Happy Pills

I’ve spent the last year or so reflecting on life. In the spring, my two-year relationship came to an end. I spent the summer crying, drinking, and eating too much alone in my apartment. In the fall, I went off the antidepressant I had been on for almost six years. In the winter, I dated casually. In the spring, I started training and ran my first 5k Race. This summer I’m moving into my own apartment. 

The statement you probably want to know the most about is the one regarding my antidepressant. That’s not really what I want to focus on with this post, so I’ll just give you a brief overview: It was easier than I thought. I had withdrawals. Here and there I would have headaches, lethargy, a deep reluctance to get out of bed on grey mornings, and unexplained crying spells cured only by a long hug. Some days could only be explained by calling them Numb Days – days when it was like I forgot how to be alive and all I wanted to do was lie in bed – not cry or sleep, but just lie there. I usually ended up calling Andrea and after twenty minutes of trying to explain myself and crying, she helped me feel like a human again. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

Eventually things got better. My body re-acclimated to its normal bupropion-free state. I started to feel like myself again. It was like the drug had been muting my life. It’s so cliche, but it was like my life had color again. Like I started seeing through the Hefe filter after using only Willow for six years.

All is grey.

Willow: All is grey.

I don’t think I did much self-examination while I was on antidepressants. I was afraid of negative feelings. If I never felt sad, I never had to acknowledge the bad parts of my life. I existed in a bubble of false contentedness. By never truly going through lows, I saved myself from feeling guilt, sorrow, and anger. But I also didn’t experience the bliss of good days. Everything was dulled. 

WUT. Calla Lilies are the color of humid summer sunsets?

Hefe: You mean calla lilies are the color of humid summer sunsets?!

After getting through my first winter without an antidepressant, I’m confident I can get through whatever life throws at me. I’m not advocating that anyone who is on antidepressants (or any other medication) should just stop taking them. I did it with my doctor’s help. I told my family and close friends so I had a support system in place. Though it was sometimes hard, I became more self-aware. I saw how my actions affected my mood, my health, and my relationships.

I guess you could say I commemorated by rediscovery of a vibrant life by tattooing “Everything is blooming” on my wrist. It’s not, as one friend teases, shameless advertising for my blog. It’s a mantra. Sometimes I forget about it. Some days I’m crabby without good reason. Other days I think the world is terrible and humans are jerks. But most days I’m pleased with my life – the shadows as much as the highlights.

…now that I’ve completely focused on what I didn’t want to focus on, I’ll just leave this post. Expect my original idea on Five Ways to Effectively Disappoint People tomorrow.

Returning the Ring

As I discussed in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about autobiographical fiction. The following is very, very much based in reality. I wrote it about two years ago as an autobiographical fiction assignment for my personal narrative class. I suppose I could tell you what parts are fictional, but that would take away all the mystery and fun, wouldn’t it?

By the way, any feedback and comments are appreciated.

_____

I left my car running in the driveway. The exhaust coughed as I walked to his front door with a plastic bag. It was sometime before seven and Scott was sure to be in bed for at least another four hours.

Good morning, love. I hope you have a wonderful day!

My day was already planned. Feeling sorry for myself after a night of little sleep, I had called in sick to work. The idea of spending eight hours typing useless data and making numbed small talk with women in surrounding cubicles was just too much. After graciously returning Scott’s belongings, I would stop into the coffee shop and get a quad-shot iced americano that, between the sickly bitter espresso and obnoxious amount of ice, would eventually give me a headache. That headache would later be dulled with a half bottle of vodka and fruit juice while I got bikini baked.

Don’t let David hit on you anymore, otherwise Imma have to go down to Ohio to beat his ass. 

His junk had to go. A cello concerto scribbled on a stack of staff paper, a Russian textbook I had borrowed, pit-stained undershirts I had begged him to bleach, and a six pack of Leinie’s Red. I walked up to the front porch and dropped it all into a heap. I dug into my pocket for the last item – a ring of his grandmother’s.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo

The tiny pile insulted me. After a year, this was all I had to show. Scott wasn’t the nesting type, apparently. Not with me anyway. He never said sweet things to me. I figured he just had the quiet kind of affection. So of course it was a little surprising to see that he was willing to send adorations via text to a girl who lived three states away.

I’m going to rehearsal now, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time. xoxo

I wanted the revenge to be grand. I wanted him humiliated. Everything I could think of seemed so typical: Spraying painting “cheater” across the front of his house. Salting the lawn. Sprinkling sugar in his gas tank. Putting his name and number in the craigslist casual encounters. Signing him up for subscriptions to eight different fetish magazines. Slamming an axe into the hood of his car. Buying a billboard and listing his indiscretions. I wanted to do it all though. I wanted to make his life as difficult as possible.

