Monday, February 20, 2017

Cookies: From the Unpublished Archives

I wrote this blog on my second day of trying to vacation in Georgia in September, after I sold my car to the guy that towed me back to Chicago when I broke down in Indiana.

On the second day of my vacation, I took a cab, a Lyft if you will, to pick up my rental car at the train station. My driver was a delight. I don't know what it is about me, or maybe people just want to talk sometimes, but I keep getting life stories from people I just met, and I'm like, okay life, is this like, the epilogue to the long lesson you've been teaching me for the past few years? Because I still can't figure out how to voice record on my Samsung Galaxy S7, and what good is all this talkin, if I can't record it without people's consent?

Within a minute of closing the door of the car, she began to tell me the events of her morning until this point in time, 7:30 a.m. Her daughter was having trouble in her second marriage. She hated her daughter's first husband, but she actually liked this guy.

That story led us to the topic of dating. She was 70 (yes. seventy), married simply because it was a hassle to get divorced, but considering that perhaps her marriage was giving her an excuse to avoid getting back out there. She was kind of dating a guy that she liked, but he was being weird.

My lovely Lyft driver explained, "I don't understand why men always be acting like I want to tie them down. I'm tellin ya, I just want someone to hang out with, to have dinner with, wine, to go to movies with. I'll pay! I don't need your money. But men always be acting like I need to work for it. Why I gotta work for it? I'm the one with the cookie. You want the cookie don't ya? You work for it."

The same analogy Buffy used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 episode 22 "Chosen" to explain to Angel that she couldn't handle romance or dating the morning of the apocalypse:

Something happened with the Lyft app, and I didn't get to rate or tip her, which crushed me, so I'm going to have to write a letter to their offices. I wonder if they need plants....

My drive was atrocious. I always always always forget that the road through Indiana to Atlanta, Georgia is always heavy traffic and non-stop construction for six hundred something miles. It is a sin. If sin is real...that is what it is.

The air changes in your car (sexy Nissan Sentra), the smell changes, when you come across the mountains in Kentucky. Ever since my father took me to the place I was born, I have felt the Appalachian mountains coursing through my veins, singing to me.

There's a weird thing that happens when all that work you've been doing in therapy starts to pay off, like when you notice the difference for the first time after starting to work out. Like, all the horrible ugly faces you made while you lay there, drenched in your own sweat and tears, headphones in and up, suffering the strain required of a broken heart or determined chest presses without a spotter, and the pain that comes afterwards as you shove Ben and Jerry's in your face crying, "I need this for energy!! Nothing else makes sense!!!!," were totally worth it for what's coming.

When the veil begins to lift, you start to see each step or misstep was just what happened along the way. I feel like I've been kind of whining about this for a while, but it's worth repeating: Nothing happens for a reason save that life exists to continue to exist, so the world keeps turning, and there's not a damn thing you or I can do about it.

But, the people in your life. They are everything. Second only to you. Because you are life, racing forward, surviving. You are brave because it is hard. Like we learned from Buffy in this post from Labor day. The hardest thing in life is to live it. And yeah, I've been living. A LOT. And it's been really hard. But it's also been really rewarding...unless I lose my mind....or maybe still rewarding.

When the fog starts to clear, you begin to see everyone else, lost in their own pain and fear, or inability to explain how they feel, even to themselves sometimes. I know what that's like. I'm not kidding when I say I suffer from depression, and my depression can be black as night. I'm learning not to discount where my scars have come from, the memory of suffering that makes it next to impossible for me to trust anyone but my dog.

We are all lying in wait for the next predator, men and women. We are screaming our stories at each other expecting to hear something different, but it's the same story, over and over again. That's what I mean by equality when I say, with extreme trepidation and equally fierce fearlessness, that I am a feminist. We are all living in the same world, and we're all terrified of each other, but we're all we have. We're the only reason we keep living. Right?

I suppose a nihilist could argue that nothing matters but pleasure and pain, and that's fine. It's lonely, but if it works for the nihilist. The reality is that relationship, sex, love, is a drug, and it's the strongest by nature. It's survival. So the nihilist also finds herself in a cycle of relationship, unable to stand to actually be lonely. That requires the acceptance that one actually experiences connection with others. If you never let yourself face life without that connection, you don't really know what it means to be completely empty, do you?

