Score high in underachievement

Making it to adulthood without lasting physical injury was probably the last time I achieved a goal I’d set for myself. Somehow, I’ve still done a lot in my life, but oddly without ever managing to get anywhere.

I’ve spent so much time being just so angry. Righteous anger can be healthy occasionally, but fuming while a price checker at the grocery store moseys down an aisle is probably not one of those times.

I come by my fury honestly, at least. From 11 to 18, I needed a constant state of rage to get me grown and away. The single-mindedness kept me from focusing on how fucked things really were, but I stuck myself in the trap of thinking “things will be so much better once ___ happens.”

Finally, I was 18 and out to where the walls were bare, but the slate wasn’t blank. Without tangible evidence that people were trying to hurt me, I floundered. Life suddenly seemed less valuable once nobody was trying to take it away from me. I spent a few years putting myself in dangerous situations, but I never got picked up to be an international assassin, and the back-burner dream fizzled. My goal of survival had only one step — live — which doesn’t translate well into setting new, grown-up goals that desire timelines and measurable results.

And without the physical struggle I’d grown used to, I couldn’t get rid of the anger. Reading headlines about people doing horrible things to one another filled me with a violent rage, but as an adult with poor coping skills, I only knew what not to do about it. When I was a teenager, it was a bit more acceptable to engage in fisticuffs, even if it didn’t really solve the problem at hand. Now I’m expected to resolve conflict without resorting to violence, but age alone hasn’t taught me how to do that. The rage just turns inward, where it quickly mutates once that record starts spinning, the one that all of us low self-esteemers picked up around middle school: There’s nothing I can do about this because: I am worthless. Ungrateful. Ugly when I cry. Incapable of making the right decisions for myself.

But when I really listened to that record not too long ago (whose voice is that, anyway?), I realized something other than the fact that I’m a real asshole to myself: It’s a wonder I get out of bed at all. Somehow, I’ve managed to live for decades carrying an enormous 10-ton chip on my shoulder that has actually tried to do me physical harm. Whether I hoisted it up myself or someone tossed it to me, I’ve kept breathing this whole time, and once in a while I even ate a healthful meal at an appropriate time of the day. Occasionally I’ve shaken off the anxiety and had the wherewithal to labor over a sentence or two, even a chapter here and there, toward my excuse-filled pipe dream of being a writer.

Compared to the could-have-beens, I’m doing pretty well for myself. I scored a 9 on the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire, and out of the possible outcomes, I’m on Easy Street, having escaped with just heavy smoking and depression. I’m a pro in avoidance, a guru of hyper vigilance, a sensei of self-loathing and a master at depression, so attempting to achieve goals at all comes with a large helping of perfectionism and anxiety. And I’ve survived everything I’ve done to myself.

So I no longer do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, and that’s okay with me.

I woke up today. Anything else I do is gravy.


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Narcissistic Father’s First Email After Decade of Estrangement Explains Why He Is Right

St. Louis—Years after Kevin Packard stopped contacting his two ungrateful daughters, he decided it was high time they acknowledged the positive influence he’d had in their lives, starting with the time he’d engaged in drunken sexual intercourse with their mother.

“I just think they should appreciate how bad their childhood could have been,” Packard explained. “I mean, I’m their blood father, and that’s not something they can easily replace.”

Tammie Lehigh, Packard’s girlfriend, agrees that the daughters should just get over themselves. “Kevin told me how he found a mess of knives under one of those girls’ beds after he threw her out. How nutso is that? Like, why does a teenage girl need weapons to protect herself when her father’s in the house? Obviously, she takes after her mother in the way of mental issues, if you know what I mean.”

Packard plans on preparing for the high-stakes email by downing a six-pack of Budweiser. “I shouldn’t have to find out through the grapevine that I’ve got grandchildren. My daughter Melissa knows that I’m good with kids. Once, when she spilled a bowl of cereal, I picked her up by her feet and dipped her face into the puddle so she would know how to behave in a civilized household. And wouldn’t you know, she never spilled milk again.”

The proud father thinks the girls have the wrong idea about his methods of parenting. “One of their friends was 16 when we had sex, so a child molester I am not.”

His other daughter Laura agreed that things could have been much worse. “Seriously, had he not done time for dealing crack, we might have spent more of our toddler years around him.”


