Happy Anniversary (We’ll Make It Happy)

Remember, remember.

It’s weird, but it’s much easier to remember the negative anniversaries over the positive ones — which is an irony in itself, since the go-to phrase is “happy anniversary”. Not everyone is so lucky. Some people are routinely surrounded by unhappy anniversaries.

It’s not an active choice. Even if there are good anniversaries in your life, it’s the bad ones that take hold. For some anniversaries, every year I find myself with overwhelming anxiety in the weeks preceding, and every year, like an idiot, I wonder why. And then the day comes, and it all starts to make perfect sense… Sure, I could stop being overdramatic about these anniversaries and choose to let them fall from my memory (I know I’m being dramatic because my anxiety tells me that’s what people think of me!).

But you know, there are some moments that you need to accept that this is something you have been impacted by, and whether you like it or not, it has affected your decisions.

My reaction is still valid. That’s what my therapist said.

She also told me that if I’m going to hold a negative anniversary in my mind so firmly, then I’ve got to start coupling it with positive decisions, with affirmations of how far I’ve come, or reminders of other things that I can focus on in my life that deserve credit. I don’t want to cave in on myself every time a specific date pops up. So what can I do to give myself structure?

Yesterday was one of those dates, and I decided that enough was enough. Well… I guess there have been lots of moments when I’ve thought enough is enough, but this time I’m ready to be proactive about it.

So this anniversary, I choose to find something to be happy about. And while my brain likes to look around and say, “I can’t see anything to be happy about,” my heart knows now to plant things so that it can tell my brain to shut up. If you have something negative inside of you that nags, that weighs you down, then you need to start carrying balloons with you. Pick-me-ups. Sometimes those balloons are things you already have, but sometimes you’ve got to create them, to counteract.

Like game nights, and spending time with friends. Whatever you find enjoyable, and can make happen, make it happen. I’m learning to value those who reach out to me, and let go of anxieties I can’t control, so a lot of my balloons end up being social activities, but there are plenty of other things that can work. It’s a long, ridiculous process, but it’s necessary. Because what else are you supposed to say, if you can’t say “happy anniversary”?

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Cats Worry, and Other Stories We Tell Ourselves

Early this morning, I had the thought that my cat doesn’t trust me, and it made me feel better.

I was crying, and normally when I cry, my cat ignores it. He doesn’t understand what crying means, that it means I’m upset, so he just continues on, acting like a cat. Usually being pretty damn annoying, as one tends to be at 3am. Well, he was in this particular instance. While I cried, he tried to climb the window, and finally I sobbed out at him to stop, and amazingly, he obliged and came up on the bed to cuddle.

He lay on my stomach, held my hand between his paws, and stared at me. Stared at me as I cried, thinking about whether people would be put out if I was gone, and whether it would affect anyone past being sad for a little bit. Like, I was really trying to be logical about it. Work would need to get a few things sorted, but once they did that, they’d be fine, and the only people I figured whose hearts would really break really wouldn’t have too much of a difference in their physical day-to-day, because they’re family and live far away, that sort of thing. The crying was more a separate thing that was happening alongside all the logic that was going on. And my cat, through all of this, stared at me as the tears subsided, as I lost the strength to keep crying, and I kept looking down at him and seeing his little kitten eyes, staring at me, and I thought to myself, a sign that your cat trusts you is if he closes his eyes around you. But he was ever vigilant, watching me, not daring to shut his eyes.

And I thought to myself, if I didn’t have any logic, and anthropomorphized this creature, I would believe that he is worried about me. That somehow he has figured out that I need to be watched, and that is why his eyes are open right now. But he’s a cat. I do have logic, and I know that’s not true.

But maybe that’s my problem. Maybe the key to survival is to stop being so logical. Maybe I need that anthropomorphism to keep me alive, to believe that someone is worried about me, that this little guy wants me around.

I guess in terms of physical survival, logic is important, but in terms of emotional survival, I think we’re better off without it. I think the more we try to be honest with ourselves about our place in the world, the more we’ll come to realize that no one is really needed, or important on more than a superficial level, and I think I’d rather cling to some semblance of worth reflected in the people around me. Even if it doesn’t make sense, I’d rather believe that that worth is there. Applying logic has only brought me to low places, so I would like to be illogical, and be content with a world that I create. Maybe that is how people find happiness.

