HOW TO LIVE IN IT

(amateur poet's amateur personal essays)

Category: Updates

Invasive Is A Spectrum

Last week, my mother had her final weekly chemotherapy treatment. She was diagnosed with DCIS — a “stage-zero,” non-invasive breast cancer — last winter. In typical cancer fashion, things got gut-sinkingly complicated.

I remember in November she first told me about the DCIS, and I barely held back tears, and she reassured me she was going to be okay, that even the doctor called it “the thing to have, if you have to have something.” Then I painted her toenails with this new bubblegum pink nail polish she’d bought.

I remember when I found out that her first surgery, the lumpectomy, didn’t go exactly as planned. I was at the grocery store, looking at fresh pineapple chunks, wondering whether they were really worth $5. My phone vibrated. My head felt swollen and heavy. I started this weird nervous habit where I clench and unclench my fists over and over. I developed psychosomatic chest pains, and went to student health over and over and over to make sure I wasn’t dying.

I remember in March, Ryan and I visited her in the hospital after her double mastectomy. She was drowsy, she ate pot roast and chocolate cake, and she had these noisy pneumatic boots that made sure her blood was still circulating in and out of her feet. The plastic surgeon in charge of her reconstruction came by, chillingly handsome and in full Army gear. He was happy with the surgery, and so was she.

I graduated in April. My mother wasn’t recovered enough to fly, so we planned to delay her visit by a few weeks. Then she told me that the doctors had found cancerous cells in her lymph node, that she would start chemotherapy almost immediately, and our plan, among many others, fell to the wayside. I masochistically read blog post after blog post, all devoid of scientific evidence but ripe with emotional rhetoric, about how chemotherapy is a conspiracy and how it destroys our bodies instead of healing them. I walked around constantly scared to eat or use hygiene products, because if I absorbed the wrong stuff I was convinced my body would break down.

I finally saw my mom again in June, when I went home for my brother’s high school graduation. She picked me up at the airport. She’d shaved her head, but her wig looked almost exactly the same as her old hair. I could barely tell the difference, even after a lifetime of watching her color, cut, and style her hair. When we got back to the car, she took off her wig and let me touch what she called her “hedgehog ‘do.” She said she took a fraction of the time to get ready now that she didn’t have to style her hair anymore.

This whole time, I kept expecting my relationship with my mom to change. I never knew what to say, because I didn’t want to burden her with stuff objectively less important than her fight. I kept expecting her to get hopeless or angry or resentful. She has done none of these things. She has remained staunchly positive, still recommending me books, still listening to my rants about my friend-squabbles, my frantic job search, my worries about my relationships.

When my mom drove me to the airport after my brother’s graduation, we stopped at Target first. She bought me a pair of shoes for job interviews. On our way out, I grabbed coffee and she grabbed some Pizza Hut breadsticks. In the car we talked about our relationships, our lives, and our futures. We ate Bit O’ Honeys and waxed poetic about how awesome and fresh they were.

Cancer rips lives apart, changes people from the inside out, oozes out saccharine sentiment or soporific bleakness. But soon my mom’s hair will start to grow back. She will start in with a weaker chemotherapy, one that she will get every three weeks. For all the things that have changed, and all the things that could have destroyed us, I remain most grateful for our growing sameness.

 

 

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Onlies & Justs

If only I can get through this rough month, then I’ll write a good blog post again. I just have to make it to next week and then I can start properly nourishing my body. I would work on my blog if only I wasn’t so exhausted from working and job interviews and job applications this week. If only I can get a better job, then I’ll be okay. If I can just get my room clean. If I can only finally see Ryan, if we can just get to Cleveland for our anniversary –

etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I haven’t written something here that I truly love in what, a few months? I’m embarrassed and part of me doesn’t want to ever bring attention to this blog again. But another part of me knows I need to learn that falling off a wagon doesn’t mean I can’t jump on another, similar but slightly different wagon. Maybe this new wagon is headed in a different direction, which could be scary, but let’s be real, if I’m going somewhere in a wagon, did I ever really know what my endgame was?

All (most) humor aside, anxiety and depression have been at an all-time high. I had one appointment with a new therapist, but it was a pretty poor fit and I’m a little demoralized at the thought of actively seeking a good fit, especially when I finally felt so comfortable with Jack. I’ve been applying for “big girl jobs,” and no matter how much I hate that phrase, that’s really what I’m looking for. So, you know, I can pay rent and stuff. I’ve been feverishly applying for better part- and full-time jobs, but it’s not the kind of economy where I can just wake up with 5 job offers in my lap. I’ve been trying to write poetry and blog posts and even fiction, but nothing good comes out, and writing horseshit (unfortunately) makes me want to stop writing altogether. I haven’t seen Ryan for a while, and I still have a week until I will again. I know plenty of you who see your partners far, far less often, but I’m not going to pretend it’s not frustrating that he can’t just be here with me all the time.

