Mental Health: The Things we Carry

I’m not talkin’ bout Tim O’Brien soldiers during the Vietnam war. I’m talkin’ bout the invisible things we carry. Debt, addiction, unexpressed depression, divorce, miscarriage, estrangement, abuse, terminal or chronic illness, purposelessness, job loss, and so many more, one layering on top of one another, compacting each of our loads into an indeterminable, mashed down mess that seems impossible to untangle.

How much can one person take?

I think a lot about how people going through their particular brand of horrific when some other terrible circumstance piles on. And not that I would wish heartbreak on any type of person, but I feel like these pile ons happen most to the best, kindest, well-meaning people. When you feel like you can’t take it anymore, and then one more thing adds on, somehow you continue moving with your unique blend of terrible. The added burden newly shapes and stretches out your carrier until its walls become even thinner. Is it gonna rip? Tear? Break? Fall? Will you trip? Give up?

How do people carry on?

My roots are in the south, so most people in my family seek solace in religion, particularly Christianity, but I’m not particularly religious. Spiritual and humanist based on moral universalism, yes, organized worship and discriminatory tenets, no. While I’m genuinely thrilled for anyone who’s found peace in their particular practice, I don’t think any one religious ideology or practice is the answer to finding peace through turmoil. There are so many in the world that that’d be impossible. Only a percentage of the world gets a shot at true solace, comfort, and understanding? I cannot accept that.*

Something I have believed for a long time, though, is that the purpose of people going through horrific things is to then help others going through similar things. It’s suppose it’s a sensical way of dealing with the senseless, a chain of people helping the one behind them up. That help can look like conversations, writings, any art form (I’m thinking movies, music, and theater in particular), community, emotional support, and empathy. Any form of someone communicating “I get it,” basically.

Whenever I get blue about circumstance I try to remember that, unfortunately, there are people who have it much, much worse than me and/or my loved ones. I also try to remember that my experience and the way I process it through my writing can very well act as someone else’s stepping stone to healing. These ideas don’t deactivate pain in real time, though, it’s just something to cling to like a life preserver in the throes of a storm. Life is a squall of varying intensities, no?

A lot of folks have messaged me to say they finally feel understood when reading my posts. Those messages give just as much back to me as my writing originally gave to them, because during my darkest moments I remember others have been in that same headspace before and have survived it.

No one gets off scot-free in this one, weird life. It took me decades to realize that someone who seems ideal to me, someone who appears to “have it all together,” effortless in everything as trivial as fashion to as serious as family dynamics, has something. Everyone has something. When I’m in a dark space, I’m comforted by phantom warmth or lingering scent of someone else having been there before, like an echo of perfume, hope from someone having made it out. That idea comforts me as I wade through the thick.

If you’ve been to the catacombs in Paris, you know it’s drafty tunnels of human bones and skulls and bones and skulls and bones and skulls. Thousands of people found their final resting places there. Instead of being overwhelmed by the number, I crouched down by one skull that was a cog in a tall stack of hundreds. I wondered who that person was. They were there, and now, hundreds of years later, I was there. I’m looking at them, and mentally honoring the life they lived. They’re not forgotten and aren’t alone, like me. Like you.

*I’m aware that this paragraph is likely to stir the pot and upset some people. That’s not my intention, but it’s a side effect I’m willing to risk if that means I’m telling my truth. Remember, honesty is my policy, and this piece would have a gaping hole if I didn’t address religion as a common way to cope. However, this is not an invitation for didacticism or debate, and I thank you for respecting that.


Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 1
Mental Health: New Year Goal Mapping
Mental Health: Ho Ho HELP


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going and also access exclusive content? Support me on my Patreon. I want to give a huge thank you to Amy Powell, Vicki Utley, and to my biggest fans, my parents, :) Keith and Staci Powell, all for going above and beyond in their support of me on Patreon. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: New Year Goal Mapping

First of all, are you okay?! I know a lotta people drink to excess on New Year’s Eve, although of course ole Bummed Out Bailey isn’t condoning boozin’. ;) If you’re horizontal or, like, sort of propped up somewhere on a mountain of pillows like a limp, bleary-eyed Raggedy Ann* reading this on your phone or laptop, welcome. You belong here. Hello.

It’s strange to think it’s 2020 and, while I have no recollection of so many people being hype about the decade changing to 2010, wooo! New decade! Who are you? Why are you the way you are? What are you doing on this earth? Is this too deep for New Year’s Day?

Okay.

Let me dial it back a bit.

While we should be checking in with ourselves regularly throughout the year, the New Year is a common time to take stock of health, relationships, and quality of life. I don’t want to be prescriptive – the self check-ins can be on whatever you find to be a pillar in your life.

As 2019 came to a close I was racing to create a sustainable, yet maximally productive work calendar for January. Because I’m a writer and work from home (aside from Tidy B Organizing), there’s a lot of space for workflow to go awry, veer off course, and then wreck into a wall of general life admin and minutiae, AKA unpaid domestic labor and it’s invisible friend, emotional labor, among other things. I’ve found that, if you’re not disciplined with your time, it disappears and you have no idea where it went. I start some laundry and cook breakfast and answer emails and buy birthday cards and order flowers for a friend and go to my psychiatrist and call health insurance to sort out a bill and coordinate how to pay tuition online and do some yoga and file papers and order toilet paper and q-tips on Amazon, and, and, and… the day is over. “The day got away from me,” as they say. I’ve also found that, like a gas disseminates throughout a room and its particles expand to fill any size space, days are the same: If you’re not almost militant about your time, even a small list can fill your day the same way a big list would’ve with its necessitated, more tightly managed time. I hope that analogy makes sense. Science. I do not know how to science.

