A project for my 30s: Self-Advocacy

>> 18 September 2016

My thirtieth birthday came and went this summer. It was special for lots of reasons; I was in New York with much-loved friends and family, I had walking pneumonia, and I decided to prioritize myself more over the next decade. I feel like most of my 20s was spent sorting through the strangeness of life, picking up skills and opinions here and there, and patching these bits and pieces together into the person I wanted to be. I think this was pretty successful, so now I'm shifting gears a little bit and focusing on self-advocacy.

At first, this meant saying "no" more often. Not spending time with people I don't like. Not doing things I don't like to do out of some misguided philanthropy. Not letting people get away with talking down to me.

But it has also meant sticking up for myself more, forgiving myself, and being less of a maniac about everything. It has meant exercising more often, eating better, getting rid of things, letting things go, embracing my flaws, and asking for help more often. So far I like where this is going!

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Dissertating, Depression and my FitBit

>> 13 May 2016

I don't really know how to start this post other than to say that last fall was the worst 20-week period of my life. In August, I returned from Timor to a mountain range of responsibilities to overcome in a terribly short period of time. The short story is that I did it, but to get there I sacrificed every shred of my physical and mental health. I was already a broken mess, but for those 20 weeks, I was a machine- I worked all day, 6.5 days a week. I took Friday nights off to paint until I was too roaring drunk to hold a paintbrush, then Saturday mornings I got up and went to the library and got back to work. I developed several strange health issues. My sleeping became erratic. I had mostly-weekly panic attacks, but the only one that stands out in my mind was the one from the previous post- the day in the stairwell, where I clung to myself and keened because I'd never felt a pain like that before. Two different doctors diagnosed me with depression. If I had been able to muster up an emotional response, I probably would have laughed and said, 'no kidding'. My therapist insisted that I spend more time with friends, away from school. I insisted that he was delusional.

At the end of it all, near the summit of my final mountain, an academic bomb was dropped on me that made all my madness utterly worthless. It took me 6 weeks to fully process what happened and another 12-18 weeks to come to terms with it. As I sit here writing this, it has now been 6 months, and I am finally, finally, almost ok. I've started working on the dissertation, really working. I am enjoying it, most of the time. I've almost decided that I won't quit my program.

After Christmas this year, I bought myself a FitBit and I am more than a little surprised by how fiercely I love it. I never saw depression coming, but it came for me and it destroyed me. Now that I'm back in Hawaii and alone again, I still feel it in the corners of my mind, waiting for me to give up. The FitBit is like a tiny talisman keeping it away. When I have a bad writing day and start, too easily, down the spiral of self-hate and doubt, the FitBit reminds me to get some fresh air. I've thrown myself into running with an obsession that I didn't think I was capable of. I actually have a gym friend.

Last week I hurt my knee, and I've been trying to slowly work back up to where I was without re-injury. Tonight I left the gym crying because I couldn't stand the pain long enough to run. All I could think was "Without this, what do I have left? I can't do this dissertation, I can't paint any more, and now I can't even run." I worked myself into a pretty good little fit, and then my FitBit buzzed and made a smiley face at me because I met my step goal. I can't explain it, but somehow this thing pulls me back from the edge and convinces me time and again that I am enough. Stop crying. There are no shortcuts. You are enough.

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Cracks begin to show

>> 16 November 2015

Friday: Today I got so overwhelmed by my work that I ended up curled in a ball, crying and shaking in a corner of a stairwell. It felt like my entire body was breaking into pieces that I had to physically hold together. My soul feels like it has come completely unmoored from the rest of my existence. Nothing I do is ever good enough, fast enough, smart enough.

Sunday: I've taken a couple of days away from it all and I still want to throw up every time I look at the document that I must complete and resubmit as soon as possible. Every little delay increases the risk of a potentially life-altering failure. James keeps telling me to focus on the product and not the process. He is worried about me. He is worried about my health. He is right to worry. All my hopes are fading, I can see my goals and my timelines slipping away from me, and I don't know why I'm doing any of this any more. Nothing matters.

It's Monday morning now, and I'm re-reading the two paragraphs above. I'm feeling a little better today. I've finished and re-submitted that awful paper, but not before I cried over it twice, spent 6 hours on a single page of revisions, and wondered how much further I could push myself before I would break again. James doesn't understand why I'm so hard on myself, and it is extremely hard to explain. I'll try again when this semester is over.

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