American Girl

Well, she was an American girl raised on promises… 

That’s one of the first songs I start singing when someone mentions Tom Petty to me. There’s that one, there’s “Refugee” which I have a separate, and potentially funnier story about if you like off color humor and misinterpreted lyrics, and of course the standard “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”–the first Tom Petty song I ever knew.

I always end up coming back to American Girl though.

I have a very vivid memory attached to that song. One that brings me joy even on dark days like this one…


Back when I was a preteen, you know those awkward years between being a child and a cool, know-it-all teenager, my dad got a go-kart for my brother and I. Truth is, he picked it up off the side of the road on his way home from work one day like a wounded stray puppy and brought it home for us. (He’s the “do now and ask permission later” type–it’s where I get that same behavior from.)

My brother was more excited than I was; he’s always had a propensity for vehicles and a “need for speed.” I was never the vehicle type–as much as I loved watching auto racing, partaking in it myself (or even in driving) was never my speed. In fact, there’s only one picture of me behind the wheel of a car.

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(Yes, it’s a Power Wheels Jeep.)

But that go-kart was awesome. It had two seats, purple rollbars and yellow accents that my dad, brother, and I covered with various stickers and the pool noodles we tied on with wireties to make sure they stayed on–safety first!

There were no seat belts; we only ever drove the thing around the backyard. It was a hallmark of summer days being able to bring out the go-kart and take it for a spin, always making sure to watch out for any various animal excrement in the yard–whether from the household dog or from coyotes or deer.

There was no excrement on the particular day of this story.

It was a beautiful midsummer day–probably early July and my brother and I had taken the car for a spin. I’d just loaded my iPod nano–my very first and only hot pink electronic device–with some new music, including Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

Over the years, my parents had managed to introduce me to a wide variety of music–Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead–thanks to the advent of satellite radio. (You can only get so many FM channels in Upstate New York; there are too many trees.) My music library was essentially all-encompassing by this time.

My latest obsession was that song. It was the “driving the go-kart, hair down, no cares in the world” song at the time. I was that American girl, raised on promises. I was that American girl, thinking there was a little more to life somewhere else. And I was attached to the song deeply.

My brother and I climbed into the kart and drove. The song blared, I sang, I sped up and drove like it was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

I took a turn too fast and my brother flew over the side of the rollbar.

I, instead of letting him back in, thought it was the funniest thing and would slow down so he could catch up, and then speed off. Because, as a big sister, it’s my job to antagonize.

To this day I haven’t forgotten that day and how much fun it was. My brother and I laugh about it now–he’s gotten over it and since I don’t drive, it makes it a little easier.


Today’s a hard day. And on the hardest days, I find myself clinging to memories like this one. Because… After all it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to…

Haunted

Is there anybody alive out there?

Some days are worse than others. Some days I don’t think of you at all. I’m grateful for those.

Some days, like today, the memory of you and what you did to me brings me down like a ship’s anchor. I walked through this day zombified, confused, almost-but-not-quite-on autopilot, hoping it would dissipate.

But today is not one of those days. Today, you haunt me. And you haven’t stopped.

It started with “Radio Nowhere.” Your favorite Bruce Springsteen song.

I don’t know why I still remember that fact. I wish I could forget it. I’m sure I never will. That’s just a writer thing, I guess. Remembering all of the little things any “normal” person would’ve long forgotten by now. The memories I’m sure you don’t hold onto are all the ones I’m certain I still have.

My mind wandered to those years of thoughts about what could be, what was, and what I wanted. The good times we shared. The times I thought I loved you and the time I thought you actually might have cared about me. (It’s singular on purpose.)

I snap myself back to reality, and launch into the memory of what you did to me. The bad time. The time I don’t think you realize what you did. What your name to all my friends has forever been changed to.

I cringe, aching with the reminder of how those water droplets felt as they splashed off your chest and onto my back. The smell of your Irish Spring body wash still stings my nose–years later. I can smell it right now. Just the right amount of soft, but masculine. Not overpowering. My skin smelled of it for hours afterward, as I walked home, not entirely sure of what had just happened.

