My father refers to parking and traffic tickets as the “stupid tax” and he’s not wrong. Yes, it enforces the law but it’s also a great way for local governments to bring in some extra revenue. I live in the Washington, DC area which is a confusing place to drive, so as I have been racking up amazing performance and hosting opportunities around the area, I have also been racking up traffic tickets.
It’s really stupid, but I can actually explain. Let me walk you through the process…
Wait, I Can Explain!
I drive somewhere to a gig or to meet up with a friend. My mood is already anxious as I am trying to navigate (I have a very poor sense of direction) as well as curate my own mood by listening to soothing music or breathing deeply the entire ride. (Sometimes it takes a lot to maintain my good cheer! I don’t know when I became this person and I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest). Anyhoo, I likely misinterpret a parking area or I don’t notice that I’m going over the speed limit in a monitored area because I also daydream a ton so I don’t notice at the moment if I am breaking the law.
Weeks later I open the mail to a special envelope from the good ole Motor Vehicle Administration. My heart accelerates by a smidge and I feel a tiredness in my bones. Money is needed for the 12-year old’s field trip, we have to stop by the Target to replace the 7-year old’s broken headphones, I have to prep for a work meeting, I need to follow up on several emails, I have clothes to wash, I have dinner to cook…a nightmare to-do list that never fucking ends! Now here I am with this envelope of more responsibility that I am unequipped to handle because I’m lazy and prone to dropping the ball. Untrue.
Actually, I am struggling to function through my own depression.
I always say that the hardest part of living with depression is pretending to be ok all the time. One of the main reasons I am so transparent about my struggle is because I want the space to not be ok—I want people to know. Ok is for other people, sometimes it’s not for me. I think of everything I have to do and I find myself becoming overwhelmed. If I don’t take care of business people will notice and judge me for not being the perfect mom or even the perfect ADULT.
So, I end up in bed all weekend obsessing about all the things I need to do. Even if I have a productive weekend, I still haven’t put a dent in the laundry, or the blog post or washing the girls’ hair. The knowledge makes me want to bang my head against the wall and cry—which I do for the first few days of the next week. The chores I didn’t do over the weekend add to the list from the week before and swim around in my thoughts, increasing the anxiety and chaos that already reside there.
Any thought of taking care of parking tickets falls by the wayside.
Clean Up, Clean Up—Everybody Everywhere…
That is until I’m at the MVA for a full day each fall using my entire paycheck to set up payment plans to lift violation flags to renew my vehicle registration. I also have medical bills, student loans and miscellaneous bills that float around in the atmosphere unpaid. Since my separation from my ex-husband almost 10 years ago, I have left many “adulting” things floating around in the atmosphere unresolved. In recent years I’ve decided to start taking the slow steps to rebuild.
I told a friend of mine who totaled his car in a suicide attempt that, unfortunately, it is up to us to save ourselves. We find ourselves alone in our dark moments and it can lead us to make decisions or fall into a state of indecision that has negative repercussions on our future. Once the fog of depression clears (for those of us who survive it) we are sometimes left in even more chaos than we were trying to escape in the first place. The idea of picking up the pieces can seem daunting. I am still in the clean up phase of my own mess so I can’t provide a concrete solution but I can offer some ideas and suggestions.
Don’t be afraid to utilize your resources.
Recently I have been working on being more candid with my inner circle about my life struggles. I am practicing the simple art of reaching out when I am feeling low. Ultimately, I have to do the work of settling accounts, cleaning my house etc, but I have found myself pleasantly surprised by how friends have been able to step in and ease some of the pressure. Non-judgmental friends can be a wonderful sounding board to help you brainstorm solutions or connect you with other people who can provide additional help in the form of knowledge or valuable services. (Speaking of which—anyone good at taxes? Asking for a friend!)
When I think of my running mental to-do list, I feel FUCKED. There are one million things I need to accomplish just to keep my household running. I have now also made a list of other items that are less time sensitive but still necessary business that I need to handle.
