2, 9, 10, 13, Beltane

This fortnight seems to be the Annual Time of Year that Big Shifts Happen in my life. I only just realized it this week for some reason. On April 24, I celebrated 9 years since we found out the Bear was planning her Winter ’07 debut. On April 26, I’d been off all my psychiatric meds for a solid two years*. This weekend marks 13 years since my earnest suicide attempt and subsequent stay in a mental hospital. And today marks 10 years since the last time I checked out of an inpatient mental health facility.

More than celebration, all of this past-gazing signals that the season of Beltane/May Day seems to be as good a time as any to make bold life changes; the energy is ripe for it, and obviously I’ll be okay, if the past is meant to prove anything.

That’s actually the thing that most surprises me about this particular story of mine; I did this myself. I mean, there were people around me who were encouraging me to “get better”, but none of them knew what I needed to do that, since we all were clinging to doctors and conventional methods. In fact, when I announced “I’m quitting my medicine and my doctors, you guys!” everybody was pretty damn terrified. And I was scared, too, but, moreso, I also had a Something In Me telling me that this is what I needed.

And it was. And I did it. I did it without doctors. I did it without a support group. I did it without begging a deity to show me answers. (I did it without ribbon! I did it without tags! I did it without packages, boxes, or bags!) I just listened to myself for a change…well, I listened and actually heeded my advice for a change…

Alright, and ask anyone who has known me intimately for awhile and they’ll tell you I’m not as independent as I love to fancy myself. I’m whiny and needy too much for an adult; I love to pay people to do stuff I could easily learn how to do on my own; I constantly doubt my competence in pretty much every arena. And seriously, I cannot commit to predetermined lifestyle changes to save my life; my personal discipline is kind of pathetic. I’m not proud of it, but I’m also too apathetic afterward to feel shame about it, usually.

But then there’s this whole mental health quest I’ve been on for more than half my life. Somehow, I’ve stuck around to give myself answers, even though I was tired and bored of it by the time I turned 20. I’ve done literal years of thorough research on every problem I thought I had (most of which were brought on by the wrong medication – like bipolar tendencies and borderline personality disorder) and am ridiculously well-educated on mental illnesses, psychiatric interactions with the endocrine system, the female reproductive system, both holistic and medical approaches to healing the aforementioned, and a bundle of other topics I never in my life thought I would care about. It’s all a complete contradiction in my character, really.

It’s the first thing I ever did for myself start-to-finish. I took myself to my first psychiatrist when I went off to college (after asking for help since I was a young adolescent and being told to “stop being so dramatic”) and, 12 years later, I researched for a month before I did a DIY detox after conventional psychiatry had exhausted my options and still gave me nothing. I didn’t quit any time in there, which is very unlike me. I love to quit. I’m fantastic at quitting.  (Okay. Honestly, there were long weeks in the last 5-ish years when suicide seemed like the only sensible option if not for the fact that I’d be ruining the Bear’s chances at staying out of therapy, so I do credit her presence for giving me a reason to stay. Even still, I recognize that she was a roadblock I created for myself. If I was as fatalistic as I believed myself to be for so long, I wouldn’t have opted to bring a child into that. She’s the best possible anchor – something I don’t remember enough even now.)

None of these accomplishments are things I can bring up at class reunions. None of them have value on a résumé. In fact, if you look at my last 15 years on paper, my list of personal accomplishments don’t seem impressive at all despite me working my ass off daily to keep myself alive and my household afloat in tandem. And yet, all this work to ultimately liberating myself from medication and that prison of bullshit is without a doubt The Thing I Am Most Proud Of About Myself.

I’m not magically “All Better” these days, by the way. Now that I’m having a natural monthly cycle again for the first time in forever, I’m still having at least a day every month of debilitating depression with a side of suicidal ideation that I can’t get to shut up just like when I was 12 and all of it started (but at least I don’t act on anymore.) I’ve also started having what are known as “aura seizures” about once every couple months that go on for a solid day with very intrusive thoughts and nausea that are goddamned terrifying. I also have a lot of lower back pain and foggy brain/memory issues so I’m thinking this is an adrenal issue from my system being ramped up on agitating antidepressants for awhile; I’m getting some testing done to see if I can slowly heal that part of my endocrine system next.

And even though there’s this little voice in me screeching, “WHAT IF ALL THOSE DRUGS MESSED YOU UP FOREVER AND YOU’RE FACING AN EARLY DESCENT INTO GENETIC DEMENTIA?!!?!?”, the Voice in Me that I’m finally taking seriously is snorting, “Gurl, calm down. Haven’t you been paying attention? Even if we’re losing our minds, we’re going to get memoir material out of this.”

