Shitty Moods

Sometimes someone asks you, “Hey, you all right? You seem like you’re in a bad mood.” To which you reply, “Why yes, I am in a bad mood. Someone was really rude to me at the grocery store, and it just got under my skin a little. But thank you for asking. That alone already makes me feel better.” And you hug, and ice cream falls from the sky, and golly, things just perk up.

Then sometimes when someone asks, you say “I don’t fucking know why I’m in bad mood, so just leave me the fuck alone!” Then you flip a kitchen table, get a carton of ice cream from the freezer, lock yourself in your room, and eat the whole thing with your bare hands.

Granted, both scenarios may be slightly exaggerated. The point is, I’ll be talking about shitty moods today.

Shitty moods are different from regular bad moods. With regular bad moods, you usually have an understanding of why you’re upset. Someone said something really mean to you at school. You worked really hard on a project that didn’t turn out the way you wanted. A friend cancels plans with you, plans you were looking forward to all week. Something generally happens that disappoints you or makes you mad, and you can easily explain why.

Shitty moods appear to be more irrational. They’re more personal, and usually require a little more digging or understanding to explain yourself. Of course, reasons don’t really matter when you’re in a shitty mood, all that matters is that you’re in one and you usually don’t want to deal with anyone or anything. And it’s hard to be around people, even people that you genuinely like and want to help you, because you can’t just give a reason for why you’re so upset. The best thing is usually to just wait it out somewhere by yourself until you settle down and can think more rationally, because when you’re like this, everything seems far worse than it really is. And when you’re combining shitty moods and an onslaught of negative thinking, your day is bound to end in tears.

So what can you do to calm your shitty mood before you feel even worse about yourself? The first thing you should do is find somewhere quiet where you can breathe. Go to the bathroom if you’re at school or work. Sit in your car if you’re at a noisy house or party. Just make sure it’s quiet. Then close your eyes and breathe. Don’t think about anything else but breathing. Focus on inhaling and exhaling. Take nice, long breaths, too. Short, quick breaths aren’t going to calm you down, so take it slow. And breathe through your nose. Breathing through your mouth tends to produce quicker breaths and sighing, and neither are going to help here. Just nice, long, slow breaths. Do this for five or ten minutes. You won’t be instantly better, but you should be at least a little calmer. You’ll hopefully start to think more clearly, too. Try doing this fairly regularly. Every hour or two, give some dedicated time to breathing.

If you feel like you’re going to be irrationally bitter to everyone, you probably need some time to yourself to cool down. Unfortunately, you’re probably going to have to do some interacting at some point during the day, and depending on who you have to deal with, this can either make your shitty mood better or worse. If you deal with people you can trust or feel comfortable enough with, give them a head’s up. I have a friend and a couple of coworkers who know I can sometimes get into these shitty moods, and they understand and give me space. They help or show support if they can, but they know as well as I do that I just need some time. If you don’t have anyone like that around, just keep trying your best to make it through the day. Do your breathing and keep in mind that other people don’t know what’s going through your head right now, so try not to let your shitty mood make you take it out on them.

When you are able to get some time to yourself, you need to relax. Everyone’s different, but I’ll let you in on some of the things that help calm me down. Exercising is usually good. Chances are you’ll have a lot of pent up energy after being in a shitty mood, so releasing some of it through exercise helps. Regular exercise tends to help put you in a better mood in the long run, too.

Hot showers or baths can also help. Well, I can’t really vouch for baths. My bathtub doesn’t have a drain stopper anymore, so that option’s out. But hot showers are great for relieving tension. You won’t be bothered (unless you live with unusually obtrusive people), the hot water will make you feel better, and you can just stand there for as long as you need to while the water peppers your body.

Turn Facebook’s chat off. Even if you’re by yourself, you see all those people who are still online, and you can still feel the weight of not wanting to deal with people when you’re on it. In fact, just don’t deal with Facebook in general. I know, I know. The latest updates of which bars people are at or Instagram-imported pictures of food aren’t going to browse themselves. But honestly, my Facebook feed just makes me feel more overwhelmed when I’m in a shitty mood. Check it once a day until you’re feeling more like yourself, if you even have to check it at all. I usually like to separate myself from Facebook, Twitter, and my E-mails until I’m doing a little better. Focus more on you rather than what other people are doing.

