I write. It’s my “thing.” A little more than a hobby, closer to an obsession. I write, in one form or another, everyday. That said, there are different levels of effort, different audiences I address, and different goals I have for my writing. When I work on a blog post, I have a totally different understanding of how my words will affect an audience than they would if I was writing a fictional piece.
The unifying factor of all of these different functions and methods? They’re my words, my expression. Whether I successfully make a living out of my writing at some point in the future or am merely screaming into a hole in the dirt, one truth remains:
I need money to survive.
I’m not a trust fund baby. I didn’t marry rich—I’m marrying for love. That being the case, I spend more time working for a company than I do for myself. That’s okay.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist like my mom. I don’t think it’s unusual to want to grow up to be like your parents when you’re but a wee child. When I thought of my mom, I saw her working on her watercolors on the dining room table, blasting her grunge at eardrum piercing volumes.
The thing is, art don’t always pay the bills.
I think we’re all fairly adult here, and can understand that sad truth.
So my mother didn’t work solely for herself. With a family to support, she seemed to always find a day job to work part time, enough to hopefully cover some of the costs of living—and, I’m sure, her manic shopping habits (more about that, as well as mine, at some point), but that’s neither here nor there.
She taught me the necessity of working a day job and the importance of taking time for yourself, and your personal endeavors.
A lot of day jobs, in my opinion, tend to be entirely tiresome especially if they have little or no connection to what you love in your personal life. If I had my way, I’d never work for anyone else ever again. I like a reason to get out of the house as much as anyone, but knowing that I have to devote 40 hours a week to someone else can be a source of anxiety for me. Part of that is the nature of my job–it has nothing to do with putting words on a page (or screen).
There are ways around that. When I work harder and with more focus on my own endeavors, I can handle other people’s with a higher degree of energy and care. The more I take care of my brain, the better I get at using that mindset in other settings, and am able to come back home and work on the things I need to work on.
As someone who suffers deeply from anxiety and super intense panic attacks–suffers as you would from an affliction, not an attitude–it affects my life in a variety of very damaging ways, and often leaves me feeling as if I’m totally dysfunctional, which in turn causes more anxiety. A lot of the coping mechanisms in my employ at the moment are pretty unhealthy; the obvious one being smoking cigarettes to calm down.
What helps a lot is something that I’ve been practicing since I was young and realized how cathartic writing or self-talk could be. Holding a conversation with my anxiety is one of the healthy ways I manage it. I’ll make a list of all of the possible causes of my anxiety, things I actively think about and things that sit in the back of my head, and break them up into smaller problems. That way I can address each of them with my full attention and problem solve. I don’t try to take my anxiety in one lump anymore because it fries my brain.
If that doesn’t work, my back-up plan is to stop the cycle of my anxiety with something external. If I’m taking a prescribed anti-anxiety medication, I take the dose. If I don’t have that but I think I’m in the realm of a stress nap, I sleep. If I can think of giving myself something I enjoy, like an extra good cup of coffee, and I can afford it, I buy and consume it.
Talking is another defense mechanism. Catharsis can be key to processing my anxiety in a healthy way. I’m lucky. I have a bipolar mom who’s been talking me down since I was a small child. I’ve built up a support system of close friends, a lot of them bipolar themselves, and we relate to each other.
You cried behind a dumpster at work?
Hey, me too. What a trip, man.
Trying to break the cycle of anxiety is difficult, but worth the effort. When my anxiety is based off of seemingly nothing, that’s what we refer to in my family as the “impending doom” feeling. Try to recognize if your anxiety is situational or merely impending doom—what I also like to refer to as “the nameless void.”
Can you tell I’m fond of my labels?
Sometimes taking all of that nervous energy and naming the nameless as something without a name helps me understand that it’s not me, or my personality, but merely a loose wire cooking my brain.
Self talk, the way we shape our personal narratives, can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves and the world. Are you feeding into your anxiety? I used to anticipate my anxiety before it hit me—if I was anxious at a certain time the day before, I would assume that I would be anxious the next day. That’s just not always the case, and waiting for the feeling of impending doom to swallow you up can lead to it happening. I try not to write self-fulfilling prophecies in regard to my mood swings and anxiety, because it opens me up to being unstable and upset.
