Danny

I watched his thin body spiral to the ground. He lie convulsing in the grass, on the side of road I take every day to get home. The billboard over his head displays before and after shots of Brian Urlacher’s hair transplant.

I don’t know what made me turn around. It was just important for me to know if he was still breathing.

I pull over at the car wash across the street, close enough to see his limbs pulsing like they’re wired with electricity.

“Hey, do you need help?” I call to him from my open car window.

Slowly, he lifts himself up off the ground in a movement that reminds me of a marionette.

A smile sits sideways on his face.

“Do you want me to call you an ambulance?” I ask him.

He staggers toward me. Cars blur past us.

“Do you know where I am?” he asks me, tottering closer.

He’s wearing a neon orange vest with reflective patching. Dirt covers his forearms and throat. He appears to be a tradesperson of some sort.

“You’re on Martin Road. You fell. Pretty hard, it looked like,” I say.

A pair of bloated eyes fights to stay open. “I hate my life,” he says.

“I’m sorry to hear this,” I say hesitantly. My stomach grumbles, reminding me it’s dinnertime, and this isn’t a part of my daily schedule.

“Where were you going?” I ask him.

“No where,” he slurs. “I belong no where.”

“Well, do you need me to take you somewhere?”

I arrive at that never-ending place I sometimes I find myself in conversation. The jogging pace inside my chest picks up to a full run.

“Can you take me to my parents?”

I stare at a tattoo on his arm of a stuffed bear. The words underneath it read, “Amber Lee.”

“Where are your parents?”

“In Winston.”

“Winston’s 40 minutes away. How were you getting home?”

“A bus, I think,” he says, scratching his head.

“Were you working earlier today?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been drinking?” I ask, letting his sour scent fill my nostrils.

“A little bit. Since I got off work.”

I peer at the man’s pockets and size the rest of him up. “Do you have any weapons on you?”

“Wait, what?” he says. “God no.” He pats himself down. I watch his hands intently.

“If you try anything, I’m going to ask you to get out of my car okay?” I tell him.

I’m usually not this straightforward. But then again, I don’t usually pick up men off the side of the road. I can hear my mother and grandmother screaming at me as I help him into the passenger side of my car.

“Okay, I’ll be good, I swear,” he says, raising his arms over his head.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Danny.”

I help Danny’s tattooed fingers find his seatbelt and then fumble with my own.

I drank a cup of coffee on my patio this morning. A hummingbird fluttered from flower to flower of my hanging plant, the longest living outdoor plant I’ve ever had. I sat, transfixed on the branch the hummingbird landed on. I had never seen one at rest. It blended in with the branch. Then the large twig sprung to life and zoomed out of mine.

After a few minutes, Danny’s sobs puncture the silence. Traffic is bumper to bumper. I realize that this is going to be a long trip.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I tell him everything’s going to be okay.

“You don’t understand,” he wails. “I’ve ruined everything. I’m a terrible person, and I don’t deserve to live.”

His tears wash over the dirt and streak his cheeks.

“Why do you say that?” I ask, grasping for context.

“I got my kids taken away from me, again.”

Before I can process the full weight of these words, Danny changes the subject.

“How old are you?” he sniffles.

“28.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Oakton Grove.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes…But I’m not sure why this is relevant.”

“Do you love him?”

“I… love him.”

“Are you sure? Do you really love him?”

“Yes.”

“Then why did you hesitate?”

“Because I don’t know why me having a boyfriend is important.”

“Why did you pick me up?”

“Because you looked like you needed help.”

“You’re an angel. Are you here to save me?”

I clear my throat. It’s suddenly very dry. “I just want to make sure you get home,” I tell him.

“Do you want anything more than that?”

“No.” I make sure to look Danny directly in the eyes.

He turns and looks out the window. We inch down the road. “If you want me to go, just say so. You can pull over and I’ll walk the rest of the way home.”

“Is that what you want to do?”

“No,” he says, sinking into the passenger seat. “I like talking to you.”

“Well, that’s good then.”

“You’re pretty,” he tells me.

“Again, I don’t get the relevancy.”

“You’re hilarious. Nothing I say gets through to you. You don’t give a shit. How old are you?”

“I told you already, I’m 28.”

“Oh. Where are you from?”

“Oakton Grove.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“We’ve been through this. Yes.”

“Someone sent you here today. You’re an angel sent to save me.”

“Why did your kids get taken away?”

Danny bites his lip and drums his fingers on the window. “Because I’m a bad dad.”

“What makes you a bad dad?”

It’s as if I accused him. He yells, “I love my fucking kids, okay?”

“Okay, I believe you,” I tell him. “Please don’t yell at me.”

“I’m sorry, angel. Will you take me away from here?”

“I’m taking you to your parents.”

“My parents can’t stand to see me like this.”

“Are you like this a lot?”

Danny nods and begins to sob again. He rocks in his seat. I see a five year old boy, lost and without his mother. I want to him pick up and hold him. This feeling fades into repulsion, as I watch a trail of snot run from his nose.

“Have you ever considered getting help?”

“A bunch of times. They spit me out, and I get right back to it.”

“You can change. You can get your kids back,” I tell him. I feel a swift sermon overcome me. “I know a dad who once lost his kids. He turned his whole life around and got them back.”

It’s the truth, but I don’t want to tell him how close this truth is to home.

“How old are you?”

“What?”

“Where are you from?”

“Danny…”

“Please tell me you don’t have a boyfriend.”

