This isn’t really about Bob Ross.

My last post was about two months ago, so I figure it’s about time that I get back on my game. At least until another two months passes and I remember I should get my money’s worth while I own this domain. Since I’m sure you read and reread my last post just to see if it was a new one, you might recall that I was last dealing with stress.

Like all other breathing creatures, I’m still dealing with stress. But the once incredibly high levels have become my normal. I’m sure there’s something new just around the corner. My job title has changed twice since March, and I’ve spent most of the last six months learning. Though I’d easily be able to give you a list of what I’ve learned, I won’t bore you with the details of explaining how to audit an MVR to see if a driver self-certified correctly or what it’s like to navigate the various state requirements for tax-exempt ownership transfers of vehicles.

This Bob Ross clothespin doll you can buy on Etsy doesn't have anything to do with my work stress, but you click the picture for the link and buy it for me to keep at my desk and make this sort of make sense.

This Bob Ross clothespin doll you can buy on Etsy doesn’t have anything to do with my work stress, but you click the picture and buy it for me to keep at my desk. Then this would sort of make sense.

(I really just needed to create some mystery to keep you reading past that last sentence. It’s called creating tension and it’s a writing technique.)

Anyway, I’ve found that the most stressful part of my day doesn’t happen at work. After 8-12 hours of operating at my highest mental capacity, I come home and have little energy to do anything for myself. Things like working out, journaling, going through old journals for Throwback Thursday Posts, reading a few chapters (or compelling essays about brain disorders) before bed each night, or cooking a meal to share with friends. The few moments before I doze off after reading only 2 paragraphs of a novel are the worst of my day. That’s when I reflect on my day and realize I completely skipped over things that enrich my life. I absolutely love my job, but the sudden realization that my Me-Time has all but evaporated sometimes knocks the wind out of me. Fortunately, consciousness doesn’t last long. My sleep is usually heavy and dreamless.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made the deliberate choice to not accept vegging out with mindless television as the only way to recoup from the day. A year ago, I used to really look forward to my near-daily runs. I felt enormous pride knowing I could run a few miles after a full day of mentally-taxing work. It was a mental restart button for my day. Whatever I had dealt with earlier would lose its saturation by the time I started cool-down stretches. I read plenty, slept soundly, and awoke renewed. Knowing that better sleep and higher quality of life is just switch of willpower away is such a stupid problem, but my apathy made me powerless.

I’ve probably said it before, but the problems that frustrate me most are the ones over which I feel I have no control. These make me feel as if all my weaknesses and insecurities are a meme I can’t escape. I see my ineffectiveness everywhere. When I was really freaking out about a car, all I could see was evidence of everybody else successfully owning cars. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one of my parents’ cars for a few months, but my insecurity about it was terrible. See a gas station? “OH MY GOD. YOU DON’T EVEN OWN A CAR THAT RUNS RIGHT NOW. YOU CAN’T EVEN PUT GAS IN YOUR OWN CAR.” Pull into the parking lot at work? “EVERYONE KNOWS YOU DON’T DRIVE A DURANGO AND THAT YOUR CAR DOESN’T WORK. ALSO YOU CAN’T FIX A CAR.”

I’m not really sure why it took me so long to change my approach with this problem (Foolish optimism? Fear of the salesman? Fear of rejection? All of the above?), but eventually I decided my dad’s time could be better spent on things other than trying to fix a 19 year old car I wanted to set aflame. I started car searching and I found a great car that was made in a year in which I have vivid and fond memories.

Seeing that I could eliminate that stress was satisfying. I was hooked on being in control. To prepare for the added expenses of a car, I created a really awesome budget spreadsheet (I only update TWO TABS with my debits and credits of a 15-tab spreadsheet. It’s uploaded to Google Sheets so I can access it on my phone and know exactly where I stand for the month). I got a Fitbit and started tracking my steps and sleep patterns. I started to meet with a health coach to set goals and hold me accountable each week. I took a Saturday off and spent six hours reading a book. SIX. It was incredible.

I feel like I’ve been complaining about my work/personal/sanity balance for a while now. I swear there’s more to my life than this. I have many more entertaining stories to share. Like the Sadness Parade I took part in with my dad and older brother (taking my old car across town for a mechanic friend’s opinion), what a food scientist packs for an evening picnic date, my realization that sports bars are not my natural habitat (weird, I know), what it was like driving my new car home the first night, or how I wish I would have handled a construction worker sort of sexually harassing me while we were both stopped at a red light. Spoiler alert: it’s not half-smiling and asking myself if that really just happened.