If I feel anxious on the bus to work, I try to talk myself out of it: I feel a little anxious, but not that anxious. This is manageable and will go away. I do this with other feelings as well. If I admit to myself how tired I am, I find it makes me more tired. If I give more energy and focus to the part of me that is awake, I have more energy to deal with the day.
In short, don’t give up. It’s totally doable with practice to manage your anxiety in healthy ways. If I can manage it half the time, so can you.
I have so many fears, I can categorize them. My least favorites? The ones that have to do with my self worth. Being afraid of my physical health failing in some horrible way will keep me up at night, but I usually fall asleep sooner or later.
What keeps me up at night is the feeling that I’m just not up to snuff as [a blank]. Some of my blanks are:
Do you have these or similar fears? Ever get the feeling that you’re putting your all into being the best person you can be, and it’s still not enough? That’s okay–we’ve all been there at some point or another. One minute, you’re riding high, and the next minute something comes along to completely take the piss outta ya.
I personally might be temporarily demolished by a careless word from someone close by, or a rising worry about a relationship and how I’m not being present enough, or pulling my weight to meet the other person’s needs. Someone might leave me really unhelpful negative feedback on a piece I’ve written, and leave me feeling as if my writing’s just not very good, and totally without hope of improvement. Depression might hit me at an inconvenient moment and leave me on the floor wondering if I’m “good enough” for something–anything.
Well, here’s the deal. I’m good enough.
You are, too.
The problem with not acknowledging your self worth is that it locks you into a pit in the back of your mind where you’re constantly free falling. You might look for answers to questions and solutions to problems, but if you’re falling, you don’t have the wherewithal to reach for an answer or solution that works. It all just slips away.
When I was young, and crying over something that would prove to be insignificant–often nameless, childhood anxiety, in my case–my mother would tell me to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” What she meant was that I had to break the pattern of falling through the floor of my own brain. Find a solution, and put it into play. Make yourself feel better, because at the end of the day, you have to learn how to comfort yourself.
Another thing I heard slip from her lips often: “Do something that scares you every day.” This advice sometimes had devastating consequences. There was the time I fell from the top of the ridiculously long rope swing and landed with my legs over my head. (Age 11.) There were school presentations I chose to rattle and shake through, only to hide in embarrassment the rest of the day. (Age 14.) There was that time I broke the law and got busted–and then, the other time I did that other thing and got busted. (Age 20, 21.)
But there were really good moments that were a direct result of listening to my mother’s advice. I’ve successfully taken care of a newborn (no, not mine), I’ve gone off meds for fun and gotten back on them, despite being terrified of the side effects they might unleash on me. I’ve asked people out, made friends, and made connections when I was scared of reaching out to anybody. I have a dog now, and of course I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed to walk her when I was depressed. I’ve gone to work, while I was dealing with panic attacks, alone and without anybody to talk me down.
I started this blog as a means of communicating openly with other writers and readers so that neither I nor the people seeking my words out would have to feel totally alone. How long did I procrastinate this project? Only, like, eight years. What made me finally sit down and start formatting images and mashing them into editted words?
I got fed up and decided I needed some kind of a writing sample, and a place to work out my least comfortable form of writing: straight forward non-fiction.
So far, I’ve been pretty disciplined about writing every day, but yesterday was a blank calendar page. Did I get held up in traffic, you ask, and didn’t have time to write? Did a work meeting go awry and keep me late? Did I see another injured bird and have to walk twenty minutes with a pidgeon in shock in a friggin cardboard box to catch a forty-minute bus ride to an animal shelter?
NO! None of those things happened to me. I actually wrote a blog post yesterday, edited it, and brought it up to the standards I’m working with when posting to this blog. I did it. So why didn’t I post it?
Because I got afraid, and forgot to listen to my mother’s advice. I wrote a post called “how to improve your writing in 5 steps.” But then my other fears swarmed me, and I thought–well, I thought that I wasn’t good enough to write a blog post on writing, and that my blog post wouldn’t be good enough to help anybody. My goal here isn’t to write rehashed sentiments from other writers, and that’s what I was afraid my post would read as.
So what did I do?
I called my mom, told her the gist of my writing advice, and listened to her tell me it was just as fine as the other posts I’ve been writing (yes–I do make her read everything I post here. I’m not an authority on bipolarity, but for all I know, she is). Hell–I figured that if it was as okay as the other posts I’ve written, then maybe it was okay enough to help someone with their writing, or at least remind them of how they help their writing with their own idiosyncratic methods.