I wanted him to burn with shame the way I had when I had seen the text messages the night before. Scanning his inbox, I found he told this “Belle” that he loved her more times in the previous five hours than he had in eleven months with me. The worst part was that the texts were burned into my memory and kept playing on repeat like a short film.

I love you, Belle. 

I put the ring between my teeth and reached to tear pages out of the Russian textbook and shred his concerto. I ripped the t-shirts in half while considering what to do with the ring. I could toss it in the lawn and let the lawn mower jam up next time he mowed. I could somehow melt it down into the shape of a dog turd and send it with a friendly note.

I wanted that ring to be destroyed. He had left the other things with me without a thought. He had copies of the concerto on his computer. The textbook was two editions old, and he neither remembered nor cared about the vocabulary and verbs. I cracked open a beer and tipped it upside down, soaking the pile.

Next door, a neighbor was unraveling a hose to water his flowers. He watched while I smiled, waved, and reached for another bottle. I poured all six onto his things.

It started to feel good. Almost as good as I had felt the night before, slapping him across the face.

I wish I could be there to hold you as you fell asleep tonight. 

But this ring was more than all of that. It was still resting between my front teeth and saliva, no longer held back by tight lips, was beginning to creep out of the corners. He had given it to me two months earlier, on the morning of an audition. We had spent the better part of a year at universities two hours apart and I had decided to transfer to his university. I told my friends I was transferring to save money, but I really did it to be closer to Scott. He had encouraged me, saying it was obvious that music was in my soul and that I should study with the violin professor at his university.

“Literature doesn’t suit you,” he told me. “But it’s obvious that music is your real passion.”

Flattered by his apparent ability to realize things about myself that I didn’t, I prepared an audition to complete my minor. He had done his best to convince me to change degrees altogether, but I wasn’t willing to dedicate four more years to a bachelor’s degree. While my fingers were callusing and my neck developed a persistent red mark from my violin, Scott encouraged me and told me he was looking forward to playing in the orchestra with me.

On the morning of the audition, I was running through the second movement of the Haydn concerto in a moist practice room when he had knocked on the door, an americano in one hand and the other in his pocket. “Morning, love,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“I’m nervous. I can’t get the double stops right in the cadenza,” I said, taking the americano from his hand. “I mean, I can get them right half the time, but the other half sounds like crap.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” Scott said, kissing my forehead. He sat down on the piano bench. “You’re going to get in no problem. Half the violinists here suck anyway. Play a little for me.”

I took a drink from the americano, ignoring how it burnt my tongue and focusing instead on the tensions in my body. My left shoulder had a knot. My wrists were sore. The spot on my neck felt raw. My fingers were sweaty and rigid. The caffeine I was sucking down wasn’t going to help me feel any less shaky. I handed the drink to Scott and picked up my violin. While I played, Scott watched. I got through the cadenza perfectly. When I finished, he stood up and kissed me again.

“I’m proud of you, Ashley,” he told me, hugging me. “Like I said before, you’re going to do just fine. There’s no reason to stress.”

“I know, I just haven’t done this in a while.”

“I want to give you something,” Scott said. He reached into his pocket, retrieved the ring, and pressed it into my hand. “It’s for luck.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking at it. A think silver band with small dots framing a smooth center. It made me think of a zipper. I slid it over my right ring finger, not wanting him to think I thought it signified an engagement or promise.

“It used to be my grandmother’s. It’s really not worth anything, but I wanted you to have it,” he said. “I found it in my dresser the other day.”

“Thank you,” I said, a little amazed he had given me a family ring. “It’s really nice of you.”

His jaw got tight and he suddenly looked like he regretted giving it to me. “It’s not like…you know, a ring ring.” he said. “It’s not an heirloom or anything, just something my grandfather made for my grandma and I somehow got a hold of it.”

“Don’t worry, I know. An engagement ring would have to have a big ol’ diamond, anyway,” I joked, sensing his discomfort.

I still think he’s an asshole.

I took the ring out of my mouth and looked at it. Slimy with my spit, it shined a bit more than usual. It was ugly. I had recognized that the moment he gave it to me. Since it was too big for any of my fingers, I had put it on a chain of beads and occasionally wore them around my neck. He had given it to me halfheartedly so I wore it halfheartedly. Maybe it was his last ditch effort to commit to me. By giving me a tangible sign of commitment – even if it was a worthless piece of family jewelry – maybe he felt like he would have to fully commit to me. Maybe it was a peace offering when I didn’t realize there was a conflict. Maybe it was a pathetic attempt at making up for what I was about to find in a few weeks. Whatever it was, it didn’t make much sense.

