Taking back the wheel

This is a personal post-fair warning.  Sometimes these personal posts help me digest what’s happening in my head, and something about not only writing but publishing online, helps me feel clearer.  Even if no one reads them.

When I started looking for a job in academia a few years back I was married, had a high paying job, ran a lab, had a nice set of friends, but I felt kind of fake.  I wanted to like all of it because I was supposed to.  I wasn’t happy in the marriage (I couldn’t imagine having kids with that person), I realized that the corporate world wasn’t for me, and I only had the wide net of friends I could feel like I had friends.  I faked being happy in so many aspects of my life.  Until I realized that I shouldn’t fake it anymore and I was honest with myself and everyone around me and decided to drop it.  When I finally dropped the ball that I was leaving in a year (I took an extra year before leaving my job to finish a project), it was felt hard.  No one had any idea and it was a tough separation.  But I’m so much happier in my work now.  Holding onto unhappiness and faking it is bad for the soul.  I had to “break up” with many aspects of my life.

When I started looking for an academic position my SO was on-board.  They didn’t really work much (which is a small part of why I was irked with them), and they were proud of being ‘lazy’, so they could come wherever I went.  This got me thinking about all the things I disliked in my SO at the time.  But stupidly I tried to continue on with it and continued faking being happy.  We moved to the new city and I realized that it was a mistake to continue in the relationship.  This led to a separation and eventual divorce.  All around the time that I had a parent and friend pass around the same time.  So in a change of societal norms, I was stuck paying spousal support to someone who is fully capable of having a good job.  And this spousal support came on the heels of me taking a huge pay cut to come to academics.  The money doesn’t matter as much, but when someone doesn’t even have to work and takes a chunk of my income, it stings.  This also led to me realizing that it was time to break up with friends that weren’t healthy for me.  I have friendquaintances all over the place that I love to hang out with, but I wasn’t going to water a plant that I didn’t want to water, so to speak.

I eventually met someone new that I couldn’t be closer to.  Even in the worse of times, it’s still better than the best of times previously.  And my job and friends are exactly how I want it (though I wish I lived closer to some of my friends).  I don’t feel like I have to be fake and pretend to like everything because I’m supposed to be happy with everything I have.  I was afraid to let people know that I wasn’t awesome all the time and correspondingly let myself be put into situations I didn’t want to be in.  Well, when I’m unhappy now I’m not afraid to tell people, and if I don’t like a situation I change it or myself.  After all, I only have control over myself.  Life is too short for me to not be living the way I want to.  I understand concessions need to be made but always within reason.  Present me feels like I have so much more control over myself and it’s a great feeling.  There are obviously things I would prefer differently like my ex-bum taking care of themself, my friends living close, or teaching a class I’d like to teach, but I feel so much better that I’m driving my ship.

Depression

Not an academic post, but this is something I care about.  If you don’t want to read about this stuff, then fine on ya.  Here’s some comics I like instead: https://xkcd.com/http://theoatmeal.com/http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

So everyone who knows me personally knows I’ve been fighting depression for the past couple of decades.  On the surface when out in public I would look bubbly, be very productive at work/school, have friends I could joke around with, and behave as healthy as one could.  Then I would get home and my ex would be there so I had to keep strapping on the fake smile and laughter.  It’s a mask.  As soon as I would get alone time I would finally be able to just be depressed me.  And this would pretty much only happen in the bathroom or in the car.  I was always wondering when it would be too much for me to handle and walk away from this life.  About five years ago I started letting people know that are close to me rather than the silent battles I would constantly be fighting.  I wouldn’t just go exclaiming, “I’m depressed and hate everything and don’t want to be a part of this world!”  If the situation came up where someone would ask what’s going on if I wasn’t up to my usual bubbly self I would tell them that I have depression.  I try to make it normal to talk about this stuff.

There’s definitely a stigma from certain people after this, but I don’t give a shit.  The feeling of depression is almost impossible to describe to someone that doesn’t have it.  They usually think it’s just being sad.  Sad isn’t as crushing to me.  I wish I was sad instead of depressed.  It’s like someone with a migraine or a cluster headache describing what those headaches are to someone that has to pop an ibuprofen when they get a tension headache.  It’s still unpleasant, but everyone I’ve talked to that gets migraines wishes they had tension headaches instead.

