Adding Structure to Life

Every now and then, it’s important to take a step back and gain a little bit of perspective. It sounds cliché, of course, and there are a lot of people in my life I can imagine scoffing at the type of post I’m about to write, if not that very phrase itself. In fact, there are plenty of other posts that I have in the docket, but they can wait for another time, and I hope you’ll begrudge me a fluff post while I gain my perspective.  Also, a trigger warning for some brief but frank discussion of suicide, and excessively sentimental foxes.

There’s a lot that can be said about emotion. Hell, there’s a lot that has been said about emotion; so much so that there is only the most minuscule of portions that bear repeating. If there is one thing worth noting, though, it’s the intensely dire sensation each of our own emotions carry to us. They press against us and burden us with incredible weight, and even though there’s a lot of really flowery prose one could write about just how much our emotions impress on us, it really just boils down to the fact that an entire portion of our brain is focused on feeling things at all times, almost without rest. This dire aspect makes it quite difficult to accept commiseration, to comprehend that many of us try to understand those around us be way of relating their experiences to our own. To hear someone say that “what you’re feeling is just like when I felt something exactly like it!” Or “that’s something that everyone goes through.” To hear that this burden isn’t yours and is hardly unique is not a comfortable thing to hear, no matter how true.

I go through bouts of depression about once every six or seven months that last for about a month. I freely admit that this is hardly uncommon. Freely because I’m actually feeling really good right now, and have been for a bit. I can remember the urgency and importance of the way I felt, even when it’s not something that’s pressing on me right now, as it was then. This difference is sometimes a vague feeling: like, “yeah, feeling good is different than feeling bad”. Sometimes it’s a very concrete sensation, such as now being able to tolerate heights as something that’s merely scary, and not “oh God am I going to jump!?”.

Being able to take a step back, no matter the cliché, is the sort of helpful thing that lets me see and understand what exactly is going on, and, understanding, helps provide me with a path forward. Not a solution, of course, just a path. I don’t do meds; I have a deep-seated paranoia of that attempt at a solution despite seeing them work wonders for someone very close to me. Their reason for taking them is very situational by their own admission: given a very nearly unsolvable problem and no time to work on it, one takes what space one can in order to move forward.

That’s what the step back grants me. Even though the source of my own overwhelming emotions is something decidedly innate, something more biological, the space gives me the room to take that into account. If, for example, I give myself the room to understand that those feelings of hopelessness and dread that seem to be stemming from work are more just the handicapped sense of self involved in depression, then I can more easily make the choices I need to stay healthy.

This is really new to me, honestly, and thus my fascination. I started to understand it last year in October and November when I was going though a similar period, but it occurred alongside a work trip to Copenhagen that left me no room for myself. Heathrow’s terminal 5, with it’s glass-walled balconies and walkways, and the hotel’s looming 15 degree tilt made me frankly fear for my life. The previous March saw an attempt at suicide, and the very limited amount of space I (figuratively) had to step back into was hardly enough in November for me to work with this problem constructively, and it took getting kicked back by the motor tic in my neck coming back after an absence halfway through the trip and forcing me to slow down to understand just what this space meant to me.

April and May were much different. Things started to go pear shaped in mid-April, and, though the tic had once again left, I knew right away what I had to do. I slowed my velocity at work (with my boss’s blessing), held off on writing any articles, and took the space I needed to stay healthy. There was another work trip on the middle of this, but it was out in California, where, even though I was still working my tail off during the day, I had more of a support network than Copenhagen had to offer outside of work hours. While things got their worst after that trip, I still had my space, and so everything was different. The aching pressure in my chest was far less than before, along with the sense of dread and suicidal ideation. Things were off, but as long as I could take that step back, they hovered a notch or two above ‘bad’.

That’s a lot of words, and not one of them was ‘furry’, ‘subculture’, or ‘fox-person’. For those of you still reading, I appreciate your tenacity, because honestly, it’s this furry subculture, this ability to be a fox-person among friends that provides the framework I need to remain grounded while taking these countless steps back, lest I just withdraw completely into myself.

Toward the end of the summer of last year, it was JM who IMed me to ask how I was doing. My emotions were coming through in my articles, he said: I was on point when I was happy and maudlin when I wasn’t (I know this is basically the most maudlin thing I’ve ever written, but stick with me here). I took time off then to gain some space and work on improving things, but having this framework kept me from zooming off to far into the distance. Most poignantly, it was the death of my friend, Margaras, that helped prove the worth of maintaining the ties I had with those in my social circle, furries all.

