We preach about weight loss and disease prevention and other aspects of physical health but we rarely talk about taking care of our mental health.
While it’s generally accepted that we all struggle from time to time, very few like to admit they might struggle more often or to a greater degree than what might be considered the norm. But if no one talks about their struggles, how can we even define a norm?
I’ve always tried to be transparent with my struggles with depression, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It’s because I want others to know they aren’t going through it alone. One of the worst parts of mental illness is how isolating it can be. I’ve often felt that no one could possibly understand my loneliness, fear of people, the compulsion to binge eat, or my deep-seated self-hatred. But I’m not the only one. So many people deal with it every day. And knowing that doesn’t fix the problem but it does take some of the pressure off it. And it makes you feel a little less alone and a little more understood.
And because we don’t like to talk about it, you never know who’s going through something difficult. Money, class, and religious affiliation does not exclude you from depression. Just think of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams. They have access to the best psychiatric care possible and it didn’t help them (assuming they sought treatment). And through the years I’ve learned the people from high school who I thought had it all were in actuality suffering greatly. One classmate killed himself about a year ago and another, arguably one of the most popular girls in my grade, is currently in treatment for severe anorexia. I’ve even talked to people who said they thought I had it together but I’ve always felt like a huge mess.
You just never know what someone is going through in secret. So why do we make it so hard to tell each other? Why do we make it so difficult on ourselves to reach out, to give a helping hand or to ask for one?
I got to a point where I knew something had to change in my life or I just wasn’t going to have one. So I sought counseling. I’ve been in therapy for about a year now and while none of my problems have been magically erased, I do believe it has helped.
One of the best things about it is just knowing I have a safe zone where I can rant, cry, and ask questions without the fear of being judged or shamed. But really that’s something anyone with a good friend can do. And let me tell you, therapy ain’t cheap. So if you do have a good friend with a willing ear, use it. If you’re in a position to go to therapy, use it. If neither of those are an option, research online resources.
I don’t have as many destructive thoughts anymore. I don’t automatically tear myself down when I make a mistake. I’m insecure and I want positive attention and reassurance and companionship. I want to make a difference, feel like my life has meaning. I’m also scared of being left behind, scared I’m not good enough for people, scared to stand up for myself. I can be aloof or distant because I don’t want to be abandoned again. I let others reach out first because I don’t think anyone wants to talk to me and I don’t wanna be a burden. I have high standards and low self-esteem. I love giving advice but can’t take criticism. I’m hard on others and extremely hard on myself. But it’s only because I know we can all do better.
And all those good intentions and bad habits make me human. And I realized there’s a difference between wanting to be better and beating myself up for not being perfect. I’m never going to get it right every time, whether that comes to people, work, or art. But that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of the good things life and people have to offer.
One of the things I’ve learned in therapy is to love myself, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done, something I never even thought I should or could do. But it makes sense. When you don’t love yourself, you allow other people to dictate your actions, your mood, and even your self-worth. But the more you love yourself, the less others have control over you and the more you get to have a say in how you live your life.
We make the easiest things in the world so hard for others. And ourselves. We keep affection at a distance because we don’t want to feel vulnerable. We attack others’ choices because it makes us feel superior. Pain begets pain and, well, that’s just not cool. But I get it. I want to lash out at people sometimes too. Not because I want them to hurt like I’m hurting but because a lot of the time I don’t think people realize how badly I am hurting.
But I guess that’s when we need to take a step back from our own pain to recognize other people’s paths. If only we could use our experiences to help guide instead of gun down the hard times of others. Pain isn’t a pissing contest. We all have it crappy in one way or another. And as long as we can keep our crap and everyone else’s crap in some kind of perspective, it might make things easier on all of us.
55 miles. 1.5 hours. 2 more days. Speedometer climbing from 45 to 55. 3 traffic lights. 4 songs left on the CD. The slowest, saddest song was next. 5 minutes and 33 seconds. My favorite.
Light poles illuminated the sky like shiny pearls forming a winding path. Leading me back to the smoke that filled my lungs and dried my lips, the noise that cluttered my brain and strained my neck. A warehouse of carpeted excess. Flashing lights and MIDI sound effects. Chirping machines and amber drinks. Scraping ash in a silver vest night after night. 2 cars whiz past me. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I graduated college and received a degree and depression. The security of school was gone and I had no choice but to become an adult. And a janitor in a casino. But how could I be an adult when I was never a kid? Just a trash bag enveloping a skeleton. 100 lights down that hill, steering me toward that ash. That smoke. That drink. Those epileptic lights mocking me. I so badly wanted to be scraped away as well.
