Some Thoughts on Depression

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Rewind the tape of life a couple of months: I wake up in my beautiful room in Munich, quickly check some messages and emails, jump out from under the covers, let the window shade snap against the ceiling, grin at the sun (or make a face at the rain), jump in the shower, get dressed, have breakfast and I’m ready to go in 45 minutes. After my 30-minute train “commute” to uni, I eagerly greet the sun as I climb the escalator from the metro to the surface. I’m always super organized and am generally able to get shit done. I prepare for lectures and go over my notes afterwards. I get assignments done on time and they are perfect to my standards. I generally feel like a happy person, I go out for amazing food with my friends, I drive home on the weekend to see my family and our amazing dog. Again, I can get shit done, if I really want to. This is not to say my life at this point is perfect and I’m always a happy, sunny person – but let’s flash forward to today.

The past weeks I have not been able to get anything done, I have never before procrastinated this bad. I avoid doing my readings by wasting time on my phone, and the thing that surprises me the most is that I don’t even care. I used to get anxiety attacks about reading things on time and getting assignments done perfectly. Now I just don’t seem to give a shit. Why?! I mean, I think it’s great that I don’t get as much anxiety over uni work at the moment, but I really didn’t want it to dip into the other extreme? I’m on exchange in Canada right now, I should be having the time of my life, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I should be getting everything out of it that I can – instead I spend the days sitting in bed avoiding readings and skimming social media. This is nuts! The only way I can explain this is by finally facing the fact that I probably have depression and am currently facing a super annoying depressive episode at the most inconvenient time possible.

The worst thing is, I broke up with my girlfriend last week because I felt like our temporarily long-distance relationship (Canada – South Africa, how much further away from each other can you get?) was sapping my energy and not providing enough happiness for me at the same time. I broke up to fully concentrate on Canada and make the best of it. Only that didn’t do shit. I probably made the so far worst mistake of my life because I failed to recognize that the source of my lack of energy and bleak look on life and general feeling of “meeeh I just don’t really care about anything anymore” was not our relationship, but fucking depression. And that thing is nasty, too, toying with my mind and planting thoughts in my head like “You never loved your girlfriend, it’s been an illusion all this time”. Or “You should be strong enough to handle this on your own, you don’t need help, only failures can’t pull themselves out of it on their own.”

One of my biggest problems with it is that I’m a super rational person. If I can’t rationally explain something, it’s hard for me to make sense of it. And I just can’t rationally explain these thoughts and feelings. From a rational perspective, I should be the happiest person on earth: I have the best friends anyone could wish for and super supportive parents on top of that. I had the sweetest and most loving girlfriend, she always had my back and I could talk to her about anything. We had a super deep connection, of the kind that I have never experienced with another human being, ever. My amazing home university sent me on exchange to an equally amazing university in Canada, I’ve been planning this for over a year, and now I’m finally here and I love my courses and I’m involved in different clubs and I’ve already made friends that I know are going to stick for life. Just spelling out all the amazing things that are actually happening to me right now make my current feelings and thoughts appear even more silly. Because from a rational perspective, everything is awesome, right?

So I can’t explain where these negative feelings are coming from, but at the same time I feel like I have to listen to them. Everybody’s always talking about being in tune with your body and listening to figure out what’s potentially going wrong. So I generally take my thoughts and feelings very seriously. But this now has me thinking that the thoughts depression is pounding into my head are actually coming from myself. I have a hard time separating myself from the illness – on the other hand, it really is a product of my brain, right? I’m obviously just super confused. Another thing is, I don’t want to use my depression to somehow justify my actions, along the lines of “Oh that wasn’t really me, it was my depression that broke up with my girlfriend.” But would I really have broken up with her if I would have been “in my right mind”, not influenced by this thing that is apparently a mental illness and on top of that really difficult to grasp?

Today was the first day in weeks that I actually felt productive. I woke up to my alarm at a reasonable time, spent too much time on my phone, as always, managed to shower and clean up (sort of), eat breakfast and kicked my butt out of my room two hours after waking up. I made an appointment with a counselor today – correct, I actually made it all the way down the steps of Maggie Benston Center to Health and Counseling Services without keeling over, stated my business, filled out the paper work, got an appointment and got out of there without embarrassing myself or acting stupid or running away. Then I figured out the automatic staplers in the library, stapled and hole-punched a bunch of papers, printed my ballot for the election in November, filled it out, scanned it and sent it. Went to my courses and back to the library after that, finally finished some readings I had been avoiding all week – I haven’t gotten this much done in days!