With time, you’ll get those stories. For now, I’m making the deliberate choice to read. I just had to share more complaints with you. Just one last time. Probably.

I used to be a nostalgic person.

Good god. I love that sentence. For more reasons than one.

It just a few years ago when I furiously scribbled in a notebook about how special I felt the night I wore a swirly boatneck tank and Eric told me, breathless, “You look amazing.” For years, I hung onto a piece of torn neon green paper to remember when Jon taught me to play cribbage while we drank mint juleps at the rented cottage. My heart gets a little sore whenever I listen to disco, because I remember the nights I spent dancing and kissing Bill between sets.

I feel like I’m not investing as deeply into my life right now. Maybe it’s because I’m not forging memories with somebody right now. Maybe it’s because for the first time in my adult life, I’m doing this all on my own. At the moment, I have no perspective on my immediate life, not that it’s possible anyway. But even back when Eric and I lied on our stomachs, watching the rain in the streetlights, I knew I was experiencing a moment I would remember forever. I don’t ache to solidify moments anymore.

My moments are an endless series of facades – like I’m just passing by it all. Life has turned into a collection of muted repeats – the same drive to work, the same cubicle, the same empty bed at night. Weekends offer a bit of variation, giving me glimpses of striking honesty and glee with my friends. Where are the moments that I’ll be able to look back five years from now and tell what temperature it was, what song was playing, how my mouth tasted, or what sounds were echoing off the streets?

I think this is part of growing up. Though the moments I described above happened in the same order, the vividness of the memories is reversed. It was late evening and Eric’s bedroom was filled with this cool amber light. He rarely turned a fan on because he said it made it warmer, so my face was damp with perspiration. The neighbors across the street were talking loudly, but it all seemed to fade out when he looked at me that way. Later that night, Eric would give me a copy of Wuthering Heights and we’d spend twenty minutes saying goodbye, stopping to kiss on the stairs, in the dining room, in the living room, and on the porch.

I know that Jon crushed the mint leaves and the whiskey made me shudder. The windows were open and the air was steady with the hum of boat motors. His breath smelt lightly of cigarette smoke as he jotted notes on the piece of paper he had found in a drawer. We went to bed early, he played sudoku while I read a book – Anna Karenina, I think. The next morning, he brought me coffee and we ate powdered donuts and did a few games of sudoku in bed before we went on a hike.

Bill is different. He played so many gigs that most of them blend into one. I would either go to the bar with him to set up, or I’d go later on, joining a friend on the dance floor. I liked to watch him play – he always seemed so focused on the music that I was surprised when he would catch my eye and grin. At the end of the set, he would walk over to wherever I was sitting and give me a hug that stunk lightly of sweat, polyester, and the Dolce & Gabanna cologne we picked out together. I remember feeling this strange sensation – a mix of excitement, affection, and pride – when he came over. I felt most at home when his arm was around me, but my favorite part of the night was after we had loaded his drums into my car, when we finally slipped into my twin-sized bed, our bodies laced together, and slept until 11 the next morning.

The memories are all still there and to illustrate them, I obviously have to fabricate some details, but it’s easiest with Eric and hardest with Bill. Maybe it was the length of the relationships – it’s harder to process two years than three months. Maybe my my brain chemistry was different at 18 than at 23. Maybe it’s self-preservation; I’ve become hardened and have subconsciously decided that shallow memories will hurt less than visceral ones.

I think romance just lends itself to nostalgia. While I’m actually very happy to be writing two nights in a row, it doesn’t make for a very memorable night. Maybe someday I’ll hear an Alison Krauss song and remember when I lit candles and popped off the cap of a hard cider before opening my laptop. And maybe I’ll be filled with a warm contentedness when I remember my apartment smelling like a late autumn rain and a peppermint candle.

For now though, this dreary weather and melancholy music just makes me think of times before. Not in a way that makes me depressed, mind you. I’m appreciative. I’m glad to have such charming moments to recall.

