Emotional Catharsis

I’m not really sure how we got to a place where it has been a whole week between this and my last post. I feel like time is just slipping away before I can catch hold of it. I’ve been kind of MIA from WP in the last week. While I’ve been trying to get online and read everyone’s posts, I’m so frenzied that I can barely concentrate. When I can, I’m finding that everything I read triggers me.

So please don’t take my lack of presence, via likes and comments, as a sign that I am ignoring of all of you and your stuff. Please don’t think I no longer care about each of you. I’m still here supporting you! I’m just not in the right headspace at the moment. So that support may be more from a distance until I can get myself together again.

What’s going on, you ask? Well, it’s really hitting me that my life is about to change in a big way. A big way that may include some big losses.

I am graduating on Tuesday. TUESDAY! Holy crap I don’t know how it got here so fast. But on Tuesday I am going to have my Master’s Degree.

On Monday, I was talking to H and S, the young ladies I babysit, about my upcoming graduation. H told me she wished I wasn’t graduating, because she doesn’t want me to stop being her babysitter. She and S both seemed convinced they’d never see me again. I tried to reassure them that nothing was changing yet, and that I’m not disappearing out of their lives. But after I dropped them off, I cried at the thought of losing them. I cried at the thought of being replaced. It sucks that they might end up with another babysitter, and that our relationship would change.

Today, my colleagues did a really nice thing for me. When I walked in this morning, they had decorated my desk and put together me a whole basket full of things as a graduation and thank you gift. All sorts of silly things that echo our time together and serious things that will prepare me for next year. I teared up when I saw it, because it’s starting to become real that my time with them is about to be over. I’ve spent the year connecting with them, and I finally feel comfortable with my responsibilities there, only for that to end.

It’s also occurring to me that I will no longer have built-in bonding time with the friends I have spent hours in class and studying with for the last three years. Will that change things for us? Will we still be close, or will they drift away like my friends from undergrad? I know it’s not the same type of relationship, and we’ve survived a year in internship and rarely seeing each other, but I still worry.

Plus, there’s that little fear about losing my therapist if the scheduling can’t be worked out or if I get a job far away.

So, yeah. So much transition is coming my way. I truly don’t know where I’ll be a few months from now and I’m terrified at the thought of the way things will change. I’m emotional thinking about the upcoming goodbyes.

I was prepared for these emotions to arise eventually, but not until the end of June, when I actually finish internship and my hours for babysitting begin to change. I was not prepared to be hit with an onslaught of them this week. It is so overwhelming. I have not had the mental or physical energy to do anything else aside from my responsibilities and fulfilling my basic needs. So I pretty much just stuffed the rest down and shoved on.

Until I walked into J’s office today.

I really didn’t want to go to therapy this week. Last night, I was thinking about what we’d even talk about, because I felt like I didn’t want to address the feelings I’ve been having. I just didn’t. I knew I’d get emotional and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. We all know I hate the idea of letting the floodgates burst and then having to leave session dealing with the aftermath. I resolved to talk about skills, or whatever J brought up.

But then my wonderful colleagues gave me that gift, and after the initial joy and gratitude, my mind spent most of the day clogged with this intense sadness that I could not get away from. My mood was just not right.

I covered that well enough in front of the rest of the world, but something about J’s office disarms me. I went in there still resolved to say that I was fine, and I did try to. When she asked, I said I was good. But I could feel that my face was betraying me, so J saw through it and asked me for the real answer.

She wanted to know what I was feeling, something more specific than ‘good’ or ‘fine’. “Emotional,” I told her. She wanted to know why I was emotional, but I told her I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to cry. J told me it was important to allow myself to have emotions and to let them exist within a safe, controlled setting.

Here’s the thing about keeping all your emotions inside you. The longer you keep on as if everything is fine, the greater the pressure of everything you’re holding in. Eventually, it takes very little to trigger an implosion.

For me, it took a simple encouragement that it was okay to cry and one very empathetic look from J. I blame that stupid room. It’s like it literally pulls the emotion out through my pores.

What I’m saying is, I completely fell apart. I cried on and off for the entire session. We talked about all the stuff I really didn’t want to talk about too, and every time she brought up the topic of ‘goodbyes’ or ‘transition’ I would get upset and just start to lose it again. I remember saying to her that my emotions are too intense and too overwhelming to handle! as I was wiping my eyes relentlessly with tissues.

It was super intense. It was complete catharsis. I let all of my ugly and painful emotions out for J to bear witness to. Everything I’d spent the week trying to contain just exploded out of me.

