• jess

Making Big Moves for Mental Health

So, you know how I sometimes spit a lot of potentially shitty advice at you because people ask me for it? Yeah, I think it’s a bad idea, too. But I am trying my damndest to get through my contact form questions, come hell or high wallows.

Also, yes, I’m just as tired of telling you what to do as you are hearing me.

It already feels plenty phony, so I guess I’d like to follow up whenever possible to show you that I actually follow the words that I vomit out, in case you were wondering how big of a hypocrite I am on this end of the microphone. I think plenty of us have followed supposed mental health gurus and gotten the feeling that they talked a lot more game than they played. So let's take a break and talk about what this dummy is up to as a nice lecture break.

Recently I’ve been rapping about a whooooole lotta trauma recovery and management that - I realize - lands firmly in the “yeah, we’ll see” pile of mental overwhelm.

“Sounds good, probably won’t have the conviction to enact. But I’ll file it away under the - ‘if all circumstances change, then I’ll consider how else I can improve things. Someday. Maybe. It’s too much to consider now. Also, what’s this bitch really know, anyways?’”

I get it. Lived there for years. When your head is already akin to a dryer filled with bouncy balls, who’s really going to be redesigning their life STARTING with getting mental health under control? "Just get your anxiety under control FIRST!" Ha. Ha. Ha. Yeah, it’s a laughable idea.

But one of the things I’ve talked about a lot, between my Applied Behavior Analysis rants and these recent attempts at “here’s how I got less fucked”? Applying a mental health analysis to your daily world. Recognizing how your life isn’t serving you (i.e. how it might actually be causing your trauma responses) and making changes that will play nicely with the strengths and weaknesses of your survival-intuned brain…

So, I thought it would be a good idea to inject some examples - including one from about 2 days ago - of making huge, terrifying, borderline sacrificial changes… and trusting (somehow, possibly for the first time ever) that this is the best decision for me, because it’s the best decision for this mental health.

Because, as of this last week, I’ve moved all of my belongings from Atlanta to Northern Illinois for the foreseeable future in the name of feeling less bananas. Sorry if I was a bit AWOL during that time. My brother and I drove down Monday, packed Tuesday, loaded Wednesday, and drove back up Thursday with a 15 foot Uhaul and a Ford Escape containing a floppy dog strapped to the back seat. I was a tad occupied and overwhelmed.

Goodbye independent living in the warm and balmy south, hello staying with my mom in the frigid north to focus on all my work - physical and mental - for a while.

If you’re wondering how I’m doing? Well, bet your bottom dollar that there are more than a few mixed, resistant, nervous feelings… while I also actively realize that this is the right move for settling up a majority of my yet-unresolved mental health challenges from 2020 and beyond.

So this episode is a personal one - sorry if you don't want to hear about my shenanigans. But I think it’s likely full of similar doubts, fears, and a deep reluctance to trust yourself that we all experience.

I'm talking about shutting down that trauma-impulse to stay put in terrible circumstances because ambiguity is horrifying. Instead, jumping into the unknown when you take the time and honest look around to admit that everything you know for certain isn’t serving you anymore. In fact, recognizing that your circumstances might be the reason why you can’t get a grip on your *insert mental health complaint.*

Plus, you know it's a good thing that we’re going to finally take a break from this asshole trying to give you life instruction. We all need that. I don't enjoy it either. Instead, let's look at how I fuck up and later rectify my own life, rather than focusing on how to fix yours. Sounds juicier.

I will touch on this a lot later, but it deserves to be said now… We trauma folk generally aren't that good at accepting changes in life. Making big moves when you’re programmed to expect the worst and hate yourself is frightening. There's generally no reason to leave an unhappy workplace or living situation when you assume that the next option will be more or less the same, if not worse. We have no reason to think that anything will ever get better, so instead we wind up plugging away at the same losing situation indefinitely. It's part of that learned helplessness trap, to make matters even more depressing.

But yeehah - is it empowering once you pull the trigger and make some big alterations. It ends your freeze states. It gives you new chances to reapproach how you’re living. It forces you to have even a little confidence in yourself. Yes, it’s crisis inducing when you’re looking ahead at all the options for failure, don’t get me wrong. But I genuinely think it’s better for trauma to start taking steps than waiting around, feeling trapped and helpless, and entertaining neverending messages of instability, dissatisfaction and self-disappointment. That's how we get trapped in these enduring trauma states - that's how we give up on living altogether.

So, for the past few years, leading up to this very day, these are the issues I’ve been trying to rectify in my own life through major alterations that… well, frankly, come at a cost and require later adjustment… but also come with the benefit of my head being clear enough to see the facts in front of my face so I can keep moving forward rather than living in dizzying senescence again.

I'm talking about ditching relationships and jobs that don’t help in the long run. Analyzing where exactly mental illness triggers are coming from and making adjustments. Realizing how I'd actually like to live and adjusting backwards to make it happen.

On top of all that, it also seems worthwhile to briefly mention today all the ways that an imperfect living situation creates about a trillion trauma responses. The challenges of roommates. The discomfort of sharing a space with other humans when you grew up being told you didn’t deserve any. The constant sense of belonging nowhere and having no one.