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Only Victims Have Split Ends

On TV lately, there’s been a spate of women “getting stronger” by cutting off all of their hair. Something traumatic has happened? Grab some scissors to gain power, preferably by yourself in a poorly lit bathroom with cheap mirrors!

The phenomenon didn’t really get to me until last night, when I watched Detective Olivia Benson, a heroine for the Law & Order ages, overcome her feeling of victimization in the season premiere. I grew increasingly uncomfortable as her trauma manifested itself into a fashionable bob. By having short hair, am I telling everyone that I’m irreparably traumatized? Even more important – am I?

Short hair, to me, always did go hand in hand with strength. I needed to do more pushups, more running, more hurting anyone who touched me. I needed to be less of whatever I was.

But as much as I want it to, short hair doesn’t transform me into an impenetrable badass. Like when you pretend a sheet over your body while you sleep will protect you from the intruder’s knife (it can’t be just me), hair seems to provide superficial padding from the world outside when you need it. Once, in a situation that seemed destined to explode into fatal violence, I lamented internally that my shaved and exposed head offered me no protection from a bullet fired at close range. Funny what the mind decides to clarify when it sees no escape.

It turned out I didn’t need Kevlar tresses that day, but neither my actions nor my hairstyle played a role in the outcome. More muscles, more endurance, more guns, more power – none of it would have made a difference. All of this stuff that we try to put between us and the world is a cultivated masquerade of pretending that we have any control over what other people do. The acting looks like victim-blaming, and it is, but it’s also how we try to create order in that situation that has none: life.

We’re supposed to learn how to love, how to communicate, how to contribute, how to be fulfilled, all while knowing it can be taken away by a car accident, war, bombs, gunshots, landslides, heart attacks, rabies, et cetera ad nauseam, and in some cases after it already has. If we don’t show our war face, we’re left with no defenses, imagined or not. How else does one live in a world that is fresh out of fucks?

Seriously. Let me know.


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There’s not enough ginkgo in the world

My mom’s birthday is today. The date didn’t seem significant to me until I paid a bill, and I found that remembering is less painful than knowing I forgot.

On the checklist of failures I turn to when my serotonin levels are getting too high, not knowing how to properly grieve the woman who brought me into the world ranks pretty high, particularly when I’ve spent much of my life regretting she ever did.

When she abruptly got sick, I had long since grown tired of being her half-assed “fixer,” swooping in from out of state and demanding that she get her life together. I needed a swooper of my own. Friends with couches had allowed me to pretend I wasn’t homeless as I transitioned from married to divorced, I was losing my grip on the first job I’d ever been passionate about, and sorting my clothes and books from various suitcases and paper bags for two months made it difficult for me to care about my college course load. It had already become the hardest year of my life, and my reaction to the call that she was in the hospital’s ICU was nothing if not honest: I can’t believe she’s doing this now.

On second thought, remembering is more painful than being able to forget.

I had written her off as a lost cause a few months before for the way she treated my sister. For the way she couldn’t see how she hurt her. For the way she couldn’t see that they were the exact same person trapped in the same kind of life. All of my self-righteousness on behalf of my oldest sister allowed me to sidestep the anger I felt for myself. I wouldn’t call her any more when I didn’t know how to handle a Georgia roach monster claiming ownership of my home, I wouldn’t ask her to cheer me up when I tried to quit smoking, and I certainly wouldn’t tell her that I had married the wrong man for me and I was now experiencing the crushing failure of divorce, as she once had, but without bruises.

There was so much to take care of back home that I was able to push off seeing her until visiting hours guaranteed we would only have 30 minutes. I made her laugh. I told her I loved her and wanted her to get better. And I thought she would. She got out of the hospital the following week. We talked on the phone one night until she fell asleep, which only took about five minutes. I understood – she was tired and needed rest to recover.

She died a month later, a couple of days after being readmitted into the hospital. We had talked about doilies that one night on the phone. What I don’t remember saying is that I was sorry or that I forgave her. I don’t recall telling her she did the best job she could with three kids and an abusive husband by the age of 23 or that I could finally appreciate how hard it must have been for her to get away.

As it turns out, I was wrong all along. It’s what you don’t remember that’s the hardest to forget.


