I Would Recommend Therapy for 11/10 People

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.
Therapy has taught me so many things, but the most important thing it’s taught me is that I can very slowly, over time, push the limits of what is comfortable and what is not.
For instance: driving often makes me anxious. Like, anxious to the point of physical nausea and headaches. Especially if I don’t know where exactly I’m going and require the use of a GPS or a map or a navigating friend in the passenger seat.
However: every time I force myself to make a trip like this and succeed, it causes me to have a reason to celebrate. “Yay! I did this little thing! And it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be because I didn’t die in a fiery fifty-car pileup!”
Now, the best way to think of things like this is a scientific experiment, as follows:
Question: if I have to drive by myself to X place, will life go on and will I survive?
Hypothesis: if I successfully make it to X place (and back), life will go on and I will have achieved something.
Experiment: I drive to X place.
Results: There is no car accident and only one person honked at me, and it’s because they’re rude, not because I was driving badly.
Conclusion: Driving to X place was not so bad, because there was no fiery fifty-car pileup, I am not dead, and I didn’t puke. I will probably be able to do this again.
Yay, science!
It doesn’t always work this way, of course. Life cannot and should not be a series of constant risk-taking. Doing that to yourself is unhealthy. If Z activity scares the living willies out of you like driving does for me, then you would be constantly living life in an adrenaline-fueled hellscape. There’s no reward in the scenario, and so you are even less motivated to do the thing again.
The pattern goes like this: take a small risk, succeed, reward. (The reward may be entirely psychological motivation to do scary things again, or it might be a giant slurpee or chocolate bar.)
Now, ordinary life doesn’t allow for you to do things at your own pace. There’s no time or space or money for you to reward yourself for doing little things that “normal” people manage to do all the time, every day. So you have to add a bit of a recovery period in for yourself, and it’s simply impossible to make it work by the timeframe, space, or budget of a “normal” person.
Now we get to my main point: this is why I believe we need a universal healthcare system, a better mainframe for mental healthcare specifically, and for people to not make jokes about things they don’t really understand— i.e. triggers and safe spaces.
I wouldn’t have realized ANY of this about myself without therapy. Before I was in therapy, I was a complete mess. Sometimes I wanted to die, sometimes I was very glad to be alive. Sometimes I would cry for absolutely no reason and sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night because my brain wouldn’t shut up and I couldn’t figure out how to make it do so in all of the chaos. Sometimes I would go to a ward activity at college and jump when someone tall walked right behind me. Sometimes it felt like being in a room with more than five people in it was TOO MUCH and I needed to get out, CLANG CLANG ALARM BELLS CALL OUT THE CAVALRY and “Wait, Sarah, where are you going?”
Uh, I left something in my room. I’ll come out when I find it. (I won’t find it.)
Anyway, I was having all of these weird thoughts, and sometimes I would do weird things and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t understand how my brain and my body were cooperating because to me, it felt like they weren’t.
When I finally got to therapy, it was just venting at first. I talked to my therapist, Anne, about all of my problems. She listened and nodded and wrote things down, and occasionally asked me questions.
After a few sessions, it occurred to me that… something had changed. I was calmer. I didn’t have the same need to hold everything back until I had to word vomit into Facebook or blog posts to get it out. I was more controlled.
Then she asked me more questions. Questions that probed deeper into the stories I told her about my life and my trauma and my brain.
They were simple questions.
“Why do you think that you’re not pretty?”
“When did you start feeling bad about your body?”
“What makes you think that (X event) is your fault?”
And when she asked those questions, I had to think about them. I found myself crying a lot. Anne always had about ten boxes of tissues in the room and she would just hand me a box and wait for me to be able to speak through the tears.
I was finally beginning to find something, in the chaos of my mind, that I could hold onto. And once I said things out loud, they became so much more real.
She taught me about the risk-reward thing related to anxiety. This technique is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in which a person struggling with anxiety over a specific behavior or action (which is called a “trigger,” now stop making fun of it) deliberately performs or exposes themselves to that behavior or action in a controlled environment (which may be called a “safe space” depending on your therapist). By creating a situation where the trigger will have a greatly diminished risk (or no risk at all), the person with anxiety is able to rewire their response to the trigger to reflect a lack of risk, and therefore prevent the anxious response. TL;DR— it’s some next-level, positive Pavlovian brain-programming and it’s freaking amazing.
Anne gave me ways to practice this type of CBT. It’s been very helpful with driving and making casual conversations with people. I have future plans to apply it to things like phone calls, opening the oven door when I’m making food, and eating in front of other people.