Plus… again… the new (but, really, old) trauma responses that I’m going to have to learn to handle with less reactivity and more grace as I approach all the upcoming challenges ahead - like staying with my mom without a backup plan and so much more.

And, I guess we should touch on exactly how I’m processing these moves to feel less devastated and personally doomed. Because, hey, the future's looking brighter than it has been for a decade - I just have to stop focusing on the shadows cast by the footprints where I’ve previously tread with some realistic lenses. Dramatic.

It's a whole slew of trauma issues surrounding this very recent development. Soooo let's get started.

How I got here - A series of big changes

How’d I get here - straddling the North and the South - in the first place? It actually all started with big moves that were intended to hopefully improve my mental health over the past three years... which came with variable success rates in return.

In late 2017 I moved to Atlanta for a relationship. I gave up my cushy lab management job in Illinois, where I had a nice salary, benefits, my own office and a ton of freedom in my position to do whatever I wanted. I could come and go as I pleased. I could determine all the lab rules and govern the researchers however I saw fit. I just had to make sure no one was mortally injuring themselves with chemicals, biological reagents, or large pieces of equipment and I was more or less good to go. My bosses were often pretty cool, my days were fine, and my coworkers treated me with respect.

But I wasn’t fulfilled.

Every day was the same - unless, it wasn’t - and then everything was utter chaos. I was on call for laboratory disasters all day and night. The political situation at the University made the social environment unpleasant. Plus, there was nowhere else to go in my position, I had reached the end of the line. I was making enough money to live comfortably, but I found myself bored into a reliance on eating for entertainment and medicating myself to deal with my untreated trauma problems.

I knew it wasn’t the right place for me. I was chronically tortured by the phrase, “you have no purpose, what’s the point of this, what’s next.” And the whisperings in my head were growing louder all the time. So I quit.

Was it terrifying and out of character? Yep. But it was time to go find a real reason to live, before I got stuck for the next 40 years waiting to die, and, in the meantime, turned into one of the miserable administrative folks in my building who made everyone's life hell.

So, I took the opportunity and moved to Atlanta with my then-boyfriend - the narcissist you’ve heard of before - where I certainly managed to redesign my life to be more satisfying professionally. I started salvaging and hand-painting free furniture off the side of the road with images of biological, steampunk, and American-style tattoo influences. Spending all day painting and dreaming up abstract designs? Hell yeah. It was cool! But the relationship and environment was not.

For a year and half, I had no one and nothing except my furniture painting in the basement, a reactive significant other with zero money management skills, and then, eventually, a logistics management position that I had to take at a local craft brewery due to said financially inept partner.

And the entire time, my head was fucked. There was too much pressure all the time from all sides. I was isolated, lonely, and generally rejected by everyone I came in contact with. We struggled to get by every month with unexpected expenses and unpaid bills. I was in the throes of deep trauma responses mixed with a terror-driven drive to earn any money possible. I had no friends or family in the area. Meanwhile, nothing I did was ever good enough for my boyfriend, who apparently wanted a doting stepford wife-mother out of the situation and couldn't understand my mental health issues being isolated and under continual financial and relationship strain.

Alright, it’s probably time to re-evaluate when you find yourself screaming in the shower every day and trying to fling yourself out of moving cars wanting to die. So I did. The next move I made?

I left that relationship. It was getting wildly abusive to the point of being dangerous. Emotional abuse was becoming physical abuse. And I had nowhere to turn when it was out of control, since I didn’t really know anyone in that region of the country. So I packed two bags of shit one morning before work and I never went back.

Was it terrifying and out of character? Yep. But I knew that I couldn’t wait around for things to get better - for someone to actually mean what they said - anymore. It was mentally sinking me. It was making me someone I hated. So I left.

Then, I was suddenly forced to figure out how to live on my own in said unknown city. I wound up in the spare bedroom of a coworker’s house, paying rent that they didn’t ask for because it seemed like the right thing to do. I amped up my second job and buckled down into a life of living with roughly…. Nothing. Because, again, all my belongings were trapped in my ex’s house and I had no cash to my name after he cleaned me out.

So, I took several months of broke-ass solitude and started a blog website for complex trauma. Finally! My purpose was back, as was my control over my immediate environment! No one was torturing me all day. I could actually plan my schedule and follow through without dramatic fighting knocking me off course. I started making bigger changes. I eventually got my stuff out of my ex’s house. I eventually found a new house to live in with new roommates. I eventually started to feel like I was really living in Atlanta.

Things were looking up… except, you know, the abusive job I still held at the brewery. It was a shit position in a - sorry - shitty place. At least, a shitty place to be in middle management. The company was ruled by characters who weren’t technically in control, but held enough manipulative power to sway how everything operated via bullying, tribalism, and rumor spreading. Plus, there was the utter lack of planning or follow through on anything that required me to do and re-do my work about ten times before other people’s mistakes stopped trickling down to my desk.

In short, I was incessantly triggered. Something was always going wrong. I was on-call all the time. I was always catching the blame for other people’s ineptitudes. And the only relationships I had down there - with my coworkers - were extremely fickle as a result. Insecure relationships and looming destruction around every turn? Not good for the ole trauma brain. So I quit again.

