Disclaimer: this is a deeply personal post in little to no way related to politics or media. If you don’t care about my personal life, I completely understand. I haven’t cared much about my personal life lately, either. I promise the witty, snide blogs about British culture and politics will return. I mean, I can’t pass up the gift Sally Bercow just handed me, can I?
You’re probably wondering where I’ve been. Or not. I imagine the majority of you who read my blog don’t care enough about it to actually be like “gee, I wonder where that cheeky Yank went?” To those five people, fuck you. To the other 3 people, your concern is noted and much appreciated.
The fact is, 2014 hasn’t started off easily for me. But to really understand what’s going on in my life, you have to go back six years.
The last six months or so of 2007 had been eventful, to say the least. If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m rabidly obsessed with your country a bit of an Anglophile. That July, I made my first trip to the UK. I met a charming Englishman, had a whirlwind affair, and realised that yes, God really did intend for me to live in His own country. (Hence my love of Barnsley.)
I came home to spend a sultry summer “front porch sittin’,” as we called it down south, strumming acoustic guitars, smoking cigarettes and drinking keg beer. I rushed a fraternity, which for your Brits means I went through the formal process of recruitment to join the secret society of binge drinkers. In the end, I didn’t get a bid, which means I wasn’t invited to join.
This was crushing. I burst into tears when I found out, wanting so desperately to be a part of those brotherly bonds. I had made such good friends over the course of the summer, friends in that fraternity, and I hated the idea of losing them. I hated the idea of not belonging with the people I felt I belonged with.
Around this same time, I befriended and began unofficially mentoring a young teenager from the high school academy on campus. I took on something between a big brother and paternalistic role, listening to his problems and concerns and doling out advice while scolding him for Facebooking in class and sneaking off campus. I listened as he told me of his loneliness, his sadness, and his confusion.
That young man died in December.
I rang in 2008 at my house with two friends and YouTube videos.
Reeling from the rejection of being denied a bid and the death of someone dear to me, I began leaning hard on an old friend called Jim Beam. A lot. Like every night. But it’s college, so people do that, right? Of course. Let’s go to Froggy’s, cos it’s Sunday Funday. Let’s go to Aurora’s, it’s Mardido Monday. Let’s go to B-Dubs, it’s two-for-Tuesday. Let’s go to Tidballs, it’s only $1 on Wednesday. Thursday is basically the weekend and you have to drink on Friday and Saturday. It’s in the Bible or the Constitution or something. ‘murica.
Somehow, between drunken comas and through the haze of cigarette smoke, I was convinced to run for Administrative Vice President. I had been involved in student government, the American equivalent of a British student union, since my first semester. I had risen through the ranks to eventually hold a cabinet position as the president’s chief-of-staff, which was appointed. It would be nice to win a student body office, I thought.
The campaign was bitter and got deeply personal, and I ultimately lost, appealed the decision because of election irregularities, and lost that, too, becoming the Al Gore of Western Kentucky University.
I watched my peers graduate without me, knowing good and well that I should be walking the line with them. I had taken off a semester of college at that point, and would subsequently sit out two more, but seeing people my age finish in the requisite four years affected me in a very profound way. I felt like a failure for not marching with them, and it proved a massive blow to my self-confidence. I was jealous of them for having degrees, for getting married, getting jobs, and for leaving the one-horse town we called home. I wanted out. Out of college. Out of Kentucky. Out of America.
But I said congratulations as I smiled in the photos.
Then I went to the bar. They played Alan Jackson. He reassured me it was, in fact, 5 o’clock somewhere and that there was no problem that didn’t have a solution at the bottom of a bottle.
Or, as it turns out, the bottom of a carton of ice cream. While binge drinking was a new, adult way to escape-or at least numb-reality, binge eating was something I’d been doing since I was a child. I ordered pizza every night, was on a first name basis with the waitress as the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, and would drive next door from my apartment to Burger King, where I got two large orders of everything, please. Yes, I want fries with that.
Onion rings, too.
My grades began slipping. I found it hard to get up in the mornings, staying up all night obsessing over the coverage of Proposition 8. I single-handedly waged a war in the comments section of every article I read, defending gay rights from the Mormon bigots, leaving greasy fingerprints on the “f” and “u” keys between slices of pizza.
One of the bright spots of this very dark time was that, on a whim, I took a basic creative writing course. By the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Finding a passion didn’t make me passionate, though. I didn’t have the energy to be passionate about anything.
Leaving the house itself became a chore, even to go to the bar. I couldn’t find the wherewithal to be around people, preferring nights spent at home in the glare of my monitor.