55 to 65. 3 years wasted. 90,000 dollars down the drain. Humiliation. Rejection. Gnashed between God’s teeth. 1 life wasted. No friends or family to see the pain. No instructors to see the potential. 2 tears rolling down my cheeks. Such a waste. I could have been better. I was too weak, too insignificant, much too afraid to touch the face of a lover, to grip tight to a goal, to push past the persistent patterns that planted me to that place. Too poor to leave. Every decision was dumb. Every friend was fake. But I was the fakest of them all. A total fraud. I couldn’t do it anymore.
The bug-blurred windshield splintered the light in all directions, turning the pearls into shards, stabbing me on my way down. I wouldn’t do it anymore. I could stop.
So I accelerated.
65 to 75. 2 hands on the wheel. 5 cars trailing behind me. 1,000,000 thoughts, fears, hesitations, and determinations flooding my brain. My heart pounded at the thought. Would I really do it this time? Adrenaline sang in my ears. Then a calm crept up and confirmed my course. I squeezed the steering wheel until I saw 10 white knuckles. And then I closed my eyes.
75 to 80. 80 to 85. Darkness for 1, 2, 3 seconds. Eyes squeezed shut. Lights bursting behind my lids like silent gunfire, a celebration of an end. Just let go. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because you never did. 85 to 90. My grip softened. I peeled my fingers away and for the longest time, I felt like I was floating. Flying. Skyrocketing toward rest.
And then the fear pounded into me, funneled into my fingertips and pried my eyes open. I steadied the wheel, let off the gas pedal. A Rolodex of responsibilities spun around my brain. It was only a few seconds. But I wanted to. I needed to. I just didn’t have the guts to have mine splayed across the dashboard.
I turned into the parking lot and turned my life over to another night of labor, of boredom and ashtrays, fingerprints and sticky beer bottles. Clinking glasses and walking holes in floors. I tugged at the last bit of moisture that clung to my lashes. I watched as the knuckles turned as pink as my eyes.
I learned the real labor was existing with this sickness, to breathe with no pulse, to live with no purpose, to have to fight with lungs and heart just to get out of bed, to know you are a fuckup, to count each day as both a miracle that you made it through and a tragedy that you didn’t die.
8 more hours to go. I couldn’t do it anymore.
But I did it anyway.
People cuddle people. Animals cuddle animals. People cuddle animals. I’ve watched enough cute puppy videos to see the comfort it brings both human and non-human to snuggle up to something else warm and breathing. It’s interesting to see that need for safety, security, and stability in another type of creature. When you think about it, you realize that need spans across all cultures, religions, and species.
I know I’m generalizing. Not everyone is affectionate or wants physical interaction and that’s okay. I still struggle with whether or not I’m that type of person. I’ve always liked the idea of touch but in actuality, it makes me uncomfortable. I wonder if it’s because I’ve been starved of touch for all these years and this is my new norm. Maybe I have just romanticized how therapeutic touch can be and maybe I made it more transformational than it really is. Or maybe I’m just naturally distant. Or maybe I’m just selectively affectionate.
But with the emerging popularity of weighted blankets and the undeniable adorableness of otters holding hands, there’s something to be said for being close. In the animal kingdom, it’s mostly instinct. Survival has a lot to do with it. Safety in numbers. But is it just about the body surviving? That closeness must encourage the head and heart to survive as well. It’s not just a physical need but a psychological response. Maybe when these animals get close to another willing creature, it lets them know they are worth surviving.
That instinct must extend to humans as well. I wonder if that’s where my desperate need to cuddle comes from. When I was cuddled for the first time earlier this year, I felt special for the first time in my life. And for a man who always feels worthless, it made a difference. I felt I was worthy of touching. I was worthy of getting to know. I was worthy of surviving too.
But now that it’s gone, it’s also made a big difference. And I wonder if I was wrong about being worthy of survival after all.
