Saturday, October 19, 2013

33 (And How I Feel About Life So Far...)

Next week I will turn 33. 

I figured now was as good a time as any to write an overly-personal post that will make me cringe once I click "Publish." This is the kind of writing that I fret over until someone tells me it's good. Good means that you connect with this on some sort of personal level. Only then do I relax and tell myself that sometimes it's OK to spill your guts on the Internet. 

(And, technically, I am a Millennial, so it's warranted. Yes, people born in 1980 are part of the Millennial club, too. And thank goodness because, working in advertising, many of my friends are about seven years younger than me).

Besides trying to connect with you and make you, as my reader, think to yourself "Oh, I totally know that feeling," I am writing this for me. I've started to go back and read my writing from five years ago when I started this blog, and it is helpful to revisit where my head was at during that point in time. It's amazing what we humans forget, but then, it only takes one small thing to jog the memory and take us back to who we once were. 

This post is a little birthday present for me. When I turn 40 I can look back and say, "Oh, come on, Susan. Grow some fricking boundaries!" but for now it's time to lay it out there, trench-coat flasher style.

So, let's get personal...

I've had a lot going on inside my head lately. Three months inside a new life inside a new city has been good for me. It has shaken out the cobwebs and helped me see somewhat clearly again. Either that, or I am completely manic. Hey, let's start with that, shall we?

Mental Illness
I have Bipolar Disorder. There, I said it. Sometimes I skirt around that fact, and other times I quietly slip in a post about my mental illness or I get a little feisty and talk about gun control and all of us who are members of the Crazy Club. But mostly I live day-to-day semi-choked with a consistent, dull worry that HR will read my blog and tell me that I've been a bad girl. 

Having Bipolar Disorder is really not that big of a deal anymore. I take medication and I do not experience any problems. I see a psychiatrist every 6 months just to check in and make sure I am not thinking about trying to levitate off a building or write a book in two days (that was a joke). 

Nine years ago during the Summer of 2004, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type I and I had to spend several months in a psychiatric ward while they tried out different medications to balance the chemicals in my brain. Was it a strange time? Hell, yes. Did I do some hardcore damage to my personal and professional life? You betcha. 

But, now nearly 10 years later, I continue to learn about the brain and I continue to monitor my thoughts and personal growth. I think, for the most part, I am doing pretty well. I still have yet to read The Bipolar Survival Guide, but someday I will and I will be like, "OOOH. I GET IT NOW." 

But if you or someone you love manages a mental illness (Bipolar, Depression, ADHD, Anxiety or Panic Disorder, and more), I highly recommend An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. She is a psychiatrist who also happens to have Bipolar Disorder. 

Reading this book was like listening to the President publicly discuss his efforts to quit smoking (I smoked cigarettes for six years, and started while I was in the hospital for Bipolar. All of us crazies smoked. The nicotine helped us calm down when having our lovely (not) scheduled chats with the doctors. The doctors smoked too. I know because I saw them when I would go out walking during my therapy breaks. Go figure). 

Reading An Unquiet Mind will help make you or your loved one feel more "normal." For me, I read it while I was in the hospital, and it made me feel less guilty or ashamed about managing mental illness and it gave me strength and confidence to work toward mental wellness.

One more thing on this topic. Depression is the worst. Yeah, I'll bold that shit. Depression is just the pits you guys, seriously. By definition, with Bipolar Disorder, one experiences Mania (fucking awesome) and Depression (slowly suffocating into isolation and despair). If you are reading this post and you think you might be dealing with Depression, I recommend you read this post from Hyperbole and a Half. It quite possibly is the most accurate and poignant description of Depression out there. Bravo to the author, Allie Brosh, who just put it out there with some fantastic drawings to make people laugh with delight.

Next up, guilt! Yep, I want to talk about guilt. Right now, as I write this blog post at 2:32 PM on a Saturday afternoon, I feel guilty. One thing I've come to discover is that I ALWAYS FEEL FUCKING GUILTY. For what, you ask? 

