adventures in self-care, vol 1.

Yesterday I took myself out on a date.

Nice Voice waltzed into the room out of nowhere, all dashing and electric.

“Darling!” She cried. “Put on something nice. I’m going to take you out for an afternoon on the town!”

When Nice Voice rolls into town, she’s pretty hard to resist. She’s just so… well, nice. She’s encouraging, she knows what I like, and she works around the other parts of my day to day life that I value. She always knows exactly what I need, and she doesn’t judge me for it.

As the cliche goes, she’s my own best friend.

Right in the middle of my Friday, in between my morning volunteer gig and my evening yoga class, I hopped on the bus, and whisked myself away to one of my favorite places.
I arrived at the cinema about forty minutes early. I didn’t want my popcorn to get entirely eaten before the movie even started, so I just sat in the lobby for a bit.

It was so comfortable. I scrunched myself deeper down into my soft hoodie like a little sleepy owl, and let myself close my eyes. Of course, the air smelled like popcorn. Popcorn is the best smell. Popcorn signals the beginning of an adventure. Popcorn means that I’m about to be taken away.

“Isn’t this nice?” sighed Nice Voice. “You should do this more often.”

Ten minutes went by, and I couldn’t contain myself anymore. I practically bounded up to the ticket/concession counter.

“Hi! Could I please have one ticket to Kong: Skull Island, one small popcorn, and one Cherry Coke?”

The theatre was completely empty. I was at a little, independent theatre, so there was no “20” to invade the stillness of the room. No Maria Menounos to take away from the quiet and the darkness. I cram popcorn into my face, I sip my sugary drink, I breathe in the emptiness. I love this. I love being alone in a movie theatre. I suck in all the joy floating through the air around me. For once, I am not impatient. I could be alone in this movie theatre, full of anticipation and soda, for the rest of time.

It was a really bad week. I didn’t fall or slip into the depression pit so much as I fucking flung myself back down there in a fury of self-hatred.

But I knew that all I had to do was make it to this exact moment on Friday. I got lucky. When the week started to veer off course into dark, treacherous territory, I held it together just long enough to concoct a plan.

It’s hard to visualize self-care from the bottom of the depression pit. At the lowest moments of my week, I didn’t think I deserved anything good to happen to me ever again. It was especially ludicrous to imagine that I might be the one to give myself the gift of a thing that makes me happy.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Cruel Voice screamed in my face. “In what universe do you think you’ve done anything to earn the right to go to the movies on your own? You’re a failure, and failures don’t get treats. Idiot. Bitch. Disappointment.”

Her words re-opened the same old wounds as always, but I knew I could handle the abuse. I had already given Nice Voice the destruct codes for Cruel Voice on Monday. Before leaping down into the pit, I handed her a folder composed of showtimes and bus routes and other necessary logistical information that might have been too hard to obtain within the throes of self-hate.

“I’ll see you on the other side, ” I told her.

Nice Voice crashed through the door on Friday morning, squashing Cruel Voice against the wall with the door as she did so.

“Come on,” she whispered to me. “You’re okay. Let’s get out of here.”
A solo outing to see Kong: Skull Island turned out to be exactly what I needed. First of all, the movie was totally awesome. I got to look at Tom Hiddleston’s perfect face, listen to a kickass soundtrack of 70’s rock, and be completely awed by a solid new entry into one of my favorite film genres: The hubris of Man going toe to toe with a rampaging, giant animal-monster.

But more important than the movie itself was the reminder that I am capable of being nice to myself. Sure, I had to plan it out ahead of time. I had to wait for it. But it was entirely for me. Self-care shouldn’t be a luxury. I was lucky this week that I had the money and the time to take myself out for a movie and a popcorn. Some weeks that isn’t an option. Some weeks Nice Voice has to get a little more creative, and look up a recipe for how to make a microwaved peanut butter brownie in a mug using ingredients that are already in the pantry.

The ending of Kong: Skull Island is accompanied by the sound of Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again.” It goes,

We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

Nice Voice probably isn’t home to stay. She and I might be in for a lifetime of comings and goings. Sometimes I can’t force myself to get up and open the door, even though I know she’s waiting on the other side with popcorn and Cherry Coke and compassion. Sometimes, I fear, she gets tired too, and has to take a break from me to recharge her batteries.

But, so far, she’s never been gone for good. And she’s here right now, and she gives me hope. The sun was out and shining yesterday, and I am smiling, and monster movies are awesome, and I am not a failure.

We’ll meet again.

a love letter for a monster

My Netflix show right now is Penny Dreadful. I’m a few episodes into the third season, and I’m already sad that my time with my new spooky pals is so close to the end. I’ve always loved a good ensemble series; it makes me so happy to be the spectator to fictional friend groups. From the relatively mundane to the actually monstrous, I really dig pretending that I’m hanging out with a close gang of television buds. I’m also super into monsters, so Penny Dreadful is the jammiest of my jams right now.

It’s nice to have a show that I’m into, because I’m pretty down right now. I’m really paranoid these days; a good, productive day must be signalling the beginning of mania, and one crummy day must mean the start of a depressive episode. I am constantly on the lookout for which phase of bipolar I’m experiencing, unable to fathom that I’m capable of having a normal mood anymore. This week feels a lot like depression. I feel despair, I feel hopeless, I feel inferior, I feel apathetic. I don’t understand the point of living.

I have no real personal drive right now, so a good Netflix binge is about the only thing for which I can muster up some enthusiasm when I’m alone in my apartment. I make myself get out into the world for work, for rehearsal, for yoga; places where people will see me, places where I fear my absence will make people categorize me as weak or lazy. But I know my monster mates in London won’t ever judge me.

Penny Dreadful is an interesting show with which to be obsessed while constantly considering the state of one’s mental health. When the show has a rare quiet moment in between horrors, there’s an eerie languid calm that settles. I’ve caught this mood dripping down into my own bones when I get up to do something in between episodes. I like to imagine I’m as devastatingly beautiful and interesting in my sadness as Vanessa Ives is when she strides down the chilly streets of London. It’s hard to feel particularly elegant as I wander my apartment, draped in a fleece Wall-E blanket and absentmindedly feasting on Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food. But I try.

Vanessa’s adventures in therapy this season certainly feel familiar. Watching Vanessa sit down in Dr. Patti LuPone’s office immediately feels me with anxiety. I know that the other vampiric shoe is probably going to drop soon, but so far Patti is a good therapist and it seems like Vanessa is doing all right. I have a lot of hope for Vanessa. Vanessa is definitely the character with whom I most want to relate. If I ever officially deem myself too burdensome to my own loved ones, I hope to forge my solitary path with as much grace and class as Vanessa Ives. But I know who I really am in the Penny Dreadful universe. I lack Vanessa’s faith. I lack the hope for myself that I hold for Vanessa.

