Happy wagon: coping techniques

It’s been a very hard week for the world, and a very hard month and a half for me. There have been few things I could make happy wagon posts about, so I haven’t made any for a while. Today, instead of making a post about the past week, I’m going to make one about the things I’ve done to cope with heaviness and sadness and hard depressive slumps in general. I’m not always good at using healthy coping skills–I’m particularly fond of avoidance–but I think I’ve found a few good things to do, and I’d like to remember them. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

  • Embrace weirdness. Do the things you usually keep yourself from doing because people wouldn’t understand, and let yourself feel comforted by them. Take a book, “Tuck Everlasting” or “Anne of Green Gables” or Goosebumps or whatever made you happy in your childhood, and curl up in the closet and read it the way you did when you were small. Turn on Alanis Morissette or Celine Dion and turn it up loud the way your mom used to do when she was cleaning. Sometimes small spaces and loud music are the only things that will keep your insides from knotting up and your hands from shaking.
  • Play 90s and 00s summer pop hits on Spotify. Listen to All-4-One’s “(She’s Got) Skillz” and smile and sway. Listen to Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and sing outrageously. Listen to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” and try to sing outrageously in between bursts of laughter.
  • Clean and clean and clean, until your house feels like a place you want to exist in again.
  • Eat food. Sleep early.
  • Listen to other people telling stories, The Moth or Snap Judgment or call your loved ones and ask them to talk to you about things.
  • Call your loved ones anyway, or email them, or texdt them, or whatever it is you do to communicate. Tell them you’re feeling sad, anxious, heavy, whatever you’re feeling. Let them help you. Trust them to know how, and, if they don’t, trust yourself to tell them.
  • Be aware of the world around you, care about people and the things that are happening to them, but remember to balance it with taking care of your own mental health. Recognize that it’s a privilege to be able to do that at all, but don’t bury yourself in guilt over it. That will help no one.
  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love, give yourself gentle and wise council and ruthlessly smash the brainvoices that would have you believe that you deserve less, that you are less. Remind yourself that everyone has their own life to live and their own path to walk, that just because someone else is farther along their path according to what society values, it doesn’t mean they’re better or more hardworking or more deserving than you. Remind yourself of all the things you contribute to the world, however small they are. Mock yourself if you must, call these things cliches–they are, but it doesn’t make them any less true.
  • Cry a lot. Just do it. It’s okay.
  • Beyoncé, always and always and always.
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    There is magic in the myth

    Day 6 of The Enchantment Diaries from The Fable Tribe
    Day 1
    Day 2
    Day 3
    Day 4
    Day 5


    Sometimes, we’ve heard a story so many times that we don’t really hear it. Is there a story about yourself that you tell others over and over? That you’re not good enough, smart enough, that this one thing happened and that’s why you haven’t tried to create/do/be/love/hope?

    Write down the very first story that comes to mind that you tell others that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. But you always tell it, anyway.

    What if you didn’t tell it? What if you really could create/do/be/love/hope whatever it is?

    The stories you tell are powerful. Tell the stories that make you feel good.

    My story goes like this.

    I started out as a girl and I grew up into a raw nerve, the rawest and nerviest, too much, too messy. When I was young, still a girl, I wasn’t enough, I was a shadow or, sometimes, a spotlight on the ugliest and worst places, but either way, an outlier. Boys didn’t notice me because there was nothing there to notice, nothing for them to hold up and show to the world. Girls didn’t notice me because there was nothing to me that could elevate them, nothing that could make them more for boys to hold up and show to the world. It was no wonder I learned how to love alone, there was nothing about me that deserved companionship. I was all half-scrawled loose-leaf pages, held together by the slightest of skin and bones.

    When I was older, when I had become a raw nerve, I was too much, living in a world that was too little, that had made me too little. I wanted to rebel. I was too much emotion for anyone to love me, too much crazy for anyone to deal with for long. I was too lazy to do anything useful with myself, to make anything useful out of my life, to contribute anything useful to the world. I was too difficult for patience, too sad for understanding, too prickly for goodness. And, on especially bad days, I was too blind to do anything I wanted to do, to make myself happy. It was no wonder I continued to nurture that love of alone, there were too many messy feelings in me to leave room for anyone else. I was a fire barely kept in check, just waiting for that one last spark to send my whole world up in flames.

    A better, kinder story might go like this.

    I am a girl, a raw nerve, half-scrawled loose-leaf pages, and a conflagration all in one. I’m a human being, a messy, emotional human being living in a messy, emotional world. There’s a lot of ugly in me, and in the world, but there’s a lot of beauty there too, so much magic I can feel it on my skin, in my bones, beneath my feet, all around me. I’m not crazy. I’m not lazy. I may struggle with depression, anxiety, who knows what, who knows how it will manifest, how my brain will try to eat itself alive next. But I still have a life, and I can still live it.

