Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rebel Girl

Where we last left off, I was, if you remember, "fucking done." Well, I still am. In fact, this past week, I was ready to be done immediately. As in, leave my job, no notice, no call. Jump in my car and just ride until the present was a distant memory. One might say I panicked. Luckily, I have some very level-headed and stable people in my life who reminded me: That's not going to change anything, only create more problems.

See, the problem with me is once I get something in my head, I can't focus, calm down, or concentrate until that "something" is achieved. And right now, that "something" is this. (Drumroll, please...)

I am leaving my job as a nanny in June and staying with my parents for a few months in South Carolina to regroup and figure out how, exactly, to make writing my career. My profitable career. Because writing is the only thing I have ever wanted to do. That's what my "inner punk" that I referred to in my previous post was telling me. Pursue writing. You have always wanted to write. You should write. And then: You need to write.

And it's true! I wrote my first story at age 7. It was an outlet for the massive bullying I was enduring as a shy, people-pleaser in a new school. I wrote about the bullying the only way I knew how, as a second-grader: I assigned each of my antagonists a mean animal and gave myself (a pretty cat, of course) a strong voice, telling them EXACTLY what I thought of them. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to a) not bring the journal to school or b) hide it better. So, after art class, my head harasser found the notebook, read it aloud, and laughed...until she realized it was about her and her friends. Mwahahahaha! And then started my love affair with the written word, as I realized early on how healing it was for me. 

I was now a girl on a mission. I read and wrote ferociously. I would love to say I was one of those Rory Gilmore-type savants that devoured Anna Karenina at age 8, but alas no. I was intrigued with the more mainstream The Babysitter's Club books, written by Ann M. Martin. I was mainly fascinated with the closeness of the friends (something I had not yet experienced) and their commitment to important issues. Some themes included racism, eating disorders, Diabetes, learning disorders, and (of course) bullying.

I vividly remember one Christmas season, my mother took my brother and I took the North Branford Firehouse Christmas Party. This was a staple in my family and while I still believed in Santa Claus, I had no idea the "Santa" at the party was my grandfather's BFF, Wayne. Each child had a turn to sit on Santa's lap and say what they wanted for Christmas. Hopped up on popcorn balls and Anginettes, I practically leapt onto Wayne's lap and excitedly stated what I wanted for Christmas: an electronic typewriter, "because I'm going to be a famous author, like Ann M. Martin!" Wayne just looked at me, confused and amused, ho-ho-ho'd and gave me a pre-wrapped present marked "Girl."

I wasn't expecting my typewriter from the Firehouse Santa, I knew better. But, I waited for Christmas morning, just knowing I would find it under the tree. And...I DID! A beautiful, brand-new, electronic typewriter and a glorious stack of blank pages; ready for me to write my stories. My poor parents. I dragged that bad boy EVERYWHERE! Friends' houses, relatives' houses, even the bagel shop my parents worked at. I needed it close by, at all times.

Then, something happened, when I was 10, that was a game-changer. I excitedly told a relative (after asked what I planned to be when I "grew up") I was going to be "a famous author like Ann M. Martin!" My other relatives all but patted me on the head and said the generic: "That's nice" and moved on with their adult conversation. But this one relative looked at me, seriously, and said: "That is a starving artist job. You won't make any money." My face and stomach dropped. I'm certain I did write after that, but I don't have any memory of it.

Please let me be clear, this relative was not being cruel or mean; they were old-school and just being realistic. It didn't matter that I was ten, in his eyes that was irrelevant. And let me also state, I didn't have to listen. I could have had the "fuck it" attitude I am still trying to embrace, but I didn't. I don't. I was and am sensitive, self-conscious, and most alarming: desperate to please. So, I stopped writing. And only a few years later, I had all but forgotten about my desire to be a writer. Once I hit puberty and discovered boys, I had a new focus. I lost most of my previous interests once I hit middle school, my main goal became: get acceptance from other girls and attention from boys. And that was all I cared about until my last year of college.

So, I spent ten years denying the part of me that wanted to write (ages 12-22), ten years figuring out what my "career" should be so I can "write on the side" (ages 22-32), and here we are now. I am 33 and determined to make writing a priority. No more side streets. No more false starts. No more "day careers." I am Writer: hear me...type? Okay, so I might need some time, but I am worth it. I have always been worth it. I just didn't know.


*Title credit: Song: "Rebel Girl" released by Bikini Kill in 1993

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Suck My Left One

Hi Everyone,

I am a control freak. I wish I wasn't, but I think it's an unfortunate by-product of anxiety, specifically OCD, as it tends to wreak havoc on those of us who become obsessed with order. (Hi, my name is Melissa and I am a recovering control freak/perfectionist/order whore/germaphobe...) However, this control-freakness is in direct contrast to my core, which is dying to be artistic and uninhibited and "whatever". Literally dying.


I've allowed my control-freakness to dictate most, if not all, my life choices. Where I went to school, what I studied, what jobs I took, where I lived. Ironically, my control-freakness does not have much effect on my dating relationships until approximately three months in, then it becomes fun for everyone! Perhaps I try to channel my inner self by getting wrapped up in the romance and the "falling" part of love-ships, when eventually my control-freakness rears it's ugly head, shining an unbearable light on reality.

Currently, the crux of my control-freakness is my job. Being a nanny to an infant laughs in the face of any sense of control or wanting to maintain it. Especially when you are "the help" and not the parents, meaning you only have "control" over the parts of the day you are present. For example, if the parents choose to nix nap all weekend long, you have no control over that decision and even less control over the ramifications. This sense of "out of control" can lead to anger and rage. At least, it does for me.