I do. I know what it's like to stare into the abyss and let it tear your soul apart, like in Doctor Who, when the Master looked into all of time and went insane and turned David Tennant, the tenth Doctor into a tiny Doctor and put him in a cage while he took over the world in order to destroy it because time is nonsense and everything is meaningless, but the Doctor couldn't let him. Everyone has to believe in the Doctor just as hard as he believes in them, which is the point of Doctor Who, that he believes in you.

I used to weep for people and their inability to take the leaps that I've taken in my life. Angry that so many would choose to be safe in a world that can never truly promise anything in regards to safety. Everything you know could fall apart in a matter of moments. I know what that feels like. Trust me. I can tell you about it, if you want.

I'm not angry any more at the people I love. I understand. If you can postpone the shock of reality in your life, I suggest you relish that time. I try to hold onto those moments in my life now with both arms. I've lain in bed at night with my arms wrapped around my shoulders, weeping at the vastness of being alone. Now my arms are full.

I did not know how to go about things because that book hasn't been written yet. I had to do the research first. Now I bask in the glow of the terrifying world we live in, where voices are rising out of the mob, voices that have never been heard before, telling stories of roads that have only recently been traversed.

Those roads are still open. They are waiting to teach us to be better helpers of one another because we are all we have. I want to help the voices. I want to encourage them, to encourage you to love yourself, not only so that you can love others, but also because loving yourself is the greatest challenge you will face, and the rewards are like a wellspring...I imagine. I'm new here myself.

I've been baking cookies in waves for over a year now, since I first hit the bottom of my well, coping in the best possible way. It's cool, though, because I've also been moving my body for the better part of every day in some form or fashion. Treat yourself. Learn to make something you love. Learn to make yourself, and be what you love. Then teach others to do the same. You are a wellspring. You are the answer. You are overflowing.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Return of the Timeline: 2009-2013, When I Lived in Georgia, The Beginning....part II.

If you were to ask my father which series he prefers of the first two Star Treks, between The Original Series and The Next Generation, having seen all of them, he would choose TNG. If you were to ask me, having seen MOST of TNG and a good portion of The Original (I have no idea why I'm capitalizing "Original"....respect?), I would choose TNG. Kirk's...great, but Jean Luc Picard is my prince.

There are pages dedicated to this boy. 
I feel like I grew up with the sweater master himself, Wesley Crusher, but it wasn't until a year ago that I actually realized he was leading his own depression and anxiety awareness campaign (well, the actor Wil Wheaton, not Crusher, although he is the son of a doctor). I'm not going to say it wasn't pleasingly nostalgic when he popped up back on the scene. I'm just not going to say it. It was even more enjoyable to hear him talk about his own struggles with GAD, but nothing struck me more than when I heard him speak about the difference between life with and without medication. It was uncanny (and you can hear it at around 2:56 on the video that is linked to GAD up there).

To paraphrase, he describes life with depression and anxiety as life in a room that was so loud, the only way to live was to "deal with how loud it was." I heard him say it (on The Nerdist Podcast, hosted by fellow Memphian, Chris Hardwick, of Billy Hardwick and bowling and stuff), and (duh) I cried.

Deal with how loud it is.

At 29, I was exhausted. Falling asleep crying and waking up to more misery. I was in love, or I wanted to be in be loved, as I loved, and I was panicking in the shower about hitting my head and being found days later because no one stopped by my house in the woods where I had no one that I knew well but a man I didn't really understand and who couldn't really understand me. I had a Master's degree, enough experience traveling and living abroad to write a novel, and I wept for myself because I couldn't bear the weight of the noise, the relentless droning of, "It is not enough. It will never be enough."

It wasn't until I had a breakdown in front my boyfriend, an honest to God weeping, no words, terrified, breakdown, that I was prompted to do something.

I realized I had hit the "proverbial" bottom.
And I stopped crying.

