Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Great, Long Difficulty

It's not fun to write about sad things. That's why my journals from 2006 and 2007 have such an empty look to them. I'd go weeks without writing, pop in to say there was nothing worth writing about, and then be absent again for a fortnight or so. Those blank pages bore testament to a lot of pain.

For several reasons this blog will not become like that. I've used it throughout the years to reinvent, reassess, reach out, and help me ground myself. A depressed person's diary is a twisted echo chamber of self-doubt and  suffering. A blog, however, is a sun-lit window. A journal leaves you with your thoughts. An audience shows you things you'd miss on your own.

So I'm here for the long haul, as I've been from the beginning. The comparison between now and 2006 is an apt one, though. After all, I'm currently experiencing my single greatest crisis since the life-defining fire I endured at eighteen.

The two are not equivalent, though. What's happening now is bad, but I doubt I'll ever face the kind of obstacles I faced then. That was back when I was closeted, back when the shield of childhood was first pulled away, back when I was so much sicker than I was able to understand. Right now I'm navigating a difficult economy and a bad home situation. Back then I had to navigate a whole world with a brain uniquely unfitted to grasping essential realities, had to learn basic facts about life in a way that a mentally healthy person would find impossible to comprehend.

It's only in retrospect that I realize how vastly impaired I was. Occasionally this still surfaces. I have never, for example, been able to break myself of constant absentmindedness, and just the other day I forgot that a red stoplight in fact signals one to stop. I mean, why the hell would red mean stop? There's nothing particularly intuitive about that.

So there I was, approaching a red light with no one ahead of me, frantically trying to recall which color allowed me to go and which signified that I definitely shouldn't.

If I stop and I'm not supposed to the guy behind me is going to think I'm insane, I worried. But if I go and I'm not supposed to I'm probably going to get broadsided. 

A moment later and a calm inner voice spoke up.

BB, it said. Red means stop.

The whole episode had lasted only a few seconds and in hindsight was actually kind of funny. But you get the idea. Imagine that ten times worse. Imagine it unchecked, a pervasive confusion that could turn a basic activity like driving into an agonizing ordeal. In looking back I'm constantly surprised that I managed to get to the point where I could function at a typical level.

So I'm not dealing with that again. Nothing will ever match how difficult that was. But what's going on now isn't great, either.

I'm stuck in a home I don't like with two people who treat me badly. I don't have the money to leave, and my unceasing efforts to find work have been incredibly demoralizing. You see, I did everything I was supposed to do. I maintained good academic standing throughout college, worked for the student paper, contributed freelance pieces to real-world publications, and had multiple internships in my field, two of them with well-regarded literary agencies. I have applied natural talent and quite a bit of self-discipline to be highly competent in my field. And I can't find a job.

Looking for work is essential to my longterm wellbeing, but looking for work is a draining exercise. I feel a vague wave of depression when I open my e-mail each morning, have to force myself to send out inquiries that I know will only be responded to with polite notifications that the agencies I'm applying to aren't hiring.

There's a persistent feeling of failure in all this that I can't shake. Sure, it's not my fault. Am I certain, though? No, I didn't make the stock market crash. But what if I'm doing something wrong? What if my work just isn't as good as I thought? What if neurological impairment, that demon from my youth, is clouding my vision in some way I can't even perceive and employers are turning me away because of my evident deficit? Was the idea that I could have a normal life nothing but a hopeful delusion?

These are the thoughts that plague me every day.

And they stain all of my other experiences. I can't feel sexy now. What right have I to feel sexy when I live at home and have no job? What could be less sexy than that? Anyone in that position who thinks anyone else would find them sexy is deluded. And when I go out with my friends? I need that interaction so much, especially as the post-university loneliness kicks in, but whenever we're on the town every dollar I spend is a new weight on my conscience.

I've adjusted in certain ways. I've widened my job search now to include editorial positions rather than just agent jobs and I've also applied for reporter openings with various publications. Nothing yet except very part-time work.

The financial drain is getting to me (it's particularly frustrating in light of the fact that I have a really substantial amount of money in trust funds to which I have not yet been granted access) but even worse is the social drain.

Kelly Clarkson, a singer whom I greatly admire, was once asked in an interview what she thought was the worst human emotion.

