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.
I was in Hobby Lobby the other day looking for a new calligraphy pen. As I walked through the aisles, it reminded me of when I was a little boy. I would have been in heaven.
Living in a small town, we didn’t have specialty art supply stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. All we had was a small Wal-Mart in the next town over. As a single-digit-age kid, my world is incredibly small so a trip to the next town felt like a huge adventure. And a trip to Wal-Mart was like Walt Disney World. ‘Cause that meant I could get a toy. And also some new crayons.
I was happy with my one aisle of arts and crafts our Wal-Mart provided. Over the years, I did outgrow the space as I eventually purchased just about every piece of charcoal, fine-tipped drawing pen, pastel, and watercolor set available. But at first, I was mesmerized by all the different tools and techniques I wanted to master.
I loved drawing when I was a kid. And coloring. And painting. And building. And creating in general. It was fun for me and the more I did it, the better I got at it. Not only did I enjoy the creative process but took great satisfaction at the outcome, felt genuine pride over that final polished piece.
Art was all I knew and that’s all my peers began to associate me with. I was “that chubby artist guy.” And while I was better than average, I was no Picasso. But everyone acted like I was. And I found that kind of reputation hard to live up to. I started developing art anxiety that compounded my general anxiety. I wasn’t as good as people thought and I started to feel like a fraud. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as amazing as others expected. And the art that I enjoyed so much began to feel more like a chore.
But I thought college would help me catch up to the expectations people had for me. I would learn the craft, refine my techniques, and learn to fall in love with art again. Unfortunately, attending an art school only reinforced my fears that I was not good enough. My classmates were lightyears ahead of me and wildly talented. But again, art was all I knew. God knows I’m not good at math. I’m not really good at anything, actually. So I stuck with it, got my degree, then promptly moved back home and “retired” from art.
I didn’t want to deal with my insecurities, didn’t want to face the possibility of failure, so I just stopped trying. One of the biggest mistakes I could have made.
Since graduating college nearly ten years ago, I’ve only occasionally done something creative. I’ve drawn a picture here or there. I’ve made a couple of videos. But for the most part, I’ve just not been artistically active. But I still think about it. I still want to learn more about drawing, photography, calligraphy, design, and animation, which was my major in college. Yes, ya boy knows how to do cartoons. I could have worked for Nickelodeon if I wasn’t such a knucklehead.
Back then, I had no expectations. I did art for fun, not for fame or recognition or validation. It was for me and me alone. And the mistake I made was trying to associate my art with my value.
I still feel the pull to be creative. I still get excited about stationary. Still feel the pinpricks of possibilities from pens and pencils. It’s bittersweet and it almost hurts a little bit because I think of the time I wasted and think that I could actually be talented if I would have just kept practicing. Now I’m very behind. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally done.
I almost want to start over completely. Rebuild a foundation first. Start small. And go back to my roots of doing art just for the fun of it. Just for me. It used to be soothing and enjoyable and I want to have that back because I could sure use some soothing these days.
There are so many resources out there. It blows my mind. The Internet is an amazing place and offers so much knowledge. Youtube alone has so many free videos that can teach you to do just about anything you’d ever be interested in. There are also great places like Lynda, Udemy, and Skillshare. And although you do have to pay for those, some of the classes might be worth it.
So that’s what I want to focus on. I’ve had good intentions before and they never panned out. But this time I really do want to get back into it. And I want to take it easy on myself. I’m no professional and I’m not going to try to be one. I just need to do something creative and productive instead of just being lazy all the time. I want to feel proud of the work I do, like I used to be.
Sometimes I think I’d rather lick a trash can than interact with people.
I work with the public. This month marks six years with my current retail job. And each day is hell. It’s not even the work that sucks. It’s the fact that when someone comes into my department, I have no idea what’s going to come at me. Will they be nice or rude? Will it be one or two people or a large group? Will they be clueless or prepared? Are they going to ask me a question I don’t know the answer to, which will make me look stupid?
I feel like people are constantly judging me. That’s because I constantly judge other people. I just assume they are doing the same. Since I’m so insecure, I just know they are thinking how dumb or ugly I am and how I am in no way suitable to offer advice in regard to style or fit because I have no style and my clothes don’t fit.
