My mom tells my sisters and I, “A tired brain is like glue, things stick to it”. That’s why sometimes in the middle of the night you think of something and you can’t let it go. It’s why you can’t think clearly when you haven’t had enough sleep. Your brain likes sleep. And unfortunately, most tired brains don’t stick to good things. They aren’t Kris Jenner saying, “You’re doing great sweetie!” from a chair off in the corner. They stick to your mean thoughts, and your unkind thoughts. They stick to all your worries and anxieties and don’t want to let go. A tired brain is like glue.
Unfortunately, my brain is tired a lot. My brain does all the things your brain does to make it tired. It makes to do lists and grocery lists. It remembers anecdotes and passwords. It has conversations and reads social signals (not well) to figure out situations. But my brain also does a couple other things. It spends time trying to make extra serotonin, because it doesn’t really make enough. It spends time engaging in coping mechanisms, I have to get myself to deep breathe probably at least once a day to calm little anxieties. It works to identify when I’m ruminating and then tries to stop.
And when it gets tired, it becomes Gorilla Glue. It sticks to everything and anything. Here’s the thing about my anxiety, it catastrophizes. It creates the worst possible outcome and presents that as the only one. It spins and spins and spins until it makes me dizzy, and I’m so disoriented I can’t distinguish up from down. Years ago, I couldn’t let go of the fictional catastrophes and I would spiral into a panic attack, but now I use coping mechanisms. I go for a run, read a book, watch a Marvel movie, drink some tea, talk through the problem with a friend. But like I said, coping mechanisms can make my brain tired too. Coping mechanisms can be hard work, but they’re worth it.
I get convinced of things that don’t really have basis in reality. Every morning when I go to work, I assume I’m going to get fired that day. My brain thinks everybody hates me. And when I say everybody, I mean everyone except for approximately 10 people, five of which I’m related to. Its stressful thinking that every co-worker, friend and acquaintance I have hates me. It’s very tiring. My brain sticks to the idea that I’m fat and ugly, and tells me horrible things about the way I look and the food I eat. It sticks to the idea that I’m stupid, and that my degree was a lucky stroke in a life where I can never be academically successful. It sticks to the idea that I’ll get in a car accident, get followed home from work, get COVID from a customer, end up alone and practically every other negative thought. A tired brain is like glue.
But most problems have solutions. How do I stop the spinning and the sticking? With facts, when I feel myself starting to latch onto worries, I try to think objectively about a situation. I have a degree so I can’t actually be stupid. I’m an attentive driver so I won’t actually crash. I wear a mask and use hand sanitizer frequently so I won’t actually get COVID. Anxiety likes to play pretend, so I keep at least one foot strongly planted in reality.
Secondly, I use sounding boards. I talk to people I trust about what I’m thinking. I tell my dad that I feel like my life is going nowhere and he says, “Get over yourself, you’re 22 not an old hag”. I tell my cousin that everyone hates me, and she says, “Fuck that, then I hate them too”. I tell my sister I think I’m ugly and she sends me a list of Nicki Minaj pump up songs. I ask for help. That’s an okay coping mechanism to use.
But I also need to learn to wind down my worries on my own. At the end of the day I am my own responsibility, so I need learn to unstick my brain. I ask others for help, but I also need to know when I’m using them as a crutch. I need to take care of myself. I need to get extra sleep or do yoga or take a rest day. I need to recognise what is a “normal worry” and what is an “anxiety worry”. I need to not stress about “normal worries” and simply attend to the “anxiety worries” without letting them rattle me.
Worrying is natural, I remind myself that everyday. Worrying about money keeps me from spending every dollar I have. Worrying about my social relationships shows that they are important to me. It’s okay to worry, but it’s also important to know when a worry is out of touch with reality. When to just recognise the worry and let it go. I’m working really hard at just letting the sticky thoughts pass through my brain and move on. It’s not going as well as I could hope, but I’m getting better at it. I just need to stay in reality. I just need to keep calm. I just need to get some sleep. Because a tired brain is like glue.
From me, with love, to you,
I’ve worked in retail for four years, there are parts that I don’t necessarily love, but that’s work . On the other hand, there are parts of my job that I truly enjoy, one of those parts being working in the fitting rooms. Working “fits” is satisfying for a whole host of reasons.