No, at my core, I think of myself as a poetic observer and chronicler of the world who does not deem herself worthy to be a part of that world. My Penny Dreadful avatar is John Clare. Frankenstein’s Monster.

John Clare tries hard to be a good person, unfortunate penchant for murder notwithstanding. He is a hopeless and insecure romantic. He refuses to accept that someone could exist who might truly love him for who he is. At the same time, though, John Clare acknowledges goodness and beauty in the world, even if those qualities will never belong to him. He appreciates so much of the potential of humanity while seeing himself only as a monster. I get it.

I am eager to romanticize my illness. To glean poetry from my sick brain. Seeing myself in John Clare makes me sad, but also a little peaceful. Likening myself to a tragic, poetic monster is so much more literary and glamorous than being a person who takes a pill every morning to stabilize her moods. I would rather be a monster than an ill human. I want my relationship with death and darkness to feel less abnormal. I imagine that it’s typical for monsters to consider death the way I sometimes do. My therapist says that most people don’t think about death the way I do.

I would walk with you, John Clare. We could stuff our hands into the pockets of our coats and haunt the streets together. I could microwave you Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food in my apartment, while we share our favorite poems. You’ll read to me from Wordsworth, and I’ll blow your undead mind with Whitman. Maybe, as monsters and friends, we could find complete freedom from the desire to exist and fit within the wider world.

Forgive my candor, dear monster. I, too, long for beauty and for peace. When season three ends, I will miss you; your copper eyes and the Shakespearean quality of your speech. I will miss the affection that I hold for you, which I have sometimes been able to reflect back on myself.

I hope things end well for you, John Clare, but alas. We all know that show runner John Logan is the real monster here, and I fully expect you to meet a tragic and probably grisly end.

For whatever time we might have left together, then, may we find hope and serenity in the words of your poetic namesake:

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

charting a course

The first song I ever heard that I just knew was about me was, weirdly enough, from the Treasure Planet soundtrack.

I am a question to the world
Not an answer to be heard
Or a moment that’s held in your arms
And what do you think you’d ever say?
I won’t listen anyway
You don’t know me
And I’ll never be what you want me to be

SUCH DISNEYFIED ANGST. It didn’t matter that I first heard Johnny Rzeniks’s “I’m Still Here” on the Treasure Planet episode of the super sunshine-y Disney Channel show Movie Surfers; it was the first song that spoke to my real, dark, honest truth, though I sure couldn’t have told you why. I’m not positive I can explain it now, but I’m going to give it a shot. Sometimes I vainly like to see my life as a far dorkier adaptation of Almost Famous, and “I’m Still Here” was the record under my bed that set me free.

And what do you think you’d understand?
I’m a boy, no, I’m a man
You can’t take me and throw me away
And how can you learn what’s never shown?
Yeah, you stand here on your own
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

What’s most fascinating to me about the memory of my deep “I’m Still Here” passion is realizing how much I’ve apparently always been obsessed with identity coupled with the fear that I’m not actually real or present to the people I love. I was 12 when Treasure Planet came out. Nothing was wrong with me on paper. I was a comfy, well-taken-care-of little tween with parents who bought me plenty of Star Wars books and Beanie Babies, and best friends who pretended to be knights and Harry Potter characters with me on the weekends.

Apparently, mood disorders commonly first present themselves in pubescence. As I’ve said before, I feel a lot like “The Girl Who Cried Bipolar Disorder.” When my childhood comes up during therapy sessions, I can see my counselor putting pieces together of my depression jigsaw puzzle. I feel like I’m lying about the extent of my youthful despair, and therefore hurting the people that always loved me and took care of me at that age. If I started being depressed that early, was I just an ungrateful brat who failed them and their love? Sometimes I would rather not be here at all than feel like a lifelong disappointment to my family and friends.

And I want a moment to be real
Wanna touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong
And how can the world want me to change?
They’re the ones that stay the same
They don’t know me , ’cause I’m not here

I’ve very rarely felt truly “here.” From as far back as I can remember, I have been the safest in the fantastical worlds of books and movies. The character archetype to which I’ve always most connected is the Dreamer. The Wanderer. The Craver of Something New. The One with the Not So Secret Need to be Special. I saw myself in starry-eyed, young wonderers turned heroes, like Jim Hawkins.

I know, I know. It’s the biggest cliche: Me, alone in my bedroom, surrounded by my stuffed dolphins and Tim Burton movie posters, cranking the Treasure Planet soundtrack, sighing, “No one understands me. Nobody even knows who I am. I won’t be what society wants me to be, man.” The Treasure Planet soundtrack was my Dylan.

They can’t tell me who to be
‘Cause I’m not what they see
Yeah, the world is still sleeping while I keep on dreaming for me
And their words are just whispers and lies that I’ll never believe

I can’t speak for those who love me and know me best, but I imagine that they see a me who is probably really cool. They see someone that makes them laugh, who excitedly organizes opening night movie excursions, who gets tipsy at parties and talk way too much about the difference between seals and sea lions, and so on. Logically, I know that none of these people would lie to me.

“But,” whispers Cruel Voice. “I mean, what if they are?”

What if the more content, happier me that might get crafted by the therapy and mood stabilizers is the lie? What if I’m meant to stay a yearning Dreamer, albeit a sad one? If I suddenly like myself, will I stop wandering or wondering? My friends don’t want me to change, but they want me to be happy, and what if that’s the same thing?

The diagnosis makes me want to isolate myself. I want to set sail on my own for some solo adventures in self-exploration and figuring out the right dosages and crying a lot when something goes wrong, and I don’t want anyone to have to see. I want to stand among the stars for days at a time until I learn the truth about who I’m supposed to be. I want to keep away from everyone I love until I can burst into their lives again, triumphant and laden with treasures unfathomable.

If I were really brave, if I were really strong, I think, I would take that leap. I would jump off the dock and swim towards the horizon, confident that people don’t just forget forever a person they love. I would. I really would. I want to, even.

But I’m still here.

 

the show goes ever on and on: a nerd’s case for the oscars

In keeping with my resolution to spend time among things that made me really happy before I started to doubt and dislike myself, I’m really stoked about the Oscars this year. When I was a kid, staying awake to watch the Academy Awards was one of my favorite nights of the year. By middle school, I was waking up early to commandeer my family’s basement as my Red Carpet Coverage Headquarters. When Monsters, Inc. was up for Best Animated Feature, I put a bowtie on my stuffed Mike Wazowski and took him as my date.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint why I enjoy award show, and the Oscars especially, so much. On paper, the Oscars represent and celebrate a lot of things I typically loathe. For example:

The treatment of female actors on the red carpet like well-groomed show ponies.

