29 July 2011

There's Something Wrong With Us, But We're OK With That

I was reading old posts from the Houston Chronicle's Good Mom/Bad Mom blog featuring Jenny Lawson, the wonderfully deviant author of her own separate blog, The Bloggess (Like Mother Teresa, Only Better). Jenny's very first Good Mom/Bad Mom post was an introduction in which between the lines was a surprisingly honest account of herself. In short, she identifies herself as a mother, a wife to a husband who refuses to donate his organs for fear of needing them when he becomes a zombie, a Czech redneck, and one who suffers from anxiety and from time-to-time goes off her meds "just to see if I’m still crazy. Turns out? Yeah."

Although she doesn't know it, Jenny has become my new best friend. In similar form my biography would indicate that I am a mother to three cats and one dog, a wife to a husband who refuses to donate his organs because he's an asshat, a Czech redneck, one who suffers from anxiety and from time-to-time goes off her meds "just to see if I’m still crazy. Turns out? Yeah." It's like we were separated at birth, which makes more sense than having been separated at any other time since I've never actually met Jenny and so far our only correspondence has been me offering her a writing job and her turning it down in order to work on her book. I'm supposed to be working on my book right now too. Well, technically I gave myself a 2012 start date, so I guess I've still got a few months until I'm really procrastinating.

Several more posts in to the Good Mom/Bad Mom blog, I came across one of Jenny's roundups of recommended reading, which pointed me to the Cynical Nymph. Her bio reads that she is a New Yorker, a wife, an only child, a "kitteh mama," a Francophile, a Shakespeare geek, and "and a woman who has struggled with an eating disorder for the better part of ten years." WTH? Though a North Carolinian, I too am a wife, an only child, a "kitteh mama," a Francophile, a Shakespeare geek, and a woman who has struggled with depression for more than ten years. Nymph (who does not identify herself by name) also is my new best friend, although she doesn't know it.

Where have these women been? Why did I not know that other such women exist? Why can these women not live in my town and spend copious hours with me being snarky over coffee and/or drinks?

I don't like women, which is problematic because I am one. The vast majority of my 31 years has been spent thinking that women are silly and vapid. Perhaps it was a matter of age. As a youth, I tended to socialize and converse best with people much my elders. As a young woman, it was easier just to drink beer, eat chicken wings, and talk sports than to pretend to give a flip about fashion or my weight or babies. It's only been recently that I have begun to meet women my age who impress me with their wit, talent, and intelligence. I'm not sure if we've just all grown up, or if I'm somehow keeping better company, or if (fingers crossed) the really stupid women are too busy putting on mascara while driving and coming to their timely demise thus leaving the rest of us to congregate. It has been at once a relief and absolutely terrifying to find these women with whom I connect because I finally have friends that actually matter.

However, both Jenny and Nymph raise another matter that is near and dear to my heart—mental health. I was first diagnosed with depression as a freshman in college. All I knew was that I wasn't feeling well, hadn't been eating much, and had had an upset stomach for weeks. I went to student health between classes. They took one look at me and wouldn't let me leave. I had to call my professor to tell her that I was being held hostage and that the doctors wouldn't tell me why. They ushered me upstairs to a shrink. Honestly, I remember nothing of the conversation, but apparently if one looked up depression, my picture would have been next to the entry. It happened that my parents were in town to visit, and I was late meeting them. I didn't know how to tell them about my diagnosis. I felt ashamed, broken, insufficient. We went shopping, and I managed to get a few moments with them individually to break the news. It went better than I expected, but I don't think that at the time any of us grasped the situation's seriousness.

Over the next year I struggled with my mental and physical health, made some bad decisions, didn't do too well in classes, and came home for the summer beaten. It was a time for reflection, and I decided that I could wrangle my thoughts best off medication. I broke off a bad relationship, excommunicated several "friends," and finally went back to school in August with a better head on my shoulders. Amazingly, I made it through college without much else incident, but the depression came roaring back after graduation when I moved to South Carolina for my first job as a reporter. The job was H-E-L-L, I lived alone, and there was no time to do anything but work. When I began truly contemplating losing my job in favor of staying in bed curled into a tiny ball with my back against the wall, the covers over my head, the doors locked and the lights off, I figured it was time to see a therapist again—maybe. Other staff members at the newspaper recommended one in particular, but perhaps I should have taken it as a sign that I was in the wrong profession or at the wrong place when the local shrink offered our company a group discount. My first visit I spent talking to the therapist's dog and rubbing its ears incessantly. I quit that job on my birthday in 2003 and moved back to North Carolina to work at another newspaper.

