Life & Times

mad woman

I had my first Don Draper moment in 2004.

I was at home on winter break after a personally disastrous first semester of my junior year of college. Sixteen years later, good and grown, I’m embarrassed at how viscerally I can recall the moment that snapped me in two; that I still tear up over something so small in hindsight because I can still feel myself shattering. The details are irrelevant, just know the situation is what I think of when I hear Destiny’s Child’s “Is She the Reason.”

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you can piece that particular disaster together.

On top of that, I was nursing another failure. Let’s just say I’d semi-committed to a certain organization and on the precipice of said commitment, realized my history with depression and what it would take to fulfill the commitment was a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t the type of thing I could walk away from with my reputation unscathed, so I anticipated some serious social consequences when I returned to campus for the following semester.

At some point during December 2004, while I licked my wounds from my bedroom in my mother’s apartment, I decided that the self I’d been up to that point had to die. Oddly, a quote from the boy who left me in pieces echoed in my head: “Play pussy. Get fucked.” I’d given too many people too much power and the version of me who allowed that bullshit would die in the tears I shed over break.

I was twenty-one years old. Petite, maybe too small for some, but pretty enough to receive appreciative glares when I strutted across campus. I still had a 3.9 GPA and rockstar status among all the professors in my major (Mass Media Communications). I had a group of ride-or-die homegirls, more sisters than friends, who had my back against all odds. There was a reason that organization wanted me; a reason that boy used my heartbreak as a boon to his fragile ego…

I was the shit. Henceforth, I would not allow anyone else the privilege of seeing me be small for them. My doubts, my fears, my nervousness, I’d bury them beneath the shiny veneer of the person I needed to be: polished, ambitious, and unapologetically arrogant.

I’d fake it until I made it. And you know what, reader? That shit worked.

With an adorable, preppy wardrobe from Express, a swing in my step, and the lyrics to Remy Ma’s “Conceited“[*] on a permanent loop in my head, the woman you know and love today was born; a phoenix soaring from the ashes of the Miss Goody Two Shoes I’d been for the first twenty years of my life.

It’s a tactic I’ve employed repeatedly and my twenties and early thirties were a roller coaster ride of adrenaline-inducing highs and devastating lows. After each crash, I’d survey the damage, decide who I needed to be to get back on my feet and throw myself into becoming that person full-throttle until I hammered any imposter syndrome into oblivion.

I guess that’s what makes this moment so unfamiliar. By my early thirties, flaming out exhausted me so I never let it happen again; opting for a consistent, manageable, neverending middle. My death this time around was a slow sputter, each stuttering cough releasing tiny puffs of fire until one day I put the car in neutral and coasted for as long as I could without any gas.

Which brings me to the present. A moment I can’t “decide who you want to be and become it” my way out of.

Because this time around, I don’t want to be someone new? I don’t want to whip my being into an idealized version of myself that requires all my mental energy to maintain. As terrifying as it sounds, I want to stand in the present and be in it, trusting I can handle what comes my way.

I want to be so comfortable in my skin that I don’t need a new self.


[*] Apparently, I took “I look too good to be having kids” literally.

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Mental Health

wrote her way out

Like the rest of my social media bubble, I watched the Hamilton musical film this weekend. And like everyone else, I was floored by how compelling it was. A piece of historical fanfiction where America’s founders tell their stories in the lyrical stylings of Big Pun (Lin Manuel Miranda has admitted that his Alexander Hamilton portrayal is a Big Pun impersonation), Eminem, Busta Rhymes (Hi, Hercules Mulligan), and Destiny’s Child sounds absurd. I resisted listening to the soundtrack for years for that reason. Then, I finally caved and, finding myself making a screwface to “Right Hand Man,” had to admit that the music held up.

The show is a different beast. So fun and well-developed that it lets you suspend belief long enough to enjoy the story. By the end, I was a weeping mess.

There is one particular idea that stands out to me: Miranda’s repetition that Hamilton “wrote his way out.” The writer in me relates. The Skinny Black Girl was born of a need to write my way out of my quarter-life crisis. For the uninitiated, this blog started in 2007 during a fun-filled first year out of undergrad that included: an intense, ill-advised relationship, two jobs I hated, loneliness, anxiety, a major depressive spell, a suicide attempt, a terminated pregnancy… It was a doozy, kids. And I wrote my way through every confusing, painful, ugly moment of it.

Some called it brave. Some (particularly, my relatives) called it insane and foolish. I called it survival. Like writing it out and holding it up for examination was the only way to make sense of it. To ground it in a reality outside of my head, where shame and self-loathing could cannibalize my thoughts and keep me trapped.

So twelve years later, living in an ongoing brain fog that’s distorted so much of my mind, I don’t trust my own thoughts anymore, “I wrote my out” calls to me like a siren’s song. An invitation to state a truth I’ve been dancing around for at least a year and a half.

I’m probably in a depressive episode. And have been since at least October 2018? Maybe longer.

It’s been easy to tell myself that I’m not because I’m functioning. My material life has not spiraled out of control as it did in 2007-2008. I’ve held the same job (a job that I like as much as one can enjoy labor) for five years. I haven’t lost my appetite or lost weight. I’m not gripped with anxiety when completing simple tasks like driving or sending mass emails at work. I do not wish to die, not even in a passive “I-could-not-wake-up-tomorrow-and-be-fine” way. I can still feel the sun’s rays on my face. Am still soothed and seduced by good jazz horns.

But my brain is eating itself.

That’s the best way to describe the 24/7 reel of thoughts that bounce between self-consciousness and self-loathing, Thoughts that crowd out everything else, and make even short conversations and problem-solving tasks feel arduous; that make every social interaction feel like performance art where I do my best impersonation of whichever version of myself the person in front me requires or expects.

So I live in a fog of automated functioning. And it’s fine. I’m fine. I could probably exist for the rest of my life just this way without shitting the bed. You’d call me average, at best. A recluse, at worst. And I could live with that.

But, no. A hip-hop American history fanfiction made me weep on a Friday night, so I’m here. Not because I need my life to change; like I said, I’m fine with what’s here and what isn’t.

I’d just like to hear myself think again.

So I’m writing my way out.

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Life & Times

the bad place

When the world explodes into chaos, my instincts send me inward; so I’ve been quiet here for the last couple of weeks. As self-centered as I am, I don’t believe in the power of a single voice in a din of pain and outrage, so when everyone shouts the obvious thing — that Black people are flesh and blood, heart and soul, worthy of humanity — I fall back and let them.

There isn’t much more to add.

Except.

I have a pragmatic voice in my head that demands I see the world as it is and that voice confirmed long ago that the world is a terrible place. There are bright spots, for sure. Kindness and generosity and love and unity and beauty and comfort, but they’re interruptions in an otherwise dark and cruel existence.

It’s why I have the title of the Langston Hughes poem Life is Fine tattooed on my wrist; as a reminder that all over the world, beauty and terror co-exist so life is never all shit or all roses. It just… is.

So the current state of the world doesn’t jar me. I know how that sounds, but I promised I’d stop being ashamed of my truth, so there it is. I am watching it all with detached curiosity.

Yes. History shows that things fall apart. Who are we to believe we’re exempt?

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