These last couple of months, I’ve been on this wonderful, eye-opening journey of understanding and growth. I’ve been having insights and learning things about myself and why I do the things I do. I’ve been able to step back from myself and observe with a little more clarity and I’m loving every minute of it.
It’s hard to say when it began; I look at the entirety of my life and it’s just one long line of dominoes stretching into infinity. Everything that came before affects this moment. But I do think that the fact that I’ve been going to therapy for well over six months now has been causing little shifts in my life. Not because of the therapy in and of itself, but because I think that a large pocket of willingness suddenly cracked open inside of me and I started making a different kind of effort than the kind I had been making before.
I resisted going to therapy for a long, long time. Not necessarily because I doubted that therapy had the ability to help, but a part of me looked down my nose at the whole idea. I hate to say it, but I can be a little bit closed-minded about giving someone or something a second chance (so to speak) when I’ve been tainted by past experiences. There is definitely resistance within me to stepping back and saying, “okay, maybe that experience is separate and this one can be different. I will give it my best.” Nevertheless, after being prodded and poked to death by Brandon I finally relented and went through the process of finding myself a therapist to help me work on my social anxiety.
Overall, she’s been good. I think it took her several sessions before she realized that all she had to do was let me talk about things and I would naturally find my way to the conclusions I needed with just a few carefully posed questions at the right time. Or maybe she just gave up after the time I brought back a crumpled worksheet she had given me that I completed (half-assed, mind you) and told her I thought the exercises were stupid and the person who wrote the paper had no understanding of how social anxiety works. Yes, I can be a pain in the butt.
Her best suggestion that she had for me was to push me to write in a journal more often. I had already started doing it again earlier in the year (after a 9 year hiatus) but with her encouragement I started using my journal as my “go to” for processing all of the thoughts and emotions swimming through my bloodstream. I think after spending so many years trying and trying and trying to overcome my social anxiety, I was in this empty place of defeat. I stopped trying to process and work on things as much as I used to because it felt pointless. I was tired of never making what I felt like was real progress.
By going to therapy and writing in a journal more often I discovered a renewed sense of willingness; and perhaps at the most important time in my life so far. I have always been introspective, so I think I was the horse that finally let myself be led to water and once I got there I was like, “oh yeah! I know how to drink!” GULP.
She never pushed me. And maybe some people need to be pushed, but I am stubborn as hell and when I get pushed I jump into fighting stance, so she was exactly what I needed. I went to countless sessions before I had a big breakthrough that has brought my anxiety down further than I can ever remember it being for an extended period of time (usually I resemble more of a pulse monitor.)
But let me back up a little and give a little backstory so you can understand why this was such a huge “ah-ha” for me. I have always been a people-pleaser and an approval addict. Thus, my extreme social anxiety. Somewhere along the line (so far back I can’t even remember a time before it) some deep part of me took on the belief that I was “less than” everyone else and that other people’s displeasure or anger meant extreme danger. My reaction to things was completely out of proportion to the situation. So I’ve spent my entire life running around doing my best to make other people happy. Between that and my empathic nature, I have always been a dedicated chameleon, able to fit in with a wide variety of people — even though it has always caused me extreme discomfort. That discomfort has made me miserable due to the strength and force with which it often hits me. The only thing that makes it any better is when other people approve of me and tell me positive things about myself, giving me a life raft of hope to hold on to in a sea of self-condemnation. So I’ve always chased after making others happy or making them like me with a fervor. So long as I think I am liked and approved of, I feel okay.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one to be pushed around. I have never ever been one to follow the crowd (just ask my mom) and I’ve always been pretty good about putting my foot down on the important things. But the not-so-important things and everything in between, when I can contort myself a little and make you praise me? Let me be a pretzel. I make a great pretzel.
Therefore when people close to me would tell me I needed to live my life a certain way, or do certain things, I’ve always felt a certain obligation to do them — regardless of whether I actually think they are a good idea or even want to. It was sitting in my therapist’s office one sunny day when one of her pointed questions hit me deep like an arrow, and I realized that I was spreading myself too thin. I felt like I had to do certain things and I couldn’t do certain other things because the people in my life had their ideas about how I should be living it and I felt so incredibly guilty for simply EXISTING that the only way I could find any validation was to continually attempt to do things I didn’t want to do so that other people could tell me I was doing good. (Now yes, I am glad that I listened to Brandon and decided to go to a therapist because he was totally right; it ended up helping me tremendously. But there are a number of other things that I was trying to do that were making me completely miserable and yet I felt like I HAD TO do them. Not necessarily even from him or the people closest to me now, either; I have critical, cruel voices from my past that ring in my head constantly and as pathetic as I often feel it is, they still have kept their hold on me for a long time.)
My anxiety was at an all-time high because I kept pushing myself and pushing myself and pushing myself to be and do all of these things that I DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO FUCKING DO. I felt this intense pressure to perform, and perform well. What if I stopped trying to do all of those things? What if I actually made space to ask myself what I want? What if, instead of spending all of my energy trying desperately to be someone I am not, I simply let myself be who I am?
After all, I know fear. She and I have a deep, close bond. But I also know that I am an incredibly brave person. I have pushed myself through that fear again and again. And the most amazing part is, for so many years I have pushed through my fears with very little reward other than the praises of other people. That sounds counter-intuitive, right? Everyone always tells us that the more you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do things that scare you, the easier it gets and the better you feel. But it wasn’t working for me — and I finally know why.
There’s an element missing: inner purpose. If the desire to do it doesn’t come from within you, it doesn’t matter how much you do it. It won’t get easier because you are silently (or maybe not so silently) miserable. The reward isn’t there.
I was spending so much time trying to make other people happy that when I would sit down and try to do the things that would make me happy, I was already worn out, exhausted, and had nothing left inside of me to push forward with. I felt drained, resentful, guilty, miserable, frustrated. My anxiety was at such a high because I kept doing things over and over that perpetuated it, but for all the wrong reasons, and wondering why I was left feeling empty.
One step at a time, I started saying no to many of the things I really wanted to say no to, and yes to some of the things I’ve been wanting for a long time but held back on because I knew other people would judge me for it. No, I’m not perfect at it. But even just shifting the things I have has been life changing for me. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for me to really realize that even doing something with good intentions doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing it for the right reasons. This isn’t me judging myself for taking this long, even though it sounds like it, I’m just surprised it’s taken me this long because I started doing inner work when I was 13 years old.
It is so liberating to learn to have healthy boundaries. I’ve noticed that sometimes people tend to get matter-of-fact when it comes to boundaries — “Well of course you need boundaries, duh!” But when you’ve lived your entire life trying to cope with social anxiety and always coming from a place of “others first” it takes a long time to really learn how to have those boundaries.
But I can’t tell you how much more peace I have felt in my life every time I make the choice “me, not you”. It’s so liberating and empowering. And also it becomes a much more conscious decision when I do think about it and say, “okay, you this time.”
Simply removing some of the things I was doing purely because I thought I was “supposed to” has cut my anxiety down to 1/3 of what it was. I have no idea if this will last, but I sure as hell hope it does. At the very least, I’m taking advantage of it for the time being. The best part is that now I have the ENERGY to tunnel through the anxiety that is left. Instead of being exhausted and bogged down from dealing with anxiety ALL the time, I’m not living from only my reserves. I can look at the things I want to do and make the conscious choice to be uncomfortable and do it anyway — because I have a real reason to. Because I have purpose. Because I’m making the decision to face my anxiety FOR ME, not because I’m “supposed to”, or because I’m tired of other people judging me (or even just thinking people are judging me.) Before, making the conscious decision to do something felt a lot more like trying to climb Mt. Everest with a bag full of bricks. Now I’m still climbing Mt. Everest but at least I’ve put those stupid bricks down. I have more energy for the task at hand.
