health

Three Years

Posted in general, health on July 23rd, 2018 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on Three Years

Three years.

Almost three years ago, I packed up my entire life, and moved to Minnesota. I chose to sacrifice never having to work a “day job” again, financial security, food and housing security, medical security, the American Dream middle-class lifestyle, and almost everything else I knew. I chose to sacrifice these things because, after years of depression and accomplishing nothing, I woke up one morning and no longer recognized myself in the mirror. I had to act.

Three years later, I have lost almost 70lbs and am finally happy with my body. I have a healthier relationship with food, having mostly eliminated emotional, procrastination, and boredom-fueled eating. I eat more vegetables, little junk food, and sweets very sparingly. I do not consume alcohol, and I try to drink at least 1L of plain water per day. I stay active, and I enjoy exercise. I am in the process of starting to weight train, because maintaining muscle mass and keeping bones strong is one of the few proven methods to delay the effects of aging. And I want to be active, healthy, productive, and strong for as long as possible, so I can accomplish all of the things that I wish to do.

Three years later, I have learned so much about myself. I have sorted out the things I enjoy for myself from the things I participated in or pretended to like to fit in with others. I loathe television, and have very little interest in movies, and most passive media. I have rediscovered the pleasures of reading. I feel like a giant sponge, ready to absorb all the information and new experiences that I can. I am getting outdoors and experiencing nature regularly. Watching and learning about sports! I am educating myself about the history of comics and the comic book industry. Art, comics, dance, music, photography, cooking, writing, podcasts, videos, fashion — I have so many outlets to be creative in whatever way suits me in any given moment. Not enough time in this life.

Three years later, I am confident, and secure. I recognize the patterns of my old relationships, and where my failings and shortcomings have existed, in an objective and self-accepting way. I do my best to break the cycle when I feel myself retreating into damaging behaviours or coping mechanisms. My eyes are open to my weaknesses, and what I still need to work on, but I am also healthy enough to see where my issues end, and other people’s begin. I will not allow other people to define me. I do not need to blame or beat myself up for everything. I know how my life experiences have affected me and how to avoid the pitfalls and traps I have fallen into previously.

Three years later, I have learned how much I live for the hustle. Embrace the struggle. I thrive on challenge, and if I do not have challenge, I need to find it. The struggle is character. The struggle is growth. I do not like being too comfortable. Comfort is stagnation is death. Comfortable is an adjective best applied to beds and chairs, and not much else. If I have a problem, solve it. If I can’t do something, figure out how. If it’s not good enough, try harder next time. Practice mindfulness in the moment, but push my limits going forward. I like feeling a little hungry. I like feeling a little sore. I like feeling a little raw. I like feeling alive. If it doesn’t add to my quality of life significantly, if it doesn’t further my dream, if it’s holding me back, if it’s dragging me down, if it’s not helping me grow as a person — I probably don’t want it.

I watched my mom die of cancer at 59. I was her daytime care-giver for the last few months of her life. Only my father and her doctors knew her decline and slow death more intimately than I did. The agony, the madness, and the suffering as she slowly wasted away. I looked into her eyes as she pleaded with me for her life, days before the end, in the hospital, begging to go back home; terrified, her twisted and emaciated body barely able to sustain life. I looked into her eyes — and I saw myself. Growing up, she would sometimes wistfully tell me how much she loved to draw as a little girl. She gave it up as she got older, she said. I don’t know how much, or if, she regretted that.

My father killed himself a few years after my mother’s death. He never really learned to live without my mother, never sought out any kind of counseling or professional help, and allowed his relationship with a woman younger than me to ruin what remained of his life. My belief is the combination of financial devastation and grief is what ultimately led him to suicide. He was an honest, good, and hard-working, but angry and repressed man. Some of my earliest memories are of being chased and screamed at by him, a huge hulking mass of red face and muscles, towering over this three- or four-year-old girl. Being held down, being whipped across my bare back and legs with a large leather belt. I learned to please. I learned to hide myself. I learned to fear.

Thirty-eight years to find my anger. Thirty-eight years to find my spine.

Three years to find myself. Three years to learn my own strength.

I have made so many sacrifices for this.

No regrets.

