So The World Is Burning & I’m Going Back To School

I dropped out of university in 2017. It wasn’t exactly something I planned on doing but it happened. 2017 was a tough year for me, my mental health started to go downhill more than it ever had before and I went through two really bad breakups. Most of the time, when I think back on that year all I see is the bad because it was a turning point in my life that I never saw coming but I also had so many experiences that year that I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to have. I studied abroad in London for three weeks, I saw totality of an eclipse, and I even designed a book cover! That year was a turning point in my life because even though there was so much bad, it also started to teach me about myself and helped me get to the point I’m at now. I’m nowhere that I ever expected myself to be at 24, almost 25 but this is my reality and I kind of hope that in talking about it that maybe it’ll get to someone else who needs it.

Just a note before I get further into this post, I will be talking candidly about mental health and other possibly triggering topics so if you’d like to tap out of this now feel free!

The other day I was on Twitter and read a tweet that said something along the lines of “the ocean is on fire and you’re going to grad school??” and I had a panic attack. Natural disasters and climate change cause so much existential anxiety for me that it’s been difficult to find motivation to keep moving forward. (Shout out to my teachers in elementary and middle school that showed us movies like Twister, The Day After Tomorrow, and the one about Yellowstone erupting.) In the past year and a half I’ve done a lot for my mental health and for my future. I found a new therapist and I’ve recently started EMDR with her in order to start reprocessing trauma. I got diagnosed with ADHD. I got back on medication and found a psychiatrist that I don’t hate. I applied to go back to school and I got in.

I applied to go back to school and I got in.

Honestly, after dropping out in 2017 I wasn’t sure if I’d ever go back to school. Every time I started to think I was working my way back uphill I fell down again. When I look back at that time period I know I was running on fumes just trying to survive each day. I was desperately trying to figure out who I was and that struggle made me hurt not only myself but a lot of other people. My roommate at the time was honestly the main reason I stayed alive and I’m forever grateful for her. It’s the little things but she kept me fed and there were so many nights that we would stay up hysterically laughing about the weirdest things or watching American Horror Story. We created a home for ourselves and even though it was a difficult time period for both of us I look back on it fondly. (I know she still reads at least some of my posts so if you’re reading this, thank you for everything, seriously. Ugh, our neighbors must have hated our middle of the night shenanigans lol)

Leaving school was my own choice. I was overwhelmed financially and mentally and got caught up in trying to make other people like me because I couldn’t figure out how to like myself. Even though I had just switched to a new advisor and was excited to finally have an idea of what I wanted for my future nothing I did felt like it was enough. My therapist at the time and I discussed it in depth and decided a break from school would be beneficial. I just didn’t expect the spiral that came afterwards. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened. Piecing together my memories from that time period have been more difficult than I expected.

Now fast forward to this year. I knew I needed to do something to move forward with my life. My job was sucking the life out of me and I was desperate to move forward. Not everyone needs to go to school but ever since I dropped out I felt the need to go back. I love learning and school used to be a place I thrived and I wanted to get back to a place where I felt productive again. The biggest problem I had was that I had no idea what I wanted to do. Let’s be real, I still don’t know what I want to do but I’m working on it. When I first went to university I was majoring in religion… And then education and history… Then history… Then history and communications… And finally communications with a focus in media studies. I have a lot of interests but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my future. Growing up every time someone asked me what I wanted to be my answer changed frequently. The only thing that ever stayed consistent was that I wanted to write. But I wanted to be a teacher, lawyer, zookeeper, youth minister, librarian, artist… The list goes on. I battled constantly with my passions and being “practical”. There were plenty of my classmates who pursued artistic degrees, I just wasn’t brave enough to follow in their footsteps.

When I finally started looking into reapplying for school I sat down and made a mind map of all of my interests in order to narrow down what I might want to do. As the map got bigger and bigger I realized how important to me that nature was. I’ve always loved being outside but it was my first backpacking trip in 2015 that sparked a hunger for adventure in me that seems insatiable. So I spent a few weeks watching videos from Kristina Lynn on YouTube, she’s a wildlife biologist and has made numerous videos about jobs within that field and more. Those videos as well digging into lists of majors and classes at any university that I was even remotely interested in attending started to get me to form a small seed of a future working in nature in my head.

