My Brain in Pictures

There’s a lot going on in here…

I have a lot going on right now, but don’t we all? With anxiety, though, “having a lot going on” is as much an internal thing as it is external. For every outside “thing” happening in my life—changes at work, an upcoming conference, adapting my schedule to go to the gym—there are at least two or three things happening in my head.

Overwhelmed and Overrun

There are a couple of nightmares I tend to have when I’m really stress out. In one, my home is infested with bugs: wriggly ones, skittering ones, flying ones, big and small. They’re everywhere and I can’t get away. The other is usually me facing some sort of enormous natural disaster: fire, hurricane, tornado, flood.

Giant Wave Tiny Boat.jpg
original here

I am cognizant of feeling a sense of dread sometimes, of that squeeze in my chest that tells me panic is trying to take over. I suppose my subconscious depicts panic as bugs and tsunamis.

Weight of the World

With the state of the world right now, my… hero complex? Sounds too grandiose. My “I have to fix everything” complex comes into play. I want to do more, be more of an activist, but I just can’t handle it right now. So then I feel personally guilty for not single-handedly fixing things for my fellow humans. The weight of that (unnecessary and frankly absurd) guilt presses down on me, as the anxious part of my brain screams at me to “DO SOMETHING!”

godzillafoot
from Godzilla, 1998

I tell myself that just taking care of myself, doing my best in my work, and being as kind and compassionate to those around me as I can is enough right now. And sometimes I even believe it.

Frozen in Fear

There have been times when my depression and anxiety have paralyzed me. I can recall a time many years ago, when I sat on my sofa the entire day and stared at the TV. I’m not even sure it was on. I had a million important things to do and could not figure out where to start. The fear of failure left me unable to make a decision, any decision.

deer-in-headlights
original here

I’m better about that now, but I still tend to procrastinate out of fear of making the wrong choice. That seems to be a common issue, so at least I’m not alone there.

Hanging by a Thread

Recently, when I was going through a particularly bad patch, I remember telling someone that I felt like an action movie, paused as the bomb has 1 second left on the clock. That sense of dread I mentioned earlier comes into play here. Sometimes, when things are really bad, I feel like a tightrope walker or a mountain climber: one wrong move, and I’m done for.

cliffhanger
from Wikipedia, “Free Climbing

Aside from the fact that I’m not fond of heights (well, not so much the height, as the concept of plummeting from it), this image reminds me that sometimes just staying on the path of one’s life is a struggle. You can’t always just stroll along. Sometimes you have to cling to it with white-knuckled determination, just to keep from losing your way.

I feel like things may be looking up. But this past year has been a series of ups and downs, and I’m not sure whether I’m reaching the top of the cliff or just the crest of another wave.

Climb

Climb

Looking up at a circle of light far above
I want so much to be in that place
To feel the breeze on my skin
To see the world around me
To dance and to spin and to stroll away
 
The walls are so smooth, I can’t find a hold
The circle of light is so far above
The air is stagnant and smells of decay
All I can see is darkness around me
I stretch searching hands below and around me
Looking for purchase, seeking escape
 
I want to climb, I need to climb,
I must make that climb, but I can’t see a way
I will make that climb when I find the way
I will see the world, feel the breeze on my face
But now I can only raise my face
To that circle of light far above, and wait.

Gratuitous Guilt and the Burden of not being a Burden

I think I apologized to a wall once…

A few weeks ago, I accidentally disposed of my recycling in the dumpster instead of the recycling bin. I felt so bad about it that I considered trying to go in and get it. I did the same thing earlier today, and actually used a bungee cord to fish the bag out of the (thankfully empty) dumpster so I could move it to the bin.

A couple of days ago, I turned down an outing with friends because I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie they were going to. I felt the need to apologize several times to the friend who invited me, even though I know she is a kind and generous person who wouldn’t be angry at me for that.

And just the other day, I learned that my ex seems lonely across the country in his new life. While at first I was sort of glad, later on I cried over it, feeling so guilty about it. Even though it was his decision and his decision alone to break up with me and move away.

When we were together, he told me I apologize too much. My first instinct was to apologize for that. I apologize for everything, even things that I have no control over. I think I apologized to a wall once.

If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, I’ll apologize for the typhoon it caused in Japan.

A corollary to my guilt over everything that happens ever is that I try to avoid that guilt by never bothering anyone ever. Apparently what I wanted to be when I grew up was “not a burden.” My motto is “I’m okay. I’m always okay.” I have worked to be self-sufficient so that I don’t have to burden anyone else with my foibles, my quirks, my crazy brain.

I know I was not a burden to the ex. And yet, based on our conversations around the breakup, I ended up feeling that way. That he left because I was too much trouble. My logical side can counter this with example after example of how I have managed to take care of myself over the years, and how I not only took care of myself, but also took care of him during our relationship. And I know that the times he took care of me were not infrequent, but also were totally normal in the context of a serious relationship.

