Blog #5

A few minutes ago, I considered going off of my medication again — more responsibly this time — because I’ve been home for almost a week and haven’t written anything. I haven’t felt creative, I’ve been sleeping a lot, and I haven’t cleaned my house. I’ve tried to organize something every day since I got home, but I just don’t have the energy for it that I anticipated. I’m avoiding calls and texts from friends.

And I know I’m going to have to get a job soon, so I’m mad at myself for not making the most of this opportunity to get my shit together.

I wanted to go off the meds because even though I was pretty sure I was going to die, I felt alive. But the, I remembered that there are times I feel really alive even on the medication but the average number of suicidal thoughts have gone down a significant amount, even when I’m crawling through a dark hole.

So I’m going to choose to believe that I have value as a human being regardless of my productivity level and I’m going to choose to believe that the depression will lift and I’ll get my creativity and will to live back.

Blog #4: Wellness Check

Just wanted to check in because my last blog post was a little intense. I was able to get my prescriptions filled yesterday and the heart palpitations and crying have stopped.

I was watching the holiday episode of the Great British Baking Show and the hosts were asking everyone what their resolutions were, and, because the world revolves around me, of course I started thinking about mine.

Generally speaking, New Years resolutions are something I avoid because I already feel bad enough about my lack of achievements. But last year, I kept it really simple. I wanted to not only write more but to enjoy writing.

I figured out that the biggest obstacle to me writing isn’t the tools or skills, but the fact that writing induces so much anxiety. I want so badly to do it Right.

So, that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I think most writers want to write professionally because it’s fun and they don’t want to do anything else. I wanted to write because of how important stories were to me and because of how important I wanted my stories to be to other people.

What I’ve been focusing on lately is letting my stories be imperfect and loving them anyway. Instead of cringing at old writing or putting pressure on every story I try to write to save me from a job I hate, I’ve just been working on letting myself write Wrong.

I think I knew that that was the answer for a while, but I thought that writing Wrong would be too painful, and the truth is that it’s just straight up liberating.

If my dialogue or plots are weak, or if I forget a word or spellcheck doesn’t catch something, it’s all okay.

I’m working on a story right now called, “The Princess with Three Eyes” that started with “Once upon a time….” and that I intend to have end with “…and they all lived happily ever after”, even though I haven’t yet determined whether or not they actually will.

And every time I think about working on the story and tense up, I stop and reevaluate the pressure I’m putting on the story. The thing that gets me excited about writing again, is usually breaking a rule or going in a different direction than I’d been planning.

The reason I’m writing all of this down is because I have a theory that we ask the wrong people for their keys to success. Already successful people have the keys to living with success, which is its own beast. People who are in the midst of the struggle, trying to find their footing in the ether of their dreams, and the ones who stumble upon those keys.

The thing is, trying to figure out how to make writing fun is the part that most people start at. I skipped the fun part, so I have to do it now. Someone else’s path may be a little straightforward. Maybe they’ll start out having fun and then learn grammar, spelling, and story structure later.

There isn’t one path to success, just as there is no one definition of success. We all have our own paths and definitions. For me, success in five years would look like three completed novels with characters that I love and stories that I want to keep exploring, regardless of how flawed the writing is or whether or not I can get anyone else interested in reading what I have to write.

If I have to be a cashier or find some other job to support what I really want to be doing, that’s okay. As long as, when I sit down to write, my chest lifts, and the butterflies tickle my intestines and my characters feel like people I’m continuing a conversation with, I think I can be happy.

My goals and definition of success may be different by then, but this is where I am now.

Blog #3: Excessive Dreaming & Failed Revolutions

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.

Blog #2: Giving Up

(Trigger Warning/Spoiler Alert: suicidal ideology and depression.)

I started having panic attacks that have led to me missing work over the past month-and-a-half. I’ve never had this problem before — at least, not since I was agoraphobic. Even after my mom died, I used my PTO and went back to work on Day 7. After that, I didn’t miss a day of school or work. I never wanted to quit school, work, life more than then, but I still forced myself to continue on with all of those things.