I called my dad, told him I needed help. Then, I drove myself to Alabama and commenced some of the oddest days of my life, the days I floated there, on the bottom, on my back looking up at the expanse of the deep well above me, leading to nothing.

My doctor told me to stop taking my birth control as this might have been a side effect (a minor side-effect....panic attacks and suicidal thoughts). I wondered if I would have to be hospitalized. I stared off into the foothills of the Appalachians. I saw nothing. I felt heavy, on the verge, tipping.

Then, because I had taken it previously, a doctor prescribed Zoloft. He should have told me to start with half a pill, but he didn't, so I spent the first twenty-four hours smiling like a weird android and trembling. I halved it.

Then, the noise stopped. I didn't notice at first; it takes a moment for it to creep up on a person. I was with my mom in Chattanooga a few days later. We walked around the city, around the "Choo-Choo," and I thought of how romantic it had all seemed in the old song. Now, rusty and surrounded by concrete, the trains just sat, quietly. Like I was doing. For the first time.

My mother asked me once what I was thinking about, and I paused, listened and replied, "nothing." And I meant it. For the first time in almost thirty years. And it felt so good.

It doesn't last. One can't just take medication and expect everything to be okay. The depressed brain is pretty convincing. There's a lot of searching: searching for the right therapist with no insurance, searching for the right psychiatrist with no insurance, searching for the medication that works that you can also afford without insurance. Then, there's the search for the way to move forward, search for the people that can be trusted with the darkness, the people that can handle it.

The Internet is for Star Trek
Discovering what I can handle. Moving forward despite how easy it would be to stand still. These are the voyages of my life. My trek through the stars of my own universe. See...I'm bringin' it back. Like a circle. Like time.

This was a moment, along my timeline, like on any timeline, a milestone. One can look behind for clues as to why it happened, but what lies ahead requires focus, an expanse stretching as far as the universe and as deep as the deep well in which I had once floated calmly, gazing up into nothing, except nothing was freedom. Nothing was peace. For the first time.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

From the Untitled Archives

I found this post the other day and realized I'd never actually put it out there...or maybe I put parts of it out there, or a different version or something, but, reading over it, I liked it, and wanted to share. I'm currently working on another time-line piece, but it's taking a minute to process through MY SOUL. So, forgive me. I spend about 20% of my time trying to figure out what I want to write about, 77% agonizing over actually writing, and maybe 3% actually writing. It’s a shame the way this writing messes around with my heart. Ya know?

So....this is back in the fall of 2016....a different time indeed.

Summer is almost over, and as the cooler air floats in and settles on the concrete, grass and astroturf of Chicago’s myriad of front stoops, I feel an all too familiar looming sense of terror. Winter is coming. And winter is going to hurt. It has me questioning every choice I’ve ever made as I spin out of control down the tunnel of sugary marketing ploys painted orange and yellow. It’s beautiful, but it’s also unsettling (and way too sugary), to say the least.

I am unsettled, and I know exactly why, for the most part. My therapist keeps telling me I’m more together than I’ve ever been since she’s been working with me, but I can’t get behind it. Of course, that’s always been my biggest problem: getting behind myself. I play a good game, but I really don’t trust my own instincts in that fiercely confident way that I want to. I haven’t given enough merit to my own accomplishments.

Sure, I like repeating that I have a master’s degree, especially when people ask if I can do things like, “hold this.” I can toss in a good multi-cultural factoid when the conversation turns to travel and world view. Heck, I can give you relationship advice as I’ve spent a gooooooood looooooooooong time analyzing my past relationships and doing my damnedest to see the whole picture, but I certainly can’t take my own advice, and I wouldn’t bet on my answer with a quiz team, and I’ve rarely relished in my own innumerable memories.

I maybe give myself credit once every….3 or 4 years?

So, I’m due for a “me” party, time to reflect on all the choices I’ve made and where they’ve led me. It’s natural for me to want to reconsider my choice of settlement during this time, as I’m more open to the time it will take to make the right decision. I’m not desperate….but again, winter is coming.