The circle-jerk-like insistence on the strength and bravery it takes for well-off Hollywood actors to slip into the lives of humans who are are actually struggling and finding courage in the face of daily adversity.

The dominance of the white, straight, cis male narrative.

And on and on and on.

So, why do I watch? Why do I care?

The first time I had deep, rabid, and personal stakes in the Oscars was when The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for Best Picture (among others). Holy Battle of Five Armies, it meant so much to me that Fellowship be declared the best movie of the year.

Seeing Fellowship for the first time was an awakening for me. I had read The Hobbit in 5th grade, fresh off my Narnia days, and liked it a lot. I started The Lord of the Rings in middle school, but found myself struggling with it. Reading in 6th grade was devoted to programs like Accelerated Reader, which rewarded a student’s ability to read a lot of books in a relatively short amount of time. I couldn’t get through LotR fast enough to earn the points I needed. I turned to the delicious and relatively more bite-sized fantasy morsels of Brian Jacques and Tamora Pierce instead.

In 7th grade, I went with a big group of friends to the Mall of Georgia to see Fellowship. I was excited, of course, but in what I consider a normal, even healthy way. I had no idea what was lurking in the dark, waiting for me.

If John Williams’ opening title theme for Star Wars jolts off the screen jump-to-lightspeed style to punch you in the face, then the opening notes of Howard Shore’s epic LotR score creep, if not slither, out of the darkness to envelop you in smoke and blood and eternity. Coupled with Cate Blanchett’s delivery of the Prologue, I was transfixed from the very beginning.

Fellowship was the realest movie I had ever seen. It didn’t matter that the characters were Hobbits and Dwarves and Elves; I felt that I could physically reach out and brush my fingertips against their pain, their joy, their defeat, their triumphs, their despair, and their hope.

A lot of stories had already meant a lot of things to me by the time I was twelve years old, but the film version of Fellowship presented a new flavor of my appreciation– confidence. I loved this work of art, and I was 100% right about doing so. I couldn’t possibly be objective about Fellowship. It was incredible, and that was a fact.

It mattered a lot to me that everyone in the world agree with me about the brilliance in Fellowship. I knew it wouldn’t make me– a lifelong gawky, hopelessly devout bookworm with dumb hair– cool or pretty or popular, but it would make me right.

“Go ahead! Make fun of me! I liked the Best Movie of the Year, and I liked it before you, and that makes me better than you.”

You know, ’cause twelve year old jocks have a lot invested in the Academy Awards.

When Fellowship lost to A Beautiful Mind, I was fucking outraged. I went on the morning announcements at school the next day, and delivered a blistering rant about the injustice of the whole thing. To this day, I still kind of hate Russell Crowe. His failure to carry a tune in Les Miserables sustains me.

Why did this matter to me so much? I’m always tempted to roll my eyes and scoff at particularly rowdy and excited sports fans on the eve of a Big Game, but that just makes me a geeky hypocrite.

“Pssh. It’s not like you’re on the team. Why do you care so much about the outcome?”

It’s because the really good narratives of fellowship that speak to us, be they of team sports or ensemble-driven films, do make us feel like we’re part of the victory. What we care about and what we stand for is what’s actually at stake. Security and pride in our identity is the trophy we crave.

I wanted, even needed, Fellowship of the Ring to be recognized as the Best Picture of 2001, because it represented what matters most to me: loyalty, teamwork, and courage onscreen, as well as passion, determination, and even more teamwork offscreen.

It matters for more reasons than I can eloquently state that different kinds of movies featuring different kinds of heroes and different kinds of narratives get attention. For better or for worse, the Academy Awards provide some of that attention. Smarter people have written thoughtfully about this topic better than I can, and you should hear what they have to say. As a geeky tween, seeing Fellowship of the Ring garner attention and accolades made me feel validated and seen, in a weird transitive way.

This Sunday night, I’m going to grab some snacks and head over to a friend’s apartment to watch the Oscars. I’m going to swoon over the beautiful dresses on display, cry during the In Memoriam segment, tap my toes through all the performances of the Best Song nominees, and really listen to all the acceptance speeches. Whether it be a narrative to which I can personally relate or not, I want to hear what these stories and these films meant to all the diverse people who made them. I still want to believe in the power of movies.

The Oscars need to do better. There are twelve year olds out there, staying up past their bedtime on a school night and clutching their stuffed animals to their hearts in wonder. They should all have the opportunity to see their stories and their dreams represented and validated.

in case you care, dani’s pick for best picture this year: in fairness, i’ve only seen six of the nine nominees, but i’m pulling for you, moonlight. 

searching for myself in all the nerd places

My favorite game is “Who Are We In This Franchise?”

“Okay, guys, who would we all be in Harry Potter?”

“Which Pixar movie is everyone?”

“Who is everyone in our office in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?”

“Who Are We In This Franchise?” has rules. You can’t say what character you think you are; that has to be determined by those around you. If you pick the character yourself, you’re just going to ultimately say who you want to be or who your favorite character is, and that is a boring game. The integrity of “Who Are We In This Franchise?” depends on an individual’s allowance to see themselves through the eyes of those, ideally, closest to them. This is a best friend game. A close and familiar co-worker game.

I suggest playing this game CONSTANTLY. I am desperate to be told by others who I am. I cling to the nuggets of identity that are revealed to me through “Who Are We In This Franchise?” I don’t like myself very much, but I love the characters in all of my favorite fictional worlds. To be able to relate to a character that I do like and admire provides me a little, nerdy respite from self-loathing.

When a friend tells me that, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I most resemble Groot, what I hear is: “You’re a specifically sized, amusing creature who is good for a laugh, but is also capable of being a badass when your friends are threatened.” I like that. I like Groot. If I’m like Groot, transitive-geek-property proves that I like myself.

When my college best friends and I engage in a group text to determine who all of us are in “Stranger Things,” I am hoping to hear that I’m our Eleven, because she’s the character that I love the most. My best friend wisely identifies me as our team’s Mike Wheeler. She sees to the core of me, and knows that I am an impulsive, romantic nerd. I tell my boyfriend this assessment, and he scoffs.

“Oh? Who do you think I am?”

“Dani. Come on.”

He thinks I’m Dustin. As Walt Whitman wrote, we are large, we contain multitudes.

It’s been about two months since I starting taking medication for bipolar II disorder. My biggest fear remains that “feeling better” won’t feel like being me. For good or bad, my depression and my self-hatred are pillars of my identity. They have been with me for so long. I logically know that it would be better and healthier for them to crumble, but I am also terrified of being lost without them.

