Disordered Thinking

 

thinkstockphotos-507216088

You see, I’d like to think I know myself pretty well. I majored in psychology, so I know how humans work, and I have a basic knowledge of mental health. I’ve taken many online personality tests, and I invest a lot of money to learn more about myself and then process what I learn. At this point, I’m rarely surprised by something I learn about myself.

So when I was sitting in my counselor’s office, complaining, I wasn’t expecting to be surprised. I was talking about how I’m incredibly, almost unbearably, tired despite the fact that I’m doing everything right. I’m not eating sugar, I’m exercising, I’m taking lots of emotional and mental space, and I’m saying no to things that will cost more than I have to give.

My counselor nodded as my whining spun down to a stop.

“Well, Ashleyne,” she said casually, crossing one leg over the other, “since you have Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder, it makes sense that…”

I have no idea what she said after that.

See, for almost two years now, I’ve been telling everyone and their pet gerbil that I’m depressed. I took the whole “speak the truth and the truth will set you free” thing to heart. I know I’m depressed. But in this whole process, no one (not my doctor, not either of my counselors, not my psychiatrist, not my masters-degree-holding roommates, not my stuffed orangutan) has said the word “Disorder” out loud while looking at me.

Huh.

Longterm, it doesn’t really change anything. I’m not ashamed, or afraid, and I don’t think I’m crazy. I will continue to deal with my depression the same ways I have been.

But it did surprise me. This is a thing. I have a disorder. It’s not just that I don’t know how to handle my shit, which is what I’ve been thinking for quite a while now.

There’s actually something broken. Out of order. Misplaced. A recurring problem that doesn’t have a simple solution. And it has a name.

I tuned back in as my counselor said, “…which tells us that it really is a chemical problem and we can work with that.”

Huh. Okay. We can work with that.

I have a label. Alright. I can work with that.

So it’s still true: Speak the truth, for the truth can set you free.

I know myself a little better now. Serves me right for thinking I was done learning.

I Serve at the Pleasure

 

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-10-50-42-am

I am a fan of dramatic criminal and political television. Castle, Chuck, The West Wing, NCIS, Blue Bloods, I’ve binged watched and since forgotten most of them.

But my ongoing favorite, my consistent go-to, is Madam Secretary.

It’s my jam.

In case it’s not your jam, the titular Madam Secretary is one Elizabeth McCord, who hesitantly accepted the role of Secretary of State from her old CIA boss (now the President.)

Secretary McCord is a diplomat, a passionate speaker, a mother of three, and she champions the rights of the downtrodden and mistreated around the globe while trying to protect Americans.

Elizabeth often disagrees with the President. She is frequently told to do something against her better judgement, or to act for the greater good, despite those actions being negative (or even fatal) for an individual. The twists and turns of the show revolve around the tensions Elizabeth feels when her own beliefs conflict with what she must do as Secretary of State. She often fights back against the demands of her superiors. But at the end of the day, she must concede to what she is told.

And when that happens, she stands straight, looks her boss in the eye, and says, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”

I looked up the origin of that phrase.

It’s complicated.

But it started way back with the French in 1205, with the saying, “the will of the king.” Meaning whatever he wants, happens. It appeared in America’s language bank in 1789, when James Madison argued for the Presidential Cabinet to be fully under the power of the President.

The saying has had a convoluted history since then, but it has come to mean simply this: In the end, what the President says, goes.

If you fail to do what the President says, you will likely be fired. If you try but are unsuccessful at doing what the President says, you may tender your resignation.

You serve the President, whether you entirely agree or not.

Don’t panic. I’m not actually going to make a political point.

I’m just wondering at whose pleasure you serve?

Who gets the final call in your life? In your decisions? In the end, do you serve at the pleasure of others? Of yourself? Of capitalism? Of justice?

 

thinkstockphotos-584772758Me, I serve at the pleasure of the King, Jesus.

At least, I say I do.

But I often find myself grumbling, questioning, justifying. I don’t understand the will of the King, and from where I sit, it often doesn’t seem to be in my best interests.

Or it just seems straight up wrong.

I’ve been reading the book of Job this week, an ancient story of a man who had everything – literally everything he could wish for – and God allowed him to fall to the bottom of society, destitute, sick, his family dead. The majority of the book revolves around three of Job’s friends arguing with him that he must have done something to deserve this. In ancient times (and sometimes modern times, if we’re honest) they believed that the gods punished you based on your actions. If you were dealt a bad hand, it was either your fault or your parents’ fault.

But Job spends about 3,000 words defending himself, saying he is righteous. He demands that God explain himself.

Weirdly enough, God does, in fact, answer Job.

And it’s a smackdown.

In another 3,000 words or so, God essentially says this: “Job, do you know everything? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

It’s a pretty magnificent smackdown, and a really neat piece of literature, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But what it reminded me was that I am not God. I do not serve at my own pleasure because I truly believe that God is greater than I am. He knows more. In fact, he actually knows everything. I do not. I mean, I’m pretty close. But not quite there yet.

