Monday, November 28, 2016

Van Gogh and I

Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well. - Vincent Van Gogh 

Walking around the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam I read every placard. While the Dutch painter is now world famous for his very prolific but short career (he completed 900 paintings in the 10 years he painted) there are historians the world over who disagree about the end of his life. It's widely debated whether or not he cut off his own ear, as well as if he died of a self inflicted gunshot wound or he was murdered. 

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. - Vincent Van Gogh 

Two things are very clear to me: he was incredibly talented and he suffered greatly. You can read (and listen to) letters he wrote to his beloved brother, Theo, at the museum. You can read all the letters he wrote Theo in a book deemed an autobiography, Van Gogh telling the story of his own life, in expressive and vibrant detail. While reading his letters I couldn't help but feel for him. He was such a positive person, trying so hard to live and work in love while dealing with bouts of crippling depression and anxiety. Nearing the end of his life he even checked himself into an asylum. From there he painted Starry Night, Irises, and many other of his most famous works (which, by the way, he considered to be total failures). Reading Van Gogh's words I saw myself mirrored. I am far from as talented a painter, but the desire to love all things and people, to care for others and to express that love and inspire joy, in these traits I saw myself. The vulnerable purity.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. - Vincent Van Gogh 

And there are other things I see. I am also a sufferer of bouts of incapacitating depression and anxiety. Luckily for me, there are medications available. But on this day at the Van Gogh Museum I felt more kinship with him, as I too was suffering. Let's back up. 

A brief history:

I first discovered what was "wrong with me" was depression at 12 years old after reading about the symptoms. I told my mom, who dismissed it. I felt shame and I never spoke about it again until I was 18 and started seeing a holistic homeopath. I was afraid to take western medication. After a few years and several remedies, I began to have anxiety symptoms on top of my depression. I started having panic attacks in which I would black out. I became so frightened to black out that I stopped driving. At one of the lowest points in my life, at age 21, suffering from both symptoms of depression and anxiety on a daily basis for a period of 9 years, it came to a head and I admitted to myself I could no longer go on dealing with life in this manner. But somewhere deep inside me hope still resided. So I made a decision to try medication. Over a decade later, I have been on every SSRI that exists. This is not an exaggeration. In the last 10 years I have tried to go off my medication twice, once cold turkey, in which case I ended up in a hospital, and the other to taper off when I lost my health insurance. This did not go well either. I am a person who has an illness and I need to take medication in order to be ok. I have accepted this. My depression and anxiety have been deemed to be "extremely resistant" to medication and thusly I have to make sure I do everything right to get myself on a level playing field of feeling ok enough to be a person in the world. The medication I am currently on is one in which I cannot miss a dose. Unlike most SSRIs, this medication has very intense withdrawal effects almost immediately. 

The night I arrived in Belgium, as I got ready for bed at my Airbnb, I realized I'd forgotten my toiletry bag. No deodorant, toothbrush, face wash...and then it hit me that I didn't have my medication. I could barely sleep that night trying to decide what to do. I booked a rideshare car in the morning to go back to Paris just to get it; I'd meet my cousin at our next destination. The guy never showed up. I'd met a Belgian girl in my travel group so I texted her for advice. She told me to try a pharmacy, someone who speaks English, and maybe they'd give me a few pills to tide me over. I found a prescription in my wallet as proof of what I needed and set out, speaking not a word of the local language. Three pharmacists later I was sold a box of my medication. 

Still, because I had missed a dose, I wasn't feeling great when we got on the train a couple days later to Amsterdam. The withdrawals were there. I felt numb and cloudy and exhausted by life. So, while walking through the Van Gogh Museum, reading his words and seeing his brush strokes, I felt connected to him. My heart hurt for the pain he was in, and could do nothing about. And I understood, whether he shot himself or not, his hopeless desire and the tiring trials of living with mental illness. 

I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless. 
- Vincent Van Gogh 

I am grateful there are medications and other practices (like meditation, for me) that can help people - 3.3 million Americans - with these debilitating disorders. I'd like to think that if Van Gogh were alive today he'd be able to get the help he needed and fill his life with love and creativity. 