    I’m a librarian, or a counselor, or an activist, or a baker, or a cat lady taking baby steps toward a future where anything is possible. I’m in love with so many people, and so many people are in love with me. They stand beside me and hold my hands when I need them to and maintain a strict distance when I need them to and they’re always there.

    I’m cradling my teenage self and my twenty-five-year-old self and my fifty-year-old self and my eighty-year-old self, holding them all close inside me, whispering to them again and again, as many times as they need to hear it, that they’re not too much and they’re not not enough, they’re perfect, they’re everything. They’re exactly what they were created to be, doing exactly what they were created to do. They’re going to give so much to the world, and the world is going to give so much back. It won’t always be so hard, and when it is, there will be overcoming, and overcoming, and overcoming. There will be living, and growing, and thriving. There will be a happily ever after.

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      How dearly I love this rose and hedge

      Day 5 of The Enchantment Diaries from The Fable Tribe
      Day 1
      Day 2
      Day 3
      Day 4


      Sometimes, we seek the end of the journey so much that we forget to pay attention to the moment, to our here and now. It may not be a lofty palace, but wherever you are, even if it’s not your favorite place, has something lovely about it.

      What do you love about your current place in your life’s journey? What lovely, small things can you appreciate more?

      I chose to do this prompt today because whenever I look at it, I feel annoyed. It’s really difficult for me to think of things I enjoy about my current life, or about my current location, or about much of anything, really. I’d rather spend my time thinking about where I’d like to be and what I’d like to have, which is one of my biggest problems. Focusing all my attention on a hazy future that may or may not come to be means that I’m never fully focusing on the here and now, and that’s what I need to be doing to insure the future I want.

      So, what I love about my current place in my life’s journey. I love that I’m actually absurdly privileged in that I get to follow my own schedule, without having to worry about getting up every morning and going to a nine to five job, or going to school (yet). I love that I have family who indulge me in most of the things I want, like going to concerts and Renaissance festivals and movies. I love that I have a baby niece and I get to watch her grow and develop, becoming her own little person with her own definite attitude, and that soon she’ll be old enough for me to share all the things I loved so much as a child with her. I love that I’m able to manage going to therapy each week, where I get to dissect myself and my brain and learn how to make healthier mental and emotional choices, which will hopefully benefit me in finding more joy and love in the future. I love that I get to share my living space and expenses with someone I’ve known for more than half my life, someone I feel totally comfortable with and whose family I like and who likes a lot of the same things I like, like reading aloud and Harry Potter and indulging in childish pursuits that should probably be embarrassing but aren’t. I love that I have a mother who also likes a lot of the same things I like, like horror and bookstores and libraries and coffee shops, and who is willing to go and indulge those things with me on a pretty regular basis. And I love that I feel like I’ve finally managed to settle into the self I’m going to be for the rest of my life, that I’m secure in my ideals and convictions and I’m confident that what I present to other people is what I want them to see; no more teenage angst and insecurity or early-twenties restlessness and growing pains.

      And lovely, small things I can appreciate more. Living in an apartment where there are lots of birds and trees, right next to a wooded area and a really nice walking trail, where it’s quiet (most of the time). Having a swimming pool within easy walking distance. Having the money to buy most of the things I want, and nearby people who are always willing to help out in the event of a financial emergency. Owning so many pretty things–tea sets, fairy houses, leather-bound fairy tale books, jewelry, etc. My cat. Dresses I feel comfortable in. Perfumes that let me smell like the flower garden of my dreams. Delicious egg sandwiches and hamburgers and muffins and smoothies … there’s so much good food here.

      It’s not a perfect life and I don’t have perfect health (who does?), and I’m miles from where I want to be. But it’s nice to realize that once I stop and think about it, a lot of things are really great.

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        Intentional kindness

        In a previous post I mentioned practicing intentional kindness, and that’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought and attention to ever since. For me, there are four main types of kindness, all equally important to creating the more positive existence I want to have. They are:

        • personal kindness, or self-kindness
        • kindness toward other living things
        • worldly kindness, or kindness toward the world at large
        • earthly kindness, or kindness toward the physical earth we inhabit

        I’m not spectacular at practicing any of these reliably, but I’m especially terrible at personal kindness and worldly kindness. My natural inclination is toward anger, and not healthy anger, which I believe is useful, but toxic anger, which makes me feel very badly. This anger, when directed at the world at large, tends to make me think that everything is awful and exhausting and people are inherently evil and nothing we do is going to make much of a difference to how we as a species treat one another. This is not helpful or productive, and I would like to change it, because it’s not even what I really believe.

