When I was in seventh grade I began experiencing visceral episodes of self-loathing, panic attacks that revolved around the inescapable horror of being trapped in that particular sliver of time and space. I was both not in my body and also too much within it.
(God and the Archangel Michael, ironing out some last details about humanity)
The Archangel Michael: Dear God, how do we inform women that it's time to stop procreating?
God: What do you mean, "time to stop"?
Michael: Well, they can’t do it when they’re 80, right? Their bones would break.
God: Oh, they’ll certainly be dead by 50. Look how many diseases I made up. (Points to diseases.)
If you were seconds away from demise, would you really have the cognitive capacity to read? It’s just common sense. I don’t need a medical degree to tell you that. Have I mentioned yet that I don't have a medical degree? If I did I'd never shut up about it.
Looking over list of tasks for the day, Alice hears a disembodied voice*.
?: Ha ha, you’re not going to accomplish any of it. Again.
Me: Who said that?
?: Good morning. I am The Nameless, Formless Dread!
Me: I need to cut down on my coffee.
See that “sign up” button on the upper right? Every Friday I’ll be sending out a newsletter. It will provide links to fun things! It will contain secret information I’m not sharing on the blog! It will include early announcements on courses I’m putting together right now!
To my LGBTQ friends, my Muslim friends, my Black friends; to anyone who has been the target of hate and violence: I see you, I love you, I support you, I will fight for you. I’m not giving up.
I started posting about my art practice on Finslippy a little over four years ago. I was feeling pretty low, and my psychiatrist had urged me to pursue something for pure enjoyment. A "hobby," he called it. At the time, very little came to mind. “What do you do for fun?” he asked, and I couldn’t think of anything. What is this word “fun,” Doctor? Please explain while I try to remember how smiling works.
Things got hairy for a while, there. To wit: I caught a particularly severe strain of the flu that left me unable to do anything but lie down and moan for a couple of weeks. (Oh, and an ear infection. And this was after the sinus infection/bronchitis that came from the cold I had in March. It’s been quite a couple of months.) I would just lie there and enjoy a series of panic attacks and wonder if the panic attacks were actually imminent death. I was pretty fun.
Shakespeare: Oh, I have not a stinking clue by what means I create or recreate these adventures that live inside my soul. I stare at these cursed pages and think, who-ever told me I should compose even the dung-heaps of words such as I have done? Once in a fit of despair I ate all the Shrewsbury cakes Anne had but recently baked. They did not assist me.
I've been thinking a lot about this loss, and about Prince himself. Of course I'm a huge fan of Prince’s music because I am not a fool, but I'm also a fan of Prince himself. I just loved knowing he was in the world, you know? Blessing us all with his existence. Touching down onto the mortal plane and delighting the universe.
Me: [opening up laptop]
The Internet: You should check me before you start writing.
Me: We’ve been over this. First I write, then I check you. There’s no emergency happening.
T.I.: That you know of.
Me: Someone would have called me.
T.I.: Unless they’re all dead. I mean probably they’re not all dead. It’s fine if you don’t check first. Maybe.
Me: Just give me an hour, Internet. A lousy hour.
Question: why do people always say "Not to toot my own horn, but..."? Why is it unseemly to toot your own horn? I would think if you have a horn, you should toot it. What, you have to wait around for other people to toot the horn that you, the horn-owner, could toot at any moment? Isn’t that unseemly? I’m going to yell out at people, “Hey you, toot my horn”? Where has dignity gone? I’m a married woman! My horn-tooting activity is sacred and between me and my spouse! I can’t remember what I was talking about! All the blood’s left my head.
I haven’t had a cold in a long time, so this week has been a wonderful reminder of how unnecessary colds are. They’re awful. I would like to know who thought these up. I have some words for them.
Dedicated readers will recall that our cat Izzy once became very, very large. She grew out of her kittenhood and just kept going, width-wise. Due to her excessive girth, she couldn’t clean the lower half of her body. From where her waist would have been all the way down to her lil cat butt-hole was a mess. It was sad.