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to seem okay when I was not. I couldn’t even count the number of times when I’d be contemplating suicide at work, and at that exact same moment, a customer I’d never seen before would remark, “you’re always so happy, every time I come in here”.

At the time, I felt a certain grim satisfaction at being able to trick the world into thinking that I had my shit together. I have never been great with showing vulnerability and I would have been damned before letting anyone see that my soul was actually a gaping pit of despair.

I know that the entertainment business is exploitative but I wonder if I left because of that or because I was terrified of being seen, of being important. When I left, I reveled in my renewed lack of relevance.

I started my new job almost 7 months ago, and for the first 5 months, I was great. It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t plagued with suicidal thoughts. I smiled for no reason, a lot. I felt like I was in control of my life, for the first time, ever. I was happy.

And then about a month-and-a-half ago, I had a panic attack at work. I left work early and came home just in time to pass out and fail to sleep off a migraine. I started doing therapy, and I started looking for a psychiatrist.

I had done everything right. I had found a stable job with stable hours, where I had one person’s job, a decent wage, and health benefits. But it wasn’t enough. All of the sudden, I was on the sidewalk, with God’s boot on my neck. Again.

I hadn’t missed that feeling, but I did wonder where it had gone and why it had come back. Since then, I’ve used up all of my sick and vacation days and now it’s actively costing me money to be mentally ill.

At my first therapy session, about a month ago, my therapist heard my issues, got some of my background, and said, “I’m going to fix you. Give me six months, and you’ll be all better.” She kept promising that she had The Answers for me, and during my third session, she gave me a bunch of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tips.

I didn’t know that that’s what they were called, but I had already been doing all of those things, for years, and they just weren’t working anymore. When I let her know that, she threw up her hands and said, “Well then, you need medication!”

I broke my therapist after three visits. I’ve spent the last week feeling alternately proud and ashamed of that fact. But yesterday, I was getting ready for work when I started having a panic attack. I was like, “whatever, I’ll just muscle it out” but then I started to get a migraine and called out sick.

I went to two different Urgent Cares. At the second, they made an appointment with my GP — and it’s a testament to how long it’s been since I’ve been to a doctor that that didn’t occur to me until it was suggested. So, today, I went to my GP and asked for some help, and she prescribed me Paxil.

She also prescribed a new job and a psychiatrist, but those aren’t as easy to come by. So I took my first anti-depressant, ever, today. I cried before I did. It felt very much like a defeat, to admit that my brain chemicals had beaten me.

I think the worst part, though, is that this is my last hope, and I don’t know if it will work. I’ve been suicidal off and on, mostly on, for 32 years, and I have tried everything I can think of to try to empower myself and to counterbalance my darkest thoughts.

If medication doesn’t work, I have no more back-up plans. And if it does, I get to kick myself for not trying it sooner — although, maybe with a higher dose of serotonin firing through my synapses, I won’t be as hard on myself as I am now.

Blog #1: A Word About the World

When I was six, I had this neighbor. He showed me a dirty magazine and wanted me to kiss him. I was repulsed and horrified. I said that I heard my mother calling and made my escape. As I went to track down my mother, I knew that she would be furious, and I paused, worried that if I told her, she might murder the guy.

Then I had a worse thought. What if I told her, and she told me that I was wrong? That I was rude to have refused to kiss the guy? I pictured her sternly ordering me to go back and kiss him.

Was this the world I lived in? Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that an adult would think that it was okay to kiss a child — like that. So what if my initial instinct was wrong? What if this was just the beginning of being asked to do something I didn’t want to do with someone I didn’t want to do it with?

The thing is, if I had told my mother, she probably would have murdered the guy. My first instinct was correct. But that was when I started living in duo worlds — a world in which justice is swift and merciless, and a world in which it never comes.

As I grew up and learned about slavery and rape and genocide, the world in which justice is real became smaller and less realistic. The other world became my whole world.

