Touching On Overthinking, Anxiety, and Depression

Well, winter’s technically over now. After three months of cold, too much snow, and being stuck indoors, what better way to spend the first weekend of spring than by letting my overactive imagination attack my self-esteem? Ah, spring. Beautiful. Truly beautiful.

All right, let’s get a tad more serious. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve also had a difficult time keeping your head straight when it starts trying to remind you of all your faults. I’d like to just say upfront that this article isn’t going to give you answers on how to stop an overactive mind from trapping you in a dungeon of low self-esteem. A previous article I wrote explores some options that may help you regain a clearer head, but as of right now, I don’t have any more tips. Sorry. ūüė¶ Instead, I’m going to try explaining what it’s like to get caught up in a cycle of overthinking, anxiety, and depression. You probably know what it’s like, but I’m hoping that by reading someone else describe the experience, you’ll at least take some comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one that struggles with this.

Overthinking

It happens. Some people can handle it better than others. Recognizing that you overthink is always important in order to prevent, or most likely reduce, future incidents. However, overthinking will still happen, and it’s almost never good.

It usually starts with something really stupid. Some small action or trigger by someone (possibly yourself) will¬†send you on a dangerous road, unpaved, full of potholes, and lots of broken glass. Although I spent this past weekend beating myself up, the truth is it’s just another decline in an emotional rollercoaster I’ve been riding for a little over a month now. After looking back on it, I think the main thing that triggered my current state is a picture someone put up on Facebook. (See? Something really stupid.) It was from someone I used to consider a good friend, a picture of her and a group of other people I used to be closer to. They all went out to eat that night, and I guess she felt the need to let everyone know they were there.

I used to go out to eat with these people every now and then. Granted, they weren’t usually experiences I enjoyed. Although I had nice one-on-one interactions with most of them, these group get-togethers weren’t for me. They¬†talked over me all the time. I could try to contribute as much as I could, but I easily faded into the background among people who were louder. It didn’t help that they were all extremely extroverted. Not that that’s a bad thing; I myself can be more extroverted than I give myself credit for. But deep down, I’m an introvert, and that’s not a bad thing either. I prefer intimate conversations that they found a little too serious for a night out drinking. Honestly, that’s probably what created a drift between us¬†in the long run. And that’s fine, it’s no one’s fault, but…

Seeing the photo of them really bummed me out. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I would have wanted to go even if I was invited. Hell, I really don’t like this particular person anymore anyway, and often found myself trying to make excuses to duck out of outings when she was there. And the truth is, I really don’t care that I wasn’t invited. It saved me the trouble of either making an excuse not to go or dealing with an unfavorable situation for a few hours.

But here’s where overthinking comes in. The fact that I wasn’t invited out with people that I used to be closer with¬†did remind me of a lot of issues I still struggle with. Fitting in. Expressing myself. Being left out. Not being as close to people as I would like. Loneliness in general. It reminded me of when I had more friends in high school, good friends that liked talking to me and accepted that I wasn’t always the most confident or outgoing person they could be spending their time with. That led me to thinking of the big falling out we all had when graduating, which involved a lot of distrust and frustration with my inability to raise my self-esteem (which certainly didn’t help my self-esteem). This led me to thinking about¬†community college, which involved a lot of trying to fit into a new place and failing to make any real connections with anyone, all while trying to find my own path in the “real” world. Which led to my four-year school, involving several deep connections that ended rather abruptly and ungracefully. Which led to sorting through all of the possible things that are “wrong” with me, and how I’m going to “screw up” more relationships with people.

All from a photo that I couldn’t care less about. Like I said, something really stupid. Overthinking is balls, man.

Anxiety

You can get pretty irrational when you’ve been overthinking. Trying to explain why something really small is upsetting you can be very difficult. It can involve a lot of personal history and struggles many people either don’t know about or understand. This can cause a lot of anxiety. You’re already making your own problems worse by overthinking, but now you’re struggling to connect with someone by failing to properly explain your thought process without sounding like a lunatic.

