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.
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’m stuck at 17 years of age and it’s depressing.
I feel like I’m getting too old for social media. I’ve really gotten into Tumblr recently and I don’t know if it’s just the type of followers I’ve accrued or if they are representative of the majority of Tumblr users but most of them seem to be young, high school/college-age kids. And I’m a post-college pudge ball who can still relate to their emo musings and pubescent longings. It makes me question my emotional maturity.
I think there might be something to Freud’s idea that we get stuck in certain stages of life while we grow up. I’m not sure about all the creepy sex stuff but I think there are certain rites of passage most young people go through on their way to adulthood. It’s the ups and downs, the lockers and lip-locking, the friendships and failures. Really, it’s about the experience. Each event is a potential lesson that serves to mold you into a well-rounded character.
But I haven’t experienced much, all through my own doing. But even lack of experience can shape you, although sometimes, as in my case, it hasn’t shaped me so much as it has flattened me out.
I never felt like I got to be a regularly teenager. I spent the majority of my time eating and watching television in my room. I was fat from the beginning so I had that complex hanging over my head and that crushed my confidence from the start. Being a weird artist didn’t help matters. I couldn’t relate to the jocks and cheerleaders. Football was a religion and I was an atheist among the athletes.
I went to very few social gatherings. I wanted to talk to people. I witnessed my peers mesh with ease and I wished that could be me but my belly formed too big of a barrier.
I mustered up enough will to attend the homecoming dance and prom but I didn’t have anyone special to go with so I went with friends and at the end of the night, instead of going to the backseat, I went back to my room and to my bag of chips.
I didn’t make out. I didn’t hug or hold or give anyone my class ring. I didn’t have many friends. I was lonely a lot. I was also full of acne, which increased my desire to dig a hole in my bed and wallow in it for all of eternity.
And without being taught by my parents, I learned about art and God on my own. Homophobia and racism and misogyny never made any sense to me. And frankly, neither did church. But I still put effort into God because I felt it was the right path to take and I felt the difficult into finding God must have had something to do with what all the preachers said about how terrible we all are as humans. But I didn’t need a preacher to inform me of my shortcomings. I knew that all by myself.
It’s just, I think part of me is always looking for someone to turn around, buy me a drink, give me a hug and say it’s all right. Because I just go off on one. For days I’m unbearable, I can’t talk to people. And it shocks me because I’m still doing it. I want to be alone and I want people to notice me both at the same time. I can’t help it.
I often feel like the world has been constructed for couples. In these economic times, most people need help from a partner’s income to live comfortably. And life can be so harsh that the only way to endure is to have someone to come home to and hold at the end of the day. New dating sites are constantly cropping up. Most books/movies/television shows contain love stories that end when the protagonist finally finds the one. Magazines tell you how you can find the one as well.
You can be happy on your own. I’ve always believed that. But the more I subject myself to those books/movies/television shows, and the more the people in my life fall in love and fall in line with society’s expectations to partner up and procreate, the more a need for a companion sets in. And because of that, I wonder if being happy on your own applies to certain people only. Maybe some are just better off with another person. I’m just not sure where I belong. Am I in the single person camp or would I be better off belonging to another?
I keep trying to find a balance between realism and cynicism. I don’t want to feel like my happiness is dependent on my significant other. I also don’t want to dismiss love in such a way as to say it won’t bring immense joy. I’m sure it does. It can also bring immense sorrow. And that potential sorrow has been one of the reasons I’ve never taken a chance on love.
I’ve been single all my life so with no one to be with on a Friday night, I’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with my loneliness. For the most part, I’m okay with it. The thought of being close to someone terrifies me to no end. It’s the inexperience and the conception that I should be more seasoned at my age. It’s the insecurity. It’s the painful mediocrity. There is nothing exceptional about me and I’d rather everyone wonder what’s underneath my clothes and in my heart than let them see and be disappointed.