After I graduated from high school, I was agoraphobic for 10 years. I just couldn’t face going out into that twisted and corrupt world. I knew that I didn’t have a place in it — or maybe I was afraid that I did. One day, I woke up, and I was twenty-seven, and I realized that there weren’t two worlds.

We all live in a world in which people hurt and kill other people, for no reason. We all live in a world where children are put in cages, and that the majority of the population, myself included, just let that happen. We’re not happy about it, but we don’t know what to do about it, either.

How do you explain to someone who thinks that it’s okay to hurt children, that it’s not? If someone doesn’t inherently know that, is there even a conversation we can have with them?

We also live in a world in which people actively fight to save those children. We are surrounded by people who rescue children from fires and car wrecks and human trafficking. We live in a world in which young people become politicians just so that they can call out the corruption of the system that we operate within.

Every time I feel so weak that I’m not even sure I’ll even have the strength to draw in my next breath, in that same breath, someone else is using their words or their hands to help someone else.

It doesn’t seem like one world should be able to hold the depths of depravity and the heights of generosity that it does, but it does.

When I was young, I thought I’d be one of the Good Ones, I’d make the world a better place. In my heart, I was a revolutionary. Now, I’m a member of the Banal, a person who throws up her hands in the face of evil.

It looks like I’m a productive member of society, going out and working and cracking wise with my coworkers and friends. In reality, I’m hanging off of the edge of a cliff by my fingernails.

What can I do? is a question that can either have a million answers, or none. Right now, I’m ashamed to admit, I have none.

Blogtion #1

I hadn’t spoken to my mother in forever, but this morning, I whispered, “I miss you”. Words formed a cool mist, drifting toward the ceiling.

Rather than dissipating, vapor permeated the pores in the paint and the wood above that, and then moved up, into the sky. They floated through the atmosphere and out into star-spangled space.

When they made it to Heaven, my mother reached out, gathering my words back together. She tilted her head and poured them into her ear. As they became a part of her, she looked down, down, down past my roof, my ceiling, into my soul.

She said something back. Whatever language she speaks now, or at whatever frequency she speaks it, is incomprehensible. But I felt it. It was like an another feather joining its friends in my down comforter.

I can’t wait to see her again, but if I don’t, I may not get to. What kind of messed up multi-verse is this, anyway?

I cried in the Lyft on my way to work. In my mind, I was in my future psychiatrist’s office, giving up.

At work, I trembled before answering my first call. And my second, and my third.

I walked to a new place for lunch and failed to leave before realizing it was too trendy (expensive).

I answered fifty-eight tickets today. I composed fifty-eight insincere apologies; half of them spoken, half written.

It’s 9:30. There were a hundred things I wanted to do after work, a hundred more I should have wanted to do. I didn’t do any of them. Good night.

Words on Words #3

I’ve been working lately on not needing to explain myself. There’s a scene in the 10th Kingdom, where Virginia is having a meltdown and she says, “I still have this uncontrollable urge to just go up to people and say “My mother left me when I was seven!” You know, as if that would explain everything.  And I miss her… And I hate her! And…and I miss her… And I feel like I was on a train and it crashed or something and no one came and rescued me.”

I feel like this is what I’ve been doing my entire life. Just walking around with a dead brother storyline and a foster care storyline and a mentally ill mother storyline and a dead mother storyline and just waiting for someone to a) recognize that these stories are what make me broken and b) give a shit. And I feel like, with stand-up, I was able to share these stories, imperfectly, but enough that I don’t have that urge anymore.

I Ally Sheedy’d, just dumped all of my baggage out on everyone I spoke to and for the first time in my life, I found people who didn’t look away. Instead, they listened, and they had their own bags to dump out. I don’t know what it is about the stand-up community that is different from any other set of people I’ve ever been around, but that is the only community I’ve been a part of that let me be sad and angry and whatever the fuck else I was.

But now, I have this weird normal job around normal people and if I say something dark, instead of people laughing, they get concerned. And that makes me miss stand-up but instead of feeling like I have to explain the joke or explain my existence, I just let them think I’m weird. And I don’t care anymore. The urge to explain myself in real life has almost entirely faded.