By the end of session, I was finally at a point where I had at least somewhat calmed down. Now, a few hours removed, I don’t feel 100% better but I’m at least more settled. I let my feelings out and I’m still alive to tell the tale. My emotions were given the space to exist for a little while. I think that counts for something.

I don’t know what the point of this post was. I feel like I need to wrap it up with some cliche message like “Be in touch with your feelings” or “It’s okay to give yourself permission to let go sometimes.” Yet it just sounds silly to say, almost disingenuous. Because crying didn’t solve all my problems. It helped, and the emotions abated, but I know they will be back.

All I know is this. Sometimes the emotions are coming out whether you like it or not. The only thing you can do is buckle down and wait out the tears.

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Running Is Teaching Me Kindness

I have never been a girl who was good at running. Like, ever. I was trying to get out of gym class’s required final exam mile as far back as seventh grade.

About a month ago, I woke up one day and decided out of the blue I was going to go for a walk. Then a few minutes later, I decided that walk was going to become a run. I downloaded an app that used some interval training and about fifteen minutes later there I was…running. Just a minute at a time, and still I was breathing hard.

Yesterday, I ran for five consecutive minutes. This may not sound like a lot. For me though? It was incredible. I actually have no idea how I did it, but it felt really good when I was done. I was really proud of myself.

As running has become a more consistent part of my routine (who would have ever thought I’d schedule it in after a long workday and actually look forward to it?!), I’m starting to notice something interesting. The way I talk to myself when I’m running is extremely positive. Like right before a challenging running interval begins. Or especially when I’ve got to push a little further to get through to the end of it and my chest is burning.

I say things to myself like: You’ve got this. You’re so strong. You can push through this pain. You’re going to do this, you’re doing great. 

You might find this odd coming from me, the same person who, my therapist agrees, is exceptionally skilled at being unnecessarily cruel to myself for no damn reason. It actually feels strange to say these affirmations to myself in the moment and actually believe them! To not feel any need to caveat it with something negative.

I’m finding that running is getting easier the more I stick to it. When I first started my run yesterday, I had some serious doubts about whether my body would hold out for five whole minutes. Did that stop me? No, I just did it anyway. And I found that about halfway through the second 5-minute interval, I had this automatic thought of this isn’t so bad! I can totally do this. 

Even though it was physically demanding, even though it hurt, I pushed through it. I could do it.

…do you see the parallels I’m drawing yet?

Is it so easy to me to be kind to myself when I am experiencing the pain of a strenuous workout. It is so easy to find words of encouragement to get through even the most exhausting workout.

How does it make sense that it should be so difficult for me to find kind words when I’m experiencing emotional pain and trying to push through a mentally challenging day? Why should it be logical that I am so gentle with myself when I physically hurt, but so cruel in the face ofmental ailing?

It doesn’t. It isn’t. Both experiences involve pain and endurance. Both deserve the same level of self-directed kindness, support, and understanding.

I don’t shame myself for missing a day of running to let my muscles recover, so I shouldn’t shame myself for needing a break to let my mind recoup. On the flip side, I look at every upcoming running interval with determination and laud myself for getting through it. That’s how I need to treat an anxiety-provoking meeting. Instead of approaching it with fear and then berating myself for each mistake, I can talk myself up and give myself the credit for surviving.

Every skill I am learning in DBT is all about letting the feelings be what they are without judgement and finding a way to cope with them. It’s about working with what you can control. I am using these skills and my affirmations each time I go for a run.

If I can do it to challenge and accept physical pain, I can do it for emotional pain too. I can’t control the pain, but I can control the kindness I use to respond to it.

And I think that could make such a big difference.

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Sharing My Therapist

I am an only child.

Have I mentioned that on this blog ever? I probably have. But if I haven’t, or if you haven’t read whatever post I mentioned it in, I am. No siblings. Always wanted them, but never gifted with any.

This is relevant to the post and I will get to why in a little bit.

As a nearly two-year veteran of therapy, I have seen J at a range of different times on different days. Mostly Thursdays. In the beginning, I saw her towards the end of the day. After that, there was a period where I used to see her right before lunchtime. Then, for a few months, early in the afternoon.

For about the last year now, I have seen her at 6:30. Usually, that means I’m her last client of the day.

Recently, I realized how much I really enjoy occupying that position. At the time, I was early for a 1:30 session, so I was hanging out in my car and perusing the internet on my phone. I was also watching people flood in and out of the building. It’s not a big building, but it was midday, so plenty of people were arriving for or departing from appointments.

