Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rock Bottom

Note: This post is very long and very personal. If you are my friend, I am going to shamelessly beg that you read it all the way through. If you're just someone who stops by because you like my essays, however, you may wish to skip it. I'll be back to the regular writing soon, I hope.

I've recently become enamoured with the blog Hyperbole and a Half, by the very funny and inspiring Allie Brosh. One thing that immediately drew me to her blog, aside from the hilarity, was the fact that she is so open and honest about the troubles she has in life, with ADD, depression, unemployment, and major health and family issues. Two things have become immediately apparent to me from reading her blog:

1) I really want to be an at least semi-professional blogger, meaning I need to write more regularly, and
2) My creativity comes to a grinding halt if I am not being open and honest.

Unfortunately I have not been able to be open and honest since my mom died, because I have been too afraid of being a failure. Specifically, I am terrified that I will be the person someone points at when they say "unschooling can fail". This has been exacerbated by the recent media storm around unschooling. But since this blog is my main outlet for ideas, thoughts, and feelings, the result is that I start bottling shit up. And when I'm swimming around in my emotions that I can't let out, I sure as hell can't find a way to write about anything else. So I've got to let it out. Please, if you are stopping by to read this, take it only as a reflection of me, not my parents or how they raised me or how anyone else is raising their kids. I'm willing to own my failures, but I am not willing to own any derision cast upon others because of them.

For those who don't know what's been up with me, here's a recap of the last several months:

October: My mother has a heart attack, is in a coma for the longest week of my life, and then dies. I am left penniless, unemployed, and alone, in a house which I suddenly am now entirely responsible for. Lots of people are super nice to me and give me money and buy me groceries and let me show up at their houses unannounced just so I can cry.

November: People are still super nice and feeding me and taking me to Tennessee and stuff like that, even though I haven't managed to start up a job search yet.

December: I find a job at an hourly daycare center, but get fired, for unknown reasons, three days before Christmas. People are still super nice and give me Christmas presents and stuff.

January: I reach some kind of weird breaking point where I decide that it has been too long and I cannot ask other people for help anymore, because I have probably exhausted their patience and I don't deserve any help because I got fired. I spent most of the month in a dark stupor, brightened only by some friends visiting for a week in their RV.

February: I apply for several jobs that sound really good but don't hear a peep back from any of them. Instead I get a job at the mall but I am let go three days later because they are not getting enough business. This is about where I reach the point of "system failure" on my job search efforts. I also find out my dad is alive, which is more depressing than exciting, because it means he has not seen fit to contact me for three years.

March: I have a minor nervous breakdown at the Autodidact Symposium, which I make monumental efforts to hide because I don't want to ruin anyone's fun, so the only people who even know I'm upset are Maria and her kids. I become overwhelmed and terrified by the sheer volume of people there who are accomplishing amazing things while I am sitting in my house eating ramen and reading webcomics. On the way home I decide (this is something I had given thought to before) that I will go through with selling my house and purchasing an RV.

April: I run out of money and have no electricity except in a small shed which is on a separate light bill. I am basically rendered incapable of doing anything toward looking for a job so I just spend the whole month cutting down weeds, playing my DS, and eating baked beans that I have microwaved in my shed. I tell almost no one about my living situation out of sheer terror that people will think I am asking for money, because I do not want to be trouble for anyone. (It was not as bad of a month as it sounds like, though I desperately missed hot showers.)

May: My electricity is back thanks to a relative helping me out. I spend most of the month making house-selling and RV-purchasing plans and writing a shitload of blog posts. The problem here is that my month of solitude had slipped me into some sort of emotional fantasyland where I have lost touch with all reality and am capable only of thinking about the distant future, not my immediate needs. I become a bit delusional about how quickly I can pull all this off. I also become very irritable and lonely, because due to a car license tag fuckup I cannot leave my house for almost the entire month.

And here we are in June. I am almost out of money again, with no job prospects and the depressing realization that summer is rapidly slipping away and I have no idea how I can make it to NEUC, which at this point is the light at the end of my tunnel because I will get to see my friends and feel encouraged and loved again, and rediscover the joy of travel. I don't know what I'll do if that light gets put out. I have already been gradually sinking deeper into a pit of despair, losing interest in RVing and basically everything else as well. I spend all my time alone, partly to conserve gas and partly because I have convinced myself that the people who have given me money all secretly hate me now because they wasted it on a person who cannot get her shit together. My brain's response to this, rather than to helpfully stir up the energy I desperately need, is to start asking existential questions such as "Do I really believe in God?" and "What does it mean to be a woman?", which is the psychological equivalent of stepping real hard on the gas pedal when your tank gets close to empty. So I turn to books like Barbara Sher's Wishcraft and Patty Digh's Life is a Verb, hoping I can gather some strength from these. They are uplifting, but being uplifted a little while buried in a mile-deep hole still doesn't get you up on ground level.