I end up channeling that anger and rage into a myriad of unhealthy habits on my days off, then, two days later, I emerge and get to start the whole process all over again. I have tried reminding myself that this job is not permanent (helps, but temporarily). I have tried reminding myself that my time not at work should be spent doing things to motivate and nurture myself (I try, but I am so mentally drained from feeling out of control that sleeping and eating (and okay drinking) are the only appealing options). I have tried not caring, but that is immensely difficult as caring too much is another burden I carry. (Some people carry their burdens in a purse or a tote bag, mine are distributed between 18 pieces of luggage, all varying sizes, but in order from smallest to largest.)

Then one of my favorite shows, "Portlandia", released season four on Netflix. I devoured it in days, but instead of feeling atrophied with an undertone of a tv-binge hangover afterwards-I felt alive. I feel alive! The writing, the direction, the humor, the satire; it's brilliant. There is nothing I don't love about this show and everyone involved is clearly in love with what they do. I began to watch with a curious mind, instead of subdued interest in escape (which, mind you, still happens occasionally).

Soon, it was like a light bulb illuminated above my head. And then began the Wikipedia spiral...but this time with a purpose! I looked up Portlandia. Then Carrie Brownstein. Then her band, Sleater-Kinney, which reminded me of other Riot Grrrl bands I have loved since high school, when I first saw "10 Things I Hate About You" and completely fell in love (literally and symbolically) with Julia Stiles' character, Kat Stratford. So I started searching for Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Which led me, inevitably, to other bands that touted radical feminist ideals. Bands I hadn't even thought of in years.

After that, I remembered how much I wanted to pursue a degree in Women's Studies, but didn't for fear of the job market and that "what would I do with that degree?" attitude. Then, I thought about how my first dream, ever, was to be a writer. To do that, for a living. Make a living out of writing. It certainly hadn't been a long time since I thought about that dream; I think about it multiple times a day. I also think about the crippling fear and consequences of leaving a "comfortable lifestyle" to potentially become a "starving artist" (something a family member told me I would become when I shared my dream of being an author at the age of 10).

And then I thought: If this is a "comfortable lifestyle" then I'm fucked.

Because I'm not comfortable. Not in the inner-peace, personal wellness, existential way I always thought leading a comfortable lifestyle would be. I am financially comfortable and by that I mean; I can pay all of my bills with just enough leftover to treat myself to an $11 movie every other week. Maybe. So if I am not personally-comfortable or well-being-comfortable or spiritually-comfortable, what is the point? So I'm working myself to an anxiety attack everyday to make enough money to squeak by on my bills? For what?

This is when my little inner punk who says "Fuck that" came out and says exactly that: FUCK THIS.

I'm done. I am done feeling sorry for my situation that I chose. I am done feeling trapped by a job and all the responsibilities that come with having one. I am done ignoring the self inside me that is screaming to be heard, shrieking because she has something to say and share with this world but is too clouded by exhaustion and mental illness to even make a peep. I am done caring about situations I have zero control over. I am done trying to be perfect in a world that is beautiful because it is imperfect. I am done being fake, smiling through my pain, lying to protect people's feelings, using my high-pitched "no really it's ok that happened, I don't mind at all that you insulted me" voice when I am confronted.

I. Am. Done.

To be continued...


*Title credit: Song "Suck My Left One" released by Bikini Kill in 1991

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Love Is...Never Asking The Sexual Orientation of Your Significant Other

Hello everyone!

Today, I thought I would write a throwback piece. No, it's not #tbt but I'm still allowed to drudge up the past, right? Okay, good!

This is a little story about a 16-year-old girl (me) who fell for a 16-year-old gay boy (Peter*) in high school. The only thing is, I didn't know he was gay, he didn't know he was gay, and we were the only ones who didn't know he was gay.

I met Peter at a church fundraiser event with my best friend. Actually, I knew of Peter before the fundraiser and shared my friend's opinion that he was an obnoxious freshman, far inferior to us juniors. The event was an overnight fast. No eating or drinking for 24 hours and to distract us from that, we spent the night in the convent partaking in all sorts of wholesome activities, including watching "Sister Act".

While "Sister Act" is one of my top twenty favorite movies, ever, I was far more interested in writing notes to Peter. Turns out he wasn't so obnoxious after all. He was sweet and sensitive and wrote poetry! (If you're thinking "Hello??? You didn't realize he was gay THEN??" hold on to your hats, because it becomes much more obvious and I become much more in denial). Attention: I am in no way stating straight or bisexual men cannot be sweet, sensitive, or write poetry. Okay, political correctness in check annnnnd let's continue.

We actually become a couple through our note writing that night and my friend woke up to me being in (yet another) relationship. Poor thing. She is a good, GOOD friend. (I already know she is reading this and shaking her head and it's ALL validated that she do!)

And so began our 2 month relationship. Our song was "Truly, Madly, Deeply" by Savage Garden (ahem...see?), he wrote me notes constantly proclaiming his love for me, he cut out the "Love Is..." section of the newspaper everyday. He took me to dances and actually danced with me (I know...), he proudly took me to the high school play where he worked on the stage crew. And even though he recited every single word of the play while sitting next to me, I was smitten.