Something about that made me anxious. At the time, I didn’t really understand why. When I come at night, there is much less activity.  Additionally, while J practices independently, she shares her portion of the building with two other clinicians, one of whom I’ve never seen and the other who is typically leaving as I walk in to the waiting room.

That means that during my appointment, J and I have that whole section of the building to ourselves. I don’t have to worry about other people’s eyes on me in the waiting room. I don’t have the hear the sounds of feet shuffling outside or muffled voices during my session. Those are the things that breach the security and privacy of the therapy bubble for me. Instead, it is just me and her, and that feels very comfortable. Very safe.

It also means that when I leave her office at the end of the hour, I am not forced to choose between coming face-to-face with another one of her clients or scurrying away and ducking my head to avoid eye contact.

I wasn’t like this in the beginning. For awhile, the existence of J’s other clients never really made a difference one way or another. But over time, I suppose as the attachment and trust have grown, I’ve gotten more sensitive to it. It doesn’t necessarily bother me to know she has other clients either, I just don’t like to see them. Can I tolerate it? Sure. Still, when the door opens, I usually avert my eyes so I don’t have to see the client before me leave and be reminded that our relationship is one of many.

I like that I don’t have to go that place of avoidance twice. I like that she doesn’t immediately switch out of “my therapist” mode and into “other client’s therapist” mode as she ushers someone else into her room. I like that my story is typically the last story she hears that night.

Perhaps that sounds weird? It feels weird to say, like I should be ashamed of how childish that is, but I also am finding the space to accept it and not judge it. Because I am aware that I have complex attachment stuff that I’m still working through. I understand that the therapy relationship is a strangely personal one, albeit one-sided, where I’ve spent probably over 100 hours now trusting her with my strictest confidences, exposing her to the best and worst parts of me.

This is where the only child thing comes in. I grew up never having to share: not my stuffed animals, not my space, not my parents’ attention. I’m not used to having to make concessions for others when it comes to getting my needs met.

J has assumed a caretaker-like role for me. Not like a parent. I’ve seen other people feel that their therapist’s adopt a mother role, but I don’t feel that. I just look at her as someone who looks out for me, who makes things better, someone I have that close connection with. It’s only natural that I would want to protect the sacredness of that relationship by avoiding anything that reminds me of it’s underlying clinical foundation. I can understand why I cling to everything that makes it feel like our relationship is special in some way.

Like any only child, I’ve learned to temper my own needs to accommodate others. I successfully shared a room in college. I work with other interns and can deal with other people getting my supervisor’s attention. It doesn’t mean I still don’t feel the inner only child screaming, demanding to let her voice be heard so she can have all of these things to herself. But I just tolerate it, like I tolerate knowing about and seeing J’s other clients.

As I come to understand this, it makes more sense why I’m feeling quite territorial after doing a thing I wish I hadn’t done.

My friends know I’m in therapy. I’m fairly open about it. In fact, one of them, let’s call her Cara, is the same one who first pushed me into therapy to begin with. We’ve spoken about J before, so she is quite familiar with her.

Cara occasionally likes to check in with me about how things are with J and therapy. She did this last week when she, myself, and our other friend, we’ll call her Jill, were out at lunch. The conversation somehow became a discussion about their own personal issues, and how they’d both considered seeking therapy themselves. These friends know that I really respect and value J, and hearing me talk about the benefits of working with her was an impetus for them to consider doing their own work

So what did I do? Well, since they have repeatedly listened to me say how great J is, I gave them both her phone number.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. Last year, another friend in this group, Emily, was telling me about the horrid anxiety she was dealing with. When she mentioned that she could really benefit from talking to someone, I gave her J’s number. It seemed like the right thing to do. That friend saw J for probably 6 or 7 months before the hectic scheduling of our lives (she is also an intern and babysits) inhibited her from continuing therapy.

And you know what? It doesn’t bother me so much that she saw J, or maybe it bothers me less because she hasn’t seen her awhile, I don’t know. But with Cara, and to some extent Jill, I’m coming to regret what I’ve done.

At least with her other clients, I don’t know anything about them. They are a flash of blurry faces. They are unknowns, just the way I like them. If either of them took me up on that offer, that would no longer be the truth. The only child within is screeching at me: My therapist! Mine! I don’t want to share her with any of them! 

Oops.