I have always sworn by story as a way of navigating through life. Religions have done it for centuries; and as individuals, we do it all the time. Whether it’s to make sense of a situation, or to displace logic, story is what’s gotten us through it all, time and time again. We ascribe purpose to our lives through the stories we tell. And I’m very grateful that I’m a good storyteller.

A plea

Stop
Worrying
About being a friend,
And being accepted as a friend,
And friendships unraveling before you as a roll of ribbon,
And you try to put it back together neatly and the way it was before but once unwound the ribbon doesn’t take,
Doesn’t want to take, never wanted to be
A part of the roll anyway,
It just wanted to tie to something else, or to hang by itself,
To do anything but be taped to a cardboard circle.
Stop.
Stop looking at motive.
Stop trying to understand why the ribbon is on the roll,
And start
Focusing
On getting to know
Those you care about.
Friendship will follow,
If it chooses to.
And if it doesn’t,
You’ve still got
Stories.
You’ve still got
A strong surface
For another ribbon to grab hold.
You’ve still got
You,
And if you can’t handle air being the only thing around you,
Then you should be
Worrying
About more than ribbon.

Loren

dsc_00101000194159796445708.jpgThere is now a kitten residing at This Damn House, and his name is Loren.

I told myself I would wait a while before I got a pet. I’ve been wanting one for years, but never was really in a good spot to have one, and then, when I moved to my own house, I had the ability, but I wanted to try and settle down first.

But then, I met Loren.

He was in need of a home. His mama gave birth to him and his siblings at an animal hospital, and all of his siblings were claimed, but he was shy. So no one had claimed him yet.

img_20180709_163618_8508958878538062126834.jpgI couldn’t resist. I was a little nervous when, for the first several hours that he was in the house, he hid. I thought, oh no, he really is shy – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was worried I was never going to actually see him.

 

But then I managed to drag him out from his hiding place, and pushed him into the living room, and he freaking loves that living room. Loren has now graduated to running around, chasing his tail and being very, very vocal. And he is the best at cuddles. He won’t play with any of the toys I got for him – only his tail, and paper – but he is warming up to the soot sprites. He doesn’t yet seem to be a huge fan of food.

img_20180724_152410_9164926205345827315035.jpgAt first I thought that Loren reminded me a lot of me. I am often that shy little kitten who skulks in the corner in new situations, trying to blend in with the wall. I realize now that I may be projecting on my cat a little bit… just because it took a few days for him to come out of his shell with me, and just because it takes a few minutes for him to warm up to strangers, I rush to the conclusion that he has anxiety just like me. I’m not alone, I think. Loren and I can figure things out together.

 

 

But Loren is a kitten. And while he will probably grow out of this skittish behavior, mine got worse as I grew older. I suppose I am slowly learning to run after my tail, and I’m getting a lot better at enjoying what is in front of me and forcing myself to be present and engaged in my surroundings. But I still have a long way to go.

img_20180724_181406_5892414780616135367217.jpgSo as I try to socialize my cat with other people, I’m also trying to remind myself to do the same with, well, me. I want to be able to be myself around anyone, regardless of the situation. I don’t expect my true colors to come out in front of everyone, but I want to get better at revealing myself to those I enjoy, and to not feel stuck when I’m in their presence.

This baby boy has brought me a lot of happiness these past few weeks, and I can only imagine the fun we’ll have as he grows up. And for my sake, I hope I can grow up a little with him.

 

 

My Only Resolution

A new year means another twelve months of trying to get things done in a timely fashion.

A new year means trying to perform improv without being in my head.

A new year means shmoozing with people I have no idea how to shmooze with.

A new year means having to put effort into looking for another house.

A new year means just another year full of trying to stop my mind from being too loud.

A new year means another opportunity to do the Paint Olympics, and Harrisburg on the Hunt.

A new year means the possibility of travel.

A new year means warm weather is coming soon.

A new year means fresh chances.

And more intentional decisions.

And better judgment.

And an arsenal of experience to battle whatever life throws into the mix.

And new friendships.

And old friendships, with new twists.

