Like a black hole, but with emotions

In a perfect world, I would have posted more in the last year, because so many wonderful things have happened. I fell in love and started a new career. It felt like my real life started. But it’s not a perfect world. Instead of posting, I was learning about business analysis & writing requirements by day, kissing & laughing with Mike by night.

I’m posting now because it’s the only thing I can think to do. When my heart feels fractured and my contacts salty, my mind gets restless. For the last few months, I’ve sought easier outlets than writing: HBO, new crochet projects, wistful novels, adult coloring books, and binge-drinking. Writing about pain is difficult. Writing about personal pain is exhausting. Writing about family pain is dangerous.

Yet here I am, about to dig in.

The specifics aren’t important, but the basics are probably necessary. The last time I saw my mother was on my birthday, February 29. She left without notice in early March. The last time we spoke was mid-April. She filed for divorce sometime late April. She’s been with a man in Oregon since early June. The last time we exchanged texts was Saturday, while I was recovering from a hangover. The night before I either instigated an argument or cornered her into confessing her sins, depending on your perspective. Either way, I blame alcohol.

Part of me is terrified to write about this – privately or publicly; the other half doesn’t give a damn – it is what it is. These thoughts and feelings have been churning for a long time, and I haven’t been able to do much with them. I talk to Mike. I see a counselor. I try to spend time with my dad and brothers. I take vitamin D and sleep in on the weekends. But when I slow down, I realize I’m buckling under the weight. I just want to be past all of the frustration.

I thought my depression phase of the grieving process was very short. There were only a few days in June where I couldn’t concentrate and slept so hard I woke a zombie. Other than that, I’ve been angry. My counselor assured me that I would likely be going through cycles of grief for the next few years. The idea is daunting. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never had to deal with something so emotionally massive.

This isn’t just something I’m going to have to deal with over the course of the next few months. I’m going to have new questions, frustrations, and concerns as I hit my own milestones.

800px-Black_Hole_in_the_universe

My emotions, circa spring/summer 2016. Everything is at the event horizon, basically.

I want my rhetorical questions to have answers.

How? When? Why?

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Defending One of My Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms

This thing I found on Wikipedia defines a maladaptive coping mechanism as follows:

a coping technique [that] will just reduce symptoms while maintaining and strengthening the disorder. Maladaptive techniques are more effective in the short term rather than long term coping process. 

I define maladaptive coping mechanisms as awesome.

I feel like I need to preface this whole thing by saying I’m not complaining. I’m just venting. Because there’s a difference, connotation-wise. Complaining is just going on and on about your problems and never dealing with them, just hoping that somebody will poof all your problems away. Venting is thinking aloud until you come to a plan of action that you and your audience agree on. Even when I complain I’m venting, so keep that in mind next time you hear me say something negative. You might not hear my action plan, but you’d agree with it if I bothered to articulate it.

The last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an unusual amount of stress in my professional life and my personal life. My stressors are as follows:

  • Navigating new territory of more responsibility
  • Excel. The bane of a young professional with only a liberal arts background
  • Supporting a friend through a difficult period
  • My possibly dying plants: my ivy is getting dry, one sprig of a festival-purchased peony plant has turned black, and I have no idea if my bamboo has grown over the last 13 months
  • My constant deliberation over the pros and cons of living as a lazy slob
  • My not-so constant deliberation over the pros and cons of living as a productive human who eats more than a bowl of granola for dinner
  • The slow realization that I am no longer in my prime
  • The knee-jerk reaction to the previous point (RUN TWO MILES BEFORE WORK EVERYDAY! NEVER EAT PROCESSED FOOD! NEVER DRINK SODA! STOP DRINKING COFFEE! DON’T EAT THAT BREAD UNLESS YOU WANT TO GAIN 5LBS IN YOUR SLEEP! DON’T WALK – CROSS GROUND IN LUNGES ONLY!)
  • Working to pay off some debt to make room for new debt (ie, a car that was made within the last decade) & the realization of the fruitlessness of adult life
  • Wondering where I’ll be when my 19-year old car finally decides to die
  • Only being in Season 2 and not wanting to miss when someone finally kills King Joffrey, but not really liking anyone other than Tyrion

