The Ramblings of a Madwoman: You Are Not Alone

Living when all I want to do is die.

This topic is a little gloomy, I must admit, but living in a time where everyone is depressed or has anxiety, I know most can relate.

I do not have a bad life, actually the opposite. I have a family who loves me and supports me, friends who are there for me always, and a boyfriend who will tell me I am beautiful every single day, and even plans our future. Maybe it is a chemical imbalance (no shame in the medication game), or things in my life have just been piling on me or my emotions are just too damn strong. Who knows why I deal with the things that I do? I just know that I do and I know others do too.

I just want you all to know that I see you and that it’s not all in your head and that I don’t think you are just seeking attention (as the ass-hats out there will tell you).

I live with severe depression and I’m not ashamed of it. If you ask me, I will tell you the truth: I do not want to be on this earth anymore. I think about death the same amount a pubescent boy thinks about boobs or sex, but unlike the horny boy who could find a quiet room to find his release, I shall never find mine. How is one suicidal but not at the same time? Well, it is something I ask myself everyday.

I joke with everyone about my depression because if I didn’t, it would be too damn sad. Most believe it is just a laugh because I am my own personal comedian, but to me it’s real; it is something I live with every single day. Thinking, “if I took this medication with this one, maybe it would work” or “if I let go of the wheel of my car at this speed right into oncoming traffic, will it be enough?” I’ve even thought of sitting out in the garage with my car on, only doped up on tons of drugs so that maybe I wouldn’t change my mind at the last minute.

Don’t worry boys and girls, I am finding a new therapist as we speak.

Also, even though I fantasize so often about my own death, I would never be able to do these things. I have loved ones who I would leave in so much confusion, in so much grief. I’m not so (trigger word alert) “damaged” or “broken” that I don’t think about those I would be leaving behind.

I live my life day by day; some days are better and some days are dark (i.e. doom, doom, doom). Those days are hard but I find it an accomplishment that I make it to my bed at the end of the day. Breathing on these days seems like a chore. Listening to others speak is a hardship. Sometimes the dark days can last a few days…or weeks, even a month, and the longer the darkness lasts, the harder fighting gets for me. As I write this, I am going on a week and everything is weighing on me: work, relationships with friends, family, the one I love, health issues. All of it feels like a pair of weighted balls (giggles like a 12 year old) attached to each of my limbs and I’m in the ocean trying to hold myself up and the longer I hold myself up the heavier the weights get–ohhh and there are sharks in the water (’cause it sounds badass).

But I also know that my depression doesn’t just affect me, it affects everyone around me. People count on me to be there and when I’m not, they are left confused as to why they think they have done something wrong (you haven’t; this one is all me). I know they worry, and it doesn’t help that I’m an open book:

“How are you today”

“Oh you know just wondering if I can pay a personal assassin to take my ass out.”

I will not lie. I will not hold it in, because if I ever get so bad that I don’t think I can fight anymore I need someone to look at me and say, “Girl you are scaring me and we need to get you some help” (don’t I know it, imaginary human in my head).

I never want anyone to think they are alone, and if you are dealing with the same things out there that I do, I SEE YOU. Look for help, be it a professional or a friend or family member. Just open up. In this day and age, it’s not weird or different to be dealing with the things we are dealing with. It might scare those around you that you feel these things but this is life or death we are talking about and people need to see the awkward uncomfortable parts to it. Don’t scare those around you without seeking help. They cannot help someone who doesn’t ask for it. Be open, be honest and be alive. Because even though my dark days are currently upon me, I know this can’t be it for me…or for you.

Weakening the Weakness

I read the articles about FKA twigs’ lawsuit against her former boyfriend, Shia LaBeouf, read her recounting of the ways he abused her and I want to feel something. I want to cry, or get angry, or remember. Instead, I find myself numb. I see myself in her story and my eyes glaze over – I know the story so intimately, even though the details are not the same – and I am forced to skim the pages. I cannot bring myself to read every word. Why would I need to? I lived this.

Not with Shia LaBeouf, obviously, but with my own version: an attractive, charismatic, successful man hellbent on breaking women. A tortured soul – god knows how long I’ve spent, dissecting what neurosis might be to blame for His actions: psychopathy, sociopathy, good-old-fashioned narcissism, a dash of all of that? – who caged me in control and terror for years.

For a long time, I thought that He had chosen me because I was an easy target – someone who lacked confidence and could be controlled. This was a point of contention between me and Cindy, the therapist with whom I was doing Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – a specific type of therapy for people suffering from PTSD. One of my stuck points (a central tool of CPT) was the belief that “I am weak” – that there was something wrong with me that He had sniffed out. He had seen flaws in me, had known I was someone who could be easily preyed on. Layered on top of the oh-so-common “I am not good enough” that seemed to permeate every cell of my being, this weakness made me a lame duck. I was someone with so little confidence or belief in myself that it would take no effort to destroy me. I blamed myself for what He did. 

“What makes you believe that?” Cindy would ask, looking like she sincerely believed that I was good enough. That I was strong. That it actually puzzled her why this was a sticking point for me.

My brain knew the answer: this was what every talking head on Dateline told me, what I’d read in all those books I’d devoured to try to diagnose Him: predators looked for easy targets. Vulnerable women who could be preyed upon with minimal effort. To Cindy, I just shrugged my shoulders, spoke in sweeping generalizations. “I don’t know,” I avoided her eyes. “I just do. That’s what you always hear.” 

I did twelve sessions of this specialized therapy. Clinically, my PTSD resolved, my scores improving dramatically (there is no real “test” for PTSD, Cindy explained. She had me fill out a questionnaire to determine which symptoms I might be experiencing, what was triggering me. My initial score was 53. A score above 33 was considered to be experiencing PTSD. By my last session, my score was under 10). I felt better. However, inside I still carried around this belief: that the abuse I suffered was somehow my fault, because I had not been good enough, hadn’t been enough. That I was weak and I brought it upon myself.

I also grappled with wondering if what had happened to me was even really abuse. He never hit me. So, it shouldn’t count right? I stuffed the coercion – financial and sexual – down and pretended they didn’t exist. Pretended I wasn’t being tracked on my phone, told who to talk to or not talk to, like I had choices.

Did I even have PTSD? Certainly, according to Cindy and her diagnostic tools, yes, I very clearly did. But, as I told her – and my regular therapist – and my best friend, who was a therapist, and had been the one to tell me she thought I needed to do some CPT in the first place: I wasn’t a war veteran. I hadn’t been in combat. I felt like a poser claiming I had PTSD. 

But, I guess you might ask the friend I texted during a panic attack – feeling like I was going crazy and not able to catch my breath. Or the friend who had to break the news to me that He was in a relationship – who told me it was “scary” the kind of control He had over me, how I stayed in the bathroom for hours while He screamed at me – like it was somehow my fault He’d cheated on His girlfriend, lied to both of us – while she sat in my kitchen, listening to it all. Ask the friend who watched me shake while I opened an invitation to a wedding being held near His mountain cabin: declaring I wouldn’t be able to go. Ask my aunt who told me as I walked in the door – “Wow, you’re skinny, a little too skinny!” –because I weighed in under 100lbs for the first time since middle school. Ask them. They might not tell you I had PTSD but they’d tell you something was wrong.

So I did the CPT, and I felt better. Moved forward, mostly.

And then FKA twigs shared what happened to her. A famous, beautiful woman sharing about her experience with psychological and emotional abuse. She didn’t seem weak or vulnerable. In fact, she seemed pretty bad ass. I wondered what the talking heads on Dateline would say about her.

A few weeks after the story broke, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Natch Beaut. The host, Jackie Johnson, started discussing the allegations against Shia LaBeouf – someone she’d joked about having a crush on for years. Jackie shared that she is a survivor of abuse, and she shared her support for other survivors and thanked women like FKA twigs for coming forward to share their stories. I’d been walking my dog, but kept listening when I got home. Now, listening in my kitchen, with my earphones still in, I hunched over my kitchen sink as I heard Jackie say this: “[abusers] get more satisfaction out of dimming the shine of someone extra bright.” As her own voice started to tremble, I broke down crying, sobbing. I had to hold onto the counter to steady myself. I fell to the floor in tears. Even now, as I write this, I have to take off my glasses and squint through the flood of emotion. 