Every therapy session I go to costs a little over a hundred dollars. My family’s insurance covers most of it but we do a co-pay of about thirty bucks. I used to go every two weeks, but I only go every three weeks or once a month now. If my family wasn’t so lovely and understanding about the whole thing, if they weren’t willing or couldn’t afford to pay for it, then I would still be a complete mess. The helpfulness of people on the internet can only do so much— emotionally, mentally, financially.
And that is why we need universal healthcare. That is why we need a better system for diagnosing and treating people who have mental health issues. That is why people need to stop making childish jokes about things they don’t understand.
Mental health issues don’t care about your socioeconomic standing, but people in a lower income bracket are more likely to go without treatment for their mental health issues, because they can’t afford it. They can’t worry about their mental health; they have to worry about the roof over their heads and the food they can afford and the families they have to provide for. People who cannot afford mental healthcare don’t have the luxury of recovery, of risk-and-reward, of CBT. If they can even afford therapy in the first place, then taking time off work to go and spend money on it could mean an entire week’s groceries. It absolutely sickens me that we live in a world where people have to live in unnecessary misery because they can’t afford something that should be a human right. Like, capitalism, what the actual crap. If you were really beneficial for people then you would be doing something about this.
Mental health issues are so often misdiagnosed because it’s a “soft science” and “it’s not always medical.” (Hint: it’s pretty much always medical.) I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fairly official diagnosis from a psychiatrist, accompanied by prescriptions for the pills I need to take to prevent myself from wanting to not exist anymore. But other people have far more vicious and complex problems than I do. Because the mental health field has far fewer professionals than it needs, not everyone can be seen for their problems right away. I go to therapy in the next county over because the waiting lists for therapists in my county are nine months long. That is completely ridiculous— both that we don’t have enough therapists to cover as many people who need it, and that nine months worth of people need a therapist and can’t get one. Say what you like about exercise, sunshine, omega-3 fatty acids, or essential oils— the most effective treatment for mental illness is a combination of therapy and medication.
And finally, the joking about triggers and safe spaces really has to stop. Putting a political charge on this is unfair to people of any political alignment who suffer from mental health issues. Like cool, I get it, you disagree with me, but there’s no need to be deliberately unkind to people who are already dealing with a whole lot of crap. A safe space, to me, is the risk-free zone where I can practice my CBT techniques. It’s a place where I will not be punished if I break down crying over having to make a phone call. It’s a place where I can allow myself to relax a little. Safe spaces are places, like my bed and my room. Safe spaces are people, like my therapist and my parents. Safe spaces are things, like this blog and my small army of stuffed animals and the playlist on my MP3 player that I designed for Bad Days. And triggers, to me, are things that might cause me to have a panic attack or a particularly bad depressive episode or a return to suicidal ideations. Triggers are phone calls I’m not expecting. Triggers are The Great Hard Drive FUBAR of 2016. Triggers are wanting to say something, to speak up and argue in defense of an idea that I have— but not having the words for it because I write so much better than I speak.
If this doesn’t make sense to you, it’s due to one of two possibilities— firstly, you don’t have anxiety; or secondly, if you do have anxiety then yours manifests differently from mine. But keep in mind that anxiety isn’t rational. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s no practical reason for me to feel nauseated every time I have to drive somewhere, but it happens anyway. Why? Because my brain still views it as a threat to my existence. Logically, I am aware that I am a fairly good driver and that I am an extremely careful driver. It is statistically unlikely that I will be in another car accident anytime soon. I can have all these thoughts, simultaneously, with an overwhelming tidal wave of DEAR GOD I AM GOING TO DIE MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP, because anxiety doesn’t care about logic. Logic can be a tool I use to reassure myself, but it doesn’t magically stop me from having enormous amounts of stomach pain or headaches whenever I go somewhere.
The point of this entire post is that I was a hot mess, but thanks to therapy, I now understand how my brain works. (Mostly.) And now that I have experienced this magic, I want it for everyone else. I’m not better than any person on this planet and I am no more deserving of help than anyone else; so why should I get to have therapy while others suffer? Everyone should be able to have help for this, if they need it.
And even if you don’t need therapy for a specific thing, I recommend it anyway. Therapy has not only helped me deal with some of my issues, but it’s helped me learn how to organize my own mind. I understand why my brain does what it does, and I can even recognize the difference between the rational and the irrational thoughts. I know when I need to take a pill and when I need to leave a room. I know when I need to disengage from something in order to keep myself from being hurt. I know what risks are okay to take, and I can accept the rewards I get for taking them.
Seriously, therapy. 11/10 would recommend for all 7 billion and change on the planet.