He had a party at his house after the play and we concocted a plan for me to stay over without my parents knowing, since his parents were away. (Obvi they know now...I told my mom years ago. Her response: "Well, I trusted you." My response back: "I was a 16-year-old girl, you shouldn't have.") The plan was epic. I told my mom I was going to stay over Peter's friend's house, seeing as she was a girl it was no big deal. In fact, ALL of Peter's friends were girls (I KNOW...). My mother's only request was that I call when I got to the friend's house after the play. (For my younger readers, this was back before cell phones were commonplace. We still had landlines and a little thing called caller ID that was actually a box wired to the base of the phone. Very primitive.)[]=id|typed

Since my mother knew Peter's phone number, I couldn't very well call from his house and say I was somewhere else. But, his older brother had his own phone line upstairs. Boom! I called my mom, "yep everything's great, I'm here, I'll call you in the morning for a ride home" and Peter's post-play party began! Drinking, drinking, drinking. My first girl kiss. Drinking, drinking, drinking. Make out with Peter. Drinking, drinking, drinking. Is that Peter kissing a boy? Drinking, drinking, drinking.

When everyone left, Peter and I fell asleep, holding each other, listening to Sarah McLachlan's "Surfacing" album on repeat. Sarah. Freaking. McLachlan. The next morning, I called Mom from Peter's house, saying his friend and I walked over in the morning so Peter could make us breakfast (which he did, of course only for me and the "friend" that had mysteriously not been at his house when my mom picked me up).

 Peter and I stayed on this blissful ride for a few more weeks. Days spent with him and his friends ended with him asking to play with my hair (uh huh...) and his best girl friend saying "You're going to grow up to be gay!" Nights spent with him and his other friend, double dating (read: attempting to round third base while watching Disney's "Hercules"...oh who am I kidding, he totally did get to third!).

Then, one day after school he called and broke up with me. He said, "I have a lot of stuff to do" and that was it. I was furious and hurt. The same friend who had to watch this unfold at the church event, then had to hold my hand while I wept in her car a couple weeks later when another friend saw Peter and some girl making out at the movies. (Have I mentioned what a good, GOOD friend this is! Love you, BFF!)

A couple months later, Peter, called out of nowhere, asking me to meet him at an elementary school. He claimed he had to do community service there but had to talk to me. By this point, I was FAR over him but still morbidly curious as to what he wanted. My mom dropped me off and he led me behind a a string of bushes where he had prepared a picnic lunch in an attempt to get me back. Adorbs! Well, adorbs NOW, obnoxious then. Ok, kind of adorbs then, too. I can't stop writing adorbs. AHHHHH!

When I said no, he took it okay, but not awesome. We saw each other on and off during my senior year. It wasn't until we had been broken up for MONTHS that I would let myself admit that he was, in fact, gay. The last time I spoke to Peter was 6 years ago. He was proudly out as a gay man and living in NYC. And he giggled when I told him I was also a homo.

*Name changed to protect his privacy. Although, I think he would approve.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Just What God Needs...One More Victim

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 15 years (my First Holy Communion) since my last confession..."


Ah, yes. My First Holy Communion at age 7. The only things I remember about that day include taking pictures with my godparents (shout out to Aunt Glo and Uncle Kevin aka "Pink Floyd") and getting my ears pierced for the first time as my Communion gift from my parents. Needless to say, I was raised Catholic long enough to make my First Holy Communion, but soon after my mother asked me if I would mind not returning to catechism. Mind? Mind?! Everyday, at school, was a relentless ride on the bully train. Catechism classes were quickly becoming an extension of that torture, so I said I didn't mind. At all. Like, not even a little bit. Thank you, Jesus!

And so began my journey of leaving religion for reasons having little to do with the religion itself. It's been quite a ride and I am nowhere near finished. Buckle up and leave your judgments behind!

I didn't think about religion again until I was 15 and dating my first boyfriend, an Italian boy whose family, himself included, were/are devoutly Catholic. Many of my friends had made their Confirmation two years prior and I was considering making mine after years of being a lapsed Catholic. I knew little about Catholicism, and even Christianity, but I wanted to be like my boyfriend. So, every Sunday morning, I walked a mile to the same church I made my First Holy Communion for the 8:00 am mass. I went through the motions; received communion, prayed, stood, kneeled, gave peace. But it didn't mean anything. I thought it did, at the time. But in reality it hadn't changed my life. I was still obsessed with having my first boyfriend and doing anything to make that work. Including going to mass weekly. In an effort to make my Confirmation, my mom even drove me to church to try to set up a meeting with one of the priests. It never went beyond that, because my boyfriend and I broke up just before the start of school in 1997 and my search for religion ended. For the moment.

I had little to no interest in religion again until my freshman year of college. Oh, yes. Everyone else does college right: parties, drinking, hooking up. Not this gal. In my first month on campus, I was invited by a student co-worker to attend church with him. He was a gorgeous, tall, dark-skinned guy from Haiti. Of course I said yes. The fact that this college senior was giving me-a chubby, insecure, college freshman-any attention was beyond comprehension. Well, let me break it down for you how the next eight months went:
  • Attended "church" (aka a middle school used for service), invited to a Bible study, I accept.
  • Bible study turns out to be less a group of people discussing their favorite scriptures and more a one-on-one study with me. I'm not going to lie, I loved the attention and the positivity. And the hugs.
  • We quickly move through the Bible studies (which I later learn are plotted out "classes" to recruit new members) and soon I am at the pivotal point where I have to answer the question: If you were to die right now, according the The Word, where would you go, Heaven or Hell?
  • Clearly being hellbound, I confessed all my sins to a group of women "church" members and set a date for my baptism. I explained I had been baptized as a baby, but full immersion in water was necessary. Apparently so was doing that in a giant Rubbermaid container... 
  • I invited my best friend, my parents, and my brother to witness my baptism. I felt no different after, but said I did.
  • For the next six months, I devoted myself to spreading The Word and judged everybody along the way. I didn't smoke, drink, swear, masturbate, or have any kind of intimate relations. I also gave the "church" all my money. All. Of. It. Oh and I fell in love with my best friend in the "church"...who is a girl. (Just typical Melissa, getting everything right.)
  • During those six months, I attended any and every service, convention, and meeting that was offered. I was "the perfect baby Christian", as I was told numerous times by the "church" elders.
  • May 2000, I began to have doubts. Then they became serious doubts. I told my "discipling partner (an older, wiser Christian to help me on my new journey)" and we prayed. But nothing changed. Then, one Sunday in June, I just didn't return to church. I was inundated with phone calls, e-mails, and visits from "church" members, scared for my life (and theirs).
  • Then, everything stopped and I was officially a "fall away". I had "fallen away from Christ".
For months afterwards, I still thought I would go to hell if I died, which terrified me. Then, I started seeing a counselor at my college. During that time, I started researching the "church" I had been involved in and it was known, internationally, as a cult.

