Monday, July 6, 2015

How Facebook changed it all

Often,  I think about how silly I was in high school (and beyond that, let's be real)...and before the popularity in social media skyrocketed, one could just have memories and some pictures (developed at your local pharmacy or grocery store) to look back and laugh at from those periods of growth. 

And the memories, over time, changed and became grey (i.e. the memories became a memory of a memory and thus grew more convoluted and softened)... so the pain or anguish you'd feel over a mistake or a low period would dissipate bc the severity of the memory became lessened. Your mind would kind of protect itself and soothe the shame/regret associated with said era. Not so bad, eh?

Social media allows you to have an actual, concrete record of all achievements (which is pretty damn cool) AND mistakes (ah, the other end of the coin). One is able to date as far back as a decade (that's how long I've been on Facebook and other social media for) and literally see a snapshot of your life's peaks and lows over the last 10 years. It's all documented in messages, comments and photos. That is kind of an insane concept. And it never occurred to me in full until now. 

Facebook, for me and many others, is just a big collection of EVERYTHING...memories, life events (good and bad)...and that is INSANE! I, in looking back, even noticed a small number of deleted friends over the course of my breakdown/recovery when computer browsing was one of the five or six things I felt comfortable doing... and it took me 3-5 years to notice that I/the other person decided to end whatever relationship we had (more often casual acquaintances or former supervisees that conveniently reappear when looking for a reference). This ending of sorts usually comes with no real reason in 99% of the instances. In all instances except for serious relationships that mattered, I am unable to recall whose choice it was to end things. For many reasons, I'm not one of those cool girls that's BFFs with my ex-husband post-divo, but kudos to all of you that were able to remain that amicable. 

I only ever intended to use social media to replace AOL Instant Messenger as everyone I knew that lived far from me made the shift and left AIM-remember all those font choices and passive-aggressive away messages with emojis? it was my goal, ultimately, to remain in contact with geographically-distant pals on a higher level with chat sessions, pictures and things AIM didn't offer. Plus, we often made friendships with one another's friends from other circles which was fun (the more, the better back in one's 20s)...and now it's all become this major THING. This app on our phones that we use while waiting for the doctor to call us in for our flu shot or while we're hanging out in a long line at the grocery store. My generation, and perhaps the one before it, is the first to see SUCH a major shift in the way folks socially interact, and we're the first to have a literal online catalog of the past 10 years' of our life events, for better or worse. 

I imagine the goal of this whole social networking shebang was for us as a society to be able to connect more easily (and I am sure Zuck and good old "Tom" from MySpace (wonder what he's up to?) didn't plan on this stuff not being a moneymaker. But in discussing with friends in real time or real-life settings, not via comment threads or use of emoji-only convos, I've come to realize that I am not the only one that, outside of feeling depressed due to a diagnosed illness, feels terribly lonely. While I am very thankful that there's a platform out there that has kept me closer to old friends than I probably would have been without it, it also makes folks complacent. 

My mind is kind of blown at that...perhaps I am being overly philosophical here? Where was this skill in college during my critical thinking class? haha

Friday, April 10, 2015

the good old days

Bear with me tonight; I am a bit nostalgic.And I ramble.

There have been years (three or four straight at a clip) where I felt actual happiness and didn't think much about each step I took in my life. In those years, I traveled wherever I wanted to whenever I wanted to. I worried a lot, but I also had a lot of fun. I dated men and those relationships ended (duh, as proven by my being engaged to a wonderful man today). I watch the Duggar family on TV all the time; while I don't agree with the vast majority of their life views, they may be on to something in their idea that romantic relationships are best pursued in a spiritual and non-physical way before getting to the next steps, many of them occurring after marriage.

I finally found a funny, kind, handsome and Godly man and I bring to the table a lot of baggage from relationships that weren't his fault, things I didn't deal with in full after they happened. I am thankful that the "baggage" is just the feeling of failure and with the exception of my ex-husband, I really did date a good group of guys who just weren't meant to be life mates for me. But the baggage is there and the fear that I will fail this great man looms. I never assume the future will be as good as it was; having depression/anxiety issues lends itself to a bleak outlook that one must combat and fight against in an effort to retrain one's way of thinking.

