A letter to myself at age 9

1998

Amy, dear,

You are so cute, and so pretty. You look—you are—incredibly happy. Please eat more ice cream. I want to remember you like this.

You are eight years old—nine at most—so it feels premature to tell you not to hate yourself. If you were any other nine-year-old, I wouldn’t go there yet. Maybe this means I’m out of touch. Perhaps I’m too old to remember what it’s like to be your age.

But I do remember what it was like to be you.

You are lonely. You read a lot of books, and listen to music that few else appreciate (Karen Carpenter is still the shit, by the way; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). And you have at least three pairs of overalls. Although I want to recommend a change in wardrobe, I do admit that your fashion sense (or lack of it) is quirky and endearing. (Judging by what people say about me at work these days, nothing has changed.)

You are a natural born performer, but for the love of god, stop crying over your math homework. It’s okay to prefer words over numbers, but please do not deny your strengths. The fact that I am exactly three times your age is not lost on me. I know that you are fascinated by numbers, and by the patterns they create. You are—admit it—drawn to the exactness of it all. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t keep your room as fastidiously organized as you do. Nor would you get such a thrill out of writing neatly along the light blue lines of a brand new notebook.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you know more than you think you do. You’re not only the eldest child in the house, but are also the oldest kid on the block, and you’re not sure how the hell you got stuck being the leader. It’s overwhelming, and you didn’t ask for it. But you are, I promise you, cut out for this. Teach your little sister all the cool shit that you know. Read to her. Show her how to write her name. (She’s twenty-three now, and her handwriting is atrocious.)

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this much, Amelia (I know you love it when people call you that): You will, as an adult, finally succeed at getting people to refer to you by the name on your birth certificate. And you will also grow up to have way better taste in beer than your dad does.

You know what’s good. Do what you love, and be who you are.

And like I said, please eat more ice cream.

Love,
you at 27

 

 

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My rape did not make me suicidal, but not being believed did: On the frightening things life throws at you, and how to stay on the right side of history

My parents are drinkers.

This isn’t the beginning of a post about how alcoholism ruined my childhood. It didn’t. I just mean that booze has been an ever-present part of my life from day one. As kids, my sister and I would reach for a sip of Mom’s pop and she’d shoo us away. “There’s wobbly juice in that,” she said. “You can have some when you’re older.”

And so we did. We drink just about every day. Most evenings, it’s whiskey and Netflix. Sometimes we sneak a shot of it into our morning coffee. If it’s nice outside and we’ve had a rough morning, a 1 p.m beer in the sunshine might be in order. It’s just what we do.

So that’s why–when I found myself hiding handles of vodka behind boxes of neglected student loan bills in my bedroom closet–I knew I had a problem.

It was the summer of 2013. I’d just returned home from the Pacific Northwest, where I’d lived in a tent while working on an organic farm north of Seattle, Washington. I’d planned for my trip the way coupled people plan for a wedding: I’d saved money for a year, meticulously thought out the logistics of travel, and shipped my tent and other supplies ahead of me, so as not to incur extra baggage fees at the airport.

But when my six weeks were up, I came back to Michigan feeling deflated. For whatever reason, it just hadn’t been the experience I thought it would be. Maybe that was my own fault; I’d given myself unrealistic expectations. This would be The Thing That Would Change My Life— the thing that would finally pull me out of the slump I’d been in for so long. The fresh air would do so much for me, I’d thought. It would help me to heal after the sexual assault I’d experienced earlier that year. It would tell me what the hell to do next.

But everything was gray. I just hadn’t connected with anyone out west, or felt as if I’d learned anything meaningful.

My best friend, meanwhile, was getting married. Now was not the time to confront all the little weird demon creatures that lived inside my head. So I put a smile on my face and sang a love song in front of Sarah and Kevin’s family and friends, who were gathered for the wedding ceremony on the shore of Lake Superior.

Back home in Detroit, I holed up in my room at my parents’ house, avoiding people who wanted to know how life on the farm had been. I didn’t have a job; I’d quit mine when I’d left for Washington. I was 24, and my college days were over. I had no idea what my next step would be.

I know how terribly Lena Dunham this sounds. It’s like a fucking Onion article, right? Privileged Suburban White Girl Feels Sad and Has Too Much Time on Her Hands.

But that’s exactly why this story is so bland and thus, hard to write. It’s not very interesting. But I can’t help it. Like I said, everything was gray. Depression is vodka. It tastes like nothing, looks as natural as water, and will fuck you right up.

But if you’re going to continue to search for the root of the problem, I can give you this:

In January, I’d been sexually assaulted by a former college classmate. We’d met as undergrads, and he’d since moved on to an MFA program on the east coast. We’d been friends for five years, so I decided to hop on a plane and visit him. He raped me as his girlfriend slept downstairs.

Afterward, I immediately told my mom what had happened. Not because I wanted to, but because I lived with her and knew she’d be alarmed if I crawled into bed for several days. Which is exactly what I intended to do. I thought it best to get the inevitable conversation with her over with so I could be left in peace to handle the aftermath.

So began several months of dealing with my assault on other people’s terms.

I saw a therapist. I performed in my school’s production of the Vagina Monologues. And, in March, I blogged about what had happened to me. As a writer and gender studies major, I figured I had a responsibility to do so. I never mentioned the guy by name, but we had a lot of mutual friends, many of whom figured out right away who I was talking about.