I won’t lie and say hearing that little nugget of wisdom magically made that stuck point of “I am weak” unstuck. It didn’t. I still have moments, some longer than others, when I wonder how I could have let this happen, why I didn’t leave, how I fell for all the bullshit. I see myself as I imagine others must: weak, pathetic, so desperate for love and attention that I will put up with being manipulated and lied, cheated on, used, degraded. I feel humiliated by my choices. I let myself drown in victimhood, shirk the label of “survivor” – I want to both dismiss what has happened to me (“He never hit me! I mustn’t make this a ‘thing’”) and also wallow in it (“this was not right. I deserve to be acknowledged for my pain.”), knowing I can’t have it both ways, knowing holding it will only hurt me more. 

I am glad that men like Shia LaBeouf – those in the spotlight, with power and influence – are being called out, named and I hope they will in some way be held accountable for their actions. I know that there are far too many more – especially those not in the spotlight, with power and influence over their partners – who will never be called out, or named or held accountable. I wish I were brave enough to type the name of the man I am writing about here. But I’m not. Among the veiled threats I learned to decode – the bits of information he fed to me over our time together – was how litigious he is, and I know, even if I did write his name, the consequences he would inflict upon me are greater than any he is likely to suffer. And I’m done dealing with his wrath.

I spoke to my therapist today, told her most of this. How I’d felt weak, even when Cindy told me I wasn’t. Told her I was still holding on, even when I knew I shouldn’t. I talked about FKA twigs and Shia and the Podcast. She nodded. I should start to think about being weak with a bit more flexibility, she said. She explained that I did have a vulnerability – I wanted love and affection not because I was weak – but because I was human. That He – consciously or unconsciously – exploited that, and wanted to dull someone’s shine because He saw it as superior. 

We looked at each other, through the computer screen, and I sighed. I’ve been wallowing in my victimhood for five years, waiting for something. Maybe it was this: understanding I could be vulnerable and also not at fault, all at once. 

Somewhere in Rainbows

My parents met in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University in the mid 90’s. My mom was in a sorority, my dad a fraternity and they hit it off at a Greek mixer. I came into existence in 1995, they subsequently dropped out of university and moved to Louisville to raise little ol’ me. Two and a half years after I was born, my sister came into the picture, and a year or so after that my parents got divorced. My dad stayed in Kentucky, but my mom needed to move to Indiana to be closer to my aunt and nana.

Every other weekend, every summer, and alternating holidays would be spent at my dad’s in Kentucky (this schedule not strictly followed as I got older) and all schooling would take place in Indiana. The driving distance between my parents was a lengthy three hours; which is short enough to be doable, but long enough to be slightly painful. The divorce wasn’t easy on anyone. It was never a smooth, simple thing. It was uncomfortable and it always felt like someone was deeply hurting more than the other, no one ever on the same wavelengths, and everyone seemingly took turns over-vocalizing the pain in what was usually not the most constructive way. Essentially, none of us made it through unscathed.

When it was time for me to start kindergarten, my mom soon found the Catholic elementary school, St. Ambrose, in Anderson, that seemed like the best fit. Quickly upon starting school, I was also signed up for this afterschool program called Rainbows which took place every Tuesday. A few other kids and myself would all get a ride over to the slightly larger Catholic school in town, we’d dash out of the car for bomb milk and cookies, then talk about our feelings for an hour or so in small groups.

Pretty quickly, all of us kids realized the common denominator between us was that we all lacked a nuclear household.

Rainbows created this community of kids and a safe space that essentially validated our feelings. All of them, every single emotion we felt… we were told it was normal.

If I’m being honest, I don’t remember nearly any of the particulars in those little lessons we had within the small group talks. I was in Rainbows for years, yet I genuinely don’t remember what we talked about each week. I just vaguely remember the constant undertone of reassurance that nothing was our fault, which I understand is a common thing for kids with divorced parents to feel. Though I did (and do) feel responsible for my parents marriage, never in my life have I ever felt to blame for my parents divorce.

The primary memories that stick out from Rainbows are the relationships that it created. There were so many adults that felt (and still feel) like an extension of family, and the best friends I had in that lifetime have transcended into adulthood. All of the friendships, even the ones that didn’t quite withstand the test of time, were/are priceless and heavily impacted my life. They’re the people who just got it. It’s always felt like yes, we’re all in our own boats, but we’re still in the same ocean weathering similar storms.

Rainbows encouraged a deep level of empathy.

We were this group of mismatched kids, varying in age, personality types, and all with different stories: some kids lost a parent, some lived with grandparents, some parents were divorced but still lived close to each other (these were the ones I was most jealous of), some kids didn’t know one of their parents at all – the list goes on. Yet throughout the lessons, we were made to feel that yes, our situation sucks and our story may seem harder than the person’s next to us, but that doesn’t invalidate that person’s pain.

All pain is valid, we are not here on this Earth to decide who gets to feel and what it is they feel.

. . .

In deciding to write this article, I googled Rainbows for the first time ever. Finding out that Rainbows was founded by a woman was not surprising, but it did bring a smile to my face (#girlpower). Rainbows, actually fully named Rainbows for All Children, was founded in the mid 70’s by Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother of three boys. She was devastated when her marriage ended and found solace in a support group. It didn’t take long for her to realize that her sons could also greatly benefit from such a group, but her search for this came up empty. Thus, Rainbows for All Children was born.

“Working with other concerned parents, Suzy began organizing weekend retreats for the children in single parent homes. In three years, more than 800 youth benefited from the retreats. Suzy knew more needed to be done. She started working on a curriculum, the foundation of Rainbows for All Children, for children who experienced loss. The curriculum was designed to provide grieving elementary school children with an understanding of their new family unit, to help build a sense of self-esteem and to give them the tools to properly cope with their loss.”

Rainbows for All Children

. . .

Ultimately, it seems Suzy understood that relying on a child’s resiliency isn’t always the best or only answer. Just because kids have the ability to quickly bounce back on their own, doesn’t mean they should be left to their own devices to do so. I mean, think about it: why do adults go to therapy? Typically to finally unpack all of that compartmentalized childhood trauma. So when you think your kid is “getting over it” and “bouncing back” – it’s possible that they’re really just saving that pain for later.

Rainbows is very much still operating today – head to their website to learn more!

Workplace Abuse: Calling Out My First Boss

I’ve always been a hardworking individual. Most of my self-esteem comes from knowing that I’ve done a “good job” at work, or that I’ve somehow helped to make someone else’s life easier by going above and beyond with my workplace duties. Unfortunately, my self-esteem is also adversely affected by things I do at work.

I’ve noticed a pattern in my own thinking while searching for ways to improve my self-esteem. When I find myself spiraling into negative self-talk, it’s almost ALWAYS set off by not feeling good enough at my job. I have numerous pieces of evidence to prove that I’m a great teacher: thank you notes and drawings from students, noticeable academic growth in my classes, obvious feelings of mutual trust and love between myself and the kids I teach. However, I’m never able to see those beautiful and positive things as they are. Instead, I find dozens of reasons every week why I think I’m doing terribly and will most definitely be fired.

Why do I think this way? I’ve found a connection from my past that seems to explain it: My first boss ever was incredibly abusive.

*–*–*–*–*–*

I’m from a small town in southern Indiana, of around 17,000 people. That seems like a large number, but in reality, everyone knows everyone. In middle school, I went to the very small Catholic school in town, Rivet. This school was so small, that they allowed off-campus lunch for kids who were legally able to drive. Most kids, though, chose to walk to some of the cafes on Main Street for lunch. One of those nearby lunch-spots was a little cafe and caterer, owned by one of the Rivet families.

When I was fourteen, one morning at Rivet I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker saying that this cafe was looking to hire a dishwasher. Being the hard-worker that I am, I was incredibly excited by this opportunity. I’m not even 16 yet and I can get a job! I was ready to pounce. However, also being the socially anxious human that I am, I was too scared to go out for the job on my own. I asked my best friend at the time to apply for it with me, and she did. Luckily, my friend’s brother’s girlfriend was a waitress there at the time, so we got the job. I was SO excited to start. A couple of weeks later, on a Saturday at 10:30AM, my heart pounded out of my chest as I walked into the cafe with my friend in our green polos. My new boss, my first boss ever (who I’ll call “Patty”), introduced herself with a clearly fake smile and overly-chipper demeanor. I didn’t realize what I’d gotten myself into.