And new opportunities to grow and learn.

A new year will always be a balance scale, trying to decide the weight of its contents, swaying back and forth and measuring which is heavier, dread or hope.

My friend and I have made it a New Year’s Eve tradition to celebrate as many traditions from around the world as we possibly can. Among them are some really fun ones, like breaking plates (Denmark), throwing bread at a wall (Ireland), and burning effigies (Panama).

I’m not sure if the citizens of Panama will scoff at the way we did this, but we drew or wrote something on slips of paper, then all stood in a circle in the front yard and set them on fire. It seems silly, but it was pretty therapeutic. I wrote “anxiety” on my slip, and though I know it won’t be as easy as borrowing someone’s lighter, I hope that in some way, I can burn anxiety out of my life this year.dsc_10201025957911.jpg

Coming home from the New Year’s Eve party at two in the morning, I was pretty stoked for 2018. I got home, and immediately turned to my Jar of Good Things to review the year that had just slipped out the back door. I’ve done this for the past two years, and the concept is fairly straightforward: you write down a Good Thing as it happens, and save it in a jar. It makes remembering things much easier – a lot of the events I would never have thought back on if I hadn’t been reminded of them. It also prevents you from deluding yourself into thinking you had a completely shitty year.

So I sat down, opened the jar, dumped out the Good Things, and picked one up.

It said, “Buying a house.”

There is nothing that will knock you down a peg quite like unrealistic expectations and assumptions. I did not close on my house. I wrote this memory about two weeks before the closing date, when I just assumed that everything would be on track and go smoothly. That did not happen.

And so, sometimes your Jar of Good Things will be peppered with Not So Good Things.

But just as Not So Good Things taint the experience of the Good Things, Good Things can also mask the Not So Good Things. At least, I go under the impression that they can. It’s been said that it takes sometimes a hundred Good Things to make up for just one Not So Good Thing, but it can at least happen, right?

I’m beginning to realize that the sway of the balance scale is important. I don’t want dread or anxiety or Not So Good Things in my life any more than the rest, but perhaps that is what allows me to feel when hope finally tips the scale. Perhaps having those Not So Good Things will continue to remind me to keep realistic expectations at the forefront, and keep my hopes achievable.

That is my New Year’s Resolution: to have realistic expectations in life. There have been so many times when I’ve hoped for something more, and gotten crushed by reality. And it goes the other way too – so many times I’ve assumed that terrible things will happen when realistically, it won’t be that bad.

I’ve got to stop believing that life is made up of either Really Good Things or Really Bad Things, and nothing in between. There are Things That Happen, and they may be good or bad depending on my perception of them, or even on what happens next. And even if they are bad, they’re usually not my fault (I say usually because, well, I’m human). Obviously I want to take ownership of my life, but I’ve got to stop feeling so personally responsible when things happen outside of my power. I don’t want to feel hopeless every single time someone else in Harrisburg closes on a house before I do. I don’t want to belittle myself for doing what I’m supposed to do in terms of calorie counts and still not gaining weight. I don’t want to see my failures in others’ achievements, or assume that the reason a relationship didn’t work out was because of me.

Realistic expectations. Sometimes things just happen.

Here’s to the New Year. May it be full of Good Things, and Not So Good Things, and realistic expectations of what those Things mean in my life.

Night Terrors

It starts with a tightness:
You wake to feel your heart
Coming out of your chest,
As if manipulated by some unseen force–
And that is what you believe,
If only for a moment,
As you’re sprinting down the hall,
Legs caught up in bedsheets,
Slowly embarrassing yourself into stopping
Before you reach the stairs.
Sometimes you manage.

And then it’s back to bed,
Forget, forget,
Do what you can to become unimportant again,
Don’t let yourself be the center of attention
In this darkened, quiet room–
Let other things take precedence,
Like sleep, and peace,
Not turbulence and fear and
Worry for your sanity.
Let dreams rise above, let sleep take over.
Rest now — you are more useful that way.
Let the clock tick by unnoticed,
Let tomorrow be
The next moment
In your mind.
It’s over now

–though there’s no guarantee,
For the moment you sleep is the moment you’ll be
Attacked again by your own anxiety.
If it happens again, please don’t jump out of bed,
Just breathe and wake up, and get out of your head.
You felt an effect and created a cause,
But you can’t work out truth
While running down halls,
Or gathering items to save
From your crumbling house–
Or perhaps from yourself–
Or panicking over
Indecipherable events
That only exist
In your head.

