This week at work, the entire company has been attending workshops in which we discuss our fears, insecurities, the way we handle issues, and how to improve upon them. A lot of the things that have been addressed have interlocked a great deal with the themes I have been writing about on this blog, and it has been a valuable prompt for more self-reflection.
So when the question was asked, “What do you fear that others will think about you?” I knew right away.
“That I’m unstable,” I shared with the group.
The Crazy Girl. Mentally unhinged. Incapable of handling her emotions.
I scribbled a note to myself. I knew what I was going to write about tonight.
I’ve always had a lot of worries.
I remember attending an art class for homeschoolers when I was in junior high in 1999, and the teacher began talking about this thing called “Y2K.” There was a chance…a small chance, most people thought, that computers would get confused and stop working, and it could lead to mass chaos. It was best to prepare, maybe stockpile some food and water before the change-over to the new millennium.
I went home and I thought about this. A lot. What if the world DID go crazy? I had watched Deep Impact. I had watched Armageddon. I was reading the Left Behind books. (Oh, don’t get me started on those. Those sent me reeling through another set of crises.) So I knew what humanity was capable of, and that was some scary shit.
Seriously, what if I never found my Elijah Wood (or Leelee Sobieski) before the world ended? Deep Impact screencap (via)
So, in addition to my nightly worries about my eternal soul and damnation, as well as my family’s and friends’, I added the Y2K Apocalypse scenario to the list.
Late one night, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I ran, crying, to my mom and dad’s bedroom. I explained what I had heard and articulated my fears. My mom told me there was nothing to worry about. Scientists and computer programmers knew about the potential issues and had been working for a long time to correct these hypothetical glitches. We had a pretty decent pantry of food, but she promised we would set aside some big jugs of water, just in case, on New Years Eve.
Skeptical but mostly comforted, I was able to move on with a slightly lessened anxiety about the event. As I watched the Times Square countdown during the last moments of 1999, I flinched slightly, preparing myself for What Could Possibly Happen. And it never did.
Our PC did say it was 1977 when I checked it the next day, but, as far as I could tell, that was the most scintillating bit of drama that I experienced because of the “Y2K Bug.” All that worry was stupid.
And yet I couldn’t help myself from doing so. I was worried about what the kids at church thought about me, convinced that they thought I was this weird homeschooled freak. I pretty much stopped attending, because I felt so isolated and foreign. But then that would send me spiraling into the thoughts about how I wasn’t doing enough to be The Best Christian I Could Be. But if I read my Bible enough and prayed enough, perhaps it would make up for my lack of “community fellowship.”
Going on those mission trips to Haiti, inner city Philly, Toronto, and the Dominican Republic definitely got me brownie points. But then, I worried that I was doing them because I wanted to glorify myself, because I was such a good person, I wanted people to be impressed at my selfless acts. And I would beat myself up about that.
I was doing so many things. I was keeping up with my heavy course load that my mom had assigned to me, as well as piano, violin, theatre, art lessons, choir, voice lessons, 4-H group, creative writing and literature mentorship, and anything else that happened to strike my fancy. I held myself to a high standard in all of these endeavors. My senior year, I took an intro to art history course at the local Christian college.
I had become a tightly stretched rubber band, filled with tension, with anticipation that just one more thing could cause me to snap.
The fall of my senior year of high school, my dad had unexpectedly lost his job at a company he had worked for, for 35 years. Downsizing. They could hire someone younger for way cheaper, and numbers were numbers.
I was anxious about the prospect of starting college, and now I had to worry about my dad’s unemployment. My parents tried to shield my sister and me from as much of it as they could, but I took on the stress anyway. That’s what I did.
I had also just begun to date my first boyfriend. He was a pretty nice guy, but he was a “bad boy” and I was the ultimate “good girl.” The “Purity Police,” as my friends called me. He always respected my hesitations to do anything so much as kiss as much as he could, but I always felt the self-imposed guilt that I wouldn’t “put out.”
I began to feel the color drain out of my life. I began to feel dull, always on the verge of tears.
One night at dinner, I burst out crying. “Mom, Dad…I’m really not doing okay. I’m…really sad. And I can’t help it, no matter what I do.”
They got me an appointment to see our family physician, and I was diagnosed with “dysthymia” which is categorized as a “mild but persistent long-term neurotic depression.” I was given a low dose of Lexapro and sent on my way, though I was a bit insulted by the “mild” diagnosis. It somehow made my feelings illegitimate.
The Lexapro definitely took the edge off. I also pared down my extracurricular activities. I dropped the spring course at the college I was planning on taking, dropped my violin lessons (I was dreadful anyway…seriously…) and changed my creative writing mentorship to once a month.
I still had my “mild” demons to deal with, but they had become more manageable.
