Bow out to avoid burnout

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***TRIGGER WARNING: I talk about sexual assault. But here’s a version without triggers.***

Many creatives are also super political. That’s super cool. The world is fucked and we all gotta do our part to make it better. But burnout is real.

I can remember completely melting down in my third year of university. I was taking a couple gender studies courses and the stats were devastating. One night, I got drunk and cried on my balcony alone when I learned how many women are sexually assaulted in the USA.

Now, I know the world is shit. But that doesn’t stop information from destroying me.

When Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby first made the news for their fucked up, irreproachable behaviour, it hit me hard. I sobbed in my room alone. I berated some of the men in my life for not doing enough. I harboured a rage that stopped me from being able to work.

I followed Ghomeshi’s initially case, but quickly realized it was going to crush me.

Instead, I ignored the news. When others tried to talk about it, I put in my two cents about the importance of believing victims, let those I was talking to know how dangerous judging women who come forward is and then changed the subject. I heard the verdict when it came out, but I don’t know what all happened in between.

I don’t need to follow sexual assault cases to know that most men—even when they admit to their crimes—get little more than a slap on the wrist for rape. I also don’t need to follow those cases to do something, though.

I can write about consent and have conversations with men in my life about sexual assault. I can encourage others to think about respect when it comes to women’s bodies and demand it for myself. I can trust victims and talk to others about the importance of giving them support and allowing them to have a voice.

It is okay to take time away from the news and heartbreaking bullshit of the world, from time to time. There’s a big difference between sticking your head in the sand and getting a little distance to heal, rejuvenate and gather the strength to keep fighting.

It’s also okay to find ways to fight that cause you the least amount of harm.

This is especially important for people who battle with mental health issues. When the chemicals in your brain are handing you heavy, life-stopping blows on the regular, you don’t need anything else holding you down.

One thing I can offer to help you keep going through the mental health struggle is a weekly newsletter I’m now putting out that gives creatives motivation and support based on my experiences dealing with anxiety and depression. Sign-up now and together we can keep working for a better world while taking care of ourselves.

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It’s going to get worse

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I’ve realized this is all going to get worse before I start to feel better.

From the time I was 16 to about 21, I used drugs and alcohol to calm my nerves and escape from pain. I kept up the drinking until about a year ago when I started putting in a genuine effort to stop.

It was when I began drinking less that I was stuck with myself and my feelings of sadness and anger and self-loathing. There have been so many nights I’ve sat at home thinking about being raped and bawling. I’ve forced myself to be alone in my quiet apartment and feel. I’m getting more used to being with my memories instead of running.

Instead of dealing with my anxiety, I’ve found ways to escape. I’d cover it with beers or force myself to be overly outgoing, always surrounding myself with people and somehow pushing the anxiety down until it reached this point that I can’t ignore it and some days can’t function.

IMG_1339.jpgThese days, when I feel a panic attack coming on, I sit down and think a lot about how I feel and why I feel that way. Is there a reason for my anxiety? If not (which is most of the time), I just curl up on my couch to cuddle a cat or stretch on my bed while listening to music until I feel stable enough to go on with life. It doesn’t sound like hard work, but it is much more difficult than having a few drinks.

And it doesn’t feel like I’m getting any better. I’ll have good weeks when I can exercise and clean and work, and then bad weeks where I completely crash. Getting out of bed is nearly impossible and my body is in so much pain even walking a block from my car to work is difficult.

For a while, this frustrated me. It made me think I was always going to be a total fucking mess. But now I think I just need to get through this period of feeling and thinking and suffering through everything. Maybe, for now, that’s the only way to get to a place where I’ll be able to heal.

It’s out of my control

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Trigger warning: Sexual assault, Trump

I’ve built up a wall of delusions to protect myself. Turns out, I’m better off seeing the truth.

There are a couple rapists in Winnipeg who I know of who have never been charged, but who women warn others about. I narrowly escaped one of these men when someone told me he’d brought a friend of ours to his home when she was 16, given her several glasses of wine and then raped her.

He’s somewhat known for inviting young women over with their friends to draw their portraits, then saying he doesn’t have time to finish right then but that the woman should come back for dinner and then he’d complete it. That’s when he’d pour them glasses of wine and make his move.

In 2008, he’d started my picture but there were so many red flags in the conversation that I asked around about him before returning for the second session. The biggest was his complaints about having been banned from The Forks for allegedly hitting on under-age women, which he claimed to have not done.