What it Was Like

My first day on the job was spent washing dishes from 10:30 to 4:00, being scolded for spraying the dishes with too much water or asking too many times for help putting away dishes that were stored in high places. My friend got to be trained that day as “waitress helper.” I eventually got to be trained as “waitress helper” too, but I didn’t get to work as one very much until my friend eventually quit. I knew I was hired on as a dishwasher, so I had no issue washing dishes…but my friend was hired for the same position as me and didn’t have to! Luckily, it didn’t take my friend very long to quit, so I was out of the kitchen and into the front of house. Everything seemed to be looking up, but unfortunately, it all went downhill from there.

#1: I was never appreciated.

The title of “waitress helper” was the name my boss came up with, because the role was honestly so many jobs in one that nothing else fit. After a few years of being a “waitress helper,” I came up with my own job title: “Patty’s bitch.” The waitress helpers were hosts, greeters, food-runners, baristas, decorators, table-bussers, phone-answerers, delivery drivers, organizers, errand-runners and anything else that Patty may have needed us to do. I legitimately picked up and dropped off her kids somewhere once and even wrapped her Christmas presents a few times.

I like to be busy, so having a million things on my plate actually keeps me motivated to work. What I don’t like so much is doing a million things for someone and getting zero appreciation for it. Here’s one small example: As a waitress helper, as soon as you can drive and get your own car, you are made the delivery driver. The cafe delivered lunch to hospitals and doctors’ offices as well as to some apartments. However, deliveries were always HUGE. A typical delivery to the hospital would be at least one large box full of meals in paper bags, sometimes a couple plastic quart containers of soup, and a few full drink carriers in another box. My petite self would have to carry these giant boxes through the hospital (with literally no one offering to help me, by the way) and set up all the food in a lounge. Then I’d rush back to the restaurant to grab another delivery, and the cycle would continue. Another messed up part about deliveries, was that I often had to deliver to old men in this gross apartment complex. These apartments smelled like cat pee and stale cigarettes and all of the lighting was similar to that of a horror film. I’d grab my giant box of soup and sandwiches, then I’d have to walk directly into a man’s apartment, find his kitchen table, place all the food there (with the old man watching me from his recliner) and leave. After a full day of deliveries, which I was not allowed to take tips for, I got my “delivery payment” of a whopping $5. They gave me five dollars for gas compensation. Doing deliveries made me feel SO unappreciated, uncomfortable and frankly, unsafe. I had no choice but to do it, though. If I didn’t ask “how high” every time Patty told me to jump, she’d make it very clear to me that I was replaceable, which leads me to my next point.

#2: I was constantly reminded that I was insignificant.

This was a part-time job at a local cafe. It was also my first job. I had zero expectations and nothing to compare my treatment to. I didn’t realize that I was facing daily abuse from my boss until I went to college and picked up a waitressing gig at Applebee’s. On my first week of waiting tables at Applebee’s, I made a mistake when I input someone’s order and forgot to mark that a man wanted his salad to come out before his meal. When I brought out his steak and salad at the same time, the man threw the salad across the table, and with lettuce and Ranch dressing flying everywhere, he shouted “F*** YOU! I don’t want this f***ing salad anymore! It’s too late!” I picked everything up and ran to my manager crying, apologizing profusely for messing up and assuming I’d be fired on the spot. To my surprise, my boss went over to the table with a to-go box and told the man to get out and not come back. She said his meal today was free, but she would not tolerate his treatment toward one of her waitresses. I’m still blown away by the fact that my boss stood up for me. She trusted me and cared about me, and I’d only been working for her for a little over a week! This experience opened my eyes to how unacceptable my treatment was by Patty at the local cafe in my hometown.

The reason I started this section with an anecdote from my time working at Applebee’s was so I could really juxtapose the way those 2 bosses treated me. Keep that Applebee’s story in mind as you read the following very true stories of what I endured with Patty as my boss.

Exhibit A) Remember, I started working for Patty at age 14. One summer when I was 16, she told me I needed to clean and re-organize all of the catering stuff they had stored on shelves in the basement. I was actually PUMPED for this task, because I love to re-organize and de-clutter spaces. It also meant I could hide away in the basement with my headphones in everyday for a week and I didn’t have to listen to anyone telling me what to do all day. When that week was over, I felt rejuvenated! The basement looked incredible; Patty even said so herself!

The next week, Patty hired on a new waitress helper and even hinted that I might get to be a waitress soon (which absolutely did not happen, but I think she purposely gave me that hope every once in awhile just so I’d work even harder). Since I’d been a waitress helper there longer than anyone else, Patty wanted me to train the newbie. She welcomed the new girl with that same artificially bubbly smile and had me walk around the restaurant with them to show her where everything was. We brought the new-hire to the basement to show her the freezer, laundry and catering supplies and Patty gave a fake smile and said, “Zoë just re-organized this basement! Doesn’t it look great? Zoë is our superstar, she’s been here awhile and knows how to do it all!” Her praise made me feel so special and loved, but only for a short moment. Before I could even thank her for the kind words, she turned to me inquisitively, with her fake smile starting to fade and said, “tell me, superstar, what are the soups of the day?” My stomach dropped into my shoes. I was whisked away with Patty and the new hire as soon as I got into the building. I didn’t have time to even look at the soups yet. Luckily the first three were always the same. I replied, “Um…cheese broccoli, tomato basil, potato…I’m not sure about the others. I haven’t gotten to look yet.” Patty turned her head to the new hire with a fresh fake smile and said, “Forget everything good I said about Zoë.” Then, while still facing the new hire, she said to me, “Get upstairs and learn the soups, Zoë.”

These are the exact words she used. The experience is so etched into my memory, because I was terrified of losing my job and I had never felt so small. I’m sure that Patty has no memory of this conversation. The immediate flip from telling me that I’m amazing to saying there’s nothing good about me was consistent throughout my time at this cafe; that story is just one example of it happening at a moment’s notice. Usually it would be more like one or two days of praise followed by several days of making me question why she hadn’t fired me yet. What’s messed up is that eventually, I truly believed that I deserved to be fired. Those were Patty’s mind games.

Exhibit B) After that moment in the basement, I recognized more and more that Patty was a cruel person to work for. However, I was still afraid of losing that job. Mama didn’t raise no quitter, but mama didn’t say I had to love every minute of everything I start. So later that same summer, I was at my best friend’s house for a sleepover on a Friday night. I always had to work on Saturdays from 11-4. My friend’s big sister brought up the idea of going to Patoka Lake on Saturday. All of my friends could go except for me. I wanted to go so badly. I didn’t want to miss out on lake adventures for 5 hours of torture that would leave me with only 33 more dollars on my paycheck. I was 16. I deserved to be 16 for one Saturday, so at 10:00AM I called in sick. I spoke to the front manager and all seemed to be okay. I was good to go to Patoka Lake! Then about 15 minutes later, I got a call from Patty.

Patty verbally attacked me for calling in sick. She said I probably felt well enough to work. I told her I didn’t and even added in that I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled. She retorted “Which doctor? Because most doctors’ offices aren’t open on Saturdays.” I stuttered around but stuck to my lie. She called me a liar and said if I ever called in sick again that I’d be fired. So I never called in sick again, and I worked there for 4 and a half more years.

I was lying…but honestly, who cares? Looking back on this moment as an adult, I realize that she had no right to accuse me of lying in the first place. She had no right to even ask questions. If I say that I’m too sick to come to work, ONE TIME in 2 years of waiting on you hand and foot, you should just say, “We really need you, but I understand and I hope you feel better.” But then again, Patty would never tell an employee that she needs them. She likes to bully her employees so think they’re worthless so they try harder to impress her.

I have countless other examples of mistreatment, but in order to stop this article from becoming a novel, I won’t list more. I think that a clear picture of “Patty” has been painted.

*–*–*–*–*–*

How this Abuse Affected Me

I consider Patty to have been my abuser. I trusted this adult, as a 14-year-old child, to respect me, care about me and help me grow. Instead, she used my desire to please others and manipulated my already low self-esteem to make me think she was doing me a favor by giving me the job. She constantly built me up just to quickly break me down until I no longer felt worthy to be an employee. Her abuse affected me in more ways than one.

