Let’s Talk Books — Speak

Warning: Spoilers

Earlier this year I read The Impossible Knife of Memory. It was a book someone had recommended to me last year, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. It was a YA book, but I thought it was a really good YA book that I still found things to relate to even in my late twenties. In fact, it’s one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. I’m not really sure why I didn’t talk about it, actually. Maybe part of the reason was I felt like I didn’t have anything extensively to talk about with it other than it being really good. Or maybe it was back when I wasn’t writing as many posts about books.

In any case, I’ve wanted to check out another book by the author, Laurie Halse Anderson, since I finished The Impossible Knife of Memory. Speak seemed to be her claim to fame, so I added it to my to-read list. And after knocking off a good chunk of books from that list over the past several months, I finally borrowed it.

Honestly, much like The Impossible Knife of Memory, Speak is a pretty good book all around. It feels pretty different from the prior, but that’s not a bad thing. I don’t feel like I have too much to say about it, but seeing as I’ve been trying to talk about more books lately, I figure I could at least try.

Speak is about a girl just starting high school named Melinda. She called the cops during a party over the summer, and now everyone hates her. Her friends have turned into enemies and most of the student body knows what she did and hates her, too. She’s also very depressed; a traumatic incident at the party has caused her to barely talk and she has to spend the entirety of her time dealing with the aftermath.

The book takes place over the course of her freshman year, separated into four main sections cleverly titled as marking periods. In addition, her days are also separated by brief titles. I really liked this. Dealing with depression can very much feel like a day by day challenge, and I think breaking up the story into identifiable milestones like days and marking periods was a really good way of showing that. There’s even a report card at the end of each marking period that shows Melinda’s grades gradually slipping as she continues to struggle with what happened, with the exception of art.

Art is the one class she has a supportive teacher in. At the start of the year, his students randomly pick a topic out of a partially destroyed globe as their subject for their projects all year. Melinda gets a tree, and struggles to make anything good featuring the tree. Her struggles with this mirror her struggles with depression, except that with her art projects, other people can actually see her struggling to say what she needs to say.

Over time, we learn that Melinda was raped at the party. Rape is pretty much the one thing that makes me very uncomfortable in books, movies, etc. but I’ve been slowly getting used to exploring more stories that discuss it. And thankfully, the part where Melinda recalls the actual incident isn’t too graphic. In fact, the scene goes by pretty quickly and is partially blocked out by her thoughts, which I think is a good representation of how that night probably went.

It turns out the rapist goes to her school. She only refers to him as IT for a while, before being able to finally identify him by name (which again, I think represents a good way of how hard it is for her to start processing everything). And if that wasn’t bad enough, he taunts her. When he’s near, he blows in her ear. He grins at her. He winks at her. He even starts talking to her. He starts going out with one of her ex-friends, which Melinda tries to warn her about even though the friend has been pretty superficial and shitty to her for the entire year.

About 3/4 through the book, Melinda starts recovering. She gets on better terms with one of her ex-friends in art class, and through a series of events they write a warning about the rapist in one of the girls’ bathroom stalls. She starts working on projects in the yard instead of locking herself in her room, she dives more into her art projects, and she starts talking a little more.

The little progress she’s finally able to make is threatened, however, when the rapist confronts her in an unused janitor’s closet, which Melinda has been frequently using to cut class. He yells at her for spreading rumors about him and tells her she wanted what happened. He assaults her again and comes close to raping her a second time, but she manages to scream and get away from him. As she leaves the closet, another of her ex-friends (along with the sports team she’s on) sees what was about to happen.

It’s never revealed what happened to the rapist, but thanks to the sports team many of the students in school found out what really happened at the party and apologize to Melinda. This is a little weird — while I know Melinda was trying so hard to let someone know what happened, I’m not sure if she wanted so many people to find out. But she doesn’t really comment on that one way or the other, so I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. The book ends with Melinda learning to accept what’s happened, but now with a resolve to move past it.

The narration made everything about the book seem more real. Melinda is very direct. She doesn’t waste the readers’ time with long-winded explanations on why she feels the way she does. We can see it through her direct commentary on everything around her and her actions, which I think is what ultimately helps make a good book. The fact that this works well with the short, diary-like sections also adds to the book’s overall impact.

There were a couple of things that I could nitpick, though. For starters, the book is really predictable. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just a neutral fact. As soon as Melinda identified her assailant as IT, I had immediate suspicions of what happened at the party. Out of curiosity, I went back to the copyright page and scrolled down to that small list of subject matter the book contains and sure enough — rape. People more familiar with stories like this could have probably put this together from the inside flap summary alone. From then on I kind of assumed, as a YA book, Melinda would reveal what the rapist had done and gotten her friends back. And while this is more or less what happened, I’ll give the book a lot of credit for having Melinda not just “getting over” what happened. She directly acknowledges it happened and can’t forget or ignore it. It’s a permanent part of her that will always stay with her, even when she decides she needs to move on. I wasn’t expecting a mature way of ending the book like that.

