I’ve spent the last two schoolyears several hours away from home at college. One of my roommates has family near mine, so every once in a while over the course of the year we’d drive down to visit them.
I’m rather quiet around strangers and often my friends as well, so it’s reasonable for them to expect me to be the same around my immediate family.
Oh, if only that were the case.
Mom: *as I’m getting ready to leave* “Don’t you want to take the bok choy?”
Me: “I don’t know what to make with it.”
Mom: “Stir fry!”
Me: “I don’t know how to make stir fry!”
Mom: “Yes, you do!”
Me: “No, I don’t.”
Mom: “Well, why’d you have me buy it, then?”
Me: “YOU BOUGHT IT YOURSELF!”
Then mom threw up her hands in exasperation, we said goodbye, and my friend and I left.
Me: “Sorry about that.”
Him: “No problem. I thought about saying something, but I didn’t want to prolong the fight.”
Me: “Fight? Oh, no, we were just talking.”
Him: “Okay, then.”
A few months later, I was back home for vacation.
Mom: *chiding Ian* “Don’t eat right before dinner.”
Ian: “I’m hungry!”
Mom: “Wait until dinner!”
Ian: “I can’t wait that long!”
Mom: “IT’S FIFTEEN MINUTES!”
Me: “Oh, my God. He was totally right about us.”
Mom: “Excuse me?”
Me: “You know how one of my roommates came by a couple months ago? He was like, yeah, y’all were arguing and I was a little concerned. And I was really confused at the time, ‘cause we were just having a conversation, but now I’m realizing we shout all the time. Like our base volume is one notch below a shout. We’re so loud.”
Mom: “…Oh my God. You’re right.”
Long story short, everyone outside of my family always thinks we’re fighting when we’re just talking, and I think we confuse my friends.
Recently, I was hanging out with my friends one fine evening when we decided to play Cards Against Humanity. For those of you not familiar with the game, it’s like a horribly fucked-up version of Apples-to-Apples. We chose to play the version where every time you won a round, you’d take a shot. Of Skittles. We also had a ghost hand; one person would randomly play a card from the deck, and if that was chosen, everyone had to take a shot.
As you might imagine, this progressively grew into a worse and worse punishment.
Shot 1: Actually rather good. The Skittles mingle together into a decent taste, although you do have to spend a good minute chewing.
Shot 2: Still tastes pretty good, but my jaw is beginning to hurt.
Shot 3: My jaw is aching.
Shot 4: The ghost keeps winning. I’ve downed about 80 Skittles.
Shot 5: I’m considering the possibility that I will vomit Skittles. I’m waiting longer and longer to take the next shot, and hoping that if I eat enough tortilla chips in between, it will wash away the flavor long enough to down another shot.
Shot 6: Why can’t I just swallow them all whole? This is how I will die.
Shot 7: Skittles were created solely to punish humanity. The US government will use this game as their next enhanced-interrogation technique. I welcome death.
By the next morning, I had brushed my teeth twice and eaten breakfast but I still tasted Skittles. I began seriously entertaining the notion that my mouth would just taste like Skittles for the rest of my life, and that everything I ate would taste like it was served with a side of candy.
Thankfully, somewhere in between my third teeth-brushing and second cup of tea, the flavor receded, but I vowed I would never eat Skittles again.
…At least not for another year or so.
Fair warning, this isn’t a funny post. Although I started this blog in the hopes that I would spend most of my time writing things to make people laugh, that isn’t possible today. This post probably isn’t going to make a lot of sense, but I needed to solidify the thoughts clanging around in my head, to release them.
Apparently, people shouldn’t be nice to me, because I’ll start crying. Because that’s a thing, now.
This is probably a sign that my mental health’s worse that I thought, but to be fair, I’ve had a bit of a rough month. I’ve been sick for at least three weeks, and now the doctor believes I’m developing a stomach ulcer because I’ve been taking so many pain meds. On top of that, we lost another friend, marking the fifth person I’ve lost in the past twelve months (in addition to one of my cats). I was only really close to one of them, but it’s still been difficult. I haven’t gone to any of their funerals, having only had the opportunity to do so for one, on a day when I was so beaten-down I was almost physically incapable of going.
We lost Ryan last year, and his death still weighs heavy. He was a member of our congregation, and the church band; a friend of my dad’s, and the brother to one of my friends, Emily. Although he and I weren’t close, his death still hit close to home for me. Aside from seeing so many people I was close to in pain, his death reminded me of another friend I had lost, one who was very close to his age. Kyle was my godparent’s son, and though there was a ten-year age gap between us, we were close. He was very close to my current age when he died. He was the first person I lost. His death was a violent one, one that struck deep into the heart of our community. It’s been fourteen years, and his death is still with me, particularly in recent days; the anniversary of his death is only a few days away. I’ve seen what happens when a parent loses their child; how that pain never truly goes away. I didn’t want to see my friend, Emily, or her family go through that.