I’ve been spending a lot of time laying in bed listening to Frightened Rabbit.

But my point is this: no more mental onlies and justs, because if onlies and justs were candies and nuts, then every day would be Erntedankfest. At least, that’s what Dwight Schrute would say.

I’m going to try to write a bunch of the posts I’ve been mulling over, about comedy, and my troubling relationship with food, and my brother’s graduation, and about my grandfather, and waking up with a swollen eye from pre- and mid-sleep crying, and the relationship between femininity and sex and food. I’m going to try to challenge myself to actually do things, rather than promise to do them when I’m “in a better way.”

But there’s no way I’m giving up that whole in-bed Frightened Rabbit thing just yet.

Deal? Deal.

See You Tomorrow

“I’ll write a blog post every week for a whole year,” she says! “It will be great for me and I’ll never miss a week,” she says! Oops. Hi guys. I’ve apologized a few times so far for my absence, but about a week ago my schedule opened up considerably. So here’s the real update, for real, really this time, I really mean it.

I graduated from Pitt a week and a half ago, and it’s been a real struggle. I imagine I’m supposed to be proud of myself for graduating. I imagine I’m supposed to be excited to start this next, big part of my life. I imagine I wasn’t supposed to break down and get into fights with Ryan every thirty seconds on my graduation day. I imagine I’m not supposed to stop eating for days at a time because I’m scared of my body breaking down if I eat the wrong chemicals.

I had to stop seeing my therapist of a year because I graduated. I was already taking advantage of the counseling center a little, as they’re meant to see you for a maximum of 6 appointments and then refer you to outside help as necessary. Because Jack knew I didn’t have money, I think he kept seeing me a bit longer than he was supposed to, and I completely shouldn’t be blindsided that I had to stop going sometime. And I’m not. But it still sucks to lose that one person who was supposed to be unambiguously on my team. It’s not like graduation is a notoriously difficult, confusing time for liberal arts graduates, it’s not like I need more help now than ever before. There are some other personal things I don’t feel comfortable talking about here, partly because they’re not exactly mine to talk about, that are weighing me down.

It just sucks. And I’m doing what I can, I’m applying for jobs and I’m looking at volunteer experiences and I’m continuing to work at Giant Eagle. I’m parceling out my poems for submission and I’m even thinking about submitting my 48-page manuscript to some contests. I’m trying to eat better, to exercise a couple times a week. I’m seeing Ryan this weekend, and as of this moment I have no plans to fight with him. I’m also going to try to write here more regularly and more honestly.

In my last appointment with Jack, I didn’t say any of the right things. He said we’d made a good team, and he was proud of the work we’d done. But I barely talked. I kept thinking about all the stuff I couldn’t even bring up because I can’t keep working with him anymore. And most of all I kept picturing the episode of The Office when Jim and Michael finally say goodbye to each other, and instead of actually saying goodbye, they say “see you at lunch tomorrow,” because that hurts less.

 

April Purgatory

So, I graduated college yesterday.

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The last few months have hurt like hell. I haven’t had time to assess how I’m feeling in months. I’ve been eating so poorly (and some days so little) that my body feels horrible. I haven’t been sleeping right. I almost passed out at work – feeling my vision blur and time slow down and feeling the instinct to run and hide was a wake-up call.

I haven’t felt like myself, and if I’m honest, that started even before this semester.

When I first moved off-campus last summer, I never quite settled in my new home. I didn’t have a dresser, so my clothes mostly lived on my floor and on this stupid wire shelf that is totally unsuited to holding clothes. What might seem like a little stupid detail was actually really hard – I felt unsettled, but I knew I couldn’t afford the nice clothes and furniture that would make me feel settled. It felt like a whole year of living between parents’ houses, out of a duffel bag, all over again. I was too busy with school to work enough to make comfortable money, so just as I have been expected to become a “real adult” on my own, I have felt more helpless than ever before.

And I’m in April purgatory now. Doing all the stuff I haven’t had time to do. Applying for “real person” jobs, moving to a smaller apartment, learning to work customer service at Giant Eagle. Stuff is weird and sometimes I don’t know if I can keep doing it. I feel so un-ready.