Aside from Melinda, the characters are also pretty standard YA characters. The teachers range from angry and strict for no reason, weird and disconnected from the students, and in the case of the art teacher, the eccentric genius that’s passionate for his students to succeed and see the world from his point of view while being the one supportive adult in the story. With the art teacher in particular, I felt both jealous and disconnected. For me, art in high school was never particularly involved. I never learned much from my teachers and we pretty much got credit as long as we worked on something. But it was more or less a free period. When I read settings like this, I can’t help but wonder if this is what high school art was supposed to be like or if my school just sucked.

Her parents are also pretty unsupportive. Her mom is so no-nonsense that she tells Melinda she doesn’t have time for her cries for help, even though throughout the book she complains that Melinda never speaks. (Would YOU talk to someone about a traumatic event when they tell you they don’t have time for threats of running away or suicide?) The book sort of goes into a dysfunctional family system that’s been around for a while, and how it used to be better when Melinda was a kid, but it doesn’t dive deep enough. There was certainly a lot of room to explore that further, and I sort of wonder why go enough to raise questions and intrigue but not far enough to justify bringing it up in the first place.

But honestly, these are nitpicks. In other YA books this would have bugged me more, but I think the book was really good as a whole. It knew what it was about and how it wanted to show its story, and it stuck to it for the most part. It more than makes up for some of the less interesting characters. I would definitely recommend reading it if you get the chance.

Speak

Info for my edition of Speak:

  • Published 2006 by Speak
  • Paperback, 198 pages
  • ISBN 9-780142-407325
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Dealing with Depression — Driving

I hate driving.

When your main driving is commuting to work, and that commute is about 40 minutes, driving becomes a great place for negative thoughts, triggers, and breakdowns to form and take hold, leaving you relatively helpless to do anything about it. You’re stuck in that driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, sitting more or less still with the exception of moving the steering wheel or switching your foot from the acceleration to the brake.

For those that don’t know or don’t remember, I moved rather suddenly last fall. The whole experience wasn’t exactly smooth. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t move far. A couple of towns over, about 25 miles. It’s my grandmother’s old house, which my parents inherited after she died a few years ago. I’m familiar enough with the area and the space between the two houses, so it’s not like I was completely thrust into a new environment. (Even though it sure feels like it. Guess it’s the difference between visiting somewhere and living there.)

Anyway, my job is back in my old town, so I’ve got a commute again. I had bigger commutes traveling to college — both of them — so I didn’t think it would be that big a deal. And with no homework waiting for me when I got back home, I was like, “who cares then?”

I didn’t count on depression like this, though. I didn’t plan on my car being one of the easiest places to be affected by it. Which in hindsight, I guess that should have been more obvious. My mind wanders a lot. Being stuck in a car for an extended period of time should have been a red flag from the start.

It’s not just the extended commute. As soon as I leave my neighborhood, I’m on busy roads. I lived in my old town for almost 20 years. I’m not only very used to traveling on mostly empty back roads, I need it. I need open spaces. I’m a nervous enough driver as it is. To immediately leave home and merge into busier traffic is still jarring, even nine months later.

I’m pretty much traveling through light traffic for 75% of the commute (a little less if I’m on the parkway at a good time). And I guess I’m more or less used to it, but when I’m trying to fight off attack thoughts and feelings of negativity, being surrounded by other vehicles and constantly stopping at traffic lights definitely doesn’t help. In fact, being stuck at a light when I’m being overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings is one of the worst places to be if you don’t want to feel completely helpless.

That last 25% of the commute is traveling the back roads from my old town to my job. It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, getting away from all those other drivers and cruising down empty back roads filled with trees and fields feels much more right for me. (Did I mention my new town and most of the commute isn’t very nature friendly? No? Well it isn’t.) For a brief time, I get part of my old life back.

On the other hand, depending on how badly depression is hitting me that day, traveling through here only makes me feel worse. Missing my home and my neighborhood is also one of the reasons I’ve been depressed. Which in all honesty is kind of weird, because I honestly thought I was ready to move someplace completely new. But after everything that’s happened, now all I want to do is move back. Being back there makes me feel more at home than anywhere near my new place, but being there also makes me miss it even more.

I’ve cried a lot while driving this year. When I’m driving, something will always find its way back into my mind to remind me I’m still struggling with depression. And because there’s so little I can do about it in the car, everything builds up and overwhelms me. By the time I get to work, I honestly feel worn out. And I haven’t even started working yet!

The only realistic thing I can do while driving to distract myself is listen to something. I’m not really a fan of radio. Between stations playing music I either don’t like or the same songs I’ve heard too many times (coupled with varying degrees of static), I generally stay away from radio unless I really need to listen to something and whatever CD I have in my car and whatever music I have on my MP3 player won’t cut it.

I used to be able to leave any given CD in my car for a week and listen to the whole thing two or three times. My commute to work used to be only about 10 minutes, after all. It’s pretty easy to stretch out an album with that kind of time. But now I can easily listen to a whole CD twice from one trip to and from work. I feel like I’ve overplayed a lot of music, and I hate to say it, but I’m losing interest.

