The Year I Decided to Be Okay With My Weirdo Self

It’s my birthday month, so that means in addition to demanding a chocolate cake that I will refuse to share, it’s time for my annual “This Year I’m Going to Change” existential crisis. Every year I imagine a magical version of myself with none of my…let’s call them “quirks” instead of  “neuroses,” shall we?

This mythical Jessie doesn’t panic at the thought of traveling alone. She is strong and independent! Nor does she have a meltdown when her plans change unexpectedly. She is breezy and easy-going! She’s certainly not crying in the corner, hating herself because her brain feels like a swarm of bees. She’s fine! It’s allllll fine.

Clearly the face of someone who’s JUST FINE, THANK YOU.

But I regret to inform you (me?) that we will be skipping the existential crisis portion of the birthday ritual this year.  

Why? There are many reasons.

Too tired.

Too old.

Too busy.

All true! Except maybe the “too busy” part. I’m terrible at a lot of things, but relaxing is NOT one of them.  

This is 90% of my life and I will not apologize for it.

But there are many, many things wrong with me and while I don’t exactly LOVE these qualities, I’m finally at the age where I can accept this is just how I am:

anxiety out the wazoo

Ah, the most popular millstone around everyone’s neck: anxiety! Who isn’t anxious, right? It took me way too long to figure out what having anxiety actually meant. Somehow it never added up that my odd little things were…you know, diagnosable. I just thought I was a weirdo.

Let me give you an example: I overthink everything. Like, to the point where I can take the smallest event—like carrying a slightly-too-full cup of hot coffee— and psych myself out so much that I literally cannot do it. I get so worried about spilling the hot coffee and burning myself that my hand will start shaking and I physically cannot carry it.

That’s insane! I am insane.

And going to any sort of social function sends my brain into panic mode:  “Should we eat before we go or will there be food? Will there be alcohol? What kind of monsters don’t serve alcohol?!  Will we be standing or sitting? Because then I’ll know whether to wear heels or flats. What should I wear? Will I be overdressed if I wear a dress? Will I be underdressed if I wear jeans? What’s the parking situation? It better not be on the street because I hate parallel parking. Unless I get there early and can just slide in. But I don’t want to be too early…”  

My brain never stops, folks. It. Never. Stops.

awkward but not in a cute way

This is not Hollywood’s idea of awkward, people. Let’s just get that straight. I’m not the quirky yet beautiful heroine adorably tripping and falling while somehow managing to look glowy and perfect.

oh, dear me, how embarrassing. [sips champagne]

I’m just…like, I don’t know what to do with my body. Do I let my arms hang? Do I put them on my hips? If I meet a person, when is it appropriate to hug and when should you just wave? Or is waving stupid? Do I shake hands? Do people still shake hands? And don’t get me started on high fives and fist bumps. I want to find the bro (you just know it was a bro) who started the high five/fist bump genre and throw him in the Pit of Despair à la The Princess Bride.

And my awkwardness isn’t limited to body movements. Because while I am folksy when meeting new people, I am NOT a smooth conversationalist.

Allow me to explain. Folksiness gets me through a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store. Because that is a very short interaction with a defined beginning and end. It is over when my groceries are bagged and I can walk away. No pressure, therefore I’m cool as all get-out.

I’ve got more get-out than you could possibly handle.

However. Put me in, say, a room full of coworkers for a long meeting where I end up sitting next to someone I don’t know: disaster. What do I talk about? We’re stuck in this room for 2 hours. He works in a completely different department and I don’t even know his job title, because I’m a writer and I don’t know what other jobs are. I just assume it’s all accounting?? What do other people do? I have no idea! My mind will literally go blank. I know people say that but I’m not exaggerating: all thoughts, intelligence, quips, memories, etc. are GONE. It’s like looking at a blank TV screen only it’s my brain. Then I panic and say something only a completely brain-dead person would say, like “This room holds a lot of chairs.” WHAT? That’s not a thing! Meanwhile I want to die and so does he and why can’t all humans come equipped with a cyanide tooth like in the movies?

So jealous!

super self-consciousness is my superpower

To the surprise of no one reading this memoir of a truly disastrous human being, I sometimes (frequently) feel self-conscious, a term I will use instead of “shy” because that is a ridiculous way to describe a grown-ass adult. Say the phrase, “Aww, she’s just shy!” and do you picture a middle-aged woman nervously speaking in front of other adults?

OF COURSE NOT. You picture an adorable 4-year-old who doesn’t want to go onstage for her preschool Christmas pageant.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked that “according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

I’m here to verify that this is not a joke, because I would literally drop dead on the spot if I had to give a eulogy. Just shove aside whoever is in the coffin so I can join ’em.

I hate speaking in front of people. It doesn’t even have to be a large group. I don’t even have to be speaking! Just seeing heads swivel in my direction and all attention focused on me is cause for a heart attack. Take the awkwardness scenario from earlier and magnify it about 93736 times. If my awkwardness was a person, it would be the size of the Incredible Hulk.

EVERYONE STOP STARING AT MEEEEEEE

I could go on. And I have gone on for an unforgivably long time. Well, guess what. It’s my birthday and if I can’t narcissistically drone on about how I’m a special little snowflake, when else can I do it?