Without going into too much detail about any of the above items, I’ll summarize by saying that I feel like I spend 80% of my week being stressed. While I enjoy being challenged, I reached my point a few weeks ago where I was like, “COME ON, UNIVERSE. DON’T BE SUCH A JERK.” Then the universe was just like, “LOL NOPE. HERE’S MORE.” I expect that as I become more accustomed to my responsibilities, my stress level will plateau until the universe decides it’s time I have more excitement in my life.

Today happened to be a particularly stressful day (despite my better intentions, one interaction early in the day clouded my mood for the next 9 hours). After working for 9.5 hours, I came home and announced to my roommate, “I’m just going drink the leftover wine in the fridge and bake cookies. I’ll probably just eat cookie dough for dinner.”  I’ll defend it by saying this: Some days you just need to feel that you’re able to complete one thing from start to finish. I knew that there were about three glass of wine between the two bottles of wine (moscato and chardonney) in my fridge. I knew that I could follow a 7-ingredient recipe, set the oven timer to 8 minutes, and remove the cookie sheet without burning myself.

To cope with my stress, I really just needed to be reminded that I was able to complete something from start to finish without interruptions. I now have five dozen cookies to prove it. The same issues will still plague me tomorrow, but at least I’ll have cookies.

Don’t judge me.

My NYE 2014 or The Importance of the Buddy System

It’s a new year, I guess. Not really sure what I’m supposed to do about that. This time last year I was full of optimism and bursting with these grand ideas. I kept thinking things like, “EVERYTHING IS BLOOMING! I can get tattoos and I’ll start dressing like everyday is a fantastic production and I’m the star. And I’m going to start telling myself that I am fantastic and that I am beautiful and I deserve nothing but the best and OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO START RUNNING and be the best person alive.”

My first post of 2013 was a lot more positive than this one is. It might not be fair to contrast the two, considering this time I’m doing my best to digest a pretty epic breakfast of eggs benedict florentine (all the cholesterol of eggs benedict with a few leaves of spinach thrown in to make me feel a little healthy) and three cups of coffee. I think when I wrote last year’s post, I was eating something like quinoa and cranberry with herbal tea. I was trying to be a lot healthier than I am today.

I know that the typical thing to do for a new year is to welcome the next 362 days with optimism and determination to make it the best yet. I also know the typical alternative is to resolve to not make any resolutions. (har har har) I’m feeling decidedly bleh about either option. So, instead I’ll just tell you about my New Year’s Eve.

It started out pretty magically. I took a half day off to kick off a 5-day weekend, and surprised myself by getting my hair cut at an Aveda salon downtown. The last time I got my haircut, it was done by a student who took an hour to just frame the edges. I stood for 30 minutes of the cut and paid $10, so I’m not sure I could have expected much more. He tried to give me whispy bangs, thinking that to do that, he should cut them on an angle. When he tried to correct it, I just told him that it looked fine – mainly because I was terrified he would give me bangs like this:

Not really my style

Not really my style

So I’ve made do over the last month or so, mostly just pinning them to the side while they grew out. But I decided that I was going to pay a professional to make me look beautiful. After sitting comfortably for 30 minutes, I left the salon in a cloud of that wonderful Aveda scent with hair that was somehow shorter yet thicker than it had been in years.

It's hard not to feel fabulous when you're wearing animal print

It’s hard not to feel fabulous when you’re wearing animal print

I ended up going to an acoustic living room show where a friend’s band played. It was a really beautiful way to begin the night, complete with a drumset made of pans, buckets, and crates, slide guitar, and an accordion. I sat sipping malbec by candlelit in a room of people whose names I thought I knew, but wasn’t 100%. Though I arrived alone, I felt included and happy to be with this group of people who were content listening to our friends make music.

