Step One to Pulling Yourself Out of a Rut

You can’t be on top of the world all the time. Me personally? I spend half of my life at the bottom, trying to climb back up. Somewhere in between are those pestering phases that keep us from being completely happy and fulfilled, while also not relegating us entirely to rock bottom. This is what we all commonly can identify as being “in a rut”.

Here’s my personal timeline for how I’m currently wrestling the rut that I’m stuck in.

  • Realized I was in a rut
  • Wallowed in self-doubt and self-pity over numerous things in my life
  • Didn’t want to go to work ever
  • Took a personal inventory of all the things I didn’t like about my life
  • Did absolutely nothing to fix it
  • Felt worse
  • Holed myself away from the world to play video games
  • Avoided all social interaction and leaving the house in general
  • Eventually got sick of feeling this way
  • Decided to volunteer at an animal shelter
  • Actually showed up to orientation
  • Felt slightly better about doing something to help others
  • Stayed off video games all night
  • Had a semi-productive evening, accomplishing little things around the house
  • Already planning my next move. Perhaps a class to learn a new skill or fun thing? Up the ante on my language-learning? Both??
  • Outlined the various routes I am going to take to connect on more job opportunities
  • Reached out to friends about spending time together
  • Came up with several small-scale video ideas to do with the equipment I have (who needs a big budget or actually decent prosumer equipment? I have a canon rebel that hasn’t been used in awhile!)

So in short, the first step is realizing you are in a rut. But the real, actionable first step is to do something. Anything. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Making an effort, especially when you are committing your time to something, is one of the hardest things you can do (it is for me especially). I made the choice to get out of my head and my home though because that’s the best way to get out of that rut. Anything to connect with others and/or myself is an opportunity to rejuvenate my senses and purpose.

Looking back, I will realize that getting out of this rut was as simple as just climbing out.

Is This The End? Or The Beginning?

Tomorrow, I mark off a milestone that’s been a long time coming: a bachelor’s degree in video and film production. 10 years after I first started at a community college, I’m finally reaching that goal! It’s a moment I sometimes never thought would come. I took semesters off (having a baby will force your hand on that one). I took long-distance classes. I went part-time. It seemed so far off that I never really prepared myself mentally or emotionally for the end. I got so enamored by the journey that I forgot there was a destination.

I’ve learned a lot, and not necessarily just things I got graded on. I’ve made some great friends. I’ve had wonderful experiences. When hope and my understanding about my own future were both low, I still stuck to it, determined to at least finish.

I’ll admit–at times, the only thing that kept me going was the satisfaction of just finishing what I started. There are days I wonder if I’ll just end up in a full-time position at my current job, forgetting that I ever got my degree at all. Or that I’ll go back and get my Masters in English, the subject I originally majored in.

That’s another story though. The point is that I finished. I feel so many things: relief, excitement, joy, sadness, nostalgia, fear, uncertainty. Ahead looms student loans that haven’t forgotten me, though I’ve forgotten them; putting away my student discount for good (bye-bye, Adobe Creative Suite);  and losing that comforting reassurance that the library and my university login were just a commute away.

The most unexpected feeling I had though was regret. I don’t feel I’ve made the absolute most out of my college life. I could have gotten involved more in student organizations and doing things for my resume/reel–and sooner. I could have reached out more, to both fellow students and faculty. I could have stuck around after class, volunteered to do more.

But I got what I got. There’s no do-over. From here, I have to go on the available resources and connections I do have. The things I did learn, the people I do know and can still talk to, the paths I can take. Not only did one chapter end in my life, but another is just beginning. That journey could be even more fun than this one; we’ll just have to see.

For now though, I’m going to celebrate this one. 2018 is going to be a whole new ride.

This Blog Post Is Not Perfect

Six minutes. I only worked out for six minutes today, according to my watch. It was a wildly unorganized, completely spontaneous workout, too. Past Jessica would have balked at such lack of planning and skill (it wasn’t the most graceful or textbook workout).

