favor, and give me a reason to prove a point to myself, which, in the face of an all around negative experience, is a nice job of reframing on my part. I don't like getting by on making the best of bad situations, but it's something.

So, tonight I'm chewing on this past experience and wondering where I should go with it, if I should go anywhere at all. While my future as a highly educated and successful counselor is still held in the highest position of my ambitions, I'm still a 28-year-old female that wants to be enjoyed as a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, and a friend. A partner in crime, as I used to joke, only love isn't a crime.

It's what we do to ourselves in the midst of seeking it out that should be called to due process, if you ask me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

time management... it's that time of year again!!

I'm coming up to my first week of classes and I'm trying to square away a routine for the school year so I have afforded myself time to eat, sleep, and study. I picked up a second job for days I'm in Saint Paul for classes, so as it stands, I'm looking at working 50 hours a week, taking four classes, and holding up my end of the housekeeping at home. This made me want to sit down and see my schedule visibly, because I have a hard time when there seems to be too much to do and I get overwhelmed easily, and I thought I'd share with you all some of my favorite ways to get organized and have your time down pat.

1. Keep it space specific.

This is my desk/sewing table. It may not be best since it has a dual purpose but it has everything I need within reach to do both things. I keep a 30 day dry erase calendar with space for notes and a to-do list (this one right here) at the side to keep my schedule and appointments visible to me at all times. I like it because it saves paper, and having to buy calendars every year!    

2. Know your in-betweens.

Because I have to rely on public transportation, it may take longer for me to get places, but it's far more predictable than being stuck in traffic! The Twin Cities Metro Transit has an excellent mobile site that gives you real time schedules, the ability to plan trips in advance, and even load your fare card without having to find a ticket station or transit store, making it very easy for me to never be late and always be prepared... unless there's an awful snow storm or something.
3. Always keep time for the important stuff.

When having to deal with craaaaazy schedules, it's easy to get bored or feel burned out because work/school/getting by doesn't leave much room for spontaneity. No matter how busy you think you are, set aside time for a trip to the movies, browsing a bookstore, or, my personal favorite, time with a friend at a local cafe. Getting the job done is important, but rewarding yourself for time well spent is even more so!
Of course, there are other ways I try and keep myself on task. I use myHomework Student Planner for iPhone to keep track of my assignments, I made an Excel spreadsheet of my week down to the hour to better manage my time (and make sure I was leaving room for study and downtime!), and so on. If you have the time to sit down and plan things out, it certainly does make the day go easier to a certain extent.

Happy back to school to those on their way, and for everyone else, just keep on keepin' on.

Friday, August 22, 2014

therapy, mental health, and my personal experience with it all (kinda)

I began my relationship with depressive disorder at a very young age. Around December of 1996, just about to turn eleven, I began to wake up terrified in the middle of the night. I would creep out of my room and watch CNN on mute until the sun came up (Obviously it did nothing to fix my insomnia but I became a very young expert on the crisis in the Middle East, let me tell you). In a couple of weeks, I began to weep uncontrollably, became reserved and relatively apathetic, sometimes nearly despondent. The following winter, it happened again. I equated it in my mind to a young girl trying to cope with the untimely death of a young friend in a car crash. By the third winter, with small bouts in between, I was dealing with depressive episodes coupled with suicidal thoughts and actions. Now, I bet you're wondering how in the world a 13-year-old manages to want to die, but sadly, this happens a lot this day in age. Nonetheless, even I look back at my time then and wonder a little myself.

There was no medical or psychiatric intervention because, a, I did not have health insurance, and, b, I did not talk to adults about my feelings. I internalized them wholly. Instead I coped through a love of music and poetry, kept a journal, and kept quiet (These journals are no longer with us which is a shame. For the purpose of illustrating the times, I wish there was something I could rely on besides memory). Despite the cathartic hobbies, I began to self injure with burns and superficial cuts, had a small bout of what mirrored anorexia athletica (commonly a male mental illness), and racked up a total of four major suicide attempts by the age of fifteen. In hindsight, I am thankful. One day a switch went off and Meg said to Meg, "Hey, chickie, stop feeling sorry for yourself." My destructive habits subsided save for a breakdown around my 22nd birthday, but the depressive episodes remained.

Still without lasting health insurance in my early twenties, I went to a walk in outreach clinic for teens and young adults and spoke to a clinical social worker about my relationship with my abusive father (left us in 2004) and my victimized mother. I did not directly blame my parents for my problems and doubt I ever will. It's not like me to place blame in such a way. Through those visits I was told that, because of her background, there wasn't much she could see wrong with me. My writing was extremely cathartic and prolific. I could fill my journals in a couple months, beaten up notebooks I kept with me in my bags. As I aged, however, and the world of adulthood clamped its jaws around me and held fast, I was more worried about paying bills and getting work done than I was my own mental health, until last fall, when I reached out to a healthcare advocate through my personally funded health care and took advantage of seeing a therapist. Soon I was diagnosed with not one, but two disorders: major depressive disorder, the one of no surprise, and generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD), a relatively new issue I had that manifested itself in the familial and romantic relationships I had at the time. Soon, I had to learn how to develop a relationship with my new friend, Zoloft, prescribed to take the edge off of my anxiety, and for a time, it did help.

