On New Year’s Eve 2016, I put on a white sequined dress and a white rabbit fur coat to go out to a bar for an hour and a half. I had two small glasses of wine, and then went out to some shitty dive for a few glasses of cheap champagne with a couple of friends.
2016 was a hellion of a year: I moved to Portland on a whim, to run away–once again. Unceremoniously exiting left was a skill I had honed into an art form. Now you see me; now you don’t. My CPTSD was reaching its peak of unsustainability; by the end of the year, when I wasn’t self-medicating, I was chopping off my hair in a (clichéd) rage and putting matches out on my wrists. The few friends I had in town were either active alcoholics or rubberneckers–people who either capitalized or reveled in my own self-destruction.
I knew things would have to change, otherwise I was going to die. Maybe not immediately, but within the next few years, I would try to kill myself, again. I wanted to die every single day, and toward the end of the year, suicidal thoughts were constant. I started painting again, just to keep my hands busy.
Every day, I woke up and burst into sobs. I wrote on my bathroom mirror in lipstick: DAYS WITHOUT CRYING, with the prayer that I could start counting them soon. I ran through the list of ways that I could kill myself–what would be the least painful? I started researching bridges suited for jumping. I took inventory of the pills in my medicine cabinet, more than once–laying out the bottles on the bed, trying to calculate how much would be required to send me off. I considered how much will and risk it would require to throw myself in front of a truck–and whether or not I could do it knowing it would traumatize or hurt someone else in the process.
Today is my 29th birthday. Last year was the second worst year of my life–only second to the year my dad died. This year has (thus far) been the best year of my life.
A few years ago, on my birthday, I jotted down a few lessons I learned, and now it has become a tradition. It doesn’t wield any great wisdom, necessarily; I’m too young to be full of much wisdom, and I’m not nearly smart enough to say anything that’s going to blow your mind. Although I play at arrogance, I don’t actually possess enough hubris to delude myself into thinking that there’s much here that’s going to change anyone’s life. It’s a practice for me, in this process, to remind myself to be humble, and to remind myself of the value of the time between birthdays.
Here’s what I learned this year, largely thanks to the generosity, insight, and support of the many people in my life who are infinitely patient and brilliant and kind:
- Sometimes you have to go backward to go much further forward–to really learn what you needed to learn before you can grow.
- Care is a verb. Love is an ethic.
- What other people think of you is none of your business–and the only person you need to impress is yourself.
- Never negotiate with emotional terrorists.
- Love the people you love fiercely. Let go of the people who don’t love you back. You can still save a place for them in your heart, even if they can’t hold a place in your life.
- The value in the vulnerability of trying something you’ve never tried before–in trying something you’re skeptical of–cannot be overstated. Whether it works out or not–the trying is the key.
- Sometimes you have to say goodbye to other people to say hello to yourself.
- Sometimes you have to say hello to new people to say goodbye to your former self.
- Reacting immediately is great for short term survival, but not so great for longevity and sustainability (professionally, interpersonally, emotionally). Wait. You have the time. Wait.
- Take the knife out of your back. Tend to your wound. Put the knife down. Keep it as a reminder; do not use it to stab anyone else–not even the person who stabbed you. Do not use it to stab yourself again, either.
- You aren’t anyone else’s show pony. Don’t entertain on demand. Don’t entertain for affection. Don’t let being performative become more important than being you.
One more year to thirty. I can’t wait.
As many of us know by now, our relationships don’t end when one party dies. I’m not even sure it ends when both parties die, because the lessons we’ve learned, the common language we cultivate, the individual culture we’ve fostered with them spreads out, permeating our extended community in ways that cannot be measured.