While doing my lunges, taking far too many breaks in between “sets” (if you could even call them that), I couldn’t help but notice how messy my room was. The whole apartment really is way messier than I like to keep my home. Unwashed dishes, trash waiting to be taken out, mail piling up for weeks, and just about everything that doesn’t belong permanently on the coffee table haunts me every time I have to open my eyes and actually look at them, which is any time I’m in the room. I used to be obsessively clean, to the point that it drove me crazy, literally becoming an anxious mess if things were out of order. It would be easy to become like that again. Some days, it makes me scream in frustration. But I let it go.

That’s because things are better now. I live in a comfortable zone between mild discontent and peaceful acceptance that this is my life now and I have other priorities. I will clean if, and when, I feel like it. I owe this renewed perspective to mindfulness training, a staple of CBT therapy, that I’ve taught myself with the Pacifica app I’ve mentioned. It’s also helped me learning to get in touch with the root emotions behind my anxiety and addressing those base concerns, instead of feeding the anxiety with a coverup, like perfectionist cleaning habits.

I could look at my physical health in a similar way. I’m nowhere near the workout machine I used to be, with specific workout plans, special “rules” for my diet, and an entire mentality consumed by how I could lose more weight or eat even more “clean”. It was unhealthy how obsessed I was with being healthy. I don’t like the way I look now, but like the messy tables and laundry baskets in my life, I’ve achieved a comfortable level of acceptance with my own dissatisfaction.

I’ve made small changes in my life to benefit my health and wellness. I will continue to build on those changes and improve, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t appreciate where I am. Life in general, I’m learning, should be celebrated in every stage, for every victory. Not just big milestones.

I can look at the mess and be okay mentally because I have a script to write instead. I can do a six minute workout and think “that’s good enough” because I got my blood flowing and my heart rate up, at least. I can eat vegetables with ranch dip and be happy that I got the nutrients I needed, instead of bemoaning that I used such an unhealthy condiment to do so.

I’m getting better, I’m still not okay. No one is probably fully and completely okay with everything in their life though. And that’s okay.

[What I Did Today] It’s Just A List

This is me. You’ve seen me before. You know who I am.

But I wonder if I know her anymore. I’m totally different from the person I was a year ago, two years ago–God forbid we go any further back than that.

I fell into a vicious cycle of depression and anxiety around September of 2016. Truthfully, I haven’t recovered from it. Even more truthfully, I’ve done little to pursue help.

That’s what this blog is about: doing. Inspiration to take the next step, whatever that next step is. But for me, the next step is usually just getting out of bed and not thinking about killing myself, if I may just be so blunt. I have no answers or small steps for myself, so I’ve left the blog untouched.

My summer has been an extension, and a product really, of my depression. With an underwhelming combination of laziness and not wanting to put down the video games, I’ve neglected household chores of the smallest degree, as well as important career opportunities and social events (it remains to be seen which of these is most important).

I decided to do something different today. There’s that word “do”. I made a list of things I needed to do (there it is again!). All these different “next steps” I could be taking in the various facets of my life. It’s probably not comprehensive and it’s definitely not a daily task list. But it puts on paper all the pertinent things that I can pursue and reminds me of goals and tasks that I can accomplish.

To do and Achieve: Professional photos, update website/linkedIn, see if available footage on RATV can be an editing sample, need writing and editing experience, work on screenplay, find people to collab with, make meal plan, clean out drawer, oil change, car wash, volunteer, re-evaluate writing career
I can’t spell Achieve, but I can still do it.

It’s a nice, tangible list that can be tackled one bullet point at a time, and, if necessary, broken down into further steps (re-evaluating my writing career isn’t exactly a quick and easy thing to check off, for instance).

I should probably add to it “see counselor at my university” or something like that. I’ll take this tiny victory though for the smallest ounce of productivity that it is. My hope is that it will make me feel like things are more manageable and in control, and a lot less shitty.

It’s just a list. But it’s a start.