Life has become very dear to me, and I am very glad that I love. My life and my love are one.
- Vincent Van Gogh 

What hasn't changed much is the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and for that I will do my part to shed a light in the darkness by writing posts like this and standing up for those who suffer.  I have found this disease to be so lonely, and I want to do what I can to help others who suffer in silence by raising my own voice. Dear reader, you are not broken. You are not alone. I am with you. 

Let us keep courage and try to be patient and gentle. And not mind being eccentric, and make distinction between good and evil. - Vincent Van Gogh 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bordeaux et Saint Emilion

I had my plan to visit Bordeaux before I even knew I was coming to Paris. My Irish friend Dan, who I met on a plane from New Orleans to San Francisco and had subsequently visited me in San Diego, proposed we go to Bordeaux. I like wine and adventure, so I said yes.

We stayed in the cutest airbnb possibly ever. It had a fireplace and a record player, a giant collection of vintage vinyl and books in various languages, an indoor garden, and the bathroom was built like a head on a ship. I expected Bordeaux to be a sleepy, small town with cute old men selling baguettes and meandering streets. I was totally wrong. Bordeaux is an up and coming city that's thriving with young ex-Parisians and Brits who've come to open new and innovative restaurants, curated vintage shops, and more. It used to be a town with mostly sex shops and they've still got their edge with a plethora of tattoo parlors and piercing shops. I've been waiting for the perfect moment to present itself to get my second tattoo, and when Lea, the owner of the cutest airbnb of all time, told me about a woman who does tattoos the old fashioned way, without the use of anything electric, with precision and care in her underground shop, I was sold. Alas, I never found just where this secret shop was. So I guess it wasn't the perfect moment (my dad breathes a sigh of relief).

There was plenty to discover in Bordeaux, which is actually pretty big, it turns out. A few years back the mayor of Bordeaux* spent a ton of money refurbishing the town, essentially sand blasting the facades of the buildings to get the black soot off. You can still see it on some buildings, but you can feel life being breathed into the area, as if each person who moves there and opens up shop gives another pump to the Bordelaise chest. 

After a week of eating cheese and bread pretty much exclusively in Paris, I was really craving some vegetables, so I headed to Plume, a place with vegetarian and vegan options recommended to me by a Parisian. I got a lentil salad which tasted like nothing, despite it being beautiful, but I ate the whole thing, because health. (The lentils I make are much better) Luckily I also ordered this amazing egg concoction, which was basically a baked egg inside of baked cheese in a ramekin, and I ate that too. I also had a ginger and dark berry iced tea, which was choice.

I visited Utopia, an old church converted into a cafe and cinema, which kind of sounds cooler than it was in person. Then l'Intendant, with a spiraling staircase of wine, that was as cool as it sounded online. I asked the clerk to tell me about the white wine of the area, having already purchased enough red in Saint Emilion (enough? I could go on about what enough red wine this case, enough means as much as I could afford at the time). Bordeaux, a region known for it's red wines, does produce some white. Most of it is sweet, which is of little interest to me, but the very kind clerk told me about some dry wines as well, and he must have known what I was after, because he recommended to me the cheapest bottle they had - he said it was his favorite. It wasn't that good, it tasted to me like a cheap sauv blac, but I drank it outside at Darwin, and it was only 6 euros. 

Darwin, a former military barracks and hangar, is a self-proclaimed eco-system of over 100 companies coming together to promote a smaller eco footprint and a bigger cultural impact. This urban development is across the river from the "main" area of Bordeaux, but it's worth the walk. The space, to me, is an indoor/outdoor gallery of various street artists, who use an abandoned barracks in it's perfect state of decomposition, instead of tearing it down, letting the overgrown plants flourish. Walking through the buildings the pane-less windows frame the kids skateboarding, the friends sharing drinks and laughs, and with no boundaries, it seems to go on forever with hidden secrets to discover. They also have an amazing bio (aka organic) market where I bought some local artisan honey and vegan nutella. The skate and surf culture in Bordeaux was surprising and kind of a trip...walking into the skate coffee shop in the center of town I felt like I was in a warped Franco version of San Diego. Close to the sea on the west coast of France, the Bordelaise love to surf and skateboard. least from what I saw at Darwin, they have yet to master 8th grade self could kick flip better than the French guys I saw at the skate park. They looked great on their boards though. 

