Hitting the panic button

Sometimes a dread creeps outwards from the deep pit of your soul, from the parts inaccessible to your rational mind. It slowly spreads and dissolves into every cell of your body, reaches the tip of every hair strand.

While you feel the fear and the dread, there’s nothing around you that is scary. You feel afraid but you can’t say why. You can’t really see it. That scares you even more.

If you’re standing in front of a lion and scared to shit, it’s actually cool. In that fear and stress, you’ll fight, flight or freeze in fright.

There’s no lion. Who to fight, who to flee from? You freeze in fright. Your survival feels threatened from nothing at all.

The fear takes over, not letting you function, not letting you think.

It makes you question your perception, your thought and your existence because it just doesn’t make sense and you want it to make sense.

I’m not sure which one is the problem, the absurdity of it all or my inability to accept the absurdity? When I get there, sometimes I hit the panic button.

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Surviving

The most difficult thing to do is accept that you’re sick, mentally.

The second most difficult thing is to continue loving yourself as your mind plays games of guilt and shame.

The third most difficult thing is to make eye contact with people and talk about how you feel.

The fourth most difficult thing is to bear the pain and the suffering.

The fifth most difficult thing is to remember that living is important and worth it, despite all those difficulties.

The sixth most difficult thing is to accept that probably this is how things will be, always; you’ll suffer always and still manage to live; hold on to the brief moments of clarity and the few occasions where you actually felt light, peaceful and even happy.

The seventh most difficult thing is to breathe, in and out.

And in the reverse order, is the secret to survival.

Breathe in, breathe out.

When you want it to end

I sit at the bottom of the well and I look up. The well is deep but I can see light. I know that I can climb out and everything will be fine. I wait till my eyes get used to the darkness. I wait till my bones heal and I start climbing again. Sometimes, I make great progress and I’m almost halfway through. All I have to do is somehow find little pieces of rock jutting out and little gaps between those rocks.

At times, I get stuck. I can’t find anything to go further. I look, I can’t find one crevice. My limbs are getting tired. They are shaking from the effort it takes to hold on. Sometimes my limbs give way, sometimes my will does.

Sometimes there are dark clouds above. The light is dim and even disappears. When it rains, everything is slippery. Whether it is the rain, the absence of support or just the exhaustion of continuously climbing or something else altogether, sometimes I fall.

When I do, sometimes, I flail my arms around and grab onto anything that I can so I don’t reach the bottom. Sometimes, I hit the bottom. The longer the fall, the worse it hurts when I land.

On some days (like yesterday and twice before in my life), I cry out aloud. My limbs are broken and so is my back. I fell hard. There’s dirt in my eyes and they’re burning. There are dark clouds and it’s raining heavily. I can’t see the light. Water’s filling up fast. I’m tired. I have struggled for years and I don’t want to do it anymore. I want the water to engulf me, fill my lungs. I want it all to end. I start believing that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I will never get to the light.

Outside the well is a distant childhood memory. Doesn’t seem real anymore. Doesn’t seem worth it anymore. The well’s been my life and it’s not been good.

The well is in my mind and so are visions of blades and bleeding arteries, of plastic bags with drawstrings, of brains blown out by a swift trigger, of free falls from great heights, of silent pills.

There have been just three days in my life when those visions became more attractive than the light. Once I popped hundreds of pills, almost a decade ago. It didn’t turn out as expected.

The second time, I let the visions play themselves out, acknowledging their presence but refusing to act, letting them know that they were unwanted guests. They slipped in when it was too dark and my soul was broken. Doesn’t mean they’re friends, even if they’re friendly. The light is an illusion, they said. You’ve struggled enough, they said. We can give you peace. We can end all this.

They go on and on till you can’t hear anything but their soothing voices cajoling you to act. It’s a great idea, they say. It’ll soon be okay. Everything will be okay. Just try it once.

Then it happened yesterday.

