Saturday, March 26, 2011
FEEL YOUR ANGER RUNNING THROUGH YOU!
"Let us be gloomy and ineffectual and plagued by magical thinking. Let us lament our mistakes." My essay in the New York Times Magazine about understanding my 14-year-old stepson through what he listens to (Green Day), reads (Unfriendable) and whom he takes advice from (Darth Vader).
Also recently published a light (but dark!) piece on the nuclear crisis in Japan in The Awl, and an essay on "Limitless," the OWN network, and the extreme individualism of American culture in The Atlantic.
If you haven't already, you can read a few pages of my memoir, Disaster Preparedness, here. For some reason the excerpt now begins halfway through the first chapter, so I'd suggest starting with chapter 2. The last chapter of my book is also excerpted in the March issue of O Magazine: "How to Embrace Your Crazy, Chaotic Life."
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Shit. I've been wanting to write to you for such a long time. I'm a huge fan of your blog (I still have yet to get you memoir, it's on my list of things to read) and all the straight-up advice you give to your readership. I just don't know where to start Rabbit. I am 29, single, and I live in my own place. I've been a middle school teacher for 7 years and I have my Masters in Education. I just bought a brand new car, I have a pretty good relationship with my family and I'm super athletic. However, for the past few years I've just felt completely lost. Nothing really brings me true happiness - it feels so much easier to just wallow in this depressive-like state rather than be the girl who grabs life by the lapels. I feel like I constantly jump back and forth between being okay and just wanting God to take me away. I just feel so bored with it all - I don't have many good friends where I live and I have no idea where to meet people around here (Lancaster, PA). Everyone's either married, in college or obsessed with drinking at the bar. Sometimes I feel like I can't even relate to people....the one thing I want more than anything is just to really connect again. I feel like I shut myself off from everything, people included.
Rabbit - I really don't have anything to feel shitty about. I mean, I had a couple bad relationships, including a failed engagement but I have come to terms with all that. I am out in the dating world and I have learned to just go with the flow in that area. I've taken the time to figure things out within myself but the stress of life, especially my job, seems to make it vanish. I really fucking hate my job some days. Kids just suck, period and I have a 40 minute commute on top of it. Everyone tells me to just "not take it personal" and just "let it go" but when you are surrounded by screaming and yelling in the hallway and then, in most classes, a constant fight to get kids to learn or do ANYTHING -- in addition to constant attitude and disrespect for no reason -- it takes a toll on you. I feel like an emotional rag doll at the end of the day.
My life is just this blah routine. Work, work out, home, bed. And it's just me, I'm always just alone. I guess one of the biggest problems I've been facing / hiding is my eating issues. Everyone knows me as this fitness chick who does competitions and what not. But whenever I'm feeling a negative emotion or stressed out - I completely binge. Even when I'm just feeling lonely, I reach for the ice cream or potato chips. Actually, I go out and buy them because I don't keep them in the house. I've dealt with bulimia for many many years. Now, I just binge out for a few days and then feel completely worthless and try to exercise and diet off what I did to myself. This is a relentless cycle. My PMS doesn't make it any better.
I know what you're thinking. You need a therapist. I was seeing one for a while - and then, I don't know. I just stopped going. I got really fucking depressed and just said fuck it. I don't really have the extra money for it. No one in my family or circle of friends really gets my struggle. I mean, I told my mom I was depressed one day and she replied, "All you need is a boyfriend." Plus, I'm completely embarrassed. I'm ashamed that I can't deal with stress better. I'm frustrated that I make this drama for myself when I don't really have a need for it. I'm sad that I feel so alone and just empty.
I just wish I could get my mind right. I do yoga, I read about Buddhism and I try to practice peace. I still feel like there is this gnawing at my soul that I can't get rid of. I listen to it - but it doesn't say anything to me, it doesn't pinpoint what's wrong. So I try to stuff it down and that includes using food. The fact that I can't stop makes me feel pathetic.
I know my letter is all over the place - I suppose it reflects my mind right now. I just want to be happy, I want to be okay with myself. I want to be able to come home after a shit day and just BE. Not have to reach for something outside of myself for comfort. How do I just deal?
Dear Candidly Confused,
God, do I feel for you. I really do. But I want to say, first of all, that you can't give up right now. Giving up, at this point, would be like throwing in the towel in the last mile of a marathon. You have to trust me about this: You're about to turn a corner.
You've set up a life for yourself and it's not working. Plenty of people do this at age 29. We get out of college and we try something. It almost works for a while, and then it really doesn't work anymore.
Lots of people wake up at age 29 and they say, "Fuck, I'm a drunk." Or "Fuck, I hate this job." Or "I can't marry this person." Whatever they chose, possibly out of fear, when they graduated from college – the job, the steady relationship, the marriage, the friendships, the quick fixes -- they find themselves questioning these things.
I felt this way at that age. I broke up with one boyfriend, almost moved to New York, met someone new, moved in with him, lost my job, moved out. I was a leaf in a windstorm. When I told my sister that I was in love and was therefore not going to move to New York, as planned, she said, "Same story, different year."