But now I’m back to sitting in my bed avoiding the next readings, which are due tomorrow by the way, but I really don’t care for some reason. I apparently also couldn’t care less that I have a presentation the day after tomorrow. Under “normal” circumstances I would be absolutely freaking out right now (yay anxiety, but that’s a different topic). Instead I’m writing blog posts trying to make sense of all of this. And at the same time there’s that awful little voice in my head telling me that what I did today was not enough, because have you even seen your to do list and all the work piling up? You’re such a failure for not being able to pull yourself out of this on your own! Get a grip on your life, will you? Just look on the bright side, it’s so easy to do, you just lack self-discipline because here you still are, doing nothing, wasting your precious life.

Seriously, I hope my counselor knows a way out, because this is just so fucked up.

 

 

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From Ghana to Vancouver to Paris to Insanity

I’m once again on the brink of going completely insane. Tuesday my application for a semester abroad in Vancouver is due. I’ve obsessed over this whole thing for more than half a year now and I’m getting so close to actually ridding all of these stupid forms and papers from my desk and my mind – and at this very moment I’m totally chickening out.

Flashback to about 2.5 years ago a few months before high school graduation: It’s going on midnight, I’m sitting at my desk in front of my laptop, which is covered in Word documents planning out my “I need to get out of Germany and do something crazy NOW”-trip to Ghana. At this point my imagination has transitioned from the phase where you see every damn thing through rose-tinted glasses to the phase where that utopian image is brutally shattered. This is normally also the stage where fear kicks in. Major fucking fear. In the case of Ghana this fear arrived about a week before departure while packing and repacking my brand-new globetrotter backpack (with too much medication and not enough t-shirts). I was scared to death. After almost a year of planning this trip, it had suddenly occurred to me that I would actually be leaving my family, my home, my dog, my nice and comfy safe spaces and my comfort zone for Eight. Months. Turns out, those were the best eight months of my life up to now and I would have killed myself for not getting on that first plane from Munich to Hamburg. But by the time I boarded the second plane to Dubai, I was already exhausted, and ready to bawl my eyes out. Since I was crammed inside a metal bird with too many strangers at that moment, I saved the bawling for the first week I spent in Ghana. I went through the first culture shock in my life, and it wasn’t pretty. But after that first week, things began to be totally awesome. I started adapting to the new circumstances and basically learned how to survive on my own in a strange country with amazingly awesomely weird people (my fellow volunteers, some of whom are still my bestest friends) around me. And after two months of that I went to the US and to Costa Rica and then back to the US and I survived it all and it was the coolest time ever!

Flash-back-forward to today: My illusionary pink bubble (wait – I hate pink. Let’s make it orange or something.) was viciously shattered by a documentary we watched for our Canadian Culture seminar about the punk scene in Vancouver. I suddenly realized that Vancouver was actually a city. And cities are seldom perfect environments for dreamers and  idealists and people with a completely skewed picture of foreign places, as myself. (For some reason, I would usually describe myself as a pretty hardcore realist, but somehow this feature just disappears when it comes to traveling.) Cities are dirty, cities can display radical inequalities, cities can be dangerous – life can be dangerous! I think I’m actually suffering from Paris Syndrome, only like a year in advance of the actual encounter.

So I have to turn in a whole stack of papers on Tuesday. My letter of motivation still needs a more creative introduction, something right between “a semester abroad would greatly benefit my academic advancement bla bla boring” and “Vancouver: The L Word was shot there (which means Kate Moennig touched Vancouver soil!) and Tegan Quin lives there – by the way, they also have this great university I’d like to spend a semester at!”. I haven’t gotten past those extremes yet. Since our department has this amazing invention called the Writing Center, I thought I’d stop by there to get some feedback on my letter and my resume. If only these people would actually show up to their official office hours postet on their official website hosted by the official American Studies department of the official Faculty of Language and Literature Studies of the totally official University of official Munich, I would have one less problem now. Since nobody was there, I wrote an email to make an appointment for this week, which has not been replied to and also I got mixed up with the times so they might actually ask me to come at a time that I actually can’t really make but ACTUALLY I asked for this time, but – I probably won’t be able to make it. You still with me? The bottom line is, I hope they never answer that email, I hope it went straight into the spam folder and will sit and rot there until one day after many years someone will clean out that spam folder and curiously wonder if that pathetic person actually ever made it to Vancouver and survived there for four entire months. If you’re from the Writing Center and reading this (which is highly unlikely): DON’T ANSWER THAT EMAIL! I BEG YOU! I can’t stand when strangers have to make an extra effort for me (such as replying to an email and then having to reschedule because of my temporary mind fog and stupidity), and even less do I want to actually deal with a stranger that has had extra effort because of me. And that, people, is another episode in the life of a person with chronic worrying-syndrome and (social) anxiety.