Fast forward to 2005, I had tried both Zoloft (awful) and Paxil (better, but meh), but again gone off any meds because frankly its hard to be a writer and be medicated. There is something beautiful about being crazy. Misery breeds creativity, at least it always has for me. On meds, I felt muffled. Off meds, I was a wreck, but my writing was good. Bad health forced me to have triple bypass at age 25. An eight-hour surgery performed to save one's life is, to put it blandly, a life altering experience. To complicate matters, doctors thought I might have an incurable arterial disease. The surgery was so invasive (read: they literally cut me in half) that I was incapable of doing anything significant on my own for months. I was relatively okay with all of that. What I wasn't prepared for was that the surgery would work. For as long as I could remember I was unable to eat with any regularity due to decreased blood flow to my guts—the reason the bypass was needed. With the bypass, suddenly I felt good, I could eat, and I didn't know what in the hell to make of that. My body was not my own anymore. It was this strange thing with which I was completely unfamiliar. I was lost.

Through the grapevine, I heard of a local therapist who specialized in patients who had major heart surgery. I was overjoyed. Though my bypass was not coronary, I had little better chance of finding someone who understood the mental and emotional effects of my surgery. I drove for an hour each way to my appointments. We talked. It helped. The therapist told me about a new drug called Lexapro. I tried it. It has been my magic friend now for nearly five years. I love it because, for the most part, I do not know I'm taking it. For me, it does not produce the same side-effects as Zoloft or Paxil, which both seemed to lessen the highs and lows by making me feel nothing at all. There is a part of me that would still like to be off medication, but now I am a wife, and I feel it is part of my responsibility to not actively engage in behavior that makes me impossible to live with—i.e. not taking my meds. Sometimes I slip. Sometimes I fall off the bandwagon. Sometimes my husband finds me in a dark room, unshowered, surrounded by food debris, and sleeping. He tries his best. "Are you okay," he asks. He lets me lie to him. And he lets me cry on him.

The point is this—Jenny and Nymph both are writing about the darkness of their diseases, and here I have tried to do the same. These diseases, and others, need not live in darkness. It is through exposing them that we take away some of their power, through sharing that we find like souls, and through difficult, sometimes painful work that we begin to heal and make peace. Whether Jenny and Nymph ever know that I exist, I at least know that they do, and that helps me feel less alone.

no-named long-faced it

no-named long-faced it
lives in the woods,
olive green gnarled fists
crush song birds,
sharpened fingernails
spear tiny breasts,
that die.

no-named long-faced it
laughs like bones clatter,
twisted legs and yellow eyes
sneak in tree shadows,
alligator jaws
smack hungrily,
for dinner.

no-named long-faced it
claws window panes,
lolling red tongue
sticks with putrid saliva,
brass knob
jiggles and turns,
it enters.

no-named long-faced it
snorts lustily,
pencil-thin fingers
hunt furtively,
sinewed arms
embrace her body,
she sighs.

no-named long-face it
stays with her,
doorway and demon
entwine rapturously,
caving chest
accepts misery,
she cries.


  1. "These diseases need not live in darkness." Amen.

    Until the last few years I've always thought of myself as a girl-who-doesn't-like-girls. Turns out though, I'm not as alone as I thought I was...and the friends I have now are almost all girls-who-didn't-like-girls either. Who knows...maybe we're late bloomers. Maybe we're just now mended enough to let others in. Maybe we just needed to find our tribe. Whatever the reason is, I'm glad you're here.

    A toast to all of us...to the ones who let the light in on the dark, even when the view isn't pretty. I'm glad to have you on our team.

  2. I think a lot of us who are comfortable on the Internet are those "girls who don't like girls". There are heaps of fantastic girls out there, they just didn't go to my school, or live in my town, but they are my friends and role-models online, even if they don't know it.