The International Churches of Christ, as I understood, disbanded a few years later, due to speculation of fraud and embezzlement of "church" funds. However, looking up the name on Wikipedia, it seems they have regained membership the past couple years. Shortly after I left, I found a website called Reveal, a forum for ex-members of the ICOC to come together to heal. Reveal published a piece I wrote about my experiences in 2001. It helped me, and others, come to terms with our experiences.

In an effort to make up for lost time, if you will, I immediately started drinking, smoking, and all the other "fun" stuff college kids do. I went clubbing every weekend, where I shamelessly grinded into complete strangers. This made me feel "normal". For a time. Not long after publishing my piece for Reveal, did my same-sex feelings resurface. No longer having the "church" define whether that was right or wrong (Oh, did I mention I confessed DAILY to my best friend in the "church" that I was lusting after her? Because I did and, yes, it was as horrifying as you might think), I was free to explore without judgment.

Dealing with my sexual identity AND reconciling my recent cult experience made for a perfect storm of me exploring religions outside "the norm", and by that I mean MY norm of Christianity. I began researching Paganism, specifically Wicca. I connected with it right away. No terrifying, punishing god that didn't approve of me being gay or bi or whatever I thought I might be. Score! For a long while, it was purely theoretical. I read a lot, but didn't practice. I knew I wanted to do this solo, meaning no covens or groups of Wiccans. That seemed too close to my cult experience. I liked that I could worship and believe in something all on my own, without the judgment or influence of someone else.

Then, on October 31, 2006 (the Wiccan New Year), I found a quiet spot at Sleeping Giant State Park in my hometown and dedicated myself to Wicca. It wasn't what you might expect. It wasn't like "The Craft" at all. In fact, it was very understated and peaceful. I sat under a tree, with a stone I had found months before and silently said a prayer. The end. And I began celebrating The Wheel of The Year, including the 8 sabbats (solstice/equinox celebrations) and 13 esbats (full moon celebrations). And I felt connected with nature and felt more "myself".

Then, I started dating an ex, who was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and I felt compelled to keep my religious practices secret, where they dwindled and finally faded away. (Are we noticing a pattern here?) We broke up for the last time in 2009 and my experiences with her, her religious conflict, and the hypocrisy that was the norm in her family and church really disheartened and jaded me. So it was an easy segue into doubting the existence of a higher power to flat out not believing. For years. The more time passed, the less I believed. And it scared me. I was becoming judgmental against religion and God, when so many years prior I was judgmental in the name of religion and God.

I attempted, over the years, to read spiritual books, such as "Conversations with God" and while the overall message was powerful, I could not get past the author's explanation of how the message came to be. Everything seemed to revolve around business and money, to where I was feeling as if religion was just another extension of capitalism. I started watching YouTube videos of atheist/Christian debates, such as those of Christopher Hitchens  and Richard Dawkins. And I found it refreshing and bold, but I never felt comforted. Only more disconnected and afraid.

Presently, I have, basically, started a new life. I left my job, family, and friends and moved 300 miles away. It had been, and in some respects still is, a hard transition, but each day I feel more confident this was the right decision. I am now living in upstate New York-"God's country" if you will. There are five FM radio stations here that are religious, compared to the one in Connecticut. Incidentally, there are also five country music stations (notoriously Christian-themed) here, compared to the one in Connecticut. On my way home from work, every day, I see a huge sign with a cross that says: Christ is the answer. Needless to say, religion, namely Christianity, is more prevalent than I am used to. Even having worked for a Catholic organization for years.

I have started questioning religion, again. But feel very cautious about discussing it, given my history. I'm certain some family members and friends would be very nervous if they knew I still listen to one of my favorite songs from my cult days ("Awesome God", favorite version by Jars of Clay). Or if they knew I listen to Christian rock on the regular (Another favorite: Hillsong United's "Oceans"). Or if they knew I have debated going back to school for religious studies. I'm also fairly certain they would have some concerns if they knew I have felt compelled to belong to a religious community, again. And I have felt that for some time.

Unlike me 15 years ago, I am extremely aware of the corruption and deceit that exists in some religious communities, because the people running them are human and have faults and flaws. I am also aware I will never find a religious community that is perfect, nor will I ever be a "perfect" member of said community. And, for once, that is refreshing.

The journey is ahead of me and I am excited and nervous to see where it takes me. In the meantime, I will continue listening to Christian rock and reading books by believers and non-believers, finding my way, in my own way.


*Title credit: Song "Crucify" released by Tori Amos in 1992*

Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Put The "Pro" in Prozac Part Two

To refresh, here is Part One...

