When I feel nervous or scared or intimidated by the brawny world around me, I close off. I leave whatever goals or tasks were on my to-do list and about-face back to my comfort zone, shrinking several inches from my already small 5’2″ frame as I watch the busy world continue on around me. My text inbox racks up to 300+ messages, my emails pile as high as the caffeine I’d need to read them, and I fall down a dark hole of self-questioning and doubt (think Alice and Wonderland, but less drugs).
This is too big for me and everyone knows.
The pressure of my own expectations pile on me one pebble at a time until there’s suddenly a boulder resting on my chest. I feel small. I feel trapped. And I start wrapping everything I write, do or say with these two main fears:
Why does this matter to anyone
This doesn’t matter to anyone
This self-mutilating thought process is rough, and though I don’t find myself in that position everyday – I often struggle with letting doubt and insecurities control my ability to produce thoughtful, creative work.
My grandmother, Corrine Cotten, is shockingly aware and vocal about her human finitude. When I visit, she writes my name on little sticky notes and attaches the yellow squares to items of hers I may want one day. If you open a closet at her house, chances are you’ll see a pile of old quilts, pillows, hand-made vases from her sister Norma, or jewelry from her “wild days” labeled with the names of my cousins, aunts and uncles on the same little yellow squares. You can even see the various family names etched in sharpie marker on the back of larger items that are still in daily use throughout the house. Like packing up for a big move, her house is always on the cusp of that final transition. It is a weird mix of death and life, past and present, memory and moment, and I am uncomfortably aware that nothing she passes on will ever feel the same without her around. The kitchen table, for instance, is only special if we are playing SkipBo together with a cup of coffee in hand, and the jewelry from her “wild days” is only fun when she wraps it around her body and shows me the best way to move my belly so that each metal string shakes and chimes. Heirlooms won’t have that same Corrine spirit when she’s gone, but I love her gifts that give insight into her past – even if they are tinged with acceptance and muddled with final farewells.
At age 16, she sent me off with a rad, 1970’s gold belt and the most beautiful blue and crystal screw back earrings because, as she said, “you never know what will happen”. Last year at Thanksgiving, Corrine was wearing an old shirt from a church revival that said “Riot ’88”. 1988 is my birth year and I’m obviously a riot, so I LOST MY SHIT. I raved about how cool it was for a solid ten minutes until Corrine snuck off into the back room, changed into a pretty blue sweater with blue heart appliqués, and handed me the “Riot ’88” shirt that was just on her back two minutes earlier. This is who Corrine is. She is selfless, but strong with a firm voice and a soft heart. She is the cliché perfect grandmother that every child reads about in YA novels.
My whole day has gone and I’ve got nothing to show for it. I sat in front of a computer at 5am to write and, here I am; watching night fall with only a sentence or two down. I’ve done nothing to justify the adderall, three cups of coffee, leftover Indian, and three melted chocolate Lindt truffles I’ve consumed, but I keep up with the flow of bad habits in hopes that a life of monotonous suffering will somehow produce a prosperous return. What have I done all day?
I want to be a writer, or at least that’s what I’ve told myself for the past ten years. I want to be a writer, or a bird, or a duck, or even a band-winged flying fish. I tell myself I am a writer like there’s an optimistic guru hidden somewhere in my soul, but when the time is finally carved out to write I’ve got no authority. I am beat down and pessimistic. Which perhaps is a valid feeling for a writer, or a fish. I said one day I’d write about this giraffe that’s been walking around my head or about a kid named George being scared of the shore, but I can’t persuade those thoughts to leave the hidden corners of my mind. They’re trapped in a tangle of expectations, weighted with heavy soil-less potting mix like seedlings in a ten dollar garden kit under prefabricated light. I can’t force them out, so I break from the business of doing nothing to buy a bottle of wine in my sweatpants. On my way back to writing I watch dusk fall and street lamps flicker on; a whole day gone again.
I woke up the day after the election to a text from a friend that said, “I didn’t think this was possible.” I opened CNN, along with all of my social media accounts, to make sure this was really happening. I thought for sure someone was going to let us all know something disastrous happened at the polls. Maybe they miscounted 49% of the votes?
As the reality of a Trump presidency started to breathe itself into existence, I set out to blame everyone. I blamed the third party voters for wasting their ballot. I blamed the black community for not showing up like they did for Obama. I blamed the DNC who ruined us when they pushed for Clinton instead of Bernie. I blamed the Christians who voted against abortions, but for misogyny and rape. I blamed the working class in America who wanted change – no matter who gave it to them. I blamed the liberal media for deceiving us into thinking Trump didn’t stand a chance. I blamed SNL for sensationalizing Trump’s persona by mocking him, subsequently drawing more press and attention to his campaign. I blamed Fox News for turning him into someone relatable; someone a guy could chat with in a locker room.
I turned into everything I hated about Trump, blaming everyone but myself. Because after all – I was the progressive thinker who voted Hillary.