I feel good now. Nobody’s left a nasty comment. It’s gotten the same amount of attention as anything else I’ve written and felt fairly confident about. Basically, nothing’s on fire, and I’m cool with that. The real plus side to overcoming this fear is that now I have a stronger sense of what happens if I’m afraid to post something, but post it anyway.
That’s the thing about fear. If you get through it and reach the other side, you’re able to recognize the patterns that fear creates, and understand intellectually, if not fully on an emotional level, how to cross the ditches it creates in your mind. The trick here is not to fall into the ditch, because that’s when you inevitably start falling again.
What scares you, and how do you overcome your fears?
Integrate: I don’t like to “steal.” It’s not my favorite way of saying what I’m about to say. Why? Because plagiarists steal. Artistic theft is wrong. What I mean when I say to integrate is to take a technical aspect of someone’s writing and incorporate it into your own stylized content. Appreciate your influences, and learn from them. Some of the writers I’ve taken “tricks” from are Stephen King, Salinger, Joshua Mohr and Kurt Vonnegut. There are many other writers I’ve taken bits and pieces of structure, form, and style from, but those are a few from the top of my head.
Balance: When you take a technical aspect of someone else’s writing and attempt to make it your own, balance is key. If I focused on one of these writers and sought solely to emulate their writing without balancing it out with some of my own technical tricks, it wouldn’t read as an original work. It’s okay to write a piece where your influences read clearly through your work, but you definitely want to balance it between what works for a piece and what you’re capable of, as well as what you want out of the piece you’re writing. Does chunking the writing up into small pieces work for the structure of your story? Great—go for it. Do you want to express thought within action without breaking the fluidity of your piece? Cool. Do it. Do you want to take a piece of someone’s formatting and use it? Okay, that works. Do you want to focus on one writer’s structure and copy it? Maybe try to stay away from that unless you’re actively seeking a strong homage, and are willing to acknowledge that.
Abandon: If someone else’s trick isn’t working for your content, ditch it. It’s all about what you’re comfortable taking and giving up. If Vonnegut’s syntax isn’t appropriate for the voice and structure your story needs, don’t write like he did. He wrote the way he wrote for a reason, and it worked for him. If you can’t figure out how to write like Stephen King, don’t. It’s not a point of stress. A lot of the reason I use other writer’s tricks in my own writing is because it feels like it works—and it allows me to reach the next point in my writing. I can then set down the tool I used to make my own tool, and that’s a great feeling. The idea is that the muscle memory of writing a certain way strengthens your writing and allows you to develop your own technical aspects.
Develop: I don’t personally know any writers that came out of the birth canal with a functional writing process already intact, innately formed. I’m sure it happens, but if you’re that kind of a genius, this is just a fluff piece and I give you my blessing to stop reading and go back to working on your writing. I myself have been working on developing a writing process that works for me since I was nine, and I still don’t have a solid one. Every few years something pushes me to alter my process. I grow as a writer and realize that the way I’m approaching my words isn’t helpful, or it is but I’m ready for the next step. It’s okay to want to write and have a general idea of how you want to work, but to not have a clear conception of what that means in practice.
Focus: Focus on what you want to achieve with a piece. Different writers have different processes, and this allows them to focus at different times and in different ways. Do you write an outline to focus on what you want to say? Do you think about your audience and how you want to communicate to them? Do you want to express a certain feeling or thought? Do you edit your work before you let someone read it? These are all great questions to ask yourself before you sit down to draft something.
These are just a few of the things I think about when I sit down to write. No advice is one size fits all, and as always, you should take my advice with a grain of salt. Everybody’s different, and there are different degrees of discipline and seriousness when it comes to writing. Some people aim for professional careers, and some just aim for fun, or an outlet. What do you think about when you write?
Seriously, though. Ouch. My pride. My head. My lungs. My throat. In that order, I reckon. Just what’d I do this time? I tried to quit smoking cold turkey. Big whoop. All it takes to ease that particular anxiety and solvet that problem is a bummed cigarette, right?
I left my Nicorette at home, only to realize on the bus ride to work that I was without my back-up plan. About an hour into a 10:30 to 6:30 midshift, I broke, and broke hard. I’d planned for something like this. (Not this, but something like this.) I gave a coworker my last, nearly full pack of smokes the day before with the stipulation that I had the license to bum shamelessly till the pack was gone between the two of us, and went a cool twenty hours without a coffin nail. Felt good.