After the music was done, I joined a group of people to The Reptile Palace to see a few other bands. The Reptile Palace is a place where I’ve always felt a bit alienated – it’s one of those punk bars with stickers and graffiti covering most surfaces, three vodka selections, and probably a basement full of PBR and only PBR. Whenever I go there, I’m certain that everyone is thinking, “What is that square doing here? She should go home and work on her taxes.” The things I occasionally take pride in (not smoking, enjoying beer that doesn’t taste like vaguely hops-flavored water, having health insurance and paid vacation) suddenly embarrass me and make me feel like I’m not living an authentic life. Intellectually, I know it’s idiotic to feel inferior for being a responsible adult, but that’s just how my brain works.

I was dropped off with the drummer with promises of more friends arriving, including my roommate. After what felt like an hour (in actuality, was probably about 10 minutes), a few things happened within three seconds: first, I spotted a guy I had gone out with a few weeks earlier. Things hadn’t ended disastrously, just on uneven terms. The point is that I was momentarily uncomfortable. Second, I realized the cranberry & Stoli I had just ordered was not necessary. I was sufficiently drunk from drinking the better part of the malbec I brought to the party. Third, I felt lonely for a split second.

What did I decide to do? Walk home. In subzero weather with $1 gloves and three-inch heels. “It’s only like 2 miles. It’ll be fine,” said my wine-clouded brain. “If I get tired along the way, I’ll just stop into one of these many bars to warm up. Or I could just take a brief nap in the doorway of some shop.”

I was about two blocks from The Reptile Palace when my pocket buzzed. I saw it was Jason, who had dropped me off earlier. I answered the call with a numb finger to hear, “You’re going the wrong way. Go back to the bar.”

“I’m going home,” I told him.

“Why are you going home? It’s 10:30.”

I didn’t have an answer. I realized my reasons for leaving would sound pathetic if I bothered to articulate them. “I don’t know.”

“Get in my car. Do you see me?” He said. Then to the passengers in his car: “…she’s drunk.”

Feeling foolish but realizing he was right, I climbed into his car, welcomed the warmth, thanked him for stopping, and told myself I wasn’t going to drink anymore that night.

As soon as I got back to the bar, I had a few glasses of water and started having a much better time. I greeted the man whose presence made me flee, apologized awkwardly, thanked Jason about 30 times for picking me up, and got disproportionately excited when my roommate showed up. I rang in the new year by toasting water, kissing the drummer, and hugging my best friend.

I woke up the next day and realized a few things: 1. I’m really glad Jason saw me and picked me up, because there’s a chance I would have stopped for a brief slumber that could have ended with me freezing to death. Yeah, that’s a thing you have to actually be concerned about when you live in Wisconsin: FREEZING TO DEATH. 2. Alcohol makes you do stupid things like try to walk home at 10:30 on New Year’s Eve. I’m happy to say that is the only time I’ve done something that idiotic while intoxicated. Just so my parents don’t freak out and start lecturing me on being responsible: 99% of the time I’m in bars, I operate on the buddy system, ensuring neither of us wanders off to take an outdoor nap when it’s -20. I promise you didn’t raise a complete moron. 3. Having paid vacation doesn’t make you a responsible adult, so I should really stop feeling superior just because I was being paid while I recovered from my hangover on Wednesday.

So what’s going to change for me in 2014? Probably not a whole lot. I’ll continue to document my complete lack of perfection. I might start flossing. Cheers!

Fear & Self-Loathing Oshvegas

In lieu of blogging the last few months, I’ve been journaling. You know, writing in those blank book things? There’s not a keyboard or anything, so you have to use a pen (I recommend Uniball Signo with the micro tip) and like, draw the letters and words on the pages. Some have lines and some don’t. I prefer the ones with lines, because if I attempt to write straight on an unlined page, my sentences all start sloping upward. Supposedly that means I’m optimistic about my future.