And that is the tip of the iceberg, honey. The fear of failure in the future runs deep and I blame only some of it on my being wired to be hard on myself and be anxious. I was talking to my oldest friend from elementary school on the phone for the first time in over 15 years and we talked, in real time, about how no one really is "present" anymore. We're all in our smartphones, too busy posting life on our social media accounts to actually sit and breathe in the smells, hear the sounds, etc. I have also discussed this topic with a dear friend from graduate school and we've talked about the therapeutic benefits to disengaging from all of the technology and just talking, reading a book, meditating, etc. We discussed the good old days of grad school when we'd all get there early (if you're in grad school chances are you're an overachiever of sorts, so most of my buds were at class 10-20 minutes before class start time, raring to go).

We talked about how, even though I only graduated five years ago this May, we used to all sit around and bullshit with one another before class. I had a smartphone then, but it didn't feel like a part of my body and it was easily silenced. I went out to bars and taverns with friends and we talked about all types of good stuff. My second year of grad school before I got married, I went on tried-and-true dates with a few men. Does dating exist anymore? Like, the non-boyfriend, seeing-what-happens thing?

This was even more common while earning my B.A. I used AIM and my flip phone to stay in touch. Texting was only for instances where a phone call wasn't possible and AIM allowed me to go "away" to spend time in real life with my friends at res hall programs, restaurants, or just walking around campus talking about everything and nothing at the same time. I met most of my long-term boyfriends through shared interests and social events with mutual friends. It's how I met my Mikey, it just took us six years to get to now :)

When I visited my family at home, I stayed in the know with what was going on in my social life and regret that in hindsight. All of my buds would have still been there after I spent a day or two immersed in my familial routines. But I was never really "there." Always on to the next thing mentally, even though physically I was at the dinner table or putzing around in the kitchen making salad or guacamole. Wondering what tomorrow would look like. And when it came, wondering what the next week looked like. And that is the essence of where I am at now. Always wondering when the panic will happen again to a debilitating point. Always looking over my shoulder.

I not only came to terms this past year with my mental health and the fact that I don't have just "phases" of bad feelings but an ongoing condition...but I also realized that I am a highly sensitive person. Don't mince words; this does not indicate that I am any less strong than someone who lacks sensitivity. Rather, things affect me profoundly. It's why, though I am SO much better this year than I was last, I am still not where I want to be. It's why all of my failed relationships that led me to Mike each took a piece of my heart because with each person, I gave of myself in a very holistic way and when things didn't work out, I felt like a piece of me would never come back and I would never feel whole.

I also realized that I can't help how out society is now. I can't help the existence of stupid articles about Bruce Jenner that I see posted everywhere, but I can stop being pissed off at the ignorant journalists who won't leave well enough alone and let a person (albeit a very public celebrity) live privately. I can't help that social media changed the landscape of how we interact with people and how we perceive things in a very profound way. But I can control how I utilize it and use its powers for good. I also can't control that I have a mental illness, but I can work on changing how I let it affect my self-esteem and stop worrying first and foremost about how my condition makes others feel. If I can rest knowing I have done all I can at the end of a day to educate, advocate, explain and work to help others understand and feel comfortable around me in a time where I feel like an alien in my own skin, then that has to be enough. And it is. Though I wish I could get some of those others to feel the same. Losing friendships in a time when you feel like you're just plain losing it is hard. Luckily, I've reestablished ties with more people than I have lost contact with.

But those good old days...I can't get them back. And while I can control whether or not to wallow in that fact, I ultimately do because life goes so slow and so fast at the same time. A workday drags on, but before I know it, we're one-third through the year. I wish, in years past when my legs felt sturdier and my heart lighter, I had taken the time to breathe in the smell of my old dorm rooms, find comfort in the sound of my Aunt Roseanne's voice and her Easter cooking, took time to talk about life and dogs on grocery trips with my mom, and savored my dad's antipasto and his wisdom over the past 15 Christmases. Or taken the time to visit my brother more in college and congratulate him on how much he did to make his way through school. Or enjoyed my courtship with my life mate rather than wondering when we would move in, get engaged, have babies...

It's like Andy said in the finale of The Office..."I'm still just thinking about my old pals. Only now, they're the ones I made here. I wish there was a way to know you're in 'the good old days.' before you've actually left them."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Reflections from 2014

I haven't written in a very, very long time so I thought it fitting to take some time this weekend and write for fun. I should, of course, have done this while business was slow (because everyone was buying Christmas presents instead of resumes)...but now is as good a time as any.