Most were supportive. One in particular, a woman I will call Kate, sent me an email saying that she was stunned and very sorry. She told me she would end her eight-year friendship with my assailant, and immediately deleted him on Facebook. That was, I admit, exactly what I had expected her to do. She was more than twenty years my senior, a self-proclaimed feminist and liberal, and English professor.

But three months later, in mid-June, she re-added him and deleted me.

I tried not to let it affect me. It was Facebook, after all, not real life.

But I couldn’t shake the message she sent me by doing that. I don’t believe you.

And the timing couldn’t have been worse. I was already depressed, because I knew my time was up. It had been several months since my assault, and it was time to move on. The semester was over. I needed to find a job. But I also knew something no one else did: I’d handled the aftermath on an intellectual level only, going through the motions of what I thought I was supposed to do in order to appear like I had my shit together. Emotionally, I hadn’t even scratched he surface. There was so much I still needed to work through. And then Kate threw this at me, and I just wasn’t strong enough to grab and dispose of it before it soiled anything good that was left.

I continued to go through the motions, sort of. I applied for jobs. And I landed interviews, lots of them. But no one hired me. To this day I maintain that they knew. They knew I didn’t want it, that I didn’t care, that I spent my days in my underwear watching shitty sitcoms and spending the last of my student loan refund on cheap vodka, drinking just to get drunk.

Publicly, I tried to be honest about how I felt without scaring everyone off. On Facebook one day I wrote:

Dear Self,

You have been way too lazy lately. No more booze or embarrassing sitcoms for you. It’s time to stop living in squalor and reconnect with what makes your brain and heart feel alive again.

Since you already feel intellectually dead anyway, you might as well start with the mindless work of cleaning the house. Once that’s done, switch modes. Convince your body that you still care about it. Ride your bike until your muscles start screaming profanities at you. Then go home and give your brain a workout. Read something, write something. Tell someone you love them. Anything that’ll force you to actively interact with the world in some kind of meaningful way.

And finally, sleep. Then rinse (literally, take a goddamn shower—depression has made you smell like overripe bananas), and repeat.

Love,
Amelia

But privately, my thoughts were darker. “I don’t want to be here,” I wrote in my journal on July 13th. “I don’t want to do this.”

As documented in earlier posts, I have struggled with depression and anxiety for years.

But this was different. It was worse.

Let’s clear something up. It is incredibly hard to admit you’re suicidal—to say it out loud. That’s because, even though you might not give a shit about yourself anymore, you still know that people love you. Which means that if you tell them that you want to die, you will scare them, and make them feel bad. And why the hell would you want to make anyone feel as badly as you already do?

But by October, things had gotten so bad that I no longer trusted myself to get behind the wheel of a car, for fear that I would willfully crash it into something.

Luckily for me, I had a friend who lived nearby and had been where I was. She started coming over all the time. Her visits felt like interventions. Because they were interventions.

I knew how dark and gross I was. I’d pushed everyone else away, and assumed all my old college friends were afraid of me, or put off by the monster I’d become. It was nice to know that someone wasn’t. And that, really, was all it took—someone to make me feel heard, to validate all I’d felt and experienced that year.

After a few conversations with this particular friend, I started to feel strong enough to reach out to other people. I never actually told any of them that I was suicidal. But I did say that I felt like shit and couldn’t live that way anymore.

Just saying it out loud, and knowing that people heard what I had to say (read: not just what I said because I thought it’s what people wanted of me), was exactly the boost I needed, and I was finally able to start moving on with my life.

I’m still haunted by Kate’s actions.  It took me a year and a half, but I finally worked up the nerve to talk to her about it.  In December of 2014, I sent her the following email, to which she never responded:

I don’t know what Matthew said to you.  And frankly, I don’t care.  He assaulted me; he ignored my boundaries.  And if you choose to be friends with him knowing that information, then you cannot rightfully call yourself a feminist or an ally.  By revoking your support of me, you hurt me even more badly than he did.

I know that that’s a harsh accusation.  But it’s the reality I’ve lived with since January of last year.  Matthew didn’t make me suicidal.  There’s no forgiving what he did; ending my friendship with him was easy.

It was infinitely harder to lose yours.

While you’re certainly not the only person who chose not to believe me, you’re the only one who made it abundantly clear that you’d changed your mind about whose side you were on.

And that’s what hurt the most. When I decided to speak out about it, I expected people to be asshats.  I expected people to back away quietly, to ignore what I said.  And who could blame them, really?  It’s a difficult topic to confront.

But I confronted it anyway because writing is how I handle everything.  Everyone is different; not all rape survivors heal by writing or speaking or sharing.  But since I do, I went for it.  And as a fellow writer, I thought you understood that (especially when–right after I outed Matthew on my blog–you sent me such a beautiful email voicing your support).

Ultimately, I hoped that my speaking out would help to keep others safe.

What you did completely undermined that.  If people like you, who are smart and pay attention to important things, can be swayed by people like Matthew, then I’ve experienced a lot of pain for nothing.  You’d been friends with him for a long time at that point.  But so had I.  The one thought I had in that terrifying moment was that my only witness was his cat.

What you did only reinforces that sense of isolation.

I totally lost faith in academia right around the time I was assaulted.  There are a lot of reasons for that, but one is that I realized it wasn’t a safe space for me anymore.  What would you do if a student approached you and said she’d been raped?  Believe her only if her assailant was a stranger to you?

