This is water.


This post started out as a homework assignment my therapist gave me last week. And if you follow me on any sort of regular basis, you know that M (said therapist) possesses voodoo magic. DAMN HER AND HER METAPHORS AND FOR MAKING SO MUCH DAMN SENSE AT THE RIGHT DAMN TIME! GAWD! SRSLY. What follows is what I was asked to do for M this week. She didn’t TELL me to blog about it but it became so powerful and such a huge epiphany to me that I HAD to blog about it. And I will be giving her this as my “homework” and I expect a fucking A with a + AND a gold star next to it.

What I was asked to do by M was to just mindfully listen to this speech (the irony of her asking me to do this will come in a moment) called “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace once. Then I was to listen to it AGAIN and “respond” to it/discuss it when M and I meet next. What follows is my response. I will attach the YouTube video I listened to at the end of this post but the transcript of the speech will be right here in italics with my personal thoughts/epiphanies in bold.

2005 Kenyon Commencement Address ~ May 21, 2005
Written and Delivered by: David Foster Wallace

Greetings and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. [Srsly. Think about it. What is right in front of you right now? What are you thinking about right in this moment? What are you feeling right now? For me personally, I’m going to say life in general…it is such a simple “topic” yet my thoughts and ideas regarding it cannot be neatly put into words or a box and given or said to someone. It’s a hard thing to notice and talk about even though it’s, quite literally, right in front of my face all the time.] Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance [Seriously. You may think this is figurative but by the end, you will realize it’s literal. Keep reading.], or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think”. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think [DAMN STRAIGHT!], since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. [Right?] But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. [Your light bulb should be coming on right about here. The key word is “choice”.] If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious. [Do NOT roll your eyes at me…or Mr. Wallace. Keep. Reading.]

Here’s another didactic little story: There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says, “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.” [If you’re anything like me, able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes”, your next light bulb should have gone off here. Mr. Wallace will explain this more in a minute but this is my homework and my blog so I’m going to “spill the beans.” Perspective. The religious man (and even I myself, retaining some knowledge from my “Jesus Years”) could easily turn this around and say that God put those Eskimos in that man’s way and answered his prayer. The atheist, being “close-minded”, clearly will not see the situation that way. This is called a dialectic, people…there are TWO sides of the coin…two sides to every story. Neither side is completely right and neither side is completely wrong. Each side is its own truth for whichever person that side “belongs to”. AND YES I AM GOING ALL MARSHA LINEHAN ON YOU. Let’s take God and religion out of this. M says to me often, in all sincerity because she believes it, that “It will get better.” My first reaction is to scoff at her and say, “Bullshit.” because I don’t believe that things will ever get better. But is M wrong? Is she right? Is her statement possible? Am I right? Am I wrong? Is my statement possible? None of the above. Each statement is each person’s truth and belief. I can choose (keyword there) to do one of two things: A) I can continue to be close-minded and not give M’s statement any credence at all and continue to be miserable while I choose to be self-centered and believe my own statement as truth. Or B), I can choose to be open-minded and acknowledge that M’s statement is just as valid as my own (which, knowing M, is probably the whole fucking reason she’s having me do this damn assignment). Neither statement is true or right and neither statement is wrong or impossible. But the acceptance of THAT truth (that neither statement is the ultimate truth) is where true knowledge and freedom comes from. And I would probably make M’s job a lot easier if I would do this more often and quit being so stubborn.]

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. [See, I told you he would tell you.] Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up. [Read that last sentence again. Blind certainty. Close-mindedness.]

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. [DING DING DING! BINGO!] Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. [Here is where I’m going to caution you if you are an over-thinker like myself: this does not mean that you are wrong for thinking this way. Re-read what he said: it is our default setting. It’s “natural”.] Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted” which, I suggest to you, is not an accidental term. [Insert another light bulb here. What he’s getting at and, correct me if I’m wrong, what a lot of therapy is trying to get at is to get you to “adjust” your thinking in a way that allows you to see what is beyond your eyes and your mind…stepping into other people’s shoes and seeing the world from a different point of view. Again, a very simple concept it seems…but it’s actually quite hard to do. You may be able to do it for an hour here or there or during a conversation with a struggling friend, able to empathize with them. But can you do it all the time? I didn’t think so. It takes practice and a lot of hard work.]