This is not to say that I don’t have anything to say. If anything, I have more to say than I ever did and I have a much better handle on how to express myself. But the need to be understood by every person I meet, in every interaction I have, is gone.

This is not to say that sitting down to write is less terrifying than it ever was. But I was watching a YouTube video with “tough love” writing advice for writers tonight, and it was the same old shit until she said, “find a way to make it fun”. And I was like, holy shit, I make writing a chore. No wonder I don’t want to do it.

So I searched YouTube for “how to make writing fun” and there was really only one video, and it was “how to make writing fun for kids”. And I thought, if it’d work on kids, it might work on me. So, basically, the way to make writing fun for kids was a story generator set up by Scholastic. And it’s cute, so I wanted to try it out.

I realized that the other thing that stops me from writing is that I want it to be good. It takes so much energy to talk myself into writing that I don’t want that to feel like wasted time. And there are all these rules about writing. The very first piece of writing I ever showed to a professional in the publishing industry was responded to with a suggestion that I check out the Turkey City Lexicon. The Turkey City Lexicon is a list of tendencies new writers have. It’s essentially a list of what not to do.

So, I’ve spend the last decade-plus figuring out how to write well so that showing my writing to other people won’t be humiliating. But not wanting to be humiliated is just another thing that stops me from writing. So, I decided to take the writing prompt from Scholastic and pair it with the first rule in the Turkey City Lexicon — Brenda Starr dialogue. Essentially, you don’t want to write blocks of dialogue that aren’t anchored in a setting, with defined characters.

So I wrote a short story (see last post) that was a bunch of blocks of dialogue with as little setting, characterization, and narration as possible. And, damn, was that fun. And, damn, did I like the story. Is it well-written? Naw. But did I want to keep going and find out what happened next? Yes. So, maybe this is a writing exercise that will get me out of my head and and make writing fun.

In the movies, a character will go through a tumultuous experience and then sit down at a typewriter and their story will just pour out of them. I spent a lot of my life expecting that I would become a writer someday. I’d have that movie moment and it would be all I could do to keep up with the waterfall of words. But that isn’t what writing is for me.

Writing is something that I want to do, all of the time when I can’t, and none of the time when I can. My first day back at work after my mom died, one of my managers who knew that I had a complicated relationship with my mom and had her own complicated relationship with her parents, said to me that I was “free”. She wasn’t wrong. But in that moment, I hoped that she would never know how terrifying and lonely true freedom actually is.

When I have the time to write, and I sit down to do it, all of the potential for greatness and ineptness — and worse than either of those, mediocrity — come crashing down on me. I don’t know how to make writing less important to me. I don’t know if I should. But I would like to make it fun and I would like to thumb my nose at people who make rules that seem to restrict creativity more than encourage it.

What the hell is the point of the Turkey City Lexicon? Why isn’t there an equivalent list of specific things TO do in order to write a good story? Why are we, as human beings, so much more responsive to being torn down than being built up? It seems antithetical to me, to create a list of what NOT to do in order to encourage people to create more powerfully.

So, fuck the Turkey City Lexicon and fuck any rule about what not to do.

Scholastic/Turkey City Prompt Mash-Up #1

“Hey, who are you?”

“I’m an owl. My name is Henry. Who are you?”

“Samantha. You can call me Sam. Are you magical? There was a burst of light in the sky and then there you were. Where did you come from?”

“Nice to meet you, Sam. I’m from a faraway planet. I’ve been flying for a long time. Boy, are my wings tired. I’d like a place to rest before I continue on with my journey.”

 “You’re welcome here for as long as you’d liked to stay.”

“Thank you.” Henry landed. “You don’t happen to have seen any other plaid owls around here, have you? On the planet where I grew up, I was the only one. I scoured the whole planet and when I realized I was the only one, I left. So far, no other stars, planets, or asteroids have had any plaid owls. I’m starting to get a little discouraged.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I haven’t seen any other owls, plaid or otherwise. There are lots of worms like me, though, just under the surface of the planet. They don’t come up here much except after it rains.”

