Tripping the Switch


by Patrick Fore, from Unsplash

18-19 July 2016


This morning, I yelled at the cat.

I lost my Opal card (used for public transport in Sydney). I tore the house apart looking for it. I was late for work. I had diffused an emotional bomb yesterday (and was conveniently working from home, which gave me the ability to level-up my self-care practices). I woke up early this morning, had a good breakfast. Actually sat down with time to spare before the commute.

But the clock ticked closer to leaving, and as I was gathering my things, I noticed what was missing. In running around looking for it, the cat either thought we were playing a game, or asking for more food. In any case, I exploded. I yelled at her to shut up.

I yelled in a way I haven’t yelled at anyone in years. Least of all toward a child or an animal (and yes, the cat fills both of these roles right now). The scary part was; realising that if A had been here, I might have taken out my frustration on him instead.


Something as small and insignificant as losing my Opal card shouldn’t have tripped me back into anxiety and frustration. But the trouble is, it’s the long-tail following on from the patterns of the last few days.

Some triggers I can recognise: I’ve been experiencing a slew of “ups” recently. Great things have been happening. Things have been busy, but not unmanageably so.

I say that, and what I mean is: I am good with all the things that are happening. I am handling workloads well. I am becoming more effective and refining my best practices as the days pass. Each day, I’m doing exponentially more and better than the day before.

The truth I’m avoiding is: I’ve put too much pressure on myself outside of work. I haven’t provided downtime to recover from all of the learning going on. I haven’t built in processing time.

As a result, I’ve been running on 15 consecutive days that have been filled with tasks, learning, activity, collaboration, and doing. I have had no weekend breaks from doing. With the influx of activity, things to process, and the general meeting and scaling of goal after goal after goal – I was expecting there to be a downswing in energy. I saw it coming. I was running through a lot of fuel – I even started an Open Projects notebook to try to sketch down all the skeletons of personal projects, so that I wouldn’t lose them if I needed to backburner them in order to prioritise work.

I was setting up new practices for how to filter these things through to the inevitable dip in energy, mood, and motivation that follows months of successes.

What I forgot to factor in was: how emotional circumstances can trip the switch and trigger a downturn where I’m not expecting it, no matter how fully stocked my bomb shelter might be.

B left this weekend, and I felt truly shattered.


When I first met the Irishman, we bonded a lot over books, ideas, and reading. We met at a conference (that was Day 1). Day 2 of our friendship was a week later when we met up for a book date at Ampersand (a combo café and bookstore). We didn’t plan it out in too much detail. Just a Sunday, a time, and a place with Cronuts.

We both showed up with almost identically tall towers of books to lend to the other person. A perfectly weighted, spontaneous bookswap.

One of the books B lent me was “Furiously Happy: a funny book about horrible things” by Jenny Lawson. He opened immediately to show me the Epilogue (um, spoilers!) called Deep in the Trenches. I’ve been searching for it online, but I’ll have to copy it out later when I’m back home with the book.

Needless to say, we engaged in a deep conversation about experiences of mental illness. Everything from depression, to anxiety, to mania, to things further afield from our own experiences.

He told me about a program in Sydney where individuals can get training to speak to high school students about their own journeys and experiences.

I said, “That’s cool. But it’s probably not for me. I wouldn’t have anything to share.”

B just looked at me. I think this look might have been from Day 4 or 5 of our friendship, but it still sears through me. It was the look that said, “Really? Are you sure?” The look that doubted the truth of what I just said.


Over the course of the past 5 or 6 years, I think I’ve gotten a lot more truthful with myself. I’ve recognised shortcomings. I’ve looked deeply into areas about myself and my relationships that I don’t understand. Yesterday, in the Creative Hive, I wrote: I also know: I never learned how to be a good friend. I think I am a good friend, but I’ve had to grow into it through a lot of trial and error.

That’s true of so many things.

In high school, I usually forgot to eat whenever I felt anxious, whenever I felt depressed. An awareness of food was the first thing to go.

In college, I learned more things to pile on top of unhappiness.

But by the end of college, I had started to show up at Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings. I learned more about the ways I hide from myself and the ways I doctor the truth of what’s happening. I learned about co-dependency.

I started learning how to show up, stay open, and be true to my own experience.


Living in Scotland, I recognised rises and dips in my seasonal moods. It’s hard to imagine any Scot would argue: the winters are long, and they are hard.

I started using a Philips full-spectrum light. Once, we used it from mid-winter onwards. The next year, we used it from August through to April.

The first year we were married, I thought I was broken.

Another year in Scotland, I thought I was cured.


Things are a lot different now. I have a stronger handle on my own abilities, of triggers, pattern-recognition, when I need to ask for help. To know when I need to let other people know I’m struggling.

I am stronger. Not just in what I’m capable of, but what I’m capable of bearing. I’m stronger by the manner in which I process, reflect, disseminate, and delegate. I’m stronger for the scrutiny and research I have put into the most effective self-care practices for me.

I have a community around me who will check in when my Grandfather dies, when all manner of travel plans fail, when obstacles and setbacks seem to pile up, and they suspect I might be faltering under the weight of them.

I have people who will send me photos of hamsters in blankets eating carrots. And dogs dragging teddy bears onto inflatable rafts.

I have a husband who – before departing for his road trip this weekend – looked at me and said, “I’m feeling like I don’t want to leave you.”

When I said I would be fine, he asked, “Will you make sure to eat vegetables?”

I have people who know that to check in with how I’m eating is sometimes the best indicator of support, of reminders, of what I need, of where I need to refocus.

Nonetheless, I’m having a hard week. And I’m focusing all of my self-care on getting to the other side of it.


Walking to the train station this morning, a little girl pushed her hands over her ears as she passed the cement mixer. She looked curious, but terrified. She wanted to block out the noise of what scared her.

Me too, little girl. Me too.


This post is going further away from what I thought I wanted to write about, which was: on top of my personal ebbs and flows, I’m feeling the weight of the world on me. I’m feeling crushed and truly, deeply thrown by global tragedy. I’m feeling heartbroken by 2016. There’s so much to unpack within that statement, and this post clearly wanted to go elsewhere.

I think I’ll have to write more about that next.

More soon.


One thought on “Tripping the Switch

  1. Pingback: I am not a localist | Awake & Asleep

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