If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.

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Letters To My Past Selves

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

Firstly, some housekeeping. I haven’t posted in like a month. I apologize, but I’ve also made an executive decision that following a posting schedule is BS unless I’m getting paid for it, and so I’m only going to post when I want to post and I will not be stressing myself out about it. Because that was what I was doing and it made me not want to post things. Now, on to the main event!

Dear pre-Earth-life, spirit Sarah: You made some decisions, kid. I don’t know what all of those decisions were, but I do know that you picked an excellent family, one that makes you feel needed and loved, and one that you need and love. So— you know, thank you. You’ve made some other decisions, and I hope that I don’t get older and look back on what I did with those decisions in mortality and go, “Wow, that was dumb.” For the record, though, I think you’ve done a great job.

Dear in-utero-Sarah: My propensity for inappropriate laughter is thanks to you. You were right-side-up, which for a fetus is upside-down, and they had to manually turn you and my mother was laughing uncontrollably the whole time. It’s one of those things that I am convinced is absorbed by osmosis because now I laugh when I shouldn’t. It is a coping mechanism for severe clinical depression, so I will allow it. And you came out okay, anyway. A little jaundiced, but quite healthy.

Dear infant Sarah: You learned to sleep well at a very young age, to the point where your mother was half convinced you were dead sometimes because you didn’t wake up at three in the morning to cry. Unfortunately for you, sleep is not something you can backlog, and in the future you will be very tired, very often. Mostly due to being sad and not producing enough neurotransmitters.

Dear one-year-old Sarah: I don’t remember anything about this time in my life, but I do know that you were full of joy. Hang on to that, kid. You’re going to need it.

Dear two-year-old Sarah: There’s not a lot of memories, still— but I’ve seen some pictures. You know, Two, you loved the heck out of your big brother. The two of you were best friends. It’s sort of adorable. He’s still one of your best friends. You fight occasionally, but it’s because you love each other so much that it hurts.

Dear three-year-old Sarah: You can read! Good job. You can also use the toilet, but that’s boring and not at all essential to your progress on the path to healthy adulthood. You already have a propensity for interesting names. Your Barbie dolls, Theresia and Evangelina and Susannah, thank you. Also, you believe that you are beautiful. Guard that belief, Three, because it’s unbelievably precious and you don’t get to keep it.

Dear four-year-old Sarah: You wear that princess costume frequently. You also have a windbreaker-sweatpants combo that make this interesting scratching noise when the fabric between your legs rubs together when you move. Yes, that is where that noise is coming from. It’s not a ghost or a tree or the wind. It’s your pants, Four. You can be so adorably stupid sometimes, but childhood is a learning process and I promise I am not judging you. (Just laughing at you. From the future.) Also, you know the big wall of mirrors in the house on Cherrywood Drive? Enjoy them now, because in the future you will hate mirrors.

Dear five-year-old Sarah: You’ve started school. I get it, I really do. School is confusing and loud and the other kids don’t understand your jokes, and on picture day you wore a really cute dress and the boy who sits next to you wore a suit and tie and everybody else said that you two were going to get married. You don’t need to cry about that, Five. Really, you don’t. He moves away after kindergarten and you never see him again. It will be okay. Also, just because you color outside of the lines on purpose sometimes doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. It just means you already have a healthy objection to categorizations like “colors belong in certain places.” The whole world is a big, beautiful rainbow and maybe the rest of them can’t see it, but you can. And you will keep seeing it for a very long time.

Dear six-year-old Sarah: You have the cutest haircut. Every adult you know tells you so. The kids your age don’t seem to agree; in fact, the one girl told you that you have “boy hair” and you cried about it— but Six, you cry about everything. Also, you wrote your first book. Remember the Young Authors program? Where you wrote a story and drew pictures and they bound it all up into a cute book for you? Yeah, you wrote a counting book.

Dear seven-year-old Sarah: This is the year you got glasses— and you promptly lost them three days later. This is a problem because you need glasses, Seven. You REALLY need glasses. It does not help that you have spent your nights reading by the extremely dim light shining through your open bedroom doorway. Stop doing that. You need your eyes. Also, you wrote another book. This one is an entirely fictional story about how your infant brother got lost in the supermarket. But you found him, because you believe in happy endings.

Cling to those happy endings, Seven. I’m begging you. I need them so badly.

Dear eight-year-old Sarah: So you moved to Red Lion this year, and everything is just— weird. You don’t have friends. At the end of the school year, that girl in your string lesson at school will be your friend. She’s a great friend. Everybody in your class thinks that you like the one boy because you played tag with him a couple of times at recess. There is nothing wrong with playing tag with a boy, and you do not have a problem. They’re the ones with the problem, Eight. They don’t know any better, so don’t judge them too harshly— but a boy and a girl can be just friends. It’s okay. At least you have Darcy the purple bear, who is your best friend and will be for a long time.

You were also baptized this year. That’s important, because it marks the beginning of your relationship with God. You knew He was real before this, but this time, it’s more important. My advice to you (not that you will take it) is to remember your baptism day as often as you can.