#1: Physical Effects

In high school, one of my best friends needed a job, so I put in a good word and Patty hired her on as a waitress helper. My friend, being older than I was when she was hired, saw through Patty’s fake-nice façade almost immediately. On one of her first days of work, Patty sat down for a “free” lunch with us at the cafe. The whole time we ate, our boss spoke almost explicitly about herself. She’d say, “My life is hard, ladies, because no matter how busy I am, EVERYONE wants to talk to Patty.” She then somehow got on a tangent about how if we ever were caught smoking pot that we’d be fired and that she believed that smoking pot one time would give your future children birth defects. I was used to hearing her nonsense, but I could feel my friend’s eyes rolling into the back of her head.

My friend worked there for about a year. Before she quit she told me that every morning before work, she got a horrible stomach ache from anxiety. I never thought about it that way, but I had a stomach ache every morning that I had to work too. It was like clockwork. I didn’t think about it until my friend told me about that, but this job I had was causing me so much anxiety that it started to show up as physical symptoms. To further validate this, after I quit working for Patty, I never had another pre-work stomach ache until I worked at a terrible elementary school. By then, I knew my body was telling me to quit working there, so I got out. That’s why I teach middle school now.

#2: Subconscious Effects

I worked at Patty’s family cafe for a total of 6 years. It’s now been 7 years since I’ve worn that green polo and I’m completely serious when I say that I still have regular nightmares about working there. They usually have to do with me being scheduled to work and not knowing about it and them threatening to fire me if I don’t get to the restaurant NOW. Most of these dreams take place in present-day, by the way. They tell me I’ll be fired if I don’t get to work even though I live in NYC, and dream me is still in panic mode, racing back to my hometown and trying to find my polo so I won’t get fired (even though I have a whole career in NYC that is undoubtedly more important). How can Patty still be torturing me in my subconscious today?

#3: Effects on my Self-Esteem

As aforementioned in the introduction of this article, the 6-year cycle of workplace abuse I endured has made a real impact on my psyche. After walking on eggshells from age 14 to 20, I’ve internalized the idea that I’m insignificant at work, that I’m 100% replaceable and that for each of my accomplishments, there are 5 more mistakes I’m doomed to make.

*–*–*–*–*–*

Today, I have a career that I can be proud of. I’m able to see my accomplishments, but I’m still struggling to not let my “failures” overshadow them. I’ve even explained the issues I have with workplace confidence to the principal at the middle school I teach for, and fortunately she is the most caring and understanding leader that I’ve ever followed who hears me, sees me and wants to help me grow.

It’s through remembering my positive experiences of other places I’ve worked that I can realize my worth. My current principal believes in me. My boss at CAMPUS English Language School supported me. My boss at Infinity English College trusted me. My bosses at the other part-time waitressing jobs (Applebee’s and Red Lobster) cared about me as a person.

Last summer, I went to lunch at that cafe. Patty saw me, but pretended she didn’t. I decided to stop her to say hello and she acted like she didn’t know who I was. Patty always loved to make me feel insignificant.

In reality, Patty is insignificant in my life. I only hope that something changes at that restaurant, if it hasn’t already. She will probably never change though. At least I know that I’m growing and changing everyday, and I will no longer let my first boss have power over me.

Addicted to Everything: The Science Behind Addiction

Have you ever heard of an “addictive personality”? I used to think that this phrase described me to a T. Once I start something, anything, my brain zeroes in on it and I’m completely obsessed.

For example, when I start a project, I must finish it in one sitting. If I don’t finish it right away, my brain will not shut up about it until I do. My friends in college used to think I was insane, because instead of working on long essays in small chunks over a few weeks, I would sit in the library for 7 hours and do it all at once: the research, the notes, the drafting, the editing and the submission.

Then, at age 24 I was diagnosed with ADD. “Ooooh okay, THAT’S my problem!” Yes, this was something I needed to get under control, but even after being medicated and subsequently more able to put down a project and pick it back up later, I was still noticing a cycle of complete obsession over everything.

At age 25, I came to terms with a very destructive mental obsession over alcohol. I realized that I was doing that thing I always do, where I love something so much that I’m unable to stop. Only this time, it was wreaking havoc on every part of my life, not just my mental health. So I got sober. Everything started to feel better. “Okay, so ADD and alcoholism are my problems. Now that those are fixed, I should be fixed!”

Nope.

Actually, now that I’m no longer mentally obsessed with being drunk all the time, I have this space in my brain that needs to be filled with something else. After I got sober, I noticed that my “addictive personality” has moved to the forefront of my being and turned up to 11. It’s not an “addictive personality” that I’m dealing with. I’m just an addict.

But why am I an addict?

The downside of being a sober alcoholic and working on myself is the fact that I now can see everything I dislike about myself that I used to be able to completely ignore. After a 3-month crossword puzzle binge (seriously, it was a binge; I completed at least 6 puzzles a day) I got frustrated with my tendency to obsess over simple things. I wanted to know why I am the way I am, so I decided to do some research.

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer for why I’m like this. There are actually several different factors that make a person more susceptible to being an addict. A sobriety program that I belong to taught me that we, addicts, are born this way. I like to believe this to be true, so I specifically looked for some scientific data to back that up. Here’s what I found:

-Genetics

Epigenetics play a big part in what makes someone an addict.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “children of addicts are 45% to 79% more likely” (NIAAA) to struggle with addiction compared to those with non-addicted parents. Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that although this correlation may be due to environmental factors, such as exposure to adults abusing drugs and/or alcohol, epigenetics play a big role as well. Epigentics basically means DNA being changed because of environmental needs, or by the choices people make in life. For the sake of my argument, I’m focusing only on the latter reason for DNA to change. Researchers explain how epigenetics contribute to the making of an addict with this example: “…when a person, [for example,] uses cocaine, it can mark the DNA, increasing the production of proteins common in addiction” (NIDA). This marked DNA is then passed on to that person’s offspring, and voila, a new addict is born.

So, one reason I’m addicted to everything is because my father is also addicted to everything.

Cool…but what is it about addicts that makes us the way we are in the first place?

-Wiring-

CT Scans show less dopamine receptors in the brains of addicts versus those who are not addicted.

The brain is an incredible organ. Apparently, as an addict, it’s scientifically proven that my brain is wired differently than others’. I was born with a gene that makes me prone to addiction, but that doesn’t mean I was doomed to be an alcoholic. What activated it was when I put alcohol into my body for the first time.

When a person who is prone to addiction puts a drug into their body, the part of the brain that I’ll call the “pleasure center” goes haywire. The pleasure center of our brains is where dopamine is released, or in other words, one of the “happy hormones.” When we do positive things, our brain releases dopamine. This reaction exists to reward us for doing good things, like passing a final exam or helping your neighbors fix their sink. However, drugs make an addict’s “pleasure center” confused, because it releases way more dopamine than it normally would, giving us the biggest high ever…until it doesn’t. This is why addicts need more and more and more of everything, because nothing ever releases that BIG dopamine jolt like drugs do. Eventually, drugs become the main source of your “happy hormone” as your tolerance builds. The National Institute of Health explains, “these brain adaptations often lead to…becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities” (NIH). This explains why even if addicts are sober, they find themselves doing other things in excess.

Okay, this all makes sense! But why did I have to be one of the addicts that chose to start using in the first place?

-Mental Health-

People with mental health disorders are more likely to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Remember, the studies I referenced above did not say that children of addicts were 100% more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol; it stated that we are up to 79% more likely to do so. I just happened to be one of the “lucky” ones.

In my program, I’ve heard people describe someone they knew as “an alcoholic who never took the first drink.” We know that addicts are genetically predisposed to addiction. We also know that when an addict tries a drug, it kickstarts that addictive motor in their brains. But why feel the need to try drugs in the first place? This is where mental health plays its part.

Sometimes, people who battle mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, “attempt to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol in an effort to numb the symptoms associated with their condition” (Lifeworks Rehab Surrey). So basically, if you’re born with that addiction switch in your brain, but you don’t suffer from mental health disorders, you won’t feel the need to ever flip that switch in the first place. However, you might still find yourself with an “addictive personality” because everything you do that releases your “happy hormone” pushes that switch just a little bit more toward the on-position each time you do it.

_______________________________________________________

I am capable of becoming addicted, obsessed, with anything and everything. My first year of sobriety was spent being absolutely addicted to Kraft Deluxe mac n cheese. I ate it almost everyday. This is not an exaggeration. My food jags extended to a few other things too. I went about 6 months or more eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Crunch Berries everyday. Then it was cookies and cream Pop-tarts. Then it was Oreos. Now it’s sparkling water and Diet Coke.