Gratitude Adjustment

I'm grateful for my job. It is a positive work environment that allows me to be successful and motivated. I'm grateful for kind and helpful coworkers (mostly), who make the workdays more bearable and fun. I'm grateful for my car. I drive a lot and put a lot of miles on it, so it's really nice to have a new engine that can handle it. I'm grateful for my boyfriend. He always takes care of me and gets me whatever I need.
Gratitude list from Pacifica

My last post was an almost-too-perfect-of-an-ending tale about how I’m feeling happy and content, despite my life being very much “in progress”. In fact, that was the whole point–that I haven’t reached any milestone to feel that way.

A big part of those “in progress” plans is my mental health. Coping with a mental illness (or 6) follows no linear path. You can feel like you are on the cusp of becoming The Most Awakened and Fully Actualized Spirit, and then something happens that knocks you back down to regular Fucked Up Human Being. I’m somewhere just above Fucked Up–maybe Fucked Up But There’s Potential.

The good thing about it not being linear is that you don’t have to start over. Once you have your meltdown, breakdown, or relapse, you can jump back in, more or less where you left off.

I’ve talked before about Pacifica and how helpful it is for tracking moods, setting self-improvement goals, and journaling (my fave part). I highly recommend you check it out if you want to make a small and easy, but effective change in your life. The trick though is the dirty P word: perseverance. Keep using it! Even if it’s not every day.

Pacifica is how I made the gratitude list in the picture above. Now, I hate gratitude lists. Let me tell you. I always feel so disingenuous coming up with these things because, I don’t know, there’s something somewhat false to me about reciting things you think you should be grateful for. But talking about positive memories is good for re-building the neural pathways in your brain so I really tried to take it seriously.

So I’m not just all talk when it comes to doing the dirty work to building a better me. It is work and it can get dirty (i.e. incredibly tedious), but I’m putting in the effort. There’s more changes to come for myself and more I want to do in every aspect of my life, but hey, I’m making progress.

And like I’ve been trying to say in the last post: progress makes perfect.

What Happiness Looks Like

To do: Amazon Rentals (crossed off), Sprint contract (crossed off) Haircut (crossed off), oil change, vacuum/carwash, FASFA, shots! (turn down for what?) Second column says Steps: Nutrition plan, self-help/mental health tool kit, church, writing; career/hobby, activism, volunteering.Today, for the first time in a very long time, I felt content and peaceful. I felt optimistic. I felt downright happy. 

This feeling has sort of been with me all day, but it just hit me tonight in the oddest way. I was putting away dishes while listening to Christmas music. A mundane, unmemorable task brought to my attention how happy I was. Strange to say the least.

But I think I know why.

Depression–on top of massive stress and an ever-growing to-do list–kicked my ass for the better part of 2016. Since my school semester ended, I have vowed to get more stuff done, even if “more” just meant “literally anything besides playing video games”. As such, I’ve accomplished a considerable number of things I have needed to get done, (not all of which are written on the list above). I’ve also been getting a steady paycheck again, which is a huge contributor to my self-sufficiency and not feeling like a huge piece of shit.

It seems a bit silly that being productive would fix so many of my problems, but for me? I’m a task-oriented, objective-fixated person. Crossing off a to-do list item is a victory. A victory! It’s obviously not a cure-all though; accomplishing every day tasks and errands isn’t going to help my self-esteem or my increased anxiety. However, maybe now I will actually have the mental energy to pursue help in those areas.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t feel happy or content because I’ve reached a particular goal. I am not at a milestone in life that has me saying, “I finally made it. I am so happy!” I’m a 28-year-old unmarried woman who is still in school with a lowly retail job and a second-rate apartment in a second-rate town. I am far from living the dream life.

But that’s the point! Happiness isn’t a destination! Hell, happiness isn’t even permanent. I, for one, have been prone to mood swings and just being a human being. So, what? I’m going to hold onto this. Because getting stuff done is a victory in that it’s progress. I’m moving onward and upward. That is what my crossed off bullet points are about. That’s what a tangible thing like accomplishments are about. Pushing forward. And you can be happy while you’re pushing. You don’t have to wait until you “get somewhere”.

So that’s what I’ll keep doing–and I’m going to keep playing the Christmas music, too. Tis the season and all.