I still hate admitting that I liked that soap, especially as I tried to scrub all of the shame and self-hatred from my skin. Some days, I can still feel it all. The shame, the self-hatred, the soap itself as it slid from the bottle, bubbled beneath my fingertips, and slid across my skin.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I remember how I liked you. The thoughts of your sly smile, your ice blue eyes, the way you were the first boy to ever really pay attention to me. The first one to ever treat me like I was worthy of romantic love and affection. I should’ve learned early on (and long ago) that you weren’t really the romantic love and affection type. I should’ve learned early on that I would never truly believe I was worthy of that. And even years later, married and all, I will never truly believe it.

And yet, I find myself here, behind a keyboard, remembering just who you were and how I cared for you. How foolish I’d been, letting you in with something as simple as a Facebook message and a simple guitar rendition of “Crash Into Me.” (I still can’t listen to that song without remembering that warm September night–almost seven years after it happened.)

Once I thought I’d gotten past this, back to the actual reality of life at my desk and the assignments I faced, it came back. Something else happened.

I saw a photo, of you and the girl you’re currently with. I still can’t decide how I feel about this–and you’ve been with her over a year now.

I’ve written about it before, how I wonder about the way you treat her, whether or not you actually say you love her in the way I wish you loved me so long ago, and exactly how she managed to be the one to break you of your habit of heartbreaking and stomping and general tomfoolery as it pertains to women and their affections or feelings. (I know there were women before me who you’d scorned and destroyed.)

I somehow can’t decide if I pity her or envy her; neither feeling being particularly desirable. How I wonder if she knows what you’d been like before her. If she knows about the hearts you broke, the women you irreparably damaged. If she knows about me. The words we shared. The play fights we had.

I wonder if you used  the same trick on her you used on me. The “Crash Into Me” rendition that got you to be the first man (outside of my childhood best friend) to see me topless.

You haunt me still. And I hate admitting it.

I’m at a point in my life where I know I shouldn’t still be thinking about you. I’m at a point in my life where you shouldn’t matter, where I shouldn’t feel anything about you anymore and yet here I am, writing another stupid essay about a stupid boy (a BOY!) who never thought of me as anything more than a piece of ass.

As a writer, I suppose you’re always just a little bit haunted by the ghosts of your past. And I hope that some day, with enough ink spilled and keys pressed, you’ll finally let me rest.

 


Editor’s Note: If you like what you read, please feel free to leave a tip.

 

Dear Blank Page,

It’s been no secret that you and I have had our differences over the last two or three months.

It’s been no secret that while I thought we’d worked things out, I could’ve thought we were okay far too soon.

What is it with you lately that has gotten me in such a tizzy? With such a fear of even putting down the slightest word, the tiniest pen stroke? What keeps me rapidly and rampantly erasing every single thing?

Fear. The fear and intimidation you set.

Writing is a fickle, fickle thing. Many people who don’t write creatively don’t understand that (and I’m being constantly reminded of this fact).

I’ve written, I’ve gotten words down, but yet, the ability to hit publish or send or even sometimes “Save Draft” is even gone. I have no tangible products to show for the work and the pain I’ve been through lately.

You’re daunting and scary, yes. I sometimes feel the same deep-seeded fear I felt as a child when I would listen to one oddly creepy radio ad and run screaming to the comfort of my parents–that unadulterated, earth-shattering fear.

It’s a fear that I know I can overcome, but it’s also like the fear and dread that sets in as I sit and watch the grey storm clouds roll in through my floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a fear that hurts, a fear that sits in the pit of my stomach.

There’s nothing that compares to it. And there’s absolutely nothing that compares to beating it.

But for now, you and I will just have to sit and talk it out again. It’s okay, I know you think that I might not be enough for you, but right now you’re not quite enough for me either. This blank page, this unrivaled fear, they’re not working for me. And so, right now, I will hit publish and we’ll move on from here. Alright? Thanks.

Love you always, even when you’re a petulant brat.

–Jess


Editor’s Notes:

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Day One: Whole30!