Dear nine-year-old Sarah: This is the year you learned that you hate math. This is unfortunate, because your father does math for a living but also because from here on out you are going to struggle with math, and therefore science, for the remainder of your education. I’m very, very sorry about it.

Also… puberty is on its way, and it’s not going to be fun. Hold on for a hot minute, Nine. You can make it and I believe in you.

Dear ten-year-old Sarah: I’m sorry.

Ten, I just— this is the year of capital-I Issues. Literally, because this is the year you get boobs and experience menarche, and on top of that you embark upon the lifelong, self-destructive train of Hating Your Own Body and you’re not going to get off that train for the next thirteen years. And even then you sometimes hang out near the tracks and ride from town to town like a hobo in the forties.

This is the year you did a report on the state of Wyoming. In the future, you will go to Wyoming and discover that it is not nearly as interesting as your report made it sound. I mean, you were on Interstate 80 the whole time, but it’s a six-hour drive from one border to the other and there’s one town along the entire highway. Also, it’s always raining.

The most important part about that report is that you stood up and gave that report in front of everyone, and it was the last time you were ever comfortable giving a report because afterward… well, afterward, one of your friends told you that two of the popular girls were laughing at you the whole time because you have hairy legs.

I’m crying for you, Ten. You didn’t know any better. You didn’t know that the cultural patriarchy had already taken an awful grasping hold on the minds of those girls and caused them to believe that body hair is the worst thing a woman can have. They didn’t know, either. But their mockery hurt you, and you asked your mother for a razor and she showed you how to use it.

Ten, you never needed to shave. Neither of those girls had to do it. One of them had light-red hair and her leg hair was invisible, and the other one had tanned skin so her leg hair didn’t show up. You had fair skin and dark body hair, and the only reason that they teased you is because it was visible.

There’s not a thing wrong with your body hair, but you don’t know that, and you’re going to spend the next ten or eleven years having a love-hate relationship with your razor before you and your therapist realize that this specific report on the state of Wyoming is the cause of half of your hang-ups about body hair.

Dear eleven-year-old Sarah: The Puberty Stagecoach took you to the Hating Your Own Body express, and that train has made a stop in Acne City. You have bumps on your face. Sometimes they have cyst-like fluid in them. Sometimes they’re just clogged pores that have become blackheads. Either way— you have acne, and it is the plague of your existence. Eleven, I am sorry to inform you that acne will remain the plague of your existence well into your twenties. It’s unfortunate. The residents of Acne City are also the drivers of the Hating Your Own Body train, and they feel the need to return home frequently. Sometimes you will hate your legs, or your arms, or your back, or your chest, or your stomach— but you will always hate your face because you can’t yet see the beauty in it under the acne and the scars.

Dear twelve-year-old Sarah: Junior high is hell, Twelve. I have no advice for you other than this: Survive.

Dear thirteen-year-old Sarah: This is the first and last time you will get a sports award for anything. You won the Presidential Fitness Award for the V-Sit, which is where you put your feet against a box and reach forward to rest your hands on a ruler on the top. This is supposedly a test of flexibility, but you have an advantage because you have short legs and a long torso and arms. This is the one time you actually enjoy something your body, Thirteen— savor the moment.

Also: that kid who was a jerk to you once in gym class, because you were afraid of getting hit by the volleyball? He’s not so bad, honestly. He’s going to date like half of your friends so you better get used to him.

Dear fourteen-year-old Sarah: So high school is okay. You see a lot of couples sucking face in the hallways, and part of you is grossed out and part of you is deeply, unreasonably jealous. Not because kissing looks all that fun, but because once these people are done making out they hold hands and walk to class together. You would like that, but you’re a hopeless romantic and you are also quiet and you believe you’re too ugly for anyone to look at you like that. It’s not going to happen.

Also, there’s this boy. I know it’s too late to give you advice now, but please don’t fall in love with him, Fourteen. It’s going to hurt you. Please.

Dear fifteen-year-old Sarah: Now that you’re busy and having fun with your friends all the time, you can sometimes forget about hating your own body. I mean, there are still moments— all of your friends are getting boyfriends and dating, and they hold hands and sometimes make out and you’re still unreasonably jealous but not that way, eww. They’re your friends. You don’t want to make out with them— you just want someone to make out with, someone who will fill this growing emptiness inside of you and tell you that you’re pretty.

Fifteen, you are never going to date in high school, and I know that sounds terrible but I promise you it is a blessing. It is protection. God is literally protecting you from getting screwed up by these emotions you don’t know how to handle. I know it’s bitter, and it’s hard to watch and not feel envious, and I know that it feels like the only reason boys don’t look at you that way is because you have thin, beautiful friends— but Fifteen. I swear you are better off. Please just trust me.