Anyway.

I serve at the pleasure of a being who is so entirely powerful, so immensely good, so incredibly wise that I will never, even after 10,000 years of eternity, know everything about him.

So I’m going to try to spend a little less time asking, “Why me? Why them? Why now?” and a little more time standing up straight and saying, “I serve at the pleasure.”

Ain’t No Shame

A young woman lying on her couch

 

Last night, I told myself I was going to stay up long enough to watch all of Jeopardy.

Yes, the Jeopardy that’s been on since 1964.

(I’m not exaggerating. I looked it up. 1964.)

And yes, the live show, which airs at 7:30pm.

My goal was to stay up until 8pm.

I am 28 years old.

And you know what? I’m not ashamed.

I know it’s funny, which is why I’m telling you about it. I know that a 28 year old single woman having to make herself stay up to watch Jeopardy on a Thursday night is humorous.

Because it’s not the average reality for someone my age. And when someone or something is wildly outside average, it’s often funny.

Dumb and Dumber? Outside average. Funny. Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory? Outside average. Funny.

But that does not – in any way – make it shameful. Societal average is not a moral measurement.

There is no “should” in what time you go to bed. There is no “should” in what you eat. There is no “should” in your IQ level. There is no “should” in how much you weigh. Those things, in and of themselves, are not moral issues.

There may be factors in your life that turn some of those things into moral issues. But society does not get to dictate that. You do.

So go to bed after Jeopardy if you want. Don’t be ashamed.

Like KJ says, “Don’t should all over yourself.”

Return Trip

Hey, friends.

I’m typing this from the back corner of an airplane, flying 37,987 feet over Atlanta. I’m hurtling through the air in a metal tube, making the 989-mile journey from Orlando to Indianapolis in about 2 hours. For the dollar price of a decent pair of jeans. I paid more for the tablet I’m tapping these words on than I did to look down at the earth like an astronaut coming back into orbit. Crazy. 

And yet, this journey that seems crazy when you break it down is actually returning me to normal. I’m coming back to real life. 

I’ve spent the last two months touring with a Christmas rock band, playing shows in prisons and homeless shelters. If you don’t know me that probably sounds like the beginning of a bad joke or a Lifetime movie plot, but it’s true. 

This touring season has been hectic and harried, full of late-night gas station stops and frigid early-morning wake-up calls. Our schedule has been all over the place, and that combined with rehearsals, regular work meetings, and overseas travel means that I haven’t had a steady routine since August. I haven’t worked out more than twice in one week since June. Add in the emotional intensity of talking to sobbing inmates and still grieving the loss of one of my best friends, plus not getting a lot of alone time, and all this makes for a very unstable Ashleyne. 

So today I am returning home. I’m returning to my routine and my bed and my gym and my cubicle. 

Normal often feels boring. Home can seem like an abstract concept. But today, normal and home sound wonderful. 

(Feel free to remind me of that in a month, when I’m complaining about it.)

So, wherever you are today, whatever you’re doing, why don’t you take a moment to join me in appreciating normal and real life? If you’re far away, or in a strange season, stop to look forward to returning to normal. If you’re in the day-in-day-out right now, no matter how hectic, stop – breathe – notice how nice real life is. Look around and enjoy the mess, organization, chaos, noise, or quiet. Are you home? Is this where you belong? Savor it. 


Here’s to return trips. 

Post-Thankful

giphy

I’m exhausted. Are you guys exhausted?

Between the traveling and the eating and the sledding and the crying children and the snowball fights and the slightly-too-competitive games and the purposeful thankfulness and the wonderful but eternally present crowd of people, I am worn out.

And I’m not even shopping today. Golly gee.

So before I start up another game of Trivia Murder Party or get hit in the back of the head with another snowball, I would just like to say two things to you:

  1. Happy thanksgiving, my friends.
  2. Don’t forget to rest this weekend, okay? Family chaos and holidays and travel and sledding and all the other nonsense can overwhelm our schedules. So don’t forget to stop and smell to coffee, look outside for a moment, and remember all the things you are thankful for, and enjoy them. Including your bed, because if you need to take a long nap, you should just do so.

 

P.S. Oy with the poodles already!

The Inner Dialogue

2016-11-18
My Emotional Self: BAAHHH! I HAVEN’T WRITTEN A BLOG POST AND I HAVE NO IDEAS AND I’M NOT EVEN A GOOD WRITER AND WHAT AM I GOING TO DO I GIVE UP IT’S OVER I NEED A NEW LIFE DREAM I’M GOING TO GO MAKE SOME BROWNIES

My Logical Self: Seriously? Calm down. You haven’t written about your depression medication yet, and it was on your list of potential topics. Just do that.