We took a bunch of pictures yesterday, of me in my un-ironed, not-fitting, put-on-all-wrong graduation gear. With my friends, by myself. And the only thing I could think all day was “I’m not enjoying this like I’m supposed to.” I was on the verge of tears the whole time, but not like some beautiful “I did it” moment, more like, “everyone thinks I’m an idiot because I don’t know how to put on my graduation hood like a normal human,” and “everyone thinks I’m a cunt because I’m not happy today.”

This is not uncommon for me – to have a “bad thought” and just treat it like it’s true, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Because obviously I ruined everything, and everything is awful, and everybody knows it’s my fault, and they all hate me. Obviously. And obviously getting mad to Ryan is the smart thing to do.

But at least I have something to work on in therapy now.

Oh, and I inherited a dresser from Steph and Alex.

Road Trip 1

Hello out there! Ryan and I are presently in Manchester, New Hampshire with two lovely friends, Will and Lauren. The first half of our road trip is complete, and we’ve just started the return home.

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We left Pittsburgh at 3AM on Saturday and drove straight through to Plymouth, Mass. We listened to a bunch of Eminem albums to get our energy up, and then we listened to Moshe Kasher’s “You Made It Weird,” and then I made him listen to some music he really didn’t like much, and then we listened to some podcasts I don’t usually listen to.

We stopped along the way at a bunch of rest stops, and we (sorta) maintained our goal to buy a scratch ticket in each state we go through. We won a few times, but overall we’re down about a dollar. Still the world’s cheapest road trip souvenirs.

In Plymouth, we stayed with my aunt Michaela, uncle Dave, and cousin Chaela. They were, as always, incredibly hospitable. Ryan took a nap before dinner, which gave my aunt and I time to gossip about Ryan (I mean, talk very politely and vaguely and say nothing awkward whatsoever.) My uncle cooked an amazing fish/chaurice soup for dinner and my aunt supplied wine, salad, and mint chocolate mousse cake.

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In the morning (ish), after the traditional Plymouth Hood breakfast, we stopped by the ever-disappointing Plymouth Rock and Mayflower II. We were poking around the Mayflower’s entrance and Ryan was musing on the $2M fundraiser for restoration of the ship. He said (very loudly) “You know what you could buy with $2 million? A better boat!” I laughed and said “Well, now, that’s not the point exactly,” and then I looked up at the ticket window and there was a man inside. Ryan ran away and left me standing there trying to explain why two obvious tourists were staring at the closed Mayflower.

Then we headed home to my mother’s house in Fairfield, ME.

Since Fairfield is my home turf, we did a bunch. We visited both of my parents, my brother, my maternal grandparents, aunt/uncle, another cousin, and my dog Kimmik. I took him to Big G’s, which is a deli that sells huuuuuuuge sandwiches – you’re silly if you order a whole sandwich. I got a strawberry and brown sugar crepe and a side of home fries. Lindsay wasn’t around for me to scavenge her home fries, so I had to get my own. Ryan ordered the Lloyd Bridges, and, of course, ordered it whole. Apparently I didn’t sufficiently warn him. Doubtful.

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On the way out of Maine, we stopped in Portland for the International Cryptozoology Museum and in Ogunquit for lobster rolls. More on that in the second post!

Planning a Road Trip

These guest posts have been really cool, and I have a lot of awesome people lined up to talk about a bunch of stuff. I’m really excited that my blog can host stuff I would have no feasible way of writing. Part of what I’m so proud of in my own life (one of few things) is my ability to surround myself with awesome people, so I’m hoping that by slowly luring them all into writing for my blog I can make them all internet-permanent.

Is it just me, or does EVERYONE need a break? I really need to take a second to do some stuff that’s not class-home-class-work-home-other work-MegaBits-home.

Next week, Ryan and I will be driving from Pittsburgh to Maine. I’m trying to figure out how to best document this trip for blogness – that is, without getting obsessive about documenting it but still allowing myself room to make an awesome post. I’m sure I’ll be talking about stuff as it happens on Twitter, so I think I’ll make just two posts here, one about the trip home and one about the trip back.

I’m very excited. I’m making some borderline obsessive itineraries. It has oscillated between really fun and really stressful doing all this planning. We’re gonna fit so much cool stuff into the next week. I really need a break.