Was it terrifying and out of character? Yep. Was this the boldest move to make in the middle of a pandemic? You could say that. Was it particularly “smart?” No. But was it what I needed to move on with my mental health recovery? Oh fuck yeah. And I will be talking about this - the power of having control over your time - in a later episode.

But then… I started working triply hard. Between my second job which was now my main money maker, my trauma project which was now my main focus in life, and my enrollment in a Master’s program which was now my main promise for the future… Then the floppy dog adoption. I got pretty busy, you could say.

And all of this work that I had created for myself in the wake of my stepwise life changes? It became a new trauma triggering problem.

I found myself accidentally living in Illinois, paying rent for the new house in Atlanta, and working myself to the bone every day, trying to keep up with all my financial and personal responsibilities. Generally, this meant forgetting to take care of myself. Being a tightly wound, pissy butthole who could only think about working every moment of the day. Drumming up my anxiety and chronic stress responses that left me bedridden in my early twenties. Not a sustainable lifestyle.

And this is where I’ve been stuck for the past six months.

One foot in each state. One limb in each area of my demanding daily duties. Barely making enough cash to cover my monthly expenses, let alone putting money in the bank. Knowing that I’m working towards what really matters to me but being endlessly stretched in so many directions that a break was inevitable. And having no idea what I was going to do next with my living options, since I was suddenly untethered to any place in particular while the pros and cons of each neutralized the option for any easy decision.

So, starting in 2017 I found myself quitting an unfulfilling job, leaving a dangerous relationship, and then quitting a wildly abusive workplace. Three big life changes in the name of mental health - down.

But, based on my chronic terror and anxiously-designed workaholic life… Clearly, yet another one to go.

The reason for leaving - scarcity trauma

So, let’s just jump into what I’m trying to resolve here. A lot of personal unrest from the past year and a half - ish. Or maybe the last lifetime. You decide.

First, the most surface-level reason for my changing life. Money.

As you’ve heard plenty, I love doing this. But I’ve had a lot of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm in 2020 because of my abundant activities.

What’s really been driving so much of my mental struggle? It’s not the actual work itself, like usual. It’s the underlying finances pushing my endless accomplishing, of course.

I wound up in Illinois for half of 2020 because “why the fuck not” mixed with a lot of unforeseeable circumstances. Might as well see my mom for the first time in a decade. Might as well chill for a while, because COVID numbers suck and I don’t have a physical job to worry about, anyways. Might as well suspend my plans on leaving over and over and over again because of the absurd events that mark my life. Then, when my dad died unexpectedly, it was obvious that my dreams of returning to the south were indefinitely suspended by legal matters.

Soooo now what?

Paying rent is a drag, as I’m sure we all realize. Paying rent when you aren’t even living in that house, because life got too complicated and your family - along with the entire country - is in a time of catastrophe? Holy fuck, if you have scarcity trauma, it’s a mental health disaster waiting to happen - you know, roughly every 10 minutes when I start to think about it.

As someone who has worked for every last dollar she’s ever had - I’m thrifty with my cash. Always have been. Handing over hundreds of dollars every month, essentially, for temperature controlled storage of my worthless shit and now-dead house plants? It kills me. My financial anxiety and guilt are ramped up all the time. I feel like a moron for getting into this situation - that, yes, although it was totally unpredictable when I signed that lease at the end of February - still makes me appraise myself as foolish and wasteful. Plus, a terrible plant mom.

On top of that, I’ve been working my ASS off every month to make enough cash to barely get by… and my head is always spinning with the immense amount of stress I’m under. I don’t feel like I can ever breathe, because I always could be making another penny. And Fucker, I need those pocket jangles.

Because of it, I overload myself. I complain endlessly that I have to write too much every day between my paying and mostly-volunteer jobs - and I know it’s annoying. My brain has been constantly inundated with wordy demands. It often leaves me totally burned out and incapable of producing my best work, or just living a life that isn’t obligatorily tethered to a computer. I’d love to work on TMFRs with full-time dedication, but I royally fuck myself by draining the same brain resources that I need for my reliably paying, incredibly tedious job.

So, I’ve not been accomplishing everything I want to. I’ve been throwing spaghetti at the wall every day in an anxiety-production spiral. I’ve been overstimulated and lagging behind in my personal processing a great deal of the time… because… there is no time. Only demand. Driven by finances. That I’m shelling out, for nothing.

In short, I’ve been driving up my own trauma responses throughout all of these past 7 months.

If I check in honestly with myself... I’m thrown into survival mode when I consider my financial instability. I freak myself out with fears of finding myself homeless again. I’m anxious from the moment I wake up every day. I’m ridiculously stressed as I try to switch my brain between so many diverse tasks. I’m regularly dipping into depression because my world has become so determined by endless doing, and therefore, so small.

It has felt like running a marathon every single day, and yet I still can’t get ahead. My financial rebuilding has halted. My debts are ever increasing thanks to the costs of higher education. And, wouldn't you know, broken dogs are kind of expensive. Despite all my trials, this area of my trauma life recovery stalled out. I’ve known that it was the problematic case - I haven’t been happy with myself or the ways my brain has been taking over my real personality - but I haven’t had the option to stop the situation driving the crisis.