So you either beat yourself up even further by dwelling on the fact that you can’t explain yourself, or you keep everything in and try to sort through your feelings on your own. You might be tempted to do the latter, and truth be told, I usually do the same. The thing is, trying to do everything on your own tends to lead to more overthinking, which in turn leads to more anxiety. Then you go back to wanting to talk to someone, but failing to effectively do so…

You know where I’m going. It’s a cycle. And every turn you get more anxious. This is where overthinking turns into anxiety. It’s possible to start overthinking about something and talk yourself out of whatever self-depreciating thing your brain is trying to convince you to feel, but when you let it happen, it takes over. You start becoming aware of a lot of little, stupid details that probably don’t mean anything but you convince yourself they¬†might.

She said “Hi!” the last time I talked to her, but now she just said “hey.” Is she mad at me? Was I too boring the last time we hung out? I guess I wasn’t as upbeat as I could have been. I was in a bad mood about something, but I was having a great time with her! Maybe I should ask. But that would be weird. Maybe I should wait. Yeah, let’s wait. Oh no. Why is it taking so long for her to reply to my message? Maybe she doesn’t want to talk to me. Maybe she really is mad at me because I’m not fun. I’m probably wasting her time right now. I wanted to know if she wanted to go meet up for lunch or something this weekend, but now I don’t know. Even if she does, I’m going to be a mess while I’m there. What if I run out of things to talk about and she doesn’t have anything to say, and we both just sit there like two people on a bad first date? Then she’ll be even more mad at me…

Any conversation in your head ever go like that? When you’re anxious, you become super sensitive. You start looking for every little thing that could possibly go wrong with a situation. It paralyzes you. It makes you nervous to be around anything, including people that care about you. You start making up imaginary situations in your head,¬†often ending in disaster. Sometimes you confuse those made-up events for ones that really happened, and you become frustrated with people for no real reason. You have trouble expressing yourself at all, and you look like a stiff mess. You’re constantly on the verge of saying something, but keep hesitating because you’re afraid of the repercussions. Then all those irrational fears that overthinking brought on start to fulfill themselves. For example, when I become way too self-conscious of what others think, and I start to feel afraid that I’ll screw something in a friendship up, I can be very awkward, say weird things, bring up random questions that make me look like a weirdo, and just overall not be very fun. And unfortunately, it has hurt relationships with people.¬†And it probably could have been avoided if I didn’t “let” anxiety and overthinking take over.

Depression

“Let.” It’s a touchy word for those who¬†regularly fall into depressive episodes. On the one hand, we have control over ourselves. We can choose to work out our personal bullshit. We can choose ¬†to work on our self-esteem. We can choose to stop overthinking. We can choose to stop letting anxiety take over.

But.

BUT.

Sometimes we don’t see that choice. Sometime we get sucked so deep into all this, we forget choices are even available. All we can see is the paranoia. All we can feel is the anxiety. All we can do is overthink. It takes a serious toll on our bodies, a toll so big that it becomes a personal accomplishment if you can find the strength to get out of bed and get dressed. And when people tell us we’re “choosing” to be like this, it makes us more upset. No one wants to get caught in this. But there are times we can’t actually see the option to choose. We need some time to get less involved with the intensity, to back a few feet away and see the bigger picture before that option becomes “available.” And unfortunately, that may take some time.

And until that time comes, we have to deal with the overthinking. We have to handle the anxiety. And we usually don’t do a great job. Because we’re stuck, physically and mentally, we overthink even more. We build more anxiety on ourselves. We make ourselves more depressed. We can’t focus. We have more trouble faking smiles. We forget to eat. We eat too much. We try to drown out negative thoughts by drowning ourselves in television, music, YouTube – anything to distract ourselves.

And distractions are one of those double-edged swords. They do help take us out of the noise that made us feel so terrible, but we mistake them¬†for solutions. We can get addicted to distracting ourselves and¬†can¬†end up forgetting to choose to work on our issues once we’re far enough out of depression’s suffocating grip.

Post

It’s hard. Especially when you find yourself repeatedly coming back to this set of behaviors. But keep trying. Don’t ever give up. You have more control of your life than you think. It may take some time, but I promise it’s worth it. I may still fall into these depressive episodes, but I can handle them so much better than I could ten years ago. It just takes some work, and you’ve got to force yourself to do it sometimes.

