Deadpan

I found a new word today. Deadpan. It’s an adjective that describes having a very careful pretense of calm detachment or seriousness, or displaying no emotion whatsoever. I am often deadpan when confronted with stressful situations or moments where I should be upset, because something in me tells me nothing good will come from being angry or crying, and it’s better to just accept things or do something about it.

 

I know I’m just procrastinating, but I felt like this is probably one of the defining words of my life, and it was important to acknowledge it. Better here than facebook.

Advertisements

An unemployed poet in a house of dreams

My brother recently bought a motion-sensing air freshener, which he has installed in our toilet. I keep forgetting it’s there, so when I walk in and I hear the brief hiss and puff of fragrance being shot into the air, my first thoughts are something along these lines.
“Noise. What was that? React, turn to face, raise hand and prepare to attack or defend. Wasn’t the toilet. Possible intruder through the window? Ah, no, relax. Lower hand passively to avoid startling anyone who might be watching. Just the air freshener. Again.”

In other news, I no longer work for PICYS. There are a multitude of reasons why I left, centering mainly around my anxiety, my lack of professional confidence and a loosely structured and bound organisational policy. I learned a fair bit too- not as much as I could have, but I’ve certainly grown from my experiences. I’m currently rostered to volunteer/do relief work, which I haven’t been called for yet, but PICYS still holds a huge amount of anxiety for me. I associate it with a place of stress and disaster, which isn’t healthy and will probably need working on. But for the moment I just want to get lots of distance from any work that involves dealing with people’s deep-seated problems. I want to focus on study mainly, even though it’s just a distraction. I want to get a job that is simple, honest and helpful in small ways. I don’t know whether it’s fair of me to say, but I think I may be experiencing some degree of burnout. I just don’t care about people- thinking about trying to work with them to solve their problems just makes me want to crawl into my room and lock the door for a few months. And even though it’s tremendously selfish, I really think that taking some space to get myself healthy is more important than trying to help people even though it’s killing me. As my (former) boss said, a carpenter uses tools like chisels and saws to do his work. In social work, we are the tools, and we need to take care of ourselves if our work is going to be of any high quality. We only make messes by forcing blunt tools to make delicate furniture.

This leads me to my next point. I never had a gap year, and I think my life has been worse for it. I never thought I’d want to take a year off to learn more about the world- study is all I’d known, and I figured if I could optimise my learning and get my degree quickly I could earn money sooner and start my adult life easier. Study I don’t mind a great deal, but there is so much more to life than assignments and social work. I just want to say “Fuck you” to everyone who wants something from me which I don’t want to give. I just want to experience pleasure, to enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing. My parents are asian- they place huge importance on productivity, status and money, especially in their children. I’m certain they’ll think I’m wasting my life if I’m not doing important work or important study to lead me to important places, but I just don’t care. Some people spend years of their life in drunken stupors or inebriated on every manner of drugs. I think wanting to spend a couple of months just playing video games and going for walks and being unproductive is a cheaper and slightly healthier form of reprieve. I feel like I need it. But I’m scared to take it because of the judgement. It’s socially acceptable to take months off to travel, but there’s nowhere I want to go. I just want to be me, in my space, without being intruded on.

Maybe in time I’ll just do it, leaving everything behind to go be myself. But for now, I continue to study and work sustainably as my mental health recovers bit by bit. Maybe I’m just being melodramatic and I’m having an emotional, grumpy night, and I’ll feel great tomorrow. Who knows.

In other news, the Hero Base is… I guess it’s had some setbacks. We have some difficulty getting the loan because the housemates decided by majority that they wanted to do this entirely on their own shoulders, without the help of our families. For this reason, we didn’t have enough collateral to secure a loan- if you’re going to borrow $500k, you need $500k worth of stuff to put on the line in exchange. Although I would have preferred to let others take the risk on our behalf, I respect the independence that we are achieving- we are in no one’s debt. This house will be ours, however difficult it may be.