    (I found this through the Bloggess on Twitter, I'm glad I did :))

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  4. I love this because I totally relate. Even though I have my disease under control (with the help of therapy and meds and avoiding my triggers)I sometimes still feel like that lost, desperate, self loathing girl I once was.
    I also thought I was a girl who didn't like girls but it turns out that I just had to love myself before I expected anyone else to love me. Pretty much? Anxiety disorder and depression can suck it.

  5. Don't ever feel alone. I am so much like this, not finding many women that I liked. I too am just now finding people that amaze me with their incredible souls.I think you and Jenny are exactly the kind of women the world needs, and the kind which make the best friends. Anxiety, depression... they shape only a part of us. Our scars remind us of our strengths. Thank you for sharing your strength with all of us.

  6. thank you so much for sharing this and for putting in such perfect words. I've never felt that I can be honest with anyone about my struggle with depression. I've been off medication for about 4 years now - the side effects truly were horrid & I completely relate to the muffled feeling. I felt like I was always walking around in a haze. I've been fairly good over the past few years and am trying therapy to keep me on track.

    Maybe I can be more open about the darker parts of my life with my friends. Thanks for shining some light on my darkness!

    PS: I also found this through bloggess on twitter.

  7. Found this through Bloggess too. I like the idea of ladies of our ilk being termed a "tribe".

    Makes us sound cohesive.

    Thank you Jenny, and thank you, Afternoon Nap Society.

  8. "He lets me lie to him." <3

    I never liked women either, often passing up advice/compliments/anything they said just because it came from them and not a man. I assumed it was because my own ma wasn't very respectable or strong (she quit being a mom when I was 2). She was always the victim, waiting for her "break" and was always dependent on men for everything.

    I decided that since I'm a woman and I'm not those things, I had to reevaluate what I considered to be a woman and what I considered to be strength too. What I had decided is being a strong woman is not about perfection, but at least being able to admit your junk and grow through it.

    My shrink used to say that intelligence isn't booksmarts or career smarts or whatever else we tend to use to classify it. True intelligence is the ability to cope. *shrugs*

    We all do have our junk and really, what makes us awesome is our ability to keep on and live a fantastic life in spite of it.

  9. Wow, I'm not sure where to start - women who don't like women because women are insipid or the right women aren't in the Internet, etc. Condescending female misogynists. Ouch. Like it's not difficult enough getting paid less than men and having men tell us things like we must get a sonogram before an abortion because we're too stupid to know what abortion means. My loves (and i mean that with love), you didn't like women because of yourselves not because of women. You didn't like women because your illness was squawking in your ear,and the women you like now were always right there, you just couldn't see them and they couldnt see you through the fog of your illness and your own anger toward women. Yep, I'm bipolar, on meds and in therapy. I'm also an artist whose best work came after the right meds, a Ph.D. in a science, and a former executive in several Fortune 50 companies (one of whom I lead a multi-million dollar class action against on behalf of 5,000+ other women)I say this so that
    you might understand that I might, in some way have had a few experiences and know what it's like- hearing that fucking illness screaming in my ear.

  10. Saw this through The Bloggess' tweet. Thank you, thank you so much for putting words to what I feel ...

    I have been off my meds (with the docs approval) for two years. My depression is rearing it's ugly head in a bad way. My husband also lets me lie and also lets me cry on him. But he doesnt 'get it'.

    Why is it, when we know there are others occasionally as miserable as we feel, it makes us feel better (in a non-sadistic sort of way)....


  11. Anon, I didn't like women because women always seemed to enjoy telling me what exact box I fit into. ;)

  12. I've struggled with depression/anxiety/cutting and a suicide attempt since I was 16 yrs old. I've been on every med my doc could put me on and finally ended up having a VNS (Vegas Nerve Stimulator) implanted in my chest. Through I still have the problems, though not as strongly, I've been on disability since 2006. Right now I would say that the implant keeps me from falling into the extreme danger zone and for that, I'm grateful. People around me had mild to bad reactions to my illness and people treat you differently. I've recently been looking at going back to work part-time too, so I feel like I'm moving forward.
    As far as not liking women, well, I never was one to ogle and drool over anything in a magazine, or planned my wedding since I was 5. I enjoy women's company, but they are harder to work with than men...mostly. I supervised lots of people and women are the ones who challenge the most, or try to use tears to move you, or lash out, or backstab and play games. Not that men don't, I'm not saying that, but when I can simply pay a compliment to a guy and he'll do exactly what I want him to - in other words, manipulate him, as a supervisor that makes me effective. If I ask a woman to do the same thing and then have to explain for several minutes why I asked her and not someone else and then get accused of favoritism, it gets a little old. We don't need to compete with each other. We should be supporting each other. Helping each other. I gave my all to anyone who worked for/with me and stood up for them if shit came down the line from higher up, but many times, the favor was not returned. I don't know. Still, I prefer to work with women and sometimes there's a lot to be said to "keeping your head down and just doing the job"