Try therapy, if it’s possible. I can’t promise all therapists are great, but the ones that are¬†really are. If you’re not ready to open up to other people, I have some recommended reading for you:

When the Past Is Present by David Richo (ISBN: 978-1-59030-571-3) – This book looks at transference, the process of taking old memories and relationships and placing them into new ones. If you feel like someone’s a substitute in your life for someone else, or are afraid of screwing up current relationships by reliving old ones (much like my experience with the photo), then check this book out. At times it feels like it’s pushing Buddhism onto you, but it’s ultimately more self-helpful than religious.

The Undervalued Self by Elaine Aron (ISBN: 978-0-316-06699-0) – This book can help if you have poor self-esteem. It helps you recognize what in your life has made you feel so poorly and how you can learn to love yourself. There are activities and exercises to work on in this book, so be prepared to make time to do them.

The Highly Sensitive Person in Love¬†by Elaine Aron (ISBN: 0-7679-0336-6) – This book is somewhat an expansion on Aron’s¬†The Highly Sensitive Person¬†(which I haven’t read, but have heard is great). For those that are really sensitive, please check this book out. Chances are love has been or is involved, and this book helps you deal with it more rationally, whether you’re in a relationship or not. There were a lot of great pieces of advice in here, and I actually wrote them on index cards that I regularly viewed to help me get over a particularly unhealthy crush.

The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling (ISBN:¬†978-0399537691) – This book is for all introverts that need to feel good about themselves. It helps you appreciate your way of life, learn that it’s not a bad thing if you’re not as outgoing as extroverts, and gives you good advice on dealing with situations introverts aren’t necessarily great with. It really makes you feel like you’re not alone, and has managed to work in some humor that will make you feel like it’s your turn in the sun. The chapters are short, but powerful- perfect if you need to take baby steps to accept yourself.

Chances are at least one of these books apply to you. Look them up for more info if you’re interested.

You’re not alone. Keep trying, don’t give up, and remember to keep breathing. Good luck! ūüôā

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Music

Music is something I’m usually a little hesitant to talk about. I love listening to music, but unfortunately, I end up listening to a lot of the same songs over and over again. I try to find new bands to listen to through Pandora and YouTube, but unfortunately, I usually find myself in the same loop of songs no matter what station I try to create. I don’t know a lot of people that are really into music, either, and I’m pretty embarrassed to ask for recommendations from the ones that are (they’re just so much cooler than me ūüôā ). And the radio? Well, poor sound quality and 10 minute commercials aside… no, wait. That’s it.

I still listen to CDs, too. I know other people do. I know other people buy CDs, as well. But I still feel like the only person I know that does. The music lovers I know either download all of their music (legally or otherwise) and/or listen to records. I prefer buying physical copies of albums (and almost everything else, for that matter). I don’t know why. Even though it can sometimes be inconvenient to store or find, it’s more satisfying for me to hold something tangible. It’s a feeling that I can’t find in a digital download. I find pride in looking at my collection of CDs rather than seeing them all in a folder on my computer. Records are pretty cool, too. I love when bands put cool artwork on the covers, and seeing the art on something as big as a record cover is pretty awesome. It’s a very enjoyable experience sitting in a friend’s place listening to a record, too. I don’t personally have a record player, and while I’ve considered investing in one, I don’t think it would suit my current lifestyle. One day, though.

I mean, I could find a way to fit listening to records into my life. I could listen to them when I’m writing or reading, for example. But I have other things in the background to listen to (including CDs). And because I still use CDs in my car, it would just be more expensive to get both a CD and record to suit different listening experiences. Of course, if vinyl records are coming with digital downloads anyway, I might switch over sooner than I think. As much as I love CDs, I only really use them in the car. Most of the time, I listen to them with my mp3 player. Maybe if the time comes when I can only use my mp3 player in the car, I’ll finally invest in a record player.

Why am I even talking about all this? Strangely enough, all this music thought was sparked by something a writer told me at a career panel this afternoon. He was talking about the eventual disappearance of books in favor of E-books (which I don’t necessarily agree with, but more on that another time). That got me to thinking about the general physical disappearance of things like movies, video games, and of course, music.

It’s not like this isn’t something that hasn’t been said before, but I really don’t want physical things to disappear. I like that we have the option to choose between digital downloads and physical mediums. I just don’t want one to completely wipe out the other.