First and foremost, I’m a talkative person, and it means I get to talk to people all day. Not only talk about clothes, but I’ve gotten music, podcast, movie, and recipe recommendations. I’ve had in-depth nerd chats about Marvel movies, psychology, and financial planning. I’ve met people with incredibly interesting jobs. Retail allows you to meet a large variety of people, and working fits means I get to interact with all these people.
Second, I love shopping. I know it’s a cliché that women love shopping, but I do. It’s not even the act of buying clothes but there is a shopping “culture” that I really enjoy. And in helping other people shop I get to live a bit vicariously through others.
Finally, I get to make other people happy. Shopping, specifically jean shopping, can feel very defeating. There is variation in wash, material, style and size, leaving so many variations that the whole process is daunting and exhausting. Additionally, women’s clothes is atrociously inconsistent in sizing, which can be frustrating. I personally have felt defeated by jean shopping and it’s not a nice feeling. However, working in fits, I get to ease the experience for other people, or at least that’s what I try to do. Finding someone their new favourite pair of jeans is satisfying because I know how I feel when that happens for me. No, I’m not curing cancer or building houses or saving puppies, but I get to help give people those little moments and that feels really nice.
And despite loving this aspect of my job, I’ve noticed something over the last couple weeks that I find frustrating, so I’m sharing it with you. Toronto just came out of lockdown round 2 and people are ready to get out and move around a bit more. We were all stagnant for 100 days, and the cabin fever hit us pretty hard. People coming into the store often want to chat and want to engage, because we have all been lacking some social connection. And many of the conversations I have are unique, however, there is a common thread – especially with female customers: “I’ve just gained so much weight during quarantine”.
And if it were just this comment, I wouldn’t really care. It would simply be a factual statement. However, it’s never just this comment. It’s followed by a parade of comments where women comment that they’ve gotten fat, or feel ugly, or are disappointed in themselves, or have been “bad” over the last couple months, and so on and so on. Essentially, the women are constantly dumping on themselves for their bodies changing over the last couple months/the last year.
And I hear so many women say, “I was so bad over quarantine, I ate so much”. Bad? Food is allowed to bring you joy, especially when there is not much else going on. We need to stop associating our food choices with morality, as if you could actually “be bad” by eating something that tastes good. Something that brings you joy. I drink Starbucks hot chocolate more often than not when I’m at work. It’s about 3 zillion calories and has enough sugar to power the energizer bunny. But it makes me smile and I know it makes me just a little bit friendlier at work so I’m not going shame myself for drinking it.
Of course, I want you to take care of yourself. I want you to get 10,000 steps and eat your vegetables and drink enough water during the day, but most importantly I want you to be kind to yourself. I want you to allow yourself to be human, and part of being human involves weight fluctuation, especially in times of change. It’s okay to acknowledge change in your body and have feelings about it. But don’t be hard on yourself over changes that occurred while in lockdown.
Women of all sizes are complaining about how their bodies are inferior, when that is so far from the truth it’s laughable. My sister told me once, “when you hate your body, think of all the things it allows you to do”, and I try to do that. When I grab the wrong size of jeans and feel “fat”, I remind myself that my body ran 10k this fall for the first time in 6 years, it can sing a C#6 and it can walk around for 8 hours a day, 5 days and week and sell jeans like it’s nobody’s business. It can also eat an entire pizza in one sitting, and that’s pretty impressive.
I just want you to be kind to yourself. You’re a lot more than what a scale tells you, and frankly, it’s not worth the energy you put into stressing about it. You’re built for so much more than stressing about weight, you just need to get out of your own way.
From me, with love, to you,
What if you told me I’m pretty to see how the words taste?
Sometimes you meet someone, and your mind plays a trick on you. For a split second, it plays out a future with that person that doesn’t yet exist. It plays out an evening, or a week, or a month where you and that person are together. I wrote this song, wanting to play out that trick.