Now the Hero Base has been converted into half business, half residence. Three stories for private living, two stories for income. One of these business stories is a workshop space being rented out to a company that makes props and technological wonders- they’ve built things like a working Tron motorcycle and a Dalek from Dr Who which they’ve sold for significant profit. They’ve also agreed to buy the land next door to build a multi-story carpark which they can use to access their floor, as opposed to walking through the front door of our home. They seem talented, and I’m looking forward to meeting them. The other business floor will be a convention space- there will be rooms for performing, for watching and gaming, for tabletop games and other such events. Adam hopes to loan this space out for conventions, and eventually to hold one himself.
We’re able to get the loan because it’s a business. With the help of a great many Government grants, we’ll have about $210k to help us on the way. The bank has agreed to give us a loan after that, and building can begin soon after. If all goes well, the house will be built by the end of the year. It seems absurd, but the team needs about 6-8 weeks from start to finish. I can’t wait to see if it’s true. Meanwhile, it all seems to hinge on whether we get the grants that we’re applying for over the next two weeks or so. Intense, right?

Well, I’ve got to get back to writing this assignment. It’s surprisingly enjoyable, though taking longer than I would like. I’m writing about the potential for poetry and story writing in a therapeutic setting, and as a result I’m writing a few bits of poetry and stories. It also got me reading some of my old poetry, and I’m surprised at the quality of my high school work which I had forgotten. Well, I think it’s good, anyway. I’ll post some up eventually, but I should probably get back to work if I am to submit this assignment tomorrow, nearly two weeks later than it was supposed to be due. Yosh, here we go!

A conversation with Anxiety

I’ve taken a lot of time off the past week because of a viral infection that’s been wracking my system. Normally I fill up every gap in my day with things to do, but now that I didn’t have the health or energy to go out or do important things, I more or less spent the week with myself. This went really well for the first five days where I spent all my time sitting on couches watching movies or playing games. It was tremendously rewarding to finally make the time to accomplish a whole bunch of little things that I’d been meaning to do for ages, to take a significant chunk out of my “List of Games I Own But Have Not Yet Passed” and to just rest. But on the sixth day, I was sick enough to stay at home from work, but well enough to think clearly and feel restless. Games just weren’t satisfying me- I was getting really anxious and stressed to the point where it spiraled into consternation or panic. I couldn’t even read a book because it was such a stressful task.

Long story short, I spent a whole day getting to know my anxiety and how it affected me. It was really, really challenging, but at the end of the day, I managed to regain some self-determination, and I sat in a position of competence. I looked back on the day and saw logically all the things that should have made me feel better, and the reasons why they didn’t. I realised that sometimes avoiding feelings of anxiety just make them worse rather than better, and that it’s all about choosing to do things that are good for me rather than having to play games because I’m too anxious to do anything else. I am still the most powerful agent in my life, and my thoughts and feelings only have as much power over me as I give them.

Saying all that now is well and good, but when you’re freaking out none of it really makes sense. When I woke up this morning my anxiety was much smaller and I was feeling better about myself, but it was still there and I wanted to understand why. I got thinking about narrative therapy and I decided to try some. And I just wanted to record the sort of conversation I ended up having with myself as I drove to work, to remind me of how powerful I am, and in case it helps any of my friends who are experiencing something similar.