This circle of this conversation begins to wear on me. I continue to drive down the same road I’ve driven down for the last 10 years. It makes me feel old to have conversations that lead nowhere on roads I’ve travelled my whole life.

“When you drop me off at my parents, I’m going to run back the other way. The way we came.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because they can’t see me like this.”

“Then why are we going there?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

“What if I talked to your parents with you? What if we tell them what’s going on? And that you need some help getting treatment for your drinking?”

“How old are you, angel?”

When we arrive at the address Danny gave me, he sighs. He points to the house. “Look at those dumb Christmas lights. It’s July,” he laughs. “See, my parents are goofy. They don’t know anything. They never knew what to do with me. I’m just some dumb white boy. I’m a nobody.”

“That’s not true. You’re a dad. You’re somebody to someone.”

“Danny!” someone calls. Danny and I face the sound. There’s a skeletal woman with long, straight hair and dollish eyes standing in the street in front of my car.

“Danny, I was worried sick about you. Where the hell is your phone?”

“Dead,” he tells her, not moving from my car.

“Who are you?” she asks me.

“I’m no one. I found Danny here on the side of the road and just wanted to make sure he got home okay.”

“He’s fucked up, isn’t he?” Then she asks him. “You’re fucked up, aren’t you?”

Danny slips out of my car, slamming the door.

“You seem like a really nice person. Thank you.” The woman’s eyes hold mine for several seconds. I will myself to read her mind, decipher the pain that swims in her two pools of eyes.

I drive away and settle into defeat. My mission was to get Danny home, but I felt like I failed on a fundamental level. I have found myself here before. I know what it’s like to care about someone who talks in circles. And what happens when the patience dwindles. When hope runs dry.

My eyes catch a piece of blue fabric in the rearview mirror. It’s a utility bag of some sort. There’s a flashlight jutting out a side pocket. I don’t recognize any of these contents.

When I pull back into Danny’s parents’ driveway, I catch a glance of him and the skeletal woman embracing each other. He strokes the middle of her back, as she cradles him close. I wonder how long they’ve been falling apart and piecing themselves together.

I clear my throat and offer up Danny his work bag. “Thank you, angel,” he tells me.

For the next few weeks, I see Danny and his kids everywhere. There’s a daughter dancing on her father’s toes at a party. A father pushing his son on a swing. A father who tells his kids to wait for him at the end of the sidewalk.

I make up stories about them. There’s one where a dad hits rock bottom. He loses his kids for five years. The state says that he will never see them again unless he gets clean. When he reunites with them, he tells them he loves them, and the words are pure, unstained. And in that moment, everyone believes in the magic of being together again.

Practical ways to kick anxiety’s ass

I’ve been wanting to come up with a list of helpful anxiety combatants for a while now. Mostly for me, so that I have something tangible to grab onto when my brain goes into lockdown. But in light of all the mental health struggles being tossed around lately, I realize sharing these personal bits could potentially be useful to someone else.

Last week I sat in on a culture meeting at my work. One of my company’s leaders introduced himself, and in his introduction he said he has struggled with anxiety and depression, and is a recovered alcoholic.

I’ve been at my current job for less than a few weeks, and I’ve already talked about my anxiety and listened to a few of my coworkers’ run-ins with it. And these conversations have been accepted, if not encouraged. In a workplace of productive people. In a workplace with a bottom line.

It’s 2018, and if your workplace doesn’t acknowledge employee mental health as an appropriate or relevant topic of discussion to be had at least at some point, your business risks being left behind. Fuck, it should be left behind.

When I’m having a full blast anxiety attack, I tend to roll around like dough in bed and wait out the sickness. Every thought that enters my head is incomplete and razor sharp. Full of fear and ill intent. Not a single thought of comfort or relief. These are thoughts I do not want to leak outside my mouth so I chew on them and swallow them. And they jab at me on the inside. They pulsate in my stomach. They run up and down my spine like angry toddlers. An endless stream of them.

I don’t know what to do with myself except wait until my body caves into exhaustion. And when I come outside the noise, I always feel like I’ve just wasted another part of my life. Anxiety is such a waste of time.

I used to be terrified of being alone because this is usually where the 50-eyed monster finds me. So I looked for complete stimulation. All the time.

Being alone was too much of a risk. But over the last few years, I’ve had a lot of alone time. Which means I’ve had a lot of attacks. But this has also given me the chance to get intimate with my disorder. Study it. Recognize when it’s on its way. I’ve learned how to set up traps for it. Sometimes, how to give it a job, make it work for me. But mostly how to accept it as a frequent visitor.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder a little more than three years ago. I’m not on medication, but have considered it a few times. I don’t think people who take medication are weaker or stronger than me. Everyone’s anxiety is different. I prefer to maximize all my outlets, outlets that have been working for me for a while.

Obviously, these activities are useless if you’re in too deep, but if you have studied your anxiety enough, and can get a good whiff of it when it’s approaching, maybe one of these could be of use to you.

Move your ass

Yes, I mean exercise. Give it a good eye roll if you want. I know I did at one point. I enjoy exercise, but I’m definitely not one of those people who is on a constant live or die exercise schedule. After long work days, I often have to outsmart my brain into letting my body exercise. The hardest part of exercise is getting yourself there.

Think about yourself hitting that free-fall point during a good workout. Do you feel animalistic? Strong? Like you’re knocking the piss out of invisible demons? After a good workout, how do you look at yourself? Do you slink around in your clothes? Or better, outside them?

