Friday, May 29, 2015

Some FYIs for your life today

Just call me Cranky Pants.

No, really. I'll answer to it.

This could all equate to the fact that I didn't have breakfast this morning and had beef jerky (this kind -- YUM) and tortilla chips and wine for "dinner" last night.

But I'm just like, "Nope" today.

I'm planning to get my favorite salad in about a half hour, so life will turn around.

***

I'm reading "An Abundance of Katherines" and quite enjoying it. This is my first John Green book. I saw "The Fault in Our Stars" without reading the book first.

My good friend works at a boarding school and the girls in the dorm were getting rid of a bunch of books, so I went and ransacked that literary jackpot. I also got a copy of "The Great Divorce" by C.S. Lewis and a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book. Holla.

Now all I want to do is curl up in bed with snuggly Office Max and read read read.

But you know, what else is new?

Speaking of books, I've been reading a fair amount of fiction lately (This is Where I Leave You was excellent). This is very strange for me. And Mum just sent me an Ann Brashares book (one of the few I haven't read -- raise your hand if you've read all five Sisterhood books!), so this fiction spiral is just going to continue.

***

I have a gum supply that should last me the entire summer.

Just FYI.

***

I can't WAIT to move all my stuff into my new apartment!!!! And I'm so ridiculously excited to sort and organize and fill up shelves with little baskets of stuff, all tucked in their cubbies-like.

Sigh. Organization.

I had a recent revelation about my aversion to cleaning (yet somehow in there I seem to love it at the same time), and Alex said I should tell my therapist about it.

I probably won't.

He also predicted I wouldn't.

He's the cutest.

We were in his car and he pointed to a gum wrapper in his cup holder and said, "Oh. We need to talk."

He then proceeded to tell me that my gum was wrapped up in it yet not fully sealed off, and he ended up touching my chewed gum.

Would you like to know what my reaction to this was?

Oh, I laughed.

Heartily.

And then he tickled me.

We're the cutest.

Then we got to a stop sign and he tickled me again.

And in so doing we continued to be the cutest.

You're welcome.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

30 Important things I did (or didn't do) by the time I turned 30

This list is not one of superior -- or for that matter, inferior -- choices for one to make in his or her first 30 years; it is simply a list of things that have shaped me. And you, dear reader, have helped shape me, too, in helping to make my writing efforts worthwhile. So, truly, thank you. #GratefulFor30Years

(Also, I realize there are a lot of words in this post, so feel free to just skim and read the bolded parts. No troubles, Bubbles.)

1. I made having a pet a priority.

Kitties make me so happy. So, so happy.



2. I worked jobs "below" my skill and educational level.

I learned that I can learn things!, about me, about work, about people, even in a job that doesn't require my specialized degree. I learned that at times working as an administrative coordinator is the best arrangement to support my freelance writing career. I have loved (and sometimes hated) the 8-5 schedule. I have learned to be on time, to get organized, that people are depending on me so I shouldn't drop the ball. I learned that sometimes a tough coworker or boss wasn't the problem, maybe I was.

I learned that all jobs are super important, and can be rewarding if you have the right attitude. (And free coffee isn't too shabby a perk when you're a barista).


3. I realized that complaining neither speeds things up nor makes me feel better.

4. I went to graduate school (before I had kids). 

The parenthetical here is significant because both of my parents -- and my grandmother!! -- went back to school after they had kids, and I can only imagine the stress and struggle of raising kids and writing a thesis at the same time. I respect these people to the utmost, but phew-ee am I glad I checked that box off as a single person.


5. I decided to get on the eating bandwagon.

Praise the Lord I never had to deal with an eating disorder, but as I once heard a wise young woman phrase it, I am still struggling to overcome "disordered eating." Don't ask me why, Guys, but for whatever reason I cannot get it through my head that calories are needed for emotional and -- oh yeah, physical -- survival. I am slowly, slowly learning to take the time to power through the awful waiting period of ordering or making food and then eating it, even when alone, even when sad, because I know that it will turn that mood around.


6. I kept hydrated. 

I got countless drinks -- alcoholic and otherwise -- with family and friends, which helped me through the hard moments, the boring moments, the stuck moments, and helped me enjoy and celebrate the good moments. (Not suggesting alcohol as a coping mechanism, but rather: surround yourself with people who love you, and the easiest way to do this is to grab a coffee together. Only make it Irish if you are in a good place.)


7. I fought for my relationships with my parents and siblings. 

These guys. Who wouldn't fight for them?


8. I became brave enough to throw my hat in the ring. 

I had to set aside my jealous complaining to get there, but I realized that if you don't apply for the job, don't enter the writing contest, don't pitch yourself to a publication, you won't get published. If you put your name in the mix, you have a chance.

And you never know when you might get that internship that is your ticket to Los Angeles and an adventure in the sunshine.

9. I lived (mostly) alone.  



It's not for everyone, but I loved it, 95% of the time.

And living with others is super rewarding and fun, not to mention good for the mental health. (So excited to kick off this new decade with a new roomie!)



10. I started a blog.

11. I kept writing, even with little to no audience. 

While the blog changed my life, make no mistake it does go months without buzz in response to posts. This is part of the writing life they don't tell you about. You get one great compliment that spurs you toward the profession, but you don't realize that the praise doesn't come every day.

Writing, I heard multiple times from great writers I respect, is done only one way: it just has to be done. You have to do it over and over, to practice, to get better, to improve your vocabulary, to erase clich├ęs, to spot weaknesses and work your muscles.

No one is going to make you do it. That part's up to you. And when you least expect it, someone will take notice that you're doing it, and -- hopefully -- thank you and ask you to keep at it. 

12. I learned to weigh when I wanted something for the title and recognition versus when I actually wanted it and the responsibility that came with it.

I have daydreamed about lucrative publishing jobs. Crippled myself with jealousy when friends got promotions. But I started to learn the difference between really wanting something and just wanting others (or myself) to think it sounded cool or impressive.

This goes for travel, too. I have a genuine desire to travel, but I have to ask myself when I just want to have the most passport stamps for the sake of competition, and when I actually want to go to Peru or Tuscany.

13. I kept going to church, even though a good percentage of the time I didn't want to. 

14. I listened to lots of different music.

I didn't limit myself to a world with, or without, Justin Bieber. Friends and music played a huge piece in helping me survive my twenties, and without a diverse library of tunes I could have been in some real trouble.


15. I became OK with tears -- my own, and those of others.

HALLELUJAH, I learned to cry! After college, the real world and its boredom and sadness broke me. I became a crybaby, and in turn began to experience the catharsis of letting it out, of feeling a pure, honest emotion. I also fell into a new level of community.

Honestly, I think it feels so good to cry. Especially compared to its bitter, can't-hardly-think-about-it opposite, which is feeling utterly depressed with no ability to cry. UGH.