To go to some actual vineyards you've got to either rent a car or figure out the complicated public transport system, which is unfortunately not as efficient as the metro here in Paris. Not discouraged, I was there to drink some wine. So we took a train then a bus then a tuk tuk to get to Saint Emilion, the tiny and quaint village surrounded by vineyards. The town sits atop a hill, overlooking said vineyards, so small that cars don't fit down the cobblestone streets. Underneath the village lies over 200 kilometers of  caves. They have been used for centuries to make and keep wine at the perfect temperature, and they were used during WWII to hide people and keep them safe. We toured Chateau Villemaurine, privately with the owner himself (5th generation) which included 2 tastings, for only 11 euros. He was so sweet and full of knowledge and passion about wine and the area. We talked about terroir, the impending extinction of cork trees, the ancient versus new ways of wine making, and the history of St Emilion while we explored the dark and cool caves. This is an absolute must do for anyone visiting the area. We hitched back to the train station - this is not my first time hitching in France, and in my experience it is broadly accepted and perfectly safe. We were picked up by a sweet elderly couple who had moved to the area to retire. As I sat in the back of the car I watched magic hour pass before my eyes over the rows of plump plum colored grapes, ready for harvest. The setting sun turned the vineyards golden orange and I resisted the urge to record everything, instead taking a mental picture, picking up my hands and framing the perfect picture. Click. 

* I'm pretty sure he's not called the mayor, and Bordeaux isn't exactly a city, but I'm not going to look up what it's called, and what he actually is. You can do that if you're interested. 

All photos taken with my iphone. Follow my daily adventures on Instagram

Monday, October 3, 2016

Getting Here/A Baby Parisian

I am here. Deep breath. The weeks leading up to my departure from San Diego were full of stress - I had no idea how I was going to get everything done. Up to the day I left I was working on a book for a freelance client while I waited for my ride to the airport. It was supposed to be completed the week before, per my meticulously laid out schedule, but as is life, it wasn't done. The client kept changing things...and though I had asked for my pay check in advance it didn't come. So there I was in my condo, working on the book, flight in a couple of hours, having stayed up til 3am packing, paying over $200 extra for 2 bags instead of 1 (which frankly I couldn't afford), no pay check for the last month of work, my beloved Derby Blue throwing up in anticipation of my leaving (she knows when she sees the suitcases), eyes watering and nose running with allergies in the sweltering San Diego heat...and after weeks of holding it together I just started to cry. My phone was ringing and dinging...this was the capstone of my stress. And just as I started to really get my ugly cry on, my parents arrived. I was fine with having my mom see me like this, but my dad...things have been tense between us since I decided to leave the US. He doesn't approve. He was the last person I wanted to freak out in front of. "It's my allergies..." I trailed off as they stood back uncomfortably looking at me. "I'm fine! Let's go." I missed my first flight and we had to rush to drive to LAX, in traffic, while I was on the phone with AT&T and T-Mobile trying to sort out my international plan, to catch my second. There was no lack of stress on my departure day. 

As soon as I stepped onto the plane and realized they didn't have wifi (so I couldn't work, which I'd planned on) a sense of calm washed over me. I had 10 hours in which I literally couldn't do anything. I couldn't run errands or send emails or be on the phone or work on the book or look for jobs. So I popped a xan and slept the sleep of the dead. When I woke up my seat mate, Shannon, a filmmaker from LA on a trip to Paris to scout locations for his new film, was laughing at me. 

"What?" I asked.
"You really slept. There was a lot of turbulence and you just slept right through it. You must have needed that."
I nodded and smiled and let my eyes close again. 

statue at Palais Garnier, Opera house where rich men had a
backstage pass, meaning they could go backstage to choose a
girl for the night (the dancers were also prostitutes)
I've been in Paris 5 days and already everything is different. I keep getting asked why I'm here. To be honest with you all, I came on somewhat of a whim. I needed a change. I'm not here for a job or to follow a man (the top two guesses). I'm here for me. Because I wanted to come, so here I am. People laud my bravery but honestly I'm just as scared as everyone else. "I wish I could do what you're doing" is something I've gotten a lot. But anyone can...I literally booked a flight (a really cheap one, thanks Norwegian Air) spending a couple dollars short of every penny I had in my account) and figured out the rest after/am still figuring it out. I'm in Paris because I want to be, and I said yes to the great unknown and to change, newness, possibility. 

