Vocabulary Vixen

July 30, 2009

In Pursuit of the all-elusive Happiness…

I’m still here, I am still writing, and I am still living, breathing, and being human. My god! What?! Moi!? HUMAN?!

Last week was kind of tough, but I made it through that one. I think that I used to think that once I’d make it through a breakdown, I’d be stronger and that I’d never have a breakdown again. I’d never cut myself again. I’d always make a vow that I would do it better next time, and that I wouldn’t crumble under the load again. This is in my nature. The whole denial of reality thing is in my nature as well. Plausible denial. But, as life goes, something would happen, and I would crumble again under the pressure, and keep going up and down, down and up, around and abound, until I found myself completely and utterly lost over a year ago.

I had no goals, aside from finding a full-time permanent job. So, I made “mini” goals, like becoming a trainer for my home-party business company. Once I did that, I thought, I would be all set! I’d have tons of parties, make tons of money, and then everything would be alright. That worked very well. . . For about two months. I also had set another goal of moving up at the coffee shop to become a shift supervisor. It sounded neat, and it would be something to do. So I chased after these things in earnest, as I’d chased after many things in my life. My life has always been about “Reaching that Next Goal And then I Will Be Happy.” I will be a part of “The Big Life”, as Rachel Simon put it. That all-elusive big and happy life with a house, a yard, a white picket fence, 2.3 kids, and just plain being happy. But, to do so, I’d need money. And to make money, I worked as a home-party small business owner. I also worked at the coffee shop. And I also simultaneously worked as a freelance designer. All in the name of scoring up with “The Big Life” of not having to live paycheck-to-paycheck and worrying if this gas tank was going to deplete me at the end of this two weeks and dreaming of a bigger, better life.

Hello, Reality.

I was burning the candle at both ends. And in doing so, I could distract myself from a lot of these issues until they would all blow up in my face with the force of ten A-Bombs on a moderately regular basis. Then the issues would all come out to play, I’d go into an anxious furry, crying, hysterical, and just plain crazy. Yep, I said it. Crazy. Then I’d spend several days recovering, and then hit the ground running again, because at this point, I was behind in my work. I’ve always felt that feeling of being two steps behind everything and everybody. It’s something that has taken a long time for me to shake. Even though I know rationally that competing with the world is pointless, there was a part of me that still thought I had to match up to everybody and everything around me, and that I wasn’t cutting it. Because I wasn’t cutting it, that automatically turned me into an idiot, and there was no way possible I could even match up to Idiot Numero Uno in the world (some mythical definition of “Idiot”), and that I was just destined to be a quasi-functional member of society whose place was behind a grill, flipping burgers. Or, in my case, putting burgers on an automatic grill at BK.

After weaving in and out of the local restaurant/retail job market, I finally found one that was worth sticking to. That was the coffee shop. There was something about it that was fun, and I stuck to it for almost an entire year. My four years at Burger King were on and off, in that high school / early-college phase. But, the coffee shop was something a little different, and quite enjoyable. I enjoyed the people, and I enjoyed my coworkers. And my boss was pretty kick-ass. So I stuck around. Then I graduated college, and had to plan a wedding. And I needed more money, so I took a temp job working in a windowless, concrete void of a file room at a hospital.

The hospital job was so exciting that once I learned what I was supposed to do, I couldn’t stay awake. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t stay awake, I just knew that I couldn’t. I’d get the job done, and done well, but I didn’t really want to put film away (long story), so my eyes would droop, my head would bob, and the next thing I know, I’ve been on the desk for two hours, and I’m all refreshed and feeling GREAT! That worked great. Especially when The Boss Lady had heard about my sleep-capades and caught me in the act. I was asked to leave that day, and with my wedding coming up the next week, I didn’t really mind. This was a job that wasn’t working for me. So I had my wedding, a wonderful wedding, despite THE MOUNTAIN OF STRESS they put on people, and then asked for my job at the coffee shop back.

My boss was more than happy to oblige, only this time, I’d be in the mornings instead of nights. This was something that was mutually beneficial for both parties, as a lot of morning people were leaving. I could work, get done with my day by noon, and then have the rest of my day to work on web design and/or mess around. I found that this didn’t work so well with my home party business, as most of those were held in the evenings, and I’d usually get lucky and be scheduled at an ungodly hour in the morning the next morning for it. This worked for a little while, but I had to call it quits.

I decided something this past spring. I decided that the most important thing was for me to focus on my mental health. And the home party business was trapping me in mounds of paperwork that I hadn’t minded doing for three years, but I was just DONE with it, and I couldn’t get myself to do even a small amount of paperwork for it. I realized that I hate paperwork, and that’s okay. I liked the parties, and I liked earning the money, but all of the work outside of the parties that was involved in, I just wasn’t interested in anymore. That was taking a toll on my mental health, so I decided that I would take a break, and if at the end of that break I felt that it wasn’t worth beating my head on a wall with, I would quit.