We’ll be going to both of my parents’ houses in Maine, and back. We’ll stop along the way to see some of my family and some of both of our friends. Ryan hasn’t met any of my family yet, so that’s going to be exciting (and kinda strange). We’re gonna go to the Cryptozoology Museum, and we’re gonna try to go to Ogunquit in the cold. We’re gonna go to Big G’s. I might make him go to the LC Bates up the street from my dad’s. I might make him visit my old high school so I can see a few rad old teachers. We might even stay at a cheap, terrifying motel. Also, any ridiculous roadside attractions, obviously. I’ve never brought someone back to see my origin story before. Ryan, you’re a lucky man. Or something.

This has been “Kaeli’s strange attempt at a teaser trailer for her spring break,” thanks for tuning in.

An Apology

Guys, I fucked up. I didn’t write a post last week.

Look, I’ve been genuinely, truly overwhelmed. A lot is going on for me right now, and much of it is definitively not mine to talk about. What I am comfortable talking about is the fact that I’m working two jobs (which still isn’t enough money) and taking a 12-credit courseload, of which 3 credits are a 10-plus-hour-per-week internship and 3 credits are TAing an Intro to Creative Writing class. I’ve made myself intensely available to my students and to MegaBits, and while I don’t regret that, it has made me incredibly distractible and spacey on TOP of busy. I’m in a relatively new and serious relationship, which often makes me feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m trying to overcome (or realistically manage) depression, anxiety, and disordered eating through individual and group therapy every week and other week respectively. I’m in my poetry senior seminar and I have never felt more pressured to produce valuable work (at times I feel qualified to do so, and at other times vastly unqualified.)

Excuses, excuses. I can rattle off why precisely I’m busy or ailing, but I should still be a functional human being. And there are glimmering moments of that. But overall it’s been really difficult to see a pattern at all, let alone a positive one. Sure, I make jokes on Twitter about my brain, like it’s a little sibling that only I get to make fun of. But I am my brain, and my brain is sub-par right now. I don’t want to indict anyone for this, and it feels dangerous to even suggest, but sometimes it feels like I’m trained as a self-hate monk, and the world is my cloister.

It’s all too much. It also is entirely not enough. I’m so tired, and I’m so sorry about that shitty fucking pun just now.

The Rough Ones

Holy shit, did this week suck. I haven’t felt like myself all week. I’ve been so exhausted.

I wanted to try and write something deeper than what I’ve written the past few weeks. This is gonna be personal. I’m not sure how good or valuable it’s going to be.

I was talking to my therapist on Wednesday, about the situations and people I sometimes struggle with, and how the frustrating stuff for me tends to be black-and-white thinking situations. He pointed out that a lot of people who come in for therapy need help to think less simply and to see the shades of grey in between. He also pointed out, half-chuckling, that I most certainly do not struggle with shades of grey. We agreed that, if anything, I get too caught up in them. Sometimes I feel a lot of internal pressure to understand things in the most nuanced way possible, and in doing so, I get overwhelmed. I doubt a situation which leads me to doubt my feelings which leads me to doubt my motivation which leads me to doubt my identity (ugh).

He also pointed out that the one thing I do seem to see in black-and-white terms is myself. At the core of it, I don’t believe I’m a valuable person. People can tell me otherwise (and have) time and time again, but I sit closest to my faults, so any evidence otherwise feels disingenuous at worst and uninformed at best. It makes sense when you arrive at this conclusion through my doubt cycle. Anxiety and doubt are handy this way; if I’m told it’s 99.9% likely that something isn’t my fault, I cling to the 0.01% like a liferaft. The only person whose nuances I can possibly understand entirely are my own, so I pace their halls like I’m locked in.

In the session before this one, he pulled out the DSM and read to me the clinical symptoms for diagnosing a major depressive episode. I was told in high school I had dysthymia, which is in some ways minor depression, but I also always felt like there was some vague dark thing lurking inside me, making me worth less than other people, making me “broken.” When my therapist read me the symptoms used to diagnose major depression, and I identified with the requisite amount (and a few more were questionably true of me), I felt a little peaceful. We talked about how this is just a list of symptoms, which explain what’s “going on” right now; it’s not what’s wrong with me, it’s one of the things I am struggling with right now.

As I was about to finish my session this week, my therapist and I agreed that we were leaving off at a pretty bad point. He asked me to please take a half hour to an hour to care for myself, to read a book, make myself some coffee, listen to some music. We have agreed that therapy homework is not an appropriate way for me to make progress, so this is the first time he has ever asked anything specific of me. But I didn’t do it. I had two or three relatively time-sensitive things I felt I needed to do, and I thought I could do them and then collapse at the end. I felt like I didn’t deserve a break when there were other things, things that weren’t flawed like me, and thus deserved to be done. I decided I didn’t deserve a break for just feeling bad, that in black-and-white terms I would be selfish if I needed a break. There is a more complex thought process somewhere in there, but I’m struggling to express it.