the walk up to the Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre 
The first two days I mostly slept. The 9 hour time difference and jet lag is a bear. Luckily my Airbnb is lovely (1. Is it luck? I spent probably 24 hours in total looking for the best possible rental for my budget, reading reviews, emailing, etc. 2. Sign up for Airbnb with my link and we both get $35 off - yay!) and I feel comfortable here. It was worth it for me to spend a little more to get a place in the city I could actually physically turn around in - Paris apartments are known for being comically tiny and it is no joke, they really are. Most of them (in my budget) are former servants quarters, some with shared bathrooms in the hall and one window, maybe. As I'm not twentysomething anymore and over the hostel/backpacking phase of my life (I promise it happened, check out my previous shared blog Barnstormers), this would not do. My place isn't luxurious, but it's perfect. 24 whole hours well spent (100 emoji). 
a house on the hill in Montmartre, across from the cemetery

my first Parisienne purchase, this hat
And then I did stuff! I took a free tour of Paris from a link I happened upon when I fell down an internet hole researching. Check it out and if you do it too (I recommend!) request Elodie. She was a wealth of knowledge and a 5th generation Parisienne (actually born and raised in Paris, not the suburbs), a rarity. I stood below the Eiffel Tower at night, in the rain, and watched it sparkle (which it does every hour, on the hour). I stood on a bridge over the Seine and let the wind blow my newly short hair. I've had several conversations with shopkeepers in full French (100 emoji again!), I've eaten a lot of cheese and (hopefully) walked it off. 

I'm really interested in learning about the culture of Paris, the history of why things are the way they are, anthropologically how people relate to each other and the city. It's fascinating to me. I hope to be as fluent as possible in French by December for a job I'm hoping to get that I'm pretty sure was made for me. I'd like to visit as many French villages as I can - as everyone in Paris says, you have Paris and then you have the rest of France - take lots of photos and just generally soak in the life. 

I already feel freer and more able to be myself. No one knows me here and no one expects anything from me. There's something so liberating about that. Yesterday someone asked me what I was doing. "I'm going to walk around Montmartre (my neighborhood for the month) and discover somewhere wonderful to eat." I said. "Great! Can I join you?" someone asked me. And I actually felt like it was ok to answer my truth, which was "No thank you. I prefer to be on my own today." It was liberating. And so I walked around all day alone, getting lost and found again. I try to do touristy things on my own because no one French wants to do them with me and it gives me a chance to geek out on the beauty of the sites, overhear accents and conversations and stop a lot to take photographs. 

Yesterday I also had my first croissant, which is kind of insane based on how much I love them, but it took that long. It was nearly 2pm and the first thing I had eaten all day. I went into a pattiserie and ordered (see my tip below) and walked outside, holding the hot magic. I started to continue onto my destination but decided instead to embrace the culture by stopping to enjoy my food versus eating it on the go. I found a bench, sat down and unwrapped my warm present. I peeled a piece off and slowly let it melt in my mouth. Just then I noticed an old man walking, incredibly slowly, near me. One of his shoes was broken and I realized his slow roll was due to this shoe he was trying to keep on. He had only a thin old cardigan, stained, that he was buttoning up against the cold. He had a grey white beard and a worn face. His light blue grey eyes stared straight ahead as he walked on and I could see him shiver. I took my headphones out. "Monsier" I said. He didn't turn. "Pardon!" I said louder. He turned to me and I peeled the croissant in half and said in English "Would you like to share my croissant?" He stared at me for a moment, skeptical like a child analyzing a stranger. I shook my head yes and held out the half to him. He gave a weak smile, still skeptical, and stretched his hand out to meet mine, so slowly that I was able to study every wrinkle on his palm. His hand shook slightly and he finally met mine, trepidatious that I'd pull back. He took it and I let go. He smiled weakly and turned away from me to eat it hungrily before he kept on walking. When he finished he nodded in thanks as he faded away down the street. I ate the rest and it tasted so much better to be shared. I was full. I was grateful. I stood up and turned around to see my bench was in front of Cafe Hope and I smiled to myself and felt in unison with the entire universe.  
Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) sits atop a hill. Not originally planned as a church, this structure has centuries of interesting history

