My Balloon Blog

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I’m neurotic in a lot of different ways but perhaps the most confusing is my tendency to collect very random and irrational fears. The most rational and easiest to explain is water. I have limited mobility in my shoulder that prevents me from effectively controlling my direction in water. In addition to that, I can tell you all about the random creatures and what I imagine are what fallen angels and frat boys become once they are disinvited from the eternal paradise my mother’s pastor informs me well all enjoy that swim underneath the surface.

I can tell you all about how lightbulbs could combust in your hands and cut you open or how they could catch on fire because a sheet was too close to one. I could list a plethora of reasons to be scared of lightbulbs but the reality is those are all my intensely researched rationalizations for completely irrational fears that probably did not exist less than an hour before they became full out phobias for no reason at all.

But perhaps the most confusing and irrational of these fears is balloons. As a child, I was like any other southern girl begging my mother for the pink balloon out of the coral at Harris Teeter before Harris Teeter became a yuppy hell none of us could afford. I’m sure there were balloons in many rooms previous to age 16 that I didn’t even notice, much less have full-on actual panic attacks over. Now, I can list a million reasons that balloons are Satan come to shock and suffocate us all and why it is child abuse to allow them at birthday parties. I can recite a full-proof plan to use them as weapons of mass destruction because that is just how dangerous balloons are. The truth is that as in as many ways balloons are actually dangerous with improper use or over inflation they are not actually things to be feared, but try telling my brain that when put face to face with the murderers themselves.

This blog is a lot like balloons. Although it is terrifying to think of exposing my crazy and bearing my soul to the grand jury of the internet trolls and my grandma, and although that fear can be justified in a million different ways, it will probably not suffocate me – probably.

So here it is. My balloon blog.

(Please don’t suffocate me)

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Life’s A Bitch And Then You Marry One

I don’t have much love for the neurotypical. Maybe it’s because at their worst they’re shaming me and at their best they’re suggesting bullshit pinterest ideas that will supposedly cure me. Good intentions be damned, if I am forced to read one more article on how cucumbers will magically restore my energy and will to live I might just stay in bed forever to prove a point. Or I’ll just buy out all of the cucumbers on this side of the Atlantic.

See how much energy you have then, YouTube certified psychiatrists.

But I think that most of the time this judgment and subsequent resentment comes from a place of misunderstanding. It’s the same human nature phenomenon that’s often applied to racial tensions, women’s rights, and people who like pineapple on their pizza. When you simply can’t understand you’d rather not have to feel the full effect that real empathy would require and so it’s easier for our fucked up human nature to just pretend it doesn’t actually exist – or at least can be easily fixed if the victim just adjusts their behavior to be more like your own (or changes their pizza topping preferences).

For a neurotypical person their relationship with their brain is a lot like a really close friendship. Most of the time it’s great, but like all relationships sometimes it takes some work. There are days or weeks where they’re feeling really down or unmotivated or stressed out, but ultimately they’re able to work out their conflicts with simple solutions such as spending some time with friends or picking up a new hobby (or eating more cucumbers).

But for people who struggle more mentally, their relationship with their brain is more like a really rocky marriage. Sometimes it’s absolutely incredible. The communication is flowing naturally and even though there may be hard times a couple multivitamins and a long walk can get them through as a cohesive unit. But when the relationship is bad there are days they don’t talk at all unless its to tear each other down. They’re pointing out insecurities and making cruel and brash attacks. During these times the brain is like an abusive husband hellbent on locking them in the prison that their bedroom becomes until they’re pretty confident they’ll never leave again – and even if they did, there would be no point and they’d end up right back where they started. It can take extensive couples therapy to make the relationship halfway functional again and even after the marriage is back on its feet they know it’s just a matter of time before they’re right back on the chopping block again.

But unlike an unhappy marriage, we can’t divorce our brains. We have to find solutions. And when it’s bad a walk in the sun and some good friends may provide temporary relief but they’re really just a band-aid holding together a gaping hole. And just like the symptoms of abuse, couples therapy looks different for different people.