Being myself is not half as fun as being a patchwork quilt made up of Groot, Mike, Kermit the Frog, Rapunzel from Tangled, Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, Dory, and Neville Longbottom. Being myself doesn’t really mean anything besides being sad and angry that I’m not who I think I should be– more productive, more successful, more organized, thinner, wealthier.

What gives me a little comfort about “Who Are We In This Franchise?” is knowing that, really, the best part of playing is spending time talking with my best friends about silly nerdy stuff. For example, being Groot wouldn’t feel as special without knowing who my Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon are. Being the Leslie Knope to my actual best friend makes me happy, because I really do love my best friend as much as Leslie Knope loves Ann Perkins. Seeing not just my individual self, but my relationships reflected back at me via pop culture reminds me that, even if I feel like a failure in every other aspect of my existence, I’m succeeding at being a friend.

Playing “Who Are WE In This Franchise?” means that I’m part of a We. Of a team. Above all else, this is the thing that keeps me from disappearing not just into a fantasy world, but altogether. Logically, I know that I can’t be as awful and horrible as my brain thinks I am, because, I mean, I’m someone’s Groot. That’s pretty awesome. Maybe I still don’t think I know who I am, but I at least know what I bring to my friends’ lives, be it my sense of humor or my berserker tree rage.

I will never stop suggesting “Who Are We In This Franchise?” I highly recommend it to you, if you’ve never played! Grab all your favorite people, go to your favorite haunt, and figure out who you all are in Game of Thrones, in Star Wars, in Lord of the Rings, in DC Comics, and so on and so on. Try to find a balance of being excited about all of your fun new fictional doppelgängers, but also recognizing your own unique worth as You to this team of people you love so much. These alone are your win conditions.

I believe in you.

We are Groot.

video essay: “hope is the thing with lightsabers”

So, here’s the essay that inspired the creation of this blog, as well as gave it its name. This essay was first performed onstage at the Highland Inn Ballroom in Atlanta, GA on November 30, 2016. This essay was a part of the awesome live lit show Scene Missing. Thank you to Jason Mallory for all the opportunities he has given me to get up onstage and deliver gooey protestations of my love for Star Wars.

 

gamma radiation in the paris metro

So, I’ve been on the Therapy Train for a while now. I feel like I’ve got a pretty decent handle on Sadness.

I do not know what to do with Anger, however, which is why I am spending my morning drinking coffee and thinking about the Incredible Hulk.

Most of what I know about Dr. Bruce Banner comes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and from the roller coaster at the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, FL. When I first started exploring the comic book origins of the characters that movies were teaching me to love, I didn’t devote any time to the Hulk. I was excited about Spider-Man, the ultimate nerd hero, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, funny, quippy renegades featuring a sensitive, badass tree creature. The Hulk wasn’t a character to whom I could relate. His adventures seemed like a bummer.

But then Joss Whedon’s The Avengers rolled into town, and Mark Ruffalo’s Banner uttered that now iconic line.

“That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”

I just re-watched that scene on YouTube, because I wanted to get the line exactly right. And Ruffalo’s reading of that line breaks my heart just as much as it did when I heard it on opening night back in 2012. Ruffalo delivers that line with such a quiet, nonsensical resignation. What I imagine comes next in Banner’s brain is, “And I’ll always be angry.”

This thing about me will never change.

Anger bit me in the ass and made me recognize it last summer in Paris, of all places. In the summer of 2016, I traveled to Europe for the first time. I spent almost all of my two weeks in London, due to the fact that I, a lifelong and now professional Shakespeare geek, have always dreamed of seeing London. Also, London was hosting the 2016 Star Wars Celebration, and I. Was. Psyched.

I saved my money and plotted and researched for over a year in preparation for my European adventure. I learned about Oyster cards and pounds and the train I would need to take from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station before I could make my way to my lodgings in Camden.

I thought I was ready. But what I thought more, though I couldn’t articulate it out loud at the time, was, “The universe fucking owes me. I have been sad for so long, and I have worked hard on it, and I have had my heart broken, and I have retained my ability to dream, and the universe owes me an amazing experience in London. I deserve this.”

My Mom flew into London with me, and was to spend the first week with me. On our last full day together, though, we had tickets to take the Eurostar to Paris; the day that the universe owed my kind, beautiful, compassionate, patient, perfect mother. My depression breaks my mother’s heart. I think she sees it as her fault. I want to be better for my Mom. I wanted to give her the perfect Mother-Daughter Idyllic European Adventure. We were going to see the Eiffel Tower together and smell flowers and eat baguettes.

I couldn’t even hold it together for a hour.

We made it to Gatwick Airport. I can’t sleep on planes, so I was running on fumes. We got off the plane, hustled through the terminal, found ourselves at the front of the airport. I saw actual England just out the windows.

I didn’t know how to do anything.

A crashing wave of panic collapsed over me. I didn’t know where to buy the Oyster card, I didn’t know how to exchange my money, I didn’t know how to get on the train to get to Victoria Station, I didn’t know where the bathrooms were, I didn’t know anything. Moreover, I was too afraid to ask anyone for help. Needing help meant that I had failed. Failed at this thing that I wanted so badly. In my brain, my trip was already ruined, and it was my fault. I was ruining this super expensive, theoretically wonderful thing for myself and for my mother.

Every time my mother suggested we ask for help, I became angrier and angrier at myself for not being able to take the advice. I felt completely numb inside. I didn’t know how to do anything. I wanted to die. I wanted the floor of the airport to swallow me whole. I was wrong about everything. I was a failure at everything. Everything I had ever feared about myself was true. I couldn’t breathe.

As I continued to slip into terror, I knew I was making my mother more and more worried. I was ruining her trip already.

My London dream was already over, and I hadn’t even left the airport.

Yoda said it best. “Fear leads to anger.”

The rest of that first day was more of the same. I trudged in defeat through rainy London, so angry about my perceived failure that I was numb to the potential of happiness or excitement. Mom and I made our way to Camden, ate some disappointing pizza for dinner, and called it an early night.

The ensuing week got a little better every day. As my internal clock caught up with the new time zone and as we started seeing some of the sights I’d always dreamed of seeing, I felt more positive. The chain link fence of fear and fury that had knitted itself around my heart that day at Gatwick began to loosen up a little bit.

Exactly a week from the day we’d left the States, Mom and I woke up early to make our way to King’s Cross station to board the Eurostar to Paris. Mom wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe. I wanted to visit a museum and eat a chocolate croissant. We would have a total of six hours in Paris. Everything seemed so do-able on paper.

I mean that literally, by the way. Using the WiFi in our dorm room in Camden, I had spend the night before our Paris trip charting a public transportation route that would get us successfully to all of our destinations. I read articles about how to have the best single day in Paris, written by successful American travelers. I scrawled everything down in my notebook. I wasn’t going to let our only day in Paris be a repeat of our first day in London.

