Good Things During This Garbage Fire Year

For me, 2017 was a giant dichotomy. My personal life thrived. I’ve been planning a wedding and I get to marry my best friend and love of my life in less than three months. I’ve written consistently over the past year and had the courage to put my work out there. I’m making great strides in my personal life and my knee is finally starting to feel better. My mental health has improved despite the clusterfuck state of the world. It’s been a struggle to balance the hopelessness I feel about current affairs with my everyday life. There have been a plethora of minor and major accomplishments. Of course there have been hiccups along the way but overall things have moved in a positive direction.

This obviously has been overshadowed by the almost daily stress of calling my representatives (fuck you Pat Toomey) to try to protect people’s health insurance and work against awful and racist legislation. Having to explain to my relatives that yes, their vote for any Republican candidate is a vote against me. Even if they are ‘so excited’ for the wedding. I know I’ve made progress with my mental health because the constant emotional exhaustion of this year hasn’t killed me. If all of this happened five years ago, I’m not convinced that I would have made it through.

I’m proud of my strength and what I have become. Wrapped with the joy from just the idea of marrying Katy, there is a part of me that feels guilty for having amazing things happening for me in this awful and disastrous year. I know a huge part of this feeling comes from my ongoing battle with Depression. Good Things have always made me feel guilty because I never ‘deserved’ them. Especially compared to other people. Why do I get Good Things when there are people who are kinder and smarter and are in more need?

Not punishing myself for the positive aspects of my life has been one of the biggest parts of my ongoing recovery. The guilt does nothing for me, nor does it help anyone who I’ve deemed as more ‘worthy’. It only creates unnecessary angst and pain.

I made it through this year because positive things happened to me. I realized that nothing would change even if I let this hellscape consume my every waking moment. That doesn’t mean it never pushed me to tears while cursing and scrolling through Twitter. But I’ve been able to pull myself back from it. I’m getting married in March. My nephew is growing into the cutest kid I’ve ever seen. There are some cool creative projects on the horizon. Sometimes, that’s all I need.

Here’s to a better 2018.


Knee-pocalypse Anniversary: Not Quite Healed

As last summer was winding down, I was extremely excited to get a new cell phone–so I could play Pokemon Go, of course. My old phone couldn’t handle the app, and I felt like I was entirely missing out on all of the fun of walking around my neighborhood catching Pokemon. I was able to play for about a week before I broke my knee. My fiance and I were walking around our neighborhood while I was catching as many Pokemon as I could. I had just caught a Tauros, my favorite, and I couldn’t be happier. As we were heading home, my fiance suggested that we turn a different corner to explore more. This would be my downfall. Quite literally. As I was looking down at my phone, my foot caught the edge of a raised sidewalk and I fell, slamming my knee into the concrete.

When I tell people that I broke my knee, people are usually confused. Some didn’t know that you could do that (you can), while others weren’t sure what it entails. I broke my patella–a.k.a. my knee cap cut horizontally in half. That explanation usually elicits a gasp or a gagging sound. I’m aware of how gross it was without disgusted faces at my story or my impressive scar. Yet I think it’s natural for people to react that way. The scar left from the surgery looks like I fought off space pirates at best and at worst lost a battle with a sentient robot. It’s not pretty.

People tend assume that my injury has completely healed. That I can walk around like I used to before my trip over the sidewalk. Almost a year after the incident my knee looks quite gnarly. On good days it’s mildly stiff and on bad days walking is a struggle. When it’s cold I can feel the iciness in the titanium pins helping my knee fuse back together. Pain is ever-present. I don’t remember what it feels like to not have a constant ache in one of my knees.

When I’m asked how my knee is faring, generally people only want the short and sweet version of how I’m doing. If I give an answer less succinct than “It’s getting better” many don’t know what to do with it. It’s like the details of my injury remind them that recovery isn’t a straight line upwards. My knee is always going to bother me in some fashion, but no one wants to hear that. No one wants to think about an ever-present pain that might not ever go away. Individuals with chronic illnesses have to deal with that all of the time. But we try to explain away pain that devalues the struggle people have to face everyday.

While not as obvious as the scar on my knee, I realized that I, as well as others, have treated my internal scars the same way others treat the idea of constant physical pain. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depression and a Panic disorder. This was after years and years of struggling inside of my own mind. I had convinced myself that the pain I was feeling was deserved or what I was experiencing wasn’t real. And if it was real it wasn’t valid because it couldn’t be as bad as other people’s pain.