”Something’s missing in me
I felt it deep within me
As lovers left me to bleed alone
Down here, love wasn’t meant to be
It wasn’t meant to be for me”
”When you close your eyes even then your eyelids are beautiful
for so long there have been traces of you in blood vessels inside my skull”
-Showbread, I Want to get Married
A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to a wedding with an old friend. I didn’t know the married couple and all the attendants were new to me but the friend needed a plus one and borrowed me for the occasion. You see where this is going. I just needed to find something blue.
Despite my anxiety around crowds, especially crowds of strangers, I figured it would be a change of pace. A chance to do something different, to ask off work, and dress up a bit. I just hoped I’d be able to squeeze my binge-eating butt into my old slacks. I did…but barely.
The ceremony itself was fine. It was simple, inside a simple church with simple decoration. No blue sashes or neckties. No blue in the flowers. Just a red-faced toddler sitting in front of me and a bellowing baby sitting behind me and they both screamed in unison just as the ceremony began and continued their commentary throughout because my life.
Despite my current situation, I didn’t feel too bitter or sad about seeing two flesh become one. I was pretty unaffected witnessing the standard union of two people, in love and full of life. It happens every day. Life goes on. Good for them. The only discomfort came from those slacks. But one moment did stick out to me. The pastor read a quote from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 that goes:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Having never been in a relationship, I wondered why I’d never been able to find my own plus one. How had I made it 32 years while God made sure I remained lonely? If He had allowed such a declaration to be included in the good book, why have I always been denied the privilege?
While the ceremony was about 30 minutes, the reception went on for three and a half hours. And it was mostly held outside. No blueberries in the fruit plate while the newlyweds went off to be photographed with family. No blue ribbons adorning the arches. Why do people in the south insist on having outside weddings in the middle of summer? I was drenched in sweat and wanted to leave but the girl I went with wanted to stay for the cake cutting and to try to catch the bouquet. Don’t get me wrong, the cake was one thing this big boy was looking forward to but in this case, I’d rather have air conditioning than confections. I was a good sport, however, and smiled and blotted my face and tried to inconspicuously unstick my bat-winged balls.
And when it was cake time, I eagerly got in line. No blue fondant. The lady serving the cake cut off the smallest piece possible for me. Oh, sorry ma’am, I thought I was gonna be able to get more than a few crumbs that fell off your knife. I looked at her, thinking she would realize the error of her ways and cut off a little more for me but she just stood there so I quickly dipped out and ate the slice in three bites.
It was a little dry.
Turns out, the bride wanted to wait until it got dark outside so she and her husband could walk out under sparklers. Which meant more waiting, more forehead blotting and being the iPhone photographer for everyone else who knew each other and wanted to blow up Instagram with high school friends in rolled hair and pretty dresses.
Even the girl I attended with drifted away for a while to take pictures with former work friends she hadn’t seen in a while. I looked around me and saw everyone with someone else. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Wives and husbands. Best friends. The caterers and photographers doing their jobs. Everyone with a purpose. I stood by the wall, unsure of what to do with myself. And I felt like there should have been someone next to me. Someone to help me up, to keep me warm, to defend me against my own self-destructive thoughts. Someone to make me feel like I also had a purpose. But the only thing that ever stands next to me is an empty void and that void only reminds me that I don’t have a purpose.
Night fell but the heat did not wane. It penetrated through the dark and doled out more sweat for me. All the single ladies gathered around the bride. As she flung the bouquet into the arms of an overzealous 20-something in a billowy yellow dress, I realized I had found my something blue. It was me.
God knows my heart, knows I have a lot of love to give, and yet I always stand alone. Sometimes I think I’m getting close and despite my hesitations to let anyone near, I do because there’s always the faintest hope that maybe my person has finally come, that this could be the one to turn it all around. But they only turn me in the direction I’ve already traced too many times. And I wonder why God would tease and punish me in this way. Denying me is one thing. This just feels deceitful.
I’m not saying I’m more deserving of love than anyone else but I do think I need it more than most. I can’t do life by myself. I can’t conquer my demons all alone like this.
The ache never really goes away. Sometimes it gets easier to deal with but it’s never defeated. Do you know what it’s like to see the world through glass, to feel others through gloves? To live life for bitter and worse, to endure sickness and hell, to forever be separating until death does me apart?
To be one strand already broken?
