Friends who call out your bullshit while it falls off your lips are the only kind I can have right now. The delivery can vary—one can listen until you’re done then break it down, another might chant oxymoron while you keep verbally angling around your self-destructive plans—but they are treasured the same and what I need.
My therapist is like this—THANK GOD—and today I’m a mess.
We’ve been sick over here since Monday, and now my son and I are on the mend. The apartment looks like a dead battlefield. We really fucked some shit up, and I haven’t gone outside our front door in over 72 hours. I scrubbed my face today, though, and that helps. My bedroom window is open even though it’s cold outside; the sound of passing cars and breeze are a good warm-up for this afternoon when I drive to ___________. It won’t feel as abrupt.
This weekend, I leave for ________ to see my daughters for the first time since they moved back down there during the holidays. I’m dying, dyyyyying to hug my babies and have some eye contact with them.
I need to drink a smoothie. Nothing nutritious has gone inside me in days, because prior to The Plague, we had a birthday party. I’m eating Pringles and potato salad as I type.
All of this fuels my gratitude that in about an hour, I’m going to be sitting across from a woman who gets paid to have the patience to help me talk through my shit. My friends do it all the time, but it gets old for them. Now is about finding patterns and disrupting them, tracing behavior to root causes and recognizing them for what they are.
Today might be a doozy of a session. Wish my therapist and me strength and humor.
I have this new thing I’ve been doing with my kids where when they’re totally acting like shits and digging their heels in out of pure stubborness and my genes and their fathers’ in them, I give them a chance to have a do-over. “Do-over” means the four days of no screens, whole week of no YouTube, and phone confiscation I have decreed can be called off if they’ll just snap out of it and quit acting like that.
We don’t do it a lot. I’m afraid if we did, they would learn there are no consequences or Mom is weak or boundaries are not real, all the shit I got taught that I’m trying to unlearn in therapy.
Once in a while, though, I see one of them work him or her or zeself into such a self-sabotaging rampage of I-started-it-so-I-must-see-it-to-its-most-insane-ending that I take pity on the perpetrator and give them an opportunity to hit pause and decide if they really want to continue down the current fork or not.
My bosses gave me a do-over this week.
I quit my job at the bar two days before Super Bowl Sunday by standing on the bar and yelling at my manager in front of customers, then I hopped down and walked out mid-shift (and I shall call that story Not My Finest Hour, and I will tell it in whole another day). This left me jobless. Revise: I made me jobless.
It was okay, I said, because I never was supposed to stay at the bar job. It’s a means, not an end. I picked up day shifts at my old bar because I needed a distraction, something to force me to maintain some kind of routine so I wouldn’t shut down after I quit the job I wasn’t qualified for.
I’d been fundraising (allegedly) for a university, and the only related experience I had was knocking on doors in the nineties as part of a canvassing team raising money to protect the environment; this was not that. This was me at Executive Club luncheons wanting to steal the leftovers for all the homeless people outside instead of trading cards and schmoozing with potential donors—the beginnings of a midlife, existential crisis.
By my sixth month in the position, I was crying so hard most days during my morning commute that I went on antidepressants and took advantage of the first chunk of my paid FMLA time. I returned after two weeks, but I didn’t last—I burned the rest of my PTO in the fall then left.
“I’m going back to freelancing and bars,” I said. Before I’d taken the full-time job at the university, I’d been writing for a newspaper, editing a blog, and freelancing for that same institution’s Office of Marketing and Communications.
I went back to my bar (and I call it mine because I am its. The owner’s brother gave me my first job behind a bar when I was 22. I’ve danced in and out of their establishments since, and when I was pregnant with my last child, the regulars pitched in and sent gifts. This is family.), and I got comfortable. It was like going home. Autopilot on.
The Universe has a way of screaming when you don’t listen to her whispering. Each week I spent not pursuing writing work (which is the thing I actually can do with enough earning potential to afford cat food, oil changes and rent), things got a little bit louder. The warning shots kept coming, and I insisted their intervals had a good rhythm instead of taking cover.
I’m not okay, but I will be has been my refrain since I quit writing professionally. Whether I was crying in Starbucks during a Prozac-induced mixed episode or thankfully not getting murdered or police called on me, I never dipped down into true hopelessness over the last year despite a whole lot of come-to-Jesus moments and bitter pills, and I think it’s because I’ve been blessed to find the courage to speak my truth and the sense and luck to mostly say it to compassionate, safe people.
I have a circle of humans around my children and me who have me like no others, and that circle keeps growing. If I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s how to recognize members of my own tribe and the priceless nature of shared vulnerability between people.
For nine days, I thought I didn’t work at the bar anymore. I was really scared, and I needed to be. I followed up on two writing opportunities, talked with another bar, and then I went home and told them I was sorry for screaming on the bar. And I told them the truth—I lost my shit and shouldn’t have. I’m finding balance, and it’s ugly sometimes.
They gave me a do-over, and I needed it.