You know what would really help that? Putting about $550 dollars back into my pocket every month instead of handing it over to a soulless rental company for a room I don’t even live in.

Next terrifying major life change, coming right up.

It’s pretty straight forward. I'd love to go to the tropical south, but I have family obligations to attend to. If I keep paying for a room that I'll barely live in, I'll have somewhere to go, but not many opportunities to be there. If I forfeit myself to staying with my mom in Illinois for a bit, I release some of my money obligations. Ideally, I can start accumulating cash to get myself into a better situation. I can theoretically quit panicking so much about my bank account and stop triggering myself into a messy head and a stress-driven schedule.

Reason number one to move: shut off the major mental health issue that has been negatively affecting me on the daily. Scarcity trauma that causes hypervigilance overload that turns me into a robot-human with no time for her connections and no life. Chronic stress breaks my body. Trying to keep eighteen demanding jobs in order makes my trauma brain very disorganized and frantic.

Git rid of some money demand. Cut back on the panics. Try to approach things with more clarity and insight. Hopefully, keep improving this trauma project to be a better resource for everyone. Hopefully, cause said trauma project turn into a singular job that actually pays my bills so I can reapproach an adult life again someday.

In other words, I’m moving for the sake of mental health and better living down the line.

Is this an easy choice? No. Is living with my mom at 30 years old what I had in mind? Absolutely not. Do I love the idea of living in rural bumfucking nowhere where the hiking options are subpar and the weather sucks butt? Nah. Is giving up my adult freedom, space, and resources in Atlanta a no-brainer? No fucking way.

But, you know, I had to recognize that even if I did have the option to return to Atlanta tomorrow… I would be paying a hell of a lot of money to sit in a bedroom and work all the time. Because fuck me, if I haven’t recently noticed that my early trauma causes me to really underutilize the spaces I pay to live in.

Let’s talk about that next.

The OTHER reason for leaving - my traumatized living style

See, it took me about a decade to realize that every roommate situation I’ve ever had has followed the same pattern. I pay an equal portion of rent to use a remarkably unequal amount of space. Annnnd it’s largely my own fault.

Thanks to an early trauma life, my MO is to keep myself and my stuff contained within my bedroom. Only leave the space when necessary. Work around everyone else’s schedule when it comes to shared bathrooms, kitchens, and social lives. Sit quietly. Never be heard. Never be in the way. Never show signs of your existence, at all.

Or what? I don’t know. Someone will be upset with me? I might inconvenience someone else? I feel like I’m just not deserving or allowed to potentially be in the way by having the audacity to put my body in communal spaces.

Is this from my young life experiences in a family where you were likely to be berated for being in the way? Yep. A household that was ruled with authoritarian fists, who allowed us to have a place to sleep and otherwise didn’t want to recognize that we were around? Sure thing. About a thousand examples of aggressive attacks and unnecessary shaming, just for being a human breathing in the same place as a larger one? That’s it!

So, you take the living room, you take the kitchen, you take all the storage space you need… I’ll just be here, waiting for my opportunity to sneak through undetected before I scurry back into my safe place where I’m allowed. I won’t speak. I won’t stand in your way. I won’t touch any of your things. Sorry for breathing your air. I know, I know better.

What I’m saying is, thanks to my early adaptations - the ways that I learned to keep myself safe from the household chaos and punishments - I don’t live comfortably like other people. In this situation, even though I paid a half to a third of the rent, I was always living in about 15% of the space, locked behind a closed door so as to remain unseen. And I wasn’t even doing that happily.

We all know that I don’t do well with the sounds of other humans. I get overstimulated. I can’t concentrate. I start to become irrationally agitated. And yeah, I resent the fuck out of people when they can’t seem to contain their activities to appropriate times and places with a single iota of consideration.

So, I wind up sitting in my dark little room - where all my shit is crammed into awkward places and I have nowhere comfortable to enjoy - jumping, cringing, and angrily muttering over every soundwave that’s passing through thin walls and hollow doors. The banging, the loud footsteps, the humming, the whistling, the “alexa, please’s,” the conversations with other people, the exaggerated coughing and sneezing. It. All. Drives. Me. Unnecessarily. Crazy. Heaven forbid people start trying to talk to me through the closed door by yelling with over-annunciation and blatant disregard for social norms. I’m going to blow my lid.

What I’m saying is… As if I didn’t feel contained to the space by trauma-default before, now I also feel a bit like a caged animal with bystanders who really love to tap on the glass despite being told that it upsets the fearful critter. And for some reason, I spend a good part of my hard-earned income each month to do so.

How the fuck does that make sense? Why do I contractually bind myself to being walked all over and endlessly physically activated just to have a place to live? Why am I basically an individually funded subsidy for other people to actualize their best living situation while I reap essentially none of the benefits and perpetually fear that I’m somehow not allowed to be there?

Uhhh yeah. I could, and will, talk about the difficulties of living with roommates in the wake of a traumatized upbringing again some other day. There is a lot to say since I started realizing this second-class citizen pattern in myself.