That optimism bit sounds wonky right now, but that’s due to a few things: this terrible weather we’ve been having the last few days (as I described to a Miami-based client this morning: “It’s the exact opposite of whatever paradise you’re experiencing”), my hormones volleying my mood between EVERYTHING IS FUCKING AWESOME and GOOD GOD GET ME BACK IN MY BED SO I CAN EAT FAMILY-SIZED BAGS OF PEANUT BUTTER M&MS WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, and a slight ego bruise.

It’s been a weird couple months since I last posted. My best friend moved in with me. Before she worked evenings, it was basically the two of us crocheting and watching Netflix every night. Now, we see each other occasionally on the weekends. What else? I tried a few new shampoos, did a mud run dressed like a crazy person, went to an intimate acoustic living room show where everyone around me was exponentially cooler than me, carved pumpkins, saw a lot of live jazz, was part of a good friend’s wedding, swooned over the seductive power of “I Put a Spell on You,” joined a gym I haven’t been to in two weeks, dressed up like Coco Chanel for Halloween, shoulder-danced to Justin Timberlake with my little brother after buying holiday cat sweaters, made the unfortunate/wonderful mistake of visiting Half Price Books on a misty Saturday where my love for real books was reignited (my Kindle has been getting minimal use since I’ve bought about 2 dozen books), and have been trying really hard to find a way to make fleece-lined leggings appropriate for an office setting.

We hadn't gotten to the muddy part yet.

We hadn’t gotten to the muddy part yet.

Andrea carved the awesome turtle squash.

Andrea carved the awesome turtle squash.

See? Cat sweaters! We wore them for Thanksgiving. And yes, my little brother is almost a foot taller than me.

See? Cat sweaters! We wore them for Thanksgiving. And yes, my little brother is almost a foot taller than me.

Anyway, when I sat down to write this post, I thought I’d turn to my journal for some inspiration. Surely over the last two months I’ve pondered some interesting issues and came upon satisfying conclusions, right? Of course not, because even as a 25-year old woman, I write about boys with the same frequency as my 13-year old self. Sure, sometimes the musings on my romantic life lead to deliberations over other things (the search for validation, personal expectations, compelling vs. non-compelling conversations, self-respect, and the value of communication & honesty), but they were brief and most entries were just like, “So I met this guy and then I met this other guy and omg they know each other and omg what will happen next?”

It could explain why I’ve been so reluctant to post. It may sound like the sort of thing Socrates would find intellectually stimulating, but I promise that my romantic stumblings will satisfy only the nosy & mindless.

What’s most disappointing is that I feel like I have a much more interesting mind than my journal reflects. It’s just that I find my self deliberating over these sorts of things rather than my mixed feelings about the latest in government surveillance, racial tensions that are so apparent in music and television, and my fear about our culture becoming so reliant on virtual facades for relationships and my blog’s contribution. You have to admit that in comparison, sorting out my dating life is much easier, and therefore preferable.

I reread all of that and started to hate myself for most of it. I really just want to climb in bed and read one of those books I bought. I don’t have the energy or brain power to write a diatribe about why you should all get off the damn internet and show somebody you love them, but I do hate myself just enough to go to the gym.

Quiet: Fighting the Intro-Extro Battle

If I’ve talked to you about books or personality in the last two weeks or so, I’ve probably talked about Quiet: The Power of Introverts. I’ve read exactly 4 chapters and I keep telling people about it because I’ve learned so much. Essentially, our culture currently prizes extroversion above introversion and because of that, creativity and inspiration is lacking in day to day life.  Because the most innovative ideas come from introverts, we are doing ourselves a disservice with the constant fixation on group activities and teamwork. 

Quiet

I used to think of myself as an introvert, but I began surprising myself a few years ago when I started enjoying being in groups. Being center of attention intimidates me, but I like the idea of giving a worthwhile comment or having a lengthy and intense discussion about books or the possibility of music-making with an old friend over a microbrew. Bouncing ideas off friends, successfully creating something with a team, and acting as an authority (in a professional setting as well as social settings) are all things that appeal to me.