Don’t be afraid to write it down! How are you fucked? List everything, the big and the little things, then close the list and walk away from it for a few days. Come back to the list and start brainstorming ideas and/or coming up with a plan for how to resolve the open-ended issues in your life. You may find that some of the issues causing anxiety are quick fixes or are simply a matter of research and the right resources.
Bonus: if you need the emotional release you can also jot down your personal feelings associated with each task and the specifics of why you find it stressful or why you’ve been putting it off.
Take your time.
I don’t know if you can tell but I like writing lists 😊. My problem is that when I am confronted with a list it is accompanied by an accelerated heartbeat and the feeling that IMUSTACCOMPLISHEVERYTHINGONTHISLISTRIGHTTHEFUCKNOW! That feeling is my own personal anxiety bullshit that I need to overcome. If your credit is bad, paying a past due bill is not going to increase your score overnight. If you need to clean out your cluttered house for peace of mind, you can start the project in phases instead of feeling as if it needs to be done all at once. Society runs on a sense of urgency but that culture does not have to be a part of your personal mindset. Yes, life is short, but you also have time—it’s a great paradox. Take advantage!
Practice preventative maintenance.
Overcoming bad habits that I’ve picked up during my low moments has been a journey. It is not an easy thing to teach yourself how to be mentally strong but the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Mental health professionals and counselors are not a sign of weakness but of accountability and sometimes, getting ahead of an issue before it becomes a full-blown problem. In addition, a simple thing to do would be to consciously work to break past behavioral patterns. Now, if I get a ticket in the mail I’m more inclined to set aside 5 minutes to pay it right then, or be sure to budget it into my next paycheck before the fee doubles and I end up feeling double-fucked. (Of course, the best solution to get ahead of these things would be to pay more attention and work harder to be a traffic law abiding citizen!)
Fuck the haters!
No one understands the life you live but you. The best thing I’ve ever done for myself was to stop caring about the opinions and expectations of others. I didn’t sell any cookies for my first year Girl Scout this year because I was going through a rough time during the last half of last year and struggling to balance work, parenting and my own mental health issues. Most of my guilty feelings about it stem from being the only mother in troop who didn’t sell cookies but honestly, I’m not all that upset about it and neither is my daughter. Next year we are going to kick ass with sales because we know what to expect and I can mentally prepare for it. The entire point of enrolling in Girl Scouts was because she wanted to participate in the activities and hang out with her friends. That mission was accomplished and then some—the cookies can wait.
I am a huge fan of assessing situations and figuring out what can be done to relieve some anxiety so that my problems seem less daunting and goals more attainable. Sometimes it can look like riding the bunny slopes of life but if that’s what I need before I can climb big mountains, that’s totally fine. Those who are gliding down huge slopes should really be focused on their own business instead of paying attention to what I’m doing anyway. The secret is…most of the time the are!
If you are mentally strong, this post likely does not apply to you. I do, however hope you read anyway because there are likely people in your circle who seem very happy and well put together but may be well skilled at hiding their depression from others. If someone were to reach out for help or a listening ear it is my hope that more people will learn to practice compassion and judgment-free listening. I think it’s silly how the world falls apart with shock at celebrity suicide deaths and murmur things like, “Wow, you really just never know.” Correct, you never know what demons others face on their personal journeys but you can choose to be a light. Empathy and love are a scarcity in this world and I just want to do my part to provide the other side of the story to promote understanding above all else.
I also want to stress two final points.
- Struggling to keep your shit together is not only a symptom of those who are on the low to high functioning spectrum of depression. A sudden slump in productivity and overall dreading of every day “adulting” can also be a sign of burnout or a part of a larger issue (i.e. the side effect of co-dependency which can find you so wrapped up in caretaking for someone else that you forget or can’t find the will to take care of yourself).
- I am not a psychologist, counselor or trained professional. I read a ton of books and I research to find ways to make the journey a little easier on myself as I navigate life as a person who “thrives” with mental health issues. I share thoughts and reflections on my journey because I want people to stop projecting their own perfectionism and mental competencies onto others. We are living in a tumultuous time in this world and the good people who spread love, who are vulnerable, empathetic and sensitive are in need of a little extra support and strength.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.