My favorite exercises entail a certain element of risk and freedom. Running outside 30 minutes before the sun drops. Challenges and obstacle courses that demand problem solving. Dance is one of my favorite ways to sweat. Zumba, hip-hop, anything where you can showcase your inner freak or completely embarrass yourself and no one around you will care. Or, if you prefer to dance in the comfort of your living room, then truly no one is around to care.

I have large hips, and I know how to use them, damn it.

Exercise that doesn’t feel like work is generally the exercise I’m most interested in. Machines put me to sleep, so I like to be creative about it. I think a lot of people are in this boat. They don’t like exercise because they find it to be a chore.

I’ve discovered I need exercise. I’m a completely different person when I allow myself to work out three to five times a week. I’m less likely to fall victim to my own head games.

Exercise is one of the best, most scientifically proven stress-relievers and weapons against anxiety.

Do something artsy fartsy

There’s a reason those adult coloring books are so popular. I myself like to draw and write. If it’s not obvious, this website is a form of therapy. Though, sometimes writing in particular can summon the beast, especially if I’m writing about something that’s particularly painful to me. Some people blaze up a guitar. Others knit. I have a friend who has fingers made for jewelry. Another who knows her way around a piece of felt.

Making art, whether you’re any good at it or not, has so many mental health benefits. Not only are you creating new brain cells, but you’re boosting your dopamine levels. And dopamine is delicious.

A few months ago I drew something that took me 13 straight hours. I hardly noticed the time I was so immersed in the different shapes and shading. The second I dropped the pencil, I floated down from whatever dimension I was in. Though a lot of people may argue differently, that’s 13 hours of non-wasted time. There’s a product at the end of the creating. You feel good about doing a thing.

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Also, when you’re creating, you’re less likely to hurt yourself or anyone else.

Lie around in a pool of your own filth

Some days, I don’t want anything to do with art or exercise. I want to sit in a pool of steaming water and think about nothing. These are the days my anxiety is nipping the back of my heels. I need a quick fix.

I’ve really been into those bath bombs that have little treats at the center of them. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. There’s a stick of cinnamon or a clove waiting for you at the bottom of the bomb. A little treasure.

I like these guys because they force you to focus on what’s inside. I’ll submerge my hand in the water and watch and feel the fizzle of salt. Until there’s nothing but a small object that I study and twirl between my fingers.

Baths are my way of making my life come to a screeching halt. They’re also where I get some of my best writing ideas. Because thinking about nothing sometimes leads to something.

Build your music playlists

Spotify is one of my favorite things. For two reasons really. One is the Monday feature. New music based on your preferences. New artists who will speak to your soul and talk you through your morning. At the start of every week. A lot of people dread Mondays, and I imagine people with severe anxiety especially do.

A few weeks ago I was curling my hair and listening to the new Neko Case album on Spotify. It was my first week of work. My anxiety has been pretty high because I’m learning tons of new things and meeting tons of new people. The song “Halls of Sarah” started playing, and I leaned into the words and starting bawling. It was a good release to have before the start of my day.

I also enjoy the build your own playlist feature. I’ve been adding to my RUN and Write playlists for years. My Write playlist is for when I’m editing and writing. My RUN list is filled with workout jams. Pretty self-explanatory. But then I also have a playlist titled “Yold,” which is reserved for songs that make me feel both young and old at the same time. Then there’s “Bitch Mix,” which is for when I want to connect to my feminine side. Pretty scary to say, but there was once a time in my life when I listened to very few female artists. Their voices embarrassed me. I turned them down at stoplights. This is how Bitch Mix was formed. All these ladies help me when I’m really struggling with the dark side. They are my mothers and sisters.

Music legitimately saves lives. We all know this. Sometimes I feel intravenous with my music. I need it more than most things, and I’m grateful for it.

Pet a dog

My dog is my hero. She has magical super powers that ooze out of her eyeballs whenever she looks at me. I always wanted a dog. Especially a high energy one that needs a lot of attention. Dogs force you to get up and stop moping. They need to pee. They need to eat. They need you to clean up the tinfoil like object they just barfed onto the carpet. They want to play.

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Some of my favorite days are the ones I’m listening to the rain and lying next to my dog, Maya. She sighs heavily while I write in bed. Her warmth is a reminder that I exist. That I’m loved profusely by a living creature.

Dogs (and cats, etc) are amazing mental health enhancers.

Oh, but there’s so many more

I have a lot of other go-to anxiety fighters: nature walks, orgasms, video games, anything that gets me to laugh my ass off, having a meaningful conversation with another human, and turning off my fucking phone. These aren’t secrets by any means. They’re just reminders for you and me for when we begin to slip under.

What’s your list? If you don’t have one, then that’s a clear sign that you need to clear out some time for your rad self.

My favorite spot is your favorite spot

35267152_10217184344425649_608698351625437184_nThe mountains are calling, and I must go. Cool, but when I can’t make it to the mountains, I’ll happily settle for my favorite nature spot, which is ten measly minutes away from my house.

It’s a grove that’s tucked behind a woodsy, unincorporated community. It features a dusty, gravel trail wrapped around a man-made pond people enjoy fishing in. There’s a grassy knoll I sometimes force myself to scale. I call it Three Trees Hill even though there’s way more than three trees that greet you at the top of it. I’m super lazy with titles.

I like this spot because there’s no more than four to five people there at a time. And everyone winks at each other like we’re all in on some big secret about being there.