My life has been a consistent walk along a tight rope of minimizing my true flaws while presenting an artificial visage of put-togetherness. It’s a battle with the mirror and my mind each day and the fight has finally worn me down. But despite the exhaustion, hiding is all I’ve known. I hate it but it also feels easier than being real and raw and having that rawness turn into rejection. I don’t know how else to be.
Despite trying to be logical about being single, there are days when I ache to be with someone. I see it all the time when people tell me about dating and forming deep, satisfying relationships. It’s plastered all over social media. I long to be a part of it but I can’t relate to the posts, prayers, and praise about love and I don’t feel real. It’s something that should be natural. But it’s foreign to me. Not only do I feel rejected but I don’t even feel human half the time.
It’s in those moments that the loneliness flares up. It comes about like a cold sore, striking and subsiding without my consent or control. It’s ugly and painful and it makes me not want to get out of bed. It makes me not want to face anyone. It makes me not want to be.
But I do want to know what it’s like to be in love. I want to know what it’s like to kiss and hold and be held. I want to experience sex and the closeness of two bodies bonding. I want to feel all the things most people feel. I want to couple up, to hold hands, to go out to dinner with someone special. I want to love. I want to be loved. I want the incidental touches and intentional body contact. I want skin. I want heart. I want soul. I want to intertwine myself with someone else, to feel integrated into their being.
But sometimes you get so far away from something you realize it will never happen. Sometimes that’s just the cosmic cards you’re dealt.
I’m trying to learn to accept it. For the most part, I have prepped myself for perpetual singularity. But the desire for skin never truly leaves. It comes and it goes. And when it arrives, I usually just wait it out, distract myself with something destructive, and redirect the pain to other places until it leaves for another day. I keep it all inside because I have no other choice. There’s no one to help ease my burden while helping me out of my skin.
People tell me I’m preoccupied with the negative aspects of my life. I focus on the bad and don’t give enough praise to the good. In some ways, I can understand their point. There have been many times when I’ll go inside my head and find nothing but bad and I have to pull myself out and realize I need to give credit for all the good I have going on.
I’ve been made to feel so guilty for not being this shining beacon of light that when I do feel down, I immediately counter my complaints with gratitude. My job sucks but I have my health! I have no friends but I have a roof over my head! I can’t control my weight but at least I have food to eat!
Yes, I recognize and understand all of this but I just don’t think anyone understands how deep the depression runs. It’s not just a matter of inconvenience. It’s a matter of chemical imbalances and separation from people, happiness, and God. It’s a matter of always feeling dead and always wishing I really was. It’s so much more than the outer shell of what you see of me, who you perceive me to be through conversations, and the words you read from me.
It’s like telling someone to ignore a knife wound. You’ve been struck in the chest but you can still walk, right? That’s just not how it works. Every day when I wake up, I can feel the knife sliding in deeper, sawing away at the nerves and edges of organs. I’m sorry, but I can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.
That doesn’t mean I’ve twisted the weapon further in, either. That doesn’t mean I’ve laid myself down and given in to the damage. I don’t point to the penetration and pray for pity. I talk about it. I’m open. I’m honest. I am not diluted into thinking things are okay when I know they aren’t.
And that’s the problem with people who tell me I’m too negative. I’m not negative. I’m just real. And I have enough strength to be aware of the limitations and disappointments in my life. I don’t put a bow around the base of the knife and wear it like a decoration. I know it’s there and I won’t dress it up or work my way around it. I don’t ignore it. I don’t settle for the steel inside skin like others do, rotting them from the inside out.
Every time I sit down at the computer and write like this, I’m facing it head on. I’m working out the blade by working out my problems. And pain and disappointment comes with facing it head on. There will be challenges. There are arteries you have to navigate through. And sometimes you’ll hit a new nerve and you’ll want to give up and just leave it in to prevent further damage. But you’ll never truly be healed until it comes out fully. You can’t be healed if you don’t give your wound some attention.