It's tough to make reasonable decisions when you know that you're not a reasonable person. You're not reasonable because you're really, really needy, and you're pissed off at yourself for being needy. You don't feel respected, but you don't see why anyone would respect you, either. You feel ashamed. You want to have some pride in yourself, and maybe you do in some areas, but they don't outweigh your weaknesses in your mind.
You think you're lame, weak, inconstant, and that you don't deserve any better than what you have. You think that maybe your mother is right, maybe you just need a boyfriend or something outside of yourself (a pint of really good ice cream). Maybe you just need the ice cream, and then you can run 10 miles. (Reward, punish.) Maybe you're bored with your stupid job and those goddamn kids and your boring friends because you're an asshole.
Now pay attention, because this part is important: There's nothing wrong with you. Yes, you have an eating disorder and you should probably see a shrink. But your depression, as I see it, is a direct result of your circumstances: You don't love your job, you don't love where you live, you don't love the people there. You are needy for a very, very good reason: YOU NEED SOMETHING ELSE. Something different than what you have now. Sure, there are those who can meditate in a cave for 12 years straight. But you are young, and the life you have right now is not the life you want. It is absolutely acceptable, warranted and understandable for you to feel needy right now. Go ahead and fucking feel needy, ok? Stop eating and working out and eating and trying to sound reasonable and trying to seem ok, and just admit that you are vulnerable, things are not going very well. You feel bad. You want something else.
Stop beating yourself back. You won't find any clarity until you stop telling yourself that you're weak and lame, simply because you don't match the people around you, who are happy in this setting. Stop telling yourself that you can accept these circumstances. You can't. That's all you need to know. And you're not alone, believe me.
When I first graduated from college and moved to San Francisco, I had a group of friends through a boyfriend. They were all very fun, and funny, and smart, but hanging out with them made me feel depressed and angry, because we didn't really connect that well. They were just different from me. Not better or worse, just different. In college, we drank a lot and had a great time together. But in the real world, I didn't know how to talk to them, at all. I didn't feel comfortable around them.
When you're youngish, these things matter a hell of a fucking lot, especially when you hate your job and you go home and you're alone, alone, alone and all you can think about is eating. I didn't really have any vices beyond heavy social drinking, so I just wrote depressing poems and made my then-boyfriend hate my guts by crying all the time.
But you don't have to hate yourself or punish yourself for not being happy with what you have. If you're not happy with what you have – really, really unhappy – then you have to change it.
See, I'd say you should get a prescription for something, but, although you do sound very depressed, I don't know if you should do that before you change your circumstances. Because ANYONE would be depressed in your circumstances. Anyone. Most of us have been there, at one point or another, if not at two or three points, and we still look back and cringe. Hating your job and your friends, not having anyone to talk to about it? That's the worst, the absolute worst.
So what about moving to a bigger place? What about considering other careers? You don't mention changing anything in your picture, and I want to know why. Why not change everything? You're young. You're indifferent about the people in your town. You don't like your life right now. Do you have friends in other towns? Can you conceive of another career? Or just teaching a different grade level in some other place?
Because you're young and you're depressed, these things will seem horrible and frightening and awful. Or just flatly unappealing. But, from the outside looking in, you sort of fit the definition of why young people move to big cities: they're looking for a different sort of life that they haven't found yet.
It seems to me that you're ready for some big changes, and even though you know that these changes will be hard for you, there's something great about struggling through a challenge, as opposed to struggling in a stagnant situation. A stagnant, lonely life that you're trying to fix through inner peace – I don't know. That sounds like a ticket to self-hatred to me. It sounds like more punishment. What about just taking a risk and trying something new? Maybe you're resistant to the idea of seeing a shrink because a part of you knows that what you really need is to stop talking about your current life and start living a new one. The eating stuff can be addressed, and should be. But the larger question is about finding your place in the world. You know this. So what are the possibilities out there? What else might work? If you wake up and work out and have some breakfast and then ask yourself the question, "Where do I want to be? What do I want to do?" what do you come up with?
It's hard to ask that question, and even tougher to answer it. But just start asking, and be patient with your answers, and your fear, and your despair. Most of all, remember: You're in an incredibly rough spot, right now. It's ok that you're confused and annoyed and depressed. But you may not feel this way for very much longer. Keep the faith! A brighter, better, happier life is waiting for you. Be patient, be honest with yourself, don't be afraid of your own vulnerability, and the world will open up to you, slowly but surely.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
WELCOME BACK TO EARTH, STUPID
This morning, I'm reading my interview in The Rumpus on my computer while Ivy, 22 months old, and Claire, 4, play nearby. Ivy spots my book cover on the computer and points at it.
Ivy: Your book?
Me: Yeah, that's my book! Wow, you recognize it!
Ivy: Everybody laugh?
Me: You mean at my reading? Yeah, people were laughing! You remember that?
Claire: (annoyed) They were making fun of your book, Mommy.
You have to love it when your own kid wants you to get off your fucking high horse already. "They were laughing because they think you're pathetic, dummy. Now, what's for breakfast?"