My father and I loved going to the theatre together, and I remember one year, when I was maybe nine, we were off to some fancy show in downtown San Diego. We took a cab from some place, possibly the train station (this detail now lost to the natural fuzziness of memory that inevitably develops with time) to the theatre, and the driver, a staunchly blue collar type, was asking us where we were headed. They chatted, and the man went on about how he loved the language of Shakespeare, even though it was hard for him to understand. Not a stranger to early pretension, I remember being skeptical of his interest and judging him for it. “What a stupid reason to love Shakespeare,” I thought.
i hopped on the 15 around 10:27 AM, as i always do on thursday mornings. my ride to my writing workshop is long, and i always come armed with entertainment, podcasts and at least one book. typically, the ride happens without event or upset, but you seemed determined to make this particular thursday a memorable one.
when i moved toward the back of the bus, sitting on the left side and facing a bookish looking professional, with his arms crossed over his bag, i barely even registered your presence. the seat you chose in the far corner of the very back row of the bus is unobtrusive–an excellent choice for those of us going on a long ride. plus, you’re a generic looking white dude wearing a questionable hat–a breed so common in portland that it is barely worth noting.
what really caught my attention, though, was when you sifted through your backpack and pulled out a slim can of fish and peeled back the lid. i did my best to mask my shock–there is something particularly galling about pulling out a smelly canned good and eating it freely in a common space. but that wasn’t where it ended.
the truly remarkable moment, however, was when you took the lid, LICKED IT SEVERAL TIMES, and then PLACED IT, DOWNFACING, ON THE FLOOR OF THE BUS. then, you proceeded to take each piece of fish out of the can with your fingers, tilt your head all the way back, and slide each piece into your gaping maw, after which you LICKED EACH FINGER WITH A SMACKING NOISE.
this is not what anyone had in mind when stressing the magic and importance of sharing meals and bonding over food.
there is no way you didn’t notice my transparent disgust, or the moment the anxious professional and i exchanged a wide-eyed look of distaste, which nearly devolved into uncomfortable laughter.
after haphazardly wiping your fish-oiled, saliva coated fingers on your jeans, you plopped the rest of the can down on the floor with your lid, leaving me to mentally calculate how i could track where your filthy hands went next should you get off the bus before me and i would have to follow in your tracks.
i want to thank you, though, for inspiring me to add a crucial tool to my commuting bag: a metric fuckton of napkins and plastic forks to pass out to fools who CANNOT BE BOTHERED TO NOT EAT EXTREMELY PUNGENT FOOD WITH THEIR HANDS AND THEN WIPE THEM ALL OVER A SHARED SPACE BEFORE WASHING.
the grouchy brunette who hopes you cut your finger on an open can
The saltwater stung my lips as I sped down the highway, edgy from the bitter gas station coffee I’d pounded throughout the ride, rushing to meet the body of a man who was already dead. My mother beat me to the coroner’s office.
“You don’t want to see that,” she told me. “His body looked so small. It didn’t even look like him,” she said.
His apartment was littered with sentimentalities: a box of old photos scattered across the dining table; a hideous porcelain lamp with a base shaped like a bowl of fruit that had once graced the apartment he shared with my mother; the dishes from my parents’ marriage, an institution that had been abandoned fifteen years prior. I took a three tiered black metal basket and the black bear statue I gave him for Father’s Day when I was six.
As we drove the cat to the shelter, I sat in silence. My mother tried to comfort me with all the reasons that this was the best decision, but we both knew that this dusty drive to the shelter was a funeral march. The old tortoiseshell, weary and violent after being neglected and abused by a decaying alcoholic, was not likely to be adopted. Her name was Stripe. She was my seventh birthday gift from him, and twelve years later, we were dropping her at her execution.
That evening, we returned to our cheap motel. As we pushed the door open, the radio played a song in Spanish–the lyrics were about loving the dead.
The first night in the motel, some men were ogling my mother and I as we moved our things into the room, and the anger inside of me flared something fierce. I nearly started a fight when I asked if they had something better to do than stare at us.
“Honey, I can’t protect you,” she told me, as if it was news.
Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault, non-consent, victim blaming, et al.
Tell me, reader, what does this sound like to you?
“The downside of solitude, and a string of romantic and sexual connections that lack any kind of healthy intimacy, is that I have rarely, if ever, felt seen. Maybe it happened once, a long time ago. Mostly I’ve felt like an actor, playing the role of Great Date or Decent Fuck or Ego Boost. Rather than being recognized as a whole person, I often feel like an accessory–something to be set down on the shelf when not in use, merely a mechanism used to get a man to what he wants to feel about himself.
