Y/N

You need to decide now, but your faculties have disappeared. You’re a robot with a glitch, you’re broken. You have a choice between left and right and you continue straight, and even after impact has been made and metal is crunching and glass is shattering, you’re waiting for a heavenly voice to tell you exactly what to do.

You’re still alternating between choices as the dirt approaches your nose. You think you’ve got it, you finally make a decision, and as you come up with a story supporting it, you regret it, you dramatically change your mind at the last second. The dirt is in your mouth, you can no longer see, and you cheerfully explain your new decision to the crying faces looking down at you, and you secretly long for the other choice, yes you, already dead sir, and you still waver in your grave infinitely. You are an idiot.

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Wandering Thoughts from Holland

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I just spent some time alone in various parts of the Netherlands, trying to regroup and figure out where to go next with my life. I posted some non-Amsterdam photos here.

The following are a few of my thoughts while strolling around the nice little country.

 

While You’re There

These solo trips are always frustrating because I think I need to see certain things in the area while I’m in one spot, but I don’t like touristy things and try to create my own adventures. Yet these adventures, even when fun, feel forced; forced by a travel god telling me to do things so I can say I’m doing things. It usually ends with me randomly walking ridiculous distances in city streets and getting lost in remote towns and, besides one or two significant meeting people-related incidents, usually lots of time is left completely to myself to worry over what to do next. It’s usually a mix of “any way the wind blows” and “any way the wind blows that also sounds like a perfect fit,” and the endless possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. Should I go to some obscure, barely accessible location and take pretty pictures? Should I go out and talk to some locals? Should I have an interesting adventure? Should I use the opportunity in this new place to figure out my life? I do not know how to choose anymore, so whatever I do ends up being completely capricious, and I’m always left wondering if I should be doing something else. There are plenty of downsides to being a drifter when you tell yourself you’re doing something more profound than just escaping.

 

Any Destination Required

I woke up and decided to drive from Amsterdam to Germany to see some mountains and pretty scenery and stuff. I hopped in my surprisingly fast Renault stationwagon-ish thing and looked for any random location in Germany on the in-car GPS. However, the rental car company only had Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) locations on its GPS.

I decided instead to drive to the Lux because I know nothing about it, and I embarked on side roads through the foggy Dutch and then Belgian (and for like 3 minutes German) countryside. Even with 1200 km of driving in two days under my belt, my shifting was still choppy because the lip on the heel of my left all-purpose-while-traveling hiking boot got stuck beneath the clutch every time I released it.

Anyway, after 7 hours of driving, I couldn’t find a place to park in Luxembourg City and got weirdly trapped when a main road suddenly turned to a parking garage and, upon having no other choice but to hit the “give me a ticket and I’ll pay before I leave” button, I was notified in French on a screen that my car was not allowed in the garage for some reason, and I was forced to awkwardly reverse the Renault back out of the long and narrow passageway and onto the busy hilly road with cars converging directly onto the entrance from both one-way sides. I then drove through the drizzle and couldn’t find parking or a place to stay, so I eventually (after about 10 minutes) just decided to drive like 4.5 hours directly back to Amsterdam.

But I thought about the GPS again. I needed to be able to choose some destination and go with it, and it made me extremely anxious to not be able to pick a spot in Germany. I guess I’ve done this since I started driving. I can’t leave until I know which exact direction to head for my inexact adventure. Without a destination it’s stressful in new places because I feel like I must take every exit and see every sight until I find something perfectly suitable. Of course, it’s never really been about the destination. On this trip, the high-level insight I gained was that European petrol is very expensive, and I had to return the car before going broke.

Then it dawned on me that the GPS thing is like my life. There have been so many freaking side projects I’ve started or just envisioned for a few minutes but end up discontinuing due to no motivation, no passion, and the idea that I can’t do something I consider to be “on the side” until I have the main thing figured out yet. I don’t accomplish anything when I have an extended period of free time. There are too many possibilities, too many other exits to take before the sun sets, and I can’t ever settle on one specific endeavor. Well, maybe I’d actually make progress on all things if I simply had one major thing in place acting as support beam. This has proven true in extremely limited instances in the past, but then I leave or quit the main thing and all the secondary things fall apart.

Now, it’s time to plug something in to the ol’ GPS so this journey can be fun again.

 

Gears

Racing through the streets of Amsterdam in this crazy thing. Speed bumps and intersections, narrow passageways, pedestrians and bikers. Unsure – 1st or 2nd gear? Need an in-between gear, it seems. Want to choose speed first, then put in necessary gear, not the other way around. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to want?