        My natural inclination is also to resent the fact that I have a body that needs to be cared for, and to deny myself physical comforts or indulgences because they don’t seem very important to me. A good example of this is that on Sunday, I went to see Andrew Bird and it was a standing concert, and afterward my feet were in agony. On Monday, I went grocery shopping, and my two-year-old niece came along, so it was a more drawn-out trip than it would otherwise have been, and that only made the state of my feet worse. Rather than soaking them or applying warmth to them as my mom suggested, I just ignored it and forced myself to walk on them anyway, and now, my left foot is in a worse state than ever and it hurts to put pressure on that heel.

        So, here are some things that I’m trying to make more of a conscious effort to do, to cultivate this intentional kindness and improve my life and how I feel about it:

        Personal kindness:

        • looking at bathing and its aftermath (skin care, hair care, etc) as a sacred ritual, caring for my body as a sacred vessel, rather than as a tedious inconvenience I really don’t have the energy to bother with
        • spending money on myself semi-regularly, when I have it to spend, rather than denying myself things I really want because buying for myself doesn’t seem important enough to waste money on
        • saying no to things when I don’t want to do them, giving myself time to recover after doing a difficult thing, being more patient with myself and my mental health in general

        Kindness toward other living things:

        • going a little out of my way to do nice things for other people sometimes, even if I’d rather not, even if I feel like it might inconvenience me
        • practicing patience with people whose views differ from mine, especially when those people are family, deciding when it’s worth it to engage in arguments and when it’s better to let it go
        • creating and nurturing community (I’m going to write a separate post about this)
        • spending more time with animals that aren’t my own cat
        • maybe finding a way to do something to help injured or sick animals?
        • gardening, even if it’s just caring for potted plants because that’s all I can do in an apartment, actually spending time focusing on the plants, watering them regularly, growing herbs that I can use in making things

        Worldly kindness:

        • resisting the impulse to read every single news item and blog post about the things I feel passionate about, because often those things expose the uglier sides of humanity and `sometimes I’m just not in a headspace where I can adequately handle it
        • seeking out more things that inspire and uplift me, and focusing on those at least as much as I focus on the things that incorporate more negativity
        • surrounding myself with people who remind me of the good in the world, spending less time on people who embody the bad

        Earthly kindness:

        • making more of an effort to buy natural and organic products and foods, budgeting so that although they’ll always be too expensive, I can make them a little more justifiable
        • spending some time researching ingredients, making a list of things to look for and things to avoid, and researching things before I buy them to be sure they’re actually what they say they are
        • recycling?
        • giving my money to environmentally conscious businesses and causes

        And, the most important thing of all:

        • sending out what I’d like to get back, positive energy, nurturing energy, healing energy, peaceful energy

        It looks like a lot, but I don’t think it is, really, and it should be doable. Most of it is what I should already be doing anyway, but depression things and anxiety things and exhaustion things tend to get in the way, and also selfishness things and laziness things, sometimes, if we’re being totally honest. So, here’s to a kinder, more peaceful, more positive life.

        PS. I’ve missed a couple of happy wagon posts and June’s monthly roundup because I’ve been having a worse time than usual, and I had intended to go back and at least make up the roundup, but now I’m not sure that will happen. It seems absurdly late. Here’s to eternally lazy, inconsistent blogging habits, too!

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          Happy wagon: 05.25.14-05.31.14

          Better late than never.

          • doing mobility and remembering the entire route, with only minor stumbles, after being very anxious about it for weeks beforehand
          • my Wicked Girls poster arriving in the mail from Seanan McGuire (I don’t have a picture yet, but soon, when I’ve actually put all the posters I’ve collected on the walls)
          • getting a little lost and problem-solving instead of panicking about it
          • getting a little closer to a formal diagnosis, which will make it easier to effectively treat
          • spirited and enthusiastic singalongs to music that I’m regularly made fun of for listening to (i.e., the One Direction “Where We Are” tour setlist on Spotify)
          • the Renaissance Festival, which is my second favorite time of the year after Halloween, where I got sweaty and disgusting, bought things I didn’t really need, ate funnel cake and drank delicious lemonade, and interacted with more strangers than I do throughout the entire rest of the year
          • making a concerted effort to spend time quietly, without the distractions of television or audiobooks in the background, trying to listen to and sort out the clamor of my own thoughts
          • an upswing in my moods, probably brought on by a combination of B complex vitamins, spending time outside in the sunshine, and letting myself do things that make me feel happy and good
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            My kingdom of everlasting blue

            Day 4 of The Enchantment Diaries from The Fable Tribe
            Day 1
            Day 2
            Day 3


            We are all monarchs of our own life. But there are other kingdoms. The kingdoms of our hearts and minds, the kingdoms of our stories and memories.