To make matters just a little worse, I started scrolling through my Facebook feed, because I’m pathetic and don’t have anything else to do with my life, and came across the headline: “The Feminist Celebrity of the Year could be a straight, white man for the first time”. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! I need to sleep. Desperately. I’m so done with this world right now, I need to go create my own.

 

I’m a student. Majoring in thinking too much with a minor in worrying.

The new semester just started and with the first week not even being over yet, I feel like work is piling up way over my head. Not necessarily work that has to be or can be done right at the moment, but deadlines for the future that are mandatory to meet. That’s why they’re called deadlines. Ignore them, you’re dead. Forget them, you’re dead. Cross them, you’re dead. Thinking about them will eventually kill you because your body and mind won’t be able to take the shakiness of the worry any longer. Dead. Literally deadlines.

It seems like I don’t really worry that much about IF I can meet the deadline. Because life still poses enough quirks for me to wish to pursue it, I will move heaven and hell to make a deadline. What I worry about is HOW I will meet the deadline. First of all in terms of the quality of the product I am supposed to deliver. If you know anything about me, you will know that I can be a notorious perfectionist. Which can make life really really difficult. Also, I consider my writing a piece of myself, it’s a visible product of my brain, which is basically my most treasured possession. It’s a product of my thoughts, my opinions, my experiences. So it’s got to be perfect if it is going to represent me in the outside world. This puts a hell of a lot of pressure on me, but on the other hand, I love writing for the very same reason. It’s a form of communication that allows me to think about what I want to say for as long as I need and then conveying this in a manner that will truly and accurately represent my thoughts and opinions and experiences. I hate having to represent myself through oral communication because this usually involves not saying everything I want to say, saying it in a way that can easily be misunderstood, saying things I don’t want to say due to lack of time to think about what I really want to say. It sucks. I wish I could communicate in written form exclusively for the rest of my life. It would sure as hell spare me from some of my social anxiety.

I don’t just worry about the quality of the product I am supposed to deliver, I also worry about the quality of my self during the time of production. This includes physical and mental health. Since I will do pretty much anything to meet a deadline AND deliver a perfect-to-my-standards-because-that’s-basically-all-that-really-matters-but-sadly-sometimes-my-standards-are-based-on-the-standards-of-the-person-implemeting-the-deadline-but-then-amplified-by-like-a-million-product, I worry that in the course of all that, I myself will go to hell (not literally though). My body will be put through sitting at a desk or in a super uncomfortable wooden contraption made with the intention of people spending hours on it in a lecture hall, me not having enough time to think about nutritious healthy food to cook and me worrying about shit all night (or staying up all night writing stream-of-consciousness-type blog entries) and not getting enough sleep. And my mind will be going washing-machine-spin-cycle-crazy 24 hours a day about meeting the fucking deadline with a fucking perfect product without going fucking crazy.

I have roughly 15 assignments to fulfill this semester, all with different deadlines, sometimes three with the same deadline, some involving stuffing things into my brain and then spitting them out on paper, others including talking in front of a group of people I don’t know very well and therefore provoking anxiety feelings from the moment I am informed about the deadline to the minute I finally get it over with. Most of these assignments are essays stretching over just a few pages, which should be no big deal, actually, since I love writing, I prefer it over talking or spitting stuff, come to think about it I really shouldn’t be worrying about those at all. I mean, there’s a lot of them, but how hard could it really be?

Maybe I’m actually worried about something completely different and am just projecting that worry onto the looooong list of Essays To Write. I’m applying to our university’s exchange program for a semester abroad in Canada. Which means I have to take the IELTS language test at the end of this month, which I should really be studying for, but a voice in my head is constantly telling me “come on, how hard can in be to write, listen to and speak ENGLISH for crying out loud”. It also means I still have to complete my letter of motivation, stating what exactly I’m planning to do over there and why the hell I’m wanting to do it. And I have to get two letters of recommendation from my professors, which requires once again oral communication skills and of course perfectly engaged and smart behavior in their classes so I get a good recommendation. Talk about pressure. Plus the person in charge of the department for foreign exchange stuff is a, well, um, somewhat difficult person and regarding my first encounter with this man who may lack even more social skills than me, but in a way that makes him arrogant and unfriendly instead of painfully self-conscious, I hope that I never have to interact with him on any level ever again.

