Mr. Brightside

Continuing with my trend of positivity over the past few weeks, I'm trying to flip the negative narratives I'm still following. Simple positive thinking couldn't have helped me in a significant way over the past six months. Only after I took a sledgehammer to my problems, only then does a positive attitude start to make a difference. Maybe 5%-10%. Positive thinking can also keep you trapped in the cycle of abuse, so you have to use it skillfully.

"My boyfriend hits me, but at least I have a boyfriend."

"My parents keep telling me I'm fat and verbally abusing me, but at least they care enough about my looks and health to be honest with me."

I've spent a lot of time and effort confronting my mental health problems directly, so now it's time to take a finer brush to smooth and polish in order to appreciate the smaller details:

  • I don't have a job, but I have all the free time in the world to do what I want.
  • I can wake up early or late whenever I feel like it.
  • I can eat lunch anywhere I want. McDonald's...the list goes on.
  • I can surround myself with the people I feel like seeing on my own schedule.
  • People who held onto their jobs amid all the layoffs, they're covering for at least one other person who was laid off. That's a lot of stress that I don't have to endure.
  • I may not make any money at the moment, but I still have the ability to look for work.
  • Life's hard now, but later on, Carrie will rake in the big bucks.
  • School is done in April.
  • I have the time and space to work on my mental health. There are many who are suffering but who can't get the support they need to regain their mental well-being. My bank account may not be so healthy, but my brain is.
  • I get to play whatever music or TV I want whenever I want. Most offices or workflows don't allow that.
  • I'm still kinda tall. People are nicer to you when you're tall.

I was misinformed at Service Canada two weeks ago. My EI wasn't actually approved. What the person meant was that they completed my application, not that I was already approved, and my file currently requires additional information from my doctor. I'm in a game of hot potato, bouncing between agencies and support systems, which has been more stressful than useful. I'm getting a small taste of what the workers at the Calgary Drop In Centre described as the cycle of poverty. When you're receiving support from different agencies when you're homeless, it's very time-consuming and tiring to travel between offices spread out across the city. Case worker here, Service Canada there, Alberta Works, soup kitchen, counselling services, parole officer, doctor's appointments, job interviews, etc. You're sleeping in a shelter, but there's no way to secure your belongings. Since there's nowhere to store them, you have to guard them somehow at night and carry them with you everywhere you go during the day. All that energy is expended to use the support systems, which leaves you limited energy to do what you need to climb out of poverty. I'm a well-adjusted, educated professional with a home and a car, dealing with a lot, and even I'm finding it hopeless trying to receive this help. As such, I will resume my job search. It wasn't all bad that my EI application was rejected because even the false hope gave me some relief from the crushing despair for a week. Things were so bleak that believing a falsehood gave me strength to move on. Yes, it was crushing to learn that I would not be getting the long-term relief I wanted, but it doesn't compare to the relief I got from the temporary suspension of desperate anxiety. Since I was already prepared to find work, it's not all that bad. It's like I already bundled up in a bunch of layers to go outside into the cold but then I was told I could stay inside, and as I started to take off my boots, I was told I had go back out again and thought "Well, I'm still pretty much ready to go outside anyways, so let's just do this." Pretty sure they make it harder to use these support systems than it is to actually find work, so I'm just going to leave it alone for now and see where this job hunt goes. I have an interview tonight (Sunday) at the Apple Store, and I've been preparing all week. I hope I get it.

On top of calling Service Canada and going to the doctor's office twice this week, I also went for a psychiatric assessment. There was a little orientation about the different services offered by the clinic, so they asked for my story and what my needs were. It was both disruptive and reassuring. It showed me just how many problems are still bubbling underneath the surface, even though I've regained a sense of productivity. It was also comforting to know that they provide long term support, with some patients staying on for years and a select few for over a decade. I still have lots of insecurities and identity issues from the abuse I experienced, but I'm at a stage where I can live my life without any more major interruptions. Even still, I have lots of work to do in order to reach a stage of true health and self-regulation. When bad things happen, I tend to think that someone is out to get me. I still have terrible anxiety around whether a door is locked or not and how fast I could run to catch a murderous thief that stepped inside. I've emptied some of my skeletons out of the closet over the past two years, but there are still quite a few individual bones to remove.