Play some video games. I used to be a fairly big gamer in my teens and early 20’s. Now… ugh. I don’t know what happened to video games, but I’m just not interested anymore. I still like playing the old ones, though, and I usually play video games more regularly when I’m depressed or in these shitty moods. Bring out something you grew up with, something that you know makes you feel better on the inside. The Donkey Kong Country games for Super Nintendo usually help me out, as well as any Mario or Zelda game for Nintendo 64.

Drink something warm. Nothing alcoholic. You don’t want to mix alcohol and your shitty mood. No coffee, either. You don’t want to be more alert, you want to relax. Try tea. I’ll admit, I’m not really a tea guy, but I don’t know how many times I’ve read or been told to drink hot tea to calm down, so I’m trying to get used to it (for what it’s worth, it does seem to help at least a little). I’ve heard chamomile is great, but I’ve yet to try it. Hot chocolate works fairly well for me, but be warned: it can still keep you up at night.

Go shopping, but don’t go overboard. If you haven’t bought anything fun lately, go treat yourself to something affordable. I’m sure you’ve wanted some new shirts or pants for a while. Go buy a new set of clothing. At the very least, you’ll know you have one less thing to worry about doing.

Relaxing music is always good. My mp3 player has different shuffle options for different moods, so sometimes I’ll put on the “mellow” selection to help me calm down. Everyone’s music tastes are different, so I’ll leave it to you to decide what works best, but some of my favorite songs to help me calm down are “Home” by Barenaked Ladies, “When You Were Mine” by Cyndi Lauper, “Name” by Goo Goo Dolls, “Through the Dark” by KT Tunstall, “The Background” by Third Eye Blind, and “Home” by Vanessa Carlton.

There are some YouTube videos I have in a playlist for this kind of situation, too. Some are for helping with self-doubt, some are for advice, but almost all of them do a pretty good job of helping me cool off. There’s one particular video about dealing with panic attacks and anxiety issues that ALWAYS makes me feel better, if for no other reason than it makes me feel like someone else out there feels some of the same things I do. It’s by Tessa Violet (aka meekakitty), and I’ll link that video here if you want to check it out.

Relaxajin is also one of my favorite YouTube channels that helps me calm down (it even helps me focus when I’m having trouble writing). It’s the second channel of Lucahjin, a popular Let’s Player. Unlike her primary channel, though, Relaxajin is dedicated to soft spoken, soothing videos meant to help you take a deep breath and ease your mind. When I was in a particularly shitty mood last week, I plugged my headphones into the computer, closed my eyes, and listened to one of her videos. This one is another of my favorites, one that I’ve returned to many times when I’m kept up at night with negative thoughts. This particular video is a Q&A; she answers submitted questions from her listeners that deal with topics such as acceptance, moving on, and relationships. I highly recommend checking it out here. If you’re in a shitty mood, she’ll probably touch on something you’re close to, and if not, it’s still a very relaxing video.

Hopefully some of these will help you comfort your shitty mood. I know it’s really tough being in one, but hang in there. Sometimes it can take a while. Last summer I spent two months trying to get out of a really shitty mood. Don’t let it overwhelm you. It takes some time. Time by yourself, time getting to know what’s eating you and why it’s bothering you so much. And eventually, time with other people. It’s hard, but after enough time try making yourself do something with a good friend or someone close that you can trust. Sometimes a good night out is the final push from shitty mood to good mood again.

And if you find yourself frequently getting into shitty moods, try seeking some professional help. I’ve spent a large portion of college seeing a few therapists on campus and reading self-help and psychology books, and I don’t think I could have made it to where I am now without them. Therapy can be expensive, but at least check out your options. If you’re in school, chances are you can see some kind of counselor for free.

Whatever you do, at least remember to keep breathing.

Snow

I think I hate snow. I don’t like hearing that we’re going to get heavy snow. I don’t like my commute time doubled. I don’t like looking at the muddy mess leftover after the initial snowfall. I don’t like slipping on my driveway. I don’t like when my car decides to lose control and I have to play a dangerous game of “get the car back in the lane it’s supposed to be in.” But now I’m looking outside my window, snow falling, slowly piling up on the fence, the patio, the grill, and everything else in the backyard, and I’m thinking perhaps I’m too hard on it, knowing well enough that tomorrow I’m going to hate it again.