Well, for anyone that knows me personally or who follows me on Facebook knows that I had a severe panic and anxiety episode that showed symptoms as early as October 2013, exacerbated right after the holidays in 2013 and stayed really bad until I got linked together with the right care providers and medicines in late January 2014. I don't really remember much of the month prior to that. I spent most of my days trying to sleep or eat. I lost 10lbs during that time.

From there, it was and has been an uphill battle to get back to feeling like myself. I spent most of 2014 being scared of things. Being afraid to eat (which my medicine not only cured, but caused a 30-pound weight gain, which hurts the self-esteem pretty badly). We are, however, in the process of starting to diet and eat better together thanks to some good books from the in-laws. The "we" I am referring to is me and my now-fiance Michael. He spent a good part of 2014 serving as more of a caretaker than a partner and I am happy to say now that he has effectively been able to return to a more "partner-in-crime" capacity. Still, it's been a transition going from being almost wholly dependent on him to learning how to spread my own wings. Sometimes that comes naturally and I almost feel 100% again. Other times, the bad days still rear their ugly heads. Nevertheless, each day is ultimately a little more normal and farther away from what I went through a year ago. Others strive for excitement and worldly adventures. I strive to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, eat a cheesesteak, see friends and shop in Dollar tree without having any moments where my confidence in my stability is shaken to its core.

Outside of my major GAD/Panic Disorder and Depression flare-up, it was just a difficult year overall; even the most even-tempered individual would have wigged out a little. My aunt died in late October after suffering for over a decade with numerous health issues. The worst part of that is that we spent most of that decade not talking, for reasons none of my immediate or extended family members recall anymore. When someone dies in an untimely manner (no matter the state of their health), it's hard to grapple with the anger and the resentment over losing someone too soon. It's also been continually difficult, as one of the many left behind, to think of the what-ifs. I wonder if she'd still be here if I visited more, called more, spoke up on her behalf more when she didn't have the strength to in the presence of her (incopmpetent) care providers. I should have been her care provider. I used to be able to swoop in if you knew me two years ago. I lost my helping tools when she needed them the most.  It gets better with the passing of time, but it never really stops hurting when you love someone that much. She was an integral part of m childhood, adolescence and early adulthood and it's been very hard to go on in the world knowing that she isn't co-existing here with me. Plus, my mom lost her great-cousin Al and he was a pretty steady fixture in my childhood and a great man.

My parents also lost two of their three pets this year, each long before they should have died. One was due to an accident (being hit by a car) and the other suffered from epilepsy for most of her life and suffered from a stroke or some other form of trauma before the vet decided it was best for her to be laid to rest.  I am thankful and humbled by the fact that both of our own pets have been doing well health-wise. But I've noticed, both with me and those close in age to me that I talk to, that the older we get, the more we're aware of mortality in general. When my friends and I were in college, we all thought we were invincible.

Though I lost a lot of friends and acquaintances to death (and saw them lose family members, too)...I never really thought about when I would have to deal with that and how I would cope. Then once it started to happen, I went the complete opposite way and I live in fear of losing everything. But I lost my job and survived. I found a gig that perfectly complements my skill set and my current situation. Had this whole messy breakdown not happened, I would still be working in settings that made me feel uncomfortable, underpaid and in some cases emotionally abused. Life is too short and no one deserves that. I  believe that one should feel comfortable and happy in a job. It was a happy accident  that I finally found a writing job that allows me to use the skills I gleaned from both degrees I earned.

Sometimes loss doesn't mean death in the literal sense-I logically know I can't control when people do and don't die. But this year, I did lose or grow distant from a small unrelated group of longtime friends when I got sick. It's unexpected when the people you believe to be most compassionate and supportive suddenly become unavailable or overly self-absorbed during the one time you need them...after all the times you've been their rock.

And in turn, you find compassion and healing from folks you haven't talked to in years, but affected enough that they decided to reach out to offer words of love and encouragement. The friends piece has been a great lesson in setting boundaries. I take the time to care for and nurture those that do the same. Even if my health or schedule doesn't allow me to take road trips or send extravagant presents...I still make an effort. It's been a lonely year and I finally realized that in order to stop being lonely, I have to let love in. And let go of those that don't love me. That process doesn't have to be negative. Sometimes, relationships just need a breather or room to grow. And in that time, I choose to favor nurturing and fruitful relationships in place of the ones that drain me.

Still a work in progress...still hanging on. -L