I’m a Sad Girl, Ask Me How

I’ve always been a proponent of dealing with your shit head-on. Face your fears! Live your life! Scream into the void until it yields! Face god and walk backwards into hell*, if you have to! It’s hard, and I’m not, like, good at it, as friends and family might be inclined to tell you, but that’s what I think about a lot. I want to be one of those people who’s good in a crisis; I want to be Eagle-Scout prepared. For example, I recently started a knife collection. Therefore, should I ever suffer a home invasion, I can throw thrifted and Amazon-acquired knives at the intruder until they get so confused they give up and go away.

I’m trying to kind of front-load this with jokes, because the rest of it is about My Mental Health, and that’s a bummer. I mean, my mental health is pretty much best classified as “kind of a bummer,” and the whole topic of mental health is a bummer automatically: a giant weight on the landscape of most people’s lives. A pit most of us spend a great deal of time, and effort, and both tangible and intangible resources trying not to fall into.

Well, I fell in. I mean, I fell in nearly ten years ago; I fell in soon after I started college and started having panic attacks. It’s hard to remember exactly what triggered it – probably a lot of things, not least an abusive, long-distance friendship-qua-relationship with a man my friends knew nothing about, that even now I find difficult to discuss or explain. But that, too, is hard to remember, except in what it sometimes does to me today. Depression eats your memory.

So what do you do after you’ve fallen in the pit? It’s not like they make ladders you can, like…stick in your brain, to help other parts of your brain…climb out?…well, they don’t do that. I went to a couple of therapists who told me things like, “what if you stopped thinking those thoughts?” and, “You should take a cooking class.” I didn’t really consider medication, both because I don’t like doing things when I can’t at least try to predict the outcome and because taking medication for an illness that is only happening in my mind feels like failure.

But nothing worked. Part of it was clearly that cognitive behavioral therapy (“think different thoughts!” GIRL, HOW??) is not remotely my bag, and part of it was terrible advice (“take a cooking class.” LADY, WHY??). I didn’t “feel better.” Mostly what I felt was poorer, because psychiatric help, any kind of therapy, is expensive, and it wasn’t working anyway. I felt both too broken to help and not broken enough to get better help. You can kind of limp along on just about any kind of injury, in any kind of circumstances, if you’re stubborn enough, if you don’t have any other choices. I am fucking stubborn as anything. I am bad at giving myself other choices.

A friend of my mom’s has a psychiatrist she really likes, and he was willing to take me on kind of sight unseen. I can’t imagine it was very typical for him to be asked to make an appointment with someone who had never spoken to him and did not make the call herself. But he did. And I was diagnosed pretty much right off the bat with two anxieties and a depression: that’s the kinds of crazy I am. It’s not very. Anxiety, in particular, is one of the most common illnesses on the planet. The depression is supposed to result from the anxiety somehow, in some brain-chemicals way that makes no sense to me (and, based on the research I’ve read, doesn’t make all that much sense to anyone else, yet). We’re finding me some drugs to take that will, at a minimum, make me stop having panic attacks because my friends want to go to dinner somewhere I’ve never been with some additional people I don’t know that well, or make it so that I can go grocery shopping without being paralyzed by the thought of strangers observing my presence.

It’s a process. I’ve been on a slowly increasing dose of Sertraline, the generic form of Zoloft, for the last few months. The doctor let me start off at what he calls “your grandmother’s dose” because of my fear of, I don’t know, waking up halfway through my own production of Fear and Loathing in Baton Rouge. So far, it’s been…kind of nothing, except I want to die less often. It’s hard to remember to take it every day. The major side effect I’m experiencing is a near-complete loss of appetite, which means I forget to eat or decide I don’t need to, which means I immediately fall into an even bigger Pit of Despair. Which is stupid.

Taking it every day makes me feel…sick. Depression and anxiety are chronic illnesses. I was raised to avoid medication whenever possible so you would always have it on reserve for when you Really Needed It. The Sertraline – I can’t tell if it’s doing enough to prove that I Really Need It. And even if I do, that means…I’m sick. I’m too sick to handle it on my own. Not only that, but I’ve been sick the whole time. I’ve been avoiding treatment the whole time.