I’m just not good at speaking with people. But since that is one of the duties of our job, I have to greet every customer I see. It’s not always easy because I can’t just be that person that easily walks up to anyone and confidently offer my services. And as much as being a former artist has helped me develop an eye for good style, I still don’t think I’m excellent at putting an outfit together. I’ve tried to learn about fashion but you go to one resource and it contradicts another one. It seems like there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to fashion. But you try telling that to some people who refuse to put blue and black together or who still swears by pleated jeans.
I’ve been crying a lot lately.
It’s mostly been over inconsequential things, like dog videos. And they’re cute videos about dogs tucking in babies or hugging other dogs. Just generally being sweet and adorable. It sounds lame on the surface to cry over this kind of thing (What the heck, am I a pregnant woman?) but I just love animals and dogs are just so amazing and beautiful and have pure souls. I’ve never met a bad dog. And they’re just so cute and it warms the coldness I have inside. And when I see those damn ASPCA commercials or the inevitable screen grab of abused animals that are advertised on the web, it breaks my heart. I don’t just see the images of freezing puppies chained to a fence or a cat with one eye sitting in the corner of a cage. My mind goes beyond the images. What happened to them to get them in that situation? What cruel person took this innocent creature and tortured it and neglected it? I step into their fur and see the world the way they do. I wonder how long they suffered. I hate that they never got to know love. I worry for them. I wish for them to be okay. And it just makes me so sad that there’s so much suffering in the world, especially suffering animals because no one cares about animals. We hear, “Save the Children, Save the Refugees” and I totally agree with that. But you don’t hear “Save the animals!” as much.
And then on Facebook I saw this video of this kid who had a mental and physical impairment but this guy at Starbucks gave him a chance and made him a barista and the kid said he felt like his life had a purpose now. That made me cry, too. And I thought that was just really nice of that guy to help out the kid and I thought it was great that the kid felt like he had a purpose. And his purpose was making coffee. And that seems so simple and inconsequential and maybe it is, but to him it wasn’t. Maybe it was just the fact that he had something to do, something to contribute to the world. He could help people. It was something so small but he was so grateful for it.
I turn that on myself and I feel like a jerk. I feel like my life has no meaning. I go to work every day and I fold shirts and tell customers their coupons don’t work on Levis and they get pissed at me and give me a hard time and then I go home. What am I contributing to these people, to the world, to life? I have dressed a lot of people for funerals, both attendees and the deceased. I suppose you could say by helping these people dress for a difficult situation, I am easing some of the burden. And maybe I am. And maybe they don’t think twice about my small contribution. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s not enough. But should I not be grateful for the little bit I do? Whether I’m pushing coffee or khakis, if I’m assisting someone make their day easier, isn’t that enough? Shouldn’t we all be helping each other, whether in small or large ways?
I constantly go back and forth between feeling useless and realizing that I am not. Or if I am, I could always do something about it. I could be an activist. I could spread good news. I could give to charity. I could hand out compliments and positive vibes to others. It just never feels like enough because I don’t see the effects of my actions. At work, I send people off with their clothes and never see how good they feel wearing their new outfit. I compliment someone’s haircut and don’t get to know how that might cheer them up if their in a bad mood. I donate blood and never know if it might have saved a life.
I guess this kind of sounds selfish, right? I do all these great things and get nothing out of it! It’s not that I’m looking for recognition or accolades. I just want to know that the admittedly little bit of good that I do is making a difference to someone. In the grand scheme of things, we are all useless. None of what we do or say is really going to matter. But some of us can make the littlest blip on the cosmic radar. Your great leaders. Your great artists. Your presidents and advocates. Those who created a lasting change. Those who started a revolution in thinking, working, loving, living. Even all that might not matter once the world explodes. But at least it might ease the burden on others for as long as everything is still standing.
I spoke too soon about my grandmother’s nose. While I was surprised it hadn’t been completely taken off as I was led to believe by my mom, her cancer has gotten worse. After the initial surgery to cut out the Merkel cancer, it returned and she had to have a second operation to go in and take out more. They took the tip of her nose. They already have another surgery scheduled. They are going to remove her nose completely. And her dementia is worsening. She doesn’t even know what’s going on. She thinks she’s getting a brand new nose. She’ll be lucky to get a prosthetic one.
My uncle, her primary caretaker, is also suffering from a touch of dementia as well. So, he can’t take care of her. Enter my mother, who has to do it all.
While my mother was gone to be with my grandmother for her second surgery earlier this month, my dad had a birthday. I gave him a card and he set me down and we had a conversation. Like, an actual conversation. Well, what could be equated to an actual conversation. He mostly talked to me and my responses mostly went ignored as he continued with his monologue. He was the one who told me the doctors were going to take off my grandmother’s nose. I was at work during her second surgery when Mom called Dad and told him and then he told me.
