About a day and a half ago I came out with what happened to me in academia with this tweet:
I am overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support.My heart hurts for everyone who has said “me too, my advisor and department did the same thing to me.”
I have been applauded for my bravery, but I need everyone to know that I am not Wonderwoman. I am not a lone superhero. I am the opposite: a gratefully recovering alcoholic battling an anxiety disorder every day, with the help of a tightly knit community.
Some days this year, I have been too anxious to get out of bed. Too terrified to write a word on a piece that is under contract, and almost finished. There are days I have had to work to brush my teeth and put on yoga pants and breathe.
It is only the unflagging support and unconditional love of my family and friends that gets me through. My tribe is my strength. The genetic luck of the draw landed me with parents who love and support me unconditionally; I am incredibly grateful, but I know that I am the beneficiary of random, unearned privilege.
My friends are great listeners, good people, and they have been by my side for years. In just one little example, when my father had a heart attack earlier this year, my babyhood best friend was there. This man, with whom I once flopped on blankets in his mother’s garden in the eighties, who took me to my prom when a high school boyfriend flaked out, who married the girl of his dreams (and I knew she was perfect because she was the first human to talk him into eating both asparagus and sushi), drove to the regional trauma center in the middle of the night to be there when the chopper arrived with Daddy, so he wouldn’t be alone. Mom and I and friends arrived an hour later, by car.
This network, these people, are my strength. My god is my strength. I am just an extremely lucky woman who gets to be “brave” because I am surrounded by so much love and help.
To all of the women who said “me too,” I hear you. I see you. I am grateful for you. And you are not alone. The system needs fixing and we will all fight for you. For me. For us. For love that crosses boundaries, and makes all things new.
Did you ever realize something you’ve been looking for was literally under your nose? It’s a universal experience, but sometimes what we need is right there—but only when we have the eyes to see it. Sometimes anxiety blocks us from being aware of the opportunities for growth that are right in front of us. Here’s me and my baritone ukelele.
It’s been in the back of my closet for years…but I finally learned to play it with the help of The Mindful M.D. Mom. Friends and a new perspective can be keys in the lock of whateveris holding us back. What mental health challenges are you working through right now? Let’s jam and brainstorm and end the stigma together!
So, I was texting, late at night. I got condolences from my third-favorite ex boyfriend,who had seen my tweet about a family elder’s passing on. By mutual agreement, third-favorite ex-boyfriend and I have friendzoned each other. He is a part of my tribe; some people just are. They become a part of our story, our heart, and whatever wacky things happen just don’t matter as much as the good stuff. Like a condolence text that turned into a conversation about some idiot that I am literally never talking to again, and perked me up greatly.
“And you still hang out with ME,” third-favorite ex-boyfriend observed, cannily, of the idiot in question. “What in the HELL did he do?!”
Third-favorite ex-boyfriend has a way with words. He is dreadfully, brilliantly funny in the very worst and best ways. I adore him for it. He has a way of snapping me out of my funks and making me laugh and live in the present moment. And he was the first man to cheer me after I pretty much got dumped right before the actual altar.
This week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the past, about the ghosts in my head.
“You love that dead man more than me,” my altar-dumping ex-fiancé informed me at the beginning of the end of our relationship, when I fell into a deep depression upon the death of another of my tribe, whom I loved dearly, with all my heart. How could anyone not love a man who was one with nature, who knew every rock and tree and spider and violet in the woods, who trekked through raging snowstorms to save egomaniac tourist hikers from themselves whenever he got a call from the forest service. He was a man who always showed up, loved, and cared. He died too young when cancer ate him up. I did love that dead man more than my ex-fiancé, and another dead man, too—one he didn’t know about, my very first crush, whom I knew all my life, and dated, and who died in college.
Only the good die young. I suppose this means my ex-fiancé and Keith Richards will inherit the earth some day, along with the cockroaches, long after the zombie apocalypse. I’m sure they’ll have a great time singing together and blathering on about all the fun times they had when the world was still lit by electric lights and humanity. But I’m being a bitch now, and I digress.