Thoughts of suicide are definitely regular regardless of pharmaceuticals or therapy.  Though I don’t let most people know it’s that severe because I don’t want to get babied.  I have two close people who I can talk to about this and they remind me of perspective.  I don’t buy that “he/she is selfish because they ended themselves” bullshit.  When the pain is that bad, it’s almost impossible to have empathy for them.  When I see a suicide from someone I know I just think “I’m sorry for the friends and family, but I’m glad they aren’t suffering” because I know what the suffering feels like.  All the analogies about “losing sight of the horizon”, “feeling a crushing feeling”, or “feeling hopeless” don’t really do justice to the true feeling.  What I have found helps for me isn’t trying to explain to other people how I feel, or other people explaining how I should feel, or telling me jokes to cheer me.  What helps is knowing there are people there for me, that whatever I want is the right thing, and that what I’m feeling is really happening.  That I shouldn’t feel alone, and that people shouldn’t tell me to cheer up, or that it’s going to be okay.  Give me a hug, say you’re there for me and check up.  Feeling loved/wanted even if I’m not accepting it helps.  Being on an island isn’t good; this needs to be treated like any disease where a good support structure can make a huge difference.  We need to be able to talk about depression, and not just talk about talking about depression.  As human beings, we need to be there for each other and treat everyone as humans.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, but I know what helps get me over the next hump.  It’s Mental Health Awareness Day, so I thought I would put this post out there since I try to spread awareness throughout the year whenever I can, and I don’t really care so much about these special days for everything that exists in the world.  But I do know what it’s like to live with depression, and I hope that everyone out there recognizes the symptoms and maybe tries to do something useful.  Understanding that this isn’t just a mood is step one.

Litterbugs

Or should I say, litterassholes.

I love nature.  And I live in a usually clean city, but today I’m driving behind someone and I see them make a turn then throw a fucking fast food trash bag out the window.  Now, maybe someone put a grenade or mean rabies-infected animal in it, and that would maybe warrant throwing it out of the window for your dear life, but even then I’m on the fence.  So, being the passive aggressive person I am, I drive up to see what kind of asshole would do that.  A student-that’s who.  Not mine, per se, but definitely a student at my school.  Now, maybe I’m crotchety older person, but I can’t imagine that even young me would be okay with this.  I missed out on my calling of being a Planeteer.

This got me thinking about kids on campus, in general.  They are a little stuck-up.  And they definitely think the world revolves around them and they don’t have to be considerate (like not littering).  I wonder if there’s something I can do.  Ultimately, they are the customer so I can’t (shouldn’t) berate them, and I’m not the most physically imposing person, though I do have a mean bark.  Have students always been like this, and I was just oblivious because I was one of them, or have they become bigger assholes?  Are all campuses like this?  I guess I’ll never know, and I don’t think there’s much I will be able to.  Bark.

Personal post: Backpacking

As a youth I enjoyed camping with family.  You park at a camp site, unload all your things, then you can hike around, sleep under the stars, and enjoy nature.  At some point I decided that I dislike people and when I camp I want to get away from people as much as possible.  This happened right before grad school started.  I did this solo and with friends and it’s a great way to connect with nature, get some silent tech-free time, and breathe some fresh air.  Basically it’s a way to get away from all the noise or pollution in life.

Now, I’m a casual backpacker.  I don’t go cutting my toothbrush in half, packing the absolute minimum and cover 20 miles a day.  At best I cover five chill miles each day; taking in the sights, smells, and sounds (the three S’s) all around me.  Thoughts about grants, teaching, my students, and other things in life just melt away.  I bring a combination of freeze dried food (the Mountain House biscuits and gravy were not as bad as I thought it was going to be), homemade things (think lentils, oats, home-dehydrated fruit), snacks (nuts, dehydrated fruits, Snickers bars), protein pancake mix, freeze-dried coffee, MRE components, and vodka (I’m not the biggest vodka fan, but tilting a few in front of the fire is a solid time).  The MRE components and Mountain House are my comfort foods I save for when I exerted a lot of energy and just want something comfort-ey.  So I only bring a few of these and pack the healthier stuff for the rest.  If I’m in areas with lakes I’ll fish to supplement, but 1. I suck at fishing, 2. I suck at fishing, and 3. I don’t like the clean-up when the pathetic little fish that gets snagged by me has to be disassembled (is that the right word?).

For fire I carry this awesome Tesla torch, a butane lighter, some magnesium, and waterproof matches.  For light I have a really nicely bright flashlight, a headlamp/beanie, and an LED lantern.  I carry paper maps and a compass, but honestly, I just download detailed maps to my phone, throw it in airplane mode to conserve power, and carry an extra battery.  GPS with terrain data at my fingertips.  Side bar: seriously, smart phones are fucking awesome.  I am still amazed by technology.  End bar/note.  Obviously I have my mat, a cover, and this wicked warm blanket.  Then I have my bottles, knife, filters, cookware, and some other smaller things that are necessities like tent, stake, bear mace, gun, toilet paper, etc.

My last trip I headed out to some amazing high elevation and among the trees I found a clearing.  At night I sat with SO and stared up at the stars.  I could see satellites passing overhead and the occasional shooting star, and the wonderful milky way.  I sipped some tea and could hear and feel the fire embers nearby.  Down the way I could hear running water and some wolves (I think) howling with lightning dancing on the mountains to the north of us.  Times like that my mind clears up.  I can feel stress just falling off of me.  Though I think the stress just Peter-Pan’s me and just hangs out with my shadow, because it’s all back when I step back on campus.

That being said (typed?) I couldn’t live out there full time, and I bought an entire Chipotle burrito when back to civilization and ate that thing with a fucking vengeance.  It was the best burrito I’ve ever had.