He also told me that he was getting a promotion at his job. Sounds like good news. But he doesn’t want to take it. He doesn’t want all the extra responsibility. In fact, he was planning on retiring in the next year or so. But due to insurance, he wants to keep his job. He’s worried about my mom’s job. Her hours have been cut at work the past couple of weeks. This isn’t an abnormal occurrence but it still worries them. I guess he’s worried about retiring and then Mom might lose her job and then they’ll be in trouble.
My hours have been cut at work as well. In half. Again, this isn’t abnormal. And they always get cut after Christmas. It’s a slow time. But things have been going downhill since the middle of last year. My hours have steadily decreased and I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t so temporary after all. So, I’m not really contributing to the family and I think everyone is aware of that. Since they don’t think I’m going to step up, my dad is, taking on a position he doesn’t want and picturing himself working about five years more than he had originally planned, just to help keep up afloat.
I asked him why he would take it if he didn’t want to and he repeated that he did it because of my mom. He’ll be making more money and having more responsibility but he is doing it to support her, both financially and I suppose as a gesture of love. My chest felt like ice cubes dipped in hot chocolate. I know my dad loves my mom and my sister and me. He just doesn’t say it. But he shows it, in those kind of ways, ways a man raised to be hard shows his love. It’s with money. It’s with hard work. It’s with doing the kind of things you don’t want to do in order for your family to be more comfortable. And that was great. And that was the hot chocolate feeling. But I didn’t want him to be unhappy with his new position. That’s where the ice cubes come into play. And I told him this. He shook his head in a dismissive manner. “I’ll just have to learn to like it,” he said.
He works with my uncle and so he’s seen the progression of his mental deterioration as well. He told me it’s getting worse. They often have to work out of town and he told me my uncle’s balance is so bad that he is constantly falling out of the work vehicles and often falls out of the small hotel showers. The past few times I saw my uncle, I did notice he was covered in small scratches.
Nothing feels right…”
-Sufjan Stevens, That was the Worst Christmas Ever!
About three weeks ago, as I was getting ready to go to work, Mom started assembling the Christmas tree. It was our old artificial tree we’ve had for years. As much as I always wanted a real tree, artificial ones didn’t shed and didn’t cost any extra money each year. So, artificial it’s always been.
As she untangled the lights and checked for broken ornaments, the phone rang. It was my grandmother complaining about a pain in her arm. Mom stopped what she was doing and tried to get a doctor’s appointment. As I walked out of the door, I saw the frustration in my mom’s face. No one was available. I told Mom to text me with updates while I was at work, knowing she wouldn’t. She never did. But she said she would and I went to work.
I came home, having never gotten a text message, and found Mom finishing up the tree.
“Looks good,” I said.
“Eh, it’s leaning.”
I stepped back and saw that it did have a severe curvature going on. I’d noticed the leaning in previous years but it was always slight, maybe from a few too many ornaments on one side or from the sections not being properly secured in their notches. But this lean was looking legit, like it was an old man trying to grab the wall for support.
“Oh, well, it’ll have to do,” my mom said as she plugged in the tree lights. It burst into a warm glow and sprayed light onto the wall like a gold sneeze.
“How’s Grandmother?” I asked.
Mom sighed. “Well, I never could get a hold of anyone but I got dressed and went to see her and she was fine after she took some medication.”
“Well, that’s good,” I said. Mom had been chauffeuring my grandmother around to different doctors due to her skin cancer and other ailments and had looked forward to a quiet day of decorating at home. It always seemed like something came up any time Mom made plans to relax. I feared those quiet days at home were going to become less and less.
“We’re gonna have to get another tree,” Mom said as she cocked her head to the side, examining it. “Even the ornaments are starting to fray and wear.”
She wasn’t incorrect but I didn’t think it looked too bad. Although worn down, it was all much better than our old trees. Mom used to use the multi-colored lights and an assortment of mismatched ornaments that my sister and I had made in art class or that she’d been given by friends and family, hand-painted and pretty putrid. But after years of sentimental spruces, Mom chunked the old tree, boxed up the clay ornaments with my initials and the year on the bottom, and bought a brand new fake tree with a set of matching ornaments.
