Note to Self #1

Hey sweetheart,

It’s been shitty, hasn’t it?  I mean this whole winter has just kind of eaten itself, shat itself out, and left itself out where you could step in it.  What a bastard.

This one’s been especially bad thanks to the world out there going to hell in a Cheeto-colored handbasket.  People have given themselves permission to be as mean and hateful as they want because why not?  Obviously there are no real consequences, and it can even get them into the White House!  

But that’s not you, and right now you need to pull your head out of Twitter and take a breath.  You’re no good to the world paralyzed by despair, and let’s be honest here, your personality is the kind that runs the edge of empathy-implosion even when things are going great.  You take on too many of the world’s sins as if it’s your job to feel the world’s feels, but you’re still just one girl with a brain full of faulty wiring, and if that wiring burns the house down, there’s nowhere for that compassion to live.  

You’re doing okay, though.  Hey, don’t laugh.  You’re still here, aren’t you?  And yeah, you used up your sick days and got zero work done for over a month, but…so?  In the long term view, what’s the big deal about that?  You didn’t hurt anybody.  You’ve had to deal with far worse consequences from far less intense depression, so, overall I think you’re doing all right.  You’ve reached the point of self-reflection where you’re actually being kind to yourself, so, I take that as a good sign.

Here’s the thing, and it’s a combination of something you don’t want to think about and something really cool, so, let’s just get it out there:  This is going to happen again.  Always.  It’s nice to think about your bipolar going “into remission” or whatever but let’s face it, you’ve spent five years trying a couple dozen different meds and combinations (and that’s after over a decade of doing the same thing when you thought you were “just depressed”) and what have you learned?  Nothing “fixed” you.  There is no “fixing.”  And really, overall, the meds haven’t made that much difference in the way this plays out.  Lithium dulled it all down to where you felt like your heart was wrapped in cotton batting, but everything else just offered variations on the theme, with some working better than others at keeping the lows from going as low, which is important and can definitely keep you alive.  The cycle itself, however, is the same regardless.

You’ll feel all right for a while, maybe even great, but eventually it’s going to slide – maybe not as far, maybe not as long, but you got dealt a pretty gnarly hand by the mental illness gods and basically you’ll be pushing that boulder up the hill until the day you die.  

Yeah. You’re mentally ill for life.  That, as Mark Watney would say, is a real dick punch.  

You could get angry about it, I guess.  The world is full of people who feel nothing deeply enough to be destroyed by it – that’s how we all got in this mess, in my opinion, people thinking everything happens “out there” when the truth is it’s all interdependent and connected and therefore “in here.”  There’s no strand of the Web you can yank on without making the whole thing shake, even just a tiny bit.  But all those folks walking around with the luxury of not having to care, not having to fight just to get up in the morning, not understanding why you can’t just “think positive” and “snap out of it…”  Lucky bastards!  You deserve better!  It’s not fair!

It’s not fair.  Never has been.  It’s awful and hard and it sucks that you have to deal with it – you’ve already dealt with enough just from other people hurting you, you shouldn’t have to protect yourself from your own brain.  It’s shitty, shitty, shitty, and you don’t have to pretend otherwise.  Don’t cheapen the hard work you’ve done by pretending the universe did you a mitzvah here.  Any lesson or gift you get from this is the result of struggle and sweat, of nearly drowning and pulling yourself out over and over again.  

Besides, yelling at the sky will accomplish exactly nothing, whether because nobody’s listening or because it’s nobody else’s job to deal with your shit.  If there’s a God, or a Goddess, or a Whatever, you might get a boost from Her, a door opened, maybe a last-minute save, but it’s your life and your work to live it, not Hers.  She ain’t your fairy godmother, babygirl.  Granted, you figured that out back when you were a kid.     

But there’s a difference between accepting that you’re never going to be “cured” and just giving up altogether.  Because yeah, you’ll always slide, but you’ll also always climb out again.  This too shall pass – like food poisoning or a kidney stone.  Assuming it doesn’t kill you, you’ll see another sunrise.

That’s the cool part…although I understand if you think my definition of “cool” needs some revision.  

Every time, you feel the color draining from the world, and you know you’re sliding down, down.  And every time you claw desperately at those shreds of happiness as if you could bring them with you, but you can’t.  You end up in the pit again, staring up at the night sky wondering why, why, WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS?  And every time, you think, “Is this it? Is this the one that kills me?  Is this the one I can’t beat?  Is this going to be the time I can’t climb back up?”

But then you do.