For me, with my unique brand of random fears and anxieties and bouts of painful numbness, that couples therapy often looks like meticulous control over the few things my brain and I can agree on. All of our stuff gets thrown away or meticulously organized. We isolate as long as we need and socialize as long as we can stand it with people we both deem safe and/or essential once our feud is over. We write pointless poems we’ll never share that are far too angsty for anyone over the age of 13 with lives as blessed as ours. We reconcile where we can and compromise were we must. Our sessions are 24 hours a day for anywhere between one day to six months. Eventually we reunite, usually stronger than before, but by that point often we have isolated or pissed off many of the neurotypical people in our lives.

And, for the most part, it’s often understandable – especially with partners. How can someone with a “normal” handle on their thoughts and emotions understand how we can intellectualize that we still love them when we can’t necessarily feel or show it. They didn’t sign up for a polyamorous relationship with myself and my brain and they certainly didn’t sign up for attempted divorce proceedings between me and my metaphorical husband. No, they signed up for a monogamous adventure with the singular woman they thought they’d found on whatever dating app I was using last month (what? I don’t leave my house for myself I’m certainly not going to for a potentially imaginary person I haven’t met yet). Still, my brain and I will try to explain over and over again what’s really happening when I seemingly randomly become distant and cruel and uninterested towards my poor, innocent partner’s needs while trying to save myself.

I think the easiest way to really come to an understanding is by first understanding that we can’t. Our lives exist entirely in our own minds, our perspectives are controlled by how our brain interprets our surroundings and experiences. As much as I like to refer to myself and my brain as two separate entities we are in fact one- just with different facets that don’t always fit together perfectly.

It’s in this interpretation – that our brains are essentially our lives – that the resentment fades away and an understanding that we’re really not that different after all replaces it.

The knowledge that my experience is completely unique only because it is entirely in my own head reminds of a quote told to me by a completely neurotypical (if still completely fucked up, because, aren’t we all?) old friend:

Life’s a bitch and then you marry one.

Neurotypicals, the neurotic, and the married are all similar in one way: We all face challenges that we’re never quite sure we can overcome and – although it is easier for some than others – most of us find a way regardless. It takes constant work and effort and growth and some days we flat out don’t want to. The spark comes and goes and the honeymoon phase only lasts as long as the outside world allows it. Disagreements turn into arguments that turn into fights that turn into resentment. Sometimes the love is a feeling and sometimes its a decision we have to make. But much like how we will learn to better love that bitch (or, spouse, for the easily offended – Hey Mom!) we must learn to better love this life.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until we find even better ways to love it. And we will. Together. With just a little more understanding and a little less resentment along the way.

As long as you don’t offer me any more fucking cucumbers.

The Adidas Theory

I’ve received a lot of good advice in my short time on this bizarre planet of ours, but perhaps the most sound was this:

“If he doesn’t take his socks off he doesn’t respect you”

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Foot phobias, quickies, and generally ugly feet any respectful man would keep to himself until a level of trust was built. But in a world full of senseless sweeping generalizations frequently proven wrong this one has held true a great majority of the time.

Need convincing? Head to your nearest frat party, choose a boy (their only purpose tonight is to get laid, it won’t be hard), take him home, and simply pay attention. If the socks remain on simply leave – unless you don’t mind never being called again and forever avoiding any parties hosted by his organization. If you don’t mind then hunker down and strap in for what is sure to be one of the most underwhelming sexual experiences of your life. If they come off? Marry him. He’s one in a million, he comes from money and statistically speaking will make a lot more despite all the brain cells he’s burned tonight alone.

But what else have learned while participating in the great sock study? Chances are my instincts had already warned my fickle and promiscuous heart that these particular boys may not be the best idea. Our instincts are a lot like speed limits. Meant to be followed but frequently ignored unless enforced by a tangible forces like police officers…. or socks.

I believe this philosophy (which I call the Adidas Theory) can be applied to more than just sex and poor driving. How many times have you seen socks plainly in front of you and ignored them? Like the friend that talked behind your back or the degree you studied for because it would get you a good job even though you had no interest in either? There are warning signs surrounding us in everything we do, so why do we so often ignore them? Is it because we don’t want to see the socks? Or because we want to believe eventually they’ll come off.

I can say that 9/10 for me it’s been the latter.