In getting comfortable with my own salty discharge (Seinfeld reference? Anyone?), I became fine with those around me shedding some tears. I understand what it feels like to be frightened by another's tears, or his sadness, but I am happy to now understand the comfort in being near it, in it. Carrying each other's burdens is a true phenomenon. And really, there's no need to be afraid. It's just some salty water coming from the eyeballs. What should frighten one more is her choice to be absent when someone she loves is suffering.

16. I studied abroad. 




17. I took the leap to move away from my geographical roots, and I learned to stay in one place.

The after effects of moving to Los Angeles have literally required therapy, but it's been so worth it. I felt in my bones that I needed somewhere bigger, with sunshine, where people my age weren't getting married and having babies.

Being far from my family has caused me to sob, to feel left out, less than. But I learned that some of my thoughts about my lack of worth are lies. I learned to be happy where my feet are planted. And after years of moving around in my youth, I learned to keep those feet in the sandy beaches until further notice. And damn does it feel good to have conquered and come through to the other, happy side of it.


Photo credit: Michael Martens

18. I danced. 

In the middle school gymnasium. At Kari's wedding. Without a date at freshman Homecoming. In Alex's living room, to no music, in a heart-patterned dress. With the Girl Scouts at the Father-Daughter square dance. Freeing those feet freed me.

19. I used my library card more than my credit card.

20. I decided to sing so that people could actually hear me.

Save for at the Brewer children annual Christmas Eve show, I never, for years, let people actually hear my singing voice. 

Then came Namibia, my semester abroad in college, where oftentimes we only had the radio in a hot, dusty van to keep us entertained. And I let my voice belt. It relieved the stress of constant close quarters with my American comrades, cured homesickness by joining in on the chanting of tribal pop songs from back home, and gave my vocal cords courage to sing in another jungly, scary, fun land of music: karaoke venues.

21. I didn't get married. 

And by and large, I remained single.

22. I discovered that retail therapy is a real phenomenon.

And when I needed a little pick-me-up, I went and picked me up a red shopping cart and a coffee at Target and strolled the aisles until I felt better. Which, usually, I did.

23. I kept in touch -- and reconnected -- with old friends.







24. I listened both to others' advice and to my heart. 

When I first told my brother I was considering journalism school, he told me I should be a nurse or a pastor instead. 

I didn't take his advice. 

Yet he paid me a compliment that day that I've kept close to my heart ever since: "I think you have a pretty good grasp of the concept of grace," he said. 

It meant so much to me that he saw that in me, and bothered to say it. 

Meanwhile, I've had my moments where I've wondered -- after the fact -- if getting a journalism degree was a good idea, the best use of funds. And when I see my name in print, I think, "Yes, it was."

Decisions are going to be hard, even when it's just selecting the pad thai versus the massaman curry for dinner. My best advice to you is to both listen to your heart and to those who love you (praying = also a good idea). It will be aggravating as hell at times, but it's worth it to keep your own ego in check and to make yourself wiser than you could otherwise be. I am ever grateful for the countless mentors in my life, who have helped bring me here. 

25. I FINALLY learned to tame my email inbox. 

Delete, delete, delete things, folks!

I have just become ruthless with myself when it comes to email. File it in a folder or delete the conversation. Decide if you're going to actually take that volunteer opportunity, that writing job, that dog sitting gig, and either craft your response and send it or just save yourself the headache, politely decline, and delete the thread.

Also, at work I keep a "positive feedback" folder, where I stash away particularly nice emails to remind me on bad days that people are kind and care about me and my work. In my personal email, I save sweet conversations, to show when people were there for me, made me laugh, etc.

But beyond that, anymore, I am the queen of deletion! (Still working on "deleting" the clutter in my apartment....)

26. I went to therapy and considered medication.

I say "considered," because while I made the decision to take psychotropic medication, it is not for everyone. But I think the choice to at least meditate on the possibility is one that several of us could benefit from (and is nothing to be ashamed about; it is my goal in this world to get people to view Xanax in a similar way to the way they regard insulin).


27. I learned to recognize -- and pay heed to -- the various types of exhaustion.

After a freak illness in high school followed by a scrambling to catch up on schoolwork, I learned just how imperative sleep is.

Since then, I've recognized social burnout, work fatigue, the need to take a day off from exercise, etc.

Clear your calendar. Sleep in your car at lunch. Call in sick. Get a massage. Relay to your partner that you need him to handle the kids for an hour. Do what you gotta do. Just make sure you rest. Or you will run out of steam and you will be unhappy. Trust me.


28. I decided (sometimes) to stop complaining and instead figure out a way to go after some of the things I wanted/was envious of.

I also decided to at least try to quit playing the who's-most-busy who's-more-tired who-has-the-least-or-most-money comparison game.

All this does is create contention and closed ears, and doesn't get you anywhere. Jealousy is natural, but more and more I try and urge myself to shed the jealousy and replace it with thoughts of:

"What can I do with what I do have?"
"Where can I cut costs to save money for that dream vacation?"
"Is this goal actually impossible, or am I just frightened to go after it?"

29. I finally got text messaging on my phone. 

You're welcome.

30. I proved that 30-year-old virgins do exist. 

;)

And that there are men in the world who will respect your choice to wait. 

Look at you, you made it to the bottom of the list! Good job, you deserve a snack! All right, over and out! Time to celebrate 30 years! THANK YOU for being a part of my life as a reader of the Daily Bailey!

Xoxoxoxo,
The Birthday Princess Girl

Friday, May 22, 2015

Last day of my twenties, Y'all

Hi, Y'all! I thought I'd chronicle this last day of my twenties!

Aren't you excited?! Not at all?! Great! Let's do this!

So I kicked off this morning with an appointment with my therapist. I thought that was rather metaphorical and movie-esque. Someone in the movies would go to her therapist to freak out about turning 30, right?

So I did it.

I stopped for donuts on the way because duh, but also because while I'm a huge advocate for therapy I still don't find it to be fun, exactly, so sometimes I carrot myself along with things like donuts.

So I should say "donut myself along," if we're being honest.

I then went to the room of rest, as my father likes to call the bathroom, before my appointment,

AND IT'S A GOOD THING I DID

because upon looking in the mirror I discovered pink donut icing

ON MY FACE.

Are we sure I'm mature enough to turn 30? Is there like a test I need to past first?

So therapy was fine, I'm glad I went.

I'm glad I got the donut off my face beforehand.

I'm glad I'm still spelling it "donut" even though the Associated Press Style Book tells me it's "doughnut." But this is my blog, and my birthday, and so I'm ignoring that style rule.

I also think it should be spelled "bobbi" pin instead of "bobby."

After therapy, I arrived at the office and not one, not two, but three bouquets were awaiting me.

My office smells brilliantly of stargazer lilies and it's amazing and heady and wonderful.

Tomorrow I head north to spend a chilly weekend -- weather-wise, not emotionally -- with some girlfriends. There are plans for mani-pedis, burgers, drinks, potential (hopefully!) dancing, and the opening of Care Package From Mother in place. I also plan to write.

