#6: On brighter days and better friends

#6: On brighter days and better friends

Wednesday 3:40 PM: My eyes felt hot as I read the text message from my psychiatrist: “use Xanax liberally today and text me tomorrow morning with how you’re doing.”

It had been twenty hours since my complete decomposition on the sidewalk outside my apartment. In the midst of a disagreement with one of my roommates about a bill payment, the thought of stepping inside my home was the final trigger to a build-up of anxiety. I had immediately called Rebecca — my lifeline in the overcrowded city that somehow makes me feel wildly lonesome — and she had showed up in what might as well had been a winged chariot: swooping me into a hug and then ushering me onto my bed while she cleaned the rubble of my room and bathroom that had fallen into detritus over the preceding weeks. While I had ignored the problem of cleanliness, it became wildly apparent that my lack of housekeeping was a major indicator that this breakdown was an inevitability rather than a freakish whim of my biological nature.

Rebecca sat with me while we chowed down on half-decent microwave meals from a local deli and tried to pin down exactly what had started the downward spiral that had begun this morning. As it turned out, I was still battling demons from years prior that I had thought were long vanquished: friends lost, guilt repented, shame accepted. Instead of letting me sit in that pit of despair, she assured me that I was not solely responsible for those pains that sat with me nearly four years later. In fact, she sat before me as living proof — the epitome of a friend who had seen me in my darkest and most destructive — that true friends stand by you through the thickest black and love you for the person that evolves from those trials. They encourage you to pick yourself back up and to grow, and when you can’t do it alone, they bring down that very winged chariot and scoop you onboard until you can command the reins yourself.


It’s now been about forty-eight hours. My Xanax supply is still within reach but it is not in white-knuckle grip. Instead, it’s the people around me who make me feel like me. It’s the way Rebecca — a social worker by profession — exceeded the bounds of normal friendship to make sure that I was secure before exiting my apartment on Tuesday night. It’s the way Jasmine stayed on the phone last night laughing with me about how tragic our lives are, in sync nearly four thousand miles apart, and how we will support each other as we seek out local clinical and therapeutic help (my trusted psychiatrist — as helpful as he is and regardless of the fact he has legitimately saved my life on two accounts — can only do so much from two states away). It’s the way Justine understands when I request an extra half hour for lunch in order to commute to attend that very therapeutic appointment.

When I was hospitalized, I had the incredibly fortunate encounter of meeting a seventy-eight year old patient committed for suicidal tendencies. And, in our discussion, she told me that what she had learned in her several hospitalizations consistently was that life is always worth fighting for. Feeling more like myself today, I can say that I know she’s right. There is always a light.

Thursday 9:39 AM: “I feel great today.”

On sibling Snapchats

On sibling Snapchats

And being one of your favorites has always been one of the things I liked most about myself. To be loved in a special way by someone like you, who was loved by everyone so much, was the best part of being your friend.

The Beauty That Remains, Ashley Woodfolk

“Yeah, he’s my best friend,” I say, sitting at the high-top in the back of the bar on the Upper West Side, concentrating on not looking down at my drink as I bring the straw to my lips. My date looks across at me with an unreadable smile — the same one he’s been wearing all night — and I feel forced to continue. “Well, I should clarify. Maybe best friend doesn’t describe it. He’s more like my favorite person. I would lay my life down for that kid. Adult. Kid? Adult? He’s 20. I don’t know…you talk.”

My date laughs. “That’s cool you’re so close with your brother. I’m not as close with my siblings. Do you two talk every day?”

I nod. “Kind of? We Snapchat. But it’s almost constant. Our streak is 173 days right now. I always mess it up when we get to 199. I’m cursed.”

And before I know it, we’re joking about social media and my date’s lack of expertise in the area, justifying my own lack of expertise, and the “hot seat” has eased off of me and back into the steady rhythm of first date banter.


When I was three years old, I became acutely aware that my life was lacking a very, very fashionable accessory that all my friends seemed to be sporting: a sibling. Brooke had Emory. Kelsey had Jason. Robert had Doug. Rachel had Alex. Me? I was a solo flyer, a lone-wolf, if you will. So I began to beg my parents for a sibling. And not just any sibling — a boy sibling. It had to be a brother.