Our arrival in St. Pancras International Station was Gatwick Airport dialed up to a fucking thousand. Because not only did I still know nothing, now I knew nothing and also didn’t speak French. My notes were useless.

The desire to throw the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums, and then to crumple to the floor and die on the spot came roaring back.

Let me move this story along a little bit. I feel such guilt about this trip, and I want to provide every last detail in attempt to purge it from my memory. But my thesis statement is as follows: I was a bitch that entire day in Paris. When things weren’t exactly as I always pictured, I felt as angry as I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I was a capital-M Monster. I wanted to scream and break something and scream some more.

The cherry on top of the Paris sundae was when my Mom was almost pick pocketed on the Metro. Like the rookie tourists we were, we were carrying a backpack. We had successfully made our way to the station nearest Notre Dame. If the day was going to swing back in our favor, this was the moment.

Instead I noticed a boy fiddling with the zipper on my Mom’s backpack. She turned around, and said, “Hey!”

In that first split second, I was angry at my Mom. I was sure that the boy, who couldn’t have been older than ten or eleven, was trying to let my Mom know that she had foolishly left her zipper undone. He was helping us, because people are generally good.

I made eye contact with him, and then noticed the other boys surrounding him.

I made eye contact. They all took off running.

I. Hulked. Out.

The boys ran, and I tore off after them. I ran the 400 meter dash in high school. I am fast. And I was furious. I chased those boys over multiple Metro platforms, screaming at the top of my lungs, “Fucking thieves!” the entire way.

We made it to a staircase that led out of the station. I was so close to them. I wanted to rip them apart for fucking with my Mom.

My foot went out from under me on the second to last step. I fell.

A tiny voice in my head whispered, “What would you do if you caught them? Stay down.”

At this point, my Mom caught up with me, yelling that the kids hadn’t managed to take anything. My Mom still had her wallet and her passport, and we were okay.

I burst into tears. I was terrified. My Mom was terrified. She was angry at me for how I had reacted. I was angry at her for being angry at me. I cried the entire walk to Notre Dame.

I want to pretend that I don’t know what would have happened if I had managed to catch those kids. But I know. My Anger was in complete control of my body that day. I would have tried to hurt them. I would have screamed obscenities and put my hands on them until someone tore me away.

I would have smashed.

Before Paris, I didn’t know that that sort of Anger was inside me. Now I know. This thing is in me, and maybe this thing will never change.

Turns out, I don’t like me when I’m angry. My experience in the Paris Metro made me realize that I needed to be back in therapy. That I needed to work on the Anger section of my Mental Health Utility Belt as much as I have worked on Sadness.

So, when I start to feel defeated about Anger, when I start to beat myself up again about what happened in London and in Paris, I think about Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk. I remind myself that everything about us, whether we like it or not, does not have to control us. We can live in harmony with the various aspects of ourselves. We can contain Monsters and Superheroes all at once. My Other Guy thought she was being a hero that day in Paris; that she was rescuing my Mom. It didn’t work out the way she planned, but that’s okay. It’s just another thing on which to work, to acknowledge, to sit beside and breathe.

As a wise frog once said, it’s not easy being green.

hot drink suggestion: some earl grey tea, to remember the good times.

music suggestion: alan silvestri’s main theme from “the avengers” (i am not creative, but also, damn. get it, alan silvestri.)

 

looking on the geeky bright side

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. But I know I’m ultimately pretty lucky. I have a great therapist and a really amazing support network of friends, and I’m going to see the psychiatrist again next week to talk about how this first medication adventure is going.

Still, I remain desperate for a quicker fix; even just for a temporary, metaphorical Star Wars-brand Band-Aid that I can patch over my brain for a day or two. I fantasize constantly about all of the things I think I would accomplish if I could stop hating myself for 24-48 hours. I would walk the entire length of the city, I would buy myself some fresh flowers and maybe a balloon, I would take a notebook and a gigantic coffee to the park, and I would confidently begin the first draft of a brilliant one-woman show that would earn me awards and accolades and the attention of Joss Whedon who would then cast me in his next Shakespeare movie, wherein I would get to kiss Fran Kranz and wear a pretty blue dress, and then I would become just famous enough to never pay for a Dragon Con badge again which would be the perfect amount of fame.

And also the park where I start this first draft would be full to bursting with friendly dogs who come over for a pat. Two thirds of these dogs are Golden Retrievers.

Instead, I continue to feel more and more disconnected from who I think I am/who I want to be/oh God, what if I’ve never been right about who I am? I feel like the Girl Who Cried Bipolar Disorder.

“You’re FINE!” roars Unhelpful Voice. “Oh my God, get over it, and suck it up. You are the laziest piece of shit I have ever had the misfortune of meeting. Nothing is wrong with you.”

“You wouldn’t say that to one of your friends if they were having a rough time,” whispers Nice Voice. “Just put on the La La Land soundtrack again. Do you need a snack?”

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.” Is what I don’t say, but am silently screaming muffled into my heart.

Anyway!

In my continued quest for this mythical Quick Fix, I can’t stop reading Internet lists of “How to Be Happier.” They’re everywhere, and I keep swallowing them two at a time like Ibuprofen. “17 Ways to Feel Happier and Brighten Your Day!” 17?! That’s so many ways! Surely one of them will work! This is it!

The lists are all the same:

“Exercise! Get moving, and grab those endorphins! Endorphins are so fun!”

“Call a friend! Even just for five minutes!”

“Take just fifteen minutes a day to do something you love!”

THESE ARE ALL THE THINGS I CAN’T DO RIGHT BECAUSE OF DEPRESSION, INTERNET WOMEN’S MAGAZINE. Exercising just makes me aware of everything I don’t like about my body, I am frequently too ashamed of not being “better” yet to connect with friends, and I feel like I do a bad job at all the things I love so doing them just makes me feel worse.

The one suggestion for which I can usually summon up some enthusiasm is “Be Grateful.” My Gratitude faucet is always flowing. I don’t like myself very much, but dammit if I am not surrounded by the best people in the world, each of whom is a rainbow of talent and kindness and hilarity and general awesomeness. I am also grateful for the nerdy things in the world that make me so excited that I feel like busting out of my own face. Excited-me is my favorite version, so I am grateful for those moments in movies and books and songs that wake her up and hand her the keys.

With that in mind, I offer this list of “17 Mostly Nerdy Things For Which I Am Always Grateful, No Matter How Otherwise Blue I Am.”

1. That I sometimes get to wear multiple cloaks in a single day as part of my job requirements.

2. Danny Elfman’s score for Batman. It’s perfect; it’s triumphant and bombastic and fun while still retaining what’s dark and dangerous about the Caped Crusader. Danny Elfman is the best.