The first time I went to university I applied to two schools and got into both. This time I also applied to only two schools but I only got into one. Luckily, it was my top choice. I’m going to be attending a state university in Minnesota and will be majoring in biology with a focus in ecology. Classes start in just over a month and I’m getting more anxious by the day and my brain is starting to shut down. I had just registered for classes when I saw that tweet about grad school and the ocean and I wanted to give up. In a matter of weeks I had a lot of new stressors introduced and then the more that I thought about the world and life as a whole I wanted to stop moving. I was back to feeling the same sort of hopelessness and loss that I had been experiencing on a regular basis since 2016-2017. I’ll be honest when I say that some days I spend hours in a state of dissociation because I don’t understand anything.

Even though I’ve finally started to take steps forward for myself, it feels like the world is taking steps backward for me. I’m a nihilist even on my best days. I often struggle to find meaning with my life because “we all die in the end anyways”. This is why I’m thankful to have a therapist who can help to hold me accountable. I have to assign myself goals each week and my desire to please people almost always overrides my need to do nothing so I slowly work towards goals that I come up with during those sessions. Which basically means the world is on fire and I’m going back to school.

It doesn’t help that I’m a returning student and even though I’ve knocked out essentially all of my generals I still feel like I’m behind. I know that there’s no reason to follow a standard path for school and even though I was never exactly pressured to jump straight to college after high school there are still frequent moments when I feel terrible for dropping out in the first place. And every time I get a letter or email addressed to the “Parents of” me it knocks me down one more peg. I don’t think they should require parental interaction or even assume parental interaction with university because it’s not a given, ever, but I understand why they do assume it.

I’m not sure when it will hit me that I’m really going back to school and that this is a huge step forward for me. Even though I’m years off the timeline I had tried to create for myself this is the first time that I ever truly feel like I’ve made some decisions for me and me alone. Finding the motivation to move forward is hit or miss and I’m trying to give myself some grace when it comes to my bad days. I’m also striving to keep my pessimism away from other’s successes. Just because I find everything I do to be pointless doesn’t mean I should make someone else feel bad. It doesn’t always work out that way but it’s important. We shouldn’t hurt other people mentally just because we’re hurting.

When this post goes up I’ll be touring my new school and getting some things set up for the new semester. I’m stressed about it, especially because I have a long drive there, but it finally feels like things are moving forward.

I hope you all have a nice day. I’ll talk to you in my next post.

If you’re interested in connecting with me elsewhere:
I’m on Twitter: @/nihilisticactus
Email: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com
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Grammar, Cosmic Coincidences, and a Different Kind of Hope: Reading Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

To start this post, we need to go back to 8th grade. Middle school. An absolute hellscape of memories some good, a lot bad. One day my best friend at the time started making jokes about a blog post that her language arts teacher had shared with her class for a grammar lesson. I find it really funny looking back now because while I still struggle with grammar and writing it doesn’t compare in the slightest to how atrocious some of my mistakes were back in the day.

The blog post in question was the Alot post from Hyperbole and a Half (laughing at the fact that I had to circumvent autocorrect to even type a lot incorrectly!) This post was (and probably still is) a perfect way to teach a grammar lesson to middle schoolers. It was an instant classic and many of my classmates joked about it for years to come. I’m actually pretty sure we referenced this all the way up to our senior year. Since I wasn’t in the same language arts class as my best friend, I decided to look up the blog when I got home. I think I read every published post that night. It became a favorite of mine and I realize now how deeply Hyperbole and a Half influenced my life.

