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…

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.

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?”

Back On the Couch

There’s a suite of condos down the street and around the corner from my apartment. A simple, short ten minute walk away. I’ve run past that complex even before I started going there. It looks nice, it’s on top of a hill and overlooks the park I usually run through.

Upon entry through the doors that open the completely different from how you’d expect them to, you step into a bright lobby. A right hand turn down a long hallway brings you to the office that greets you with leather chairs and throwback 80s music as you walk through the door. At the desk is the most helpful receptionist I’ve ever met, who remembers me even after just a few appointments and welcoming bowl of DumDums, like you’d see at the bank. Comforting is a great description.

On Wednesdays, usually in the afternoon, that’s where you’ll find me.

I work from home on Wednesdays to make it easier to get to these appointments, and that’s helping me make sure that they remain constant. It’s one of the only things that I really actually do keep constant these days, while everything else is perpetually fluctuating.

Back on the couch. A supple grey leather couch with yellow filigree throw pillows.

Places I never thought I’d be again? The top of the list includes a therapist’s office. Especially after the last time.

But, I’m back on the couch. I don’t have to lay flat, I don’t have to stare at a generic popcorn plaster ceiling, counting the specks like they’re the problems in my life.

I sit in the same spot every week, close to the door but inside, careful and comforted by the fact I’m not told I have to lay down and stare at a ceiling that makes me uncomfortable. (I’m a creature of habit.) I can sit up, face his desk, and talk like we’re old friends. A welcome change.

Of course, I’ve only had three or four appointments with him, but it already feels like we’ve known each other a long time. He reminds me of a good friend. He laughs at my jokes sometimes and doesn’t get upset when I swear and will sometimes swear as well.

He didn’t recoil when I mentioned I was married to a woman rather than a man. He didn’t shy away when I mentioned I’d previously tried to kill myself. It was like he knew he was in for a ride with me. And it was like he’d actually been adequately prepared. I’ve had therapists who weren’t prepared.

Obviously, therapists are meant to be prepared for and ready for people like me, people with the illnesses I have, but it’s not every day you find one that you gel with. One that feels more like a friend than a doctor my insurance company pays.

Therapy to me is like dating and it’s like we’ve had a few dates that have gone well. I’ve opened up a little more and I’ve processed a little more. I’m looking forward to feeling better again. Of course, I haven’t mentioned everything that needs to be mentioned, but there’s plenty of time for that. It’s a long road.

So, I’ll be back on the couch. For the foreseeable future. And I’m happy again.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

“Nevertheless, she persisted.” Words said about Elizabeth Warren last night as Mitch McConnell explained why she could now no longer take part in debate on the Attorney General nomination.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.” Words I have been thinking about a lot today. They’ve seemed to be a theme, I think.

Anxiety tried to get me this morning. Nevertheless, she persisted and actually worked today.

Fear tried to get me in yoga class today. Nevertheless, she persisted and nearly (finally) achieved crow pose.

Shame tried to keep me from going to the therapist. Nevertheless, she persisted and sure enough, made it to the office, through a full session, and a serious weight’s been lifted.

But back to yoga class. Because while those three instances all do prove that perseverance is a theme, the yoga piece is important.

One of the instructors at my studio focuses on one region of the body over the course of the month. January was hips (that was a lot of fun, honestly–I’ve always had pretty tight hip flexors and now they feel much better) and February is full of legs as a whole.

While setting our intention, the instructor asked us to call to mind times where we (class this morning was me, my wife, and one of our friends–it was glorious!) were knocked down and had to stand back up.

There were so many times that were called into my mind. Liz Warren served as an inspiration for me too. She stood up for what she thought was right and while she wasn’t allowed to speak (because misogyny and sexism, of course), she still went and read the letter to over a million people on Facebook Live. She persisted.

And of course, there were quite a few times of my own that came into mind. So many. Recent, not-so-recent… Real dark things. Softer, more “trivial” things.

But regardless of what things seemed like, how bad they were, or whether or not I thought they were the end, somehow, I stood up. And I’ll keep standing up. It’s the only thing I really know how to do anymore. Stand up.

Because, like Liz Warren and so many other strong women I know, nevertheless, I will persist.