 

The Window

I see you in there. You see me out here. From the longing looks on our young faces, it is apparent we have a lot in common and a lot to learn. Why do we continue doing things we don’t want to do? We keep looking through windows, seeing things – moving anythings, stationary everythings – all of which merge into one overwhelming idea of reality, realness. We feel unreal, incomplete, incompatible with our surroundings, and yet we’re stuck in this alien world, begging to feel alive like all the things we see, regardless of what they might be. I know you know I don’t care about what you’re doing, but that you’re at least trying to do it. I know you know I feel imprisoned by my current “freedom,” that it is one of the many possible suboptimal routes I chose. I know you’ve been on this side of the glass too. You want out again? I want in again? I thank you for providing me with the escapism that I needed, and you’re welcome for yours. But let’s make a silent pact to stop looking there and start looking here for the answers we need.

 

 

Final Score: Chicago 1, Curtis 0

People say the long, bitter Chicago winters build character. They also say dealing with adversity builds character. Well something is being built alright, but whatever it is certainly is in danger of toppling to the ground.

____________________

My time in this city is coming to an end; everything has happened so quickly. I never seriously thought I would be leaving this soon. A roller coaster from start to finish, this experience has exposed a breaking point I never knew existed.

In the midst of this whirlwind period, I managed to get my master’s degree. I wasn’t running on fumes, though – I was running on fumes of fumes. Barely able to sleep. Barely able to wake up. Barely able to do anything in between. I was operating at such a low level that I was more dead than alive. I was so burnt out from studying for the CFA and working hard at my internship, that I could barely handle my very challenging projects and final exams. In this last semester / quarter, I got a B and a C+, which in grad school are the loose equivalents of a C+ and a D+. I was broken. I had nothing. There was so much going on and I couldn’t wrap my head around it all.

As the lease expiration date on my apartment quickly approached, I was forced to actually think about my plan past the CFA exam. I just wanted things to stay simple so I could study and focus on doing something productive in my life, but I was faced with a dizzying amount of problems, situations, and deadlines. I brought much of this upon myself, and I didn’t handle this period well. Still, it left me in pieces.

I considered staying in my current place, then I looked at apartments in the city, then I looked for places in the suburbs. The next week, I found myself thinking about staying at home for a while. Days later, the idea of staying in Florida became more of a reality, especially after a surprise phone call from my sister. Within weeks, I knew going to Tampa was the most logical decision. I can’t afford to stay in this expensive city without a real job, and no jobs have come my way. I need a break from my mind. Peace. A situation where I’m not spending much money. Family support. An indefinite change of scenery. A haven from this hell. At 25, I need to take more responsibility with my life, and this is the responsible thing to do.

The doctor started me on Strattera, a drug to help both ADHD and anxiety. It stays in the system 24 hours, so it shouldn’t have the ridiculous peaks and valleys that come with Adderall. However, it takes months to actually start working. When I moved to Chicago, I had really started taking the gluten-free thing seriously, and I had just started Adderall and stopped a bunch of other drugs. All of that took time to start working. It’s funny how I move during these adjustment periods. They seem to provide an amplified sense of closure: I moved to this city, I found an apartment, I started school, I dated and loved a girl, I adjusted to a drug, and I began a life here. Now, I am moving from this city, I am leaving the apartment, I finished school, the girl is gone from my life in the most extreme and sad way, I quit the medicine, and I’m giving up all the momentum I started here. Did this city even exist? Does it even acknowledge my existence? Will there be any mention of me in the record books? I don’t know if I like this closure, but none of my hardest efforts have been rewarded while I’ve been here. As weird as it feels, it’s time for a(nother) change.

I guess a year is my attention span for a city. I’m looking forward to being around my sister and nephew and grandparents in Florida. I wish I could say I was going there under better circumstances, with a set plan in life and a job in the area or something like that, but this is the best I can do. I have no clue how long I will stay. I’m not signing a lease. I’m not buying new things. I’m only taking the bare minimum with me. I’m not tying myself down in any more ways than necessary. It’s a commitment-detester’s dream. Until I figure out what I’m doing with my life, this is the smartest route.

I have dealt with adversity ineffectively; time will tell if I become a better person because of it. Until then, it’s simply adversity, and it sucks. In two weeks, my work here will be done. Hopefully I can take my experiences and knowledge with me and thrive in a completely new environment. Here’s to new beginnings and sad endings. Chicago, you won. You beat me senseless. I’ll learn from this. I’m not going to let my surroundings beat me again.