And it’s not like I had a lot of music that I currently want to listen to, anyway. I’ve built up a pretty decent music collection over the years, but at least half of that is stuff I’m not into anymore. The remaining CDs, well… they definitely fit certain moods, I can tell you that. The thing is…

I don’t know if this is going to make sense, but hear me out. Music’s great at being something people can identify with. In the past, music has been a great asset to me. I felt like whenever I was overwhelmed or alone or, well, depressed, I could count on music to connect with. That connection helped in some way.

It’s been over a year since I fell into my current state of depression, and for the first time, music isn’t helping. In fact, most of the time music makes me feel worse. When I feel like I can completely get real and submit to all my feelings and just let go with the right album, music’s great. But most of the time, music has been reminding me of all the reasons I’ve been so unhappy. And most of the time I’d honestly rather try to concentrate on getting though the day. I know I’ll probably be reminded of my depression sometime in the day. I don’t really want my music to act as a trigger.

There’s only a few bands I have albums of that I can really have “fun” with. They may still strike some chords with me, but as a whole they’re still something I can still enjoy. Thing is, it’s still easy to overplay and get tired of them. I’ve actually brought out some of my video game soundtracks from back in high school to listen to more, just to mix it up. They don’t have lyrics, so nothing about them triggers any negative thoughts, just general nostalgia (and since I don’t have any real desire to return to high school, I don’t see any harm in it).

What seems to help me most while driving, though, are podcasts. I used to listen to the Rooster Teeth podcast once a week when I walked around my old neighborhood, but stopped at some point a few years ago. I felt like a disconnect was growing between me and my interest in Rooster Teeth, so I started skipping weeks and eventually stopped listening to their podcasts altogether. I missed it though, so now that I have a bigger commute I figured it would be a good time to try getting back into it. I’ve been listening to their new podcasts for the past month, and I’m glad to say I enjoy them. Maybe not as much as I used to — I still feel disconnected or uninterested during certain parts — but as a whole listening to the podcast again has been helpful. Listening to conversations is a lot better for my mind right now than listening to music lately.

One of my friends also makes a podcast with a couple of other people. I’ve been listening to his for a while now, too, and it’s also helped me deal with driving. They mostly talk about video games, like what they’ve been playing, what’s new in the world of games, and the music of games. They even have a segment dedicated to a certain soundtrack each week, and they’ll talk about it, how it was composed, what the soundtrack was trying to go for, etc. If you’re into that kind of thing, I’d recommend giving them a listen sometime at http://www.8bitsandjoysticks.com/ They’re also trying to do some community events, so give them a little love if you’re interested.

While I do enjoy both of these podcasts, they’re both about video games. And while I do like video games, I don’t need to listen to stuff about them all the time (I already listen to enough game stuff on YouTube while I’m working on other stuff as it is). And while Rooster Teeth talks about a lot of other stuff on their podcast, I still identify them as a game-related one.

Podcasts have been helping me deal with driving a lot. I’d like to find more to listen to. They’re free, and should be released regularly. It’s been a great way of getting new stuff to listen to without hurting my wallet. If anyone has any podcast suggestions, or if anyone’s had similar problems with depression and driving and wants to share anything they’ve done to help deal with it, leave a comment. You never know who it will help.

Thanks for reading, hope everyone’s having a good week! 🙂

Dealing with Depression — Revisiting Community College

I don’t really want to talk about my depression, but against my better judgment I’m thinking of starting a new series of posts discussing ways I’m dealing with it and how effective they are. Like I said, I’m thinking of it — this may or may not be a thing, and I have no idea if it would even be a regular topic if it became one. But I know a lot of you also have issues with depression, stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this out in case it somehow helped someone, or at the very least made someone feel less alone.

A lot of my depression comes from the fact that most of my friends have either moved or started a new phase of their lives that I can’t be a regular part of. That departure also makes the fact that I no longer have the closer community of literature majors and writers from my four-year school that I’d grown to appreciate and need a lot more apparent. I feel like I’ve lost a lot, and it really hurts.

I’ve been trying not to think about it, which of course varies in success depending on how well I’m feeling at the time. I changed a lot when I transferred to my four-year school, and I still stand by the fact that I changed for the better. However, as much as those years and people have influenced me and helped me grow into the person I am today, I’m beginning to wonder if placing so much into those things is making my fight against depression more difficult. I feel like I’ve lost too much, and that makes it harder to feel like there’s anything more to my life.

However, I’ve been trying to think of a time before my four-year school and the people I met there. Because whether I want to admit it or not, there was a before. True, I was less mature then. I honestly don’t have any sort of desire to return to that time. But there was a time before then, and I’ve been trying to do the things that made me happy then.

Before I transferred to my four-year school, I went to community college for two and a half years. It was a really big transitional time in my life between high school and college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent each semester cycling between art, business, teaching, psychology, and language classes, trying to see where my proper fit in life lay while making sure these classes satisfied my requirements for the A.A. in liberal arts I chose to pursue.

Honestly, community college wasn’t a particularly happy time in my life. College was a huge adjustment to me in terms of workload. I had a new 45 minute commute to do. I felt a lot of pressure to know what I was doing in life when I clearly didn’t. My friends from high school were dropping one by one. Now that I’m writing it, I see some similarities between then and now. 🙂 But a big difference was I wasn’t depressed back then. I was just mad a lot.