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. [Another light bulb. This concept has absolutely NOTHING to do with how good your grades are/were. You could be Einstein and it would not matter in executing this “skill” or concept. You have to find and learn it yourself in your own way.] This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education – least in my own case – is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me. [GUILTY! And to put this into DBT/therapy terms: this is the whole point of DBT mindfulness…to just be in the moment, pay attention, participate. The goal is not to change what is going on, it is simply just to notice what is going on be it good, bad or indifferent. After two years, I still personally struggle with this immensely. I want to over-analyze and think about everything instead of just letting it be. I made the mistake of doing the first part of my homework, listening to this once “mindfully”, at 5 AM. I should have known, coming from M, that whatever she was going to have me listen to was going to make a million light bulbs go off in my head. Remember, the first time I listened to this, I was not to respond in any way and it took immense self-restraint (and a few Benadryl) to make myself STFU and NOT say/write anything. Again, my bad for choosing to do part one at 5 AM.]

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). [GUILTY!] Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. [JOHNNY! Tell him what he’s won!] It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. [I don’t even think I can add anything to that sentence…he nailed it…on the head. All the shit I put myself through, all the worrying and over-thinking I do is a CHOICE. It’s a hard to NOT do that stuff because it’s a habit…it’s natural…it’s how I roll. The choice comes in when I become aware of what I’m doing to myself (and possibly those around me), what I’m CHOOSING to pay attention to and being conscious of what I’m doing/thinking enough to CHOOSE to change either HOW I’m thinking or WHAT I’m thinking or doing.] Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”. [AMEN!]

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. [TOTALLY off-topic, but when I read “great and terrible”…I read “terrible…yes…but great” and heard it in the voice of the actor who plays Mr. Olivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Just me? Okay. Moving on…] It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. [Again…he nailed it…on the head. I never thought of a gun suicide that way but if I ever choose that route…I would totally go for the head…to make my brain STFU…forever.]

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head [A SLAVE!] and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. [THAT VOICE. You wanna get under my skin? Tell me to have a nice day in the most cheerful way possible when I’m having the worst fucking day EVER! A death stare, you will get.] Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of your graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year. [I don’t think I count because I’ve graduated and I TOTALLY get what he’s saying…boring…mundane…routine.]

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. [Lord Jesus issa fire…] Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. [OH…MY…GOD. RIGHT?! If I don’t shift my thinking and I stay “stuck” and focused on how miserable I am standing in this fucking long ass line, I’m GOING to be miserable…but if I think about, perhaps, a really cute cat who is anxiously awaiting my return home…maybe I can NOT be so miserable standing in that fucking long ass line.] Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. [I prefer to think of this as “auto-pilot”.]

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways [TAKE NOTES HERE!] to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. [Empathy. The dialectic…the other side of the coin.] Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way. [Would you like “The Other Side Of The Coin” for $800?]

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do. [Very possible.]

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. [Yes it is.] It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to. [Amen.]

But most days, if you’re aware enough [“Mindfulness” for $200?] to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. [There are so many options/possibilities, you can’t even begin to count them.] It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. [Pretty deep stuff, huh?]

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. [Boom.]

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship. [And guess what else? You don’t need a degree to be able to do it.]

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. [Whether you are aware of that fact or not, you DO know all this already.] It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. [I get it, M. I. GET. IT. Working on it… And chances are, I will ALWAYS be working on it. I don’t think it will ever be automatic.]

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. [Ever heard that phrase about people only seeing what they want to see?]

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. [I couldn’t have said it better if I tried.]

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. [Captial-T True.] But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. [A. M. E. N.]

