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.

Cicadapocalypse 2013: Reminiscences on Freaky Insects

I’ve been seeing a lot about the cicadas taking over the east coast right now. Apparently this seventeen year brood is causing a racket in the heavily populated areas with their mating calls. The Atlantic Wire says, “It will be loud. It will be gross. It will be pretty annoying.” After they’ve shed their exoskeleten on trees and lawns, they’ll irritate everyone, and get their freak on before dying. The new offspring will burrow into the ground, to live as xylem-sucking nymphs.

Holy mother of god. This is the stuff of my nightmares.

Until I was 23, I thought a cicada was a bird. I never paid attention in science classes, so I missed the bit about cicadas not being adorable songbirds. I must have seen the word in poem and used the whimsical context to determine it was a summer-singing bird. Because of its distinct sound, it’s supposed to be one of the most recognized insects in the world. At 23, I had been using the internet for about ten years, so you would have thought I would have asked all-knowing google about that summer buzz. I just never did.

When I was ten, an aunt told me it was a cicada. I noted that it had a unique call. Since I heard the sound so often, I thought it was a sadly common bird. I pictured a small grey thing with pink-flecked wings, anxiously flitting between tree branches.

Two summers ago, I traveled with my boyfriend at the time, Bill, and his father to Oklahoma to take Bill to grad school. They had loaded up the family SUV with Bill’s drums, leaving a pigeonhole in the back seat for me. I didn’t really know what to expect on the ride. His family was different than mine. Their conversations revolved around current events, politics, technology, and biology-heavy discussions about mysteries like why caffeine affects 40-somethings more than 20-somethings.

Somewhere in Illinois, I was awoken from a dramamine doze to a thunderous buzz that was different from the semi hums and vibration of tires beneath me. “What is that sound?” I asked.

“Cicadas,” Bill’s father said.

I pictured hundreds of grey birds. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard more than one at a time.”

“They’re probably in those clusters of trees along the highway,” He said. “Those are some weird bugs.”

I looked to the rearview mirror to see if Wyatt was joking. He was wearing sunglasses and not smiling. “When I was little, I thought they were birds,” I lied.

Bill laughed at the absurdity of it.

As I experienced that distinct sensation of inner humiliation, I realized this trip was going to be a lesson in my ignorance. I started to make a list of things to google when I got home.

“They make that buzzing sound with tymbals,” his father said, glancing over his right shoulder for a lane change, the sunset reflecting in his sunglasses. “They’re sort of like ribs that contract and buckle inwards. That’s what makes the click. It’s the males’ mating call.”

Cicada, tymbal.

The first time, I remember hearing the call of a cicada was while chalking the sidewalk. Kneeling on the pavement, I clutched a knobby piece of yellow chalk. My eyes squinted in the bright sun as I tried to detect the source. It was electric and jarring, beginning modestly, then roaring to fortissimo only to quickly diminuendo to silence.

I decided it was the telephone pole, where the wires met. I figured the words were compressed and encrypted in the lonesome dark yarns. By some strange set of mathematics, they eventually settled into syllables and pauses. Happy with my conclusion, I studied the imprints of the sidewalk on my knees. The flesh was pink and achy from the cement’s angry pressure. I began to draw a telephone, crawling to draw the curlicue cord, ignoring the pulsing pain on my kneecaps.

When we finally reached Oklahoma, the three of us walked around Bill’s new campus. We were standing outside the music building when Wyatt noticed a cicada shell on a sycamore tree. He plucked the shell off the melty-looking bark. “They shed their skins after they emerge from the ground. It ends up just clinging to the bark,” Wyatt said.

I remember shuddering and leaning into Bill. “That’s creepy,” I said. The papery silhouette rested massless between Wyatt’s fingers. I imagined the thing springing to life and buzzing maniacally into my hair. Bill watched his father study the shell and smiled when I caught his eye. I was embarrassed and wondered what he would say if he knew I was just then solidifying an image of the creature whose sound had so perplexed me as a child.

“They have some really weird life cycles,” Wyatt said. “Some are pretty short, just five years or so. But some have seventeen-year cycles.”

“Seventeen years?” I asked.

“Yeah. It was developed as a defense against predators.”

“Okay,” I said, waiting for more information. I figured if I agreed it would reassure him that yes, I was on the same intellectual place as he and that I was following the conversation completely. But of course, I was embarrassed. Why did this work? What difference did it make if the cicada was seventeen-year species or a two-year? Couldn’t they still be preyed upon? Wyatt talked about it in such a plain, matter of fact way –  like he was telling me something I probably already knew. I didn’t bother asking.