That leaves a lot–most, in fact–of survivors in the dark.

While you hurt me worse than Matthew did, his act was unforgivable, and yours is not.  He will never hear from me again, but I had to write to you.  You’re better than that.  You’re better than him.  If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have bothered to reach out to you.

I’m not asking for an explanation.  But I am asking you to listen, and to understand.  That’s all I ever asked of you in the first place.

In February of this year, transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox (of Orange is the New Black fame) spoke at the college I’d attended.  I hadn’t set foot on that campus in years.  And since my assault, I hadn’t particularly wanted to.  It scared me.  I figured it’d be triggering.  There were too many people I just didn’t want to risk running into.

But there was no way in hell I would miss this.

So I went.  I was terrified, but I went.  And it was incredible.  A friend of mine, who is a transgender woman, introduced her.  And afterward I wound up at a bar I’d frequented in college, with a bunch of old friends and acquaintances.  The evening had pulled us together in such a way that we skipped right over the pleasantries and bullshit and dove straight into a conversation we’d all needed to have for a long time.  About safety, about peace, about acceptance.

One old acquaintance said to me, “I feel like things here have gotten better since we left.  Like it’s a little safer than it used to be, and easier to be yourself and speak your truth.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I think so, I hope so.”

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How to Tell Your Favorite Professor That You Want to Drop Out of College

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my favorite professor at SVSU. It’s dated November 24, 2012, by which point I’d been working on an undergraduate degree for more than five years.

I’m posting it here now (with her permission) not because my breakup with academia is anyone’s business, but because choosing to leave school is kind of a taboo topic– the kind of thing you Google late at night when no one’s watching.  And that was sort of my reason for starting this blog to begin with: to create a safe space to discuss the things society thinks we should do without questioning it– like drowning in student loan debt.

I’ve not been very good at updating this blog in recent months.  I haven’t written anything new since my cat broke her femur bone last summer.  This piece of writing isn’t new, but it’s honest.  So in my attempt to revive this blog, I’m starting with it.

I hope to post more soon.

I have a confession to make. I really dislike school—so much so that I’m not even sure if I’m going to graduate.

For as hard as that is for me to acknowledge, it’s an incredibly freeing thought.

In a blog post I wrote earlier this year, I finally admitted that I consider transferring to be one of the most cowardly things I have ever done. That’s not because I think I should have stayed at SVSU; I needed to get out of there, and am glad that I left. But I wanted to drop out. And instead, I transferred to Wayne State.

I only did it because it was the easiest option, and I was scared. I didn’t want anyone to think of me as a failure, and was afraid of what it would be like to no longer be a student.

I tell you this because even though I have quite the reputation for being unapologetically weird, I actually do care what others think—those I care about, in particular. And your friendship is so important to me; I do not want to lie to or hurt you.

So I think you deserve to know just how strongly I’m considering dropping off the face of the earth. I know that you understand, better than anyone else, what it feels like to want to run away. But I don’t think you know just how seriously I’m thinking of actually doing it.

I’d like to think of it, though, as running toward something—something that suits me better, whatever that is.

I’m so tired of trying to convince myself that school is where I belong. I’ve always fit in with people who excel academically because I love to read and write. And because so many of my friends are in academia, I’ve shied away from trying to explain that I just don’t love school as much as they seem to.

But since it’s the truth, I should probably stop hiding it.

I’ve never been a consistently great student. I’ve had good semesters here and there, sure—I even got straight A’s last fall. And during my k-12 years, I was good enough at English to be placed onto the honors track, and into AP classes.

But it never felt quite right. And it still doesn’t.

Every time I’ve ever worked any kind of low wage job, the people who’ve hired me go on and on about how reliable, competent, and thorough I am. I’m well known for going above and beyond with everything.

Except, that is, for school.

I still struggle to put it first. And I think I’ve finally figured out why that is.

In elementary school, one of my teachers tried to scare us all into doing our homework by saying, “Go ahead and slack off. The only person you’re going to hurt is yourself.”

I took that to heart, and to this day, blow off school sometimes because others need me. So, even though I’m the most reliable person on the planet, one wouldn’t think it by looking at my transcript—which, because I transferred, added a second major, and have this habit of taking classes I don’t need just because they sound interesting—makes me look like I’m flaky and can’t make up my mind about anything.

Which is not an accurate representation of me at all. And it’s making me doubt that a transcript could ever say that much about me.

I couldn’t even bring myself to acknowledge how I feel, let alone discuss it with anyone else, until about a week ago. And I only did so because my friend Lucy (who I swear can read my mind even though she says she just reads my Twitter) brought it up. In response to a fleeting comment I made about wanting to run away she said, “I wish you could drop out. I understand why it’s not a good idea, but a big part of me wants to be like, fuck it.”

And when she said that, I started crying, because she voiced what I’ve been thinking but refusing to confront for months. Or years, really.

Other things she said that comforted me:

  • “You are incredibly, incredibly smart and you are attracted to people who are also incredibly smart. But the academia world is very straight-jacket, one-form. And you can be friends with people who play that game (hell, I play that game), but it doesn’t mean you have to.
  • “I hate to lump everyone in a group, but I think that academia people wish they could all drop out, but are often caught up in this web. And I think you have a foot out of the web and realize how fucking good it feels.”
  • “Maybe you’re feeling like you have to stick with Wayne State because you did so much to get there. But I kind of think that all of these twists and turns were you just trying to figure out why it didn’t feel right. And you tried. You tried really fucking hard. But you still don’t feel right. I think that’s saying something.”