I didn’t show up to the dinner at his place and he flipped, sending me angry emails about how ungrateful I was for not showing up to eat the food he’d made me. I told him what I knew, without stating any details about my friend, and the way he responded I knew there had been other girls. He didn’t say her name or details of the night. He was vague about the timeframe. The only specifics he went into were that it was a misunderstanding and he did nothing wrong.

A few years ago, I was volunteering at the children’s area at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival when I saw him again. He had set up his art supplies and was drawing portraits of young women wandering through Old Market Square. I felt so fucking sick. I wanted to cry and leave the area, but I knew others weren’t safe with him around so I flagged down a cop.

I didn’t tell him to arrest him. I didn’t go into details. I just basically said I’d heard that guy has a sketchy history of raping underage women and suggested he keep an eye on him.

The cop started questioning me. How did I know this? Where did I hear it from? Did my friend point him out to me herself? Did she go to the police? Had anyone reported it?

A fellow running the children’s Fringe came by to see what was going on. He was upset by my accusation, said the guy was a close family friend (he had two daughters) and whatever I’d heard was not true. I was almost crying, but the two men started joking with one another.

I wasn’t trying to get the cop to do anything other than keep an eye on the guy, but for years I justified that the cop couldn’t do anything without proof so it was okay that he questioned me and he was in the right and I was being silly. However, I kept a close eye on the guy until he left. That’s something the cop could have done. And he could have taken what I was saying more seriously.

When Trump said he grabs women by the pussy, I started re-examining my rape-y interactions with men. In so many circumstances, such as this, I justified their mistrust of my accusations. I even tried to view all the times I’ve been sexually assaulted as something that was my fault. I shouldn’t have taken a drink from a stranger. I should have done more than just cry. I should have fought harder. I shouldn’t have believed the threats. From this viewpoint, I had control and power. I simply hadn’t used it correctly. A few poor choices on my part led to some really terrible times.

But Trump has shown me that men really do have so much power to be awful that I can’t really do much. I’ve tried as best I could to protect other women and myself from so many men, but that wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t have the power to stop that man from hurting anyone else. I didn’t have the power to stop men from hurting me. I probably won’t have the power many, many more times in the future, as this tweet so horrifically reminded me:

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Something about having no control is comforting, though. It means it wasn’t my fault and in the future it won’t be my fault. It also means if women can fight to gain some of the power and control men have, we’re not going to have to worry about them grabbing our pussies without consequence.

Why don’t we know we’re fucked?

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Since I started blogging about anxiety and being raped, quite a few people have reached out to me for advice or support, or to give advice and support.

That’s pretty sweet, but also troubling.

Some folks said what was going on with them wasn’t something they were able to speak about with family or friends. Some people didn’t even understand what their deal was until they listened to me talking about my issues.

I didn’t identify anxiety as something I was struggling with until late 2014 when I dated someone who had pretty awful anxiety. Listening to him talk about his problems, I understood that I was going through similar stuff and anxiety was what had been fucking me up for years. It wasn’t until I was quite deep into exploring my mental health that I got how being sexually assaulted continued to affect me outside of my sex life, specifically by being a cause of anxiety.

I’m an educated woman with a good family. I have supportive friends who come to me to talk about their problems and who are always open to listening to me vent about mine. I know the important people in my life love me no matter what I do or how much I screw up. So, how did it take me years to realize that constant full body tingling, difficulty breathing, poor memory and constantly being scatter-brained isn’t normal? And how come others are in a similar place?

I was taught by my family, teachers and media that hard work comes first. It comes before feelings and taking care of ones-self. This sentiment was cemented when I moved out of my parents’ home at 18. Bills and rent needed to be paid with enough leftover cash for food. I covered my university and college tuition without loans and was damned if I was going to slash my GPA with shitty grades because I was taking time to relax. Taking care of others was work that someone had to do, and I took that upon myself. That came before taking time for me.

As a young woman, I was in school and working full-time. I had an unemployed boyfriend at home smoking pot and playing video games all damn day. Being strong was ignoring my feelings to take care of him and our cats. Being strong was pushing through the shit and pretending everything was fine. I thought strong women took care of themselves and everyone around them without cracking under the weight of work and school and care-taking and past hurt.

What a crock of shit.

I wish I could go back and tell myself that a strong woman woulda kicked that SOB out sooner. A strong woman knows when to say no and take care of her needs first. A strong woman faces her feelings in a terrifying and raw way, not pretending to herself or anyone else that the hurt is any less than it is.