You climb out filthy and battered and exhausted, but you do it.  

Can I just say how badass that is?  

And you’ve learned, over the years, that there are ways to help make that climb a little less arduous, or to make the pit seem a bit shallower.   There are tricks and practices and emergency measures that, when put in place and used properly, really do help.  

The slightly grating yet accurate term for this is “self-care.”

I think it’s time we took a closer look at those ideas and figured out what’s worked and what hasn’t.  You’ve tried so many things in the last 20 years to alleviate the pain, you’ve amassed a gigantic mental library and arsenal of techniques and philosophies ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous; your application of these things has been a bit slapdash, I’ll admit, but there are plenty of tools in the box.

Time to start going through the box, getting it organized, maybe coming up with a more cohesive and holistic plan – including some measures to put in place for the next time the pit starts beckoning.  I mean sure, often those self-care practices are the first thing to go in hard times – it’s that way for everybody regardless of mental health. In fact entire extremely cynical industries exist to profit on that all too human tendency to fuck up and start over and over and over.  TV ads in January are all the proof of that you need.  

But don’t beat yourself up for being human.  There are definitely worse things to be.

Meet you back here in a bit and we’ll get started.  Sound overwhelming?  Don’t worry…there will be lists.  

Diagrams.  

Possibly stickers.

Knew I’d get you with that one.

Love, always love,
Me.

 

 

 

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That will be all, 2016. You may go.

Let’s start the year with a long-ass confessional post, shall we?

Like most people I’ve always tried to hit the ground running at the New Year, or at least on January 2.  (I figured January 1 was kind of a wash for most resolution type things, as I’m usually tired or hung over or unprepared for whatever it was I wanted to start.)  

Some people are natural sprinters (Dwarves mostly).  I am apparently not one.  Every time I do a “I’m going to start this lifestyle change or improvement on THIS day,” something happens to make me push that date back, and back, and before I know it it’s a week after NYD and I already feel like a failure.  

Not today, Satan.  This year I’m trying something different.  At the risk of using a self-help buzzword, I’ve decided to try “leaning in.”

I decided that the whole “40 Things Before I’m 40” thing isn’t going to happen.  It’s a great idea, but even those tiny goals were already a source of mild stress, since some of them were things I’ve tried and failed to do before.  When I really got down to the truth of things, I realized I need to focus on exactly two things this year:  Writing and veganism.

As I told my Patreon peeps last week, I have lost my passion for my work.  The last couple of years of financial stress and career disillusionment have turned my writing into a job, and therefore a burden; long before I actually managed to get a day job I had realized I couldn’t be a full time writer and do nothing but “hustle” (there’s another buzzword you hear all the time these days, which basically means “work yourself to death and maybe the stars will align for you”) with promotion and marketing and all the things I hate most in the world without it totally killing my creativity.

Some people can do what they love for a living, and the uncertainty and instability and sacrifice just fires them up more.  I need to buy cat food and hummus and prescription medications.  I want health insurance and a bank account free of overdraft fees.  And most of all, I need to love writing and I just…don’t right now.  My relationship to my work has gone from a passionate love affair to a sexless begrudging marriage.  I can’t live like that.

So, saving our relationship is going to be my 2017.  I’m going to start by dedicating time and space, silly things like a desk and hopefully at least one new project.  I’m not putting anything on hold, but I have no release date for Shadow Rising because it’s not even half finished and I kind of hate it right now.  

My other goal is tied into pretty much every aspect of my life, because it touches on issues of self-esteem, self-care, integrity, compassion, making a difference, and doing more than just mourning the world we seem to be losing piece by piece.  Veganism is a spiritual practice to me, and it was certainly never a “diet;” it’s always about the animals, the Earth, and my own integrity.  These days that integrity feels even more important than ever – surrounded as we are with corruption and hatred, I might not be able to do much right now but I can become more of the kind of person who embodies what I want for the world, not what I fear.  

This year instead of a single word I’m working more with Danielle LaPorte’s Core Desired Feelings; I’d read The Desire Map but wasn’t all that inspired by it, but among the half dozen or so end of year workbooks I read this year was her Goals With Soul, which somehow struck a chord with me this time.  I wrestled with a lot of seemingly contradictory feelings until I had the list down to something manageable:

One thing I learned in 2016 is how much of my life is governed by fear.   I am tired of my energy being drained away by fear and anxiety. I doubt I can become truly fearless, but I can work on it. 