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The Joy of Starvation

A few months ago, NPR had a story about a man creating a super shake that would replace all meals. Most of the novelty came from quotes of shock that there are people who don’t like to eat. But some brave souls concurred – eating is a waste of time. The preparation, the cooking, the chewing and the cleaning up aren’t one-off deals; they have to be done repeatedly for maximum health. Add in a few food allergies and a good dose of picky eating (I call it super-tasting), and you’ve got me, earnestly wishing for an intravenous solution to calorie consumption.

It’s possible that my lack of desire for food reflects more on my lack of passion for anything at all. But the more I know about food and health, the less prepared I am to make a decision on what to eat. When I can add enough sugar or salt or cholesterol crunch to make whatever it is taste good, I worry that I’ll fall down dead of a heart attack before my last bite.

Poor nutrition is an important part of a depressive cycle. Without food, my mood is unpredictable and I have no energy to complete projects, which leads to an overall anxiety about how I’m spending my time on this planet, which leads to existentialism, which then takes me right into nihilism where I can wallow for days.

But mastering depressive eating is much more complex than simple anorexic starvation. You have to create a balance of wild fluctuations of blood sugar and feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and low self-esteem. Here are some steps I take to help me find that delicate ratio:

1. Read up on nutrition. And really dig into the different arguments out there. Egg yolks or whites? Baking powder causes Alzheimer’s?! “Brain food” has too much mercury. Canned tomatoes have too much BPA. Chicken breasts have a lot of arsenic but are also infused with antidepressants, so it’s really win-win. Too much red meat gives you colon cancer, but insufficient iron leads to anemia. Cooking vegetables heats all the nutrients away, but that’s okay, because too much of some vitamins and minerals can give you nerve damage. Grilling food is practically serving yourself cancer on a skewer, and if you drink too much water, you’ll probably lose all of your electrolytes and die alone. Like you were planning to do anyway.

2. Build a recipe around one item. Find that one food that you like to eat, and look up ways to build a meal around it. Most good recipes will have 15-20 ingredients that you’ll need to run to the store to get, and after you’ve come home with celery, sherry vinegar, and truffle oil, you’ll see that the recipe serves 12. Think about how you don’t have a Quiverfull, but then decide to make the meal anyway. Ruin it.

3. Think about your heart health. You likely have the shrunken heart of an anorexic by this point, and this doesn’t bode well for a future when you might not be depressed anymore. While you fight your way through the darkness, your heart, bones, and muscles are just biding their time and trying to maintain until you can get them some nutrients. By the time you figure out this food issue, the damage will already be done …  so you should probably tackle those dishes in the sink and make yourself a smoothie or something.

At least until that food shake guy gets his act together.


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How to Stay Depressed in Social Situations

Occasionally, you’ll be required to attend various social functions, either out of a misguided attempt to be part of the human race or simply because your partner threatens you with abandonment if you spend one more night trying to meld with the couch. In these times, there are ways to stay in your even keel of suicidal yearning without alienating too many people. The important mantra to keep in mind is that no one will understand how you feel and to try to tell them will ultimately just ruin everyone’s night.

Surround yourself with positive people. Only the undiagnosed depressive will be surprised by this suggestion. The chronically sad understand that the worst feeling comes with knowing that everyone else is having a great time despite the crushing weight of existence. As the positive people take an interest in each others’ lives, including yours, they will smile and remain upbeat. They’ll likely listen sympathetically to your problem of the day, even if they don’t seem to understand the great nothing, and will tell you they’re glad you came out. This, in turn, will cause you to search inside yourself for the redemptive quality they see in you. Upon finding nothing, your self-questioning will trigger a destructive cycle that should keep you busy for at least three days.

*Happiness Alert! Take care to not specifically mention depression or the drugs you’re prescribed. Hiding among the cheerful people could be a kindred spirit. Discovering that other people manage to live with the same feelings you have could draw you into a conversation that will lift your mood, perhaps for an entire week. Remember your goal and don’t let anyone see inside.

Engage in digital disengagement. The number of games available in the average bar could make one forget that they’re for drinking, not dilly-dallying. Use these to your advantage in two ways: Choose games specifically for one player, or become so good at the game that you disabuse people of the notion of playing against you. The game TVs are perfect for the first goal, particularly because of their complete lack of interesting activity for inquiring minds, and the odds are high that you’ll also be written off as boring by the people around you. Flinging a pixelated chair through a cartoon glass window is about the height of the excitement these TVs can offer. You may draw a pervy crowd if you play the naked “What’s Different?” game, but they’ll disperse with continued silence. Old favorites such as Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Frogger are excellent for warding off the faint-hearted social butterflies.