Today I sported my new favorite shirt (this blog has a few of my favorite things). I bought this shirt from a street cart in Boston. It’s royal blue with white lettering. It says: WICKED SMAHT.

I know, how touristy.

But there’s brilliance in running in a shirt like this if you’re particularly self-conscious about your body. People will judge your form the second it appears in their plain view. Because that’s what we do. We’re trained from the womb to assess each other’s sacks of flesh and bone. How much control we have over it and how much work we put into it.

Here’s the fun part: when people assess my body and assign a term to it while I’m wearing this shirt, they’re distracted by the terminology I’ve thrown out at them without any introduction, without vocality.

WICKED SMAHT.

I catch three walkers and a cyclist scanning the words with their eyes. They seem to accept my projection, offering me sly smirks in return as I run toward them, breathing in heavy, inconsistent breaths.

After I get over myself and my total win of a shirt, I focus on the residue of the day. Today was a good one but a hard one. At work, I received the most amount of feedback I’ve received in a while. I felt the full weight of it still sitting on my shoulders and wrapped around my neck like an itchy scarf.

I just started a new job, and I’m relearning the way I’ve been doing things for the past four years. My new job calls for me to be free-falling, fun, inventive. It’s what I wanted, but in starting off, I realize I’m unsure what to do with all the white space that clashes with the constraints of time.

I’m a writer. I can make magic when I put my mind to it, when my mind isn’t trying to unravel me and wear me down. I’m one of those fortunate souls who has known what I’m good at and what I like to do. But when I’m writing about a brand new topic I’m unfamiliar with, I can feel myself scraping around in the dark for information. When words leave my fingers they feel clownish, contrived. I don’t want my reader to think I don’t give a fuck.

Because dear reader, I give a fuck.

So here I am running and thinking about writing and readers, and this deer pops its head out of a patch of pussy willows, or what I’m calling pussy willows because it’s fun to say. The deer flicks its ears and pretends not to exist. My stomach backflips at the sight of this doe-eyed discovery. 35329201_10217184348265745_1398846757835636736_nThis is the part where I try to concentrate real hard on the stress I’m clenching in my body’s tightest sections. This is the part where I give myself away to the deer. My favorite spot is your favorite spot. You can see deer anywhere if you look closely.

And if you look deep enough into the eyes of a red-winged blackbird you’ll find murder. Because they’re crazy this time of year. Trust me on this one. You’re probably interrupting their bone session if you’re anywhere near them right now. In flight, they look as burly as football players, with fiery red shoulder pads. Don’t mess with these bad to the bone birds.

I run. The wetness on my back is soothing, reassuring. Maybe I can outrun the mosquitos’ thirst. Maybe I’ll see my work the way I see the flutter of wings, rotted bark, or insect eggs on leaves. I’m waiting to catch my breath, and then it floods my lungs. I’m a blur, whirling through curls of green.

I have to stop running at some point. There’s a cotton candy pink sunset sitting on the horizon like the ultimate dessert of the day. I thank it, think of it as a reward for working my problems out here. The water and sky accept my honesty. They pat me on the back with their long, wisps of arms.35296111_10217184344225644_7128660158099488768_n (2)The four other trailblazers and I stand still as deer in our respective places along the trail, wordlessly uttering our silences. Together, we eat the sunset.

I feel like a Linkin Park song

Sometimes the noise in my head is so loud I just have to say fuck it and surrender to the tears that are pushing and shoving their way through my tear ducts. They all want a turn to star in the show. Me, me, pick me, Sarah. Cry me! I’m next in line.

Today I cried in my car parked in front of a Subway. I’ll take the 6’’ inch turkey with chips, and a cup full of snot, please. There was this guy in a dark Mustang parked next to me who looked startled, then squeamish—like he just saw a squirrel get run over, and he was trying not to stare directly into the pool of glistening guts. So warm and gooey.

Subway is long gone. I’m home alone. I reactivated, then deactivated my Facebook at least five times. I tried to change my profile picture to something less morbid, less “feel-sorry-for me.” But then again, I don’t know what face I could possibly make to convey all of what I’m trying to say. It’s known in my circle of friends, co-workers, and family that I’ve shied away from social media and why. After fumbling around on Facebook again and again and failing to speak up for myself, I went to the gym.

The gym is one of the few routines—that and my beautiful drop of delicious sunshine a.k.a writing group—I have to my name. Zumba always makes me feel GOOD. Like I’m one sexy, strong mama with a slammin’ pair of hips. Like the flaming-bird-spirit-child I’m supposed to be. If I could stare at my ovaries in the mirror during Zumba, I would. I would ask them out on a date and get to know them.

And then the adrenaline dripped like a hose that’s just been turned off. And here I am. Alone with myself. It doesn’t help that my pits smell.

It’s 10 p.m. right now, and I’m forcing myself to write. Even though I detest writing when I start to dip this low.

The truth is I don’t want to sound like a Linkin Park song.

I’m sorry if you like Linkin Park. I like Linkin Park, too, actually. Back in the day, Meteora was my jam. But for some reason I thought I was light years away from Meteora in terms of my life. I thought I only had room for Bob Dylan, for Iron and Wine right now.

It’s not only the lyrics (Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit, and Easier to Run, if you want to get all technical about it). I also feel like I’m made of Chester Bennington’s voice. I’m the hairball covered in shards of glass scraping on your tongue. I’m like swallowing a blister that explodes in the back of your throat. I guess I just want kind of want to break things. Or run.