Dear heart,
My dearest, only heart,
Please stop rousing me in the middle of the night.

Show Your Heart

“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”

-Vincent Van Gogh

LOVING VINCENT just came to the Cinema. I’ve been excited for this film simply because I wanted to see a film in which every frame was a different painting – literally – and I’ve been seeing promos for this film for several years, now, and the excitement has just been growing. I didn’t, however, think that the above quote would strike such a chord within my soul.

I have a really hard time feeling like a person. I feel that everything I do doesn’t matter in the long run, and that even if I do something really great, that won’t make me any more secure in my future, or more liked by people. To me, the sum of my accomplishments is just that – people like the things I do, but they don’t like me.

I know this is not true. But I feel it is true.

Every day I live the life of a nonentity. I cannot believe that my friends do anything more than put up with me. I cannot believe that my presence is actually wanted in a social setting, which is probably why I try to host so many damn parties – I want to prove to myself that people will actually show up. I’m challenging myself, saying, stop it, Sam. People care about you. But I will never believe that.

I never believe it, and yet I have to keep living life like I do, because I don’t know what will happen if I allow that disbelief to grow in me. I don’t want to think about the person I will become if I let those thoughts consume me. I already think I’m constantly being put up with, but imagine if I started acting that way? I would go off the rails.

But I try to be honest. I don’t want myself to be a lie, to exude false confidence. That’s why I write so many damn vulnerable things in this blog, because I feel like I might never say these things out loud, so I’ve got to say them somewhere. People don’t want to be stuck in a conversation in which you vent to them about yourself; but if someone clicks on a link that leads to that venting in a blog post, that’s not my fault.

And so I live under this premise: even if it is true that I’m a nonentity (which I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.), I will strive to paint my heart on this canvas called life, and show what is in my heart. In my honesty, I find hope, not in being liked, but in being all that I could ever be. I can’t ask much more than that of the world, to let me be me.

That’s where my philosophy falls from Vincent’s. I don’t have any sort of calmness within me. I have music in me, but it is not harmonious. It’s a distortion of every little thing that happens, a symphony of second guesses.

I think when we find ourselves in a world we didn’t ask to be in – and by that, I mean, a mental world, not the actual physical world – we do our best to create coping mechanisms. I have a few. The first is to support those around me that I love. Seeing contentedness in others makes me content. I will give my energy to those around me, because maybe their happiness, their serenity, will leak over into mine.

The second coping mechanism is that I close myself off. I do this because I feel that people would be better off not having to worry about me, or be inconvenienced by me. I suppose we are trained to do this, in society. What a damaging thing.

I am not an inconvenience. I am not an inconvenience. I am not an inconvenience. I need to learn to share my thoughts, my anxieties, and not bottle them up inside, because the more I experience them outside of me, maybe the more they will stay outside of me. And I am important enough to take that seriously.

In the past couple of years, my mind has tried to convince itself that the person I am, the essence of me, is unfortunate. Something to pity, to hold at arm’s length. That’s not logic talking. It’s just me being unable to navigate me. And it’s really hard to shift that thinking, when you try so hard to see reality for what it is but your lens is so distorted that you just… don’t know. It’s a weird feeling, to love yourself so much, but to also question the validity of that love, of everything in your life through the false perspective of others. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Vincent Van Gogh was a genius. He captured beauty and truth in his paintings, but in his life, he captured soul. The relatable man. There are bits and pieces of him that align perfectly with my journey, and that is simultaneously terrifying and satisfactory, all at once. My appreciation for his work has slowly developed over the years into an appreciation for him. And isn’t that exactly the point?

That’s the beauty of art. When I was a kid, I would say, I’m just not a fan of that style of art. But now I try to ask myself, hey, if you don’t like the style, do you at least understand the message? That’s a distinction that is sometimes difficult to extricate. But if I am to live my life hoping to show my heart through my work, I have to be willing to see others’ hearts, too.