Now, with years of regular therapy and medication, I’m doing much better. I have tools to help me work through rough patches and generally keep me on an even mood level. But it’s not always perfect. The month of June was exceptionally hard for me. Probably one of the hardest months I’ve had in awhile. My mood was out of control, I was quick to tears, and I struggled to get myself out of funks. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Of course I made it harder on myself through the ‘expectations’ I created about my own recovery. I understood that my knee was going to hurt worse some days, but I wasn’t giving my brain the same slack. My mental health has been generally improving over the last couple years, despite a few dips. But I was always able to pick myself back up after a few days. I haven’t had to deal with a ‘drop off’ that last a few weeks in almost three years.

It’s easier for people to think that my depression and anxiety has magically disappeared because I’m a much different person than I was four years ago. I’ll most likely have a serotonin deficiency for the rest of my life. But to the the world I’m ‘better’ now. I didn’t realize how much I’ve internalized this until last month. I’m always ‘supposed’ to be depression and anxiety free. All of those bad days where I cry for no reason are ‘supposed’ to be behind me. Crowds ‘shouldn’t’ freak me out anymore.

Most of my days are good days now, but some of them still really, really suck. There is nothing to make me feel better or snap out of it. I have the tools to maneuver through these days in healthier fashions than I used to, but they still are extremely difficult to manage. Is it frustrating that people can’t (or won’t) see or acknowledge the daily struggle that I face? Of course. It’s even more infuriating when I internalize their thought process.

The pain in my knee is a constant reminder for my struggles with my mental health. I know that my knee is always going to hurt, despite what the outside world thinks. My brain should be no different. I’m always going to struggle with my depression, but that isn’t less valid because people think I’m ‘better’ now.

Recovery isn’t a straight line up, nor is it a horizontal line. It’s a squiggly mess. A tangled ball of sore knees and days full of crying. It’s a constant struggle. But when I make it through another day, it’s a victory.

Today is Not a Bad Day

Since writing my last blog, I’ve been in a slump. My creativity, along with my mental and emotional health, has waned. There have been days where I felt my depression come on like a sudden wave while I’m sitting at my desk or fighting through traffic. My social media has become a constant bombardment of terrifying political appointments, people being awful, and terrible things happening in the world. Then there are the people sprinkled in that telling me that I should be caring more, how I need to avoid the sweet siren’s call for apathy and calm—that I need to keep fighting against normalization of the events of the past couple of months.

The call to stay strong and vocal is important. It’s extremely difficult for people to maintain their productivity and rage over an extended period of time, and morale boosts are necessary. A younger version of myself would heed these calls, wearing them as armor as I stormed the gates. Now, I’m just tired of emotionally draining myself over and over to fill the well back up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still paying attention to the aftermath of the election. The genocide in Syria. These things still swirl around my mind like an unsolvable puzzle.

My depression and anxiety makes it hard enough for me not to fall into a deep sea of despair every time that I log onto my social media accounts. Even when I can donate, write, or make the calls, I feel like there is so much more I could be doing, and I’m being lazy by not spending every waking moment stressing or doing something. And when the depression kicks in, I feel even guiltier. People have so much more to lose than me; who am I to sit in my car and cry after work? How can I possibly write anything that hasn’t already been said? Or, has been said by more qualified and talented people? Does my writing actually make a difference or do anything?

With careful thought and sage advice from friends I’m reminded that there is beauty in the struggle. There are days where the weight of the world will be too much for me, and I’m extremely lucky to have a support network to help me stand up after a fall. Every day that I’m here is a victory. I might feel like I’m losing a battle, but the war still rages on, and I’m very much still in the fight. The world may seem like it’s crumbling around me, but today is not a bad day if I continue to write. To think. To breathe.


My Own Worst Enemy

I have been subjected to many bullies in my life. I got made fun of in middle school for wanting to wear shorts instead of a skirt, for having a mustache (and for shaving it), and for not kissing boys. Getting teased for having short hair and looking like a boy. For being too weird. For being the wrong kind of weird. While completely awful, these bullies didn’t have anything on my worst bully.

When I was in school my parents used to tell people that they didn’t need to push or prompt me to study or do my homework because I pushed myself harder than my parents ever would. Initially this created a strong work ethic within me; I had goals that I wanted to achieve, and I better reach them and succeed with flying colors.

The problem occurred when this ethic turned into the ugly, toxic bully that still lingers today. My value and worth were graded on an impossible scale; the more I set myself up for failure, the more excuses I had to internally beat myself up. I got a 90 on a math test, but I could have gotten more questions right. That social interaction you had a couple of days ago? Those people are definitely making fun of everything you said. I became awkward because I told myself I was awkward. I told myself I was never smart enough, so I never felt like any of my accomplishments meant anything. I was insatiable.