To get to this ladies weekend of fun and relaxation, I must make a 5 hour driving trek by my lonesome (Alex has business here in LA, then will catch up later), which I also feel is metaphorical for my 30th birthday. So I'm doing it.

Just hopefully not with doughnut donut on my face.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday

There is not enough coffee and Diet Coke in the world today.

Or perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I've gone to bed around midnight the last two nights, and I usually hit the pillow around 8.

Perhaps it has something to do with that.

I feel alert, just not motivated, let's just put it that way.

I need some water.

I've had the magical salad twice this work week, and it's Tuesday, so I'll let you do that math there, Friend.

One of the waitresses didn't recognize me with my new bangs -- note she didn't recognize because normally she would recognize me because I show my face in there all the time!!

So all that me and the new roomie can think about is moving in to our new place. The landlord was kind enough to hold the place for a very generous amount of time, which is great, because I don't have to pay too much double rent as I move out of my current place, we have lots of time to pack, blah blah blah.

The downside is now we must sit and wait to move in to our treasure trove of happy homeyness.

But we're bonding in the process: long email chains about how to decide who gets the master bedroom (ideas so far include trivia contest and beer chugging contest -- classy), getting drinks after work to chat, sending each other Craigslist postings for fridges, couches, TVs.

We're excited. :)

And the cat made sure to let me know not to forget him in the move, by climbing into one of my packing boxes.

Either that or he's a cat and just loves boxes.

I'm going with the first theory.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The struggle to talk to God (even though it should be simple)

You know that feeling when you see someone all the time? You laugh together, maybe cry in front of each other, talk constantly, see each other more often than you see anyone else?

And then, for whatever reason, you drift apart?

And then, after you force yourself to contact them and get through the awkwardness of it all because you know there's something there worth getting back, get together for a burger?

And you feel fidgety, and uncomfortable, and a little sad, and not quite like yourself, as you munch on your reunion lunch? Hoping to rush through it, desperately wanting to be back in the comfort of your own space, even if it's lonely? Wondering if maybe your friendship will never be like it once was?

That's how I feel about my relationship with God right now.

It's 3:20 a.m. right now, and I waited about 20 (did I even make it 15?) minutes before I finally caved and grabbed my laptop and pulled it up here on the bed with me to possibly type this or to at least peruse Facebook and check my email, to escape the discomfort of my guilt ridden thoughts.

When I woke up -- possibly due to the inexplicably egregious amount of Diet Coke I drank yesterday -- and found myself in that state of boredom that prevents one from falling back asleep at 3 a.m., I dared myself to resist the laptop urge.

I tried to get myself to talk to God instead.

And, as always these days -- and for a number of years I don't care to admit -- it felt weird.

Fidgety.

Rushed.

A little sad.

Or maybe a lot.

First, there's the conversational method. Do I ask questions? Start prattling off facts and feelings, Dear Diary style? Lie motionless and wait to feel His stillness?

Second, what to talk about? Apologize for not conversing lately? Question which of my actions are considered sinful -- since, while the Bible gives so many guidelines and society gives a billion more, the agreed upon standards are so muddy? Just sit back and talk to Him like an old friend, since all is forgiven, and in order to believe that I better just start acting like I believe it and pretend there's no awkwardness in our interactions?

A large part of me wishes I could just fall back asleep right now, and once again ignore these tuggings come morning. But I think maybe it's good to write it out.

I can say for once I know I'm not alone in this.

I find, in the worlds of religion and otherwise, that people tend to be black or white on this: fully confident in their conversations and relationship with the Man Upstairs, or slinking in the shadows, afraid to talk too loudly about their God relationship issues -- or lack thereof altogether -- the way one would avoid talk of a fresh divorce, whispering around the subject but mostly just moving on as quickly as possible to small talk, grasping on to the latest popular sporting event for topic even though you don't care much about sports at all.

And who are we kidding, really? Certainly not Him.

I'm good at reading Christian books. Listening to pretty Christian music. Smiling and speaking friendly when I greet people every third Sunday of the month as they mosey from the parking structure to the auditorium where we worship at a local school.

And then I'm really good at skipping church afterward, and not coming back to the campus until the next third Sunday.

Not that it's all about going to church. I've long been clear to express my opinion on that. God loves you if you wear jeans to church, don't go to church, struggle over the complicated and ancient words of the Bible.

But, like any relationship, quit attending to it, quit showing up, and your chances of feeling normal and happy and relaxed in that relationship are minimal, laughable.

So when, like me, one doesn't read the Bible, go to church, meditate, pray, talk (too) much about God with her friends, then what's there?

Confusion. 3 a.m. Diet Coke induced stupor and frustration. And some hope. Some trust that God is steadfast and who He's always said He is -- loving. Forgiving. Chasing after us.

Praying is hard. Reading the Bible -- which, I find jumps from topics like adultery to "let the children come to me" to beautiful Psalm 139 that makes me weep -- is hard. Talking to God and letting Him know you're scared, and sad, and completely unsure of where to walk next in your faith journey is hard.

But maybe that's where I need to start. I'm pretty good, with my friends here on earth, in 'fessing up when I'm sad, confused, scared. I openly complained in recent weeks to coworkers about the exhaustion of searching for an apartment, about the joys of my friendship with my future roommate. Maybe this talking with God thing doesn't need to be as hard as I'm making it to be.

But Friends, I understand if you feel that it is hard. Because it can be so hard. Hold on. And message me in the comments to remind me I'm not alone, and offer tips for getting that conversation with the Best Friend of all back in gear. I'm all ears.

Love and Hope,
Bailey

P.S. Also, this beautiful song that has given me comfort came on my Pandora shuffle station while I was writing this, so I will share it with you:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The 1,000 List, Installment #5!

The list continues! Halfway to 1,000 things I'm grateful for!