Sometimes I tell people that if I was left to my own devices and had no other living things depending on me to not be horrible, I would live naked on a room-sized pile of dirty laundry. I would weave weed-stems and bones into my hair, paint stripes on my cheeks with cigarette ashes while I chain-smoked and took speed. I’d go out happy and fast. I’d be a lunatic humming in trash, crying on my way into the light–a schizo lovechild of the warty garbage lady from Labyrinth and Daryl Hannah when she was Ayla in Clan of the Cave Bear. And that’s why I should see a therapist.
People laugh like I’m joking when I say it, and I usually say it because they’ve done something like compliment any of my practical life skills. I’m compelled to crush that immediately, not because I’m bad at All The Things All The Time but because I’m a lifelong addict with the usual mental illness flight that comes with (grows? causes?) addiction–anxiety, depression, manic moments that last from a few hours to years, and that makes it hard to sustain any kind of uninterrupted status quo no matter how hard I try.* And I’m bad at accepting compliments.
One of my Best Forever Sister Friends and I take selfies making the grossest, ugliest faces we can muster and send them to each other with no warning sometimes. While there’s no score, schedule or rules to this game, you know you’ve won when the recipient cusses you for making her laugh for emeffing real–out loud and against her will–in a public place. The naked lunatic-junkie picture I like to paint is a word version of one of those faces. My jaw doesn’t always jut into a pronounced under-bite but it can; I’m not perpetually in a holy-shit-balls-to-the-wall mental health crisis but I get there.
One of my favorite, favorite, favorite things about being lucky enough to still be alive is learning how to accept myself. Right now, I’m working on the part where I find the line between To thine own self be true and FUCK IT I’M NUTS NOW! and mark it on my map: DO NOT CROSS. I’m still pinning down the coordinates, and I’m grateful to have a co-pilot on this mission in the form a smart twenty-something who listens to my shit then says things like, “Okay, well, that was a lot of assuming feelings and outcomes based on past experiences that aren’t this one at all.”
Therapy is good.
*But I/you/we don’t get to quit trying. I just hate for people to feel disappointed when, despite love and counseling and sleep and meds, I go off the rails and do it all wrong sometimes anyhow.
I took this photo from a bridge over the Chicago River last January. I’d had a stairs-induced panic attack in the Art Institute that ended in me pouring sweat and crying. I was on a date.
Winter and I have a history of not getting along well.
But I’ve been embracing it this year. Walking in winter. Bundling up and getting my shit done, because if I spend another cold season hiding in my house crying for summer, I’m going to die from it.*
This year, I’m letting winter hold me the way summer does. I’m asking January to be my womb and let me find the cord and trace how deep it goes into her belly before hitting spring-placenta. This is the only way to full-moon magnolias and lilac-breezes through rolled-up windows at stoplights that make you roll them down, and that’s where I’m headed. That’s what I’m made for.
The best words I learned last year were:
FEELINGS AREN’T FACTS and THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH.
I remember this photo and this day because I was on a date—with a man who loved me anyhow. And I got through the panic attack and I took this picture because there were buildings reflecting sunlight on breaking floes, and I felt peaceful. I was at home again in my city. We found a five on the ground and gave it to a busker before getting in a cab. (And a bum coughed on me that day. Right. On. My face.)
My new therapist’s name is Angelica, which is what my dad’s dad used to call me. I’ve scheduled our sessions for Thursdays so I can sometimes sleep in beforehand and never be expected to sling drinks and entertain any(one)(thing) immediately after.
I hope you’re warm.
*Will it really kill me? Not directly. But it feels like hell to always be wishing it was warmer.
I found this meme on Instagram today that said something like: Mental wellness is not Fight Club. We can talk about it. (I don’t remember the precise words, and I couldn’t find it again because I’m still pretty lost on that platform. Signed, I’m 43)
It made me think of this album of selfies I took in 2010 when I impromptu dressed up as Marla Singer from Fight Club on Halloween and met my fresh-from-jail, married boyfriend at a frog pond in Kentucky to make Adderall-love on the dock next to a car I probably didn’t have permission to drive that night (I’m sorry, Nancy and Joan). I took the pictures first. In some of them, my daughter is smiling in the background.
So we can talk about it. Mental health, mental wellness, sadness, addiction, recovery, sexual assault and abuse. We can and should. If we talk about people we love who hurt us, awful things we’ve done to other humans, and all the ways we try to forget or heal it, we make a sound. We howl to our pack, call to our tribe. We stop being Alone.
Alone is when suicide comes like cancer. It’s a shadow that shows up, the dark spot that takes some people out. I wish those kinds of thoughts on no one, and I don’t fancy myself unique for having them.
We also need to laugh. One of my favorite lessons I learned while spectacularly failing out of a great undergrad creative writing program (I stopped wearing shoes for the most part at some point during my schooling) is: There are no sacred cows. None, fuckers. So if you don’t think a drug overdose can ever be funny (or if you’re related to me), maybe you don’t want to read my blog.
My mission is to hold cyber-hands and laugh whenever we need to.
In other news: therapy starts Monday, I still hate washing dishes, and I don’t really want to go to work today. But I’m going.
Over and out. See you—hopefully—on the sunny side.