Last week I was riding in the car with my family (I have already forgotten the destination), when my mom asked, “So what are you going to do for your birthday?”
I scoffed. “Probably try to kill myself.” I swear I didn’t mean it. But the last thing I needed was a reminder of my impending–and most likely lonely/disappointing–birthday.
My mom turned around to face me in the backseat. “What’s going on?”
I took a deep breath. “Well, you can be the first to officially know: I think I’m having a nervous breakdown. I just feel so helpless and hopeless. It’s getting harder and harder for me to get out of bed every morning and put on my fearless face.”
This would have been the appropriate time for one of my parents to suggest I see a therapist. Certainly that would be the wise course of action, right? But my family has a lifelong distrust…no, hatred of psychiatry. This is especially ironic when one considers the high incidence of both bipolar disorder and alcoholism blossoming on our family tree.
Instead, we had to analyze my problems, right there at the intersection of routes 15 and 11.
“Maybe you should join some kind of activity group.”
Hmmm, with all that spare time I have.
“It certainly wouldn’t hurt if you could find a boy that you like.”
Ha. At this point, I’m more likely to discover a technique for cloning dinosaurs utilizing marshmallow Peeps.
“Well, I think the problem is your job.”
My dear mother said this.
It would be easy to blame my job. I work long hours. It’s really fucking stressful, especially right now. I don’t meet new people through work. And when I do meet potential friends, I find that my job can be very polarizing. Either I’m dismissed as a money-grubbing yuppie whose soul has been consigned to an evil corporation. Or I’m met with all sorts of envious “You’re the luckiest girl in the world” nonsense.
I cannot lie: I recently compared my job to “a shitty boyfriend that lured me across the country, only to treat me as terribly as possible…but he keeps my optimism alive by occasionally throwing a carrot my way.”
But really, I like my job. Sometimes it’s even fun. It’s not a bad way to make money. And, let’s face it, the benjamins are necessary for survival. Particularly when one has a little girl and three hungry cats to support.
Back to the family car ride.
I turned to Dylan. “First off, Mommy is not really going to kill herself. I am sad and confused right now, but I love you very much. And I can’t wait to take you to the beach.”
And then directed at my parents, “I think I just realized for the first time…or maybe I just finally admitted this to myself…I am really lonely. A majority of my real friends live on the West Coast. Sure, I know people here in Philly, but I think the majority of them look to me as their problem solver and sympathetic ear. And forget about dating…I’m still trying to figure out what I really want.”
All of this is true. How solitary is my life here in the City of Brotherly Love? I’ve been walking around feeling as if I might just die of sadness. Pretending to be a normal, happy person is a challenge. And yet the only person who has come close to picking up on this is Janelle. Everyone else is too busy soliciting my assistance in fixing spreadsheet formulas and picking out pantones.
So the obvious solution here (don’t tell me you weren’t about to suggest this) is that I should move back to the West Coast. Right? Not so simple. Even when we get past the more immediate/practical considerations like money, a job, and perhaps which moving company to use, a large issue looms overhead: my mother.
Label me a silly mommy’s girl or what-have-you. It’s more than that. I haven’t told anybody this in years and years…my mom has a very serious illness. The kind that used to be a death sentence, but is now more manageable thanks to great leaps forward in medical research. The right combination of drugs keeps her going. Fifteen years ago, when she was diagnosed, I never thought we would have this time together. I cried for days–maybe months–after she told me. “Soon I will be truly alone,” I thought. But I was wrong. We have had so much time together. She sat up with me all of those grey nights after Ryan died, drinking cup after cup of coffee to stay awake in case I cried again. She held my hand as I pushed Dylan into the world. She laughs when I say “fuck.” And she is the best grandmother anyone could ever imagine.
Recently a huge realization hit my skull at breakneck speed. “We have a finite number of days left. Maybe thousands and thousands. Maybe hundreds. I don’t know. But that’s it. And after that, I will never, ever see my mother again.” I don’t want it to end. My mom is the only person who will always love me, no matter what. Even if I’m fat or I give myself a shitty home haircut, she will still think I’m pretty. And even when I’m wrong, she takes my side. It’s an amazing thing.
Occasionally I feel a twinge of anger at myself, because I chose to live so far away for so long (but I don’t regret it). The best part of my Philadelphia life is all of the time I get to spend with my family. So yeah, I’m staying on the East Coast for a while.
When I’m chemically depressed, I find that I cannot think of legitimate reason for my sadness. But when I’m just “legitimately” depressed, I always find that frustration is at the core of it. I want to improve my life, but I just don’t know how to go about it. What tools will I need? What steps will I take? If only happiness were as easily constructed as a Billy bookshelf. Of course I realize that many individuals face challenges far greater than mine…but isn’t depression a narcissistic state?
So that’s where I am right now. I’m thinking about it. I’m drawing blueprints, erasing them when I discover a flaw in the plan. I know that everything will get better…I’m just particularly stumped, because the easiest solutions are the wrong answers.
Which brings me to the point of this rambling, semi-pitiful blog post…I know I haven’t been writing much recently, mostly because I’ve been swimming in this sea of sadness. When I’m feeling this way, I can hardly crank out a stupid email, much less something as meaningful to me as a novel. I’m trying to get myself back on track, I promise. The true artist–and I aspire to this level–stands up straight, rolls up the shirtsleeves, and gets down to work, no matter the obstacles…the stupid job, the loneliness, the frustration…all must be forgotten.
I read this quote a few months ago on the Moldy Doily (one of my favorite blogs) at the end of a post about Alice Neel (my favorite painter)“I’ve read a comment somewhere about the amazing number of art school students who just want to be ‘Artists’, without putting in the time or the inclination, it’s the term they want to be, like young girls want to be celebutantes. But I will argue again and again, that this is what an artist is, someone who wakes up every morning, fights their depression, fights their darkness, puts their shoes on and goes to work, without complaint if you can manage it – without even caring if the editors at Photo District News or fill-in-the-blank EVER notice them.” (Susana Raab)
My amazing stepfather said to me this weekend, “The key to your happiness is your writing…you’ve got to make that your priority.”
It’s time to get back to work.