This month, my wife and I are embarking on the journey known as Whole30–where for an entire month, we will be on what’s essentially an elimination diet; removing things that are absolute staples of our lives: grains, sugars, alcohol (that’s mostly a staple of my life if we’re being perfectly honest).

It’s the end of day one, which I honestly waited for excitedly and anxiously. My wife and I thought long and hard and prepared ourselves–and our kitchen–vigorously before this day arrived. That didn’t stop my trepidation.

I awoke early enough to make myself some scrambled egg whites for breakfast (cooked in ghee instead of regular butter like I usually do and they were marvelous) to bring to work with me. I chopped tomato, pepper, and cucumber to toss into a container for a salad, coated them in oil and balsamic vinegar for some extra flavour. I grabbed a banana and cherries and tossed them all in a lunch box. (There is no acceptable or graceful way to eat either of those things at your desk, by the way.)

Dinner was a lettuce wrap filled with ground beef, mushrooms, yellow and green bell pepper and tomato seasoned generously with garlic and onion, cumin, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, salt and black pepper. Kind of like a healthy, cheese-and-bread-less version of a Philly cheesesteak–and a meal I’d be happy to eat again. (Go figure, something without cheese was delicious!)

This was the first time in months that I’ve eaten three meals in a day. Truthfully, I don’t actually remember the last time I ate three meals in one day. I am usually one to have a beverage in the morning (lately it’s been iced tea) and have a large dinner. But no. Breakfast and lunch and dinner all happened today. It’s an odd feeling.

In keeping with the theme of perfect honesty, I’m utterly terrified of failing at this. I’ve already had to remove coffee, my lifeblood, from my diet because of persistent stomach problems and removing sweetened and caffeinated beverages (miss you already, Coca-Cola!) will likely prove to be difficult. I know thinking about how many ways I could potentially fail will likely set me on a path to failure and a restart, but I know what I’m up against: myself. And I can beat that relatively easily.

Why do this at all though? As I tell my therapist on a regular basis, my single goal for my life right now is to feel better. I want to feel better spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically–which is where Whole30 comes in. It’s absolutely no secret that I weigh more than I want to. It’s also not the point of this exercise. Weight loss isn’t the goal here and I think that’s what drew me to it; the fact that it’s more about wellness than weight loss. I want to feel better and if I end up losing some weight along the way, well then cool! That’ll be great!

But for now, I will rediscover my love of sweet cherries, try and eat a lettuce wrap without dropping its contents all over myself, and perhaps master filling my S’well bottle without having it spill all over itself, my counter, or me.

 


Editor’s Note: If you like what you read, here’s my tip jar.

Little White Pills

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicidal ideation, self-harm

When you’re prescribed antibiotics, they tell you to take the entire prescription even if you start feeling better after one or two pills. It’s a fact of life. It’s how it’s supposed to go.

But with psychoactive drugs? When can you stop? Can you actually stop if you think you’re feeling better?

I tried to. I had been on mood stabilizers and antidepressants for almost four years. I’d felt okay. I’d gone off for bits of time, but never completely. I felt okay, never totally great, but I’d find myself going back.

I had been on mood stabilizers and antidepressants for almost four years. I’d felt okay. I’d gone off for bits of time, but never completely. I felt okay, never totally great, but I’d find myself going back.

I was done this time.

I went off my meds completely for a few months. Four, I believe. My psychiatrist had left the office I was accustomed to visiting after work; he’d kept evening appointments there and the commute from the office wasn’t impossible. I liked that office. Suddenly things had changed. He wasn’t there. I didn’t know where his other locations were and I didn’t want to be a burden to my wife or to my job in trying to get to one of the other ones he keeps.

There were a few different reasons, but the biggest was that my psychiatrist had left the office I was accustomed to visiting after work. While there, he’d kept evening appointments there and the commute from the office wasn’t impossible. I liked that office. Suddenly things had changed. He wasn’t there. I didn’t know where his other locations were and I didn’t want to be a burden to my wife or to my job in trying to get to one of the other ones he keeps.

