lessons from my 29th year around the sun

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.

a dead man’s day

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.

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from one trimet rider to another

dear sir,

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.

signed,

the grouchy brunette who hopes you cut your finger on an open can

THE SNAKES AND THE DOGS

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.

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