This blog post is something I feel rather compelled to post right now. There are things happening in my life that it’s helping me process. It’s also going to include some sensitive topics, like health issues, mental and physical, and mentions of abuse and suicidal ideation.
A certain portion of who I am and how I operate can be summed up in the following:
“These are exactly the kinds of thoughts that Jeffrey wrote in his journal again and again. ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? There must be something terribly wrong with me that I’m unable to find joy in the world of work.’ Always he wrote, ‘What’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with me?’ And of course all his friends were forever saying to him, ‘What’s wrong with you, what’s wrong with you, what’s wrong with you that you can’t get with this wonderful program?’ Perhaps you understand for the first time now that my role here is to bring you this tremendous news, that there’s nothing wrong here with YOU. You are not what’s wrong. And I think there was an element of this understanding in your sobs: ‘My God, it isn’t me!'” – excerpt from My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
My wonderful partner, Nici, bought me a copy of this for xmas one year. I read it finally last year. She said, while reading it for class, that I reminded her of the titular Ishmael. Some things in the book were boring cause I knew them already (a basic history and biology lesson) but the stuff like the excerpt really hit home. Read the full excerpt for a clearer picture. But this is a thing that crops up monthly, if not weekly. Especially when my stepdad explodes.
Some history. I have been privileged to never have worried significantly or very long about food, shelter, and clothing. Privileged to have not had to work a job since I was 18 to support myself. The last 15 years of my life have been trying and in some instances, very fucked up. My family’s been through a lot and lost a lot. I won’t go into details because it’s not an easy story to tell or hear. Suffice to say though, it has not been a healthy experience.
And a huge part of the past 10 of those 15 years has been my stepdad. He and my mom have been married for 11 years, married in August of 2004. Within the first six weeks, he exploded in the car with my mom, beating on the dashboard. He did not tell his daughters (five at the time, four now, more on that later) that they’d gotten married until Thanksgiving, which was also the first time we all met. By the end of December, he’d decided that he couldn’t stay with mom. That he had to go back to his true family.
For the first five years, he did this every three to six months. He was also a major contributing factor to an outcome of the hell we were going through when he came into the picture. At some point, it finally came out that his youngest daughter wasn’t his. His second youngest got herself knocked up, married, cheated on, divorced, pregnant again, and remarried to her ex. The oldest, I shit you not, got her ex husband and father of two of her children, into drug dealing to support her shopping habits and then got full into drugs herself, taking thousands of dollars from us and him. Mom ambushed her with a drug test late last year and she tested positive for SEVEN different substances. And all five of them were shitty to us for a long time.
Now, for me, I’ve always struggled with depression and self-loathing and bits of anxiety but I’ve never been expensive or dramatic like that. You’d swear I was though. Around age 19, when his presence really started setting in, I began to feel a sense of panic and a need to escape. At 20/21, I wanted to run off to Vancouver. Chicago the next year. When I started writing this, I was trying to conjure up ways to make living out of my van with Nici bearable. Each year, my depression got a little worse because of everything going on and because I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself, with my life. For most of my time in college, I was too fucked up to be there. I nearly flunked out all together one year.
Because, on top of mental illness, I’m functionally broken in the way of the world at large. In western, and specifically American, culture at large. Capitalist/ruling class stuff, basically. Ishmael calls this Taker culture. I am naturally a sensitive, curious person. I was, and still am, drawn to the arts and sciences. And I’ve always put a high value on being “a good friend.” A certain type of emotional labor rather than physical or customer service stuff. I would happily live on a mincome and not worry about kickstarter funding and book sales so much. I’m good with money. I can budget tightly and then I could create and do my friend thing. I’m definitely NOT wired to be capable of retail work. I’ve done it. I’m bad at it. Smile, the customer is always right, you can never have a bad day or be sick, how can I help you, yes sir, no sir, do you have a rewards membership. The best job I ever had was repairing computers for a little shop in the town I lived in. I sat in a back room running tests on hardware and software, running anti-virus, or doing fresh installs. I rarely had to do much with customers.
It should be noted, of course, that other people do customer service jobs and some even enjoy them. Bless those people. We need them. And bless the people who do it for survival even if it’s hard on them and the people who just don’t mind cause it lets them do other things. I’m not a “people person” in that regard. I’ve always been the type to listen and counsel. And to make stuff. I’ve always wanted to just make stuff.
Incidentally, being a Smart and Talented Kid™ meant I ended up hating school. By 7th grade, I had started getting bored. You start getting repeat classes and lessons. From 7th grade to your sophomore year of college, you just repeat things over and over. High schoolers can now get college credit for gen ed stuff but when I was coming up, that wasn’t a thing. And most of it is still just busy work. I don’t like busy work. That weird “look busy” thing in a lot of jobs always rubbed me wrong. As Bill Hicks said, “why don’t you pretend I’m working.”
Hating busy work also meant I hated college. I loved tech school though. College is, supposedly, designed to a) prepare you for a career and b) help you be well-rounded. In my experience it does neither. It attempts to destroy your well-being and make you pay for the privilege. Tech school got me right the fuck to what I was there to do. Easy choice.