My phases of addiction do not only extend to food and drink, however. I’m also easily addicted to activities. Remember my crossword puzzle binge? Once I find joy in an activity, I constantly think about it and cannot stop doing it. “It’s normal to want to do things you enjoy all the time!” Yes, but there comes a point where it’s no longer a hobby and has become an obsession. There is a problem with anything you get addicted to, even if they are seen as harmless leisure activities. Leisure activities aren’t just for relaxation to an addict; they are an escape from what we see as our harsh reality. They are what send us into that desired dopamine high.

I’m still trying to figure out how to find balance in my life as an addict. It helps, though, knowing why I am the way that I am. I hope that any readers who struggle with addiction or who know other addicts can find some clarity in the fact that science proves we are not crazy. We are not careless. We are not ungrateful. We are not lazy.

We are addicts.

Works Cited:

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2021). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
  2. NIDA. 2019, August 5. Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction on 2021, February 12
  3. NIH. 2018, June 6. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction on 2021, February 12
  4. Why Are Some People More Prone to Addiction? | Lifeworks Rehab Surrey. (2021). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from https://www.lifeworkscommunity.com/blog/why-are-some-people-more-prone-to-addiction

A Resident of the Island of Misfit Toys

All of my life, I’ve struggled to find my place. I’ve searched for it in people, music, literature and television series. And no matter how many times I have tried to change myself to fit the mold, I have never been one of the crowd. I am unsure if I ever will be, no matter how hard I try.

Growing up, I never knew I was “different” from my classmates, yet I was bullied relentlessly for every aspect of myself. I used to sit in my mother’s bed at night and cry about how people were mean to me and she didn’t have the answers for why they were. In middle school I tried to change who I was so I could make friends. I demanded that my mother buy my clothes from Aeropostale and Abercrombie. I thought that if I dressed like everyone else, I would no longer be mocked for my movie character t-shirts and flare JCPenney jeans. I got highlights in my hair, cut modest side bangs, and wore my makeup the same way that all of the other girls did. I thought that eliminating the target on my back of wearing different clothes would solve all of my problems. I kissed the butts of the cliques in power; I copied them; I was nice to everyone, and allowed myself to be a push over…but the bullying still continued.

By the time high school came around, I made new friends who accepted me for who I was. This is when I found my island of misfits toys. We were the girls and guys that didn’t have a place in the high school clique world. My group consisted of goth kids, emo kids, and LGBTQ+ kids. I started dressing like an emo girl and finally felt like I could express my inner-self on the outside. When the bullies came around, we were aggressive, mean, and hid behind a façade of “toughness.” If we were mean to them first, then they couldn’t possibly hurt our feelings.  I thought that lashing out at others made me tough on the inside as well as the outside, but in reality, I was covering up my wounds by pretending that I was anything but broken.

After I graduated high school, my misfit friends and I grew up. We were no longer over-the-top with our punk outward appearance. The wounds from high school healed. The pettiness of the clique-game and what you wore faded away. I dyed my hair blonde; I started wearing makeup that wasn’t thick, black eyeliner. I gained confidence and became secure in myself. But… I still don’t fit in.

Art by Haviland Cardinal

College life as an adult woman is weird to say the least. It is a mature version of high school, and although I no longer lash out at those who are different from me, I still find myself at a loss with fitting in. Organizations on campus are comprised of cliques. It has the guise of the real world: the better you work, the nicer you are, the more you get ahead. The reality of this assumption is flawed though. As a naturally extroverted person who treats everyone as a friend, it’s a hard reality to wrap my head around. My assumption of every person I meet is that they are kindhearted, motivated, and open to a friendship with me, because I’m open to a friendship with everyone I encounter. I view the world through my eyes only. With this naivety and skewed perspective, it is hard to understand how others view me and if I truly do have as many friends as I think I do.

I’m fortunate because I found my island of misfit toys early on. They’re my people– the ones who have my back during any type of trial I face. They love my enthusiastic approach toward life and my thought process that spews out in pages of length every time I talk, but the question still begs: Are the friends I have at university really and truly a part of my misfit island? Or will these friends be passing ships in the night, acquaintances with whom I keep in touch by sharing likes on Facebook and an occasional holiday card?  Do these connections make up a greater part of my life in the future, or am I still a misfit toy who will never win the popularity contest that is life?

The funny thing about the “real world” is that I still don’t understand it despite living here for 10+ years. I wonder if high school popularity contests are the glue that holds advancement in the real world together. It can’t possibly be true that the outcasts remain “losers” forever. My high school guidance counselor always told me that the real world was different, that I would find my niche and be able to climb the ladder to success. Yet so many advisors and professors tell me that it’s all about connections and networking. To get ahead, one must be able to win the popularity contest. If you aren’t popular, can you successfully navigate the dog-eat-dog world of networking and advancement?

I do not have the answers to these questions, because no matter how hard I try to be one of the crowd, I’ll always feel different. I’ll always feel that I have to try too hard to be accepted and loved for who I am. It’s entirely possible that everyone feels this way, and my experience is no different than the queen of the plastics. Maybe the condition of being human is feeling like an outcast, because we are all unique in so many ways. Individuality is the king in which we all try to battle. As a social creature this theory rings true. The only way to satisfy our desire of being in a clan means to morph into the conventional trend, because being accepted is the purest form of love.

I like to think that we all are trying to find our own island of misfit toys and that the search for uniformity is, at its core, a desperate reach to create a single island where everyone is alike and loved for being the same. But this desperate attempt goes against our very nature. At the tips of our fingers is our true identity: that of an individual. These are imprints that signify our character, which is one that is different from all the rest. There cannot be one island of toys where everyone is the same make, color, and function. Instead, there is beauty in the diverse ocean of Misfit World, one where our ships can travel to other islands but never feel truly at home except for when we find the toys that remind us of ourselves. Will I ever fit in with the large pool of what is deemed as popular? I think the answer is plainly obvious: no I will not… but neither will anybody else.

Literary Wellness To Pass The Time

For those aspiring toward self-betterment, or those simply looking to cope with mental illness: keep reading. When I moved to the ‘big’ city, I left my therapist behind. After switching companies twice and health insurance three times, I never found a new one. Maybe it’s social anxiety, maybe it’s laziness. Who knows. Instead, during an especially desperate, depression-spiral induced shopping trip to Barnes & Noble two years ago, I started buying self-help books. These are the ones I’ve found and what I’ve learned from them.


First, We Make The Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson

This was the first self-help book that I purchased in my shopping trip of desperation and it’s also the one that’s been the most impactful. This book helped me reframe my depression and anxiety – my beast – into something that wasn’t so intense and scary. Wilson uses her own life for the spine of the story, sharing what’s worked and what hasn’t in her experience. But most importantly, anxiety and depression isn’t showcased as some supernatural horrific, plague-like thing. It’s just a part of you, something that can be made livable, or even beautiful.



Unf*ck Your Brain by Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN

This book was a secondary purchase just in case the FWMTBB:ANJTA didn’t work out. Unf*ck Your Brain looks at what causes our brains to go ‘chemically batshit’ which results in anxiety, depression, you name it. If you prefer hard facts, straight to the point, no bullshit formatting over personal storytelling, then you should try this book out. I felt like this book gave me a good foundational knowledge on the ‘why’ behind the feelings, which is just as necessary as knowing how to work through them.


Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Release Toxicity and Energize Joy by Sherianna Boyle

I purchased this book on a whim without reading the back – I thought the front cover looked interesting enough. I only started reading it after realizing that a friends’ emotions were causing sleepless nights and emotional stress for myself. This quick read is packed with useful information as well as a C.L.E.A.N.S.E. method for working through your emotions. Boyle, the author, was in an extremely emotional and traumatic point in her life when she began writing the book which made it easier to relate to. I think that it’s never too late to learn how to cope or deal with emotions.


Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

This book is a part of the design-thinking phenomena created by Burnett and Evans at Stanford. Formatted around the idea of ‘reframing’ your thinking to create a life you enjoy and like, it’s a good tool for those who may be more apt towards ‘workbook’ type learning. There are small prompts, check-in dashboards and more to help you stay on track towards creating a better life. While I’m ultimately not a fan of ‘feel good’ books like this, it was an interesting read and did help reframe some destructive thought patterns. I think that creating physical dashboards for love, health, play and work can help to keep you focused on your goals.


