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