I ran into a classmate I hadn’t seen in maybe 15 years at the pet store where I was stocking up on cat food prior to an impending snow/ice storm. The last thing you want to do is run out of food and be snowed in with your cats. They love you, but if push comes to shove, they’ll eat you. Don’t let their cute little faces fool you.
So, anyway, I’ve been planning our 20th Class Reunion for this year and trying to track down current addresses for class members. When I saw her, I was super excited because I didn’t know how to reach her easily since she wasn’t on social media (good for her, BTW).
When I asked her if she had any interest in coming to the reunion, she immediately said, “NO. I don’t do anything with that school. NO…no.”
I laughed a little and with my hands up defensively said, “Ok! Understood.”
I went to turn my cart around and she said, “Nobody liked me then so I don’t have any desire to hang out with them now.”
To which I replied, “Oh, I get it. Definitely. Nobody liked me either. You too, for that matter.” All of this was said with a grin and no attack in my voice. But it was true.
“Oh! That’s not true! I just didn’t really talk to anybody,” she said, laughing.
When we checked out, she teased me for holding up the line fumbling for my debit card and I told her to let me know if she changed her mind about the reunion. That was it.
But as I drove home, I thought about our high school experience and how they had apparently been similar. What was very odd to me was that she wasn’t nice to me in school. While she might not have talked to me much, the only things I ever heard come out of her mouth were snide, snarky and intimidating. I always saw her as one of the many “mean girls” who made my day-to-day struggle through school so nerve racking. It turns out that she might have felt just as I had and her defense was to come off bitchy and mean, while mine was to cower and stay silent. It made me wonder if all the people who were nasty to me in school, and seemingly nasty to this pet-store-shopping classmate, were only that way because they had someone above them making them feel just as terrible. I’d say the answer is probably yes.
Does it make any of it right? No, absolutely not. Is it indicative of the age group we’re talking about? Yeah, unfortunately. But that doesn’t have to be the case either. There were plenty of good people in our class, and plenty that didn’t feel like they had to lash out to keep from getting shoved to the bottom, some of which I chose to ask for help in planning this reunion.
As to why I was able to put aside my memories of torment and my long-lost classmate was not, I feel like that is a personal choice. It takes effort and an unpacking of some yucky baggage. I totally get why she feels the way she does, and why she might have opted to NOT forgive the way she was treated by our peers. I choose to believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to prove that they’ve grown up. As for adults who still behave like they’re in high school, ain’t nobody got time for that.
My middle name is Raine, pronounced just like the precipitation. (My mom’s always been a bra-less, free-thinking, interesting woman, to say the least.) I hated the name when I was a kid—probably until sometime in high school—most likely because it was different. Being different was highly undesirable then. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve embraced a great many of my quirks and decided I don’t care what most people think. I understand that a great amount of nastiness in people springs from jealousy and all I feel about that is pity. And the truth is, I don’t remember anyone actually making fun of my middle name. If they found out what it was, I’d get “That’s weird” or “That’s cool” but nothing glaringly negative. It was just the fear of that potentially awful reaction that kept me tight-lipped about my middle moniker.
To this day, when my mom or granny says my first and middle name, there’s a notable southern twang. It’s like it was built into the two-word phrase. My granny was born and raised in Kentucky and for a time, my mom worked there on the horse farms. It’s where the father I’ve never met lived. Where he probably does still.
When I was in elementary school, I remember visiting “down home,” the farmhouse Granny grew up in and where her brother Fred, or Uncle Heavy, as I knew him, still lived. I will always remember the lack of an indoor toilet more than anything. And the fear of sitting over that black hole in the spider infested privy. Now, my memories of him are kind of hazy but one thing that I remember in detail was the way he liked to tease me. I’m sure he picked on me about lots of stuff but what I really held onto was the way he called me Thunderstorm. Lindsey Thunderstorm, instead of Lindsey Raine. I remember constantly correcting him, getting more and more frustrated when he refused to listen. I can hear the growls and indignant retorts now. Even then I was a hothead. Maybe he saw that in me. Maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me. I’ll never know since he passed away before I was old enough to wonder about it.