Normal

Posted in health on November 20th, 2017 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on Normal

Updates! Life continues its gradual but consistent improvement. For the first time I feel, I think, what one would consider “normal” in a mental sense. And I know that “normal” is mostly illusory. Recently I discovered the relationship between my long-standing anxiety issues and creative thinking. My pea brain is almost constantly leaping from idea to idea, conclusion to conclusion, and making — to outside observers — sometimes random connections. While that makes for interesting, multi-layered symbolism in my creative output, it is not so helpful when dealing with other humans. While my brain has not stopped running constant models of everything like a computer plotting out moves on a chess board, I have developed the ability to tune it out and react only to real-life stimuli. The practical result of this has been much more stable mood and healthier boundaries. Other people’s moods do not affect my own nearly so much, and I am better able to focus. I am also much better at recognizing when another person is trying to manipulate me, emotionally or otherwise, and then refuse to take the bait or be lead into confrontations. Though I am tired from pushing myself on so many fronts, my anxiety and stress levels are almost non-existent. I would be hesitant indeed to describe myself as having an anxiety disorder any more. I feel, realistically, pretty good about myself.

This has also helped me be more objective about both my own mistakes, and things that have been done to me. I am coming to terms with how my child-hood and teenage years shaped my early relationships, and what changes need(ed) to be made to finally make meaningful and lasting connections. This is to be explored in my unofficially-launched new project, Queen of Assholes, a biography about how everyone is basically terrible, and my personal journey to healing and redemption. That will include depictions of both emotional and physical abuse, though nothing overly graphic. I want to illustrate both how the abuse is viewed through the eyes of the person being abused, and the subsequent ways in which it affected my life. If this causes even one person to reconsider before striking or screaming at their children, it will be a net win for me. Eventually, as my career progresses, I would like to tie this into more general advocacy for adoption/fostering children, and against child abuse.

An old friend and colleague of mine recently attempted to kill himself. Though his reasons had nothing to do with me, it did force me to acknowledge that I have neglected our friendship, and that I have not been available for him like I should have. We are hanging out on a regular basis now, and he is keeping me updated about the details of his recovery. This combined with my father’s suicide last year have that issue also prominently on my radar — in particular men’s mental health, because of the ways that society still stigmatizes men who embrace their emotions or show too much vulnerability as weak.

It requires courage and strength to engage in a sincere self-examination and self-criticism — not self-flagellation and self-loathing, mind — and admit that something needs to change, and that you may need help. There is absolutely no shame in doing what is needed for you to live a healthy, fulfilling life. That may come in the form of counseling, therapy, medication, spirituality, writing, or something else entirely. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Recognize your self-destructive and self-defeating habits. Feed your mind affirming thoughts the same way that you feed your body the right nutrition. It is possible to get better, if you are willing to do the work. There are truly circumstances beyond our control in life, of course, but so much of our suffering is self-inflicted and self-perpetuated. Why make a hard life even harder by hurting yourself?

Once in a while, I glance over at my ex-husband’s Facebook page. Watching the person he has become in my absence has only driven home how different we are, and how little we had in common. That is only an indictment of myself for pursuing someone who was not a well-fitted match for me, to avoid being alone and confronting my damage to grow up. Though to be honest, I am not certain that I am a well-fitted match for anyone. A workaholic who is happiest in near-silence or with the low crackle of an AM radio, I have minimal interest in the television and movies that everyone else seems to live for. Not a value judgement — I would rather be creating or reading, myself. I prefer a simple life and have been shedding most of my inessential belongings and objects I have no sentimental attachment to. I missed making music and I am picking it up again — mandolin and violin — along with the French I took in high school. I would like to get back to the gym regularly once the holidays are over. Most of the time I would like to do my work in solitude. My ex-husband complained about the long hours I spent sequestered in my office. Thus far Stephen has been accepting of my unusual needs, but I worry about potential feelings of abandonment or resentment over time. We do have a strong emotional bond and are a fine example of two people growing together instead of apart.

I have created an audio version of this — my blog, where I publicly dissect my most intimate thoughts and inner-mechanics of my head — and where, over the last three years, I have DIY-therapy’ed myself into a functional, relatively healthy human being. I guess the definition of “normal” can only be stretched so far. Time to return to the pages of my comic books.

I Walk Alone

Posted in health, love on July 6th, 2016 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on I Walk Alone

Another month frittered by; the weather is warmer, though the mornings are often brisk and windy. I attended the Artistreet show in Minneapolis on June 25th. As someone more accustomed to high-attendance comic conventions, it was probably not a show I will repeat, but I did enjoy the opportunity to chat with some other local artists. I will add one or two more small conventions to my schedule this year, ending the season with the stellar MCBA Fallcon.

Last week, I made the decision to discontinue going to professional therapy. Either I am too entrenched in struggling with things on my own, or else I just cannot open up in the correct way to find it helpful past a certain threshold. I do feel that it helped me crystallize the areas where I require the most work. I have started listening to audio books, and I found them better suited to my needs by offering specific coping strategies and mental tools. Two books, The Willpower Instinct and Never Chase Men Again, have caused major paradigm shifts for me. My two biggest issues can be boiled down thusly —

Problem: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Daily feelings of anxiety have decreased significantly, but individual episodes have become more acute and panic-attack-like. This includes symptoms such as elevated heart rate, physical agitation and discomfort, and a sensation of my head being full of “white noise” or static. Overwhelming thought patterns lead to irrational, counterproductive, and self-destructive behaviour to relieve the pressure. Fatigue and catastrophizing cause me to react to others based on imagined worst-case scenarios. Highly damaging to relationships.