Now that’s not to say that all socks should be a hard stop. Maybe you’ll end up falling in love with accounting (doubtful) or your friend will come to love you enough to keep her fucking mouth shut. Perhaps even frat boys are capable of redemption in the arms of the right woman. Just as some rules are made to be broken some socks are worth ignoring. I’m just saying that maybe we should pay more attention, allow our gut to tell us what our wishful minds refuse, and weigh the pros and cons accordingly.

In the meantime, the only thing I can tell you for sure, is that if the socks are knee high and white, run. Quickly. Some socks are just too unattractive to risk.

Reclamation

I remember sitting in the hospital with her after hours of waiting for a doctor to validate her illness and my decision to address it. It was exactly 7 hours after she took the pills, 6 and 1/2 hours after I picked her up, 6 hours after I started driving in circles praying that she wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t going home. It was 5 and half hours after I pulled into the front of the ER, 5 hours and fifteen minutes after I pulled the officer on duty aside and begged him to help me convince her to go in, 4 hours and 15 minutes after we got her to the desk, and exactly 4 hours and 8 minutes after I heard my best friend say to a nurse that they should be helping someone else because she wasn’t worth the bed that she was laying on in the under-crowded emergency triage, because in that moment in her mind she was worth less than the man yelling next door because the nurses wouldn’t give him painkillers for his sore thumb.

After over 4 hours of waiting for a doctor to explain that she was sick and worthy of treatment, using the words that I could not find he still wasn’t showing up, she was finally sober, and I was finally too tired to grasp her hand any longer. As I sat in the chair next to the bed wondering if watching her slowly die was a fate worse than her death itself, I looked at her and her big blue eyes, perfectly bleached hair, and somehow effortlessly beautiful outfit that – even after an attempted overdose and 5 hours of waiting – still would not wrinkle.

And I laughed.

In the saddest moment of her life in the scariest moment of mine, I laughed. And she laughed back.

Because even then – even in the most unimaginably painful and terrifying moment – she looked back at me, dead in the eye and with not a hint of irony, asked for a face wipe and a hairbrush.

As the doctor finally walked in on the two of us laughing like we were at a comedy show, rather than the potential prelude to a rather untimely funeral, I allowed my tired mind to muse over the events that had led us here. Through our combined experiences we had weathered assault, emotional and physical abuse, harassment, failed relationships, and now a subsequent failed suicide attempt. It was not lost on us how fallen we were, but much like so many other women, we had failed to fully address what those experiences made us.

Throughout recent history women have reclaimed so much of what has been taken from us using something as simple as words. We’ve turned slut into sexually free, victim into survivor, bitchy into empowered. As the connotations change we are more willing to identify ourselves by the terms that allow us to most easily tell our stories.

But as I laughed at the doctor’s reaction to our apparent amusement at a definitively unamusing event, I found one word I knew best described us and so many other women we knew and would come to know. The most all-encompassing adjective for the aftermath of all of our tragedies:

Broken.

She was utterly broken and so was I. And so are most of the women I meet. You see, this world has a knack for ripping us apart before we’re even aware of the power of our pieces. As I listened to her describe her own brokenness to a man who could never fully comprehend the depth of the tears that have been ripped into her soul, the ones so similar to mine and so many others, I heard her even tone and her gentle spirit and the strength living beneath this broken life, and I wondered why – when the first step of healing is admitting that we are not well – why are we so hesitant to say the word out loud?

It was in that moment that I remembered what she told me in the car as I pleaded with her to fight for her life – and if she couldn’t to at least let me try for her.

“They won’t believe me and they’ll think I’m crazy.”

You see we have been conditioned to believe that broken is inherently less than. We’re afraid to admit that we are scarred because how could someone believe someone whose mind isn’t even whole? Who could trust the tales of a woman who can no longer trust herself, and who could show compassion for a soul so shattered it can’t even love its own host?

I sat, and I wondered how much faster our healing would come if we could muster up the courage to spit in the faces of those who believe us to be less than based on our pain, and instead hold our heads high against the stigma and start wearing our tragedy as a badge of honor instead of cloak of shame.