That being said, a lot about that time doesn’t really stand out to me. I don’t remember most of my classes very well, and I don’t remember a single professor’s name. I never made any long-term friends there, just a few people to talk with before class started.

Honestly, despite the workload, what I remember most of community college was spending time with the one friend I had left. I went to high school with him, and he wasn’t having much more luck in college than I did. We ending up hanging out a lot, and those times are what I end up thinking about whenever I recall my memories of community college.

We’d usually have one day a week where our classes would line up in such a way that we could meet for lunch. We’d spend an hour eating and talking, very similarly to lunch period in high school. If we were both free afterwards, we’d usually go back to his house and hang out for the rest of the day. We’d take trips to the mall, buy new anime and manga, go out to eat, play video games — a lot of stuff what you would expect teenagers to do. But at the time it was fine, because we were still teenagers. It took us a while to grow up.

And like I said, I don’t have any particular desire to go back to those times and do all the things we used to. But I do miss something about those times. I miss feeling like someone else was in the same boat as me. I miss knowing what I liked and what made me happy. I miss feeling like even though I just started college and had no idea where I was going, I still had a lot of time before I finished school and entered the “adult” world. And I guess that’s what I would want to return to — those feelings.

Anyway, I hate building this up like it’s some grand story when it really isn’t. I’ve been wanting to revisit my community college and take a little walk around campus. Sometimes things become much clearer to me if I’m physically there, so I was hoping I might find a way to remind myself that I had a life before my four year school. You know, that I existed before it and I could exist after it, too. So yesterday after work, I finally took a ride up there.

I’m never really up in the area where my community college is. Of the 45 minutes worth of a trip it was from where I used to live, I only ever went 20 minutes of it for unrelated needs. So a portion of the ride there was full of “Oh, I remember this!” moments. I was a little concerned I would forget the way; I didn’t remember any of the road names I needed to take. But things started clicking into place fast. I smiled as I remembered some of the littler things on the way there, like this one roadside stop that sold garden decor and the large expanse of farmland. There was even a bridge that went over a really beautiful lake! How the hell could I forget about that?

I brought the messenger bag I wore during college with me — partially for storing some casual clothes to change into after work, and partially to look like a college student in case someone thought I wasn’t supposed to be there (I’m a paranoid mess, cut me some slack). I also brought my camera with me. I used to bring my camera everywhere when I used to walk a lot. There was usually a lot of beautiful scenery that I wanted pictures of, and eventually I started taking pictures of important places so I wouldn’t forget them. And although I must have gotten a few weird looks from passing students and maintenance workers for taking pictures of seemingly random things, I’m glad I finally had some photos of the places I used to spend time at on campus.

One of the first things I started thinking about was how it’s been almost 10 years since I started at community college. Those milestone thoughts are usually common ones for me. I started thinking about who I was still talking to, the car I was driving, the job I was working at, the classes I started out with (oh god, the art class) — my mind was all over the place.

And of course, these milestone thoughts make me compare myself to me 9 years ago. It’s a mixed bag; I’m still struggling with many of the same problems, albeit in different ways, but I can also see how much I’ve grown up since then.

As much as I don’t remember my classes and professors, I somehow retained a pretty vivid image of most of the buildings on campus, and this was really obvious as I walked about and toured the school again. With the exception of the cafeteria, everything at the school stayed the same. I recognized everything. And I guess that’s to be expected — after all I did spend two and a half years studying there. But like I said in the beginning, this was a very transitional time for me. When I think of community college, I don’t think of what I did at the college itself, but rather my time hanging out with my friend.

I looked through all the buildings again, trying to remember which classrooms I had courses in. I recognized some of them, even the dreaded art room that demoralized me from pursuing anything creative for over a year as well as the “psych dungeon,” which is what I called the basement level classroom I took my second psych class in with an awful and rude professor.

Maybe it was just the heat (90+ degrees and high humidity are perfect parameters for hiking around a campus with your messenger bag full of crap you never emptied from the last semester, btw), but the longer I spent exploring campus and trying to relive memories, the less I really cared. It was nice seeing the place again, considering it played an important part in my life that wasn’t all bad, but… I don’t know.

I don’t want to say it didn’t matter. In a way, I came back and confronted a place that gave me a lot of stress and frustration. So that felt empowering. I set foot in a place that had remained in my memories for years, so that helped me feel like I can always come back and revisit people and places. They don’t need to stay locked away in memories forever. Well, sometimes. And at the very least, I took a drive to somewhere besides work, and I enjoyed it. It’s nice to be going somewhere other than work. In clothes that aren’t work clothes.

But the trip didn’t make me feel much better in terms of believing that a life existed before I was depressed and could therefore exist afterwards. I’m still trying to maintain the outlook, but the trip itself didn’t do anything to really reinforce it. Maybe it was never going to. Maybe it was just a weird line of thought in my head and something got mixed up. I got up this morning, started working on this, got called into work, had an awful day, and came back to finish this post. The negative thoughts and me missing so much ran pretty strongly today. I was hoping this trip back to another time would have helped, and even though it did in some ways, in the ways I wanted it to, it didn’t.

