The Importance of #AnxietyGirl

The last 12 months have been the worst of my life. But they’ve also been the most liberating. I lost my job, went on unemployment, moved to a new town for a new job that was almost immediately dissolved, and spent the next six months searching for yet another new job. My savings took a big hit, and now I’m too far away to see the therapist I really liked.

I also learned that going on unemployment is not shameful. I applied to so many jobs (around 170 since last April) that writing resumes and cover letters became as easy as breathing. Even interviews lost most of their terror. I learned I can book movers, stand my ground with stupid apartment complex managers, and drive myself through downtown Austin during evening rush hour.

Through some of my favorite people — Jenny Lawson, Wil Wheaton, Linz DeFranco — I learned that anxiety lies to me. It tells me I’m a bad employee, a bad wife, a failure, that I constantly disappoint those around me.

I learned that one of the best ways to fight anxiety is to be open about it. I’ve started blogging more about it, and using #anxietygirl in some of my tweets and Facebook posts. Some things I’ve shared:

  • It’s incredible how fast I can go from being okay to hating every single thing about myself. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • What I hate most about being ‪#‎anxietygirl‬ is how my anxiety saps all of my energy. I’m sitting on the sofa, exhausted and paralyzed by all the things I know I have to do before bed. And this is one of my good days.
  • Things only I think when about to meet strangers: “Damn it, I should have looked at my small talk flash cards!” ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • When the prospect of attending a social event full of strangers in a few days makes you have to stop what you’re doing now and meditate. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬

I don’t post these things to gain sympathy. I post them because 40 million people in the US have an anxiety disorder, but only about a third receive treatment.

I want my friends who count among those 40 million to know that they are not alone; I want those who don’t have anxiety disorders to understand a bit better what’s happening in my brain.

Being more open is scary — it might mean that some people will think less of me, or that I could face prejudice at work.

But I’m tired of hiding, of pretending that I don’t have to fight my brain every day for who gets to control my feelings. I’m being honest, I’m using my anxiety against itself, and I’m better off for it.

Anxiety girl

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Review: The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial, Holly Black and Cassandra ClareMagic is dangerous, and will get you killed. That’s what Callum Hunt’s father has always told him. And the Magisterium — where young magicians are trained — is nothing but a pit of vipers.

For other kids Callum’s age, the idea of purposely failing the Iron Trial is unthinkable; for Callum, it’s a goal. He doesn’t want to leave his father, and he doesn’t want to die.

Callum has always been great at failing, and his performance at the Iron Trial is decidedly unimpressive. But somehow he is still chosen.

Isolated from his father and trapped in the Magisterium’s massive underground complex, Callum is forced to confront his fears — including the fear that his father may have been mistaken all along.

Callum does well in training and even makes a few friends. But an enemy of old is stirring, and the forests around the school are full of Chaos-ridden. A treaty that has lasted for years is about to crumble, and Callum must make a decision that could could put the entire world in danger.

Excellent

I enjoyed Holly Black’s The Good Neighbors way back in 2011; when I heard she’d partnered with Cassandra Clare (author of The Mortal Instruments series) I knew I’d have to get my hands on The Iron Trial.

And I was not disappointed. This ain’t your mama’s Juvenile fiction. It’s dark and twisted, with a complex story line and characters who live firmly in the gray area between Good and Evil.

Callum is a great kid who hides a sensitive soul and fears about his disability behind bravado and snarky comments. His classmates and closest friends, Tamara and Aaron, are also awesome, with plenty of clues as to their own interesting childhoods and plot lines to come.

The world building and plot inevitably invite comparisons to the Harry Potter series, which sometimes made it hard for me to focus on the story Black and Clare were trying to tell. But about halfway through the book picked up speed and took me in a different enough direction that I was able to focus entirely on what I was reading.

Which is good, because shit got real surprisingly quickly. Some big things are revealed, and with four more books to go it looks like it’s going to be full speed ahead the entire way.

The Iron Trial is perfect for fantasy lovers of all ages, particularly those who might be looking for bedtime reading that’s a little more exciting than the standard Juvenile fiction fare.

(I read this book as part of the Monthly Motif Challenge. May’s challenge was to read a book about survival.)

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Writing Prompt #5: A Day in the Life

Writing Prompt(This month’s writing prompt is A Day in the Life: Write about your daily habits and routine.)