And so I assert that we must reclaim the word broken. Because that is what we are. But we are not broken like a puzzle waiting for it’s pieces to be put back together by an outside force greater than ourselves. We are broken like a mosaic. Perhaps beautiful before we were shattered onto the floor that is assault and harassment and abuse, but even more so now. I would argue that the best revenge will be turning our perpetrators into unwitting artists. Because, much like the pieces of glass that make up a mosaic, the broken shards of us may never be put back together again – but they have come out sharper, more colorful, more unique, and infinitely more beautiful than before. And although we will leave pieces behind, remember those pieces are the dust unworthy of being scooped to be placed onto our final sculpture.

We are broken, but only because we are not yet finished. And what a beautiful thought that is. That we get to decide which pieces stay and which ones go, who gets to bask in the beauty of what we’ve created and who does not deserve us, and that no matter what has happened or what is coming, we control the final masterpieces that are our own lives.

And finish them we will, one reclamation at a time.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Proven Right

“Don’t you EVER get tired of being a FUCKING CLICHE?!”

That was what I meant to say as he blathered on for the millionth time about his undying and arguably unfounded fear of commitment. But that’s not what came out. What came out was:

“Well when it’s the right girl and the right timing it’ll work out.”

What also got lost in translation in the journey from actual thoughts to words was:

“And by the way, she’s right in front of you! You know? The overly understanding and borderline saintly woman who has patiently and carefully put up with your SHIT for past six months and who will genetically speaking be hot forever in addition to all of the other characteristics you’re constantly saying you want in a ‘partner’ – AS IF YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS – that you also constantly tell me I possess if only we had the right ‘timing’?”

But, of course, as any dutiful non-committal “girlfriend type person” would, I didn’t say any of that. I just walked away and prepared to wait patiently by the phone until he needed or wanted me again with the full knowledge that the next time would not be any different – or the time after that, or the time after that, or EVEN the time after that.

To you rare lucky weirdos who got it right the first time and are reading this post laughing at how lucky you are to have never really been single, this may sound a lot like me oversharing an isolated incident on the internet But it’s not. In fact, this isn’t even the first time I’ve said these words. I’ve lived out this same scenario on no less than three occasions and as you’re reading this I’m probably on the phone with another girl screaming about the exact same thing. The truth is we’ve all been there and – sorry girls – we’ll more than likely be there again.

At the risk of sounding too reminiscent of Sex and the City I’d like to beg the question:

At what point are we also just a cliche? And what do we do about it?

Carrie rarely answered her (admittedly eerily similar) questions and I’m pretty sure it’s because if she did and did it honestly there’d be no fucking show.

But at the risk of already making this blog obsolete I will:

We are. And we JUST FUCKING STOP.

We stop answering the phone after weeks of not hearing from them. We stop making them dinner. We stop listening to their woes. We stop sleeping with them no matter how fun it might be. Not that it’s a game (but hey, if that metaphor helps you skeedaddle the fuck on out then sure, why not?) but you can’t let him win. We stop dreaming of futures with them and allowing that fantasy to excuse their current behavior.

We Just. Fucking. Stop.

I’d love to tell you that if you just quit waiting upon their every whim and disappear for a while they’ll come crawling back, and it wouldn’t be a complete lie. They’ll come back. At least the first couple times. But it won’t be different just because the temperature is a little cooler outside than the last time you tried fixing something that’s less broken than it is non-existent.

The truth is that if he wanted to be fixed he’d do it himself and he wouldn’t need you – in fact, he wouldn’t even try to drag you through the process. If you were really different he wouldn’t need to tell you and if he really wanted to be with you he would’ve asked a long time ago. Anything else he told you is a lie, even if he didn’t know it at the time (besides that whole line he gave you about you being the best sex he’s ever had. It might be lie but believe it anyways. And hold onto it if and when he marries the next one so that just in case you still have your head stuck up your ass and aren’t over it yet you can have one bit of schadenfreude left to comfort you).

Remember when he texts you that these were all lies and you are inherently worthy of something more and better based solely on your status as a human being. Remember that these are his commitment issues, not yours and just as they are not your burden to bear they are not yours to inherit. Remember that you are infinitely stronger than he will be ever be just by virtue of how much you cared. Remember that because you had the balls to walk away when he didn’t even have the balls to stay he is not worthy. Remember that the best revenge is you being indescribably, emphatically, exuberantly, and most of all sustainably happy.