Maybe it was because it wasn’t significant enough in the grand scheme of things. Maybe there are more important things to make me feel there’s more to me than what I lost. Maybe it was just a bad day. Who knows.

I’m glad I went back there, though. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and it was nice to physically see something that only existed in memories. Maybe in some unknown way I needed closure and this will help. At any rate, taking a drive to somewhere unexpected and having it go smoothly was a nice change of pace. Maybe I should make a point to go venture out to interesting areas more often.

Fuck You, Anxiety

Lately I feel like my posts have been focusing more on reviewing books and talking about video games. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, especially because I want to review things. But I’ve been avoiding talking about mental wellness topics for a while now and I want to address that.

If you’ve read a lot of my posts throughout the past year, you’ve probably read something about my struggle with depression. It’s not something I like throwing out there, but sometimes I feel like there’s no way around it and I just need to admit to it. The past couple of months, for no particular reason, has made me feel more anxious than usual and I haven’t felt like talking about things like mental health. In fact, I still don’t. But I had an idea I want to start trying out and I wanted to share it.

What if I treated anxiety like an obnoxious asshole? For example, I’m driving to work. It’s a 45 minute commute. I know it sounds bad because while operating a motor vehicle, you really should be alert at all times, but when you take the same route every time you go to work you can’t help but ease up and let the trip come naturally after a while. So essentially, I’m just sitting for 45 minutes unable to really do anything but turn the steering wheel and hit the turn signal lever. Depressed people should never sit still for that long without doing anything because their minds will eventually wander towards negative thoughts, and all they can really do is just sit there and take it.

So when those negative thoughts come swimming through my head and I start to feel like a wreck before I even get to work, what if I imagined my anxiety as some jerk in the seat next to me? I can’t tell off my own thoughts very well, but I think I could handle telling this imaginary person next to me to piss off.

Let’s compare:

Anxiety as a feeling:

Isn’t it great how you can pass by your old neighborhood every time you go to work? At least you didn’t completely have to say goodbye to it when you moved. You can still see it. Through car windows. Sure, you can’t just leave your home and walk around it like you used to, but you can remember it. And miss it. Here, keep looking at it. Miss it even more. Miss walking past the bank and couple of strip malls you used to grow up with. Remember the video store that was here? You used to rent video games in the summer here. Remember Kirby 64? You rented that one summer and played it at your friend’s house when you slept over one night. You took all the sheets in the house and made a big tent in his room while playing it. That was fun. Let’s remember more good things. That way it can make all the shitty things going on right now feel even worse. Blah blah blah blah you’re awful blah blah blah you’re not getting better blah blah blah…

Anxiety as a person:

Anxiety: Isn’t it great how you can pass by your old neighborhood every time you go to work? At least you didn’t completely have to say goodbye to it when you moved. You can still see it. Through car windows. Sure, you can’t just leave your home and walk around it like you used to, but you can remember it. And miss it. Here, keep looking at it. Miss it even more —

Me: Hey, can you go fuck off for a while? I can’t deal with you right now.

And I can drive the rest of the way listening to music without incident.

Or how about this. You’re in bed, trying to fall asleep. But low and behold, the bed is a terrible place to be when you’re trying to avoid anxiety. You’re about to fall asleep, everything’s blacking out, when anxiety lifts the covers and slides in next to you.

Anxiety as a feeling:

Hey. Sleeping, huh? Yeah, that’s cool. Sleeping’s kind of lonely without another person though, isn’t it? Like, how do you do it? How do you go to sleep each night knowing the fact that you’re going to wake up the next day without anyone next to you? How can you fall asleep without holding anyone? It’s weird. You’re weird. Here, I”ll hold onto you. We can sleep together.

Anxiety as a person:

Anxiety: Hey. Sleeping, huh?

Me: Yeah. Go away now. I can deal with you in the morning.

Anxiety: Yeah, that’s cool. Sleeping’s kind of lonely without another person —

Me: That was actually my nice way of saying eat a dick. Anxiety, would you mind leaving the room and shoving your mouth full of one? I seriously don’t want to listen to you right now. No one does, really. This would solve a lot of problems.

And then I can fall asleep.

Just an idea. I don’t think it’s going to work all the time. After all, if there was a surefire way to get rid of anxiety and depression nobody would be anxious or depressed. But it might be worth doing if nothing else is working.

Why I Like Nostalgic Things (And Why That Can Be Dangerous)

I don’t know if you can tell by a lot of my posts, but I’m drawn to nostalgia. As someone that thinks about the past a lot, I guess that’s to be expected. I try not to talk about it too much with other people; nostalgia’s typically something I relive on my own. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an important part of my everyday life.

But ever since I was a teenager, people have always been sort of critical of that. People often develop the misunderstanding that I get so nostalgic because I believe the past to be some kind of golden age I’d like to return to. And while it’s true that I think about better times when I get nostalgic, I wish there was an easy way I can explain to people that I typically don’t want to go back in time. I want to keep growing as a person, I want to make new memories, and I want to experience new things.