I’m not sure I remember what my first blog was and I can’t even remember what site I published it on but I know that I was inspired by Hyperbole and a Half to start my own. I know that I posted a lot of angsty poetry on it and am honestly kind of glad I don’t have access to that content, my journals from that time are content enough. This blog was created in 2015 when I was really into lifestyle influencers. I wasn’t able to make YouTube videos so I decided to blog instead. The Tumblr account that I used religiously just wasn’t cutting it for what I wanted to use it for. I kind of fell into a zone of wanting to monetize blogging after seeing other people my age do it and it all went from there. Over the years I’ve realized that I’m not great at blogging, sometimes I consider starting a podcast simply because I have so many big ideas that don’t seem like they’d fit into one blog post. It’s interesting how content evolves over time and what we can choose to do with our platforms.

When Allie’s posts started becoming less frequent I would still check in on her blog. It was a little haven on the internet for me and I was always so grateful for how open she was about her mental health struggles. The blog was the perfect balance of humorous and real. Even when she “disappeared” from the internet I would always wonder how she was doing, couldn’t help but reminisce every time I typed the words “a lot”. Hyperbole and a Half was central to a period of my adolescence and I think I’ll always feel connected to that blog.

In the past few years, I’ve struggled with the idea of a “purpose” and have sunk deeper and deeper into this pit where all I can think about is the meaningless of life. It’s a big change from 19 year old me who cried about taking a Philosophy of Person class because I had to think about mortality. Now I think about it constantly.

I was at a crossroads when this article popped up on my newsfeed. I dropped everything I was doing and read it. By the time I had scrolled to the end I was crying. I ordered Solutions and Other Problems immediately.

Image: Cover of Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

The night that my preorder came in the mail I stayed up too late reading it. I cried a lot but I also laughed… A lot. It might have been one of the most cathartic reading experiences I have ever had. Solutions and Other Problems was raw and real and it was everything I needed in that moment.

It was comforting to read from the perspective of someone who has the same mindset on existence as I do. Too often I get existential and people try to be hopeful. And don’t get me wrong, there are moments when I appreciate it but most of the time, I don’t want to be hopeful. I don’t want motivating stories because it feels like pity. Sometimes it even feels judgmental and I can’t bring myself to think the way that these well meaning individuals want me to think.

Allie took the words out of my brain and wrote them out. She made me feel okay about the way I see the world. I don’t think that everything happens for a reason and I honestly curse the universe quite a bit for having had to endure so many of the things I’ve had to endure. Sometimes I feel trapped because other people tell me that I need to live for me but in the end, I don’t want to do anything because I don’t get the point. The more that I think about the title, “Solutions and Other Problems” I can’t help but love it more and more. Trying to find the solution to life is probably the biggest problem I’ll ever have.

This book is probably going to have divided opinions not only because of how long it took to be published, but also because of the content within. It felt like a pivot point for Brosh and was similar to how it felt like her blog content shifted after her first depression post. I gave this book five stars and am already ready to reread it but I could see that some people might find the overall message to be too negative or something along those lines.

I’m a pessimist at heart but this book gave me a small seed of hope. It reminded me that there are still things worth sticking around for. Just knowing I was here long enough to read more content from Allie made me proud for a moment. It’s the same thing I felt when I realized I got to see more Taylor Swift albums get released. It’s a different kind of hope but it’s worth being here for.

I know this wasn’t much of an actual review but I’ll link my official Goodreads review here once I finally write it. I just wanted to share the cosmic coincidence of finding hope in content that I’ve held close for 10 years now. I’m going to sign off now and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

You can get your own copy of Solutions and Other Problems from the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (where you can find your local indie to shop from)

You can also find me in these places:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

You can add me or follow my reviews on Goodreads here.

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

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Reconciling With A Half-Lived Life

TW: Mental health, trauma, self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation, abuse

As with most nights when I can’t sleep, I ruminate. I go over every aspect of every moment of my life and I can’t help but wonder how I got here. Sometimes it amazes me that I made it as far as I did before utterly falling apart but I think I should have known it was always only a matter of time.

I don’t have many memories from my childhood, I’ve locked them away along with most of my life but I do remember the stark difference of who I was from the beginning of elementary school to the end. I was obnoxious, I was the lead in the school plays and would memorize all the lines for the entire thing. I loved to research and devour new books. I would dream of acting and writing and I always raised my hand in class. And then things changed.