I get very confused about people and how to relate to them. What’s the difference between flirting and just being nice? What’s the difference between standing up for myself and just being a jerk? I haven’t always been so out of sorts. I used to be well-liked. And I used to think I had a grasp on grafting myself onto others. Then depression settled in and I withdrew my social self from the world. And instead of experiencing people, I just observed them. And by the time I wanted to step back into human relations, it seemed too late.
I think the best way to understand humanity is through both research and relation. I only achieved half of that. And that’s why I think I have some knowledge of correct and appropriate behavior but not enough to be successful in having fulfilling relationships with others. It’s that experience I lack, the on-the-ground research of getting to know and love and trust other people.
It’s hard to put myself out there because I’m insecure. I’m 32 with not much to show for it. I know we all have our own timeline for achieving goals in life but I have more potential than what I’ve produced. And this feeling of knowing I’m better, more capable, than what I’ve accomplished makes me very hard on myself.
It’s true that I hate who I am but unfortunately, it’s not self-contained. It seeps into conversations I have with other people. Long-term acquaintances are familiar with the inner insults I hurl at myself. I don’t even think about it. I’m so used to putting myself down as a self-defense mechanism and form of humor that it comes naturally to me. In my fear of being judged, I try to beat others to the judgment, pointing out my flaws in a funny way so we can all relax around my receding hairline or chuckle at my chunky body.
It’s usually when I meet new people that I become aware of how easily, how quickly, and how viciously I tear myself apart. When new acquaintances ask me to tell him about myself, the flogging floodgates open right up. It’s only after the conversation is over and I can reflect on the car ride home or before I go to bed at night the ramifications of my self-flagellation.
I want to be accepted but I also know I have several mental and emotional issues that could be off-putting. So I always have this need to explain away my crazy. But I over explain and end up making things worse. Instead of staying, people scatter and I’m left confused and lonely. I have to wonder if I should start keeping more things to myself. I always find it refreshing when people are open and honest. And so I try to be open and honest as well. And I never realized that other people could find that unattractive.
Should I change who I am and how much I share in order to keep people around? Or should I stay the same and hope that someone accepting will eventually find their way to me? It feels like a balance because you want to better yourself but you also don’t want to bend over for anyone else. How much change is too much? When do you go from improving your relations with others to compromising your personality for them?
I just wonder how I can be charming without charring my character. How can I make jokes without making myself the punchline? I’m sure it would be easier if I liked myself more but how am I supposed to do that? From the outside, it might seem like I’m well-adjusted and have a lot going for me. In some ways, that’s true. But only I can see the real me, the small squishy parts on the inside, the place where all the self-doubt and anger and despondency live and flourish. And it’s hard to like the person those qualities belong to, even when it’s yourself.
But I do understand that doesn’t have to be the case. And I suppose that’s at least one step in the right direction. And maybe one day, if I can get myself aligned with love instead of lashing, I might actually make a friend who will want to stick around.
Have you ever just clicked with someone?
When I was visiting my college friend and her husband in Atlanta, I was floored by how open they were to complete strangers. If they had questions, they walked right up to people and asked them. They chatted with our servers, made conversation with our Uber drivers, and did not seem shy with anyone at all. All I could do was stand by and be amazed at their ability to converse.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to share a genuine smile, to give a compliment, ask an open-ended question. I wanted to elicit a laugh, to leave a good impression. I wanted to have that connection with another human being, no matter how small. But despite my best efforts, my mind just doesn’t work fast enough to form a thoughtful word and before I know it, I’ve exchanged greetings and goodbyes and I’m left wondering how I scored.
I really want to be good with people. But the problem is I just don’t like people that much. But I am fascinated by them. They are simultaneously the most basic and the most complex creatures. Most humans want love, connection, safety, and security. That goes across the board. But the way in which they obtain those things is where it gets interesting. And confusing.
I haven’t had that many great experiences with people. I don’t have any long-term friends. Never been in a romantic relationship. I don’t fit in with my family. And I’ve worked in customer service for well over a decade. If that doesn’t sour your view of mankind, nothing will.
I think people have the potential to be great but most of them just suck. Especially me. I don’t give people enough of a chance. I make snap judgments and can be too quick to cut someone out of my life. I know there are good people out there but I’ve been dropped so many times that I just expect people to give 20% before crapping out. But does such an assessment make me an ass?