"Loneliness," she answered without hesitation. "Loneliness is the worst."

It's true.

And going from an environment of near constant social stimulus to one where I am alone in my house almost every day has been very difficult. Occasional outings with friends from Western City (such as the one I will undertake on Wednesday to, of all places, a drag show) and meet-ups with university mates are valuable dribbles of water on my parched lips. But I'm ready for more.

I'm ready to be in a new city in my own apartment, heading into a newsroom or editorial office and making friends in the adult world. I want to pay my own bills. I want to invite work friends to explore downtown. I want to have a career. I don't feel entitled to that, but I do feel that I've done the work I should have done to get there. How much does it take?

This tension has obviously not had a positive impact on my mood. As one would expect of a person in my situation, I'm depressed much of the time, though it's usually dull background noise rather than a roaring current of pain. In other ways, though, my reaction has been more pronounced than the average individual's would be.

I've written about the issues posed by obsessive compulsive disorder before, and the condition, aggravated by stress, is one I'm feeling again in a major way now. As with my other little issue, it's not as bad as it was before. At my symptoms' peak, when I was nineteen and twenty years old and well into the red zone, I crossed campus four times in a snow storm because I believed that if I did not walk from Central Hall to my dormitory with my entire face except my eyes covered I would be murdered. The logic there was a bit hazy, but I didn't question it.

So I trudged through the freezing, ice-caked night from one end of Major University to the other, only to discover upon arrival in my dorm that a single lock of hair had escaped my hood. Back to Central Hall it was.

My diagnosis with severe OCD in May 2008 did a lot to help me. I could recognize when the disorder was influencing my actions and could combat it through coping strategies that allowed me, without recourse to medication, to largely beat down a pretty extreme manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder.

OCD, along with depression and my other difficulties, will likely never menace me as they did before I took charge. They can still pack a punch, though. Lately I've found myself more and more confronting the grotesque images I struggle so much to erase, consumed by moments of frenzied terror where my body jerks to combat the overpowering fear and I beg God to protect me. If I don't do this thing, then this other thing will happen.

Then there's the mood swings, heightened like everything else by stress. I'm actually not sure what these are from and wish I knew, because identifying my OCD made it a lot easier to fight. My last therapist wondered, too.

"What's really concerning me about some of these extreme highs and lows you're having is that they appear to be cyclical," he'd mused.

Go figure.

I don't think it's bipolar, though. I looked that up, and those mood swings are chemically determined. Mine respond to events. So if, for example, something good or bad happens, I'll have a positive or negative reaction. The reactions are exaggerated, though. The other morning I looked cute and was a vision of confidence and sociability. When I thought my parents were going to evict me, though, I was totally down to kill myself. And then they changed their minds and the fatal mood passed. It doesn't always happen, but boy do I feel it when it comes. Minor setbacks can provoke prolonged periods of anger or depression and equally minor achievements put me on Cloud 9. It's like being on a roller coaster and it's been that way for a very long time.

Now see, this is exactly why I don't discuss these things in real life: this post is reading like a catalogue of psychological disorders. Anyone who knows me in the outside world would tell you I seem perfectly normal (a hard-earned perception, by the way). But in going back and reviewing this even I kind of want to put me in a padded room.

I'd at least be carrying on the family tradition; my birth-mother Anne has been committed something like seventeen times and suffers from, among other things, borderline personality disorder, a serious mental condition "marked by prolonged disturbance of personality function...an unusual degree of instability in mood...marked impulsivity... [and] markedly and persistently unstable sense of self. In extreme cases this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation."

She's a joy.

But I'm not like her, and that's not wishful thinking talking. Anne is literally psychotic. I am a normal person who's had to deal with some abnormal problems. The fact that I graduated college, lived on my own, and did any of the many other things the doctors said I'd never be able to is testament to that. I can have a real life. I deserve it. I want to believe I'll achieve it.

So that's where I am: in a situation typical of many recent graduates, experiencing the same pitfalls and emotional side-effects they are but having my pain augmented a bit by factors most of them don't have to deal with. I really want to make it through this. I'm not sure I know how.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cause for Celebration

The past few months, and especially the past few weeks, have been a difficult time in my life, marred so much by pain, by failure, by the demons of abuse and illness. On May 12, however, there occurred something worth celebrating: Thomas's seventeenth birthday.