I don’t mind being alone, but if I go to bed without having talked to anyone other than coworkers (no offense to my cube-dwelling friends), I feel restless and disappointed with myself. I should have reached out to Nicole today. I wonder how Kaleigh is doing in her new home. I should have asked Jason to meet up for a drink. I haven’t talked to my aunt in a long time, I wonder how her kitchen remodel went. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sam. I should have hung out with Nic. I should have taken Christina up on that idea about coffee. I pull my sheets in closer and turn on my Kindle and start reading, and quickly forget about all of that. 

My introverted nature is fighting with my freshly-cultivated extroversion.  I want the people around me to know that they matter to me,but it’s so much easier to just putz around my apartment, pretending to be productive. That sounds selfish because it is. What stops me from reaching out to friends? They’ve reached out to me multiple times and I rarely return the gesture. Am I afraid of the rejection? In a few cases, maybe. But I know that I have common interests with these people. I’m confident I would enjoy that show Nic has been telling me about. I know I would get a month’s worth of laughter if I talked to Nicole for twenty minutes. And I might find a new friend if I reached out to Christina. But there’s a part of me that is reluctant to face the potential awkwardness of hanging out with a friend who doesn’t know me as deeply as someone like my best friend, Andrea. And that fear is what stops me from reaching out to those people. 

But getting back to the issue here: my actual placement on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.  When asked to list my hobbies, they’re all of the introverted variety: reading, writing, knitting & crochet, running, baking, cooking, sewing…good god, I sound like a grandma who should be in fantastic shape. Though I truly enjoy doing those things, I feel a pressure to be surrounded. Where that pressure hails is a mystery, but I feel it stronger than I’d like. The times I’ve showed my extroverted side, I’ve been rewarded instantly – by the approval of an idea, laughter at a joke, or the gratitude of being understood. 

But it’s a quick sense of satisfaction. It takes very little effort for me to feel fulfilled in social situations. My default setting for social interaction is self-deprecation, and since people seem to enjoy that, I go with it. But the things that make me feel really good are things that require patience and focus on quieting my inner monologue to let the creativity flourish.

When I spent hours reading or writing, it was in high school – when I didn’t have much of a social life. I journaled constantly because I didn’t have a best friend to listen to my sometimes never-ending wordbarf. Reading allowed me to get swept away by a story. I wrote short stories and the beginnings of a few terrible novels, because when I was alone, I was able to cultivate and tweak those ideas. Without anyone else’s input clouding the development of my ideas, I was free to work as I saw fit, yielding some of my favorite pieces.

Having only read the first four chapters, I’m not sure what else I’ll find from the rest of Susan Cain’s book. So far, I’ve taken away that I’ve begun to prize the gratification of my extroverted efforts above my introverted ones, despite the fact that the latter gives deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction. After spending an hour writing this, I’m not sure if I want to go read more of the book or if I want to spend the rest of the night feeling guilty about not calling people. 

If you haven’t heard of Susan Cain or her awesome book, I’d recommend listening to her fantastic TED Talk. 

Throwback Thursday: hey grrrl. wats ur screename?

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the left and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday Jun 5, 2000

Dear Libby, 

I just got off aol. I was talking to, like, 4 people! I talked to my friend, Keri, Benjamin, Tom, and my cousin, Becky. Right when I got on, Benjamin goes “Wassup?!” Then Tom, “Hey Ashley.” and then Keri “Hey!” Then I say hi to Becky. She asked me what I was up to and I said talking to my friend Benjamin. Of course she being my older and annoying, yet cool cuz, she says “Benjamin! Oh you go Ashley!” And I just tell her to shut up. So then there’s 3 other peeps sending me im’s so every other second and a half I hear electronic chimes. And right when I go to type an answer to someone, I’m interupted by another peep. 

Then Becky asked what Benjamin’s screename was. (Boy am I lucky I didn’t mention Tom was on!) I told her that I refused to tell her. She asked me if I wanted to her to ask him out for me! I was like, “NO!!!”