My Paris Tips (so far):
  1. When going to tourist spots buy food in a less touristy area first. This will save you money, as touristy areas have even higher prices, stress of trying to get a table at the one spot across from whatever monument you're visiting, and the food will likely be better. Bring your food and eat instead in a park, on the steps of a church, the bank of the Seine, etc. Depending on your time limits and budget, get either a sandwich or pastry from a cafe or buy your own baguette, cheese, fruit and wine (you can drink in public, yay) and make a picnic once you get to the spot. If you have a little more to spend (it will be about the same as a restaurant) definitely go for a custom Paris picnic by this awesome local team who partner with the best in French food and deliver wherever you're going to be. Blanket included! *I have not done this yet, but I hope to. **Someone please do this as a surprise for your lover! 
  2. Get a free tour of Paris (link above). 
  3. Unless you're vegan, be sure to order a "croissant beurre" which is made with butter instead of margarine/vegetable fat, which is often made from frozen dough. You shouldn't have to eat anything frozen ever, let alone a delectable French pastry. It should be labeled as such, but if not you can tell by the shape. A croissant beurre is straighter, versus having an actual crescent shape. 
Love locks on the Seine, where lovers come from around the world to lock their names in a declaration of their undying love and throw the key in the river.
Fun fact: After the weight of the locks literally made the side of the bridge collapse into the water, it's now forbidden to put a lock on the rail. Tourists still do it. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Mad Cow Disease, Lead Poisoning, or Severe Anxiety: Thanks, WebMd

Last night I knew I was feeling anxious before I even got into bed. I can tell now, after years, when I won't be able to sleep without a pill. So I took an Ativan and got into bed. I put a movie on, hoping I'd fall asleep watching it and be able to wake up early to start driving for Lyft. They have a $1,000 guarantee if you do 50 rides in a week, restarting every monday while promotion lasts. I need the money to pay my first month's rent when I arrive in Paris.

2 hours later the movie was over and I was an anxious wreck in my bed. I'd never experienced a pill not working. I take them sparingly, only when I anticipate an attack coming on or when I start to have one. It wasn't helping. My body was hurting, feeling tight through every joint and muscle, and I couldn't stop moving. I tried to tap. "I am safe. I am ok. I am safe. I am in my body. I am safe." I repeated as I tapped the anchor spot between my ring finger and pinky knuckles. It wasn't working.

I was so exhausted I began to drift off, uncomfortably, and fall into a nightmare. I woke a few moments later to the sound of my voice screaming at myself to wake up. It's the only way I've figured out how to wake myself from a nightmare.

I began to cry. I couldn't figure out why I was crying, so I tried to go over the events of the day. Everything that happened was sad, especially my niece's face when we talked about my leaving. Somewhere in the wee hours, hot tears stinging my face, I fell back asleep and into another nightmare. There was an intruder in my home. They were getting closer to me, their wild eyes piercing mine. "Wake up!" I yelled, and finally I did. At this point I knew that staying awake was the only way to survive. I felt sick to my stomach and considered going to the bathroom and trying to vomit, but I haven't puked in a decade and I know my body just doesn't work that way.

Starting to sweat, I threw the covers off of me. Derby at the foot of the bed was too close to me, I wanted to be alone and uncovered to deal with this. I started to get goosebumps and shivers though I was still sweating. I drifted in and out, the time I was in nightmares eclipsing the time I was awake. The anxiety carried over into the dreams. It hurts my entire body. The nausea carried over.

In my dreams the world was ending and no one could do anything about it. The sea had been sucked up into the sky, and we were constantly in darkness, the dense blue green of the salty water covering the sun and the moon. We were waiting for it to drop and drown us all. Planes were crashing into buildings. There was nothing to be done. I was alone with a man who, in waking life, I know is not interested in me. And it was the one piece of joy I could feel in a world doomed for destruction.

I woke up at 10:30am to a text message. I was drenched in sweat, my clothes and hair soaked through, shivering cold and wet. Three hours later than I had intended to wake and feeling awful. My tongue was numb and tingling. Is. My tongue is numb and tingling. My fingers are numb and tingling. My head is pounding and I can barely open my eyes except in darkness. The migraine is here.