Felt real good.
The hardest times of the day for me are the morning walk to the bus and the moment I get off my shift in the evening. It’s so ingrained in me that I deserve a cigarette to get me through my shift and celebrate when it’s over. When I got through the bus ride without transforming into the world’s most useless chimney, I was pleased. Not proud, but almost. I bought myself a good cup of cofee and nursed it while I ate a sandwich before work. (Woah. Lunch at ten in the morning. Talk about self love.)
I think I may have blacked out a little around the moment when I took a nose dive as the need-bubble in my chest threatened to pop. I don’t remember what kind of stress triggered me.
All I managed to squeak out to a coworkr was, “…Nicotine…withdrawal…”
His immediate response: “You poor thing! You’re doing that to yourself?“
Yup. I did that to myself. The coworker with my pack of smokes wandered up to see what the fuss was about and immediately fed me one of my Newports. My coworker covered me so I could take my fifteen early. I ran outside into the sunshine and out of the parking lot and inhaled and felt…
Not calm at all.
So began the drawn out sensation of anticipating some kind of impending doom–a phrase we use a lot in my mom’s side of the family. The sandwich and coffee forgotten, I succumbed completely, stripped of my defenses, and proceeded to experience a multitude of very physical symptoms of anxiety. Distorted perspective (the setting of my life became Caligarian, as it’ll do when my mind tries to pull away from the immediate horror of a panic attack), dizziness mounting into nausea and a bad case of the spins, shaking and a heightened issue with my breathing.
There was a piece of me that didn’t think I was gonna make it through the day on my feet–I really didn’t.
I worked through a panic attack that lasted about five hours, and as the panic attack grew, so did that little point in the back of my mind that sharpens into depression. I became hopeless quickly, and felt as though I was sinking into the earth, a warm corpse for the worms to blindly nibble on.
All for want of a cigarette, a pacifier, something that opens your lungs for a moment only to cut the breath out of you a moment later.
But, with the help of the people around me, I got through the anxiety first, and then had to deal mainly with the hopelessness and the dizziness. Tough combo. The coworkers I trusted stuck close to me, and eventually I was dosed with the CBD (a supplement we sell), and that, and the coping mechanisms in my employ, helped me mellow out.
The last hour of my shift was fine. I was helpful and productive, joked with cashiers and customers, and had a blast because I didn’t feel like I was both violently physically and mentally ill. It’s amazing, the kind of perspective a sharp contrast like that will give you.
Did I eff it all up, though?
Maybe. Here’s the thing–I knew I had a strong chance of becoming episodic while I forced myself through withdrawals, thus the pressing need for the Nicorette to get me through that very tender second day. When I thought I could just push through it–well, okay, former me. But trying to push through it while I’m dealing with stress (even good stress) at work, man. That was dumb. And it didn’t have a small consequence; it threw my social anxiety into a place of utterly hopeless abandon.
I was bummed last night, and I’m bummed today.
Quite frankly, I’m hella embarrassed that I shot myself in the foot, and had to use tools to quiet and work with the strong emotional needs I was experiencing.
When I was a kid, my mom took me to horse lessons for a little while. They put me on a massive animal, and I fell off. Don’t remember how often or how much, but I remember landing in the dirt and thinking, Well, it was a good run, ol‘ girl, time to go home. What did I do? I got right back on that horse–because my mother made me.
I see a fork in the road here, now. A choice. I re-upped on Newports after a few hours of sitting at home last night, twiddling my thumbs. I have a pack in the breast pocket of my jacket, sitting in there, warm and cozy and totally evil. I could wait to quit until I felt more stable, got a little further away from this panic attack. Or–and this is the option that scares me, puts the fear of God into me absolutely–I could get back on that horse without a saddle or the reigns.
I smoked a cigarette this morning, and the choking nauseated feeling was so intense I almost didn’t finish it. The addiction was so strong, I almost lit another one.
Whether I smoke this pack through and hold onto a shred of my sanity for another day (that’s all it’ll last me anyway), or whether I gift it to that coworker so I can’t chain smoke in every spare moment, it’s going to be okay. There’s always time to work on myself and get me to a place where I’m comfortable being better.