I remembered his face the night before, when he came into the room, seeing me with his phone my hand. Shocked. Eyes and mouth gaping. Taking a second and hoping the worst hadn’t happened, he swallowed and asked, “Did I miss a call?”

“No, but who the fuck is ‘Belle My Dearest’?”

Suddenly I realized the emptiness in my stomach. I blinked hard and dropped the ring on the pile. I took the empty bottles, placed each neatly in the cardboard caddy, and crowned the weepy mound.

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent

On the last full day I was camping, I went for a hike. I’m pretty sure this was the day after  the loon incident because it was cool enough for me to wear a sweatshirt that morning and not want to put on my swimsuit and hang out by the beach. Hiking seemed like something worthwhile and therapeutic. As a kid, I remember hiking with my parents and then later with my cousins. We always seemed to spend hours and hours on the trails, and when we decided to return for pizza pudgie pies, it seemed to take hours. So I prepared by double knotting my tennis shoes, filling my nalgene with water, stashing two granola bars, a two-way radio (walkie talkie doesn’t seem like a legitmate device), my ipod, camera, and finally hooking Jack on a leash. I was pretty sure I would be gone for three or four hours, and I figured I was prepared with 32 ounces of water and two granola bars.

The hike was beautiful. I let Jack off the leash and he walked ahead, sniffing and pausing every now and then for me to catch up. I don’t spend much time in nature. You might think this would make me savor every experience in which I’m surrounded by foliage and chirping birds, but I don’t. It’s not that I was bored by the hike, I just kept wondering if other people walked the same trail in awe of the trees and creatures that inhabited them.

I was hoping that the trail would lead me far away from the campground, where I would actually be in danger of being lost. I’m not sure what part of that I was craving – the isolation, the powerlessness, or the twisted sort of lack of responsibility that comes with either of those. Part of me was thinking this would be a way to escape, if only for a few hours. But I’m not sure what I was escaping from. My phone hadn’t been on for days, I wasn’t arguing with anyone in my family, I certainly wasn’t stressed by life at camp. Maybe I was thinking that if I escaped (got lost in the woods), I wouldn’t have to return to my normal life. My normal life that consists of monotonous office work, a wavering desire to be active and healthy, a useless Netflix queue, a virtually nonexistent love life, and a sort of sick gut feeling of needing to do more with my life.

But I didn’t want to really do that. I didn’t want to live alone in the woods with my dog. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable on my own. I’ve started to appreciate the fine art of being alone. I like having the freedom of creating my own adventures. Right now they might not be the most exciting adventures, but they’re more than what I had over the last year or so. The long distance thing with Bill sort of clipped my wings (sorry for the cliche). It’s not that I was unhappy with it – I was comfortable. I liked my routine of work, read/write, text and videochat with Bill. But I didn’t see my friends much because I was often waiting for him to be done with class or rehearsal so we could talk or hangout via videochat. When I did hang out with my friends, I was alert to the vibration of my phone when he would text. I missed him terribly when I was out. I missed the coupledom even though I was part of one. Of course that’s something you sign up for when you’re in a long distance relationship, but I didn’t realize the repercussions. What I’m really getting to is that what I saw as my being loyal to my boyfriend was really just me being complacent with my life. I didn’t really challenge myself to meet new people. I didn’t push myself to write more. I didn’t explore my own creativity. I didn’t  enjoy my immediate life.

But I’m starting to do those things. I’ve met several new people in the last few weeks. I’ve gone places without the security blanket of a friend to force myself to meet new people. I’ve rediscovered my itunes library and made Pandora stations that inspire me to create things (Santigold & St. Vincent are particularly good). I’m truly enjoying my friendships again. I hesitate to say that I sacrificed those things while I was in the relationship because Bill enriched my life in many ways. Also, admitting you sacrificed things while in a relationship is essentially admitting that you’re a dependent romantic who can’t even feign independence. And I don’t really like how that sounds. “I was just a really dedicated girlfriend” sounds a lot better than “I used my relationship as an excuse to become complacent and dependent on one person for my happiness.”