I’m just as responsible for this as anyone else, because I’d willingly play the role. Recently, I told someone that I’m a shoehorn, always saying, “Goddamn it, it may not be a perfect fit, but we’re going to make it work.”
Put me in a tight space; press your heel against me. I’ve got this.”
I wrote a thing for the Urban Dater. I haven’t been acting as Managing Editor and/or even a contributing writer for a long, long while now, but this was sitting in my brain, and what better place to publish than UD? It was written a few months ago, so the feelings are somewhat past-tense at this point, and I don’t think it’s my strongest piece, but I guess not everything can be. Enjoy.
I spent most of my weekend pretending I can play the ukulele competently and learned one of my absolute favorite songs ever. When my dad died, I listened to this song over and over again–and it took years to get through
Sometimes when you’re doin’ simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
without bursting into tears. While learning this song I could still barely get through that part.
Fucking Warren Zevon, man.
Ah, yes. Another day on the internet, where a clickbaity hot piece-o-garbage has us all running to our thinkpiece machines to churn out an adequate response! WHAT A GLORIOUS DAY!
Recently, essayist and seemingly professional troll Amanda Lauren published an article entitled, “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing,” on xoJane, which detailed her relationship to a former friend–or rather, detailed said former friend’s social media activity after their fall out, and that friend’s unexpected death.
Lauren’s perspective was that her former friend’s mental health issues made her death an ultimately good thing:
I felt like Leah’s death was inevitable. Every box for being a danger to yourself or someone else was checked. A few weeks later I got another Facebook message from a different friend, saying that Leah passed away. She supposedly hit her head and drowned in a bathtub. Sadly, I really believe knowing who Leah used to be, that she would have wanted to die that way. Big and dramatic with an obit in the New York Times. Her better self would have been strangely proud. She would have laughed. Then again, it doesn’t really matter how Leah died. She might have drowned, but schizoaffective disorder was the hand that kept her head below water.
It sounds horrible to say, but her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was. Her sister died when she was in college. Schizoaffective disorder robbed her of reaching her potential. There were some other things along the way. She was alone and terribly unhappy when died. Leah with the big heart didn’t deserve that. Judging Facebook pages, we all compare ourselves to other people, what they have, what they don’t, and their accomplishments. This girl had nothing to live for.
Naturally, the piece (and lack of empathy or perspective within it) inspired a new fashioned internet shitstorm, leading to the initial byline being deleted, and then eventually the article being replaced by an apology from xoJane founding editor Jane Pratt.
Lauren is not unfamiliar with being the cause of angry internet flurries; she has written a variety of other controversial and downright vapid pieces that have drawn a lot of attention to her. In an interview with Gawker about her most recent bid for Most Disliked Confessional Writer, she stated that her article was an attempt to draw attention to mental health issues and the lack of support for those who have them. Seems like a clumsy attempt at backpedaling to me, but what do I know about what lives in her head?
When I read Lauren’s article, it reminded me of a conversation I had not too long ago, during the second worst mental health crisis of my life. Someone I had considered a close friend outrightly accused me of lying about the state of distress I was in, amongst a slew of other insults about how selfish and “narcissistic” I was for trying to seek a space to calm down before having further conversation with her about it. During that time, I was having crippling panic attacks every day, seeing several doctors, and frantically trying to receive care to bring myself back down to a calm state.
See, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). It looks a lot like PTSD, but with other long term side effects. PTSD is caused by a singular traumatic event, and CPTSD is usually the result of sustained, long-term trauma, and/or a series of traumatic events, which means the impact of it looks slightly different over time. Rather than a singular source, it has multiple, and creates a higher level of activation that expresses itself as anxiety and hypervigilance. CPTSD is most well-known amongst veterans who have been in long-term, sustained combat, but they aren’t the only ones who are capable of falling prey to it.
As one of my doctors described it, I exist in a state of “hyperactivation.” Her analogy for it: If she was in a room, and a snake entered, she would become activated. That would be a present threat, and her body and mind would respond accordingly. If something else happened, even something small, that caused stress, the combination of things would cause her to respond even more intensely than she might if the snake wasn’t with her in that room.
For me, the snake is always in the room.