I always thought our newest tree had a bit more class with its gold and burgundy balls flecked with glitter, ornate crosses and silken ribbon tied in bows, cohesive gold lights, and glittered sticks pierced through small burgundy and gold orbs like kabobs placed atop the tree in a starburst pattern. But we’ve had that setup for several years now. The tree is showing signs of age, it’s spine leaning, the weight of years of Christmases finally taking its toll. Maybe next Christmas is time a fresh start.
I weighed myself this morning. 45 pounds down since January. I’m happy with the results but I’m still pretty miserable because I just want pizza.
I know you’re thinking I should just get a pizza and satisfy those cravings. Well, it’s just not that easy. I’m not new to this whole weight loss game. This will be my third time losing a major amount of weight. I know what works and what doesn’t. And what doesn’t work for me is having cheat days. This is for two reasons: I am a binge eater and one pizza will lead to me cleaning out the nearest Dominos. Also, I am so paranoid about undoing all my progress that I feel I will gain back all 45 pounds from that one pizza. Yes, I know that’s completely illogical. I am aware. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking it.
So, I just don’t eat the pizza and the cravings come and go. The problem is they keep coming back.
And really, I don’t think I’d be happy with just one pizza. I’d want a pizza every week. Because food makes me happy. Or at least it numbs me enough to at least not be as depressed.
And that’s just the truth of the matter. Nothing in my life brings me joy. I have bottomed out happiness wise. Every day is painful. Every day is another reluctant choice to get up and go to work and exist when really I would rather just sleep all day and only wake up to have some ice cream or a chicken sandwich.
I look back on food with fond memories, like it’s a long lost lover. On the occasions when I got a weekend off from work, I made plans to end my Friday shift and start the weekend with a pizza or Japanese takeout and I was so excited to end the work week with some good food. I also got excited when Mom brought back fast food home when she got off work or when she wouldn’t feel like cooking and she’d say, “Hey, why don’t we order something?”
And now the weekend comes and there’s no pizza or Japanese takeout and I feel like something is missing in my life, as absurd as that sounds. The weekend isn’t as fun anymore.
I wish I could be that jazzed about juicing but the reality of the situation is I equate comfort with butter and sugar, grease and breading. Lard equals love. And there’s no way around it and there’s no changing the past. It’s ingrained in me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to rewire my head or if I’m too far gone to properly function without fried chicken, which I also miss. I haven’t had it all year. And I live in the South. It’s been tough.
And it will never get easier. I’ll get lighter but the desire for bread dough will always weigh me down.
Last Wednesday, I was minding my own business when I felt a sore throat come on. This was odd because I usually wake up with it. But I actually felt it happen in real time. I wasn’t too concerned because I’ve had minor throat irritation before but it usually went away by the next day. But this one didn’t. The next two days passed by and I took some over the counter medication to try to nip it in the bud before it became too bad.
It didn’t get any better. My throat became so sore it was hard to swallow or even move my head around. I also lost my voice.
I reported to work like normal since I didn’t have many paid vacation/sick days left and I certainly didn’t want to waste them unless it was absolutely necessary. I only had a few days of work and then three days off, so I thought I’d be able to make it through and then take my days off to recover.
I made it through but things continued to get worse. I developed a nasty cough and a runny nose. I felt dizzy. I made an appointment to see a doctor. But that meant I actually had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go out in public. That thought usually pains me even when I’m not feeling like crap so it was exceptionally difficult that day.
Not only did I feel (and look) terrible but I saw a lot of old acquaintances while out. The nurse at the counter of the doctor’s office is the mother of my high school classmate.
While I was in the waiting room, one of my high school teacher’s walked in. My former teachers usually don’t recognize me so I kept my head down and she never seemed to notice. Even when the nurse called my name to be seen, my teacher didn’t turn her head in recognition.
And when the doctor came in to see me, he commented that he hadn’t seen me in about 5 years.
“I see on my notes here the last time you came to see me that you were studying animation,” he said. “Whatever happened to that?”
The dreaded question.
I had to explain that nothing ever happened to that, that I no longer felt passionate about animation, and that I had “retired” from drawing.
“What are you doing now?” he asked.
“Working retail,” I said. My already small voice had faded even more.
It’s always embarrassing to have to explain how my big dreams of being an animator fell through. And I always worry if people think I’m padding the truth, like I actually failed or dropped out. No, I graduated. I was just too much of a coward to do anything with my degree.
And when I went to get my prescription filled at the drugstore, I saw my former co-worker there. Hadn’t seen him in ten years. He asked what I was up to and I explained, in the same sad, small voice, that I was working in retail.