I could have died. I certainly thought about it enough. I didn’t, obviously, but suicide is the second leading cause of death in my age bracket.** I was lucky.

I don’t have a way to end this, but I feel like it’s important to say. I think the more we can talk about mental health, the easier it might be for the next people – the ones who start college and lose their minds; the ones who trip and find that their ground isn’t where everybody else’s is. I think, if you can, it is important to share your best and worst. So this is my worst. The end.

*@dril, Twitter, 22 May 2012

**CDC, “10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, United States – 2016”

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Lawn Maintenance

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I have been exceedingly busy for the last month or so, and if any of my neighbors wishes to register a complaint about the height my grass has been allowed to reach, that is what I will say: that my mind is filled with concerns above the earthly, filled with Better and Brighter Things, and anyway what does it matter if the grass is tall or short if most of it is some kind of bizarre species of oak tree offshoots anyway? So what if I experiment with growing a small copse of them in my front yard and try to attract, I don’t know, fair folk or Merlin analogues or whatever? I’d quite like a pet snake, leave me alone.

But my mother insisted, and given that I still owe her nearly the entirety of my current existence upon this cursed rock – I mean, Earth our happy home, I will do as her eyebrows command. (My mother has very nice eyebrows. Very expressive, too. You understand.)

So, on her advisement, I trooped out at about 7:30 this morning (thanks, AMERICA, thanks for the aesthetic strictures on a person’s own private personal ground foliage!!!) and spent probably an hour trying to get my lawnmower, which is electric and runs on a very long cord plugged into the shed at the other end of the driveway, to be less argumentative and more practical. My yard contains one large oak tree around which such things must be navigated. I also bore quite easily, and so amused myself by cutting the yard into stranger and stranger geometric shapes. I am sure the neighbors who may or may not have been staring out their windows angrily at this disturbance of the High Holy Day of the End of the Week enjoyed this quite as much as I did. It was a bit like two-dimensional Tetris, but louder and less melodic.

In the backyard, which I abandoned for the moment on account of Tiredness and Ennui, I think I shall practice crop circles. I will need to give the front a touch-up soon anyway, because apparently grass can get long enough that when you go over it with a set of rapidly-spinning blades it just lies down and pretends it’s not there until a later, worst-possible moment. I’ve kindly ignored the invitations of the local property owner’s association, but I’m sure that if my yard begins to look as though I’m giving it a comb-over, they will have rather less polite things to say.

Perhaps an endangered species of thistle will grow, and I will be forced, how unfortunate, to cultivate it.

HOW TO GET THE DEWY SKIN LOOK: a makeup tutorial for the very tired

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  1. Move south. Further south. Even further south than that. If you hit saltwater, you’ve gone too far. If you’re in the contiguous United States, head a little east; anywhere east of the Continental Divide should set you up nicely. If you need more guidance even than that, keep an eye on the humidity index. When it’s consistently hitting 100% or greater even when it’s entirely sunny outside, you’re just about there.
  2. Throw out all of your highlighters. There is no point. If you are passing through a rest stop full of road-tripping families and you happen to see a miserable teenager sulking on a picnic table alone in much more clothing than is reasonable for the temperature, try giving it to them. They’ll either be able to make use of it or enjoy smashing it up.
  3. If you’ve somehow gotten your hands on one of the really pretty ones, the ones that are multicolored or pressed into nice shapes for some reason even though as soon as you touch them they will inevitably become a more pleasing than usual but still undeniable brownish-grey, you can keep that one. Shipping costs on those are ungodly enough; no sense putting it to waste.
  4. Acquire somewhere to live.
  5. Acquire some places to go. One might suggest a job, for solvency’s sake, but social engagements are also acceptable, and frequently more rewarding.
  6. Walk from any air-conditioned building or enclosed space to your car.
  7. Congratulations! The sensation you are experiencing, as though someone truly obnoxious has exhaled strongly into your face and also all over your entire body, including under your clothes, is exactly what we were hoping for. You have acquired dewy skin.
  8. Sweat. It’s sweat.
  9. (You might as well lean into it; it’s good for the pores.)