At home I was always told I needed to be quiet, always needed to behave, I had the highest expectations because I was the oldest and I was “smart”. According to my father I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything that required a lot of school and would eventually make me a lot of money. At 9 I broke down crying and stopped sleeping at night because I was so scared that I would fail the standardized tests at the end of the year and that I would somehow end up not graduating high school (I never scored below “exceeds expectations” on these tests despite my crippling fear). In sixth grade I had a meltdown in front of my entire class, sobbing because I had forgotten an assignment at home, something I had never done before and I was terrified of the consequences.

The inside of my head was turmoil. Every thought was consumed by the way the clothes on my body felt, how the hair on my head looked, the exact positioning of every part of my body. And the thoughts that weren’t focused on myself ran in millions of different directions while I focused on everything and nothing at the same time. I turned every negative thought into a catastrophe and yet the only comments on my report cards were that I “was a pleasure to have in class” but my teachers “wished [I] talked more.”

The older I got, the more I struggled. Not only with school but with my own self-image and inner feelings of shame. I constantly carried with me the idea that I was never enough and would never be enough and no one ever told me any differently. I turned to self-harm to cope with the emotions that wanted to bubble out because I couldn’t risk letting the mask of what I thought was curated perfection slip. I began to lose my drive and my passion and I worried that my interests and dramatic tendencies, should they be revealed to the masses, would cause me to be ostracized, demonized, or just laughed at. Every statement said aloud would be rehearsed a million times, something that has followed me into adulthood. I started to just agree with everyone else and lose the bits of myself that remained truly me because I wanted nothing more than acceptance because I never felt truly accepted anywhere.

Looking back I always wonder why people told me I was such a good student. I was just really good at faking it. I only ever completed two books for English, relying mostly on Sparknotes and my skills at bullshitting. My nights would be spent watching Crash Course videos, cramming for assignments and tests that never really seemed to be done. I passed math and my first chemistry class with flying colors by writing formulas on my hands before every test. I only truly excelled in a few classes but I constantly felt like I wasn’t truly good enough to be good at anything and eventually my imposter syndrome lead me down a path of burnout and shame. Many nights I would openly sob over my textbooks wondering how I would ever have a future, begging and bargaining with the universe to end it all just to give me a bit of peace.

And yet I pushed on, terrified of what would happen if I ever admitted to pushing myself too hard or showing how deeply I was truly struggling. I eventually turned to communities outside of my home for support because there wasn’t anyone in my home that wanted to help. But I had spent so much of my life being threatened and punished for imperfection that I couldn’t truly ask for help because I couldn’t trust anyone but myself. The communities that I tried to find solace in also began to turn into something toxic. Recently stumbling upon the term “toxic positivity” I realized how much of my late teen life and now young adulthood was skewed by the idea that I am only the way that I am because I have simply not tried hard enough or prayed hard enough. That everything bad is in my head and I somehow have all the power to make it all better in the snap of some fingers or perhaps the wave of some wands.

College turned into the same nightmare of high school, overworking myself for the results that I was looking for and tumultuous relationships that began to cut me deeper than I could have ever expected. At the end of my freshman year of college I took a philosophy class and I cried every time I had to do the homework assignments because I couldn’t handle the thought of death… Funny how just a few years later I can hardly go a day without getting sucked into the void of existential nihilism.

After I dropped out of college in 2017 I worked so much that it took months before I felt the shame of my decision. There were many factors that went into dropping out and my therapist at the time and I discussed it extensively before I did it but I still feel the guilt of that decision to this day. By the end of 2018 I had fallen so hopelessly into a depression after years of making decisions for everyone else, constantly striving for perfection and failing, and a series of extremely toxic lifestyle and relationship choices that I truly felt like the most logical choice was to leave.