Who Am I Without All the Adjectives?

With the place I’ve been in lately (spoiler alert: a really bad one), I’ve been searching for answers. It hasn’t been a perfectly linear journey, but the things I have found have been eye-opening.

Case in point: this wonderful, wonderful blog post from Therapy Beyond the Couch. It walks you through an exercise about your “deepest wound”–the darkest fears you harbor. After stripping yourself of the suit of armor you wear (descriptors you use for yourself, what you take pride in about yourself), what is left underneath?

For me, I would call myself passionate, ambitious, hard-working, articulate, intelligent, and devastatingly hilarious. Once upon a time, I would even call myself confident and attractive, like the girl in the post does herself. I am studying for a career field I actually want. I’m making improvements on a personal and professional level. I am striving toward accomplishments in various aspects of my life. I was so happy when I made those changes, too! I thought success was basically equatable to happiness, but I’ve proven that to be incredibly false.

So I’m not my accomplishments. According to this exercise, I’m not even the adjectives I use to describe myself. Who am I then?

That answer is not so simple because it all comes back to the deepest wound.

I think I know what mine is. My eyes welled up with tears as I read the original blog post. They overflowed for several minutes. I always hide from it because I’m an INTELLIGENT woman, okay? I’ve DONE stuff, you hear me? I’m GOING PLACES, damnit! Listen to me! I am SUCCESSFUL AND HAPPY, you ASSHOLES!!!!!

I’m afraid I’m not good enough. I’m afraid I’m not enough. Period. If I don’t have accomplishments to point to, goals that I’ve met, tasks that I’ve crossed off the list, what do I have to show for myself? I am literally asking myself this because I do not know. How else do people evaluate their self-worth? Or–hah, get a load of this–am I supposed to just believe I’m inherently worthy of love and validation?

I need proof. I need empirical data. I need the cold, hard facts to back up those cutesy, bullshit affirmations. Oh, I’m loveable, huh? Oh, okay. SURE. Based on what?

The blog post tells you how to connect with and release your deepest wound. I don’t know what mine wants. I don’t know how to make it better. I don’t know how to overcome this. It’s going to take a lot of work, like every other damn thing I’ve learned about myself. I’d like to stop learning and start actually changing. But change on this level, with regards to healing trauma and hauling around a mental illness or two, is like being given all the tools and materials to build a house, but having no training or blueprints to build.

So, naturally, I think I should do for my mental health what I would do in that house-building situation. Pay someone else more educated than me to deal with it.

Until I’m in a place to do that, how do I deal? By working my ass off at my job to prove my worthiness, of course! Look, I don’t have any other options right now. It’s either do that or crumble into a ball of anxiety, dread, and self-hatred. At least with the good work ethic I can ignore all the anxiety, dread, and self-hatred until after work.

One Tool in My Resource Toolbox

Since my soul-baring post about depression,  I knew I had to try something different. Anything. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

My answer? Using this Pacifica app more regularly. I downloaded it when I was still employed and very stressed, thinking it could help me.

It’s a very cool app that allows you to track your health and hygiene habits, update your mood daily, set goals and challenges for yourself, write journal entries, complete basic mental health exercises, and do meditations. Of course, it’s just one app, so it’s a bit limited as far as what it offers in those realms (you’re not going to get a whole therapist in there to do DBT with), but it’s a fantastic “little bit of everything” resource for someone like myself who is looking to start small and make a change.

The problem for me is I feel like a big ole piece of shit if I don’t do very well on my goals (or straight up don’t do them at all). So being the all or nothing person that I am, I’m going to stop using something that’s just become a way to showcase my lack of accomplishments. Seems the opposite of what the app intended.

But I’m fighting the feelings of guilt and failure and using it semi-regularly to track moods and habits, and to do meditations, even if I’m not doing it “right” or “well”. Because the point isn’t to do it perfectly or to get 100% completion on your habits and goald–it’s a way to assess where you really are on a given day or week and to help you make adjustments.