Oh, snow. We have such a toxic relationship together. What happened?

I have pretty fond memories of snow from my childhood. My best friend lived next door, and every time it snowed (and if school was cancelled), we’d be out there playing in it. I know, I know. Pretty original story, right? But to be fair, most childhood memories of snow are about the same thing. We’d bundle up in a bunch of clothes and jackets and it was hard to move around in, and then we’d just go out and fling ourselves around the snow like dogs. It felt really nice, to have this weird snow thing just pepper our bodies throughout the day, and we wanted to enjoy it because who knew when it would come around again?

We’d pretend we were characters from video games or cartoons. Well, we did that a lot when we played outside anyway, but this time it was different because it was the snow version. And there was just something about how the snow blanketed the entire neighborhood that made it seem like we had a brand new, blank canvas to play on. We explored more, we stayed outside longer, and we played with the landscape. We tried making snowmen. Sometimes it worked out. It was a little rare to find snow that packed well enough. But we had fun doing it. Sometimes we tried making characters out of snow. That didn’t work out as well. We tried building igloos, too. Probably more than snowmen. I think we wanted to try igloos more because they stumped us. We knew what the looked like, but when we tried building them they just seemed like a structure that defied nature. Why did they keep collapsing??? Some of them just turned into snow forts or bunkers. Which was fine. I don’t know, there was something about being a kid and wanting to be cradled by snow. It sounds so claustrophobic now, but there was something comforting about being in a small area surrounded by snow.

And after a day of playing in the snow, we would either get called in by our mothers or decide we were too cold and wanted to warm up inside. And there would usually be hot chocolate. And it would be made with milk, because you can’t get away with making it with hot water on a snow day, you need to use hot milk for that special snow day hot chocolate flavor. Sometimes there’d be marshmallows. It didn’t really matter, though, because we were just in from the cold and had something really warm and delicious in our bellies. And then we’d play video games.

To be fair, we played video games a lot as kids. But I don’t know, there was something special about playing video games on a snow day. Snow days were like extra weekend days because we usually had all our homework done the night before, so we could just play all day with no real consequence. And for our school, if we got a snow day, the next day was most likely a snow day, too. At the very least, a delayed opening. So we didn’t have to worry about getting up early, we could just stay at each other’s houses for much longer than we normally could. We were only next door, after all. So we just played video games for the rest of the day, but the best part was we were still looking outside our windows the entire time, so it was like playing video games in the snow. And I don’t know, something about that was just kind of magical. Like, I’m trying to recall memories of snow and the strongest ones include staying inside playing video games, but for some reason I’m still remembering the snow. That kind of magical.

What happened, snow? Did I just become a cynical adult? Does the bad just outweigh the good? Back then we made such great memories. What do we have now? I drive 15 mph on unpaved back roads to get to work. Work doesn’t usually get snow days unless it’s really bad. Even when I was in college, snow days were rare. And I had a 50 mile commute, too. So even if it snowed so much I couldn’t open the front door, it didn’t matter because that didn’t necessarily mean it snowed that much at my school. It may not have even snowed at all. And college professors don’t tend to excuse absences for dangerous driving conditions.

I know, it sounds like whining. Maybe we tend to hate the snow after a while because we can’t play in it anymore. It doesn’t mean much if we still have to go to work. We need to get up earlier and clean our cars off and shovel our driveways and drive slower just to get there on time. The world doesn’t stop anymore when it snows. It’s far less beautiful that way. All snow does is create extra obstacles.

And yet…

There’s nothing like seeing the first snow of the season. Seeing a neighborhood blanketed by it, before anyone makes footprints or tire tracks, is stunning. Holding a handful of snow still feels cool, and good. Bring it close and you can see the light bounce off the tiny crystals. And call me a sappy romantic, but the idea of walking through a small flurry with someone you like makes me warmer than that delicious, made-with-milk hot chocolate ever did.