If we all put our grown-up dresses on and screamed with honesty about how messed up we are, we’d grow up knowing it’s okay to be less than fine. Sometimes people’s heads are a little fucky, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes it takes forever to feel your way though shitty emotions, and sometimes you never do. That doesn’t make you any less of an awesome, loveable and inspirational person.

I wish adults had had honest conversations with me growing up about anxiety and depression, about the importance of prioritizing my own needs and facing life with honesty and vulnerability, especially to myself. And I wish someone would start having those conversations with the young folk of today. Realizing at 24 how fucked up you are is a lot more troubling than just dealing with issues as they arise throughout life.

I’m going to keep talking about being anxious and being messed up from being raped, because it makes me feel better and it seems to make other people feel better. Also, it’s getting me some pretty awesome advice, like this:

Counselling helps
I have no real experience with counselling, but other folks apparently do and suggested these affordable places in Winnipeg for anxiety and/or victims of sexual assault:
Klinic
Women’s Health Clinic
Jewish Child and Family Service
Aurora Family Therapy Centre
Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
This type of therapy helped a friend of mine! That’s cool. Maybe look into it? She tells me that Klinic has two counsellors trained to do EMDR.


Gorgeous artwork with this post, eh? I didn’t do it! It’s by Lucia Whittaker! Check her out.


podcast artwork4And I’m back with another podcast. This week, I’m talking about how much better talking about this all makes me feel and announcing a change to the podcast’s format for future episodes. Woot woot!

Them’s fightin’ words

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TW: sexual assault

Conflict is terrifying.

As a child, when my teacher snapped at me for being too silly, it cut to my heart. I still remember the shame I felt when my Grade 1 teacher snapped at me to be quiet because I kept shouting out that she forgot to put the periods at the ends of sentences on the board. (I’m sorry, Lori! I wanted to make sure you understood punctuation!!)

As a teenager, when a boss would talk about me behind my back or yell at me for burning toast in the reliably fickle toaster, I’d convince myself they weren’t being unfair to me.

I started my adult life this way as well. When a new partner did something I interpreted as being disrespectful, I’d let it slide. When a friend stood me up six times in a row, I’d pretend to be understanding. If I felt someone I worked for was demanding too much, I’d cut back my workload with them until we were barely in contact.

The thought of standing up for myself or opening a potentially heated discussion about not feeling satisfied left my chest tight. It’s almost impossible to know how someone will react. However, it’s pretty clear where keeping the lips zipped gets you, and it’s not a good place.

I’d build up anger until I was so overwhelmed with emotion I could not longer handle it. At that point, I wouldn’t be able to start a healthy dialogue; my emotions were too strong. If it was someone I knew well enough that I was comfortable confronting them, I’d end up screaming and completely blow the situation out of proportion.

If it was someone I didn’t know well, I’d ghost. Quit the job. Drop the friendship. Stop doing that activity. Change buses. Shop at a different store.

Avoiding conflict is so apart of who I am, I didn’t even realize what a massive issue it was until I started exploring my anxiety.

While sitting quietly with cups of tea—understanding that the nausea, headache and difficulty breathing are signs I was anxious—I ask myself what is wrong .

One day, I was upset because someone had almost cut me off in traffic and I had to honk at them. Another time, a cashier had been rude to me earlier that day despite how cheery I was and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, wondering what I’d done wrong. There was the time a mechanic charged me way too much for an oil change, but I just handed over my credit card wanting to avoid the argument and fumed all day. I’m still pissed about that one, actually.

Another time, I was upset because I’d run into an ex-roomate who used to drunkenly crawl into my bed, and eat me out and fuck me while I cried, trying to think about anything else and waiting for him to stop.

I wasn’t upset because it brought back memories. Rather, I was mostly upset because I wondered what would happen if I ran into him again and he saw me. Would he pick a fight, as he’d done in the past? Would I lose my shit and yell at him? Would someone I was with recognize him and start something?

That’s pretty messed up that that was what was causing me anxiety about seeing that SOB. I realized it was time to change.

I started by quietly pulling my partner aside to tell him I was bothered that he’d made fun of me in front of my friends for where I chose to park my car. He thanked me for telling him and apologized.

Then I told my mom I was really tired of her making fun of my messy car because it made me feel bad for not having the time and money to keep it clean. She apologized and didn’t bring it up again.