Another unexpected but long-time-coming realization was that I have trouble making genuine connections to people; even those I love best know precious little about what’s going on in my head. I’ve been getting the Singer of Connection card from my Faery oracle for YEARS and never really did anything with it; the idea of trying to reach out to people makes me deeply uneasy…which of course means it’s what I need to do. I have no idea how to do that, or how far I want to go, but I know I need to learn more about what it means to feel connection, to like it, to nurture it.

Integrity is a big one for me, both in the veg department and in my whole life. I am terrible at keeping commitments.  Terrible.  I can’t tell you how many things I’ve gotten involved in (usually when I’m hypomanic) only to realize halfway through I never wanted to do it or I got into it for the wrong reasons; then it’s too late to back out gracefully, so I…vanish.  Or make something up.  Or forget all about it.  I try to keep my word with other people, but when it comes to organizations or plans, I have dick for follow-through.  Obviously I don’t want to be that person.  

Now, the last two are the kickers, because they might seem to contradict the spirit of the first three. Delight and Ease?  With heavy ideas like Integrity?  WTH, Sylvan?

Well, that’s where self-care comes in, because my goal is to explore these feelings while still focusing on ease and delight.  By not kicking my own ass, by not “punching today in the balls,” or “hustling” or “putting some gangsta rap on and dealing with it,” to use yet more of the slogan silliness you find on Pinterest if you look for inspirational quotes.  (Man white ladies love to talk about gangsta rap and “thug life,” don’t they?  I wonder if they’re just really high from all those pumpkin spice lattes?)  

I don’t want to do any of those things.  I realized that in 2016 about the only delight I had was at the movies.  There were lots of great movies in 2016, and when I think about real fun or really enjoying something, that’s all that comes to mind.  It’s been so long since I was genuinely excited about something new, or enthusiastic about anything – I was under so much stress about money for so long, now that I have a stable job that (mostly) pays the bills I’m seeing how much of my life got ground under the heel of that fear and sense of failure.  

So I want to spend 2017 seeking out ways to develop my spirit and heart without it feeling like constant backbreaking labor.  I want to breathe deeply again, and I want to fill my cup with something besides poison.  It’s pretty much empty right now, which is sad, but at least offers the potential of something less bitter or, at least, more nourishing to drink.

January therefore is leaning-in month here at Sylvan; I’ll be shifting to 95% vegan from the 80% I’ve been hovering at for over a year (which is still pretty good, all things considered) and also upping the amount of actual plant foods in my diet to help me feel a little better.  The amount of junk food I’ve put in my body this year (especially the last few months thanks to the move) is kind of scary.  I have no desire to lose weight but I have gained quite a bit in a very short time and to me that’s a warning bell – it means my self-care has gone perilously awry.  But my body is strong and adaptable, and she’s weathered the storm like a champ.  I’m unutterably grateful and I want to do better by her.  But I want it to be fun, and delicious, and easy, not a regimen or a 21-day anything.

I don’t have a plan for my writer-rescue, but that’s okay.  I want to cast about in my mind for a new idea, a new story to tell; 9 times of 10 when I get into something new it also energizes all my other work, so having a new book to work on or what have you will benefit all my stories.  I have a few things percolating.  I’m hoping to blog more just about random weird stuff, just to write; even my readers have always liked it better when I just wrote about whatever was on my mind.

So, to make a long post even longer, that’s how things are here at the moment.  I’m not going to dwell on 2016 any more than I have to – that’s why I did the workbooks I did, to look deeply into what went wrong in 2016 and clarify what I need to take with me so I can drop the rest.  This year is going to be a challenge, to say the least, in so many ways, so I’m doing the best I can not to make it any harder on myself than I have to.  

It’s good to have you with me.  

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…because I needed another challenge

Well, I’ve officially been wandering around in this person suit for 39 years.

39 nine is kind of a dumb number, as far as significant birthdays go, but 40 had a certain weight to it – socially if nothing else.  Therefore I’ve decided to undertake what I hope will be a fun project – 40 Things to Do by my 40th Birthday, or to use the groovy parlance of today’s hip modern youth, #40by40.

I worked on the list for quite a while, and I’ve designated a notebook for it (naturally).  It’s just a regular old Moleskine Cahier notebook I covered with decorative paper and drew a title on with my white gel pen.  I seem to be going with a celestial sort of theme for 2017 for some reason, and I had a scrap of paper a friend sent me long long ago, so it became the cover.

40by40ext

The plan is this:

Each time I complete a task, I’ll create a page (or half page) for it and write, draw, or paste in mementos from the experience.  It won’t have to go in order from 1-40, as I can just record the number of whatever page the task falls on.  That way I’ll have a memento of what I hope will be a much, much better year not just for me but for the entire damn planet.