My mother and father, little did I know, were already trying. It was hard enough the first time. They knew the routine for the second, but this time presented its own hardships. When my mom did become pregnant, they began to coach me that the odds were not stacked that it would be a boy. They wanted to prepare me for the chance that I could have a sister. This — did not work. At the doctor’s screening when we would find out the gender of Baby No. 2, my parents heard a weird whimpering only to turn and find me muffling sobs in the corner as I dreaded the potential that it could be a girl. The anxiety was literally driving me to tears at four years old. So when it was revealed that it was in fact exactly what I wanted, I was ecstatic.

Being an older sister to a younger brother brought its struggles through the years. God knows I wasn’t perfect at it either (sorry, Joe, for testing every creative insult on you). And there was distance between us for the years in which we were in the same house, particularly in our formative middle- and high-school years.

But the minute I left the house, that gap seemed to close. It was like being forcefully, physically separated made us grasp for that proximity that we had grown accustomed to for the previous fourteen years of his life.

I’ll never forget when he texted me that he liked a girl.

Or when he called out my (and I cannot stress this enough) asshole ex-boyfriend over Snapchat when he was over my shoulder in the shot.

Or when I moved to Dublin and he insisted on becoming Snapchat best-friends with me.

Because in that moment, knowing that he wanted that closeness that I craved all the way back in 1998, I was completely blissful.

A lot of the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers call out Millennials and Gen Z for being incapable of long-form written communication. And maybe, for a percentage of the population, they’re right. But when it comes to my brother and me, we defy the odds. We have conversations. We have inside jokes. We keep each other informed on what we’re doing, eating, seeing, listening to, thinking about, hanging with, choosing between, the list goes on.

The most important take away from these little updates though is not what the messages are. It’s that there are messages at all. Regardless of whether they are traveling 4000 miles to from Maryland to London or 400 miles from Maryland to New York or 40 inches from armchair to armchair, when the notification flashes on the phone, they say more than “Snapchat from Joe.” They say, “Joe is thinking of YOU.” “Joe loves YOU.” “Joe wants YOU to have a good day.” “Joe thinks YOU smell bad. But in a good way.” (That last one only he will get.)

I think of you too, Joe. And being one of your favorites is one of my favorite things.

On mattering

That was what I didn’t understand, how people made the leap from not mattering in each other’s lives to mattering.

– “Volunteers are Shining Stars,” You Think It, I’ll Say It Curtis Sittenfeld

Despite my very best efforts, I have lost my fair share of friendships. Perhaps more. There was my very first friend, Kelsey, whose closeness dissipated with time and distance that could not be overcome with as many pen-pal letters as our fourteen- and twelve-year-old selves could muster. I recently learned she got engaged. I truly hope she’s happy.

There were my college roommates, who saw me in the most devastating days of my depression: Shannon, Jen, Natalie. The last conversation I had with any of them was via text regarding me taking the artwork from our living room in the apartment with me as I moved out. I didn’t even say goodbye when I left, shame and anger over the disagreements we had had over the last semester sinking in my stomach with too much pride. I regret that.

There was Ann. And Eliza. And Ryan. And Emily. And Caroline. And Bekah H. And Katrina.

Of course there were others, but these are the ones that haunt me.

And today I learned that I am losing one more friend.

It feels like it did before.

Because this story is very much in real time, I’ve changed names. Posterity, people. But please know that everything in it is very, very accurate.

I met Sam on the tube on my way back from International Students Day for my postgraduate university. I had been walking behind her and two other Americans (I could hear their strident accents) for the distance between the student center and the station, too shy to step forward and introduce myself. So when I sat down across from SAm on the tube, her pulling off her name-tag with the LCC insignia on the bottom righthand corner, I leaned forward and took my chance. We then headed to a Wetherspoons and the rest was friendship history.

Until June 10.

At this point, we had traveled to Budapest together, moved in together, gotten drunk more times than we could count together (embarrassingly often to the High School Musical trilogy). I thought we understood each other. But Sam started to pull away. She spent more time with her door closed and locked away in her room, ignoring me when I knocked on her door and skipping meal times when she knew I was in the common space despite my promises of sharing take-away and a bottle of wine.