I think that’s what I was hoping to escape from. It was something I had learned over the previous few weeks but had been reluctant to articulate. I considered just leaving this revelation to myself, but I’m a bit of an exhibitionist (And Other Reasons to Have a Blog, a book by Ashley Otto) because there’s always been a part of me that doesn’t truly admit the truth of a statement until I write it down. When I was in elementary school, I didn’t officially have a crush on someone until I wrote it in my journal. What does that say about me? Whatever it is, it’s probably something pathetic. Maybe that’s why I’ve waited over a week since returning from my vacation to write this post: I’m not exactly eager to admit I’ve made mistakes and have weaknesses.

Anyway, I kept getting annoyed when I would pass a campsite or see that I was near a road. It was further proof that I couldn’t just escape reality – physical or psychological. Finally, I resigned to the fact that as long as I stayed on the trail, I would be close to camp and wouldn’t be left to die of starvation or dehydration. It was around then that I put on my headphones and listened to Bon Iver while I traipsed back to the campsite. For a while, I had pretended to be enchanted by the natural state of my surroundings. And it had kind of worked. It was beautiful and  picturesque in the way that a camera is never able to capture (though not for lack of trying), but what I really wanted was a soundtrack to help me imprint the afternoon in my memory.

And anyway, what could be more Wisconsin than hiking up north with Justin Vernon crooning in your ears?

Feeling Like a Criminal

I’m thinking of doing this thing where I try one new thing a day. Just one thing I’ve never done before. I’m not talking about doing crazy things like bungee jump on Tuesday and steal a pair of shoes on Wednesday, I mean relatively little things to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I did two last night. I went to a vinyl release party at a bar by myself and I wore lipstick. As I’ve said before, I don’t know how to wear lipstick, so this was an exercise in makeup tricks and confidence. I was hoping one of my girlfriends would come along, but that didn’t end up happening. So I was faced with a decision: stay home and watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix while painting my nails for the second time this weekend and go to bed before eleven, or go to the Nicole Rae  and the Traveling Suitcase vinyl release party where I would most likely see people I knew. Also, at this party I would be beautiful and charming and meet fabulous new people.

So I put on some heels and went out. And I had a fabulous time.

This was bigger than me just going to any bar or any band’s release party. This bar was where Bill had performed several times. Part of his senior recital was held here. He knows the owners, and I met them through him. In fact, when I walked in, one of the first things I saw was a picture of him. His old band is performing there in the near future I guess, and the promo poster still has his picture on it. Nicole Rae didn’t hold particular significance for us, but the drummer is a good friend of Bill’s.

So, I ran into many people I know because of Bill. And I was by myself. I didn’t have a girlfriend to huddle with on the side of the room. I didn’t have a boyfriend or date to silently flirt with. I was all alone. I spoke to friends of Bill and when they asked how I was, I told them that I was doing well. Maybe I was hypersensitive, but I felt like I saw pity or something in their eyes, so I decided to talk about the elephant in the room and told them that we had broken up. They offered obligatory words and sounds of condolences, but I was quick to say, “But I’m doing alright. My life is going well right now.”

I was introduced by Jason, a perpetual bullshitter, to a contemporary artist who is also a professor. He did not look like a professor. Considering my source, I didn’t believe him and the guy ended up pulling out his university ID, proving that he is a professor. The professor then introduced me to somebody who he claimed worked with the FBI. I told Jason, the professor, and the FBI guy they were screwing with me and then I walked away to find someone else to talk with. I ended up bouncing around between groups of people and standing by myself throughout the night. And it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. Interestingly, some of my favorite moments of the night were when I was by myself, watching the band perform.

I also ran into an acquaintance from years ago. We ended up talking for a good chunk of time. She said she had been reading my blog and had wanted to talk to me. She said she didn’t want to send the facebook message because of the generic quality of nearly every facebook message. The conversation was great. It feels weird to report some of the things we talked about because I’m a human and there’s an obligatory sense of self-efficacy. But because I’m a writer and blogger, I suppose I tossed that idea to the wind long ago. Anyway, she said she had wanted to tell me that she knew what I was going through – she knew what it felt like to be struck by love only to have it pulled out from under you – and she was impressed by how strong I was. “You are so much stronger than you think you are, Ashley,” she told me. “You are such a woman.” And she said “woman” in the way that means powerful and strong and confident. She went on to praise me for coming by myself despite what I’m going through. It’s great to be told you’re admired when you spend a great deal of time feeling like a fool.

The band ended with a cover of Fiona Apple’s Criminal. I stood next to Jason, sipping my water, watching the band rock out, dancers toss hula hoops in the air, and audience members sing along to the same angsty chorus that I’ve been listening to all week. And I felt great. That last song felt like the universe telling me, “Yes, you’re going to be okay. Life continues even through heartbreak. We are all in this together, so join in with the chorus and remember what it is to be alive.”