{Prehistoric Amber} The Summer of Suck

{Prehistoric Amber} The Summer of Suck | AmberLCarter.com

It’s been The Summer of Suck. And I’ve got to get out of this place.

In the early and mid summer mornings, I would break out of dreams due to the sun burning hot on my bare legs, white light pouring in from the skylight. I’d open my eyes and stare at the ceiling, feeling as if a two-hole punch had been taken to my heart. Two tiny punctures, that I kept trying to heal with heat and light and sand…or cover up with alcohol, cigarettes, and avoidance. It kept me restless and bored during the day, listless and quiet through the night. Maybe I should talk to someone, I would think, just to make sure that I’m alright. Maybe this is finally the time to go on something. Or maybe I should just have another glass of wine, go out for another cigarette.

After a year of being a quitter, I started smoking again in the beginning of June. And drinking. A lot. I told people it was just something I did when it was summer – cocktails, campfire, and cigarettes, The Summer Trifecta – but really it was because I had Too Many Feels and didn’t want to go to bed. Or write, or think. I didn’t write – not really, not anything substantial – all summer. I didn’t want to go deep, and I felt like I had nothing to say. So instead I’d stay out on the deck all night, smoking and sipping cocktails, listening to music.

It was the music that was my first sign. I kept getting frustrated with it…nothing seemed to correctly capture how I felt. I couldn’t find that one song that matched, the one with the perfect lines to describe exactly what I was going through. And then I realized that I was frustrated because I couldn’t find a song that could make me cry. A weird thing about me: When I am happy, when I feel normal, I’m a total bawl baby…I cry at happy things, sad things, funny things, at the way the light pours into my window on a rainy afternoon. When I’m depressed but do not yet fully realize it, I can’t cry. I want to, because I know it will somehow make me feel better, but the water works are stuffed up, shut down. No matter how much I try to make them, the tears just won’t come.

And the boredom. And the loneliness. Sometimes it was hard, to differentiate between whether I really was tired of this town or if I was just genuinely depressed. If I really was painfully lonely, or if I was just craving another type of distraction. Nothing created excitement anymore. When I’m happy, when I feel normal, I will literally bound out of bed in the morning. There Are Things To Do, I will think, and I’ll race through my shower and breakfast because I’m so anxious to get going on all these great ideas and plans. Yet this summer, I struggled to think of even a few things that I’d be excited about doing. That would make me happy, that I would like. Nothing tasted good, nothing sounded good, nothing felt good. I began to understand why people get addicted to drugs or porn or alcohol: Those things can become your best friend when nothing else seems to make you feel steady. They’re reliable, you know? You know that, eventually, you’re going to find that high and get to come or at least have the edge taken off, a little bit, of how you feel right then. For me, it was knowing that when I got off from work, all that there was to do, all that I wanted to do, was sit on my deck, put my earphones in, light up a cigarette, and drink a beer. I didn’t want to go out, because I knew I would just be searching the room for the kind of new face I’m never going to find here. I didn’t want talk to anyone, because there never seemed to be anything new to talk about. I didn’t want to have to listen to or engage in what someone else was saying, because it all seemed so uninteresting. Sitting on my deck by myself, I didn’t have act or work at pretending that I was happy and things were good. I could just be quiet and smoke and think about nothing. And if I did think about something, all I wanted to think about was getting out of here. Here: Physically, emotionally, metaphorically. About the day when somehow things would change and I would feel better than I felt right then.

***

It was when I was having a conversation with my friend Jen that I remembered. Sitting on the sun porch, she was telling me a story about her weekend, and I found myself struggling to affect the proper expressions – interest, engagement, Oh that’s funny tell me what happened next. It wasn’t that what she was saying was boring…it was just that I felt so numb and empty of emotion that I had to force myself to demonstrate facial affect. And I suddenly remembered the last time I had felt that way: A handful of years ago, the summer after I had first moved to Minneapolis. I had just arrived at my best friend Katy’s apartment and was waiting for her and our friend Kim to finish getting ready so we could head to P.D. Pappy’s to see our favorite cover band perform. I remember sort of laying my head down on the arm of Katy’s couch while she chit-chatted about her day, and feeling like I just didn’t have the energy to say anything back. Our beloved friend Kim was in town, we were going out to our favorite waterside bar to hear one of our favorite bands, it was going to be a beautiful summer night, and I just felt…nothing. Blah. Like someone had sucked all the energy and enthusiasm and emotion out of my body with a straw, and I had nothing left. I spent the rest of the night struggling to pull myself out of it, but it felt like trying to swim at the bottom of the ocean…every gesture heavy, every small motion a struggle. Kim and Katy noticed that I was too quiet, that I didn’t seem to have much to say, and I didn’t know how to explain it to them…I was glad I was with them, I didn’t really want to be anywhere else, but I couldn’t seem to find that chatty, enthusiastic, smiling girl that I usually was. I didn’t know how to be her anymore.