This is the third anniversary of the week I would have been married. But the ex-fiancé called off the wedding and said that he couldn’t say for certain he would ever marry me. So I took my toys and left, so to speak, and expressed upon facebook my wish that he would get hit by a bus. (That was not appropriate. I see that now; it was the wounded pride and the copious French wine talking…)
But I never acknowledged the pain he said he felt upon what (for him, anyway) appeared to be my surprise exit. I see that now. And I acknowledge and release it, the last link to that relationship, that relationship in which I did enjoy many moments, in which I did grow.
So I’m sober now. And it’s also, more importantly, the first anniversary of my godbrother’s death. The timing contorted my feelings. Enmeshed in the strangeness, the emotional discomfort of both anniversaries, I was confusing the grief over my godbrother’s dying too young with the memory of the loss of the marriage and the life I once thought I wanted.
I haven’t wanted that life with the ex-fiancé since I got sober. Many merlot-soaked moons ago, all I wanted was to be rescued from the academic gulag, and the ex-fiancé seemed like the perfect fairy-tale pumpkin coach out, across the ocean, into my old home, the music business. But he wasn’t a fairy-tale hero; he was just a guy with strengths and flaws, like anyone else.
It turned out, I had to save myself—or really, let God do it, which is sort of the same thing, but better.
So, now I can’t remember the exact date of the cancelled wedding. I do remember that my fabulous former girlfriend purposefully helped me turn that dark anniversary into a new experience: a river-tubing trip through the North Carolina mountains. So that date was reborn, and she helped me heal.
But I am going to put flowers on my godbrother’s grave this week. And I will carry my godbrother with me, the memory in my heart, always. He wouldn’t want me to weep for him, but to celebrate his life, the glorious moments, the lakeside laughs. His effervescent smile.
And so I remember: all love that is true endures—whether it is for family, or friends, or a favorite tree, or even my third-favorite ex-boyfriend. We carry the real love of our tribe in our hearts forever, no matter how long or short the duration, never mind whether it was familial, platonic, or amorous.
“I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart.” – E. E. Cummings
I’m still reading Furiously Happy. It rocks. You gotta read it–or at least this excerpt. Elegant words reminding us that our issues, disorders, our STUFF–be it alcohol recovery, anxiety, depression, or whatever you’re dealing with–can be a source of hope.
There is light in the dark, and those of us who experience intense pain can also feel immeasurable joy.
Depression lies. Anxiety lies. PTSD lies. I experience academic-writing ptsd-like anxiety attacks because of that man, but I am strong and I will beat them.
The fear, doubt like that of a valkyrie’s projection, the hyper-neurotic-fast breathing, blinding terror narrowing perception to a small space around my head—I have to get out of it, into my body, do things I know will cheer me. I look at my manicure: green sparkles. I get out of my robe and into my clothes. They match. I am vivid color—green—growth. Life.
A shift in perception. The blinders now off, but pulse still racing. I must get control of my breath . . . take my power back. Throw the panther of panic off my shoulders, un-dig its treacherous claws. Name the fear: my old advisor. Face the fear: I can write. He tried to destroy my confidence, but he was never my mentor.
My mentor was a Holocaust historian from Brooklyn, who marched with Dr. King and led student protests at Columbia. My mentor was a high school English teacher who didn’t let me get away with any shit, ever. My mentor was a college professor who was a poet who taught me that words are weapons, beauties, gifts. My mentor was my father, the writer.
I lift my hair of the back of my neck. It is hot, my neck, and my hand is cool. I focus on the sensation of touch; I come back into awareness of my body. More of the fear-fog dissipates, like a dementor being beaten back by the sheer power of the will to love.
Inhale. Deep, slow. Feel the air expand in my lungs, catch myself clinging to the top of the inhale. I am holding my breath. Let it out, I command myself, in my head. I dwell in the bottom exhale for a moment. A glimpse of nothingness—death, even—as the yogi sages say.
Spirit. Serenity prayer. I close my eyes and choke on the first word. Again. Listen to my voice. Corporeal reality into sound.
Vibration. The hum of the universe. Om.
I can manage an Om.
Om gum ganapatayei namaha.
A knock at the door.
My puppy runs in, hiding from his bath. He touches his forehead to mine when I bend down to get him. He hides under the bed. I giggle.
“You cannot hide from your fears, my love. They will always find you later.”