I also plan to post here on the blog about each task so you can follow along if you like – hell, come up with your own list for 2017 (of whatever number you deem appropriate for you) and tell me all about it on Instagram.

I tried to make the list using only doable items that are finite in nature – nothing like “meditate every day” or “eat more vegetables.”  I wanted the list items to stretch my comfort zone a bit but still be things I’d enjoy doing or at least benefit from in some way.  I also instituted a few rules:

1 – I can change an item if the one I had becomes impossible.  For example, if a restaurant I want to visit closes down, I can take it off the list, but I have to replace it with something comparable.

2 – I get two freebies I can chuck for any reason at all including realizing six months from now that I don’t want to do that thing anymore, but I have to replace them as well.

3 – I have to blog about and make a notebook page for each item.

Here we go:

40by401

40by402

 

40 Things to Do By My 40th Birthday

  1. Finish Shadow Rising
  2. Do Vegan MoFo
  3. Volunteer at VegFest 2017
  4. Go see a play
  5. Have a badass Halloween costume
  6. Get another tattoo
  7. Start a new novel
  8. See some live music
  9. Dye my hair a crazy color
  10. Take a class
  11. Do a fun manicure
  12. Shop at Rabbit Food Grocery
  13. Eat at Counter Culture
  14. Go to Capital City Bakery
  15. Find a home for The Coat
  16. Throw a theme party
  17. Make seitan from scratch
  18. Go watch the bats
  19. Paint a picture
  20. Make something with aquafaba
  21. Make a new vegan friend
  22. Go to two Alamo Drafthouse events
  23. Put out a new ebook
  24. Pet a cow
  25. Try a new recipe every month
  26. Read 10 novels
  27. Get Stella’s bump fixed
  28. Save up $500
  29. Figure out my tax stuff
  30. Hold a group ritual
  31. Do a swap with someone
  32. Try a new cuisine
  33. Do a research project
  34. Discover a new musical artist
  35. Find the right day bag
  36. Finish Song & Cipher
  37. Illustrate a quote a la Vicki P
  38. Listen to the Hamilton soundtrack
  39. Do some sort of 30 day challenge
  40. Donate at least $50 a month

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In Which the Author Loses Her Sh*t a Little Bit

Sorry, this is not Planner Friday.  At the moment I just can’t.

I know that the last thing we should do is stop living our lives and seeking joy, but before I can return to things that mattered to me before this week, I have to give myself time and space to come to terms – as much as that’s possible.

I kept thinking, “How can I add anything to what’s already been said in such splendid depth by so many who are clearer thinkers and better writers than I?”  But then I realized it’s not about saying something new, it’s about speaking up even if your voice is hoarse and brittle or barely a squeak.  The more voices cry out in this darkness, the less alone we feel.

This year has been full of death, but without that “life continues cycle of blah blah blah” feeling we all try to find amid loss.  When I think of this year I don’t think of natural cycles, or of death giving way to rebirth.  I just see the abyss.

I’ve come to feel like God is playing a five-year game of “He loves me, he loves me not” with the petals of my beliefs and aspirations, and where even a year ago I might have had faith that the last petal would be “loves,” right now I’m having a hard time not finding that faith childish and kind of insane.  2016 has been the longest, most grueling mother of all heartfucks for all of us.  Month after month 2016 has swallowed more and more wonderful people, and now it has swallowed the last, most precious illusion I think many of us were clinging to:  that America is “better than that.”

Shaun King is compiling reports of all the hate crimes and attacks that have happened in the last few days, and they’ve already topped 3,000.  Children being told they should “sit at the back of the bus now” or having “build the wall!” chanted at them.  People ripping off women’s hijabs.

At least 10 police officers have been shot this week – all by white people.  Did you hear about that on the news?  I bet not.

There are lists popping up all over Facebook of “things to do before January” that include seeing the doctor, stocking up on Plan B (and hormones for trans folks), and taking self-defense classes.

At least eight trans kids killed themselves Tuesday night.  I forget, how many straight white kids committed suicide after Obama’s election?  Because people are saying we’re just bitter our candidate lost, but I don’t recall much of a body count last time theirs lost.

I am heartsick and ashamed that this is America.  And make no mistake, it very much is.  I’ve lived in this kind of world my whole life – Austin may seem like a liberal oasis, but there are plenty of bigots here, and I grew up in a state full of them.