Luckily she signed off after that. Then Benjamin sent me an e-mail, he just said that he wasn’t mad, and that he was practically over Jocelyn dumping him. Then that he’s had a really bad attitude towards his parents, especially when he wakes up in the morning, hello Benjamin! Typical teenager!

Then I had to sign off after chatting with Benjamin and Tom. But Keri, I told her I was talking to three other people – she would not shut up! 

Then my aunt Laurie called and asked if I wanted to stay at her house for a while, so her I am! 10:30 @ night, laying on a yellow flowered quilt in her guest bedroom, writing in you. 

I’m tired, igg.

-Ashley

Yikes. Remember those days? Excitedly flipping between AIM boxes, choosing just the right lyrics for an away message and customizing your profile? I probably used blue comic sans against a yellow background, just to make things bright enough. Or may it was blue with fuschia. Who knows? Whatever it was, I’m sure it was really beautiful.

It’s embarrassing that I used the same program to chat with Brandon as I did with virtually all of my college boyfriends at at least one point in time. It’s probably for the best that I changed my screename constantly – I think it started out as Ashapapple229 (a supposedly clever combination of Ashley and apple, I guess), then to FiddleFreak06 (Yeah, we get it, you play violin and you graduate high school in 2006), SuperConnected 29 (GUESS WHEN MY BIRTHDAY IS!!), and eventually landed on YAYitisAshley (that’s what I assumed people exclaimed when they saw me sign in). My brothers both copied me. And some of their friends. One night as a prank or something, I was bombarded by messages from YAYitisCorey, YAYitisRyan, YAYitisNick, and YAYitisTATE.

The good news is that I didn’t end my conversations with any of my conversations with college boyfriends “igg” (“I gotta go” for those of you who weren’t cool enough for that one. I think around my senior year of high school, I started using correct punctuation and spelling in my instant messages, so that by the time I stopped using AIM, I was speaking like someone who shouldn’t be using AIM.

Good thing we’ve moved on from something as foolish as AIM and we’ve moved onto much more sophisticated technology like SnapChat and that one iphone app where you rate your Facebook connections on appearance to increase your likelihood of casual hookups.

Humans are great, aren’t we?

Nope.

Nope.

To My Devoted Readers…

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately. Instead of just articulating the facade, I’ve been out living (going to foggy basement parties, having spontaneous drinks with friends, dancing with new friends, running color runs, playing impromptu bluegrass concerts with my uncle, hosting parties, and occasionally giving out my number to boys I probably shouldn’t). It’s been fantastic. I highly recommend you stop looking at a screen as soon as you’re done reading this. Have you seen real life lately? It can be really beautiful. Everything is Blooming, folks. 

collage

I know that I told you my vacation from Throwback Thursday was only going to be for the month of May. It’s been over two months since I shared a diary entry. Young Ashley might be thrilled, but I’m not too proud of it. I started something and I didn’t follow through. I am supremely irritated when people do that, so I’m sorry that I’ve failed you. I know a lot of people really enjoyed those. This is going to change. Throwback Thursday is coming back this week. 

I had a housewarming party last weekend to break in my new place. Two of my closest friends made me a fantastic gift that inspired a new weekly post called Brunch with B-Crox. You can expect a recipe and short anecdote with my usual self-deprecating banter and weird pictures. My definition of Brunch is a pretty vague one, so it might not always be a breakfast recipe. And don’t worry, I’ll explain the B-Crox thing.

Since many people find my blog by some combination of the terms “seeing my ex” and “what to do,” I’m considering doing some sort of dating advice. I’m sort of hoping I’ll start following my own advice too. That would be neat. This is still in the brainstorming stages, but I figure that since I’ve dated people before and have an opinion, I’m qualified to tell people what to do. It’s real scientific.

I’m going on vacation next week. I’m not counting or anything, but I have exactly eleven days until I’m in the middle of the woods without 3g access. I have plans to read about three pages of Infinite Jest before falling asleep on the beach and/or day-drinking. Don’t worry though, you’ll still get your posts. If I don’t you can send me messages on Facebook about how you’re really disappointed in me – not mad, just really disappointed.