What’s your favorite feel good book?

Learning to Love Yourself as a Woman

Self-love is a feeling that most, if not all, women struggle to possess. In a society where we are constantly given mixed signals, it’s no surprise that we have a tough time loving who we are!

We have come a long way since our foremothers fought for the right to vote. Women are working hard everyday in professions that were only seen as “a man’s work” for centuries. We have the freedom to get an education and pursue any dream we have and if we want to be a stay-at-home mom, then we can be! But we don’t have to be. Hell, we even have a WOMAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE (btw, happy inauguration day, Madame Vice President)!

However among this growth, we women still have a long road ahead of us to equality and fairness. Yes, on the outside we are equal, but in reality we are given subtle reminders that we are never good enough. These hidden messages, mostly through media, are why it is so hard for women to fully love themselves.

Let’s first look at the most obviously critiqued area of a woman’s life: her appearance. TV commercials, magazine ads, Instagram models and even Hollywood stars send women everywhere a message that we are not enough. We’re told that we aren’t skinny enough or pretty enough or that our hair isn’t shiny enough and our pores are too big, but our boobs are too little. Then, we’re reminded that confidence is the sexiest quality we can have, so just be confident in your own looks. How are we supposed to be fully confident in what we look like when we can never live up to the perfection we see on television? If we can never find love unless we love ourselves first, then how will we ever find love?

This leads me to my next point: our love lives. Even though we are beyond the time of dowries and old maids, it seems like these values are still somewhat etched into the minds of society. We’re told to focus on growing our career and being happy with ourselves before we find love, but when you’re still single in your late twenties as a woman and watching your friends on Facebook settle down, it’s hard not to think, “I’ll be alone forever…with a fantastic career.”

Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, women who want to have children kind of DO have a biological clock ticking in the back of their minds. So it’s challenging to not freak out every time we see another Instagram wedding hashtag and download every dating app that exists, even though we deleted them all 3 months ago because they sucked. Then it’s a downward swiping spiral, full of overthinking and “playing it cool” because being honest about what you want will make you look crazy (because women are too emotional, of course) and men don’t want an overly eager woman because they just want to keep things “casual” BECAUSE MEN DON’T HAVE A BIOLOGICAL CLOCK. After swiping for months and being ghosted by 4 more “cool and casual” guys, we give up, delete the apps again, and tell ourselves we’ll be alone forever unless we learn to love ourselves.

And the cycle continues.

Ladies, self-love seems like an impossible feat. I’m currently struggling with this myself, so I’m no expert by any means. However, these are some things I’m doing (thanks to my therapist) that are actually quite helpful.

1. Negative Self-Talk: Catch it. Check it. Change it.

I’m so used to insulting myself that it doesn’t always occur to me when I’m doing it. I remember in my mid-year review at work last year, I had to do a self-reflection and write some “glows” and “grows.” After my supervisor read through the long list of grows I gave myself compared to the 2 or 3 glows, she said something along the lines of, “wow, you really kicked your own ass here.” The crazy thing is, I truly had been telling myself “I suck at my job” for so long that I couldn’t think of anything good to write about my performance at work.

I called my AA sponsor that day and she told me a catchphrase that everyone needs to hear and put into good use: Catch it. Check it. Change it.

Catching it, that’s step one. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself more closely. Catch yourself when you’re getting into a negativity rant. Notice it. Acknowledge it. Before anything can be fixed, it must first be recognized as a problem. From there, I wasn’t sure where to go next.

I spoke to my therapist later on about it and he gave me some awesome advice. He said, “Whenever I hear that negative voice in my head telling me I can’t do anything right, I tell it, ‘I’d like to see YOU f***ing try it!’ I laughed so hard, because it’s like you’re having an argument with yourself, but then one day I actually did it. I was so empowered. Then, every time I noticed my negative voice telling me I’m ugly or stupid or worthless, I started arguing back with retorts like, “You’re ugly, negative nancy” or “I know you are, but what am I?” or the simple and satisfying, “F*** off, asshole!”

Let’s face it, your inner negative voice is an asshole. How do we treat mean people in real life? We either ignore them and be the bigger person, or we tell them off. I’m a New Yorker at heart, so I choose the more aggressive method. It always works. Once you notice your negative voice being an asshole, check it.

The last part of this sequence, change it, seems like the hardest part. However, once you get a hang of stopping your negative voice in its tracks and telling it to shut up, you gradually begin to see a change in your thought patterns.

Imagine that your confidence is living in an apartment in your mind. At first, your negative voice is like an annoying roommate that eats all the food in the apartment and never leaves your confidence alone. Doing the “catch it” and “check it” steps is kind of like, helping your confidence kick the negative voice out of the apartment. That negative voice will always be around, though, because it only moved in next door. Now when it comes knocking, your confidence can more easily keep the door shut to it. Does my extended metaphor make sense?

2. Positive Affirmations

I get it, this sounds dumb and you assume it won’t help your self confidence. I always felt that way…until I tried it. Here’s how I went about this. The first day, I wrote out 3 compliments to myself that I already sort of believed to be true on sticky notes and stuck them to my mirror. Then, when I looked in the mirror, I read them out loud. Everyday, I’ll add one new compliment to my mirror. When I feel like I 100% believe the compliment, I’ll take it down. But I’ll never leave my mirror empty.

My best friend does something else that I think is really cool. She has a whiteboard on her door with three reminders to look at everyday. She has the categories “one thing I’ll accomplish today,” “one thing I’m letting go of” and “one thing I’m grateful for.” She changes the first and third everyday and leaves the second one up until she feels like she’s moved on with the thing that’s bothering her. It’s a simple and affective way to affirm your worth everyday!

3. Setting Intentions

Every morning, I have to set my intention for the day. If I forget to do this, I find myself irritable and negative all day. For me, setting my daily intentions comes in the form of a “prayer.” I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual and I trust the universe. So my prayer is to what I call “Lady Universe” or “Mother Earth” or even my higher-self or passed loved-ones. I always ask for things to be taken away and replaced with its positive opposite. These are my usual 2: “Take away my dread and replace it with motivation” and “Take away my fear and replace it with gratitude.” I’ve recently added, “Take away my self-doubt and replace it with self-love.” I’ll repeat those intentions in my head until I feel ready to get up and start my day. It always makes my day better!

If you feel uncomfortable praying, you can just as easily repeat your intentions in your head without addressing it to some higher power.

This can be hard to remember when we’re busy. I wrote a sticky note and put it inside my laptop so I see it and make sure I “pray” or “meditate” before I start working.


We women are incredible, even if we don’t realize it about ourselves everyday. Whether you try out my methods or think of your own ways to practice self-love, it’s so important to keep yourself first, but not because loving yourself will make others see you as confident and maybe love you more. It’s important to love yourself because you are worth it.

Ways to Fight Your Anxiety Demon

**DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, but just someone who’s suffered for years with anxiety and has come out on the other side mostly unscathed. Always seek the advice of a medical professional first.


I first started having severe anxiety problems when I was about 14. I distinctly remember being at my grandmother’s house on vacation with my mom and experiencing what I thought was just shortness of breath, which turned out to be a full blown panic attack. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to be able to say, “Oh yeah, that’s anxiety”. Instead, I ignored it and said my back hurt. For years, the physical symptoms of anxiety plagued me without any real thought towards it. My most common symptom was muscle spasms in my mid and lower back that made breathing nearly impossible. This would strike at seemingly random times, often when I was no longer ‘worried’ or ‘anxious’ and on one occasion took me all the way to urgent care.

The first time I had the can’t-catch-your-breath-pacing-around-like-a-weirdo attack was while working at my local movie theater. I was working the concession stand, which is essentially a long rectangle with a stock room in the back. It was a midday, boring shift but something triggered me. Maybe an ex came with their new beau? Maybe a surprising text message? Who knows, surely I don’t remember now. But what I do remember is pacing, panicking and meticulously counting the concrete blocks that formed the managers/box office right ahead of me. Over and over and over again. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. And again. And again. And again. Why eight? I don’t know honestly. Maybe it was from dance lessons as a kid or maybe something about eight just resonates with me.