Maybe I’d be more inclined to have a genial response to a welcoming hand but I just haven’t experienced that alleged human connection, love, dedication, and care.
And I just really want to.
I could learn a lot from people. But I’m put off by them, thus I don’t want to interact with them, thus I never learn proper people skills. So when someone cool does come along, I can’t capture their attention. I can only bumble around like a butthead.
I understand that I need to work on things. I’m flawed and frazzled and often stutter and sweat when nervous. I have trouble continuing conversations, finding interest in others, picking up on social cues and niceties. I’m a huge mess and therefore I can’t always be surprised when I feel left out of the crowd. I know I’m not always a lot of fun to be around. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to fix it.
I’m wondering how I can break the cycle of simultaneously wanting people and pushing them away. I suppose I should just practice. Just talk to people. Ask questions. Show care and concern. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Maybe the skill of learning to connect will come to me. All I know for sure is the connection itself will not. That is something I will have to make happen.
I’ve waited for years for someone to come along, to care, to be in my actual life. I’ve wanted that feeling of finding my people, of discovering my complement. It hasn’t happened. It doesn’t mean it won’t. But with every lost chance at a friend, it does become harder to carry on, to finally experience that immaculate connection I’ve craved for so long.
I never realized getting my hair cut would be such an ordeal, especially because I don’t have much left. Just sip the shaggy parts and let me be on my way. But it hasn’t been that easy. Living in one city, working 6-7 days a week in two other cities, and battling a depression that exhausts the hell out of me has not made it easy to disrupt my binge eating and extended nap sessions in order to sit in a barbershop surrounded by screaming kids so I can get a crooked crew cut.
But I also don’t want to look disheveled so I got up super early Saturday morning (usually my only day to sleep in late) so I could walk into the barbershop as they opened. I thought I’d be one of the first in line but when I opened the door, it was already packed. I almost turned around, my anxiety peaking, but I took a breath, scanned the room, and found the one empty seat next to two older men in Member’s only jackets and retired Navy hats.
The shop is about the size of a refrigerator and there’s 3 barbers and probably only 8 seats for customers, which wouldn’t be much of a problem except lots of little kids get their hair cut at this particular establishment. That means mom and dad and siblings have to tag along, which clogs up the already narrow space of the building.
It’s an old-timey barbershop, complete with a vintage drink machine that dispenses glass bottles. Their sign is hand-painted, their floor a cracked linoleum. Not dirty, just well-loved. Almost charming. Football jerseys representing each of the barber’s high school football teams hang from wire hangers above their stations. Cheap shaving cream and hair gels line the sinks below a giant mirror that extends from one end of the shop to the other. From a customer’s seat, you get a great vantage point of men’s bald spots I always worry people are looking at mine.
As I waited, I noticed a man jiggle the handle through the clear glass door of the shop. He was in his late forties, hunched over with a grizzled unshaven face and tattered tobacco-colored shirt, black Dickie pants and a scuffed pair of black-brown boots. He jiggled the handle some more until one of the barbers stepped over and opened the door for him.
“Musta got stuck,” he said loudly as he shuffled inside. And I mean loudly. He followed it up with a phlegm-filled laugh. And sure enough, he sat down next to me. Then he proceeded to chat up the barbers. “Y’all, I needa good lookin’ haircut so I can find me a good lookin’ woman,” he said with more phlegm laughing.
Within a few breaths, I smelled alcohol on him. Great. Recovering from a late night. Or starting early that day. Maybe both.
He then tried to chat up a nervous 10-year-old in the barber’s chair in front of him and asked him if he was getting a good-looking haircut to find a good-looking girl. The boy shrank into his shoulders and shook his head before scanning the room for the safe familiar face of his mother. Make the man stop talking, Mommy.
Yes, Mommy, please, for all of us.
“I know a little girl, she’s about fourteen. Probably too old for you,” he said with more chuckling and phlegm.
After enduring the loud lush for about fifteen minutes, it was finally my turn. I got in the chair, told the lady what I wanted, and she started to buzz me up. After another few minutes, I noticed what looked like hairspray in the air. And then I noticed more. And then detected a smell.
I turned to my right to see a cloud of smoke hurl toward me.