I don’t want to get into details but now nearly two years later I still can’t figure out why I am still here. As every thought process turns towards my mistakes and failures and the uncertainty of the future I get stuck wondering why I wasn’t “better” when I was younger because where I am sitting right now is so far off from where early elementary aged me thought I would be. Every time I seem to take a step forward, something else comes out of the shadows absolutely determined to drag me down. It’s a constant cycle that leaves me wondering at every fork in the road what could possibly be waiting for me should I make a decision instead of settling into crippling sameness.

Almost two months ago I was diagnosed with ADHD during an extremely bittersweet psychology appointment. How so much of my life was explained in 45 minutes and yet now I am left to cope with the consequences of my half-lived life. I have no sense of self, a myriad of comorbid diagnoses, strings of failures and shame following me since childhood, and still no hope for the future. To somehow look back at everything and wonder how I slipped through the cracks and figure out a way to move forward is not something I had expected to have to do. While my peers are all starting their lives and looking ahead to their futures I am looking into my past and trying to cope with everything that has turned me to this point. When I inevitably fall into a pit of despair I lose all interest and abandon things with ease. Projects never get finished, routines become meaningless, and all of my energy gets thrown into simply existing until the next day. These periods stretch on for so long and if I let my anxiety feed into it, sometimes I don’t want to allow them to ever end because I know how much it hurts to crash if I allow myself to feel good again.

Hopelessness comes easy and as I mentioned before, nihilism is the sweet spot in which my mind currently lives. My therapist told me that my thought process for decision making is exhausting and it took everything in me to not say that she should try dealing with being in my brain every single day for a bit then. It’s like no wonder I start off every meeting answering “How are you” with “I’m tired”. Every set back is something that makes me have to try ten times harder to fix it because if I can’t do everything perfectly, then it’s all wrong and while I usually do still try a bit, a lot of times I give up because it’s easier than letting everyone down again. If I’m just the failure now, the used-to-be golden child, then somehow maybe I can be myself again. I look back at my younger self and my heart breaks because I see every missed opportunity and every struggle that I faced and I wonder how everything would have turned out had I been diagnosed when everything started to change. The signs were so obvious, the genetic history is glaringly there, but I just have to accept that I adapted to survive and I figured out how to cope by myself and it’s hard to accept but I’m still here.

I’ve had to reconcile with a lot of things from my past this year, but it doesn’t make the future any easier. So that’s where I’m sitting at now. Finding purpose or drive for an uncertain future after living for so long always feeling less than. My life feels half lived, my brain stuck feeling terrified of making the wrong decision or letting down the people around me in case I don’t perform the way they expect a normal person to. It’s time I started to live for myself and stop feeling the shame that I have always felt for not being perfect. And I might still realize that life doesn’t really have anything great out there for me but maybe I just have to learn some things instead.

Review: Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff

PSA: If you can’t write a book without using a character’s mental illness to advance the plot (when that isn’t the central theme of the book) then maybe that isn’t the book you should be writing 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff is categorized as a medical suspense/thriller about “a mother’s worst nightmare, a chance at redemption, and a deadly secret that haunts a family across the generations.” I was provided a digital review copy of this by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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First off, this really isn’t a thriller. The entire plot is laid out in the synopsis and nothing was incredibly shocking or thrilling. It was definitely suspenseful at times but wasn’t that gripping in that sense. The book started off really strong and I was greatly enjoying my reading. I love it when people decide to fuck with Mother Nature and then ultimately get screwed (probably why Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies). The ethical aspects of this and the medical stuff was interesting enough but I definitely felt like I had to suspend my disbelief for a lot of what happened. I felt like the characters were all stereotypes and while it definitely wasn’t the worst thing, it just made it even more predictable and a little boring. The ending wrapped everything up with a nice tight bow and I just felt like it was rushed to make it to the conclusion.