You know what else is really bothering me? J knows of both Cara and Jill, she’s heard their names and seen pictures. We’ve spoken at length about me feeling rejected or frustrated because I confide in Cara a lot of personal stuff and she never reciprocates with her own stuff. How would I be able to tolerate the idea of Cara telling J all the things she doesn’t tell me? How would I ever be able to talk to her about my issues with Cara, knowing that J might know more than she is able to share because of confidentiality?

This bothers me a bit too thinking about Jill, but since I’m closer to Cara and have had more personal stuff with her, Cara’s the bigger concern on my radar.

Worst of all, if I had to stop seeing J for some reason and one of them still could, I would be crushed. Only child doesn’t want to share, but she also really doesn’t want someone else to have what she can’t.

So why did I do such a thing if I am so against it? Well, in the moment, I didn’t know that I was against it. I didn’t know that I’d be in personal agony about it. I was just trying to be useful, because I knew that my friends needed support and it was the only thing I could think to do. Here! J’s contact info! That’ll fix everything! I desperately wanted to do something that would be perceived as helpful. Because, you know, I can’t have my friends abandoning me.

I think another reason I did this is because J is so good. She can make me so passionate about healing myself, she makes me believe in myself, and in the moment I liked the thought of her being able to do that for them too. They are my friends, after all.

I’m also just impulsive. That one speaks for itself.

What will I do about it? I’m not so sure about that. Emily is a non-issue. If she chooses to continue seeing J at some point, that’s out of my hands. They’ve already worked together. And like I said, that one doesn’t even bother me so much. Neither Cara nor Jill seemed real intent on actually beginning therapy at the moment, even though they showed interest. Cara mentioned that she would likely consider it during the fall.

So, in theory, this may never be a problem. But at the same time, it might be, and I’m honestly not sure how I’d deal with it.

I don’t know if I can take back my offer for them to contact her.  I mean, when it comes down to it, they could easily just find her number online and use it. There’s nothing stopping them and no law against it just because she’s my therapist.

If I want them not to ever contact J, I will have to appeal to them on a personal level, and be honest about why. It might be hard to convey the truth about why I’m not comfortable with them seeing her in a way that doesn’t sound weird, but I have a feeling that they’d understand, or at least would try to.

Still, I don’t know if that’s right or fair to ask that of them. It feels selfish. And yet at the same time, I also think that I might be allowed the right to be a little selfish. I feel like this might be a case where it’s okay not to want to share. To know that my therapist is mine and mine alone. There are numerous therapists out there. It’s not like she’s their only option.

So I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. But it was good to have the opportunity to talk about it here. It was good to get it out.

Measuring Success in Therapy

I had a therapy homework assignment this week. Well…sort of. If I remember correctly, I assigned it to myself and J just went along with it. But whatever! This is an important one.

Last week, J and I talked at length about the post I sent her. We talked about how I was having trouble seeing my own progress, mostly because it felt like I have been showing up for the last month having self-harmed, feeling suicidal, and then dissolving into tears on her couch. This is coupled with thoughts like: I’ve already been in therapy almost two years! Shouldn’t I be 100% all fixed up and ready to go by now without a single symptom of BPD or depression or anxiety to be seen?

I don’t even have to say that thought aloud to know that it isn’t rational.

Anyway, black-and-white thinking aside, sometimes I have a lot of trouble perceiving the growth that I’ve made in therapy. More specifically, while I will easily admit that my insight about the connections between my thoughts/emotions and knowledge of strategies to address this has grown, I deeply struggle with integrating these skills into action when my emotions flare. In that moment, I feel like I know what to do but I can’t bring myself do it.

Plus, I still regularly have periods of intense, oscillating emotions and suicidal thoughts that compound hopelessness, shame and self-directed anger. If I don’t feel better, how can I say I am better?

This leads me to feeling like I am no longer deserving of being there, because as I see it, if I’m not working hard enough to improve outside of therapy I definitely don’t get to go to see J and whine about my problems for the 100th time.

Thankfully, J is much nicer to me than I am, so she proposed that maybe I am being slightly hard on myself? I am working so hard, she says this every chance she gets, and I am getting better.  But our barometer of ‘better’ is different. Thus, J suggested maybe we find a way to measure my progress that is more concrete and will be sensitive to small gains. This way, I can truly see the growth, which will hopefully be reinforcing for me.

So how will we measure it? Well, J didn’t know. And I didn’t know either. Hence…this post, which I am now almost 400 words into and stalling because I still don’t know.

Except wait…maybe I do.

I think the problem with measuring progress is that, for me, there is not a go-to question that encompasses all of the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors I struggle with. There are going to need to be multiple probes for multiple areas of mental health, but I need to make sure to find a balance without overexerting myself. If it takes too much effort, I’ll never do it.