“Oh, that’s not good,” one of the barbers said.
My barber opened the shop door and the smoke floated out like a patient dog slipping through to have a potty break. “You’d better call the fire department,” one of the barbers said to the shop owner. “Oh, yeah, I’m on it,” she replied as she raced out the door with her phone in her hand.”
“Probably it’s the A/C unit,” another said. “We turned it on this morning but it just kicked in a few minutes ago. I bet it caught on fire.”
And that’s when a few little kids started screaming. And I screamed inside my head. I sat in the chair wanting the barber to get on with the cut. But she was hesitant, fearing if she turned on the clippers, it would cause a spark that would blast us all out of the building. I was willing to take the chance.
“Of course this would happen,” I thought as screams and smoke filled the building, like we were all bits of bread caught aflame in an oven set to broil. We were probably never in any real danger. The only thing on fire was my nose from the acrid smell of smoke. And my patience.
Sirens called in the distance, followed by three firefighters in blue uniforms. They brought some sort of vacuum with them and sat it outside the door to suck up the smoke. And as it cleared, the drunk man who’d sat next me came into view. He was sweeping hair up off the floor.
“Hehe, well, I thought if I could help out, I would,” he said between sweeps. “Sometimes in life, you just gotta do what you gotta do.” A laugh that turned into a cough that sounded like he was gargling buttermilk. He stumbled around my barber’s station, sweeping and swaying. I half-thought he’d fall right over.
“Uh, thanks?” my barber said, confused.
When everything was determined to be all clear, my barber finished me up and my hair actually looked decent, you know, for a balding dude. I’d definitely gone too long without a cut and running my hand over the back of my head felt soft and smooth. I actually felt lighter. Although I wished the morning could have gone better and quicker, it felt good to get it out of the way. I supposed giving up a late morning was worth the shearing. My buzzed buddy with the broom was right. Gotta do what you gotta do.
Every once in a while it’s worth it.
”I believe in clean breaks
I keep the old troubles away…“
-Dashboard Confessional, Clean Breaks
I always get despondent when I think about past acquaintances and how almost all of them have ended on bad terms. There’s tension toward the end. Eventually, one person (usually me) stops speaking to the other and the issues never get resolved. And sometimes I don’t think I so much mourn the lost friendship as I do the fact that I never got my feelings across. The few times I tried to do that, it ended with the other person showing no signs of caring about how I felt.
It never seemed like there was a genuine communication or concern, just excuses, something said to get me to shut up. I haven’t felt heard in a long time and certainly not validated, which is one of the reasons why I feel like such an emotional mess. How can I feel confident knowing I did and said all I could when I’m not even sure if how I’m feeling is genuine in regards to the other person.
But that’s why I was drawn to you. I felt I had a choice with you. You gave me a platform and the encouragement to use it and I drank it down like fine wine. It was fun and dizzying. And it felt good. But then you took it away little by little, clipping my concerns with cutting remarks and minimizing my talents and accomplishments. I tried to hold on, to excuse your behavior, to sidestep the sadness but I kept coming to the same conclusion. You made me feel good but you were not good. I had to let you go before I developed another dependence.
Remember your two-think minimum? You said, “Relationships shouldn’t be hard or work. They should come easy.” Well, I’ve had to seriously think about the status of our relationship more than twice so I guess that means it didn’t come easily to me. I wracked my brain day after day, wondering what I did to make you distance yourself from me. I stayed awake at night. I couldn’t concentrate at work. Every free moment migrated toward your motivations.
I had to go, had to get out. And you let me go so easily. I haven’t heard from you since January. I’m not sure I ever will again because every time we got clean from each other, one of us relapses and gives in to those good feelings one more time. We’ll tell each other we miss each other. And we will resume with the past unresolved. But the past is a pest and always comes back to crumble all that we’ve constructed.
This time feels different. I won’t give in to the cravings anymore. And I feel like you won’t either. I’m thinking you must be tired as well.
But the truth is I still do miss you. But I know you’re no good for me. Maybe you’re fine in moderation but I’m prone to bingeing. And I know I won’t have any more mouthfuls of you.
