It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and a lot has happened. I quit my job on September 18th after several months of fighting and losing battles with anxiety and depression. I started taking Paxil and blood pressure medication, and despite all of the fear and shame that I expressed in my last blog post, I really hoped that this would fix me.
Unfortunately, although the medication helped with the anxiety and depression, it didn’t cure me. I continued to experience extreme agoraphobia and I continued to miss work. My last week of work before I quit, I missed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Each morning, I woke up and commanded myself to get up and go to work, and my body refused to obey my commands.
I had thought I understood people when they said they’d experienced depression so bad that they couldn’t get out of bed. In particular, after my mom died, finding motivation to do anything was a severe challenge. In those days, I think that what kept me moving was a combination of morbid curiosity and a refusal to show any vulnerability.
If I had missed work or school or if I had seemed sad, then I would have had to explain why. And, at the time, with “joy” being a grayed-out concept of something I never thought I’d feel again, the only approximation I felt was a perverse satisfaction in being able to trick people into thinking that I was okay.
I understood despair to a depth that I hope that nobody else will ever feel, but I still had a motivating factor to maintain an illusion of functionality. One thing that doing stand-up, and being around comedians for almost five years, cured me of, was the inclination to lead a false life.
This turned out to be my downfall. Now, I have zero motivation to seem functional. This means that holding onto a job is a bit of a challenge. Because the thing is, even if I hadn’t quit, I can’t earn any income from a job that I can’t force myself to go to.
But whereas comedy totally fucked me in terms of displaying an illusion of functionality, it blessed me with genuine relationships with incredible people. I have a friend who got married about halfway through October. October is usually a rough month for me because it’s my birthday and then my dead brother’s birthday, and then the anniversary of my mother’s death.
This year, one of my best friends called me on my birthday. She didn’t remember that it was my birthday, she just wanted to talk to me. I don’t even have words for what a gift that is, particularly coming from a millennial who only vaguely remembers actual telephones. I hate my birthday, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, even someone I love that much, but two hours later, even though the conversation wasn’t light and fun the whole time — that said, there was at least as much laughter as tears — I hung up with that floaty feeling that only comes from a true connection with someone I love as much as she loves me.
Also this year, someone that I respect a lot got married to what I can only describe as a soul match. This person is not only as incredible as my friend, but he loves her as much as she deserves to be loved, and she loves him equally. There are very few relationships that I can point to as aspirational, and this is one of them. So, on my dead brother’s birthday, I got to celebrate this relationship, the joy that they bring to each other, and how joyfully their families embraced the union.
And after the wedding, I came to stay with another good friend. I didn’t have work to rush back to, so even though I wasn’t feeling like the best company, I agreed to stay for a few days. That has stretched into a month, so I’m still here. But my friend that I’m staying with had been living in her apartment for eight months and had never unpacked. So I helped, and this was the first year since my mother died that I remembered the anniversary the day before and the day after but was completely distracted on the day of. And, on top of that, I got to be useful. If you’ve lived in the same capitalistic cult that I grew up in, you’ll understand how important that is for an unemployed person.
None of this is to say that I didn’t miss my mom or my brother. The pieces of me that left with them didn’t magically regenerate just because I was distracted. It was just nice to celebrate genuine connections rather than focusing on the connections that have been severed, which is generally my habit on those days.
And since I’ve been gone, I’ve received a steady stream of texts from people I love who want to hang out or check in or to tell me that I look pretty today.
However, it’s been a rough month. I don’t have health insurance right now, so I’ve run out of my Paxil and I’m almost out of the blood pressure medication. I ended up staying a week longer than expected, so I thought I’d be back in time to call my doctor for a refill and when that didn’t happen, I just shrugged and decided that I don’t need it.
And I’m almost out of the blood pressure medication. I’d basically decided to just stop taking both medications. I don’t need doctors and it’s not like the medication was really helping much anyway. It’s not worth messing with.
What I didn’t realize was that the side effects for quitting Paxil can be pretty intense. On top of that, knowing that I was running out of the blood pressure medication, I’ve been tapering off of that. So, for the past couple of days, I’ve been crying like a leaky faucet and experiencing heart palpitations.