Overall, it’s been a great lesson for me, just recognizing how powerful baby steps are. Everyone wants to be Evel Knievel and conquer things in one great leap, but in reality that almost never happens. When discomfort is extreme, it’s so much easier to turn our backs and find covers to quiver underneath. But if we can reduce the discomfort so it’s not quite so extreme, it becomes manageable. And when it’s manageable, a little discomfort can even be fun — because you know that you’re facing it for the right reasons. That’s when one little step at a time turns into finally getting to be the person you’ve always wanted to be (at least some of the time, anyway.)
And let me tell you — it feels fucking great.
When I first started writing this post, I had originally titled it:
The Night My Grandma Tried to Kill Herself and Didn’t Even Google It Properly First
(…and thank God for that, because I tried my damndest to get her to use it for everything)
That was before I realized that she had thought her plan through more thoroughly than the evidence suggested. But don’t let me get too far ahead of myself.
This is the day-by-day account of the week that my grandma tried to commit suicide, the same week leading up to Mother’s Day. I sat down and wrote each day, in an attempt to process my emotions, but it eventually led to a blog post. My hope is to shed a little light on what someone goes through when a loved one tries to take their own life. I’m sure everyone’s experiences are different, but this is mine.
It only seems fit to mention at the beginning of all this that my day began by stumbling around in the dark and stepping on something soft and squishy that turned out to be poop. But that’s a long and altogether unrelated story, except that it also involved the hospitalization of an elderly man and a 5150 (which, by the way, is a medical term for a certain type of psychiatric evaluation that I had never heard of before this morning.)
Life is fucking weird.
I know it might seem strange that I have a sense of humor about all of this, but the truth is, I just don’t know what else to do. Irony feels infinitely better than anger and sadness, and the only way I know how to process my shit is to write. I’ve already exhausted crying and screaming and biting the heads off of people around me. I’m sitting here typing because I don’t know what else to fucking do. My heart is broken.
How long has she been planning this for? That’s what I want to know.
My grandma is one of my very favorite people in the whole world. I’m pretty sure I have about a million stories I could share with you that might help you understand why she is the most special person in the world to me, but I don’t even know where to start.
She loves pelicans and the color orange. She misses walking on the beach. Gluten is her nemesis. She plays a mean card game. She has spent her life painting beautiful works of art the way another person might make three meals a day in the kitchen. The love of her life died when I was only a few years old, and she swears that she only got through it because I would wrap my little arms around her and tell her it would be okay. She has traveled the world and keeps hundreds of trinkets around her that remind her of all of the places she has been and things she has done.
It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to spend so much extra time with her. Things have gotten more difficult for her; life has slowed to “walker only” and making the trek across the living room is regularly accompanied by sharp inhalations and “ohh oh ow, ow.” She hates getting behind the wheel of a car anymore. Unless she is forced to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, she won’t make it out of the house to go the grocery store until she runs out of food (which, by the way, would take well over a year because she stockpiles whatever she can like it’s still the great depression.)
I’m not joking – I once perused the contents of a large cardboard box in her pantry that she stored jell-o boxes in, to discover that she had simply layered more jell-o boxes on top of jell-o boxes over the years. The closer I got to the bottom of the box, I found jell-o from the 1970’s, and later the 1950’s. For an 81-year old woman who has moved more than a dozen times in her life, I’d say that’s pretty impressive. To this day I have never once seen her actually make jell-o.
Nevertheless, I like to shop for her, and cook for her. I started coming to Hemet for weeks at a time helping her out with things and keeping her company. I work from home most of the time during the day and in the evenings she and I get excited about watching Outlander and Orange is the New Black and The Walking Dead. And yes, I’ll even admit that she got me to sit and watch Dancing with the Stars with her and the occasional Ellen episode.
I’ve always known that one day she would pass on and leave me here, but that day has ever been a thing of the far future. She needs help fairly often now, yes, but she’s far from the age of venturing anywhere near that black abyss. In my mind, we had a lot more time we would get to spend together.
I was looking forward to showing back up in Hemet with arms full of gluten free goodies from Trader Joe’s and bags of groceries for Mother’s Day dinner. This time I had been gone much longer than usual; I usually try to leave Hemet for only a weekend or maybe a week at a time. But I went on vacation to Florida to visit my best friend and between that and the time I spent in Orange County, I was gone for a whole month. I’ve been really excited to see her and sit down and crack jokes together and let her interrupt all of my newest stories with the same old ones she’s told me a hundred times but that I still love hearing anyway.
Earlier today, my mom had an emotionally exhausting experience and called my Grandma to talk – but the phone kept going straight to voicemail. This in and of itself is really not unusual. Grandma regularly gets both scam and spam calls on her home phone and when they grow too tiresome for her, she takes her phone off the hook.
After several hours went by of phone silence, my mom asked me to call Shine (my grandma’s best friend who lives in the same neighborhood.) I did, and Shine agreed to go check on her right away. I didn’t know it at the time, but Shine had been to visit her the night before to check on her, and the two of them sat together drinking caramel vodka (my grandma’s favorite) and had a nice long chat. Shine said that my grandma seemed down, but not excessively so.
About ten minutes after I called her, my phone rang again in response. Shine was in tears and her voice was shaking. “It’s not good, Tien. She’s unconscious. I don’t know what’s going on. She’s lying in the guest bathtub and there was a note outside the door that said “do not resuscitate.” I called 911 and an ambulance is on their way.”
An icy wave of shock ripped through every limb in my body with the force of a sucker punch to the gut. I called my mom back which sent her into a similar but much more vocal wave of panic (my brother said she was basically running around the house in circles screaming incoherently.) Brandon and I proceeded to grab our stuff, race out the door, and make the hour and fifteen minute drive from Orange County to Hemet. Thank goodness he was there to drive me because there’s no way I would have been able to do so safely. I was dizzy, emotional, confused. After just recovering from three days of violent (and I mean violent) stomach flu and finally barely being able to eat real food again, my stomach turned sour and decided that food was not what it wanted after all. My appetite vanished altogether.
It wasn’t long before the next call came from Shine. “She’s breathing but she’s unconscious. She came out of it for a moment and told me, “I didn’t want you to be the one to find me.” There’s a puddle of water outside of the tub but she’s dry.”
It wasn’t until the third phone call after the ambulance arrived that they were able to revive her enough to discover she had taken 17 Ambien the night before and had been lying in the tub for almost 24 hours. They rushed her to the nearest hospital.
It was about this time that the truth settled hazily like dust motes in between the crevices of my brain, then took hold. She had done this to herself. She had actually tried to kill herself.
For the next hour, I had a cacophony of thoughts clamoring around my mind. Why (exactly) had she done this? When I was around her, she never seemed unhappy. I left her for a whole month. Had she been planning this before I even left? Or was this a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, brought on by loneliness?
Guilt. Floods of guilt. I thought back to when I said goodbye to her before leaving a month before. I forgot my phone and was glad that I had to run back in, because I got to hug her a second time before I left.
And for every single person that said to me in the hours that followed, “it’s not your fault, you can’t blame yourself” — oh, great; sure. I’ll just flip that guilt switch to off, now, thanks. You saying that has really made me change my mind. Yes, I know it’s true, and I know that’s what you’re supposed to say, but telling someone to stop blaming themselves doesn’t really work, just FYI.
It may not be my fault, but the truth of the matter is that if I had been here, she wouldn’t have done this. There’s no erasing that fact, or dressing it up pretty, or twisting it into some goddamn pretzel so that it looks like something else. Yes, it was her decision; I know that. But nothing you say is going to keep me from wishing that I hadn’t left her for so long.
I hate to say this, but I’m glad I didn’t find her in that bathtub, only because that image would be burned into my brain forever. Although sadly, I have a very vivid imagination and it already pretty much is anyway. At least I know my imagination’s version can’t be nearly as bad as the real thing. I feel awful for Shine but at the same time I am eternally grateful to her.