*Bonus Sadness! This rarely happens, but you may come across someone who is excellent at such games and is not depressed in the slightest. Rather than using these games as an escape, they play them to zone out for a short time before heading back to a life of creativity. Realizing that others play Ms. Pac-Man in a nondestructive manner (and are quite good at it) will help you understand that your small accomplishments are just that—small—and that anything you can do, someone else can do better.

Get frolicking drunk. Although this is usually a tactic of last resort, getting drunk is really quite effective for ensuring long-term depression, particularly if you don’t want anyone to intervene on your behalf. Sugary drinks will help propel you faster to the happy drunk status you’re after. Don’t be afraid of the happiness! It won’t last very long, and the respite will make you crash that much harder later. It’s important that you maintain the levels of alcohol to stay artificially happy for at least an hour. Use this time to show your friends just how not depressed you are. Ask them what they’re up to, make witty jokes, and just generally be jovial. Your hard work pays off dividends later. By the time the alcohol wears off, you’ll be at home and your friends will all be asleep. (This works especially well if you are single.) As the alcohol breaks down, lie on your kitchen floor and sob about how there is no one to talk to about the loneliness in your heart. If you do this well, the recurring memory of your linoleum bed will come to you in flashes over the next several days, helping you to remember just how pathetic your life is.

*Bonus Sadness! Because people will remember you as the life of the party, they’ll be less likely to call and check up on you, thereby ensuring an uninterrupted depressive episode. If you do break down and call someone from the party to help, they’ll be too drunk and/or tired to entertain a conversation with you about your sadness and may not remember it in the morning.

When social obligations call, fall back on these tried-and-true favorites to make sure that you can continue your life as a depressive without pesky people attempting to care. Keep in mind that some people don’t even have the money to eat, let alone go out, and you’re guaranteed to hang on to your depression through the liveliest of gatherings.

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Prevent Chaos with Routine Maintenance

Depressed and anxious people are supposed to thrive on routine. “Have a regular schedule, and you’ll really see what you can get done.” A place for everything, and everything in its place. I was actually looking forward to the opportunities that would open to me once I stopped staying up all night and ate regular meals.

And, you know, I really tried. For the last five months, I have gone to bed at about the same time every night, eaten breakfast at about the same time, gone to work, gone to lunch, driven home, watched the same TV shows, read the same old books, eaten dinner, played the same video games and gone to bed. Every day is back-to-back crammed with routine. Routine oozes from my wazoo.

Now, I could be doing it wrong, but as it turns out, not much makes me thrive. Even my mohawk is wilting.

I suspect that non-depressed people also struggle with finding time for more routine into their lives. Hindsight has shown me the flaws in my method, and I plan on incorporating some of these tips into the next few months for maximum depression payout.

1. Play video games daily. People who do this already can attest to the ability to make hours fly by with little to no tangible accomplishment or learning, but then, tying self-worth to accomplishments is frowned upon in self-esteem-boosting circles. But you have to choose the right type of video games. Puzzle games, such as Tetris, Bejeweled and Zuma, allow time to really fly with nothing to show for it. If you can’t force yourself to play those types of games, then I recommend the Sims, but only the people versions, not “City” or “Amusement Park.” It’s amazing how long you can watch your Sim write a novel that you will never read.

2. Score an injury. When people think of routine, they usually add working out to their list of things to do. You won’t even think of that with a sweet knee or leg injury that sidelines you from walking long distances, running, bicycling, and even swimming. Releasing dangerous endorphins could inspire you to break free of your routine, which is the only thing tethering you to the world. As a special bonus, not working out means your body will heal even more slowly, extending your recovery time into half a year or more.

3. Decline disrupting invitations. Throughout your routine days, you’ll run into people who want to meet you outside of your set zone: at the bar, the movies, 5K races, etc. It’s important to politely refuse such interruptions into your life without entertaining the notion that you can make them a regular part of your schedule. Seeing how others are living their lives will only create distractions that sidetrack you from your goal.

With a bit more dedication, I know I’ll really get this routine thing down. Now if only my hawk would stand up straight and look to the future like I do.

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