I start to cry again, hopeless. I checked my barrage of emails and messages realizing I couldn't handle any of it today. I can barely keep my eyes open. I can barely think straight. I go to webmd and put in my plethora of symptoms. I'm not surprised that, among things that I am surely not suffering from, severe anxiety is listed. The numbness, tingling and migraines are new symptoms for me, I usually just get the fear of impending death, loss of breath, terror, and pain in my joints and muscles. I've been suffering from those symptoms intermittently for years. Like when I ran all the way down and across Manhattan one fourth of July without telling anyone I was leaving while suffering a panic attack. If I hit all the possible symptoms do I get a prize? Will I spontaneously combust?

The numbness (especially in my fingers) and the migraine are making it difficult to type this, but I am hoping to get some relief by puking it all out. It's exactly 7 weeks and 1 day from my departure to Paris. I have nowhere to stay, no job lined up, no potential means of income, my Dad is barely talking to me and still forbids me to go, and so much to do here before I leave to set things up to run smoothly for Brunch Club that I am completely overwhelmed and paralyzed. I am unable to do anything in this state. 

I think this particular attack started yesterday when I stopped by the atm to check my balance. I said aloud "No" in the vestibule before walking home and doing all the math in my head. I do not have enough money to stay anywhere when I arrive. What a fucking failure I am, 32 with absolutely no money. How close I am to being homeless myself. Will I sleep at the train station when I get to Paris? The tears are stuffing up my sinuses with snot and adding so much pressure to my head that it feels like it's packed, inch by inch, so heavy I can barely keep it upright on my wavering neck. It feels like I'm trying to balance the world on a toothpick. I just can't do it.

I'm scared, angry and can barely see or think. I'm cold, hot don't know what to do about this attack that's now lasted longer than any I've ever had. I'd call my therapist but she'd tell me to take Ativan, and I did that, remember?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Should I Lie to My Grandma? And Other Inner Dialogues

I am 32 and single. I feel pretty ok about this because 1. I'm extremely busy trying to make the world a better place/living my dharma, and 2. Despite my parents' belief that I am "too picky" I have high expectations for romantic partnership and I'm not willing to settle for anything else. My parents are not the only ones who are concerned about this matter. 

My grandma has one and only one question for me every time I see her. 

Grandma: Do you have a boyfriend now, Jenny?

Me: No, Grammy.  

Grandma: Still no? 

Me: Still no. 

Grandma. Oh, well. 

And that's it. No questions about my business or anything else that could possibly be going on. On Easter I got the same line of questioning from my older brother and his wife. Questions about my relationship status and then awkward silence. I swear to you I have interesting things to say and a life that is full of things. But my grandma doesn't seem to have any interest in that. I don't take it personally and I'm pretty sure that it's mostly due to the times in which she grew up and just the way things were done. But what I can't stand is the sadness in her eyes. I picture her worrying and picturing me, all alone. I don't want to make her sad. 

Then there's this: A few years ago, before she had a series of small strokes and developed dementia, we had this conversation:

Grandma: Do you have a boyfriend now, Jenny?

Me: No, Grammy. 

Grandma: Well don't you want to get married?

Me: I do, someday, if I meet the right person. But I'm not in a rush. I'm doing other things like--

Grandma: Honey, I just want you to be happy. I want you to be taken care of. That would make me happy knowing that you are safe.

Me: I can take care of myself though, Gram.

Grandma: I know you can, but it's not the same. I'm not going to die until you get married and I get to dance at your wedding. 

So you know, no pressure or anything. 

I want my grandma to be happy. I don't want to think of her worrying about me and hanging onto life until she sees me get married. I don't even know if she remembers this pact, but I can't forget it. I picture her thinking to herself When I said it I didn't think it would take this long...

So I've been wondering if it might be easier to lie to her, purely for her own peace of mind. Then next time I come pick her up for lunch our conversation might go like this:

Grandma: Do you have a boyfriend now, Jenny?

Me: Yes! I do!

Grandma: Oh, wonderful! That makes me so happy. What's his name? What's he like? Do you have a picture of him?

