This is what it looks like

  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Focal Length: 17mm
  • ISO: 640
  • Shutter: 1/14 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D80

Northport, Alabama

I’ll never forget the day a woman walked into my office at The Northport Gazette and handed an essay to me, hoping I’d publish it. It was dark. Really dark. It was filled with emotional turmoil and pain. It spoke to me. But it wasn’t right for the paper. People wanted light. They wanted happy. They wanted refuge from a world ravaged by war, crime, addictions, misery.

She was a doctor’s wife and drove a smart blue convertible. She wore a short white tennis skirt and a blue tank top. She looked absolutely miserable. And as I sat there in my office, secure in my position, happy with my life, I couldn’t quite touch this world of Valium, crashed cars, flirting with the edge. I wondered what demons chased her, what unglued her so.

She looked fragile, as if she might break at any moment. I didn’t want to be the one to break her. It felt desperate, this pushing of papers across my desk, the downcast eyes refusing to meet mine. And I knew when she walked out of my office that though I wouldn’t publish her work, I’d never forget her words.

Leaning back in my chair, feet upon my desk, I read her best essay again as she trudged to her car, climbing in and punching the accelerator as if the devil himself was on her tail.

“The more things fall apart, the more things fall together.”

I was 26. I hadn’t yet experienced the free fall of losing your shit in front of everyone you know. The only things I knew about Valium I learned from Valley of the Dolls. Mother’s little helper. Indeed. I kept my demons safely in the closet, the crazy-weird relative you don’t claim.

But things fell apart. Things fell apart in a big way. And then they fell together. Sort of.

This isn’t a pretty picture, but in a way, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately. Almost three years ago, I took this picture of my desk. I had to clean it off to take it because I was in a depressive phase, and it was littered with dirty clothes, dirty dishes, and empty glasses. There was no work on it because I wasn’t working. I hadn’t written in almost a year. Not one word beyond what I had started to scratch out here. I wasn’t going to write again. Ever.

With painstaking precision, I arranged each object, adding a few, taking a few away. It was my desk, and it did portray my personality at the time, but in the same breath it wasn’t my desk. It was the image I wanted to portray to the world. The girl who had it all together. I was tired a lot. It’s hard work to smile every day when what you really want to do is crawl in bed and stay there.

I haven’t been that girl in a long time. Even in my most depressed phases, I drag myself up and make coffee. I get dressed. I smile if I feel like it. I tuck my emotions away and avoid people if I can’t. I try really hard not to fake it anymore, but sometimes I still do. I try too hard, my voice high-pitched, my syntax sprinkled with wordplay and bad puns. If you know me well, it’s fairly transparent.

I didn’t bother to rearrange anything on my desk tonight. It’s chaotic, messy, and very real. It’s life being lived, work being done, and writing — wild, joyous writing. I need this right now. I need to lose myself in a project. I need a future to look towards.

I’m not depressed, mostly because I’m jacked up on mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. They work. They keep the shitty days from becoming nightmares. They blunt the lows to manageable funks. They provide a thin husk to protect the frayed nerves, the raw edges. They dull pain and substitute it with a cocky confidence. Mostly they keep me from worrying — about anything really.

It’s dangerous, this dulling of pain. It’s not unlike the people who suffer from CIPA — congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. Children with this disease repeatedly pull pots off the stove because they never feel the burn that teaches them not to. They crash through life oblivious, cutting fingers, scraping knees, breaking bones, never feeling any of it. Pain is valuable. It teaches us how to endure. How to become stronger. It teaches us to fear the things that will hurt us so we might avoid them.

I rarely feel the wide arc of misery anymore, even when I should. It’s replaced by a calm detachment. A “fuck it all” attitude. An unreal sensation of weightlessness. Limbo. I still cry though, and when I do, it’s intense, bottled emotions spilling out in a torrent, pent up from weeks of hurts that have accumulated. A massive bloodletting instead of a manageable trickle. But it passes quickly, patched over with a pharmaceutical Band-Aid.

They keep me from bleeding to death, these peach and white pills, allow me to shove the sad things in a corner and work feverishly, lost in a perpetual smile. They allow things to fall together, even when everything’s falling apart. And they allow me to write, free and easy at my very messy desk while the wolves howl at the door.

NaNoWriMo Wordcount: 2,007/50,000.

Music: Put Your Lights On by Santana (lyrics)

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