When I was active in Junior League, I was lucky to work with and get to know young people who’d rolled out of the NYC foster care system. We worked on all kinds of life skills like resumés, writing thank you notes, and how to (proverbially) balance a checkbook. There’s one session that stuck with me and taught me something, too: goal mapping. If you don’t know, goal mapping is essentially figuring out how to get from where you are, currently, to where you want to be, using short term goals (chewable bites) that propel you toward your end game. This can apply to any goals: professional, emotional, physical, personal, anything.

For instance, I want to publish a book about my family, centered around my brother, Alex, right? So, my goal starting place would be an unpublished writer, and goal finish line is to be a published book author. That’s a huge goal, and can feel insurmountable. However, if it’s broken up into real time action items, you can see and track your progress.

To publish a book I must structure my time in a way that prioritizes prolific writing. Then, I must be a diligent time keeper, and crank out, say, 500 words of quality writing on each “writing day.” Once I reach 100 pages, I can begin searching for an agent to represent me. I research agents, identify who I might work well with and who might be interested in my subject matter, then I begin shaping a proposal. I write and triple edit query letters to agents and attach the strongest 50 pages of my book (so far). I then create a spreadsheet to track every agent I’ve queried and when, so I know when is an appropriate time to follow up, and also track which queries have been rejected or unanswered. Supposing I get an agent, the first round of edits begins while I continue writing the rest of the book. The agent gives me feedback, and I edit accordingly. We go back and forth until we’re both satisfied with the content. Then, the agent begins shopping my book to editors at publishing houses. Once they’ve found a good match and I’m on board, the second round of edits begins, this time with the editor at the publishing house. Like the agent and I will have, the editor and I will go back and forth, too, again until all are satisfied. Then, the jacket design occurs, followed by printing and marketing. There is then perhaps a book tour, if applicable, and privately hosted book parties. Bam. PULITZER.

I’m not going to crank out my magnum opus prioritizing cleaning over writing over and over with the mindset of “Oh, I’ll get to writing [XY date].” I went to a writer’s conference in early December and one of the panelists said something in regards to writing that really resonated with me: don’t fetishize large chunks of time. If you have ten, fifteen minutes here and there, snag them and put them toward your goal, whatever it may be. While it’d be a blast if all goals could be accomplished in a cozy cabin in Vermont with nothing but solitude and time, it’s likely not gonna happen that way. I’ve been a huge perp of this and continue to be so, thinking “oh, well, the day got away from me so I guess I’ll just [something that’s not goal-oriented] now.”

I know that this is all dramatically compounded for parents, especially those of young children, and even more so for those who both parent and work a 9-5. For you, I recommend reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert or listening to her podcast “Magic Lessons.” She’s got a Delilah vibe while dishing out actionable inspiration items. I recommend Elizabeth Gilbert to anyone, but most especially those who feel trapped in a vicious cycle financially, professionally, emotionally, etc. She will pry and pop you right out of that rock and hard place.

Goal mapping is fairly turnkey in practice. One of the young people I worked with wanted to be an EMT. Now, go easy on me because I’m not as learned on EMTs as I am about writers, but take this process, for example: you are not an EMT, but you’d like to be one. In order to be one, you have to take courses, but in order to take courses, you have to test in to qualify. In order to test, you have to study. How long do you need to study? How many hours a day/week can you contribute to studying? Do you have to buy materials to study? Do you have money to study? Once these questions are answered, the mapping begins.

  1. Save money to buy materials to study for test
  2. Buy needed materials
  3. Draft achievable schedule for study hours
  4. Be diligent and stick to study schedule
  5. Take test until test is passed
  6. Begin courses

That’s not where becoming an EMT ends, of course, but do you see how I broke that part into chewable pieces? If you can check off one of those small items at a time, you’ll be making progress that you’ll actually be able to see. The steps can be as minuscule as you like. You know yourself best and what will or won’t overwhelm you, and the goal is success, right? If your map takes longer than another’s, it doesn’t matter. Progress is progress.

The same approach can work toward things like running a marathon, saving for a vacation, going to grad school, paying off a debt, even building a friendship. Although, if you’re using methodology to build a friendship maybe don’t tell that person, because then that person may think you’re a robot and ditch you. And if you get pegged as a robot, I don’t know how to goal map your way out of that. If you gave me some time to think about it, though…

Anyway.

We all have things that we want in life. Sometimes, when I’m walking around with my headphones on, I find myself visualizing personal ideals over and over. It’s inspiring to be able to see how to get there quite literally written out step by step. It makes something seemingly insurmountable seem achievable.

As the New Year begins, and resolutions have perhaps been milling about your brain, consider goal mapping. It not only might help you get to where you want to go, it also might alleviate the sense of failure regarding resolutions that’ve gone off the rails. If you blow whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, you know where to start again. You’ve got a literal map!

In 2020 I’m going to finish my book manuscript. I graduate in May and will be getting a typical job after that, making it harder to focus on writing, so I plan to use the privilege of my writing-focused spring semester to crank out as much as possible with fiercely protected writing blocks of time and, as I mentioned before, stolen moments. I’m fashioning the schedule now, and look forward to following my map to completion.

Happy New Year to you, and happy goal mapping. I’d love to hear about what you’re mapping for 2020.

*Honestly, Raggedy Ann is the rudest name ever. Really, Edwardian guy? You couldn’t have come up with a nicer name? What was wrong with just Ann? Why you gotta make her raggedy?


Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Becoming You (This is Not a Maxi Pad Commercial)
Mental Health: Finding the Glow
Mental Health: Productivity


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support me on my Patreon. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.