What surprises me most is I’m not really that mad or bitter about it. I’m sad, sure, but I’m used to that feeling. I hear a lot of people say they regret past relationships and say it was all a waste. But I don’t think that way about you. I enjoyed our time together and our brief in-person meetings. And I don’t regret how you made me feel. I swallowed you up unencumbered. It changed me, if only for as long as you were in my system. It was nice to go from numb to nimble, to feel good for the first time in a long time.
And I would also like to think that I’m clear-headed enough to know good times don’t always translate to a good fit. I really do think I tried. Sometimes friendships don’t work out and that’s okay. Maybe it was my fault or maybe yours. Or maybe it was just a case of too much of a good thing. We took too many shots of fun and too many shots at each other. And now I think we’ve had our fill. And for me, I think it’s last call on us.
Everything hurts. It has for a while. And it probably will for a while longer. Especially because I can’t get through to you. But I know it won’t change and I have to accept that. And I’m trying. I really am. I take it one step at a time, slowly shedding the hurtful things you said, the callousness in which you conducted yourself, the ambivalent absences.
What you and I have become feels a lot like a hangover. It hurts like hell right now. But what we did to get to this point was a hell of a lot of fun.
Some days, it’s not the food but the fools that send me into a downward spiral.
As of this writing, I’ve been dieting/exercising for a little over 100 days and have lost a little over 40 pounds. The first week wasn’t too bad once I got over the initial adjustment. I’ve been down this road countless times before so I knew what to expect: hunger pangs, being more obsessed with food than usual, immediate feelings of wanting to give up as soon as a craving craned its neck in my direction. But I didn’t give in and all was well.
And then the second week happened and I hit my first wall. Yeah, that soon. You’d think the longer you do something, the easier it would get. But that’s not the case with Bran Bran. Things always seem to just get harder and more difficult the longer I’m involved in it. Either way, I pushed through and the next couple of months was pretty easy.
But over the past several days, things have gotten harder again. I’ve been craving food more than usual and I can’t seem to get satisfied when I do eat. It didn’t help that I took a 4 day vacation a couple of weeks ago. I just sat around the house and ate food. I didn’t binge but I ate more than I wanted to.
I thought I’d keep myself busy. I’ve got plenty of movies to watch and books to read and I wanted to catch up on some writing but every time I tried to invest in a cheesy slasher film on Netflix, the kitchen would come a-callin’. And most of the time, when I get it in my mind that I want to eat, I can’t concentrate on anything else until I do.
I’m also extremely stressed out. Both my jobs suck and my parents have been getting on my nerves and all the horrible things happening in the world have all gotten to me. I’m always worried about the next massive bout of destruction, whether it be man-made or from mother nature. I’m lonely and hungry and bored and lethargic. And all I want to do is forget about everything and eat. But I can’t.
My last defense mechanism is food and that’s gone so I’m just a raw nerve, constantly hurting and yearning for something that I usually pushed down with pizza.
But I can see my ribs again. So there’s that.
I’m an emotional eater. We all know that. And I’m an emotional person. Well, mostly I’m just an irritated person. So it’s easy for me to eat. It’s natural. It’s comforting. And there are days when I literally feel compelled to eat. Even when I’m not hungry. Even when my stomach hurts. Even when I’ve finished a meal or had a large snack. I want more. I always want more.
People are starting to notice the weight loss. Co-workers are saying my face looks slimmer, that my torso isn’t as rotund as it once was. And these are all nice compliments to hear. And then I had one co-worker tell me not to get too skinny. And it’s just crazy to me that people feel they can comment on my weight and dictate my size. I’m not reshaping my body for anyone but my self. Again, I like the compliments but I’m not fueled by them. And I’m not gonna stop just because someone tells me not to get too skinny.
And it’s hard to talk about food with others because no one seems to understand. It’s not about laziness or just “really liking junk food.” It’s so much deeper than a deep fried doughnut. Sometimes food feels like my last attachment to reality, the only thing that can ground me when I feel like going off the deep end. And that’s not something you can easily bring up to someone when discussing casual dieting. Someone’s just looking for a way to make kale taste good and I’m over here expounding upon my unwavering sadness and need to self-medicate with marzipan.
And because people don’t get it, they think they’re helping out by telling me I should have a cheat day. But because I’ve struggled with my weight for about 20 years now, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I can’t just have a cheat day. You can’t give an alcoholic just one drink. I can’t just have one slice of cake.