In my state of naivety, I scrolled through Instagram for a break from the news, but my heartache deepened. In my feed I saw Khloe Kardashian bragging that her Lip Kit sold out in 6 seconds, I scrolled through selfies of intelligent women with Snapchat puppy-dog noses and flower crowns, spotted Kyle Richards advertising a hair vitamin with over 10k likes, and watched Kate Upton share her secrets to “the perfect brow”. Is this what ruined us? Do we not believe in ourselves? Are we too caught up in the hype of media, the hype of selfies, of being pretty? Are we too afraid to think independently? Are we afraid of taking charge? Are we afraid of being powerful, instead of sexy? How else could 53% of female voters elect this man? Do they not know their own value?
I wanted to throw my phone across the room, or anywhere that could magically make the female race look more like it does in my head.
I am not insinuating that the state of our country rests solely in the hands of our Instagram feed, but if you’ve been wondering what is keeping us from being seen as the next president of the United States – It’s your selfie, it’s my selfie, and it’s our need to promote our beauty more than the authoritative person that lives behind what the world wants us to be. Why is this how we choose to represent who we are? Why is this the norm for women? If we want to be perceived as powerful, we need to start representing that in our feeds instead of doe-eyed selfies with porcelain skin. If we want the media to stop placing us on an impossible standard – we need to stop trying to meet that standard. There are lots of reasons we lost and there are copious people we can fault, but it is hard to deny the fact that we lost because Hillary Clinton was compared against an ideal version of what society thinks a woman should be. She lost and we will continue to lose until that depiction of women is shifted.
When the results started rolling in Tuesday I felt threatened. I felt lied to, betrayed and even undermined by a nation that could actually vote and side with a man so bitter towards progress and equality. On Wednesday, when I had to continue on with my life, everything seemed pointless. Why go to school when no one will ever see me as a leader? Why educate myself when I’ll only ever be seen as a number between 1 & 10? This isn’t the life I voted for.
This election, if nothing else, has given me a strange urgency to tell you your voice is powerful. You are powerful on your own accord. You don’t need me, or any sensationalized media to derive self worth. I hope you know that.
Trump winning is not the female race’s fault, but maybe we can take this election as a growing pain that pushes us to a higher, more authoritative mindset. I’m not saying we can’t feel beautiful, dress well, or wear makeup. We are beautiful women, and I love the desire to express that, but we need to focus on flouting the image 49% of the United States have towards women. This win says a lot about our nation, about our gender equality, and about the female race not being taken seriously. It’s time we change our mindset. It’s time we change the mindset of everyone who can’t see past the girl. We are powerful. Let’s make everyone else think that too.
I’m sure you’ve heard naysayers explain that everyone in NYC is out to get their “piece of the pie”. I bet you’ve heard New Yorkers are always tired because they’ve been climbing their way up the corporate latter, or that we value money and status over family. You’ve probably heard the young people in Brooklyn are all wannabes, and that we have an unrealistic view on the real world. And I’m 99% certain someone told you everyone in Manhattan is living off daddy’s dime.
Over the past few months, I’ve read ESPN’s headline story about a track athlete taking a running jump to her death, saw updates on the thought process behind Robin Williams suicide, and I’ve even noticed one of my role models, Andrew Jenks, disclose his own struggles on twitter.
My initial response to the posts were pretty uncomfortable.
They felt invasive. They felt way too close to home.
Depression was pretty common in my household as a child. My grandmother committed suicide over 37 years ago, and many of my immediate family members also deal with a similar fight. Still, even with depression so present in our family circle – we never talk about it. We all know it exists. We all know we are fighting the same fight, but we go along with our day to day interactions without addressing the issues. We’ve pushed those big elephants further and further into the corner, until they’ve become this sort of shrine that we aren’t allowed to talk about or visit.
I don’t know if this is just with me, but depression has always had such a negative connotation. Growing up, my father believed depression wasn’t real. He didn’t understand how it could truly overcome someone. For some reason, that has stuck with me, no matter how hard I’ve tried to fight it. I’ve struggled with depression for years, but I’ve never wanted to admit it. Not even to myself. I’ve refused to see doctors or take medications because I didn’t want to be labeled. I didn’t want anyone to think I had anything else working against me.
Depression isn’t something I struggle with on a daily basis, but when it comes – which it always does – it really hits hard. I go through this weird stage of feeling completely disconnected from the world around me. Holidays, religious sanctions, and even close relationships all suddenly seem so systematic. I know that may sound harsh, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Life becomes more like a formula or Nintendo game, and I can’t seem to rally up the significance in it all.
The general separation from the daily world is bad enough, but feeling like you’re the only person experiencing those thoughts is even worse. I guess that’s why I’m saying all this now. I guess that’s why I’m happy other people are finally saying it too. This depression thing is real. It doesn’t have a standard, there are no prerequisites, and there’s no reason to go through it alone.