But sometimes, I would find myself plunging into a much deeper depression. I would be enshrouded with all the self-loathing, the worthlessness, the worry, and I would cry and shriek and beat my thighs with my fists.
In college, I began to realize that I was never going to amount to anything if I continued on as a “Musical Theatre Performance” focus, and I made the transition to Costume Design. I had some talent in this field, but I had a tendency to become overwhelmed fairly easily, and had bouts of crying and needed to be “talked down” from them, assured I would get everything done, and everything would be okay. This was all happening around the time the saga that is My Boyfriend Who Is Legally Banned From My College Dorm occurred, so I was handling a fair amount of things at this point.
I attended an end-of-semester review with three faculty members of my college, and, out of the blue, one of my professors asked, “So, what are you going to do about your Freak Out Factor?”
I was stunned. I knew that I had these tendencies, but I was a bit taken aback that this issue was being addressed in front of other faculty, when it had never been brought up before.
“Actually, I’m on anti-anxiety/antidepressant medication, and I have been speaking with an on-campus counselor. And there are some personal issues I have been dealing with this semester, which have not helped my time management and the way I have handled things.”
I privately spoke with the professor afterwords, communicating that I had wished this had been brought up earlier if it had been an ongoing issue, and I had wished that it had not been sprung upon me so publicly in front of professors I didn’t know as well. I was mortified that I was viewed as unstable. I was the Crazy Girl of the theatre department. Unhinged. A problem that must be dealt with.
I continued on the Lexapro most of the way through college, until I decided, my senior year, that I was probably good without it now. I had grown up, gained some valuable coping skills. I had dumped the Boyfriend Who Is Legally Banned From My College Dorm a couple years earlier and I was thriving. I was accepted to my top choice grad school, and life was pretty good.
But then grad school actually hit. The fall I started, I was also diagnosed with HPV, which was a huge blow to my self-worth. And I wasn’t getting any sleep, and I was working all the time on course work and designing or assisting designers on costuming shows.
I began to feel nauseous all the time. I dry-heaved into the sink every morning. I couldn’t even handle doing it into the toilet, because having my face near a toilet made the nausea worse. My body was constantly filled with a jittery electricity, and my brain was always racing with lists and worries and straight-up jibberish white-noise that I couldn’t turn off. I suppose I had a little bit of depression, but this time, I was manifesting some pretty hardcore anxiety.
I would become completely overwhelmed and begin shrieking (oh, the shrieking) and crying, at work and school, in the parking lot of the Chinese takeout restaurant when they got my order wrong…anything could make me snap.
This was really not okay. And so back to the doctor I went. I made an appointment with the counseling office at my university, first. I know a lot of people said that they could work through things just by talking. Maybe I wouldn’t need to “rely” on meds.
The problem with the university counseling office is the majority of the people who worked there were students in various stages of training.
The first woman I met with couldn’t even look me in the eye. I wasn’t sure if it was some sort of new method I didn’t know about, but it made me very uncomfortable the whole time.
The second woman seemed like she was incredulous about everything I said. That I was untrustworthy. That I wasn’t valid.
I finally met with a woman with whom I actually felt comfortable. We talked about things, about my childhood (quite idyllic, really,) my parents (still married, very supportive and loving of me in everything,) my relationships (yeah, I’ve had some messed up ones but I’ve never experienced any physical abuse,) and my schoolwork (overwhelming, but I loved what I did, so it was ultimately worth it.) I also talked a bit about my urges for self-injury, but my logical thought-processes that lead me away from them because I acknowledge that they’re unfounded and silly.
“You know what? Based on all of these things, I really think that what you have is your garden-variety chemical imbalance.”
Thank you. I knew that. I was extremely self-aware, and could fairly objectively look at myself and my behaviors. I knew I was acting in a way that was counterproductive, but I just couldn’t help it. And this was always why I didn’t really find talk therapy helpful to me. I knew all of these things about myself. I just needed some help controlling my rampant emotions.
So I was back on the Lexapro.
Four years later, I had graduated and had spent my first year as a professional costume technician in Chicago. I had met my now ex-wife, and life was falling into place.
Let’s try going off those meds again. Life is so good, I’m sure I’ll be fine this time around.
And I was, for a little while.
Until, less than a year later, I threw a pair of pants at a coworker with whom I was having issues.
I was impulsive. I was cruel. I was not a good person. And I was getting that constant nausea again.
Okay, Depression. Okay, Crippling Anxiety. I give in. I acknowledged the fact that I was My Best Me when I was medicated for my issues. I was unpredictable at work, a ticking time-bomb, and I had become alarmingly unstable. I was terrified of the person I had become.
