The Scamp Remembers

Today is a hard day for my mom. Today is the day that she lost her mom to a horrific car accident. Today is a day that we usually eat a club sandwich from iHop, drink a diet coke and watch Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I wrote this last year for her birthday, and I don’t think I can write anything better to capture how I feel. So here goes:

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The woman in these photos is Frances Ann. Today is her 80th birthday.

Or, it would be if she believed in wearing her seatbelt. When I was in the third grade she died when she overcorrected her car on the highway. The car flipped and she went through the windshield. Her best friend was in the car with her and survived. Before the funeral, her friend insisted on telling the story of what happened. I remember the crazy curved couch that everyone was sitting on. She was sitting with her husband, my mom, aunt and grandpa sat and listened.

Sometimes I think it would be better for my mom if she hadn’t heard the story.

I can’t remember what her voice sounds like. I can’t remember the way she felt when I hugged her.

I can remember the way she smelled. Sometimes I go to the cosmetic counter at the shopping centre near my house and spray the sample of Red Door into the air just to trigger a memory.

I can remember where we stood when we spread her ashes in Indian Canyon. I’ve only been there one other time since then, and it was to spread my grandpa there after he died.

I can remember the horrible photo she drew of me when I had to go to the emergency room for an ear infection. The picture was me in a hospital gown with my butt exposed and a doctor with a very very large needle ready to give me a shot. In the butt. I have a few scarves that belonged to her with me now.

They smell like my mom.

When my mom smiles, she looks like my grandma….or at least how I remember my grandma in my head.

It is a smile that involves teeth. I know this because it is the same smile that I have (most people tell me they know I am American because of my smile…all those teeth).

This is a hard day for my mom. She can’t call her mom and wish her a happy birthday. She can’t call her when one of her children (cough the oldest one cough) drives her crazy. It is a hard time for me because I have to think about the day when I won’t have my mom.

and that terrifies me.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with my great uncle who was in town on holiday. We haven’t seen each other in 10 years or so, but he knew exactly who I was when I met him for brunch. He gave me the best compliment that anyone could ever give me: he told me I look and act exactly like my mother.

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 Since my mom sometimes looks and acts like my grammy, and I look and act a lot like my mommy, it must mean that I am a little like my grammy too.

I’d like to think that she would enjoy what I am doing with her smile.

The Scamp Suffers a Setback

I would just like to take this time to apologise to the people in Tollcross at 4 pm this afternoon. I know I offended a lot of British sensibilities when I got off the number 10 bus and went straight into the arms of one of my best friends and sobbed like a baby.

For a good five minutes.

I’m sorry for the people on the number 10 bus who saw me using my jacket to mop up the snot.

I’m sorry for the people on the number 16 bus who didn’t get to sit down during rush hour because I was a drunk mess sobbing on my way home.

I am, however, not sorry for my emotions, or the fact that when I am upset I have no control over them.

For the last three years, I have been busting my ass to finish a four-year project. I have dealt with changes in my job role, setback and delays with my writing, and the constant niggling fear that I was not going to be able to complete my work before my funding runs out. 6 months ago I was told that I was on track to submit by July. I’ve been working toward that deadline.

Today I was told that it is almost impossible for me to meet that deadline.

So I did what any mature person does: I cried like a baby.

The last four months have been really tough on me. I’ve been juggling multiple jobs, sending out loads of job applications and suffering from stress-induced writer’s block.  I have not seen my family in over a year because I had to prioritise finishing my thesis, and have not had a break since New Years. I’m burned out. I have zero fucks to give and now it turns out that is going to cost me graduating on time.

This means that in two months I will lose my primary source of income and have to figure out how to pay my course fees and all of my bills. To say I am in a panic is an understatement. To say that my struggle with anxiety and depression is making it worse is like saying the sky is blue…just so painfully obvious it doesn’t need to be said.

Last week the dean of our department basically told the staff to strive to be average. I heard this from people who were actually at the meeting (I wasn’t allowed to attend, because let’s be honest, I have never been a part of the office). At the time I sided with my supervisor who was raging. Why should anyone strive to be average? Who wants to be mediocre?

