I can typically assess the state of my mental health by how I react to hearing New Order. I was just listening to The Clash station on Pandora and “Age of Consent” started playing, so I started crying. I can’t put my finger on what it is about that band, but it triggers something in me.
I have been in such a funk lately, and there are numerous contributing factors. Firstly, I must admit something: I sort of missing having cancer. I know, I know, that sounds crazy, but here’s why: it gave me purpose. I felt really alive when I had cancer. I also felt lethargic and ill, but I knew I was going to beat the disease; I lived in warrior mode. I woke up every day and was all, “Once more unto the breach! You goin’ down, you hormone-fed, malignant, walnut-shaped, parasitic, tumorous bitch!” or something like that. Actually, that statement reveals a lot of anger, and at the time, I was not angry; I was optimistic. Now I’m angry. In the months following chemo and surgery I was so eager to reclaim my life; I was travelling; I was planning my dance party/fundraiser. Now I’m feeling run down.
The funk started about a month and a half ago when my dear friend Brian passed away after having just been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. His wife Anne is my lifelong best friend. They have three beautiful children. It was a devastating situation. Being at the visitation and funeral reminded me just how much of a role Brian played in my life. Almost every romantic relationship I’ve ever had was either directly or indirectly facilitated through Brian. In the presence of death, so much of my life passed before my eyes, and this spurred a low-grade existential crisis that had me evaluating my life choices and contemplating my future. But this mindset is nothing new for me. I am a chemically imbalanced seeker of meaning who is doomed to perpetual restlessness. That is my tragic flaw, and it drives me to live a life full of adventure and excitement, while at the same time never feeling like I’ve achieved enough and always wondering if I’m headed in the right direction. When I was 18 (in 1998), right after I graduated from high school, I wrote myself a letter. I sealed it and wrote “Do not open until 2008. Beware: you were in a weird mood.” I was in the same mindset as I am now. I asked myself a bunch of questions to the effect of “Are you still anxious all the time? Do you still doubt yourself all the time even though you know you’re capable of great things?” It’s funny that it’s been almost 10 years since opening the letter. Yes, Jenny from 20 years ago, you are still anxious, but not all of the time. Yes, you still doubt yourself even though you’re capable of great things (and you have done some great things).
I was born chemically imbalanced. My extended family can’t get together without someone reminiscing about my choleric infancy and childhood. My tantrums were epic. Right before sixth grade we moved from Denver to St. Louis, and this event coincided with the onset of adolescence. I went from a skinny, pretty, happy child to a swollen, pimply, moody tween. Even at 12 I was thinking, “Woe is me; my good years are behind me. I used to really be someone, but alas, that time is gone.” The good thing is that even though inner Jenny is quite emo, the outer Jenny is not. The best example of this paradox is that in middle school, or as I like to call it, “Dante’s inner-most ring of hell,” I was voted “Most Positive.” Shit, ya’ll, I should have been given an Oscar for my 8th grade performance. But I think this represents how my chemical imbalance manifested itself as I got older. The outward rage I displayed as a three year old dragging my head across the floor while screaming was turned inward in the form of depression. It was never debilitating; I was just occasionally hit by pangs of melancholia that I kept to myself. The only time I was ever clinically depressed (I was never officially diagnosed) was during my senior year of high school. The depression came out of no where. It actually started the summer before 12th grade. I found myself crying deep sobs of sadness for no apparent reason. There was no external catalyst for this behavior. It was as if on some night in July of 1997 my neurotransmitters got together and said, “Ya know what? We should fuck dis bitch up.” And they did. At the beginning of the school year I was babysitting my neighbor every afternoon, and I remember being in their house and feeling like the walls were going to cave in on me. I would come home and cry in my room. I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel panicked and nauseated. I channeled this anxiety into thinking I was pregnant (even though I had never had sex).
Yep, I was cray cray. Let me give you some background on this. In about 1994 or 1995 there was a Q and A in YM magazine (ladies, remember that magazine?) where some girl wrote, “Help! I’m pregnant, but I’ve never had sex!” That shit fucked. me. up. Ya see, my high school boyfriend (I really wish I could have met him when we were about 30) and I used to dry hump the shit out of each other in his parents’ basement. We were such good kids; we were afraid to drink or have sex because that was bad, and we were at our naughtiest when we progressed to dry-humping in our underwear. Anywho, during that time of depression and anxiety I wasn’t having my period (which now of course I know was because of the emotional strife I was experiencing), and this only exacerbated and prolonged the situation because then I thought I was pregnant (from dry-humping). It got so bad that I even told my mom that I thought I was pregnant, but I assured her that I was a virgin. I think her reaction was something to the effect of, “Riiiiiiight,” but she went to a distant drugstore and bought a pregnancy test, and sure enough—> negatory. At some point in the spring of senior year, my neurotransmitters corrected themselves, and life improved.