  13. Thanks for sharing - and thanks to TheBloggess for leading me here. I can relate, especially to the heart surgery. My depression started after my surgery, which was something they warned me about as a common response. I am overall a very happy person and try to live my life to the fullest, but I do have times where my motivation and energy is lacking.

    I also didn't really enjoyed spending time with girlie-girls growing up, but thankfully had some like-minded friends and cool guys to hang out with.

    By the way, I love the Koi Pond!

  14. Perfectly written . . .and I also landed here from TheBloggess. Thank you. It's nice to know that "we're" not alone.

  15. I am also a member of the tribe. I am 46 years old, been on meds for 15 years, in and out of therapy for longer than that. The past year I have been in an "intensive outpatient program" after feeling the pull of all the pills that were in all the bottles. I have gotten divorced, moved halfway across the country, gotten laid off and had more financial difficulties that any previous time in my life. With all that, I am still standing. Optimistic, strong, wiser, and more graceful than ever. I had a conversation with a friend this week who had just started on meds for anxiety/depression. She felt ashamed to tell me, and this broke my heart. "Girl, I hardly know anybody who ISN'T on drugs. I think I'll go down the list of my FB friends and count." She laughed, but still needs convincing. I am thankful for all of you who put it out there. Yes, we are "not right," but we can be glorious at the same time. It is not something to be ashamed of, it does not define us. Thanks to Jenny for the link. I'll be back to see what you are up to.

  16. came because Jenny pointed the way.
    I too like the sound of 'tribe.' Never felt like i fit into the girl group. Partly depression. I have tried about 12 different meds, and with the exception of bad side effects, never noticed a damn difference. Until Lamictal. Thank god for epileptics and their miracle drug.

  17. also, i think i may have over fed you fish.

  18. Um, yeah. You pretty much described me. To. The. T. I've always hated being part of the 'girly girl' time, rather focusing on being 'one of the guys' because they were easier to talk to and didn't judge me if I wore 'non-designer duds'. I, too, was diagnosed in college. Zoloft sucked and I quit it cold turkey once I started figuring out ways to kill people and get away with it. Red flag? Oh yeah. I meandered through life, making one pitiful mistake after another. But without these mistakes I wouldn't be with my husband and I wouldn't have two beautiful girls. When I was preggo with my first (who is now 2) I *had* to go on meds again, for fear I would probably smother my hubs in his sleep. Prozac was the only one they would give me due to being knocked up and all, but I was evened out at least. I went off them 6 months after her birth and didn't begin taking anything again until I was preggo with #2 about 7 months into it. (They are 18 months apart BTW). Putting my foot through the wall was my sign. I just stopped taking them again (#2 is 6 months now) and we shall see what this brings. Hubs is certain I don't need them. I'm not so sure, but I'm willing to see what happens. Wow, did I just write a short story? Damn. Sorry. What I really want to say is you are like another version on me, only actually writing, like I once wanted to. Thank God for the internet, or I may have never come across your blog, or Jenny's, or any other woman here that I seem to relate to, making me feel less alone. So, in short, thank you! And you may need to clean your Koi tank... I too overfed the little monsters.

  19. Wow! I just made a post on my own blog about my mental health struggles. I found you through the Bloggess tweet also. I think all writers are just a little "crazy". But one thing that also links us is that I have dealt with heart disease, not personally, but with my son, who is 2 years old & has had two heart surgeries & one heart cath. Check out my post about my mental health http://amyfromtheheart.blogspot.com/2011/07/self-discovery.html
    & feel free to roam around & read. Great post. Can't wait to read more.