I told everyone that I need some alone time because I truly do. I told them because I’m not one of those people who just disappears. My brother tells me, “Dude, Sarah, you sound sooooo emo right now.” One of my cousins thinks I’m pulling some bomb ass Edgar Allan Poe shit. My friends and boyfriend support me, but linger in the shadows just in case I need anything. My parents have no idea what planet we’re on, and that I live in it.

I’m not blaming my parents for this. Even though they have a lot to do with things. In fact, I have this ancient biblical-like scroll I could pull out and read to them. But I have never blamed anyone for my problems, and I’m not about to start.

My wanting quiet time is supposed to be a good thing. I set out to work on my writing, settle the racing thoughts, figure out where I want to go next. YOU ARE HERE on the map. But I’m having a rough time with it because in the silence, I’m finding yesterday’s news. It turns out I’ve been hoarding newspapers for years.

I’m reverting back to the gurgling, black pit of insecurity and helplessness that we so cherish in our adolescence. And the worst part is I’m not okay with that. The steaming bitch inside me is not onboard with letting me feel this all out. Even though “feeling this all out” is a part of the plan.

Because the same hustler, the same back patter who has been working with me, inside me, for years is also the one handing me my ass, my severed head.

Here’s what you don’t learn sitting at a desk or find staring at you in the middle of the notes you wrote in your college rule notebook: sometimes you sweat blood to get out of the dark cloud of your home life, you push yourself, you come ploughing through the other side—and you realize that it kind of feels the same. Except there’s nothing there. There is no broken home, no screaming match, no violence on the other side. The nothingness itself is what eats away at you.

You move into an apartment. You feel the wind in your hair of being on your own. You find a full-time gig, a window to your career, something to do with your time. You have someone to share it with, who understands what it’s like to be a 20 something on your own in 2014, someone who will hug you through it all. You think, I’m ready to begin my life, but wait…

And suddenly, IT is there. IT never left you. IT rings like a bell reminding you what you left behind. (Speaking of Poe) BELLS BELLS BELLS; to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells. There’s nothing touching you. You can’t feel it on your skin, taste it on your tongue. You try like it’s your religion to phrase and re-phrase it the best way you can. You try to outrun your past, and you find it here waiting for you—sleeping in your bed, sharing a cup of coffee in the morning with you. It says, “hey man, remember me?” with a nod of its head. It tells you fuck off in between red lights.

My parents are cropping up in casual conversations. It’s almost how I introduce myself, how I recap my weekend. How was your weekend, Sarah? Oh you know, my mom wants to live in my living room. The usual. How do I tell people that that she calls me weekly, pleading in pain, while I’m at work? I don’t. Because that shit doesn’t fly, dat shit don’t pay rent. Sarah, please help me. Please help me, Sarah. And I feel ready to cave, to just give it all up. To move back into the cigarette-stained apartment, to suffocate again with her. All in the name of HELP.

If you read my pulse, you’d find my family there. If you listened close enough, you’d hear something bleating like a half-wounded sheep. I used to have this on lockdown. For a long time FAMILY was the one genre of honest writing that was off limits for me.

I desperately want to ebb and flow in front of my siblings. They after all lived through the same thing. But I’m too stubborn to show them, too scared to get black ink all over their clothes. My brother is a young dad now. He’s found a way to outsource his rage, through scream-o music, and my jaw drops in awe whenever I hear him scream. It’s thrilling to me—like the feeling I get on the Giant Drop. My sister has a new boyfriend she’s really pumped about. And apparently she’s what the kids call “a boss” at her job. The other one is going to school after silently digging holes into herself and straggling from house to house for years. I worry about them as often as I click on a link, as I type a sentence, as I turn a tight corner. I also well an ocean of pride for them because I know what it takes. It takes everything just to move an inch in the muddy waters of poverty, of pain you wouldn’t believe even if you lived it. Because trust me, I don’t believe my eyes.

Being the first to graduate in your family sounds like a big fucking accomplishment. It is, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something so pathetic about coming out the other side alone. There’s no one at the finish line to share this with me. I left people behind. When I come back to visit, there’s this artificiality, this distance, this need for them to understand me. I miss my people. I need my people. But I’m afraid to get close.

Let’s get back to Linkin Park, and why the bitch inside my head is not okay with me feeling the music. When I was 13, this was expected. I just let myself feel whatever I had to feel, and then moved on. Mostly, I felt angry. I felt suffocated. But as soon as I opened the sliding door, when I left the dingy, cigarette stained apartment, shit was funny again. I turned to my friends and teachers; I didn’t push them away or push the button on self-sabotage when my open life was staring me in the face.

Sometimes I wish I could just inject funny into me. I used to see directly past pain, and a lot of that had to do with my ability to open my mouth, hear the sound come crashing behind my tonsils, and laugh with my entire body. My defenses are down. I’m so good at making myself laugh, at laughing at myself. But right now my humor sounds like a radio playing muffled music, short-circuiting under water.

I try to move on, but really what I’m doing is distracting myself, over stimulating myself—with the Internet mostly. With the opinions and thoughts of everyone else, so I don’t have to be alone, truly alone. At home and at my desk, I’m living in this hyper sensory bubble. When something happens—not just to my family, to people I hardly know or don’t know at all—the bubble I’m living in zaps me. My hair stands up straight from the electricity. When a journalist is beheaded. When a comedian kills himself. When an entire population is led to an edge at gunpoint. I suddenly can feel that, too.