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*Btw, I’m not having the giant Drug-Free for 2 Years Whee! Bash I was planning because I realized my husband and I haven’t been on a couples vacation together since Burning Man ’10, and now that we really, really like each others’ company again, we kind of want to enjoy that alone in a mountain cabin for a week instead. The prescription bottle piñata will just have to wait.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT: I’m Done Discussing my Ladyparts to the Media

File this under Things I Never Thought I’d Need to State Publicly, but here we are.
I received my 7th inquiry to participate with a “docu-series”/reality show today with regards to the article I wrote two years ago about having developed Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder…

This is the 2nd time MTV has solicited me. Two separate shows with different subjects, but still, apparently I am a prime candidate for terrible TV.

This is the 2nd time MTV has solicited me – two separate shows with different subjects, but still! 20 years ago that would’ve meant something! (CDs name shown in case others with PGAD would like to contact her regarding this inquiry.)

...and realized I should close this Pandora’s box on the record.

I no longer suffer from Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder and do not want to continue speaking on behalf of that community. 

I published a follow-up article last year via XOJane about how the condition was derived from the antidepressants I was on and how that plus my pelvic floor myofascial disorder were relieved once I took myself off all my pharmaceuticals including the Mirena IUD. I experienced intense PGAD for about 6 months – the myofascial disorder for another year. I have been symptom-free from PGAD for almost two years.

I received no medical treatment for either condition due to limited funds. I am not equipped to speak on behalf of the majority of PGAD sufferers who experience this as a chronic, genetic, hormonal, or generally recurring condition. I do not know of the most recent treatment methods, where the OB/GYN community is in their research or availability of resources. I never got involved with the online community of PGAD sufferers, so I absolutely cannot speak for them or even discuss their particular issues/campaigns.

In the two years since the original article was published, I have accepted interview requests from HuffPost Live (See video here), a team of independent female documentarians, and – on a #YOLO-embracing whim – the campy, trashtastic TLC  reality show “Sex Sent Me to the ER” (which, frankly, was a straight-up awful experience start-to-finish – with the exception of befriending our initial casting director, whom I adore.)

I’ve turned down 6 other reality shows and a feature in the ever-classy UK MirrorOnline because I feel strongly that I’ve publicly commented on this very short part of my past enough.  Continuing to publicly discuss PGAD would be taking the platform away from those who still suffer and who are still working very hard to get recognition and representation within the gynecological community. 
Not only that, but it’s painfully evident how badly most media sources just want to sensationalize the issue when women have literally killed themselves because there’s no cure or relief from symptoms; I have no interest in perpetuating this dynamic.

My vagina is currently healthy. I have no interest in trying to get barrel-bottom “famous” by continuing to talk about that brief time it went haywire ages ago.

Stories I Like to Tell*: Part I

When I got married, I hyphenated my last name, which seemed logical/natural to me. Our daughter’s surname was also hyphenated because we weren’t married when we had her, and my husband never put up a fuss about it, but for some reason, he got a little weird about me hyphenating my own.

Our conversations went as follows:
Him: I’m not mad, really. I just wish you would take my name.
Me: …But, I am taking your name.
Him: But, I mean, just my name.
Me: I’m not taking anyone else’s name…
Him: You know what I mean! Why don’t you get rid of your last name?
Me: Why don’t you get rid of yours?
Him: Because it isn’t tradition!
Me: We’ve just had a kid out of wedlock and aren’t inviting anyone to our wedding; why would we start adhering to tradition now?
Him: ::huffs:: I don’t know!
Me: [kind of playfully, but mostly smarmily] Well, at this point, two of the three of your family members have the last name “Pardue-Schultz”; realistically, you should change yours. You’re in the minority here.
Him: :::siiiiggggh:::

And that was the end of that.
I thought.

Two and a half years later, we’d moved to another state, bought a house, settled into jobs, etc. I’d had a cat, Benny, since the year before I even met my husband, and we’d acquired another, Sunny, just after we’d gotten married (but that’s a story for another S.I.L.T.T. entry) that both desperately needed check-ups. My husband made the appointment, and when I got to the vet, I was greeted by a clerk asking “And this appointment is for Sunny and Benny Schultz?”
Me: … I’m sorry. What?
Her: Sunny Schultz and Benny Schultz? The man who called wanted them registered as that.
Me: ::::siiiiiigh:::

I texted my beloved from the exam room while I was waiting for the vet.
Me: Really? You gave the cats your surname?
Him: And now I’m in the majority. :)

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*The aforementioned spouse has pointed out that there are a series of stories that I like to tell repeatedly to friends (a fact that made me very self-conscious while re-watching “I *heart* Huckabees” and saw Jude Law realize that retelling a story is what gives him a false sense of power… I digress.) while he rolls his eyes and laughs at my predictability. I thought I’d share here on the record.