401. Baby chameleons. Soooo tiny!! (I like how they look a little bit grumpy, too).
402. MILK
403. It always kind of cracks me up when I forget that my Caps Lock is on and ALL OF A SUDDEN I'M TYPING LIKE THIS.
404. Lo mein
405. This Old House
406. Trader Joe's Chai -- delish
407. Sitting on the Internet on the weekend
408. Cleaning the crap out of my apartment so that it's glistening come Sunday night, all fresh and tidy before going to work on Monday
409. That feeling of knowing everything is clean at home, while I sit at work
410. Ellie Kemper
411. Imogen Heap's music (!!!)
412. Color
413. Elliptical machines, for when I don't quite feel like actually running
414. Disney Channel sitcoms
415. Getting into a car that's been sitting in the sun
416. The Nutcracker
417. The mischievousness of warthogs
418. My cat, all smashed into a box full of stuff. Oh, he finds a way to fit.
419. When my cat inadvertently winks
420. Neon colors
421. Disney Channel sitcoms' mismatched fashion
422. Glitter
423. Sprinkle donuts
424. Wet burritos
425. (Free) Chips & salsa
426. Asian food and beer
427. Use of a synthesizer in 80s and 90s music
428. Rolltop desks
429. Writing gratitude lists
430. Chocolate chip cookies from Costco
431. Sunglasses
432. When you make a to-do list, forget about it, then suddenly remember and are able to cross off a bunch of things you've done
433. The damp fur of a cat who's just groomed himself
434. Sitting and talking with my sweet friend Sonya
435. Being on a hike way up high in LA and realizing it's quiet
436. Putting aloe on a sunburn
437. Seeing whales!
438. Rocks in glass jars
439. The way cats smell like sweaty children when they come in from the hot outdoors
440. Having a kid (or anyone) play with my hair
441. Snorkeling -- unreal
442. Watching Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (particularly the Alec Baldwin and Sarah Silverman episodes)
443. Emailing a coworker throughout the day to make the day go faster
444. Making a wish when the clock says "4:44," "12:34," or something similar
445. Hot dogs at baseball games
446. When you get the news that a new baby has arrived, this side of the womb
447. A great stretch
448. Another page written in the draft of the book
449. Sunscreen
450. Sundresses
451. Maxi dresses
452. Blackberries in yogurt
453. Sitting on a patio, solo or with a friend, on a morning with no agenda and lots of coffee
454. Richard and Linda Thompson's "Dimming of the Day"
455. The way country music reminds me of my friend Corie, and sometimes of summer specifically
456. Lake weekends with Corie and her family
457. The super delicious sweetness of straight up bubble gum
458. Looking at DIY blogs and gushing over all the cute and handy stuff (and then never actually making the stuff)
459. Popsicles
460. A made bed
461. The click of high heels (particularly when I am wearing them)
462. Campfires (and s'mores and beer, duh)
463. Kenneth on 30 Rock
464. Tracy on 30 Rock
465. Alec Baldwin's curious -- yet smoldering -- sexiness
466. Riding on an Amtrak train
467. Free swag at alumni -- or similar -- events; keychains, bumper stickers, other stuff you don't need, but hey, it's free!
468. Watching football games with fellow alum, and making friends with previous strangers over suds and field goals
469. TV hair -- long and curly
470. The look of a messy bun with a headband. Always feminine, and either cute/casual or elegant/fancy, depending on the outfit it's paired with.
471. Potato chips & French onion dip
472. When you get a massage and that knot that's been bothering you finally lets up
473. Cleaning up with a disinfectant wipe. It kills time when you're bored, yet it's still productive.
474. Maui Winery's pineapple sparkling wine. Mmmmm
475. "Puppy chow"
476. Baking for men. They turn into little boys when you show up with cookies.
477. Cooking while wearing an apron
478. Shopping at Fresh & Easy -- my little British Trader Joe's. I LOVE IT!!
479. Milky Ways
480. A framed picture of someone -- or somewhere -- you love. Of a sweet memory.
481. Finishing a writing piece, or just a first draft
482. The somehow-satisfying bitterness of cold coffee
483. Olive Garden Zuppa Tuscana soup!!!! With breadsticks and salad, of course. But it's by and large about the soup.
484. A book by Bill Bryson, Anne Lamott, Lauren Winner, Bailey White, Sandra Tsing Loh, Donald Miller, James Herriot...
485. Having a sap fest with a friend
486. Marshmallows
487. Stale marshmallows
488. That scene in "Selena" when Selena's future husband drowns his pizza in Tabasco sauce and then says, "I don't like pepperoni, it's too hot," and then Selena just loses herself in giggles.
489. Really appreciating a breeze across my skin
490. Not so much tickling itself, but I love that maniacal giggling that happens when I'm being tickled -- and sometimes continues long after the tickling has stopped
491. Matzo
492. Drumlines
493. Going to football games
494. When the trip odometer and thermometer match on my car (60 degrees and 60 miles travelled)
495. Cameos
496. Depending, of course: film remakes
497. Working out with my pretty purple iPod Shuffle
498. Folded potato chips
499. The magical burrito
500. The magical salad

The magical salad

I've already told you about the magical burrito.

It's time I tell you about the salad.

If for no other aim than to prove to you that I don't always eat only burritos.

(But I do eat a lot of burritos).

I go to the place that serves the magical salad at least once a week. On average, it's more like twice a week.

But it's salad, so it's OK.

And with my Diet Coke and tip, I'm not saving myself money by droppin' $15 each time I march in there, but it's worth it.

Worth. It.

I discovered the salad when I ordered it for a meeting at work. I needed a place that delivered to our office, so I believe I found it through Yelp.

Feeling in a salad-y sort of place, I guess -- and thank goodness I was, because look at what obsession I'd be missing -- I looked over their simple, no-nonsense-but-includes-tater-tots menu and went for the chicken salad.

Which sounds like the food processor-mayo-mixed-in kind of chicken salad that you spread on bread for a sandwich.

Incorrect.

It's a salad with chicken on top.

And it's.

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Good!!!!!

I am yet to tire of it, and I'm betting I've eaten upwards of 30 (40?) of these things now.

And they are always fresh. Always tasty. Always satisfying.

Let's start with the ingredients.

Roma (or something similar and equally red and ripe) tomatoes.
Persian cucumbers.
Romaine lettuce.
Grilled chicken. With some sort of tantalizing yet none too overpowering marinade/seasoning. (This is where I believe most of the magic -- and addiction -- lie).

I spring for the balsamic vinaigrette, but you can do what you like of course.

Like I said -- and it's worth mentioning again -- the stuff they put in this salad is so fresh. The lettuce is clean and green. Tomatoes red. Cukes crisp.

Chicken, as we've covered, delish.

Oh, and just like the magical burrito, this sucker arrives at my table in about 5 minutes flat. And it's made fresh on the spot.

It took a while for my regular waitress -- whose name I still don't know -- to get bored enough to ask if I'd like to add anything to the salad, but she got there eventually.

I politely declined for quite a while.

And then one day I sprung for avocado.

Good choice.

The tiny cubes were hidden in there ever so craftily, and when my mouth hit upon the green mush, it was happy it did. This is going to sound gross, but it was like a satisfying culinary French kiss.

Things continued to be fine. I would read or watch 90s movies on the big screen TV behind the bar while I crunched happily on my greens.

And then one day they actually got better.

Chips? they offered.

Chips? I countered back.

No no. Not on the side of the salad.

IN. the salad.

IN!!!!

And they took the world's best jalapeno chips (Miss Vickie's, duh) and crunched them up into oh so tiny pieces inside the bag, and then

mixed them in

IN!

with the salad.

I can't tell you what this has done to my lunch life.

You're just gonna have to go test it out for yourself. One word: Tara. Think Gone with the Wind if you forget. Once you try it, you'll be gone with the wind of old salads and embraced in the new loving family of Tara chicken salads.

And try it with the chips.

At your service, continuing to find Valley hole in the wall eats. You're welcome.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mom

She once told me that my eyes really say it all about what I'm feeling.

She used to wrap me in a towel and sit on the toilet seat lid with me, clipping my toe and fingernails, talking to me gently after bathtime.