My brain keeps telling me that I’m trapped between a rock and a hard place, but the truth is that I’m closer to being squeezed between two totally viable options. Am I frustrated with myself? Yup. Did I almost punch someone in the nose yesterday when they said the trick to quitting smoking is to not start in the first place? Uh-huh. But am I strong, whether I feel strength in me or not? Sure. That’s a strong sure.
I’m gonna be honest, strangers. I don’t feel it today. I feel like an effin failure.
But if I’m being honest with myself, I know I just feel like a bit of a failure. There’s a huge distinction between practicing, aquiring experience, and becoming a failure. In a way, I did all three, but that doesn’t make me the latter. Not by a long shot.
I could have titled this, “why i need to quit smoking,” but I didn’t. Why? Simple answer to this one. I’ve known smokers who had emphysema. They’ve come into my work and I’ve sold them cigarettes. No, it wasn’t great for my soul, but when you work at a gas station you don’t really have the luxury of choosing, do ya?
The bottom line is that you rarely need to do anything in life. You don’t need to take care of yourself. You don’t need to be kind to people you care about. You don’t need to go to work or function in society or remember to respect yourself or someone else or anything.
People want to do these things because, let’s face it, people are actually mostly good. Nobody really wants to suffer. Suffering may be comfortable at certain times and to certain people, but strip that element away, and you find a place no one truly wants to be.
Where am I now?
I’m in a place I don’t want to be, and cigarettes are putting me there. My reason for wanting to quit smoking has changed over the past couple of years. At first, I wanted to quit smoking for superficial reasons. I wanted to smell like a human again, instead of an ashtray. I wanted my money back, all the hundreds of dollars I spend on cigarettes a month. (The money pit that is my habit sucks about $150 to $300 a month outta my wallet, and that’s just not cool.) I wanted to be free of addiction because I’ve had addiction shape me from outside influences, and I just didn’t like the idea of it.
What I didn’t have was a clear conception of how it affects me physically and emotionally.
Fast forward to about a year ago. I somehow managed, by the grace of God, to quit smoking for a month and a half. It made me episodic (I manically furnished our entire studio during that month and a half and bought maybe half a dozen wallets, which is half a dozen too many for my tastes and needs.) It didn’t last. My mom fell sick for a minute and while I didn’t have to pick up a cigarette—nobody was forcing my hand—it was a very convenient excuse to reacquaint myself with a dear, old frenemy.
Things just haven’t been the same since.
My body adjusted to not smoking very quickly. The withdrawal didn’t last more than a few days, and the urges became mere curiosities pawing over memories. When I started up again, things were much worse than they’d been before I quit. The tickle in my throat that I’d grown used to became a hellish postnasal drip, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation that I was constantly choking on myself. My lungs tightened, and breathing became difficult. I became more sensitive to the smell of my cigarettes as it clung to my favorite jackets.
It’s been almost a year that I’ve been choking, breathless and pungent. I’ve had moments where I was able to quit for a day, here and there, and the relief was almost instant. I could actually breathe when I woke up the next morning. I had time to myself again, instead of time devoted solely to carcinogens. I felt great. Until I was crying, tears rolling down my face—because I remembered that I was really addicted to cigarettes, and felt those sudden, overwhelming cravings for a cigarette, my poison pacifier.
What are my options? Well, I feel a little trapped some days. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t. If that’s what it boils down to, I choose my long term physical health over something that calms me down short term and makes me feel crumby long term.
I think it’s time to quit again, this time for good.
It’s super difficult for me to wake up in the morning for a couple of reasons (I’m sleepy, for one, and I’m stressed, for another, and when I’m not stressed I’m usually anxious), but once I’m up, it’s time to work on my morning routine.
Wait. Stop. Why?
I’m at a point in my life where a lot of things are more stable than they’ve ever been. I can pay my rent, and I like where I live. I’m in a healthy, long term relationship. I’ve curated my support system to include kind, caring, understanding people. I eat regularly, and I have strong goals to focus on. I’m on a medication that stabilizes me better than anything else I’ve taken, and my mood swings are mainly reduced to slow blips of irrational joy and the occasional nose dive.
Plus, I have a dog now.
Most of this is relatively new to me. I was in straight survival mode for most of my teenage years up until about a year ago. There were times when I was hecka broke, and times when I was taken care of physically. It never seemed to make a huge difference, because I wasn’t properly medicated and I had zilch in the way of regular, healthy coping mechanisms.
