Hoping and Coping

After letting recurring depression/anxiety issues fester for the majority of my late adolescence and early adulthood, I have sought help over the past several months. I don’t want this to be a “woe is me” post, so I’m going to avoid delving too deep into the nature of those issues, but my mental state has impacted the decisions I make in life, and now, with assistance, I am seeking to make change. I am hoping to make change.

But making change is HARD. Especially when your life has been fairly stagnant, and your comfort zone has become a small, enclosed area that will be difficult to break out from. I recognize that it is something I must do, but some days, I doubt that I have the strength to do it. I have been working at the same place for ten years. I have lived in the same house for twenty-two, save for the 3 year period I was at college. There is very little variation in my life, day to day. While others have moved ahead, and progressed, I feel stuck in a fog. I have settled into a routine, and while it is mostly comfortable, and familiar, I don’t think I like it.

Since I don’t handle change well, I’m curious to know how others cope with it – and how others are able to inspire change in their life. My issues are possibly rooted in the fact that I also fear the unknown. When new possible scenarios pop into my life, my mind instantly latches onto all the things that could go wrong instead of all the potentially wonderful outcomes. One might say that I am prone to self-sabotaging behaviors and negative trains of thought, and I struggle to steer myself onto a more positive track once I start spiraling into all the “what ifs?”

When change is on the horizon, in my grasp, my first instinct is to pull away – and I don’t want to turn back anymore. I want to be excited by change, thrilled by the idea of moving forward, even if the road ahead is dark and my lantern casts only a feeble glow. I can’t rely on guarantees, wait for “sure things,” or respond only to certainty. It’s not even that I don’t like change – it’s that I find the whole process of change overwhelming, and sometimes, that’s too scary for me to overcome.

I know that change is often positive, and struggle leads to better things. I was terrified of going away to college, and really struggled with being away from home in the first months. I battled homesickness on a constant basis, struggled with making friends, hated both of my jobs, and didn’t feel like I belonged at school. I didn’t really connect with my core group of college friends until a study abroad trip after my first year. From then on, it became much easier to adapt, and I settled into a groove. But the whole process behind those changes was a challenge, and any time I think of going through difficulties like that again, my motivation stalls. It was worth it that time, yes – but is it always?

The question is – when you are prone to overthinking and doubt – how do you overcome those dark clouds looming overhead? How do you cope with change when you fear the unknown? I’d love to hear any insight.

Dark Blue

(TW: Death)

I was afraid of the deep end of the pool for most of my formative years.

I never passed level 3 swim lessons because I wouldn’t dive into the deep end of the pool. I would sit on the end of the diving board, cross my arms over my chest, and cry while my frustrated coach stood on the sidelines, begging me to take the leap and try. After about fifteen deadlocked minutes, she would relent, and allow me to crawl back to safety, clinging to the wobbly board as though it were my last link to salvation.

I didn’t know what was down there, lurking in the 12 foot-deep, chlorine-rich water. The water was much darker than the shallow end. The waves from jostling limbs made the water ripple like taunting laughter. The dark blue water was home to a monster—I wouldn’t even dangle my toes in it. It’s an almost comical twist that years later, I became the manager of my high school swim team in a desperate attempt to rack up some extracurricular activities for my college applications after a knee injury sidelined my athletic career for good.

I was out in the lobby drawing up timing sheets for the new head coach, so I didn’t see what happened. I didn’t see our coach pull her limp body from the pool. After the initial commotion, I slipped out the side door to flag down the oncoming ambulance, shivering as the biting flakes of the first snow of the year landed on my skin. Steam rose off the water as the November air clashed with the steamy humidity of the pool deck. It settled like a fog over the linoleum.

I only looked at her once. Her arms spread out crucifix-style. Her lips had turned blue. Dark blue, like the deep end of the pool.

I didn’t know her. Maybe I passed her in the hall once or twice, her face drifting along amidst a sea of other faces. I can’t even picture her because the only time I ever saw her was when she was laying on the slick tile of the pool deck and her lips were blue.

I don’t know if there is some sort of standard regulation to follow when something like that happens – if there is some code to abide by, when death abruptly snatches a seventeen year old girl out of the deep end of the pool. I don’t know what to say to people who are sobbing over the loss of someone. Over the next few days the swim team struggled to understand how their sanctuary had become a tomb, how someone so young could be whisked away so fast, and remembered how excited the girl had been to start her first year as a member of the high school swim team, and wondered how it could go so horribly wrong?

They sent one of those standard pre-printed letters home with us the day after, about how grief counselors would be available for kids to talk to, and friends were welcome to attend a memorial service and would not be penalized for missing classes. My mom asked me if I was okay (of course I was) and if I wanted to talk about it (I said I was fine). Because what was I going to say? That I have the image of a girl’s dark blue, oxygen-deprived lips stuck in my head?

What do you say when you don’t know how you feel? When you know that it doesn’t matter how affected you are by some traumatic event, because the fact of the matter is, a girl lost her life – you didn’t know her, and others are grieving around you and you are useless to help then and you don’t even have the right to grieve a loss that isn’t yours.

I didn’t say anything. I went to practice the next day, put in the lane lines, sat in the lobby and did my homework, and wondered how long it would take for the monsters in the deep end of the pool to go away.

A Strange Thing to Fear

Fear is a common conversation topic this time of year, as decorated pumpkins take residence on porches and stoops, season lattes feature on every coffee shop menu, mainstream and hipster alike, and Freeform starts airing Hocus Pocus seventy times in a week.

Personally, I’ve got a couple of common fears. Spiders/insects. Open ocean. Mascots. The potential for an alien invasion. Clowns, for the most part. Talking on the phone. You know, the usual. One, however, might not be considered so… normal.

I just recently found out it has a name: kosmemophobia, the fear of jewelry. I’m reluctant to officially say I have this phobia, because I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but jewelry really does skeeve me out, to the point where it occasionally infringes on my life. I don’t want to touch jewelry, I don’t want it to touch me, I would prefer to be nowhere near it, and if I do have to touch it for whatever reason, I wash my hands numerous times afterward. Shaking hands with people who are wearing rings makes my skin crawl. Hugging people who have earrings on freaks me out. Just the word “earrings” makes me want to gag. I also don’t like little pieces of metal like paperclips, but that is far more manageable. My sister is getting married next year and I’ve already told her that, although I’m in the wedding party, I will not be wearing any jewelry.

This has been the case since I was a child, which is corroborated by my mother. I briefly had my ears pierced (thanks, peer pressure) and that was a traumatic experience I hope to never re-live. I will go the rest of my life without wearing any jewelry and I will be 100% a-okay with that. I lived a good portion of my life thinking that this fear is “weird” and I should grin and bear it for the sake of appearing “normal,” but now, I don’t really apologize for it. It’s not so extreme that I can’t handle it on a daily basis and I’m not really crippled by it, but I’m also not going to put myself in situations where I am massively uncomfortable just to keep up appearances. Honestly, I could have it a lot worse. I truly feel for the folks who have a strange fear who can’t function in certain situations or environments because of it.

I think people with uncommon phobias can at least take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and someone somewhere out there likely endures the same type of spine-tingling apprehension they do toward the root of their fear. This time of year might be tough for some who fear the thought of Pennywise in the drains or Freddy Kruger in their dreams, but I have no fear of ghosts, goblins, or ghouls… unless they’ve got a necklace on.