Right at this moment, I understand being okay with just being average. I would love it if my thesis was just average, just passable. At this point, I just want it to be good enough for me to get my degree, rather than the best work I am capable of producing. I understand that mindset right now.

The positive in all of this is that I am surrounded by people who are very supportive of me. One of my supervisors hugged me and let me cry whilst telling me that I can still prove my main supervisor wrong and that it is okay for me to feel this way. My mom paid off a large part of student loan for me so that I could save the money I was going to use for my bills next year. My wombmate sent me photos of my babies that she knows make me happy so I had something else to focus on.

One of my best friends here pretended that he missed the bus when I text him and hugged me until I stopped crying and then filled me with rum and chips while helping me look at the situation objectively and make a plan of attack that would allow me to move forward. My llama offered to burn down the place and promised to keep me on my writing schedule so that I could kick ass and prove everyone wrong.

Now I am drunk, which never happens, full of pizza and self-loathing, and reminding myself that a setback just means that I am going to feel that much more accomplished when I finish.

Right now though I am going to cry a little more and watch cute baby animal videos on Youtube. Tomorrow when I am hungover and remorseful I will get myself back into my research and try to get myself back on track.

 

 

The Scamp and Mental Health Awareness Week

As social media gears up to celebrate mental health awareness week (14-20th of May) in the UK, I am gearing up for the onslaught of cliche inspirational posts that make me want to bang my head against the wall. This year the focus of the week is on stress and whether or not we are coping well.

I can already tell you that I am not coping well. Anyone who has ever undertaken a PhD will tell you that the end of the write-up is no picnic.

I saw a post the other day that said, “You are not your mental illness”.  Maybe you aren’t your mental illness, but I am very much mine….and I don’t think I am alone in that thought.

I am sad more than I am happy. I struggle with crippling self-doubt. I find it hard to leave my flat for days at a time because I am worried about the what people see when they look at me. I’m anxious about my future and often find sleep elusive. I cry out of frustration when I can’t do things well the first time. I constantly feel like the universe is shitting on my head while a little black rain cloud follows me around. I am extremely hard on myself and the people around me, and they often bare the brunt of my moods and feelings.

But, just as I am my illness, I am part of my treatment. I take my medication every day. I see my therapist every two weeks. I do yoga and practice mindfulness to slow down the negative thoughts and racing heartbeat. I wear bright colours and crazy prints so that people focus on my clothes and not my face. I work hard

I watch a lot of baby animal videos.

I’m one of the lucky ones though. I can afford to get my meds, afford to get help and have a really great support system.

Today is American Mother’s Day, and I called my biggest supporter to wish her a good day. I haven’t seen her in 6 months, and haven’t even really been able to Facetime with her in the last couple of weeks. She still checks in every day, tells me it is going to be okay and reminds me that there is a lot of good that comes from working hard and occasionally asking for help.

She also funds some of my adventures.

So, for mental health awareness week, I am going to embrace my mental health challenges and continue to work towards learning how to keep my depression and anxiety from running my life. It is a process. Last week was a really great week for me. Everything went my way and was smooth sailing. The two weeks before that were stressful and draining. It’s a balance that I am still learning to navigate. I don’t often get it right, but I have a therapist and a clear plan of action to help manage the bad days.

 

If you are struggling in the UK, here is a helpful site to get help:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help

If you are struggling in the US, you can find help here:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/finding-help

The Scamp and the Writing Challnege: Week 51

Week 51. I’m not sure how that happened. It seems like just yesterday I was headed to the Amber Rose to meet four women that found themselves like me, in want of low key options for the new year, and a chance to meet some new girls. I was feeling depressed, had just returned from Budapest, and my therapist suggested that a good cure for my loneliness would be to go out and meet some new people, expand my social circle and realise that I didn’t need to dwell on the failure of a shitty relationship.

Turned out, it was a really great idea. Even though I went back to the shitty relationship in hopes that a clean start and compromise would make it better, I did keep and maintain a friendship with the new year’s ladies. We have the best group chat, travel together, have epic nights out, and they are some of my favourite people.

But, as usual, I digress. The challenge for this week is to discuss something that I know well: a source of anxiety.