Today, the point is just… even if I returned to my rental home as desired, I've already been paying so much money to barely use any of the house. It won’t be any different when I return - it will probably only be worse, since my roommates have had the opportunity to really take over the entire house without me. And, although I realize that it’s entirely my trauma programming which keeps me from living freely, I won’t be able to change my dysfunctional behaviors overnight to rectify the situation.

Rather than guilting and shaming myself for being “a coward who doesn’t speak up for herself enough” (read: I don’t want constant tension and conflict with my roommates, so I don’t push the issues that are definitely my issues) I should just work with my fucking head for a minute here. Stop torturing my brain with mini-triggerings while building contempt for myself, my roomies, and my lifestyle. Accept that I’m going to be uncomfortable, skittish, reclusive no matter what, so I might as well stop paying money for my own unhappiness.

Is my new situation completely better? Hell nah. There’s just a whole new set of challenges. But I’m working on seeing them with a sunnier outlook. Listen to these less-pessimistic views I’m leaning on, be amazed that this lifelong shitstorm forecaster has taken a less expect-the-worst approach. I know I am.

The new challenges and how to (hopefully) overcome them

Let’s be realistic about this change. Will it potentially help me with the scarcity scaries? Sure hope so. But will it be all sunshine and butterflies? I don’t even want to answer.

So, I think it’s clear that my childhood experiences with poverty and an abusive family led to some interesting thinking and behavioral patterns in my world. Social connections are always tough. Cohabitating is generally a triggering and emotionally-difficult experience for me. Overstimulation is a constant challenge.

How’s that going to be different in my new living situation?

Well, now it’s going to be my mom causing all of the personal brain explosions. Great. Much better.

Ha, ha, ha. Of course, I kid. It’s not good.

My mom and I trigger the fuck out of each other on a semi-regular basis. She does all the same things as a non-relative roommate - claiming all the space in the house, disrespecting my clear signs that I would like to be respectfully left alone, and - my god - making so many disturbing sounds. I generally bother her by existing and owning things. She really doesn’t want to see any signs of life in her house unless they’re her own… which, again, nicely explains my “hide in a room and disturb no one” tendencies.

On top of that, we have the added obstacle of 20 years of old traumas and abusive relationship patterns to deal with.

So, yes. There are many days when we get into fucked up arguments that are just a little too reminiscent of my childhood experiences. I just haven’t talked about them here, because I didn’t want to air that dirty laundry when I expected this to be a temporary living setup. But you’d better believe they happen. And when conflict erupts, I’m back in my little kid shoes, feeling helpless and unwanted.

It is massively upsetting. It was originally pushing me into trauma states for days on end. It has made me question if I can continue to interact with my mom for the sake of my own mental health. And then… it all just disappears and she goes back to acting like a predictable person again. Just like when we were younger, there’s not necessarily a discussion or resolution - she just flips her abuse switch back to the other side and becomes a good mother again.

In response? I’ve had to learn to accept that this is just how she is. Always has been, always will be. What can I do? Just slow down my own reactions and let the storm pass. Don’t interact, don’t make it worse. Just try to respect her point of view and keep my system calm. It really blows sometimes.

So that’s a fun dynamic to look forward to. I’ll often be walking on eggshells and isolating myself to stay out of her way. I’ll probably always be waiting for the random outbursts over her OCD neuroticism that turn into personal attacks; 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. I’ll certainly be working on observing and slowing my reactions so I don’t contribute to the escapades more than necessary with the bite of my sharp reborn-teenage tongue.

It will be a more volatile situation than living with friendly roomies, for sure.

But, at the same time, I have to say that there’s a weird comfort in it - and I don’t just mean the chaos that we both love. Although she has upset the hell out of me at times, to the extent that I can’t sleep at night, my heart is pounding out of my chest for days, and I can’t stop shaking… at least we hash things out in the moment. I’m definitely not afraid of conflict with my mom in the same way I avoid it with roommates.

We do often come to some sort of mutual understanding after peaking in our shittiness these days - even if it isn’t spoken out loud. The emotions get vented and the shaming quiets down when it reaches a certain level of brutality. Even if it takes a week. There’s often some basis of where everyone is coming from and how we’re being unequally distressed by the events. And we are both getting better about communicating and cooperating before things get too out of hand, in the first place.

Is this going to be a wild ride that I often see in very black and white terms when I’m too upset to notice the shades of gray? Oh fuck yeah. But are we at least working on our relationship in some way? Seems like it. Am I learning new internal regulation skills to keep myself from spontaneously combusting under the influence of lifelong interpersonal attacks? Definitely.

Is living with her really going to be any more disturbing than living with near-strangers? I guess not… we’ve been through it all before, we’re not ignorant to the ways we both work, and we can’t get rid of each other any time soon.

So, is this going to be better or worse for my mental health? I’m thinking better. At the very least, this experience has forced me to have a real relationship with my mom instead of avoiding her like I did for the past 15 years. At best, maybe it will be a healing experience. Maybe I’ll live a little less like Anne Frank after we sort some additional issues out. Here’s to hoping.

Is my household drama the only problem to work out? Nope.