Dear sixteen-year-old Sarah: Your mother let you get contacts this year, and your hair is longer than it’s ever been. You not only feel pretty, but downright beautiful. I mean, you still get acne, but your school picture this year was the first one in five years that was not a complete travesty, and they retouch the acne away so you can pretend you are a normal, pretty, slightly overweight girl instead of the fat ugly mess you believe yourself to be.

Sixteen, I hate to burst your bubble— but you are going to cut your hair a lot in the next few years, and you are also going to go back to wearing glasses full-time. Once you get the right frames, they will make your face much thinner than contacts.

Dear seventeen-year-old Sarah: You’re nervous about getting that BYU acceptance letter. Don’t worry, you’ll get it— it just won’t come until March because BYU is really picky and your GPA was on the edge of Nope for them. Fortunately, the abundance of extracurriculars and the whole perfect seminary attendance and lettering thing did it for them. And you know, you did score a 31 on the ACT. Nice going, Seventeen. You might believe you’re ugly, but nobody’s ever said you were stupid and trust me, being smart has done more for you than being pretty.

Dear eighteen-year-old Sarah: So— college. You have a lovely roommate and four other lovely apartment-mates. You are doing your own laundry and cooking; you are going to class; you have your first job selling doughnuts and brownies at the football games. You have made some really good friends who like the same books and TV shows and movies as you. You are doing good. And you are on a huge campus with thirty-six thousand people (including the Independent Study people, so maybe it’s more like thirty thousand) and you feel invisible. It’s the best feeling in the entire world. Nobody is looking at you. Nobody cares. Yes, they’re all prettier than you and there are tall, thin women who wear six-inch-heels to class every day but nobody bats an eye at your sweatpants. Nobody cares and boy, do you feel free.

Eighteen, a small part of me now wishes I could tell you to dress up cute every day and learn to put on makeup, but the rest of me is glad that we didn’t do that. It wasn’t necessary, and if you felt like you had to do that in the future, and… well, let’s say it would have contributed to a whole host of factors playing into your depression and anxiety.

Dear nineteen-year-old Sarah: Remember how I told you not to fall in love with that boy? Well gosh dang it, if you didn’t go and fall in love with that boy. He is going to break your heart, little by little. And— here’s the thing you won’t understand right away— he isn’t even going to do it on purpose. Some of it is definitely his fault but some of it is you over-romanticizing the whole situation (which he did not know about), and the rest has to do with the Hating Your Own Body train, next stop Acne City, next stop Fatty Station. For once, a boy is making you feel pretty, and not because he says so— but because he likes spending time with you and talking to you. It is flattering and lovely, and infatuation is such a powerful drug that you can’t wait for your next hit.

Nineteen, it’s still a drug. And once you came off that high, once you realized that the relationship was toxic and bad and wrong— you crashed.

Nineteen, I told One to hang on to her joy, and I told Seven to hold her happy endings close, and I told Ten that puberty was going to be awful, and I told Twelve that junior high school was hell, and I told Fifteen that she was better off without a boyfriend. I told them those things because they were true, but I also told them those things because joy and happy endings are something you can’t see anymore. I told them that puberty and junior high were awful because those things are survivable. I told Fifteen that she was better off without a boyfriend because being single and alive is better than slowly wasting away because your heart is broken.

And Nineteen, it’s not just your heart. There’s something wrong with your head, too. You’re going to be okay, Nineteen. You’re going to be fine. Please— don’t think those things. Don’t think so loudly. Put that bottle of ibuprofen, that full bottle, back into your medicine drawer and call your mother. It’s three in the morning, but call your mother because waking her up is better than… the alternative. You’re not actually going to down that entire bottle of pills, but stop thinking about it. I know that’s not entirely in your control.

Nineteen, I’m talking you off the ledge. Listen to me.

Dear twenty-year-old Sarah: Your new medication is helping. And some other things, too. You moved apartments, and you’ve got a good job at the campus bookstore. You’re quieter now than ever, though you’ve always been quiet. Boys scare you, in a way they never did before. You guard your heart so carefully, Twenty. That’s smart, but it’s also lonely.

Remember Five? Remember how she’s always seen rainbows? The rainbows left and you didn’t even notice, until they came back. Now that you’re on medicine, the whole world looks brighter and warmer. Even rainy days just remind you of home.

Twenty, you spend a lot of time on the Internet. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’m glad you did. If you didn’t spend a lot of time there, you would never have learned about the body positivity movement and feminism. Those things have helped you realize that the thoughts you have about your body are— well, you’re not sure what they are, but you know they aren’t quite right.

On the other hand, you have suddenly gotten a lot jumpier. Go to the doctor for that. Anxiety medication will make you sleepy, but it will also help you if you’re about to have a panic attack. By the way: panic attacks are not fun. Also: you’ve been having those since fifth grade, but you had convinced yourself that you were just a crybaby. Don’t do that anymore, Twenty.