The fandom as a subculture plays a very unique role in or lives, I’ve noticed, in that it provides a sort of skeleton that we can use to help give our lives their structure. I found myself discussing this with two LDS (that is, Mormon) missionaries who stopped by the other day, when I asked them how their faith fit into their lives in terms of identity; I was raised by two staunch atheists, I didn’t experience religion as a community until a brief stint attending a Unitarian Universalist church in my early twenties. Their conversation lead to the topic of chosen family, that closest of social circles. They said that their growth out into the world had structure, pacing, and direction that they felt would have been missing without the framework of their church.

I said at the time that I agreed with them: having that missing from my life led to the described lack of direction in my own growth.  My time in the dorms was a stark example of that. However, in light of these last two months, and all that I’ve learned over the last year and a half, I’m not sure that I had told the truth. Furry is lacking a lot of things that make a church, and so yes, my growth within the fandom was hardly predictable; no mission for me. But that said, it was still just that: growth within the fandom. I have this framework in my life to add meaning and direction. That’s what kept me and so many others going after Margaras’ death, what got me through last march and the end of the year, even what helped me during this last sprint. I still had structure, even if I didn’t feel well. Something to hold me up and keep me from deflating completely.

A few weeks ago, I tried to explain some of these thoughts in the form of a small experiential game, a little bit of interaction intended to convey a point, called A Full Life. In it, your goal is to make the fullest life you can, even when there are things standing in your way preventing you from feeling fulfilled, your sense of ‘full’ handicapped. I think that these frameworks – the church for those missionaries I’d talked to, furry for me, and countless others – help us out. They don’t necessarily solve problems (and may often cause them), but they help keep that handicapped sense of self from constricting too small and squeezing out everything that’s good in life.

So. Apologies for the wash of an article, and thank you if you’ve made it this far, but do me a real big favor: sometimes, when you’ve got a bit of time, think about the ways this fandom is meaningful to you. Think about the ways you must be meaningful to those around you. Maybe take a moment to talk about it with someone, or if not, at least just appreciate it. I know I do.

About Makyo

Makyo spends her time as a frumpy arctic fox, usually, but she’s all over the map. She’s been around furry since about 2000 under a variety of names. She writes, programs, and screws around with music.

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8 thoughts on “Adding Structure to Life

  1. I’m very sorry to hear about your suicide attempt, but very glad to know that it was unsuccessful and that you’ve learned a few things about coping through those really difficult times. It can be really, really hard when you’re in the thick of a depressive episode to see things clearly; your brain has this annoying tendency to twist just about everything into the worst possible light.

    One of the things that constituted a ‘breakthrough’ in my own depression was, lamely enough, U2’s song “Stuck in a Moment That You Can’t Get Out Of”. I realized that depression does this really awful thing with your perspective, where you think that you’ll always feel this terrible, that things will never get better, that there will be no relief. When you get into that mindset, suicide really does seem like the only answer; that sort of ideation is reached because it feels logical in this moment that you can’t get out of. You can’t take a step back to realize that if you can just live through it, you’ll feel better later.

    Regarding structure: at some point I realized that navel-gazing and thought loops were doing me more harm than good, and I tried to gear my thinking towards action. Any thought that encouraged me to take action towards bettering my situation was useful, and anything that prevented me from action wasn’t. I’d recognize the thought and try to let it go.

    I guess what I’m saying here is I definitely sympathize with your situation; I’ve been there, and here are a couple of the things that have helped me. Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences. Just knowing that someone else is down in the trenches with you can help.

    1. I think it’s well worth making sure that one has a goal in mind, on the note of thought-loops. I like to think that it’s pretty important to keep a good balance of goals and processes in mind when one is healthy, focusing on things that are actions as well as those that are objectives, but when one is struggling, a goal can be a much needed step forward. There are times when it’s inappropriate, sure, when it leads more to a sense of desperation and questioning of self worth, but those are the times to look for help.

      Even recently, this came up, with helping to pull things back together: telling myself to come up with a task and accomplish it, no matter how small it might be, is a good way to feel a sense of forward momentum and things getting better. That’s where that little interactive project originated from. I may, as JM has noticed, be addicted to projects :o)

      Anyhow, thanks for your kind words, and ditto your own experiences. I’m right with you that this is the type of thing worth sharing. Things that are important, even if only on a personal level, often are.