            And the kingdoms of our futures.

            What is the kingdom you would rule? What does this future kingdom and life look like? How do you, as its sovereign, take care of and shape it? How do you nurture it and make it prosper?

            Write down the eventual kingdom of your life that you would like to experience, and what you would do to attain it.

            I don’t want anything grand or great out of my future kingdom. No wars won, no lands conquered, no adoring subjects. All I want is a little cottage-style house, near running water, in an area that allows me to be surrounded by nature but not so far out from a city that travel is inconvenient. I would like to have many bird visitors, and other wildlife will be welcome so long as it doesn’t harm anything. A garden, plants thriving in soil from the ground rather than in soil from a pot, trees for climbing, for swinging and for fruit-bearing. Cats, always, and bookshelves, and a small piano. A porch swing. Coziness.

            My most important sovereign duties will be to instill kindness and love in everything around me, to oversee the kingdom’s traditions of elaborate breakfasts and afternoon naps, to bring books together with the people who will love them most in the library where I’ll work, and to use my creative powers to entertain the other kingdom-dwellers. Other important tasks will include spending regular time in the garden, hands in the soil and heart reaching out to the plants, feeding the birds, being quiet with myself so that I can reenergize and always be ready to greet others with welcome and gladness, and petting cats.

            To attain this kingdom, I’ll have to do a lot of things I really don’t want to do. I’ll have to go back to school, so that I can become qualified to work in the library of my dreams, spend considerable time working on mobility so I can travel confidently on my own, learn to cook and bake to facilitate elaborate breakfast traditions (I want to bake, not to cook), and get a lucrative enough job so that I can buy and furnish my house, plant my garden, and care for my various animal companions. I’ll also have to practice intentional kindness, because hostile anger actually comes much more easily to me and that has no place in my ideal future kingdom. Healthy anger might have its place, in moderation, but kindness and gentleness will be the guiding principles.

            In summation, I’m so twee I’ll make your teeth ache.

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              Happy wagon: 05.18.14-05.24.14

              • organic coconut oil for skin care, which is something I’ve been hearing about as the holy grail for skin for ages but haven’t gotten around to trying until this week, and I can already tell a difference, albeit a very small one so far (my skin is a source of body anxiety for me so this is A THING)
              • Andrew Bird coming to Oklahoma in June and the possibility that I might actually get to be there
              • a new niece or nephew coming in late january or early February
              • unexpected connection, friendships that wax and wane, hearing nice things from and having fun conversations with people whose lives I thought had orbited away from mine

              And, this week, that’s all I’ve got. If I had an actual happy wagon, it would be very nearly empty right now. Between my mental exhaustion and the events (and the Internet’s reactions to the events) in California this weekend, I’m pretty blank.

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                She opens her door to wolves

                Day 3 of The Enchantment Diaries from The Fable Tribe
                Day 1
                Day 2


                Even if you think you’re not brave, or that the word “brave” doesn’t fit you, you have been brave. And you will be brave again in the future.

                Past the proverbial wolves of our fears is the path we must travel if we are to write our own story. But sometimes, it’s important to make space for the wolves, for the fears.

                Write down what you’re most afraid of, right now. That is a wolf. Write down something that could help alleviate that fear, soothe it or help make it something easier to cope with. That is nourishment for the wolf. And for yourself.

                You may have to journey with this wolf. Take the path anyway. Not all wolves are bad.

                The thing I’m most afraid of right now is that I’m never going to feel okay, and that’s going to keep me from ever accomplishing anything worthwhile. I’m always going to be too anxious, too exhausted, too apathetic, too unfocused. I’m never going to feel happy, never even content, I’m never going to love myself or feel comfortable in my own skin or be able to say no to things I don’t want. And because of these things, I’m never going to be able to finish school, travel on my own, spend time in my own company without the distraction of books or movies or anything noisenoisenoise. It’s always going to be a struggle just to take a shower and eat regular meals. I’m always going to be just making plans and dreaming dreams without ever actually doing anything.

                I know, fortunately, that these are irrational and unrealistic fears. This too shall pass, or, my preferred version of that sentiment, live through this and you won’t look back. But that’s not always enough to alleviate or soothe the fear, and it definitely doesn’t make it easier to cope with.