I was embarrassed of all my fast food and alcohol consumption, so I ate only in my room, which remained locked any time I wasn’t home. I’d only take the rubbish out when I knew for certain both my flatmates were out. That wasn’t often. Piles of litter quickly rose, as did the number on the scale.
I gave myself a couple very bad haircuts.
By the time I moved out of that apartment, having failed a couple classes and alienated most of the people around me, I had gained 50 pounds.
Eventually, I moved out of that apartment and into one closer to campus with a friend of mine, next door to four other close friends. This proximity to people I loved and who loved me helped coax me out of my shell and get me back on track. I started going to the gym again, and because I sold my car, walking everywhere. I lost the weight I’d gained and graduated in May of 2010.
Okay, okay, I hear you. What the fuck does all of this have to do with my absence for the last month? To know that, you’d have to know what’s been happening in my personal life.
Contrary to what some of you think, writing is not my job. I hope to make it my career, but it’s not my job. It certainly doesn’t pay my bills. When I moved to Chicago, I took an entry-level job at a mortgage company. Twice promoted in the first eight months, I thought I’d make a living processing and closing mortgages for the rest of my life.
I should have fucking known better. Do you have any idea how goddamn boring mortgages are? Or how douchey corporate America is? In fact, much like the fraternity I rushed, big corporations are pretty much the antithesis of everything I support. In my mind, they’re of the devil, full of rich fat cats who will exploit their employees to make a quick quid or fast buck, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this from. Beyond that, though, is the sheer dictatorial structure a corporation inherently needs to run efficiently. Mussolini made the trains run on time, and I’m fairly certain if given the chance, Amtrak and National Rail would use his tactics to ensure the same.
The public might be okay with that, actually.
But I made great friends and decent money, two things I desperately needed and frankly hadn’t had in some time. Working at a corporate headquarters that was heavily staffed by Millennials was a bit like going to work at Glastonbury: loads of booze, loads of sex, loads of drugs, and loads of mudslinging all before noon. The music was shit, too.
Flash forward two years, and I’m not quite as happy about that. In fact, I’m fucking miserable. An old friend of mine, once of the girls who helped me out of the last depression, had since moved to Chicago and become a flight attendant. She invited me to use her benefits and fly back to London with her. I jumped at the chance to return, and spent a glorious week getting good and sloshed with mates in Soho, making out with a very cute economist, meeting a Tory MP, touring the House of Commons, and having one unforgettable night where I proved that, no matter what continent I’m on, I will find the one curious straight guy in the place and bring him back to mine.
Forget gaydar. I’ve got 20/20 bisight.
I would have married him that night, had he asked. Not since the end of Love Actually had Heathrow seen as many tears as the day I left London.
Sitting on my front porch the afternoon my plane landed, in a city a week before I was in love with, I knew it was time to break up with Chicago. Like Carrie sleeping with Big, I had cheated on my Aidan; unlike Carrie, I knew that it could never again be the same.
But just like Carrie, I didn’t realise what a giant dick Aidan could be.
In September, I lost the election my job in the second round of redundancies that had begun just before I left for holiday. For the first time since moving to Chicago, I found myself unemployed. I drank a case of PBR beer (I’m sorry, there really is no British equivalent), and quickly picked myself up. London had provided perspective. I wasn’t happy in a corporate job, I wanted to write. So I launched this blog after Peter Hitchens pissed me off.
But writing still wasn’t paying the bills, and if Benefits Street has taught us anything, it’s that we’re supposed to hate ourselves when on jobseekers’ allowance. To numb this self-loathing, I turned back to my old war buddies, Captain Morgan and Colonel Sanders. Together, we fought a battle I had yet to realise I was waging.
My great grandmother died. It wasn’t unexpected, but the funeral was back in my grandfather’s ancestral hometown in Tennessee. I couldn’t afford to go, which was gutting.
I found a job within a month, though, at the corporate headquarters of another bank here in Chicago.
I took the job without hesitation, but immediately expressed reservations to my friends. It’s another soulless corporate gig, I lamented, complete with florescent lights, stale coffee and men who think paisley ties are acceptable. This time, though, instead of an office culture dominated by young, single, ambitious people, I was in an environment dominated by middle-aged women who exchanged recipes with and disdain for one another, all under the guise of cuisine and collegiality.
The job was tedious and menial, but the salary was okay, and it was a short-term gig. In the meantime, I parted ways with that old friend who invited me to London, because frankly, we hated one another. The only time I recall being more miserable in someone’s presence was when I encountered Fred Phelps in the lobby of a suburban DC hotel.