  2. If there’s one thing I really dislike about motivational speakers and positively ignorant people is that they assume that our take on our burdens and theirs are the same; that we are the same humans (or anthros, whatever suits your fancy), and there’s no reason why we should feel down when they are feeling okay themselves. I learned that the hard way; trying to please everyone and push away my troubling thoughts to not be weird or anything, and having them slamming themselves back at me full-force that I contemplated suicide as well. The thing is, everyone has their own unique thresholds of stress, and different ways to handle them, and not one solution can fit everyone. It’s just up to the person him/her/hirself to understand his/her/hir own emotions and find the unique solution or ways to handle them in a manner that is constructive and not destructive.

    To be honest, I’m just glad that you’ve managed to find your own personal way in handling them, and not give in. That’s the essential thing that some of us unfortunately never learn. I know I’m backtracking and all, but for every cloud, there’s a silver lining, always will.

    On the subject of faith, I actually agree with you and the two Mormons that you’ve met about faiths being a framework in building your self image and philosophies, as well as being a support whenever your fundamental beliefs are shaken by the occurrences abound us, be it in the form of close social circle or that strong confidence in what we strive for. I personally follow a religion, but keeps myself open to the opinions of others, and I believe that all of mankind have the need to have a system of belief or philosophical stands, even the atheists (since they believe that God does not exists and the world happens on its own), and your short article is an insight of what a fox-person who was brought up in an atheistic environment but put his faith in the furry fandom truly feels. Thank you ^^

    1. I strongly agree with the sentiment that everyone works differently with emotions, anxiety, stress, and so on. Even though there are some general trends used in diagnosis, the ways in which we experience such things vary wildly. It’s often uncomfortable (at the very least) to be told to deal, or get it together, or just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. None of these take into account the ways in which one experiences emotions and stress, or the fact that the ways in which one can best handle them might be totally unique: I take a step back, and some succeed by working harder. My step-dad, when I was growing up, never quite figured that out, and the family doctor eventually pulled me aside to tell me that I ought to do what I needed to do to feel healthy, and that probably wasn’t “pulling myself up by my bootstraps.” :o) Though I’m feeling pretty positive, I hope I didn’t come off as doing the same; it wasn’t my intention if so!

      Thank you for your kind words ^^

  3. Hi, Makyo. I found this article to be touching and intriguing, and very relatable as well. I may not be very eloquent in saying this, but, I can safely say that the Furry fandom has changed my life in a significant way and has, without a doubt in my mind, irreversibly altered my future and who I can become.

    I think that even before my real assimilation into the heart of the Furry community, at a time when all I did was look at the pretty pictures and entertain myself with literature of talking animal people, I felt the sense that there was something in the whole mess that I could be a part of. I began interacting more with the natives, participating in roleplays and commenting on images on SoFurry (then Yiffstar). Before long I was drawing anthro characters and dreaming up Furry terminology for my constructed-language, and spilling my heart out to friends I met from the Furry Teens forum.

    Over the past six months, in dealing with many Furs around my age I’ve discovered that I’ve been able to help people get through tough times, be a non-judgmental ear for lend, and simply be there for people… This led me, fairly recently in fact, to come to terms with what I want to do. I’ve decided that I want to become a counselor, more specifically dealing with kids and adolescents who have lost a close loved one, are going through depression, and are LGBT and/or unsure. It gives me a sense of purpose knowing that I can help people as a career and have it be something I enjoy doing, and I can point to my personal experiences and the Furry fandom for leading me to this.

    Furry as a collective noun means the world and more to me, and upon reflection, I can’t help but tear up a little bit. I could go on all day about every little thing being a part of this community has done for me, but in conclusion: It has become an emotional home to so many, and I can’t help but feel that like others, I might not have fared as well had I not stumbled upon this dirty little den of friendly animal-people.

    I wish you the best of luck through your journey, and lots of fuzzy hugs. I think we all deserve a good furry hug on occasion. :) (Sorry if my response sounds like a bad high school essay.)

    1. Hey! Thank you for the kind words and the well thought out response – hardly high school-ish :o) I think that’s a really excellent way to think about all this. We’re a community and the purpose, however unintentional, of a community is to provide its members with benefits; you and I both seem to have gained purpose from this! Good luck with your pursuits, I think they’re very much needed in the world ^^

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