I’m kind of worried that I’m going to die or cause myself irreversible damage. Fortunately, the friend I’m staying with noticed that I’m not doing great and gently suggested some lifestyle changes — one of which is getting back on my medication. So, I’m going to call my doctor tomorrow to see if she can put in a refill for me. I hope her office is open because it is a holiday and the palpitations are freaking me out a bit.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, depression can hit like a sledgehammer or it can whisper self-destructive shit at me with my own voice. I’m a little ashamed that I allowed myself to fall into a cycle of self-loathing enough that the idea of reaching out to my doctor because I don’t have insurance right now seemed impossible.
I think I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s easy to talk about depression in the past tense. When I’m feeling okay, and remembering back to how shitty I did feel, I can get a bit cocky. For some reason, when a bout of depression has run its course through my psyche, I always feel euphoric, like I’ll never feel that way again. And I can get a bit cocky with advice to other people who struggle with depression. The advice I give myself when I’m feeling okay is much different than when I’m slogging through my emotional sewer, knee deep in trauma.
Peter Marr once said that when it comes to depression, you win every battle except for the last one. I always thought that was super profound because it put depression into a different context than I was accustomed to thinking about it. I was accustomed to hearing depression described as something people “suffered from” rather than “fought”. Depression is a war. Our battle scars can have physical manifestations or they can be invisible to the naked eye, but they are real either way.
I’ve dealt with suicidal ideology since I was eight years old. I spent most of my life reacting to shame with a wish for oblivion. Over the past few years, life has started to feel like a series of blessings instead of just one curse after another. After my mom died, I resented the very air I breathed for keeping me alive. For the first time in my life, I actually want to live. I think I used to welcome a bout of depression because I hoped that, this time, it would succeed in taking me out. Now, I’m afraid it will.
I’ll say this, too, after quitting my job in comedy, I felt like a failure. There are so many things about the art form that I love, and so many things about the business that I hate. I wanted to stay in the industry so that I could change it. I wanted to revolutionize the way that comedians are treated. I wanted to see comedians paid and valued. Quitting felt like a betrayal to those comedians, to the changes that I would have fought for if I’d stayed. But in order to fight for those changes, I would have had to be a part of the problem for far longer than I was comfortable with. Toward the end, every week I had a new facial tic that I had to try to suppress when I was around other people. I’d be booking shows in one window with a crisis hotline open in a window next to it. Every time I sent a booking agreement with $0.00 marked as pay, I wanted to die.
I felt like a failure when I quit my job as a customer support representative, too. I worked for a subscription-based company. There were so many instances of people being charged after cancelling their subscription, or having thought they’d cancelled, and it just disgusted me to work for a company that thought that it was okay to exploit the fact that people are too busy to scour their bank statements every month. Before I left, we got a new supervisor, one who I thought might be able to make some changes to the billing policies, if only to protect the company from lawsuits. But I left before any of those changes could take place because I couldn’t take one more conversation with one more customer about a company that had zero interest in protecting its customers from being charged for a service they didn’t want. By the time I quit, I had a tic in my lower left eyelid and my upper right eyelid. One day, after phones had been turned off, I was answering emails, and both tics were going at the same time. It reminded me of trying to focus on a Christmas tree with twinkling lights — except less festive.
It wasn’t until, I think, yesterday, that I realized how often I fought for things to be different. When I was promoted to Booker of the smaller room at the comedy club, one of the owners came to me and said that she wanted to hear my vision for the room. I tried to hold it back, but the first thing out of my mouth was, “I want to pay the comedians.” I think I surprised both of us with that statement, so much so that she immediately agreed, and then later decided that it was impossible.
Even before I was promoted, I wrote up a Jerry-Maquire-esque manifesto on how to pay comedians. My supervisor at the time talked me out of sharing it with the owners, but said that we would work on the proposal together. And then he quit. And over the two years that I was a Booker, I fought for paying the comedians any chance I got. I even plotted with one of my coworkers who is a coding genius, who said he could probably create software to track sales and pay comedians based on how many people could get to come and see them.
The most infuriating argument I heard regarding paying comedian is, “comedians don’t care about getting paid, they just care about stage time”. My counterargument is that you can care about more than one thing. Also, accepting the fact that your work is not valued by a club is not the same thing as “not caring”. Comedians “paying their dues” is also a ridiculous argument, particularly when you’re dealing with headliners with twenty-plus years experience who get paid in food.
When I quit comedy, I decided to also quit caring. I had determined that the stress and pain that came from working in comedy came from putting too much of my heart into it. So, I thought that working as a customer support representative at a random corporation would be the antidote to little faith-in-humanity issue. The world being the way it is can’t hurt if you don’t care.