What he couldn’t have known was just how stormy I’d end up. Along with some unfounded rage issues, I fight depression. It’s hard to pinpoint when the clouds of this invisible, torturous illness moved into my life but when I think back, I’m inclined to believe it was around puberty. Something changed chemically. A switch was flipped. Couple that with the already tumultuous experience of being a teenager and you have a recipe for some fantastic highs countered with incomprehensible lows.
I was angry. I was sad. I lashed out. I earned another name I didn’t care for. Bitch. The worst part was, I, as well as everyone around me, didn’t see what was happening. I knew I was miserable but I didn’t know why. In the beginning, Mom liked to attribute my moodiness to the birth control injection I’d opted to get as a 15-year-old instead of the pill. That very well helped elevate my misery—as well as my weight, which did nothing to improve my mood.
After my junior year in high school, I dumped the goofy, ponytail-having-boyfriend and switched to the pill for contraception. I felt like a different person, for a while. The clouds never fully parted. It felt like the darkness was always there but as my hormones leveled out, I learned to hide it. More than Geometry, Algebra, or English, I mastered the art of acting. I learned quickly that no one understood why I might feel gloomy and introspective. So, I hid it. But not for long. The driving rain from the storm raging in my head shoved me farther and farther into the darkness.
All I really remember about my senior year was prom, being inducted into the National Honor Society, graduating, and the weight in my heart, the blackness seeping into every corner of my mind. And one other moment. I wore a perpetual frown and often put my head down on my desk in school. “Whatever” had become my go-to response. The once interested participant in class was obviously gone, traded-in for a heavy-sighing, eye-rolling lump. If anyone noticed, no one said anything. No one except my college-prep English teacher. I’d always really liked her, having her my sophomore year as well. She supported my writing and love of books and was a generally fun person to learn from. Senior year that changed. At one point, our CP class had seventeen different projects/assignments we were working on simultaneously. I understand that she was trying to prepare us for college, hence the “college prep” course. But when I learned that the general English students were playing board games during their class time, I was disgusted. I was already struggling to get out of bed every day and her harping and piling on the tasks was enough to make me hate her. My loathing didn’t go unnoticed, even if my depression did. After a particularly snarky reply to some question she asked me, she followed up with: “Why are you being such a bitch?” In front of the whole class. All I could do is shrug and collapse in on myself, staring at my desk.
I know I deserved it. My attitude was terrible. For years after that, I didn’t like her. I eventually forgave her, like I’ve forgiven and continue to forgive those that don’t understand.
At some point during my last year of high school, my mom, having a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a keen perceptiveness, had finally taken me to the doctor, being the only person who realized I might have a problem beyond being a moody teenager. Though I remember very little about the actual appointment—I went kicking and screaming—I know nothing was prescribed. The magic number for receiving anti-depressants is 18. I graduated at 17. When I returned to the doctor in August after my birthday, I was placed on Zoloft. To this day, I find it ridiculous that one day as a 17-year-old I couldn’t have the medication, and the next day as an 18-year-old, I could. It might not have been literally overnight, but the difference was mere months. I suffered through my entire senior year with no help, medically or otherwise. It’s upsetting to think about it now and to realize someone else is probably facing the same thing.
I’d like to say that things got better after high school, that I grew out of the funk so many people assumed I was in. But I’d be lying. And though I’ve gotten so good at lying about how I really am, what I’m really feeling, I’m tired. It’s exhausting pretending you’re fine because trying to explain the pain inside to most people is impossible.