To be fair, the feeling was clearly mutual in both instances.
As autumn gave way to what is the worst winter in memory, I began to find it hard to leave the house. I chalked it up to the cold and a cold I contracted in mid-December. But I managed to throw a smashing ugly sweater party and have a warm and lovely Christmas surrounded by the family that adopted me when I moved here.
I rung in 2014 at my house with a friend and Vine videos.
The Polar Vortex happened soon thereafter, freezing Lake Michigan and any resolve I had to keep trucking along. I caught another virus.
I lost another job.
This time I didn’t pick myself up. I once again barricaded myself in my apartment. I found it hard to get up in the mornings, staying up all night obsessing over the coverage of the Amanda Knox verdict. I single-handedly waged a war on Twitter, defending American Constitutional rights from the European press, leaving greasy fingerprints on the “f” and “u” keys between slices of pizza.
Starting to sound familiar, innit?
Once again, I’m depressed
I knew it when I was told I’d been sacked. I felt nothing. There was no anger. No sadness. No shock. No righteous indignation. Not even relief that I wouldn’t have to listen to menopausal Gretchen Weiners tell me how ungrateful and lazy her best friend, menopausal Regina George, truly is.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care; intellectually, I knew this was very, very bad. I knew that I had no plan. I knew that I might not get my jobseeker’s allowance back, because being sacked is very different than being made redundant. And I knew that finding a job in this economy is like finding a millionaire who loves you; no matter how much you hate him, you stick around cos money.
But none of it mattered at the time, and honestly, it doesn’t matter now. For you see, losing that job meant losing any motivation. It was a daily struggle, but I could still get myself out of bed in the morning, even if I wasn’t doing my makeup and fixing my hair. I could still tweet pithy lines about Ed Balls. Katie Hopkins still pissed me off.
Losing my job meant I lost everything. I started eating even more. I stopped cleaning, my apartment once again becoming littered with empty McDonald’s bags and cola cans. I walked around like a zombie, indulging in marathons of the Golden Girls or Law and Order: SVU, anything to pass the time. I didn’t have the energy to leave the apartment, locking myself in for most of the past four weeks. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my February rent, but I found it impossible to muster any concern.
I cut my own hair again. It looks about as awful as you imagine.
And I’ve gained 50 pounds. Maybe more. I won’t step foot on a scale.
My rent did get paid, though, thanks to a little bit of unexpected money and a contribution from a couple family members I know would prefer to remain anonymous. As of the time I’m writing this, any jobseekers’ allowance I’d receive (which by the way should be paid out by the company which made me redundant back in September, as I haven’t drawn the majority of that) is frozen, as a “determination is pending.”
The last time this happened to me-the last time I was depressed-it took a change of seasons, a new apartment, and the love and near-constant companionship of my friends to pull me out of it. I was first diagnosed with depression in the winter of 2009, though as my therapist and I at the time discussed, and as explained here, the roots of that depression set in long before then. I suspect the same is true now. I can look back to this time last year and see the signs starting to appear, though I didn’t recognise them at the time.
I don’t blame anything that’s happened to me, from being made redundant to the death of my great-grandmother to the end of a friendship or being sacked, for my depression. While those events certainly didn’t make life any easier, and may have contributed to deepening my depression, it’s clear to me that I was at the very least entering a state of depression before any of that occurred.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time. I don’t know. Unfortunately for me, the last time I was depressed, I stopped attending my sessions before we really rooted it all out. This time, I don’t have medical insurance and I certainly don’t have the money to seek therapy.
I also don’t have the luxury of my friends being there to rouse me from my apartment or pay for a coffee. That was college; this is life. We all have commitments, spouses, careers.
I’m on my own.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford March rent. In a lucky coincidence, my lease is up at the end of February, and I’ve yet to renew. I’m debating whether or not I should. If I don’t, I’m moving into my grandparents’ spare room in Tennessee, 600 miles away from the life I now know. That might be for the best, as I truly believe it was only the constant warmth and reassuring love I received from my girlfriends that pulled me out of this the last go-round.
But I’m cautiously optimistic. The fact that I’m even able to write this, that I have the energy, focus, and drive to publish a blog, tells me things are going in the right direction. I’m now applying for jobs, trying to find something-anything-to help me land on my feet. As several friends have reminded me, I am nothing if not resilient. “Somehow, out of everyone I know, you always end up on your feet,” my best friend said. Another friend called me a “fighter.”
“Giving up isn’t an option for you,” she said, “even when you feel it might be. I know that much about you for sure.”