It’s funny, for all the goal-setting I do with students, you’d think I might have come to this conclusion sooner: If I’m so worried that I’m not doing any better emotionally and that I’m not working hard enough, these are exactly the things I need to examine more closely!

Only, I’m going to rephrase those topics for the purpose of keeping this progress monitoring positive: mood and skills.

Let’s break it down a little further.

Mood: 

My mood has fluctuated like crazy for months and months (and years) now. However, I feel like it has been particularly unstable since the whole job search thing started. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to J: How long has it been now that I’ve felt this bad? When was the last time things really seemed good?

When I ask her, it’s not rhetorical. I really don’t know, because I have nothing other than some blog posts that can speak to my daily moods. And my brain isn’t exactly stocked with memories of the good moments.

There’s a really great app that J introduced me to months ago. It’s called Pacifica. I actually coughed up the 30 something dollars for the paid version and I can’t overemphasize how much it was worth it. Pacific has loads of awesome crap, including meditations (I don’t love meditation, but I can tolerate these and find them helpful), step-by-step guides to thought reframing, and a gratitude journal.

You know what else Pacifica has? Mood trackers.

I was really good about keeping up with the app for about a month. Every so often, I get back on the Pacifica train, but I’ve mostly just been steadfastly ignoring the reminders every day for awhile now.

Well, no more! I think it could be really valuable in recording daily data on my moods to help me discern whether or not I’m feeling well. This way, when I’m feeling low, I don’t have to rely on my negatively biased memory.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I set Pacifica to notify me twice a day (noon and 7:00). When it notifies me, I am going to chart my mood. The response options I have for mood are: Great, very good, good, okay, not good, bad, awful. Ideally, I would like to choose one or two emotions that go with that mood, because I can as a part of the app. I am not required to use any of the other built-in tools, although it is a bonus if I choose to.

I’m going to aim to do this instead of randomly recording my mood throughout the day, because this seems like it would bias me to over or under-identifying my bad moods. If I’m set to consistent times, this seems to be more representative.

Skills

We’ve already established that I may have a tendency to put myself down. J identified that within about 30 minutes of knowing me, so it’s probably a valid statement. Part of being a self-defeatist means I’m excellent at failing to give myself credit for my hard work. No wonder I can’t see progress. In my book, it’s perfection or nothing.

Let’s work on that by finding ways to recognize my hard work.

First, Pacifica also has a health tracker (you can choose the categories you track, I just decided to choose these). I think doing this will be great not only for recognizing that I’m taking care of myself but for helping me visualize the associations between actions of self-care, like sleep and exercise, and my mood. Pacifica literally graphs it and everything. I swear this isn’t an ad for the app, I just really like it.

Thus addition to the mood alerts, I’ve set one daily reminder to record the following health information:

  • Sleep: Number of hours the previous evening
  • Eating: Very good,  good, okay, poor. I still haven’t figured out exactly what characterizes eat category, but I’m thinking it has something to do with number of sweets consumed during the day
  • Exercise: Number of minutes
  • Self-Harm: Number of cuts

After I did this, I felt like something was still missing. Then I realized, I consider hard work to be employing the DBT skills I’m working on with J. That’s what I was missing: a way to document those skills. So as if that wasn’t enough, I have one more idea of the “measuring progress” variety

I downloaded an app called Counter. It’s as simple as it seems. If I do one of the skills, at any point, I go to the app and add a new tally. Simple and takes a second. Currently, these are the tallies I have listed, but I can add more as I learn more DBT skills.

  • Self-Affirmations
  • Coping Thoughts
  • Radical Acceptance Thoughts
  • Mindfulness Activity
  • Distraction Plan Activity
  • Relaxation Plan Activity

This may seem like a lot, and maybe it is, but I can’t honestly think of a more concrete way of showing myself that I am getting somewhere. I really feel like this is a solid idea, so I’m going to try really hard to stick to the plan I laid out. I’m going to try not to shame myself if I miss a day.

One day, down the road, I think I’d like to complete some type of inventory to determine whether or not I still present with the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors expected of a person with BPD and depression and anxiety. I’d like to know that maybe my diagnoses are no longer as severe. Or if perhaps some of the symptoms have remitted altogether.

But that’s a long-term goal. Right now, I’m just working on the short-term. I want to see the growth, I want to believe that it’s there. Hopefully this helps things become clearer.

So there we have it. One homework assignment complete!