This year instead of vowing to change my entire personality, I’m going to try to learn to live with it. Let’s face it, if I haven’t changed in my 46 years on Earth it’s probably not going to happen.

Just don’t ask me to make a speech because I will haunt you after I drop dead, you murderer.

Happy Birthday to me. Stay weird, folks.

My annoying sidekicks: Depression & Anxiety

The challenge, sometimes, of being a humor writer is that life is rarely hold-your-ribs funny. And sometimes even when things are going okay, your mind goes on the fritz, kind of like a temperamental refrigerator. Except instead of spoiled meat and brown vegetables, you have crying fits and suicidal thoughts.

 

I’ll try to make it funny, I promise. Here’s a picture of a kitten.
I’ll try to make it funny, I promise. Look, kittens!

 

Like, 80% of the time I feel fine. I’m outgoing, folksy, creative, funny and energetic. Maybe with a little dorky and awkward thrown in.

 

Define “a little”…

So it comes as quite an unpleasant surprise when my depression swoops down on me like the anti-Mary Poppins. Instead of a spoonful of sugar I get a headful of crazy. It’s the kind of thing people who have had no history of depression never understand.

I was diagnosed several years ago with depression. I am on medication. A year or so ago my doctor had to up my dosage because my mind started taking me to dark, terrible places that frightened me. I was afraid I would hurt myself. I started having crippling anxiety along with panic attacks.

 

Sorry. Here’s another kitten... in a box!
Sorry. Here’s another kitten… in a box!

 

The comedienne Maria Bamford  talks about her own anxiety and depression issues, which caused her to drop out of the public eye and put her career on hold. She asked the rhetorical question, “Would anyone tell a cancer patient to just “get over it?’” Depression and anxiety are real illnesses, caused by imbalanced neurotransmitters.  That’s right. I know science-y stuff.

 

I have a PhD in Wikipedia Studies.
I have a PhD in Wikipedia Studies.

I can’t control it any more than I could will myself to mend a broken leg. I take meds because I need them to function on a daily basis. Apparently this is very common amongst us “creative types.” Besides the usual artists and writers, great political leaders such as former Prime Minister Winston Churchill openly wrote about his depression, calling it “the black dog.” (Also check out 50 Famous Artists and Thinkers Who Have Struggled With Depression.)

So the thing that makes my brain the special lil’ guy we all know and love is also the thing that causes it turn against me. Living in my head is basically like being chained to a toddler 24/7. You never know what will set it off.

 

Pictured: my brain.
Pictured: my brain.

What is so, so frustrating about this is that it’s still not considered a valid reason to say, call in sick. How do you call in depressed? Literally everyone asks: “What’s wrong?” or “What happened?”

I WAS BORN WITH A CHEMICAL IMBALANCE, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED. Now can I get back to hiding under my covers until the urge to fling myself out the window goes away? Thanks.

It’s bad enough that I feel “crazy” or “not normal.” The fact that I have to justify how my brain works makes it a million times worse.

 

Literally a million. I’ve done the math.
Literally a million. I’ve done the math.

Because then on top of the anxiety, the depression, the feeling of unworthiness… I feel guilty. And, not only that, but the general opinion (even from friends and family) is that depression is something to be ashamed of. Or, worse, that it’s not “real.” And then I feel alone on top of the top of… it sucks, is what I’m saying. Would I be embarrassed to call in sick because of bronchitis or something… else?

 

"You had your appendix removed? Big woop. Check out what they removed from my colon!"
“Why was I out yesterday? Check out what they removed from my colon!”

So why do I feel the need to make up some phantom illness when I feel this way? So it doesn’t affect my job? So people won’t look at me different? Why should I have to worry about this?

So many questions, it's formed into ONE GIANT QUESTION.
So many questions, it’s formed into ONE GIANT QUESTION.

The answer, of course, is that I shouldn’t. And I’ve decided that I won’t. I’m sick of being unable to talk about it. Also, I’m a really bad liar, you guys. Anytime I’ve had to “make up” an illness, it’s always something totally ridiculous.

 

I have… squishy eyeball disease?
I have… squishy eyeball disease?

I mean, look what hiding from mental illness has done to some truly talented people. We laughed at “train wrecks” like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, but it doesn’t seem so funny now, does it? Sorry, that went to a dark place again.

 

Awww… sleepy kitty!

So, no, I can’t “force myself” to feel better. If I make plans but then am hit with depression and/or anxiety, I’m not going to invent illnesses just so I don’t make people uncomfortable.

 

I’ve come down with oversized cartoon foot disease.
I’ve come down with oversized cartoon foot. But I’m surprisingly okay with it.

 

If I can deal with my depression, then people can deal with hearing about it. (Just to be clear, I’m not going to Ancient Mariner-er people to death about how the brain works, okay?) Nor will I go on and on about my symptoms, like that one old relative we all have who starts talking about her bowel movements as soon as there’s a lull in the conversation.

No, I will just be the eccentric, creative girl who has a deeper side she dared not reveal to the public… until now. Kind of like a funnier version of Sylvia Plath, only less suicide-y.

Too far, Jessie. Too far.
Tsk, tsk. Too far, Jessie. Too far.