How to Succeed at Failing:

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I haven’t written in a while. There are a few reasons why.

I’m moving, so that’s a pain in the ass. Also between the holidays and a Skyrim binge, I haven’t had much time to spend writing. You know, because video-games are more important.

Anyways, the greatest reason is that I have been working through a recent bit of bad news.

See, I failed every one of my classes this semester…

And trust me, I’m not a bad student. I have been on the Dean’s list for the last two semesters and I’m pursuing a career in Veterinary Medicine. I don’t take academic success lightly. I despise C’s, so getting four F’s and a semester GPA of 0.0 has not been easy to accept.

If there was ever a time I needed to practice what I preach, it’s now.

Overall, I’m not too upset with the situation. Obviously, I am not happy about failing, but I am slowly coming to terms with it and I have already forgiven myself, which is good.

This was a terrible semester, personally, so there wasn’t much I could do to save my grades. And I tried my hardest, which is important to keep in mind.

The summer was brutal. I was working in a toxic environment with judgmental, and immature people. I had no support. From there, I transitioned to a less than exceptional living environment, with roommates I didn’t know. I am extremely sensitive to my environment and being forced to spend the majority of my time hidden in my room incubated depression.

So, I entered into a severe depressive cycle which manifested itself in new and debilitating physical symptoms. I couldn’t wake up for my classes because I was sleeping upwards of 14 hours a day. And, when I was awake, I couldn’t concentrate. My brain just would not focus.

School has never played a major role in my depression. If anything, it has always helped. Studying provides ample distraction from my emotions. But, this semester, the stress of knowing that I was doing so poorly in my classes just aggravated them.

Knowing this, I can reassure myself that my poor grades are completely a result of circumstances. It’s not that I’m lazy, or that I have a lack of drive, I just couldn’t succeed academically and deal with this depression at the same time. Essentially, I had to choose. And I chose to take care of myself.

The problem is, my mom and dad don’t understand this. To be honest, I’ll probably not tell them. At least not right now. I think I’ve finally learned how to cope well, and triumph over my depression.

Finding out that I failed my classes has proved to be a massive trigger. I have had the urge to self harm, to purge, and to end my life. I experienced the feeling of isolation and loneliness that had been absent for so long. I couldn’t rely on my friends or family to understand or talk to. So, for the last few days, I have been fighting, constantly to keep myself from resorting unhealthy coping mechanisms. At one point, I even thought that I should check myself back into the psychiatric hospital.

But, ultimately, I will be alright. I’m not going to let my grades kill me. I can see the light at the end of tunnel and, in my heart, I know that this semester will not hold me back. If anything, it is going to slingshot me ahead. I have taken the first steps towards beating depression. I see good things ahead. And i;m not going to let a few f’s hold me back from that. I have this outlet now, and I know how to deal with my depression. Now, it’s like an old friend. I can’t predict what it will do, but I can react in a healthy way and tell myself that it’s ok to fail. Because I am still alive, and finding happiness.

If some people don’t see depression as a real explanation for my grades, that’s ok. I know that it is, and I know that failing has actually given me much more than any A’s could.

Because, while I failed academically, I succeeded in learning how to cope.

-Katie

Flannels, Leggings, and Duck Boots:

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I basically wear the same thing every day.

A flannel or sweater, with leggings or dark wash jeans, and boot socks peaking over the ankles of my Duck Boots. With the addition of some under-eye make-up, and my hair down and tucked behind my ears, my look is complete.

I’ll admit, my style is kind of lazy. But I like it, and in my opinion, that’s a good enough reason for me to wear it. .

It’s immensely comfortable, and I pull it off enough to be acceptable for society. The most important thing is that I’ve found a style that suits my body, and that gives me confidence. When I’m wearing this, I don’t spend time worrying about what I look like or if my outfit is unflattering.

I’m fully aware that it’s ridiculous to have such a small and casual wardrobe. But I’m also depressed. And dressing this way helps me cope on a day-to-day basis. This style makes me feel secure and at ease and it’s one more thing that I can rely on everyday to keep me happy.

One day, I’ll be comfortable in a broader wardrobe again. But, for now, I’m sticking with flannels, leggings, and Duck Boots.

Because if it helps me recover, why shouldn’t I?

Lessons From Benny: Anti-social and Dominant

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Benny was not socialized well as a puppy.

He was the runt and because of that, he was picked-on, relentlessly, by his brothers. I was young when my family adopted him, so Benny lived the majority of his life being anti-social and dominant towards other dogs. I didn’t recognize his social behavior as a problem and, even if I had, I wouldn’t have known how to correct it.