My new Chicago doctor prescribed me “Citalopram” (Celexa) instead of “Escitalopram” (Lexapro) because she didn’t believe there was a generic for Lexapro yet (even though there was…) but “it was basically the same thing.”
No it wasn’t. I couldn’t get out of bed for days, I felt so weak and dizzy. This was not going to work. I insisted she consider prescribing me Lexapro, because I knew that had served me well, on and off, for eight years at this point.
And she did, and I was okay again. My moods once again smoothed out.
And I had decided that I was never going off my meds ever again. I now knew, worst case scenario, what it was like when I was not on them, and I knew the garbage person I became. It wasn’t worth it. I had resigned myself, and became at peace with it.
So when my mental health started declining a couple years later, I was in denial. I was taking my meds. I wasn’t drifting into a deep depression, a numb, comatose existence. Over the past several years, I had begun to notice my libido gradually declining until it took a complete nose-dive and disappeared completely. I had sex with my wife once during our entire marriage. But I was terrified to try a new medication. I knew what I was like without them. I never wanted to experience that hell ever again. What if the next one I tried didn’t work? Then I’d feel like that again.
And so I went on, merely existing, for two solid years. Through our whole engagement, through our marriage. One day, I’d get better. One day, I’d be a good partner. One day, I’d snap out of it.
Except I didn’t, and then it was too late.
Last summer, as The Shit Hit The Fan with my marriage, I made a last-ditch effort to save it by making an appointment with a doctor in the town in which I held my summer job. I was going to get on a new medication and finally get off my ass and help myself, and I was going to get better, and I was going to get my sex drive back, and I was going to save my marriage.
Thankfully, I was able to taper off my Lexapro as I tapered on to my Wellbutrin, so I was never without anything. Which was imperative, because I was facing the fact that I was probably going home in a month to a divorce.
I was put in contact with a local therapist, and we discussed my situation and a “plan of attack” for when I got home. This objective view was helpful in this case, though she also agreed that my mental issues were most likely chemical in nature.
Sure enough, I returned home to a stranger instead of a wife. A stranger who didn’t understand why I was so upset by the fact that she wanted to bring girls she met on Tinder back to our home that we had built together over the past three years, decorated with things we had chosen together, furnished with all of the Ikea pieces that I had built with my own hands.
I threw myself into my work. I had three weeks to drape over a dozen dresses for a musical, so I didn’t have time to think about things. But it became clear that my time had run out at my job. There had been many issues that I had with it for some time, and they were only getting worse. This unhappiness was compounded by the fact that I was living with a woman who wanted to divorce me, but still be friends, still sleep next to me at night, but still bring home random girls she met on Tinder, but wanted me to take her phone and swipe for her as some sort of cruel experiment.
I was a tornado of negativity, and at one point, my boss took me aside and told me “We need the old Amanda back.”
Well yes. So did I. So the fuck did I. It was just a little difficult right now.
I gave him my two weeks’ notice. I would see out this final show, and then I was out.
I had no reason to stay in Chicago anymore. I had met my ex-wife the same time I had moved there, and my entire existence in the city was inextricably linked with her. I was leaving my job, and my entire life was up in the air. I didn’t know what I was going to do next, but I knew it wasn’t going to be there.
With an almost manic energy, I would arrive home from a long day at work and an even longer commute, and then I would pore over every theatre job site I could find. I emailed everyone I knew in the industry, asking if they had any leads. Anywhere in the United States. Even on tour. A cruise ship. International. Anywhere but here. And if I didn’t get a theatre job, I would move back in with my parents in West Michigan and learn how to be a barista or waitress or work retail. I was 29, and I had no other marketable skills, but if I had to, I would. As long as I could cover my student loans, I could make do until a more appropriate job came along.
I was offered a two month gig in Washington DC, and, in the middle of that contract, I was offered my current job. It was a full time, salaried position. I had never had one of those before. And it had amazing insurance: health, vision, and dental. I had relied on my wife for those “luxuries” because my own job never provided such a thing for me.
I was transparent with my new boss, as I visited my new town for the first time while trying to find an apartment. I told her that I was going through a divorce, and it was very fresh. She told me that she had been divorced, as well as two of the three other women who were going to be working in the shop with me on a daily basis. I had built-in allies.
I was transparent with my new coworkers about my struggles with anxiety and depression. I am passionate about the de-stigmatization of these subjects, and, quite honestly, I can’t be anything other than my transparent self. Perhaps people view this as “TMI,” but it’s important for me to be open and genuine at all points.
But there’s a risk that comes with this transparency. I still worry that I will be viewed as “unstable.” “The Crazy One.”
The overwhelmed girl with the “Freak Out Factor.”
But I haven’t thrown pants at anyone in years. I think I’m gonna be okay.