So here’s the podcast episode I wrote about (albeit cryptically) in last week’s post. We really get into it about a half hour in, but the whole episode is worth listening to. Paul Gilmartin was such a fantastic guest. And despite the intensity of the conversation, there were many laughs. Which was surprising to discover because I honestly couldn’t remember anything we discussed.
I have a story that wants to be told.
I don’t understand it. I truly do not understand why I can’t keep this one to myself. It’s all over. I've had so much therapy. I’m okay with it, it’s been decades, and I’m done. I’m good. But for whatever reason, it simply won’t back down. I’ve been arguing with it. Pipe down, I tell the story. You’re not that interesting. I have much better stories to share. But the damn thing won’t shut up. It’s like, pick me! I’m going to be so embarrassing for you! Yay!
Have you been listening to my podcast? Look, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if you like podcasts and/or you have even a glancing interest in mental health, you should listen to my podcast. It’s a good podcast!
The League of Awkward Unicorns features me and Deanna Zandt, who is my friend and fellow depression/anxiety sufferer. We wanted to do a podcast about mental health issues that wasn’t a total bummer. More specifically, we wanted to do a mental-health podcast that featured us, hosting it. We amuse each other and assumed that meant we would amuse other people. So far our assumptions seem to be working out!
You know that neither of us are mental health professionals, right? We're just two goofs with a vested interest in reducing the shame and stigma of mental illness. (Actually Deanna is a media technologist, activist, author, and speaker, so technically not the goof in this pairing.) I am not a mental health professional in any way except that I’ve gone to so many mental health professionals that I should have at least one honorary degree. Shouldn't it work that way? I know a lot, guys.
We have seven episodes out in the world right now, and more to come—we’re publishing them every other week. Sometimes we interview guests, and sometimes it’s just us. We’ve got big plans for the future. In case it’s not clear, I’m proud of this thing we’ve made.
You can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and probably anywhere else podcasts can be found. You can check in with us on Facebook, too. Let me know what you think, what you want us to cover, whom we should interview, et cetera and so forth.
Today I got injured in my Pilates class, which is a thing that could only happen to me. It’s like suffering a croquet injury, or a bongo mishap. It’s just not easy to injure yourself in Pilates. It was a tower class, which means that you’re working on equipment that’s bolted to the wall, and there’s a piece of that equipment on springs that you push down with your hands—and what you’re not supposed to do is let it go so that the equipment flies up and whacks you in the chest so hard you can’t talk for a few seconds.
It hurt. It really, really hurt. Like, really.
It’s only a small class, just me and another student and the instructor, so it’s not like the WHANG that reverberated through my chest went unnoticed. Once I was able to talk I claimed that I was fine, and after a few minutes of me enthusiastically lying (why? Why must we always pretend we're fine?), we kept going.
And that’s when the tears started. You know when you feel them coming and it’s just not the right time, and you’re like, not now, tears, wait until I’m home, come on, we only have ten more minutes of class, RETREAT, RETREAT, you're fine, keep it together, and the tears are like "NO THANKS! WE CAN’T WAIT TO SPILL ALL OVER THIS YOGA MAT!"?
It hurt, yes, but I also think I needed to cry. I'm normally a crier (boy, am I) but I've been having a dry spell. And it’s been a rough few months. I’ve been worried and sad. My dad isn’t doing great. His health problems keep multiplying, and he’s having cognitive issues, and it feels like every week there’s more news, and it’s never good. I’ve been keeping it together, though. I mean, he’s 80. This is what happens. I’ve kept my focus on my mom, who has to deal with the brunt of it. But then I got whacked in the chest, and something else hit me: my dad’s going to die.
Luckily, as I said, it was only the three of us, so the class turned into a stretching/therapy session, with me soaking my yoga mat as the other two recalled the times they had cried during Pilates. I kept trying to stop, but my chest kept hurting in these waves, and each wave would bring it on again.
The thing is, I really don’t want my dad to die. Not surprising, I know. I don't want him to die, and also I hate this. All of it. I think this whole deal, this whole getting old and sick and unhappy business, is stupid and unfair. I wish to have some words with whoever came up with this plan.
