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.
”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.
That melatonin mouth, those sleepy slits for eyes, the way your drowsy digits distract from the divots in daydreams. Running from cheek to chest in figure eights. Seeping into couch cushions, a frail mixture of suspension by fear and being grounded by the contentment of forever.
Cocooned in a warm satisfaction of touch, of breath, of bone and heart. Grasping at shirts and scents. I close my eyes as your words pour over my head, making way toward the inside of my shirt. I clutch at them, hold them aside, afraid of what they mean for me. They sound so familiar, a clone of compliments, a ghost of past gratitude. But the words always fell out and then fell flat. Semantics never solidified into serious sentiments. It was all a study, a well-worn phrase meant to subdue or temporarily satisfy. The lips they came from left so soon afterward.
And here I lay, those same sounds sliding toward me. The fear bubbles up, the familiar foul temperament of mistrust. Yet the words flow, so sleepy, so sweet. Hands guide them to my chest, massaging away the meanness, the masochistic monster inside. Gently pulling him aside, making way for the words that lost meaning, the syllables and sentence structure that no longer sway me, that always skimmed the surface but never settled. But this is a different mouth, a different hand, a different body holding me for the first time with an intimidating ease.
Slowly filing away a lifetime of fastidious downfalls, excavating a heart once buried in stone. The newness of calm, the excitement of eliciting emotion, winding down the days with someone who cares to know about mine. How do humans have the capacity to bend and mend each other, to crack some and caress others, to be chosen to be fixed, to abandon when bored, to want to stay despite the struggles?
Pain stretched as long as the days I lived, an oasis of degradation. I never knew how far down it dwelled, how unreachable I was until now. Because now I have been touched, a hand grasping for me, words ushering in a blinding possibility to be a person. To feel lifted, light as air, no longer burdened by the weight of my own head, my own soul, my own desires to destroy myself.
I just don’t know what this means. And I don’t know what this feeling is. I guess it should be transformational.
Your hand grows tired as your body shuts down. It finds its way wrapped around me before settling, a warm heat on my stomach. Should I loosen my grip on this group of words, to allow them to join you in nuzzling up next to me? What if it’s time to let them go, to allow them to resonate again? Can it really be true this time?
Can we ever really know?
I feel you fading beneath me. Your breath hitches, the familiar jostling of your heart signifying sleep. One last exhalation precluding a final thought before bed.
“I could get used to this.”
I’m taken aback, struggle to understand, gutted yet guarded. I want to believe you. God, I really do.
‘Cause I think I could too.
You blow your smoke in my direction, a dragon’s fire giggle that seeps into my shirt. Stray smiles set against a backdrop of binge-watching wizards and warlords. Analyzing and summarizing relationships, reactions, and reclusiveness. Discussing the dance of desire and apprehension, digging deeper into each other’s motivations for laced fingers and fast heartbeats.
Smoke blooms around our heads, mandarin and mango, long lashes and laced fingers. Hypothesis preludes playfulness. Setting faraway thoughts into action, making moves to make myself human. A robot racing to become a real boy.
And with your head in my lap, you break through years of isolation and deprivation. To feel the weight of your body is to feel the gravity of humanity, to tap into the basic needs of every person: safety, security, stability. I hold your head in my hands but you hold my very being up and pull me from the dregs of depression, if only for as long as each episode runs concurrently. Falling away from the stressors of jobs and jabs, bosses and bullies, we are willingly secluded together, embraced and braced for impact.
Using hands to separate strands of hair. Using words to parse past regressions. Using hearts to find each other in a world of obstacles, disappointments, and decay of all hope. But that hope still shines like light through a pinhole, tiny dots of fitful faith in the face of years of erosion.
Awkward and hesitant, comfortable and confident, settling onto your chest, hearing the pump of blood, feeling the cymbal crash of your heart, curious to decode its contents. Time transposes reality, shifting from minutes to hours in the time it takes to exhale. And trepidation turns to tranquility, dreams from the past pivoting into a pleasant surprise.
Bodies begin to relax as awkwardness drains away and is replaced with a safe sleepiness. Your breath trips, deepens, then deposits itself into the air like so much smoke. I catch you crossing over, falling into a haunt of dreams. And I, for the first time in my life, catch a glimmer of how things could be. How I thought it would never be.
It’s not a fantasy of falling in love. It’s the privilege of falling asleep in someone’s arms, to have someone willing and wanting to fall asleep in mine. To be allowed the simplicity of touching skin. To feel secure in my own. To be intimate in a way that few people are. To be emotionally tied while loosening the binds of sadness. To feel real and solid instead of vapor that dissipates. To open up to others and to myself.
Are you still watching?
I’m no longer occupied by the television screen prompting us to carry on. I’m much more focused on the smokescreen between us, hoping this might last more than one season.
Ensured that you’re stable in your slumber, I slip away to my own bed. And when I slip off my shirt, I catch the last fume of your smoke. The aroma brings you back to me, just for a moment.
As if you were watching me fall, too.
You take me by the wrist to pull me alongside you. I follow blindly, gratefully. Next to you, I feel like we are all threads waiting to be woven together. You’ve taken my heart with an innocent greed, given yourself over to me as if I were deserving of your body and all the mechanisms below. You drink my words, eat my anger, and bathe in all that I believe. And I am devout, desperate, and delicate under your fingerprints.