Oh, snow. You’re too much like an unhealthy relationship I just can’t seem to break away from.

Let’s Talk Books – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Warning: Spoilers

One of the reasons I wanted to start a blog was to talk about some of the books I’ve been reading lately. Not really a review, or a detailed analysis, just some general thoughts that I wanted to get out there. I originally wanted to do this on YouTube; my casual manner of speaking is probably better off in video discussions. But since Google’s busy fucking everyone in the ass over there, I figured doing this in a blog might be a better choice (not to mention that, as a writer, it will help in the long run). And while I didn’t exactly want to start with a book that so many people love while also getting its fair share of hate, it’s got my mind thinking and I’d rather just get this out of the way while it’s fresh. So let’s talk One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I haven’t read this book in years. I’d like to say I picked it up again sometime during college, but to be honest, I think the last (and only) time I read it was during my senior year of high school. I remember liking it, but I don’t remember why. It was probably because McMurphy was such an entertaining character. Back then I wasn’t exactly a smart reader. In fact, between being forced to read as assignments, writing essays on books I didn’t understand, and dealing with teachers’ frustration with my misunderstanding of themes and interpretation, I was actually turned off from reading literature for a while. It wasn’t until I started taking my creative writing workshops during college that I started appreciating reading again. Being taught to write better helped me read better, and my professors encouraged me to ask a ton of questions, and have actual discussions about stories, and overall helped me grow more than my high school teachers ever could.

One of the books that several of the other writers in my workshops recommended to look at again was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so I made a mental note to take a look at it again now that I grew as a reader. I finally got around to it, and I’ve got to say, I’m glad I did. I think one of the things I was looking forward to the most was the narration. One of the first things I learned in my workshops was that the narrator and main character aren’t necessarily the same person, and the professor who taught me that used this book as an example. I really liked how although McMurphy and his influence were such integral parts of the story, the book was really about the Chief, his growth, and how McMurphy’s actions affected that. McMurphy kind of just dominated my memories of this book, and it was really nice to see the entire story through the Chief’s eyes, to see his hallucinations, to wonder if he was a reliable narrator, and to see his memories of his childhood and father. And without the narration written as it is, the Chief would become just another patient.

Another thing I liked about the narration was that there were a lot of moments that made me feel really connected with the book. The fog that the Chief keeps describing was one of my favorite aspects of the story, even if at times it felt a little overdone. I feel lost fairly often, so seeing his perspective through the use of fog was pretty interesting. His descriptions of being alone and fear of ending up at the Shock Shop while wandering through the fog were great.

Then I discovered something: I don’t have to end up at that door if I stay still when the fog comes over me and just keep quiet. The trouble was I’d been finding that door my own self because I got scared of being lost so long and went to hollering so they could track me. In a way, I was hollering for them to track me; I had figured that anything was better’n being lost for good, even the Shock Shop. Now, I don’t know. Being lost isn’t so bad.” (118)

This was one of my favorite passages. It reminded me of all the times I’d been lost throughout my life, and how I used to rely on other people’s attention or advice so I could find a better grasp on how to live. And more times than not, doing this kind of screwed me over and put myself at the center of manipulation (kind of like most of the patients). And at the time, I really didn’t care, because I also thought being treated poorly was better than being lost by myself. And what I ultimately realized was the same thing the Chief did; being lost isn’t so bad. You can’t really find yourself or what’s important until you get lost with yourself sometimes.

While we’re talking about relying on other people to define you, there’s another part of the book narrated by the Chief that expresses this really well:

I lay in bed the night before the fishing trip and thought it over, about my being deaf, about the years of not letting on I heard what was said, and I wondered if I could ever act any other way again. But I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all.” (178)

Again, this passage hit close to home. I don’t know how many social situations I’ve been in where I’d try to contribute to conversations but was interrupted, or talked over, or just ignored. I felt stupid, like what I said never mattered. After a while I stopped wanting to contribute altogether, and then people started treating my like an antisocial person because I stopped talking as much or just didn’t want to go to parties or out for drinks. And for a while I actually thought I was pretty antisocial. It wasn’t until later, after meeting people that did listen and did treat me with a little more respect and did genuinely want me around that I felt more comfortable being social. And that’s where this passage, and for that matter, a lot of the patients speak out to me. You shouldn’t feel like something’s wrong just because some shitty people make you feel worthless. There are a lot of manipulative people out there, and it’s not just authority figures in books like these. There are a lot of really smart and talented people out there that beat themselves into the ground because they let some assholes make them believe so. And not just bullies or other assholes, but, like, toxic friends or unsupportive family members. Sometimes there’s something really great that can’t grow because of its environment. And again, you might need to get lost by yourself for a while before getting the confidence to stand up for yourself, not unlike McMurphy.