She supplied us with popsicles in the bath, and toys and siblings to laugh with, and gave us shampoo horns (i.e. lathered up our bowl cuts and curls and used the thick suds as mousse to create mohawks and unicorn horns atop our heads).

She has always called us sweet things like "Peach." She calls me Mitsubishi and Girlfriend.

She prays for me over the phone when I am worried or sad, most recently this Wednesday.

She and I together are the two biggest cat freaks of the family, unabashed.

While not a big athlete, she is a champ at yoga and can kick your tush at bowling or billiards.

Believe it or not, I inherited some introversion from her.

And her love of reading.

And libraries.

And the silver streak in her hair, which is growing in on me. (Proverbs 16:31)

She can twirl batons of fire.

She takes care of her mom without complaint, going above and beyond in visiting doctors, stocking drawers with warm socks, and keeping Grams' apartment filled with framed pictures of her great-grandbabies.

She taught me about girl power, donning silk blouses and suits for her managerial level jobs when I was a tot. She still supplies me with things like Wonder Woman stationery.

She is a human dictionary. Ask her the meaning of any word. She knows it.

She told me to start a blog, which has helped me grow as a writer.

She assembles the best care packages.

She set an example for my future marriage by picking an exceptional husband for herself.

It took me years to learn it, and several trips to the mall ended in mother vs. tomboy fighting (sorry, Mom), but she has great taste in clothes and always knows what will look best on me. Even if it looks crazy on a hanger. Trust her. (While this post is about my mom, this is an opportunity to point out that my pops has some good taste in clothes for me, too, and has selected some wardrobe winners over the years).

And she regularly takes me on Macy's shopping sprees. (We're making up for lost tomboy time).

She keeps my ENFP father and I calm, with her ISTJ wisdom and peace.

She took us to church always, even though God knows she and Dad were always exhausted. And she always made sure we ate dinner together.

She slathered us in sunscreen and made us turkey and butter sandwiches that we ate in the Worlds of Fun parking lot. She let me get my face painted every time we visited the amusement park, and she rode roller coasters with us.

She ingrained a deep craving for milk in us, for which I am udderly grateful (no, seriously, though). And when the Brewer household ran out of liquid calcium, she served it up in frozen form: that's right. Ice cream for breakfast. Mother of the year award.

On the surface, it seems I am a carbon copy of my dad. But there is a Mom lifeblood that courses through me, no doubt. I love you, Mama. Keep on bein' awesome and lifting up those around you in encouragement and love.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tortilla torture

I dare you to find a better Mexican food joint in LA.

Just make sure that when you lose this bet to give me the 11 bucks and change in cash so I can take it directly to buy one of the MAGICAL BURRITOS THAT I AM OBSESSED WITH!!!!

My friend Courtney says I eat to live.

Except for when it comes to the magical chicken wet burrito with red salsa at La Costa Grande in the Valley.

I called my Dad today to talk about my feelings for the burrito.

"Let's just put it this way," I told him. "I was here last Friday, I'm here today, and I'll be here tomorrow."
It's true. I have plans to grab chow at my favorite place tomorrow on my way to watch an outdoor movie with some girlfriends.

Knowing this, I considered not getting a burrito for lunch today, but the craving won out and I had to have one, with its crunchy, minutely chopped onions inside.

I have fantasized about the onions while driving down the road. I'm not kidding.

After I swiped my card to be rewarded with my tortilla-wrapped bliss, my love arrived at my table within 5 minutes.

This is typical.

Because the burrito is magical. How does something so deliciously (and beautifully, I might add) crafted arrive in five minutes?!!?

I told Dad my current weight and got a famed "Holy crap" out of him.

"Hey, I'm training for a half marathon," I said. The carbs and protein keep me fueled.

The staff is extremely friendly, and while this is a casual dining place, get this:

they bring you chips and salsa.

I know.

And bus your dishes.

I know.

I promise this is a real place.

And I'm glad I'm moving to a new apartment so that its caloric temptations will be farther than spitting distance from me and my ever-widening belly.

But they will be missed. And every time I come back to visit, my gut will lurch at the prospect of the happiness that is about to meet it. I won't be able to see it until I nearly reach the laundromat at the end of the hidden strip mall and pull into a tiny parking space.

But I'll know it's there.

And I'll go inside and begin to drown myself in Diet Coke, until yet another log of love arrives before me, floating in its Orange County-sized swimming pool of salsa.

And later, as the leftovers sit in my fridge, they will cry to me, "I'm heeeeere!" until I can't stand it anymore and rip them from their Styrofoam cage and feast upon the reheated beans and rice.

I have a problem.

You too will have this problem once you taste that which is the La Costa Grande chicken wet burrito.

Trust me.

And then you will realize it's not a problem.

It's a love affair.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The fear of the writer: will I ever read again?

When I pick up a book these days, I tremble.

This isn't a put-Little-Women-in-the-freezer-because-Beth-is-sick situation.

This is an I'm overwhelming myself situation.

Which is, essentially, everyday life for me.

I'll get back to explaining why books are making me anxious in a bit, but first let me just say this:

Last year I read 50 books.

Alex likes to mock me for reminding him that, while most of these were children's books, reading 50 was still a feat because, "Some of them were chapter books."

Harriet the Spy is 300 pages, and has big vocabulary words.

I'm not saying it was a challenge for me to read, but I am saying that it took a standard amount of time to read it, about the amount it would take to read an adult volume.

This year I have read two books.

One of them was Frog and Toad are Friends.

Another was full of pictures (Hyperbole and a Half).

***

Last year I was single.

This year I am not.

On the one hand, Yay! This is something I've prayed and hoped for and whined about for years!

So let's say it again, YAY!

On the other hand,

will I ever read at a standard clip again?

I've heard the horror stories about when one has children and never reads ever again.

Except kids books, which, lucky for me, I love. Wanna read You're All my Favorites one more time, kid? How 'bout twice.

(Just bring the tissue because that book makes me teary. (In the best way.))

I used to read books like a hamster would eat one*, tearing up the pages every night with great gusto and enthusiasm.

*Hamsters eat paper if offered, yes? (OK a Google search says the answer to this question is perhaps no).

Today I just feel pressure when it comes to reading.

***

Before I moved into a dorm in college, I feared what it would be like to never have time alone, and particularly, to live constantly with people who weren't my family.

I grew up in a large household and was able to read, study, play, be me, etc. with no issue. I had my own room for quiet and private time, but in general I could do general activities with a brother or cat or parent close at hand.

Because they were family.

They were background noise.

DNA.

They were so close to who I was, so I didn't know life without them, didn't understand an environment without them.

They were like air. Brewer air.

I knew I was a people person, but I was afraid to be an ALWAYS people person. I didn't know how to turn myself off, how to stop the chit chatting in order to buckle down and get some work done.

With my family, heck they'd be around later if I went to my room for three hours to read Little House on the Prairie or, later -- ugh -- Frankenstein.

But, pre-college, friend time was focused, tried-and-true friend time. Just laughing, talking, no sleeping, be together and enjoy each other time.