Things I’m a Hypocrite About: An Ongoing Exposé

Principle: I think chasing trends and fashion is the most wasteful, superficial manifestation of this consumer culture we’ve created.
Hypocrisy: I enthusiastically watch to see what Rihanna is going to stun us with next… And I follow about 50 drag queens on Insta just to admire their selfie creations. (@PhiPhiOhara is doing #365DaysofDrag, a look per day for a year, and it is quite literally amazing.)

Principle: Capital punishment is morally wrong, barbaric, outdated, and terrifyingly flawed. Enough is enough.
Hypocrisy: If someone is convicted of child abuse (especially sexual), that person should be hurled into a shark tank on a celebrity-hosted Pay-Per-View event and we should send all the proceeds directly to the public education system.

Principle: It is absolutely none of my business what anyone does in his or her bedroom and I’m sick of it being public discussion.
Hypocrisy: I am disgusted by this grey-walls-in-the-boudoir vogue and will quietly judge it all day long. Call it “classy” all you want; all I see is a resignation to boredom. I didn’t know vanilla came in grey.

Principle: The pendulum swing back to small businesses and DIY lifestyles is exactly what we need to get America back from this ubiquitous, sweeping corporate culture that creates indentured servants out of small-town workers!
Hypocrisy: …But Starbucks is the only place in town that can do a dairy-free/soy-free/low-sugar mocha… And I just want a part-time gig from a company that isn’t on the brink of collapse due to financial issues for a change.

Principle: “Oh, I haven’t seen that commercial; I don’t really watch TV.” is something I catch myself saying a bunch. And believing.
Hypocrisy:  I’ve religiously followed “It’s Always Sunny…”, “Broad City”, “Archer”, “Baskets”, “New Girl”, and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” every season since their respective inceptions via streaming services… oh, and “Snapped”, which terrifies my husband.

Principle: Kids are the worst. My anxiety skyrockets being around more than three of them at once. And why are we even still producing them? Humanity is having a serious overpopulation issue that could easily be curbed if we pumped the brakes on procreation.
Hypocrisy: Have you met my daughter?! SHE’S MADE OF MAGIC AND SUNSHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Here, let me give you ample opportunity to observe her general awesomeness via varied social media platforms. It won’t get old.

Principle: It’s important that we all express how we feel and stand up for our beliefs no matter what!
Hypocrisy: … Unless you honestly believe God doesn’t want you to share, interact, or coexist with anyone different than you. Then you should shut the fuck up and take a seat.

Principle: Namaste. I recognize that the Divine in you is the Divine in me, too. We are all one, and we are all manifestations of a Higher Power, interacting on a physical plane.
Hypocrisy: This is just something I want to believe but don’t yet. I can only see the Divine in the very few people who are extraordinarily kind, generous, selfless, forgiving, creative, or otherwise inspirational. For the most part, I just see secular, regular, messed up (sometimes REALLY awful) people. That doesn’t mean it’s reality; it’s just what I can observe. I should work on that.

Principle: I genuinely don’t believe in marriage; it’s an antiquated institution that isn’t based on practicality anymore aside from tax benefits. Monogamy isn’t natural and that’s not a terrible thing. Attempting to put rules and arbitrary expectations on human nature just causes way more heartache than anyone deserves. I’m not anti-marriage; I just don’t advocate it if asked (which I’m not, usually)… And I don’t at all get this obsession with weddings in our culture, but that’s another issue…
Hypocrisy: I’ve been married and monogamous for almost 8 years. And, despite a rocky start, the last couple years have been improbably, almost annoyingly ideal. I’ve even considered renewing our vows. ::shrug:: I dunno, guys.

Principle: The sugar-addicted American diet has made us so depressed, obese, and unhealthy that we have become fat little caricatures/laughingstocks to the rest of the world. Eat more vegetables!! Stop eating garbage and then piling on medications to treat the ailments that this Western diet causes! It’s costing us a fortune in insurance costs to tackle everyone’s issues that could easily be treated by consuming less sugar and empty calories. Take control of your health, people!!!!!!
Hypocrisy: I have spent $52 on the boxes of Girl Scout cookies I have singlehandedly consumed from my daughter’s inventory in the last 6 weeks. They’re $4 per box. I have also checked a dozen grocery stores in my area in anticipation of the arrival of Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Free collection. Also, summer is approaching, which I often refer to as “Cheerwine Season”.

Principle: Can we all quit telling each other what to wear and what not to wear already!?!
Hypocrisy: White people shouldn’t wear cornrows. Stop it.