However, I’m not perfect. I hit roadblocks. I get depressed. I get frustrated. I get lost. Nostalgia helps me deal with that. I never grew up moving every year, or had divorced parents, or anything like that. But I diddo — seem to have a recurring pattern of getting attached to people who will suddenly disappear from my life. And as someone that’s particularly sensitive to change, I don’t think I need to explain how difficult that can be to deal with.

Nostalgia acts as a kind of anchor for me. It helps me keep something familiar around when everything else in the world seems too different. You know the Perler bead art of old video games I sometimes post? Nostalgia. Making Perler bead art has been such an important aspect to helping me deal with depression this past year. It reminds me of a time when I had a better understanding about life, when I knew what made me happy and who I was, when what I had to deal with was clearly laid out in front of me and I didn’t have to second guess every action I took.

Some might argue that’s just a natural part of growing up; life is less black and white as an adult than it is as a kid. And yeah, I agree. But letting the unknown have such a strong hold on me doesn’t exactly sound like a natural part of being an adult. I mean at some point it is, and I imagine it’s something that will pop up throughout life. But constantly feeling it for years? No — that’s a sign something else is going on.

However, I won’t deny that too much nostalgia can be dangerous. That episode of Futurama where Fry starts collecting all the things from his time period and sits in his apartment all day in the dark watching reruns of old TV shows is a perfect example of how dangerous it can be. Deep down, I really do want to grow as a person, make new memories, and experience new things. But as anyone that deals with depression can tell you, there are times when it honestly feels like living in the past is the better option. You want to listen to music you used to listen to. You want to watch TV shows and movies you watched when you were younger. You want to play old video games. You want to revisit places you used to go to. It’s a natural feeling when you’re feeling depressed and nostalgic all at the same time.

And for a while, it’s comforting. It helps distract you enough so your mind doesn’t clock into overdrive and completely overwhelm you. But after a certain point it stops becoming a distraction and acts as more of an excuse to avoid moving on in life. For example, when I got depressed last year I started playing a lot of older RPGs I have strong memories attached to. I revisited a lot of them during the past year, and for a while it helped me stop thinking about my depression. But at some point I felt like I needed to keep revisiting old RPGs because without them, my mind would focus too much on negative things. I came to rely on them, and I know from previous experiences I didn’t want that. When I was ready, I put more focus into other areas of my life. And while things haven’t progressed much with me personally, I at least feel like I’m more capable at looking at my problems and not having an overwhelming desire to run away.

You’ve got to find a balance with nostalgia. Yeah, that’s a little cliche, but it’s true. Reliving old memories is great, but doing it too much can hold you back from moving forward more than you think. It’s especially dangerous for people who are prone to depression. Since both nostalgia and depression draw you back to a previous time, it’s very easy to get lost in there. It’s a necessary evil, though — at least to an extent. I think it’s very important to contemplate the past. It helps you see repeatable patterns of negative behavior you want to change. It helps you feel comfortable when the rest of the world makes you uneasy. But it’s so hard not to slip and tumble into a giant mess unless you know how to tread properly.

For Ex-Christmas Fans

It’s here again.

I don’t want to be a Grinch and spoil the holiday for those that enjoy it, so if you’re someone that feels the need to spread Christmas cheer, this post probably isn’t going to be too appealing. This is more for those that are looking forward to the holiday season ending.

Sigh. What happened, Christmas? We loved each other once.

It used to be my favorite holiday. And I mean, come on: compared to dressing up and getting candy on Halloween, or shoving my mouth with Peeps and more candy on Easter, Christmas had presents. Like, non-consumable, things-I-actually-wanted-but-couldn’t-get-because-I-was-a-kid presents. Action figures. VHS tapes. Books. Video games. Things I saw in stores, during commercials, advertised in magazines, things I’d seen all year, things I’d developed a hope of receiving at the end of the year. I don’t want to say I was deprived of fun things as a kid, but unless it was a Happy Meal toy, the only time I was going to get anything a kid would actually want was on my birthday or Christmas.

So yeah. Christmas. Kind of a big deal when I was a kid.

And I don’t want to sound cheesy, but family was a pretty big part of Christmas, too. We invited my grandparents and cousins over every Christmas Eve. There was always a genuine rush of excitement upon seeing them, and the bags of presents they brought was a pretty nice touch, too. Christmas music played all day and night, and my dad would make a fantastic dinner. And as soon as it was over, either he or my grandfather would say “Who wants to open presents!?” We would all rush over to the tree and start opening the gifts from our grandparents, uncles, and aunts (gifts from parents would be spared until Christmas Day). And afterward, we would watch A Christmas Story, a favorite of my dad’s and just as much an annual tradition as everything else.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, my parents and grandparents would hype all of us up over Santa coming that night. And it was like, “Whoa. You’re telling me, that mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa bought all of these presents for us kids, and now tomorrow there’s going to be another person with even more presents?”

We were kings, really. And the adults were bringing their yearly offerings.

On Christmas day, my sister and I would sneak downstairs and dig into our stockings before our parents were up. And when they finally got up, after like, a million hours, we tore into the rest of our gifts. The floor would literally form a whole new layer over the carpet as we sorted through our new stuff. I always felt some strange sense of bonding with her as we compared what we received. We would play with them all day, and sometimes my best friend from next door would come by and show what he got for Christmas, too.