It’s dark. I’m still at the bottom. It’s pouring, I can’t see the light and my soul is fractured and hurting. The personified visions of death won’t stop conversing and cajoling. I can’t shut them off. I want it all to end, I really want it all to end but not by destroying myself.

I repeat it to myself – not at the cost of my life, not at the cost of my life. I have to remember. I have to drown those voices. I repeat it loudly, like a mantra, a spell to keep the demons away. I have to close my eyes and remember the light, remember that it’s real, remember that there are those who love me peeking in and calling me. The memory is weak and their voices distant and unintelligible. I have to remember what’s real and what’s not.

I fought, I won, I didn’t give in. Until the next time?

I’m scared.

Then I remember… to breathe in, breathe out.

When I try to sleep, I can’t. Somedays I go to sleep sincerely hoping that I don’t wake up. Some days I wake up and don’t know what to do or why I did wake up in the first place.

They say, I can beat this. I want to believe it, but some days I just can’t. If I go by what I believe on a given day, I’d be dead long ago.

How long can you keep this up?

A few years ago, I challenged myself to write a poem everyday as part of a Writing 201 activity. I couldn’t finish the last 4-5 days. Since then (and even from before), I have wanted to participate in the National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) but circumstances in April have not been really favourable. Next year, I’d like to be in a space where I can participate. Next year.

Purging Cognitive Load

A swirling soup of ideas

In my last post, I wrote about struggling with mental fog due to excessive cognitive load. One of the reasons it happens, as I discovered, is that there are a lot of ideas and concepts have been in my head for months (or even years) now.

I have spoken about those to friends and acquaintances from time to time. However, it hasn’t helped most of the times. First of all, I don’t have a lot of friends. Not because I’m depressed, but because I’ve been an introvert most of my life. Second, I’m very selective in choosing friends; even prudish to some extent. I do have a lot of acquaintances but very few friends.

Some friends of mine who have the intellectual capacity to deeply understand these ideas are busy with their own stuff and really not interested in discussing ideas. Yet others are people with whom I have burnt my fingers previously because of the randomness and chaotic behaviour that was a part of our previous interactions. I’m not sure if speaking to them is a great idea.

Another factor is that in the past couple of years I surrounded myself with a couple of people of the wrong kind. These are people who always talk (or rather gossip) about other people, never about ideas. I have noticed those who talk more about other people rather than their ideas are usually insecure, mean and whatever they say or do, has to be taken with a truckload of salt. Fortunately, I have started distancing myself from those.

Other friends of mine who don’t have the capacity (due to their intellectual prowess or simply because they’re not familiar with the domain of my thought) to deeply understand and critique my ideas have been rather helpful. They’ve forced me to reanalyse and re-structure my ideas so that they are clearer and easier to understand.

With this limited reach (or audience or sounding board), my thoughts and ideas have continued to swirl into a messy soup, intermingling and confusing each other and creating the unholy mental fog that I wrote about.

Struggling professionally

In almost a month now, I have got zero productive, paid work done. I’ve been on a trial with a very large-hearted and empathic employers and initially when I joined, I got a lot of awesome work done. In the last month or so, I descended into the fog, bounced back and relapsed very quickly. It’s very unpredictable and chaotic. Businesses cannot afford such chaos. So, I’m not sure how this job’s going to pan out.

About a year ago, I was in this exact same space (although emotionally I’m much stronger, less helpless and less scared). I wasn’t able to hold on to a full time gig. I lost out on two awesome gigs one after the other, couldn’t finish the trial.

I figured that the only employer who’d be able to work around my unpredictable emotional state would be me. When I’m clear, I can get a lot of work done. When I’m foggy, I can’t write a message properly.

Training is an exception

Another thing that I know about myself is that training and speaking on a stage come to me very naturally. You can wake me up from my sleep and tell me that I need to speak on a topic or take a class (of course, related to my field), I can be ready in less than 5 minutes and do a great job. Even in my worst downtimes, I have been able to teach. Maybe not with as much enthusiasm or energy, but I get the central idea across and learning objectives covered usefully.

