Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

Happy New Year's Eve, my darlings. I'm sure you're all out sending off 2013 in your favorite way but I couldn't let the year close without one more post. 

I know I've lots to catch you up on but as has been my habit lately, I'm currently traveling. I haven't had proper access to a computer in awhile, in fact I'm pecking out this very post on my phone in the backseat of a truck. (It's quite tedious and I won't be making a habit of it, in case you're wondering.)
After two days on the road, I've had loads of time to think about my year. It has not been an easy one and I confess, I was all set to write it off. In an effort to be more positive, I thought I'd put together a little photo collage of my favorite moments. As I was scrolling through my pictures, it wasn't long before my attitude was adjusted. It wasn't the snapshots of flowers, cupcakes, or pretty scenery that I liked (though there were plenty of each), but the faces. Faces of friends, family, coworkers; all the people I've interacted with this year that have improved my life in some way. 

And so my photo collages got a little out of hand. 
I could write an individual post for every person pictured here but in an effort to be concise, thank you. (If it's your child that is pictured, they represent you. But squeeze your kids for me because I love them too.) Each one of you helped me through difficult days, in ways large and small. You may not even have known it at the time, but you did.  Be it a kind message, wise counsel, a funny joke, a listening ear, or even a particularly charming smile, you made my day. More than once, probably.  Thank you for that. 
There are barrels of other people to whom I owe my thanks so if you're reading this and don't see your picture, don't despair. The main reason for that is because we either haven't been together in person this year (i.e. my dear friends in other countries & those who I only know via this blog) or I do not have a picture of you on my phone. (I'm not joking, I've been in the car since yesterday morning and this post in its entirety was created on my iPhone, including the pictures.). In fact if you're reading this at all, you get my thanks, because you care enough to read about my life. 

(Or you just got lost on your way to the internet store that sells incense and Tibetan prayer flags. It wouldn't be the first time, friend. That particular site is hitherandyon.com.  Carry on!)

So if you see your face (or in your case, a cartoon dachshund, Courtney), if you're reading this, or if at the very least you've never called me "treacherous swine" (I'm looking at you, Spencer), then THANK YOU. From the bottom of my stomach. Because that is much deeper than my heart, let's be real.

2013 was not a year of great accomplishments or any groundbreaking personal discovery. But I will not remember it in measurements of tears or disappointments. I will remember it as the year I came to more deeply appreciate the value of a friend. 

Now if you've got the time, what did 2013 hold for you? I'd love to chat. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Anxiety Ferris Wheel

Friends, I've been a very bad blogger. It's been nearly five months since my last post.  It feels rather self-indulgent and dramatic to keep referring to my situation as my "quarter-life crisis", so I will simply say I have been adrift, personally and professionally, for a rather large portion of this year.  Because of this I have felt blocked when it came to writing.

After quite a few months of feeling like I had a handle on my anxiety disorder, it slipped out of my grasp and came at me in full force like a mythical hydra.  Going to battle against this beast, I'd successfully cut off its head only to have two more appear in its place.

It is a terrible thing to fear one's own mind. It is so hard to explain the way it works to someone who has never experienced it.  I described what it's like to have a full-blown panic attack in a post from back when it all started.  What I wish so very dearly is that I could tell you I'm finally on the other side of the mountain, but I'm not. I've realized over the past two and a half years that this is not something that I can go through, get over, and then put away neatly in a box.  There are some people who can, and have conquered their anxiety and live with complete confidence.

But I've come to accept that being anxious is a part of my nature.  At its core, generalized anxiety disorder is a manifestation of the fear of losing control.  It is such an amorphous fear, because no one has control. Not over the weather, not over the actions/attitudes of others, and most especially not over the future. So I become obsessed with the things that I can control: my mood, every thought, action, and reaction to every situation. Consequently, I try to orchestrate the perfect environment in which I am least likely be anxious, so (in my mind) where I go, what I do, and who I'm with are extremely important.

