Stop the World

Only thirty blankets?

Things don’t always go according to plan or how you want them to go. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that they don’t go according to plan the majority of the time.

I’ve had a very rough week. Everyone alive knows the type of week I’m talking about. Those are the weeks where you huddle in your bed, underneath more blankets than a bed at Pottery Barn, wondering who you must have killed in your past life to deserve the cards you’ve been dealt.

You start to think about how hard life is and how it isn’t fair. And you know what? You’re right. It’s not fair. And it sucks. It’s not fair that I’m 24 years old and have to take 16 medications a day just to function. It’s not fair that I have to drag myself out of a coma every morning. It’s not fair that while other people were worrying a pop quiz, I was worrying about secret assassination plots.

It’s not fair, it’s not easy, and it’s not fun, but it is life. And while life may not ever be good for me, it will get better. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but one day it will get better. And until then, I try to hack my brain with the following tools:

1. Knowing you can always give up.

No matter what you’re doing, you can ALWAYS give up. Don’t want to go to school? Drop out. Don’t want to go to work? Quit. Don’t want to take care of yourself? Go inpatient at a psychiatric hospital. Yes, the alternatives may suck, but you can always, always give up. To me, this notion is reassuring. I don’t have to do anything, and anything that I do end up doing is better than giving up.
For example, this morning I really didn’t want to go to work. I was in a lot of stomach pain, my head hurt, I was tired, and I just felt like I couldn’t face the world. So I began by thinking, “Well, I can always skip work. Sure, I sacrifice a day’s worth of pay and make tomorrow’s workload heavier, but I don’t have to go.”
And then I think about it a little more. “Ok, so if I’m staying home, there would be no harm in taking a shower, right? I’ll just take a shower and then do nothing.” So I take a shower. “Well, now that I’ve taken a shower, I might as well get dressed. I mean, I still don’t have to go to work.” So I get dressed. “Ok, I’ll just throw my shit in the car and drive to work. I don’t have to go in. I can always just drive by the building and head home.” So I drive to work. “Ok, well, I’m already here. What if I stay for, like, five minutes? I’ll go home after five minutes.” So I go into work and end up working the whole day. At any point during the process, I could give up. But if I always have the option to give up, why not wait it out another five minutes? Another day? Another year? I can quit at any point, so why not stick around for a bit and see how shit goes down?

2. Lower your expectations.

The key to surviving in any situation is lowering your expectations according to how you feel. Even little victories are still victories. For awhile, there were some days where my main goal was not to die. If I was still living, I was doing pretty well. Some days, my crowning glory was standing up. And some days, my biggest achievement was finishing a huge, involved project at work. No one wakes up every day as the same person. Work with who you are and what you’ve got at that point in time.

3. People don’t care as much as you think they do.

People are self-absorbed, and you know what- that’s a really good thing. Everyone is the hero of his or her own story, and they are so busy with that story to be anything more than supporting characters in anyone else’s narrative.

Think back to an embarrassing time in your life. I’ll give you a mild one from mine: I was at a multi-class poster fair during my freshman year of college. I had just taken a class on the history of punk music and had to create a presentation for it. I threw my heart and soul into that class, and the professor was really impressed with me. Anyway, the student with the poster next to mine was playing a song. I knew the song from somewhere and couldn’t place it. It was on repeat, and I kept hearing it over and over. After about a half hour, my professor came over to grade my poster. He told me he was really impressed with my work and called me an authority on music.

Once I thought he had left, I turned to the girl next to me and asked, “Hey, what song is this?”

‘All along the Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix,” she said.

I turned around, and my professor was still standing there. I felt like such an idiot. He had just called me an authority on music, and I didn’t recognize one of the most famous songs of all time. He ended up walking away, but the shame haunts me to this day.

Now, I’ve done way more embarrassing things, but for some reason, this one has stuck with me. But no matter how much it has affected me, I can guarantee you that I am the only one who remembers this event and who cares about it. My professor has spent the last six years being the hero of his own life, making his own embarrassing mistakes, and you know what? That’s what he thinks about. He thinks about his own mistakes, not mine. And that’s how everyone is. Everyone is so busy thinking about the events in their own tale that they don’t have the time to ponder your plot line.

Every time I trip in public, every time I walk into a door, every time I accidentally insult someone, every time I mess up, I stress about how awful I am. But you know what? People don’t care, and that’s a good thing.

For me, this week has been full of worry, pain, and blankets. I’m going to have better weeks, and I’m going to have worse weeks. There will be weeks where my blankets are covered in blood and vomit, and there will be weeks where my blankets are laundered, folded, and look like they belong in the Pottery Barn showroom.

Using ASL

Clean Brains ASL ChartSometimes, I find myself unable to communicate or find words. For some reason, however, I can still use sign language. It might just be me, but in any event, I suggest it because you might find it useful as well. You can learn a few signs (such as the ones for medicine, emergency, hungry, thirsty, help, etc.) and teach them to people in your support network. That way, you can communicate without having to physically speak.

I’ve created a printable chart of the basic fingerspelling signs and the signs I feel are most helpful. You can print these papers and give them to friends and family as quick references. You can also buy the book The Perigee Visual Dictionary of Signing by Rod R. Butterworth. It’s the one that I personally find most useful (and believe me- I’ve seen a lot of them!).

Download Clean Brains ASL Chart

Download Clean Brains ASL Fingerspelling

There’s Always a Way Out

When you enter a room, always look for a way out. Stare at it and lock it in your head. This way, you can quickly duck out in an emergency or if you need to catch your breath. There’s nothing worse than getting lost among a crowd of people when you’re having a panic attack.

Similarly, I try to avoid situations where there is no “out.” I tend to avoid boats, trains, busses, and airplanes. This isn’t always an option, but every little bit helps.