Dr John (apparently, my counselling persona is a Dr): So John, I understand you’ve come to see me about Anxiety. Is that right?
Me: Yeah.
DJ: I want you to know that you are not anxious. Anxiety is something that impacts your life. It is external to you.
Me: Yeah… Yeah, you’re right.
DJ: If Anxiety were a person, what do you think he would look like?
Me: He’s got a bowler hat. He wears a suit, and he has long, spindly fingers. He creeps around. He stalks, and he’s pervasive. And he walks with a hunch.
DJ: Right. I can see how he creeps around your life, tricking you into doing things and feeling stressed. I want you to imagine something for me. I want you to picture Anxiety, exactly as he looks in your mind, doing the chicken dance. See him cluck and bawk and flap his arms like wings.
Me: *laughs* Okay, yeah that’s pretty funny.
DJ: Now I want you to picture him in a nappy. It can be over his clothes, or the only thing he’s wearing.
Me: I’m finding that a little hard. I’m not very good at being mean, and I don’t want him to get angry at me.
DJ: He’s not going to get angry. He might get upset, and he might leave you alone for a while, but he won’t come back with a vengeance. Do you know why? Because he a subset of your mind. You are omnipotent in your own mind- everything you think of you can control. And you can make Anxiety do the chicken dance or wear a nappy any time he shows up and you feel like it, so you don’t need to worry about him being angry, because he’ll just get upset and leave whenever he’s had enough.
Me: Okay, you know, that makes sense.
DJ: Think back on your life. Are there any times when Anxiety wasn’t with you?
Me: It’s really hard for me to imagine my life without Anxiety. I can remember that I was playing with my toys as a kid and Anxiety wasn’t there, but if I were to sit down and play with my toys now Anxiety would be all over them.
DJ: Okay. What about this? Think of the last time Anxiety really got hold of you, and he really stressed you out and made your life hell. What sort of things did you do to protect yourself and make it easier for you?
Me: Well… I read books or watched a movie. Something to completely take me out of the world with Anxiety in it. I played games, or found places of deep calm within myself.
DJ: That’s great! Even in your most distressed times when Anxiety felt strongest, you were able to take care of yourself.
Me: Yeah, but not always. Sometimes I would try to get into another world, but I would always know Anxiety was watching me. It was like trying to watch a movie, and glancing over my shoulder every now and then to see him just standing there, waiting.
DJ: Right. What about days when you haven’t felt Anxiety’s presence at all?
Me: There are actually quite a few of those.
DJ: What makes those days different from days when Anxiety is with you?
Me: I guess I just don’t notice him. I mean, I’m busy with my own stuff. I’ve got things to do, study and work and stuff and I don’t really think about Anxiety.
DJ: Right! Where do you think Anxiety is on those days if he’s not hanging around you?
Me: I dunno… I guess he must get bored and goes to find someone else to bother. It’s like I just don’t see him at all, and that’s different from ignoring him. If I were to ignore him I’d say “I know you’re there, but I’m not going to pay you any attention”. If I didn’t see him, then I wouldn’t even turn to talk to him. It’d be like he’s a little kid inside a house wanting to find someone to play with, but I’m outside playing my own games and I don’t even notice he’s inside the house.
DJ: That’s really great. *pause*… Is Anxiety here now?
Me: *looks around* Yeah. Yeah, he is. His hand is on my shoulder, just in the background letting me know he’s there.
DJ: Is there anything you want to say to him?
Me: *quietly* Anxiety, I’m not going to let you push me around anymore.
DJ: *pause*
Me: *louder and more confidently* Anxiety, I’m not going to let you push me around anymore! I am the master of my own life and my own feelings, and you are not welcome in my heart if you’re just going to hurt me. I only harbour love and good things in my heart, and if you want to be part of that, you’re going to need to learn to be loving and good too. I don’t want to just push you away because I think we could be friends, but I’m not going to let you control and manipulate how I feel any more. I’m not going to let you keep hurting me and stressing me out and taking over my life. I have my own life to live. I’ve got things to do, and until you’re willing to play nice, I’m not going to pay you any attention.
*gentler* But that’s not to say we’re never going to get along. I just can’t keep letting you hurt me anymore.
DJ:  What’s Anxiety doing now?
Me: He’s left. I don’t know if he’s going to think about what I said, or if he’s never going to change and just keep on trying to bug people, but that’s up to him.
DJ: That’s really good.
Me: Thank you Dr John. I really appreciate this conversation.
DJ: Any time John. I’ll always be here if you’d like to talk again. Please remember that.
Me: Thanks.

And that’s how I got to work. It was kinda awkward after that because even though Dr John dissolved, Anxiety didn’t, and he looked at me as if to say ‘How are we going to get on now?’ I gave him a determined stare and said, “I’m not going to pay you any attention. I’m going to live my own life now.” And then I turned on the radio and just sat there. I was ignoring him which wasn’t entirely effective, but once I got to work and got busy talking to people and doing things, I forgot all about him. I guess the trick is to keep the mind occupied, but not in a panicked, “He’s watching over my shoulder kinda way”. In a genuine “I’ve got better things to do than let you make me feel anxious” way. It’s still something I’m working on, but I hope over time it makes it easier. And I know I’m going to have bad days. But I’m not going to lay down and take them- he’s going to have to fight for them if he wants me to spend a whole day stressed out and doing nothing. Because I’m in control of my life, and my feelings only have as much power as I give them. And that’s how I’m going to roll right now.

 Thanks for reading. I hope maybe you got something out of it too, and that you have the best day ever.