Guilty Pleasures, Mental Health, and What “Twilight” got Right

I’ve been working really hard at unlearning the tendency to shame people for things they enjoy. If it isn’t harmful to themselves or other people, what do I care if they listen to crappy music, or read terrible romance novels, or jump on the bandwagon of something just because it’s now pop-cultured?  It’s all opinion anyway.  And the world does so much work trying to beat us down, we need to lift up simple joy more.

So, with that being said, I’m going to tell you one of my dirty secrets, one of my embarrassing guilty pleasures:

I enjoyed the Twilight Saga movies.

There. I said it. You can go ahead and revoke my English master’s degree. I am shamed.

They’re terrible movies. I didn’t say they were good; I just said I enjoyed them. The books were worse. But I‘m here to tell you that when you are going through a depressive episode, you cling to whatever (at least moderately healthy) coping mechanism that works.

I was nonfunctioning when I was going to the midnight premieres of the last two movies. I was nonfunctioning when I was watching the DVDs over and over. I don’t know why. I still don’t know why I clung to those movies. It probably had a little to do with familiarity because other shows that I have repeatedly watched were also helpful during this time period.  Maybe because it was so fluffy but also about vampires which I have loved since I was little. Maybe because good triumphs over evil in the end. Who the hell knows?  It was a comfort to me and I shouldn’t have been shamed into hiding it. You do what you can to survive when you are that deep in the hole of depression.

Now I could sit and debate with you ad nauseam over why Twilight is a terrible piece of literature and why her editor needs to be fired, but it’s been done already and by people more qualified than I. So, in the same try for positive spirit as the above revelation, I am going to tell you what Twilight did right.

Yes. Gasp and swoon and then hear me out.

Twilight was a stunningly accurate example of an unhealthy, teenage relationship. Yeah, it got a lot of rightful flak for presenting the relationship as positive (especially since it flew to such heights in our culture) but hell if it wasn’t familiar. I can’t be the only one who was a maladjusted teen (isn’t that the actual dictionary definition of teenager?) and I can’t be the only one who found myself in an unhealthy relationship at that age. I was in love to the point of obsession. To the point of panic attacks and utter despair. Codependent. We see when Edward breaks up with Bella, she sits at a window for two seasons in the movie and the chapters are blank in the book. I’ve been there, guys. I was nearly the same age. I remember that mental state like a particularly sharp nightmare. I believed in first love and true love and that I would die without him. I even believed, sometimes, that I might live forever.

Perhaps this is another clue to the mysterious comfort I found in the Twlight movies. At the time, a good portion of my mental health was attributed to delayed-onset PTSD which can then be directly linked to the above mentioned young relationship. But I don’t have that answer. All I know is that those five movies helped keep me sane while I spent days in bed and nights on the couch wanting to die or not caring if I did.

So, don’t be ashamed of whatever keeps you breathing. When you come out the other side, we can laugh about it together.


It Starts Here

back-1432137-639x852The journey starts here.

But I think “journey” is the wrong word because it sounds pleasant–all path through the autumn woods, yoga and protein shakes, essential oils and leggings. It was nothing like that. It was a battle–no–multiple battles. It was a war.

I’ve been kind of flailing through space here on my blog. I wanted it to be mostly about writing but in truth it has simply become a catch-all for any thoughts I can manage to get through a keyboard.  I’ve been wanting to give it a niche. Especially since I have vowed to keep all my new creative work to myself in an effort to traditionally publish.

Two weeks ago I was finally given a diagnosis for the chronic pain I had been dealing with for two years. This was the battle. If you’ve never been your own medical advocate, let me tell you how exhausting it is, how hopeless it feels. You bounce from PCP (primary care physician), to specialist, to alternative practitioner looking mostly for relief but also answers. They believe you a little, or not at all. Maybe they believe you fully but their hands are tied by licenses and degrees.

There’s nothing wrong with you.
Then why couldn’t I get out of bed?
Aren’t you glad?
Look, I’m happy that my blood is negative and that my organs function properly but there’s something wrong with me. And that’s ok. Ok? I’ve had “something wrong” with me for fifteen years now. But this is different. Help, please.

I battled my way to a diagnosis. I slashed and stabbed and bloodied many doctors’ offices as well as my own life. I have fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome/chronic pain disorder. My central nervous system is all screwed up with pain and pain signals. Finally: answers.