I Went to White Star Market So You Don’t Have To

I met a friend for dinner at White Star Market, which, it turns out, is Dramatically not my thing. It’s basically a gourmet food court. A food court with – good god – table sharing, like they want us to Talk to Strangers, or something equally unthinkable; a food court that features four-dollar tacos.

And they’re good tacos – they have fancy ingredients like chimichurri sauce, which white people seem to have finally found out about, yay! – and whole roasted carrots -but they average nearly a dollar per bite. I cannot countenance that kind of luxury on the daily. My friend got pizza from someplace whose name and aesthetic gimmick was sufficiently common that I cannot remember it. She liked it. It cost something like $13. For thin crust.

Look, I’ll say it so you don’t have to: I’m cheap! I’m too cheap for luxury food halls. I’m also addicted enough to the privacy and lack of shouting of my own house that I was not aware that “luxury food halls” were a thing. My thing is sitting quietly in my own home, god yes. I kind of think that if you’re going to cram a bunch of restaurants in one place and make everyone sit at a giant table to eat from them, one of the appeals should be the ability to get a decent meal for under $10. (Smoothies don’t count.)

White Star Market is fine! If you like that kind of thing! I don’t really like that kind of thing.

Group tables. Give me a break.

Delight

Yesterday I invited a bunch of my closest friends, and a bunch of people I want to get to know better, to have dinner at my house. Everybody was to bring a craft and something to feed people. It went extremely well and I am thoroughly pleased, and one of my friends’ crafts of choice is craft cocktails, so I am also a tiny bit hungover. I’m doing a latte to it. (This is going to be a short post; I’m on my weekly writing date, and I’m going to go write something that requires a great deal less focus when I’m done with this.)

Anyway, for a pretty big chunk of yesterday, all was right with the world. My house smelled like delicious food that I and other people had made; there were no fewer than three kinds of baked good, and a variety of savory snacks and dips; libations were provided by most comers and by the cocktail-making friend (do you know about the Manhattan? I have learned, and it is good); and everywhere loads of the people I like best were speaking to each other, laughing or teaching each other things or just talking about whatever they were working on.

This morning, my mom (who is my best friend) said that she was proud of me. “Why?” I said.

“You took a chance,” she said, “and look what happened.”

She’s right; I, generally horrified by the thought of having lots of people in my personal space, invited about thirty of them to come over and eat food I made all by myself and hang out for a relatively unrestricted amount of time. And in exchange, my home was filled with delight that I will be able to carry with me for weeks – maybe all the way to the next crafty dinner party night, which will surely happen. What an easy trade-off. What a gift. Thanks, my friends.

Clinic Escorting in Baton Rouge

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The Delta Women’s Clinic of Baton Rouge is one of three remaining abortion providers in the state of Louisiana. The parking lot is small, with room for  twenty to thirty patients’ cars, and is regularly full by the time the clinic allows patients to begin to check in. It is surrounded by other businesses whose attention it tries to avoid; empty parking lots, which patients are not permitted to use; and a steady group of screaming protesters. On days when procedures are actually performed, it is also attended by two to four people in bright pink vests: clinic escorts, who shepherd patients and their companions to and from their cars while men and women purporting to represent Christ preach to them about the horrible fate to which all those who enter the Delta Clinic fall prey.

Clinic escorting in Baton Rouge is managed by the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), as it has been since the late eighties. Then, violence was more of a promise than a threat; bombs were planted, blockades enacted, and so on, and so forth. Depending on the perceived threat level, patients today still must sometimes leave their purses in their cars to avoid the risk of bombs or weapons. Phones are sometimes banned, too, to prevent protesters from pretending to be patients so they can get in the door and film the inside of the waiting room.

Delta is next to the Women’s New Life Center, one of several “women’s health clinics” that show up next to places like Delta and claim to offer similar services. The protesters often stand in the servitude between them to advertise for it and to get as close to patients’ cars as possible. They often use the “no purse or phones” policy to get patients to come to the other side: “They don’t trust you,” one often says. “We trust you. You can bring your purse and your phone into here.” Clinics like Women’s New Life Center are known in activist circles for spreading false information, such as the Louisiana state-government-approved medical myth that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, and even for falsely telling women they aren’t pregnant so it will be too late for them to have an abortion when they learn the truth.