--Here's where I really need to get dedicated to the lie. I know she will ask all about him and I know she will ask for a photo. Now I could just screen shot an imdb picture of my celebrity crush, Jason Ritter, and pretend he is an architect at Vandalay Industries and that we enjoy hiking together on Saturdays.  But where does it end? Will I always be making excuses for why Jason Ritter is away and not able to come to family gatherings? How many times can I say he's at the Catalina Wine Mixer? 

Honestly I do not have the ability, time, or desire to proficiently photo shop a picture of Jason Ritter and me together to continue with this charade. But I just want her to be happy. And, perhaps morbidly, I want her to feel like she can die if she wants to and not worry about me. So, Grandma, in a fictional world where you can use the internet and are reading this, just know that I'm ok. I promise. And I love you. Please don't force me to lie to you. Love, Jenny

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pacific Coast Road Trip Part II - Portland In Photos

Friday, June 26, 2015

If You Feel Too Much

I'm going to talk about something uncomfortable. Something that I was taught I wasn't supposed to talk about. That something is sadness.

I was 12 when I first realized that what was happening inside my mind had a name and it was called depression. I was 19 before I told anyone about it. And I was in my early 20's when I got to a point that I couldn't handle it on my own. I was so depressed that it was a struggle to get out of bed every day. I felt as though I was sinking farther into myself and father away from anyone else. I was so very heavy with being. I felt isolated inside of a grainy bubble even when I was surrounded by people, everyone's voices muffled just out of reach.

I had a friend going through depression who only felt ok when she was with other people; who felt terrified to be alone at any time. She would sometimes come over just to sit and listen to music while I worked on a painting or did homework. I was there for her, physically, but I didn't understand, not entirely, because I felt the opposite. I felt a little tiny bit better when I was alone because at least I was free to feel what it was I was going through without the added layer of being isolated in a crowd.

My brain chemistry has fluctuated throughout the years. I have done things that have helped and been through things that have made it much worse. I know there is a difference between sadness and depression. I have felt both. I have been anxious. I have felt like breath was being stolen from me as I had a panic attack on the 4th of July under the fireworks in New York City. I thought I was dying. I waited for death to take me away into the silence and painlessness. But I just went on breathing. I left my friend without a word and walked from the upper west side to the lower east side as fast as I could, through the crowded and stifling wet heat. I needed to go crazy inside my mind alone. I didn't want to do it in front of an audience.

I just finished reading Jamie Tworkowski's book, If You Feel Too Much. It is a collection of stories he's lived as the creator of To Write Love On Her Arms, which provides help and hope to people dealing with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. It was beautifully written, and my main take away was this: If we have each other we will be alright. Darkness occurs, everywhere, in all of us. But if we lean on each other and love one another...we will be alright. I fully believe this. I know this to be true because I have sat, many times, at the edge of darkness and wished for someone to help me climb my way back into the light.

I went through the most recent depressive state a few months ago and I was utterly alone. I think that from the outside it probably looks like I've got a lot of people, and support, and things going on. Let me tell you, I have a lot of things going on. I work very hard. I care very much about what I do and it's always on my mind. How can Brunch Club help more people? Spread more awareness? What else can I do? I think about these questions every day. I'm "busy." I get invited to events and I go. I used to go a lot more frequently. But in this time a few months ago something very sad happened. When I needed someone, when I needed to be less alone, when I needed someone to walk me through the darkness, no one was there. My "good friends" didn't answer their phones. They texted that they were super busy, but soon we'd talk. It's always soon. One person, who I had never had any sort of romantic relationship with, even said to me "Why the booty call?" "What? Is that I joke?" I texted back. I reached out through phone calls and texts and I said "I'm not doing so great. Do you think we could get together? At some point? Do you think you could come over? Call me back?" and no one did.

I sank further. I needed help. I didn't need anyone to do anything except talk to me and be there for me in proximity or over a phone call. That's it. And I couldn't find it in any of my friends. Everyone is so busy. When someone takes their own life we go on about what a tragedy it is. We all post on social media regretfully, saying how we wished we could have helped. My message is this: Open your eyes. Because people need each other. We are not designed to spend all of our hours and days and lives alone and we cannot survive that way. We have jobs and commitments and hobbies and so on. But what does any of that mean if we don't have each other? If you care for someone don't let them go through their darkness alone. They might not make it out the other side.