It is fair to say that it would probably be easier for me to write about things that don’t give me anxiety (which at this moment are baby animal videos and chocolate). The challenge is to not only discuss the source of anxiety, but also the ways in which I am (or trying to) manage it.

I have a feeling this will be the most words I have put on a page in a really long time. The current source of my anxiety is words.  The words I am not writing for my blog. The words I am not writing for my thesis. The words being said to me by friends, family, and co-workers. The words being said to me by strangers. The words that I am not saying to anyone…even myself. All of those words are floating around in my head and driving me crazy. I constantly have music on, podcast, the TV, all of it just to drown out the words in my head.

Most of those words are telling me that I am not good enough. That I am not working hard enough to complete my PhD on time or find a fulltime time job. That my ideas for feedback and assessment practices don’t have merit, and that I am not a strong enough to make good decisions for myself. The voices are constantly telling me something bad is waiting to happen the moment I get too comfortable.

Some days I think it is probably terrifying for anyone to be around me, and that they would be even more freaked out if they saw what was in my head.

Now the part that is not so easy: how I am working through the anxiety. As I mentioned above, I keep myself surrounded by noise. I’m sure the ringing in my ears and my future self who can’t really hear are not thrilled by this, but it has been working so far so I might hold on to it for a little bit longer. I have also made sure that I have kept up with my therapy. Those sessions have helped me become more self-aware, and even though I sometimes hate that I understand what I am doing and why it has gone a long way to help me curb a lot of the negative thoughts. I do a lot of writing out of scenarios, and a lot of thinking about what those voices are saying, and whether or not they are based in reality, or if they are part of my dark and twisty. More often than not, that helps talk me off the ledge.

In addition to that, I have been trying to really get back to doing yoga regularly and practising mindfulness. The other day I did a yoga class that really helped me with a way I can make a change from the dark and twisty to the more light-hearted and grateful. Justin, one of the founders of Outlaw Yoga in Colorado created a space to practice gratitude by composing a challenging class and reminding us that we need to change our thought process from ‘got to’ to ‘get to’. In relation to the class, I get to try to hold a difficult pose, I don’t have to. I get to smile and be happy about not stopping when the sequence challenged me because I could have just turned it off and sat down on the couch to watch TV. The way I am going to try and apply this to my everyday life is stop saying that I have to work on the lit review, but that I am lucky because I get to work on it and try and make a contribution to the field. I don’t have to be lonely and in the dark and twisty because I get to see a therapist to help me through it, I get to go to events that allow me to meet new people, and eventually, I will get to a place emotionally where I am a little less stressed and anxious.

That’s not to say that I am successful at this just yet, but the great thing is, I get to keep practising and learning until my default habit is to think in terms of gratitude rather than negativity and self-doubt.

The Scamp and the Writing Project: Week 15

The challenge for this week is all about making lists. It is written that I can be as serious or as funny as I want about the subject of said list, but I had to make a list.

I was going to list the reasons why I like naps, but then I spent Tuesday waiting for FedEx and binge watching 13 Reasons Why, and decided that maybe my list should be a little more meaningful.

For those of you who have not seen the Netflix show, mini spoiler alert, it is about a girl who records the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. It is really well done, but very very very hard to watch. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but one of the things that I really related to in Hannah’s struggle was the victim blaming. When all of that crazy stuff happened at CSUF, I was the one who ended up looking like the bad guy. I was the one that felt like I had done something wrong, and was the one forced to apologise to the people who hurt me. I was forced to listen to people label me a problem and accuse me of having no integrity. These people  told me I had created the situation, and I should apologise for the way things turned out. One of my really good friends told me that I had no right to feel attacked or discriminated against because of the colour of my skin, and that considering everything, it was best to just move on from the experience. People who were my friends froze me out, took sides, and eventually rendered me obsolete. Only one of them ever checked on me, and even then, I sometimes wonder if it was just for the gossip. I spent almost a year thinking the whole thing was my fault, and thinking that not only was my entire career over, but that I was going to become a racist because of it. That was the worst part, thinking that I was going to become the hateful monster that they all thought I was.