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge [Yes!], and everything to do with simple awareness [Mindfulness.]; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

[It is neither hot nor cold…there is neither a lot nor a little…it is just there. It…is…just…water.]

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. [True knowledge comes from being aware…mindful…not from knowing that 1+1=2. Anyone can be taught that 1+1=2…not everyone can be taught how to just observe and describe and be aware of themselves, others, thoughts and surroundings…to just be in the moment. And even then, you CAN be taught HOW to be mindful, but to actually be able to do it and become a master of it is the true test…the dissertation of a lifetime. When you figure out how to do it ALL the time without fail, please e-mail me.] And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.



What it feels like to be depressed for those who don’t/can’t understand:

I love this blog:

Sometimes when I don’t have my OWN words to express how I feel/what my hell is like, someone else has words for me. I’m grateful for that.

It smells like teen spirit…

I haven’t been keeping you all “abreast” of what’s going in my life but this blog wasn’t created to keep you all up-to-date on everything…it’s a dumping ground for all the things I can’t say and for things that are on my heart…this post being one of them.

To catch you up to speed, I have been continuing one-on-one therapy with M and will continue to do so and I’ve just been…here. Not doing a whole lot or making a lot of “progress.” M would probably beg to differ as I’ve started working again. DON’T get excited because it’s nothing like what you might be thinking. I’ve started babysitting again. Just one to three times per month for two to three hours at a time for a four-month-old baby boy. Some of y’all might be going, “WTF?! A CRAZY SUICIDAL DEPRESSED OVERLY ANXIOUS NEUROTIC IN CHARGE OF A BABY?!” Cool your jets, kids…because I love kids, especially babies and while I may be crazy, anyone who truly knows me and my heart knows I wouldn’t do anything stupid in front of/with a baby. It’s not even a thought that ever crosses my mind. My own therapist, knowing all the shit she does, has said she would trust me with her child. If that’s not a good endorsement, I don’t know what is. I’ve had 15+ years of childcare experience and I don’t need to nor do I want to list it all here…but suffice it to say, “That bitch is gooooood.” I have mad skillz.

I’ve been watching a four-month-old baby boy, D, for just about a month now…just a few times so far. I usually watch him in three-hour chunks so I usually get a feeding, some play time and a nap, which suits me just fine because snuggling a sleeping baby feels better than popping a Xanax. Baby D has a 13-year-old sister, LL. D’s mom is NOT LL’s mom…but they have the same dad. So D’s mom is technically a first-time mom and that couldn’t be any more evident…she’s not a bad mom at all, it’s just very obvious that she hasn’t been around kids much and lacks experience with babies.

I watched D earlier this week and it was a later shift than I usually do. I usually watch him in the late afternoon but this shift was a dinner to bedtime shift, which was fine with me. Both mom and dad went out, so it was just me, baby, and big sister LL. LL had gotten in trouble for something earlier in the day and was in her room when I got there but she came out after mom and dad left. D had just finished eating so I was burping him, and LL sat down and just started talking to me. A 13-year-old…talking to a 29-year-old. Not a bad thing but definitely something I hadn’t done in a very long time, if ever. She sat down on a stool near where I was sitting with the baby and she stayed there…just talking to me…for three hours. She even mentioned at one point that she had never done that with her dad or step-mom (who, even after five-ish years, can’t even say the child’s name right). When she said that to me, it made me really sad. I may be almost 30, but I remember what being a teenager was like…it’s a time in my life that, unfortunately, was very hard for me and probably won’t ever be forgotten. I hope I am able to stay with this family for a while because I would love to be a…a “positive role model” doesn’t sound like a really good thing to say given my history but…maybe I could at least be someone she can talk to, confide in, feel comfortable with…because I’d rather have her talk to me, someone older, someone who’s been around the block, someone that’s not a part of her family, than have her keep all her feelings inside. Speaking from experience, bottling up all that shit doesn’t benefit anyone.