I feel guilty for EVERYTHING. 

Right now I feel guilty that I have not yet written a client email that needs to go out today. Did I mention that it's Saturday? DOESN'T MATTER – YOU ARE JUST WRONG, SUSAN. 

What does guilt feel like? Oh, I don't know, my chest is tight and my shoulders are sore. It is a little hard to breathe at times. 

What did I feel guilty about yesterday? Working from home and not really telling anyone I was doing it. I just felt so bad. Even after I worked until 11:30 PM on a Friday night, I still felt like I had done something wrong. 

Do any of you relate with this? Do you feel guilty all the time, too? Some of my close girlfriends who are Mamas out there talk about Mother's Guilt. They are always feeling guilty about this or that with their child. They feel like they don't do this or that right and they are constantly beating themselves up about it.

Why do we do this!? I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with Original Sin or the fact that lots of us are of Scandinavian descent, but, seriously, come on, you guys. I know for myself at least, I need to LIGHTEN UP. If anyone has any good books on Gulit (and, no, I do not mean the Bible), please let me know.

Being on Your Own Team (P.S. WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM)
Part of the problem for me with the guilt issue is that I have this voice inside my head (not a Bipolar thing - this is a human thing - ) that is constantly talking to me and won't fucking shut up. What does this voice say? Hold on - let me let her talk to you:
Susannnnn, people are going to read this post and think you are mannniiiic.Susannnnn, your boss will read this post and wonder why you wrote it before writing the client emaillll. Whoa, whoa, whoa – WATCH THE SWEARING.Susan, haayyy...Susan, HEY. YOU. Start feeling worried! Do it right NOW! Heeeey, Susan, you should be scared about something right now...Hey! Susan! WATCH OUT! DANGER IS LURKING. SOMEWHERE...

So, yeah, that's what she sounds like. She's a total bitch. Her voice takes on different personas – Parent, Ex-Friend, Boss, Police Officer – but in the end, the point is that my inner voice is often times not playing on my team. 

One of the things I like that Corey says to me when we argue is, "Hey, Same Team, OK?" Which is true. It's so funny how we all think we are such individuals. Like with Facebook. Oh my gosh, let's talk about Facebook...

Envy (or Jealousy. Basically same thing, right?)
Which brings us to Envy. Or, Jealousy if you'd rather. Seriously, what is the deal? Why are we all running around so jealous of each other? Why do we compare ourselves to each other as though we are all gunning to win some big contest? I have no idea. I am working on it. 

Back when I had low self esteem (and I am sure I will fall into low self esteem again), I was like a frothing Green Eyed Jealous Envy Monster. If I saw a pretty girl? She was a total bitch. If I saw your engagement announcement on Facebook? You were a total bitch. Even if my own mother lost weight, she was a bitch, too.

I think that envy and jealousy come out of an ancient, evolutionary response which is, quite simply, to survive. Back in the day, we probably looked at other tribes and if they had more buffalo meat, we maybe got jealous and decided to wage war on them. The purely human yet animalistic motivation to survive is what I think drives jealousy and envy in all of us. It's like, How dare look at my boyfriend with a flirty smile while wearing a tight sports bra? FUCK YOU. He's mine and I am his mating parter. That kind of thing.

It is the backbone of Facebook and the lore of high school reunions. Envy and jealousy power us to take pictures and look cool out in the world. But, in the end, I think we can just chalk it up to good ole' Evolution at play.

Fat vs. Thin
You thought I'd never get here, right? Oh, yes. This would not be a spill-your-guts-it's-my-33rd-Birthday-tell-all post if I did not talk about BEING FAT. So, to back up a bit...

I was always a tall kid. When I was in elementary school, they called me André the Giant. If I had a scanner, I would show you the photo of me standing at the bus stop with my Esprit school bag, standing a whole head taller than everyone else, even the sixth graders. In our third grade year book, people thought that the photo of me was actually a picture of the teacher (which, I think actually was more to blame on the fact that my mom curled and teased my hair. Daily. But, that's for another blog post).