Taking a step back and looking at the larger climate… yeah, there are additional challenges.

First of all, the social culture here is NOT in alignment with my own views and lifestyle. I’m in the rural Midwest at the moment… I AM a bit of a freak walking around these parts with bright pink hair, semi-controversial band tees cut into crop tops, and approximately zero mayonnaise jiggling around my hips. I DON’T agree with the popular racist opinions in this area. I’m NOT living the “acceptable” life of getting married, popping out rugrats, and going to church every sunday. And, in general, I don’t think I’ll be making any new friends here. But at least I have some old ones.

Secondly, to be shallow - the climate is something I thought I would never endure again in my lifetime. Have you lived through a Midwest winter before? Because, “fuck that.” It’s five or six months of continual darkness, wind, and slippery roads. Not to mention, below zero windchill and unpredictable snow.

I swore that I would never live through a “real winter” again. I swore that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it.

“Oh, great, let’s pile half a year of Seasonal Affective Disorder onto my already-difficult brain. Who’s ready to sit in the house all day, every day, waiting to go to bed? Can’t wait to feel trapped and powerless when I can’t drive anywhere and it’s literally dangerous to be outdoors for more than 2 minutes at a time.”

And these are challenges I’ll be facing, undoubtedly. But, you know, I think these are challenges that I can actually deal with at this point in my life.

Other people don’t freak me out the way they once did. When folks stare at me, I’m not nearly as bothered as I used to be. I don’t feel as threatened by every human on the planet. I don’t feel like they’re all better, stronger, and more worthy than me anymore. I also don’t fear their judgement at this point. If you’re judging others, it’s because you’re miserable yourself. Sad for them.

Will it be a bit lonely? Yip. But, at the same time, my alone time is kind of my life for the foreseeable future. Between all my goals and the continuing COVID nightmare, I’m not really going anywhere, anyways.

And, like I said, I still have lifelong friends left here in Illinois - albeit, in Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, but hell, that’s still a lot closer than they were when I lived in Atlanta. I have family, friends, and family-friends in this area, and I cannot tell you how comforting that is for a trauma brain. Turns out, when you feel like you have absolutely no one to rely on in a foreign city, state, and region of the country… it makes you a bit batty. Dreaming up worst case scenarios every time you leave the house really takes on a new life when you imagine being stranded on the side of the road with no one to call.

So, honestly, although the social climate isn’t as progressive and metropolitan as I prefer… it’s pretty nice to feel like I know other people who probably won’t let me perish in a time of need. It’s the small things in life. Secure attachments and feeling slightly loved. Wow - trauma brain has no retort to that.

Next, as far as the climate… yeah, it’s going to suck any day here. So far I’ve managed through the winter thanks to having proper weather gear - which is starkly different from my earlier life experiences when I wore the available tiny sweatshirts and leather jackets in negative degree temperatures. I also had no reason to embrace the outdoor conditions at that time. I didn’t hike or appreciate nature. I only had the get-by-or-die tendencies of my current life, not the dedication to helping my brain out in the forest. There’s a reason to be alright with the cold now - again, it’s my mental health.

And… fuck me for saying this… but the snow can actually be beautiful in tandem with my favorite visual topic - trees. Don’t tell my younger self I said so.

So. IS any of this the ideal solution? Nah, of course not. There are obstacles to living a happy life in Illinois, just like there were in Atlanta. Only, now it’s the cold instead of the heat, and the lack of humans instead of the overabundance of them creating traffic. Plus… the old family trauma dynamics that never really seem to go away.

But I’ve already seen how my brain has adapted to these challenges and my own capacity for handling things that I expect to bowl me over. And I know that these obstacles will only be easier to overcome when the pressures of earning, earning, earning calm down for a few minutes.

Feeling like a real human makes you capable of acting like a real human. Being in a triggered state all the time makes you act like someone you don’t even know.

I’m excited to act like a real human again.

So what’s the big holdup, you ask? Why have I been here since June, but only hauled all my crap out of the distant city a few days ago? Hey… it’s my trauma brain, telling me lies, like usual.

What held me back

It’s probably pretty clear by now why I’ve stayed with one foot in the south and one in the Midwest. Why I’ve been reluctant to devote myself to this new lifestyle, even though it would save me tons of cash.

Fear! Expecting the worst! Doubting myself!

Yep, just the usual trauma soundtrack to my life. It’s terrifying to think about leaving your old world behind, when you worked so hard to shape that planet into a landscape that sort of suited you.

In Atlanta, I learned how to manage my mental health. I got a grip on my trauma responses, anxiety, and defeat running through the woods of my favorite state park. I had routines and resources that kept me mentally and physically healthy for the first time after many years of failing to find the right balance or keep up with beneficial activities. And you’re fucking right if you think that I’m nervous to lose all of that progressive gumption in Illinois.

What if I stop hiking? What if I lose the motivation to take care of myself? What if it’s just not possible for me to obtain the same level of isolated processing time that keeps my brain in working order? What if I start treating myself poorly again? What if I wind up in a sea of inflammatory illnesses without the most reliable way to calm my shit back down?