In October, we lost my Aunt Rebecca. We were very close, so her death was, in a lot of ways, worse than Ryan’s. It just didn’t seem that way at first.
With Ryan, I had received an e-mail at dinner from my church’s pastor informing us of his death. I quietly left the dining hall, calling my mom to tell her the news. I started crying, quickly growing more hysterical until I collapsed in my room.
With Aunt Rebecca, it was a little different.
I had gone down to the Bay Area with a group of friends. We had left Friday evening, and got to my house—where we’d be staying—after midnight. I had mixed feelings about going on this trip; on one hand, I was excited to see my family and pets, but I was nervous, because not only was I not yet out to my family, which could cause some tension (I was out to the friends who were staying with us), I was leaving behind another friend who was in a tough spot. I had given him some bad advice earlier that day, and, thinking better of it, decided to research what I had told him.
I discovered that if he had followed through with what I honestly thought would be okay, he could easily die.
I sent him several frantic texts, which he didn’t reply to for nearly an hour, during which time I became convinced I’d killed him. I started dissociating (which I explained in a previous post, here). Finally, he did reply, and told me that he was okay, that he didn’t follow through. I can’t begin to describe the relief I felt, but this didn’t ease the dissociation.
I ended up dissociating for the remainder of the two-and-a-half day trip.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I believe the dissociation explains my reaction to the news of Aunt Rebecca’s death.
My dad sat me down early Saturday morning, and told me she had passed sometime in the night. I just sat there, staring at the books on the shelf across from me, thinking that I should be crying. I knew I should be crying; crying’s a normal reaction, something normal people do. But I just couldn’t muster up enough emotion to cry. I realized I should be very, very afraid, because although dissociation was normal enough for me, it had never gone this long or become this intense, and not being able to feel was a horrible forewarning of what might come next.
My mom pulled me aside later that day, after dad had left for work, and told me the same news. She refused to believe me when I said I knew, because I just wasn’t upset enough. She explained again that Aunt Rebecca had died, and when I told her Dad had already told me, she just stared at me incredulously. “Why aren’t you upset?” she asked, and the look on her face, like there was something wrong with me, like maybe I wasn’t even human, almost scared me more than not feeling.
“I’m just trying to process everything,” I explained, and prayed it wasn’t a lie, that soon enough the feeling would return and I would cry over the loss of such an important person in my life.
It took me two more days.
I was thinking about my Aunt on my way to my first class on Monday, and stopped halfway there, crying in the middle of the sidewalk. I still remember calling my mom up as I walked back to my dorm, the first words out of my mouth simply being that I missed my Aunt.
I’ve lost five people this year. There are days when I’m fine, and can easily function. Then there are days like today, when the messy losses of this year weigh so heavy that a stranger’s kindness brings me to tears. All I can hope is that tomorrow will be better.
Today seems to be a day for brutal honesty about the aspects of my life which the world often demands I cover up. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for years now, and many days—I may even dare to say most—my mental illnesses are manageable. On other days, these illnesses and their side effects weigh on me so heavily I can no longer function, at least not in a way that’s expected of me, both by myself and others.
One of the ways my mental illnesses manifest themselves is through dissociation.
According to Mental Health America, “Dissociation is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. Dissociation seems to fall on a continuum of severity. Mild dissociation would be like daydreaming, getting “lost” in a book, or when you are driving down a familiar stretch of road and realize that you do not remember the last several miles.” In Jenny Lawson’s book, Furiously Happy, she wrote “[I have] occasional depersonalization disorder, which makes me feel utterly detached from reality, but in less of a "this LSD is awesome" kind of way and more of a "I wonder what my face is doing right now" and "it sure would be nice to feel emotions again" sort of thing.”
When I use the word dissociation, I use it almost interchangeably with depersonalization, as my experiences with both are occasionally difficult to distinguish from one another.
As with most of my illnesses, there are stages to which I experience dissociation.
Most often, it’s fairly mild, and just feels like someone put a blanket over me, obscuring my senses and making it rather difficult to feel a full range of emotions. It’s a sort of detachment, a numbing that isn’t unpleasant but couldn’t really be categorized as fun, either. I can feel enough to empathize with other people, but when others ask me how I feel, I draw a blank. I don’t know how I feel, because I don’t really feel anything. Then, rather than explain this, I try to think back to the last time I was in this situation or these surroundings, and I try to remember how I felt then, and I answer like that.