This book was short (288 pages) and read really quickly and I would have probably rated it 4 stars had the choice not been made to use Claire’s (the main character) mental illness in order to advance the plot. Like I already wasn’t a fan of it in the beginning but I was going to chalk it up to her just being anxious and still grieving the loss of her first child. But then she got “bad” again and the whole thing culminated in her ending up in a mental health facility which I think had absolutely no relevance to the plot. Literally anything else could have been written for her to be doing in order for her to be away from the house long enough for Jillian to infiltrate and do her dirty work. But no… Also if authors can’t learn the difference between “delusions” and “hallucinations” I’m going to file a complaint and start a riot. These are not the same things. A delusion is a thought, it’s a very strong and unshakeable belief in something that is not true or is completely impossible. A hallucination, in very brief description, is experiencing something that isn’t there and can affect any of the senses. I feel like I should start an entire series on mental health representation in books because I’ve encountered some really, really bad takes recently.

Anyways, I just wanted to share a few quotes from the portion of the book where Claire was in the hospital:

“The schizophrenics are the noisiest; they jabber the most, in different tones. The psychotics are the quietest, but the scariest.”

I notice she’s backed up two steps, in case I try to grab the pen and stab her. The staff never get too close to a wild animal in a cage.”

Pretty soon after that, she’s also apprehended by “guards” and then injected with medication in order to knock her out. Like way to just bring all the mental hospital stereotypes into play right here! This is so unrealistic, like in all my times in hospitals I’ve only ever seen one person get a shot and that’s because they needed a stronger dose than a pill could provide. As is the fact that she was released from the hospital that she was “voluntarily” staying at after her episode in which she was taken down by the guards. That’s not how that works. That’s not how any of that works. Shit, I get that Claire didn’t think she was “crazy” but don’t take down everyone else. Patients are people too. We’re people too. And the fact that the author wrote this section like this was incredibly insensitive and it really hurt me. This is why I don’t share my own mental health and hospital history with people because that’s the kind of representation we get in books.

Please, authors, I beg of you, stop writing mentally ill characters as a means of driving your plot. Stop writing us as crazy. Stop making us the villains. Just stop. It hurts. It makes me sad. It’s not fair. You can do better.

So after reading that part of the book I felt really disheartened. I finished the book because it was easy reading but it never redeemed itself. I ultimately rated it 2 stars and will not be recommending this.

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Pokemon and Mental Health

I’m pretty sure that if I sat down with my past self right now and told her that Pokemon would be a huge part in helping with our mental health, I’m pretty sure that I would have laughed in my own face. I was definitely that kid in elementary school that made fun of the “nerds” who played Pokemon. Which is pretty ironic considering I am and literally always have been a giant nerd.

Back in July, when Pokemon Go swept through the United States I decided to give it a shot. My boyfriend taught me how to play it and it took me less than half an hour to realize how much I loved this game. The more I played it, the more confident I felt in walking around by myself, and more often than not I actually looked forward to leaving the house. I started to feel more comfortable about leaving the house with no makeup on, or with a full face of makeup. Slowly but surely I began to care less and less what people around me thought about me because I am so excited to go out and try and catch new Pokemon.

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This is a screenshot from very soon after I began playing the game, I was very proud of my small collection of Pokemon.

So even though now that the game has slowed down I still play it. I feel as if it gives me a sense of purpose in some small way. It makes me feel like I have a reason to go outside and it gives me something to enjoy my time. It’s odd how much an app could change me, but it made me want to get outside and get walking. I love being outside but I would always feel self-conscious so this was a big change for me.

Coping with mental illness is difficult, and it can be incredibly time consuming to figure out something that even comes remotely close to working. People can suggest lists and lists of things and some things may work while other times nothing will work. Things can work for a short amount of time and things can work forever. I find that for me, things work for very short amounts of time, or I trick myself into thinking that they work and then they stop.

I just know that coping with mental illness feels almost impossible most of the time and sometimes it definitely feels better to just sleep all the time and not do anything, but it’s always great to have a brief reprise when you can actually find something that seems to help.

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 So my favorite Pokemon is by far Eevee. She’s absolutely adorable and if I could have one as a pet I would totally want one. I was so excited when I caught the first one, it made me so happy!

Do any of you out there still play Pokemon Go? What’s your favorite Pokemon?

I hope you all have an amazing night and remember that whatever you use to cope is good, don’t let anyone look down upon you for trying to make positive changes in your life.