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

Sensory Processing

For those with sensory processing challenges, the world can be an overwhelming place. Invest in a good pair of sunglasses and some earplugs/headphones. These can be life savers in crowded and bright places. Don’t be afraid to wear these inside stores — no one really minds. Also, try to choose fabrics that you find pleasant. I personally like cotton in a waffle-weave pattern, and I try to avoid stiff leather, suede, and satin. When temperature is an issue, try to ease into the new environment. For example, after a warm shower, wrap yourself in a robe and socks. It helps lessen the shock of a transition. If you find certain smells to be an issue, wear a scarf that you can subtly press against your nose.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Similarly, you can investigate getting a psychiatric service dogs. These animals are unlike companion dogs in that they are trained to perform a particular set of tasks. And, unlike companion dogs, by law they are allowed to follow you everywhere you go. To learn more about the service, you can visit You can also check out an example list of tasks that a psychiatric service animal can perform.

Coughing as a Save

Sometimes, I’m in the middle of a conversation and find myself unable to speak correctly or think clearly. If I’m in this scenario, sometimes I force myself to cough. After several coughs, you can say, “Oh wow, there must be something in the air. I’ve been coughing all day! I can’t even remember what I was talking about.” This allows you to get a few minutes to collect your words or pass the conversation to a new person without creating an awkward situation. People are more likely to understand the disruption of a cough than the disruption of a thought disorder.


I’ve found that the best way to lessen my auditory hallucinations is to always listen to music or television. Whether I’m at work, at home, or even falling asleep, I alway have something on. I find that my brain attaches voices and sounds to the TV or music and I don’t notice them as much. This works better when combined with medication to tone down the hallucinations.

A Big Distraction

Girl in PuddleI often get depressed when I compare myself to my peers, think about the person I used to be, think about my situation, or get caught up in obsessions and anxieties. Even though I logically know that there’s nothing I can do to change it, I can’t help but ruminate. And, since I can’t do anything about it, thinking those thoughts doesn’t help at all. Since it’s so hard for me to get out of that thought process, I do my best to not enter it in the first place. Of course, this is a lot easier to talk about doing than it is to actually do; there’s always something in me that wants to get caught into the anxiety riptide. However, I work hard to avoid those traps.

Ignoring them didn’t work for me. I admire the people who can clear their minds, but it only works to stress me out further. I also like to talk about things, but even my closest friends and family (understandably) get exhausted when I loudly obsess about the same things again and again. Instead, the only thing that works is to stay away from triggers and distract myself when I do encounter them. This takes a lot of trial and error. For example, over the years I’ve found that looking at old photos triggers depressive moods for me. Knowing this about myself, I loaded them all on an external hard drive and deleted them from my computer. I still have them if I need them, but it’s more work to access them. I also try to avoid social media overdoses. I don’t like to spend more than 15 minutes on Facebook before I switch to doing something else. Logically, I know that I can’t compare myself to others, but it’s hard to remember that when I look at a screen of people who seem to have everything going perfectly. Long stretches of alone time can draw my brain into a pit as well.

Sometimes, avoiding triggers just isn’t possible. In this case, I distract myself. It can be hard, but I try to throw myself into an activity that will consume me enough to save my mind from itself, but not too engrossing that it becomes an obsession itself. Again, I turn to TV. I have a few shows that I love and can watch again and again. Netflix is great to stream shows. It’s not a longterm solution, but at least it’s enough to distract me until bedtime. I also like to learn more about the world. I like the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series (which you can purchase online or borrow through the library), and there are free services from iTunes U, the Khan Academy, and TED talks. I download them onto my phone and I listen to them during my commute, in waiting rooms, or in stores. When I’m busy thinking about things that are bigger than I am, things that aren’t related to me or my health or my life, I find that it’s easier to stay happy and healthy.

Some of my favorite distractions:

  • Television shows and movies
  • Online courses
  • Looking at stupid pictures online
  • Read an easy novel
  • Mindless video games- Even if you don’t have a gaming console, you can play skill less games on your computer like Tetris or Farmville.
  • Cook from a baking mix
  • Walk around the mall
  • People watch
  • Throw a ball at the wall and listen to the rhythm it makes
  • Play with your pet
  • Do something mindless with your hands, like peel all of the white stuff off of an orange or cut magazines into tiny bits of paper
  • Read trashy magazines, like People or US Weekly
  • Organize things
  • Read the reviews on Amazon products (some of them are really funny!)
  • Make themed mix tapes of songs
  • Make a wish list of things you want to buy
  • Watch terrible videos online
  • Work overtime at your job


Of course, this isn’t a fool-proof plan, and you may like to do different things. However, as long as you distract your mind from itself, you can cut down on the number of traps you fall into.