“Hm. I suppose I better keep searching. This is a pretty big planet, though, so I’ll do a little exploring before I go. Say, I’m hungry and thirsty. I think I saw a river as I was flying in but my vision is a bit blurry with fatigue so I don’t know exactly where it was. Also, I’m too tired to fly there. Do you know if there is anything within walking distance?”

“I know the river you’re talking about. It’s a few miles away so it would be hard to get there on claw. Don’t worry, though, there’s a pool of water that is a part of the same river, but underground not far from here. Follow my voice. It should only take us about 10 minutes to get there.

“I’m glad you’re here, by the way. It gets pretty boring. I seem to be the only one in my family or set of acquaintances who has any sense of curiosity about the world around me. That’s why I spend a lot of time on the surface, while everyone else just roams around mindlessly digging holes all day. I’m getting a little out of breath crawling and talking and I can go faster underground, where the dirt is wetter, so I’m going to play Marco Polo with you, okay?”

“Okay.”

Sam created a quick hole in the sand and disappeared. She popped up a minute later, a yard away, and shouted, “Marco!”

“Polo!” Henry responded, and walked toward Sam’s voice.

After a few Marcos and a few Polos, Sam popped up and said, “We’re here! There’s a pool of water just under the surface here. I’ll create a starter hole for you and then you can peck down and get the water.”

And it came to be that Henry was able to break through the crust of the surface and find water. “Sam?” he said, after he’d drunk his fill.

“Yes?”

“There are a lot of worms down there whose names I don’t know,” Henry said. “Would you mind terribly if I ate them?”

“I – wouldn’t be pleased, but I understand that you’re hungry, so I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

This was all the answer Henry needed. “Are you okay?” he asked, a few minutes later.

“I suppose. I never had much in common with my fellow worm-kind, and this patch of water is far enough away from my home that only a few of the worms looked even vaguely familiar, but it was still hard to watch. Also, the screams were unsettling. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that sound.”

“Are you mad at me, now?”

“I said I wouldn’t be, but I think I am a little.”

“I get that. So, what now?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think that I can face my family again, at least not soon. Do you mind if I come with you on your journey? Maybe you’ll find another plaid owl and I’ll find a way to live with myself.”

“Aren’t you afraid that I’ll eat you?”

“Yes. But I’m also afraid that you won’t.”

Turkey City Lexicon: Brenda Starr dialogue

Scholastic Story Starter: A day in the life of a plaid owl who lands on a faraway planet.

Opening Line Prompt #11 — Draft

This needs an ending. I’ll come back to it.

I only ever met one woman I’d call truly outgoing. Her name was Rachel. She was one of the better lawyers at the firm I worked for. Unlike anyone’s mental image of a lawyer, Rachel had a wild mane of strawberry-blonde hair, wore jeans to the office as often as she could get away with it, and had a laugh that was as boisterous and infectious as it was perpetual.

I was the receptionist for a law firm. As the first thing a potential client saw when they walked in, my desk was huge and wooden and imposing. It was designed to look like a judge’s bench. I was eating my lunch under my desk, as usual, when Rachel came by to pick up some files she’d asked me to find for her.

I’d messaged her that they were on my desk, and as I heard her approach, I mentally kicked myself. I would generally pull my chair in to make sure that I couldn’t be seen but I had forgotten to. If she stayed on the visitor side of the desk, or even the side, I’d be safe. I held my breath. No luck.

She’d paired a black-and-gray pinstriped skirt with red Keds, which meant that she had to be at the courthouse later. I’d gone with her often enough to know that she kept a pairs of heels in her car.

She laughed when she saw me.  

I’d had few close calls over the year-and-a-half since I started eating my lunch there, but nobody had ever spotted me. I couldn’t believe I’d left my chair pushed back so far. I was never that careless!