But in the end, something had to give. After a breakdown call to my General Physician who referred me to a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed as high-functioning panic disorder and prescribed therapy and medication. I first went to therapy my second year in college when I realized that what I deemed my ‘crazy’ was affecting those around me negatively. I’d had some latent realizations of trauma from my past and it hit me like a freight train at 19. Therapy was amazing for me, but that isn’t a universal experience. From a spasmodic 14 year old girl to now, over a decade later, here I am kicking it with my Anxiety Demon like I would a friend. I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks over the years, so here they are. I hope they can at least provide a reference if not a helpful trick or two to anyone else that suffers.


Learn the early signs

The tightening in your chest, the tunnel vision, the suddenly-fuzzy hearing, the rush of heat to your face and neck. Learning the early signs of an anxiety attack can be the most crucial thing. By learning the trigger signs, you may be able to slow or completely avoid a panic attack. That’s how I was able to truly control my little Anxiety Demon – because I figured out how she operated. As soon as I feel those few rushed heartbeats, I take deep breaths and try to relax. Normally, whatever I’m worked up over doesn’t really matter. 

Don’t mix medication and caffeine

I learned this the hard way one night while working at the local haunted house. I took my prescribed medication because I was panicking – then immediately chugged a Monster Energy drink because I was tired. BOY – was that the worst idea. Never in my life have I felt what my body felt during the next hour after drinking that energy drink – I could feel my heart palpitating in slow motion. (In general, high levels of caffenation will make your anxiety worse no matter what, so be careful when engaging with coffee, energy drinks, etc. if you’re not used to it). 

Find something simple and stupid that soothes you

When I started out, counting made me feel better for some reason. I have no history of OCD or any other numbers related ailments, but counting my breath, counting the ceiling tiles, counting the steps it took to get around a building mid-attack was comforting and soothing. A lot of relaxation apps will have you count your breath as a wind down activity, so there must be some reasoning to the numbers. I also used to run my hands under cold water, especially if I had an attack while working. I wanted to cool down – bring my senses down – as quickly as possible. I wanted to extinguish the fire roaring in my head and chest and by running cold water on my hands, it almost immediately brought a sense of ‘Oh yeah, I’m back now’.

Just know, as it starts it will also stop

One of the toughest things about anxiety is that you truly do believe that you will die. That you will always feel this way. That you will never be able to have a deep breath ever again. But that’s the thing: anxiety is just a mental block. It will stop, you will breath again, you just have to let it either pass or run it course naturally. You can create a mantra to remind yourself of this during the attacks or just let yourself feel the flow and know that it will end. 

Create a safety net

Whether it’s an aromatherapy inhaler, special bubble bath or your favorite food, create a small cache of things that make you feel better or grounded. I carried an aromatherapy inhaler in my purse for years that my grandma gave me after my first panic attack. I still have it and occasionally use it when I’m feeling full of lightning. Certain scents are good on the senses and can help you unwind like lavender, jasmine, bergamot and chamomile. 

Download apps or find books to help

These days, I’m sure you find yourself mindlessly scrolling social media, creating an even worse social anxiety experience for yourself like we all do. Sometimes taking a break from social media while staying connected to your phone can help. I’m a personal fan of Candy Crush (proud level 644) or a meditation app like Headspace. Not a phone person? Never fear, books are here! Over the last year, I’ve built quite the arsenal of books to help me understand my issues. From Emotional Detox to First, We Make The Beast Beautiful, there are plenty of books worth checking out about emotions and anxiety.

Talk to someone

The easiest way to come down from a panic attack is to discuss it with someone. When you’re walking someone else through the panic and fears you have, it may be easier to realize how outlandish or wild they are. Whether it’s your therapist, a friend, or a partner/spouse, talking it out can release the hold that your Anxiety Demon has on you. It can ease the tension while allowing you space to breathe. 


If you or someone you know is in immediate danger due to depression, contact 911. If you or someone you know is in need of support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454 or text “HELLO” to 741741 the Crisis Text Line.

It’s OK To Be SAD

SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as Seasonal Depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — it begins and ends at about the same times every year. For most people, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often do people experience SAD in the warmer months, but it still happens!

Fall and Winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

Spring and Summer SAD

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

The Mayo Clinic also firmly encourages, “Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.”

It’s always startling to me how controversial therapy is. Over the years I’ve heard so many people say, “No, therapy is not for me. Tried it once and nope.” or the quip of, “I don’t need therapy” or even therapy being labeled as liberal poppycock is another quip that has the eyes rolling to the back of my head.

I have a very firm belief that anyone who hates therapy simply hasn’t had a good therapist. It’s so important to find the right therapist for you, therapist shopping is a thing! A sucky tiresome thing, I’ve learned in my adult life, but necessary.

The concept of therapy has never been taboo for me, it’s always been a common party of life and conversation – talking about going to see a therapist is as casual as talking about a trip to the mall, or a more accurate comparison is saying you’re going to the doctor for just a checkup to make sure all the parts are running the way they should.

I’ve been seeing a therapist since I was seven or eight years old. My mom had started seeing Suzie shortly after my parents divorced, but my sister and I weren’t brought in for a family session until a few years into my mom’s therapy journey. After one visit with Suzie, we began yearly visits until sometime in high school when it became abundantly clear I wasn’t doing ok and needed more frequent visits. Essentially, I have a habit of bottling up emotions and carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I hate sharing or opening up, because I feel my problems are mine alone to bear, I don’t want to put them on anyone else.

But talking with Suzie became a such an outlet, and I will say – it was an incredible bonus that she was regularly seeing my mom, my sister, and even some other family members. This meant I never had to do a lot of the background family deep dive you usually do with a therapist – she already knew the deep rooted family problems and how they trickled into my psyche. Every visit with her was always this much needed cathartic release of emotion I had kept tightly sealed… she’s a blessing, honestly.

As I got older, moved away for school and what not, I still would hit a point about once a year where I’d be like, “DRIVING UP TO ANDERSON BECAUSE I NEED SUZIE!”

It took probably the second year of me only coming to see her in the dead of winter where she’s like, “Emily, I’m pretty sure you have seasonal depression.”

I was quick to respond, “No, no – I’m sad year round remember?

But she explained it, that yes overall I struggled with mental health, but my lowest points where I seem to be unable to take it anymore happen the same time every year – nearly without fail.

I still had a hard time agreeing with her, mainly because winter is my favorite time of the year, I love Christmas, I adore the snow (I swear I can smell it coming several hours before it actually snows), and I just love the coziness… there’s no way my favorite season would betray me so much. I couldn’t accept it.

But, she was right – it wasn’t really up to me to dispute the facts.

She also let me know that Indiana has some of the highest seasonal depression rates in the country, ranking number 3 overall!

Indiana 3rd in Google searches for seasonal depression | News Sun |  kpcnews.com
Source: KPCNews

Above is an image detailing states with the most google searches for seasonal depression – I think this graphic is most interesting because it shows how many people are wondering, “Do I have seasonal depression?” and looking into it; scouring WEB MD to see if their never-ending feeling of meh is normal. As you can imagine, seasonal depression, like clinical depression, often goes undiagnosed.

The ultimate “cause” of seasonal depression is unknown, but the Mayo Clinic says it could be:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, treatments for seasonal depression fall into four main categories that may be used alone or in combination:

  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy (this is talk therapy aimed to help develop coping mechanisms)
  • Antidepressant medications
  • Vitamin D

Light therapy may be the one to catch your eye (it certainly caught mine) and honestly it’s something that I had always been told about and it’s my mom and my aunt’s favorite form. The quick way to get some light therapy in high dosage is simply going tanning, which I know, I know, it’s not good for your skin. But I can tell you right now, when I excessively tanned throughout college, it always seemed to be the boost I needed that day.

That being said – there are non-harmful, safe for your skin, forms of light therapy available! Very Well Mind has compiled a list of the best light therapy lamps of 2020 – check those out and maybe invest, or ask for one for Christmas 😉

Over the years, the way that I’ve tried coping with SAD is to jam pack the winter months with activities. At work it’s the busiest time which helps, I try to make it where I get to see as many family and friends as possible, and then at the tail end of winter (that nasty February bit) is when it’s the absolute worst for me – so I always try to plan a trip abroad during that time. I find that for me the depression creeps in when I have idle hands and a dwelling mind, so I work hard to eliminate as many occasions as possible where the depression could take its hold.

Some days the depression still wins, making it hard for me to even leave my bed; but sometimes I do the winning and have great days – and that’s just the way it is. It’s a balancing act to get all those chemicals in your brain steady 🙂

. . .