The rest of the summer was more of the same. It ended in a serious intervention by Katy (and a lifelong avoidance of The Fray’s “How To Save a Life” by the both of us). I didn’t want to admit how bad things were. I had had all of these awful things happen the year before, and when they finally caught up with me, I still wanted to keep pretending to myself and everyone else that I was okay, that I felt totally normal (even though it was probably more normal to not be okay). Except that, if I wasn’t engaging in destructive behaviors, then I was giving absolutely no fucks about my life in general. I didn’t care if I did or did not call or email my friends for weeks on end, I didn’t care if I barely ate all day, I didn’t care if I was bouncing checks, I didn’t care if I screwed up at work. It was just too much energy – energy that I didn’t seem to have anymore – to care about that stuff.

If it’s like that again, then we’re really in trouble, I found myself thinking, as I shifted in my chair and absentmindedly nodded at Jen once more.

***

On a particularly nice summer Wednesday evening, I hosted a campfire party for a bunch of coworkers and friends to say goodbye to one of our favorites, Tom, who was leaving at the end of the week to go off to college. A guy that I had been kind-of-sort-of flirting with over the middle of the summer came to the campfire around midnight. He showed up baked, proceeded to get even more mind-numbingly stoned over the course of the evening, and then, at the end of the night, after everyone had gone home and it was just us, he told me that he wasn’t going to kiss me because he didn’t like doing things that people expected him to do. To top the bullshit cake with some fuckery icing, after battling with him for almost an hour about wanting him to sleep on my couch (alone) for a couple of hours instead of driving home high, I stood in my front yard and watched as he literally sprinted away from me to his vehicle, then started the jeep up and drove away.

This is not the caliber of life you are seeking, I heard a voice say.

It’s that moment when time freezes and you realize that you’ve dropped so far below of what you used to accept for yourself that you hardly even recognize yourself anymore. Danielle LaPorte has the line right: While I professed to suffer no fools, I was, you know, suffering some serious fools. If I were happier, if I felt better, I probably wouldn’t have even invited Smokey Jackson to my party in the first place. But I did, because I was bored and wanted a distraction and was so desperate to feel even just a little bit of excitement that I was starting to not even care who it came from. I had been in this place before – I had even written a novel about it – and I knew where that place would take me, if I let it. And I never wanted to go there again.

That is not the caliber of life I am seeking.

So a few nights later, I sat on the steps of my deck and thought about all the things I was doing – right in that moment, even – that I didn’t really want to do, and how those things were keeping me from all the things I wanted to do. Depression is a tricky bitch. The normal/feeling part of my brain wants to kick in the door of that motherfucker with guns blazing, while the other part of me – the depressed part – is all, “You know what would be really great right now? If we took another nap.” It doesn’t want to go away, and it definitely doesn’t want me to muster up enough energy to make it go away. It wants to camp out in my backyard – in a tent it borrowed from me – sneak into my house while I’m at work and steal all my snacks, and then act all incredulous when I ask it to leave, insisting that this is the best possible thing that’s ever going to happen to me, so why fight it?

And for most of the summer, I didn’t want to fight it. Zoning out in front of the TV was a lot easier than working on my new book. Getting drunk and letting boys who shouldn’t be kissing me kiss me was a lot easier than getting some self-respect. Communing with cigarettes and alcohol was a lot easier than dealing with The Feels head-on. Sleeping for 10+ hours every day/night was a lot easier than getting up and taking care of myself.

So the summer fucking sucked, basically.

But would fall be any better?

I wondered.

***

Sitting on the floor of my bedroom, I dug into the journals and blog posts I kept through that first long dark summer, and the autumn after it. I remember the fog lifting in the fall, and I wanted to figure out if it was merely situational – I moved to a new place and changed jobs that early autumn – or if it was something in particular that I had started doing differently. The first thing I remembered was that I started working out regularly, every day. Katy, a habitual gym goer, had told me I should, citing the thing about endorphins, etc. At a loss of what to do to feel better, I decided to at least give it a try. In my journals and in a blog post, I had recorded – at first begrudgingly, and then gratefully – that she was right, that it did seem to help. That if I went to the gym in the morning, I seemed to feel better throughout most of the day.