For example, I hate being surrounded by lots of people so I try to avoid any place with a large crowd. This rules out festivals, amusement parks, concerts, airports, and stores during the holidays, among others.  Secondly, I try to avoid spending too long with someone who doesn't know, understand, or I feel would not react well should I have a panic attack.  The unreasonable train of thought attached to this is that if I can't keep control of myself, at least I'll be with someone who can either help or won't judge me for it.  Thirdly, I try to avoid any place or situation where I do not have a clear or viable exit strategy. This is because feeling trapped is a major trigger for me.  The major consequence of all this is that I end up missing out on a lot of good opportunities if my tightly wound brain perceives a "threat" to my peace of mind.

It is utterly fatiguing to be so consumed with oneself.  There are two tracks playing constantly in my head, one being the normal chatter of every day living (i.e."Where shall I go, what shall I do, what will I eat?") and the other being a nervous and bitter critic (i.e. "Don't eat that, you'll make yourself feel ill. You can't go there, there will be too many people. How useless you are today!"). I end most every day with a physical weariness that originates from the marrow of my bones, as though my blood is produced as two parts hemoglobin, one part enervation.

A well-meaning psychiatrist labeled this particular state as major depressive disorder, as though it were a giant steak dinner and the anxiety only a complementary side salad.  Perhaps it is;  the two are so intertwined, it is hard to separate them out. I know that when I am deeply unhappy, I am far more prone to be anxious and vice versa.  But I strongly resist labeling myself as "chronically depressed".  Yes, I have days and even weeks when even the act of getting out of bed takes Herculean effort, but I've never gone to a place too dark to come back from.

At my core, there is a quiet joy in the privilege of simply being alive, of having all my wits and limbs about me.  The mental and physical ability to experience, to feel, life in all its forms and ways is a vastly underappreciated state of being.  It is a beautiful gift that was just handed to me at birth, I did absolutely nothing to deserve it.  This is to say that even in the bleakest hours or moments of incredible inner turmoil, there is always something within that leads me to level ground again.

I could have been born a bird.
Or a hedgehog.
But what a basic and mindless existence that would be.
Instead, I am human. Made of earth, water, and soul. And the ability, nay the vital responsibility, to discover and follow after a higher purpose is what makes makes it all worthwhile.

There is a masochistic intellectual in me that on the very best days is glad that I struggle with anxiety. "There is a reason for this madness. You may never fully understand it, but at the very least, it drives you to keep bettering yourself," the voice whispers.  As much as I hate to admit it, there is wisdom in that thought.  Anxiety will never allow me to grow complacent about my life.  It's like an unwelcome visitor that pops in at always wildly inconvenient times to ask uncomfortable but well-meaning questions: "Are you happy in this job? Are you headed in the right direction?"

Obviously I usually want to scream "GO AWAY YOU INSUFFERABLE COW. I JUST WANT TO EAT ICE CREAM AND NOT WORRY EVER AGAIN." But the visit gets me thinking and gradually prompts a change. Usually for the better. And then the anxiety recedes for a time.

So that's where I am now.  On the weirdest, most frustrating ferris wheel of life.  I quit my job in September and have been taking some time off to think and travel and reconnect with people in my life that I've neglected.  Where am I going next? I still don't know but I'm trying to swallow my fear of the unknown and explore the possibilities.  The grandest part of all this has been the incredible support of my family, particularly my mother who has quite literally held my hand through the worst bits.  I owe them so much.  I love you guys.

Anyway, this is a wordy and serious post but I felt like I couldn't jump back into regular blogging without putting all my cards on the table.  If only to make myself feel better.  If you've made it this far and still want to read my ramblings, I say thank you, friend. Thank you for your patience and for your listening ears.

I feel amazing after letting this all out.
*assumes lotus position and immediately ascends to higher plane of understanding*

Now take some time to fully appreciate yourself and everything you've been through in your life.
I'll be back soon with pictures and stories.

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