So in honour of the way that TV show triggered me, I thought I would make a list of 13 reasons why I am learning to be happy and love myself.

I had an amazing therapist who believed me. Not having insurance, I had to turn to other methods to get help. When I had run out of sessions at the uni, I went to the Brea Family Resource Center. For $10 a week, I could see a licenced therapist to help me work through my depression. I was really dark and twisty while I was at CSUF. I used to cry to class and on the way home from class. When it all ended, I spent most of my time in bed, didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t go out, and barely got dressed to go to work. My mother used to pretend she needed me to do things for her so I would have to put clothes on and leave the house. The BFRC saved my life. I’m not sure if they realise it, but that Thursday appointment was sometimes the only reason I made it through the week. Laurie, the therapist I saw, never made me feel crazy about what I described in the programme, never told me I was wrong when I cried about how depressed I was, and reminded me time and again that as long as I worked hard to make sense of, and heal from what happened, I would not bare any permanent scars, or become a racist. She worked really hard to help me separate the people who hurt me from what I knew to be true of most people. She got me through some really really dark days, and she was one of my biggest cheerleaders when I got the position in Edinburgh.

My family. They hugged me every time I came home crying, teased me to lighten the mood, and never questioned my telling of events. They took phone calls, called the evil women bitches, and sat in meetings with me so I didn’t have to face anything alone. They offered support, love, and a chance to feel normal…or as normal as you can when you are majorly depressed and feel like a giant failure.

Sour gummy worms. This needs no explanation. They make everything better.

My cat. He gave unconditional love. He didn’t care what I did or didn’t do as long as he got plenty of snuggles and got to sleep on my bed every night.

The beach. I used to go sit at the beach a lot to watch the waves and calm down. There is nothing better than sitting with your toes in the sand and a sea breeze tickling your face.

My friends. I have some really good friends from California that stuck by me, and friends that I made while living in Scotland who used to send care packages and have Skype dates with me to remind me that I’m not alone. I still have group chats, constant texts and the occasional care package to remind me that they love me. I can’t wait for more of them to be able to have the chance to come visit.

My passport. While I was trying to heal, I used my passport to see the world and  feed my wanderlulst.

Edinburgh. This city saved my life. I fell in love with it the first time I moved here, and being given the chance to move back at just the right time has made all the difference. I know that everyday isn’t perfect here, but I feel at home here, so dealing with the bad days is easier.

My Edinburgh friends. The people I already knew when I moved, and the people I made friends with since the PhD started have made a huge difference in my life. I have made more friends in the last couple of months than I had in years. It is nice to have people to share a meal with, to play music with, have a drink and a laugh with, and to talk to when I am feeling insecure, sad, or angry. I love them a lot, and while I don’t always talk to them about the dark and twisty, they seem to like me and are willing to support me just the way I am…..even when I am being unreasonable.

My current therapist. She is expensive, but worth it. She has really helped me build my self-confidence and find ways to not only manage my anxiety and work through my depression, but she is helping me break my habit of the dark and twisty and slowly getting me to become more of a glass half full kinda girl

Yoga. Enough said.

My blog. I can get the crazy thoughts out of my head and onto the page. It is nice to get the words out of my brain, but it is also nice to feel like I am sharing a bit of me with the world. I don’t normally do that face-to-face with people, but it is pretty easy for me to do from behind my computer screen. I have met some lovely people through my blog, and it is nice to know that there are people out there that share my love for writing and travel, who struggle with depression and anxiety, and are generally interested in what I have to say.

Last, but not least, the knowledge that no matter what happens, I will be okay. I’ve managed to make it this far, so I think my chances of being successful are pretty damn good.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 48

The Edinburgh Christmas Market is in full effect and I survived November. Barely. It seems I have caught a bit of a cold and now I am feeling pretty crappy. In two and a half weeks I will be headed to Budapest for Christmas, and then back to Scotland for the start of 2017. I’m holding on to that timeline.

I am looking forward to the end of 2016. I’m looking forward to a fresh start.

I feel like I say that a lot. I’m forever saying that.