What It Feels Like*

You know how, when you have an itch you can’t get to immediately – maybe it’s on your back or at the bottom of your foot under a shoe and a sock – and it gets exponentially worse with every second you can’t access it until you’re starting to feel anxious and sort of frantic until the absolute first moment you can reach it and then you GO TO TOWN scraping the everloving bejesus out of your skin in such a way that, if there was no itch, it would really, really hurt, but because there is that godforsaken itch, there’s this overwhelming, almost orgasmic feeling of relief?

Okay. The impulse to self-harm is that exact feeling, except The Itch is completely fabricated in the sufferer’s brain. The sensation of relief is identical, but usually, the brain ramps up the demands, insisting that suicide is the only real remedy for The Itch.

And that’s what suicidal ideation feels like on it’s very most basic, chemical (vs. situational) level.  Most of the time the brain will go to great lengths to support this argument, breaking out everything short of a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate aaaall the reasons that suicide is the best option. However, once a person with suicidal tendencies has gone through enough therapy to call “Bull!! Shit!!” on the mind’s thesis, the reasoning disappears while the impulse remains, regardless of how “good” or “bad” a person’s life objectively is. (Some pharmaceuticals have been known to exacerbate this impulse, which I can personally attest to… privately, where none of the companies can slap me with a slander lawsuit…)

This is why, when someone says “I feel suicidal”, trying to convince him/her how great his/her life is is not only useless, but it makes said person feel even more hopeless and guilty as to why she/he is feeling something so confusing and genuinely terrifying in the first place.

Suicidal ideation is an unhealthy hought process that desperately needs to be discussed like any other illness. Trying to convince any sick person that there’s no reason to be ill would be ridiculous in its futility and ignorance. Mental illness is no different.

 

*A public response to the emails/FB messages I’ve received about this in the last year. Thank you for asking questions, TT, DM, PS, CP, TH, NB, and JF.

Home Stretch

In 5 weeks, I might throw a massive party. I don’t want to jinx it, but it feels like this decades-long, life-encompassing mental crisis saga is actually drawing to a close. And I have answers. And sustainability. And I am not on a single medication or hormone or alternative medical treatment.
I’m au naturel. And I’m okay great.

Next month, it will be 2 years since I took myself off daily psychiatric medications and started seeking better ways to treat my literal insanity. It took another year before I completely got myself off birth control,  a one-week-per-month dose of an SSRI during my luteal phase, and the occasional Xanax. I’ve been completely psychiatric-free for 6 months now; I’ve been off the bioidentical hormone treatment I was prescribed last fall to bring back a natural monthly cycle for 2.
All I’ve taken in 2016 is a daily whole food multivitamin and antibiotics for a stupid earsnosethroat thing I had last week.

There hasn’t been a manic episode in 2 years. I haven’t felt suicidal  for even a moment in 9 months. My husband and I haven’t had a crazy, yelling argument in about 2.5 years. For the first time since I was 11, my weight has stayed EXACTLY THE SAME for an entire year now. (It’s not ideal, but consistency is totally novel here.) Last year, for the first time in ten, I survived an entire spring without my usual Annual Massive Mental Meltdown that would have me bedridden, dysfunctional, or hospitalized (Those usually required me calling my mom to ask her to come help us take care of the Bear while I couldn’t function for a handful of miserable, shameful days. Last year was her first reprieve in a long, long time.)

Thanks to the eating regimen recommended in Alisa Vitti’s  Woman Code, my painful cystic acne has cleared up after having it for a couple years, and my PMS no longer relegates me to my bed for a week every month. Also, my pelvic floor myofascial disorder is at an all-time low since my diagnosis in summer ’14. I’m mostly symptom-free…

…And, again, there is no more monthly weeklong struggle against the overwhelming impulse to self-harm/self-eradicate. This is something I never, ever thought my life would be without.

We’ve spent the last two years sort of sitting still and watching this big DIY Recovery experiment, and, while I never put a deadline on it, seeing where I am right now and the sustainable nature of it all makes me want to declare this an official success at the 2-year mark, and then MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE ALREADY, GAAAAWD.

Seriously, I remember writing “Holy shit, I’m sick of thinking about/dealing with this.” yeeeears ago. I’m so, so ready for new writing material that isn’t “My brain still sucks.”  I’ve really been enjoying this life without the Dangerous Crazy; I’m ready to dive in and actually do something with my freedom already.