There were many costs to the temporary relief from my anxiety and depression and, unfortunately, they became more troublesome than the mental illness itself.

For starters, there were the typical culprits; no sex drive and weight gain. And I mean nothing says "well-adjusted" like a chubby girl with no libido. However, when I discussed these issues with my doctor, in good, old-fashioned, American medical tradition, another pill was prescribed. Back to a low-dose of Wellbutrin to counter the side effects of Prozac. I didn't argue. I was so unperturbed on Prozac, I would have ingested a low-dose of arsenic rather than lower my dosage of "the miracle drug" as I was referring to my head.

The combination worked and I was eating less compulsively, having more fun in the bedroom (cover your ears...errr eyes, Mom), and not visualizing myself dying tragically in a car accident twice a day. Things. Were. Good.

Fast forward to September 2013. I am now a full-time school counselor, splitting my time between two schools; one is grades PreK-3, the other 4-8. I'm going to give you a minute to speculate which school I experienced the most clients. Wait for it...yep! Grades 4-8. Middle school. A lot of angst, crying, and crises. A LOT of crises. I mean, I cannot express this enough. I'm talking crises resulting in calls to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) AND Mobile Crisis several times a week, sometimes several times a DAY. I was quickly becoming overwhelmed and my caseloads were so different; content- and quantity-wise, that I asked if I could spend more days each week at the middle school. My request was denied and I felt forced to continuing "handling" things.

This is where, I believe, my medicated state played a large role in my impending breakdown. I worked, I ate, I slept. I was overwhelmed and knew I was, but couldn't feel it emotionally. I was out of touch, numb, blank. I was distanced from myself, unattached and unaware. I can say this, now, with certainty of course. In the moment, my false sense of "feeling ok" made it easy for me to ignore the need for self-care.

In October, I asked for another clinician to help me with my caseload. I was told "it's not in the budget." So I pushed on. I was staying late (sometimes 2-3 hours after school let out) to finish paperwork. I was making and taking calls from DCF workers and crisis counselors after hours, most of the time in my car on the way home. Within a few short months, the only break I had from work was sleep. And even then, I often sleep horribly and/or had nightmares about something going terribly wrong. Long weekends and school vacations were burdened with follow-up calls and the fear of a parent retaliating after leaving a message (two days before Christmas) stating: "I am so mad, I could kill you." This being in regards to a mandatory DCF call I had made.


Writing this now, I am surprised my breakdown didn't happen sooner. I have shared the details in a previous post. What I did not share is as a condition of my release, my meds were upped. Doubled, in fact. This not only meant more Prozac, but more Wellbutrin. With increased tolerance for my surroundings came increased detachment of self. I also felt a raging conflict inside me; the desire to write and the complete apathy about being creative. I knew enough, from personal and professional experience, that psych meds often stunt creativity, being why many individuals with Bipolar Disorder go off their meds. They enjoy the creative mania they experience.

So, I began thinking critically about my medications. What they were. What they had (and hadn't) done for me. I started to weigh the costs and benefits. And after a lot of soul-searching, I theorize the reason my depression and anxiety reached "hospital-stay status" may very well be due to the lack of self-awareness I had while on my medication. It's not a cause-effect theory, to be sure. I am in no way blaming the medication for my breakdown. That was a dam ready to break for MANY reasons. Some of which I haven't shared (not-so-awesome living situation, five-year relationship ending).


In thinking about my situations, I asked myself: "If this is The Best Medicine for OCD (as proclaimed by my doctor) and I have been on it for a year and a half, how did I STILL end up in the hospital??" The answer is complex, but to put it simply, I found:
  • I was numb to major life events that should have provoked more emotion (i.e. the break-up, job stress, living in a negative environment)
  • I couldn't cry. Like, at all.
  • I had no desire to do the one thing that always helped me process my stress and distress: write.
  • I was disconnected from who I was. Completely.
So, I talked to my psychiatrist (I was now getting my psych meds from her instead of my general doctor, for obvious reasons). She wasn't thrilled with the idea of me stopping my meds only a few months after my hospital stay, but agreed that if I implemented therapy skills, such as CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), self-care, and general wellness (exercise, eating well, stress management) it was worth trying.

I slowly began weaning off my meds in June of this year. I didn't notice much of a difference until mid-July, which ironically is when I made a major life change and moved 300 miles away to start a new job. The first two weeks in Corning, I stayed with the family I would be working for, as their nanny, and I felt all the emotions I had been numb to for over a year. I started grieving the break-up that happened 8 months earlier, I was crying A LOT, and I realized that I had not been "taking care of myself" while on my meds, I had been hiding out. For me, Prozac was a scapegoat and I was happy (for a while) to let it take the hit for all the life junk that came my way. I didn't have to deal with any of it. In theory, that sounds great, right? But in reality that means you miss out on fully experiencing everything, the bad but also the good. To put in another way, that some may understand better, the first verse of one of my favorite songs describes how I felt...

In the words of of Evanescence's "Farther Away":

"I took their smiles and I made them mine.
I sold my soul, just to hide the light.
And now I see what I really am:
A thief, a whore, and a liar."


That may seem a tad over-dramatic, and it probably is, but it's also accurate. The first two lines describe how I feel on psych meds. Like I'm not really "me." Like I am floating around, mimicking  those around me, trying to "act" normal. It also feels like I have given away a huge part of myself, because I am afraid to show who I really am.