I told some folks I worked for that I didn’t think the communication was great. That started quite a huge blow-out argument that ended with me walking away after being made to feel like an under-educated jerk. But, you know what? I lived. And I’m proud of myself for starting that discussion, (mostly) keeping calm and taking the time afterwards to evaluate how it went and identify the new conflict resolution tools I learned and where I need to improve.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m feeling cool as a cucumber about this conflict thing. However, I am no longer overwhelmingly disturbed by the idea of getting into a heated discussion.

When I think I’m being treated poorly, I let the treating-me-poorly perpetrator know. If someone upsets me, I talk to them about it. I don’t hesitate to use my horn when necessary, but I think of it as a gentle reminder to my neighbour vehicles that my car is there and doesn’t want to kiss.

I’m working towards lessening the energy I put into avoiding conflict so I can use that energy to be pissed about being mistreated, when it’s someone who actually deserves my fiery rage to be directed towards them.

If anyone has a problem with me standing up for myself or others, they can go fuck themselves. That’ll leave them happier than me keeping my mouth shut would, anyways.


On this week’s episode of Ramblings of an Anxious Mind, I talk about the tools I’ve added to my life skills toolbox to help me chill when I’m having a panic attacks, which is something that frequently happens when I think about or deal with conflict. If you’re like me, maybe listen to this before putting the fighting gloves on.


Shout out to Jenna Anderson who let me use her badass selfie!

 

Emotions will come out somewhere

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**TW: rape**

If you know me at all, you know I’m a crier.

The point at a child’s birthday party when the adults sing Happy Birthday, that always gets me. Couples in public, giggling and holding hands. Babies smiling with parents in commercials. Thinking about my grandmother’s beautiful hands. Cute animals.

Really, I cry at everything. When watching movies, my friends often look at me throughout to see if the waterworks have started yet. I wasn’t always like this.

Before I was raped, I rarely cried.

I cried when I broke up with a partner or friend, and when someone at school was mean to me. That was about it.

I didn’t know why I became a crier. It just happened and I decided maybe I’d softened a little bit.

In reality, I was trying to harden, but my emotions were cracking out in other places.

I’ve spent the years since the last time I was raped burying my feelings. Until the last six months, when I got a flashback, I’d drink. When I became so depressed I couldn’t leave my bed, I’d pretend there was no reason behind it other than that sometimes I get sad. I wouldn’t even admit to myself that being raped had any impact on my life, apart from sex.

I didn’t cry about being raped. I rarely acknowledged that it impacted my life, until I had to have that awful talk with a partner who I was beginning to be intimate with. When my thoughts turned to what happened, I’d start telling myself that I was blowing it up in my head, I was exaggerating what happened and it wasn’t that big a deal. It was really my own fault for not standing up for myself more, for not fighting back, for not wondering why that one drink was hitting me way too hard.

I can’t afford therapy, and I don’t think I’m ready for it either. But I’m ready to talk about it a little bit from over here, behind my computer screen.

I didn’t know I needed to hear that it wasn’t my fault and that I’m not the same girl that happened to, but when my ex held my hand and told me those things, I felt relief. Some of the shame and guilt lifted. I realized that it was, and still is, okay to feel sad, hurt, furious, confused and violated. What’s probably not okay is pushing those feelings away, because they’re just going to leak out sometime.

It’s become okay for me to curl up in bed and sob when thinking about what happened. I’ve told myself for the past 10 years that it was never a big deal. Now, I’m going to tell myself that it was a huge fucking deal. As I write this, though, I’m still arguing with myself that it wasn’t that bad. Clearly I have some work to do, but where do I go from here?


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Anxiety sucks, I know. There are specific challenges to dealing with it as a feminist, vegan and freelancer. I’m no expert at chilling out and avoiding panic attacks, but I’m learning. Maybe we can do it together?
Podcast by Meg Crane, freelance journalist and editor. Music by Alannah Zeebeck. Artwork by Kate Winiarz and Meg Crane.
This week I made the oh so fun and exciting discovery that a lot of my anxiety is coming from trying to cope with the trauma of being raped, without substance abuse or denial. At least I know now?

 

The episode of Guys We Fucked that I reference, which helped me realize this, is “Suck My Dick… Ma’am?” If you haven’t checked out this podcast yet, I highly recommend it. 

Discovering the dark root of my anxiety

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TW: Rape

A panic attack boiled up out of nowhere while I was working in an office earlier this week. I knew the employees there quite well and am usually comfortable in the space, but there was a lot of negativity going on in my head and my hands slowly began to shake uncontrollably.