I've never been "skinny." I've always been "athletic." But when I was put in the hospital, I got "Fat."

I'll never forget that fuzzy, bloated feeling of being in that experimental drug-induced coma, on five medications at the same time, all of which had as their first or second side effect warning: Extreme weight gain, up to 30 pounds. 30 FUCKING POUNDS!?! Yep, 30 pounds, people. 

In one month – July 2004 – I was one of the lucky ones who gained the full 30 (if not almost 40) pounds. My mom had to come to the psych ward with bigger sweat pants. I went from 150-ish to 190-ish (at times in the low 200s) pounds in one fateful summer.

I've never totally been able to get all that weight off. That is, until (fingers crossed) maybe now. We'll see. My new life in Chicago seems to be conducive to losing weight and I am interested to see what happens. But, at any rate, my point is that I know what it feels like to be fat and I know what it feels like to be thin.

The short version? Being fat SUCKS.

Talk about a confidence drain. Your clothes don't fit, so you decide to go buy new clothes. You find yourself at JCP in the size 16 - 18 section and you suddenly feel like you drive a Station Wagon and live in the third tier suburbs, even though you don't. 

In this society, being overweight is just one big fat buzzkill. I'm telling you. 

The thing is, I feel bad for you skinny people out there who will never know what it feels like to be fat. Because being fat is the great equalizer. You get to feel like a minority and a majority at the same time, which is weird. 

When you are fat, you stop viewing clothes as a fun way to express your personal style and instead as a way to cover your body. You yearn for things like comfortable waistbands and long, flowy shirts. It just sucks. Similar to depression, but different. There is a reason that these two states of being – being overweight and being depressed – go hand-in-hand.

I am not going to give you any advice, because, let's be honest, for that you can just step out the front door. But, what I can say to you (I am talking to the fat people, not you skinnies - you guys go back to your pool party), If you are suffering from feeling overweight, the one thing I seriously want to tell you is this:

Give yourself a big, fat hug. I'm serious. Just raise those gooseflesh arms and give yourself a big ole' bear hug. Because, guess what? Being a human being is fucking hard...It is hard living inside a body...But just try to remember and believe the very true fact that YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY.

Someday you may lose weight, someday you may gain it all back again. But just remember that You Are Not Your Body and you only have to live it in for a relatively short period of time before it will die off and finally let you get on with being a light, floaty spirit, or whatever it is we are.

Nuff said.

Sleep, Rest, Food (and overall Health)
Ok. So, Sleep. Lots of stuff coming out lately about how sleep is actually REALLY IMPORTANT. I just read yesterday that sleep helps wash out the toxic gunk inside our brains and that if we don't sleep enough, we are at higher risk for neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

REALLY!? Cause I have a fucking client email to write! 

No, really. None of us sleep enough. Either we have hectic, high powered jobs or we have babies or we have overactive bladder. But, my point is, we should all be trying our best to get eight hours of sleep a night.

Rest, I believe, is different than sleep. Rest is that time when you just kind of stare off into the distance and let your mind wander. For you parents out there, maybe you will get to do this when the kids go off to college (no, OK, when the kids turn 35), but Rest is important for personal growth. How will we each know where we are going if we don't stop the car at a scenic overlook every once in a while?

Food. Ohhhh, food, food, food. For my friends from the Fat section, you hear me. Food – especially junk food – is just a marvelous thing. But when I think about all the diets that I have been on – Weight Watchers, South Beach, Atkins, Raw, Vegan – the best thing I can say on the eve of 33 is this: Everything in moderation. I know, it's not sexy. It's not a magic pill (and do not start taking those magic pills, I've done that, too). At the end of the day, it's your choice if you want to eat animal products or not, but if you decide not to, try not to get all militaristic on the rest of us carnivores. Over time, I've learned that I am one of those people who feels she has to eat some meat every once in a while. 