So college made me apprehensive.

Eventually I learned to turn myself off -- or, more often, pack food and water and hide myself in the library to catch up on last minute reading and essay construction.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten even better. Not so much at turning myself off and on, so to speak, but being able to get work done with an audience, to tune out extra noise, sleep with lights on, etc.

I'm not sure I've quite figured out how to manage reading and dating.

Perhaps this could be my great challenge of 2015. This, along with maintaining a clean car and apartment.

I recently requested and received two free copies of new books, with a promise to the publishers that I would review each title.

I was so thrilled when they offered them up to me as if I had asked a coworker for a spare Post-it note.

Not that I was entirely surprised at this, as once upon a time I reviewed some 11 or 12 books on a blog during just one school semester as a part of my master's project, and during that time realized that publishers will throw books at you like candy at a parade if you offer them some free press.

If there's one thing I've learned as a journalist, it's that people love free press.

And oh to have the energy to read 11 books in 3 months again.

But now when I crack books, I get scared.

I've signed myself up for too many activities -- contributing to a podcast, volunteering at church, training for a half marathon -- and now I've added to that mix the task of regularly smooching on a cute boy with curly hair and glasses.

And it's not just that I'm smooching on him, it's that he deserves my attention. We're in a relationship, he's not just a fish who I drop some crumbles of food to once a day.

So why can't I manage to read, exactly? Why can't I focus? Why do I fear that no book will actually get read, at least not to completion?

And now that I've added on the responsibility of reviewing these books, will that ever get done?

It doesn't help that with every new volume I pick up -- yet another that a favorite writer of mine has managed to pen -- that I am reminded that I am yet to scribble out one book, let alone many. How do these writers get it all done?(!!)

I imagine -- and hope -- this is just something that I will adjust to, just as I did living with roommates in college and managing to get out of there with my grades and thousands of dollars owed intact.

But part of me fears that my reading days are over. That Alex and I will tie the knot and have kids (if you're reading this, Honey, hi :) and it will be all Cat in the Hat from here on out.

That can't possibly be true, of course. I'm a writer. And all writers need food, in the form of reading. How do you think we get all those words inside of us, to spout out to you? We eat them, of course. By devouring delicious, soul-healing books.

Books. Books.

Books!!!

The other element to all this is all the writing I've been doing.

The book reviews themselves are hanging over me -- and I am constantly reminded of the conundrum/fact that I must in fact read the books before I can actually write the review, so get a move on already and read the thing!

But there are also freelance articles, essays, blog posts, and now, miraculously, eekingly (i.e. it is eeking its way out of me), the book. The book that I am writing, not reading.

On the one hand, Yay! I have been praying and hoping and waiting for the gumption to write this for years!

On the other hand, but, but -- the reading!

When will I do my reading?!

And when will I quit being so anxious about an activity I've done so effortlessly for so many years??

I say so many years, but it's only been effortless for about the last 20 years.

In fifth grade, I struggled so hard to read. I remember, vividly, being in our home's basement, urging myself to block out the vacuum, the voices to be heard above my head. My frustration bubbled to a level of helplessness that I couldn't understand or shoo away.

By the end of the school year, I was on the "Battle of the Books" team, amassing a pile of titles in the "read" column of life.

Things turn around.

I blocked out the noise of family.

I blocked out -- or hid from -- the sound of college kids.

I will adjust to this. To a boyfriend. To being a more full time writer.

I will adjust.

Please tell me I will adjust. I have so many books to read.

Abilified: My mental health journey

My father, for as long as I’ve known him, has been one to make up his own song lyrics, or create nonsense noise to entertain himself. I once listened from another room, in hilarity and wonderment, as the man in his sixties meowed an entire made up tune, completely absorbed in his own amusement.

When his children were small, Dad used our juvenility to his advantage, getting us to join in on the singing of silly songs. Driving to preschool, he and I would improvise verses to the song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, “There are many ways to say I love you.”

"There's the TICKLING way to say I love you," we would sing, followed by a squeal from me as he reached back to my car seat to poke a wiggling finger in my rib cage.

When Fred Rogers died in 2003, the news was slipped to me after school.

I gasped, and my mom’s eyes darted to catch mine, as she screwed up her face in sympathy.

“We didn’t tell you earlier,” she said. “We thought it might ruin your day.”

It’s always been obvious that I inherited my father’s silliness, his outgoing nature, his patience with the eccentricities of others. It would be one of the things that would draw people to me as I grew older, allow me to lead the pack in uncomfortable situations, easing tensions.



It would also be the thing that would mask the deep, ongoing struggles of cynicism and darkness of my twenties, making it that much harder for people to believe that I had a real problem.

***

When depression first crept into my life, I didn’t recognize it as such, perhaps because I assumed that ugly label, “depression,” was reserved for another crowd. Reading a (not particularly moving) novel during my senior year in high school, I noticed it strange that I had to set it down, for the tears suddenly coming out of my eyes.

It was my second year in a new school, and I found myself feeling more like it was my very first day, every day. I had few friends, and loneliness and cynicism were creeping into my bloodstream. As the solitary crying became a pattern, the fear of what was happening to me became too much, and I gave my tears an audience. My dad held me as I wept, unable to express words at what I was feeling. I would always be his baby girl, but this was too literal a translation, an oversized, 17-year-old baby in her father’s lap.

My parents gave me practical suggestions: Maybe join a club. Why not attend a football game? But I wasn’t brave enough to blaze a social trail, when I felt like my classmates weren’t eagerly waiting to greet me.

In reaching out to my parents, I abated my woe of being in total seclusion, but the stress and wear of feeling like a perpetual new kid in school continued to rag my edges. Within months, I developed painful skin lesions that the doctors ultimately deemed anomalistic, but which I am convinced were the result of extreme and continuous emotional stress.

When granted a clean bill of health, I marched back to my previously dreaded school counting my blessings and the friends I did have, even if previously I considered them acquaintances. I realized college was just over the horizon, and set out to make the best of the end of the academic year.

With pluck, I maneuvered my way through potentially disheartening situations. Having no one to ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance, I took my brother with me. I ignored the fact that I didn’t have enough close male friends to ask even one to go with me, and focused instead on the humor of my solution. We took a photo at home before leaving for the event; in it, my brother pretended to scowl, disgusted at the prospect of having to take his sister to a dance.



All this daring resolve would make me stronger, but it built deeply ingrained defense mechanisms, creating a sometimes nasty crust around me, which I am still trying to shove off.

***

The summer between high school and college was treacherous, as I began to doubt my lifelong Christian faith for the first time in my life. As if the depression and cynicism of the previous year weren’t enough, now my trust in a loving heavenly Father figure started to fall from beneath my feet, sending me into a tailspin of terror.

Unable to shoulder all the worry on my own, I reluctantly reached out to some youth mentors at church to let – limited – air out of my anxious wheels running on overdrive, on overthink. My youth minister came over unannounced, likely afraid that I might harm myself, to talk. I told her about some of my feelings of guilt, how I didn’t know where to direct my help for others.