By the time Brandon and I were almost to Hemet, Shine had called again and reassured me that the hospital was pretty certain she would be okay. Relief was only a soft blanket placed precariously on top of the churning black waters carving holes into my stomach.
How could she do this? How could she try to leave me like this, without even saying goodbye? Hurt and anger both jockeyed for the prime position in my throat, where they were hanging out with the spontaneous onset of acid reflux gnawing holes in my barely recovering flu-damaged esophagus.
When Brandon and I arrived at the ER, we found Shine in the waiting room and I hugged her fiercely and thanked her more times than was necessary, but I couldn’t seem to stop. I couldn’t find the words to express the absolute overwhelm of gratitude for her presence in my grandma’s life.
The sweet woman at the desk named Elizabeth told us we had to wait for a bed to open up before we could see her because the paramedics were working on her in the hall. The longer we waited, the more I realized how in shock I was. I found myself looking around, thinking, “this has to be a dream.” I hate saying that because it’s such a cliché, but clichés don’t just get pulled out of peoples’ asses. Everything felt surreal. For a moment, I was certain I would wake up and cry tears of joy and call my grandmother up and say, “Grandma! I had the most horrible, awful dream that you tried to leave me.” And she would assure me that she hadn’t tried such a thing and she was so excited to see me soon and everything would be okay. I refrained from pinching my arm and instead made a spectacle of myself by sobbing loudly into Brandon’s shoulder.
It wasn’t long before my mom and brother showed up. We all waited tensely until Elizabeth came over and insisted on telling only ONE family member what was going on who would then have to relay it to everyone else. Okay, just for the record: you fucking asshole who came up with this stupid cock-sucking procedure, I don’t give a flying fuck what your stupid reasons were for this, I hate you and you are a horrible person. I hope someone does this to you in the ER waiting room one day.
In between trying (and failing) to read Elizabeth’s lips (and mentally making a note that this was a skill I needed to hone) I fought the urge to scream at the top of my lungs. Mom finally came back over and informed us that this particular hospital was a private hospital so they had this rule that when someone tries to commit suicide, no one can see the patient until they have had a psych evaluation, which can take anywhere from 8 to 36 hours. My aunt and uncle fought this fiercely when they got to the hospital, but gave in when she told them that she was asleep and would be for a while anyway, so we might as well all go home and sleep. There was nothing else we could do.
Seeing as all of us had just driven well over an hour from each of our respective cities, the only logical thing to do was to sleep at my grandma’s house down the street.
When we got to the house, I treaded on tip toe through the front door and down the hall past a wicker shelf that had been left haphazardly upturned in the wake of paramedics. I walked falteringly into the guest bathroom and felt bile bubbling up. Everything was tainted. The shower I had used every day, singing songs from Wicked in at the top of my lungs, suddenly felt like the scene of spine-chilling horror film. She had laid in that cramped white tub for almost 24 hours, head askew uncomfortably against cold porcelain. Bottles of shampoo and soap were all asunder.
I thought to myself, “I’m pretty sure I will never be able to shower in here again.”
As we walked around the house, we began finding notes. It wasn’t long before it became alarmingly apparent that she took more than just a little time planning this. A note in the fridge that said, “Just think. No one needs to think about gluten and gluten free anymore.” Notes scribbled on knick knacks that she wanted to go to certain people. A very long and touching note for Shine.
No note for me.
Nothing that is, except a single line scrawled on the back of a notepad my grandma and I had used to keep score during our last game of rummy: “Will miss our card games. – Granny Mo”
Anger, sharp and hot, born of the deepest kind of hurt. That was it? She decided it was time for her to move on and that was all she had to say to me? Maybe she felt like there was nothing left to say since we always said what we wanted to say in the moment. But it was hard not to think, “goodbye would have been nice.”
I was confused. If Shine wasn’t supposed to find her, then who was? Me? I was the next person who she knew was coming to visit her. But that was six days away, that didn’t make sense… and I couldn’t imagine she’d want to leave me with that image for the rest of my life. Who then? It took a while before I remembered that Christina (the cleaning lady) was scheduled to come by tomorrow.
Just one week before Mother’s Day.
Grandma had done the dishes, which I thought was silly. She dislikes doing the dishes. If you’re going to kill yourself, why wouldn’t you leave all of the dishes? And she left the ketchup sitting out on the counter, as usual.
As we went around the house we found more little notes scrawled here and there. In the trash, my mom dug up a list that my grandma had hastily ripped into small pieces. When we taped it back together we discovered the to-do list of things she did to prepare for her final day. Underneath “pay bills” and above “set out turpentine” she had scrawled: “Eat éclair, fried chicken, burger, cake.” I wondered to myself if she ever did actually make the drive into town to get these things so she could eat them and savor every bite, believing that she wouldn’t have to suffer the unfortunate consequences afterward.
We all found ourselves compulsively nosing around the house, looking for more notes, more clues, more tiny pockets of understanding.
When digging through her bathroom drawers, my mom asked me, “why does she have all these bottles of vitamins that she never actually takes? They’re still sealed.”
To which I responded, “Mom, you’re the one that buys clothes and never takes the tags off. You tell me.”
Then later, “She even keeps a bottle of booze in her bathroom!”
“I know. Bourbon. She has a swig or two when she can’t sleep.”
A part of me hates her so much for doing this. Every detail of her beautiful, wonderful house that is so full of treasures and art and memories now stings and stabs at every inch around my heart: containers of turpenoid and tubes of paint all set out as though she might sit down at any time and keep painting. Two new watercolor pieces that she had intended to be her final paintings, but they felt rushed to me and not full of her usual presence. All of the trinkets and treasures that she collected from every corner of the globe. Rows of clothes in her closet that she hadn’t worn in over a decade. The lamp in the corner that she always asked me to turn on as soon as dusk began settling around the mountains outside of her back door. The wide stretch of weeds in her yard that she had tried and failed to tame a hundred times and turn into a garden (which is sad, if you are lucky enough to know my grandma, because she has always excelled at growing things. For her not to have a thriving greenscape at her fingertips was a source of ongoing frustration for her.)
I’m looking around at this house of gleaming memories and I know that it will never be the same again. The magic is gone, sliced open by cold, callous reality. I know – she’s still here – but things are going to change now.
And the more that I think about it, the more sad I get. Because when I’ve been here we’ve always found this little haven of happiness where I cook her gluten free foods that she will never be able to order in a restaurant again while she cracks wickedly funny jokes in between pausing something funny on TV that I have to watch or going off on some political rant I’ve heard over and over again. I never realized that she was ready to go… tired and wanting to move on. And that keeps bringing me back to the same question: was it because I was gone so long?
I know Gene (the love of her life) is at her side right now in that hospital, holding her hand. She wants to join him so badly. He left her too early in life, before they got to go hang gliding or visit Key West. (Although I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that even though their time together was relatively short, they still managed to travel all over the world together before he died.)
I never get tired of listening to her stories about her travels. In fact, it was only about a year ago that I plopped her down in front of my camera and insisted on recording video of her recounting these stories to me, telling me about her life and all of her wonderful adventures. She protested a lot at first. I promised her she could have some caramel vodka nearby to help her relax.
“But I won’t know what to say. Will you ask me questions?”
“Of course! I have a whole list of things I want you to share.”
“Oh, fine.” Accompanied by lots of sighing and sour faces and eye-rolling.
Needless to say, I don’t think I ever managed to get through my list of questions. I’d ask her one thing and she would go off for a half an hour, rambling about every little thing that crossed her mind. I know she’d never admit it, but I think she loved every minute.