  20. I could sit here all day trying to figure out what to say because I read, can relate, and have to say something. But I'm ADHD and haven't taken my pill yet and have a gazillion things buzzing around and am on my cellphone so it's hard to type and oh crap, I'm doing it again.

    That poem is going to haunt me.

  21. Thank God there are others out there. It is good to know I am not alone. Been following the Bloggess on twitter. Love her! Love this too.

  22. Also found this through The Blogess. I've always been the girl who made really close knit friendships with the girl-who-doesn't-like-girls. I've struggled with depression and binge eating for years. I found out after some really dark times and some really rude doctors that most of it is connected with my period - I've got PMDD.
    And you may not know it yet, but...you're MY new best friend ;)
    Here's to keeping the darkness at bay!

  23. Please take fish oil/ flax oil or some kind of an essential fatty acid for depression, mood, concentration, pms etc.... works wonders. It protects your cells making them stronger and feeds your brain. Many psychiatrists are recommending it now. There is lots of research on its effectiveness. Good luck everyone!

  24. Thanks so much for a great post. I've always considered myself a 'girl who doesn't like girls' as well. Maybe it's changing in some ways, I'm not sure I've reached that point where I've found a lot of others exactly like me (do I want to?) -- but your post spoke to me a lot. Married, with my cat baby, I've struggled through post-secondary education while suffering depression as well - and the stigma people have against it. The feeling of shame, imagining people view you as weak because it's "all in your head" or they just want you to 'get over it'.

    I can relate to the feeling of medication dumbing down your creativity as well, I know it's what has kept me off medications. I was never able to find one that didn't make me feel more screwed up than I did without them.

    Thanks for helping me feel a little better about it. There's always something about knowing other people are suffering/have suffered too - however messed up that is hahah. It lets you go 'oh good it's not just me'.

  25. always remember that it gets better. eventually the sun comes up, and the dark gets chased back enough so you can cope. I have Chron's. And there are some days where you can't pay me enough to get up and join the rest of the world.

  26. So glad to have found you. I find that I to have to take the meds as a responsibility to my husband. But,being a little crazy is what makes me great. I suffer from several auto-immune disorders which have completely changed who I want to be and sometimes I feel like who I am! But - I am try to keep the darkness at bay and hold on to "me"

  27. About starting meds, "She felt ashamed to tell me, and this broke my heart."

    We need to be more honest about the tribe we are part of. I thinks it's a much larger group than we can imagine. I've had problems with depression and anxiety for many decades.
    Unfortunately we live in a society that "doesn't get it" and it's easier to not try. More women than men have anxiety/depression and we're suposed to pretend it's not there. That in itself is depressing, spending your life denying a significant part of yourself. I think that leads to some of the girly-girl way of acting. You pretend to fit in by acting a part, not being yourself.

    I'm in a job that claims to be supportive of mental health but will then will use it against you when it comes to promotions. So yeah, I'm part of the tribe, just don't tell anyone.

    I'm glad there are some men who can be suportive even if if they don't "get it." We need more of them. I think if the tribe gets support then the shame will end.

  28. Thanks so much to each and every one of you for your comments. It means the world to me to know that there are people out there who feel a connection through my writing. I've created a Facebook page for TANS and a Twitter account. Please feel free to joint the tribe!

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Afternoon-Nap-Society/145025525579150

    Twitter: @AfternoonNapper

  29. I found this post through the blog Mommy of a Monster & Twins. I can totally relate. I've actually just been diagnosed with a form depression. Imagine my surprise that through therapy I've found out that I've been suffering from it for years. I always thought I was just moody, or tired, or bored, or unmotivated. Turns out I have dysthymic disorder. Right now I'm trying to manage it without meds. I have good days and bad days. It's a struggle, and I'm learning so much about myself through therapy. I'm amazed at how many other women are in the same boat as me. I am a member of a local women's forum where I live, and found out that so many women I thought were basically Super Women are also suffering, on meds, sometimes losing it.

    I refuse to put my depression under a basket. I write about my journey on my blog every Thursday. If people want to follow me and read what I write, they are going to get the full, honest package.

    I'm now following you on twitter and have joined the tribe on facebook. Thank you for this post.


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