And then I reach the point where I'm sitting alone in my dark, cold room during a thunderstorm, sobbing over this PostSecret and playing "Beautiful" by Eminem on loop and feeling even more stupid because now I am the sort of person who cries while listening to Eminem. And my dogs are whining because I ran out of dog food three days ago and haven't been able to drag myself to the store, so I've been feeding them cat food and leftover chicken and stuff, but now I'm out of cat food and people food too, and I'm a terrible person. And I start whining incoherently to Justy, and I try writing, and nothing is helping. And I'm hungry, and all the food left in the entire house is potatoes and canned tuna, and I feel like I want nothing more in the world than to go to the grocery store and spend all of my remaining money on ice cream and donuts and frozen pizza. (Please do not leave comments telling me why this is a bad idea. I am perfectly aware of that.) And I become aware that I must face my autism and the challenges it has always brought me which I depended on my mother to help me deal with, and the fact that piling depression on top of that is like trying to function with an elephant standing on my back. And I am hit in the face with the horrible realization I have been desperately avoiding all along:

I need help.

I don't mean that in the "I need counseling" sense; though it would probably be a good idea if I could afford it. What I mean is that I can't do this alone. I need people. If it means admitting I am almost 25 years old and still cannot function as an independent adult, then I must admit that. If it means risking being a burden and having everyone hate me, then I must risk that. Books will not save me. Encouraging websites will not save me. I need real people to help me. I have no idea what I need them to do, I just know I need them. Because my only alternative is to slip farther and farther into my own brain, until I become unable to leave my house or do anything except stare at the walls and wonder who I am. As comfortable as that sounds right now, I know it will not get me anywhere and I will end up hating myself even more.

I feel like a lost child who has wandered off from her mother in a department store, only her mother isn't ever, ever coming back. And I have no idea what to do any more than that child would. I only know that, whatever it is, I do not have the capacity to do it alone. . Throughout this entire time, I have been exceedingly proud of the fact that I have never directly asked anyone for help, instead waiting politely for help to be offered. Proud of the fact that I have kept up a cheerful facade and seldom let on that I was suffering. This, I now realize, is the reason I have not been able to move forward. I need to learn to admit to my pain. I need to learn how to ask for help.

I am hurting, and terrified, and alone. Please help me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Bonnie,

Hi! I don't want to alarm you, but this is you from the future. No, I'm not here to warn you about nuclear war or anything like that, so just keep your shorts on. I know you've just dropped out of school and church, and you're scared and wondering if you've made the right decision. This is probably the last point at which you'd want to get a letter from the future, because you think I'm going to nag you about the importance of a good education and the importance of church and how I desperately regret dropping out of both.

If that's what you're thinking, you are absolutely wrong.

Leaving that oppressive hellhole is the best thing you will ever do. In fact, you're going to be tempted, in a few months, to go back, but don't do it. Complete waste of time - you'll leave again after like a month, because the same old problems will come back. Stay home and focus on your friends and your family. You will, as you already suspect, learn more from your computer than you ever did in school. And you'll have absolutely no trouble going to college - if you truly want to. If you need to mourn for the prom, go ahead - but know that most people's memories of prom aren't actually all that special, and you're probably not missing much. It's just a carrot held out to keep you running toward the end of high school. You will have plenty of opportunities for dressing up and dancing throughout your life.

As for friends: You know those girls you hang out with at school, the ones who didn't give a shit when you came back after being out sick for a month? I want you to listen very closely to what I am about to say: Fuck. Them. You heard me. Fuck 'em. You don't need them, they never liked you for who you really are, just as you've always suspected. Cry if you need to, mourn for all the time you wasted sucking up to them and for the comforting illusion of friendship that has now been shattered. But don't look back. You're not losing much.