Okay, so, this isn’t “all Conservatives.”  Well then where are the decent Conservatives denouncing all of this?  Where is their great orange savior’s call to peace?  Why would he bother?  He’s busy getting ready to appoint a completely daft Creationist Secretary of Education.  He’s forcing a man whose citizenship he questioned for years to meet with him – to sit down with a man backed by the KKK and, I dunno, teach him how a bill becomes law?  How to use the White House phone to dial out?  If not all Conservatives are racist, what does it say about them that they voted for one – that sexual assault and misogyny and homophobia and racism were something they could overlook?  “Hey man, I know he treats women like garbage and is cool with white supremacists, but compared to questionable judgment with emails, it’s no big thing!”  Maybe they’re not all racists, but they were more than happy to throw POC and women and Muslims and Latinos and LGBT folk under the bus to serve their own interests.  That doesn’t exactly encourage me to “build bridges.”  If I were to see a hand reach toward me across the aisle, I wouldn’t assume it was a gesture of goodwill or cooperation – I’d assume the other hand was holding the knife.

The only thing I can think is that people who believe this is no big deal, that we’re all overreacting, are people who don’t have much to lose to this administration.  Why worry about discrimination that will never touch you?

In case you can’t tell, I’m pissed the fuck off.  And I’m despairing.  I want to “stand and fight,” but I don’t know how to do that.  I’ll figure out what that means for me once my rage and anguish calm down enough for me to think clearly.  But right now, fuck “mending fences.”  Fuck “reaching across the aisle.”  You want me to play nice with people who think I and most of the people I love are less than human?  Are you serious?  

If a lover treated me without respect, abused and belittled me, would you expect me to turn around and offer reconciliation before a week had gone by?  Well how about if HALF THE FUCKING COUNTRY DID IT?

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s all right if you’re not all right.  You can be angry.  You can be gutted and scared.  I’m all of those things and I’m not getting better yet.  That’s okay.  If you’re numb, if you’re laughing to keep from sobbing, if you’re sobbing, if you’re curled up in your blanket fort, if you’re protesting, if you’re mainlining episodes of Friends and pints of Ben & Jerry’s – those are all totally understandable reactions to something we believed unthinkable.

Do what you have to do in the next few days to get your feet back under you.  If you need to get off the internet, do it.  God knows it wouldn’t hurt given the unending litany of bad news.  Go outside, sit among trees.  Snuggle your animals or your children.  Deck out that blanket fort in high style.  Smoke a ridiculous amount of weed.

We all grieve in our own way, and that’s exactly what we’re all doing.  Even though the America we want to believe in never really existed any more than the “idyllic” Conservative Great America ever did, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to mourn.  There is a whole world of pain coming our way in the next four years, assuming the leader of the Free World isn’t convicted of child rape or fraud…or if that even matters, because one thing’s become blisteringly obvious this week: a man can be forgiven for anything and a woman for nothing, ever.  I saw that sentiment on Twitter and broke down in tears of recognition…one of the many spates of tears I’ve had this week.  I can’t seem to stop crying, and it’s extra embarrassing because I’m a white woman, and 52% of white women voted for that predatory bigot.  White privilege is more important to women than their own bodies and lives.  How can I not cry about that?  But moreover I cry for my friends whose rights stand to be shoved back decades, whose healthcare will vanish, who could be victimized at any time because they’re not white.

I know, I know.  There’s hope.  Of course there is.  As you can see, I’m bouncing among panic, rage, and howling sadness.  I have to believe that my warrior instincts will kick in and I’ll be ready to step up and stand with my friends and fans who have so, so much more to lose than I do in all this.  I feel like a self-indulgent jerk being so devastated when I have the greatest of all undeserved benefits:  white privilege.  But while I fear for my own liberty, I am petrified for those I love.  And I’m not naive enough to think that if the dominos begin to fall they won’t land on me eventually.  I am, after all, still a woman.

I’m sorry to have heart-barfed all over you today.  I wanted to come here and write something inspiring, something to arouse hope rather than wallowing in fear.  But I’ve never been one for blowing sunshine up your ass – if I don’t feel it, I can’t in good conscience write it.  In the coming days we will need each other more than ever, and we will need good writing and humor and poetry and music and art more than ever.  We will need to remember to love…even if our trust is permanently shattered.

I will get myself together and I will do whatever is in my power to keep safe the progress we’ve made in the last eight years, or at least to keep safe those whose lives and rights are on the chopping block.  I will not give up.  But I’m not okay.  And if you aren’t either, you aren’t alone.

 

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