And what happens when you don’t? Well, the Chief says that pretty well, too:

There had been times when I’d wandered around in a daze for as long as two weeks after a shock treatment, living in that foggy, jumbled blur which is a whole lot like the ragged edge of sleep, that gray zone between light and dark, or between sleeping and waking or living and dying, where you don’t know you’re not unconscious any more, but don’t know yet what day it is or who you are or what’s the use of coming back at all–for two weeks. If you don’t have a reason to wake up you can loaf around in that gray zone for a long, fuzzy time, or if you want it bad enough I found you can come fighting right out of it.” (242)

Anyone that knows the foggy gray knows how difficult it is to get out of it. Sometimes it’s a little more than just something to be lost in. Sometimes it’s a debilitating poison that saps your energy. Sometimes it becomes a breeding ground for negative thoughts that anchor you to bed. I guess that’s one of the reasons why the Chief stands out to me so much. He was in it for so long and he got out of it. Against pretty bad odds, he got out of it. And I guess that’s the main thing I took away from this book, it’s about realizing what’s true to you and what’s false, who’s really on your side, who’s manipulating you into thinking there’s something wrong with you even if there isn’t, and finding your own way out of the fog.

A lot of the negative feedback I’ve found about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is that some people found it a little juvenile. A lot of older adults think it’s a little overrated and more suited for a young adult or college mindset. I don’t personally agree with that, and maybe one of the reasons is because I am a twenty-something year old, but I can kind of see where those opinions come from. The Combine, while I think worked well in the story, is just another Big Brother mechanic, and the whole “government controls us” thing does seem to work better for a younger crowd. And I did just spend the majority of this post gushing over how much I loved the whole “finding your own way” aspect of the book, an aspect that probably sounds immature or overdone to an older audience that actually has found their way. But like I said, I’m a twenty-something year old, and all these things are still really important to me right now. Maybe in 10 or 20 years I won’t think so fondly of the book, but right now it’s one of my favorites. I’m really glad I came back and looked at this book again after so long, and while I can’t say for sure everyone will like it, I do think it’s something any reader should experience at least once.

Info for my edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:

  • Published 1975 by Signet
  • Paperback, 272 pages
  • ISBN 0451067525 (Signet W6752)

Creative Ruts

I’ve been involved in a number of creative projects ever since I was old enough to peel back the paper on a crayon, so I can confidently say, with no hesitation, that being in a creative rut sucks. It’s frustrating, it’s time-consuming, it’s not productive, and it often leads to questioning your self-worth (although for the purpose of this entry I’ll just focus on the rut itself and leave the topic of depression for another time).

One of the biggest issues is that you really do want to produce something, but you just don’t, for whatever reason. For me, it usually starts out with not knowing where I want a story to go or how one of my characters should behave. I end up having these staring contests with the blinking cursor while I try to figure out what to type next. Which is actually pretty normal for a writer, but then these contests last longer and longer, and I end up spending a couple of hours only writing one page. One page eventually turns into half a page. Then a paragraph. Then a sentence. And I’m not satisfied with what I wrote at all. Not just normal artistic self-doubt. True dissatisfaction and disgust with myself that this is honestly the best I could come up with in such a large amount of time.

And it just keeps going downhill from there. Eventually you go a week without making anything, then two, then a month, and all the while you keep having thoughts and ideas that you want to put into some kind of form. For me it usually happens when I’m unable to write, like while I’m driving, or in the shower, or at work (a lot at work, actually). You start getting overflowed with all this pent up energy, but by the time you get home and can actually do something, you just can’t. And it’s usually because you got into a rut and are out of practice, and now you’ve been overthinking and may or may not have a ton of new ideas but have no fucking clue where to start. And now there’s all this pent up energy and desire to do something but you can’t and you’re about to freak!