 

 

 

 

Edit: At this very moment, I am supposed to be in Cancun with some of my best friends, but I’m not. I canceled on short notice. I was looking forward to that trip so much, but it just didn’t feel right when I had to move out and take the CFA in two weeks. When I’m this stressed in life I usually drop out of every possible obligation (luckily, I managed to not drop out of grad school for a second time). I don’t feel as bad about canceling as I thought I would, though. I’m taking the most important test I’ve ever had to take, and getting my moving situation dealt with is a big deal. I’d rather have my guy friends complaining about how stupid I am for not going than about how an otherwise smart person keeps avoiding the real world and not doing anything with his life, which has been the more frequent topic covered when I’m mentioned. I need to take a bunch of deep breaths and get through this last two weeks alive, and only then will I feel up for a vacation.

Too Stressed to Think of Title

Ever since I was old enough to have tasks and assignments and best friends, I have suffered from crippling anxiety. I now remember why I have so often found myself with no obligations, bored, searching for things to do with my life half-heartedly. It’s not because I am apathetic about life; it’s because I instinctively avoid innate stress triggers without consciously knowing it.

I coasted through most of middle school, junior high, and high school with flashes of brilliance but with little effort and only above average results. I knew I was smart and not lazy, but once homework really started pouring in, I was unable to focus on it enough to get it thoroughly finished. If I actually wanted to do it, it would take me all night because of the focus issues. Instead, I put in 3/4ths effort and spent the remainder of my time playing or watching sports and enjoying adolescence and friendships. I realized that spending 2 hours or less doing homework at a B to B+ level was much better than spending 8 hours or more doing homework at an A- to A level. But things changed when senior year of high school rolled around.

I realized I needed to actually try, to put my all into tough classes to increase my GPA for college applications. Most senior schedules are a joke, but mine consisted entirely of AP or some form of advanced classes. Just one class alone meant a significant amount of work outside the classroom for anyone, but six of them? What was I doing?

 

I was on Zoloft by the time senior year had ended…

 

College applications and essays, standardized tests, scholarships, growing insecurities and social anxiety, college credit classes, senior year bureaucratic stuff, graduation, church, college visits, a bittersweet awareness of friendships that will end or be altered, work, extracurriculars, senioritis, joint custody, family apprehension about losing me soon, etc. These are things we all have to face, but I don’t know how anyone is able to tackle it all and stay sane. My mind amplifies the stress by stressing over stress.

I knew this year would be a ton of work. I was fully prepared for the amount of homework and studying I would need to do, even on weekends and/or at the expense of hanging out with friends. What I was not prepared for, however, was the mental toll that would take place. Here is how a typical day would go: wake up, eat breakfast, fight back nervous feeling in stomach about schoolwork and what classes would have in store for me today. Brush teeth. Fight back nervous feeling about the girl I kind of liked. Stress over it to the point where I make myself think I have a huge crush. Drive to school. See the girl. The stress in the back of my mind tells me I obviously am crazy about this girl since I think about her so much (even though “thinking about her” is just quantity of thoughts, not quality or magnitude of crush). First class. Focus on listening and taking notes and retaining as much information as possible. Imagine test questions. Second class. Think about first class while also listening and taking notes and retaining information for tests. Third class. Think about first and second while focusing. Think about girl. Think about thinking about girl. Think about thinking about homework. Lunch. Think about all the homework I need to do. Last three classes. Bell rings. Think about how much work I will have to do when I get home. (Everyone else’s day is over, and they’re all smiling and sigh in relief. My day is just beginning. I can’t smile or think about being relaxed). Think about getting home and being anxious. Get home. Anxiously think about girl and homework. Eat a quick snack if there is time. Go to quiet place and do work. Eat quick dinner. Say no to friends who want to hang out. Do homework until it is all done. When it is all done, do work for the future. Study notes for future tests to keep my mind fresh. Lay in bed. Think about girl. Think about social anxiety and friends. Think about work that still needs to be done. Combine thinking about girl, social anxiety and friends, and work that still needs to be done into one overwhelming consolidated thought. Try but fail to sleep. Think about anything else that causes stress, which leads to less sleep. Focus on breathing in order to sleep, which leads to even less sleep. Get up and do some more studying to reduce the stress I’m feeling. Go to bed somewhat relieved. Sleep a few hours if lucky.

It seemed like I was more anxious when I had very little to do. So I just gave myself more to do. There’s always something, unless you have the entire year’s work complete. I would dream about practice problems. I would wake up answering tough Western Civ multiple choice questions. I would triple-check the homework my Precalc teacher never graded.