I had to come to terms with the dysphoric nature of my relationship and subsequent engagement after a falling out this spring. By the end of May, I had reached out to a friend willing to put me up for a time so I could "sort my head" in my own words, and it didn't take long for me to understand there was no sense in going back. As time progressed, my anxiety episodes subsided. Now, it's relevant to mention that in the world of psychology, a diagnosis is usually a diagnosis you just have. It's like alcoholism in the sense that you will always be an alcoholic, even if you've been straight up bone dry for years. You have remissive periods and flares just like any other chronic illness, and sadly, as much as I for one wish it wasn't true, all one can do is learn to manage their symptoms and look for warning signs. The Zoloft did nothing for my depression but keep me on an even keel. I did not experience low lows, and I didn't have high highs, either. I was just there. It kept my anxiety almost completely at bay, however, until recently, when I took my medication. Since the anxiety was gone, all I was capable of feeling was extreme grogginess, lethargy and apathy once more. My script ran out and when it did, I said, I'm not taking this anymore.

That being said, to those who are currently taking an SSRI or like medication and are unhappy with your current state of mental health: DO NOT do as I do. Speak to your doctor or psychiatrist and find out the best plan of action, whether it means changing the medication for a different one, or the gradual process of weaning. Going off of SSRIs can cause EXTREME fluctuations in mood, headaches, even bouts of psychosis. I was on the lowest possible dose of Zoloft for a short period of time (about eight months), but even still, even I know I am breaking a rule that should not be broken.

Flash forward to today at the therapist's office, two days after I made a mental note to leave her a voicemail so we could discuss my decision to cease my medication. I thought it was without consequence considering I did not hear alarm bells on her end. I prefaced my decision by stating that I am also coping with health issues due to a total thyroidectomy after a tumor developed last year, and am jumping through the endocrine hoops to get my hormone levels in check. Even with a considerably high dose of replacement thyroid hormone I take daily, it was not keeping me out of the range of an extreme point of hypothyroidism. I did some digging in my past blood work and found that the gradual decline of my endocrine health was coupled with the same time period my nurse practitioner decided to up my antidepressants, which was a big mistake, anyway, as I was constantly fatigued and nauseous. The comorbidity, or similar symptoms, in plain English, of hypothyroidism and depressive disorders is staggering. Even I looked at my diagnoses with a level of skepticism at first, due to my physical health problems, but I still took them for what they were, but I digress. Zoloft, with enough digging, has been pegged as an SSRI that in very rare cases can affect thyroid disorders. I did all of this fishing, and even after a week of no meds without a single flare, outburst, upset, not even a headache, she balked, of course. So today, I had a brief and firm argument with my therapist that neither she or my nurse practitioner have the credentials to be prescribing psychiatric medication, and I will continue to monitor my symptoms. If they should return, I will see a psychiatrist, a person qualified and specialized enough to be doling out these pills, and we will work to find what is best. For the time being, I am striving to understand my illnesses without pharmaceutical intervention. End of argument. You gotta know yourself to deal with these folks sometimes.

I decided to write this post because there is a lot of ill will and misconception in psychology. It is aimed towards the counselors and therapists of the psychology field (like just because you don't have a doctorate, you don't know anything), and also because a lot of us mentally afflicted folk either don't want to side with themselves that they do have a legitimate mental condition (only crazy people are mental), or they don't know how or simply don't want to understand and handle their symptoms. Even the phrase "mental illness" has been damned by society. How many times have you or a friend in a moment of conciliatory gossip said about someone else, "____ needs therapy," or, "____ is crazy"? Even I used to say these things as a kid, and these things only solidify the prejudices and shame involved in mental health and illness, only making it more difficult to look for help. Truth is, treating mental illness should be just as socially acceptable as walking into an urgent care with a case of pink eye. There should be no shame in allowing yourself help and understanding. The levels and credentials of those in the field of psychology do often govern their specialties. You will most often find a licensed clinical social worker (LICSW) on a college campus or walk in clinic. A therapist, like a licensed marital and family therapist (LMFT, what I wanna be when I have my masters in my hands) will often have an extremely diverse specialization and counsel a broad age group, maybe taking a preference with a certain demographic. The psychiatrists and psychologists of the field, the ones that did their eight years, will be the ones to specialize in things with more focus on a less broad spectrum of illnesses. The psychologists do the research and deal with extreme pathologies. I am saying this to squelch a misconception about my chosen field that irks me at least once weekly. Psychology is not a one size fits all science, and certain types of therapy may or may not work for certain people. I for one am pleased with the talk therapy I receive from my LMFT, but that is because I am receptive to criticisms and open to doing the self work. Not everyone is. Heck, some people are court ordered to do therapy, even. The field deals in a lot of animosity on a daily basis because all of us, in some regard, don't want to be perceived as flawed or sick because we are programmed to think of these things as weaknesses on a societal level. I'm here to tell you this is absolutely untrue. This mentality leads to shame, social isolation, even suicide. It needs to stop. If people worked on their brains half as much as they worked on their abs, the world would be a happier and much less dangerous place.

This is just a slice of a day in the life. I wanted to provide you all with my stubborn crash test dummy self and a bit of my background to illustrate the points of mental health being personal, and certain avenues do and do not work, and that is perfectly fine. I would like to provide you all with a link to start with below. If any of what I've said rings true to you, I strongly urge you to speak to someone, a friend or loved one, or a mental health professional of your choosing. NEVER feel stuck. If you are unhappy with your health care, or have concerns about your mental health in general, find someone you feel you can connect with and has beneficial strategies that work for you. Most importantly, don't forget, no matter what, you are beautiful, capable, and strong, but most of all, human, and humans can only do so much on their own. Take care of your heads, all. Ah, the American Psychological Association. These are the folks that run my show stateside. This site is jam packed with background information on a multitude of conditions, and can direct you to other resources.