Ten Tips for Surviving the First Two Weeks, Ashley-style

As far as I can tell the worst part of this whole thing has been the unpredictable nature of my mood. I will go entire days feeling invincible only to have a line from a song I’ve been listening to all day long send me into a fifteen minute sob session. Then, just as quickly, I go back to feeling fine. I have to wonder if this is what it feels like to be bipolar. It certainly feels like some form of insanity, especially during the low moments. Regardless, I’m still fervently believing that each day gets a bit easier. I’m still holding onto the idea that there is a linear progress to this mess. How straight that line is, I can’t really say. But I’ve been trying to think of ways to quantify my progress, which is ridiculous since I’m operating at an 80-20 ratio of emotion to logic. Emotions cannot be quantified, but it sure as hell makes me feel better if I can pretend otherwise. I thought about tracking how many times I cry, how many times I think about him, how many times I feel the bottom of my stomach fall out, how many times I feel like hurling because I’m so sad. All of these things sound completely psychotic, thus my insanity diagnosis. Then I thought about the progress: How often I see friends, how often I do things that make me happy, how many times I’m able to pull a mental u-turn, or how many times I’m able to cancel the pity party. Again, this is impossible since I’m far too close to the situation to assess it objectively.

Tossing all of this aside, I’ve compiled my own list for how to survive the first two weeks after a breakup Ashley-style.

  1. After making the decision, listen to Taylor Swift songs for approximately two days. Do this in the shower when nobody else is home and you have the opportunity to interrupt Last Kiss with terrifying sounds you’ve never previously heard come from yourself.
  2. Since you will have virtually no appetite, nutrition will be a nuisance. You’ll feel the affects of hunger – the dizziness, empty bile-bubbling feelings, the headaches, and general feeling of lethargy – but you will have no desire to eat anything. This includes your beloved carbs, gooey caramel and chocolate bars, ice cream sundaes, as well as the salads you’ve been eating in an attempt to lose a few pounds. I recommend drinking a lot of fruit protein smoothies by Naked and Bolthouse Farms. Since you don’t even have to chew, these are ideal for the days when you’d rather be in bed than sitting in a cubicle.
  3. Listen to Somebody that I Used to Know at least 300 times in a period of 72 hours. Claim to enjoy the entire album after two or three obligatory listens, then plug in your headphones, abandon any sense of self-respect, and put the song on repeat. Hey, at least nobody has to know about this. At least until you advertise it on your blog like a real genius.
  4. Sing karaoke. Don’t feel like you have to go by yourself. Agree to sing My Heart Will Go On with two girlfriends, and Dancing Queen as a duet. This may require you drink four 7&7s. Apparently you will also close the night with Losing My Religion, have only a vague memory of that and laugh about it when you pick up your car the next day. Promise yourself and friends that you will sing Rich Girl next week by yourself.
  5. When things are just too much to think about, turn to Grey’s Anatomy. You’re in luck since Netflix has the first seven seasons. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you can watch McDreamy and McSteamy do their surgical thing, wonder how Cristina’s hair has so much volume, and decide Meredith looks best with bangs. Be sure to wear sweats and cuddle up in fuzzy blankets. Forget that one of the blankets is one that his mother gave you for Christmas two years ago.
  6. Go to bars with friends on and be reminded of the fact that the only  men who approach you are 40-somethings in pleated pants. Decide that men your own age are children who sometimes wear men’s clothing. After reminding yourself that you are single and the “I have a boyfriend” line is no longer valid, adopt your own dating mission statement that eliminates the possibility of you wasting time with boys who are afraid to ask you to dinner: “If you don’t know how to pursue me, I’m not interested in you.”
  7. Expand your breakup music collection to include Fiona Apple, Lykke Li, Ingrid Michaelson, Lily Allen, Kate Nash, the entire new Norah Jones album, and one Cake song. Do not include Adele  since her music requires you to be drinking from a bottle of red wine while weeping. Seriously, it’s obnoxious and you will not let yourself sink to that level.
  8. Make it official by throwing away his clothes and dying your hair one night. That same night, decide to be a fearless bombshell and go to a party on your own and rock that red lipstick look you’ve always wanted. Enjoy yourself. See friends you haven’t in a while. Realize the elation that comes when you’re not tethered. Do your best to savor that feeling. You’ll need it when you’re feeling lonely.
  9. Buy a new journal. Your old one chronicles the entire relationship, but it’s far to painful to actually put pen to paper and describe how it all came to an end. So get a new journal, or at least tell yourself to, one that will allow you to write about your new life as a single twenty-something.
  10. Go to your cousin’s wedding. Realize that family members will want to ask questions or offer words of support. Tell them through watery eyes that you don’t want to talk about it. Run into the bathroom when Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me is played. Allow yourself only to let a few tears fall. Return to the dance floor only to cry when a Bee Gees song is played. Tell your dad you want to go home. Realize the next day that it’s kind of hilarious that disco makes you cry.

I can’t guarantee recovery if you follow these steps, but I do know that for all intents and purposes, this will ensure your survival. You will not crumble and waste away and you will live to see another day.