I especially love the journaling section of the app. You can write out your feelings in an unencumbered notepad-type block and say whatever you need to say, or you can upgrade to premium and choose from the positivity, gratitude, or thinking traps exercise. Each one has been helpful for me and has even caused me to mentally do these exercises in daily life. Oh, I’m feeling shitty? Let me try to think of things that make me happy or that I am grateful for. Not always easy, but hey, I’m trying.

The meditations are awesome too because they are developed by psychologists, so you know you’re getting the real deal. I’ve definitely needed more meditation in my life. The stillness in general with a focus on relaxed, deep breathing is so beneficial. There are special guided meditations though that use affirmations and the power of visualization to help you through stressful situations.

I’m not being paid at all to endorse this app. If I could, I would. But in fact, I’m not even advising you to specifically use this app. I am advising you to take a small step though. Any step! Maybe you could start journaling your feelings. Maybe you could write out goals for yourself for the next few weeks and months. Or if you want to just take it day by day, moment by moment, take a look at my Bare Minimum list, which has helped me out of several bad days and emotional breakdowns.

The point is we have to start somewhere. This app won’t fix all your problems. I can’t even promise it will make you feel better. It hasn’t magically cured my depression. But it has given me a tool to use. With that, I want to use it as a stepping stone to more tools. I want to get into more worksheets and DBT skills. I want to create better coping mechanisms for myself. I want to do affirmations. I want to be physically healthy again. I want to start seeing a therapist and/or psychiatrist. I’m going to be in a much better, more stable, mentally healthy place!

But for now, I’m using a smartphone app.

 

 

Searching for Significance

 

I crave significance. Why I do isn’t very important. When I say crave significance, I mean, from a young age, I have wanted my life to matter in a profound way. I fear being insignificant or meaningless.

Through the years, I have tried all kinds of ways to create meaning. When I was a teenager, it came in the form of rebellion. didn’t want to seem like a mindless carbon copy of my peers. I railed against the established norms of my generation by listening to different music, wearing different clothes, and rejecting all the famous and popular icons they had all embraced. I was also a total shithead. I I thought being different was my way to be more significant and special.

Instead, it isolated me further until I was very significantly depressed.

I continued my struggle to find meaning by joining the Navy and abandoning school for a short time. Upon my return in 2009, even more directionless and desperate, my path from there could only be described as Not at All What I Fucking Wanted or Expected or Even Remotely Needed. Ever been there? I bet most of you have. It sucks.

I finally found the career I truly wanted and was excited about–and to my own surprise, it wasn’t in the field of writing. Okay, so problem solved! There is no greater significance than finding a career, right?

Wrong. Because purpose does not entirely equate to significance. Hell, happiness doesn’t equate to significance.

Let me digress for a moment:
I have several fictional plotlines and characters that I’ve developed over the years (they’ve resulted in half-finished short stories). One of them, whom my son is named after, Alex Stone, answers a question at one point from a friend/therapist who is sort of subtly interrogating him. She asks him, “Are you satisfied with your life?” He’s a big-time musician and producer who has won many awards. He tells her, “No, I’m never satisfied with my life. But I’m happy with it.”

I think I finally truly get that line because it applies to me. I wouldn’t say I’m “happy”, per se, but I’m happy, the way Alex is, about the choices I’ve made for my career and for accomplishing my goals. However, I’m never really satisfied. There’s never enough. It’s not good enough. I’m always pushing. In a way, that’s good. I think many people could relate to that.

But the way it manifests can be ugly.

For one, and perhaps most, ahem, significantly, I tend to get very depressed very easily when I feel my life is “slipping by”. I’m not seizing the day every single moment! I’m not capturing what could be a day full of opportunity! I AM WASTING MY POTENTIAL.

So much of my life is wasted potential it feels. How many days have I wasted away? I am 28. Each year, I marvel at how I’m getting older with very little to show for it (despite my excitement for my career). Each year, it’s going to get worse. I will feel more and more regret at what I haven’t done. How I don’t feel satisfied. How I don’t even really feel all that happy.

My whole life has been about overcoming this feeling.

The terrifying part to me is what if I never do? I wish I had something encouraging or inspirational to tell you. I wish I could tell you the steps I’m taking to overcome it.