Once I became more aware of dog psychology, I was able to reform some of his socialization skills, but, for the most part he remains the same.

When Benny meets a new dog, he usually just ignores them. He prefers my company. But, when dogs that are aggressively social, violate his space, Benny snarls and barks. It’s not aggression, but rather an assertion his dislike for their behavior. And dogs listen. When Benny asserts himself, they become more aware of their actions.

I’ve trained him to be more passive so that he will ignore rather than try to dominate new dogs. But I think his ability to assert himself is important, especially now that he is blind.

And besides, a lot of dogs need to experience assertion more.

Our society does not place enough emphasis on the importance of asserting one’s self. But assertion is emotionally very healthy. If you do not learn to stand up of yourself, you will become a doormat.

I grew up much like Benny. Anti-social and dominant.

I have never had a vast web of friends; I tend to have two or three very close friends and group of lesser friends and acquaintances. And that’s all I need. That’s what makes me happy.

I am nice and pretty sociable, but I am quite introverted, so I don’t like it when people offend me, or invade my space, or treat me poorly.

Before I learned how to properly assert myself, I tolerated anything from anyone. This was emotionally destructive. It incubated self-loathing and the feeling of being worthless.

I can guarantee you that Benny has never experienced these emotions.

And that’s because he doesn’t suppress his instinct to assert himself where as humans do.

When I assert myself, I feel empowered. And it makes people respect me. Now, I stand up for what I believe and some people react poorly, but only because it is foreign to them.

I always try to be kind. And I never act out of aggression.

I just say what I think.

My Life as a Dictator:

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I imagine myself as a mustached and angry, iron-fisted dictator.

And, I imagine negative thoughts as rebels who pose a threat to my authority.

As soon as they enter into my head, I shut them down. I lock them away.

Thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and anxieties are all treated the same way. That’s how I have learned to cope.

Like every person, I experience a mixture of good and bad days. For me, on a good day, depression is hovering over me, but I am able to keep it at bay. On a bad day, I am fully consumed by depression, and barely able to function.

The pace at which my emotions shift from positive to negative can be brutal.

The rational part of my brain has a hard time keeping up with my quickly oscillating emotions. And this, in addition to sleeping problems, creates the perfect conditions for depression. When my emotions follow this pattern, depression has comfortable home in my mind.

Before my time in the hospital, I didn’t cope with this issue. I didn’t understand what was happening completely enough to even try.

But after my release, and with the help of my wonderful psychologist, I began to figure out how to cope, and make my depression less comfortable in my head.

My life became centered around managing my emotions and leveling them out. I was a dictator, but, depending on the circumstances, I had to change how I dealt with my rebellious thoughts.

On bad days, I sleep 14 hours a day, and can barely get out of bed to eat. On good days, I become almost manic, consumed by anxious energy, and end up using too much of my emotional energy and enter back into a depression.

Dealing with negative emotions and thoughts on good days brings me down, in a positive way. It conserves  I bring out the negative emotions and thoughts from a recent depressive episode and rationalize through them. Once this is done, I lock them away again, but this time, out of my head and into my writing. That way, they are no longer stuck in my brain.

Focus on the good on a bad day, and the bad on a good day. I know this seems crazy, but it really does work for me. This system evens out my emotions, dramatically. By locking away my thoughts on bad days, I can focus solely on functioning and on the things that make me happy. It keeps my limited emotional energy at a consistent level.

I no longer experience crippling shifts in emotions, and there is much more time in between emotional highs and lows.

I think this is one dictatorship that will last.

Fish are people too:

I never thought I’d love a fish.

But I do. His name is Captain Phillips and he’s the best.

I’m planning on going vet school – who knows if that will happen – so I don’t know why it surprised me so much that I grew to love this little fish.

I call him Captain Phillips because he’s a survivor, but also kind of an ass-hole. See, Captain Phillips came to me from am friend who’s sister had used live goldfish as center-pieces at her wedding. That makes me pretty angry, but I’ll save my thoughts about humane animal treatment for another time. Anyways, three goldfish were abandoned with her. One died almost immediately, and, once the remaining two started to eat the dead one, they were placed in my care.

I couldn’t say no. Not when two, seemingly insignificant, animals needed my help.

One of the remaining fish died shortly afterwards and I was left with Captain Phillips.

I said he is an ass-hole, but he’s actually a pretty normal, emotionless fish. The circumstances under which I came to own him make him an ass-hole. I’m in college, I don’t have a lot of money, and I’ve never been good with fish, so I didn’t want to take him.