Bullying myself became a way of life. From grade school to my Masters program nothing was good enough for myself. Write a really great essay? You’re not actually a good writer. Get into college? Yeah, but not the one you really wanted. Graduate with a Masters from a great school? That’s great, but you’re the fourth one in your family to get one, that isn’t that special you know.

My internal bully questioned and berated everything I did and said. That voice was strengthened by my decade-long unchecked depression. You should feel like dirt, because you aren’t good enough for any of what you have. Don’t count on things staying good for long, you know that other shoe is going to drop, and all of this is going to go away. You have a girlfriend that seems to love and care for you- good luck with that. Once she finds out what you’re really like, how you’re a giant loser, she’ll leave; it’s not like you’re worth someone that awesome.

Like any disease my depression took it’s toll and in the spring of 2013 I had myself a mental breakdown. Three years later, I still say it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I was finally able to look at what I was doing to myself. No one was saying these awful things about me, I internalized the hatred so deeply that it felt natural. Piece by piece I had to pull away the bully that had lived in me for so long. There are still elements left of that bully still inside of me, but I’m much more equipped to stand up for myself and take it down. I was lucky to have a support network that helped pick away those parts, and call me out on my bullying ways. My then girlfriend (now fiance) has been the most important advocate. She sees when I’m about to bully myself and shuts it down.

I’m my own worst enemy but now, I know what I’m up against- and I know I can win.

Depression Doesn’t Make You an Artist

I read an article a week or so ago about mental health, creativity, and treatment. I’m not going to mention where the article was posted or anything about the article specifically because it is without a doubt one of the worst, disgusting, and harmful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on the internet. Now you might say Amanda, there is a lot of terrible things on the internet, why is this one more horrible than the rest of it?

The intention of this article is the reason I would put it up there with the worst of the worst. In it the writer claims that it was better for her friend to have committed suicide than be on medication, because she wasn’t able to be her true creative self. I’m going to write that again. Someone thought, wrote down, and posted on the internet that someone killing themselves was better than their friend living a ‘lesser’ medicated life.

I don’t know what’s scarier, the fact that she thought she was being insightful or innovating, or a person struggling might use this as justification to not try therapy or medication. I can only speak for myself and my mental health journey, but I can say with 100% certainty that my writing was absolutely awful before I started a therapy regime supplemented with medication. Insanely terrible. I could barely write in coherent sentences, and if I did manage to write something not awful I had no confidence to let anyone read it. I wasn’t living up to my true self. I wasn’t living up to my creative potential. Honestly, I wasn’t really living.

After I started managing my depression and anxiety I’ve had people tell me that I had changed and my different self was not as good as the ‘old me.’ Apparently I was a better friend and a better person when I constantly grappled with chronic loneliness, anxiety, and depression. My medication and therapy has helped me find who I really was, not a depressed version of myself. And for some reason people have a hard time when people they know with mental health issues struggle toward being their better selves. It probably does look like we’ve changed, but really it’s just a matter of rediscovering who we are without depression or anxiety completely controlling our lives.

Romanticizing mental health problems as a way to being a great artist is dangerous, unhealthy, and extremely untrue. I was an unproductive writer who occasionally wrote sad, terrible poems in a journal I was never going to share. Now I’m writing a book, writing on this blog, and writing for Geeks Out. I’m a much happier and content person, and my writing benefits from that. A person who is struggling to be happy or stay alive isn’t automatically better at their craft. And even if they were for some reason? A person’s life is far more important than their art. A person shouldn’t feel like they need to sacrifice themselves to create something for the world.

Our lives are more important than our art. Our better lives help us create better art. This is what we need to be telling our friends and family. Struggling doesn’t make you a better artist, writer, composer, or anything else.

Our friends’ lives have no less value when they are trying to get better.

Dear 17 Year Old Self: Take Care of Yourself

Dear 17 Year Old Self,

Please take care of yourself. And please give yourself a break. You work too hard, and you put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Life is starting to suck a little less for you, but you’re still not convinced that everything will be okay. Home will get better, I promise. I know you don’t want to believe me, and really why should you? The past couple of years have been horrific, and nothing gold can stay, right? Whenever something good has happened to you, it’s like you get smacked down twice as hard.