I’ve spent the years since graduation in varying states of depression and on multiple medicines. I’ve hated the detached feeling most of them cause and on several occasions, I’ve stopped taking them. While on them, it’s easy to feel like I’m fine, that I can handle my mentality. But every time I walk away from them, the darkness eventually overpowers me. It’s made it clear that it will never go away.
Now, I feel like I’ve come full circle as I’m back on Zoloft. After a roller-coaster ride of deep sadness, numbed passiveness, the inability to stop crying and crawl out of bed, sexual dysfunction, and sickening withdrawal symptoms, I’ve come back to the first medication I was put on. It had worked well then, but eventually stopped, prompting me to try something new. My doctor put me back on it since 15 years has passed and my body chemistry is completely different now. It’s also good for someone like me who doesn’t want the glaring side-effects or the extreme emotional deadness that some of the other meds cause. Luckily, it’s working well at a very low dose.
The last time I came off of my anti-depressant was terrible. At the time it was a pretty high dose of Effexor. The withdrawal was a delightful medley of dizziness, shaking, and weird flashes in my field of vision. I thought I’d stepped down slowly enough but apparently not.
I was sure I never wanted to go back to the drugs. I was sure I could handle the depression. It was during this time, and the many others where I was trying to be normal, non-drugged, that I had to put on the Academy Award winning performances. No one wants to be around someone who mopes around all the time or has mood swings that would make even a pregnant woman raise an eyebrow. No one wants to hang out with someone who cries all the time. About everything. Broken plans. Being late to an appointment. Watching a Campbell’s soup commercial. So, I would summon all my skills and be someone else.
When Robin Williams killed himself, I’d been off my med for a year and three months. I was struggling. I’ve never actually cried over the loss of a celebrity but the tears welled up in my eyes as I read about his death.
Not just for the beloved actor, so familiar he was like family, but for the man I knew had suffered silently for probably most of his life. My heart broke because I knew why he’d put on the mask. And I also knew why he’d left this life behind him.
Awareness about depression and other metal illnesses is growing, but it still feels like an awkward conversation. It still feels like I need to fake my way through my days and the discomfort of others is apparent when I actually bring up my depression, which isn’t often, for that very reason.
I’m not likely to try to step off of my medicine again. The coming off, the full-force depression that always returns and the going back on, have only gotten more difficult with age. I’m done fighting the fact that I need a pill to chase away the clouds. I realize it doesn’t make me weak any more than a diabetic is weak for needing their insulin.
When I’m on my med, it’s easier, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where the rain clouds begin to gather. The difference is that I can pull out of the growing darkness and make myself refocus. There will always be a part of me that exists in the middle of a drowning downpour but I’ve learned to embrace it, to use it. It’s where my writing comes from—from the deep thoughts and emotional responses. It’s true I’m a more prolific writer when I’m not medicated but needing the medication is something I’ve come to terms with too. I’ve learned that there is no shame in using an umbrella to get through a thunderstorm—that after the rain, there’s often a blue sky.
It feels like the harder I try to figure out what my next move should be, the more entrenched in confusion and frustration I become. Do I keep cleaning houses and writing, working to get published, or do I throw myself into a small business venture, expanding and promoting my cleaning services and give up some of my writing time, or do I get an unrelated job and put the writing on a back burner, or…
I have this vision of where I want to be, but it’s like I’m looking at it from across a bottomless chasm; I’m on one side and my dream life is on the other. The most frustrating part is that I could build a bridge but I don’t have the materials or tools, my education seemingly a hammer made of cardboard, a nail gun spitting marshmallows. So, I stand there, looking down, kicking pebbles over the edge and getting more and more pissed at myself.