Suddenly, things had changed. He wasn’t there. I didn’t know where his other locations were and I didn’t want to be a burden to my wife or to my job in trying to get to one of the other ones he keeps.

And so, I gave being med-free a try. (It was also partly because I was tired of being dependent on pharmaceuticals; I wanted to be normal, to be able to live life without little chalky white pills each and every morning promptly at 10:05 am.)

At first, it was fine. I was stable, able to function normally. It was like nothing had changed.

But the tides soon changed. My rapid-cycling got faster. My anxiety got worse. I stopped being able to go to work or the days I went to work were accompanied by panic attacks on trains and about finding desks. I gave up three years being free of self-harm during a moment of weakness.

My passive suicidal ideation came back with a vengeance. I became perfectly fine with the idea of someone bumping into me on a crowded Metro platform and plummeting into the electrified tracks below or falling off my balcony in some kind of freak accident. It wasn’t pretty. None of this is.

But none of that was the worst part. The worst part? I stopped being able to write regularly.

My ideas weren’t gone, they were there, buzzing around like hornets in their cozy nest. I’d get an outline down on paper and once I put pencil to paper or fingers to keys trying to write it, I couldn’t do it. It would disappear. I would perseverate over single words, erasing, deleting, backspacing until there was nothing left but a blank screen or smudged pages.

I am nothing if I’m not a writer; it’s my full-time profession and my favorite hobby. Being unable to do it was humbling and discouraging. I shed many a tear over the fact I couldn’t do it. It was more than writer’s block, worse than writer’s block. The worst I’d seen since I started my job and since I picked up writing more than just journal entries. I had to do something about it.

In an effort to save myself from having to go back on my meds, I started therapy. I thought that having a therapist again might help me keep being med-free. I didn’t disclose to him right away that I was unmedicated; I was ashamed of that fact. I wasn’t comfortable enough with him. Therapy is like dating. Just like how many people don’t fuck on the first date, you don’t disclose your biggest fears, your most shameful attributes on the first few dates. It’s just not how it works.

Two months into our appointments, I told him. He was understanding, kind, and supportive when I told him why I’d gotten off them. He didn’t scold me. He didn’t judge me. And over the following few weeks he helped me make the difficult decision to return to them.

And so I did. I returned to them thirty-four days ago, on April 17th. It’s been thirty-four long days.

It humbled me to go back to them. It really did. I wanted to believe I was stronger than this illness. That it couldn’t beat me and only me. But it turns out, I was wrong.

And I paid the price for my pride. For the first two weeks, I vomited nearly every morning right after waking up. I started budgeting time in my morning routine for it so I could still make it to work on time. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat.

Still, over a month later, I jitter, I forget words or thoughts in the middle of saying them. I forget things I’m doing in the middle of them.

I have to keep multiple copies of my to-do list at work now. Two written, one digital: my planner, a Post-it note on my computer, and in my sent email folder.

I am perpetually apologizing for forgetting.

If I’m taking repetitive notes, I need a Post-it to remind me of format. It’s broken my facade of perpetually being “okay” in the office.

I’m still nauseous 90 percent of the time. I’ve had to give up my favorite thing in the world: coffee. The thing I lived on for over three years. I can no longer have it because if I do, I will throw up. I now live on iced tea and Coke.

Things got worse before they got better. They always do. I knew they would. I warned my therapist and he stuck right by me. I kept going to therapy. As a notoriously flaky patient, I have yet to skip an appointment with him. I took days off of work when things got too bad. I talked to my wife.

However, things also did get better.

I have a normal range of emotions again and my rapid-cycling has slowed down to an acceptable speed, where my moods don’t feel like they’re on a two-hundred-mile per hour rollercoaster anymore. They’re going the speed limit on the freeway again–a pace I can handle.

I’ve lost a few things as well: my sex drive, my appetite, my coffee habit, but these are the things I could probably live without anyway.

There is no true “better” and there’s no true end of the prescription. Just prescription slips with no refills and Saturday mornings in psychiatrist waiting rooms. And for now, it’ll be me and these little white pills, just trying to get through this life together.

Acceptance

There are five stages of grief. The last one? Acceptance.