I never really had the headspace to work on myself, but now that I do, I’ve found that I really enjoy working on my morning routine. Furthering my stability creates more opportunities to feel safe and happy.
I’m a big fan of being happy, turns out. And not just over-the-top manic happy. I mean happiness without the out of body experiences, the rage, the grandiose, out of balance ideas. Just straight, even keeled happiness. It’s good stuff.
Plus, having a set program for the morning really helps my morning anxiety fade to the background because instead of focusing on my constantly impending doom, I’m focused on being productive, and I’m working on things that just make me feel good.
So what do I try to do every morning?
I wash my face, hop into the shower, and get dressed and ready for the day.
I take Dot for a walk, and when I get back I write non-fiction. (This could be a personal journal or this blog. Just depends on how I feel.)
I work on my fiction.
I clean the house a bit and organize my to-do list so I don’t feel lost when I remember something I had to do yesterday halfway into today.
This might not sound like much to some, and it may seem like a lot to others. I hate being rushed in the morning (it makes me nervous, thinking I might be late for work or an appointment), so I like to give myself an hour for each blocked out item. Waking up four hours before I’ve got to leave for work means an earlier bedtime for me but I don’t necessarily mind that. It seems to give a little more structure to my nights and think about how I manage my post-workday hours.
There are definitely days when doing all of this, or even most of it, just isn’t a real thing for me. When I have to wake up at four to get to the bus by five so I can be at work at 6:30, all I can really convince myself to do is take a quick shower, drink my cup of coffee, and tap out a few comforting words on my computer before stumbling out the door.
Then there are days when I have the time but I lack the will to work on my day’s structure. These are the days I sleep in, skip the shower, work on my private journal for a couple of hours, forget the fiction, and leave the house a mess. Sometimes I need that break, especially when my anxiety is totally blown up for some or no reason. This might happen if I have a glass of wine the night before (that’ll trigger a depressive, anxious morning if I’m not careful), or stay up late watching YouTube videos.
There are days when I’m just straight up self-indulgent. I don’t wanna write fiction, ‘cos that’s hard. Some days, yeah. I’m a little lazy. But when I take that step backwards and refuse to do what I need to feel healthy throughout the day, I generally suffer. I feel more moody, less supported by my own actions.
For me, my effort is key. Lately, I’ve been dropping off on the weekends. It can be difficult for me to motivate to wake up around eight or nine on a day off, and I’m generally grumpy if I sleep in past ten. I sleep in because I know I don’t have to leave the house, and that means I spend the day tired and isolated, instead of positive and energized. That’s a problem, and I’m working on it.
So I definitely have things to work on. Mondays are hard too, because I’m generally out of practice from my slumpy weekend. It’s hard to go from 0 to 60, so I tend to work into it as my five day work week goes on. Consistency is key, and consistency is going to require practice and building up the muscle memory to reach my routine goals.
So–now that I’ve gotten my daily words in, I think it’s time to slip away and give Dot her morning walk, and think about tomorrow’s words.
I have something to confess: I poison myself on the regular, and most people are really cool with it.
Isn’t that strange?
Lemme explain. I picked up a cigarette at the tender age of fifteen, and just about never looked back. I’d been severely depressed for four years by then, and that may have had an effect on my sense of self-preservation—but I was also growing deeply disillusioned by things people I was close to said and did. It was a very frustrating point in my life, and I thought that my family and friends were being awfully phony.
The kicker was when someone close to me, a staunch anti-cigarette presence in my life since I can remember, the kind of person that railed against all second-hand smoke all the time, gave me a hug and I smelled…
…oh, I smelled my mother on her.
Yep. She smelled like stale tobacco and it hit my olfactory sense, a total shock to my physical and emotional systems. Well, I’d seen movies before. I knew how glamorous a habit it was to pick up. I figured that if this person had somehow become a smoker, there was no reason I shouldn’t be. Did I need another reason to pick up a coffin nail and pop it into my mouth?
It was a couple weeks before I picked up my first cigarette, but I eventually became frustrated enough to abandon advice I’d followed faithfully up to that moment, and stole a cigarette out of my mom’s purse during another visit. I waited till that night to smoke it, and it made my stomach sick.
When I spent more time with my mom, I had access to cigarettes. I smoked one a day for about a year. Eventually the hours-long nausea bout that inevitably followed a cigarette faded, and I began to smoke more than the requisite cigarette a day.