Or people tell me to drink water before a meal or have a handful of nuts when I feel hungry. I’ve never been satisfied by a handful of anything. And I end up getting irritated with people because I’ve seen and done and heard it all. They can’t tell me anything new or effective and I know they’re just trying to help so I feel like an ass and a hypocrite. I’m sure I’ve tossed out those same tidbits to other dieters in the past.
At this point, only a handful of Xanax could probably help me now.
I’m constantly annoyed. The people I work with are honestly batshit and I have to put up with it every day. It really puts a strain on me because I’m also batshit so I can’t keep it together for me and them. It’s too exhausting. And I have many unresolved relationships that I can’t seem to sort out because I keep getting ghosted and I don’t know what’s so wrong with me to warrant that kind of exit. It hurts so much sometimes.
And food always used to soften the blow. When I got irritated at work, I stopped by McDonalds on my way home. When I felt like the last connection with a friend snap, I served myself spaghetti and it all went away. You can chart my depression by my pant size. The sadness has always been there but there have been times I’ve been able to suppress it. It’s in the moments that it becomes unbearable that I become a glutton again.
When you see me gain weight, that’s when you know I’m really suffering.
You’ve heard it before: depression comes in waves or cycles. You see people smile and laugh and tell jokes and you wonder how they could ever be depressed. It doesn’t seem like them. But that’s the tricky part about depression. It’s not always all-consuming. You can have decent days while you’re deteriorating.
Depression circles around you. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the symptoms alleviate themselves and you realize you can get out of bed. And you get this false sense that you can actually endure this. And that’s when it strikes again, just when you’ve become stable or complacent. It slaps you right in the face to remind you that you’re not in control, that it decides when you can be happy and face the world again. And if it wants, it can send you straight back to bed or straight into the arms of an addiction, something to numb the overarching sadness, the void that envelops you, the completion of becoming blank.
I work with a handful of nuts and I’m told to eat a handful of nuts. But food is not the solution. I know that. But what is the solution? I’ve tried different things. I’ve tried it through art and writing and meditation. Nothing has ever worked the way food does. So am I supposed to just continue to suffer or settle for a “healthier” but ineffective alternate form of therapy?
It’s hard to make a compromise when it comes to your physical health. It’s even harder when you’re mental health is also in jeopardy.
”Sex is the one thing, more than any others, that makes you feel human.”
”Remember, your children can’t praise the Lord if they’ve got genitals in their mouths.”
-Nudist Colony of the Dead
I remember walking into my first college class, looking at my classmates, and thinking, “I’m probably the only virgin in this room.”
That was over 10 years ago and every time I walk into a new room filled with people, I still think the same thing.
Living in a small, religious town, I learned early on that the true “F” word was fornication. Sex before marriage was about the worst thing that could happen to you, besides being gay. That sentiment echoed through the church pews and school halls. But as I grew up, my friends realized other people’s genitals was about the best thing that could happen to you. Even the most devout got dicked eventually and their stringent sexual views began to relax.
Except for the gay thing. That was non-negotiable.
But it’s easy to change your mind with a hand down your pants. I never got that opportunity so I was able to hang onto my shame over sex for much longer than my peers. And the interesting part was I actually didn’t mind it that much. Although preachers and parents warned of the religious ramifications of sex, they also lauded the beauty of intercourse between two married people. And that was the message I chose to hold close.
I actually wanted to wait until marriage. I’ve always thought of myself as a romantic and the notion of me and my future wife saving ourselves for each other sounded pretty special. We’d be the first to have that intimate connection, to reach that milestone in pulsating unison. And so not having sex was not a big deal because, at the time, marriage was not on my mind, therefore sex was not either. But just because I’d made a no-copulation commitment to a stranger didn’t mean I wasn’t affected by sex.
I used to be a great listener and great friend. My classmates came to me for counseling. I heard all about their relationships and through their confessions, I learned that sex not only changed relationships but changed people. And it didn’t necessarily change anyone for better or worse. But it did feel like there was more at stake. Emotions were either heightened or deadened at the point of penetration. Some people could turn off their heads and hearts while others’ only grew heavier.
And just by growing up and living and being interested in people, I learned more about sex without actually ever experiencing it. It came pieced together from conversations, observations, and, thanks to the power of the Internet, research.