My grandmother is this radiant angel of a woman and I love her with all of my heart. If she truly was ready to go, why didn’t she leave me a note? Why had she left the back door unlocked so that Shine was able to get in? And why on earth had she not actually pulled out her tablet (which she LOVES and uses every day) and actually Googled how much Ambien you need to take to effectively kill yourself?
My other aunt, who is a nurse, informed us that 17 Ambien would make you ill and really fucking sleepy, but it wouldn’t kill you.
And now I’m torn terribly in half. Was this a cry for help? Or did she really truly believe this would be the end for her? She certainly thought it through really well… well, sort of. Okay. A lot of thought went into it, let’s put it that way instead.
Because if she really did want to go, and believe that she was going, this must be horrible for her. If she really is as tired and miserable as she claimed to be in her goodbye note to Shine, then this failed attempt would only make her quality of life that much more restrictive. This makes my heart hurt terribly. My grandma is a woman with wings, and she has been unhappy with her body for a while now. If she were young, it would be one thing. But she’s 81 and has lived a very full life; even after Gene died, she kept traveling by herself, painting all of the places she visited, scattering a little bit of his ashes all over the world. If she’s ready to move on, are we just making it more painful by forcing her to stay here?
But at the same time I am just angry. I selfishly want to keep her here. I knew our time would be up one day, but I never, never anticipated that it could be up so soon. I’m overwhelmingly thankful that it isn’t… and simultaneously hate myself for it.
That first night was by far the worst; I laid in bed having a full blown panic attack (which I haven’t had in years) and couldn’t fall asleep until 5 AM and even when I did it was restless and full of complicated and confusing nightmares that didn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
Tuesday: A few answers
Exhausted but unable to fully immerse in sleep due to my heart constantly banging on my rib cage like a bass drum, I gave up at 7AM and climbed out of bed.
Brandon spent an hour on the phone with the people at the hospital and they gave him the run-around a dozen or so times. Then he was accidentally put through to her bedside phone, and Grandma asked him to bring her Nook, her tablet, her address book, her purse, and a deck or two of cards. I felt relief. It seemed like a good sign to me that she was asking for these things.
It took another call before we were finally told we could visit her. Interestingly enough, they never did the psych evaluation so their “hold policy” was really bullshit. One glance at the hospital’s reviews on Google was all it took to realize there was a lot of miscommunication and misinformation among their staff, which we were already experiencing firsthand and we hadn’t even seen her in the hospital yet. I was angry but reminded myself that a huge chunk of people who work in the medical industry are pretty much screwed over by their employers and the structure of the system makes it virtually impossible for them to actually do their job effectively.
Plus: this is Hemet we are talking about. There is no place for high or even reasonable expectations in Hemet.
If you have never been to Hemet and don’t know what I am talking about, picture a desert town composed almost entirely of elderly folk and those “people of wal mart” photos come to life. The movie theater is a mouse-bitten cardboard box that no one (including me, and I am a movie theater junkie) actually wants to go to. Somehow, this town even managed to ruin In N Out – it’s the only location I’ve ever been to where the burgers and fries are actually gag-inducing. The people, though, are entertaining as hell; one afternoon, Brandon and I actually watched a woman jogging down the street and smoking a cigarette at the same time. Another time, I was driving past the post office watching a man in a large cowboy hat cross the street against traffic with a giant wooden cross the size of a grizzly bear on wheels, rolling it behind him with one hand and waving a fat bible in the other, preaching with a fervor to the intersection. Once, I pulled into the WinCo parking lot to discover a woman had flung open her truck doors, blasted the music on the stereo, and was twerking away at the world. Minutes ticked by, and she never threw in a single dance move, just twerk, twerk, twerk. People stared, but even more people didn’t bat an eye, and simply walked on by. Just another day in Hemet, folks.
I put my expectations in check and we drove twenty minutes to the hospital. On the phone earlier, grandma had also told Brandon that she didn’t want to see me. She knew that she had broken my heart. That made me even more sad. She didn’t need to be scared of having hurt me; I am a tough cookie. I feel things very deeply, but I have honed my coping skills over the years. I know that even the darkest nights have a dawn and with it often comes illumination. I am no stranger to deep pain. Still, the fact that she didn’t want to see me only hurt me more.
I steeled myself and wrapped tight cords around my emotions and told myself, “do not cry, do not get angry, do not show her your pain right now. Go in there and simply love her.” When my grandfather was in the hospital a year ago, he looked like absolute shit, so I mentally prepared myself to see death at her door. But when we walked into the room, she looked like her usual self. A little sleepy, maybe, but not altogether different. My whole body flooded with relief.
In time, a lot of questions were answered.
Not only had she been planning this for a long, long while, she had also tried this once the year before and no one knew. That time when she said she had the flu? She actually took 8 Ambien and all it did was make her pass out for 24 hours straight. When she woke up, she was sick. It was easy for her to pass off.
It turns out Grandma had left me a note but it had been taken by the paramedics along with a stack of other notes for their so-called psychiatric evaluation.
The puddle on the floor outside of the bathtub while she was mysteriously dry? She told me that was because she decided it would be nice to get to take a bath again (something she hasn’t enjoyed in a long, long time) so she filled the tub and climbed in (correction: fell in) to relax while the Ambien set in and water splashed all over the floor. By the time Shine found her, the tub had drained and her clothes had dried.
When we asked her why she did this, her response was “I’m tired.” She listed all of her health problems and talked about the fact that she struggles with doing almost every single thing she loves any more. I can’t really blame her for feeling that way; I would be tired too.
My grandma asked me if I found the list of names and phone numbers of people I was supposed to inform after she had passed away. I said yes, and she told me to call every one of them and let them know she was in the hospital. I made a mental note.
I asked her if she ever had the chance to eat her fried chicken and éclairs, but she said no. It didn’t surprise me that she hadn’t gone to the grocery store once the entire time I had been gone.
When the doctor came in to ask her some questions, he inquired, “who is your primary care physician?”
Her response was, “Dr. Kevorkian.”
Even the doctor couldn’t keep a straight face. I fucking love her twisted sense of humor; irreverent to the last drop.
The day wore on and almost everyone had to return to their respective cities for work. By the time 6 PM rolled around I was so exhausted I couldn’t see straight and my equilibrium was questionable. All of my emotions were big, buoyant beach balls that I had been juggling to keep under the water all day but I was losing control and they were now slipping out of grasp and floating back up to the surface.
My aunt Mary and uncle Jeff and I hung out with her until visiting hours were over. The mythical psych evaluation still never arrived; thank goodness they have zero respect for their own policies. The three of us resigned to grandma’s house and even though I was terrified to sleep alone, I passed out the moment my head hit the pillow and slept for ten hours straight. The only dream I remember was one where these tiny little alien-fish-parasites were swimming around in my gut and through all of the liquids in my body and I vomited them up and they were multiplying, procreating, swimming all over each other until they suffocated me from the inside out.
Wednesday: The aftermath of amnesia
Wednesday was a little bit better. I recalled all of the things I managed to force into my stomach the day before: coffee, a smoothie, a handful of almonds, and an orange. I couldn’t do that again today or I was going to make myself sick. My immune system was worn down to the quick after barely recovering from the flu and going straight into high-stress mode. I had to take care of myself. Luckily Mary kept me level-headed and we made a real breakfast and I drank ginger tea and I stuffed more oranges down my throat on top of it to try to cover up the exhaustion.
Grandma was much more lucid today. Mary and Shine and I spoke with her about everything that happened. One of the things I appreciate about my family is we don’t sugar coat shit or try to cover it up, but we don’t tear each other down either; we just talk about things. I love it.
I asked Grandma if she wanted to pass the time by playing cards. She seemed confused, so I reminded her that she was the one that asked me to bring them. She didn’t recall asking Brandon for any of the things she had requested on the phone yesterday and she didn’t really have much use for any of them.