And yet. I go to my friends for support and feel guilty for doing so. I have been asked how I would feel if the roles were reversed: if one of my friends needed me, would I think of them as a burden? “I would just want to help them,” I replied. “So why is it different for you?”

I have no clear answer for that, except to say that I have this deeply ingrained need to not bother anyone, as well as this guilt for the times in which I may have done so. I don’t know where it comes from. If one were to liken the human brain to a library (which, of course, I would do–see the name of the blog), mine contains a book that holds the answer to this and many other “why am I so weird and crazy?” questions. That book is large, with densely printed text and massive amounts of scribbled marginalia. But the book has been mis-shelved on a range of shelves with similar looking books. That range of books is in an old dusty room with a locked door whose key is missing. And the door is hidden behind a massive microfiche cabinet that no one has touched for years. And I don’t know the room exists anyway.

I’m tired of feeling guilty for being who I am. It’s a hard habit to break. I want to do what is expected of me, to make sure everyone around me is happy (or at least content) and that I am not causing anyone any trouble. But it’s exhausting. Sometimes I feel as if I’m standing at the edge of a massive storm, and the only thing holding it back is me doing everything right. This is a ridiculous thought. But I know that there are others out there who feel the same way.

Someday I hope to discover that secret room, to break down a wall and avoid that locked door entirely. Perhaps I will discover why I strive so hard to please others at the expense of my own peace of mind. Or, at least, I’ll make sure the books in the room are shelved correctly.

 

 

Mixed Messages

Mixed messages

A girl can be anything in this day and age
Her mind and her body are no one’s but hers
She’s free to explore and to learn all she can
Science and reason will improve the world

Emotional creatures like women can’t lead
She must smile and give hugs and kiss on command
If she’s not a mother then she’s not a woman
Progress is evil and must be restrained

Men like strong women

Obey without question

Be pretty, be sexy

Women are sluts

Using her talents and knowledge is vital
She can think what she wants in the land of the free
Everyone’s equal and deserves basic rights
She can live how she wants, walk in public with pride

Boys don’t like smart girls, she should play dumb
She must keep her thoughts private to be safe in the crowd
Some deserve scorn because they are different
If she does not conform she’s a hag or a whore

Be true to yourself

Be a good little girl

Live an authentic life

Live a perfect life

Her feelings are hers, she does not have to hide them

She is ordered to smile by strange men in the streets

She is told she is special and loved and respected

She is told she’s a sinner, unworthy of grace

Her intelligence shines and brings her success

She is never to boast, she must humble herself

Why aren’t you happy?

Why are you angry?

Why won’t you smile?

Smile, bitch, smile.

Woke up too early again…

Woke up too early again. My emotional mind taking over, telling me nothing will ever be good again. Sadly, these days, my logical mind seems to agree.

Grief over loss of love has weighed me down for months. I struggled under a heavy load of pain and despair, trying to step forward even as greedy, groping hands pulled me down into the earth. Sometimes I sink into the pit. But I cling to the edge, to the walls, holding on and refusing to drop further.

Slowly, slowly, I have been shrugging off the weight, climbing out of the hole. But now I feel heavier. Gravity has increased, pulling me back down into darkness.

I know I cannot control anything but my own actions and reactions. I say this to myself often. I cannot change what has happened. I can only respond to it as best I can. But anxiety is a seductive, narcissistic companion, curling around me, snaking its arms through mine, pulling my head toward it and whispering into my ear: telling me I am in control of it all, and thus I am responsible. Other people’s decisions were and are because of me, because of my failings. I am at fault.

Fear for the future–for my own and for my world–twists my insides to knots. The lump in my throat, the burning in my gut, the pain behind my eyes tell me I am not safe. And the seductive companion tells me I can change things, I can make it right. If only I knew the perfect word, the perfect deed. The act that will return things to right and bring my happiness back to me. The one weird trick that will save the world.

As my emotional mind becomes overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility, and my logical mind tries to reason its way out of pain, my primitive lizard mind simply panics. It screams at my brain, my gut, my blood, my heart: Prepare to run! Prepare to hide! Prepare to fight!

Or, perhaps, prepare to curl up and accept the end.

Sometimes I cannot decide which would be best.

 

The Path

Once upon a time there was a huge, dark forest. Tall, twisted trees reached for the sun, their outstretched limbs sending the ground below into a cold, everlasting gloom. Primordial vines snaked around these trees and grasped at the air, searching for warmth, and light, and purchase. No breeze stirred the leaves, and the air was still and silent.

In this forest there was a path. Sometimes it went straight forward, and sometimes it would wind around the huge gray tree trunks, slinking under knotted roots and hiding in the litter of old leaves and twigs and dirt. Sometimes the path would disappear into a congestion of vines that twisted and grasped and struggled for light. But the path was always there.