My friends have been crazily supportive this past week. I'm suddenly surrounded by all these positive messages about who I am, my progress, how proud people are of me, and it's all so overwhelming. There are cracks forming in the identity hammered into me since I was young, and now I'm even thinking I'm not such a turd of a human being. I think people have always thought generally positive things about me. Rather, people don't think the disgusting and degrading things I say to myself, but nobody's really ever expressed those nice things in the way that I'm experiencing right now. That highlights the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. Instead of telling yourself unrelentingly positive (and often false) compliments, which is what the self-esteem movement does and which creates an inflated ego, speak to yourself with the same compassion you would to a close friend, which is called self-compassion. My friends being kind to me has taught me to treat myself the same way. Some friends gush about my blog, about my health and appearance, or about how proud they are of me, and honestly, every time someone says stuff like that, I just want to fall to the floor and weep. A friend shared my post about sexual abuse with their friend that experienced something similar. A few have said I should package my blog into a different medium so I can help a different audience. People say they're amazed I'm able to write the way I do every single week, no matter how busy or hungover I might be. Every nice little comment is like a refreshing glass of cold water to my dry soul. It's a nice change.

I had to deal with a really nasty person this week. They're extremely status driven and ugly on the inside, even though they smile and present as a nice person. Nice is overrated. It's a default setting. Niceness is an imposter pretending to be kindness, generosity, goodness, love. This person behaves as though their credentials make them a better person, but it's disgusting. Classist. The funny part too is that their credentials are a joke compared to their peers, but that doesn't really matter does it? As long as they want to believe they're better than everybody else, they'll use anything to put others down and to prop themselves up. Gross.

This week it also clicked that I shouldn't feel fully responsible for what I'm going through right now. In some ways, I was placed in this position by someone else, so I can't feel fully responsible for the failures and struggles. I've been blaming myself for not seeing the signs and letting things get this bad, but now I know it's not all my fault. That being said, I'm dealing with things the hard way, even though it's not absolutely necessary. There's still a lot of supports that I can lean on, but I'm choosing to tough it out. Here are some options that I have yet to explore:

  • Move in with the in-laws. Living where I do is a luxury. Find renters to pay our mortgage, save money by sharing food, utilities, all that good stuff. There's the increased cost of traveling back and forth.
  • Entertainment. We still go to shows and go to the bar with friends. It's a tough trade-off. Having fun helps to deal with the stress, but then it shifts the problem towards financial stress.
  • Carrie could quit school and go back to full-time work. Even though we're in the final stretch, she would just have to redo her practicum. We're in a logistical bind where it's hard to be productive when house work falls behind. We went to Edmonton last weekend, and the week felt longer because we were lacking in groceries and such. If she reduced her schedule, we could regain a sense of balance. We aren't exercising this option because it's better for her to just finish, but it does make things harder in the moment.
  • We could start selling a bunch of our nice things. Clothes and electronics mostly. I don't think Carrie would take too kindly to me getting rid of her nice clothes or her fancy shoes, and I wouldn't want her to take away my brushed aluminum products. However, it's a luxury to hold on to these things that could be converted into money for survival.
  • There are lots of odd jobs a person could do. Cleaning houses for rich people using Kijiji, driving delivery for Skip The Dishes, being a cashier, working in a factory. I haven't explored a lot of options yet.
  • I can sacrifice my mental health and stuff my stress down in order to get things done. I actually tried this a few times this week, and it went okay. It felt a little like falling off the horse and trying to get back on.

It just goes to show that even though my brain is resource-constrained these days, there's lots that a person can do. The way I'm juggling things, it's hard to get to all the different possibilities, but they are there. I have a long way to tumble before running out of ideas.

I'm trying to be more positive. It doesn't mitigate some of the bigger problems, but it does reduce a bit of my anxiety. Mapping out all my problems, there's only so many of them that I can get to with my limited time, but this week, focusing on the bright side is what I can manage while trying to look for work.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le