I wanted to play out this scenario where two people just fall for each other, without reserve. Because when you’re teenagers, that’s how love works. My first boyfriend and I just started dating. We decided that we liked each other and just went for it. We didn’t go through the stages of hooking up, hooking up exclusively, seeing other people, dating without labels, dating with labels, and all the other combinations that can occur in between. We just decided to fall in love, which is something only kids do.
You are so gentle, so I will get caught up in you
I often feel like I’m still that 16-year-old girl. Who falls without looking. I allow myself to get caught up in people, wrapped up in tiny relationships. I catch feelings and run with them, I let my mind play that trick out as I try to imagine that person fitting into my life.
And frankly, I would rather be that person who is reckless with their emotions, than someone who spends all their time trying to pump the breaks. I would rather look back on situation and think “I was honest with myself, and I went after what I wanted”. I’m a full throttle kind of person, and I want someone who wants that. It doesn’t mean I want a relationship right away, but I want someone who isn’t afraid to move forward and see what happens.
I am just holding the place for somebody else
However, that also means I get hurt a lot. I get shot down and ghosted and let down by people I care about. And I watch those people who hurt me move on and fall in love with different people. But you can’t really avoid that. For all the people you date in your life, you are only going to end up growing old and grey with one person. Everyone else will be a place holder of sorts until “the one” comes along. Similarly, I have been in a place holder in other peoples’ lives.
And realising you’re not the one, you’re simply a place holder, is a painful realisation. When you’re in the middle of end and your brain catches up with reality, it can hurt. But often you look back and realise how wrong that person was for you, how inevitable your end was.
It's always me being reckless and crazy
But it only needs to work once. One time for you to be happy, and that one time will be worth all the mess that came before. So I’m going to keep being stupid and childish. Yes, I get hurt and yes, it can be abrasive and yes, I know it’s statistically more likely that I’ll get my heart broken than I’ll end up happy. But fuck it. If this mess of a year has taught me anything, it’s that life is unexpected, so you might as well just go for it.
What if it worked?
I wrote this song this past July/August when I was at my cottage. As much as I wanted it to feel specific to me, I wanted people to be able to relate to what I was feeling. I didn’t want it to be about any one relationship, as much as I wanted it to be about one feeling.
I hope you like it, if you want to listen to the full song you can go to YouTube which I have linked to below.
From me, with love, to you,
In all honesty, I didn’t really want to talk about mental health today. Which is weird, because this is the day to talk about it. But right now, in this moment, I’m happy. Happy being slightly relative because the pandemic has us all swinging back and forth like pendulums when it comes to mood. Cabin fever comes in and out, I get irritable pretty quickly and although I feel energised by small victories, small losses can set me off. (I cried the other day when I couldn’t find a parking spot, it wasn’t my shiniest moment)
And this is one of the hardest things about mental health, to keep working at it even when things are good. Mental health is like eczema. You have to constantly work to maintain a status quo. I know this because I have eczema. I’ve had eczema since I was a baby, I knew the names of topical steroids before I knew my parents’ birthdays. So, after 22 years, I have a fine-tuned, regimented system to keep my skin under control. Creams and ointments and moisturisers keep me looking like a human rather than a scaley crocodile. And occasionally I have flare ups when the weather changes, if I forget to fill a prescription, if I have an allergic reaction to something that leads to a bigger rash. But I still work at my eczema everyday.
Which is why I’m writing this. Because even though I’m happy right now, tomorrow and the next day and the day after that are unpredictable. And if I don’t keep working, don’t keep managing, I could get a mental health flare up, which is so much more difficult to manage than day to day maintenance. Similarly, to eczema, there are things that I do regularly to help manage my mental health. So, I’m going to take you through my favourite coping mechanisms.
Stuff I do regularly:
You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it, but I swear to God it works. I try to have 3 “active days” every week, two of which I seriously get my heart pumping. So usually that’s one walk and two days where I kick my own ass and scream at Chloe Ting on my computer, telling her how much I hate her.
Don’t come at me and say, “But I don’t know how to sing” because anyone can sing. At least once a week I make sure to sing for fun. In the shower, in the car, in my room, I sing at the top of my lungs and let out all that pent up anxiety. Yes, I still do my warm-ups and sing more technically 3-4 times a week on top of that, but at least once a week I make sure to get all my jitters out by…well I guess it can be described more as screaming than singing but you get the point.