“They eat xylem from the roots of trees,” Wyatt went on. “They spent most of their time underground. I think as adults they drink sap.” He invited me to look closer at the skin. Setting aside my girlish fear of its attack, I leaned in. Thin and translucent, it was the hue of an old newspaper. It reminded me of a tiny, elaborately-designed balloon animal. I could crush it without effort. For a moment, I might be able to forget my embarrassment. Just maybe, if I could crush the molted skin, I could reverse the fact that I had never paid attention in science classes. If that wasn’t possible, then I could at least ignore my ignorance.

Cicada, tymbal, xylem. 

I think the trip took four or five days roundtrip. After leaving Bill in a sort of dumpy apartment in Edmond, Wyatt and I spent the fifteen hour ride listening to Merchant of Venice, talking about his first cooking experience (burnt tomato soup), and Bill’s need to substitute the cream and cheese in alfredo sauce for a béchamel. He was a walking encylcopedia. I was the foolish girl dating his son – pretending to be confident despite the fact I knew nothing.

It took me a while, but the shame of my ignorance faded. After googling my list (cicada, tymbal, xylem, brood, Phillip Pullman, the history of Route 66, 3D technology, Merchant of Venice, béchamel), I realized I didn’t have to live in a constant state of wonder. I walked around with the largest encyclopedia in my purse. The answer to any of my wildest queries was dependent only on the strength of my 3g connection.

So for those of my readers who are enduring the cicadapocalypse, don’t worry. A quick google search will reassure you that it’s not one of the seven plagues – just a bunch of hideous and super horny insects.

…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?

A week of revision, wine, screaming, & decoupage.

This last week has been about as good as I could have hoped for. After last week,  it was just what I needed. After making some mistakes, it only seems appropriate that fate rewards me with less trying and more rewarding seven days.

I spent the earlier part of the week revising a piece to share with my writer’s group. This meant coming home from work and spending the better part of my evening at my computer, reworking the same paragraph I had been staring at for twenty minutes. As tedious as it sounds, it was extremely rewarding. One evening, I took a bike ride down by the river, found a soft grassy spot and went to work. I got a lot more done without an internet connection.

I used to hate revision, but that was back when I thought everything I wrote was gold. Now I’ve accepted that first drafts are typically shit and have learned to appreciate the process. And though I don’t usually sift through old drafts, I’ve saved each one. This means I have a folder of each story with at least four or five drafts. Speaking of, I should really back that up on two separate hard drives.

On Wednesday, I met up with three of my aunts. We went to a wine bar for dinner and I spent the rest of the night burping moscato and beef carpaccio. After that, we went to Lifest. Lifest is a christian music festival that my family used to go to when I was young. I hadn’t been there since I was fourteen with my boyfriend at the time. Ten years later, it was bizarre to see a music festival lacking stumbling drunks and an excess of cleavage. Since I grew up nondenominational, I’m pretty sure most of my extended family assumes I at least claim to believe in God. While I’m not willing to state there is no God, I’m not willing to say I believe in a God. I know that saying this will probably give me some backlash from some friends and family, but I don’t want people thinking that because I went to Lifest I’m a god-fearing young woman. And I’m not saying that out of some sense of hyper-vigilance, I just don’t want to present myself as something I’m not. I know many good things done in the name of God, but there are also some pretty dark things done in the same name. At this point, all I am willing to say is that I haven’t found compelling evidence. When and if I ever do believe in God, it will be something that occurs organically, not by shocked friends and family sending me bible verses.

So anyway, I was at Lifest. I spent most of the time talking with my Aunt Laurie about men, dreams, passions, mental obstacles, The Bloggess (and Beyonce, the giant metal chicken), and goals. I went home feeling refreshed, inspired, and content.

On Friday, I went to Six Flags Great America with some friends where I went on rollercoasters and screamed a lot.

Yesterday, I met with my writer’s group, got some great feedback (“You have a lovely way of being funny & witty while also being poignant, self-deprecating, and reflective”), and left feeling inspired. I shared a more reflective version of my last post, and I had several requests for a story next time. I think I’ll do something more prose-like for next month, but my biggest obstacle is going to be getting away from my second person narration. It’s emotionally easier to write second person. It allows me to distance myself from the material. I think that was pretty evident with my last list. It’s strange: I’m willing to share fairly intimate details, but I’m not, apparently, willing to attach the “I” pronoun. I could be wrong, but I think that if I want to write memoirs and personal essays, I’m going to have to get over that.

Or maybe I’ll just revolutionize memoir and write a collection of essays in the second person.

Nobody steal my idea, okay?

Then Andrea and I had a decoupage day. We listened to Rilo Kiley, ate some pizza, drank some beer, and pasted things on foam board and canvas. I created some things to hang on my walls.

[Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.]

All in all, this was a mediocre blog post about a rejuvenating week. Now it’s coming to a close with a heat advisory that I’m using as an excuse to sit inside and read Kurt Vonnegut all day.