4:30am: Awakened by racing thoughts. I need to… Did I remember to… I should… What if I… What if they… You forgot to… Remind so-and-so to… Email myself about… Did I make… Should I listen… Should I say… I wonder if…

5:00am: Get up and move to living room. Lay on couch counting my breaths, trying to force my brain off the hamster wheel.

5:40am: Finally fall back asleep.

7:00am: Alarm goes off. Been using The Rock Clock, which helps me wake up on time and gives me a little dose of positivity and motivation.

7:00am – 7:20am: Check email, social media, and daily web comics.

7:20am – 7:25am: Snuggle with husband in bed, fight urge to go back to sleep.

7:25am – 8:00am: Shower, get dressed, annoy husband until he gets out of bed.

8:00am – 8:30am: Eat breakfast (crackers and peanut butter, cup of apple juice). Sneak in a few pages of whatever I’m currently reading.

8:30am – 8:35am: Make bed, grab lunch from fridge, head out.

8:35am – 9:00am: Get into work and settle at desk. Check emails, priorities/to-dos for the day.

9:00am – 9:10am: Use the Stop, Breathe & Think app to ease anxiety symptoms and try to get into a focused mindset.

9:10am – 1:00pm: Do good work. Wonder half a dozen times whether an email I’m sending is clear, or if the silence in team chat after I type something is natural or a sign that I’ve said something annoying or boring or offensive. Reaching out to husband on Skype chat a couple times, relying on him to be a touchstone of calmness.

1:00pm – 2:00pm: Eat lunch alone in quietest spot I can find. Equal parts eating, reading, skimming social media, and wondering whether or not I should be eating in one of the common rooms and talking to people. Maybe I should try to be more outgoing.

2:00pm – 4:30pm: More work. Listen to music or podcasts.

4:30pm: Realize there’s some kind of Happy Hour thing happening in break room. Briefly consider going in to mingle, feel shoulders tense up and stomach roil at the mere thought. Turn up music and try to ignore the noise and finish the day strong.

6:30pm – 8:00pm: Get home, change into pajamas, chores. Cook dinner, do dishes, make tomorrow’s lunch.

8:00pm – 10:30pm: Check off home to-do list items (pay bills, write reviews, etc.). General straightening up and prep for next day. Watch some Netflix, waste time on the web.

10:30pm – 10:40pm: Force self to floss and brush teeth. Use baking soda because I grind my teeth so hard in my sleep that some of my enamel is crumbling away and baking soda is less abrasive than toothpaste. Rinse with Listerine, which is somehow still less horrible than the baking soda.

10:40pm – 11:00pm: Read or do crossword puzzles in bed. Start nodding off, put book away and put in mouth guard (to ease the grinding). Try to deep breathe myself to sleep before my brain can get back on the hamster wheel.

It’s exercises like this that show me how embedded my anxiety is, as well as the ways I’ve trained myself to combat those feelings and prosper in spite of them. Some days are better and some are worse, but overall I feel like I’m in a much better place than I was a year ago.

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Review: America Walks Into a Bar

America Walks into a Bar, Christine SismondoThe bar. What is today a sticky, crowded space whose blaring televisions and tchotsky-covered walls dull the will to live has a long history of nurturing dissidents and serving up rebellions.

The American Revolution fomented in taverns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Abraham Lincoln’s killer plotted with his conspirators in Surratt Tavern. Bar owners smuggled runaway slaves through their backrooms during the Civil War, and bootleg liquor during Prohibition. After World War II, the women who had taken over as bartenders fought for their right to remain behind the bar (and sit at it, too). The Stonewall riots spilled onto New York City streets as gay men and women protested against prejudice and violence against their communities.

America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops takes a chronological look at bars and the cumulative effect they’ve had in the development of our country.

Do bars really matter that much?

I’ve never enjoyed bars. They’re crowded and loud, two things that shoot my anxiety through the roof faster than almost anything else.

So it was with trepidation that I picked up America Walks into a Bar. Would it be possible for author Christine Sismondo to convince me that bars have a purpose beyond helping people get schnockered?

Turns out, yes! Bars were instrumental to everything from the American Revolution to everyday politics to desegregation and feminism, and to this day continue shaping life in the US.

History + Booze = Fun!

Bars were once much closer to the center of town life than I realized. The Puritans may have built churches first, but for most other settlements the first thing that went up was the bar. It acted as church, meeting room, and courthouse while the rest of the town was built.