The last two lines describe how I felt coming off the meds. I felt all the bad stuff the Prozac hid and left me (especially in those first few weeks completely Prozac-free) feeling horrible about myself. I also felt like a fraud. I felt like choices, decisions, and plans I made on my meds weren't really me, but a "me" that wanted to want those things. I felt like a phony. I am just now starting to feel like myself, feeling that it is okay to want things that are unconventional or nontraditional.

This, I am certain, is not everyone's journey on psych meds, or even Prozac. In fact, I know several people on Prozac who are doing fabulously. For me, I prefer to treat my OCD non-pharmaceutically , in an effort to maintain the "me" inside me I have come to love; flaws and all.


Monday, August 18, 2014

I Put The "Pro" in Prozac Part One

Hi everyone!

In the spirit of last week's post, I thought I would next write about my experiences with psychotropic medications, in particular my love-hate relationship with Prozac. I may refer to Prozac from time to time as my "anti-crazy pills." Just a heads up. Ok, let's begin, shall we!


I have been on several psych meds in the past 13 years, in chronological order from least to most recent: Paxil, Klonopin, Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Xanax, and Prozac.

They all had their time and place in my life and the most effective, in terms of addressing my "main" mental illness, was Prozac. I started taking Prozac in 2012 after an epic mental breakdown. (Yeah, I average a mental break about once every two years. Here I come, 2016!) This breakdown was also rooted in the demands of my job, but not because of the size of my caseload, but the cases themselves. I, also, hard-headedly ignored any and all signs that I was struggling with my mental stability. Enter Scary Movie Night, also called The Night Melissa Lost Her Shit...Again.

My cousin, Erica, and I love scary movies. I mean LOVE them. We love the thrill of being scared and freaked out and the more effed up the movie, the better. So, I headed over to her house one Saturday for "Cuzzy Night." She told me she found this movie called "V/H/S" that had an actual disclaimer warning people that this movie had caused "severe reactions" from viewers. "Ummmm, you had me at disclaimer. Let's do this bitch!" was my response. And do this we did...

It was an unusual set-up, five vignettes on VHS tapes that the main characters were also "watching" in the movie. All hand-held, "Blair Witch"-esque filming. Again, nothing about this is unusual for us. However, halfway through, I had to ask Erica to pause it, because I was getting motion sickness (never happened before). Did I stop? Nope. I rallied like the good scary movie fan I am and joy of joys, the very last story was THE MOST TERRIFYING MIND FUCK EVER. At least it was at the time.


Erica knew something was wrong, because whilst watching scary movies, her and I can typically be found laughing or yelling at the stupid people not to go into that room/house/cabin/hole in the ground/cemetery/abandoned nuclear waste plant/etc or we are mocking the non-scariness of the movie. I wasn't doing any of that. I wasn't doing much of anything, except sitting on her couch, motionless and speechless.

When the movie ended, I finally had a feeling: anger. I had on the worst mood. I was getting text messages from my friends, as I would normally, and it was pissing. me. off. Leave me alone! I thought. I went home and convinced myself it was nothing, just an "off" night. I attempted to sleep, but only thought about the last story, over and over and over and over again. All. Freaking. Night.

I woke up, my heart racing. I figured it was due to lack of sleep. Until the THIRD CONSECUTIVE DAY of racing heart, chest pains, shortness of breath, can't sleep, feeling like I'm going to die. Yay! The Tuesday night after "Cuzzy Night", I stayed with my grandmother because I was convinced if I fell asleep, alone in the house, with how I was feeling, I would die. (Classic panic). The next morning, I called out of work and made an appointment with my doctor. By the time she saw me, I was beyond a hot mess. I could barely move my neck and back, I had bags under my eyes like whoa, my heart was pounding out of my chest. Even as a counselor, I didn't want to/couldn't believe this was all due to anxiety. I was convinced there was something physically wrong with me.


Nope. My doctor is hilarious. She is a tall blonde from Germany who pulls no punches. She is always VERY straight forward. She told me, in her thick accent: "It is in your head. It is mental. There is nothing physically wrong with you. I will give you Xanax. This will help."

And it did, for a time. Once the physical symptoms of my anxiety subsided, the emotional component kicked in and WHOA! It was like I was hit with the OCD stick upside the head. All of a sudden, everything I did, or didn't do, would ultimately cause great harm to someone I loved. For example, at the time, I lived with my girlfriend, my roommate, two dogs, and a cat. Typical conversation in my mind leaving the house for work (EVERY. SINGLE. DAY):

Did I close the door all the way? Ugh, if I didn't then the animals could get out. And then they could get killed. Oh my god, Sarah and Jesse will be home soon. What if the animals get out, they get hit by cars and are lying in the street, dead, when they come home?? Oh my god, that would traumatize them! And it would be all my fault. So, I turned my car around, went back into the house, checked all the doors while saying out loud, "The doors are closed." Every. Day.


"All my fault" was how everything ended. If I didn't lock the door when I went out at night, while Sarah and Jesse were sleeping, that would be the one night a home invader would come and kill everyone in the house. And it would be all my fault. My OCD made me my own worst enemy. Which is why I named him (sorry, it is SO a guy) Old Cranky Douche. Because he's been around forever (old), he makes me miserable (cranky), and he takes the fun out of everything (douche!). 

Another common obsession, although not one that ended with "all my fault", but had an interesting "reverse psychology" feature, was deliberately visualizing myself being killed in a violent and horrific car accident on my way to and from work. Why would you do that??? you are probably asking. Well, simple logic of course: People who are killed in car accidents never see it coming or are not prepared. If I am constantly braced for a car accident, it can't possibly happen. So, instead, I would torture myself with graphic images of being killed and call it a day. Logical, right?? Right?!?! The correct answer is: wrong.