When Grandma dozed off, I stepped out of the room and found a secluded waiting area by the vending machines and pulled out my phone and called every single number on her list to let them know she was in the hospital. When she woke up later I let her know I had called them, as she had requested the day before.
“Oh, you didn’t need to call them. That was only if I died.”
“But Grandma, you told me yesterday to call them and tell them you were here.”
“Oh.” A short silence. “I don’t remember that.”
Facepalm. “There were a few numbers on this list that were disconnected. Maxine was one of them.”
“Oh, Maxine is dead. She’s been dead for a long time.”
Facepalm, facepalm. I was confused at first, but then I realized she made this list before Maxine died. It was simply a convenience that she still had it and she didn’t think to cross the name off. More proof that she had been thinking about this for a long time. One of her goodbye notes was dated 2013. 2013, for chrissake! She’s been thinking about this for that long. But then, she also procrastinated it for that long, too. That has to count for something. There is a strong part of her that wants to live, I know it.
Her memory was fine today, it was just yesterday that had been wiped away by the excess of Ambien that lingered in her system.
When Grandma fell asleep again, Mary and I decided we needed lunch. It wasn’t until after we finished eating that I realized it was 6 PM.
We went back to the hospital and spent another couple of hours with her until the psychiatrist finally showed up and did her psych evaluation (gee, I’m glad they didn’t stick to their policy of making us wait to see her until after it was over.) At the end of it all he determined that we as a family need to come up with a plan to keep her under constant supervision, and then he will release her. He is also going to put her on an antidepressant.
Thursday: An idiotic plan
The more time Mary and I spent at the hospital with Grandma, I lost sense of time. Other people came to visit and Shine was there almost every morning, but Mary and I were there most of the day. We talked about what she was going through and asked her lots of questions about her headspace. She was honest with us when she said that her feelings went up and down. She compared the hospital room to hell and wondered if this was her punishment for what she had tried to do. I can’t really blame her; the doctors barely visited her and when they did they would ask a maximum of three questions before deciding a personal call was more important and stepping out to never return. Miscommunication was at a record high and it was clear that no matter how wonderful and caring the nurses were, no one was talking to one another. This hospital is supposed to be a teaching hospital, but I fear for what students are actually learning from this nightmare of a facility. Note to self: never, ever have health problems in Hemet.
Nevertheless, we used our time in hell to talk. I told Grandma that I wished she had reached out to me and talked to me about what she was feeling. She had expressed frustration at difficulty with her body, but never told me just how much it was getting to her. Every single person who knew her had been utterly shocked by this turn of events… including my grandma herself. It was clear she didn’t expect to have failed in her task, and she was confused about what to do next.
Eventually my mom returned from Orange County and joined us at the hospital and we all continued to talk with Grandma at length about everything. When we asked her where she wanted to be, her eyes filled with tears and she said, “I want to stay in my home.” My heart went out to her. Here she was, stuck in the hospital inside of this body that constantly betrayed her when she thought she’d be reunited with Gene, now thinking that she probably wouldn’t be able to go home but would instead be completely uprooted from her life to live out the rest of her existence with even more discomfort than before. I asked Grandma if she was going to do something like this again, and she said no. I looked into her eyes, and believed her.
There was only one choice we could make: Grandma would stay in Hemet. But this could not be allowed to happen again. This means that from now on, she will never be alone. We will take away all of her meds and monitor them. I will be the primary caregiver, but when I need to leave town, Mary or someone else will come stay with her. Family will be visiting her more often and so will Shine. Our plan is to surround her with love and care for the time being and help try to improve little things in her life: get all of her medications sorted out, see if this antidepressant helps her, get her a new hearing aid, take her to the chiropractor to see if getting her neck in alignment helps with the shaking (along with balancing out her vitamins and electrolytes) as well as a dozen or so other action steps. My aunt and uncle will also work on remodeling their bathroom so that she will ultimately be able to stay with them. But for now, let her be at home and let her try to find some happiness again while she is surrounded by friends and family. All of us agreed that this was the best plan.
I did get one call from another family member in the middle of the day who hadn’t been to the hospital all week and asked for an update, and when I told her this plan she screamed at me and told me we were all fucking idiots and my grandma would definitely try to kill herself again because that’s what depressed people do and that we needed to put her in a home. She berated and belittled me and tried to convince me that I didn’t have Grandma’s best interests at heart but I did my best to calmly explain to her that everyone else in our family believes in quality of life, not quantity. I also don’t believe that all depressed people are the same, and the solution is different for each individual. Then she criticized me for the fact that earlier in the day I had posted the truth about what happened on Facebook, and told me I should take it down.
“First of all, I didn’t post anything all week. I only put that up because Grandma asked me to post something today. I felt that she was being brave by letting it all out in the open and wasn’t going to argue with her. Second, the rest of the family and I believe that when you hide something and sweep it under the rug, it becomes taboo; everyone is afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. It doesn’t do anyone any good. There is power in vulnerability and it opens you up to heal much faster.”
But seriously though: what the fuck is the point of keeping Grandma alive to put her in a cage where she is completely miserable and then lie to everyone about it? She has family that adores her and wants to take care of her and help her get back as much enjoyment out of life as we can help her get. And if that makes us all “fucking idiots” then bring on the idiot hats. I love her too much to do that to her.
After getting screamed at for a while longer and realizing that I couldn’t fight anger with logic, I gave up. Nothing I could say would make her realize she was the only one who thought my grandma needed to be put away somewhere, and she hadn’t even had the chance to talk with her face to face since the incident. (This is not said with any malice, by the way; it’s simply a fact.) She had no grasp of the situation or Grandma’s headspace. I’m sure she will be pissed off at me for posting this too, but I don’t care, and neither does Grandma.
If after all of this, I am wrong, I am happy to eat my words; here they are for the world to see. But if I didn’t believe Grandma when she said there is still desire in her to live (and didn’t see that evidence also reflected by the fact that it took her three years to follow through with an abysmally executed suicide) we would all be making a very different decision.
If one person who has been thinking about suicide reads this and reconsiders, then it has been worth it. If one person who has experienced a family member attempting suicide and feels comfort when reading this, then it has been worth it. If it helps me and my grandma and my family to cope and to process what is happening, then it has been worth it. Let the truth come out, and let people talk about it. I only held back in the beginning because I was being sensitive of grandma’s feelings and didn’t want to make things worse for her. But when she told me to go ahead and tell people, I did. I think she is brave. And I know that because of it, all of her friends and loved ones are going to reach out to her and remind her how much she is loved, and these people will help bring meaning to her days.
The rest of the day was long, and we submitted our final plan to the case manager. We would know tomorrow what was going to happen next, and whether or not they would be releasing her.
We all went back to Grandma’s house and got ready for bed. I had intended to go straight to sleep but somehow mom and I ended up sitting cross legged in the lamp-lit living room, smoking a joint together and talked about the storm of feelings we were both wading through. Somehow we found ourselves on the topic of the bathtub.
Do you remember how I told you that my grandma said she tried to kill herself in the tub because she really just wanted to take one last nice bath? Um, I guess she just made that up while she was still under the delirium of Ambien. It turns out that grandma told my mom a slightly different story than the version she told me.
“She said she saw on TV that someone had taken sleeping pills and then laid down in the tub and as they went to sleep they slid down into the water and drowned, so she decided that was what she was going to do because it looked like a peaceful way to go. She took more than enough sleeping pills to make her pass out, but she had a hard time getting down into the water, and somehow the stopper got nudged but she’s not very mobile so she couldn’t get it back in, so she tried to block the water with her knee, but all the water drained out. Then she got tired and passed out and thought there was someone standing there with her and was talking to them, but then realized she was just talking to her legs telling them to move, but they weren’t listening. She wanted to get out of the tub but she couldn’t get up.”
“Huh.” I blinked. “She told me that she just wanted a nice bath.”