We had purchased tickets to see Demi Lovato (queen, don’t @ me) for another good friend’s birthday (Rachel, another of the girls who walked from the international student day to the tube). Unfortunately, due to “illness” the concert was postponed and we were sent back to the tube. Unwilling to let the birthday festivities fall flat, we started making plans to go for boozy milkshakes — a childhood dream come true. Then Sam started to look — well, distressed and more than a little pained. Her eyebrows scrunched and she looked like she was forcing her smile to a degree that physically pained her.

I knew that face. That was her “Heidi and Olivia face,” the face she made around her classmates for whom she had a particular distaste. I just had never had it directed towards me. Sam started making excuses that she wanted to go back and get a heads start on her Final Major Project, something that was looming over all of us in our Masters programs. Knowing this was complete bullshit, Rachel and I let her go and then made our way to where we had wifi where we could check in with her again a little later on. She insisted that she was fine.

Since that day, the “Heidi and Olivia face” has become the “Rachel and Rose face.” Sam does not talk to me to my face, she only texts me via whatsapp. Even though she lives in the same 400 square foot area as me. And having heard what she was able to say about Heidi and Olivia over the smallest things, I can only imagine what can be said about Rachel and me — we aren’t always the most tolerable people, although I believe it is charm more than anything.

I haven’t had a face-to-face conversation with Sam since June 10th to memory. And today she texted me asking to talk. It is November 7th. She moves out in 15 days. I don’t know what could possibly be said that could repair months of silence and questioning, months of introspection and dissection. Months of internal victimization and internal blaming.

Today’s post is a far cry from Monday’s graciousness post about good friends. Today’s post is about the opposite effect of the Curtis Sittenfeld quote. How does one so quickly jump from mattering to not mattering? What flips the switch from being one of the most important people in your life to someone you can’t even stand the look of?

After trial and error and time and time again, both on the dispensing end and on the receiving end — well, I wish I had the answer. But then again, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I had the answers to life’s secrets like that one.

On conviviality

On conviviality

Photographs are just light and time.

– Turtles All The Way Down, John Green

For a few lovely moments, self-awareness relinquished its grip on him, and he was happy. This, time with Sunny had taught him, is what friendship is. To be given a key to a locked part of your soul.

– Mobile Library, David Whitehouse

The end of my first summer working in Fadó Irish Pub, I was asked to train a a short blonde girl who had three times the serving experience I did. She took to it much faster than I had only three months previously. As I was in my second to last shift, I didn’t bother getting to know her past that point.

Two years later, she sat down next to me at the bar after a shift at that same pub. I was returning for yet another summer and she was miraculously still there. I say miraculously because to this day she is one of my very best friends. Even better, she drew in another member of the staff who had remained in my periphery previously. I knew the other because we went to the same high school — knowing of each other but never meeting because we were in different years. Before I knew it, we were ordering rounds of shots and making plans for an old school sleepover party to watch Game of Thrones.

That was two years ago.

I bring this all up because their presence in my life explains my absence on this blog for the past ten days. Bekah (the short blonde turned brunette) and Kate (the one from my high school) traveled 4000 miles to come and visit me, something none of my friends have done during my time abroad. And even more amazing was that we enjoyed our time together immensely. I’ve had friendships tried and ruined during excessive exposure during traveling. This did not happen. Sure there were quirks and annoyances, but there was no death and destruction as I have seen and heard of before.

They both left yesterday and today I am left with photographs and memories. While the photographs (unlike in the 90s) will not fade because they are digital, the memories will. We will be left with the select three to five we choose to repeat over and over. But that feeling of contentment, of security, of conviviality and likeness of spirit? That is something that I will be grateful for regardless of where our paths take us.

 

 

On the intersectionality of fear, courage and friendship

Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

– Less, Andrew Sean Greer

I distinctly remember in my Christian Morals class of 11th grade — I know, again with the Catholic school thing — learning the distinction between bravery and courage. Bravery was paired with its near homophones brazenness and brashness, indicating a lack of thought and a lack of sensible fear. Shamelessly, they used Frodo from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as their example of a courageous hero. Their reasoning? He was courageous precisely because he was afraid and because he did not seek glory. He was on his quest because for no other reason than it was his burden to bear and his burden to bear alone…excluding, you know, that entire band of brothers that travels with him, namely good ol’ Sam, but I digress.