I am a happy person, and I like my life, but I am prone to bouts of anxiety and depression that I keep fairly well controlled and hidden (for the most part). When I was 23, I decided to do something about my inner demons, and for the past 14 years I’ve taken a light dosage of Lexapro that has staved off depression (and some of my anxiety). Unfortunately, the medication I take to ward off a recurrence of breast cancer manipulates my hormones, and the main side effects, according to my oncologist, are hot flashes, anxiety, and mood swings. I’m thinking that this has something to do with my current mental state. However, just spewing this personal information at the world has lifted my mood, so thank you for being a part of my catharsis. I need to look into strategies for fending off existential dread. I’m too easily affected by my surroundings. I need to stop taking everything so personally. I need to not let an email from an angry student calling me a fucking bitch make me question my professional life choices. I need to not let the rampant apathy of my eleventh-graders suck the life from my soul when I have plenty of students who love learning and appreciate me. Sometimes I think I’ve chosen the wrong career, but then I face the truth that it’s not the job, it’s me. There is work to be done.
During The Great Funk of 2017, I decided that perhaps finding that special someone would help me find some stability. I don’t usually find myself thinking, “Oh, I wish I had a boyfriend” (although I recently did when I had a pimple on my shoulder blade because I couldn’t reach it). I have bad reasons for wanting a mate. If I was being honest,
this is what I would advertise on the dating apps/sites: “ISO of a smart, funny, handsome, successful man to pop my back pimples (a rarity, but it happens), cook for me, rub my feet, and help me work through my periodic existential dread.” Therefore, I prolly should’t date, right? I went on four unsuccessful Tinder dates which quelled my desire to find someone, and I’m back to being content with my spinsterhood. Week of spring break, Tuesday: had coffee in the morning with a hot, swarthy man; I could tell he thought I was nice, but I could also tell he wasn’t into me. When we left, I could tell he felt obligated to say, “Maybe we could do this again,” but I knew he didn’t mean it. That night I went on a dinner date. I liked this dude’s sense of humor. He was smart and funny, and we laughed a lot. We walked down to the pinball/skeeball arcade and had a blast. I thought we totally hit it off. His birthday was a few days later, so I texted him “Happy birthday!” but there was no response. On Saturday I went on a date with a dude who was 10 years older than me, and his old ass had the temerity to have a disappointed look on his face the moment I walked into the bar. He messaged me on Tinder the next morning and said, “Thanks for coming out. I don’t think we’re a match, but good luck to you,” and I was really impressed by that gesture. I was going to remove the Tinder app from my phone when I got a message from a guy who joked about needing a baby in the next year in order to get his inheritance. I thought this was funny and promising, and when he suggested that we have brunch at my favorite bloody mary spot, I was pretty stoked. However, it turned out that he was not funny and that I was approximately 40 pounds heavier than him. Also, he ordered a virgin drink. At that point, I was all, “Well, that’s enough Tindering for me.”
And so here I am. I broke up with a guy right before I moved to California, and I’ve always missed him. He clearly hates me (and understandably so since I broke up with him, moved to California, and got engaged to someone else six months later). Every time I try to reconnect with him (which is not often), he blows me off. I got drunk at a restaurant this past summer, and there was an Ernest Trova painting hanging on the wall. My ex was Trova’s protege, and so I thought of him and messaged him on Facebook (even though we’re not friends). I told him that I was looking at a Trova painting and thinking of him, and I asked how he was doing. His response was something to the effect of, “Is it the yellow painting?” and I responded, “yep.” That was it. I had to laugh at how pathetic that exchange was. He probably laughed too. I loved his weird sense of humor. After our second date he dropped me off at my place, and it was obvious he wanted to come in, so I told him, “OK, you can come in, just don’t date rape me,” and he thought that was hysterical, and I loved how he thought that was hysterical. One time we created part of a song to a comedic musical about the Civil War. I think it’ll be hard to find a man like that again.
Just writing this has lifted my mood. It’s time to start being proactive in overcoming my woes. I know I’ll look back on this funky month and laugh. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to dark humor. Life is tragic, but it’s also pretty great. And funny.