I am now home early with my leg propped up on three pillows because of The Curious Incident of The Toe at the Coffee Shop. I shall explain.
First off, I am a firm believer that every coffee shop needs a kooky punk girl to add character–and I am that girl. I have taken the purple ombre hair and run with it. Full-on black liquid liner and wild red lips are my thing, today with tight buns on each side of the top of my head. It goes with the black uniform, it’s a good look for me, and whenever high school acquaintances come through the line, it totally camouflages the fact that I am a 35 year old nearly-phd’d writer serving coffee in her hometown.
I wore makeup I bought in Brooklyn, New York, and shoes I took with me to the Amazon jungle. I carry my travels—my life in the world—with me always.
Today, carrying recycling boxes, I managed to split my toenail open kicking the shop door. It bled everywhere; my sandal looked like a prop from a zombie film. The first aid-kit, however, was well stocked, and I fixed it. My boss worried over my injury, like I was an actual human. I assured her I was fine.
Somehow, I feel like a kid again. Maybe it’s the purple hair, or the fact that I’ve always wanted to work in a coffee shop, or the fact that I am earning money from a community hub, doing work that makes people happy, instead of slaving away for indentured servant wages in the academic gulag. But I am free.
I played a video game tonight, with money earned from tips. It was silly, frivolous. But it made me HAPPY. The endorphins were pumping. The colors and dazzling stars and movement did their job—way to go, programmers! And as I sit here with my toe split in half, healing after being propped up all day, in my high school bedroom, with my pink lava lamp on, I realize. This is actually pretty good.
The best part? I didn’t have to go corporate: I get to be a writer.
I have always wanted to work in a coffee shop—not a Starbucks, but a weird little place with its own drinks and a community. Today felt like a scene from Mystic Pizza. Three girls, in a little shop with an owner who cares about her product and her people, filing orders. Granted, one was in high school, one was in her twenties, and I’m the 35-year-old, purple-haired writer. But there was a camaraderie untainted by competition. Working beside each other, earning our keep, laughing and sharing makeup tips (and tip money), I realize: there is a whole world out there where your coworkers aren’t at each other’s throats. Small businesses are fun. Not only are they a brave last stand against corporate America, but they’re the heart of communities—from the Brooklyn neighborhood restaurant to the coffee shop in a tiny town, population 2,192 (or so I last I heard from the mayor, via Daddy).
The academic gulag isn’t like that. You compete with your best friends for the same national fellowships—and the same company-store-wage, resume-line, in-house indentures. Why? All to earn another resume bullet, so you can win more fellowships, get your credentials stamped, and continue competing with the same winners for the same jobs. Academia is a tiny world.
But the real world is huge.
And there is better coffee.
Take heart, have faith, and create the life you want. Namaste, darlings!
I took the Sunday. To actually rest. I lazed about in my pajamas and binge watched and wrote and recharged my batteries. I yoga’d some kinks out of my shoulders and I ate chocolate chips and kettle-cooked potato chips together with coffee.
Supreme laziness? Maybe that’s what it looks like. But it’s more like the hummingbird image in this puddle of rain and oil and tricks of the light: junk food and yoga and rest and cuddling my dog and deep breaths and Netflix were more than the sum of their parts, and I feel ready to take on the week and soar, for the first time in a long time, I’m EXCITED about Monday.
The best part is: I DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR CHILLING. There were a million things I could have been doing (I’m pointedly not saying “should have” here). But I needed to recharge my batteries so I can begin the week fresh, ready to take on all the challenges and adventures that come.
The more we value our time, resources, energy–ourselves–the better we can complete the tasks set before us and accomplish our goals. But it’s true.
Sometimes we don’t have flowers. Sometimes we have weeds. But there is beauty even in that, in the work of weeding, hands in the earth, knowing that hard times are the fallow fields preparing us for tomorrow’s beautiful growth.
So we accept what we cannot change. This ALLOWS us the mental space and the time to work on what we actually can. The serenity prayer is simple, freeing, and actually pretty deep. When we make space in our heads by giving to God what we can’t change–accepting, surrendering to our Higher Power’s higher will–we have a lot more time and emotional energy to change the variables under our control. God’s got this–but we are her hands.