3. Marvel’s Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur. My current girl-hero, Lunella Lafayette, has been officially declared the smartest person in the Marvel universe. AND HER BEST FRIEND IS A RED T-REX. Lunella is living all of our best lives.

4. The Alice Cooper episode of The Muppet Show. Sam the Eagle and Alice Cooper are a match made in comedy heaven.

5. Star Wars’ Rey.

6. The fact that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it or how old I become, the velociraptor kitchen scene in Jurassic Park will always fuck up my ability to sleep. Bonus entry: everything else about Jurassic Park.

7. The “Zuko Alone” and “Tales of Ba Sing Se” episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We do not deserve you, Uncle Iroh.

8. Bartleby’s triumphant return in Bone. #NotAllRatCreatures

9. That dramatic title card drop at the end of “Circle of Life.” THE LION KING. SIT THE FUCK DOWN, EVERYBODY. DID WE MENTION THIS IS HAMLET WITH ELTON JOHN AND LIONS? GET READY.

10. Sea creatures. [Including the subject of this post’s featured image; TJ the loggerhead sea turtle. He’s back in the ocean now after a successful rehabilitation at the Georgia Aquarium.]

11. The character Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle.

12. The palpable nerd excitement in the air the first time we all saw that post-credits scene in Iron Man. At the time, I didn’t even know who the Avengers were, but dammit, I knew from the gleeful whispers around me that Samuel L. Jackson saying “Avengers Initiative” meant something incredible was on the way.

13. The amazing inhale Luke does when he makes The Shot in A New Hope.

14. A perfect, flaky, buttery, perfect chocolate croissant, paired with a good coffee. In a pretty mug. When you have a new book you can’t wait to read. And it is sunny enough to read outside.

15. Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. “Lock the doors upon a woman’s wit, and it will out at the casement.”

16. Sam and Frodo. All of it. Every speech. Every look exchanged. All of it. I’m not crying, we’re all crying.

17. Everyone I am lucky enough to know; dreamers and creators and artists and performers and teachers and geniuses and dancers and visionaries and bio luminescent, magical star creatures. Thank you for being here.

 

… and the philosopher’s mood stabilizer?

I think I feel “okay?” I don’t really know what that means. I think it’s been two weeks since I felt madly, truly, deeply depressed. Or manic. I feel “okay.” Right now I’m sitting at my desk, listening to music and snarfing down a bowl of popcorn, and that feels fine. I could be doing something different, and that would probably also be fine. Everything is fine.

I have never trusted the radical notions of “okay” or “fine.” “Okay” just sounds like an even more drab variation on “unextraordinary” and “boring.” I have always craved feeling extraordinary. After the initial wave of shame and failure that I felt at being diagnosed with Bipolar II, there was a sneaky, smug little flash of pride.

“Ooh, Bipolar II,” it whispered, excitedly. “How interesting.”

I have always felt a deep desire to be special, to be different, to be other.

Which, hopefully, is the only significant thing I have in common with Lord Voldemort.

Good ol’ Tom Marvolo Riddle is on my mind a lot the past couple of weeks, because the only thing I have wanted to do in my newfound state of “okay” is re-read the Harry Potter series. Specifically, books 5 through 7, my least favorites. Unlike 1-4, I read each one of the final three installments in a starved, frantic hurry at midnight when they were first released and never again.

After recently visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and then falling into hype over the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, I really wanted to be back at Hogwarts. I really, really wanted to be in unadulterated love with Harry Potter again. Because, my goodness, how I once loved Harry Potter. Harry Potter remains the only thing in my life to which I have ever been first on the bandwagon. Thanks to my Grandmother watching an early interview with J.K. Rowling on Oprah, I was absolutely the first student at Harbins Elementary School to meet Harry, Ron, and Hermione. At the fifth grade Book Fair, when all my classmates were clamoring to pick up Sorcerer’s Stone, I was achieving Nerd Badass Status by buying Prisoner of Azkaban.

[Side Quest: Harry Potter is also the source behind the only time I have been considered a “bad influence.” I got in trouble with a classmate’s super Christian dad once for telling said-classmate all about the finer plot points of the books he was no longer allowed to read. Suck it, Mr. Thompson!]

Harry Potter was one of the last things I truly had a chance to love before I started to hate myself. Lord of the Rings hype swallowed me in late middle school and early high school which is also when I started to worry just a little bit about my big buck teeth with the gap in the middle and when boys started to make fun of me to my face. Star Wars had yet to feel like a property that truly belonged to me, plus I came of age in the era of the prequels, so that wasn’t really an option.

But I was a gangly, buck toothed, content elementary schooler when Harry Potter came into my life. I liked to sit outside and write poems about grass, and I had no idea what a “calorie” was. The only thing that had ever broken my heart at that point was the knowledge that elephants are endangered. My parents bought me Beanie Babies and made me feel smart, and I ate a lot of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Best of all, Harry Potter was the only boy for whom I cared.

Hating myself for the past decade has been fucking exhausting. As I get older, I feel so much anger at each past phase of myself for hating that younger woman and not taking better care of her. When I think back about 18-year-old Dani, for example, I both want to punch her in the face, and also give her a hot chocolate and a stuffed animal and anything else she could possibly want if she’ll just forgive me for what I think I did to her.

Harry Potter feels like the literary equivalent of a hot chocolate and a stuffed animal. I’m trying to take advantage of the “okay,” instead of feeding my natural inclination to judge it and mistrust it. I don’t feel tired right now in the heavy, suffocating way I feel tired when I’m depressed. I go to work, I see friends, I do yoga, I live. The tiredness I feel lately is a wearier sort. I feel so tired of the years I have spent being cruel to each possible iteration of myself.

My big fear, though, is (and has always been) this: If the pills are working, if therapy is working, if I’m really better… who am I? Have I ever known? If I don’t experience the extreme mood swings anymore, if I don’t want to die, am I still me? Does it even matter if all I did to myself was act like a dick?

Am I normal now? Do I want that?

Harry Potter helps put “normal” and “abnormal” into pretty easy black and white categories. I mean, I know I don’t want to be like Voldemort, so I guess being normal isn’t so bad. Being as special as Harry doesn’t seem all that appealing either.

Part of what’s amazing and, to me, comforting about the Harry Potter series is the vast scope of the universe. We don’t meet every student at Hogwarts, but there’s hundreds out there, struggling with more mundane, non-lethal problems than Harry and his inner circle ever face. And I bet they’re still probably pretty cool, even if no one ever writes a book about them.

Say, perhaps, a tall Hufflepuff girl who’s favorite subject is Care of Magical Creatures and who spends most of her extracurricular time trying to start the Hogwarts Drama Club?