So, I returned to my doctor and told her I believed I had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I barely got through the list (yes, an actual list) of my symptoms and then my list (again, a real, physical, paper list) of medications I had researched, when she stopped me and said, "Of course you have lists. You have OCD. Ok, I am taking you off the Wellbutrin and putting you on Prozac. This is a classic medicine for OCD. You'll like."

And I did like! Within weeks, my obsessions and compulsions were practically non-existent. I feel free from the mental agony I had been putting myself through. It was amazing! It was great! It was short-lived. Everything has a cost. And after a year and a half, the cost far outweighed the benefits.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No One Knows What It's Like To Be The Sad Man, Behind Blue Eyes


I have great sadness in my heart tonight, as I'm sure many of you do. Yesterday, Robin Williams was found dead, due to suicide. *Sigh* Where do I begin? With the media's complete lack of empathy or compassion, for example Fox News anchor Shepard Smith calling Williams "such a coward"? Or ABC News setting up aerial views of Williams' home? Maybe Todd Bridges making comments on Twitter, criticizing Williams?

Or how about, gee I don't know, the obvious severe mental illness Robin Williams was fighting that led to such a devastating and tragic loss?

Let me start with what I think us, society's, problem really is. We are FUCKING SCARED. We are scared people. We live everyday in fear. All the time. We fear making money, we fear losing money. We fear living, we fear dying. We fear trying new things, we fear NOT trying new things. And most importantly, we fear bad things happening to us. We go to great lengths, all the time, to make sure bad things don't happen to us.

So, when something horribly tragic does happens, we find ways to point out to ourselves, and others, that could never happen to me. Never. And that is what society, as a whole, has been doing for the past day. We can't imagine someone who was successful, wealthy, and married with children taking his own life. If that could happen to him, could it happen to me??

I don't have the answer, sorry if that's what you had hoped. But, I can tell you this. No one is immune to depression, depressive thoughts, or even suicidal thoughts. I'm sure every one of us knows someone who has seriously contemplated suicide, or has themselves. It's a lonely, isolated, scary head space to be in and all I can think about is the fear Robin Williams must have felt in his last moments. The complete, empty, hopeless, lonely FEAR.

Those who say suicide is taking the "easy way out" may mean well, however, in my humble opinion, it misses the mark. That mental place is neither brave nor cowardly. It's EMPTY. It's NUMB. It is, in essence, void of any feeling whatsoever. Granted, there are people who kill themselves to exact revenge, but that is still due to mental illness. Most likely a personality disorder, but I digress.

How can I speak to suicide so confidently? Well, I worked in a mental health clinic for three years, as a clinician, and most of my clients had been, or currently were, suicidal. Also, as you read yesterday, I have my own demons. While I have never been what, in the clinic, we called "actively suicidal" (i.e. has a plan, intent, and means to kill oneself), I have been, what we called, "passively suicidal" (i.e. feels like life is "too much", sees suicide as a break from the everyday struggle mental illness can be, or something I can "turn to" later if need be).

My most recent brush with passive suicidal thoughts occurred I became burnt out from my job in February of this year. I was slammed with a caseload fit for three counselors and everyday another crisis arose. Day after day after day. For WEEKS. It got to the point where everything felt urgent. I couldn't leave anything for later or (heaven forbid!) another day. I also became obsessed with my students (I was a school counselor) killing themselves.

None were currently suicidal and for any students that were or had been, I had followed the proper procedures for additional assessment and they were okay. But, I couldn't let it go. I ended up admitting myself to the crisis unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital, for the night, where I tearfully admitted to every doctor I spoke with, I was so anxious about my kids killing themselves, I had decided if any of them did, I would kill myself too. Because I felt I couldn't live with letting them and their families down. It would be a mercy suicide. I had no intention of actually following through, I knew that and so did the doctors. I knew if anything did happen, it was beyond my control and I had done everything I could to prevent it. I knew that, intellectually. But mental illness doesn't care about intellect or reason. Mental illness cares about emotion and doubt and obsession and, most importantly, fear.

I share this story about my experience in February, because no one would know from the outside looking in. No one. The only people who knew were the people I confided in. If I didn't want them to know, they wouldn't have. Granted, I'm certain to my co-workers I appeared run down and drained, but not severely depressed, enough to check myself into the hospital. Also, my Facebook posts remained campy and witty, although admittedly bordering on dark comedy leading up to my hospital stay. I joked about my "mental breakdown" on Facebook and received many Likes from acquaintances far and near, who didn't know what was really happening and likely assumed I was having a rough week and blowing off steam via social media. In fact, without realizing it myself, I was crying out for help. No, I was actually screaming.

I imagine that is very much how it was for Robin Williams. Always the entertainer, he may have kept many people in the dark, either because he didn't want to share his struggles or, more likely, he didn't know how. I was still cracking jokes on my way to the hospital that night, even though I was in the worst shape of my life and had considerably frightened many of my family and friends. I remember my uncle couldn't find a place to park his bad-ass pickup truck, because it was too big for the parking garages. And I made jokes. With my face stained with dried tears, my body in physical and emotional turmoil, my heart pounding out of my chest; I was still entertaining. Why? Because that's what I have always done. It's my deflection. It's my charismatic show to distract you, and myself, from what's really going on.

David Wong from wrote an amazing piece that puts into words, more eloquently, the connection between severe depression, suicide and funny people. I think my need to make people laugh, even at my own expense, is part of my drive to be a constant caregiver-helping someone laugh or smile. I have always felt completely satisfied and fulfilled when I have successfully made someone double over with laughter. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that, unless you are still looking for laughs when, inside, you are dying slowly and painfully and you don't know how to ask for help. So you think "the show must go on" and you power through, continuing to entertain.