This probably isn’t comforting, but life sucks sometimes. Then it doesn’t suck as much, and if you’re lucky good things stick around for more than a fleeting moment. These moments should be savored, not diluted by the challenges, struggles, and disappointments. There are going to be plenty of those over the next 10 years, but remember that no one is out to get you. Everyone goes through rough and smooth patches alike – it’s all about your attitude.

Having a positive attitude isn’t for everyone else, it’s for you. You don’t want to experience years of self-degrading and negative thoughts. It literally changes your brain. I’ve spent the last two and a half years trying to undo years of damage. While I’ve made amazing progress I still have far to go.

Speaking of recovery, go to therapy and get on some medication. Now. I know how adamantly resistant you are to this idea. You think you don’t need you any help and that your issues aren’t as bad as other people. You don’t want anyone to have to worry about you and be a burden to your family.

You aren’t broken. I know it feels like you are. That you’re brain and your emotions are completely unpredictable. You think that keeping it all inside your head will make it less real, and that you have control over everything.

I’m going to save you years of trouble, so hopefully you can avoid some of my mistakes. You have severe anxiety and you’re depressed. The sooner you admit that to yourself and to other people you can start on the road to recovery, and you can take care of yourself.

It’s not weakness if you fight the battle with armor fully equipped. It’s brave and it’s strong. Sometimes it’s easy, other times… not so much. But you have to keep fighting.

It doesn’t go all away at once, but I promise you will be start to see the forest through the trees.

You’re worth it.

27 and Counting


My cake looked a lot better

I’m a little behind, but I figured I would dedicate a post to my 27th birthday.

I really haven’t cared too much about my birthdays. I’ve gotten slightly more excited about them over the last couple of years since my girlfriend’s birthday is the day after. But, I still really have a hard time enjoying birthday celebrations geared towards me.
There was a lot of stuff that happened when I was a kid, especially around my birthday that did not make me exactly feel excited for the day. I’ve been using that excuse, but in reality, I’ve had very good birthdays for probably the past 10 years.
It’s not just indifference, I could understand indifference. Once you turn 25 and rent a car without extra fees, there really isn’t a monumental birthday.
I can’t think of the right word, but the closet word that I come to describing how I feel on my birthday is ‘uncomfortable’. Not uncomfortable because I’m getting older, but I think due to the unknown.
I know no one knows their future, but they usually have a good idea of wear they want to generally be at a certain age. And they’ve had these plans for quite some time. I feel like I’m making up my life plans as I go along. I honestly didn’t think I would make it this far, so my childhood and young adult wonderings really never made it this far.
Does this give me some weird advantage, that I can’t be disappointed because I didn’t have any goals? Maybe if I had some longer term goals, I would have a better idea of how to move forward in my goal to work in non-profits?
Does it matter?
I think the real reason I become so uncomfortable and anxious on my birthday is that I become way to retrospective and caught up within myself. Instead of focusing on surviving and thriving for another year, I find myself stuck in the murky past or the hazy future.
I probably will never be very excited about my birthdays, but the goal for my 27-year-old self needs to be focusing on the present, and celebrating the victories. So when my 28-year-old self comes around, I might just look forward to April 22.

The Other Shoe Isn’t Ever Going to Drop

It’s hard for to keep a positive mindset.

After a streak of really good things, I have this terrible habit of waiting for something bad to happen. It doesn’t matter what part of my life, whether it’s relationships, work, my organization or anything else, I expect the positive streak to end in a catastrophe.
Ever since I was a kid I learned that the happier you are now the harder the fall is going to be when shit hits the fan. I’m not going to delve into my childhood, but through those events I conditioned myself to feel like happiness leads to inevitable pain. So to avoid feeling pain, and thus anything at all, I can’t let myself feel happiness.
I don’t want you to think that I’ve spent every waking moment of my teenage and adult life making myself sad and crying all of the time. I have experienced many happy moments in my life, but with the full-fledged belief that the other shoe is going to drop and smack me in the face. And when bad things did happen, they were a punishment for my happiness.
Thanks to therapy, medication, and my girlfriend, most of those negative thought processes have been put behind me. But sometimes those little voices come creeping back, preventing me from feeling happy or content. Because, according to them, if I feel happiness that some terrible is lurking behind the corner waiting for me.
One of my goals for this year is to focus on being happy and revel in my successes without expecting the sky to fall on me. Bad things happen. Sometimes in quick succession. But they don’t have anything to do with the positive aspects of my life. They never will. My success isn’t diminished by my hardships.
Most importantly, I deserve true happiness.