Yeah, she’s probably pretty cool. It would be okay to hang out with her.

music suggestion: the perfection that is john williams. always.

drink suggestion: if you don’t have access to butterbeer, go with a giant mug of hot cocoa. never forget professor lupin’s insistence on chocolate as a healing agent. 

“return”

The following essay made its debut onstage at Write Club Atlanta on February 28, 2015. 

When I returned home from school on December 17, 2003, my day was only just beginning. Bouncing with a ferocious amount of enthusiasm, I bounded up the stairs and started getting ready. I tore myself free from the trappings of my boring, everyday clothes, and changed into a white button-down shirt, a pair of men’s trousers that I had hacked shorter with a pair of kitchen scissors, a yellow vest that my grandmother had made for me, and finally, a beautiful, purple cloak that my best friend Ali had sewn.

The doorbell rang. They were here! Ali, Jane, and Christie stood at my front door, and I ushered them inside delightedly. Ali held in her hand a special accessory for the evening: a bag of doll hair. Of course! Our costumes would be perfect now. I mean, what self-respecting Hobbit dares attend opening night of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” without hair on her feet?

Ali had already applied her own doll hair, and her Pippin costume looked amazing. She handed me the bag of remaining follicles, and I dashed up to the kitchen, eager to finish my Merry ensemble. After all, Christie and Jane were already dressed, as Arwen and Aragorn respectively. It was time to go! I was fourteen-years-old, shiny and new to the world of cosplay. I hadn’t heard of Spirit Gum yet, so I rummaged through the junk drawer until I uncovered the first adhesive I could get my impatient, nerdy fingers on: wood glue.

Without pausing to consider any future ramifications of my actions, I smeared liberal amounts of Elmer’s wood glue over the tops of my pale, tender girl-feet, and then sprinkled those same feet with curly, dark doll hair. Unfortunately for movie-going Hobbits, Regal Cinemas does require shoes inside its theaters, so, with all the dignity I could muster, I slid my halfling pube-toes into a pair of bright orange Old Navy flip flips.

There I stood: a fourteen-year-old, 5’9” Hobbit with gel-scrunched wavy hair, a vest made out of felt, and doll hair wood-glued to my feet. It was the happiest I had ever been. I was with my very best friends in the entire world, and we were about to finally see what was surely going to be the greatest film in the history of cinema.

Nobody at Dacula High School loved “The Lord of the Rings” like my friends and I loved “The Lord of the Rings.” When “The Fellowship of the Ring” first came out on DVD, we piled into my basement and rewound our favorite moments over and over. We memorized the birthdays and favorite colors of all the actors, so that we might wear the appropriate color to school on the appropriate date. On August 28, for example, we dressed in blue and wore handmade signs around our necks that said, “Happy Birthday, Billy Boyd!”

We wrote fan fiction in a notebook that we passed among one another in between classes; lengthy tales featuring our friendships and inevitable romances with members of the cast. For each of us, there was only one cast member on which you could have a crush-monopoly, and it was forbidden for another girl to express affections for that actor. We judiciously declared Orlando Bloom off limits; sort of the Switzerland of our raging teenage fangirl hormones. I was in love with Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry. One time I saw a picture of Dominic Monaghan wearing blue nail polish and eating a purple lollipop, so then I wore blue nail polish and ate a purple lollipop.

We used to hang out in the computer lab before class every day of 8th grade, and continually refresh the Lordoftherings.net home page. Back in the day, one of the actors greeted you when you logged on to the site. We would refresh over and over again, never not enthralled to hear the voices of our heroes.

Our journey of loving and anticipating the “Lord of the Rings” films was an epic one for my friends and me. The fictional world of Middle-earth as well as the reality of the cast and crew working in New Zealand dominated our time together. For just as much as we wanted to actually live in the Shire or in Rivendell, so too we wanted to live in Wellington and spend our days surfing with Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, and playing pranks on Viggo Mortensen, and listening to music with Elijah Wood. It was life-affirming for young, passionate nerds to see the fun and friendship experienced by the members of the cast and crew. The same explosive love we carried in our hearts for books and movies that made us targets of ridicule at school could one day result in a project as wonderful as the “Lord of the Rings” films. We were so excited about “Return of the King.” Nothing else had ever felt so important.

As the movie started, we clasped each other hands and hardly dared to breathe for the next three hours. With each of the fade-to-black fake-out endings, my heart nearly stopped; I wasn’t ready to be done. Besides, there was only ever one correct way for the trilogy to end. It was still just 2003. Peter Jackson hadn’t let us down yet.

“Well, I’m back,” said Samwise Gamgee, and then he shut his round, yellow door. And it was over. We clapped thunderously and wiped our tired, weepy eyes, and then my mom drove everyone home.  Ali, Jane, Christie, and I hugged tightly as we bid one another farewell.

I returned home, and told my mom “good night.” And then I was alone in my bedroom. My heart still pounded with exhilaration. I looked around my room. The light stung my eyes after so many hours in the dark movie theatre. Objects in my room that normally brought me joy or comfort seemed strange and alien to me now. My dolphin wallpaper, my well-stocked bookshelf, my stuffed animals… I resented each one of them for reminding me of my life outside of “Lord of the Rings.” A quiet sadness crept over my swiftly-deflating heart. It was really over, and I was home.

Returning home after any-sized adventure is scary. Standing in my childhood bedroom, my Hobbit cloak draped over my shoulders, I tried to be brave even though I felt very small and frightened. The real world loomed quiet and vaster than I could ever comprehend. I worried that nothing else would ever matter to me as much as the “Lord of the Rings” movies did. Being a “Lord of the Rings” nerd had been my chief identity for the last three years. Who was I now, without the “Lord of the Rings?”

Perhaps more than anything, though, my heart broke for the cast and crew that I loved. If I felt so sad about the movies being over, what must it have been like for them? I imagined their final day of shooting, like the end of the school year times a million. Did they hug and cry and promise to keep in touch after they each returned home? There was no summer break for the Fellowship now, just a New Age that could afford them no promise of their continued love besides what they themselves were willing and able to muster.

My friends and I were in the ninth grade. We still had three years of high school together, but the end was in sight. A morning would come soon when we did not all return to the same hallways, but when we ventured forward and apart to colleges across the state and even across the country. Without the glue of our shared Lord of the Rings fandom coupled with physical proximity, I was concerned that our love for one another would fade.

As I changed out of my Hobbit costume and ripped the sticky, matted doll hair from my feet, I thought about Sam. I thought about how brave he was, to watch his very best friend sail away to the Undying Lands without him. I thought about the courage it must take to let someone go after going through such a tremendous and harrowing adventure with them. Finally, I thought of the fearlessness it takes to return home, and discover the courage to trust that your story is never truly ended.