I want to leave you with a thought. Instead of all of us trying to find someone to blame (Robin Williams, his therapist, his wife, his career, blah, blah, blah) for this tragedy, why don't we 1) honor Robin Williams' life, his tragic death does not discredit his 63 years on this planet and 2) find ways to support those struggling with mental illness, even if we don't understand it. The stigma associated with mental illness still, in 2014, is appalling. And the stigma associated with those who complete suicide is even more so. Let's educate ourselves and others and celebrate life, everyone's life. No matter how they left this world.

One of my cousins shared this picture on Facebook today and I want to share it with you. It speaks volumes and touches me greatly. Thank you, Claire.


*Title credit: Song "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who released in 1971*

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Make The Same Mistakes

Hello again!

So, I know I technically already did "the intro" thing in my first blog, but I feel there is very important back story stuff you need to know about me that should make the proceeding blogs more coherent and cohesive. At least, that's my goal. This post might be a) terribly tedious or b) outstandingly overwhelming. Or perhaps my favorite: both.

While the thing to do now seems to be buck any labels of any kind, my generation created most of these labels, so I'm not afraid to use them. (Ok, we didn't CREATE these labels, but we embraced them. We wore our flaws as badges of honor and dammit if I won't tap into my 16-year-old self and do the same here!)

Let's break this down into categories, shall we... (I did mention I love lists, right? I wasn't joking...)

Don't laugh! I am certainly not one to live my life by horoscopes or the rising-sun-in-this-house stuff. That being said, I am a Scorpio in every. sense. of. the. word. Read it and weep. Or run. Actually run is probably better...
For better or worse, that is me. To a tee. The four traits I see the most often in myself (mind you, I see ALL of those traits in me ALL of the time) are: intense, intuitive, secretive and destructive. Unfortunate, yes. But as Lynn Anderson sang, "I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden."

Mental Illness:
I have been diagnosed with a myriad of conditions found in several books I studied as a counseling student myself. These include, but are not limited to: major depression, generalized anxiety, panic attack disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, binge-eating disorder, bipolar disorder (later changed by my psychiatrist once I broke up with my then girlfriend-ain't love grand?), self-harm, and for a few months I had what I call "functional agoraphobia." My OCD was so out of control at that point I literally went to work and ZUMBA class and that's it, due to my obsessive fear of being killed in a car accident.

Sexual Orientation:
I'm still confused by this one. In fact, my most recent confusion lead to a trigger in numbers 1 and 5, in the previously mentioned mental conditions, the past couple months. I suppose for all intents and purposes I am bisexual. I am attracted to and have dated both men and women and while I have dated more women than men, I don't yet seem to prefer one over the other. Both are equally a lot of fun and a lot of work. I suppose all relationships are, not just romantic ones. But it's the romantic ones that seem to leave me spinning me out of my mind, grasping for some semblance of what used to be me, and swearing off relationships until the next person to show me attention waltzes into my life. Rinse and repeat. (See blog post title...)

EXACTLY! For example, here are my current celebrity crushes...

Also cause for major depression and binge-eating disorder: the sequel. I recently stopped being a counselor, for which I have spent the last seven years studying, interning, and working as. I stopped for several reasons, the main one being my desire to relocate out of state and finding it difficult to secure a counselor position without a state license, but another, also main, reason is I became burnt out. All the classic signs you hear about in school, but never think will happen to you. Empathy fatigue. Vicarious traumatization. Burn. Out. So, now I am a nanny. I haven't been a nanny for an infant in seven years. And it is A LOT harder than I remember. I was younger, in better shape, and more patient overall. Not to say I'm not kicking ass at my job (because I totally am!), it's just more than I expected. Everything lately seems to be more than I expected.

You may be wondering why I appear to be annihilating myself in such a self-deprecating way. That is, in no way, my intent. I am sharing with you what makes me me. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I am proud to be an intense, intuitive, challenging Scorpio. I am proud to be bisexual, even though I, sometimes, still question what exactly that means. I'm proud of my mental illness and the battles I have fought. I am proud of my career paths-past, present, and future.

It's all truth. And the truth is neither good nor bad. It is what it is. Boom!

Onto my last category. My FAVORITE category. Something I want to add to my life to help appreciate more, love more, and hope more. There's only one thing on this list:

Treat Yo Self!


This is something I NEVER do. I am always focused on what I need to "work on" or "work towards." I don't want to "work" I want to TREAT! Let me explain. For me, it's all about semantics. If I make a list of things I need to do to better myself, it instantly feels like a chore. It feels daunting and time consuming and I just roll over and quit before I begin. If I say I am going to treat myself, it's fun, exciting, adventurous. 

These may include massages, pedicures, new clothes, new furniture, a new book, a new activity routine, a bottle of great wine, a quiet conversation with a friend, a day spent watching clips of Oprah's Lifeclass, finding the perfect writing desk for my creative could be endless and that's exciting!

You have a lot of information about me, please use it wisely. Some of the things may have turned you off and that's fine. It's important, to me, to be myself and put it all out there, from the beginning. This is quite honestly the exact opposite of how it usually goes with me. I end up trying to deny those pieces of me that aren't shiny and fun and cute. But, I don't care anymore. I am equal parts black and white, and as Maureen sang, "Take me for what I am. Who I was meant to be. And if you give a damn. Take me, baby, or leave me."


*Title credit: Song "Same Mistakes" released by The Echo-Friendly in 2014*