And on this path there was a girl.

The girl walked forward, all alone, one step in front of the other. The girl was afraid of the forest. It was murky and gray and silent and cold, and the path was often hard to see. Sometimes in the shadows she thought she could see glowing eyes of unknown creatures. Sometimes in the quiet she could hear soft cries, and they sounded hungry and cruel. She did not feel safe. She wanted to hide away in the hollow of a tree. She wanted to turn back and find a way out. But she couldn’t. She had to walk the path. And she had to do it alone. No one else could walk it.

She continued on, one step in front of the other until she came to a vast chasm. She stood near the edge and peered down into the abyss, but could not see the bottom. She looked to the left and to the right, but she could only see the huge gray trees reaching up into the equally gray sky and fading into the distant gray mist. Nearby, the trees leaned over the chasm as thick grasping vines trailed off the edge and down into the abyss.

A glance behind her revealed only the darkness through which she had walked. She looked across and could see the other side, but it was so very far away. Was there no way forward? She looked down at the path and realized that it did continue across the chasm. But where before it was wide and relatively safe to walk, now it was no more than a narrow plank, stretching into the distance across the chasm.

The girl did not understand. Was it safe? It was so thin, and so narrow. Would it support her? Could she balance? She was no acrobat. There was barely room for her to stand with her feet together. Why was this her path? It didn’t make sense. She grew more afraid. Was the path a trick? Was it designed so that she would fail, so that she would fall? Tears distorted her vision, and she found she could not move. She had to walk the path, but if she did she would surely fail. The only path she could walk, the path that only she could walk, seemed destined to kill her.

As she stood at the edge, staring at the plank, she heard the cries of the menacing unknown creatures that lurked in the shadows. The cries grew closer. She could not stay here. She could not go back. There was no way around. She looked up into the cloud-darkened sky, which grew blacker with the coming night. There was nothing else to do, but go forward.

One step. She paused as the plank seemed to give slightly under her weight. She took a second step. Stood on the plank. It held. She told herself not to look straight down. She couldn’t look ahead without fearing she would fall. She turned her face slightly down toward the plank, so that she could see just a few steps ahead. Then she took a third step.

Her steps were small. She wanted to run across, to get this over with as soon as possible. But her fear kept her nearly frozen. She could only move her feet, slowly, ever so slowly. One step in front of the other.

After a while the girl stopped and looked up. Her heart seemed to slip from its housing. Had she made no progress at all? Carefully, she twisted her upper body so that she could glance behind her. The edge of the chasm was mere yards away. She had moved forward, but there was so far to go. And in the shadowy mist that surrounded her, the other side looked even more distant than before she stepped on the plank.

Returning her gaze to the plank, she took another step. Then another. One step in front of the other. She willed herself not to look ahead, not to see how distant the other side was, not to see how hopeless it was. Her foot slipped a little to the side and she wobbled. The plank vibrated slightly. She froze, her breath caught.

Don’t fall. Don’t look down. Don’t look ahead. Don’t look behind. Just keep walking.

The girl took a breath, and another. She began walking again.

She fought the urge to look up, but it was too late. Her eyes widened, then filled with tears. A few feet ahead, the mist had thickened into a blue-gray fog, into which the plank disappeared. She was surrounded by the fog, her breath joining it in shuddering clouds as she gasped. How far had she come? How far did she have to go? She trembled, and the plank trembled in response. She clinched her fists and tried to stop her body from shaking, but the shaking only increased until she knew that she would fall. In a panic she dropped into a crouch and gripped the sides of the plank with her hands. Splinters dug into her palms, but she did not move. She could not move. To move was to fall.

But to stay was to fail.

After a few moments her trembling had subsided. Have to move forward, she thought. She leaned forward until she was on her knees, her hands still clutching the plank. Slowly, experimentally, she slid one hand forward, then the opposite knee. Then the other hand, and the other knee.

Have to move forward. One hand, one knee.

Can’t fall. The other hand, the other knee.

Her hands, torn by the splinters, began to bleed, and she had to grip tighter to keep them from slipping. Sweat and tears dropped from her nose and beaded on the plank. One hand, one knee. The other hand, the other knee.

The fog was nearly black, and so cold. The girl shivered and the plank shivered in response. Then she heard it.

A creak of wood. The plank finally giving way? Or something else?

Is the plank breaking? Is something behind me? Is something waiting for me? I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die. Her mind bounced from one fear to the next, whirling around in despair, until she found herself crumpled against the plank, her eyes squeezed shut, her face pressed into the wood. She struggled to breathe, her chest fighting the exchange of air. I cannot go forward. I cannot walk this path. I cannot make it. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

She thought perhaps she should let go. Her bloody hands were barely holding on. She opened her eyes and found herself staring into the blackness below. It was waiting for her. It was right there. It would be easy to fall. It is impossible to go forward. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

 As the girl lay there, suspended above oblivion by no more than a few inches of wood, she heard herself whisper into the darkness. “Please. Help me.”