I feel like a dandelion that’s being plucked over and over. When did I become such a delicate, little flower?

And then there’s the whole what am I going to do with my life thing that plagues us all. I figured out a long time ago that I’m not okay with doing something that isn’t meaningful to me. What I really want to do depends on if other people think I have anything legit to say. It has to smell new, feel new. It can’t be covered in chocolatey clichés. For the love of god, I want to be a writer. A WRITER. I usually follow this with a punchline, chortle, a snort. Why of all things, does it have to be that? Why couldn’t I have picked something else to fall in love with?

I don’t even know what kind of writer I want to be. My boyfriend tells me I need a niche. Hey babe, you’re good at movie and book reviews. Hey babe, you love poetry. I know I need to narrow things down, too. The trouble is I have this professorial snob in the back of my mind who is wagging HIS (because let’s face it, most known writers are men) finger at me, telling me I’m not smart enough to be a writer. He speaks in a British accent of course. He asks me what I know. I tell him I’m not sure. And he laughs a merry laugh that only a well-esteemed, well-accomplished old, white man can.

I know a million people around me who are feeling the flimsiness of being a 20 something in 2014. As my best friend said to me last night in between my large gulps of air, our parents, people before us, don’t know what it’s like now—to graduate from college, to write a resume, to encourage yourself, to find a job, to learn the ropes of a new one, or to be stuck in one. It’s a miracle that I still have my best friend, that I have friends to share these raw sentiments with.

In a sense, this is why I’m sharing all of this. I know I say I want alone time, but this does not mean I’m truly alone. I know you are on the other side feeling some of these things, too.

Here’s the advice that I’m telling my wide-eyed, sleep-deprived self this morning. (It’s no longer 10 p.m. I woke up. It’s 7:30. I have to be at work at 9.)

The advice I tell myself is nothing fancy. It doesn’t wear designer clothes. It’s what I tell everyone else. Here it goes: just roll with it. If you feel pain, fucking let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Girl, don’t push it down. Where do you think that shit goes? You can’t simply have a bowel movement, and out it goes. Wrapping up insecurity and pain and stamping a frilly bow on top of it all is not the way to go about things. It has never helped anyone. Hiding breeds bad adults. Plain and simple. Say something. For fuck’s sake, wake up, speak up. Turn around and look. We’re all bleeding around you.

Barrel full of breakdowns- November 29

I recently had a grand old epiphany. I do not love myself, and I need to change that. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.

The funny thing is, epiphanies aren’t uncharacteristic of me. I’ve had them weekly, for as long as I can remember. It’s quite exhausting.

I made pretty good regulars at the bar doing this natural habit of mine. Poor Sean. He gets the bulk of them. He can always tell when one comes on. He’ll be going about his business, playing his videogames, and I will get this crazy ferret look in my eyes. It always starts off, “You know what I just realized…”

I have a lot of triggers. Reading good writing especially sets me off. Movies. Images of and encounters with others I meet and know. Odds and ends of conversation that eventually pile up and mean something to me.

I start to move around the room and flail my arms like Gumby in profound discovery. And Sean can’t help but watch politely, with his Xbox controller nestled in hands. He will take it in, measure it, and say something in two minutes that sums up a 30 minute gurgled blurb of words I have just vomited all over the living room.

And I’ll be all classy and say something like, “Fuck man, yeah, that’s exactly what I mean!”

Not every epiphany is Jesus is the Messiah worthy. Not every conclusion I reach makes sense, and sometimes Sean throws it back at me like a football. “But baby, last week, you said something that totally contradicts this…”

But “My name is Sarah, and I do not love myself” is an epiphany that knocked the wind out of me. Once when I was little I jumped off this swing set in the park behind my grandmother’s house. The second I jumped, I knew it was too soon. When my little girl belly collided with the wood chips, the cold fall air sucked out everything inside me. No one was there to see it. I couldn’t speak to call for help, let alone make any sound at all. Maybe someone will pass me by, I thought, see me fumbling around on the ground.

This epiphany feels like my stomach and lungs have been knocked outside my body. I’m left running my fingers over the wood chips, trying to find my voice.

I am not alone this time. I have people. I especially have Sean. I’m choosing to share this with others, but I’m still very much alone in my journey to love myself. I must figure out how to love myself, not because others say I should.

I’m also not about to project the love I have for other people onto myself. You know that saying, “You cannot love others without loving yourself first?” This is horseshit when it comes to me. I love people plenty. It can get creepy sometimes. This is different, and I have to figure it out.

After I wrote “My name is Sarah, and I do not love myself,” I had no air left inside me. I woke the next day in a cold sweat, ready to ambush my blog and pull it off the internet, terrified what people would think when they read it. And I remembered I didn’t love myself and felt like shit because now I truly know so.

But for some reason, I was able to go about my ways just fine, well in the same clunky but sure enough fashion I go about my life every morning. I put on my business professional wear that I am getting good at assembling. I made an overeasy egg, popped it, watched it explode on toast before inhaling it, my favorite. I ran to the train with my still wet hair flying and turning to daggers in the cold air with seconds to spare like always. I read on the train and every now and then glanced up to watch a man play solitaire on his phone, eavesdrop on a woman’s conversation about Thanksgiving plans to drive with her family to Ohio.

I returned to work, ready to start loving myself at an alarming rate. I’m a 20 something who lacks patience. Surprise, surprise. But I had a plan for the day. Clearly someone as disorganized as I am needs to start having plans—another epiphany I’ve been trying to follow through on lately. Send email to Lily. Find one job and apply for it. Email Joan, ask her if she has work for me to do yet. Edit my friend’s book.