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Cutting the Cord on Friendships

Over the weekend, I went out to celebrate the birthday of a friend I went to college with. For the purpose of this post, let’s call her Kayla. It was the first time I’d seen Kayla in about six months. Two of my other friends were there too, who I hadn’t seen in longer than that. Their names aren’t really important.

What is important to know is that, in college, they were three people I spent the most time with. Two of them lived on my freshman floor, and Kayla transferred sophomore year. We all lived together junior year. Kayla and I were definitely the closest, but I was friends with the other two as well.

The problem is, during college I had numerous issues with these girls. I’ve written about them before. These are the girls who threatened that I either go to therapy or they wouldn’t be my friends anymore after I posted something about my depression that upset them. They are the ones who I discovered saying some pretty mean thing about my eating habits via text. They are also the ones who talked about me behind my back when I was in a relationship with a woman senior year, not because they were against it but because they were angry about how much time we spent together.

So yeah, when I look back there were a lot of bumps in the road.

I’m not innocent here. I let immaturity rule because I didn’t know how to handle my issues with them properly. So I said things that weren’t nice because I was confused and angry and often venting to someone in the hopes that they’d understand. Not that it ever fixed anything of course. Still, I think it is fair to admit they were not the best friends to me.

I used to have a lot anger directed my friends. I was mad that they didn’t display their care in the overt, obvious way I felt I needed. I was mad that they couldn’t seem to relate to me on a personal level; it was never easy to talk to them about real feelings. I was mad that I could never trust them to keep my secrets a secret. I was mad that they made my stuff, my emotional problems and my relationship, all about themselves. In short, I felt like I wasn’t a part of the type of friendships I deserved and I was mad at them for falling short. And once we had that first blowout, it always felt like no matter what I did, I couldn’t make things right, couldn’t get close to them. It felt like there was some invisible barrier between us. I was so frustrated, with myself and with them.

The summer after my first year of grad school ended, I was visiting Kayla at her beach house.  One night, the two of us went down to sit on the beach. Somehow, we delved into deep conversation, rehashing so much of our history. After that night, I let a lot of that anger go. I finally came to a place of acceptance about all things I was holding onto.  Kayla said something that helped me: maybe me and those other two girls were just not the best match as friends. Maybe it was no one’s fault.

I realized she was right. I’d picked these people out of convenience, not similarity. I hung around with them out of convenience, because I liked them enough and didn’t feel the need to rock the boat. And yeah, they did some crappy things. They were not the best friends they could have been. I don’t think any of us had the emotional capacity to discuss our issues with each other in a functional, problem-solving manner. Everything just festered.

I didn’t feel that way about Kayla though. I had always felt closer to her than the others. I’d really tried my best to be there for her, even despite all our crap. We shared a lot of the same thoughts. We confided in each other. Especially after that night, I hoped we would continue to be in each other’s lives.

Unfortunately, we’ve drifted apart a lot in the last few years. I talk to Kayla very rarely, and the other two even less than that. We still have a common group of about 7-8 people, so I see them when someone suggests we get together maybe once or twice a year.

What’s hard about that is that the three of them still seem close. I’ve seen snapchats of them hanging out. Going on a trip. Celebrating New Year’s together. These are not things I was invited to. Each time I see this, I feel a twinge of regret that things have come to this. I feel sadness that I am not still a part of the group.

If I’m being honest though, I think that more of it is despondency that I’m no longer connected to the people I spent most of college with, when I feel it should be that way. I always hear stories of how you meet your best friends in college, and that isn’t my experience. Really, I’m grieving the friendships I wish I’d had in college. With the insight that I have now, it makes me sad that I can’t go back and make different decisions.

Despite all that, I just can’t seem to let them go. I thought that I had. After seeing various social media posts over the last few months, I thought that I’d come to a solemn kind of content that these friendships were past me. I thought I’d just quietly cut the cord and we’d part ways without ever acknowledging it.

But then Kayla asked me if I’d come to her birthday plans.

I wasn’t sure at first, but I ended up going, deciding I wouldn’t have any expectations. It’s a good thing I did, because it was kind of weird. At first, it was nice to see the three of them. However, after catching up, briefing each other on the newest developments, all I’ve really got with them is nostalgia. The silly memories we have from living in each other’s pockets those years.

They clearly knew about each other’s lives, potential love interests and the latest about their respective jobs. There was an ease about them, they seemed like people who were friends. Me? I had no idea what to talk about. I stared at them and hoped someone would bring up a topic I could follow along with.