Silence, and cold, and darkness surrounded her. Hope seemed lost in the fog.

Silence, and cold, and darkness.

And a hand clasped her shoulder.

She jerked upward, the plank swaying slightly, and another hand gripped her other shoulder.

She looked up. To her left, barely visible in the gloom, was a woman. To her right, a boy. Each held on to her as she carefully pulled herself upward. They did not let go until she was standing, until the plank had stopped vibrating from her movements. Then the woman reached down and held the girl’s left hand. The boy clutched her right hand tightly.

“Are you angels?” She whispered.

“No,” said the woman with a smile.

The girl was confused. “How are you standing in mid-air?” she asked.

The boy said, “We’re not in mid-air.”

The girl looked down. Though the fog was thick, she could just barely see that the woman and the boy were each standing on what looked like wood. She peered into the murk and saw that each was on a plank that seemed to stretch into the distance alongside hers.

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“I’m walking the path,” the boy replied.

“So am I,” the woman said.

The girl said, “But I thought I was the only one who could walk this path.”

The woman smiled at her again. “Yes. You are the only one who can walk your path. But I am walking my path. And he is walking his.” She turned away and nodded toward the fog. “And they are each walking theirs.”

And now the girl could see, ever so faintly, other people in the distance. She looked from side to side and saw them on her left and her right. The woman held the hand of a man to her left. The boy held the hand of another boy to his right. And each held the hand of another. One beside the other, continuing into the fog.

“But I didn’t see you on the path; I didn’t see your planks here. I thought I was alone.”

The boy shrugged. “So did I. Probably so did everyone. But I guess sometimes we need help. And so we can find each other, and help each other.”

The man beyond the woman spoke up. “We may walk our paths alone, but where we need it most, they meet.”

The girl said, “But aren’t you afraid? What if we fall?”

The man said, “I was afraid. The chasm is so deep. I knew I would fall. But now, I see that this plank is part of a wider path.”

The girl looked at the planks and saw that they were only separated by an inch or two. If everyone walked together, no one could fail. Even if someone were to fall, the others’ planks would be there to stop them, and the others’ hands would be there to save them.

The woman said, “Are you ready to go forward?”

The girl nodded. “I think so.”

“Good,” replied the woman. She took a step. The man beside her took a step. The boy took a step. And the girl took a step.

And another.

One step in front of the other.

Together they moved forward, across the chasm, into the mist.

Soon twisted shapes emerged from the fog, and the girl saw that they were trees. The edge of the chasm appeared. Sighing in relief, she stepped from her plank onto solid earth. The path stretched before her into the trees.

The woman and the boy and all the others stepped from their planks and paused at the edge. As the girl watched, the people in the distance began to fade away. She looked up at the woman in alarm.

“I think this is where we part,” said the woman, and she too began to fade. The girl shook her head.

“Please don’t go,” she said, clinging to the woman’s hand, “I don’t want to be alone.”

The boy, now barely visible in the gloom, his hand cold in hers, said “We have to walk our paths alone.”

The woman nodded. “But if we need each other again, we’ll find each other. Our paths are separate from yours, but we each go forward.”

“Keep walking, and we’ll be walking with you,” the boy’s voice faded away as he vanished.

The woman smiled and whispered, “Keep walking. I’m walking too.” And she, too, disappeared.

The girl stood there in the dark forest, shivering from the cold. Tears dampened her cheeks. She looked back at the chasm and saw that the fog had thinned, revealing the vast gulf across which she had walked. The planks were no longer there.

I made this far, she thought. I can keep going.

She studied the path before her. It led forward, winding slightly around the trees, under roots and leaf litter and dirt, through clusters of twisting vines and into the distance. It was her path. No one could walk it but her. Walk it she must. And walk it she would.

She took a step. And another.

One step in front of the other.

Okay

My eyes are burning, but I am “okay.”
My heart is shredding. I say “I’m okay.”
Inside I’m wailing, but outside “okay.”
I’m retching, I’m bleeding, I’m always “okay.”

“Okay” is my armor, “okay” is my shield.
“Okay” is the wall between me and the world.
“Okay” is the answer when all others fail.
“Okay” I may say, but “okay” I don’t feel.

My spirit falters, but I’ll be “okay.”
I feel like I’m dying, but I’ll be “okay.”
I’m crawling through embers, but I’ll be “okay.”
I’m searching for refuge, but I’ll be “okay.”

One day I will laugh and I’ll feel I’m okay.
I’ll rise from the ashes and know I’m okay.
I’m broken, I’m shaken, but still I’m okay.
And someday I’ll stand and be more than “okay.”