When I became a teenager, things started to become a little different, although Christmas still remained my favorite holiday. I was really into anime during high school, so now when my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas, it was always awkward because I had to write out the names of TV shows or soundtracks because how the hell was an adult supposed to remember some obscure Japanese title they’ve never heard of?

At the time, I really didn’t think I minded; I was a teenager, I didn’t want my parents all up in my business about what I liked, I wanted my own space to explore interests on my own. But thinking back on it now, I think part of the magic Christmas had during childhood was that my parents did know everything I was into. They knew what I liked, and they knew how excited I would be to get my gifts.

But you know what? That was okay. I had friends that knew how much I would appreciate what I got. Friends that would be excited for me and who I would be excited for as well. Where in childhood Christmas was all about receiving, my adolescent years presented me with the fulfilling sensation of searching for presents to buy for other people. I don’t really know what changed, but I found myself looking forward to seriously thinking about what I was going to buy for people. Exchanging presents with friends was always so… great, to be blunt. I can’t really explain why. Maybe it was because my friends didn’t all live in town, and the fact that they were thinking about me made me feel like I was special or something.

And god, I’m so embarrassed to admit this now, but back then, I loved the Christmas hype most of all. I loved seeing everything decorated. I even started hanging Christmas lights around my room the day after Thanksgiving. I loved hearing Christmas music on the radio and in stores. I loved the Christmas specials.

The Christmas specials! Look, the Grinch, Peanuts, Rudolph and all them… yeah, okay. Classics or whatever. But for me, a big Nickeloden fan, Christmas specials stepped up their game my freshman year of high school. Nickelodeon was doing this series of commercials that had stop motion clay figures of all their Nicktoons singing Christmas songs, and it seemed like every show got its own holiday special that year. The Fairly Oddparents had a surprisingly good Christmas episode that was honestly a little heart warming. Invader Zim did its own twisted take on Christmas, and considering what a huge fan me and another friend of mine were of the show, our excitement easily showed as the premiere grew closer.

But I think all fans of Nicktoons from that era can agree on the Christmas special that stood out most: the Spongebob Squarepants one. The way Spongebob kept saying “Christmas,” Mr. Krabs’ high-pitched lines when they sang the Christmas song, the super sad picture Squidward took of Spongebob when Santa didn’t show up, how they put the donkey over his face as he was mocking Spongebob for believing in Santa, and the ridiculous gestures Santa made when he eventually made an appearance – I think most people can agree the Spongebob Squarepants Christmas episode is one of the most nostalgic, memorable, and loved Christmas specials from the generation us 20-somethings grew up in. To this day, it’s probably the only Christmas special I’ll try going out of my way to see.

And judge me all you want, but when Squiward feels bad, dresses up as Santa, and says “I didn’t bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, Spongebob. You did,” I’m sorry, but… tears. Tears all around.

But yeah, during my teenage years, and even my early college ones, I loved how hyped the world seemed about Christmas. It was really embarrassing how much I loved it. I even remember when I was 16, I was talking to a friend during art class about it. She hated how commercialized Christmas was, and I argued I loved it because it hypes the world up and actually seems to make people nicer to each other (oh, 16-year-old me… enjoy that naivety).

Sometime during college, though… I don’t know, Christmas. You just started becoming something else.

Like clockwork, the end of every fall semester put an enormous strain on me because of final exams, papers, and projects. I didn’t even have time to think about Christmas until the semester was over. And even then, I began feeling more and more worn out and unable to get excited about the holiday as each year passed. It started becoming something that came and went, rather than a day I couldn’t wait to count down to. I still liked it, but the magic started to run out around this time for me.

It also didn’t help that unfortunate circumstances seemed to start gathering around this time, either. I lost a couple of good friends rather suddenly pretty close to Christmas. One of my friends lost her husband in the middle of Christmas night. My grandmother died the week before Christmas. Things like started happening, and it’s hard to get back into the Christmas spirit when you have memories like these taking up residence in your head.

And it’s not like I’m the only one that feels like this. In fact, I’d say a good third of the people I know have some kind of nasty memory that gets in the way to enjoy Christmas. Depression becomes pretty common around this time of year, especially when the rest of the world seems so happy. And like other times of depression, it’s easy to feel like no one wants a party pooper around.

I think one of the reasons why Christmas became such a hated time of year for people with this problem is because they have this idea that Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. It’s supposed to be an end-of-the-year celebration, “the most wonderful time of the year,” as so many radios and store speakers insist on persuading us. And we feel awful for our own personal reasons, and the world becomes forced positivity being shoved down our throats. It’s incredibly suffocating, especially when we’re busy dealing with our own shit inside our heads. And we can’t be honest about how we don’t want any of this, because it ruins Christmas for those that like it.

It’s even harder when you used to like Christmas, too. You’re very aware of how much things have changed. And you’re very aware that things aren’t going to go back to being the same. You may want to really like Christmas, but… well, you just can’t. You can try, and you may even stop hating it for a while. Who knows? Maybe you can reach a decent ground with Christmas again. But until that time comes, it’s just so… awkward. And with the season being hyped the way it is, complete with its own obnoxious soundtrack everywhere you go, and beginning as early as September (no one’s thinking about Christmas in September, stores!), the entire last quarter of this year can be so difficult for a lot of people. And when no one else can understand that, Christmas becomes an extremely lonely time of year.