As with anything, it’s all about balance. Sure, I shouldn’t focus on all the bad. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t deal with it in some capacity. I’m working on it. I go about my business. I get up and drive to work and collect my paycheck. I look forward to the temporary deaths of sleep and the ecstasies of eggs in the morning. All the while, the pain lingers and the fact that I’m not on the floor in a fit should be seen as a sign of progress.
And when someone asks how I am, how I really am, not in an informal salutation, but during an actual conversation, I tell them because I think they genuinely care. And then they tell me I’m too negative, that I should ignore the knife wound. And I withdraw because they don’t get it or they don’t care.
I go home and sit in my room, alone, and get to work on unsticking the blade from my bones.
Y’all, I’m so behind on my writing. This happened a few months ago and I jotted some notes down but I’m just now getting around to posting this…I mean, I have a book to write but I’ll never get to it if I can’t get all this other mental clutter out first.
A few months ago, I met a high school acquaintance for dinner. We spoke fairly regularly for a few years and then she got married and we drifted apart. I never thought her marriage would last and sure enough, when we started catching up with each other over enchiladas, she told me she had been divorced for about two years.
Ironically, the divorce was the best thing going on in her life. Shortly after she and her husband split, she realized she never loved him the way she should have and wasted nine years of her life with him. But she did get a free house, car, and dog out of the deal so it wasn’t a total bust. But other than that, she felt inadequate and turned to alcohol and random sex partners to ease the hurt of being alive.
The more we talked, the more I realized we were basically the same person, Siamese twins conjoined at our crippling insecurities. I felt bad for her and felt even worse when I had no advice to offer up. Usually I can dole out a few words of wisdom and guidance that soothes whatever aches the person I talk to but with her, I had nothing because I’m going through the same problems.
She doesn’t have a job and lies in bed all day and drinks. She said she stays, at a minimum, buzzed, and at maximum, blacked out drunk. She has one night stands. She has no purpose, no guidance, no one to love her. She thinks she’s disgusting, which she’s not. She’s a very pretty girl but all she can see is the “big girl she used to be.” I also understood that. No matter how much weight I’ve lost or will lose, I’ll always feel like the fat guy.
I wanted to both hug and throttle her but couldn’t because 1) I don’t like touching people and 2) I know I wouldn’t have gotten through to her. I think she’s just going to have to go through whatever she’s going through and either become numb to the whole thing or finally snap out of it somehow. I didn’t think there was a cure for what ailed her. There was only control. She can control her symptoms. She can minimize the hurt but if she’s anything like me, and I believe she is, the pain will never go away.
I used to never look at my checking account. I spent money like I assumed it would always be there. I bought stuff I didn’t need. Sometimes I bought stuff I didn’t even want because buying things made me feel better. And buying food always made me feel best.
I avoid stuff. I’m good at it. I like to ignore subjects that make me feel uncomfortable. I always reason with myself that I’ll deal with it when I’m emotionally ready. But I’m never emotionally ready. I bury it deeper inside until it resolves itself or until it becomes unavoidable and I actually have to face it.
My pants get tighter and I tell myself I’ll start dieting the next day. My funds dry up and I say I’ll finally publish my book and hope to make a good bit of money from it. But at the end of the day, I go to the grocery store and stock up on candy. I eat it. And then it starts over the next day and the next week and the next month and the next year.
One of the things I’ve been ignoring the most is my student loans. I’ve been clueless about them ever since I first applied for them. My parents never dealt with student loans before and didn’t know how to help me with them so I just went for a company my college recommended.
And then when they came due, the minimum monthly payments were too high so I deferred them and then used forbearance. I couldn’t find a stable job and the money just wasn’t there. I eventually settled into my retail job and was fortunate enough to be promoted to a supervisor, which gave me a decent pay raise. About that time, my deferment and forbearance was exhausted and I had to start paying them back.