Right. A change of environment could mean a rapid disregard of all the things I know I need to do for myself. I fear falling back into the depression that stopped me from doing. I dream up tales of hiding in the house, wasting away and filling my time with chemical abuses.

Yep, I’m basing my future projections on my past shames.

On top of the physical health concerns, I also get worried that I might totally lose my mind once I’m firmly “living in my mother’s house” with nowhere else to go. Honestly, my saving grace in the past 6 months has been leaning back on the knowledge that - shit - at least I can leave at any time if things get really bad. In other words, I’m concerned about not having an escape plan.

I know what it feels like to be “trapped” in a bad living situation. I’ve been there too many times before. And yes, it fucks me up.

Nothing pushes me into a frozen state of helplessness like telling myself that I have no other options. Being stuck in the house with someone when your head is ready to explode under duress is a crazying situation. Being miserable in your general area but having no clue where to relocate your whole life is really demoralizing. Feeling like you can’t “get away” even for a few hours because your disabled dog requires constant attention - and, refer to the lack of viable social contacts in the immediate area, too - is a panic attack waiting to happen.

All in all, I start to assume the worst when I consider how things have gone in the past. That makes sense; my brain wants to take the available information and predict what might happen in the future. It’s a reasonable thing to do. But with so many unpleasant memories and personal judgements in my life history, it paints a pitch black picture of the future.

And this is where underestimating myself comes into play.

I’m judging my future ventures on who I was in my past - oh, sorry, what pathways my brain chose to utilize on default in the past. Looking at the years of dysfunction in my life and assuming that all events will happen similarly? It cuts out half of the story. The part where I got my shit under control, realized how to help myself, and committed to doing that every day.

Fact is, I’m not the same person as I was in my early twenties when my world was falling apart and I was too crushed by self-hatred and terror to piece it back together. I DO trust myself to some extent these days. I HAVE proven that I’m capable of keeping my head in order. I KNOW that I have better coping skills and management tools to rely on. I don’t feel the same way about myself. I don’t feel incapable or weak. I don’t have the same narrative of being a completely broken individual at the mercy of my circumstances anymore.

In the past 6 months I’ve already proven that I can withstand more than I ever expected. The life disruption, the ambiguity, and the powerless feeling hasn’t wasted me yet. If anything, I’ve grown stronger and more self-assured that I can do alright anywhere - as long as I’m willing to be flexible and dedicated to the right processes.

Hell, backing it up, the past several years and several new traumas have taught me that. And taking that perspective has been helpful to reframe and process this change. How? I’ll try to explain it without being too “let god and let go,” “look on the brightside,” or “trust that it’ll all work out,” about it.

Processing it and moving forward

Right, so now that you know all my fears in the present and challenges ahead… want to hear how I’m trying to see it as a fine - if not a great - thing?

First thing’s first. Why am I pretending like this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me? I’m judging the situation and myself so harshly, based on… what? Is it some societal expectation that a 30 year old can’t lean on her mom for a while? Yeah! Is it also a blatant disregard of my slightly longer history - how exactly I got to this place? Mhmmm.

Truth is, it was 1.5 years ago that I left my abusive ex in Atlanta. I had given up everything to be with him, and about a year and a half later, and I started rebuilding my life from zero at that point. No cool career anymore, no money to fall back on, nowhere to go, no social connections in the city. I was living in a spare bedroom at a friend’s house and desperately scraping by at my then-incredibly-abusive job.

Now what? Uh, start all over again, I guess.

But, apparently, my brain likes to forget the challenges and focus on what I’m doing wrong. If you have an inner critic like mine, you are probably not surprised to hear this. Forget about the fact that everything got destroyed and you’ve actually been trying to renovate your existence to live in harmony with your mental illness, true personality, and personal goals. Just focus on how you don’t have a house and a stable life by now - as if that was ever in the cards. Ridiculous, Karen. Please sit down for a moment and take another look at things.

Additionally… I need to think about why the fuck I’m beating myself up about leaving this city behind? I never wanted to live in Atlanta in the first place. I followed someone there. I was ready to leave when that ended. I just felt trapped because that’s where I was earning a paycheck. And nothing ever really worked out in my favor the entire time I was there (except finding peace in nature, some good friends, and a badass therapist, that is).

Sure, there are some people that I’m leaving behind in the city. No, I’m not stoked about the winter climate change. Yes, I’m concerned about feeling as metropolitan and outdoor adventurist in Illinois.

But, taking a broad view, I’m a few steps into restructuring my entire life after devastation. I’ve never had a plan in my life. I’ve just been trying to keep myself from suffocating this whole time and making adjustments to correct the trauma illnesses that take over at times.

And why the fuck wouldn’t that include a bit of a “pause” to get my finances and career under control when I get the first real chance in my entire lifetime? No one ever let me take a break and figure things out before. I’ve never had the choice of a reset button or opportunities that thrilled me. Right now I’m back in school. I’m working on a big project that matters - that I really believe in. And I’m learning how to live like a content, peaceful, connected human after experiencing the opposite for as long as I can remember.

Zoom out, and the picture is a lot sunnier than when my shitty head gets lost in the unfavorable dirty details.