And another thing that worries me is my application to a job as an assistant at the women’s equality office. Because it involves trying to sell myself and my qualifications to somebody that I have never met. And I suck at selling stuff. I couldn’t sell a lifeboat to a person drowning in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Also it will in the future involve people. New, strange people. People of authority. Yikes. That’s a sentence right there to scare the crap out of an introverted person with social anxiety, if not admitting them straight into a mental institution.

So why am I doing all of this if it worries and downright freaks me out so much? Good fucking question. I guess one could call it an attempt to live and maybe even succeed in spite of myself.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”

Disclaimer: I will not apologize for any typos, incoherent sentence structures, elaborate debaucheries, hyphenated neologisms or occasional swearing. It’s 1:23 a.m. for crying out loud and I’m too tired to proofread anything right now.

Happiness

Happiness is warm sun on closed eyelids

your favorite sandwich

the tickle of a horse’s muzzle

the warmth of a dog’s body

a road trip across great nothings

a book you can’t stop reading

a character so evil you hate her from the very depths of your soul

a character you dig so much you jump and giggle and gasp.

Happiness is hot chocolate with marshmallows

a smile from a stranger

your favorite song on the radio

dancing for no reason to the music in your head

the smell of freshly baked bread

the smell of freshly washed clothes

the cold drizzle of a shower on a hot, sweating body

the sensation of air on naked skin

the realization of happiness being simply being.

Blessings June 16 to 18

June 16

Ironically, right after writing that first post about counting your blessings, I got sick with a hardcore summer cold. Which is why I am now sitting up at 4 a.m. trying to breathe and ignore the fact that technically I’m supposed to get up in three hours. It also made the blessing counting the tiniest bit more difficult, but here it goes anyway.

1. I survived choir practice in the evening, despite blowing my nose every five minutes, slugging down water at the same rate and almost suffocating at one point because of tiny knives doing karate kicks inside of my throat. Still walked away alive. Like a boss.

2. Felt very grateful for having bought a new monster-sized package of tissues a while back, although it is disappearing at a disturbing rate right now.

3. I actually wrote two poems today (well, technically yesterday – geez, I need to sleep…). That’s what a class on the history of American literature does to you. It also makes you broke because your professor recommends too many awesome books.

4. Found an awesomely hilarious interview with Kate Moennig (current celebrity crush – besides Ellen of course). Even made me forget about my nose trying to kill me for a minute!

5. Best moment of the day: This going down on Twitter. And people on the train staring at me fangirling.

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June 17

Ironically, 3 hours after writing the top bit, I woke up because I had once again arrived at the time of month that makes my life miserable and puts me in a mood that can only be described as angry bitch. Yep, I turn into a furious female dog. (Maybe they should make another Fast&Furious sequel – Female&Furious. Kind of like the all-girl Ghostbusters thing.) Anyways, still trying to count blessings, such as

1. All the sneezing and nose blowing seems to be speeding things up in the southern hemisphere – if you know what I mean.

2. My roomie is definitely a blessing. After looking at my miserable self, she went straight to the pharmacy and got me some nasal spray, which worked miracles. Personal triumph moment for her, since she’d been trying to make me get some for my allergies for weeks. Apparently, since she’s a medical student, I should listen to her more often when it comes to medical issues. Her opinion.

3. For lunch we made a freaking awesome casserole with spinach tortellini, a mixture of egg and crème fraîche, cheese and spices. It was amazing!

4. Pain pills. Definitely a blessing. Combined with all the magnesium I’ve been taking (though apparently not enough), I don’t feel a thing. All hail the drugs.

5. Sweatpants and cozy socks. Because – well, duh.


June 18

1. Only woke up once last night! And only used two tissues instead of 37!

2. Classes were fun today. Wrote an essay about pot, talked about mad people (Edgar Allen Poe) and discussed kids during WWI.

3. I bought paper. You can’t imagine how much copy paper a household run by two students requires. Having a printer at home is definitely a blessing.

4. Got an appointment at the hairdresser. SO excited! I know I swore off hairdressers a few weeks ago and just cut my hair myself (I didn’t think it turned out that bad – until my roomie said that I looked like a shaggy dog. I took it as a compliment), but I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to pull off the stunt I’m planning on my own, so…

5. Managed to call a person ON THE PHONE and BY MYSELF without making a total fool out of myself or ending up having a panic attack or hyperventilating or starting to cry hysterically afterwards. Social anxiety, anyone?