But it didn’t take long to realize that even over the phone, people are just as unique and precious as they are in person. Even in a three-minute conversation, I could develop an affection for the person I was speaking to. It was actually easier to, without the distraction of physical appearance, hone in on what that person brought to the world that no one else does.
I can’t say that I loved my customers as much as I love my comedians. It’s a completely different relationship that is designed to be temporary. But I will say that there are people that I met over the phone who walk around with me in this world. Some of our interactions were edifying, some were heartbreaking, some were frustrating, and some were all three, but they were all real.
And when I realized that a lot of my customers were being charged for months, and often years, for a service they weren’t using, it bothered me. It particularly bothered me to be the person to tell them that I couldn’t refund that money. There were many reasons why a customer might be charged, some of which were customer error, some of which were the company’s error, some were accounts that were created with stolen credit card numbers (rare, but it happened) so they weren’t anybody’s fault (except for the criminal). However, for a tech company, creating solutions to the billing issues were fully doable. It felt like the company was intentionally taking advantage of customer error, and those of us one the phones were the whipping boys for the company’s shitty billing practices.
About a month before I left, we got a new department head. He seemed genuinely interested in improving the customer service experience. He asked every single person who worked in our department what we changes we would like to see implemented, and he did this more than once, in large and small groups, with management present, and without them. I think that he genuinely wanted to improve the department and the company overall. I also think that he was wasting his time and I would be surprised if he lasted longer than a year, but I hope that I’m wrong and that he stays and fixes everything and that the company isn’t as bad as I think it is.
For my part, when he asked, I answered. I pointed out that the lack of site monitoring led to customers being billed unfairly. I did this verbally and in writing. He seemed receptive to the feedback that he got but it didn’t take long to realize that any changes he would have been able to make would have been so gradual, if they happened at all, that it didn’t matter. I was already done.
I composed my “calling out sick” notes from bed and even after calling out, I would immediately start twitching as I dreaded going back the next day. On the Wednesday before I quit, dragging my ass out of bed to get a doctor’s note was almost impossible, even though my doctor’s office is two blocks from where I live.
I went to work the next day and gave my doctor’s note to my boss. She brought me into her office and asked if I really wanted to be there. I burst into tears. I said that I couldn’t afford to not be there and I didn’t understand why my body wouldn’t obey my instructions. She asked if I could try and I said yes. She spent at least ten minutes with me as I cried and she was very kind. (I feel guilty talking shit about the company because the individuals that I worked with there, even the managers, were awesome human beings. It was the upper-upper management that made the garbage decisions.)
Anyway, I went to my desk to clock in and couldn’t even make myself click on the link that would take me to where I needed to clock in. I started crying again, and messaged my brother (the one that is still alive). I said I thought I had to quit and he asked what happened. I said nothing, I just couldn’t do it. He said okay. This is important because my brother is my roommate which means that my income, or lack thereof, has a direct effect as to whether or not he has a home to live in.
The first few days after I quit were incredible. I’d tense up and start twitching, dreading the next day, and then realize that i didn’t have to go back. Then I’d smile and breathe deeply. I decided to take care of all of the household stuff that I had neglected over the past eleven months because I was completely drained at the end of each day and spent my weekends in bed with my phone off.
After a week-and-a-half, the panic set in. And the sense of worthlessness. And then I started to take more naps and fill out fewer job applications. And I started to wonder if my eye tics were permanent. I almost didn’t go to the wedding. I didn’t want to face anyone I knew and have to explain that I was such a dysfunctional adult that I couldn’t hold down a job. But the friend I’m staying with now intuited my hesitation and bought my bus ticket. An older version of myself decided that it would be better to seem like I was okay for a few days than to explain why I didn’t want to go.
I understand that this blog post is kind of all over the place but the heart palpitations are freaking me out a bit so I’m trying to get out all of my wisdom and apologies now. Anyway, you’ll remember from the beginning of this blog post that the wedding was beautiful in every sense of the word and re-connecting with the friend I’m staying with and mutual comedian friends who came to the wedding was pretty great. I was a fucking mess, but in the end, I was glad I went. There is a shortage of perfect couples in this world and it would have been a shame to miss the union of this one.
So, staying with my friend. For the first week, I did a lot of moving around, getting her place together. It was nice to have a sense of purpose. After about a week, I had a bit of a crisis. I still had plenty of medication, so that wasn’t the issue. It was just ye olde depressionne wielding cruelty in a reasonable tone. But hanging out with my friend beat back the voice and I made it through another week.