I had registered as a social work major, but that didn’t feel like enough. My parents were looking to buy four and five bedroom houses, and I wondered why we had so much while so many elsewhere in the world had nothing. I went along on these real estate outings, though inwardly protesting the purchase, because I was too uncomfortable to stay home alone, with my own troubled head.

I braced myself for homesickness at college, but raced to that new place, ready to run from the scary thoughts I accustomed with home.

The coed life proved to be a welcome, shining light. I had grown used to moving cross-country for my father’s job while growing up, so making new friends was a breeze in the bustle of dormitory life. The homesickness I expected never met me, and for the first time in my life, I was…popular? Baffled, I started to question who I was, given so many years of feeling like my confident personality had to remain shrouded.



I hated schoolwork at times, thanks to my endemic procrastination, but giggled with girlfriends, gossiped about crushes, and buzzed through a quick four years from one cup of coffee to the next.
As senior year edged near, the bubble of my college campus began to wear thin. The soap started to slip toward the bottom of the sphere, threatening to pop the cocoon that had protected me for three years.

When, in the summer of 2006, people started to joke about June 6 (06-06-06) being the possible end of the world, it frightened me more than it should have, in my fragile state. With talk on the news of global warming, and some circles making apocalyptic parallels to inclement weather, I became superstitious and paranoid.

The date passed, and the world did not end, but panic lived on in me. I kept all of it to myself, feeling physically rigid, as if no comfort were around any corner, no matter how many I turned. It helped to have my friends near as I returned to school, but underneath the surface, I was continuing to secretly change, becoming more fearful, more uncertain, more uncomfortable.

I started to worry about my every move. I worried about where people went after they died. I worried about my own eternal fate, and grew tic-like in the silent prayers I uttered half-heartedly throughout each day, hoping somehow I was fending off the devil and what dark things he might be trying to wreak on my heart.

I didn’t know my role, anywhere, except perhaps as student-toward-diploma, and every step I took was riddled with uncertainty.

Somehow amidst my burgeoning madness I told myself, with graduation weeks away, that I would not become depressed when school ended. I was convinced I would be fine emotionally, as if my resolve not to feel down were enough.



I did OK for a while at my plan, though I spent my evenings after work becoming more internal, brooding for a light and airy life missed. The bathtub became my new hangout, where I would draw a hot tap and steam in the soupy water several nights after work, and even during the Super Bowl, an event that until then I never would have missed.

Depression was continuing in my life, unrecognized, unlabeled, undiagnosed. I simply thought I was riding the freedom wave of being able to do what I wanted with my time, after years of slaving over assigned essays and readings.

By the time spring rolled around, a new kind of thought had started to enter my mind.

Out of nowhere, I would think nasty phrases that would never actually escape my lips, even if incensed to the point of justifiably doing so. For no reason, I would think things like “Rot in hell” toward people who encountered my path. I couldn’t help but have these thoughts. They didn’t match the sentiments of my heart, yet they kept popping up.

And they scared the hell out of me. I legitimately wondered if I was possessed by a demon – at times it seemed the only logical explanation for such inexplicable thought patterns.

As time went on, the thoughts got worse. I would think, “Well, these thoughts are horrible, but at least I haven’t had any of them directed toward my best friends, or my family.” Then, in thinking such, I would automatically think an uncharacteristic thought toward one of those people, furthering me into my self hatred, confusion, and fear of this faceless, uninvited monster inside me.

After several months answering phones as a receptionist, the lack of a challenge reached its unbearable limit inside me, and I submitted myself to a social work master’s program the day the application was due.

Already victim to unwanted thoughts of hatred and harm toward others (I would come to find, years later in therapy, that these are known as “intrusive thoughts” and are quite common), studying social work proved to be fuel on my terrified fire. The last place I needed to be on Monday mornings was in a classroom where bleeding hearts shared stories of clients and their burdened lives.

One day in particular, when suicide was the focus of discussion in class, I fled home in a panic. I walked in the door in tears, nearly hyperventilating. My brother held me while his wife got me a glass of water, and I sat down and told them between heaving breaths what had happened, how I couldn’t bear to listen to the stories being shared at school. What I didn’t tell them was that I had run that day not because I simply felt bad for the people who had lost their lives and those left behind; I had reached a new level of darkness, that made the possibility of ending things no longer unfeasible.

***

At the suggestion of my brother, I started attending therapy. The night before my first session, I found myself crying in my dad’s lap, like an instant replay of my 17-year-old life.

I wept, trying not to swallow that this was my reality – as if therapy were the worst thing that could happen to me. I would later think that being diagnosed with bipolar disorder would be the worst thing, or that acting on one of my violent impulses would be the worst thing. I could cause myself to worry about anything. It was the ultimate game of one-upmanship with myself, and I was trapped in it, like Jumanji.

My therapy sessions brought up more than I was ready to think about, and I hated sitting there talking about things that scared me, hated being the one needing help. Sometimes I hated my therapist, because I didn’t want to want help, and she was help.

After a few sessions, she suggested I consider anti-depressant medications. With her encouragement and the nudging from a sibling who had taken similar drugs, I made an appointment with an MD and started on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).

In a short while I could eat again, finishing a whole meal in one sitting for the first time in several weeks. In a few more, my sleep improved. I could breathe through a day, not feeling like the world was a terribly miserable place. I could enjoy trivial activities, like movies and bowling, without overthinking them, questioning our existentiality and why we would bother with things like bowling.



***

Even with therapy and drugs, things weren’t all swimming. Alone with my mom one evening, and so distraught I could see no way out, I witnessed a woman who could once comfort any hurt in her daughter at a loss for how to soothe her offspring. She called my brother for help.

I sat on the kitchen floor, the landline phone clutched to my ear, and he prayed for me as I cried, so unable to escape my despair.

***

As the end of my social work semester neared, my brother helped moderate a discussion between me and my parents, explaining why it was OK for me to leave the program. We wrote pros and cons on a paper plate, and agreed that I would take community college classes to defer my undergraduate loans while I looked for a job instead of continuing the program.

***

I’m lucky to say I laughed a lot in my twenties. I took vacations, kept friends close, danced, bonded with coworkers. But when I look back on the decade, I view it primarily as a battlefield.

Moods could never be predicted. Tears were restorative, but too close at hand on too many occasions to set me at ease amidst the cathartic release. Moments of elation became less enjoyable, as I lived through them with a dread of the crash that would always, always, follow the day after.

I learned all the best habits – eating right, sleeping on a schedule, holding down a regular job, socializing when I didn’t want to socialize. Running became a nearly obsessive hobby, chasing endorphins to maintain my tenuous sanity.

But the running couldn’t combat the insomnia, the schedules couldn’t stop the mania. My view on the world was still dark, my snap judgments of people laced almost entirely with jealousy.

When I was happy, I was too happy. It was like a hyper lever had been turned to turbocharge and couldn’t be lessened in intensity. When it was switched back, everything went to black, like a carnival ride immediately silenced and darkened, from full motion to depravity.