Her last comment makes me think that what I want to do will be considered a failure. But I don’t think of it that way. Because after Lucy and I talked, I felt so much better.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. And I’m not necessarily asking you for advice (although I do value your opinion tremendously, so if you feel strongly about anything I’ve said, please say so, because I will listen). Like I said, I just want you to know. Because you’re one of my dearest friends. Because you, like many of the people I care about, are educated. Because I have no idea what you’ll think of all this and am curious to know.

What I do know for sure is that I’m okay. As I mentioned, it’s very freeing, admitting this—even though I’m not sure what I should do about it.

So I’ll close by wishing this feeling for you, too—no matter how or where you find it.

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On trying to do the best you can: Cat parenting is harder than I thought it would be

IMG_8539

My cat Alice had a bad accident over the weekend.

It didn’t look terrible at first.  She just jumped down from the kitchen window, ran across the floor, and crashed into the stove.

I was watching my friend’s dog for the day.  The dog is huge, and Alice, at only a year old, has zero experience with dogs.  So as the dog wandered my backyard, Alice watched closely from the window.

But at one point, the dog barked.  The dog was especially close to the house when she did this, so Alice was spooked, and decided to jump off the windowsill and run away.

She skittered across the floor and ran into the stove.  She got her rear right paw stuck under the stove, and because she was scared, she yanked it out quickly, and then proceeded to run.

Except she couldn’t run, because (unbeknownst to me) she had broken a bone in her leg.  A very large, main bone.

So she flopped into the living room, and started howling in pain.

It didn’t register with me at first.  We have two cats, Alice and Mel, and the two of them have never figured out how to get along.  So they take turns having the run of the house.  Mel was locked in a bedroom that, like the kitchen, had a window looking into the backyard.  So when we heard the howling, we just assumed Mel was complaining about being locked up when there was SUCH EXCITEMENT going on (read: dog).

But then my mom (who had witnessed the accident, but hadn’t followed Alice into the living room to witness her handling of her pain) noticed that Alice wasn’t walking, and that she was also being uncharacteristically affectionate (Alice is usually only interested in spending time with me, and pretty much ignores my parents).

My friend was on her way to pick up her dog, and I had plans to go home with her and spend some time hanging out.  I seldom get to see her, and was very much looking forward to this.

But as a precaution, I called another friend of mine who works at a veterinary hospital, just to ask her if she thought we should bring Alice into the emergency clinic (it was a Saturday evening, so her regular vet was closed).

“Cats hide their pain well,” she said.  “So if she was howling, then you definitely need to get her checked out.”

(By then, of course, we’d figured out that Alice’s crash into the stove and the screaming we’d heard afterward were probably related, given the state she was in.)

So, resigned, I told my friend I couldn’t hang out, and pulled Alice’s carrier out of the basement.  We loaded her into it and drove over to the off-hours clinic.

We opted not to have her leg x-rayed just yet.  We had no idea how badly she’d hurt herself.  We figured she may have pulled a muscle.  So we just wanted to get her pain under control until we could get her into her regular vet on Monday.

The weekend was rough.  Medicating Alice was hard; she didn’t like it.  She was also clearly in a lot of pain.  Although she was eating, drinking, and using the bathroom, she opted to spend most of her time sleeping in her litter box.  And that scared me.  According to the almighty Google, cats who sleep in their litter boxes think they’re dying.

Alice is a year old, remember.

I barely slept, keeping vigil over her.  She was confused as to why I wouldn’t let her up onto the bed with me, where she usually slept (I didn’t want her to jump off, especially while she was medicated).

At 9:00 on Monday morning, I called her vet.  They had a 9:40 opening (thankfully), so I took her right in for x-rays.

The x-rays made me gasp.  Alice had broken her leg badly.  Her femur (is it called a femur in cats? Either way, the main bone in her thigh, right above her knee at the growth plate) had severed in half.  There was another piece of bone floating where it shouldn’t be, also.

She would need surgery.

I love Alice’s vet.  She’s smart, thorough, compassionate (to both animals and humans) and takes no shit.  I kind of want to be her when I grow up, to be honest.

But she’s not an orthopedic surgeon.  And the surgeon she recommended to me couldn’t do the surgery until Friday afternoon (this was Monday, mind you).  And afterward, Alice would have to spend the night at the off-hours clinic, which is an idea I didn’t particularly like.  Weekends, as I knew well, are not kind to sick or injured cats.

So I called the friend of mine I mentioned before, who works in a veterinary clinic across town.  Her clinic had an orthopedic surgeon onsite who could do the surgery the following day, and I knew Alice would get quality overnight care there as well, without having to be transferred.

So I booked an appointment with them.

Except of course, that very day, Detroit and its surrounding metro area (where I lived) experienced the worst flood in history.

So getting her there (almost an hour away) was an ordeal.  But we did it because we’re cat-obsessed heroes.

I say all of this kind of matter-of-factly, but these were not easy decisions to make.  At one point I considered amputating her leg.  What if the surgery goes wrong and she’s unable to recover? Plus, that route would be less expensive, and she’d still get to live a full life.

I am going to be in debt to my parents until I’m 50.