Worse, because of some of our past experiences, I still have this conscious fear that they are judging whatever I say. I worry when I’m eating that they’ll talk about my choice of food. I worry if I send a text to someone they’ll be annoyed that I wasn’t present enough. I worry that I can’t talk about a current friendship without someone getting mad.

None of these are things they’d ever say to me aloud. It would be behind closed doors gossip. But I know from experience that it happens among them. I was once part of it.

I left feeling even more confused about where I stand with them. Like…I had fun, I think? But at the same time, that invisible barrier remained. In a different way, this time. Not anger, just a missed connection. That makes me sad. You shouldn’t have to force a friendship like that.

Maybe it is time to cut the cord on these friendships. Can I even categorize them as friendships anymore? They no longer fulfill me in any type of positive way. They’re just there, pieces of my past that I’m having trouble letting go of. It’s completely unlike my friendships with my friends from grad school, people who I laugh with and am not afraid to be honest with. People who I never worry about judgement for.

That’s what it is supposed to be. I know that. So why can’t I let the others go? Why am I holding so strongly to what little bit remains?

If you’re still reading this, maybe you can give me some advice on when you’ve known it was time to move on from a friendship and how you learned to be okay with that.

Sundays

Sundays are hard.

Sundays are typically the day I like to stay inside. They are my break from a busy week. They are my escape from the world of conflict and fear and people, which might sound awful but it’s true. On Sundays, I get to sleep late. I get to lay in bed. I get to be lazy.

Sundays are my chance to catch up with the chores I’ve fallen behind on and prepare for what is up ahead. On Sundays, I might put away laundry or dust my furniture or finally sit down to write a post. Today, for example, I rummaged through my closet again to rid myself of clothes that I don’t wear. I might pack a week’s worth of lunches or pick out clothes or make a list of what I’d like to get done for the week. I just did that last one about five minutes ago

I have to make lists, in lots of bright colors, because Sundays are also a time of mounting anxiety and stress. Sundays mean that my time without pressure and expectations is about to come to end because there’s a whole week of crap flying at me and it’s about to hit me in the face. Hence, the lists. It’s about the only way to feel like I’ve got any form of control.

The problem is that it feels so overwhelming. I really need to learn to stop time traveling, because if I could be more mindful than I could keep from being overloaded with every scary thing I’ve got waiting for me this week. I might be able to appreciate the rest time, really enjoy it, instead of worrying about running a referral meeting, testing a child who will likely prove untestable, getting through my counseling group, and getting my car dropped off for inspection.

I know that once I get going, once I’m in these situations, I will feel okay. At least, I know I will survive it. Everything is okay once you get started, once you’re moving. But until then, I just live with the anticipation, dreading everything that is coming.

Waiting is the worst. Sundays are always about waiting.

I almost wish that I didn’t get the break that a weekend provides me, because if I didn’t have to stop moving, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to get going on a Monday. It’s like when you are on your feet all day and don’t realize how tired you are, how much your feet hurt, until you take a moment to sit down. You’d have been better off just pushing through.

Weekends are the equivalent to sitting down for me.

I had a moment of overwhelming stress and panic today, because I knew the clock was ticking down on my free time. Tick, tock. Tomorrow, it will be Monday. Tick, tock.
I will be out in the world, subject to the extreme feelings and the irrational thoughts that come my way from interacting with others and taking risks. I can’t stop that from happening. Tick, tock.

I wanted to hurt myself in that moment, but I didn’t. I did other things that were more productive, kinder. Celebratory points awarded to me for that. J will be proud. I’m proud. But I still have a major case of the Sundays.

I’m trying to focus on this moment, the only one I can control, but I’m an avid time-traveler. It’s hard to shake that habit off. Tick tock.

Like I said, Sundays are hard.

A Dance with Nostalgia

nostalgia: A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

A few months ago, my professor from my undergrad reached out to me and asked me if I’d like to return to campus to participate in a talk about my experiences following graduation from the program. I jumped on this opportunity and as such, I spent last Friday back at the campus where I spent four years of my academic life.

Following the rough night I’d had, it was a welcome distraction to be able to return to my undergrad. I had not been back in over a year and I always find that there is a sense of connection ignited in me when I am surrounded by an environment that is so familiar to me.

So many things are different than they were when I was a student there. New buildings have sprung up. They re-named (or just named for the first time?) the library. One of my favorite professors moved on to another institution.  Our student center was renovated to the point that, while beautiful, it is completely unrecognizable as the place I spent many nights studying or hanging out with my friends (and in some way, I resent it’s pristine aesthetic – I want the comfort of the well-worn and dingy student center I know and love!).