Long story short, I’ve been smoking half a pack to a pack everyday since. I remember thinking that if I was addicted to something physical, it would give me something more real to focus on than my depression. Little did I realize then how physical depression is, and it wouldn’t be for another four or five years that I would be diagnosed with a mood disorder.
The moral of the story? I’m not sure, to be totally honest. I never really thought, in all of those breathless years, of quitting in more than a cursory way. I tried a couple of times, always cold turkey—I found that when I slowed down one day, it made me double up the next—and it just didn’t work. I would try to go a day without smoking and there would always come a moment when I stepped out onto the street, only to look over and see someone pressing a filter to their lips. It never mattered how broke I was, or how badly the nicotine exasperated my anxiety. Cigarettes came before rent and sanity.
Then I met my fiancé.
He changed that for me. All of a sudden, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with someone. I wasn’t relying on Kurt Vonnegut quotes for guidance—I no longer wanted to commit suicide through smoking. So began, and so continues, a very long journey to quit smoking cigarettes. It’s been two years that I’ve had the kind of support that allows me to hold onto hope and keep trying. Some weeks are better than others. Some months are better than others. But at the end of the day, every day, I’m determined to try to do right by my body and the people I love. Sometimes you just don’t have the option of giving up on yourself.
The above picture is provided courtesy of Mighty Mouse, who fricken loves his selfies.
Okay, I’m lyin. I took the picture of the cat. Unfortunately, we just don’t live in a world where we have cats capable of operating cameras, which I really don’t think is a cat problem. I think it’s a camera problem. Why the prejudice against photographer cats? There ARE NO photographer cats, you say? Exactly. It’s too hard for them to get into the industry with their tiny little paws. For shame.
But it’s okay. There’s still hope for internal calm because we’re not talking about photography today (or probably any day, unless you want to start that conversation), and we’re not really talking about cats either. We’re talking about something I often find very unpleasant.
Waking the hell up.
Yeah, waking up’s a beezy for a lot of people that don’t consider themselves morning people, but there’s more to it than the simple urge to stay in bed till the sun’s higher in the sky.
Are you one of those people that experience anxiety when you wake up?
A lot of the time, that’s me, and I know I’m not alone in this. There are a lot of different factors that feed into my morning anxiety, but whatever the reasons behind it, one thing is consistent: morning anxiety makes it righteously hard to wake up, because when the alarm goes off and you know that your body’s going to hit you with an extra dose of irrational stress, you don’t want to wake up.
My fiancé and I have totally different methods for waking up as a result of the unique causes of our morning anxiety. His anxiety only pops up if he has to wake up early, and an alarm set for him exacerbates that to unbearable levels. Luckily for him, he works evening shifts and this works great for him. His body is able to naturally wake up around the time he’s got to be up if he does happen to have an early obligation. It still grates on his soul to be up before 10am, but it’s not devastating for a once in a while thing.
I, on the other hand, have a different bone to pick with mornings.
They’re like an exclusive club, and I want in. I would love to consider myself a morning person. My job requires me to work a variety of shifts, so in the course of a week I find myself waking up at 4am, 8am, and 9-10am. That’s a lot of waking up (generally once per day, at least), and a lot of alarms. I’m what you would call a heavy sleeper, and always have been. I set…
…for the love of gosh, don’t judge me…
…four to five alarms every morning. It’s indefensible, obviously, but I totally sleep through the first three. And I usually snooze them.
Big reveal: for hours.
I wasn’t always this way. When I was twenty I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The doc I saw put me on Seroquel, which is a hell of a drug. Main side effect? Sedation. Little did I know at the time that sedation would be the biggest side effect I struggle with. It’s my least favorite out of the side effects I’ve experienced from medications, and I’m not sure, but that might have roots in taking Seroquel. The thing about that particular prescribed medication is that it knocks everybody who takes it the hell out.
Knowing that I was going to have to wake up after at least ten hours of sleep and not be able to stop slurring and weaving for roughly four hours after wakng up began a pattern of anxiety I still haven’t shaken off.
So, um, yeah. I don’t have very tolerant feelings to being drowsy anymore.
Before Seroquel and during my years of taking it (okay, and even now sometimes), I struggled with depression.