                Therapy is the biggest thing I think will help, and I’m already doing that, so that’s good. What I can do to supplement it is twofold: 1) practice asserting myself in tiny little ways, ways that won’t cause me additional waves of anxiety but will show positively in my life and help to rid me of the fear that asserting myself will lead to bad things, and 2) remember and practice this tweet:

                Right now, I feel closest to being in love with myself when I’m freshly showered, when I have clean hair and have taken care of my skin with witch hazel and coconut oil and lotion, when I’m alone in my room in the evening with quiet music and books. And when I’m wearing soft-textured dresses and sandals and I have painted nails, when I’m outside in warm fresh air. And I always feel in love with everything, including myself, when I’m at the lake. It’s very difficult to make myself create most of these circumstances, but maybe I can pep talk myself into dragging through the bad feelings until the good becomes the new standard.

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                  Happy wagon: 05.11.14-05.17.14

                  This was another hard and stressful week. I had to make the decision to get rid of Snitch, for his and everyone else’s good, and it was awful and I hated everything for a while. But I’m getting good at searching out the little glimmers of good from the piles of bad.

                  • sitting on my parents’ back porch, swinging on the porch swing while the baby played with water and mud, talking to my mom and my sister and being sprayed by a bubble machine
                  • hearing the baby happily humming and talking to herself while she picked grass and bits of flowers and acorns to bring back to us, thinking about how much like her I was as a child and how nice it was
                  • this fairy tale survival FAQ, courtesy of Seanan McGuire’s website
                  • four inches less hair, making a total of about fourteen inches less since December, so that it just barely touches my shoulders now
                  • this song, which was one of Night Vale’s earlier weathers and which always makes me laugh
                  • being told by my therapist that I look more comfortable with my body, which is nice to hear even if I’m not quite sure it’s true (it may have something to do with finally finding the clothes that make me feel good), and my only therapy work this week being to just keep maintaining what I’ve been doing
                  • cream cheese and lemon poppyseed muffins and gingerbread coffee from the best coffee shop with the best music
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                    My strong beliefs

                    One of my therapy assignments is to write a page about ‘my strong beliefs’, which seemed like something that would work well as a blog post, too. So, here it is. There are many, many things I believe in and feel passionately about, but I tried to limit this to only the things that most consistently rile me up.

                    I believe:

                    That every human being has the right to bodily and personal autonomy, insofar as they aren’t harming anyone else by exercising it.

                    That feminism is, must be, about more than just the equality of men and women. That it’s also about intersectionality, about equality for people of color, for disabled people, for trans people, etc, and about the ways those multiple marginalizations can intersect. That it’s about recognizing when you don’t have the right to speak and listening to those who do, about not discounting the lived experiences of others when they contradict your own, but understanding how your privileges affect your perceptions and being willing to try to change that.

                    That teenage girls are vital and wonderful and important and I will do anything in my power to insure that they know it, and that the things teenage girls are excited and enthusiastic about are also vital and wonderful and important and not automatically deserving of mockery simply by virtue of being liked by teenage girls.

                    That you’re a filthy scumbag if you involve yourself with minors in a sexual or romantic way and I have no time or tolerance for you.

                    That rapists and sexual assault perpetrators who are old enough and aware enough to know what they’re doing are rotten deep down to the core and I will never, ever be here for anything that upholds or apologizes for them.

                    That despite my general feelings to the contrary, there are many good, kind people in the world, and remembering to keep my eyes open to this truth and to do my best to embody those traits myself is necessary and important.

                    that magic is a real, living force that exists all around us and we don’t need big, showy miracles to find it.

                    That words are spells, that the best of them can unlock things we never could have dreamt of and the worst of them can create poisonous curses that cause real-world damage.

                    That cats are everything.

                    That ‘natural’ is a very misused (and overused) descriptor, that everyone deserves to feel like their best, most authentic selves as much as they safely can in a world that desperately doesn’t want them to, and that whether it’s gender reassignment, alternative pronouns, name changes, layers of makeup, plastic surgery, etc, it’s not up to anyone else to dictate whether they should or should not do it to achieve that goal.

                    That if you rant about the declining state of literature, manufactured pop music, Internet shorthand or call yourself a grammar or spelling nazi (or if you use correct grammar and spelling as a way to judge someone’s intelligence), you’re probably not a very interesting person and definitely not one from whom I’d like to hear further opinions.

                    That you should always listen more than you speak.

                    That whether or not Stephen King is a good writer is irrelevant to enjoying his work and appreciating his storytelling (sorry, I know it doesn’t fit here, but it honestly is a strong opinion of mine).

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