Every semester in undergrad I had to write thank you letters to the donors who were paying part of my financial aid. I don’t remember their names anymore.
In 2010, which seems like a much longer time ago than nine years, I spent a summer studying in Greece. The donors paid for that too, in part, everything but the plane ticket. We traveled from Crete to the Cyclades and up the mainland, then back to Athens where we launched off on an island-hopping yacht cruise. Each night we ate fresh fish, bread, olive oil until we were full.
There was one girl who was also on aid. She had anxiety, she said, and sometimes forget to sign up for classes. One night she asked me to go out drinking, and I wasn’t drinking back then, so I stayed in the yacht as it rocked docked, playing a handheld videogame. The waves were atrocious. The sea was endless. I had anxiety.
These days, I’m making money for myself and making money for others. It’s nothing to feel bad about, but sometimes I think I feel too good about it. I wonder where that girl went, how she’s living, maybe she’s still stuck in Greece. All of us have a strained relationship with money. We suck it up like the worst kind of co-dependent lover. We make it in the shape our ourselves, a perfect picture, but one that always captures our worst side.
Some shapeless people inherited the green girth of wage-labor’s produce, and either out of charity or a tax write-off, gifted that girth to me. I’d never have seen Greece without benevolent Capitalist donors.
Coffee: Pike Place from the Apartment Office Lounge
When I was fifteen, my parents took me to see a psychiatrist. This was on recommendation from my counselor. I was pissed.
Yeah, yeah, I was depressed, and yeah, yeah, I’d cut a pin-sized hole in my wrist, but DARE or some more darkly personal fear had given me the notion that psychoactive drugs were bad news, period. Still, I was fifteen, so I was obliged to go.
The psychiatrist was a nice guy. His office was in Chapel Hill. He made me take some tests, talked to me for an hour, recommended me a book (Sophie’s World, which would lead me a few years later to a degree in philosophy). It was a pleasant time. It felt productive. At the end of the visit, he tells me that my brain is most likely not producing enough serotonin. That’s when he tells me I should take these pills.
“Fuck no,” I said. “I’d spit them out.” I really meant it. To his credit, the guy saw I was serious, and to their credit, my parents did too. I never took the medicine.
That was fifteen years ago.
This morning I woke up at 5am unintentionally. I’d gotten to sleep at 1am. Thin white serpents of self-doubt had wriggled into bed with me. I’m pretty liberal about who shares my bed, but the serpents were too much.
So I spend the morning going from one room to another trying to find where I’d put myself the night before. Not in the kitchen, cause I had no appetite to eat. Not in the bathroom, because I had no strength to disrobe for the shower. And not at the dining-room nook I often write at because my ideas were still grappling with the serpents, numbed by their poison, strangled by their old white skin.
For the past fifteen years, I’ve worked hard to change myself. By now, many of the changes are tangible. I work out regularly. I eat better. I write daily. I’m more open-minded. I’m a proud man. I can proudly say I’ve taken every bit of advice to better suit my lifestyle to a disrupted brain. And – though it’s difficult for me – I want to proudly say none of that has been enough.
I made an appointment with a psychiatric practice in North Raleigh. Their earliest date was a month from now so that’s what I took. When the lady asked whether I was looking for medicated treatment or talk therapy, I paused for a second, got this stammer I get sometimes when I’m nervous, and cleared my throat: then I said “Medicated, for sure.”
Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
I drove to Richmond. I parked in front of the hostel I’d booked. Three people walked in. One walked out. Downtown was busy. The highways were stacked on top of each other. Some of the highways were being worked on, scaffolding. I drove past closed store-fronts. I drove past anxious pedestrians. This city wasn’t aware of itself. It was too busy. Everyone had somewhere to be.
That’s where my story with Richmond stops.
For almost thirty years now, I’ve been in a long-term love affair with social anxiety. It comes and goes, dates me or leaves me, shows up when I don’t want it, misses me when I feel that dead weight wondering why it isn’t there. I can’t always predict it, but sometimes I can. We lock lips on a burning boat, or a private mountain, busy enough with each other to cut off the rest of the world.
It feels like this: first, I’m sweating. There’s knots. My lower back locks. My head aches. I’m suddenly starving, but too nauseated to eat. Talking is like coughing sand. All the while, my mind’s on fire. Wherever I’m at, whoever I’m with, I feel like I have to earn the right to share space with them. I feel not allowed to be around anyone. Stuck in grade school as the rest of the class graduates on and it’s all my fault for not having done the work.
So anyway, I sat outside the hostel for half an hour watching people going in and out. I called a friend, tried to calm down, but the sweat kept pouring from my neck and arms and palms, a cracked-open fire-hydrant, welcome in the summer, dangerously intoxicating. When I’d sat out the half hour, I turned the car and drove two and a half hours back home.