The protesters, known to clinic escorts as “antis,” are not allowed to block the driveway, but they approach each car as it enters. This forces the driver to slow down to avoid hitting them and provides an opportunity for the antis to shove pamphlets in the window and force a conversation. Antis are both male and female; male protesters tend to run heavy on themes of punishment and sin, saying that God will no longer love them, that Delta is a “death camp,” that Satan has possessed the escorts and will “get” the patients if they make their appointment. The women are gentler, focusing on love and acceptance, offering hugs and a myriad of alternative options. They highlight the virtues of adoption and the foster care system. With nearly 5,000 children in Louisiana state care and nearly 700 waiting for available adoptive families, there are few practical solutions on how to keep an unwanted child fed, housed, and educated when it is born. One anti in particular chants, “I’ll adopt your baby, support you through the pregnancy.” She brings a crowd of blonde, blue-eyed children with her and encourages them to scream, “Let the babies live,” at the waiting room windows.

Antis will sometimes target the patient’s companion, if she has one, and insist that they protect the patient from her choice, because she will hate them if they do not. A few of them like to yell short, context-free Bible verses, and to alternate between damning clinic escorts and patients to hell, and cajoling everyone into obeying a loving God. Occasionally one shows up with a sign that shows a (false) image of an aborted fetus on one side, and on the other asks whether an infant deserves to be murdered because it was created by rape. One cannot help but wonder exactly which of the protesters’ actions are meant to show love.

All of this is difficult to listen to, not only because the language is insulting and often factually inaccurate – the noise alone raises concerns. The Delta Clinic has always been controversial. It is difficult for them to maintain a lease; neighboring businesses complain either about the work they do or about the protest and accompanying noise pollution that gathers around them, for which Delta is blamed. Increasingly restrictive legislation on what a clinic must feature to be allowed to perform abortions pushed Delta out of several locations, and at one point just last year forced a temporary shutdown. The clinicians kept counseling appointments and referred patients to the Women’s Health Clinic in New Orleans until they were able to meet new requirements.

So why do it? Why stand outside for hours, in all kinds of weather, and listen to people make up all kinds of vicious remarks about me? As a clinic escort, I am there to try to block some of this from a person who is scared, and hurting, and in need of help. Above all, I am trained not to escalate and to keep the patients or their companions from escalating as much as possible. Patients and the people who come with them do not expect (and certainly do not deserve) the constant abuse. Every single one is surprised that people are actually there shouting at them before they can even get out of their car. The protesters might use almost anything as an excuse to call the police or a state senator and get Delta shut down again.

Clinic escorts do not all believe that abortion could ever be the right choice for them – but that does not make it a wrong choice for someone else. Some of the clinic escorts were teen mothers, or single parents, or were pregnant and desperately did not want to be. All of them simply want to ensure that the choice that they made, whatever it was, remains available to other women like them, whatever their circumstances. All of them want to help the people who have made this decision follow it through free from fear or intimidation. If someone decides in the parking lot that this is not what they want, they are free to visit the center just on the other side of the servitude. Clinic escorts are there to help support the legally protected right to choose.

Patients come from three states to access the services that Delta Clinic provides. The protesters never leave; they are there before the clinic escorts arrive in the morning and stay at least as long as the procedures last, so they can again accost the patients as they get in their cars to go home. The clinic escorts, all of whom are unpaid volunteers, stay until the last appointment time has begun, at midmorning. The protesters have time, money, and a predominantly “Christian” and Republican legislature on their side; the police of Baton Rouge are their friends. The clinic escorts, like the clinic’s patients, for the most part have none of those resources. It is like trying to build a bridge out of matchsticks. People in need, no matter what they need, deserve better.

Women’s March New Orleans

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The rough count for the Women’s March in New Orleans was 10,000 people. Hundreds of thousands marched in Chicago, in New York, in LA; probably millions, in total.