Solution: Reduce or eliminate triggers until self-control and emotional stability has improved, integrate physical (cardio with weight training) and relaxation exercises, maintain a healthy diet and consistent 8-hour sleep schedule.

Problem: People-Pleasing and Healthy Boundaries

Difficulty distinguishing anxiety-created imaginings from legitimate concerns. Inability to establish and enforce healthy boundaries in situations where I am uncomfortable or feel the need for approval. Putting others’ needs before my own to the level of self-harm. My fluid sense of identity makes me over-eager to conform to others’ ideals. All of these contribute to a rubber-band effect of underlying resentment, until I break and snap back in a hurtful way.

Solution: Continue building egalitarian, trustworthy friendships to overcome fears of abandonment and rejection. A conscious effort to increase empathy and become a better communicator. Compassion and kindness meditations to forgive myself and others, and cleanse out negative thinking. Release of past baggage and improvements to emotional availability. Continue to strengthen and solidify the Self through artwork and other acts of creative expression.

Recommended by a friend, Baggage Reclaim is a wonderful resource.

I have stopped romantic dating; it was an interesting experiment, and I have learned about people, but it is not for me. I have been out with at least two dozen men, most of which I never saw more than once, though for no more exciting reason than lack of interest or incompatibility. A few I connected with have made the jump into my circle of personal friends. Any opportunities for a relationship to form have been intentionally or unconsciously sabotaged. Two things are going on; the first is that at this point, I am comfortable and want to be alone. Non-sexual snuggling with a friend is enough to satisfy cravings for intimacy. My romantic relationships have almost all been long-distance, room-mate type scenarios, or otherwise stunted and emotionally unavailable in some way. I am freaked the fuck out by honest, genuine, and reciprocated closeness with another human being. A relationship with me absolutely must begin on the foundation of friendship to have any chance at longevity.

The second thing, if I am honest, is that I am still terribly wounded by my loss in January. Yes, I was unhappy. Yes, it was unhealthy. But my heart still aches for someone I am crazy about to adore, to pamper, and to spoil. Very little in this world brings me such happiness. I do not enjoy baking or cooking much anymore. But now, I can only fix myself and ride these feelings out. Perhaps in time a man with the softness of heart, strength of character, and depth of thought to handle me will appear. Someone who will not merely tolerate my intensity, but bask in it. Someone that I cannot keep my hands off of.

Raise my umbrella to the sky and soldier on — I walk alone.

Healing

Posted in health, love on June 3rd, 2016 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on Healing

My beloved city of Saint Paul has been often dark and stormy of late; the rain is still a welcome miracle to this drought-scarred Texan. Therapy is going well, I think. It has primarily consisted of unravelling the damage both created and churned up by the relationship I left at the beginning of this year, and further, why I have struggled so much in the process of letting it go. Two people, so unfathomably toxic for each other — one defensive, insecure, unpredictable, and controlling, in my opinion — and myself, anxious, free-spirited, lonely, and too enthusiastic. Incompatible life goals selfishly swept aside by both parties from the beginning. Two broken assholes, bewitched by each others’ charms, caught in fleeting moments of togetherness and hope. As I touched on in this video, failure is anathema to me; a dogged and motivated problem-solver, it has been difficult to internalize the idea that I cannot fix anyone but myself. Nor is it my right or responsibility to; it is, in fact, the height of arrogance. The guilt and shame I felt for abandoning the relationship — for giving up — sent me into an emotional tailspin from which I have only recently recovered. Also, I have undergone the unwieldy task of sorting out my real issues from what I was patronizingly, and repeatedly, told were the issues. The amicable divorce from my best friend of twelve years, and smoothly-coordinated cross-country move, were never a source of trauma for me. It was the relationship.

I am getting professional help. I possess the self-assurance to show my face to the world and own my mistakes — mistakes that have informed me, that will not soon be repeated. I hope that he ultimately finds what he needs and wants out of life. He remains, in spite of everything, one of the most beautiful and fascinating men I have ever known. I regret that I lacked the experience and wisdom to have not entered the relationship at all — we might be friends still. I regret the subtle signs, and flashing warnings, that I ignored along the way for love. I do not regret the precious time we spent together.