I started to feel like I was overstaying my welcome around the same time that my friend was starting to chafe under the pressure of entertaining a guest/roommate/house elf. So, we decide that I would go home on November 8th. She bought me a plane ticket (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I’m out of work and that she’s a really good friend) and I started panicking about returning home and getting my shit together. But, I knew that if I left on the 8th, I’d only be without my Paxil for a couple of days, so I was okay with that.
Then we realized that my plane ticket was for the 14th, not the 8th. So, I ran out of Paxil on the 5th, and started trying to get my blood pressure medication to stretch by missing doses and cutting back. (I know, good decision). I don’t think I had realized how bad the Paxil withdrawal would be but messing with the blood pressure medication definitely didn’t help.
If it hasn’t been clear, Paxil doesn’t cure depression and anxiety, it just kind of mutes it. Experiencing moments of suicidal ideology or thoughts of self-harm or just straight-up self-loathing still happen, at least for me. So, having all of my feelings turned up to full volume along with the physical withdrawal symptoms has presented a bit of a challenge over the past week.
Fortunately, as I stated earlier, my friend noticed, and just being noticed kind of pulled me out of the self-hate spiral that I’d been spinning in. I want to say a few things about what I’ve learned over the past few months, but I’ll start with the total mess I was when I left comedy.
My secret motto is “you don’t get to know me”. It’s a mantra when I’m obsessing over an awkward conversation I had with someone, or if I think I might have hurt someone’s feelings or any situation that makes me feel stupid or mean or too much. “You don’t get to know me” means a couple of things. First, it means that I’m not going to go out of my way to explain myself if I think you are offended but shouldn’t be but I still feel guilty at the idea that you might be hurt.
Second, it means that who I present isn’t the entire picture. You know as much of me as I let you. This is stupid and untrue, of course, because every single person you will ever meet will have a different version of you in their head. Some of those versions are fairly accurate, and some are way off. But we don’t get to control that picture.
Still, it’s this weird little self-defense thing I do when I’m feeling vulnerable and decide to pull back and not let you know how I’m really feeling about something. I think it comes from when I was in foster care and I pretended to really like my foster sister even though she was a fucking monster. She was so much bigger and knew so much more and it was her house. She had every advantage over me. She could decide that I didn’t get to sleep with a pillow or if I got to keep my Christmas or birthday presents (spoiler alert: I didn’t).
I couldn’t fight her, so what I could do was not let her know how much she hurt me. I could agree with her that I was a fat, ugly, stupid, worthless intruder, and that she was an angel straight from Heaven. It’s hard to fight someone who won’t fight back. Not that she didn’t try. And, honestly, if I could do it all over again, I would have punch her in the face and stolen her shoes my first night there. Hindsight….
But that’s a holdover. To feel threatened, and to emotionally pull back. To hide my real emotions behind a mask, or better yet, find that place in my mind that numbs me from the pain of rejection. I gave so much of myself at the comedy club, more than I have anywhere else in my life. However, it was a constant struggle. I would pivot from feeling like I’d found a home, an entire community of people who got me, who liked me, who loved me. People who I loved and respected and adored, so much that it scared me.
One of the reasons it was so hard to be the person to “hire” comedians to work for free was because I valued them so much. It made me physically sick to recognize how dispensable they were and that I was now a part of that system that exploited and devalued them.
I suppose that if I had had any kind of boundaries or emotional maturity, I would have been able to handle it better. I might have been able to stomach working within the system long enough to make gradual changes. But I found comedy three years after my mom died, and I had, at that point, decided to never love anyone ever again. Tennyson was an asshole who didn’t know what he was talking about.
I vividly remember walking into the club for the first time, telling myself, “We don’t need to know anyone’s names. We don’t need to know their hopes and dreams. We’re here because we want to observe comedy in its natural habitat. We want to be a fly on the wall, not a participant.” (Another of my habits is to give myself pep talks as though I am a team, not an individual.)
So, when I left, I made the same old vow. Cut myself off, stop caring. I was never going to love anyone ever again and I was going to stop loving the people that I had foolishly allowed myself to love. I got a job as a cashier and there may have been two days in that month-and-a-half that I did not run into a comedian. I remember one comedian who didn’t look up the entire time I rang him up. This was a not-funny comedian who had been super nice to me when I was a Booker. I couldn’t figure out if this was his revenge for not booking him more, or if he really didn’t see me.