This has been a theme in my life as of late. Starting with a conversation I had with my therapist, bleeding into my yoga practice, and seeping back into my therapy sessions. There have been quite a few things I’ve had to accept–and some that I just am not quite ready to.

One of the things that’s weighing on me right now? My illness.

I have bipolar. I am bipolar. It is not all that I have and it is not all that I am. I have to remind myself of this constantly.

There are days where my diagnosis consumes me. There are days where all I want is to let it finally win. To let it take me and devour me. These are the days when I just want to give up and give in. But I don’t.

I don’t like to acknowledge or accept the fact that I’m probably going to be on mood stabilizers for the rest of my life. Colors get duller when I’m on my meds. My happiness is muted, my sadness subdued. I feel like I lose a little bit of my “creative mojo” (to adapt a phrase recently used by a coworker).

I can function like any other person though. I can sit on crowded trains a little easier (that will never be fun or easy to do for me). I don’t get as irritated by the catty gossiping women that sit around me and I don’t get as annoyed by presumably Swedish tourists congregating all in one place. I can get my coffee at any time of the morning rather than timing it almost to an exact minute, like coffee acquisition is a science, and be absolutely fine.

And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve had considerable trouble writing lately. In all honesty, I’ve had trouble doing much of anything lately. I’m still probably considered to be “highly functioning” as all of a sudden, I’m able to get myself to work on time–the bare minimum for neurotypical folks. (Glad that something that is so average, so mundane, is so absolutely mindbogglingly difficult for me. Debilitating anxiety can do that, I suppose.)

Admittedly, I’m off my medication right now. It’s hard to admit that after three years, I’ve finally completely gotten off them. And I don’t want to admit or accept that I need them. I want to rebel against the muted tones and subdued creativity of my medicated, yet stable life yet without them, I teeter and totter toward a treacherous area… One that I never wish to see again.

I’ve written about my bipolar in various forms, in various states of medication. Right now, it’s really difficult. Bipolar makes everything difficult. There are days where I wish that everyone in the entire world could understand what it’s like to have bipolar–to experience the mood swings, at least at their euphoric high level. There are days where I wouldn’t wish this experience on even my worst enemies, for it is just so painful and so goddamn annoying that I wish those enemies a slightly softer fate.

I’ve had difficulties accepting this diagnosis for a little over three years now. I don’t think I will ever fully accept it. It’s difficult, it’s challenging, it’s painful as all hell. But, someday, it will be okay. I will be okay.

Coffee Talk

Editor’s Note: I borrowed this format from my friend Amanda. If you’re looking for more great writing, I highly recommend her and her work.

If we were having coffee, I’d take note of your order and remember it. It’s a little habit I’ve had since I started working my first job. Your coffee order tells me a lot about you, if you can believe that.

 

If we were having coffee, I might cry a little if you ask me about the wedding. It’s a touchy subject at the moment.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that work was frustrating, but still good. I’m writing more than I had been and it makes me happy. It’s hard to do what I do in the climate we’re in. But I’m holding on. It’s all I can do. I would tell you that I’m working on my first series of the year and another one I have in the works that I’m extremely passionate about.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you about how I finally got a laser pointer for our boy cat and it’s the smallest thing ever but brings me endless hours of joy watching him chase a little red dot around.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that being apart for my wife even for a few days is difficult. The apartment is too quiet without her and I don’t know what to watch on television when she’s not here. The cats miss her. I miss her more.

If we were having coffee, I’d be honest and tell you that things aren’t as bright as they seem. Things are a little scary sometimes and I don’t like the way they’re headed. I’d been okay for a little while but right now, they’re not great.

If we were having coffee, I’d try to reassure you that I’m taking the right steps to make sure things don’t get too terribly bad. I’m seeing my therapist, I’m doing what I can when I can. It probably wouldn’t work out too well, honestly. You might feel uncomfortable–talking about mental health with certain people can be. And that’s okay. Don’t worry. I’m trying–and that’s all I can do.

If we were having coffee, I’d say thanks for listening. And say “Enough about me now. How are you?”