“Well, that was probably true, too. I told her that she was really bad at killing herself.”
“I don’t think she ever really wanted to go. She’s been thinking about this for a long time, but that’s a long time that she’s held off from doing this, too.”
“I think you’re right.”
I silently thanked myself for never replacing the broken bathtub stopper. I don’t think I have ever been so grateful for procrastinating something in all of my life.
It took all day but just after 5 PM they released Grandma from the hospital. All of the nurses had become fast friends with her, but she bonded especially with Juliette. Juliette helped her into a wheelchair and rolled her down the long, sterile hallway to the elevators. Everyone was in good spirits, and we were joking and laughing. Life felt better already. When she helped her into the car, Juliette gave her a long hug and told her she would miss her.
I don’t know why I felt so depressed by the time we got home, but all of the weight of the past week seemed to press down upon me all at once and the happiness of leaving hospital hell was replaced with thick emptiness. I fought with it for a while. When it came time to finally go to bed, I made sure that Grandma had everything she needed. She climbed into her pajamas and crawled into bed, and I lay on the pillow next to her and talked for what felt like the longest time, stroking her hair and her cheek. I held the hand of my best friend and told her that there was a reason she is still here; her time will come, but not yet.
Sunday: Mother’s Day
Saturday was recuperation day and was altogether uneventful, which was a blessing. Spirits lifted and a second night of good rest seemed to solidify that we were laying down a new foundation. This would be a new chapter, and things were going to get a lot better from here on out.
Sunday morning, the woman from home health came by and sat and talked with Grandma and the rest of us and we got most of her meds and other things sorted out. Finally, someone who could give us some straight answers! The long night had passed.
After she left, I looked at everything that happened and realized that this experience had brought our whole family together. All of the men have been the rocks that us women leaned on throughout this ordeal. Shine was not just friend, but sister to my grandma and I am thankful for her every single day. There were a lot of beautiful things that came out of this. Not only had it brought to light all of the dark thoughts and feelings that my grandma had been keeping locked up in her heart, it also made each and every one of us realize just how precious rest of our time with Granny Mo is. Nothing would go unsaid from now on, and when her time finally does arrive it will be that much more meaningful.
I also learned a lot about myself. I learned just how strong I am, and that even when I am in the middle of something that seems insurmountable and impossible to understand, I will make it through to the end of the tunnel. There is always an end to the tunnel.
Do I wish that she had chosen to reach out and talk to me instead of having to go through all of this? Of course. And I would urge anyone considering doing something like this to reach out and talk to a friend or loved one (or hell, even a stranger) before trying to take their own life. You have no idea the consequences of your actions. It doesn’t need to come down to all of this for change to occur.
But for me, it’s already done and I can’t change the past… and thank God she didn’t succeed. If she had, this entire experience would have been very different. All I can do is look at everything that happened and do my best moving forward.
Sitting there in my grandma’s living room, I was overcome with a flood of gratitude. It was just Mary, Mom, Grandma and I and all I felt was love. On Mother’s Day, I sat with my three mothers and realized that we had all come together as a team. Each of us have very different strengths and we all complement each other so well. I often internally berate myself for not being better at certain things, but this experience had opened my eyes to the very real understanding that each person has their own strengths. We are not all meant to be perfect at everything — we have weaknesses so that we need each other. Where I struggle, they step up. Where they struggle, I feel joy at being needed. That is the gift of family. That is the gift I found in my grandma’s attempted suicide.
We never had the giant feast I had originally planned for Mother’s Day, but we didn’t need it. No need for fancy desserts or a lot of ruckus, no need for cards or flowers, no need for the usual fanfare. We have each other, and that is all that matters in this life.
I FINALLY PUBLISHED A BOOK. My first and lifelong dream is a reality. No words, just happiness.
Festerfarkle the Frogdragon
by T. N. Maree
Because Festerfarkle is the only Frogdragon in all of Fayrule, he is very lonely. Neither the frogs nor the dragons like him because he is different. He goes to sleep at night and dreams that he lives in a faraway land with other strange creatures that are just like him. One day, Festerfarkle awakens from a dream and smells something funny on the wind. Perhaps things are about to change in Fayrule once and for all…
This morning I found myself perusing my old writing folders. While taking a stroll through yesteryear, I found this little gem. Yes, I know… I went through this phase when I was a teenager of writing in all lowercase. It was a short phase, but the damage is done when you save everything you write.
I could have changed everything so that you would never know, but I figure, “what’s the point of sharing the past if you paint it up to the point where it looks nothing like it actually was?” So I present this little snippet, unedited, for your entertainment.
eating on trains doesn’t work. this story has nothing to do with eating on trains. but it does have to do with riding on them. (and buses.)
okay so i’m riding back on the bus, and thinking, thinking, thinking. (i know, it’s a first for me. but don’t worry, i didn’t strain myself so much that it hurt.) anyway, all this stuff just kept popping into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone, so i started writing:
this bus that im on is late.. we left 45 minutes after we were supposed to. and it’s taking me to LA where i’m supposed to wait another hour before getting on another train to take me to santa ana. late, like buses are. so, i think, fuck, if i can create my life, i’m going to get home EARLY. …. i really don’t know how, but i am. then i forget.
so i get to the station and i’m like… hum, dum. an hour with nothing to do. yayness. i think i’ll wander around and at least find my platform that it’s coming in on. but i have no idea where i’m going. so i just sort of wander around and end up in some hallway leading to all the metrolink trains (i was going to take amtrak) and i see this guy that looks like he works there. im like, hm, maybe he can tell me where to go. so i hand him my ticket, and tell him where i’m going, and he’s all, you know, this is an amtrak ticket, and i work for metrolink. but you can actually use this ticket on metrolink, and the next train going to santa ana is right up this platform and they’re leaving right now.
what!? how freaking cool is that!? i had no idea you could do that. (this was the first time i’d ever ridden a train.) I got home (after riding trains all day, which are supposed to be late..) AN HOUR and a HALF early!!! i was getting into the car to go home five minutes before the train i was SUPPOSED to be on was leaving from LA! and the funny thing is they never even checked my ticket. amtrak was freaking anal about it and were checking constantly but i rode all the way from LA to santa ana on metrolink and nobody even checked once.
isn’t it crazy cool? i just decided, with no idea how, that i was going to get home early, and just happened to wander down the hall that lead me STRAIGHT TO the platform (keep in mind there was a LOT of platforms… why would i pick that one in particular?) that at that EXACT moment in time sent me home REALLY EARLY. some would say i’m lucky.
….but i know better.
I’m so happy that I can finally share my new website design for my business – Forty Two!
My old website design did not fit my work any more and was starting to look dated. I wanted to update it a while ago, but have been so busy with actual work that I haven’t had the time. I know I could have had someone else build it but I had a vision and wanted the creative control and to just do it myself. Typical of me. 😛 It’s going to be a work in progress. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it is so much better than what it looked like before. Better to make it live and then correct and continue.
One of the things I am really happy about is the decision to remove writing from my list of creative services — even my bio writing, which has been one of my most popular services for the last five years. As fun as it has been at times, I realize that doing so much writing for other people on a regular basis makes me feel drained when it comes to writing my own stuff. I have less motivation to put my own words down, and it makes me sad. As much as I love it, writing takes significantly more effort for me than photography or design. I am in awe of people who can write all day long and not get tired.
The truth is, I’m happiest when I can sit down and just write whatever is on my mind. I know that removing writing from my services was the right thing to do because every time I think about it I feel this huge inner sigh of relief. I have so much fun doing design and photography for my clients that it seems silly to continue doing something that has been draining me. Hopefully now I will find the space and energy to work on my own writing projects. 🙂
Life feels so much better when you can look at yourself and ask: what’s working and what isn’t? What makes me happy and fulfilled and what doesn’t? And trimming out the latter whenever you can, even if it’s just a piece at a time.