I have been an emotional wreck since Saturday.  I didn’t know I could cry so much or worry so much.  I didn’t even stop crying or worrying after we dropped her off at the hospital for surgery.  I figured I’d be able to put energy toward my own needs once Alice was out of my hands.  But nope.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Alice is only a year old.  And she’s otherwise healthy.  I’ve kept her up to date on her shots, had her spayed, and I invest in high-quality food for her.  She’s at a perfect weight for her size.  And her regular vet, whom I respect and trust infinitely, said that if it were her pet, she’d go for the surgery, because Alice has such a high chance of making a full recovery.

And so, I chose the surgery.  I think I made the best choice, but who knows. And the “who knows” has been eating at me since Saturday.  I’m trying to make tough decisions that have real consequences for an individual I care about, who cannot make decisions for herself.

And, frankly, this is the first time I’ve ever had to do that.  I grew up with cats, but Alice is the first one I adopted on my own, and who is solely my responsibility.  My parents have made all the tough decisions regarding our other pets.  And now that something has gone terribly wrong, the reality of the responsibilities involved in Alice’s care are really overwhelming. I hate that I can’t explain my reasoning to her.  The night before her surgery, she was asking for food.  I couldn’t give it to her because she had to fast before she went under anesthesia.  And I couldn’t stand the look she gave me: “I am trying to communicate my needs to you and you are failing to understand me.”

I want to do right by her, but I’m human and I’m sure as hell not perfect.

Some of you might recall that last summer, I had to put my cat Lucy down unexpectedly.  My cat Mac dropped dead beside his letter box in August of 2011.  And in 2007, my deaf cat Poe (who was fearless and loved motors because they purred like him and were warm) crawled under our car.  We didn’t know he was there, and we ran over him.  He died.

So I asked my friend–the one who works at the veterinary clinic where Alice is being treated–why so many terrible things have happened to my cats, when I know for a fact that I always do my best to provide the best possible care for them.

She responded, “Maybe the universe knows you’re an amazing cat mom and that’s why you always get the hard ones.”

The picture attached to this blog post was taken last night, a few hours after Alice got out of surgery.  The nice thing about having a friend who works at the veterinary clinic is that I get to see her.  The cone of shame and shaved fur is a huge bummer, but it’s obvious she’s not in pain.  And my goal as her devoted cat mom is to keep her out of pain, so I am comforted by this; I know she will be okay.

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Real Talk: Depression

The other day, I posted the following to facebook:

I am probably too old to feel this deeply connected to and inspired by a teen magazine, but whatever.  My copy of Rookie Yearbook Two arrived in the mail today.  And reading it makes me want to stay up late writing poems and and making bath bombs and doing a million other DIY projects and drinking coffee and eating junk food and talking to people about how much I love Amy Poehler, etc, etc.

Basically, it makes me want to be awake and aware, so as not to miss out on anything, ever, for the rest of my life.

Which is A HUGELY SIGNIFICANT AND POTENTIALLY LIFE-SAVING TURNAROUND because I’ll admit that lately my brain has been all “Ho hum depression.  Let’s drink way too much and watch terrible TV shows and let the asshole voices in your head succeed at convincing you that you are a worthless pile of fail.”

I might still be a worthless pile of fail.  Or I might still think that I am a worthless pile of fail, at least.  But now I’m a CREATIVELY INSPIRED pile of fail.  Or something.

I don’t know.  The point of this status is that I feel better than I did yesterday because a big colorful book showed up on my doorstep this morning.

With that, I was trying to convey something serious and personal in a way that wouldn’t scare anyone off.

The less rosy and not-at-all-funny version is that I have been really effing depressed lately.  Actually, I’ve been really effing depressed for years now (and finally admitted as much in a blog post I wrote about a year ago).  At that point in time, there were a lot of things I wanted to do but was afraid to actually try: like dropping out of school and working on an organic farm.

Well, guess what?  I’m not in school anymore, and, this past summer, I ran off to Washington State to spend five weeks working on an organic farm (which doubly fulfilled my dream of seeing the Pacific Northwest).

And I’m still miserable.

Now, my knee-jerk response to these negative feelings of mine is to kick myself and say, “Oh, get over it.  Quit whining and try harder!  Shitty things have happened to you this year, yeah.  But you are such a lucky woman– You have wonderful friends.  Your parents love you and are proud of what you’ve accomplished.  You have so much support and no reason to be this unhappy.”

Which just makes me feel worse about myself because who am I to wallow in self-pity when I clearly have so much?

And that’s what depression is all about: Denying yourself recognition and self-respect. It’s hard–almost impossible, actually–to reach out and ask for help when you don’t feel like you deserve to be helped in the first place.  

I have an interesting reputation, based on my internet presence.  I sort of turn facbeook on its head by being honest.  My “timeline” does not consist of a series of life events that deem me a “successful” person.  Instead, it’s a collection of food porn and snarky commentary about Republicans being idiots.  But, because I know that I’m kind of a doom and gloom monster, I also try to share my honest observations in a way that’s funny and hopefully relatable.  And that, I think, is what makes me approachable, and leads so many people to confide in me.

And so people have said some very kind and poignant things to me.  People tell me I’m smart and that they admire me, and that I inspire them.

But there is some kind of fucking block in my brain that keeps me from so much as accepting their compliments, let alone seeing myself as they see me.

So I sit here thinking, “What do they mean?  I’m nearly 25, unemployed, and live with my parents.  I am the least inspiring person on the planet.”