Part of the identity crisis that I had when I left was that I had become accustomed to being important. Being important, after being essentially invisible except to a few select people for my entire life, was terrifying. I was constantly aware that I didn’t deserve to be treated as special, and as soon as people figured out that I wasn’t shit, I would become as reviled as I currently was adored. To be honest, as much as I hated the business part of comedy, part of the reason I left was because I could not stand the inevitable rejection that loomed larger and larger every day.
The funny thing is that, at the time, I just wanted to step away from being a Booker. Being in a position of authority makes you a person that people try to be their best self around. It’s not about being fake or ambitious, it’s just an awareness that makes it difficult to relax around. I completely understand that. I have severe issues with authority and being in a position of authority freaked me out as much as anything else. It’s so much easier to cause irreparable damage when you’re speaking from a position of authority than when you’re on the same level (imagined or not) as someone else. There are several conversations that I had as a Booker that haunt me, and probably a lot more that I don’t even realize caused damage.
But there were people who saw me as important, not because I was a Booker, but because I was Crystal. At the time, I couldn’t separate those two different types of importance because my job title had become my identity. I couldn’t see myself as a person anymore, so as far as I was concerned, nobody else could either — at least not the comedians who had once been my friends.
Of course, a year-plus later, I’m able to make that distinction again and I recognize that that wasn’t as much of an issue for my friends as it felt like at the time. I dropped by the club the day after I quit my job. It was weird timing but Brandon Stewart was headlining and he was someone I remembered from the very first open mic I watched at the club. It was super cool to watch a baby comedian grow up to be a headliner, especially a comedian who is just a decent human being and was always kind. I knew him when I was just a weirdo watching open mics, and then shows, and then interning, and then working in the office, and finally, booking.
What really amazed me was how strongly the affection that I repressed for a year re-inflated the second I walked in. I just love those motherfuckers so fucking much. I hurt a few people, leaving as abruptly as I did, and then cutting myself off completely, but that’s the thing about family — at the end of the day, the still love you, no matter what an asshole you are. I could see the hurt and I couldn’t fix it but goddamn if it didn’t feel so good to see them and hug them anyway. It’s a weird thing to realize simultaneously what an asshole I’ve been and how valued I am.
I worked as a customer service representative for eleven months, and over that time, particularly after I started having the panic attacks and missing work, I tried talking about the stress and frustrations to the few friends I still allowed myself.
One friend, the one who called me on my birthday, heard me out. She is very careful of my feelings, and she hesitated for a moment, before saying, “I wonder how different your life would be if you didn’t care so much.”
At the time, that was all I wanted. I wanted to care less. It was all I’d ever really wanted for myself. It was what I had tried for with my foster sister, and all through school, and after my mom died. Now, I look back on that conversation, and it still makes me smile, but I don’t see caring as a weakness anymore.
I don’t know anyone who cares as much as I do. If I could choose a different personality, I probably would choose one a little more chill. But, at age forty-two, and recognizing myself as a dysfunctional adult who can’t even hold down a job, I can kind of see my personality as a blessing instead of a curse.
It’s not a choice. I have tried not to care and failed and failed and failed. The combination of losing my little brother and foster care made me see my natural over-sensitivity as wrong, as something that needed to be fixed. Growing up, I kept an emotional wall between my mom and my older brother. I thought I was protecting myself, but my biggest regret when my mom died was every bit of affection that I had ever withheld in order to protect myself.
Even with that being my biggest regret, I still decided that not loving anyone ever again was the best course of action. Working in comedy busted down that wall I had built around myself and made me love so many more people than I ever thought possible with an intensity that I never thought possible. It helped me take that emotional wall down between me and my older brother, and, despite some of the self-esteem issues I’ve described here, it has exposed parts of myself that I really like and don’t want to lose.
It’s funny that’s spent the last year-plus trying to distance myself from the emotional intensity that comedy brought out in me only to find that it continued breaking me down even after I left. It’s also funny how many times in my life that I decided that removing myself emotionally was the answer to all of my problems — AND how I never recognized how much more miserable that made me.
I’m not going to make any vows about how much more emotionally available I’m going to be from now on. I think what I’m realizing is that I have no choice. I am a big ol’ weirdo who has the ability to recognize that spark that makes you you and not anyone else. And I love the shit out of your spark. I still don’t know how I’m going to get or hold down a job because this world is not build to foster the kind of person I am, but wish me luck on figuring it out.