Phone calls to family were routine; calls of miserable, can’t-shake-the-cynicism tears.

After a blizzard that kept me housebound for several days, I told my brother: “I can’t get a positive thought into my brain.”

I tried my damnedest to practice all my good habits. I discovered writing as a release, and started a blog. I continued therapy, continued popping a pill every day.

All of these actions helped, but I was powerless to the battle raging inside me. I didn’t trust myself to feel any which way, except overly excited or completely in the trenches. When I was somewhere in between, I was never content or even simply bored; a general anxiousness pulsed through me, like the buzz of fluorescent lights in a disconcerting basement.

I tried to relay this to my family and friends. I could sense them growing tired of my phone calls, which caused me to dial less often and in turn grow more fearful. I would scroll through the contacts in my phone, picking the person who might side with me more in a given moment, then reluctantly select one, knowing that I might fall off the edge if I didn’t call someone.

It scared me that no one else seemed to be scared. Everyone believed in me too much. Their solutions were always well-advised, but seemingly too simple for my escalated moments – suggestions of a walk outside, coffee with a friend, a church event. These things helped, yes, but I couldn’t handle the cycle. The supports in my life were looking at moments, and I was looking at my life. Not generally a “big picture” thinker, I couldn’t help but notice my thoughts sometimes veering toward my future with the “S” word, suicide, as the great premature end to my life.

I shoved these thoughts aside with activity, writing, phone call after mindless phone call, to some avail.
At 27, I moved to Los Angeles, to start an internship in my new field (miraculously, I had managed to get into and complete a master’s program in journalism). Once my internship ended, I “made it” in the big city, in the sense that I was pushing paperwork and able to pay my bills.



But the tearful phone calls continued, the constant underlying worry that feeling good now didn’t guarantee feeling good tomorrow, let alone in a few hours. Family and friends occasionally urged me to move back “home,” thinking a familiar landscape would help me, but I knew my battles would follow me no matter where I traveled.

After two years in the city, I met with a psychiatrist to discuss my medications. I told her about my up and down moods, and she suggested a mood stabilizer to pair with my SSRI. I explained my fears about getting on another drug, perhaps being on it indefinitely, but said that ultimately I wanted to feel more stable. Enough was enough.

She put me on a new drug, and within a week I became tearful and despairing. I thought these things were par for the course – I had been in such a state hundreds of times before, so it didn’t occur to me that the drug might be to blame.

And I certainly didn’t want to play trial and error with my meds. I had been through enough, and for crying out loud, shouldn’t a doctor know how to get it right on the first try? With the complicated chemistry of each individual person, the answer to this is unfortunately no. It is one of the most unfair battles heaped on top of the battle with depression itself, salt in the wound.

Feeling uneasy at home alone, I called a dear friend. She immediately invited me over for a sleepover. We drank cocktails, played Pictionary, laughed and talked late into the night. I felt fine. The next day as I was leaving, I became overly stressed out about my job, and as I tried to walk out the door, I wept instead, for several minutes.

I got home and, in an attempt to eat well, started chopping a cucumber.

As tears suddenly streamed once again, the cucumber became blurry. With more force than ever before, I became almost convinced my life would end in suicide. I didn’t think I would kill myself right then – though knife was in hand – nor that week, or month, or year even. But I finally got scared enough that I called the doctor. It was a weekend, so I was directed to the 24 hour hotline. I promised the person who took my call that I would alert some local friends of my delicate situation, asking them to keep their phones on all night.

I called my parents and emailed my family, blood and otherwise, to bring them in the loop.

I felt simultaneously better and worse. Better for not keeping it to myself – I will never cease to be amazed at the power of saying words aloud – though feeling instantly like a different person. In saying the “S” word, finally, to anyone, I had transformed. I was in a new class, and though enveloped with support, I felt the stigma. I felt myself at once separate from those supporting me.

The next day I stepped out of work several times to talk to my psychiatrist’s nurse, and she told me to stop the new drug she had me on immediately. She put me on Abilify, something I had seen in commercials for years.

In a matter of weeks, I was able to send an email to my main support network. It read: “I just got really excited about the parmesan cheese on my spaghetti. I think the Abilify is working.”

Over weeks to come, Abilify, paired with the SSRI I had been on for years, would come to make my moods the most stable they had been since they were more or less naturally during my early teen years. I call it my miracle drug.

***

On August 11, 2014, my phone rang.

“Are you calling about Robin?” I answered. 

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said. “I know what he meant to you.”

Beloved comedian, troubled for years with alcoholism and silent depression, Robin Williams had asphyxiated himself in his home. I had just read the New York Times headline.

As a child, Robin was my favorite. I watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” over and over. I saw several of his movies in theaters, then later collected them on VHS tape. Inspired by his antics, I told people I wanted to be a comedienne.

After talking about “Mork and Mindy” and “Hook” with my mom, she turned the phone over to my dad, to discuss the real reason they were calling.

Dad made small talk of Robin’s great works for only a minute. He then reminded me that if I ever felt like I was leaning toward the deep end, to make sure that I reached out. For the first time in years, though sobered by the news and smacked once again by the realization that depression and suicide are never removed from our world, I was able to say with some confidence that I would. More so, I felt I wouldn’t have to make the call, as I could feel a stabilization in me that I had craved for years. I mourned that Robin couldn’t feel the same, but I rejoiced in my newfound steadiness.

Some friends came to visit me in LA, and we spent an entire weekend running around the city. Usually such a rush of constant activity would have me on edge, wanting time to myself, to meditate, to zero in on my anxiety.

During my next med check with my psychiatrist, I told her that I was able to enjoy the whole weekend, not worrying about a crash that would follow its end.

“Less ruminating?” she asked me.

I nodded, in victory. All it took was two milligrams, a sea foam green tablet that could rest on the tip of my pinky finger.  

When Fred Rogers died, my parents hesitated to share the news. When Robin died, the phone rang almost immediately after the news was released. Seven years of phone calls, including one recent and particularly frightening one, had altered the way we all acted. We were forever changed. Some might say for the worse, but I’d argue it’s for the better. In admitting something very scary, but truthful, communication was opened in a way that hadn’t been there before.

For years, I felt like I was screaming at a soundproof wall. People in my life saw a together person, a person with a sensitive heart who occasionally got too withdrawn. All the while I felt more and more powerless, more scared of my future, more pushed down into silence. The help of those around me was well-meaning, but their fear for the worst made talking about it not a possibility. Once moved into conversation – and with the help of an awesome medication – healing was able to begin.

Saying the “S” word (in regards to oneself) is never something one wants to brave, but I’m grateful I was able to say it through a medium other than a suicide note. Ears were opened, and a wound was opened, making room for Abilify and new, fully honest conversations. Where before there was misguided communication, now there is peace. When I pick up the phone these days, it isn’t in scrambling desperation for a voice on the other end to catch me; I’m simply calling to chat.