I hadn’t thought about that example until today, when I sat down and looked at this quote from Greer’s Less. I had highlighted it in my kindle (how bourgeoisie) because the example of fearing buying a stick of gum reminded me of fearing grocery shopping at one point in my life and I fully intended to unpack that experience, but on second glance that isn’t what this quote is about at all.

This quote is about Frodo and that quest to throw that damn ring into the fiery pit of Mordor.

When you reach a point in your life in which you fear everything, you simultaneously reach a point in which you surrender control. This invariably takes several forms, not all of them healthy. Many have succumbed to some terrible, terrible choices in this: drugs, radicalism, low self-esteem, to name a few and that’s not even exhaustive with my bias. I did for a little bit (ah, see, there we go with the mental health reference).

The important thing is to find healthy fears. Fears that give motivation and purpose. Fears that propel you, that guide you, that give you credence and boundaries. Fears that say “no, not today” quietly when you veer to far to the left or right, or a hard “NOT TODAY, SATAN” when you do a complete 180-degree turn from the path. And if that means you fear everything for a little bit, until you hit that numbness, so be it — but have the resources like (and I hate myself for saying this) Frodo with his Gandalf and Legolas and underappreciated and reliable Sam — did I mention Sam?

And yes, I know this is easier said than done. And I certainly know that when you are in the place of complete fear, of overwhelming fear, of fear so strong you’re even fearing buying that stick of gum let alone traveling the world (feared both), you definitely don’t want the help of anyone. In fact, you want to be left the hell alone to be paralyzed.

Don’t let yourself be left the hell alone.

This is where I go a little extra preacher-like, so bear with me. A few months back, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I would also quote above if I hadn’t taken my copy back from my apartment to my childhood home for safekeeping I loved it so much. In it, Eleanor hits rock bottom — shocker! But she has good people, really good people around her who care enough to pull her back up. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the world. If you let yourself be helped, chances are there will be people there to ferry you upwards when you can’t carry yourself any further on your own. Sometimes the most courageous thing is admitting you can’t do it on your own.

I’m excited to keep reading Less because I know that Arthur, the protagonist, will find his ferrying people like Eleanor, his tribe like me, his band of brothers like Frodo, and will be able to face the encompassing fear that he is running from so fervently in the early chapters. And I hope you, dear reader, know that you will too, if you have the courage to do it together.

 

 

 

Celebrating their 30 years

But most purely good things sound sappy in description — a kind of punishment, maybe, for insisting on confining goodness in words.

– Wreck and Order, Hannah Tennant-Moore

I grew up in an age where divorce was becoming normalized. I had elementary school friends who spoke in hushed voices between lectures and at the cafeteria table of terrible, all-out fights between parents in the wee hours of the morning. Of irrefutable tension in car rides. Of dreams of two Christmases instead of a tenuously peaceful one. These friends usually became the ones in later high school or college years detailing divorce proceedings over smuggled spiked lemonades or half-drunk bottles of wine.

I, however, knew nothing of this life. In fact, my initial representation of love was the complete opposite. It was so startling to those who were experiencing the most raw decay of a marriage to hear my parents talk on the phone to each other in what bordered on baby-speech that I often had to explain that yes, that is my mother talking to my father. The look on their faces was often one of disgust and yet genuine curiosity.

My parents’ marriage — and their entire love story — has been one of American fairy tales. They grew up mere miles from each other, attending rival high schools but never meeting until intramural volleyball their first year in university. My mother, more concerned with upperclassmen boys, wouldn’t give my father the time of day. My father still remembers what she was wearing the first time he saw her. Their lives divulged for about eighteen months, during which time each lost a parent and felt the pain of loss. When my mom was friends with his roommates during third year at uni, she forced my father to walk with her from their shared class. My father at this time knew of her ex-boyfriends — one in particular — and judged her by her lack of taste in men. (Oh, how the tables have turned.) Finally, after one fateful night of talking about their losses and about life, they decided to give dating a try. They made a thirty day contract.

They renewed it for two years of dating and thirty years of marriage.

Everyone can roll their eyes that this is a simplified version of events, or that this is just family lore, but I’ll take that. I’ll take the opportunity to believe in true love, that a soulmate does exist. Because most days I don’t feel like it does. That’s my youth and my jadedness speaking though. I only have to look back at my parents and the model they gave me to know that there is hope.

So here’s to thirty years, Wendy & Dan. May your love inspire the world, or just those lucky enough to enter your orbit. Love you lots.