"Hey, dude, I'm making some eggs. You want to get down on this?"

That's how my brother greeted me on the morning he turned seventeen, when he came down from the second floor and I came up from the basement at around ten o'clock.

"Yeah, sure," I answered. "Have at it."

This easy camaraderie has been a happiness to me in the years since I graduated high school, and is all the more surprising given the level of antipathy he and I had towards one another during my own teen years. I see now, though, what I couldn't see at fourteen: that most children have goodness in them, that Thomas was no exception, and that a lot of his spitefulness and acting out came from parents who alternately overindulged and severely disciplined him. That kind of thing could mix anyone up.

Around the time that our boorish, bullying brother Powell really started to spin off the rails, driving the eldest and youngest siblings together as the middle one was cleaved out, I made a decision: I would treat Thomas with decency and respect and see what happened.

The effect that had on our relationship is a testament to the extraordinary powers of basic kindness.

Thomas regards me highly now, more highly even than he regards our parents. And I love him.

Watching him mature into a sweet and affable young man, to whom amicability and, when he makes mistakes, contrition, come with equal quickness, has been one of the greatest joys of my young adulthood. He is flawed, to be sure, and given to many of the pitfalls common among seventeen-year-olds, but already in him there is a level of moral self-awareness that neither Powell nor my father ever achieved.

I saw a very tangible demonstration of this about six months ago.

Thomas and I had both been waiting to use the shower, and I'd decided to let him go first on the grounds that he'd be quicker than me. This mass of hair takes time to wash, after all. He only asked that I allow him to finish some chores before he took his turn.

I was initially okay with this, but when half an hour passed I called up the stairs.

"Thomas! I'm just going to get in. You're taking too long."

"No!" he shouted back. "Do not get in! You'll use up all the hot water. I'm seriously almost done. I'll jump in in a minute."

After another thirty minutes was gone, I'd had enough.

"Thomas!" I yelled again. "It's been an hour! This is ridiculous!"

"Can you just fucking wait!" he called down. "Holy shit!"

I stopped, taken aback by the explosion of disrespect, before finding my wits a moment later.

"Oh, you're not talking to me that way," I responded. "I'm going now."

"I'll talk to you however the fuck I want!" he called after me.

I didn't reply, though. There's no use in reasoning with a person when they're that inflamed. Instead I just went down the stairs, turned on the water, and enjoyed a nice long lathering in my bathroom. When I walked into the kitchen a while later I regarded Thomas coldly and proceeded to pour a glass of soda without any verbal acknowledgement of what had happened.

Before I could ignore him for more than a moment, though, he fell on me in a hug.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I wanted to shoot my dick off as soon as I said it."

I suppressed a laugh at his choice of words and, after pushing away, stared back at him with all the seriousness appropriate to the situation.

"That's fine," I said. "I'm not mad. But it is unacceptable for you to talk to me like that. I never speak to you that way."

"I know," he said. "I was totally out of line."

"Okay," I said. "It's alright, then."

That was it. And there hasn't been an incident since.

So, yes, I worry for Thomas. He's demonstrated some poor decision-making skills and exhibited a level of apathy toward academics that rings hauntingly similar to Powell. But I hope for him as well. I hope for him because he respects the people who respect him; because he takes ownership of his ethical infractions; and because for all the eye-rolling he displays when I bring up the SATs, I think he really does want to go to college.

Hope and worry epitomize my feelings towards this seventeen-year-old brother. I see so many stepping stones he could take but so many cracks he could fall through as well. If he wants it, if he works for it, there's a place for him to find fulfillment and success in this world.

I'll do everything I can to help him get there.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Selected Entries: August 2004

In August 2004 I was sixteen years old and had just moved to my glamorous new home in Deep South State. My relationship with my parents, fractious at best during most times, was entering its brief golden stage, as in contrast to Anne, with whom I'd just spent the summer, they seemed much more tolerable.