This is not to say I’ll never have a mental issue again; life has trauma and loss, and I’m probably always going to be sensitive to emotions, so there’s a supergood chance I’ll encounter depression. Also, with a history of pumping my brain full of pharmaceuticals it didn’t need for 12 years, I’ll probably have to deal with some version of dementia later on down the road.
That’s okay. The gamut of mental illness is something I’ve wrestled for 20 years now; I’m not fucking afraid of it anymore. I have knowledge. I have options. I have power because I have both of the former assets. And I have myself to thank for all of those things because somehow, my lazy, narcissistic, spoiled, whiny, needy, emotionally-stunted, non-committal Self kept going and did the extra homework to find a new way out of the hole that all of us thought I’d be in my whole life.

This, to me, feels like a reason to celebrate. A lot.

White Guilt Isn’t Helping Anyone

Look, Fellow White Folks, I understand that it’s tough right now if you’re not a member of the Racist Denialism Gang. A substantial percentage of us were raised by post-integration parents in a world where diversity was just a casual part of our reality and not a political statement. (Yes really. That was my childhood, and I was even raised in the South.) So it’s only natural to have a knee-jerk “Not ALL Whiteys are evil!!!” reaction when we hear Black people railing against the actions of Greater Caucasia. And, adversely, it’s also really easy to shrink back into a state of anti-white self-loathing and ongoing frustration that I’m being lumped in with people whose actions appall me. Unfortunately, both of those options are terrible.

I spent a lot of time in the latter category. Not to get all “I have Black friends!!” on you, but I took for granted how blessed I was to be raised by parents who cultivated a racially diverse social circle without any thought or pretense to it while we were growing up. Our playmates were always of varied ethniciy and, honestly, it wasn’t even something we bothered to discuss; race was completely irrelevant when we were just happy kids playing together, you know? This is why, after I moved further south in my mid-adolescent years and started observing rhetoric and behaviors I’d never seen before, I started feeling this deep sense of shame about being part of this pale tribe of imperialist racists. ((I didn’t hear the n-word spoken by a White person about a Black person until my freshman year of high school, for example. I didn’t know white people really did that outside of old movies depicting inbred redneck slave owners. And, for the record I always went to public school; in my younger years the ratios between Black and White classmates were equal.) It absolutely didn’t get better with age as I started actively paying attention to the songs and words of Black people who were still struggling against centuries-long systematic oppression.

And then it got even worse when I heard SO MANY White people I know, love, and respected get louder and more intent about screaming back that the idea of systematic oppression was all in Black people’s heads because “racism is over”, “they were making a big deal of nothing”, “not everything is about race”, and they should “just calm down and be grateful for the rights they’ve been given since slavery.” And I don’t want to sugarcoat this: This type of rhetoric is ubiquitous. I routinely hear this type of apologist talk from a majority of the white people I associate with. (Not a large majority, but more than 55%, I’d guess.)
It is disheartening.
It is God damned embarrassing.
And it, honestly, makes me want to hate White people.

This, however, is also not helping either side.

The Truth is that stagnation comes from divides between the races (or any group of people categorized by societal boundaries.) We’re all just going to devolve into hatred and war if we don’t start connecting and drawing some similarities between us instead of judging each other for our feelings.

For example: Recently, a bunch of Whitefolk have been angry and terrified at the very misguided idea that a pop star is calling for war or something. (She’s not, by the way. “Black Power” doesn’t have the same godawful, historically murderous history “White Power does”.) And okay, yeah, White People, it would be really fucking scary to hear about militant groups forming to fight against anyone with white faces. However, it’s exactly what the KKK has been doing for a century and a half now toward People of Color, and our government protects them. Maybe PoC are sick of living in a world where that happens? Wouldn’t you be?

Ah. See? Now we can relate.

This is where my shame and guilt will get me nowhere. If I’m sitting around hating myself because a bunch of idiots I don’t know and can’t/shouldn’t take responsibility for are making all White people look like arrogant, heartless racists, then my inability to act isn’t helping to build any bridges and move toward understanding from both sides.

This being said, NEITHER WILL ME GETTING LOUD AND SPEAKING OUT ABOUT OPPRESSION. What we don’t need is yet another White person taking the stage and having his/her commentary about something we can never fully comprehend. We need to listen to those who are affected. We need to honor their feelings and ideas, even if they are hurt and hostile at this moment. It’s the only way to create a common ground from which to build real peace

We need to not fucking make this about us. (Looking at you, Macklemore…)

Look, I’ve always been an obnoxious outspoken type who will rail on about injustices and other societal bullshit, but in doing so, I’ve taken for granted that, as a Caucasian, I already have access to a platform to spout off about my beliefs. The whole point of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is that there are voices and lives that deserve to be respected but are routinely dismissed; I want to help facilitate the opportunity of a valued opinion to everyone for a change. Me hogging the podium doesn’t at all encourage that whole “Be The Change” thing people seem so intent on proclaiming from their bumper stickers.