And I started seeing a therapist, because that had been part of the ultimatum that Katy had given me that early fall. We had fought the night before when she didn’t show up at The Shout House, effectively ditching me with a bunch of new coworkers and leaving me feeling stranded in the middle of a downtown that was still foreign and bewildering to me. She had never ditched out on me like that before, and it was the first time in our long friendship when I didn’t try to cover up or excuse my anger towards her. I was fucking pissed. The next morning she showed up at my new place with two Starbucks lattes and a well-prepared speech about how her fear and worry over me was causing both exhaustion and frustration for her. She could no longer stand to keep her mouth shut about what we both knew but I wouldn’t admit, even to myself: That I was depressed, brutally so. It had grown to the point where I secretly considered it to be a valid and ever-constant question, whether life was really worth living anymore. I even found myself engaging in this sort of subconscious ritual, where every Sunday I would go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, climb up to the third floor, and eventually find myself sitting on the bench in front of the painting Lucretia by Rembrant. I would stare bainfully at her and the gash in her dress, and feel, without wanting to judge it, this sort of kinship, this part inside of me that hungered for the relief of what would come next, if I were her. It scared me that it didn’t scare me, how much of a reality that choice became…how safe it had started to feel; comforting, almost. It’s hard to explain that to those who’ve never been in that place before. I didn’t want to die. But I didn’t really want to live anymore, either.

So I had to start seeing someone, Katy told me. I needed help, and it was time to stop acting like I was fine and could get through everything on my own, because it obviously wasn’t working. I thought of Lucretia and nodded, agreed to do what Katy said.

The therapy sessions were at first a disaster, and then (possibly literally) a life saver. At first it sucked because this person didn’t know me, and so I felt like I had 20+ years to catch her up on, which felt like a monumental task that I did not have the energy for. And then she started pulling things out of that life story that were both true and brutal, which basically ended up making me feel worse leaving her office than I did going into it. But slowly, gradually, it started to feel like a relief, to get to talk to this person about my feelings and my life and actually get some qualified answers (or at least some qualified opinions). It was a place where I was allowed to get pissed off and allowed to bawl my head off and allowed to complain and allowed to say things that I had been waiting my whole life to say, and I wouldn’t get judged for it or be accused of doing things wrong too, or commanded to suck it up and stop being so dramatic or emotional. So it helped. It helped.

During that time I also made some new friends, which made me feel more at home in the city. I started feeling successful at work, and I wrote a TON – that year is probably my most prolific to date in terms of blog posts, and that, on its own, ushered in new and exciting experiences and opportunities into my life.

So it was a storm of things, I decided, as I wrapped up my journal and blog post digging. It was a combination of situational changes for the better, and active efforts to do things that would make me feel better.

So, as I do, I began to craft a plan.

***

It started with cutting my hair.

Sitting on the deck, staring at the stars, I thought about this mini-fantasy I had begun crafting in the middle of the summer, created in response to the cause of one of the heart punctures. It was this peaceful scene of me strolling down a beach boardwalk with my hair a different color, a sleeve of tattoos, a nose piercing, a completely different sense of style. It felt…cathartic. “She’s completely different,” I imagined one of our mutual friends saying. “You wouldn’t even recognize her anymore.” For a large part of the summer, I had wrapped myself up in that vision, in that fantasy, like you would with a warm comforter on a cold night.

That evening, I examined why I kept going back to that. First, it was a light at the end of the tunnel: This Is Where I’ll Be When I Get Out of Here. Not just geographically, but the peace part of it, the contentment. The sun is shining and I’m comfortable with myself again. The appearance part felt like it symbolized the fact that what I was currently doing – outwardly and inwardly – was no longer serving me. I was trying to – I needed to – morph into something else.

And cutting my hair felt like the best first step of that. I’ve had long hair my entire adult life, and I resisted changing it because it had always felt like such a part of my identity. But the moment I thought about that, while sitting on the deck that evening, that long hair suddenly felt really heavy. Like it was holding me down, holding me back. And I wanted something I could point to, something I could think of, when it came to changing the somewhat destructive patterns I had fallen into that summer…this girl with the new hair, she probably didn’t hang out in dive bars all Sunday long. This girl with the new hair? Most definitely did not suffer serious boy-type fools. And this girl with the new hair knew how to take care of herself…I mean, after all, just look at that hair.

So in the morning, I strapped on my resolution like a solider, dug out my shears, and lobbed inches off my locks. Then I sat down and figured out what else I could do to match that vision in my head, of Where I’ll Be When I Get Out of Here.