Dear twenty-one-year-old Sarah: I’m sorry, again. I’m sorry you couldn’t finish college. You had less than a month left in your last semester, but it was too much and you self-sabotaged because of anxiety. It’s going to be okay, Twenty-one. We’re getting you therapy, we’re getting you new medicine because Lexapro stopped working and Zoloft— well, it was quit college or talk yourself down from the ledge again. And you’ve gained thirty pounds in the last five months of college. That was Zoloft, too.

I’m sorry.

Dear twenty-two-year-old Sarah: Therapy is really amazing, isn’t it? You’ve been going for about a month and it’s already made such a difference. You haven’t talked to your therapist about your body yet— but once you both realize what’s going on, you’re going to fix this. The Hating Your Own Body train will be leaving the station— but you, Twenty-two, are going to get off the train and stay in this new place. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I suggest you call it Confidence.

Dear twenty-three-year-old Sarah: Here we are. We’ve come a long way, kid. Heartbreak, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation— it’s not been pleasant. But you are finally starting to look back and see little spots of joy. Remember Four? She believes we’re going to be a princess. Maybe we haven’t always felt like one, Twenty-three, but Four is right. You’re a princess.

You’re still uncomfortable with your body, but you don’t hate it. You’re down to high school weight, or a little over. You still have acne, but you’ve also talked to the therapist about the whole picking-at-your-face-and-nails thing and learned that it’s a symptom of anxiety. The comedone extraction kit has been helpful, and once you get hold of a cube or a spinner, that will be even better. And you know, you graduated from college. Not a big deal, or anything. (Yes, it is. Good job on finishing college without dying.)

You’re still lonely, but you’re also beginning to understand that friendships are in some ways more important than relationships. You’ve also learned to serve people. You’ve learned that God loves you, and that even when you don’t believe you are beautiful, He knows you are. You’ve found faith in your healing, and healing in your faith. You can look at a mirror and see your bright hazel eyes and your cute little nose instead of acne scars and fat. You can look at a mirror and see acne scars and fat, and the thoughts are not “ugly and worthless” but “a set of genetic dispositions that have no actual bearing on my aesthetic appeal.”

Dear future Sarah: In June, you will be twenty-four. Sometime after that, you will be twenty-five, and twenty-six, and twenty-seven, and so on. Eventually, you will land a cool job that lets you buy a computer on which you can finally run Minecraft, and maybe someday you will meet a nice boy that thinks your acne scars and fat are just as cute as your hazel eyes and tiny nose, and maybe you’ll marry him and have babies like you’ve always wanted. And you’ll have a little house or an apartment or something, and you’ll grow old and happy.

Of course, maybe none of these things will happen. Maybe you’ll land a job that makes you want to tear your hair out but pays your bills, and maybe you rent an apartment that won’t let you have pets, and you never meet a nice boy in your whole life.

But Future Sarah… you’re still going to be happy. You can write, and you can talk to people you love. Your sister is one of your best friends, and you need her as much as she needs you. Your older brother needs you more than you think he does, but not as much as you need him. Your little brothers are growing up and they are going to be such cool adults. Your parents have always been cool, even when you were a bratty teenager, and they will continue to be cool. And you will always have extended family, and friends, and medication, and Darcy the purple bear, and the love of God.

No matter what happens, you will have such a joyful, happy life. It will be hard. There will be days where you don’t want to get out of bed, and there will be days when you don’t get out of bed, and there might even be days where you think about suicide as a viable option for getting some rest because depression always makes you tired and sleep just isn’t doing it for you. There will be weeks and months and years where you will continue to wonder if any of it is worth it.

In a moment of rare wisdom, Future Sarah— let me tell you that it is worth it. It is worth it now, it was worth it when you’ve struggled before, and it will still be worth it. It will always be worth it.

With love, fondness, exasperation, and more than a few tears,

Sarah

If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.

The Universal Fear of Rejection

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

I originally had a different post planned, but I had therapy today. I visit my therapist every two to three weeks. I used to go weekly, but my progress has been such that I don’t need to see her regularly. It’s a forty-minute drive up to Lancaster— York’s waiting lists for therapists were six to nine months long when I first started. I don’t mind the drive; it’s one of the longest trips I’ve ever made by myself and it’s fairly peaceful, especially when I go on Thursday mornings.

Anyway, I’ve been talking to my therapist about some stuff, mostly having to do with applying for jobs— but there’s a pattern I’ve noticed with myself, that has a lot to do with my life in general. It begins with a story.