And I’m familiar with the protests such a crazy notion will elicit:  “But I NEED to express myself!! You can’t silence one person in favor of another!! We have to ALL fight if change will happen!!! My voice is valuable too, no matter what race I am!!”

I’m not denying those things in principle. And I’ll speak out about equality and Love and peace until I’m dead. But we need to remember to respect someone else’s turn.  These current fights for PoC to be seen as equals is not about me as a White person; my perspective is not of the most importance, and I would be hurting the cause by taking away attention from those speakers whose voices are of the most use.

But what I can do is not hide out in my White Guilt. And you can, too, Other Whiteys! Ask real questions. Listen to what your PoC friends and acquaintances have to say without judgement or needing to give your $.02. (And for God’s sake, don’t get all whiny and butthurt if some don’t want to completely open up with you because you can’t fully understand where they’re coming from.)  Stand with them when they speak out. Watch “Dear White People” ; it’s addressed to us, FFS. Retweet their truths. Go to protests with them and resist the urge to post a a selfie from the event so you get Internet cred for appearing woke.

Sure, it hurts me very deeply when I read PoC writers rail against White people as a whole, even though I understand the rage. I’ve had to stop myself from screeching “This is just encouraging the same blanket prejudices and intolerance against an entire race that you yourself hate when directed to your own! STOP!!!!” back at hundreds of blog posts, Tweets, and Instagram accounts in the last few years, but I’m choosing not to. I just keep reading. The last thing those who are getting the courage to speak out need is one more person telling them not to for any reason. There are a lot of viewpoints; I don’t have to agree with all of them. But I should do my best to understand.

That, in fact, is the only real responsibility I have in any of this.

This current struggle for societal equality isn’t about us, Caucasians, and that’s not going to hurt us, despite what our collective ego is trying to get us to believe. Nobody is trying to attack White people by demanding to be treated fairly and getting angry when they aren’t getting through after decades and decades of politely asking.

What if we just tried to shut up and listen for a minute? What if we heard “Hey, I’m really angry at you White people, and it’s ruined my life, and I don’t trust any of you as a result” and didn’t argue with that person for a change? What if we just accepted that that’s how someone feels without trying to convince him/her that he/she’s wrong and that viewpoint is somehow ridiculous? What if, instead of sending in more force at Ferguson, we’d given the rioters a real chance to be heard and make changes together? What if each of us dared to do that same thing in our own personal interactions? I bet both scenarios would be relieved of a lot of tension.

Things might start turning out differently. I’m pretty sure it’s worth a shot; the way we’ve been going about this isn’t working.

The Zen of Zero Expectations

Not a single one of the best things in my life were a product of planning, aspirations, or working toward a goal.
This realization hit me only in the last few days, and I’m still reeling from it, to be honest, because so much of my life has been spent wasted making big, life-altering plans, failing to see them through, then hating myself because of my perceived inability to complete anything. I spend a lot of time and energy hating myself for what I haven’t accomplished.
…which is genuinely fucking stupid because I have done A LOT of stuff I never anticipated at all that turned out aaaaawesomely.

I was completely resigned to never wanting a kid, but I’ve been a parent to the best one I’ve met for almost a decade now. I never aspired to be published on TIME.com, or to visit Graceland on a crazy overnighter, or teach at a college, or perform sketch comedy abroad (I literally saw the sign that auditions were currently being held and walked in, figuring “What the hell?”), or work as a food critic/restaurant reviewer, or model for various businesses/artists, or perform in a belly dance troupe… those opportunities just sort of appeared, and I got to jump in without pressure to perform at any specific level.

This is not to say I’ve never worked for anything. I played on a couple championship sports teams when I was younger; I graduated college; I earned some Girl Scout and piano competition awards; I took some crappy, crappy jobs that helped me save for things. That stuff required discipline and hard work. And I’ve sacrificed stuff and worked hard to afford things I didn’t necessarily want as a responsible adult in a functioning family. But none of those things fall into my “Favorite Things About My Life” file.
… Okay, except that time I won a trip to Burning Man; I worked for two months on that 1,000-essay-question entry form. Absolutely worth it.

I CONSTANTLY make plans to change myself and am always left disappointed. This has gone on as a daily lifestyle for at least 20 years now. I’m always saying “Okay, I’m going to lose x amount of weight by x date.” or “I’m going to have a draft of my memoir finished by the end of this year!” and then – when my manufactured motivation inevitably fails – absolutely loooathing myself, instead of recognizing anything I’ve been doing successfully in the meantime.