But, like I said, I can never say no to an animal in need. Unless I can’t provide a high quality of life.

This was different when I was younger. I have been admittedly negligent when caring for some of my fish in the past, and I truly regret it. But, instead of feeling guilty, I channel these emotions into the energy I need to make the best life I can for my animals now.

So, I took Captain Phillips and I slowly figured out how to properly care for fish. I’ll admit, fish are not very interesting. They definitely don’t reciprocate love. But, they do recognize their owners and rely on human care.

When I come into my room, he notices me, and asks for food, and, when I clean his tank he is visibly more comfortable.

And that’s why I love Captain Phillips. I can make him happy.

It’s OK if he doesn’t love me back. The important thing is that he needs me to love him because, if not, he will die. Humans are self-involved, and only love can break them away from them-selves so that they can properly care for another living being. Rescuing and looking after this goldfish has helped me to take the focus off of myself and provide better care for the people and animals in my life.

Captain Phillips has taught me that every person and everything living thing needs love, regardless of shape or size, or intelligence.

And for that, I thank him.

Lessons from Benny: It’s OK to Pee in the House

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Benny doesn’t always teach me something new.

Sometimes, I just notice one of the ways in which Benny’s life experiences embody human philosophies.

Since going blind, Benny has had a few accident in the house. At first, I was concerned that he might have a health issue that was making him incontinent. But slowly, I figured out what was wrong.

Benny used to signal that he had to go outside by looking at me, directly in the eye, and wagging his tail feverishly. However, when he lost his vision, he also lost a key part of his ability to communicate. I used to rely on him to alert me when he needed to go. But, overnight, the tables turned.

He wasn’t the one who needed to be retrained, I was.

I don’t punish him if he does relieve himself in the house. He is no longer able to tell me directly, so how can I expect him to always hold it until I notice. And anyways, he always tries to avoid going in the house for as long as possible.

When Benny pees in the house, he is simply responding to an instinctive need to releive his bladder. His body is uncomfortable but he can’t get my attention, so, his brain tells him to go, even though he knows it’s wrong.  He’s not happy about doing it, but something has to be done to address the discomfort.

I learned to recognize the signals that Benny now sends when he needs to go outside by observing his body language and how frequently he needs to go. So far so good, we’re currently accident-free.

I used this same process to stop self-harming.

For almost 3 years, I have struggled with cutting.

However, in the past year, I have been able to almost completely stop.

See, I’ve found that, when I enter into a depressive episode, I pass below the threshold of where I am able to cope effectively. Chemically, my brain becomes starved for happiness and, emotionally, it is flooded with depression. When the depression is chemical, my coping techniques no longer provide adequate relief. So, my body relies on it’s instinct for self-preservation, and tells me to cut.

I know that seems contradictory, but self-harm stimulates the release of endorphins and creates a false sense of relief by numbing the senses. The endorphins absorb depression and bring the mind to a very neutral place, chemically. It makes sense that a mind, drowning in depression, would do anything, no matter how bad, to regain balance.

Emotional numbness and sensory deprivation are what make cutting so addictive. Some people drink, or get high, or act in a risky way. All for the release and asylum. The guilt associated with these activities is dangerous, simply because it deepens depression. But, perhaps the most destructive result, is that the central issue is never addressed, but rather masked. .

I am not angry with myself for having self-harmed. Why should I be? It’s an instinctually logical response. Instead, I deal with the guilt by taking a step back and looking at the situation as a whole. I try to recognize the trigger and think of what I could have done to stop myself from cutting. Then, I can use this information to strengthen my ability to avoid depression.

Proactivity has kept me from self-harming because I am able to recognize why my mind is telling me to cut and engage in a different, healthy way of coping. If I repeatedly show my mind  that running or writing releases endorphins, just like self-harming, but in a better, and healthy way, I can retrain it to signal for positive activities, instead of self-destructive ones,.

-Katie

 

The Solution:

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I think I’ve figured out why writing is, for me, such a wonderful form of coping.

If I recognize a problem or a question pops into my head, I solve it. It sits in my brain, nagging for my attention, for weeks, or months, or years until I can find the solution. I have to solve it, it bugs me too much not to know. That’s who I am, and that’s what I do.

Anyways, I figured it out.

When I write about my depression, I can trap it on the page.

By writing during a depressive episode, I can rationalize through the entire situation and figure out why it is happening. I can see my depression for what it is, in all its gory details, and then, I can evict it from my mind.

In this way, writing weakens my depression. It removes enough of the negativity flooding my brain to allow my better, more rational, and happier self to survive. And that shit is priceless.

-Katie