Plus, I have to do what we all hate the most - have some positive assumptions. I need to think of all the relief I’m bringing on myself. I know I’ll be massively relinquished of some stress when I’m not fighting to make rent each month. I recognize that I feel much better fighting with my mom than silently stewing with my roommates. I also see the value in having close social connections like family and steadfast friends in the same state.

Having a few financial demands off my back and reliable relationships within reach - uh - we’re talking about two of my largest triggers being released. I cannot downplay how critical that will be for my ongoing inner and outer work.

On top of that spirit brightener, I think I need to do a better job of accepting that I’m most likely not ever going to have a “settle-down” kind of life. Am I feeling weird about having lived in 5 different places in 3 years? Hell yeah. But at the same time, did I feel intensely dissatisfied, bored, and unfulfilled when I lived in one apartment and worked one job in my earlier twenties? Yep. Was I freaked out by the idea of “this is it, forever” when I was with my ex, living within his uber-adult framework (as in, having a house, a step child, and a life planned out together)? Sure was.

Maybe I juuuust need to acknowledge that I’m not going to have a stagnant life. And - fuck me - I wouldn’t want to. Buy a house, make a family, and stay put sounds like my worst nightmare. I’m not cut out for it. I need to keep moving; I feel a million times better when I’m exploring the world, seeing new things, and just taking action, in general. Standing still is too similar to a freeze state. Getting stalled out kills my head. Pushing forward and figuring novel things out keeps my trauma brain challenged about its old ideals.

And, lastly, I need to wrap up the old, unwanted narratives by recognizing… I’m going to be okay, no matter what happens.

Not because god provides. Not because you just need to be grateful and everything works out. Not because I have a silver spoon hanging from my mouth or anyone else is going to save me.

I’m going to be fine because I’ve always managed to scrape by, no matter how dire the circumstances in the past. I’m smart and capable, and a lot of that comes down to having a hard past with difficult circumstances. When it comes down to it, I’ll always figure out what to do next and things will always be okay somehow. Because, you know, they have to be.

At the end of the day, you make a decision, you roll with it, and you deal with whatever happens next. But there will always be a solution. There’s always a next step. There’s always a way to improve things little by little. You just have to keep trudging forward, rather than spinning in circles when circumstances change. And you have to trust that you’re not going to stall out and lose your grip when those mishaps happen. Even if you have in dark days of the past.

Fuckers, my circumstances are clearly changing. I’m nervous. I’m sad. But I’m not evaluating the change to equal certain doom or mental destruction, like I always used to.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to march through this new chapter in my life - maybe slowly, stumbly, and with some falls - just like I have all the others. But I’ll take it one day at a time, one step at a time, one adjustment at a time. I need to remember that I’ve already been through a helluvalot to land myself here in the first place. Plus, Satan, I am doing the thing that I set out to do - rebuilding my life, come hell or high shit-creek, to actually live the existence I want.

Wrap it

I guess the point of this post is… yes, I’m back to being Mid-restless, motherfuckers! Guess who’s back in her original racist and cornfield-laden habitat! Holler.

But also, I just want to tell you that even though big changes are maybe the most terrifying part of this trauma journey… it pays off. If you KNOW that something is driving up your mental illness and trauma responsiveness, it’s worth it to take risks. Even if they feel like taking a step backwards, even if they necessitate some temporary sacrifice, even if they will be more uncomfortable than the life you’ve fallen into… know that shaking things up is the greatest catalyst to trusting yourself a bit more.

I think that’s been my greatest lesson in these past years of utter turmoil. Have they been fun? No. But have I survived, on my own, through determination, capability, and inner strength? Actually, yes. Will I be able to do it again? You know it.

Did I ever think I would utter such phrases in this lifetime? No fucking way.

It turns out that evaluating my circumstances, being real about the ways my trauma brain is getting riled by them, and adjusting for a shot at increasing mental clarity in the name of creating a better life long term is key for me moving forward from the old patterns that have left me feeling disappointed and doomed.

Even if it requires giving up worldly comforts and crutches that held me up - I’ve been better off after every single change. I’ve grown a thousand fold in the course of each life alteration. Just making decisions that benefit myself and actually following through, rather than getting stalled out and more traumatized? It’s been critical for my brain. And I think it might be the same for others.

Lastly, I want to say that the decision is the part of the process that sucks the worst. Looking forward at the possibilities is the hard part. You’re likely to expect the worst and wind up in a brain hurricane as you waver between your options. But actually taking action? That’s when you feel relief and realism set in. As soon as you pull the trigger, you start noticing, analyzing, and adjusting again.

You’ll find ways to make it work. You’ll learn to be happy with less. You’ll realize you never needed those old tethers in the first place. You’ll adapt and you’ll gain more faith in yourself… Even if this is just the first step in a long journey of learning to finally live.

Keep stepping. Don’t stall. And don’t keep living in a way that makes it impossible to accomplish what you really need.

So. Welcome to Illinois, Fuckers. I’ll be radioing out of here if you need me. Not to guilt trip anyone here, but, turns out y’all are important enough to me that I’ll give up my old life to try to better support yours.

Now… to dream of the future circumstances where my next step in figuring out this life involves less instances of bickering with my mother...

Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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