I’ve become a cranky old fart over the last ten years or so, despising today’s teenagers. They piss me off. They are disrespectful and don’t even know street names anymore because their heads are always down, texting or playing games. I stumbled upon a Facebook post a few months ago of a teenage girl that was SO heartbroken because her parents bought her the wrong color iPhone for Christmas. I would have taken that damn phone back to the store and told her to stuff it. Pissed me off, that post did.


But while talking to LL…I didn’t feel like I was talking an ungrateful, ditsy 13-year-old who has no idea what the “real world” is like. After last Tuesday night, I think she taught me a lesson…to not write off all teenagers so quickly. (However, I will continue to write you off immediately if your pants are around your knees instead of your waist.)

She started out the evening just asking me about my piercings and tattoos, if they hurt….expressing her desire just to get her ears pierced. She asked me a few questions about how I grew up and what it was like “back in the day”. (Man I felt old saying stuff like, “Back in my day, we got actual report cards sent in the mail…you know…pieces of paper a real person puts in that thing called a mailbox? My parents could not just log on a computer…we had just started using computers back then!…to check my grades and check on any missing assignments the minute first period was over.) She talked to me about makeup and boys, asked me what I was allowed to do at what ages…what I think about certain things. We talked about our love for scary movies and loud music. Nothing sticks out as “major” or a big deal…just girlfriend chit-chat. And, much to my surprise, conversation flowed easily and naturally because the next thing I knew, her parents had returned home three hours later and I was all, “Whhhaaatttt?” It was very evident to me, by the end of the night, that LL did not have anyone to share/talk about this kind of stuff with. I’m sure she has her little school friends but they are probably just like her…curious and need/want someone older who is not family to just talk to without the fear of being judged or “tattled” on. It didn’t take her long to start opening up to me, it seemed…which I took as a compliment because it’s hard to engage any teenager in a conversation that doesn’t involve talking via computer or cell phone and in any conversation involving real feelings that does not involve gossip about what the most popular girl in school is doing. It was obvious she just wanted…even needed…to talk. I came away thinking that she’s probably a lot like me…shut down a lot at home, not encouraged to talk and/or invalidated when she does talk/share her feelings. For three hours, I just empathized with her, shared a little bit about myself and my living situation…how even at almost 30, I completely “get it”…because even at almost 30, I sometimes feel like/am treated like I’m 15. Life, no matter what age you are, isn’t butterflies and rainbows all the time; there are still bullies and I wouldn’t even say that it gets easier (but I didn’t tell her that…she’ll figure it out soon enough).

In a nutshell, LL’s biological mom is around (as in she lives locally and wants to be involved) and from what LL has told me, she’s quite sane and functioning, doing just fine. I didn’t know her father had full custody of her until last week because custody is usually given to a mother…and even then, there’s usually a joint custody agreement. LL’s father (who is also baby’s father) forbids LL to have any contact with her biological mom whatsoever. For the life of me, I still don’t know why. LL says her mom has a great job, she has other children and is not a “dead-beat mom” with drug or alcohol issues or anything that would normally prevent her from having custody or at least be in LL’s life. LL doesn’t even get to see her every other weekend…in fact, her father has forbidden contact between LL and her biological mother until LL is 18. I felt absolutely horrible (and astonished!) at this because at 13, a girl needs a mom and/or a positive female figure in her life and baby’s mom, LL’s step-mom, doesn’t seem to fulfill that role. This poor 13-year-old…being the psych major I am, I can just see all the mommy issues that may come up later in life for this girl…and it makes me sick…and only strengthens my resolve to attempt to be something for her, hoping her family situation doesn’t fuck her up more than it already has/will.