Valuing Myself Over My Non-profit: Struggling with Depression in the Non-profit Sector

As someone who has been dealing with depression for most of my adolescent and adult life, and now who is finally dealing with said depression, I’ve been realizing that my thought process on certain topics has been skewed, to say the least.

I have mentioned in a previous post that my organization can’t go on its annual trip because of health and safety risks. More specifically, we are concerned about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There haven’t been any reported cases in the country we would be traveling to, but we are greatly concerned about the traveling to and from. It would most likely be a non-issue, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

That is what I keep telling myself: even the smallest chance of getting seriously ill isn’t worth it. That I could accomplish so much more staying stateside and postponing the trip.

My depression made me believe that it was better to risk my life to do something that would just maybe make me feel better. Even now, I finally admitted out loud (to myself and my girlfriend) that if we weren’t together I would be extremely tempted to go ahead and just go, ignoring all the obvious risks and leaving it entirely to chance. Why does it seem so easy for me to think that my life could be expendable for the sake of my non-profit? That everyone involved, including myself would be better off if I took the risk? I understand that it’s important to be self-less at times in our line of work, but when that crosses over the line into self-destruction it’s terrifying. I never saw myself cross over that line; I can’t pinpoint when the notion that my non-profit appeared to have more value than my existence.

Sometimes I honestly don’t know whether I’m actually being selfless, or just not valuing my own person. Looking back, it’s much easier to see the times where I was chipping away at myself “for the sake” of my organization, all in the name of being passionate and hard working. I don’t think there is anything wrong with working hard and making sacrifices, but when that becomes a part of everyday life, when you are constantly forsaking your mental and physical health for the benefit of your organization, it’s too far.

We owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves first, and our organization second. It might seem selfish (it definitely has to me in the past), but your health and safety are worth so much. Throwing it away isn’t going to make yourself or your organization better. It’s just increases the chance of pain and burnout.

It’s even hard for me to write this, but my life is more important than my organization. My health is more important than my organization. My safety is more important than my organization. I will keep saying that to myself, over and over and over again, until hopefully it becomes as natural to me as breathing.

Curbing My Enthusiasm

I’ve written about not burning yourself out with causes outside of your own organization, but I’ve been finding that I’m needing to turn down the effort I’m putting into my own organization. This has happened to me before; when I first built my non-profit’s website, I think I went from its inception to launching the site (with a full 15 pages) in less than 60 hours. Our website was certainly quite basic at the time, but powering through to complete it in that short period of time burnt me out, and was completely unnecessary.

Over the past several years there have been moments where I have had to curb some of my manic tendencies; when I start a project or try to brainstorm a new idea for a program it’s hard for me to stop or concentrate on anything else. My brain becomes a non-profit hamster wheel that doesn’t stop, and usually picks up the pace when I should be asleep.

This past week we had a 24 fundraising campaign, and I was tempted to stay up through the whole 24 hours and push through surviving on caffeine and show tunes. It honestly made perfect sense to do this, until mentioning it out loud to my girlfriend. A part of me knew that it was a horrid idea and I would never stay awake for the full 24 hours even with copious amounts of caffeine. And if I did manage to stay awake, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

I understand these bouts of overdrive mode are not healthy, and are not necessarily conducive to completing something well and on time. It’s really hard to curb these tendencies. There’s still a tiny part of me that wants to believe that my organization’s success relies on the need to sacrifice my health. This thought process was formed through years of struggling with my mental health. I thought that the more I suffered, the better the output would be.

I didn’t stay up the straight 24 hours. Was the fundraiser as successful as I wanted it to be? No. Would it have been better if I stayed wake the whole time? No.

I enjoy putting myself into my organization, but I am still learning how to not go into extreme overdrive to the point where my non-profit is a great priority than my health. Where to draw the line is staring to become clearer, but it’s still difficult to not pass over it and keep running.

Honestly, a part of me still feels guilty if I don’t burn myself out completely on a project. If I don’t pour every ounce of myself into my organization how will it be a success? Would people question my passion and my loyalty?

I need to come to terms that, no matter what I do or how passionate I am or how much effort I put forth, someone is always going  to think I should have done something differently. I know what I put into my non-profit, and so do a lot of other people. Especially our constituents. So at the end of the day, if I put forth a solid effort and our constituents re happy with my work, then I have nothing to worry about.

I’m truly happy with the amount of work I put into my organization, and I need to give myself a break for not wanting to stay up for 24 hours straight on a fundraising binge.

I need to keep reminding myself that I am doing my best, and that I can still kick ass and take names within healthy boundaries.