Now that I've just about broken your heart, let me put it back together. Those people you're chatting with online, wasting time dicking around on a Pokemon forum? They LOVE YOU. Or at least, they will love you. It sounds strange now, and it goes against everything you've ever been told about having a social life, but I promise you these are the people you need to hang onto. That gut feeling that these are "your people" is not a mistake. A certain few of them may be your friends forever - but they will ALL impact your life in ways you cannot now imagine, and it will all be for the better. And you will, as you grow up and are able to go and explore the world, find even *more* friends. More than you will know what to do with, even, and they'll all love you *because* of how weird and crazy you are, not in spite of it.

Listen to your body. This mono thing is going to come back. You're going to have all kinds of bullshit with your ovaries, too, and your blood sugar. Just relax and try to take care of yourself. Hating yourself for not being as productive as other people isn't going to make you more productive; it will only take away what little energy you have left for doing good in the world. Be gentle with yourself.

Also, let me go ahead and save you years of confusion: Liking long-haired pretty boys doesn't make you a lesbian. They're boys. You do like girls, too, though. You're pretty queer. Be proud of that, even if it isn't safe to tell anyone in meatspace yet. Tell your online friends. They won't mind one bit. And get your ass to the queer youth center as soon as you can drive. You'll be glad you did.

On a related note, getting out of that church was a good move, too. Have fun playing around and learning about different religions, but don't take them too seriously, and don't let them convince you of anything your heart knows not to be true. If a religion is making you *less* of a good person, something is wrong.

Wear whatever the fuck you want. Do you actually like those too-tight Wet Seal prissy clothes, or are they just what you think will make boys like you? Pro tip: There are no clothes that will make boys like you, at least not the kind of boys that are worth it. Any boyfriend or girlfriend (or plain ol' friend) worth their salt will love you in band t-shirts and baggy jeans and ridiculous, Boy George-esque makeup, and black nail polish, and whatever silly thing you felt like doing to your hair this week. (This also goes for whatever music, TV, etc. you like. Be yourself.) Keep playing dressup - the friend who teasingly called you a "freak" for doing so is going to be your best friend in the world in a few years, and she doesn't actually care what you do in your spare time.

Some more about dating: Don't be afraid to get your heart broken, but when it inevitably happens, remember it's not the end of the world. That person you like right now may seem amazing to you, but they are not the only person you will ever have a chance with. As for sex, it really is as great as you think it's going to be, but only if you're doing it with someone you trust and feel comfortable with. Otherwise it's just an awkward mess that makes you feel embarrassed the next day. And yes, condoms matter as much as people say they do.

You are absolutely 100% right in your attitude about work and school: They are NOT all there is to life. You might want to write that fact down, carry it in your pocket, tattoo it on your arm so you can't forget even when everyone is telling you otherwise. Life is about trees and friendship and weird foreign food and strange music and bright colors and incense and thunderstorms. "When you grow up, your heart dies" is only true if you allow it to be. Do. What. You. Want. It's not at all selfish to fill your own happy-tank in order to have joy to share with others. If you're sitting in the dark, you cannot cast light on anyone else. As corny as it sounds, your heart is going to lead you to great things. Follow it.

Having given you a (hopefully encouraging) glimpse into the future, let me ask one small favor of you in return. Go give out some hugs. Hug Mama, hug Nannie, hug Aunt Evelyn, hug everyone in your life even if they piss you off sometimes. You'll miss them one day. I'll spare you from the mental torment of knowing when, but it will be sooner than you ever expected. Visiting a nursing home is depressing, but not as much as knowing you'll never see someone again.

And, last of all? Never, ever stop watching cartoons just because you think you've gotten too old.

P.S. - Yeah, you do grow up to be someone who uses phrases like "worth their salt" and "meatspace." Sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, your vocabulary also includes a remarkable number of variations on the word "dick", including some most people haven't heard of before. You'll have some fun with that.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happy Things

With all the stressing I've been doing lately over moving, and money, and the state of the world, and the fact that I can't go to SMUG and I miss my friends, and the way unschoolers are being exploited by the media, it occurs to me that I haven't had much fun lately! I want to lighten up, and I want to add a bit of levity to my blog in between serious posts (since I have another of those in the works), so I thought I'd write up a little list of things that always cheer me up.