But I had only won one battle. There are many more to come. And there have already been others. This war didn’t start two years ago but fifteen. And it didn’t start in my muscles, my joints, nor my skin. It started in my head.

My senior year of high school I was diagnosed with social and general anxiety disorders. Four years earlier, I had experienced my first major depressive episode. In college, I spun through the whirlwind of hypomania. I had been self-harming for years by then. It wasn’t until grad school that any of these other issues were addressed. I had to completely combust first.  And, even then, it wasn’t until after I graduated that someone seemed to have a clue and the medications finally started working a little. I had been on so many. I had gained 80 pounds. I was merely surviving. I was bipolar (II). I had PTSD. I still had anxiety disorders. I was severely depressed for five long years.

The hardest battles are the ones you fight with yourself while laying in a dark room, staring at the wall.

Should I be writing about this? I’m already in enough pain daily. Should I be ripping open my soul and letting it bleed all over the internet? You know, nothing ever truly disappears on the internet. There are still people out there who don’t believe in any of my diagnoses (lol, ok, just go ahead and stick your fingers in your ears and sing “la, la, la”). There are people out there who think I’m a drug addict looking for a fix. There are people out there who think I’m just a lazy cow.

And that’s why I have decided to lend my voice to the other brave voices screaming to be heard. My blog, my little pocket of the internet, is now being dedicated to sharing my past and future experiences of being a writer with chronic illness.

(And book reviews.)

Self Care for Depression

Sometimes self care looks like alternating sleeping, crying and staring at the wall for 24 hours. You retreat from a world that has become too much and sink into your depression. And that’s ok.

For a day. Or two. It’s going to make you feel even more awful if you carry on in that fashion. But I know how hard it is to do anything when you are that black. But self care means taking care of yourself. So do one thing. One single thing for a few days and see if you can’t increase that to two and so on.

*Brush your teeth.
*Wash your face.
*Take a bath.
*Take a shower (wash your hair).
*change your underwear and/or socks.
*get dressed in something fit for at least Walmart.
*Eat something. Or eat less
if you have been binging.
*Walk to the end of your street and back.
*Call/text your friend or family member back.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. Some are smaller than others but it might depend on the day as to what you are up for. Those are for severe depression. For mild-moderate depression you might try a Self Care Box.

This is just a container (box, bag, basket) that holds several items that have meaning to you. That lift your spirits. That ground you. Some things to think about including:

*a stuffed animal large enough to hug
*a trinket small enough to hold. To take with you if you have to leave the house.
*your favorite scent. Candle, wax melt, perfume, etc
*photos of epic events from your life
*a blanket, super soft
*something sensory (a ridiculously soft blanket counts or a stress ball, etc)
*a list of affirmations
*a small journal and a pen
*a small sketchbook and a pencil
*something spiritual (if it suits you. A rosary, a cross, a Buddha, etc)

Things to grab that you cannot really put in your box.

*pet of your choice
*noise machine or app
*bathtub (although you could put special bubble bath in your box)
*best human friend
*a bit of your favorite food (If you are an emotional eater, you might skip this.)

So tell me, what is in your box?

Disclaimer: I do not have a degree in psychology or psychiatry. These are just things that have worked for me although, yes, some of them have come from doctors.

Anxiety and Exercise

I find it nearly impossible to exercise unless I am on the back of a horse.

Which is problematic. Harder to lose weight or keep it off. Plus, it’s just a good idea for your heart. It’s also pretty affective for emotional health as well. I’ve felt that endorphin rush. But it has never been enough to conquer my anxieties.

Group fitness class? Have you ever heard of social anxiety? The irrational fear that everyone in the room gives a bunch of fucks about you in particular and are judging you harshly. I am plus size and I suck at anything physical (coordination, flexibility, etc). So even as much as I am body positive right now, I can’t stop the running dialogue in my head. Jesus, that girl can’t even balance in downward dog.

Exercise by myself. Ok. But where? Take a walk in the neighborhood? Agoraphobia AND social anxiety. People are obviously staring at me instead of the road. Exercise indoors? With what, a dvd? Ha.

But the single, biggest obstacle between me and exercise? Sweating. I hate to sweat. I don’t smell particularly bad or anything. It is literally the sensation of sweat on my skin. Like nails on a chalkboard for my body.

And I can’t seem to find any information about this particular dysfunction. Googling “hate to sweat” doesn’t bring up anything about having sensory issues with it.

So I’m wondering if anyone out there can relate?