So get up, get dressed, and turn off your fucking notifications. Let him watch the strong, beautiful, caring, courageous, and – you knew it was coming – independent woman you become because of – not in spite of – his absence. And even if he doesn’t watch there’s one more lie you’re allowed to believe: that he sees it, and that he is ruing the day he let you go.

And remember one last thing: You knew when you took him back it wouldn’t be different. That he’d still lie and get scared or bored or mean or distant. You knew and you still went back. The good news is it is different in one way: you may have already known, but this time you were prepared.

And Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Proven Right.

WWTMLD

It was a rainy and cold day in Wilmington which meant that by the time I walked out the door to my car for lunch I was already soaking wet and freezing cold. My dress was laundrified and my shoes were ruined beyond repair. Luckily I work right next to the local Marshalls so I went shopping. What I forgot is that I absolutely hate shopping and immediately go into the painfully overwhelming wind tunnel that is sensory overload every time I step into a clothing store . So after 5 minutes of wandering around aimlessly having no idea what I wanted or what I would look good in I walked up to nearest name tag I saw, looked at the lady and said “I have 15 minutes and $35. Find me an outfit”. Without even so much as a blink within 5 minutes she had me in a dress that not only fit but fit my style and shoes to match for $5 under the allotted budget. Most people would wave this off as good customer service and sales but my brain doesn’t allow me to just simply accept things the way that they are and so I turned it into something else entirely. By the end of the conversation with myself and after the 15 mirror selfies I took for one post on Instagram (ItsMichaelaJane, just in case you were interested…. Moving on) I had a new life motto: WWTMLD (What Would The Marshalls Lady Do).

Although it may seem silly to put this much thought into a simple act of good customer service and basic kindness and then turn it into an entire philosophy, in my brain this is often how things work. You see I believe there is something to be learned from everything and if there’s not I will (over)think until I find something no matter how far the stretch may be. In my mind what the Marshalls lady did was more than just basic customer service or even basic kindness. Within two minutes of looking at me and my current outfit she inferred my style, my size my shoe size, and my stress level standing in a store. Without even having to say it she already understood that I didn’t like shopping and did not want to browse. It felt as if she knew me and knew exactly what to do to get me back to work feeling confident and ready for the day. It was incredible to me that she could be this observant when I couldn’t even focus long enough to take note of her name to tell her manager later.

*Side note: Marshall’s Lady, if you’re reading this, you’re the best and you made my day.

Marshall’s Lady’s Manager, I don’t remember her name or particularly what she looks like but I can tell you that she has blonde hair, is dressed better than I will ever be and looks like she has her whole house decorated for Christmas before the day of and takes them back down promptly after New Year’s so she can prepare for spring. She probably drives an SUV because she’s better at budgeting than me and can afford the gas. Basically she looks like she has her shit together better than I ever will and for that you should give her a raise and perhaps even your job if she’s interested. What? Did YOU dress me and inspire a blog post AND a life philosophy? No? Point proven*

But it got me thinking: how wonderful would it be if I could be that observant? If I could connect with people that quickly and fulfill needs so simply and efficiently? If I could spot subtle cues and clues to help people get exactly where they need to be? For that matter, what if I could spot those same cues in myself? Hell, what if I could muster the attention span to FIND A DAMN DRESS?

I spent the rest of my work day trying to serve my customers as if they were me and I was the Marshall’s Lady and y’all let me tell you IT WORKED. My customers responded better, I worked more efficiently and I only went into sensory overload ONE TIME!!!!! I wanted to go back and hug her for her inspiration, but I realized that would be weird and she probably would think I was crazy because she was just doing her job and also because hugs from strangers are rarely acceptable and often result in (at best) break room banter at the perpetrators expense or (at worst) a restraining order.

Back to my point.

Perhaps one day I’ll figure out how to make her wonderful qualities and skills come naturally, but until then I’ll be researching how to get the bracelet made so I can have a constant reminder that better is possible as long as I keep repeating this phrase: When in doubt, WWTMLD?