Lots of bad ideas were hatched in bars — assassinations, rebellions, briberies — but a lot of good has come from their existence, too.

Although its role in everyday life has diminished significantly, the bar is still sparking debates and movements. Should bars be “family” establishments, or do owners have the right to prohibit toddlers and strollers? What’s the “right” way to drink: a cold beer in a frosted bottle, or something whipped up by a bearded hipster with a canister of liquid nitrogen?

The only thing Sismondo knows for certain is that the bar can never escape its past:

Whether it is blamed on evangelism, the puritan work ethic, or its past as a space for radicals, immigrants, and the disenfranchised, even the most sanitized corporate ersatz roadhouse, replete with piped-in elevator music and bartenders adorned with eighteen pieces of ‘flair,’ the American bar retains a tiny bit of grime that simply cannot be washed off. And that stubborn residue is the hangover from three centuries — going on four — of vilification, adoration, rabble-rousing, escapism, and revolutionary idealism at work.

And why would it want to?

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My Life Plan is to Have No Life Plan

As an anxious introvert, I love planning and loathe surprises. Unexpected changes, even if they’re good, can throw all of my plans and to-do lists out the window. Planning makes my serotonin-starved brain happy in a way that few other things can, and I’ve gotten really good at it.

Which is why it’s so unsettling to not have an answer to the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Planning for a life I no longer had

Not having huge life goals never bothered me until a couple years ago, when a former boss really started pressing the subject. The pressure came from a caring place, and it distressed me to be asked the same question over and over again, and still not have an answer.

So I started trying. I thought about where I was at the time (professionally, personally) and tried to think of places/situations I might want to find myself in down the road. What mattered most to me? Where did I “see myself” in five years?

I was in the middle of trying to come up with my Grand Life Plan when my current life went tits up — so for awhile, my only goal was finding a job that could pay the bills.

Then, just when I thought I’d found something that would not only pay well but also give me room to grow, it fell apart as well. This collapse wasn’t as catastrophic, but it yanked me back almost to the same place I had been just a few months previously. Plus now I was angry.

Fuck the Grand Life Plan. What had it ever done for me? Here was all this societal pressure to “choose a career,” this magical path that would take me to…what, exactly? Financial stability? Professional fulfillment? Happiness? I had none of these things, plus I had seen any plans I had crumble right in front of me. How the hell was I supposed to plan for five years from now when couldn’t even say what I’d be doing tomorrow?

Ditch the Grand Life Plan

It was around this time that I heard one of my favorite former college professors say something incredible:

I hear too many people saying, ‘Well, I need to know what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life.’ Nope. Just the next few years, and then it’s gonna take you somewhere. I think you may have been given the impression that you decide on a career and then you have that career the rest of your life, and everything falls into place like dominoes. That’s kind of a huge lie.

It feels like you’re supposed to everything that you’re supposed to do, and you’re supposed to have a life plan. Ditch the idea that you have to know what you’re gonna do. You have to start looking for opportunities and next steps that will take you to a place that you like better than where you are now. And after that, it’s always that kind of, ‘What now? Where are there opportunities? How do I advance?’

Hearing this was a revelation. It had never occurred to me that changing jobs was anything but total failure, a sign that I wasn’t strong enough to stick with something, even if I didn’t like it and it wasn’t what I wanted.

I’m not sure where this belief in a single lifelong career comes from. Maybe it’s something I picked up in school (“You need to do well so you can go to college and then get a good job”), or from my family (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”).

I don’t fault the people in my life for saying and asking these things — they wanted me to be able to take care of myself and be successful — but I think it’s time to adjust how I respond to them, and how I do my own life planning.

My plan is no plan

I don’t know exactly what I want, so I took my professor’s advice and searched for “opportunities and next steps” that would take me to a place that I would like better than where I was. It took me about six months, and fortunately I think I’ve found that place.

During the interview process I was confronted with my favorite question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I said I didn’t know, and that I preferred it that way. I want to leave things open-ended, give myself the chance to see what all my opportunities are — there’s probably something out there that’s a million times more exciting than anything I could plan for myself. Why risk missing out on that by making something as practical as a five-year plan?

This fits in nicely with my attempts at focus and presence, and I believe is helping my tired, hamster-wheel riding brain finally find some measure of peace.

I don’t know where I’ll be in five years (or even one), and for once I’m not freaking out about it. And that’s pretty damn awesome.

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