In elementary school, I was a smart cookie. Not smart enough to skip grades, or anything; but smart enough that they gave me IQ tests in third and fifth grade to see if I qualified for the Gifted and Talented program at my school. I took the tests— they were very interesting, puzzles and patterns and things; but the results came in when I was eight (and again when I was ten) and it turned out that I was just barely— barely not qualified enough for G&T. I remember being very cut up about it at the time because I had a couple of friends in G&T and they got to go off and do other things during math classes.

I wasn’t smart enough for G&T— but I did meet the qualifications for them to send me a bunch of summer camp packets. The summer camps were run by the same people who did the G&T program for our county and several counties around, and it was a really nice summer camp program. They were basically week-long art and music classes. I did three camps total over the years: one was a drawing class, one was a sculpture class, and one… was an acting class.

If you know me, then you know I am not an actress. I’m a pretty good liar— which is not the same as acting, but they have a similar underlying principle of pretending to be something you are not. (The difference lies in intent.) I don’t like lying, but I can do it if I feel I have no other way to protect myself. But being in public, with other people, costs me too much energy for me to be anything but myself. If I’m faking too hard, it’s pretty easy to tell.

But I was just finished with sixth grade, heading for seventh grade, and I decided I wanted to do this acting class. What followed that week was a combination of fun activities and utter hell: on the one hand, it was kind of fun to practice the acting techniques they taught us. I learned how to project my voice, a skill that’s served me well over the years.

On the other hand… performing in front of other people. Ick.

We had three short plays we were putting together that week. Most of the other students in the camp auditioned for a few parts. I auditioned for one part— and I nailed the audition. I got the part, and I nailed it in the performance, and I did a fantastic freaking job. Twelve-year-old me was incredibly pleased with myself.

What I didn’t realize, until the directors at the camp congratulated me on it, was that auditioning for only one part was actually kind of ballsy. All the other kids were hedging their losses by auditioning for multiple parts. If they didn’t get the part they wanted, then maybe they would still get something that was okay. I only wanted the one part— I was actually too scared to audition for any of the others. (In case you were wondering, the title of my role was Writer. I am very, very predictable.) For whatever reason, everyone thought this was really cool. “Sarah took a great risk by only auditioning for one part,” I remember them saying. “But it paid off, because she did really well and she got the part. Bravo, Sarah.” And they had everyone clap for me. It was really weird.

Fast-forward six years: I was a high school senior, making decisions about where I wanted to go to college. I had good grades— not a 4.0, but still pretty good. I did a lot of extracurricular music activities; nice. I did a lot of volunteer work through my church: looks great on a college app. I took the SAT: 1200-ish, pretty good. I took the ACT: 31, with a Writing score of 34. I think it was this in particular that probably made some colleges turn and look at me, because I began getting a metric crap-ton of mail from the fifty thousand liberal arts colleges on the East Coast of America— half of which, at least, are in Pennsylvania. I kept a shoebox with all the letters and brochures and sometimes I would go through them and sort of gloat to myself. “Ha ha, I’m smart. Ha ha, everyone wants me to come to their college.” (I was a weird kid and I felt ugly and undesirable throughout high school. Let circa-2010-me have a hot minute, okay?)

I only wanted to go to one school. I’d only wanted to go to one school since I was twelve. I’d visited the campus when my family went out to Utah to visit my grandmother and other family there. I wanted to go to Brigham Young University, and to Brigham Young University I would go. There was simply no question about it.

So I filled out one college application, in October 2010. It went to BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

It was the same thing I’d done when I was twelve, only auditioning for Writer. I only applied to one college— a college known to have fairly high standards for their students. I also sent the application to BYU-I as an afterthought, more than anything. Idaho has a much higher acceptance rate and I got the letter in like, December. I was like, “Okay, cool, but I really want to go to Provo.” There wasn’t anything wrong with Idaho, but Provo was the campus I’d visited. Provo was the campus I loved. Both of my parents had gone there and they’d met there and I’d never, ever considered any other college in my entire life. It had not occurred to me, until December passed, and January and February, that I… might not get in.

March rolled around, and I was beginning to get very antsy; but right after the first weekend in March, when I was in the orchestra for my high school production of Les Miserables, I got my acceptance letter to BYU-Provo.

Once again: I took a huge risk, and it paid off.

This is what I do, when I get to crossroads in my life. Maybe the acting class wasn’t a crossroads as much as it was a milestone— but I made a decision and went with it and winged it and it all turned out really, really well for me. Same with college. I think people apply to nine or ten colleges. Some people apply to way more. I made a decision, I went with it and winged it, and it all turned out really, really well.

I have this problem, however, where I will refuse to do this if I don’t think I’m going to succeed at something.

Case in point: me in my last semester on campus at BYU. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I had no idea whether or not anyone would want to hire me. I hadn’t done a minor or an internship or a study-abroad, which is something that the Humanities department stressed as Very Important For Your Future Endeavors. I was too stressed out about mental illness and money and time to do those things, and I couldn’t drive anyway so there would have been some problems with transportation and things.