Here’s what waking up to a hideous depression feels like–there’s that moment when you realize you’re awake, and suddenly a weight is dropped onto your chest and tears are bursting out of your eyes because you know you’re being thrown back into the ring, and you don’t have the fight in you to defend yourself against any of the negative thoughts and feelings seeping into you like water into lungs. Waking up to an ongoing, thick depression is like drowning out of water.
It got to the point that even when I wasn’t depressed, the learned response to waking up was a hot mess of anxiety revolving around waking up my body in a healthy manner, and waking up my brain in a way that made me feel comfortable facing the day and all the trials and tribulations it might hold for me.
The way I handle my morning anxiety depends on the morning, and how I build my morning routine accordingly. There are days when I experience a lot of empty rage in response to my anxiety in the morning, and that really depends on how I’m woken up. There are lots of little things that can upset my tender sensibilities early in the day, the main one being a lack of creamer. God help the soul that drinks the last of the (almond) milk and doesn’t leave me enough to transform my bitter black coffee into a delicious creamy beverage.
The rage I experience in this situation is definitely going to be considered silly by some. But I maintain that just because an emotion isn’t warranted by an external situation doesn’t mean that it’s silly.
One of the ways I manage my morning anxiety, and getting myself to the point where I can even think about following a morning routine, is working on managing my just-woke-up feelings. Part of that is allowing myself to feel the things I’m feeling. Y’know. Sitting with the feeling. Breathing through it. Part of managing my emotional state involves asking myself questions about my feelings. The big one–is it rational? In other words, is it an appropriate response to the situation I’m dealing with, or is it a feeling that’s blown out of proportion? Just because a feeling’s valid to me and the way I perceive myself and my emotional context does NOT mean that it’s an appropriate response to something.
Yeah, sometimes bae forgets to replace the last of the milk. Late night hot sauce benders lead to chugging my fav bland beverage, and that leads to my morning rage inducing crisis.
What do I do? I deep breathe and problem solve. When I lived miles away from any milk source (like a convenience or grocery store, not…other things…) that meant finding coping mechanisms to calm myself down.
There’s no one solution to fixing anxiety. It’s monster with a lot of features (claws, bulging eyes, razor sharp, gnawing teeth, etc, etc.), and there are a lot of pieces to making it subside, at least to a functional level. I’ve talked to a lot of people about anxiety in general and I’ve heard of a lot of ways to cope with it. This should go without saying, but everything I laid out in this post is very personal, and doesn’t extend to all people with morning anxiety. E’erybody’s different, and that’s actually helpful. It opens up different perspectives and ways to deal with anxiety.
The goal is to be healthy–not to subscribe to an idealized form of what health should be.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name’s Audrey, and I’m a little hungover this morning (it’s 1:35pm). I woke up today feeling like I’d been runover by a truck (not an infrequent feeling when I wake up dehydrated), and ended up walking to the 7/11 down the block to buy a pack of smokes. Yeah, I know. I’m still trying to quit, but sometimes you need a break from the kind of grueling soul-crushing pain that inspires. I ended up sucking down my Newport somewhere between 7/11 and my little apartment building, seated behind a bus stop, slumped over in yesterday’s clothes with only half of yesterday’s make-up hanging onto my skin.
So I’m thinking–and I’ve been thinking for a while now, mulling it over in the back of my head–that I need a change. A smarter set of tools to manage my self care, my attitude towards challenges (both good and bad), and my progress towards goals. Y’know; I need to explore a little more, reach out of my comfort zone, and start connecting with people and places and ideas that really matter to me.
Sure, people in magazines and TV shows don’t need this kind of crapola. They wake up with fresh, glowing skin every morning and bounce from objective to objective in their daily lives without a negative thought, no sighing allowed. Perfect people don’t have to work on the way they internally process the world around them. Duh. They’re perfect.
I need this kind of crapola.
It’s not just because I’m bipolar and tend to swing high and low (sometimes real low). It’s not just because I’m an amateur writer trying to figure out how to have the wherewithall to make my craft a stronger feature of my life. To be honest, there’s really only one ‘just because’ that suits me.
It’s just because I’m human, damn it.
If anyone, myself included, is going to label me, let’s start with that one.
So here I am, drinking coffee and working on a blog (something I’ve wanted to do for the past decade, but really never had even more than half the nerve that posting something honest required). Join me while I talk to myself, and feel free to drop a word yourself.