This afternoon I told my sister I was going to buy the new CD by Foster the People, and she laughed and jokingly said “What’s a CD?” And I know it was a joke, but it made me kind of sad. She downloads all her music, only occasionally buying records if they’re cheap. And I don’t know, it kind of bums me out how a lot of people like her are big music enthusiasts but can’t actually see or¬†hold¬†their music collection.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m old or trying to hold onto something from the past. Like I mentioned, I’ve listened to a lot of the same music for years now. But I really do hope there will be a place for physical copies of music in the digital age.

Let’s Talk Books – Survivor

Warning: Spoilers

Last year I finally read¬†Fight Club for the first time (I know, I’m really behind on a lot of books). It was fresh. It was exciting. The narration was something I’d never actually seen in a novel, only short stories. And since I love short stories, I was ecstatic to have found that style adapted into a longer work. It was so good, I actually read it again once I finished. I don’t think that urge has ever happened to me before. As much as I love reading, the desire to read through an entire book again never really grabs me. But for¬†Fight Club¬†it did, and not only did I read it again, I read it again¬†in one sitting. Again, not something that normally happens. I have a hard time sitting still for more than an hour. But¬†Fight Club, man. There’s just something about it that gets you caught up in the flow of everything, and it’s pretty hard to put down.

Oh, right, I’m supposed to be talking about¬†Survivor. Well, I bought some new books with Christmas money, and I promised myself I would check out another novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I picked up¬†Survivor if for no other reason than it was his second published novel (the first being Fight Club). As I was holding it in the bookstore, flipping through the pages, the first thing I noticed was that both the page numbers and chapters were in descending order. I loved it. Can you not? The book starts on page 289, Chapter 47 and ends on page 1, Chapter 1. I don’t know, I just love it. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe what I’ve read of Palahniuk’s writing as “experimental,” but I’ve noticed he plays around with form a lot, at least more than most authors I’ve read. He uses this train of thought narration, and he cycles between a variety of observational statements that leaves the reader with a very surreal experience. The decision to number the pages this way only add to this nature of the book (not to mention how it ties in with the concept of the story, which is being told as a plane’s engines are burning out and is awaiting its eventual crash). My copy of the book also has a fun cover; if you cut and fold along the dotted lines, you can make a paper airplane. Not that I would ever ruin the book this way, but it’s a nice touch that helps make the novel stand out. ūüôā

At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Tender Branson, the narrator. He started off very unlikable, encouraging suicidal people to kill themselves and threatening to kill himself if his caseworker didn’t do his job for him. In any other book I think I would have gone on hating him, but in this book he fits the world perfectly. He’s a messed up character in a messed up world filled with other messed up characters, and I think Palahniuk does a pretty good job making Tender’s narration relatable enough where we can like him. Well, where we can like him¬†enough.

Since Tender narrates the novel, let’s talk a little more about the narration. As I mentioned earlier,¬†Survivor¬†makes use of a narrative style that incorporates a variety of seemingly random observational statements. Similar to¬†Fight Club,¬†Survivor‘s narrator also describes (in great detail) on how to do things most people aren’t (or shouldn’t) know how to do. For example, here’s how Chapter 36 opens:

There’s a way to polish chrome with club soda. To clean the ivory or bone handles on cutlery, rub them with lemon juice and salt. To get the shine off a suit, dampen the cloth with a weak mixture of water and ammonia, then iron with a damp pressing cloth.

The secret for making perfect boeuf Bourguignon is to add some orange peel.

To remove cherry stains, rub them with a ripe tomato and wash as usual.

The key is not to panic.

To make pants keep a sharp crease, turn them inside out and rub a bar of soap on the inside of the crease. Turn them rightside out and iron as usual.

The trick is to keep busy.

Despite the fact the killer called, I’m doing everything as usual.

The secret is to not let your imagination get carried away.” (204-3)

Scenes like these fill the entire book, and although at times they seem random, they add to the story in their own way. The narration does a good job at showing how Tender’s mind flows from one thought to another. Honestly, this is what I love most about Palahniuk’s writing. There’s something about the way he breaks down each of these observations, how he separates many thoughts into their own lines, and how he constantly switches his focus that gives us a really strong insight into the mind of an overthinker. It’s really unique, and as in¬†Fight Club, there are a lot of lines that just stand so well on their own. Here are a few of my favorites:

People used what they call a telephone because they hated being close together and they were too scared of being alone.‚ÄĚ (275)

“I don‚Äôt want her falling in love with me as a voice on the phone while at the same time she‚Äôs trying to ditch me as a real person.‚ÄĚ (225)

‚ÄúIf you worry about disaster all the time, that‚Äôs what you‚Äôre going to get.‚ÄĚ (49)

Sometimes, however, there was something in the narration that seemed…¬†off. I don’t really know how to describe it (or maybe it’s just poor reading on my part), but I felt there were a lot of moments where there was an extra word that screwed up how a sentence was read, or there should have been a comma somewhere, or something like that. And of course, as I’m looking through the book to find a good example, I can’t really find one. It might just be me, then, but I would be curious to know if anyone else felt that way while reading the book.