Then there are times when dissociation gets scary. There are times when I stare into the mirror and I can’t recognize my own face. Or someone close to me dies and I can’t wake up long enough to cry, and I’m afraid I’m a monster because I don’t really feel sad—I don’t really feel anything at all. Or I lose touch with reality. That last one can vary. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of an anxiety attack and worry that I’ll go back to someplace where something awful happened to me, then start worrying that I never left and I’m still there, so I have to find some way to ground myself, to convince myself I’m safe. Other times I’ll be staring out my car window and start to question reality, not in a conspiracy-theory “I think the aliens are controlling the universe” way but more along the lines of “wow those threes look so weird. They don’t even look real. I don’t think they’re real. I don’t think what I’m seeing is real. Maybe I’ve just dreamt up all I’m seeing, and all my memories and experiences are just dreams. Maybe this world isn’t real, and I’ve just dreamt it up. Maybe I’m not even real. Maybe my body doesn’t exist, and I’m just a consciousness. Maybe even that’s not real. Maybe I don’t exist.”
Like most—arguably, all—mental illnesses, dissociation is one of those things that isn’t supposed to be talked about, certainly not in any detail. I can understand the sentiment. For those lucky people without mental illnesses, such topics can be very uncomfortable to hear about. For those who experience mental illness, it can be terrifying to talk about the awful things they experience. Nobody wants to be seen as a monster, and unfortunately, that stigma and others are still widely prevalent. I still haven’t made up my mind over whether or not it’s a good idea to post this, but I know that by not talking about mental illness, we’re only condemning those who suffer from them to live in the shadows. And the shadows is no place to live.
I’m not going to go into the first part of my weekend, since that involved somewhat incriminating activities and there may come a day when I’ll show my mother this blog, and this is a conversation I’d rather not have with her. So, I’ll just talk about the past twenty minutes.
I had just finished a conversation with my parents, finishing by double-checking I had money in my bank account to confirm I didn’t need them to send me anything. I closed my bank information in my safe, and said goodbye.
Once I hung up, I noticed my keys weren’t on my desk. Or where I keep the safe. Or in my bed. Or under my bed. Or in my clothes hamper.
Me, calling my parents back and receiving their voicemail: Hey, so there’s a small chance I may have messed up a little bit. I locked my keys in my safe. Call me back, please. Love you. Bye.
Texting my friends on the group chat: Hey, does anyone know if UPD will help you break into safes?
Texting my friends: Your own safe, that is.
Texting my friends: Follow up question: does anyone know how to pick locks?
After waiting for roughly ten seconds, I gave up, and decided to go to one of my suitemates.
Me: Hey. So, do you know how to pick locks?
Him: No, but I could try. I might be able to pry it open. Is there anything you really need in there?
Me: Yes, drugs.
Him: *raises an eyebrow*
Me: My drugs. Prescription drugs. Which I need, as evidenced by the fact that I’m freaking out right now.
Me: The Internet says paperclips work for picking locks, but I can’t find any.
Him: It’d be pretty easy if you had a rake.
Me: No rake, but I’m waiting to hear back from one of my friends. My back-up plan is just to smash it to pieces with a hammer.
Him: That would work.
My roommate: Bobby pins work. I learned that from Fallout 4.
Him: Do you have any bobby pins?
Me: *helplessly holding up bangs that don’t even hang past my eyebrows*
Him: Yeah, me neither.
Me: I’ll go ask around.
After knocking on several doors, I found some.
Me: Thank you! If they don’t break, I’ll give them back.
I handed them to my suitemate, who immediately snapped the first one in half.
Him: You made empty promises.
I looked over at the WikiHow article on picking locks-- because of course one exists.
Me: You know, if this doesn’t work, we could always just throw it down the stairs. There’s like eight flights just outside.
Him: Plan B.
Eventually, we did get it open, and I promised to bake everyone on the floor cookies.
Me: *calling my parents back* Hey! I just wanted to call you to tell you to ignore the last message I sent you.
Mom: You sent a message?
Me: On your voicemail. We had a little bit of an emergency, but we got all sorted out. And by we, I mean my roommate, because I was useless.
Mom: I hope no one got hurt?
Me: Oh, no, nothing like that. I just kinda locked my keys in my safe. With my meds. And my meal card. And my credit card.
Mom: *starts laughing*
Me: Never enough excitement. Enjoy your date!
I have no idea what I'm doing.