For example, CONFESSION: I currently work part-time at a giant, corporate art/craft supply shop as a custom framing specialist and I really, really like it. I’ve been there for about 4 months, working about 20 hours a week and learning about framing a variety of art with an array of materials, color schemes, tools etc. I’m learning how to build frames, and I get to meet local artists and preserve people’s priceless memories. I’m working with my hands! With power tools! And I’m really enjoying myself! I like showing up to a job I don’t have to stress over. I like not really having to be in charge of anything or anyone other than my personal work. I really dig being left to complete tasks by myself in the frame shop. I like having a gig that lets me be creative and helpful to people, but that I don’t have to take home with me if I have a bummer day.

I’m not saving lives or changing the world. I’m not doing anything that will propel me toward magical legendary status. But I’m happy here right now. And, actually, that’s how I felt working at a natural foods store, and a non-prof, and a community college in the last 5 years. These were all things I did that I really enjoyed while they lasted.

Alright, I’m aware my resumé is starting to get as much variety as Barbie’s. But I’ll be honest, a huge part of me has been all-encompassingly anxious at the notion that I haven’t been “living up to my potential” for the last 9 years since I graduated college.  I’ve mentioned before that I was a super overachiever as a kid, but I was constantly told I was “going places” and “destined for greatness”, and I think I started having crazy anxiety because I don’t know what those things fucking mean. I mean, I know what society thinks “making it” looks like: vast wealth, accolades, maybe fame, but what does “making it” look like for me, personally?

This abstract notion of Greatness seemed too vague and improbable… and it seemed like something I wasn’t yet and would have to work to acheive without any sort of clues as to how to get there… and since I didn’t know how to become Great, the whole idea of cultivating Greatness just got to be too damned overwhelming. (I crashed and burned a lot as a result in my late adolescence. I still do it to small degrees now. Just like when I was learning to ski and I would get to going really fast down a difficult slope and I would get freaked out and voluntarily wipe out before I wiped out for real and hurt myself. I’ve done that same thing in other circumstances, but I like to think I’ve gotten better in my 30’s.)

Only in these last few days I realized that 1) It doesn’t actually matter if I ever become what others consider Great if this ordinary, small town, non-wealthy, non-famous, non-distinguished life I’m living is making me happy on a day-to-day basis. Because day-to-day is what becomes my lifetime.  2) I’ve happened upon some pretty amazing, extraordinary things in my 33 years without working to make them happen or having to change any/everything about myself… Maybe I’m already Great without having to try so damned hard.

And honestly, maybe we all are.  And maybe Greatness isn’t something we have to become, but that we have to realize about ourselves, exactly where we are at any point.

I don’t know for sure. But maybe.

Probably.

A Pleasant, Witty Title

The other night, as usual, my brain decided to start playing the “All the Times I Fucked Up In the Past” Highlights Reel just as I was trying to fall asleep, so I could go through all the emotions I thought 12 years of therapy surely could’ve quenched but somehow didn’t. Always a good time.

I’ve been doing this involuntary-trip-down-memory-lane thing so routinely for so many years (it’s a mental tic) that a part of me doesn’t really have the energy to put up a fight anymore. I’m way past trying to dig into “what it all means” to “figure it all out” and “fix it”, and Thank GAWD, because it was exhausting there for awhile. These days I sometimes decide to commit to being mindful and meditating on something else, or, if I’m too tired for discipline, I just let the thing play out almost like one would with crappy daytime TV while trying to clean the house.

This time, though, something made me look at the very worst part of my life objectively for a second and think about it in a way I hadn’t.

I thought, “If I suddenly woke up to find I was still in the mental state/life I had during that time, (hungover, in massive debt over nothing of importance, covered in perpetual grime and reeking of whatever vice I was clinging to, in a catastrophe of a relationship and no close friends around because I’d pushed everyone away, completely mentally wrecked because of the aforementioned and too many of the wrong psychiatric medications thanks to a life-altering misdiagnosis) and that all of the last 9 years had been a dream, I would immediately panic and start working to find my way back to Greg and The Bear.”

And I realized that as much as I [thought I’d] like to go back and make changes, there’s nothing I could’ve done differently to still get this outcome. It all had a domino effect that got me here.
And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been here… I even have the gall to hope it’ll get better than this… like, I’m actively optimistic it will.

I don’t know where this clarity came from. I don’t know why it took me this [unbearably fucking] long to have this moment.

All I do know is that it’s true.

And that since it happened, I’ve felt a lot of peace.
And I’m not even overthinking it.
So that’s nice.

The Resolution I’m Glad I Procrastinated for a Decade

I’ve been working on a memoir for 12 years now. I’ve had a 500+ page draft I’ve been revising for 7 of those. And only in the last 3 months I’ve realized I am really effing glad I haven’t completed it before now.

