TL;DR: On 2017, Depression, Burnout, Self-Care, 2018 Resolution

I. Hello again, blues, my old friend

I’m going to admit something that I’ve been feeling for a few years now, but could never quite say to myself for fear of going down a long, lightless tunnel. But I’m saying it now because I think I’m strong enough and aware enough to know the root of the problem.

Here it is: I don’t like the Christmas season.

This despite enjoying decorating the Christmas tree (something that I missed this year), loving the cinnamon smell of the apple crumble pie I help my dad bake, spending a lot of time thinking about what each of the friends I’m giving gifts to need, and participating in no less than three company events–the company bazaar, the decorations contest, and a Battle of the Bands event that forced me to confront my lifelong stage fright as I provided both lead and backing vocals. Needless to say, I had my hands full.

But I soon found myself doing the same things I do only when I’m feeling extremely down: crying at my desk, coloring in coloring books, and playing video games for hours on end. I may have subconsciously anticipated this would happen, so I took the last week of the year off work. I’ve been cooped up at home since Christmas, coloring and playing video games and having mood swings and dark thoughts I don’t understand.

I think joining the company events was my way of trying to avoid how the holidays make me feel. And in the process, I made myself feel worse.

II. All the metaphors for exhausted

Earlier this month, I thought my 2018 resolution should be to declutter. But I realized that I’d already gotten a headstart, selling books I probably won’t read and cutting out or demoting to acquaintance-level the people who hang on to my energy and emotions like leeches. It pleased me to know that my bullshit filter has been steadily getting better over the years. So upon thinking about it some more, I’ve decided that my resolution should be about getting better at self-care.

Those who’ve been following my social media accounts know that my life in 2017 acted like some kind of extreme rollercoaster when it came to the things I couldn’t control–from a sprained knee that now aches during bad weather to winning a writing contest that opened many doors.

But what I did not talk about was the burnout. I’ve burned out a grand total of seven times this year. For a long time, this confused the hell out of me because I didn’t have quite as many incidents as in 2015 or 2016, which were years when I was in a solid depression state (though in a way, I guess you could consider that stage one long period where the candle hadn’t just gone out; the wick was burnt and I couldn’t find the matches). But in 2017, the year that my therapist declared me depression-free, I found myself often crying at my desk, coloring, or playing video games–things that I often did only when I felt spread out (like butter over too much bread, hehe) or simply couldn’t do anything else. The early part of the year definitely still had depression interlaced with burnout, but after I got cleared, that’s when I experienced more incidents. And I could never quite catch the symptoms before the symptoms caught up to me.

What. The. Hell?

III. Adulting and self-care are actually the same thing

If you’re impatient like me, you’d know the feeling of wanting to do ALL the things even though you’re not fully healed yet. It’s like in physical therapy; after the interns got my injured muscles working and feeling again, I had to do exercises over a period of two months to strengthen them. Healing is a slow process; that applies to your mental and psychological health, too.

This book I’ve been reading says that burnout is not actually rock-bottom, but a sign that something within needs to change. Likely an unhelpful attitude or harmful belief that drives me to take on more than my own limits can take, while ignoring the little voice in my head going “ENOUGH!”

I’ve only got one resolution for 2018, and that’s to get even better at self-care. Not the ice-cream-and-a-massage-on-a-bad-day kind. The adulting kind; that includes paying my bills on time so that I don’t fear my phone line getting cut, sleeping enough hours so that I don’t feel like killing a man during the day, eating food that gives me energy instead of tanking me in the afternoon, living within my means so that I don’t have to take on freelance to supplement my salary, learning to spot emotional vampires from a mile off. Things like that and more. It sounds like a lot, but it means fixing different areas of my life to become more functional, more kind to myself and to other people.

I’m coming out of another burnout this Christmas. I’m also coming out of Christmas hoping that this is the last one for a long, long time. If I haven’t been there for you as much as I should have this year, I’m sorry. I would not have been in the best shape to be present in your life. And if you’ve listened to my problems even just once this year, thank you. From the bottom of my burned out–but not burned up–heart.

A Life Update

Hello, it’s been very quiet lately on this blog and I could swear I’ve said that several posts ago, too. So I guess several updates are in order.

First of all, I’ve joined this year’s Clarion Write-a-Thon. Its aim is to raise funds for scholarships for next year’s class (one year already? Yeesh). I wouldn’t have been able to attend if not for the Foundation’s generous scholarship, so please consider either joining the Write-a-Thon or sponsoring/pledging me.

This ‘thon allows you to set your own writing goals, and so mine is to spend 126 hours (or three hours per day) editing my existing stories (namely, one novella and three short stories). I’ve only succeeded with one short story now out on submission and I’m line-editing the novella. My profile contains a snippet from the latter, but you can also view scraps and excerpts from my previous works up on Where Ghost Words Dwell:

And on a personal level, if you will forgive the sudden change in tone, the last couple of months have been a roller coaster ride for me.

Taken just after the haircut on July 2.
Taken just after the haircut on July 2.

I learned in April that I had depression coupled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which steadily grew worse through May. This entailed crying in both the middle of the night and the middle of the day, plus very little sleep. In June, somehow, I ended up in either a good place or a lull in the storm. I am not sure which it is, but it’s a welcome relief and continues to be.

I’ve begun seeking change or letting it happen naturally to me since the lull. For one, my braces came off and, if my other social media accounts are to be followed, I’ve had a drastic haircut. I’ve also begun painting my toenails and wearing more jewelry and mixing up my clothes. It may seem shallow, but to me, these are baby steps: if I can change what’s on the outside, perhaps something will give within. The changes may extend to things other than my outward appearance–for instance, I think I’ll pick up a historical romance novel for my reading pleasure, and I’m going out to see more and more old friends from different periods of my life. Small steps are small.

I’ve also learned that there are many people who are experiencing the same thing, and have met and talked with some of them. They are a great comfort to me and I am thankful to them for all the loving advice and gentle prodding.

It’s not easy for me to admit my state of mind in public where I can be picked apart without context. In fact, I stared at the “publish” button for a long time before releasing this post into the wild. The thing is, I have a habit of bottling up things that upset me long ago to the point that they haunt my adult life, dreaming or waking. Some days I am either happy or mellow, and then I remember what I am saddled with and I get sad all over again. I want to someday get to the point that saying the facts aloud will not make me sad anymore. With this blog post, whether I continue to post about the depression or here or move to my private notebooks, I hope to begin exorcising my demons.