Truth is I’m doing what you’re probably doing: the best I can. I drown out and numb the pain until it becomes this dull aching. I put on a front. I enjoy what little reprieve I can get. But at the end of the day, I know what I’m coming home to. I just hope I finally find my answer.

 

If You’re Struggling, This is For You

Exactly zero people have wondered where I’ve been. I’m not going to apologize and go into some lengthy explanation about my blog and my writing–because literally no one cares.

I am making a “where I’ve been” post though because I think there are others out there who need to hear what I’m about to say. I think many of you are going through this very thing.

I’ll just be blunt: I’ve been severely depressed. When I say severely, I mean fantasizing about different ways of dying, what it means to die, how it happens, how it feels; lying awake at night, bombarded with violent, morbid images I can’t escape. Sometimes, it’s just all-consuming despair and emptiness. It literally feels like it’s devouring my soul, this numb feeling of nothingness. I cannot describe it better than that.

How does that affect me? It means I don’t follow-through on things I should or need to be doing. If I summon every cell of energy, pray to every God in existence, and berate myself enough, I eventually can finish simple tasks like doing the dishes. I have no desire though to meet project deadlines, do basic chores and personal hygiene, or to even go grocery shopping (I’ve ordered delivery the past few days because I’m too overwhelmed to go to the store).

Oh and did I mention I don’t have a job? Yeah. I was fired for absences, and I was absent because I was so weighed down mentally and emotionally that getting out of bed was torture. Thinking about even trying to work was much worse than the fate of termination.

So lack of motivation regarding deadlines and consequences; terrible, violent thoughts; sleeping and eating problems; massive anxiety in social situations; and also, being tired and/or irritable all the time, and sore/fatigued for no reason at all.

Does any of this sound familiar?

What about guilting yourself about it? “Oh, I should really pull it together. Why can’t I just fucking do these things I need to do? Oh my God, I let another deadline pass. I never responded to this. I missed this appointment. Fuck it.”

How about self-loathing? I hate myself. Just for no reason–and constantly. If I miss appointments and deadlines, of course, I hate myself a lot harder. Can’t get out of bed or off the couch? Hate myself. Can’t eat healthy because I have no energy to buy fresh foods or even go to the store? Really hate myself.

And it’s not my job causing me this. So if you’re telling yourself (or more likely, someone else is telling you) that you’re just stressed. Hah. I’ve been unemployed for a couple weeks now and nope, it hasn’t helped. Of course, a stressful job can exacerbate, or even cause these symptoms, but you’re not guaranteed a cure by switching jobs.

I have brief moments of reprieve. Someone makes me laugh. I enjoy a hobby for a few hours. I spend time with people I love. I suspect though that it’s mostly just distracting me from my own self-destruction, since I immediately go back to despair. I can’t hold onto that feeling of happiness.

You might be wondering when I’m going to offer advice or encourage you. Truth is I don’t know when it will get better or how to make it better. I know talking to others about it has helped, even if they don’t know what to do or say. It’s liberating to name your feelings and at least call it what it is.

I’ve read about low-cost therapy options, which I (and you!) could explore more. I encourage you to google “low cost therapy+[your state]”.

Furthermore, I’m going to maybe look up some self-help worksheets on self-esteem or something. I don’t really know what the root problem is or if it would even help, but “loving myself” seems to be the biggest load of shit. My brain automatically calls bullshit whenever I see or hear someone talking about loving myself. So then I wonder if maybe that’s what I need to work on.

Lastly, something that I’ve seen as a therapist’s tool involves retraining the brain by reminding it of good experiences. Something to that effect. So I’ve thought about making a list of moments/experiences that made me really happy. A gratitude list works similarly.

I hope you find something that works for you. I hope you can at least confide in someone and not feel so alone. You’re welcome to reach out to me, of course. But I know it’s much more effective if it’s someone you’re close to. If that’s not an option, I hope one of these ideas sparks you to take some action.

Even if it’s just a teeny, tiny baby step. We’ll learn to walk again.