I had hidden anxiety: during every single second of my day, I was thinking about something I needed to do in the back of my head. At first, it was a simple reminder to get a certain thing done. But my mind built it up until it was “something to do” and then “a bunch of stuff to do” and then “so much stuff to do” and then “stress.” By this point, I forgot what the original thing was. These constant thoughts overwhelmed my mind. I wouldn’t usually be able to pinpoint a specific task I needed to do (if there was one at all), but because my mind kept reminding me I had things to accomplish and be stressed about, I became stressed. When I actually did have a lot to do, my mind would go into overdrive, and the stress would be augmented. By the time I actually got to a test or a quiz, I felt like I had already taken it multiple times in my mind. That’s good for knowing the material, but the mental strain involved in “taking” that many tests is agonizing.

Because of this, I started losing my mind. I went through the first quarter or so with relative ease. But when the winter approached, nothing was natural anymore. I started overanalyzing. I got obsessed with doing more and more work at a high level. I was burnt out by midterm finals.

When the second semester started, I had nothing left in the tank. I somehow managed to get all A’s and one B, but the quality of work was much lower, and I had to try harder to do easy things. I started having physical issues. I never had eye issues in my life, yet I began to suffer from vision loss. I forgot how to walk up and down stairs, and I frequently tripped. My left eyelid no longer closed completely when I wanted to sleep, so I slept on my left side to push my cheek up to cover the eye.  I started losing a little bit of hair. Everything that could possibly twitch on my body began twitching. I had heartburn and chest pains. I forgot how to breathe, and the more I thought about breathing, the less I could do it naturally. I started having horrible memory. Words stopped having meaning unless I thought about them a few times, in which case I was behind in whatever else was said. I started having horrible sinus headaches. My heartbeat could be seen and heard more from random places, like my thumbs and ears. I forgot how to eat. I even forgot how to spell as well. Much of this was the constantly increasing obsession over thinking stemming from schoolwork, which simply translated to overthinking in otherwise simple areas of my life. Other issues, though, were not that simple to me.

I went to the doctor over the physical ailments – nothing like this had ever happened to me before. He told me it was extreme stress and anxiety. I laughed. I wasn’t stressed at all, in my mind, and it scares me I was actually able to justify it. Regardless, he put me on an antidepressant.

College was almost the inverse: I worked pretty darn hard for three years, then senior year rolled around. I stopped the antidepressant for a while, and I was faced with extreme apprehension. Because of the burnt out feeling I had experienced before, I took the opposite approach and stopped trying at all. I skipped classes on a regular basis. I was an Economics senior project away from a Finance and Economics double major, but I dropped out of it. I hung out with friends more and cared about important finance classes less. I put little work into group projects, contrary to all of my beliefs on the subject. I was okay with mediocrity if it meant sanity. My nearly perfect GPA took a hit, and it was luck that barely kept me in the summa cum laude range. I did not care at all about my future or my major. Part of me felt great to have no worries, but part of me was immeasurably depressed because I had no life plans.

My grad school experience in SF was more of a malaise than stress. Nonetheless, it was very difficult, I was extremely stressed, and I did drop out for a while.

(Technically) the same grad school in a new location, a new environment, and a number of failed drugs later (and 1 year removed from all antidepressants), I am once again facing the beast. Grad school is tough again. This internship requires a ton of thinking. The CFA is a future challenge that can never be studied for enough. Et cetera. I’m kind of burnt out – this is similar to my high school senior year, the last time I had this much stress while not on an antidepressant. I don’t have time for any obligations. There is uncertainty regarding graduation and jobs. My lease ends in May. Instead of seeing my friends on the weekends, I do work. When I have some time for myself to watch sports or get some exercise, I am only 20% into it; 80% of my mind is thinking about everything I need to do in one collective unfocused stressful thought.

 

My take:  I need to find an extremely low-stress environment. If there is even a remote semblance of stress, my mind will make it a big deal and I’ll burn myself out. If stress is going to be an issue, it better be with something I love so I can handle it.

The positive:  It’s temporary. It will all end by June. I won’t ever have school again in my life, most likely. Yes, other things will take over, but I’m assuming they won’t be as stressful.

 

I know what you’re thinking. Every grad student and young adult goes through this trying period, and I’ll look back and laugh when it’s all over. That is partially true, but not every grad student goes through this period doubled, or tripled. My mind is taking this challenging, productive, and exciting period in my life and turning it into a job. In this job, I’m working first shift, second shift, and part of third shift.

I don’t know how some of you do it. I wish I had the key. I wish I could think about tasks and duties and stressful situations only when necessary instead of constantly. I wish I could see what I had to do clearly instead of having a foggy notion that I always have something unknown to do. I don’t plan on taking antidepressants ever again, but I need to find a solution somewhere. This real world thing is just insanely hard to handle; I need to get a grip on it before it eats me alive.