The reason my list is not composed of more “work” things is because work in general has come to a halt for everyone, as it does in consulting work sometimes. And also, I’m a quasi-employee. I have an expiration date: December 22nd is my last day. Merry Christmas to me, I’m fucked if I don’t get a job that pays the bills in the next couple of weeks.

I emailed Lily. She’s a writer who I’m trying to connect with. Apparently networking is what the cool kids do these days. We found each other on LinkedIn. She has this beautiful smile that’s in mid-laugh and that lights up her profile picture, very uncharacteristic of the professional headshots with blue backdrops and screwed on smiles. I set up a day to meet her and was decently excited. However, this was the only thing on the list I did that day.

One thing I noticed when I got off the elevator on the 25th floor that morning was that no one was around. It was the three administrative assistants and I, the one and only intern, who decided to come into work.

The day before Thanksgiving. The office was closing early. Oh yeah. People were prepping to see their families. Oh right. I wasn’t at all ready to see mine. My grandpa, who was one of the main reasons worth suffering through the holidays, was hospitalized a week after Thanksgiving last year. He waited until Christmas was over, and then he died. Sometimes, I think the tighter I close my ears, the louder the silence, the closer I will get to feeling him. I look for him in the pond reeds. Maybe it’s something in the geese calls. I still hear the rattle, his lungs emptying like a spray can.

I tried to not let the vacant surrounding cubes bug me. In general, I try to ignore the cubes, occupied or unoccupied. I don’t like to think about people working in a literal box for hours every day. It gives me the heebie jeebies. I had a plan. Stick to the plan, I said. It’s okay, Sarah, you are doing great. You got this. I “love” you, Sarah.

I opened my email, got the usual mechanical rejection letters, but remained in good spirits about meeting with Lily next week. Onto task number two. Then I had to take a massive piss. I relieved myself, but took a detour after, my feet hitting the boxy floor in the silence underneath me. Good lord, people really aren’t here today. Why I am here? Why don’t I just go home?

I should have just went to the bathroom and went straight back to my cube. But no, I really wanted to see what an empty floor looked like. When I moseyed back to my cube and sat down, the nothingness started creeping in over me, breathing its bad breath on my shoulder. Task number two. Task number two. I forgot what task number two was.

It was a radical turn of events. I jumped over to job searching. Task number what? Eh, who fucking knows? I just need a job. I need a job to call my own. Hey, this job looks like it would fit me. Wait, no. 3 to 5 years. Fuck you, I’m applying anyway.

Sarah, you don’t have Social Media development training, why do you think you can apply for this? Sarah, you don’t even know what SEO means. Sarah, you’re pretty much incompetent for all of these jobs you’re clicking on. Here’s a thought Sarah, why don’t you write another funny cover letter where you pretend you are competent and fit into these places you’re applying for? Yeah, you’re funny. People find that quaint. You’re a loveable golden retriever. But you don’t have to have any real skill to land a job.

Let’s leave the brain power to the big boys. There’s always that bar down the street from your house. You may have to wear low cut shirts and press cold beers against your nipples again, but you’ll make friends, like you always do. You have no one here. At least you won’t be alone in a box—given a computer and crayons to color with and told to figure out your job. Besides, you gave up remember? Now you spend your days dreaming and mentally jacking off.

And I’m back to drowning in an internal pool of self-directed sarcasm. Old habits. Not loving myself. When did the inside of my head begin to look like the inside of an asshole?

Then something happened that I will try my best to explain. It’s something that’s never happened to me in this extremity before. Yes, I overload on myself all the time. Usually, I find some Grumpy Cat meme or watch some dumb video a friend sent me of a guy getting a pie slammed into his face, and I start to laugh a little and ignore myself. But right then, humor didn’t appeal to me because of the way I have been using it lately. I’ve been using humor to pick at the scabs of myself.

Eh, who are you kidding? You laughed at your own jokes anyway. You know what’s funny, how much of a delicate flower you have become. A limp daisy. A blown dandelion.

I thought about how hard it’s going to be to love myself when I am unemployed on my ass weeks from now. And this was the part where I short-circuited.

Suddenly, I got really warm. Like after I’ve pounded back a few beers. I could feel my ears surge. Is it hot in here? Then I started to breathe aloud. Well that’s weird. And hard. I am pretty in pretty good physical shape. I know how to control my breathing very well. So this sudden loss of breath after doing nothing at all struck me as odd, and I was scared. Oh man, oh man, something is definitely not right. Calm the fuck down.

Tears started trickling down and burning my face. In the middle of my cube, I began to cry and wage war on myself. Like a little bitch. Snot and eyeliner running like lava. The whole nine yards. I used my shirt sleeves to wipe my nose. I didn’t want to get up. There were still the administrative assistants. Surely, they would see my face. You look like Rudolph the fucking reindeer. A jolly sight indeed.

I was scared shitless. What was happening to me? I googled suicide hotlines. But wait, this isn’t right. I don’t want to kill myself. Is there a number you can call for when you begin to cry and lose your breath in the middle of your cube?

Then I googled “how to seek emergency mental health when you don’t have health insurance.” I fanned my face with one hand and scrolled with the other, read quick phrases, but nothing popped out at me, explained to me how this could be fixed and right NOW, except “call 911.” I feel like I’m dying. Wilt, little flower, wilt! Should I call 911? But then I will never get a good job reference from this place. Sarah, why the hell are you crying and laboring like a pregnant woman right now of all places? FUCK!