On unsolicited advice from The Holy Ones

The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.

– When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Growing up religious, I was bound to encounter the high and mighty, but I saw it most potently in my high school’s youth minister. I still remember the first time I heard her speak, much earlier than my secondary school years, at a Catholic mass aimed towards a child congregation. I don’t remember what she said — I was likely ten at the time — but I knew the feeling she instilled in me that day. The feeling was infectious righteousness. She made you want to believe. My mother (one who feebly converted to Catholicism in order to raise me and my brother in my father’s tradition) was even inspired by the youth minister. I remember looking up at my mother and seeing her say to my father, “She was really good,” before the mass had even made it past the homily.

The disillusionment started when I was actually around the youth minister in my high school years. While she had quite the discipleship that included some of my closest friends, I always felt there was something weird about a twenty-something year old woman wanting to hang around with high schoolers all the time. I distinctly recall one time in which she jokingly spit an ice cube at one of my peers. It seemed immature for her role. The immaturity manifested in other ways too — teasing me about having to kiss someone in the school play, gathering the female students on the field of a retreat to ask which boys we liked and then calling them over. To her it seemed like our lives were a game.

I made friends several years later with a girl who had graduated three years before me from that very school. She told me a story of the youth minister pressuring her to wear a blue baby-feet pin in support of Pro-life Week. My friend had the balls to say no and it silenced the entire table in the cafeteria as the youth minister looked on with confusion at the rejection and then disdain. My friend reiterated she was not interested and eventually the youth minister left. But what kind of person foists their beliefs on an unwitting sixteen year old? Or better yet, why is it that sixteen year olds need to stick up for themselves to have an opinion on that at all?

Today my Catholicism is of it’s own breed. I believe in prayer, I believe in the papacy, I believe in the Messiah. But I do not condone the philosophies that have long become standardized within the Church, nor do I think that my belief should have any ruling or triumphant influence on another person. To me, this is just my way of understanding the world. That should be enough.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Time and time again I find myself subjugated to the beliefs of other “believers.” After I had lost my virginity to a steady boyfriend, my best friend confided that she had been praying and she strongly believed that my sexual activity would cause an unsurmountable rift between us until she lost hers on her wedding night because I would not be able to understand “the challenges of abstinence.” That one, that implicit slut-shaming by a close confidant, that one stung.

And so I largely keep my faith (and now my sexual activity) to myself. Without expectations, there can be no disappointment, there can be no judgment when I do not measure up to being a Good Woman of the Faith.

So you can imagine my surprise last night when I was on the receiving end of a text message from yet another friend who claimed she had prayed about my behavior and felt the need to tell me “know[ing] that it is coming from a good place” that I had recently been acting as if I “constantly seem to feel like you’re [sic] defined by whether a man is into you.”

I.

Was.

Appalled.

First of all, let me clarify. I don’t date frequently. In fact, I don’t even have a single modern dating app on my phone. And while yes I used to frequent them, I ultimately found them soul-draining and uninspiring. This time, I just happened to go on a few dates with a man recently before he ghosted me (see The four date curse and Silence, confrontation & respect) and the rejection stung more acutely than I had expected. The rejection had triggered the anxiety through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an abusive relationship years past. Something, I sensibly can argue, is a baggage of which I am well aware.

But beyond the pseudo-insights that my friend was graciously giving me via text at 12:30 a.m., the fact that she was hiding her judgment and shaming behind a Greater Being is what really gets my blood to boil. Because, as Kalanithi succinctly points out, if you’re really going to claim being Christian you need to act through mercy and not justice. Justice is left for God, for the end-times. To be a follower of Jesus means merciful acts. To judge is to seek justice. To accept is to be merciful.

I am sick and tired of people hiding behind their faith in ways to mask their own insecurities and project problems onto people who did not ask for enlightenment. Everyone has their own experience, their own path. To subjugate them to your blinders is not your choice.

So, if this ever comes up in your life (I know I can’t be the only victim), I have something very real that works for you to say. Listen to them but play One Direction or Kelly Clarkson in your head. Tilt your head to the side as if really contemplating. And then say as sweetly as you can, “Thank you for your concern. You are such a blessing.” They’ll shut up because they think that their work is done. Nothing douses the fire like being told that you’ve been converted.