“Did you drop something?” she asked. Then she spotted the empty yogurt container next to my crossed legs and the half of a sandwich in my hand. The other half of my sandwich was on a folded paper towel on my floral-skirted thigh.

I pictured her shouting everyone in the office over to laugh at me. My face flamed with humiliation. I mentally drafted my resignation letter.

But her ever-present half-dimple disappeared as she regarded me seriously. Her body made jerky little movements as she decided what to do. Then, she looked around quickly, before ducking down.

“Shove over,” she whispered.

I reluctantly moved over so that she could sit next to me. Even with our legs straight out, the desk was big enough to completely shield us from most angles.

“This is a genius idea!” Rachel whispered, drawing my chair in the way that I should have. “I wish my desk was big enough to do this! You could take a nap under here!”

“I do, sometimes,” I admitted in a much softer whisper than hers. The carpet was plush and I kept a small pillow in my bottom desk drawer, behind some files. With her around, that wasn’t going to happen and I couldn’t help but resent her a bit.

“Damn, I should have brought my lunch,” Rachel said, her half-dimple returning. “I didn’t know we’d be doing this.”

I gestured to my thigh.

“Oh, I couldn’t,” she whispered, as she reached over and picked up the sandwich half. I always cut my sandwiches on a diagonal because I’m not a barbarian. I never saw anyone outside of a Wonder Bread commercial take their first bite from the center of the triangle, before, or since.

I suppressed an urge to laugh.

Words on Words #2

I have work tomorrow and I’m not dreading it any less than I usually do, despite having had the last two days off. Saturday and Sunday are usually pretty chill, but, still. It’s just the beginning of another shitty week, every moment of which leaves me aching for my next day off.

I had lunch with my former boss today. He doesn’t understand why, if I love stand-up the way that I do, I decided to leave the business. I tried to explain, but he doesn’t get it and I’m barely eloquent enough to explain it to myself. But it was nice to see him.

I never really understood the concept of missing people. My mom used to tell me that she missed me when I went to work. I thought that her saying that was manipulative because I saw her nearly every single day for 30+ years. She’d seen me the day before, would see me the next day. She knew 80% of my thoughts. I’d be back in 9.5 hours.
What was there to miss?

Then she died, and I missed her. I’d just seen her. I’d seen her nearly ever day for the past 30+ years. But here I was, seconds into her being dead, her empty body three feet away, and I already missed her.

I see and talk to the people I love in my head, all of the time. The only time I “miss” them is if I get the idea stuck in my head that I won’t see them ever again, that I won’t make new memories with them, that I’ll never get the chance to know them better than I already do.

But I’m a weird, solitary person, and I always have been. I used to be agoraphobic, and I use the phrase “used to be” very loosely. I used to be ashamed of this period of my life, judging myself for hiding, for giving up before trying. But I’ve spent the past 13 years out there, jobbing, schooling, interacting. And my dream is as it ever was; a house in the middle of nowhere, with no easy means of communication to the outside world.

There are always people in these fantasies, either me visiting “home” or them visiting me, but just with long periods of no human interaction. The older I get, the less guilty I feel for this fantasy. I need people but, like, in small doses. I’m trying to figure out how to save up enough money to bring this fantasy to reality, and how I’m going to manage leaving everybody behind without feeling too guilty.

Anyway, the writing has been okay since my last Words on Words. I don’t love a couple of the stories but they all have something in there that I like. I never would have thought to write about a rodeo clown and his ghost brother, that’s for sure.

I joined a critique forum, where The Brave Princess has been critiqued by 5 people. 3 of them picked up what I was putting down and had some really good suggestions on where to add and how to tighten it up. The other 2 had good suggestions too, although the really didn’t get what I was going for in that story. That’s okay, I think I had a good ratio of people who got it, and that’s always the risk with satire. I may spend the next week implementing some of those suggestions. If I do, I think I’ll improve the number of people who can at least read it as a coherent story, even without recognizing it as a satire, which was the goal.

Okay, off to bed. I hope tomorrow doesn’t suck as much as I think it will.