In no particular order:
  • My friends
  • My cats
  • My dogs
  • Silly packing tape with Rosie the Riveter on it
  • Hula hooping
  • Unschooling blogs
  • Chinese food
  • Barenaked Ladies
  • They Might Be Giants
  • George Winston
  • Little white Christmas lights I leave up all year
  • Sparkly nail polish
  • Wil Wheaton and James Urbaniak on Twitter
  • Dinosaur Comics
  • My Cabbage Patch Kid that for some reason smells consistently like cookies even after spending 10+ years in a musty closet
  • Knowing that NEUC is in less than three months
  • Twirly skirts
  • Dan Brown (of Youtube fame, not that Dan Brown)
  • Star Trek
  • My CD of theme songs from 80s and 90s kid shows
  • Fresh homemade bread
  • TV Tropes
  • Little kids
  • Fruity candy
  • Dave Barry
  • Jon Stewart
  • Incense
  • Blog comments (hint ;))
  • My rainbow bracelet my friend in Australia made me
  • My rainbow charm bracelet and earrings that I made at Maria's house with Shrinky Dinks
  • Thunderstorms (unless they knock out my power)
  • Old Simpsons reruns
  • Playground swings
  • Dry-erase boards
  • Mr. Bubble
There. I feel lighter and fluffier already! Is some of that stuff totally childish? Sure! Do I care? Heck no! Growing up is for suckers and sad people. And doo-doo-heads.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Fill-In

Some fluff now, 'cause I'm tired of ranting and you're tired of me ranting.

1. Atlanta, Arizona and Massachusetts is are my favorite place(s) to travel to. That I've been so far.
2. When I think about my childhood, I often remember playing games with my grandfather, even though he was stuck in bed
3. Peace, love and understanding
makes for a good friend.
4. The wind in the trees, the rain on my skin, gives me sensory overload
. (I like the wind and rain, but from inside the house.)
5. Travel
is so exciting!
6. My best friend knows how to castrate moths
. (Really.)
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to
watching a movie or something, tomorrow my plans include chillin and Sunday, I want to bake bread! (Because I like doing domestic things on Sunday, for some reason.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010


"You can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding."
-They Might Be Giants, "Your Racist Friend"

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook, setting my status so that only my "unschoolers" group could see:

"A simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate side effect of being around unschoolers is that you begin to have much higher standards for how people should behave and treat each other. It's good because you put up with less crap and are more careful with your own actions, but hard when you become increasingly uncomfortable around people you used to get along great with :/"

Immediately, many people said they knew the feeling.

Now, the only reason I'm elevating "unschoolers" above anyone else is because the kinds of behaviors I find abhorrent are far, far less common in the unschooling community than they are among other groups I'm part of, and because even though I have always been a tolerant, diversity-loving person, it is unschoolers who have truly taught me how to accept people warts and all. Ah, but there's the rub: Does "tolerance" mean tolerating intolerance? Does "warts and all" mean you put up with people whose main flaw is that they are unkind?

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm expecting too much of people, if I should be more accepting of people the way they are, knowing that I've probably done stupid things too without realizing how bad they seemed. But how do you stay friends with someone who thinks it's funny to scream and gag when they see a large woman walking her dog? Or someone who, after years of championing LGBT rights, maliciously calls someone a faggot and starts throwing around the word "tranny" even though she knows better? How about someone who used to be your good friend but you've realized she wouldn't be if you were a different color? Someone who laughs when you tell them your grandmother's "what I was doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed" story, then thinks you're silly for getting mad? These are all real examples from real friends in my recent life.

Now, lest it sound like I just hang out with really horrible people, I also have a lot of really beautiful amazing wonderful people who would sooner cut off their own arms than say any of this stuff, and of course not all of those people are unschoolers. But see, that's the thing: All of the people who said and did those horrible things had previously seemed like better people than that. I expected better of them. And that's why it hurt so much, and disappointed me so deeply, to see them act that way. I like to believe people are good, and I like to look for the good in people. But I can't deal with this kind of negativity in my life, nor do I think I should.

I don't have any answers for this. I don't know how to handle it. I don't want to be the kind of person who just cuts people off when they don't live up to my standards, nor the kind of person who is all serious business and can't take a joke. Some jokes shouldn't be taken, though. Some friends shouldn't be had. And if I implicitly support the people who do these kinds of things, then I'm also hurting my other friends. It hurts my plus-size friends if I don't speak out against fat hate. It hurts my gay and trans friends if I put up with homophobia and transphobia. It hurts my black, Latino, and Asian friends when I'm silent against racism and xenophobia. It hurts my Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan friends when I am silent against people who disparage them. It hurts children when I tolerate people being mean to their kids.

How do you guys handle this kind of thing? How do you balance between standing up for what's right and being diplomatic? Where do you draw the line between something you can overlook and something you can't tolerate? I'm really stuck for ideas, so I'd appreciate any that anyone has.