Before I move on from the actual writing itself, one more thing I wanted to mention was how conversations were made. Like¬†Fight Club, dialogue the narrator speaks isn’t in quotes, but part of the narration itself. The rest of the characters, however,¬†do speak in quotes. This really helps add to the dream-like quality the story has. And I use the term “dream-like” because the whole story, with its surreal nature and fast pace, actually¬†does seem like a dream, specifically a dream you can remember what other people in it say but not yourself, although you do remember what you felt (if that makes¬†any sense at all). It feels like all of Tender’s dialogue is both being presented to the reader and the characters, and because there are a ton of relatable lines in the book as well,¬†Survivor does a great job at making you feel part of the story itself.

All right, on to more characters. Tender was pretty enjoyable in his own way, but Fertility Hollis stole the show for me. I loved Fertility. Like Tender, I shouldn’t have. She plays mind games with him early in the book, and like people who take suicide lightly, I don’t appreciate girls that mess with other guys’ heads. But like Tender, she fit so well into this novel as a character. They both remind me how we can appreciate people as characters in books when we normally wouldn’t as real people. I love how she pretends not to know who Tender is on the phone. I love how she’s interested in him in person but then talks negatively about him on the phone¬†with him. I love how she says she doesn’t tell people upsetting news about the future because then she’ll be investigated when the events happen. I love how Tender gets frustrated with her. I love how she dances with him in a burning building. I love how he eventually places blind faith in her, even though she keeps things from him and even tricks him onto the plane that may kill him (and then laughs at him). I love that despite the fact she knows everything that will happen, she doesn’t reveal how Tender will move on from the past, but lets him do that for himself (which he should). I love how she belittles Tender when he finally loses his virginity and comes as soon as he starts. Again, I don’t think I would normally like a character like her, but she fits in so well in this novel I can’t help but love her.

Tender’s brother Adam, on the other hand, seemed a little out of place. I mean, he was introduced early in the book, and in one way or another stayed relevant throughout the plot, but towards the end he just kind of¬†joins Fertility and Tender like it’s not big deal. And since he’s sort of an antagonist, it’s just a little weird that he’s there at all. I mean, it’s not that weird, considering how the entire story is told and the hurricane of events that the narrator gets swept up and goes along with, but if there’s anything in the novel that I wish a little more time had been given to, it’s Adam’s inclusion. Something just seems off. I can’t quite put my finger on it. For as much as Tender didn’t want to think about Adam or admit to him being alive, he didn’t seem to mind too much when his brother traveled with him. He didn’t seem too upset about Adam’s death, either (although that makes more sense, if Tender didn’t want him around, and to be fair, other characters’ deaths didn’t affect him either).¬†But maybe Adam wasn’t supposed to be a bigger deal. He was just¬†one aspect of Tender’s life that he wanted to leave behind so he could truly start over.

The ending. Well…¬†I¬†liked it. I thought it was fitting. Tender tells his story, releasing all of the the baggage he’d carried around his entire life, and in the last moments before the plane crashes, he’s in a state of bliss. The plane crashes in the middle of his narration, and the novel’s over. Does he die? I did a little research, and people seem confused about it. My first thought would be yes (he¬†is in a plane crash, after all), although there are a few clues and theories that suggest otherwise. The most popular one references something Palahniuk said, which I would recommend reading here.