I set up automatic payments from my checking account so I wouldn’t have to look at it or deal with it or think about it. I didn’t even know where to go to check on my balance.
My mom has always dealt with the family finances. For example, my dad gives my mom his paycheck and she pools their money together and distributes it to the appropriate channels. Maybe I’ve inadvertently started to think of my mom as a bank, collecting and lending money as she saw fit and never bothered to develop my own financial independence.
Well, better late than never.
Last month, I really had a talk with myself about how much money I spend on junk. I spent money ’cause I was in pain and it was a self-medicating measure. And that’s why I can’t get mad at myself over the wasted money over the years. I didn’t mean to be wasteful. I just meant to be okay. What’s done is done and I can’t get upset over spilled savings. No matter where I was, here I am now.
I downloaded a few financial apps to my phone and researched my student loans. It was a bit disheartening to see exactly how much I owe back and how little of my monthly payments are actually going to the principal but at least I know now and from this point onward, I have a better idea of where my money’s going.
With this new job, I’m making a bit more money and I’m hoping it gets better soon enough so I won’t have to quit and lose that pay increase. In fact, at this point I should keep the job no matter how much I hate it because this is what being an adult means. I got myself in this financial mess and I have to get out of it, even if it means several years of scraping by and being poor and skipping cheeseburgers so I can use that saved money to chip chip chip away at those loans.
No, no, wait. Focus.
It’s really a win/win. I’m saving money and calories. And I’m pretty proud of myself because I haven’t spent any more money than I’ve absolutely needed to this year. Sure, we’re only 18 days into the new year but I’ve really concentrated on doing better. It’s one step at a time, one day at a time. And I feel good about it so far. I hope I can keep it up!
I always feel I do better when I’m making goals and working toward them. When I wake up with no direction, I usually get nothing accomplished and feel terrible at the end of the day. It’s difficult to make goals sometimes because I am an all-or-nothing type of person. Moderation is a hard concept for me to grasp because if I’m going to do something, especially something I don’t want to do, I want to see fast results. Otherwise, it’s easy to give up.
There are some days when I feel I have to starve myself, work out until I’m dizzy, write ten chapters and read an entire book in a day for me to feel like I actually did something productive. And that’s not healthy because trying to meet such high standards on a daily basis only sets myself up to crash and burn. And I always do. And that makes it harder to get back on track.
But there are other days when it’s like a switch has been flipped and I can understand and utilize the idea of doing and eating and experiencing things in small portions. I can have a slice of cake and not feel guilty. I can do moderate exercise for half an hour and feel like I burned some fat. I can write a chapter in the book I’m writing or read a chapter in a book I’m reading and I feel like I accomplished something. It’s during those times that I do my best and feel my best.
For a time last year, I woke up and made daily goals, usually involving exercising, reading and writing. I’d write during my lunch break at work, exercise when I got off work, then read before bed. Sometimes I wrote a lot and read a little or exercised a little and read a whole lot and didn’t write very much and there were days when I didn’t get around to doing one thing on my list because I got too busy or felt lethargic. That was okay because the majority of the time I accomplished most, if not all, the things I planned to do. When I had a goal to strive for, I had direction. When I had direction, I actually got stuff done. And that felt good.
This is the time to get back into that mode, to make goals and strive toward completing them, to get stuff done. If I fall short on a few things, that’s okay because I can always make it up the next day. It’s a tired expression but every day really is an opportunity to do better. I just have to remember that and not beat myself up if I can’t get it all done in one day.
It’s a one-step program, taking things one day at a time, one goal at a time, one accomplishment at a time. It’s all about patience and persistence. It’s about always reminding yourself of the good your doing, how the small things add up to big changes. And that takes a lot of energy and when you don’t have much to begin with, it can feel overwhelming. But it’s worth it. I just have to keep that in mind.
I’ve done all this before. Not once but twice. And I can do it again.