This last month has been one of my most productive ever, and I have one really big personal creative project (can’t tell you what it is yet, it’s still a secret!) that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half that is so close to finally being finished! Truth be told, I’m a little scared to finish it. That fear of failure is ever-present: what if I’ve missed something important that messes it all up? What if no one likes it? What if it’s a total flop and a waste of time?
I know these thoughts are irrelevant, and don’t worry. They’re not stopping me! 🙂 They’re just there and I have to acknowledge them. I’d rather finish it and fail and know that at least I put it out there and put my best foot forward than never finish it at all. I’m really excited about it. Everything about it has felt so inspired and it truly has evolved in its own time. I’m really proud of myself to be able to work so hard on something and finally be close to actually seeing it come to fruition as a completed project.
Faced with the longest stretch of writer’s block I’ve ever experienced, I’m desperately attempting to scrounge pennies of inspiration wherever I can find them, so I’m sitting here, re-reading one of my very favorite books about writing: Story by Robert McKee. When I got to this long paragraph I found myself wiggling in my seat. This is precisely what it feels like to need to write something so much that it hurts. You look around at the world and see connections and puzzle pieces that you want to fit together, but someone painted over the picture on the box and you have no idea what the image is supposed to look like in the end, so you sit blindly for a while, pressing mismatched fragments together in hopes that they will eventually turn into something coherent. For a long time all you have is a pile of pieces and a belief that what you have been given means something.
“The love of story — the belief that your vision can be expressed only through story, that characters can be more “real” than people, that the fictional world is more profound than the concrete.
The love of the dramatic — a fascination with the sudden surprises and revelations that bring sea-changes in life.
The love of truth — the belief that lies cripple the artist, that every truth in life must be questioned, down to one’s own secret motives.
The love of humanity — a willingness to empathize with suffering souls, to crawl inside their skins and see the world through their eyes.
The love of sensation — the desire to indulge not only in the physical but in the inner senses.
The love of dreaming — the pleasure in taking leisurely rides on your imagination just to see where it leads.
The love of humor — a joy in the saving grace that restores the balance of life.
The love of language — the delight in sound and sense, syntax and semantics.
The love of duality — a feel for life’s hidden contradictions, a healthy suspicion that things are not what they seem.
The love of perfection — the passion to write and rewrite in pursuit of the perfect moment.
The love of uniqueness — the thrill of audacity and a stone-faced calm when it is met by ridicule.”
So while I’m still running on the fumes of hope, I’ll just keep reading McKee and listening to this song on repeat since it makes me feel better.
I have lived with social anxiety for all of my life. She has been this invisible presence that stands over my shoulder, giving me a running commentary on everything she thinks and sees. Occasionally I’m sure she gets her facts straight (out of sheer probability) but I know that the vast majority of the time, every word out of her mouth is complete and utter bullshit. At least, I think I know that it is bullshit — yet for some inexplicable reason I find myself believing the things she says anyway. Maybe it’s just because she’s almost always there. I can’t tell her to go away; that’s like handing her a microphone and shining a spotlight down on her, because she just gets louder.
Often times, it seems like my social anxiety has Tourette’s because she can’t stop herself from saying these awful things to me over and over and over and over again, these hateful thoughts that make me want to shrivel up into nothingness. It is incessant internal bullying… but I can’t tell the bully to go away and leave me alone. She is in my head. And sometimes I can’t tell where her voice ends and my own begins.
Others might not notice that there is anything going on underneath the surface. They might look at me and see a pretty face, a happy smile, a healthy body, and they assume that everything is fine. I can even go out with my friends and have a great time if I choose to. But even on good days, the moment I get home the social anxiety comes rushing back in. She is a tidal wave that suffocates me and I drown in her insanity. The moment I shut the door all of the thoughts that I have been trying to hold at bay all day start swirling around me. I resist the urge to bang my head against a wall and instead just fall to the floor and curl up in a ball.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy interacting with people, or that I hate people. Please don’t get me wrong. When I am finally comfortable around someone I tend to be that annoyingly happy person that will not shut up. I have tons of fun being around close friends and family. And I really do like having new friends. I just don’t particularly enjoy making them, because of the constant negative running commentary in the back of my head that keeps telling me I am stupid and no one likes me. People are an integral part of my life that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s the self-hatred that often comes with being around people that I don’t know very well that I like to avoid.
My social anxiety isn’t there all the time, fortunately; but her presence is inconsistent and unpredictable, and when she is there I can’t ignore her. So what happens is I find myself fluctuating back and forth between two different versions of myself: the person that I am without her, and the person that I am with her. The person that I am without her is (I think) the real me. But my social anxiety shows up so often and always at all the worst moments, and she’s loud and obnoxious and always the voice of authority. She claims to see all of the things that I miss. She reminds me that she is right and if I ignore her, I am walking blind through life. I need her, so that I know the truth.
It doesn’t matter that I know her reasoning doesn’t make sense. There is no such thing as “the truth”, because every single person’s truth is different. And if the one thing that I know for sure about life is that I want to be happy, and knowing “the truth” makes me miserable, then maybe it is better to walk through life oblivious. I recognize that she doesn’t benefit me in any way, she only makes my life worse. But there is no form of logic that could ever make her go away. She makes up her own logic, and when she is around, her logic is Queen of my consciousness.
When she isn’t hanging around in my head, I am alive and happy, filled with enthusiasm and passion and energy. I find humor in everything and see connections in places that other people don’t. I have endless ideas and creativity for days. I dream about all the things that I want to do, and I feel open and loving towards others. I reach out to people and connect with them, and forgive and forget. I offer kindness and help even when I might not have it in me to give. I become thoughtful, generous. I accomplish tasks like a champion, checking them off my list with satisfaction. I sing, I dance, I play. I do silly things and don’t care what other people think of me, and they laugh and play with me. Most of all, I feel utterly free.
When she is around, though, I become this person that I can’t stand. I am fearful, nervous, hesitant. I become hurt, angry, resentful, sad, and bitter. I wallow in my own self-pity and stew in my own self-doubt. I hate people and life and living, and want nothing to do with any of it. I can’t connect with others. Every little task becomes this enormous mountain that is utterly unscalable and I end up stuck, unable to move, completely alone. I become resentful and jealous of people who are able to be outgoing and social and enjoy the company of strangers. I am convinced that I am unlovable and everyone hates me. I feel angry at people who are living the life that I want to live, because it feels certain to me that I will never, ever get there. The doors of life are locked and barred, and I am shut out in the cold by myself.
Even a minor interaction with someone I don’t know at the grocery store can feel like placing my bare hands on a red-hot stove and having to live with the pain from the burns for hours after the event occurred. I know the obsessive thoughts in my head make no sense and have no purpose whatsoever, but that doesn’t stop them.
One of the most frustrating things though is when my anxiety becomes so loud and strong that it begins showing through the mask of self-confidence and I become really nervous, shy, and withdrawn on the outside, too. That’s when people start perceiving me as standoffish, or a snob. Everything I have been thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I expect people to hate me, and they do.
I might find myself at a party, clinging desperately to the person that I came with, hoping that they won’t leave my side because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO or how to talk to people. And then I find myself on my own and OH GOD OH NO PLEASE HOW DO I TALK TO THESE PEOPLE. I CAN’T. I’LL JUST STAND HERE AND TRY NOT TO STARE AT MY SHOES AND PRETEND I’M REALLY INTERESTED IN THAT SPOT ON THE WALL. YES, THAT WILL WORK.
It’s usually so much easier not to drag myself through the mud trying to talk to people. So I just don’t. Then people usually interpret that as though I’m not interested in them, which usually isn’t true at all. And then when someone finally does come up and try to talk to me I get so nervous that I just babble about whatever pops into my head and talk too much (which of course leads to me beating myself up later for talking to much.)