3. Making To-Do lists:
Anxiety and spontaneity are not friends. Anxiety lives in “I don’t know” so I make to-do lists and set alarms and arrange plans. Of course, my definition of “plans” has changed over the last year. Whereas a year ago plans involved seeing other people, currently my plans involve going to the grocery store. Still, I create structure when structure is sparse, and it has calmed my nerves.
Stuff I do occasionally:
1. Strip down:
Sometimes I when I feel overwhelmed, it feels like I am coated in anxiety. So, I go back to basics. I take off my makeup and my nail polish and shave my legs and cut my nails and clean my cuticles and wash my hair. Think about resetting yourself, putting everything back at square one, that way you can rebuild the way you see best. A hot shower can fix a lot of problems. P.S. Put on clean pajamas afterwards, it really seals the deal for me.
2. Have a dance party:
By yourself, with your roommate, with your friends. I have a playlist called “Health Coping Mechanisms” and it is all the songs that make me want to dance. It ranges from Motown to Rap to Musical Theatre, which I understand is a weird combination. I would suggest creating a playlist of songs you find irresistibly dance-y and keep it in your back pocket. Sometimes you just need to get out of your head.
3. Give something a deep clean:
Maybe you’re being triggered by your environment. A clean, organised environment can lead to a clean, organised brain. You’re likely a lot more influenced by the space around you than you’ve realised. Sometimes taking a couple hours and scrubbing your stove and washing that glass plate in your microwave and sorting all the random condiments in your fridge can give you that piece of mind you’ve been looking for.
Stuff I do when I’m going to have a panic attack:
Anxiety is an attention-whore. The more attention you feed it the bigger it gets. Time and time again I hear people referring to panic attacks as a spiral, but what if you cut the spiral? It has nowhere to go. Like cutting off the oxygen to a fire. Next time you feel a panic attack coming on, try to distract yourself before you start to feel out of control. It takes a lot of practice, and I’m still learning how to do it, but here are my go-to distractions:
a. Investigate an object:
My doctor told me this one. When you get really anxious pick an object around you and analyze every detail of it. What does it look like? How many colours are in it? How many shades of every colour? What size is it? Try to measure it. What are all the different ways you can use it? I once counted every ridge on a bar napkin when I was nervous at a bar. Pick an object and study it like you’re writing a PhD thesis about it. Like you’re trying to explain it to a sketch artist.
b. Number patterns:
When I get anxious my dad tells me to count to 62,357. In sevens. I’ve never gotten to 62,357, but the point is I’m focused on counting. 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and so on. Try counting to 100 and clapping on every prime number. Do long division and try to go as many decimal places as you can. Do BEDMAS equations. Solve basic algebra. Math being math makes it perfect, because it requires focus and energy. All of which you have to take away from your anxiety, therefore not giving it the attention it needs to blow up. And don’t use your phone as a calculator, that’s definitely cheating.
c. Play a game on your phone:
Download one or two games that, similar to the other two examples, take some serious brain power. You want it to be more complex than 2048, and more fast-paced than Words with Friends. My go-to’s are sudoku, Tap Tap Revenge (yes, I’m bringing it back) and this game I have with a kiwi bird (it’s kind of like Flappy Bird). You want something that takes extended focus, because the point is distraction.
Exercise, singing, cleaning, distracting, all these tricks took time to develop. The list has shuffled with time, and I am still fine-tuning it – it’s no eczema-routine. As you all know, exercise just recently made the list this year, whereas singing was a coping mechanism before “coping mechanism” was a term in my vocabulary. And I’m guessing in the next year this list will change again as vaccinations allow us to live a life that resembles normal.
I know that accommodating the change can be exhausting. I know it’s tiring and frustrating and working at this everyday feels like an uphill battle. Sometimes mechanisms that used to work start failing, and sometimes it feels like nothing works. Like every tool in Batman’s tool belt is broken or in the wrong place or missing. But I promise you’re doing a lot better than you think you are. Just trying, just working at it at all is a step in the right direction. You’ve got this, and remember I’m always in your corner, with an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on and a very weird playlist to dance to.
From me, with love, to you,
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