Loneliness is often difficult to talk about. Loneliness can make you feel vulnerable. You feel isolated. You feel empty. And again, when the whole world seems to be talking about how wonderful this time of year is, it makes you feel even worse. Even if there’s other people around, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not lonely. Loneliness is very much a state of mind. If you’re surrounded by other people that you don’t get along with or understand you, it’s easy to feel alone. And because Christmas promotes togetherness, it’s easy to feel even more lonesome during the holidays.

And then, of course, there’s family. I feel like many people who enjoy Christmas either still have a great support network of friends and family. I can see why they’d still enjoy the holidays. But for others, friends have come and gone. Family isn’t quite what it used to be. Drama develops and Christmas becomes more about accommodating your relatives’ issues while still trying to remain positive. And as we get older, it becomes more difficult to meet new people to include in our private lives. If there’s not a lot of people around to start with, looking forward to meeting with the ones who are still here, but aren’t on your good side, is very difficult.

Christmas. My friend. What happened? Surely all these dumb, grown-up emotions and problems can take a backseat, right? Wasn’t Christmas about the presents?

It’s weird, but all those memories of presents involved other people. My parents and grandparents giving them to us. Opening and comparing them with my sister and cousins. Shopping for the perfect gifts for friends. It’s easy to look forward to the presents most of all when you’re a kid, but whether you like it or not, you become more selfless as you grow up. The presents involve other people. Christmas involves other people. And if you don’t have the right people, Christmas becomes a chore. A state of mental health you deal with and try to move on from. A distant memory whose magic is long gone.

I don’t want to be a downer. I really don’t. I still make efforts to enjoy Christmas. I just made a Perler bead ornament of Link from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That’s something. Right?

But I can’t deny it. I’m one of the people – one of the many, many people – who find Christmas depressing. This post is for those people, who get scrutinized for hating “the most wonderful time of the year.” I wanted to trying exploring the reasons why Christmas has lost much of its magic for me over the years, and I hope in the process some of you were able to understand why Christmas isn’t great for you, either.

But let’s not end on such a bum note. I still want to enjoy Christmas. Somewhere inside of you, I think you do, too. So just remember that much like depression, you don’t have to let the negative aspects of Christmas own you. You can try making new traditions. Try focusing on doing happy things for you, even if it’s not Christmas related. Try making this time of year something to look forward to, even if there’s been a lot to make that seem impossible.

Just keep trying. Christmas still wants to be your friend. It has flaws and doesn’t understand what happened between you either, so try making it understand. Teach it and yourself why things have gotten so distant, and then see if there’s any way you can make something work out.

Keep trying. Stay healthy. And good luck with the holidays. 🙂

 

Mentally Preparing for Families During the Holidays

Thanksgiving’s this week, and the rest of the family-centric end-of-year holidays are approaching too. If you’re reading this, chances are you have some family issues. Maybe they put you down. Maybe you never feel good enough for them. Maybe they just piss you off. Whatever the case, holidays can be extremely stressful and take a heavy toll on our mental health.

I want to remind everyone not to let the obnoxious tendencies of our families bring us down. As much as I hate the holidays, even I’ll admit they’re supposed to be good experiences. But I know sometimes there’s no helping it, and they’re not going to go well, no matter how much positive thinking you’re going to bring. So it’s really important to remember to take care of yourself during this time of year.

You should try spending as much time around people that have a positive effect on your life as possible. I know it’s not always easy, especially the older we get, but don’t forget about all the different forms of communication we have today. There’s texting, social media, Skype, and the good old fashioned phone call. Even if you can’t see them, remember to keep in touch with the people that make you happier during this time of year.

Make extra time to do things that make you happy, too. Read more, write more, play more games, watch more movies, take more walks – do more of the stuff that stops you from focusing on the bad. If you’re going to have to deal with hurtful experiences with family, the least you can do is walk into those situations as recharged and happy as you can possibly be.

Like I mentioned in my post about unwanted house guests, there are some things you can do to take the edge off having to deal with family. I recommend checking it out if you want more details, but to add to that list, don’t be afraid to show up a little late or leave a little early. Everyone’s situation is different, but make something up. If you’re having guests over at 3:00, say you were invited to another person’s place to celebrate the holidays and you’ll be back at 4:00. Or not at all, if you can get away with that. Say you have work very early the following morning, so you should go home earlier to sleep. Pretend you’re sick. I don’t want to encourage lying, but when family’s driving you to the point of a mental breakdown, you have to play a little dirty. Do something personally fulfilling both before and after the main event so you won’t have to end the day on such a bummer note.

I wish there was some kind of universal advice I can give to make it through this, but there isn’t. I can only encourage you to take care of your mental health and make it through the holidays with as little damage as possible. Take care of yourselves, guys. And treat yourselves to a soft pretzel or cinnamon bun or something when it’s all over. ❤