Unbeknownst to me, I was also embarking on what would be one of the most turbulent few months of my life--so turbulent in fact, that in my personal history the era would later be named the Time of Tumult. Natural disasters and a succession of deaths in my family made this a difficult few months. Of all the Selected Entries I have posted thus far, this one is most worth reading. 

This month's Selected Entries starts in July, when I arrived in Central City.

July 29, 2004

According to the woman on my left, we’re now above the Growing State coast. The plane is three miles up and, because it’s a bit bumpy, my handwriting is messier than I would normally permit. The couple next to me is amicable, friendly, and, in the case of the wife, just a tidge bit pleasantly eccentric. It’s really beautiful in the sky, but I’m excited to land and be reunited with my family.

July 31, 2004
When we got to the garage in the airport I was shocked by the heat. After the exhausting enterprise of carrying two suitcases in such boiling conditions we got into Mom’s new car and drove home.

When we arrived there was no one there, as Powell had gone to the movies with First Twin and Second Twin (who are visiting), Pie was at daycare, and Thomas was with Mom at his karate class. 

Dad went through the garage but rather than follow suit, I waited for him to unlock the front door. Call it silly or superstitious, but I wanted to start this off on the right foot, and I certainly wasn’t going to access my new home through an out-of-the-way side entrance. I stepped up into the house and felt awe. The windows were beautiful, the ceiling twenty feet high, the sunlight filtered in just the right amount to gorgeously illuminate the interior.

August 9, 2004

Today was my first day of school at Central City High, and I loved it. I rose at 5:30a.m., showered, and ate a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. When I first got up, though, I drank an entire cup of cranberry juice, which I’ll be sure not to do again s it caused my stomach considerable distress. We have six, no, seven periods here, a big change from Beautiful Town, where we had only five. The classes were really short, only about fifty minutes each. I’d only just become acclimated to one when another would begin!

First period was Spanish III with Ms. Spanish Teacher, who is by far one of the coolest instructors I’ve ever met. My Anatomy Honors teacher is a chiropractor who insists on being addressed by “doctor.” My English III Honors instructor, a twenty-something woman named Mrs. Negligent, is a cheerful woman who shares my low blood sugar and offered me some food whenever I need it. My AP European History teacher scared us all with his description of a college-level course so difficult that barely anyone pulled a B. The other kids in my AP European History class are so smart that I’m worried about not being able to keep up. We’ve begun our first book in there, called A World Lit Only by Fire, which we have until Labor Day to finish reading.

August 12, 2004
 Hurricane Charley is moving towards Deep South State. Our schools have officially been closed for tomorrow, and there was a bit of a panic at Central High today. A sort of mini-storm (Charley, Jr., I like to refer to it) hit the high school at the end of the day, reining in quite a pandemonium, indeed.

It began to pour heavily during seventh period, and, while there was a supposed “lull” in the storm we were dismissed about ten minutes early to reach our buses. Unfortunately, the “lull” was anything but and when we emerged from our portable it was into a world of wind, rain, and thunder. The maze of portable classrooms was made even more complex by the tangle of children fleeing to the breezeway, the giant enclosure upon which our entire school centers.

The breezeway itself was actually worse, with students running en masse for the few exits. Periodic screams pierced the din of rapidly conversing voices and pounding feet. As I looked to my left a surge of slipping, sliding, soaked humanity made its way across the school, some walking, many running, all frantic.

In front of the school were some fifty buses (forty-eight, to be exact) that wait daily for students to embark. In the rush to get there, though, many were hopelessly out of place and a multitude of students couldn’t locate their number. This caused a good deal of running and yelling as the thunder steadily increased. It was at this convenient moment that a large thunderbolt chose to hit the school grounds.

I happened to be in the perfect spot to watch while the zigzagging electrical line wounds its way down from the sky and I was still standing there, awed, as it made contact, impacting the grounds with a sonic boom. There was a bright flash and the very earth beneath us shook. The occasional shout from the crowd was suddenly augmented to a simultaneous, wall-shattering shriek. As the air vibrated from the charge different voices could be distinguished rising up from the cacophony, some yelling for their friends, others just screeching.