If you want to do some sort of detox or juice fast, just make sure you do it with other people at the same time who know what they are doing. No one wants to be eating cayenne pepper by their lonesome. Plus, it can be pretty dangerous.

I suck with money. Well, no, not exactly. I sometimes struggle with money because I look at life as a series of experiences to be had versus a budget sheet to be balanced. Sometimes going after experiences gets me in trouble. 

But, if we can revisit the Guilt section, it is just a generally bad idea to fuck up your money. I've done it and I've seen it happen all around me. And, what happens is, Debt just consumes you. It takes up valuable head space that you need for other more important things, like laughing or, being a happy person, for instance.

I am not preaching to you from the other side of the river. I still have debt. I am managing it and trying my best to be better with money. For those of you who have always been good with money, good for you. But, I will remind you as well, You Can't Take it With You.

Kids (and houses and pets, too)
I would really like to have kids someday. Let me just pause here and say something to all of you parents out there:

BRAVO. Seriously, fucking BRAVO.

Being a parent has got to be one of the hardest adventures one can take in Life. It truly is the end of one life and the beginning of a new one. And it is the most fantastic and also most difficult thing I think any human being can do. 

Selfishly, I want to be a parent because I think it would be the most joyful thing. I am fun and I like to do voices. Kids are pretty much the best playmates there are and I cannot wait to have or adopt or look after my very own. In the meantime, I am trying my best to be a good Auntie to my little nephew. He is perfect.

Houses and pets are also amazing but, like kids, bring a whole lot of responsibility. Maybe the reason we love our kids and houses and dogs (and cats, sort of) so much is that they represent a sacrifice. We sacrifice ourselves to love something outside of our individual selves, and that is truly a beautiful thing.

Right now I am listening to music (Hot Chip, And I Was a Boy From School), and music just pretty much makes everything better. There have been times in my life, normally when I have struggled with Depression, when I've stopped listening to music all together. Losing my dad's music in my life is kind of a nagging wound that won't heal. I don't want to play my guitar without him, and when I hear a beautiful flute solo, I (unfairly) get angry at God. My dad, my Grandpa and my Uncle, (who I never met), were all amazing, gifted musicians. They are the reason I know how to fingerpick and read sheet music. 

You know how when you hear music and you kind of see your life as a music video or a slow-moving, kickass montage? I think that is good for us visualize those scenes. It builds confidence, hope and wonder about life. We each need to be Rock Stars in our own way. We should all listen (or, if we can, play) music more because we will all just feel better.

Laughing (and, let's be honest, orgasms. And hopefully you have had one)
I've laughed a few times while writing this post. I think it is good to laugh at ourselves. The amazing thing about comedians is that they are funny and brutally honest at the same time. Someone recently posted about stand-up comics being modern day philosophers. 

When I recently watched Louis C.K.s explanation of why smart phones are hurting the advancement of the human race I found it to be so funny, true and sad at the same time. 

I don't know why I put orgasms in this section, too, but I seriously think they are what make the world go 'round. And, I mean it, if you (ladies) are still not sure if you have ever had one, I'd refer you to Tim Feriss, who, with his precise explanation of female orgasm, might help, whether you are single, partnered or even retired from sex.

Ah, yes, Death. Let's end this on an upbeat note. 

Maybe it is because of the unusual situation I have with my father, or because somedays I am just kind of already exhausted from Life, but I think I have a pretty healthy view of Death.

Once I wrote about Dying Well and I think that summed it up nicely. Currently I truly do feel that we are all just here on Earth for a period of time and we are each on our own journey, trying to learn something. I believe we all came from somewhere before we were here and we are going somewhere once we leave. 

I think that Death is part of the human experience and we each deserve to experience it (Spoiler Alert: Each of us will definitely get to experience dying!) 

Ok, no big ending. I'm sure I'll write about something else sometime soon.

I have to go write a client email. Thank you for reading.

Almost 33-Year-Old Susan

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