In the meantime, I hurt myself and I hurt and I got home and thought I'd stop crying, but I continued on with great vigor, and then my son came home from school and was quite concerned, and he ordered me to bed, because he is goddamn adorable and sweet. So I’m just going to lie in bed for a while with a whole bunch of damp tissues and a mildly alarmed chihuahua. Right after I hit publish.
Sometimes I write about stuff and I don’t fully understand why I’m writing it. Take last week’s post. I thought I was making a point about writing on the Internet—the high school anecdote was just the way to get there. Why would I care that much about high school? It’s been almost 30 years since high school. I’ve put decades between me and the eighties. The span of my life after high school is longer than it was up to high school. And more things about time. I’m an adult, is what I’m trying to say! Such an adult. I adult like you wouldn’t believe.
So, sure, I wrote about this time when my friends hated me, but then I skipped right ahead to the here and now. I’m Facebook friends with two of the members of that high school circle. Since then, we’ve had really nice interactions both online and in person. I’ve long moved past that point. Did I mention that I’m an adult, now? I’m ridiculously sophisticated. I sometimes use that primer you put under your makeup. I have creases and such. And life insurance!
I will admit, however, that a small part of me worried that these friends might react negatively. That I would either hear, “Oh, I see—we’re talking about why we all hated you in high school? Because I can tell you exactly why." Even worse: “I don’t remember anything about it, because you weren’t relevant enough to make it into my memories.” (Yes, this is where my mind goes. I’m in therapy twice a week!) Mostly, though, I figured no one involved would comment much on it. Events that seemed huge to me truly might not have registered for them.
A few days after publishing, I received two Facebook messages. Both of my high school friends sent me the most extraordinary apologies. They were apologies I had no idea I needed until I read them.
Not only did they remember what happened, not only did they confirm my suspicions that there was nothing definite that caused the break (or at least they couldn’t remember it either)—they both expressed enormous regret. One person called it “my biggest regret from my high school years.” They said I was undeserving of what I went through. They hoped I could forgive them.
It’s hard to express what I felt, reading these messages. I’ll tell you what I did. First I stood up. Then I clapped my hands over my mouth. Then I said “oh god oh god oh god” while walking rapidly back and forth around my living room. And then I read them again. While rocking back and forth. (I was alone except for the pets. The cat didn’t care, but Hazel was unnerved and immediately commenced humping her favorite throw pillow.)
It was amazing. I’m still just…I can’t put it into words. I can’t wrap my head around it. I didn’t realize how much I was still identifying with this time in my life. Until they told me that I was blameless, I didn’t see how much I still believed that I was to blame. I didn’t know I’ve been carrying around the belief, ever since, that any friendship I value is probably going to turn to shit because of me. That I was, at my core, somehow a bad person, and I couldn’t even see it. I didn’t know I was holding onto all this shame. There was a fist in my chest, and I didn't know it was there until I felt it unclenching.
How great is that?
(Episode 6 of the podcast is now live! "What's this about a podcast?", you ask? Click on the link and find out!)
Halfway through my senior year of high school, a group of my friends decided they didn’t like me anymore. It felt at the time like the entire class had turned against me, but it was probably about five people. Nonetheless, they were five people I spent a lot of my time with, and they were fairly well-liked, so other people who had once thought I was cool now found me loathsome. I devolved from “somewhat cool to hang out near” to “What? No.” It was…difficult.
It was never clear to me what started it; over a period of weeks and months I was just frozen out. People who had once laughed at my jokes were now rolling their eyes. Then walking away. And when I asked them what I had done, they said, God, you don't understand anything. I’d call and their moms would say they were busy and their moms would sound embarrassed. Like that. If I had to dig through my memory I’m positive I'd find I wasn’t blameless, but luckily no one’s making me dig through my memory. (It’s messy in there.)
So that’s hard to remember, but what’s even worse were my attempts to change their minds. Because I did not say, “Well, screw you” and concentrate on the few good friends who stuck by me. Oh no I did not. Instead I engaged in desperate and frantic bids to get their friendships back. Showing up at get-togethers that I wasn’t specifically not invited to. Breakin’ the rules and gettin’ suspended to show that I was a real bad-ass. (And apparently dropping my g’s.) Worst of all, I made up gossip, literally made up dirt on people, to show that I was somehow in the know and worth hanging out with. You can imagine how well that turned out.