The first part of it was just admitting and accepting that this was what was going on right now. It strikes me, now and again, that I’m really good with encouraging people on Twitter to seek help and to tell others that they trust when they’re struggling with depression, but it’s incredibly difficult for me to take my own advice. Just fucking admit that you’re depressed. It sounds so easy, but it’s actually the hardest part of it all. I’ve struggled with depression throughout my entire life. It’s like a sleeping monster…it’s not always stomping through my life, but every so often, a jarring orchestra of events and emotions will awaken and lull it over to the happy, docile village of my everyday life. And admitting that it’s a thing for me – to both myself and others – always feels like I’m giving the monster extra legs. Or that I’m stamping a THE END onto the story of my life, present and future…that’s all that people will remember of me, will judge me by. Despite two books and a zillion blog posts to the (seemingly) contrary, I don’t like to talk about my feelings. This bewilders my mom and a few select others: They doesn’t understand how I can write a blog post or a book about the hard stuff, which hundreds of people will read, but I don’t want to talk about it face-to-face. And it’s because I don’t want to have a conversation about it. My feelings are not up for debate. If you want to seriously piss me off, tell me why I do or do not feel a certain way (because I may not ever master algebraic equations – sorry, Mr. Larson – but when it comes to the correct analysis of my feelings? I GOTS THIS). And it’s fucking true that there are people out there who will make your depression about them – that now, all of a sudden, you have to make them feel better about you feeling better, even if you don’t actually feel any better. Or worse, they’ll try to justify why you shouldn’t feel the way you feel, or why the way you feel isn’t actually real.

So I don’t like talking about it. But this summer was scary enough that I knew I had to tell a couple of my best friends what was going on. A symptom of the worst phase of my depression is abject loneliness…it’s the kind of loneliness that feels so unbearable that I find myself thinking that I don’t know if I want to deal with it anymore. And that’s when my depression is at it’s most Tricky Bitch-iest: It tricks you into thinking that you’re depressed because you’re lonely, and when you’re lonely because you don’t have a partner or you live far away from all your friends, it feels like there’s never going to be an answer to your loneliness, you’re always going to feel this way, and so there’s really no hope, so maybe we should just give up, eh? And when it gets to that point, I know I need to talk honestly about it to a couple of my closest friends…even if it’s just to say, “Hey, so I’ve been dealing with kind of a sucky thing right now. I’m working on feeling better, but I just need you to know that that’s what’s going on right now.”

The second part of it was committing to the mini-steps of sanity and self-care. A few years ago, when a friend of mine was going through a divorce and having a really hard time of it, she sat down with another friend who made a list for her. “Keep it basic,” this friend told her. “Just focus on the basics of self-care…drink water, get eight hours of sleep, eat three healthy meals a day.” To the uninitiated, it sounds so easy and simple. When you are in the throes of The Dark, though, small acts of self-care don’t just feel tedious and annoying…they can feel like monumental tasks that you just don’t have the energy for. I actually begin to resent them – why can’t my teeth just magically brush THEMSELVES? Why can’t someone ELSE pick out my outfits?

But the first act of battle against my depression starts with this stuff. When I start making myself take out my contacts before I go to bed, even when I don’t want to, even when I’m so tired (#whine) that’s me sounding off the first shot. I am still going to take care of myself, even when this mental bullshit tries to tell me that I don’t want to. If nothing else, I am going to be well rested, well hydrated, well fed, and have clean teeth and clear eyes, even when it’s a total drag to do and be all of that stuff.

The third part of it was heaving a few roadblocks off the path of feeling good again. I threw away my remaining cigarettes. I don’t need ‘em, I don’t want ‘em, and I already know that I only really smoke when doing two things: 1) Attempting to numb my feelings 2) Drinking to drink. Which also brought me to my next bit: Going Drinks Free for a while. Alcohol is the gateway drug for me: When I drink to drink, it leads me into doing all sorts of things that I don’t actually want to do. I turn into Bizarro Amber, basically. And like with smoking, I’ve never felt like I had a full-blown addiction to the Dranks in that I can’t function without them…it’s just that it’s so much harder for me to have fun without them, and once I get started, I don’t want to stop. And that, lately, has become a problem. So I decided to go Drinks Free for a while, or at least under certain circumstances (for instance, if I’m drinking a glass of wine with my family during dinner, it’s severely unlikely that I’m going to be engaging in any self-destructive behaviors such as calling a boy I broke up with five months ago and leaving him a voicemail of me drunkenly singing “Careless Whisper”. #TrueStory).

I also decided to go back to full-throttle when it came to the Candida Diaries (again. For the 50th time). I do suspect that my non-Candida eating habits most likely played a large part in causing this last bout of depression. Sugar and processed carbs, whether I want to admit it or not, do seriously fucked-up things to my brain. It may have taken The Summer of Suck to finally scare me into the realization that sticking to a Candida protocol is no longer about weight or physical health…it’s also a mental health issue.