I sink into the layers of skin and meat and blood and bone. Then you pull away and pull me apart, an ache as palpable as a severed limb. Eyes transfixed on the specter of your form, filling you out in a revelation of being irrevocably pierced, bleeding out in the best way possible.
Pondering your profile, examining how I could be so drawn to you among an exponential pool of prospects. Billions of people pass by and you pause in my path, enhancing my existence just by breathing.
It must be something higher than us, an orchestration conducted in the clouds. All the cosmic wonders crop up and cry out to me, revealing the curious playfulness of cupids as they see fit to magnetize and harmonize two souls. Waking up chambers of the heart and ushering in the pain of longing, the elegant agony of a space between two pairs of lips, the sweet cut of curiosity of the soul, of wanting to be reassured regarding mutual fondness.
Time has no effect on affection. In dealing with day one or one hundred, the feelings manifest all the same. It’s a realization of an awakening, a clarity of sight and sound, a sharpening of focus. Feeling full and empty at the same time. Dizzy and sober simultaneously. Out of sync with the rest of the world while fully in step with you. Love measured in months or years or weeks or minutes. None of it matters when you just know, when the mask of solitude finally falls away.
Clinging to a chance of redemption, grasping for another day of nirvana. Yearning for the imperceivable perfection of your hand, the jewels of your knuckles, the exquisite glass of your nails. The simple act of slipping your hand into mine, of dipping into a purifying warmth, watching as parallel lifelines run concurrently.
And to bask in the feeling of all the universe shrinking and pulsating between two palms.
There are two types of people we encounter in life: those who just brush up against us and those who leave a more lasting impression, a mark on our hearts, a bruise on our souls. As I assess myself, I wonder if I’ve ever left a purplish pigment of permanence on anyone.
I keep thinking about relationships, about where I fit in with friends, family, and co-workers. I feel like I’ve always coasted, always went right along with the majority’s opinions and decisions. I agreed and blended in so as not to be a bother. My face blurred into the next chubby-cheeked chap next to me. I listened and I loved and at some point maybe I was also loved but I could never seem to hook into anyone, to be outspoken and outstanding enough for someone to want to stay.
Life opens up and unfurls upon all of us, introducing a series of new sensations, situations, and salutations. New friends and opportunities can lead us away from those we once held close. It happens. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We should all strive to expand. But sometimes the strings of connection cannot withstand the widening of knowledge and experience. And they snap. We realize some people are not in the same space we are and we have to make the difficult decision to move on without them.
Some have moved on from me. And I’ve moved on from others. And I accept that. But what I do wonder is if these people think about me as I do them. Some have managed to come in and make a mess of me in a very short period of time. Others have lingered without leaving much of a dent.
It would just feel nice to know that I’m worth thinking about. That I’m missed when I’m gone. That someone wonders where I am and what I’m doing.
The sadder thought is that while these people were my bruise, I was their brush. I think I overthink things. And I overestimate people. So few come around that I get attached too easily and get too excited at the new prospect of a friend. My expectations are too high and ultimately everyone will fail. And I will go away to save myself from more pain but I always ponder about it long after it’s over. What if I made a mistake? How could I have dealt with it in a healthier manner? And the more I think, the more they imprint on my mind, the harder it hurts, the more bruised I become. I do it to myself and I know I’m only making it worse.
But I can’t help it.
And I think and I wonder and I think and I wonder. And while I want to move on I can’t because things usually end unresolved. I know I’m a mess in the head and trying to explain myself usually gets me nowhere so sometimes I don’t even bother. But I want them to know. But knowing won’t make a difference. So I hold it inside me and it cuts me up.
I do it to myself. No one else’s fault. I guess it would just be nice not to have to experience it again and again. That I could feel good about the people in my life and those who have moved on. That I could get myself in order so that I won’t have to worry about lasting impressions and echoing goodbyes.
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.
Your words are just like alphabet soup, random characters clumped up and strung together by growls from the gut. They are messy, unintelligible, senseless. But they were once expressions of love, compassion, and confession. They moved me with their meaning. But the meaning only moved as far as your breath, dissipating on the precipice of your lips. Your mouth moved in an unwavering undulation of adulation but you kept your arms by your sides.
You shrank when called to action. You frayed when we came face-to-face. Time after time, you used your tongue just to tease me but never to reinforce your rhetoric.
You betrayed your words and allowed me to float aimlessly in a deceptive deep end. I slowly realized you didn’t like me as much as you said, didn’t care about my well-being as you claimed, and did not see fit to continue conversing as you promised you would.
All I wanted was for you to stick around and despite your declarations, you dropped me when you got bored or busy. With each broken promise, you pummelled your own prose. Consequently, I don’t care about compliments anymore. I am quick to shoot down suggestions and brush off bragging. And I don’t give a damn about terms of endearment.
From anyone. Anymore.
You filled me up with your words of praise and possibilities but once I got a glimpse of who you really were, I realized those same sentiments were the very things that emptied me out.
You really pulled one over on me, using your words to weaken a writer. It’s like slaying a dragon with fire. I can only hope this brokenness is temporary, that I’ll be able to rebuild my language so I can one day run a red line through all your lies.