I know it’s socially inappropriate to fish for compliments, so I politely thank people for their kind words and move on, but I honestly, genuinely do not understand how anyone sees any good in me.  At all.  Because this depression that I live with prevents me from ever being nice to myself, ever.  Not that people notice it.  As I told a friend recently, “I’m a failure, but at least I’m a kind failure.  And I’m a neat and tidy failure.  I clean my room and do the dishes.”

And also (here comes the sneaky, downward spiral of self-loathing again): Why is it that I have a reputation for being so honest when I can’t even be honest about what’s really going on in my head?  Why can’t I, if I’m so honest and strong, just reach out and ask for the help I need?  Or admit to someone that I actually do not have a sense of humor at all, but instead, use humor to cover up how I’m really feeling?

Because of the sneaky, downward spiral of self-loathing, that’s why.

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed a friend, and hinted twice in my message that I might be suicidal.  Saying it out loud to someone I trusted helped immensely.  It was straight-up cathartic, actually, and I felt a lot better (and a lot less suicidal!) once I knew that it wasn’t a secret anymore.  But then I also felt tremendous guilt for scaring her.  What an awful burden to place on someone you love, you know?  So then I instantly felt terrible all over again.

Last weekend, a friend of mine, who teaches at SVSU (where I attended college prior to transferring to Wayne State) came down to Detroit for the weekend and crashed at my house.  After I got a few beers into my system, I might have let my guard down enough to say something not-so-nice about myself, and (this is going to be a confusing sentence, but) I was surprised to see that she was genuinely surprised by what I’d said.  I’d clearly freaked her out by allowing her this glimpse into my fucked up head.

“Amelia,” she said, “You were very well-liked and respected in Saginaw.  Still are, in fact.  Especially in the creative writing community.  Don’t you know that?”

Nope.  My decision to transfer schools wasn’t a smart move at all.  Why doesn’t anyone but me see that?  It was an act of cowardice, because after that rough semester I had, I chose to run away instead of confront and try to fix the problem.

But did I tell her that?  No.  I just shrugged my shoulders and changed the subject.

So, why am I writing this down now, in a public place? Because seeing it on paper (or on screen) like this makes me realize that my view of myself really is skewed and unhealthy in a way that is potentially dangerous.  I’m smart enough to know, deep down, that I’m not a worthless pile of shit.  I’m just not healthy enough to really feel and believe it.  The only energy I have is going toward self-sabotage.

For the record, my depression & anxiety are basically undiagnosed and mostly untreated.  I say “basically undiagnosed” because I’ve been through this before: I know myself well enough to be able to tell what it is.  As a teenager, I was diagnosed with Major Depression, and later, Bipolar Disorder.  I was placed in a psychiatric hospital in May of 2004, and have tried every anti-depressant and mood stabilizer under the sun.

And by “mostly untreated,” I mean that my hippie self decided to stop taking medication at the age of 17– about seven years ago.  And I’m still skeptical of pharmaceuticals.  But in January of this year, after I was raped, I started seeing a therapist again.  She’s the same therapist I saw in high school, which is why I sought her out.  I thought reconnecting with her would be easier than establishing a relationship with someone new.  For a number of reasons, it’s not working out.  She’s expensive, for one.  And not trained specifically in sexual assault and trauma, which is what I really need right now.

So like, I have a history with this shit.  And it’s not good to deny your history.  (I have read a lot of Howard Zinn in my lifetime, okay?)

But because of the stigma attached to mental illness, I have tried to bury it.  I have tried to laugh off my hospital visit, therapy, and need for medication as “This stupid phase I went through as a teenager who was oblivious to how sickeningly privileged she was.”

Which, again, just makes me feel guilty for needing help even though I know I’m loved and well-cared for.

So, you see, it’s a vicious cycle.

I’m almost as terrified to post this as I was to post the entry I wrote revealing that I’d been sexually assaulted by a close friend.  Why?  Because the stigma is that strong, and has that much influence over our collective thinking.  How whiny, obnoxious, and self-indulgent of me, you know?

But ultimately, talking about it–not hiding it–is what’s going to help me heal, and make me stronger.

If honesty is really what I’m best known for, then the only way I can get back to being myself is to be honest.  And I’d like to get back to being me again– the healthy, funny, smart version of me (not the vodka-soaked one who spends her nights watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager and counts her dying brain cells with each mind-numbing episode).

In the facebook status I shared at the beginning of this post, I credited Rookie Yearbook Two–the second annual compilation of posts from the best of Rookie, an online web site for teenage girls–for making me feel a little less dead inside.  I want to close out this post by thanking Tavi Gevinson and everyone else over there not just for helping me crawl out of this terrible hole I’ve dug myself into, but for creating a venue for honest discussion about all the things society teaches us not to talk about or question.  Because of your efforts (and especially because Rookie is aimed toward an audience younger than myself), I believe that we’re inching closer to a time and place where we won’t have to “come out” about or feel ashamed of the things that haunt us.

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On the societal pressure to date, or, “I’m turning 25 this year. I’m single, and that’s fine.”

I’ll be 25 in a few months.  Which is how old my mom was when I was born (she’d been married to my dad for more than two years prior to my birth, btw).

The realization kind of has me in an state of quarter life crisis.  After all, I’m living at home in suburbia right now, struggling to get my shit together and (hopefully!) move out soon.  Not that I want what my mom had– hell no.  I never want to have children, for one thing.  And secondly, I’m gay.  But even so, it’s weird to look at where you’re at and realize that at your age, your mom was doing this and this and that.  And society was praising her for it.