I think I’m still missing something, though, because Palahniuk’s explanation still appears to have some holes in it. Yes, there is a tape recorder in that pile he mentions. Yes, he does leave to go to the bathroom in Chapter 47, way back when the book first started (I’m assuming this is what he meant by “last chapter,” because Chapter 1 doesn’t make sense in this context). But the thing is, even though there are parts of Chapter 1 that are nearly identical to Chapter 47, they’re not the exact same. They’re slightly different. So if the Chapter 1 is his recording playing while he himself escaped, why isn’t it exactly the same? I guess it’s possible he made another recording, but why make this so complicated? There’s nothing that would have even indicated that all this was happening. I mean,¬†yes, the tape recorder was there, and he had the opportunity to do this in the bathroom, but nothing in the actual novel suggests he¬†does¬†do this. It’s like no one would have even realized it without Palahniuk’s explanation. Like I said, I still feel like I’m missing something important for this to make more sense.

But in the end, does it really matter if Tender survives? Like I said, he sheds all of his burdens about the past, and during the last set of chapters, Fertility persuaded me that this what Tender needed to do all along. I don’t know if this was the ending’s intent, but this is what I took away from it, and I’m fine with it. So maybe Tender escapes and he can be with Fertility and they can work on making him last longer during sex. That would be cool. Or maybe he dies, but dies with no regrets. That would be cool with me, too. The realization is what was most important, although I can see how some people might be frustrated or disappointed with such an ambiguous ending.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I’ve compared¬†Survivor¬†to¬†Fight Club¬†a lot during this discussion. Well, that was intentional. I didn’t want to constantly compare the two, but as I read through this book, there were¬†a lot of moments where I felt like this was very similar to Fight Club. I don’t think this in itself is a bad thing. After all, I think a lot of people check out different books by authors they like with the expectation that the author’s style is consistent throughout his works. But maybe because Palahniuk’s narration stands out the most to me,¬†Survivor felt a little¬†too¬†similar to¬†Fight Club. And after reading a handful of negative reviews on Goodreads, it seems that a lot of people feel like Palahniuk’s writing shares this problem. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve only read¬†Fight Club¬†and Survivor, so I’m not the best person to touch on this, but it is something I’m concerned about.

In the end, I still really liked¬†Survivor. I had a couple of qualms, but it’s still a really great book. Go check it out if you’re into experimental or unconventional storytelling. For those that like stories with more concrete, laid-out facts, though, I would proceed with caution. This book may not be for you, although I still recommend at least checking it out. Read the first few chapters in a book store or library, see how it goes. As for me, I’m still really looking forward to the next Palahniuk book I read.

Info for my edition of Survivor:

  • Published 2010 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Paperback, 289 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-393-33807-2

Struggling With Nonfiction

I don’t really write (or read) nonfiction. Most of my creative writing classes in college focused on fiction. During my last semester, though, I¬†did take a nonfiction workshop. I had reservations at first. This might seem hypocritical for someone that blogs aspects of his personal life, but I generally don’t like to put my bullshit out there. I have a couple of people I’ll talk to about things that really upset me, but I usually keep my problems to myself. To me, nonfiction just seemed like it was putting your problems out there for the world to see.

I was glad to discover that it wasn’t like that. Posting multiple self-pitying messages a day on Facebook is putting your bullshit out there. Sighing and going into rants about how much your life sucks every time someone says “Hey, how are you doing?” is putting your bullshit out there. Nonfiction? Nah. That’s different. Nonfiction isn’t just recounting events (shitty or not) from your life into a biography. It’s not just about the facts. You’ve got to actually write a story. You’ve got to construct those events and facts into a tangible work that flows and narrates like a fiction piece. I was actually pretty surprised to find that writing nonfiction was very similar to writing fiction. The biggest difference I found was trying to make a story make sense when the real life events didn’t. Unlike fiction, you just can’t add in events that didn’t exist.

Recently I’ve been working on my first nonfiction piece since my last semester in college, and I’ve found a new challenge: writing negatively about a difficult, current¬†relationship. I won’t go into details on the off chance that person (or someone that knows that person) reads this, but let’s just say this piece is full of a lot of hate. A lot of pent up hate. And the thing is, I don’t really hate this person. This person just drives me fucking crazy and sometimes I can’t stand it.

As I’ve been writing this piece, and as I’ve been writing about all the things that I’ve kept bottled up, I’ve been feeling guilty. I feel guilty about writing these things, and I shouldn’t. I know I don’t hate this person, I know I have good things to say, and I know I don’t like to concentrate on the negatives, so why do I still feel guilty?