I log into Facebook, forcing myself to blow air consistently through my lips, and scan my list of friends. Who is online right now? Now. Right now. Who is online, and who do I trust to help me through this RIGHT NOW? Being alone with myself is not helping. You’re damn right, it’s not.

I messaged my friend Lauren. She’s a writer too.

“Lauren, are you busy right now?”

“No, why what’s up?”

“I need you to do me a favor.”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“I’m having a….”

And then I deleted the words before I finished typing the sentence out. What will Lauren think of this adorable little scene? Probably that I’m fucking crazy. She’ll probably start avoiding me from this point forward… Sarah, stop bothering these poor people; they actually have jobs to do, you know? No one has time to coddle you.

“I need you to tell me how your day is going. Right now.”

“My day is pretty boring, actually haha…Sarah is everything okay?”

I logged off Facebook, slammed my laptop closed, and blew my nose into my jacket hanging onto the back of my chair. Oh the drama. Sarah, give me a break.

I sat trying to remember my brief training and attempt at breathing exercises a long time ago. But I couldn’t concentrate. The dragon lady menstruating, stomping around in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. This scene was too much for her to handle. She couldn’t get over how pathetic it was and needed to remind me so. I looked at my phone. A missed call from Lauren.

I got up and floated over to a team meeting room. Success, none of the three people looked up. The team meeting room: windows, windows everywhere. A glass box. I ripped the black phone off the side table and pulled it down onto the large one in the middle of the room. I sat with my back facing the glass, heaving.

I called Sean. He had been in Colorado for work for 3 days. Maybe he hadn’t gotten on the plane to go home yet, I thought.

When I heard his voice I tried to sound calm. Fail. Fucking fail, Sarah. He can tell. Find a tissue already. Never mind, here we go, more tears. Like a toddler who falls down and cries only when other people lurch to see if she is okay.

“Sean, Sean. I’m… having… some sort of breakdown or something, I think. No one’s here. None of my managers are here, I don’t talk to the others, I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do.”

Sean, who has been armed and prepared for almost fires with me for years recognizes the urgency. “Sarah, I need you to listen to me, okay, sweetie?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Okay, yeah. What should I do?”

“I need you to go your desk, get your things, and go home. Now. No one is there anyway. Stop torturing yourself and go home. The second you leave the building, you will feel better. Promise.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re right. Okay. I got this. I’m going home.

“Sarah, seriously. Don’t stay. Go home. Call me when you are on the train.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry and thank you. Hey, I love you.”

“I love you too. Call me on the train.”

“Yes, the train. I got it.”

I wasn’t ready to leave the room. I wanted to wait for the hiccups to stop before I collected my things. I called Lauren back and told what had just happened, that I was sorry for taking off on her. I told her not to worry, I was okay now. She told me she knew how I felt; she was where I was before. Her voice was smooth when she said I needed a new job that fit me better, and that I deserved to be happy. I told her I loved her and had a plan. Get my things. Get on the train.

I asked her if she wanted to hang out with me. The thought of seeing her when I got home instead of a Sean-less empty apartment cleared some of my dizziness and made the room look less watery. She told me to come over. We could do our workshop. She, Alexa, and I could do our writing workshop that we missed last week because of our busy lives.

I left the room and headed back to my desk. I didn’t sit down. I began collecting my things. Mike, one of the three assistants, sauntered on over to me. I froze.

“Here’s this month’s calendar.”

He held it in his hand for a moment and lingered on my face, waiting for me to grab it.

I grabbed it and looked at it like I was reading it for a second. “Thanks Mike! Hey, Happy Turkey Day, eh? You gonna be playing your new Playstation hardcore this weekend?” When I smiled, my face unstuck a little bit. It was good enough though. He continued on.

“You know it! Hey you too, and don’t forget to do your time sheet.”

“Aw, I almost forgot! Thanks for reminding me, bud.”

“You bet.”

I would do my timesheet at home. I had a plan. Pack the rest of my things. Get on the train. Call Sean. Go home. Workshop with Lauren and Alexa.

I practically ran off the 25th floor, my boots hitting the planks disguised in carpet under my feet. I said goodbye and Happy Thanksgiving to the greeters at the door. It always struck me as odd. This building has its own personal greeters. They grew on me too, especially the woman with the bright pink lipstick. One of these days, I am going to ask her name, but in the meantime I run like hell to get out.

It was sleeting outside, and my boots cowered and said sorry for the lack of traction. I pushed past to the front of the crosswalk and waited at the light with the tough, gritty bunch in the crowd. A man revved the invisible engine in his foot, ready to spill blood on the long Chicago sidewalks. Jaywalkers wandered across anyway, ignored the “fuck you” horns and close life calls.

When the light turned, I kept up with the frantic turkey trot. Oh how we gobble each other. I crossed the bridge and passed the disabled homeless man in a wheelchair I bought a cheese, ham, and turkey sandwich once. He shielded his face when he saw it, so I slathered it in mayonnaise, ate it, and dabbed my mouth with embarrassment on the train ride home.

Once at Union Station, I descended the cement stairs. Down below the ground, hell bound trains screamed out their rusty pains. I picked up speed when I saw others running, even though I knew I still had time. Out of breath, I barreled breasts first into the open train. I pillaged through my pockets and pulled my phone free. I began to dial Sean’s number.