A few weeks ago I began casually dating, learning to navigate those waters, while gradually rebuilding my confidence and self-esteem back to its previous state. Overall, it has been beneficial and positive. My lifestyle and workaholic ways do present a challenge to finding a compatible and suitable partner, but I have a clear vision of what I am searching for, with an increasing knowledge of what to avoid. I have shared many meals with kind and interesting people. In particular, I have spent some time in the company of patient, well-adjusted individuals who have helped me learn to trust men again, after this breakup, and an unpleasant rebound that left me feeling gross and manipulated.

I am rediscovering what it feels like to be treated like a person, and to have my needs considered in a genuine, non-self-serving, and respectful way. I am improving my ability to honour consistent and rational boundaries. Relearning how to share my thoughts and openly discuss feelings without fear of anger, judgement, or reprisal. Relearning what it feels like to communicate without having my words twisted into the worst possible conclusion. I am grateful for the chaste intimacy, tenderness, and insight that has been shared with me by men who recognized my current fragility — and responded appropriately. I am not only healing through this, but I am being made stronger. The journey has not been easy, but I am finally allowing myself to be happy.

I am a person. I am no man’s manic pixie dream girl.

Love and the Boogeymen

Posted in health, love on March 24th, 2016 by Jin Wicked – Comments Off on Love and the Boogeymen

Winter held one last hurrah here in the Twin Cities, unceremoniously dumping a sorry coating of soggy slush over the area yesterday. It was just enough to gnarl the highways, as everyone has apparently forgotten how to drive after a month of cleaned streets. Today I went to a diagnostic evaluation so I can begin regular therapy sessions. Exhausted, and running on only three hours of sleep after working into the early morning, I stumbled into the office fifteen minutes late. Hair unkempt, bottom lip raw from chewing and picking, a dark grease stain on my jeans from dropping a hamburger in my lap while eating and driving the night before — this is my messy life now. Two diverging tracks of growing professional success, while my personal life lurches around me.

Everyone I meet treats me so kindly. I can’t be that bad.

“What do you feel your problem is, exactly?” my therapist asked.

“I’m an asshole,” I replied.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not always an asshole. Last year was a gauntlet of intense self-examination and development, with the focus on improving social skills and personal relationships. I am doing well in this regard. You have to know me intimately before the monsters rear their ghastly heads; before the fears of abandonment and insecurities come out to play. I struggle to respect boundaries. I am so hungry for approval that I will subjugate my own desires and needs until I explode. The anxiety feeds spiralling thought patterns that press me into doing and saying — often hurtful — things I do not really mean. I can be selfishly relentless in pursuit of targets I desire. There is more, but it all boils down to an inability to completely see other people as separate from myself in the context of close relationships. In my opinion, anyway.

Two hours of background and my abridged personal story later.

“What do you hope to achieve with therapy?” I was asked before leaving.

“To not be an asshole anymore,” I answered.

Generalized anxiety disorder with elements of depression. I am highly functional. I am no danger to myself or others. Never a cutter, never a self-harmer, never violent, and loathe to raise my voice. Paradoxically, self-aware. I understand what is wrong but I lack the knowledge to fix it on my own. I need help.

I’m afraid you’re going to leave, so I fight hard to hold you closer.

You’re afraid I’m going to leave, so you distance me away.

For years, I have known a particular couple that is obnoxiously adorable, and no less crazy about each other than the night we met. Their synergy and joie de vivre is infectious, and I would be a liar if I denied it was a variable in the equation that eventually led me here. I want that. Barely a handful of men in my life have ever rendered me starry-eyed and breathless; face burning, and blushed, and tongue-tied. I want that. Each in turn has left me heartbroken. I wonder, for how long will I be doomed to repeat this cycle? Where is the man who sets my heart on fire; with the ambition and drive and strength of self to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with me? Who makes me laugh like no other? Who forges his own path in the face of adversity, and will go down fighting?

I looked at you and thought for the first time — this is what I want. Forever.

What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?

Going about the business of my life, surrounded by the thundering drumbeat of humanity — I catch a glimpse of pudgy cheeks damp with tears, topped up with blonde ringlets and wedged underneath a mother’s chin. I want that. My body is rebelling against me. Regardless of this situation, my clock is running down; perhaps earlier than expected. Volatile moods and symptoms that only recently have enabled me to connect the dots. I no longer have a palatable reason why I chose to deny myself this fundamental part of existence. What for — piles of paper and paint smeared on canvases? A haughty notion about lives devoted to the pursuit of art? Nothing endures in the end. These things were never mutually exclusive. My heart agonizes with a previously-unknown emptiness, and the shaky uncertainty that it can ever be rectified.

I want that. What have I done? I’m an asshole.

I see the therapist again next week.