I dunno. I thought about it for a while, and I still don’t know. I don’t feel guilty when writing fiction because even though a character or a scene might be based on someone or something from my life, it’s not the same. They may be similar, but they’re two different entities. Maybe it’s because this is the first time I’m writing hate towards someone I don’t really hate. Maybe it’s because these complicated feelings are being written down into a physical form, physical proof that these feelings exist. Maybe it’s because this story also represents a bigger problem many people have, a problem this specific person would hate to admit to.

But, I really want to get these feelings out. And I really want to show how this problem affects people. And… I dunno. Guilt aside, I still really want to finish writing it. I want to send it out for a contest due at the end of the month¬†and my college’s literary magazine (which also happens to stop taking submissions at the end of the month).

You know, it’s weird. I’ve always faced awkward obstacles when writing. Fiction or not, I usually have to wade through unpleasant emotions and memories when I write. But I get through it. And don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna get through this piece, too. But it’s the first time I’m feeling guilty for writing. And it’s nagging at me.

And, as a good friend and writer told me, I shouldn’t feel guilty. And she’s right; I should never feel guilty for writing. I should never feel guilty for wanting to express something that’s bothering me in an artistic medium, either. I can’t fault myself for feeling the way I do. So as I’m finishing up this piece, I’m going to try harder not to let the guilt stop me from pulling my punches. After all, if I’m writing to tackle a specific topic (and how I feel about this person), letting guilt overwhelm me is only going to weaken the story.

Drifting Apart

Last week, my parents and I took my cousin out for her birthday. This struck me as kind of weird because we’d never really done this for her before. We’re fairly close, though, and my parents¬†have¬†gone out of their way to do things for her before, so maybe it wasn’t as weird as I initially thought.

Still, it wasn’t a great night. I didn’t really expect it to be; as close as we are as family members, we aren’t particularly close as people. I don’t think we really have anything in common, and we both struggle to find things to talk about. I actually didn’t even want to go. I usually¬†don’t¬†volunteer to go to any kind of social situation where I know I won’t be able to have an actual conversation with someone. But for the sake of showing my support and care for her, I tagged along. We left the house late (of course), and as we took her exit off the parkway, we hit an unexpected backup of traffic. This led to about 20 minutes of my dad cursing, complaining, and being an overall uncomfortable person to be stuck in a small car with.

We met up at a Mexican restaurant, which I thought would be pretty cool because I’ve been craving tacos and quesadillas lately. It was packed, though. And I mean¬†really¬†packed, there were people trying to push through each other in the waiting area alone. When my cousin and her boyfriend came in, we greeted each other and chatted, but the place was so loud I could barely hear anything at all.

The noise didn’t really stop all night. My mother, who was sitting next to me, kept yelling so my cousin, who sat on the other side of me, could hear. And my dad, who spoke loudly all the time anyway, took it up another notch and made sure the whole place could hear him. I was mostly quiet. Sometimes I chimed in with questions or commentary to whatever we were talking about, but as with most social situations with my family, I was usually ignored or spoken over. Eventually, my cousin and parents ran out of things to talk about, and they kind of just faked their way through dinner until the bill came. And as with most situations like these, the greetings and goodbyes were filled with twice as much energy and enthusiasm than the actual get-together was.

On the way home, I sat in the backseat, letting a bunch of frustrated feelings simmer. My earphones decided to give out, too, so I tried playing with the cord to find that one sweet spot that lets me hear music through both buds. Alas, it didn’t help my mood much. My mind was filled with thoughts on how much people change and drift apart from each other, and I started yearning for the days when my dad didn’t flip out and shout as much as he does now, when my sister was still living with us, when my sister and I actually¬†got along, and when seeing family felt nice as opposed to some kind of chore. And it’s nothing new; I’d thought about this a lot over the years and accepted that we’re all just different people. But sometimes I still wish for things to be different, and it frustrates me.

When we got home, I could tell that I was getting into one of my overly negative, over thinking, shitty moods. I just went through one a couple of weeks ago, and I really didn’t want to fall back into another one so soon, so I called a friend and tried to explain my night and feelings on it without trying to sound like I was about to crack. So we talked for an hour, mostly about how people drift apart and attempts to get close again (which that dinner kind of seemed like). And even though it’s an unfortunate, inevitable part of life, it made me feel better getting it off my chest.

Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a new concept for me or anything. There have been many people that came and went, some more gracefully than others. It’s sad when people drift apart, but at least it’s better than relationships that end with one person hurting another. When people drift, at least they’re still on good terms. Meetings may be awkward, and they may never reach a level that you’d like them to, but at least there’s no hate. Well, usually.

And sometimes people need to drift from each other. It’s sad, but it’s true. Sometimes you think you’re close with someone, and maybe you were, but tastes and needs change. Sometimes two people need to drift a little and reexamine who they are. And that in and of itself is very healthy. You need to be comfortable knowing who you are and what you need in order to have good relationships. It’s just that sometimes, it turns out old friends and family can’t fulfill those needs.

It’s sad, but well… sometimes it just happens. And it’s important to be able to know how to make yourself happy so you don’t crave relationships that don’t work anymore.

How Do You Know When You’re Done With a Short Story?

Last summer one of my friends E-mailed a list of contests Glimmer Train has every month for short stories. This is pretty convenient; it helps keep me focused on writing and gives regular contests that provide opportunities for both publication and payment. I told myself I would write one short story a month and send it in.

Here I am, half a year later, and I think I only sent something in once. And now my college’s literary magazine is taking submissions for this year’s publication, and I don’t think I have anything I’d like to submit.

So what’s up? It’s true I’ve had some big obstacles get in the way of my writing this past year, but really? I haven’t produced¬†one short story I’m actually proud of? What happened?

Well to be fair, I’ve finished a ton of drafts. I’ve written short stories, I’ve rewritten them, I’ve rewritten those, but honestly, I think I’m at a bit of a loss. I’m having trouble determining when I’m done writing a story.

I realized this a while ago, actually. Without writing workshops, I feel less pressured to have drafts done on time and to move on to other pieces. At first this was nice; I felt like I could finally pour my concentration into one piece at a time and make better stories.

However, without the workshops and other people looking over my work, my drafts are just left with me and my constant barrage of harsh criticism. As a result, I’ve locked myself into this cycle of never ending drafts. And I tell myself not to worry about it, to put one story aside and start working on a new one because I can always just return to a previous one. And the cycle continues, and now I have a bunch of short stories “in progress” that I’m just not finishing.

And at the end of every month, I convince myself that whatever I’m working on isn’t good enough, and I don’t send a submission out, and I keep saying next month. This past month was the most disappointing. I finally took one story I’d been working on since October, rewrote the whole damn thing, loving how different and better it felt than any of the previous drafts. It finally felt right. And then I read the whole thing over and just wasn’t crazy about it. Even though I said I would have it finished on January 31, even though I said this was going to be the last draft, even though I said it was going to be done whether I liked it or not and take it off my desktop… I told myself next month.

How do you know when you’re done, then? All my professors have said “when it feels right.” Which is great and true, but what if you keep working on it and it¬†never feels right? That’s something I never asked. Well, maybe they’re not right, then. I hate to say that, I hate saying that something you’ve worked so long on was all for nothing, but if a story’s not working after several revisions then it just¬†might¬†not work.

The thing about short stories is, as much as I love them, and as much as I believe in their potential to be as good as longer pieces, they’re still short stories. I don’t think they’re meant to be mulled over for months at a time. I think they’re excellent practice for condensing words and ideas so that our future novels don’t turn into 600 page stories that only look deep on the outside.

So maybe that’s one way to look at this question. Think of them as practice. Even if a short story doesn’t work out, at least you have the experience of writing one and learning what wasn’t working, and both of these will help in your next one.

Okay, so now they’re doubling as exercises. How long should they last?

I think this depends on your writing experience and time available to work on them. Personally, I’m going to still try for one short story a month, but now I’m going to give myself another deadline of one finished draft a week. I’m hoping this will help me continue focusing on one story at a time while simultaneously leading up to a finished piece.

What if it still doesn’t feel right, but it feels like it still has potential?

Keep going for it! If you think you’re making actual progress, keep it up! Readjust your deadlines and see where you end up. And if it doesn’t feel right but you still want to work on it, keep it in a separate folder on your computer. Start a new short story, and after you finish that one, go back and see if some time away from it has helped.

Try not to get discouraged, though. And try not to juggle too many stories at once. Just keep at it. Eventually you’ll get to that point where you know when your final draft feels right. Happy writing! ūüôā

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.