So— I panicked. I chose nothing. I chose plugging along at my schoolwork and going to my job at the on-campus bookstore and steadily pretending I was not going to graduate that December, until the repressed emotions and the anxiety and depression and thirty pounds courtesy of Zoloft got to me, and I told my parents, “I can’t do this anymore, please let me come home.”

My lack of decision, in this case, was unproductive and unnecessary. If I had graduated, I would have been able to just go home anyway. I didn’t need to have a job lined up out of the gate. It would have been fine. But I wasn’t sure what to do, so I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make any commitments, I fumbled my way through and winged it again, and this time it just went poorly for everyone involved. My parents wasted money on that semester, and they had to pay for arline tickets for my mom to come out and take care of me. She helped me turn in my resignation for my job, and she helped me talk to people who could erase the semester from my academic record and make sure I didn’t just collapse into a sobbing mess because I was just so entirely nonfunctional at this point.

Well, you know what they say: go big, or go home. Literally.

I don’t know where I learned about risks that were really worth it succeeding if I knew what I wanted, and failing if I didn’t. I don’t know why I thought the way I did, and I’ve decided that I shouldn’t try to justify it to myself. Mental illness turned me into a sad, overweight pile of sweaters and there is no explaining that.

I’m having some of the same hangups about putting in my resume for jobs. So I’m browsing LinkedIn, right? I’m searching for “Writer” jobs in Pennsylvania or Maryland and I’m looking and looking. Everything wants you to have “1-2 years experience in the field” or “a thorough knowledge of the financial/medical industry” or be “PCI compliant” and I don’t know what any of this MEANS.

I read through the other requirements and see: “good writing skills, good communication skills, work ethic, manage projects, work alone and with others, experience with social media, experience with Internet trends” and I’m like BUDDY I WOULD BE PERFECT FOR THIS JOB. Whatever happened to on-the-job training? Why do they assume that a college education is supposed to teach you how to do jobs you don’t yet have? My college education taught me how to analyze books, movies, and TV shows; how to argue a point; and more importantly how to write. These are skills I can apply in the real world. I haven’t seen a single job for which I appear to be completely qualified; thus, I believe they don’t want to hire me, without even applying; thus, I haven’t been submitting my resume and applying to these places; thus, I do not yet have a job. Like my last semester of college, I am panicking and doing nothing. I can assure you that it is neither enjoyable nor productive.

But the point is: I am afraid of rejection, and I was talking to my therapist about it and she assured me that this fear is universal. Everyone is afraid of rejection. I am practically a misanthrope and I am afraid of rejection. (I don’t really hate people. I just get very drained by human company.) However, I’m not alone. You are probably, on some level, also afraid of rejection. Your mother is probably afraid of rejection. So is your father. So are your siblings, your children, your grandparents, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your aunts and uncles and cousins, your friends, your acquaintances, your enemies. Everyone is afraid of rejection.

And yet— other people seem to feel far less fearful than I do. I expressed my confusion about this to my therapist, and she told me that these people are simply better at accepting their fear than I am. They’re afraid of rejection; but there’s nothing they can do not to be afraid of it, so they live anyway. They submit their resumes. They apply to nine or ten colleges. They audition for four parts in their junior high acting summer camp and they maybe don’t get the exact part they want, but they do okay. They don’t try to plan too hard, so they don’t get derailed when their plans do. They accept their fear— and then they act with courage.

I woke up from a strange and vivid dream this morning. I’ve been pondering a lot lately about being alone, about love, about marriage and finding someone to be with. I’ve been thinking about that and I had the weirdest dream that I ought to tell this person I kind of like that I kind of like them. I can’t explain it. I’m afraid of that kind of rejection, too. But I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been praying about general loneliness and love, I’ve been curious and dreaming and trying to find answers— and I think I’m maybe going to do it. I think I might tell him that I like him. My therapist would remind me: what’s the worst that can happen? He says he’s not interested? Well, that means you don’t have to think about him anymore.

Well, she’s got a point. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle rejection that easily— if I am rejected. Don’t aim too low, self.

And besides that, I’m going to send my resume somewhere today. I’ve got a relatively healthy baby blog to serve as a Very Professional Digital Writing Portfolio and I think the name posts will indicate my researchy-style, and everything else can be more personal— plus, starting Sunday, there will be another new series beginning where I tackle an interview-and-report kind of deal which is a different kind of writing. Stay tuned, and all that jazz. So I’ll send in my resume. Just to one place, and that’s all. And tomorrow, I’ll try another.

Accept the fear, and act with courage. And trust me: if I can do it, then you can do it, too.


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.