I Looked into the Mirror and My Mother Stared Back

My Father was a drug addict. He cheated on my Mother and married a woman who gladly let him take the fall for grand theft auto. He went to prison for five years, and those five years saw me fall into a depression that could have ended my life.

I have spent the last ten years worrying about turning into my Father. I have avoided alcohol, drugs, and prescriptions that had the possibility of turning me into a dependent. So much of my energy went into trying to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistakes that my Father made, that I forgot to worry about turning into my Mother.

My Mother is a passive person. She does nothing to change the direction of her life, nothing to try and change her circumstances. She just goes along with whatever is happening, goes where ever circumstance takes her. And somehow, I have become her.

I am a passive player in my own life. I have never had to work for anything, and I mean that so much more literally than I want to. I have never made a friend; I have had the fortunate to end up in proximity to very outgoing people who have, for some reason or another, looked at me and decided to befriend me. I have never needed to study. I was able to read the text, or listen in class and pick up whatever subject matter we were covering. Even college wasn’t much of a choice: I simply went to the school that my church would provide me a $10,000 scholarship to go to. I got a job that my sister submitted my resume to, and now I live with her. I have not worked for anything in this life.

And now that I am in a job that I do not like, in a city that I do not like, faced with the crushing loneliness of having no friends and no idea how to make friends, I am faced with the terrible realization that I have become my Mother. I have been content to sit back and let life pull me wherever it may, telling myself for years that “It’ll work out; something always happens, and it works out,” that I never even thought to realize that was not a good life plan.

I have been telling myself for a long time that I will be happy if I just move away, or if I lose the weight, or if I make more money. I thought happiness was a place, a number on a scale, the amount of zeros on my paycheck. I thought happiness was something that happened. I never thought it was something that I would have to work for.

And so now I’m standing at the edge of another depressive episode, and I have no one to blame but myself. I know depression is hereditary and a chemical imbalance, but I could have done so much more to fight it. I even avoided counseling because it was hard, and I am not used to having to do the hard things. I have let myself fall into a rut. I have waited for opportunity to find me and whisk me away to a land of joy and plenty and that is just not realistic.

But now, of course, I have to make changes. I have to become an active player in my life. Twenty-four years of passivity, and I have to figure out how to change those ingrained instincts. And me being who I have allowed myself to become, I want those changes to happen overnight. I want to wake up tomorrow and find that I am an independent woman with a drive to do whatever it takes to change her life. But the fact of the matter is I will wake up tomorrow morning, go to work, and come home with nothing but the urge to lay on the couch and not think until it’s time to go to work again. And if I want to change, I can’t do that.

I have to apply to jobs, not every few months as the energy strikes me, but every day. I have to follow up with these jobs, and not let the fear of bothering them so much that they throw out my application ruin me. I have to get my ass outside and exercise. I have to actually go out into the outside world and attempt to talk to people, and that is perhaps the scariest change of all.

I have had realizations like this in the past, although on the smaller scale. I have never quite been able to realize that I was just letting life happen to me, but I have realized that if I want to lose weight, I have to exercise; or that if I want to move out of my home town, I have to apply to jobs. But this desire to actually follow through on these realizations has always lasted a day, maybe two, before I fall into old habits. And I can’t let that happen this time. I will never get anywhere, never be happy, if I continue the way I am.

I have brought up happiness quite a lot in this post. When I went through my first depressive episode, I was certain that I would never be happy again. The world was a dark and bleak place, and I wanted no part of it. For weeks, I sat next to my Mother’s pill box and tried to work up the courage to just swallow a handful. I told myself it would be like going to sleep—easy and painless. I never managed to do it, thank god, but I have carried the fear of returning to that dark and bleak world around with me ever since.

And I think the fear of going back there, of being that half dead person again, will be my greatest ally in trying to change. If I want to change one of the most fundamental parts of my being, I am going to need something to motivate me, and nothing motivates quite so well as fear.

So here’s to my future: may it look nothing like the past.

A Defense of the Right to Cry Over a Man

You know how we tell ourselves that we’ll be strong? That we don’t need a man, so of course we’ll never cry over one. Sure, maybe we’d cried over a guy in the past, but that was then; we were young and dumb and we’ve grown now, know better. “No man is worth my tears,” we tell ourselves. And it’s true; they’re not.

Doesn’t mean it won’t happen anyway, though.

Doesn’t mean that there won’t come a time when we’ve met a guy who just seems so different (and that’s always the case, isn’t it? He’s different. He’s not. He never is.) that somehow, we find ourselves shedding tears over him. Because he wasn’t different, because he said no, because things didn’t work out, or, god forbid, because you just know he doesn’t think of you that way and never will and you just don’t want to ruin the friendship.

Guess which one I am.

For me, it’s less the man and more the loneliness. I just (just meaning 3 months ago) moved to a new town, and I haven’t made any friends yet. Don’t know how. And so all I have is this idea of a man –and he’s really more of an idea to me than anything else—which just seems to amplify how alone I am in this new place. I have no friends and the guy I like barely acknowledges my existence.

It’s easier to harp on the guy thing than actually try and make friends, and so I blow it out of proportion. I like him, of that I’m sure. I’ve liked him since before I moved here, since before the loneliness sank in. But lack of friendship is a hard feeling to conceptualize, as there’s not really a common word for it. Unrequited love (or like, in this case. Let’s not get too crazy, here) however, is a feeling acknowledged and immortalized in song, poetry, prose, and film. It’s easier to figure out, to acknowledge. Plus, there’s just the stigma of being lonely. It conjures either images of either horney spinsters or crazy cat ladies (the two stereotypes are not mutually exclusive, yet we as a society act like they are, since we like to pretend that the crazy cat lady stereotype is sexless and repulsive), neither of which is something we want to think of ourselves. These images also tend to revolve around the lack of a romantic partner, so it’s hard to use the word lonely and realize it means a lack of platonic companionship.

And so, given my generally emotional nature, I have shed tears over a man who does not like me, and who does not know I like him. I have shed tears thinking about how much it hurts to have unreciprocated romantic feelings towards another human. But I’ve also shed tears because I am a twenty something adult living alone in a new city for the first time, completely unprepared for the task of finding friends in a place without school to help pave the path.

So, though we should tell ourselves that we are strong and don’t need romantic partners, we also have to recognize crying, over a specific person or over general loneliness, is probably going to happen. It sucks, it’s miserable, and it makes our eyes puffy the next morning, but it’s going to happen. It’s cathartic. It’s the first step of letting go of feelings that aren’t going to be returned, or of acknowledging that it’s time to go out and make some friends. It’s human, corny as that sounds. And, for me, at least, it’s a sign. A sign that I have to let go of him, because it’s never going to happen—another acknowledgement that hurts. But there you go. Tears for a guy should only come at the end.