As I compose my list of pros and cons for going back south, I keep getting sabotaged by those old demons I've been fighting off for a while now. That's natural, I bet. When I lived in The South, home, I was always a little frustrated. I felt stifled, held under water as I kicked and fought my way to the surface of whatever I needed to learn about myself. Everywhere I went, I was followed, at my heels, by these memories, this PTSD, the beasts.

Describing the beasts, using literal terms, makes them seem ridiculous, even to me. Par exemple, A friend in a rocky, at best, relationship found an article about gaslighting and shared it with me a few years ago. Gaslighting is basically manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. It's been popping up a lot lately, I think, in the media, part of the whole carnival ride paradigm shift. I had never heard the term before she shared the article, but it made sense to me.

I was awash in memories of old boyfriends turning on me suddenly, telling me I was yelling, I was out of control, crazy, when I didn't feel like that, like I was yelling. I didn't feel rage. I didn't feel out of control, but they said I was. They told me I was losing it. Instead, I saw myself as the little girl I used to be, with dirty knees and wide eyes feeling like she was being ignored, feeling like she was not being heard. It was confusion, desperation to understand. A little girl asking, "please help me understand. How can I help? What can I do? What am I supposed to do?" It was empowering to finally have a word for something that affected me so deeply, helped me recognize that little girl.

Not two days after my friend had shared the article with me and her boyfriend, I remember sitting in one of the classrooms of the old theater where I spent the first solid years of my thirties. It was after the usual Saturday night show, and we were drinking beers and trying to make each other laugh. I remember her boyfriend mentioning the article around the time all the mens' voices had raised at least a few volume levels. Everyone laughed.

"Gaslighting? Like I'm actually making her think she's crazy?! How crazy is that?!"

And everyone laughed. The whole room roared with laughter.

I waited for the noise to die down so that I could point out the irony, but it didn't. He kept going, harping on what an idiot notion it was to even think of complaining about being made to think you're crazy, and how crazy she was. She was so crazy. They're all crazy. Crazy. Crazy. CRAZY CRAZY CRAZYCRAZY.

And I just sat there, expressionless...the beasts nipping at my heals. But I didn't turn around.

If I had been strong enough to turn around and face them, I would have said to him, in as non-threatening a voice as humanly possible, "Well, why do you think she feels that way? What's going on in her life that is maybe causing her to feel like she's losing it...if it's not you?" It seems like it should be easy, but as I ask the questions, I begin to feel the tension. He bristles, worried that I'm about to get angry, "crazy."

Weak me gives into the accusations. She buckles and cries out, flies off the handle. "I'm not crazy! I'm not yelling! I'm just....please let me finish!" She tumbles into her own trap and ends up in the fetal position, weeping the tears of defeat whilst listening to country music, the music of pain.

Strong me. Stops. Listens. Takes a deep breath, and says calmly how she feels, how she sees the world regardless of who is listening. She explains that she understands his point of view, that it's hard for everyone, for all of us, but we have to be able to have a dialogue, to ask questions, to be questioned without getting defensive, to give answers. We all get defensive. We all put up a wall.

And then, she is done, regardless of what is said after. She has said what she wanted to say. The rage of the subject before her, behind her, is noted, but not adopted. She turns inward to the little girl with the sticky tears on her face born of the confusion that comes from miscommunication, from being ignored, from being told to shut up, to sit down, to be different, to be different, to be different, and she embraces her.

I will dry her tears and hold her in my arms. Then I'll make a lot of cookies, and regardless of what the CDC says about cookie dough, I'll eat the hell out of it.

I think of other girls and women that face the same dance as society urges them to be a partner instead of a person. Relationships are a choice, after all, not a requirement. I think of men that face the same quandaries, the same unimpeachable ideals of how they should look and think and act. We are all in this together. Let's admit our fears. Let's be honest. For once.

If I can do this. If I can really trust myself. I can begin to trust others. I can begin to trust other women and men, young and old. I can carry my own suffering, not as a wound, but as a badge, tell the stories of my journey, lean in, leave my house...I can help, and that's all I've ever wanted to do.

He likes Righteous Babes. What can I say. 

*If you have never seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, stop everything and change that.