I’ve done that so many times in my life in so many fields, that it’s become similar to cycling.

With those thoughts in my head, I sought training opportunities. I quickly found one and started planning my professional life around it. I wanted to conduct paid courses, I wanted to build an eLearning solution and I wanted to conduct professional events. For my training activities, I wanted my participants to get some real world client work, so I wanted to have a little agency on the side that could be slower than a regular agency in terms of turnaround time (because it is done by trainees under supervision) but really cheap, at the same time.

I was on track and going ahead well enough.

Startup–Startup

Then some of my friends got interested and joined in. Soon, the plans went topsy turvy. I don’t like confrontations and I wasn’t really assertive. I wasn’t a good leader. I kept changing the plan as per the rest of the team’s wishes, even if I was unconvinced (It’s difficult to have confidence in yourself, when you’re down). I had a vision, a very clear one, but even after trying multiple times, I just couldn’t get the rest of us to see it or trust it. That didn’t work out well.

Now, I feel like I wasted a year of my life, slogging my ass off for things that I didn’t believe in, for people who didn’t believe in them either and for various reasons, didn’t come through when they were needed, repeatedly.

I was and am with an unstable mind. I had hoped that working with stable people will help in operations. I could work in the realm of ideas, my partners could work in the realm of reality. Turns out, it wasn’t a great idea. The business’s graph followed my emotional state because I felt I was doing everything. I f’ed up, as usual, but with honesty and transparency was able to salvage most of the f’up’s. When the others f’ed up, there was no reason or explanation. I maybe completely wrong here. If you ask one of those (ex-)partners, I’d be the one carrying even the blame that I won’t accept.

I decided to get out, when things started getting extremely petty. I didn’t have a lot of funds when I started and I really didn’t invest much money. All I had was my mind and my time. However, working in multiple roles and taking on multiple responsibilities, partly because I don’t like things not happening for no concrete reason. If no one will do it, I will. It kept overloading my mind and I kept crashing.

Now, I’m back to square one. Broke, lost and a year behind.

The week of purge

A couple of days ago, I decided to purge my mind of all this cognitive load. I decided to write everything and put it out in the world. Right now, I can’t express how light I feel after publishing a couple of concepts and tutorials for things that have been swirling in my head, taking up a lot of space.

At work, I need to finish some content, that’s really simple and not a lot of work, quantity wise. However, with the constant cognitive load, I have not been able to focus or finish my tasks, that ideally should not take more than a couple of hours.

Why? Let’s see. In the last 2 weeks, I wrote about 3000 lines of code, then completely rewrote those 3000 lines of code, again, twice. That’s about 9000 lines of code. I wrote a tutorial to go with it, in 5 parts, totalling about 4,500 words.

I followed it up with another tutorial in 2 parts, totalling about 5000 words, dozens of screenshots, a git repository and a spreadsheet.

Can you imagine all that information, sitting in my head, swirling around – 9000 lines of code, 10,000 words? There’s at least 10 to 15 times of that information still left in my brain, swirling around as I write this, refusing to take a backseat or disappear.

Once I finished my first tutorial, I felt the lightness of being without those thoughts. They were out, in text, concrete and I put them out in the world. Purged.

I finished the next one, more purge.

I’m writing this post, more purge.

So, that’s what I’m going to do, purge. This is the week of purge.

What next?

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to hold on to the job that I’m trying at. I’m not sure if my employers’ patience or more importantly, their business needs would be able to bear with me.

I’m not sure how I’ll make a living here on. I’m not sure what the future holds for me. Right now, I’m going to purge as fast as possible, clear my head, try and finish my tasks and bounce back into the game. Even if I fail and lose the job, I’d hopefully have gotten out of the fog.

Even if I don’t, this is at least better than sitting around and staring at the fog as life around me goes on, time passes, things get worse and the stress of it all adds further to my cognitive load and the fog and I end up lost.

I don’t want to lose. I’m going to try not to.