It made me feel worse, much worse, to not give myself a break. The past few days have felt scary and awful. I couldn’t get out of bed, and when I did, I felt like I was on autopilot. I don’t feel like myself, whatever that means, and I’m going to have to work pretty hard to figure out how to reason myself into giving myself a break sometimes.

Ugh.

What Pisses You Off?

In talking with my therapist, my next project is to better learn to sit with and work through anger. I tend to seize up and refuse to get angry, because I feel like I shouldn’t get angry or like things aren’t worth getting angry about, but that’s not how a feeling works.

Here is a list of things that piss me off.

  • When I go to empty the dishwasher and the stuff inside isn’t dry yet.
  • When someone close to me makes a shitty, sexist comment and I can’t say anything about it because I’d be “overreacting.”
  • When a grocery store bagger is obviously not trying to group like things together. Milk and bread but then another bag with (cold) juice and cereal? Really?
  • The multitouch scroll function on my new computer is really shaky and imprecise.
  • When I go to a coffeeshop to get some work done and the internet doesn’t work there.
  • When I have a discussion on the internet and the other person will not even consider what I’m saying.
  • Argumentum ad hominem. There’s absolutely no use in insulting the person you’re trying to argue with. What’s an argument for if not to settle something?
  • When people use honesty as an excuse to be needlessly disparaging or condescending.
  • How the character on Girls I most resonate with is Hannah, ugh.
  • When I’m cooking and I know I screwed something up but I’m not done cooking and I have to finish what I’m cooking knowing it’s not going to be as good as it could.
  • When people at work throw their money down on the register in front of me without looking at my outstretched hand.
  • When I think about the fact that, more likely than not, I am going to miss a week of blogging this year and I won’t have properly met my goal.
  • When someone tells me a poem of mine is “overwritten.”
  • When people at work feel the need to explain why they want their groceries double-bagged (I’m taking a bus, I have to go up a flight of stairs, last week I got cans too and the bag broke, I use them for my cat, I use them for recycling) instead of just asking for it. It’s not a reserved, preferential treatment.
  • When people at work do anything, really.

What (inexplicably or explicably) pisses you off?

On Lightness

Last week’s post was cathartic. A handful of different people reached out to me to say very sweet things – both identifying with how I’ve been feeling and reminding me they’ll be around if I need them. That was wonderful, thanks to all of you.

It’s been another rough week, and this time I’m going to write some lightness.

On my first real date with Ryan, we both traveled separately to Cleveland for a comedy show. I took a 6AM megabus and spent the morning in Cleveland by myself, and he left work a few hours early to drive out to meet me that afternoon. I remember hopping into his car and trying so hard to make my “Hi” as breezy as possible, even though I was running on empty and had lied that I was exploring all morning while really I had found a coffeeshop and sat there for hours upon hours almost dozing off. We walked around the block where the show was, holding hands, me mostly watching him shop for records. He kissed me in a toy store, between racks of Star Wars action figures and a glass case of lego vehicles.

The comedian we traveled to see was Pete Holmes. It’s a little bullshit to say a relationship was built on one specific thing, a little chintzy, but if there was one thing that drew Ryan and I to each other at first, it was our mutual love of Ole’ Petey Pants (self-applied nickname).

The second time I ever hung out with Ryan was when Pete’s new special, “Nice Try, The Devil” was released. He went to a comedy show in town and then stopped by my house to watch the special with me. We sat together on a loveseat in the living room, with my roommates on another couch just nearby, and with each laugh I let myself fall a little closer to leaning on him. It was delightfully innocent and awkward.

Pete Holmes was given a show on TBS last October. When it first started up, Ryan and I both held off watching it so we could watch it all at once together. On the Saturday morning after the show started, we woke up and watched the week’s episodes all in one chunk. Even then, Ryan knew things had been hard for me lately; as he’s the only person I’m really comfortable crying in front of, he gets a lot of my ugly. But while we were watching TPHS together and laughing, I couldn’t help but to look at him and explain how genuinely happy I was. Laughing and cozy and enjoying something we both unequivocally love.

Pete has a remarkable ability to illuminate the possibility to find small moments of lightness in the world. He marvels and wonders openly. I hope more and more as time goes on to be like him, to be able to appreciate the “cosmic joke” of life. Check out this bit (admittedly an old one) if you want to understand a little.