E: Oh. That’s a good idea. But I don’t really want to.

L: Why not? There’s nothing of which to be ashamed.

E: Who talks like that?

L: Not this again.

E: I’m not ashamed. I’m bored.

L: Only moments ago, I thought you were going to pull out your proverbial hair. I am offering you a viable solution, and you find it boring?

E: Well, yeah. Because drugs are just drugs. It’s like ice cream. Some people like vanilla, some people like caramel pecan crunch supreme. Some people like that SoyDream crap; some people have to eat that because they can’t eat the real stuff. You just have to try different ice cream and see what works for you and if it makes you sick.

L: What a delightful analogy. However, I would like to point out that you’ve already had three conversations this week alone concerning ice cream. So something must still be worth talking about.

E: Of course it is. It’s relatable. Ice cream is relatable. Everyone’s tried it, everyone has an opinion on it, and most of us love it. So why wouldn’t we talk about it?

L: Even though you will not change anyone’s opinion by talking about it.

E: Sure. But I might suggest a brand they’ve never tried, or a flavor…oh. I see where you’re going with this.

L: You have an astonishing intellect.

E: Shut up! I’m very mature! Leave me alone.

L: …

E: I still don’t know what to write. It’s hopeless. I should just take the site down.

L: Sigh. Perhaps communicate your experiences with medication and how you have found it helpful, and what areas others might expect to encounter difficulties?

E: Like how I had to try three different medications before I found one that made me feel consistently better instead of worse?

L: Yes. Like that.

E: And how I’ve now moved to a third dosage of my current medication in order to balance out my mood swings and energy depletion? But I’m still solidly depressed for a day about every 5 weeks. And that may never change. And I don’t love that I’m pumping drugs into my body every day, and maybe will be for the rest of my life. That’s depressing enough on its own. So I try not to think about it. I just focus on dealing with my emotions and my energy level and let my doctors think about the drug stuff. And I still hope that maybe I’ll figure out how to manage all this stuff on my own without the drugs.

L: But also, if you don’t, it’s not your fault.

E: Yeah. I forget that sometimes.

L: Don’t worry. I’ll be here to remind you.

E: Oh, goodie. Did I forget anything else?

L: No, I think you summarized quite well.

E: And you are quite annoying.

L: Thank you.

E: I guess I can write a blog post after all. Maybe I don’t need these brownies.

L: Perhaps you could start with some vegetables, and save the brownies for after lunch.

E: Fine.

 

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-10-48-15-am

The Good Stuff: Tough Week Edition

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-24-11-am

Perhaps you are in the 1% of Americans that haven’t had a rough, physically exhausting, and emotionally draining week. If so, good for you! Live long and prosper, and go out and spread your own cheer.

This post is for the rest of us. If you need a pick-me-up emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually, ecumenically, whatever…I’m with you. Read on for a few suggestions of how to recover.

 

Search YouTube for “full-length Hallmark movies.” One of my favorite things to do when I’m totally exhausted is watch incredibly cheesy, made-for-tv movies. Yes, they’re terrible and unrealistic. That’s the point. At the end of the movie, everything wraps up in a bow, and even the people who got rejected are doing fine. It’s an 88-minute reminder that life has good moments. Now, you might have to search through the results for a while to find a movie that wasn’t recorded on somebody’s phone or dubbed over in Tagalog, but there are lots of options so stick with it. Or if you have cable, just find the Hallmark channel.

Read Isaiah 43. This is my favorite part of what God has to say to us in writing, but right now it’s a great reminder that the end is never really the end and that even when things seem hopeless, they’re not.

Watch Benedict Cumberbatch and Jimmy Fallon write and perform a scene via MadLibs. I mean, when on earth does a brilliant British actor being silly on national television NOT cheer you up?

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-29-01-am

 

Tell someone a joke. My friend Molly is always good for a bad joke, and it’s one of the many things I love about her: she likes making other people smile. Texting is a particularly good way to tell jokes, because it lets people read and enjoy at their own convenience. Can’t remember any jokes? Come on, guys. You hold the internet in your hands. You can start here.

Give someone something just because. One of my favorite ways to do this is to go to a store for no other purpose but to wander around until I find something that reminds me of someone. And then I buy it and give it to them. If you want, you can save it for Christmas (we’re almost there?!?) but I’d recommend just giving it now. People love unexpected gifts that say, “I saw this and thought of you.” However, sometimes the item is wildly expensive, and you know you cannot purchase it. If so, text them, call them, email them, write them a card, and say, “I saw this thing and I so wanted to buy it for you, but I couldn’t afford it. Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you and I’d buy you a million of those if I could!” Trust me. If I heard that from you, I’d love it.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-21-41-am

 

Give out free and unnecessary hugs. Although I would beware of hugging strangers, hugs are the best. Give them out like candy on halloween.

 

Smile. I like you guys. And remember, tomorrow is a new day.