I found my bus after a brief period of uncertainty and fear, boarding in my drenched attire and thus escaping the hysteria. Other dripping students joined me in this unlikely sanctuary and just about everyone managed to find our bus. When we got home, it was sunny. Hurricane Charley is expected to hit the coastal cities tomorrow, with Central City being affected only by its outer edges. I’ll pray for those people, but I’m just glad that it’s not us.

August 13, 2004
The sky outside is black now, at 2:49p.m. The wind is blowing fiercely right now, and we’ve lit candles to avoid using electricity. I don’t know for certain that we’ll live through this. Oddly, I’m not afraid. Faced with death, I know that God is there. If I am killed, He will take me up into Heaven, along with the rest of our family. I just hope that I’ve lived a good enough life, and I hope that I’ve been good enough for God. I know that I’ve sinned my whole life, but I do believe in Him. If we have to die, I hope that it’s quick and painless.
Our doors are locked and windows bolted. It is now just after seven o’clock, and Hurricane Charley is due here, full force, in three hours. I’m in my bathroom, which has no windows, writing this on the roomy floor of my shower. Naturally, the shower isn’t actually on. Going outside is unthinkable, and it’s now too late to heed the evacuation orders that many others abided by. Mobile homes (such s the one that my mother’s aunt, lives in) and prefabricated homes are under mandatory evacuation.

Contrary to what we believed last night, Hurricane Charley made landfall south of the coastal cities and is now on a collision course for Central City. We’re one of the fortunate whose houses are structured, that is, made entirely of solid concrete and essentially cemented to the ground. Our stone walls and ceilings keep out the Category 4 winds that would otherwise tear us limb from limb, but those living in mobile or manufactured homes are not so lucky; the storm will shred their abodes and their bodies to pieces.

We’re probably not in any danger…I hope. I’m glad that I’m here, though; if anything happened to Pie, I would want to be dead, too. Today, a Friday, there was no school, and a state of emergency has been declared in our county. 

August 15, 2004
A lung has been procured for Grand Pa and, as of 5:30 this afternoon, he began what promises to be a long and complex surgery. The attainment of the organ this morning has elated many disheartened spirits and answered innumerable prayers, not least of all those of my grandmother, who seemed like she was losing hope.

Grand Pa, you see, was tiring of the exhaustive struggles he faced on a daily basis, and earlier this week had refused to go back on a ventilator, asking only that he be given enough pain-killing medications to die peacefully in his sleep. This lung is, quite literally, a breath of life, both into him and into my frantic grandmother. I hope that the surgery is a success and that her yearnings for his recovery will be fulfilled. We won’t know until tomorrow how everything went, for, as I said, the surgery is extensive, and according to Mom it can last up to eight hours.

Mom and Dad are both thoroughly sick of the traffic situation here, which is quite impossible. Over half of the streetlights and stop signs in our county were either knocked out or rendered useless by the winds of Hurricane Charley. The rather obvious result is chaotic roads that are breeding grounds for accidents, there having been over two hundred automobile accidents in Central County yesterday alone. Central County students are now enjoying a five-day weekend, all expenses paid, courtesy of central Deep South State’s perilous roadways. That’s right, there’s no school on Monday or Tuesday, much to our adulation.

And, what’s more, Hurricane Earl is due to arrive here on Wednesday, which could get us off for the entire week!

August 16, 2004
Grand Pa’s surgery has had some complications, and apparently it doesn’t look good, but I believe that he will pull through. We have off of school for the rest of this week and next Monday. Classes will resume on August 24th. 

As if that weren't enough our dog, Millie, died this morning.

August 25, 2004
School started back yesterday, and I’m glad of it. Pie walked to me today!

August 30, 2004
Grand Pa died today. More tomorrow.

August 31, 2004
Grand Ma is hysterical, inconsolable, as were Powell and Thomas last night. Grand Pa’s death comes as a real blow to everyone who waited the years for him to receive a lung. Thinking about it makes me sad but I haven’t cried. 

As if Grand Pa leaving this world wasn’t enough, a massive hurricane, the Category-5 titan Frances, is headed straight for Deep South State. As of this morning it was on a course for eastern Central City (in other words, exactly where we live and our entire lives are centered), much to my dismay and internal agony. I prayed intensely last night and the Lord may have answered me, as the system seems to have shifted just a little bit to the north. I will pray more now and watch the news in the morning.