I remember a particular crossroad of the past that was annoyingly similar to the one I stand at today. When I was growing up, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be. Looking back now, I don’t recall ever telling anyone “I want to be a _________ when I grow up.” It could be all that Candy Crush I’ve played, or the numerous drowse-inducing pills I take, but I seriously don’t remember aspiring to be anything. When I got to high school and it was expected that I figure out what I would make out my life and study at college, I scrambled to come up with something to placate my guidance counselor, my friends, my family. I’d always loved Science, particularly Biology and Anatomy as well as animals. I’d also always thought I might like a surplus of money, so I opted to study Biology and then move on to a veterinary program. It made sense to my logical side, to the bookish girl graduating sixth in her class, to my pushy guidance counselor. But when it came time to apply, I balked. I’ve always blamed the severe clinical depression I experienced my senior year, but maybe it was more than that keeping me from wanting to run off to college the fall after high school ended. Maybe I realized that wasn’t where my passion lay.
If I had been paying attention, my path was more obvious than dumping that ridiculous boy I dated when I was sixteen who wore his two inches of hair slicked and pulled back into a tiny ponytail and told me his uncle was in the Chicago Mafia. As long as I could, I’d been writing. As a child, I wrote stories on wide ruled loose leaf, tying the pages together with yarn and doing my own illustrations. I read the classics—and loved them. I memorized Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” when I read it in The Outsiders. I’ve always been the person my friends ask to proofread their papers. I was asked to join the Quiz Bowl Team in eighth grade because of my affinity for literature. I spent the summer between seventh and eighth grade in my room writing a novel length piece I eventually reread and ended up scrapping. The signs were always there as to what was in my heart.
I went to college two years later than most of my classmates and I began a Bio degree, still refusing to acknowledge the obvious. I was about a year and a half into school and taking a Genetics class I was figuring on failing. That subject had been my weak spot in high school as well. I was thinking a lot about the choices I’d made. The same time I was starting college, I was moving out for the first time. I was working part time and studying some of the most difficult information I’d ever read. In lab, I had to mingle with my fellow Bio majors, Chemistry, Anatomy, and various other science majors.
We were doing a lab that involved fingerprinting and my lab partner couldn’t get her prints to be anything but smudges. I may have made a joke that insinuated that she’d rubbed her prints off with excessive biblical-ish knowledge of the male nether region. She may have given me the nastiest look anyone’s ever shot my direction.
At any rate, I realized I didn’t fit in with these doctors-in-the-making. It was that feeling coupled with my sinking grade in Genetics that pushed me to make a change.
After years of thinking that my writing was just for fun, I decided to make it my life. It wasn’t an easy decision. I knew I would be forfeiting my employability, mostly because I had no intentions of pursuing a career in teaching. That had to be the first question anyone would ask me after they learned that I was an English major. The. Same. Question. Every. Time.
“So, you’re going to be a teacher?” they’d ask.
“No. I’m going to write books. Maybe work for a publisher. You know?” I’d reply.
And no, they didn’t know. And apparently, neither did I. While I did write a book, the chance to work for a publisher sailed away when I decided to stay in my recession-battered state, in a county where opportunities go to die. I have stayed because my family needs me and I’ve always seen this as my home. Also, I used to think I could never leave because of the friendships I’d forged over a lifetime. Not anymore. Amidst the self-discovery involved in pursuing this fire burning in my core, I’ve also come to understand that support is hard to come by. Writing is a career of a different color in that you can’t excel at it on your own. Well, most of us can’t. We rely on the knowledge of others and their opinions to make us better. In the beginning stage it’s family and friends and later it becomes agents, publishers, and editors. It’s hard to get to that later stage when you’ve been let down in the beginning.
So, my current crossroad is not only whether I stay and clean or stay and write but whether I stay at all. The opportunity exists to go anywhere. My husband is in a high demand occupation and it wouldn’t be difficult for him to land something he loves virtually anywhere. The fear of leaving behind everything I know is fading with every frustrating day. I’m to the point where loading up my grandma and my mom like The Beverly Hillbillies is not completely beyond the realm of possibility. At least then I’d be making a choice. With that choice, I’d finally have the opportunity to construct my bridge and get over that canyon that lies between me and what fills my dreams.