Anyway, this is the nature of life. Change is the only constant. The residence and academic halls, ever evolving with the constant construction of a college campus, are similar but not the same. The people I knew and co-existed with, having graduated too over the last few years, are not the same either.

It is no longer my school and being there no longer feels like coming home. But the connection remains. I was truly happy to be there.

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The talk went well enough. I had talked a friend of mine into doing it with me, so after we were done we got lunch on camping and then went about going for a walk around campus to reminisce.

I literally do this nostalgia walk every time I come back to campus, no matter who I am with. I went to a pretty small school and so I could walk the whole thing in about 15 minutes, which is part of why I loved it so much. We go by our old dorms, past the dining hall, over by the lake, and always, always by the pieces of architecture that our school is most known for. I would say more specifically what those two things are, but I am not looking to give away where I went to school. Suffice it to say, there are memories attached to everything. 

As we walked, I made reference to each memory. Remember the nights I used to stay in this building doing work under it closed? Remember how the alarm used to go off sophomore year every time someone burnt popcorn? (Which, it turns out, was a lot for people who are supposed to be adults) Remember how people used to steal your food if you turned your back at the this one food station for even 10 seconds? Remember when we put on garbage bags and went body sliding down the grass hill when it poured rain during the hurricane? I took a photo of the townhouse where we lived and sent it to my friend, jokingly asking her if she was home to let me in because I was home and locked out.

My friend and I laughed a lot. It was a lot of fun and there was no pressure to act a certain way.

The truth is, while there were plenty of really lovely things about my undergraduate experience, that walk obscured all of the times that were not so lovely.  I didn’t mention the huge fight I had with my friends while we were living in that townhouse. I didn’t mention the overwhelming anguish I felt when my roommate nearly abandoned me the day we were picking sophomore housing. I didn’t mention the time I spent thinking about transferring as a freshman, because I felt so out of place. Those memories have no place on a nostalgia walk, and if I’m honest, I have allowed them no room to exist in my mind.

When I am there, on campus, it is harder to feel the pain of each moment as intensely, since I am three and four and five years removed from it. Once I am more separated, in moments where the minions take control, I feel the combination of all those moments like a power surge.

It’s easier to just focus on the silly pranks and parties and Saturday nights in the quad. It’s easier to remember the good and shy away from the bad.
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Here’s the problem with nostalgia. Putting on my rose colored glasses and laughing about the funny moments and positive experiences doesn’t mean none of that bad stuff happened. It just means those pieces of my history are not ones that are shared collectively, they are the ones that lay dormant in the back of my mind.

Ignored, suppressed, but never forgotten. Taking up permanent residence, in fact.

I’ve been trying not to time travel in a negative way, but there’s dangers of using nostalgia to get stuck in the past of positive memories too. It ignores everything I went through, it makes it seem like then is so much better than now, which causes it’s own kind of pain since I obviously cannot go back to that time.

I think that I’ve used nostalgia to cling to the familiar and the expected. As I’m going through a period of transition right now, it is especially tempting to get lost in all of my memories from then. It is easy to pretend that those good memories were the whole of my experience instead of a small portion. However, I believe that just makes everything harder. I think that stalls my progress.

By ignoring those bad times, I am also ignoring what I survived. I’m ignoring the growth that I’ve made since that time in college and the insight I’ve gained. And if I keep ignoring all those mistakes and losses, I cannot learn to accept them.

I made mistakes in college. Set inappropriate boundaries. Let my emotions lead the charge. Made decisions based on some pretty irrational thoughts. Picked friendships that were ultimately not the best match for me. Said and did things that probably hurt other people. This came with loss. Loss that still weighs heavily on my mind.

I must accept that I acted in an ineffective manner. I must accept that I made decisions I do not condone. I must accept that these memories are as much a part of my experience as the good ones. I cannot go back and undo it, cannot get back the time and connections lost so I must focus on now.

Radical acceptance.

I can no longer default to nostalgia when I think about my undergraduate experience. Nostalgia is just a mask. The good memories are great, and I will continue to recognize them, but I have to allow the negative memories from the past to show their face sometimes. It’s going to be a murky and painful experience. It’s going to test my limits. I hate knowing that I have to do it.

But if I don’t, the memories will never stop haunting me. They will continue to my dirty little secrets, instead of the bumps in the road I overcame. No amount of nostalgia can change that.

And if I can do it with this, maybe then I can tackle forgiving myself for my high school choices next. One step at a time. Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 9.29.23 PM.png