In 2017, I marched with my girlfriend and some of my friends from work. This year, the same people were friends from my regular life. We’ve worked on extracurricular projects. We’ve attended documentary screenings together. We’ve resisted, together and separately, in the ways we felt we could. We’ve been angry, and sad, and hopeful together. Twelve tumultuous months have brought these friends into my life, and I am grateful.

Being surrounded by thousands of people who care about the same thing you do, who are angry and sad in the same way you often are, is an incredibly powerful feeling. Those of us who had signs held them high; slogans ranged from what must have been left over from a Hillary Clinton campaign rally to pretty much everything else you can think of. Everyone has their favorite causes. But we all came out.

Though of course marching alone is not enough. In Louisiana, almost anything is an excuse to make a lot of noise and go for a decorative walk through the city. We’re already gearing up for Mardi Gras, which is basically a march in support of the right to celebrate in the dead of winter. A march is a powerful symbol, an opportunity to stand up and be counted, to voice opposition – but I will try to paraphrase Angela Adkins, one of the first speakers at the end of the march: The march can be the first day of your efforts, but it must not be the last. If all 10,000 people gave two hours of their time a week to an organization in their community – if we could generate 20,000 hours of volunteer time a week – we could change the world.

If Louisiana, a red Southern state with one of the highest conservative populations by percentage in the union, can organize a march with 10,000 attendees, what else could we do? If we worked for what we love every day, what could we do?

Last year, I started volunteering as a clinic escort. I attended a few meetings, but eventually let it fall by the wayside, because life is complicated and eventful. This year, I’m not going to give up.

I can’t be quiet. I’ll see you at the march next year.

Horrible Foods I Have Made

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I have a long and quite poorly illustrated* history of completely failing to make edible food. It runs the gamut from no-bake cheesecake that was indeed not baked, and also failed to be anything like cheesecake; to a quite unappetizing stew that was born from a fried rice recipe; to more than a few sets of ingredients that came out of a bread machine almost the same way they went into it. I have learned from these experiments that the human body is basically a garbage disposal and will use as fuel almost anything you put into it.

A friend and I once made a lime-and-chocolate-chip sheet cake that was burnt on the edges and soup in the middle. It took us upwards of four hours. We eventually gave up and scooped off the parts that most closely resembled cake, but in the morning, we found they’d crumbled under their own weight. (I still brought a couple of spoonfuls to lunch that Monday. A high schooler would have done worse for the excuse to eat chocolate in the middle of the day.)

I once decided that I would make something kind of like beef stroganoff, except with chicken instead of beef and rice instead of noodles and a genuinely massive quantity of garlic instead of mushrooms** and so nothing like beef stroganoff at all. The first step to all of this, as you might expect, was to boil chicken bones for about six hours. While that was happening, I started to saute the rice with the onions and garlic. This traditionally takes about five minutes. The broth had about four hours to go. I looked at the rice. The rice looked worried. I looked at the pot of bones and water; it looked smug. I quickly heated up a reasonable amount of water in an electric kettle, thinking the rice, at least, could be salvaged. And it was! I went for a victorious lie-down.

After a reasonable amount of time, I added the freshly-made broth and all the (cooked) chicken in to the rice. It turned into soup. I hate soup. I turned the fire back up and started adding little bits of flour, trying to thicken it. The rice was pretty confused by this. The chicken was also not thrilled. I turned up the heat, whistling nervously. The soup began to boil. (It still looked smug.) I stirred and stirred and stirred, the way you do, I thought, with gravy. My arm got tired. I gave up and ate it. It tasted like regret. It also tasted of lime, lime being what I add to things when I am just kind of hoping something will help. To this day I have not had scurvy even once.

In one of my early adventures in vegetarianism, I tried to make red beans and rice out of whatever I had in the house and no meat. Luckily, this included, to begin with, a can of red beans.