I did quit, and I amped-up the focus on the graphic design thing, as this was my graduated field. Graphic design is tough. Everybody’s a critic, and it seems like no matter how much I learn, I’m always missing out on something and building a website can take FOR-EVER. I enjoy the work, to a point. I enjoy being creative and putting my intellectual talents to the test. However, I realized too, that I would need a break from this. It took me WAY TOO LONG to build a particular website, due to uncontrollable forces on both ends. While I was building said particular website, I broke down several times under the pressure, and although I kept going back to it, I never felt that it was good enough to move on. There was always something else. I suppose that this is the nature of the freelance biz, and one day, I’ll have the strength to put my foot down and say “NO, DAMMIT! THIS is what we agreed to!”

So, I’ve taken a rest from that, too. All of my intellectual and emotional energy right now is going toward fixing myself. Fixing my brain, so that it can cope with life in general, I can work a moderate load consistently, instead of ALL or NOTHING. I know that part of these behaviors are learned, part of them are just plain genetically ingrained, and it’s going to take a lot of work to bring myself to a happy, functional state.

I learned in that home party business that making it to “The Next Step” is something to shoot for, but once I get there, there’s not much for me. I’ll figure it out, but my happiness is not reliant on being on that next rung of life. I’m not making a whole lot of money at the coffee shop right now, but for now, it’s enough. It’s enough to basically cover the bills, and cover a little bit of the food. Of course, living in excess of paycheck-to-paycheck will be nice, but that, too, is not the sole indicator of what will make me happy. Learning “The Next Thing” in web design under the gun is kind of fun, until I realize that once I learn that one thing, I’ve got to learn another immediately. It’s kind of grueling.

This is all stuff I figured out after about a year in therapy. Once, of course, I realized that I’m not actually stupid or lazy. For a long time, I just got to the point that I assumed that I was. I’d failed college a few times. Sure, I got my degree, but it was like the next GED. Useless. I ran my own business for three years very successfully, but then I didn’t ever make it to the jackpot at the end of the rainbow. It carried me through financially, but there was a lot of work to it, and I was always drained from having to build my inventory, pay for gas, and pay the bills. After awhile of working like a maniac, and getting fired several times for either tardiness, or just plain leaving because I couldn’t stomach another day, I just assumed it was a character flaw, and that I was destined to live at the bottom of the ladder. That’s where I was evidently the most comfortable, moving from job to job, from activity to activity, never actually following through with much.

I recognized the pattern very early on in life. Especially when I took up track. Every time I would go to run a mile, or two miles, I’d have a very enthusiastic start to it with the best of intentions to run a 7 minute mile (ok, so I’m slow. I just run because I enjoy it, NOT for speed. obviously), after 200 meters or so, I’d get a little winded, and my enthusiastic start would have to slow down to a pace that I could manage. Obviously, a lot slower than originally intended. I wouldn’t ever stop running, but I would go a lot slower and sort of hang out until I was on the last lap, or last few laps. Then, I would pick up the pace until the last 100-200 meters, where I’d *really* pick up the pace and sprint toward the finish.

This is a pattern that I have recognized for a long time, and although my fitness level and/or relative athletic state (I was never a born athlete) was to blame for the running, I didn’t really have anyone or anything to put my finger on as to WHY I was like this. I’d always have a great start, falter in the middle somewhere, and then race pell-mell toward the finish. This was especially prevalent in school. After awhile, I just assumed that I wasn’t cut out for it, and I was just kind of stupid to begin with. I was able, but not that bright. This pattern dates back to elementary school, when I started having projects and such. I would start enthusiastically, and then fall apart in the middle until the deadline, where a panicked frenzy would put out a half-assed product that didn’t get me the grade that I initially wanted, but I’d have to accept, because I eventually learned that I wasn’t nearly as bright as I’d first found myself to be. And that everybody catches up, and I get left behind in the mix. Because I can’t finish it completely.

This line of thinking plagued me through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. And after awhile, I truly believed that I was stupid. I was stupid for taking on too much at once, and I was stupid for not finishing it, like my peers. I was stupid because I couldn’t function as a waitress, and I was stupid because I kept having accidents as a bus driver. That became my catch-all: I’m stupid. That led to being ugly as well, inside and out. Stupid, ugly, lazy, and worthless. Smart people could drive a bus. Smarter people could do a job like waiting tables. Smart people could do a job like working at Burger King and not get written up for slicing their finger open and getting stitches. Smart people could keep their stuff cleaned up in their apartment.