It doesn’t help that I’m also fat now. These people who haven’t seen me in such a long time now see me as overweight, balding, and working a crummy job folding shirts for pennies. The years haven’t been good to Bran. More like, Bran hasn’t been good to Bran.
I graduated from college about five years ago and that’s an ample amount of time to run into a lot of old friends and past acquaintances, to explain to each and every one of them of my shortcomings and failures. And it has sucked each time. And each time I have to explain that I’m basically doing nothing with my life, I feel that fire of shame in my chest. But over the years, the pool of former friends has dried up and I’ve had to explain myself less and less. But even after all these years, there are a few stragglers that still show up in my life and I have to bust out the explanations one more time and feel the fire again. I hate it and it’s just another reminder of my pointless existence. As if I needed a reminder.
It’s all perception. I know I’m harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m sure the doctor and the co-worker probably didn’t think twice about my life update. Sure, I’ve gained some weight since they saw me last. Sure, I’m not in the best occupation right now. But does that make me beneath them? Of course not. And did they think that? I’m sure they didn’t. But the paranoid part of my brain felt like they did look down on me. I always have this suspicion that everyone thinks I’m trash and I hate having to confirm it every time I see them.
One of the annoying things about living in a small town is it feels like I’m always on top of everyone else. Or, more specifically, it feels like everyone else is always on top of me. It’s suffocating. There’s no privacy or anonymity. Everyone knows me and my business. I just wish I could have sneaked in and out of the doctor’s office and slipped in and out of the drugstore, ninja-style, and then nose-dived into the safety of my bed, and cuddled up to the comfort of my penicillin and pillows.
I work in a retail clothing store. There are only two other places to shop for clothing in the town and they have less options than our tiny store provides so the majority of people come to us.
The town I work in is filled with older people. There are no opportunities for jobs or fun things to do for youth so as soon as they graduate high school, they hightail it out of town and find a larger space far away with more choices. The whole town is basically a nursing home.
Because of this, I see a lot of death and decay at my job. There aren’t many companies here that require its employees to wear suits and the employees that do wear suits can afford better quality than what we provide. So every time a younger person comes in to buy a suit, it’s usually because someone has died. And if it’s an older person, they are usually buying something new to wear to church.
It always goes one of three ways:
“I need a suit for a funeral and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for church and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for my husband for church (or funeral) and I don’t know what size he is.” They go on to tell me how the husband has lost a ton of weight due to illness and/or advanced age.
And the illness and/or advanced age will then lead to the wife to want a pajama set for the husband while in a nursing home or for recovery after surgery. We don’t carry pajama sets. We never have. No one else around here does either. That only adds to the stress of a sick spouse. And I have to be the recipient of their frustration.
I am constantly bombarded with older people and their disintegrating bodies. They’re always shrinking in size and health and when I look into their pale, watery eyes and observe the folds of their skin and the stray eyebrow hairs and sun damage on their deeply lined faces, it’s almost as if they’re sucking the life out of me as well.
It’s hard to always hear about how someone is sick or someone has just died. It’s awkward for me. I never know how to react. I don’t want to seem cold but I also don’t want them to fall apart on me so I try not to let them focus on grief. I express my condolences but then I get down to business, measuring their necks and arms for sizes, smelling their stale stench, assessing the misshapen bodies due to years of hard labor or disease and wondering how I’m going to fit their many bumps and grooves. It doesn’t help that our suit selection is piss poor. And oftentimes, so are the customer’s attitudes.
I’m young to them. But to me, I feel as old as their weathered faces and limp gray hair convey. I’m going gray myself and finding my eyes are crinkling more and more when I smile, the creases in skin not plumping back the way it used to. I see myself in them, tired and broken down and sometimes just angry to be alive.
I feel like an old, defeated man. I’ve led a privileged life but I hesitate to even call it a life. I’ve filled up my short years with decades of despondence. I peaked at 23 and my life and body has gone downhill since. It’s been a combination of bad luck and admittedly, a bad outlook on my part. I’ve lost friends and faith and a passion for art. I’ve lost some opportunities and passed up on others. And now I work in a dead-end job with half-dead customers. I have made no difference to anyone. I’ve put myself in a debt I cannot get out of and I have burdened my family with my lack of finances. I’m not talented enough to reach my readers. I am not kind-hearted enough to keep friends.
And most of the time, I don’t even feel well-suited to suit up a customer for a casket or convalescent home.