I KNOW. IT’S RIDICULOUS.
Life often feels like I’m holding my breath for long periods of time. Every time I have to go out and be social, I suck in all the air I can knowing that it’s all I get until I can be alone again (or with the people I feel the very closest to and safest with.) And when I finally get to shut the door on the world later, I’m laying in a pile on the floor gasping, thankful I can finally breathe again.
It’s so much easier to remove myself from life than to force myself to interact within it. The problem is, when you have social anxiety, you do still have to interact in this great big world that expects you to be social. If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to make friends, talk to people, smile and be friendly and happy. No one likes the girl that doesn’t want to talk to anyone. When I had a job, I had to stretch myself so thin, constantly pretending to be this outgoing person that I’m not because no one wants to hire the shy introvert, and it wore me down over time, grating on me. Very few people could tell I had anxiety because I was so good at pretending. I got hired for every single job interview I ever did, and I was always recognized and appreciated as one of the best workers. I was good at getting along with everyone. But every night I would go home and feel like I was putting paper cuts in my soul, slowly but surely bleeding out. Finally I resorted to starting my own business just to be able to meet life halfway, and at least be able to tackle it somewhat on my own terms. But I still am constantly having to force myself to do things that make me completely miserable, because if I don’t then I can’t make money and if I can’t make money I can’t pay my bills and if I can’t pay my bills then I am a complete failure at life (not just a partial one.) And I will not be a failure. So instead I have to force myself to do things that are absolutely emotionally exhausting.
People always say the more you do something that you don’t want to do, the easier it will get over time. In some cases that might be true, but in the case of social anxiety it is not. It never really gets better; it’s a roller coaster of good days and bad days. Some days my friends and family ask me how I’m doing and I say, “much better! I feel great today.” And the very next day one tiny little thing happens and it feels like the first domino in a long line that goes off, making my whole world fall apart all at once. It doesn’t make sense to others because in reality, the event is just not that big of a deal. But to me it feels like trying to climb Mt. Everest when I’m totally out of shape. I’m overwhelmed and I have to stop constantly to try to talk myself into taking a few more steps.
Often times it makes me so, so, angry that I am like this. I try so hard to make peace with the anxiety but really, It’s hard not to shit on yourself when you look around at a world of people that all operate on a fully functional level (or at least seem to, because so many people are good at pretending.) I look at people who don’t have this problem and on my worst days I become furious at them for having what seems impossible for me, furious at myself for being the way I am. This usually results in me melting into a black hole of self-pity, which of course makes me hate myself more, because what could possibly less appealing about a person than self-pity?
Well-meaning people who realize that I have social anxiety but don’t understand it will try to give absolutely useless advice, like telling me that I just need to focus on the positive. But when they become matter-of-fact about it, like they know better than I do, and sit there logically explaining why I shouldn’t have anxiety and that I just need to trick myself out of it, it makes me want to punch them in the face. There is not a single shred of logic they could offer me that I have not rehearsed a thousand times in my head. “Oh, you’re saying that the way I feel is illogical? WOW! That’s life-altering. I never realized that. Thanks. It’s all better now. Fixed. I’ve waited around my whole life for you to show up and tell me that so things could magically get better.”
If you don’t have social anxiety, you don’t understand. Yes, you might have days where you feel slightly down about things and milder versions of these thoughts find their way into your head, but you can usually focus on the positive and it got better, right? So everyone else should be able to do that, too, right? NO.
Some days it is easier to focus on the positive. Sometimes I can pull myself out of it. But every time? No. Most of the time? No. Very rarely? Yes. The difference between when I can and when I can’t? Not a fucking clue. And people don’t like hearing that. People don’t like thinking that things are out of their control. Believe me, I GET IT. The last thing I want to do is admit to myself that I can’t get rid of my social anxiety.
Yes, there are a lot of things that are in my control, and I’m not trying to say I’m powerless. But after spending my entire life telling myself over and over and over again that there has to be a way to force myself to get better and one day everything will be okay and if I just keep working on myself and trying things and reading books and going to self-help seminars and reaching out and saying positive affirmations and making lists of things I appreciate and going to hypnosis and doing breathing techniques and beating pillows and having creative outlets, I’m getting tired. I’ve been trying everything under the sun and getting only partial results (or no results at all), and at some point I have to take my head out of the sand and admit to myself that it’s not something I can figure out how to control or fix. It’s something I’m going to have to live with. I can look forward to and appreciate those blissful days when she is not around to try and strangle or drown me, but she is going to keep coming back again and again. And if I don’t find some way to at least accept that, I’m going to be angry at her and fighting with her for the rest of my life.
If you are someone who doesn’t have social anxiety, the best thing you can do to help someone who does is acknowledge that what they are feeling is real, and stop telling them that they just need to stop focusing on the negative, or that they just need to get out and do the things that they don’t want to to do until it gets easier. It’s not that simple. That’s like someone who is in shape telling someone with a broken leg that they just need to stop focusing on the pain and get up and walk on it and it will heal on its own. It doesn’t work like that. Everyone is different and what works for one person is different than what works for someone else. And most of the time, what works only works to a degree.
The thing is, once someone with severe social anxiety stops having hope that they can get better, that’s when social anxiety’s best friend, depression usually shows up… and things just go downhill from there. We have to figure out a way to be at peace with ourselves as we are without completely giving up hope. And the best possible thing you can do to help someone with social anxiety is to just show that person that you love them, and you are there for them, no matter what. Let them know that they are not alone — and you can love them without needing to fix them. Keep reminding them that at least the crazy thoughts they have in their head about you not liking or loving them are false.
I’m not writing this post as a way of reaching out, asking for help. I am writing this post because I think it’s important that people talk about these things instead of hiding them, sweeping them under the rug. When you live your life pretending to be something you’re not, it feels like you are forced to break your own heart every other day so that you can survive in this crazy society. Brené Brown gave a wonderful TED talk about how being vulnerable is one of the strongest things you can do and later another great talk about learning from shame and those insights have always really resonated with me, so this is my way of being vulnerable. When I see other people post things online that I relate to and are open and real and raw, I sometimes find myself in tears thinking, “that’s me! And look at all of these people commenting on their post that this is them, too. I’m not as alone as I feel.”
And yes. I am scared to post this. The anxiety in me is totally freaking out about how everyone is going to judge me. But whatever. I woke up this morning feeling like shit, and sitting down and writing out all of this stuff that is constantly floating around in my head brought me back to some semblance of sanity. That has to count for something.
So this post is for those of you who also feel alone in a crowd of people. None of us may know how to beat this frustrating thing called social anxiety. We all have different tools that we’ve picked up along the way that help sometimes, but we also stumble and fall a lot more than even those that love us ever get to see because we are often too ashamed of ourselves to admit it to others. Just know that it is okay if you are hurting. There are a lot more people out there who are feeling what you are feeling, too. We as a society have gotten far too good at hiding our pain, and because of that we become alienated. But if we only knew what others were going through, we might at least have the opportunity to feel just a little less disconnected.
For a while now, I’ve been wanting to blog about things that aren’t necessarily photos. I have a lot of thoughts floating around in my head and feel like I should put them somewhere on the web. But my photo blog has a black background that looks great for photos and makes your eyes bleed if you stare at the white text for too long. So I’ve opened up this little space in the corner of my website where I can write whatever is on my mind.
Some of my posts will be happy and funny, others will be sad and sometimes dark. Whether my posts come out insightful, angry, silly, or just weird, all that matters is they are all little pieces of this twisted and confusing place I like to call my mind. You can expect poor grammar when I don’t take the time to edit what I write, and you can expect long spaces in between posts because my writing is usually better when it is inspired. Also, routines kind of suck.
Welcome to the weirdness that is me.