I spent several years in pursuit of “the next step”, and failing, because I was stupid. That, to me, is a recipe for disaster. At least, from this vantage point. I would have flurries of great ideas and intelligence, but I’d lose steam, and once I’d lost steam, I’d be done. At least, for my own projects. I dreamed one day of writing a book, but lost that dream after awhile because every time I started, I’d get a page or two in, and then I’d lose it.

College really forced me to learn how to do things a little at a time. Even though I still followed the same general pattern of Great Start, Lousy Finish, the extremes in activity lessened. My personal cosine wave was a little closer to the middle, instead of starting at the top of a tower, and then falling to the bottom of a pit, and then working like hell to catch up. I still did this, but I did it to a lesser degree. I learned to work steadily on a project, even if my brain wouldn’t cooperate. Especially near the end, I worked much more steadily than I had previous years. I had one goal in mind: FINISH COLLEGE BEFORE MY YOUNGER BROTHER. That was the driving force behind me finishing college. I knew that there would be hell to pay if my younger brother beat me to it, and that I would never, EVER hear the end of it. Not from him, not from ANY of my relatives. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, I would forever be The Older Sibling That Didn’t Finish First. I would be cast out, another check-mark on the list of why I am a black sheep.

So, college was my priority. I worked like hell to finish it, and I did. I did under great pressure for a long time. I did it with not only finishing before my brother, but I did it with the fact in mind that once I finished college, I would be able to find a “Real” job, and start earning “Real” money, and I would never have to live at 2/3 of the poverty line again. Because I was educated, and I could put my degree to use! I was maybe not so bright, but I at least had that Piece of Paper Proclaiming My Completion of X Number of Credit Hours. I also had to work a job or three while in college, so my grades weren’t the best, contributing to my “I must be stupid” line of thought, but that line of thinking didn’t really come into play until after I graduated, and after I got married last year.

Hello again, Reality.

Just because I got the degree did not automatically equate to The Big Life. In fact, quite the contrary. Now, there’s a lot less to do. Without something very concrete to shoot for, I’ve been lost. I’ve spend the past year and half gathering myself up, making some mistakes, and regrouping.

I’ve hit some dark and choppy waters in that year and a half. Just as dark, if not darker, than some of the clouds that I hit while in college, dealing with not only college, but a job, and a hell of a lot of mental illness. I’ve had to sit back, and really learn about myself. I’ve worked very, very hard on myself to get myself to where I am today. I’ve learned a lot, but there is more to learn. With less outside forces to focus on, I’ve really had to dig deep and figure out why I am the way I am. I’d really rather be insanely busy with 1400 different projects and jobs than deal with what I’ve dealt with. That’s what that was all about. It was a game of avoidance. A tricky cat and mouse game that my brain was playing on me, so I wouldn’t have to deal with all of the really painful stuff. The stuff that I would catch glimpses of as I was flying off the handle, screaming at my husband at the top of my lungs. The stuff that would suck me in if I was a teeny bit less vigilant and I would then be in a nice, padded room wearing a jacket.

But, I’ve never been known to take the easy route. What I’ve realized in my plight is something that I never took very seriously. It’s a full-time job in and of itself dealing with illness sometimes. Especially this tricky mental illness. Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot. Number one, first and foremost, I’m not NEARLY as stupid as I thought I was. I am one really smart, resilient individual. It took a long time to discover that. Number two, a lot of my patterns are attributable to ADD. I’m definitely not using it as a catch-all for what’s wrong with me, but I’ve done a lot of introspection and self-examination and a lot of what I’ve experienced is a lack of focus. When I read Sari Solden’s book

    Women with Attention Deficit Disorder

, I found a lot of myself in there. And while reading it, I thought “My god, there IS a VALID, bona fide REASON behind why I do the things that I do! I just never knew it!” If you’re a woman and you suspect you have ADD, go read that book. If you’re anybody and you can read what I’m writing right now, GO AND READ THAT BOOK. It changed my life.

It’s been an incredibly tough journey, to even get this far. But, I’m inching forward. Now that I’ve got a name for what I do, it’s helpful. Even though getting the ADD diagnosis wasn’t the end of it, it’s made my life a lot easier to deal with in some respects. When I got promoted to shift supervisor, I still had a rosy view of what it would be like, and I was moderately disappointed when I had the nervous breakdown last week, because I felt that it was a key to my sanity. In a way, it is, because it gives me more intellectual challenge to play with, but I was still disappointed that I’d fallen apart, if only for a little while. The fall-aparts will happen. They’re bound to. It’s how I deal with them is what will make the difference. I’m building a mental toolbox of many things, so that I can be happy and healthy in life. It’s taking awhile. It’s taking a whole lot of work. It’s more work than I ever could have imagined, but I’m here to stick to it. My fundamental goal in life right now is stability. Stability and health for myself, and stability and health for my family. I’m getting there, a little at a time. I am in search of that all-elusive thing called “Happiness”, but I see it. It’s there. It will be within my reach someday.

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