Well, first of all, if you’re reading this in a situation that will allow it, scream (if you can’t, make a point to do it later). Ready? One, two, three…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, take a couple of deep breaths now. Feel a little better? You should. If not, try again.

There are a couple of things you should keep in mind as a creative person. First of all, it’s okay to be in a creative rut. This is normal. What’s that? You’ve been in a creative rut before? Lots of times? Good. That’s normal, too. I would be very suspicious of the person that confidently says that he or she’s never been in a creative rut and can regularly produce quality work.

Second, you’re not going to produce quality work most of the time. In no way do I mean this to be demoralizing, but it’s something a lot of us, especially myself, seem to forget. A big reason we stop producing content is because we try forcing ourselves to make work perfect the first time. Sometimes we do it because we can’t stand looking at ourselves do mediocre work, but like I said, we’re not going to make something great most of the time. The sooner you can truly accept that there’s going to be more crap than good, the sooner you can start regularly (and reliably) producing more work, which will in turn eventually lead to producing more good work. I mean think about it, do you really think those books written by what’s his face are the only things he’s written? Or the handful of albums by creative band name contain the only songs they’ve written? No. It’s easy to think the “pros” produce gold all the time, but they’ve got their shitty work, too.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, take a couple more deep breaths. Scream again, if you need to.

Keeping those thoughts in mind, there are some ways that may help get you out of that obnoxious rut. To start off, keep absorbing contentBy this, I mean if you’re a writer, keep reading. If you’re a musician, keep listening to music. If you’re an artist, keep looking at other artists’ work. You can’t be a good whatever if you don’t know what makes stuff good, and you find that out by absorbing content. A lot of it. Don’t be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone, either. Read books by people you’ve never heard of. Listen to different genres of music. Look at a lot of crappy stuff and teach yourself why it’s crap. It’ll help you learn what makes good art. If you aren’t regularly absorbing content, start immediately. Do it every damn day. If you’re not producing your own work, you can at the very least say you’re doing something to help you learn more about your creative field.

Do something new. Like, with yourself, or in the world, not just creatively (although never hesitate to try out something new in your own work). Add a new routine. Go for a walk somewhere and get some fresh air. Or go walk somewhere new (and safe; let’s not walk through dangerous alleys at three in the morning). You’ve probably heard something like this before, but it can be very refreshing, especially if you haven’t taken one in a while. Do more exercise in general, too. You have all this pent up energy from being unable to express ideas anyway, so you may as well let out some steam through more exercise. Try working in a new place, too. I get so much more writing done when I’m at the library or a computer lab than I ever do at home. Don’t know why, but where you are can make a difference. And again, don’t be afraid to change it up, too. Don’t use one specific place as your savior for getting out of the rut. A lot of people like having a study or office or some other room in their house dedicated to being creative, but for me, it never helps if I limit what I do to one specific location. I’m a writer; I shouldn’t be limited to doing my thing in one place. I should be able to do it anywhere.

Do something nostalgic. Nostalgia can be dangerous, I used to be particularly prone to getting lost in nostalgia during depressive episodes, but if you can reliably handle it, go and revisit some old stuff. Go read the books that made you want to be a writer. Go listen to the music that first sparked intense emotions in you. Whatever media that helped your imagination grow, go revisit it for a while. Take a good look at your roots, see your beginnings with a new set of eyes, and evaluate how far you’ve come. Retrospectives aren’t bad, so partake in one every once and a while.

And finally, if you can’t do something right now, just don’t do it. At the end of the day, you may just need a break. If you’re really struggling with something, put it down and come back later. Give yourself a few days or a week off. While you do need to keep working towards something on a regular basis, sometimes you just need a little time off to breathe. You’re only human, after all. Just make sure you get back to work. Set a specific amount of time off. As soon as it’s done, get back to work.

So I guess that’s my thought on creative ruts. I need to get my ass up and back to work myself. Hope this helped out in some way. Just remember, you’re not the only artist that gets stuck, don’t be afraid to make crap, and always keep trying. Good luck.