I never meant to take this long. I officially started writing it in 2003, literally during the first time I was in a mental hospital with nobody to talk to about the bizarre, disturbing things I was seeing every day. Afterward, I witnessed how visibly uncomfortable my friends and family got when I tried to talk about what I’d just experienced, so I  kept writing about it just to have a place to vent. Originally, I intended to turn that sole adventure into a “Girl, Interrupted”-style anecdote, but, being that I was still in the throes of mental illness, a handful of dysfunctional romantic entanglements, and a drinking problem (in addition to being a full-time student and working a few gigs), the years started to slide by without a finished product.  Meanwhile, my life devolved into even more literal insanity, including another stint in a mental hospital with even more hilarious/terrifying stories. The trend continued that way for the next decade.

I put “Finish This Book, Already” on my New Year’s Resolution List every year for at least 6 consecutive years, and I’ve spent months’ worth of time sorting old blog entries and editing them into essays, filing and cross-referencing themes/tones/anecdotes/subplots, and drafting new chapters to weave together a storyline over the years, but the truth is that I never felt like the story arc was resolved at any point. I never felt like I had a story that ended on a note I could be proud of…which is funny, because 10 years ago, I was proud to have the intended message be: “Hey, listen to this fucked up thing I went through that I have to make jokes about or I’ll be too traumatized to keep going! Maybe laugh with me to help me feel less alone?”, and  5 years ago, I was positive the message was: “Mental illness sucks, is misrepresented and stigmatized in society, and my story is not unique, but is the plight of millions. Pay attention! We have to fix this….but I don’t have any answers or solutions…. Just pay attention, dammit!”

…And now I’m not happy releasing a book with either of those messages because 1) It’ll be lost in a sea of thousands of other writers saying the exact same thing (as per the zeitgeist,) and 2)it isn’t the entirety of this story. I’m pretty sure I’ve always somehow known that.

…And honestly, when I look back over the drafts of things I’d written between 2-12 years ago, I’m really, really glad I didn’t publish anything life-defining while writing from that perspective. I would’ve emphasized a bunch of various personal dramas that didn’t actually matter so much in the grand scheme of the story, but that I was absolutely convinced were integral for a long time. Oh, and because I had so much chemical-induced anger, I definitely would’ve dragged a bunch of people I love through the mud way more harshly than necessary, which I’d be regretting now. With the clarity I have at the present, the story seems so much more balanced; I can see the role I played in the things that were happening to me objectively instead of from that powerless, freaked-out-and-projecting-frustration mode I had going for so long.

Holy shit, I’m really glad I didn’t put that mess out into the world while it was still going on. Even if I only have 50 copies of the book ever published, I don’t ever want it to be something I’m truly embarrassed or regretful of later on
…Not for a first memoir, at least. For the second, all bets are off, man. Especially if I’m a bestseller.

…And it’s interesting that, even in my most psychotic of manic episodes, when I was scribbling out 7 page manifestos to ex-crushes/flings/bullies I hadn’t seen in decades (Ohhh, yeah, really) or sitting around researching the logistics of building a non-profit empire at all hours of the night for months on end, a small voice was still telling me “This memoir isn’t ready to be called ‘completed’, yet. Let’s just leave it alone tonight.”

…And that’s weird because, really, there was no way for me to know I’d ever stop growing more and more unbalanced; I’d been progressing that way for so long under psychiatric intervention I was convinced I was deteriorating into a life of eventual psychosis. That’s not hyperbole, by the way; I spent a month legitimately considering applying for disability when my bipolar symptoms had become unmanageable. (I never did. I realized that if I surrendered to the idea that I was mentally unfit for any contribution to society ever again, I’d completely give up on myself and I wouldn’t stand a chance against my depression spells.) People who have been showing worsening signs of clinically losing their fucking minds for half their lives are not encouraged to stop taking their medications to see how it all plays out. If I’d kept following directions and seeing my doctors as prescribed and socially encouraged, I’m sickened to think about what my lfe would look like right now. It was terrifying there toward the end… and not just because I was bald and fat and suffering delusions.

Aaanyway, I currently have physical reactions while reading the stuff I wrote when I was still sick, which is a strange blessing of sorts because it means that I’ve grown and healed enough to have an outsider’s perspective on all of it. Perhaps writing it all out was part of coping, but publishing it absolutely didn’t have to be and I’m very, very grateful that my sane, rational, inner guide knew the difference and pumped the brakes on my ambition until it was time.

I’m not making any promises or plans for it to be completed this year, though. If I’ve learned anything from all this, it’s that it will happen when it’s actually time.

…Just like me not writing anything for two months and then rolling out of bed an hour ago at 1 a.m. with that unshakable need to get this out of my head and into text form.
Medicated or not, Crazy Writer Inspiration Brain is one thing I know better than to try to quit.