Now, if you are reading this as a person who has never been to Louisiana or the southern states and so has never had red beans and rice, you may think that sounds like pretty much all you need. There is little I can do to dissuade you. I can only explain to my geographical compatriots that when I say a can of red beans, I do not mean Blue Runner. I mean a $0.97 can of dark red kidney beans from something like a Wal*Mart or a Matherne’s. I mean that I to this day don’t totally know how to make beans and rice so it’s not mostly just rice with texture. I mean, essentially, that I tried to stretch a can of kidney beans to cover probably three cups of cooked rice, that I have just remembered it was not even rice but was in fact grits, good lord! – and the only other food I had in the house was a half a jar of salsa. I offered some of this no-matter-what-else 100% edible food to my roommate. She kindly abstained.

I don’t know if it will help or not to tell you, gentle reader, that I cook only when I am inspired to, that I have been lucky enough to maintain steady employment or school-related funding and relatively low rent since I officially moved out of my mother’s house at 19, and, by dint of living in what passes for an urban environment, that I have rarely been too far from a drive-through to, well, drive through it. In general, I find the combination of time and attention to detail that is cooking pretty boring. What I am getting at is that for the first (mumbles) years of learning how to feed myself on something other than takeout, I was usually two or three glasses of wine in by the time the food was no longer dangerous to put in my mouth, at which point I would promptly eat it. A certain amount of tipsy creativity and tipsier impatience frequently combined for a delightfully experimental style that one could say shows a certain amount of vision. One should, perhaps, not say that, or should say that the kind of vision it shows is the kind you get by looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. But I am someone and I am going to say it. I have vision.

Don’t be fooled by whatever kind of false modesty it is where you baldly confess your utter inadequacy – I, sober, am not a terrible cook (and I am more frequently sober than in days past). If I have a recipe, I can certainly follow it. I would even serve what happens at the end to a relative. Maybe not a friend, because those don’t have to see you at whatever religious holidays the collective has agreed to celebrate. But definitely to someone whose shared DNA means they can’t leave me behind on a desert island when rescue finally comes.

You’re all invited. Who wants dinner?
_____________________

*One does not put one’s failures on Instagram.

**Mushrooms are one of several of my nemeses.

HELLO, WORLD

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and good night,* internet! Welcome to this, one human’s internet home for the last many of years.

“There are no other posts here,” you may say. “If you’ve been living here that long, why have you nothing to show for it?” I’ve moved everything that was here into “Drafts” so no one else can see it, that’s why. It’s like a reboot. It’s like my life is a comic book franchise. Think of me as Spider-Man: a totally new person every two to five years. Younger and with better jokes every time I appear. Quippy. Athletic. Absolutely necessary for the reasonably smooth function of the Avengers, or at least I assume that’s why he keeps showing up in related media. Oh my god, is Spider-Man my favorite superhero?

(No.)

That said: welcome to this! Surely it is a thing that is happening again. Now that no one can see the posts that used to be here, I can mine them for future content! It’s all an elaborate and well-contrived plan, as opposed to one that I thought up completely at random when another friend who wants to do more writing invited me to start a writing group with her (thanks, friend!).

“Why is it called the Bathtub Diaries?” You sure are inquisitive, narrative device I made up! It’s because once a hurricane knocked the power out for three full weeks in mid-September, which in Louisiana is basically like a sudden and inescapable introduction to the idea that hell might be real and you might be there after all, and during that time I often slept in the bathtub because it was the coldest place in the house. I have long had an affinity for bathtubs as places to hang out fully-dressed while reading or writing or watching TV on a laptop.

“How many times did you turn the water on yourself while you slept?” Ha ha, you! (Once.)

“So, what is this? What is it for?” In this internet place, you will find a lot of me talking to myself! People sometimes call this “personal essays.” Sometimes I will talk about food. I will probably talk a great deal more about books and media. I may frequently have thoughts about the United States government, because I’m one of the people who live here. Some of it will be moderately funny, because I am moderately funny!

If you know me in real life, you may get more out of this than if you are a random stranger! However, if you know me in real life and don’t want to read this, please feel free not to, and to never speak to me about it.

I will probably make a mildly obnoxious effort to cite quotes and/or facts used as supporting evidence, because in my opinion people don’t do that enough. Here, have a mildly unnecessary footnote:

*The Truman Show by way of YouTube’s own iisuperwomanii.

Stick around! Or don’t. I’ll be here either way!

“Good luck, I guess.” Thanks, narrative device!