In my spare time I was learning what "panic attacks" were and breaking out into epic rashes (the family dermatologist was fascinated by me that year), and when I was at school I playacted at being an asshole. Somehow I thought that if they didn’t like me, maybe they’d like this frantic, aggressive version of me.
This strategy, not surprisingly, backfired, in that not only did they dislike me even more, the few people who were still brave enough to be my friends were beginning to see their point. Is it a coincidence that the one friend who was kind enough to sit me down and tell me what a dick I was being, and then forgive me when I acknowledged said dickness, is now a priest? It is not. She is a goddamn saint.
The whole situation was pretty excruciating, and the only thing that saved me was graduation.
This particular story was a dramatic example but not an exception to how I like to focus on someone who doesn’t like me and try and make them like me. I’ve homed in on the one person in my life who doesn’t think I’m all that charming and used all my charm to change their minds. And do you know what? This has always failed! Sometimes spectacularly!
If someone doesn’t like you, it’s probably got more to do with them than you, but either way, I've learned, there’s not too much you can do about it. Unless you’ve actively been a terrible person, in which case you should quit doing that, for everyone’s sake.
I’ve been thinking of this period in my life recently, because I found myself recently trying to understand why I’ve struggled with blogging over the past few years. Since I started it in 2004, Finslippy has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life. I gave it my random thoughts and it gave me friends, positive feedback, a book deal, television appearances, a stream of writing gigs, crazy speaking engagements and video projects, and more than one job. I owe my blog so much.
It also provided me with the weird sensation of reading about how much some people weren’t into me. Of course, right? Once your audience extends beyond your friends and family, it’s inevitable that someone’s not going to think you’re particularly interesting. I always knew that. I just didn’t know people would find me so not-that-great that they’d be compelled to write about it. And that so many people would agree with them.
I am not a special case. This is in no way unusual. It happens to everyone who's put anything out there in the world. It’s the byproduct of creative output. If anything, I’ve gotten off easy. I’ve gotten off easy, though, because I’ve pulled back. And I’ve pulled back because the negative feedback was too painful.
And it’s not like I was being attacked on the regular, by any means. All I got were a few comments on a forum here and there. A discussion thread or two about how non-exemplary I was. A couple of Google alerts let me know that I wasn’t nearly as great as I (apparently) believed. A couple of emails informing me that I’m a garbage dump of a person. That kind of stuff.
In realizing that I wasn't alone with this phenomenon, I also read scathing attacks on my blogging peers and my friends. I sort of...obsessed over these attacks. I saw people I understand on a cellular level being ridiculed and dismissed. No one was making me read those sites. But somewhere in the weird little frightened squirrel part of my brain, I was taking notes, trying to figure out what these people who hated everything would like, how I could be that cool girl who’d get a pass.
It didn’t take long for me to really get these people's voices in my head. I became increasingly careful with what I wrote. I edited and re-edited. I second-guessed and didn't hit publish. I became increasingly self-conscious and reactive and every post just felt harder and harder. And then I gave up. It wasn’t fun anymore.
But who made it un-fun? I did. I denied myself the joy of writing shit that I wanted to write. How stupid is that? Who was this benefiting? A few people who probably weren’t paying any attention? Would these people spontaneously contact me and say, “You know, I used to think you were boring and unfunny, but now that you’re not writing at all, you’ve really grabbed my attention. Want to get drinks?” And then we’d get drinks and we’d be best friends and everyone would like me again and I’d be voted Most Misunderstood But Secretly Great?
This is silly. It’s so silly. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t think you’re great. Don’t read it. Don’t read negative shit in general, actually: it’s poison.
And if someone doesn’t like you enough to fire off an angry missive about how you're the worst, just rest easy in the knowledge that that person is a miserable chafe of a human being who doesn’t deserve your time and energy.
Then reply, “For the last time, I’m not going to have sex with you.”
This always freaks them out. Because secretly they wanted to have sex with you. They all do. Because you’re super hot.