In a zine I published earlier this month, I revealed that my internal monologue very much resembles the “My Friends are Married” blog.  Not only are my friends, both straight and gay, getting married left and right, but one of my good friends (who’s my age) celebrated her first wedding anniversary this past weekend.

My parents have been mostly cool with the fact that I don’t date much (especially my dad, for all of the typical father-daughter reasons).  But today my mom said to me, “You should like, hang out with your friends who are lesbians.  Maybe then they’ll introduce you to single lesbians that you can date.”

Her comment, however well-intentioned, really set me off.

And so I’ve decided to dedicate this blog post to it.

Firstly: Most of the friends I made at the new school I transferred to are lesbians.  Hanging out with them for the three years I’ve been here hasn’t resulted in me meeting anybody.

That’s because all that time, I was hopelessly hung up on someone entirely unattainable.  This woman is married (to a man, might I add), lives two hours away from me, and is twenty-two years my senior.

I knew it’d never work.  But that didn’t keep me from feeling what I felt.  From pining.

So, unfortunately, because of this tiny, stupid sliver of hope that it’d all work out between us (lol), I couldn’t get close to anyone else.  I just couldn’t.

I tried.  I started dating people, and cut it off, because they just weren’t her.  No one could ever be, and I knew it.

And so, when dating failed, I started having a lot of casual sex.

Except through that, what I learned about myself is that I just can’t have sex with people I don’t care about at least a little bit.  Which means I slept with friends.  And thus ruined my friendships with those people.  Or at least introduced some serious weirdness into the mix.

For the record, this past June, I wrote (and mailed!) a 5-page love letter to the Aforementioned Person I Was (and Still Kind of Am) Hung Up On.  I agonized over that thing, trying to get the wording just right; I wrote draft upon draft upon draft.  I sought advice from my two closest friends about whether I should actually send it.  I didn’t expect anything to happen between us, after all.  But I HAD BEEN HUNG UP ON HER FOR YEARS.  And I’d put my love life (if not sex life) on hold just as long because of it.  And I knew that if I didn’t tell her how I felt, I’d explode, and also that I’d never really be able to date anyone else ever again.  Because a tiny (albeit very strong) piece of me would always wonder if it would have worked out.  Or something.  I know how ridiculous it sounds, but the human heart is ridiculous sometimes.

I mailed the letter, bought a fifth of gin, and waited for her response.  She emailed me two days later, upon receipt of my confession.  I could tell that she’d been totally taken aback by what I’d told her.  She tried to word her message positively, saying, “I don’t want to ruin our friendship either, so let’s just keep it how it’s always been.”  (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

So for one thing, I’m still getting over that, and am just not ready to date.  I know that the fantasy was all in my head, and even I knew, intellectually, that it’d never work.  But that doesn’t mean that her rejection didn’t hurt me.  I don’t just haphazardly write 5-page love letters to people.  I wouldn’t have sent it if I hadn’t really thought through the consequences of doing so.  So, not only was I rejected, but I have to deal with the reality that the bravest thing I’ve ever done ended in failure.

And that’s a lot to cope with, especially on my own.  When you have a messy breakup, you can confide in friends.  But I just can’t.  I kept this very much a secret; very few people knew just how strongly I felt about her, and for how long.

And secondly (to get back to what my mom said), why is it that I even need to date, anyway?  I suspect it’s because I bothered to come out as a lesbian in the first place.  Like, because I came out, I should be dating monogamously, and planning a wedding.

But that’s just bullshit.

I live with my parents.  I don’t want to date right now.  I don’t want to date until I live in some city I know I’ll stay in for a while– one that I’m not trying to escape.

That doesn’t mean I’m trying to close myself off, btw.  I had a thing for a while, post 5-page love letter, for a woman, and I pursued that for a few weeks.  But we just weren’t compatible.  Or I wasn’t ready. Or whatever.  And that’s okay.

People ask me how I handle it– my single state.  The honest answer is that I masturbate a lot.  I spend a lot of time with cats instead of people, because they just meow at me instead of asking questions about my Life Plan.

And what I really want is for that to be something we celebrate as loudly and proudly as we do the coupling off of people.

I’m in my mid-20s.  I’m kind of destined to become a cat lady.

And I want you to be happy for me.

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On headaches and heartaches: For Lucy the cat (April 30, 2007-July 27, 2013)

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Lucy in September of 2007

I had to put my cat Lucy to sleep this morning.  She was only six years old.

She’s been kind of sick for the past month or so.  We noticed that one of her pupils was significantly larger than the other, so took her to the vet to get it checked out.  She was diagnosed with Horner’s Syndrome, which is a lesion on a nerve around the brain or spinal cord.  It’s typically–from what I understand, given my complete lack of veterinary knowledge–caused by an injury of some kind, and goes away on its own.

Lucy was an indoor cat, so if she injured herself somehow, we never found out about it.  She just started acting not herself one day.  All of a sudden she was spending a lot of time hiding up on the top shelf of the linen closet (her favorite place to sleep), and losing weight.

But she was still eating and drinking, peeing and pooping, so we left her be.

Then, the other day, we realized that she was limping.  I thought she’d burned one of her pads when she came out onto the balcony with me and stepped onto the hot metal floor during a 90-degree day.

But even after a few days, she wasn’t better.  In fact, she’d gotten worse.  She was limping more, and the pads on her back paws were swollen and purple.

So we took her back to the vet yesterday afternoon.

Lucy was so angry about being at the vet (and / or in so much pain) that she wouldn’t let anyone near her– including Mom and me.  She hissed, growled, and bit.  She was panting heavily– a clear sign of anxiety.

So the vet gave her a sedative so that he could calm her down enough to get a good look at her.  But she fought the sedative fiercely, and didn’t really seem to mellow out at all.

Now’s a good time to mention that Lucy is not normally a volatile cat.  I mean, she’s my pet, for one.  Secondly, I spent a year babysitting a toddler who lives across the backyard, so I’d frequently bring her over to visit Lucy.  And Lucy was so gentle with this child, it was amazing.

So even before shit started to get really scary (I’ll get to that in a second), I kept thinking, “This just isn’t right.  This isn’t my cat.”

Lucy was given Cortisone to help with the swelling, and some other drug that would reverse the sedative (I’m not sure why reversing it was necessary before bringing her home; I now think that’s ultimately what killed her– but I’ll get to that in a bit, too).  We put her back into her carrier to take her home, and she started bobbing her head around a lot– something else that just struck me as very unlike her.  I spoke up about it, but no one else seemed concerned.

We got her home, and opened the carrier.  She spilled out of it.  Really, there’s no better way to describe it.  She just spilled out of it.  Stoned out of her mind on whatever the hell he gave her, she was completely unable to use her back legs, and just started flopping around like a seal.

It was so terrifying that we only had her home for a few minutes before calling the vet again, who told us to bring her back in right away.

She never came home.

By the time we got her back to the animal hospital, she was in “full-on panic mode,” as the vet put it.  She was doing the seal dance and hyperventilating; it was obvious to us that she couldn’t feel the rear end of her body (remember, we brought her in because we were concerned about the pain she was experiencing in her back paws, and an hour later, she was dragging these hurt paws along the hard floor).  The vet said that she was also hallucinating.  I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion, but whatever.

It was a train wreck.

It’s really scary to look into someone’s eyes and not recognize them.  I felt that, leaving Lucy at the animal hospital (we were told to call back in a couple of hours time; the vet would give her a barbiturate–more drugs!–and keep an eye on her for a while).

My mom and I left and went to a nearby bar for a drink; it had been an emotional day.  We were both afraid, given Lucy’s drug cocktail and anxiety, that she’d have a heart attack and die.

A couple of hours later, we called the vet to check in on her, and were told that it’d be best for Lucy to spend the night.  So she did.

The next morning (today), we were woken up with a phone call from the vet.  All drugs had been out of her system for a while, but Lucy still couldn’t use her back paws at all.  She was paralyzed.

Given her young age, we didn’t want to totally give up.  But after seeing Lucy in the state she was in yesterday, I knew I couldn’t let her go on living without use of her back legs.

So we gave the vet permission to run bloodwork and do x-rays.

And her bloodwork turned up all kinds of problems.

And so my dad and I drove back to the vet office to say goodbye.  Lucy seemed her calm, sober self again, and she recognized us, which was tremendously comforting.

But not comforting enough to dim my anger over how she died.  Or the fact that she had to die at all, for that matter.

I get that, given the results of her bloodwork, she had some underlying issues that hadn’t surfaced yet.  But Jesus, she was six.  SIX.  That’s like 40 in cat years.  Plus, to go from “My cat’s eye looks funny and she’s limping” to “We have to get her euthanized” in the matter of about 18 hours is just so hard to believe.

If I hadn’t seen her flopping around like a goddamn seal yesterday (I want this image to stick in your mind, because it was so utterly horrifying), I probably would not have been comfortable putting her down at all.

I really do think that whatever combination of drugs the vet gave her caused her to get that bad so quickly.  And I’m pretty fucking pissed at him about that, especially as someone who avoids drugs unless they’re absolutely necessary (seriously, I pretty much only use ibuprofen when I’m on my period, and that’s it).

i don’t know.  People who euthanize their animals should see it coming.  I totally did not.  Plus, I just feel guilty over not being around much during the last months of her life; I ran off to Washington May 9-June 16, and then spent time in Windsor and Royal Oak without her.

Since this entire entry has been about her death, I’ll say a couple of things about her life before I sign off:

1) A lot of people comment on how overtly sexual I am.  I’m nothing compared to Lucy (and she was spayed).  Seriously, she did this thing that I used to call the “crotch nap” where she had me trained to sleep with my legs spread open, so she could crawl up in there whenever she damn well pleased.  She’d put her junk up against mine and fall asleep.

2) She used to walk around the house crying whenever she was alone.  I know this because one time, my parents left the house, but I was upstairs.  I heard Lucy crying through the house, so yelled “Lucy, I’m home!”  She bolted up to me.  I spread my legs open, inviting her in for a crotch nap.

3) She loved beer.  We never gave her any, because that’d be unsafe, but anytime I finished a bottle of Oberon, she’d lick the rim for me.

4) Speaking of licking (let’s talk about her sexuality some more) she LOVED to give kisses.  One time she spent so much time licking my nose that my dad finally told us to get a room.

She was so quirky and cool.  I can’t even find a compelling way to end this entry, because my day has been spent feeling headachey and heartachey.  And I don’t assume that’s going to go away anytime soon.

Rest in peace, my friend.  I hope there are crotch naps and beer in kitty heaven.

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