Count Your Blessings – June 15

This evening I was walking home from another day at university, listening to Nickelback, holding an umbrella but still catching some raindrops on my nose, admiring the new mud smudge on my red chucks – and it hit me how freaking lucky I am. I’m getting an education, I have a roof over my head and enough food, warm clothes, voting rights, freedom of speech and religion, I may not be able to legally marry yet (at least in Germany), but I’m not persecuted for who I am, I live in a country where women are not suppressed (though that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for full equality and respect), I can read and have access to books, I don’t live in a war zone, I have access to clean drinking water, summer is almost here and I’m going back to the U.S., I have a loving and supportive family – I could go on for decades. I think it’s so important to remember how lucky we actually are, count our blessings, not dwell on some petty trivialities, like late buses and trains, our hair not falling perfectly or generally things just not going exactly our way. Look on the bright side! Stop to smell the flowers, smile at the raindrops, smile at other people, notice the detail of your surroundings, skip through the streets!

In celebration of today, I challenged myself to count my blessings every day – and to notice the small things in life and write them down, so I can take a peek at them when I’m swimming in negativity and remind myself of what’s really important in life. And since I love photography, I also want to capture a “moment of the day” every day. Would love for you people to give it a try, too, and share the outcome with me! 🙂

So, here it goes.

Photo of the Day 

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Today’s Blessings 

1. Forgot my wallet at home, noticed it only as I was already at the train station, ran all the way back home, grabbed the wallet, missed the next bus to the train station by a minute, ran back to the station, and still was in time for my lecture. Like a boss.

2. The history library was giving away super old books (well – like 1922 kind of old) that were sorted out for free. I am now proud owner of “Deutsche Geschichte. Zweiter Band: Neuzeit” by Dietrich Schäfer. And the best thing ever: It had an old newspaper article reporting the death of Fürst Bülow (whoever that was) tucked inside. I am in book heaven. And it smells so freaking awesome!

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3. Saw a sign in front of a small shop walking through Munich: “Never mind the dog. Beware of owner!” I was grinning all the way to the next lecture and probably freaking people out.

4. Walking to the metro, my friend and I saw two little wild bunnies on the lawn at the Königsplatz, grazing very peacefully and not at all bothered by the people passing by. They looked exactly like the rabbits in Arizona!

5. The color statement of my new beloved red chucks in the gray of a rainy day in the city. I can’t wait to take them on new travels and get them as dirty and worn out as my old ones – which are going to be framed and hung on the wall, by the way. As soon as they completely fall apart.

DIY Marker-Tape-Ruler-Glue-Scissors-StickyNote Organizer

Or: How to make a box to keep all the junk in that’s making your desk look even more chaotic than usual. After about 8 months of living in my own (shared) apartment, I finally managed to clean up the old wooden retro table I keep beside my desk in default of a fancy-pancy drawer-organizer thingy. I was sick and tired of everything just lying around there getting covered in an inch-think layer of dust. Also I was too lazy and too stingy to go out and buy a fancy-pancy plastic pencil box or whatever from Staples. (I’m kidding. Germany doesn’t have Staples. Just trying to sound American.) Furthermore, I happened to have the cardboard back of an old notepad lying around – because well, for some reason I am incapable of throwing useful stuff like that away. Long story short: I made myself a cardboard container for all my office-related (or rather desk-related? Office sounds so sophisticated and grown up…) clutter and thought I’d share the process of making it with you. Just in case you also have a profound need of organizing your life – or at least your working environment. Organizing life is a whole other ball game.

DIY Marker-Tape-Ruler-Glue-Scissors-StickyNote Organizer

Step 1: Draw a grid on your piece of cardboard and make sure the edges all have the same length. I measured the short side of the cardboard and divided it by 3, that should give you the same edge length.

IMG_3850 Step 2: Cut out the four corner squares.

IMG_3851 Step 3: Use a pocket knife (or any other sharp metal object) to cut slits along the drawn lines. Depending on the thickness, you may need to do this on both sides of the cardboard. Whatever you do, don’t cut the flaps off completely! Step 3 1/2: Bend the flaps upward to create a box shape.

IMG_3852 Step 4: Put your individual design on it! I was kind of lazy and only wrote some boxy quotes on it while listening to the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack. I finally need to buy Forrest Gump. The book, not the movie!!

IMG_3853 Step 5: Tape the edges together. Depending on your design, you could also do this before making it pretty. Sadly, my box fell apart on one side two days later, so I recommend strong tape (how about at duct taped box??) or a different taping technique. Also as you might notice, my edges didn’t turn out exactly even. I mean, of course I did that on purpose because it looks more DIY, hipster, retro, whatever cool you want to call it.

IMG_3855 Step 6: Fill ‘er up. I also used one of the corner squares cut out earlier to make a little divider. IMG_3858 Alright, now go try it out, let me know how it went and post pictures of your own designs in the comments! 🙂