I knew speaking was going to be difficult, so I quietly powered through the rest of my work while practicing what exact words I would use to say I was done and heading out.

Playing it in my head did not make this very basic sentence any easier. I awkwardly fumbled over the words, not quite sure how to string them together in a meaningful way. I clutched the stack of work I’d completed to my chest after putting on my jacket, holding in my trembling as I attempted to answer the other workers’ questions about what I was up to for the rest of the day.

I kept repeating in my head that I was going to be okay. Most people have been unable to tell when I’m having a panic attack, so I assured myself that they probably didn’t notice anything. I tried to respond normally (which I do not think I did) and then did my best impression of a calm human being walking out of the building.

I sat in my car, calling and texting friends to see if anyone could help me drive my cat to the vet later in the day. When my heartbeat slowed down and I felt it was safe, I put ‘er in drive and got my butt home. Throughout the day, I had several smaller panic attacks. I comfortably spoke with my lovely vet and a server at a nearby restaurant, before breaking down on the restaurant’s patio with my ex-partner across the table from me.

There was a lot leading up to this.

Shortly before my partner and I broke up last month, I told him details of a time I was raped so he would understand why I am vehemently opposed to camping in Riding Mountain National Park, which he’d teased me about because he did not know the true reason. While it made me feel a little more okay about that incident, it brought others further to the surface and since then I’ve put a lot of energy into pulling my mind to happier times.

At a potluck dinner I hosted last weekend, a friend told us about the tragic passing of her sister. After, she said that was the first time she had revisited that memory without crying. It’s therapeutic, she said, to talk about traumatic experiences with people who make you feel safe and loved, because it retrains those brain paths. I don’t think I’m explaining the science quite like she told it, but however that works, her statement made me cry.

Not just a little, like I’m apt to do, but uncontrollably. My friends starred at me and reshuffled table positions so the more comforting of my dinner guests could me next to me. I bawled for a few minutes before excusing myself to the bathroom where I sat up on my counter, leaning against the wall. I cried as hard and as satisfyingly as a person can cry until someone came to check on me.

That’s one of the first times I’ve let myself cry like that over the memory of being raped. Usually, I push the thoughts down or drown them. I’ve quit drinking because alcohol was definitely a tool I’ve used to help with this. Without booze, I’ll crawl into bed for a few days, trying to assure friends I’m bailing on that I’m fine through texts that I don’t have the energy to punctuate or spellcheck. As you can imagine, I’ve lost a few partners who weren’t understanding about my pain and inability to deal.

It was two days after my dinner party that the anxiety sneak-attacked me at the office. My first impulse was to give in to grief and crawl back into bed. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted a beer. I wanted something to take away the pain immediately. But, more than that, I wanted something to dull the pain more longterm. I didn’t want another relationship impacted or another sunny day wasted in bed. I wanted to never again spontaneously bawl with my friends sitting around me, confused about what my problem is and how to help me.

So, forcing myself to continue eating and drinking water, I kept working and texted people who I know love me. I called my ex and told him what was going on. He offered to come over immediately, but I didn’t feel quite ready for what I knew I needed to do so I asked him to come by after work.

That evening, on an empty patio, I dragged my ex-partner through the details of an awful time in my life that still replays in my head. Crying and avoiding eye contact, I told him things I’ve never told anyone. I told him how much I hate myself for letting it happen. I told him how much I hate myself for wishing this person wasn’t around anymore to hurt other girls or for me to run into. I told him about the images that flash into my mind and how I can’t stand them anymore.

He held my hand on the walk home and assured me that I’m okay now. He said the right things that I never knew I needed to hear and he took care of me until I fell asleep, exhausted but no longer trembling.

It’s been 10 years since the first time I was raped. Drugs, alcohol, obsessions with work and running and other weird things were tools I used to try to erase my pain. It turns out, the only thing that works to quickly make me feel okay is giving in and telling people that once my life was awful. Once, I was a vulnerable 18 year old girl who shared a room with a man nearly 20 years older than me. More than once, he got drunk and crawled into my bed at night. Way more than once since, I’ve felt him on me, smelled his sweaty skin and had the shivers of intense disgust ripple through body.

What I’ve learned is that the experience has had a huge impact on the level of anxiety I suffer from. Those feelings and the anxiety are my problem, but they’re not my fault. I’m okay and I’m going to be okay, thanks to all the people around me who love me.