But yeah, making stuff. I liked making people laugh when I was really young (one of the few things I’ve kept my whole life). I liked drawing. I was good at it. I wanted to be an inventor and an artist and a scientist. Then a wrestler and an artist. Then a musician. Then a filmmaker. Then a writer. Then back to a filmmaker, with sound engineering mixed in (which I received training for in a tech program). Then back to a writer. I like talking to people and I like helping people and I like connecting with people and entertaining them.
But these things are worthless and irrelevant unless they can make you lots of money. And sometimes they can and do, if you’re very lucky and hit the right notes at the right time. A lot of us, the so-called Millennials, grew up hearing that we could be anything we wanted. We just had to study hard and get into a good college and, by the way, if you don’t do this, you’ll get stuck flipping burgers or cleaning toilets, and you don’t want THAT do you? Only failures do those jobs. And behind all of this, a very long war. There are kids alive whose whole existence has been with the background radiation of war and propaganda.
So on top of all that, I’ve heard how I’m lazy, spoiled, emasculated (an insult aimed more at my mother than me and said by a lot of family), incapable, and basically worthless. And it’s taken its toll. And even knowing all of this and knowing myself, I am STILL, at 30 years old, from the last decade of my life, asking what is wrong with me, why can’t I do it right, why am I so broken, why can’t I just not be this way. Why can’t I be a Real Person.
I feel like 2015 was a good year for me and for Nici. She graduated at the end of 2014, we got moved, she started recovering (college wrecked her, see my claim above), I was working on A Demon in the Desert, coming along well. She started getting tutoring jobs, I finished and released the book, and on top of my original 26 backers, sold close to 60 books by the end of the year. I wrote the first draft of Demon Haunted in 4 months. Both of us were getting healthier mentally too. Sure, I also got diagnosed with diabetes but I set about restructuring my diet to control THAT without medication. A good year. We had a plan and we were moving forward.
But it was not Enough. Due to circumstances that would still be happening even if we WERE independent, another explosion happened from stepdad (this after one in the spring where mom had to beat it into his head that I was actually obligated to finish my book, that people had paid me money for it). It wrecked a lot of that progress with mental health. It also made Nici and me even more sensitive to, well, existing near him. We’re afraid. And he simultaneously says that I need to be a Real Man™ while blatantly saying I’m clearly incapable. During this last explosion, which involved a “family discussion,” he even admitted he had no faith in me and felt sorry for Nici. (side note: Nici has her own history of family abuse and trauma) He also claims that my books are evil because of demons and that he’ll have to stand before God and be held accountable for that.
This conflict, being a Real Person/Real Man/Financially Independent, is really the only thing left that still makes me wish I was dead. Depression is easier to fight now. Diabetes is manageable. My body sucks but I make it work the best I can. I hate hurting all the time but banging out tasty words makes it worth it. But that voice, “What’s wrong with me? I’ll never be a real person”? That still makes death sound preferable. And the anxiety of whether he’s going to blow up is draining. As of this week, it’s also been stated that out health issues (my mom’s extensive issues included) are “just excuses” for not working.
And sleep disorders, which Nici and I both have (delayed sleep phase and sleep apnea respectively), are just us staying up all night to play games. The bits that are vaguely true feed the voice. I know I need to be more active but my knees are shit and fat bodies can have issues with mobility. And fatigue in general is its own battle. So the voice says, “what the fuck is wrong with you, you entitled piece of shit? You’re so goddamn privileged and you just take it for granted.”
You might be saying, “well, Ashe, it doesn’t sound like you do anything though.” I do though. I handle the bills, the groceries, some of the cleaning and cooking, and I’m always available to run errands. He borrows my car whenever he wants. I’m a personal assistant and, quite frankly, a part-time therapist for my mom and Nici. When I have money, I contribute how I can. Nici’s contributed as well, including a chunk of her financial aid in her last semester and plenty of rounds of emergency groceries. I try to help how I’m able.
But the voice persists.
And I don’t think I can ever get rid of that voice without being able to fully support me and Nici (or her supporting us or us supporting us). Because there’s no other cure in our culture. We live in a world where most of us are drowning in student loan debt and if we have degrees, we’re probably not even using them. Unemployment is sharp. Healthcare is non-existent. Poverty is rampant. Everyone seems to be mentally ill in some form or another. Shit’s all fucked up. We’re all fucked up. The game is rigged and broken and the rules keep changing.
But maybe he’s right and I just make excuses. I can’t tell anymore. I am passed the ability to be objective about myself. I know I have…restrictions with jobs. And we live in a college town. There is nothing here for someone like me. I’m honestly leaving a lot out here too, from the family discussion farce and larger events as well.
I look at the world though and it’s hard to have hope. It’s hard to see a future. It’s especially hard to make your own way. And I’m a white, hetero, cis man. If my family had money and I was perfectly healthy, and life was a game, this would be Easiest Mode. There wouldn’t be an issue here. I cannot imagine how much harder the game is for everyone else.
But…here I am. I’ve had confirmations from others but the voice persists. I’m proud to say that this is the first time I’ve had a voice screaming in opposition to the other though. To KEEP FIGHTING. To KEEP WRITING. But it’s still hard. But I’m not alone. Everyone I know deals with this in some way or another. And there’s some comfort knowing I’m not alone. That you’re not alone. That we’re not alone. I try to keep hoping.
“Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”