Ultimately, Seasonal Depression is real and not something to be taken lightly. It’s serious, don’t ignore it or brush it off – and don’t brush off your friends and family when they tell you they suffer from it. SAD can lead to serious issues like school or work problems, social withdrawal, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or behavior, anxiety, eating disorders, and more.

Seasonal Depression is a real mental health issue, treat it like you would clinical depression, manic bipolar, bulimia, or literally any other mental health issue. Just because you don’t suffer the effects everyday, year round, does not invalidate the severity or the impact it has, or could have, on your life.

. . .

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger due to depression, contact 911. If you or someone you know is in need of support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454 or text “HELLO” to 741741 the Crisis Text Line.

What I Learned Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons for 300+ Hours

A true gift from this shithole year was Animal Crossing. Originally released in 2001, AC has been popular amongst audiences for almost two decades; releasing in the US in 2002. With over 40 million units sold worldwide and five spinoff games, there is clearly something for everyone to love and learn from Animal Crossing. 

The newest game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, released worldwide in the beginning of 2020 on the Nintendo Switch, eight years after the previous AC game release. A perfect storm of social distancing and much needed entertainment brought AC:NH to new heights, with over 5 million downloads in the first month alone. So what’s so great about this game?

First and foremost, I am not an avid video game player nor am I a good video game player. I typically get bored after a few gaming sessions, having only completed two games prior (s/o We Happy Few and BioShock!). But I love AC:NH and have spent 310 hours playing over the last six months. This is what I learned while playing AC:NH. 

Game Premise 

You embark on a deserted island getaway and are able to create, morph and design your perfect island over time. You have residents that move to your island, along with shops, seasonal events and more to experience. Thanks to your raccoon overlord, Tom Nook, you start the getaway in debt, but don’t worry, you’re able to pay it off quickly. 

What I Learned

First Homesite; Island 1

Daily tasks are necessary – in the game and life.

As a person who’s struggled with heavy depression on and off for a decade, sometimes the essential tasks like cleaning, laundry or eating can be a burden. In AC:NH, your character is rewarded for doing simple things like picking up sticks, clearing weeds or chopping down trees. Being able to make a character push through mundane tasks made it a little easier to force myself to get out of bed and do laundry.


If you’re unhappy, restart.

New Campsite; Island 1

I spent almost 275 hours building an island which is roughly 12 full days. I received the coveted 5-star rating on accident at around 180 hours and was seriously unhappy. I really didn’t like my island – I started playing without knowing the purpose, creating a mismatched, haphazardly built island that I really wasn’t enjoying. So I restarted. Erased all that work and started over. That same principle can be applied to each of us every single day. If we’re unhappy with something – our attitude, mindset, exercise level, whatever – we can change that. Hit the restart button until you’re at ease and at peace with yourself. 


Everything changes and that’s okay.

Celebrating Summer; Island 1

You can build a perfect utopia from top to bottom, but inevitably something will change that you have no control over – like the seasons. AC:NH is set to recreate the seasons of your hemisphere, changing the available DIY crafts, ingredients and overall landscape of your island. This is not something that can be fought, but merely accepted. I do not enjoy change as a person, but playing this game has surprisingly made it a little easier to accept. (An overexaggerated reaction, but a good example nonetheless). 


Sometimes, people you love leave.

5-Star Status; Island 1

When you start your island, there are two other islanders who spawn with you. You’re able to interact with your islanders and swap gifts, etc. throughout the game. However, sometimes your islander will decide that it’s time for them to move on to another island. At first, I hated when islanders would want to leave – because I wanted them to stay with me. But just like in real life, sometimes you have to let people go so that they can be the best versions of themselves. Or alternatively, you need to let them go because they’re not good for you anymore (cough*Curlos*cough).


Just because my island looked different than others, doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Yoga by some trees; Island 2

A fun perk in AC:NH is that you’re able to visit other islands, deserted or inhabited, to trade or simply see a friend’s design. After watching a few of those 5-star island tours on Youtube though, I was feeling pretty dejected about my shabby island. Who cares? As long as I like my island and it functions for me, then it doesn’t matter. The same principle should apply to regular life too. Who cares if I’m not the same size, personality or type as someone else? It shouldn’t matter as long as I’m happy with myself. 


People can be jerks, but that doesn’t mean you should put up with it.

Turkey Day; Island 2

AC:NH contains over 400 characters that you could randomly meet or interact with. The characters are grouped by a personality trait: normal, peppy, sisterly, snooty, cranky, jock, lazy and smug. Snooty and smug villagers can be annoying to deal with, especially when they’re being rude towards other characters. You do have limited control of kicking people off the island if you so choose. There’s no reason to keep villagers or people in your life if they bring you down. Surround yourself with those who bring happiness. 


For anyone that’s looking to kill some time as we move towards another potential lockdown, maybe give Animal Crossing: New Horizons a chance. With bright colors, cute characters and a mostly stress-free gameplay, this can be a great escape for anyone experiencing heightened anxiety from lockdowns, COVID-19 or just the day to day stress of life. Spend your time fishing in lakes or growing flowers or diving for sea creatures.

The 5 by 5 Rule & Selective Energy

I tend to live life in the gray. Meaning, I’ve never fully felt like an extrovert, nor an introvert, I’m not full blown OCD about things, but I am Type A – it’s my way, or the highway (most of the time) but I guess that’s the Taurus in me. Yet, I do firmly say it’s only my way most of the time, because I actually strive to find compromises with people so everyone can be happy… but one thing I incessantly struggle with?

I usually get worked up over the tiniest of things.

This reverts back to the whole Type A thing, when I have a certain way of doing things, and I communicate this “amazingly perfect” way to others – I assume they will hop on board and think, “Oh yes, wise Emily, your way is spectacular I wish I had always known this manner of doing this task! I will now and forever do it this way!” But the crazy thing is, most people don’t automatically hop on my bus. They can see in the moment how great, efficient, and fluid my way is… but it’s not their vibe. They have their own preferred way and *deep breath* I have to accept that.

Something someone had told me years ago was the 5 by 5 rule:

“If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes upset by it.

And honestly, up until like three days ago, this rule always bugged the crap out of me. It would make me want to yank my hair out and scream, “I CAN’T THINK ABOUT FIVE YEARS FROM NOW, MAYBE I WILL STILL BE BITTER THAT THE WRONG FONT WAS USED FOR THAT THING. DON’T TELL ME TO REDIRECT MY ENERGY!”

But this is the thing, little “errors” like spacings, or fonts, or filters, or scheduling genuinely could get me worked up. Like, I have explicitly laid out this yellow brick road for you Dorothy, why are you rollin’ down that red path?!

But you know what? If Dorothy wants to drift and do her own thing, that’s her business.

This whole crazy covid life we live has really put the 5 by 5 Rule in perspective. I can tell you right now that any of the stressing I did in 2015 has no business in my 2020 mind, and I can only assume that 2025 will have its own problems and its own blessings (trying to stay positive here).

The world is already so messy right now, don’t let the mess take over your head. Especially with the current happenings, the scary unknowns, don’t waste your time stressing on small things – focus on the big picture, the stuff that matters, and when the little things start to get under your skin, put the 5 by 5 Rule as the background vibe in your mind and turn your immediate focus to a tangible beauty for a few minutes.

A tangible beauty being something like absorbing the sunshine (even just sitting in front of your window), a quick laydown in your comfy bed, a slow walk around the neighborhood… find a tangible beauty in life to replace the current irritations attempting to dig roots into your skin.

Don’t feed the beast – it’s so, so easy to feed it. But imagine what feeding the beast could do, with each angry bone you toss it, the thing grows and grows, and what does that do to your inner child? Have you ever seen a child excited for the company of a terrifyingly rude and ruthless beast? One that could scream at them for the littlest of things?

Nope? Didn’t think so.

Don’t misunderstand, the big thing I’m not saying is “Don’t stress – ever!” Stress is inevitable, being totally carefree is hard and anyone who seems carefree all the time… or says they’re carefree all the time… is probably full of BS. But what they’re doing right (maybe) is not sweating the small stuff, they only stress about the things worth stressing about.

Ultimately, when you catch yourself getting worked up and overwhelmed, think about the 5 by 5 Rule, yes – but mostly choose where your energy goes.

Sometimes it’s as simple as firmly saying to yourself, “I’m not going to give into this stress. I’m not going to give into this situation. This is not my vibe, this is not worth my precious time and energy.

. . .