Which does not make sticking to it any less sucky, but.

The fourth part was adding in some simple things. For instance, exercise is a must. I just gotta fucking do it. And I gotta do the stuff that gets my heart rate up, that releases the endorphins. Yoga is nice and great and it zens me out, but it’s not enough to trip the trigger on the happy brain chemical high that I so desperately need to lift me out of the throes of the sinkhole and into the clouds of “Oh hey, happiness.” If you look at the timeline of my life, you might discover that the times that I’ve picked up running and stuck with it were also times when I was struggling through or coming out of a severe depression, and I didn’t even realize it, until a couple years after. I just knew that it was one of the few things in my life that made me feel strong, in control, and somewhat elated.

Essential oils were also cool. Using them this summer was kind of akin to the Candida stuff – I did it sporadically, but kind of felt like using them was a waste in the face of all the other crap I was putting into my body. But now that I wouldn’t be smoking or drinking or eating All The Bread, I was ready to start using them on a consistent, daily basis. (I started that night by using Serenity and Balance in my diffuser, and had the first restful night’s sleep of all summer).

New and novel was also important. Ultra lame boredom is a symptom of my depression, but it’s also not a total bad idea to treat that symptom with some new and fun things, experiences, and people. I’m planning a trip to Ireland in March. I had a moment of genuine homesickness for Erica and Dan and L.A. the other day, and thinking about going there again soon was the first time in months that I felt genuinely jazzed and elated about something, so I’m also planning a trip out there in the next few months. I’m also throwing more parties and making a point to go to more events here, because I want to meet more people and make new memories and have new experiences.

The fifth part was lifetime maintenance. First, therapy: I gotta go back in. Even if it’s only as a gesture to myself that I take my own mental health and happiness seriously. Therapy is a little like dating – sometimes it takes a few first sessions to find someone you can jive with, but I’m committed to going to that dance. Hopefully I’ll find someone I click with, and soon.

And if I do all these things and the depression is still sticking, then I suck it up, talk to my doctor, and figure out if medication is now the answer. It might be. Before it always felt like it was mostly situational, a response to some past trauma or repressed emotional event. Lately, though, I’ve started to suspect that it’s more circular, these phases, or like waves…which makes me wonder if it’s a chemical imbalance thing. At the end of the day, I don’t want to go on something, but I will if I have to. Because I love myself, and because tricky bitches like depression should only get to win one thing: A big kick to the face with a (super cute) Frye boot.

***

This post is the first part of that whole admittance/acceptance thing I talked about above. Like I said before…by putting this out there, it doesn’t mean that I want everyone – or anyone – to gather ’round me and have a conversation about it over a cup of coffee (you know who you are, and if you bring it up the next time I see you, I’ll walk out and leave you there), but I also want to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to talking about this stuff. And for me, that’s talking about it through writing. When we talk about depression and suicide, we often talk about the people we knew who gave us absolutely no clue of what they were going through. When I run into friends and they ask how I’m doing, I’m not exactly the type to answer with, “Oh, you know, just kind of feeling the worst and have been feeling pretty lonely – you know, like on the inside – and I’m, you know, just kind of starting to feel like I don’t really know if I wanna go through with this whole life thing anymore…?” I know there will be friends who will read this and be surprised by it. But it’s a reality that sometimes I go through stuff like this, and there are a lot of other people who do, too. It’s stupidly scary to be honest and open about it – this shit can make people feel fucking uncomfortable – but I also feel like…the more we talk about it, the more honest we are about how this is a thing, the easier it will be for others when they go through it, too.

I know I’m going to get better. I’m going to feel better, do better, be better. I also know that it won’t happen all at once – because, you know, still feeling kind of brain-lazy and like I’d much rather take a nap and zone out than do anything else – but I’m feeling pretty good about stuff so far. Plus, fall is here, which is always, you know, nice.

So fucking GOODBYE, Summer of Suck – I hope you always change and never reach for your dreams, and I hope you don’t make it to the reunion that I’m also not going to. C-ya, stay uncool, & never keep in touch.

Written and published September 18th, 2014

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About Amber L.

Hi! I'm Amber. I've been telling stories with books and blogs since 2004. I also spent 10 years working as a behavior therapist, which I now put to proper use by publishing thought pieces and dissertations on '80s pop music and the defining TV shows of our current times ('The Bachelor', 'Vanderpump Rules', etc). I can also be credited with single-handedly ruining the city of Portland, OR just by moving here.

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