I failed this journey I’d set for myself. I couldn’t commit to travel. I didn’t prove to myself that I’ve still got something – that fiery will to lunge into strange, uncomfortable places – and maybe I’ve actually lost it, or maybe it’s simply changed. Regardless, as I write this from my calm, familiar apartment, I refuse to hide myself in despair. I refuse to shame myself for failing. I am not perfect, I am not limitless, I am not capable of overcoming every demon all the time, but that just makes me human. What else should I want to be?
It’s been better today. A vibrant summer thunderstorm scratches at my window. My roommates are both gone, I’m quiet, I’m peaceful, I’m alone. Do I regret not staying in Richmond? That’s complicated. A good friend said ‘There’s nothing wrong with seeking what makes you comfortable.’ I know that I’ve missed something by not staying in Richmond, but I found something else instead.
It’s hard to write this. This isn’t my best blog. I can’t get the words together the way I want them. My lover twists around my keyboard, muddling up my fingers. But I believe in being honest. You sink into your own darkest corners if you stay hidden. And you set a bad example: everyone else is encouraged to keep to their corners, too.
I want two things: to allow myself the humanity of being imperfect; and to encourage everyone who reads this to accept those feverish, haunting lovers – anxiety, depression, whatever unique ghosts of your mind – as sometimes-partners, difficult and clingy, but nothing to be hidden. Wear your worst self like a wristwatch. Keep track of your flaws. Be proud of their color. Adamantly reject shame.
We’re all in this together, even when it feels like we’re farthest apart.
Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.
Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I had a conversation about Caribou Coffee with my coworker. She likes the blonde blends. I tell her I’m stuck on espresso. She describes a calm Sunday morning sipping coffee and pouring juice for her daughter. Sweet and warm. Maybe I’ll try the blonde next time.
2Chainz just dropped his fifth studio album. As such, he’s on an interview tour to promote. I watched his sit-down with The Breakfast Club. He talks about feeling underrated. 2Chainz – multi-millionaire, real estate mogul, syndicated TV personality, worldwide recognizable artist – feels underrated. He feels like people underestimate his art. He might be right. Regardless, that all got me thinking:
How do you define success for yourself?
Six years ago, I was applying to MFA’s at the same time as a close friend. My friend got accepted, I didn’t. I took him out to dinner at a burger joint in Greensboro to celebrate. I told him flat out: “I’m proud for you, but jealous as hell.” We laughed about it, but the envy had gone past green to yellow. I set to writing short stories, ended up with ‘Chessboard and Tequila,’ and submitted it to sixty lit journals until it was published in ‘Prick of the Spindle.’ When I told my friend, he took me out to celebrate. And he told me he was proud for me but terribly jealous.
I read a different article about artists generally. It was in The Atlantic, written by a neuroscientist, and was one of those pieces that pop up every few years trying to link creativity to particular brain activity. It wasn’t terribly successful, but of all the corollaries, the most reliable seemed to be a link between artistic tendency and anxiety. These were people who described great satisfaction in their work but whose brains were constantly wracked with worry. No matter what you create, it won’t match your aspirations.
That’s a negative note to end on, so instead I’ll leave with this: ego’s double-edged – you might build mountains for yourself, but in the same breath you’re building climbing gear to get yourself up them.
Novel Count: 29,630
Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED!
I bought a box of heart-shaped donuts from a grocery store I’d only been to once before. It was a quick purchase, spur of the moment. I brought them home in a cold car that stayed cold even with the heat turned up. At the apartment, I ate two and shared the rest with R.
Valentines day is on the way. So is the one-year anniversary of this blog. Marks on the calendar, special boxes, like your kid sister worked them over with a brand new set of gel pens. That gives me anxiety. True love, a life’s work – that’s a lot to live up to.
I drove around today with the radio playing. It was a cold, cloudy morning, a good time for grocery shopping. The store was only sort of crowded, better than a typical weekend. I spent some time picking up and putting down the produce. Is this tomato too hard or too soft? A matter of perspective, maybe, but one with dire consequences as far as lunch is concerned.
And the rest of the day rolled out like an old carpet. It was simple. It was easy. Maybe that’s what got me – what drove me out in the darkness to find something. I came home with a box of heart-shaped donuts but really I was bringing home a piece of myself – proof that I had legs that could take me somewhere.
A week of holidays. Valentines, at least, is covered – I’m not doing anything and I’m pretty comfortable with that. As for the site’s anniversary, who knows? I might just toast it with a cup of coffee. I might just have an average day. Deep down, simple average days are all this blog has ever been about.
Novel Count: 22,363
Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami