This is like the second hundred time I’ve started a post that I’ll most likely not finish. My draft folders are a mess, on the internet and in the real world. Immense frustration accompanies these incomplete projects. Nothing is ever right, it’s never good enough, or I simply can’t finish anything. Everything I produce is tangential and confusing, or wooden and dry. This rut has been driving me absolutely insane for two years now, with periodic pieces making it past the radar. Ultimately, my writing has been crippled because my life has been crippled: I’ve been trying to maintain a sense of propriety and togetherness that is incongruent with my life.
Even writing this, one paragraph in, I’m second guessing every sentence and trying to sanitize myself. This insanely neurotic self-censorship is paralyzing. I have seen so much of this world from so many different angles and it’s a cruel place. To protect myself, I’ve slowly detached myself from the things I am and have been. When you live in denial about who and what you really are, and compartmentalize all the aspects of yourself into controllable little boxes, things are bound to go awry. And the truth is, I’m one wonderfully fucked up human being. I don’t have it together. Somedays I don’t even have it in the same room. I’ve spent so long analysing it: looking at it from this way and that, studying the variables, like mental illness and poverty and a lifetime of emotional dysfunction. Then I’ve tried to explain it, academically: to write scholarly treatise on my various faults and somehow explain the deep historical reasoning of my treacherous brain. And you know what? It’s the most boring shit in the world. Because it’s not actually the true story of my life, it’s a pained plea to forego judgement on my life.
But as I’m getting older, I’m finding that I care less and less what other people think of me. Which is a pretty nifty trick to learn if you happen to be as crazy as I am. (Some people resent the label of crazy… I find it perfectly illustrates the marriage of my already radical nature to my precarious brain chemistry.) I’m tired of hiding the reality of my character and choices: for all my faults and mistakes and transgressions, I am genuinely a good, kind, loyal, spiritual person. I just happen to be guided by a moral compass that is counter to much of what is deemed acceptable in society. The sum of my experiences has not weakened or degraded me: it has hollowed me, so that I could be filled with wisdom and compassion and certainty. Hollowed so I could be hallowed. But I don’t want to pretend to be a respectable, subdued, and boring statistic anymore. I want to be myself.
I’ll be twenty-nine next month, and as far as material or career success go, I have little to show for it. I live in a trailer park and drive an ugly, dysfunctional old car. My health is a mess and, unlike the me who was vivacious and coquettish about life, I put little effort into self care. I have more student loan debt than I can afford, and no job or even a degree to show for it. I do have a certificate in massage therapy, but I’ve found that’s not really a workable career for me. (For LOTS of reasons, not the least of which being that I enrolled in massage school on a manic impulse and that never really bodes well for future ventures.) My work history has been… unstable, both in span and choice of profession, and my socioeconomic status has suffered as a result. My credit is awful, mostly medical and student loan debt. I have a dead-end job at a small house cleaning business where I will never get a raise but will also never get fired. Given my past instability, that’s the sort of benefit I haven’t been able to overlook. I mean, if you can decide to become a stripper or a hooker or just stop working whenever you feel like it at the drop of a hat, you kind of need something to come back to. But maybe that’s just me.
But recently that’s been changing. I started a new medication to serve as my mood stabilizer and antipsychotic around a year and a half ago, and I truly credit it with helping me get myself under control. (It’s Latuda, if you’re wondering. Given that it was originally prescribed for schizophrenia, you can see how a someone with schizo-type bipolar 1 disorder might benefit from it.) And as I’ve been slowly regaining a sense of reality after years of improperly medicated mental mood spins, things have come to a head. The discontent reached a peak between Ian and me. We’re currently living apart. It is puzzling to be apart after so long. As you can imagine, there’s a long, dark wealth of passion and insanity and betrayel between us. Neither of us are innocent though, and neither of us are actually ready to give up yet. I think life has seen much darker times between us: this is not a question of love, it is a question of structure. Neither of us could fulfill our obligations in our relationship because we were too dysfunctional together. Apart, we are slowly finding ourselves again and the results have been positive. Sometimes absence (even just partial absence) really does make the heart grow fonder. BUT that’s all tentative sort of stuff. The better we each do, the greater the likelihood things will work out. So I’ve been working really hard on that part.
I finally figured out how to keep a job and pay bills and get up at a decent time in the morning, but my options are limited. Not only by my lack of education and time as a single mother, but by the physical markers of poverty and illness and past choices that I can’t erase. My teeth are terrible, and I would have to save up every cent of my current salary for three years in a row to get them fixed properly. Worse still (and I think often overlooked because of the automatic aversion to unattractive teeth) I am in excruciating daily pain because of them. I expect them to break while I’m eating. I expect them to ache. I expect to make a trip to the emergency room every so often, and I expect to make a trip into the dentist’s office, resolute to have them pulled this time. But inevitably, the dentist always assures me that they can be saved, that yes, they look and feel bad, but they’re saveable, easily so. And who really wants to have dentures by thirty? Not me. So I agree to a treatment plan and some initial work gets done and then I get the bill and suddenly I remember that, just because they CAN save my teeth, doesn’t mean they WILL. I am poor, in a country that makes healthcare, and especially dental care, a luxury commodity. Medicaid will pay to have an infected tooth pulled out of your mouth: they won’t pay for the root canal and crown to keep it in there. And sadly, I think my time is running out. The pain is unbearable. The anxiety is unbearable. The constant, piercing shame when I talk or smile or laugh is unbearable. I don’t think I can hold out hope any longer that I’ll ever be able to afford the work that I need. I haven’t won the lottery, no rich distant cousins have died and bequeathed me their fortunes. Jesus hasn’t appeared with a briefcase full of cash. There’s no miracle to be found here. Just a potential end to the suffering.
I know for sure that I can’t stay where I’m at. I can barely afford the bills and had to cut out a car payment to make ends meet. That’s okay, I can get by with what I have, but it was nice to have a vehicle big enough for my family for once. My surroundings are chaos, on the brink of meltdown if I have a particularly bad mood swing. (which thankfully hasn’t happened in a while.) I can just barely keep things in my home controllable while also working and taking care of my children and trying to figure out some sort of future for myself. But it’s kind of hard to see a way forward. More student loans hardly seem the wisest decision. I’ve learned that you can do admirably on your own with no college degree, and could easily run my own house cleaning business. But how many people are going to hire me to clean their houses when it looks like I can’t even clean my teeth? (I do, now. I learned the hard way, way too late.) And do you have any idea how awkward it is to perform well in a job interview when your first impulse when asked about customer service is to quip, “I never saw a trick less than twice”?
So I’m kind of stationary, for now. I think my best bet will be to enroll in the community college for next semester. I can accept only the Pell Grant and use the surplus to buy my inevitable dentures. (One of my comforting fantasies is that they’re working on cloning teeth, and maybe that will be an option in my lifetime.) Then, when my redneck smile no longer interferes with my impressive (albeit unusual) skill set, I might actually find a better paying situation. It isn’t the scenario I envisioned for my life, but I’ve been down for quite a while now.
If I could, I would write. I would write about how manic depression is like paying for a professional house sitter when the real you takes a vacation and then coming home to find out that the sitter started wearing your clothes and opening your mail and changing your house and living your life, except they’re not you and they’re not living your life the way you live it and they fucked everything up and now you have four corpses in your sitting room. (Shout out to Half-Broken Things by Morag Joss.) I would write about the peculiar and nonsensical hassles of being poor, and the philosophical futility of money. (Humans have great imaginations.) I would write about the bloody ten year battle of identity that I’ve waged between the Madonna and the Whore; a complex problem that I’ve wrestled with for pretty much my entire life. I’d write, honestly, about what motivated my entrance and exit into the sex industry and how it made me a wiser, deeper human being. Or the confliction I feel between recognizing the inherent harm of the sex industry and the validity of it, because of the underlying cultural conversations. I don’t know. I have a lot to write about.
It’s hard to find time to write though, when you’re working but not making enough money and taking care of/ cleaning up after three kids and a glaring of cats, a split second away from a panic attack, and a few days medication away from utter breakdown. IN short, when you have a solid grasp on the fact that sanity is tenuous and your own is precious.
I am usually so tired I collapse into bed, or if I try to write, it’s soulless drivel. I am working on that, but old habits are hard to break. You get to a point where your soul, like your teeth, is so broken and decayed and diseased from years of heartbreak and failure and instability and inadequate care that your first instinct is to hide it. But hiding it isn’t the solution. Fixing it is. Acknowledging the stories that it has to tell is. And I’m hoping that maybe, with a little concentrated effort and determination, I can rebuild what has been leveled and make it stronger, deeper, and better.
There really seems to be no other option, does there? I mean, I can’t go without teeth, nor can I go without a soul. I am far from cynical or disenchanted about life: experience has humbled me and filled me out, and taught me how to build. And hopefully how to write. But I don’t know, I suppose we’ll just have to see how that one pans out.