For, of course, my story would go on, as would my friends’, after this night, after high school, and even after days that we could not yet foresee. And we would continue to play roles in one another’s tales. At Ali’s wedding, for example, the rest of us served collectively as her ring bearers and walked down the aisle to “Concerning Hobbits.” We were literally her Fellowship of the Ring, and we would be brave like Sam and continue to love one another to the end of all things.

So, in the early hours of December 18, 2003, my heart aching with love, gratitude, excitement, and not an insignificant amount of sorrow, I crawled into bed. I was fourteen-years-old, and the road went ever on and on. Alone in the dark, I curled into a ball and tugged a stuffed animal close to my heart.

“Well,” I whispered. “I’m back.”

music suggestion: “the breaking of the fellowship” by howard shore

drink suggestion: whatever you want, as long as it comes in pints

it’s something that i’m s’posed to be

This looks familiar, vaguely familiar.

My alarm goes off, and I can’t. It feels like there’s something far heavier than my flannel bunny sheets and blue fleece blanket pressing down on my chest. The contents of my brain and heart resemble the results of when I try to make a slow cooker soup from a Buzzfeed recipe; enthusiastically pursued, but ultimately mushy and disappointing. I have slept for nine hours, and I am exhausted.

I hope that something better comes along.

My alarm is going off, because I’m supposed to go to yoga. It’s 8 am, and if I’m to make a 9:30 yoga class, I need to get up now, get dressed, eat a small breakfast, and start my 1.8 mile trek to the yoga studio by 8:45am at the latest.

“You like yoga,” the Nice Voice reasons. “You feel good after yoga!”

“Also, you’re fat and awful, and yoga will help fix that,” snarls the Unhelpful Voice.

“What’s the point of anything?” offers Depression.

“Come on! Get up! You’ll have fun! Endorphins are good for us!” Nice Voice is eager, but she’s already sounding panicked and feeble.

“Get out of bed, bitch. You can’t stay in bed and watch old SNL sketches online for an hour and a half again. You’re a lazy whore, and no one likes you. Do you think Amy Poehler and Tina Fey got where they are by staying in bed all morning and skipping yoga?” hisses the Unhelpful Voice.

“You’ll never be like Amy and Tina anyway,” Depression mutters. “And it’s cold outside.”

Unhelpful Voice knows my tricks. I slide my phone off of my nightstand, and bury deeper into the covers to watch Debbie Downer and Haunted Elevator each for the seven hundredth time. Admiring the sheer perfection that is Rachel Dratch helps to quiet the voices for a little bit.

8:15am.

“You can still make it,” whispers Nice Voice, full of encouragement and kindness. “The cold air will feel good on your face! You’ll wake up, and then you’ll want to write all day long, and you’ll finally come up with something amazing! Go for it! I believe in you!”

8:30am. Time to watch every Stefon appearance on Weekend Update. Bill Hader’s incredible.

“Okay, last sketch! You can do it! You can get breakfast afterwards! You can go to Starbucks, and it’ll be okay because you’ll have worked out! Please, Dani! Get out of bed!” Nice Voice is begging. She’ll do anything.

“I hate you so much,” Unhelpful Voice doesn’t need to yell this one. Her voice is quiet, pure, unwavering.

8:46am.

“Whatever.” Fair point, Depression.

This could become a habit.

Fast forward through every Emmy Awards opening monologue over the past four years– Andy Samberg’s stint was underrated, by the way– to 9:30am. No one is expecting me in person until 12:30pm, but I’m still embarrassed by my morning’s activities. I finally slouch off to the bathroom, unable to put off facing the day any longer.

I note my reflection in the mirror long enough to agonize over the blemishes on my face and the squish of my belly.

“Should’ve gone to yoga,” whispers Unhelpful Voice.

The orange pill bottle sits next to the bullshit Salicylic Acid-laced acne remover that doesn’t. Fucking. Do anything. It’s been a little over a week since I increased my dosage to two pills. Mood stabilizers. There’s currently a sheet of paper in my bedside drawer, upon which a doctor who went to college and knows things typed the phrase, “Bipolar II.” It’s been about four weeks of taking the medicine, too early to note anything besides a little nausea.

Now begins the changin’, mental rearrangin’, nothing’s really where it’s at.

A renewed sense of determination overtakes me as I step into the living room. The vacuumed floor floods me with a treacherous sense of peace.

“Psst,” Nice Voice, again. Cautious. “You can still do some yoga, if you want to. That still counts, right?”

I decide that it does still count. I light a lavender and sage candle, roll out my purple yoga mat, and go to my laptop to settle on a musical selection.

“This counts,” repeats Nice Voice, growing firmer as I set about this small self-care ritual.

But what music to accompany my solitary sun salutations? Something to pump me up? Something to calm me down? Tears start to well in my eyes and my breathing speeds up when what I need hops out of nowhere and punches me right in the heart.

Already sniffling, I type “Muppet Movie” into the Spotify search bar.

As Kermit’s banjo starts to plink, I step onto my mat. My eyes feel too big, I imagine I look crazy, I don’t know how to breathe anymore, my fingers are shaking, I feel like throwing up, I want everything to stop, I want everything to go away, I want to go away. I can’t, Kermit, I can’t. I’m sorry. I love you.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows? And what’s on the other side?

Beginning to quietly sob, I force myself through some easy stretches, through a sun salutation or two, through Tree Pose, which I genuinely enjoy. Nice Voice was right. I do like this. I do feel a little better.

I return to The Muppets pretty frequently when I feel like throwing in the proverbial towel. I’m not always okay these days, and I know there will be more mornings when the mere notion of getting out of bed and making a piece of toast fills me with a completely overwhelming sense of panic and despair. Deep in my gut, though, past the anxiety and the depression and the bipolar II, live the lessons of the Muppets. Gonzo’s enthusiasm and unwavering bravery. Rowlf’s pragmatic coolness. Fozzie’s ability to still find joy in his craft even in the face of cruelty and failure. The Electric Mayhem’s contagious glee in the creation and sharing of their art.

Kermit’s hope. Kermit’s determination. Kermit’s quiet struggle to be enough, to be a leader, to take care of himself and his friends, to accept that he’ll make mistakes along the way. Kermit’s realization that, “I guess I was wrong when I said I never promised anyone. I promised me.”

I promised me. I promised Kermit. I remember how to breathe. I find Star Pose. I fill my Star with breath. I promise to keep breathing. I’ll need it if I’m going to keep chasing rainbows with Kermit.

Someday we’ll find it.

music suggestion: “the muppet movie” soundtrack, of course

hot drink suggestion: it’s not easy bein’ green tea with a little lemon