The challenge for this week is to write about my favourite ways to relax. I’m not sure that I relax so much as shutdown and hide from the world. When I lived in California my favourite way to relax was to lay by the pool and get a tan. The beach worked just as well for me. I like to spend as much time as I can near water, and even trek to the beach here just to stare at the water. If I can’t stay here once I am done studying, the next place I live will have an ocean nearby. There is a beach town in Spain that could work quite well for me.

Beyond the water, I am very happy to curl up in bed with a book. I don’t have to think when I am reading. Not thinking is a good thing for me.

I like laughing. Being able to laugh with my friends and family always makes me feel less anxious and depressed. Most of the time they aren’t laughing at my jokes, but I like social contact and feeling loved.

I think the biggest way I relax is through traveling though. I could be on my feet out all day, go to bed late and get up early, but I am happy to do it if it means soaking up a new place and seeing a bit of the world. I know that my wanderlust is not the healthiest of hobbies, but whenever I come home from a trip I feel on top of the world. I get my work done, I don’t feel the dark and twisty, and I actually manage to sleep through most of the night. I love it.

For the day to day unwinding, I have been doing a lot of walking, yoga and mindfulness exercises. I’m a big fan of yoga, and although it was my therapist that mandated the mindfulness, it does seem to be working on some level. Here is a link to one that I really like:

https://rodalebooks.s3.amazonaws.com/mindfulness/index.html

I think that it is time for some peppermint tea, my lamb hot water bottle, and my collection of J.D. Robb detective novels…..or, the perfect Saturday night.

The Scamp Gets Overwhelmed

I’ve become THAT girl.

I’ve become that creepy girl that sits at the back of the room rocking and chewing on her hair.

Yesterday I imploded in the middle of class. One minute I was in class listening to book report presentations, and the next minute I was sobbing uncontrollably and hastily running out of my class before too many people noticed what was going on.

I cried for the next 40 minutes. I cried so hard I gave myself the hiccups. I cried on the phone with the boy, and while he was nice about it, it was not exactly what he should have been doing at 7 pm on a Tuesday. I was a mess. This has been building for months, and it sure chose the worst time to come through. I’m not exactly good with my feelings and emotions. I like to keep things bottled up and pretend that things don’t bother me when they do. For the last few months I have been trying to juggle three jobs, school, homework, a social life and the boy, and my juggling skills have finally run out.

There is a reason that the program told us at the beginning to not be in relationships, to take a sabbatical from work, and to kiss our social lives goodbye. This program sucks the life out of you. It will consume you. The reading, the studying, the writing, the prepping for the qualifying exam, and then for my dissertation….it never ends. I expected it. I knew that I would be busy, I knew that it would be hard, but to be in the middle of it now while trying to juggle other things. While the program was slowly sucking the life out of me, I let myself fall into old habits. The sucky thing is, when I get into these bouts of depression, I tend to ruin relationships. I can already feel myself doing that. Without insurance though, I cannot afford to see a doc, and some of the affordable options have not been a good fit (I guess that is a good enough reason to sign up for insurance).

The problem is, I’m selfish. I may want to quit the program at this very moment, but I am not going to. I may want to quit one or two of my jobs, but I am not going to. The library pays my bills for the moment, I love working with the junior high kids, and the professor I work for is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She is also giving me the opportunity to publish, learn, and immerse myself in research. I should not go to SD and see the boy, or hang out with people for happy hour, but I am not going to give those up. I love my friends and family, and I love the boy the best way I know how, and I don’t want to let any of that go.

The problem is, instead of doing everything that I learned to do while I was in therapy in Scotland, I reverted. I don’t know how to keep that from happening. I don’t know how to reconcile what I know I need to do with what I am doing.

Luckily I have some amazing friends and family to help see me through. My BFF has been giving me just the kick in the pants I need (and enough daily reminders that I am not in fact a broken toy) to keep me from crawling too deep into the hole. I’m also getting to the gym and getting some weekly yoga classes that are helping me work off some of the tension, and I am really hoping that I can make a lasting change, rather than just a change I thought was lasting.

I hate admitting that I failed….well not failed, but suffered  a setback. I like to think of myself as strong and perfect, completely capable of taking care of myself, but I am slowly learning in my old age that that might not be the case.

….and that is completely okay.