I have, thus far, skirted around telling LL the real reason(s) I’m at home and not working, choosing to watch her brother instead of getting a “real job”. 1) I’m still learning to trust her and her family as I’m sure they are doing with me. 2) I don’t know if those kind of topics (depression, suicide, etc.) should even be discussed with a 13-year-old, especially when I’m not family/her parent. I don’t want to give her a subliminal message of, “If she can do it [suicide], I can too.” (This would be totally different if it went in the direction of, “If she can overcome suicide and adversity and come out on top, I can too.” but I haven’t made it that far in my journey yet, so that message isn’t there to share.) I’ll have to ask M what she thinks regarding these topics and how one would go about discussing them with a teenager who is not family…if it’s even appropriate at all. LL’s parents seem to heavily supervise anything she has access to…like the internet and such, which isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t want her parents to look down upon me for “opening the door” on certain topics, of which their daughter may have been ignorant of before I came along. [Annotation: I have not and don’t plan on ever talking to LL like I talk to my therapist, divulging my feelings and thoughts. But LL is curious so if it gets to a point where she asks me what’s going on in my life and why I am where I am and why I am who I am, I don’t know what’s okay to tell her and what topics I should refrain from mentioning given her age. I’m sure there’s a fine line and I plan to find and identify it before saying anything to LL. I am just trying to say that I’m here FOR LL, for her to talk to and trust…not for me to talk to her as if she were an adult/friend. I can skirt around things and “dull” the intensity of my feelings but I refuse to lie, to her or anyone.]

I know I’m still new to this family but it astounds me how people will act one way in front of others (me) and then you find out that they are so not that way behind closed doors. My heart broke for LL. Not only can her step-mom not pronounce her name correctly (it’s not hard…I was able to do it just fine the moment I met LL), she is quick to correct anyone that says LL is her daughter. “No no no, step-daughter.” I get that that’s the truth, but how demeaning and unloving does it feel for LL to see and hear that on a regular basis…having her step-mom, someone who is going to be in her life for a long time and already has been up to this point, take no “ownership” of LL. Sure, there is no blood connection, but she is, for all intents and purposes, the mother figure, especially since she forbids LL to have any contact with her biological mother (which I don’t understand, but she’s not my child…not hers either, apparently). LL is at a crucial point in her life and if there is not a strong female figure in her life, shit’s gone get real pretty damn fast. And if she doesn’t trust her parents or talk to them, she’s either going to do a lot of bad shit behind their back and/or she’s going to bottle up all of her feelings because she doesn’t feel like she can trust/talk to them and that, in and of itself, will lead to a lot of bad shit. I can’t imagine being 13, in a split household, no contact with her seemingly sane biological mother, a brand new baby brother and a massive attention shift. It doesn’t sound like LL was ever the focal point in her father and step-mother’s life even before the baby came along, and she’s definitely not now. She’s expected to help out with the baby…during my second time watching D, her father said she could not go over to a friend’s house because he said she had to stay home and help me with the baby. I’m like, “Dude [I didn’t actually say this!], I got this…srsly. I’m cool. It’s a gorgeous day…let her go play.” If I didn’t have 15+ years of experience and know what the fuck I’m doing, y’all probably shouldn’t have hired me in the first place. Jus’ sayin’. There also seems to be a lot of double standards in the home. LL is not allowed to watch TV at all on school days…fair…but her friggin’ 4-month-old baby brother gets to watch TV all damn day and I shit you not people, he does. I have never seen a baby that young able to stare at a television screen with any semblance of attention. And I am, at my age, going DUMB watching the shit that’s supposed to make him SMART. Trust me, when he gets older and can play a little more, that shit’s not gonna happen on my watch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a TV whore myself…but I’m also an adult who can make my own decisions and granted, I have no kids and therefore have nothing to offer/say to someone who does, but I don’t agree with using TV as a babysitter, especially when you go out of your way to hire a motherfucking babysitter. Jus’ sayin’. LL is expected to live up to very high standards…standards that, even at my age, I’m not expected to meet. And there is no positive reinforcement for all that she does…which I can TOTALLY relate to. Example: I will empty the dishwasher without being asked. No problem…something I should do anyway. But instead of a thank you or acknowledgement of some sort, I get chastised for putting the cups away still wet and not taking the time to dry them off more before putting them away. Okay…let’s ignore the fact that I just emptied the dishwasher and tidied up the kitchen for you without being asked…let’s focus on how wet the cups are (that will be dry by morning due to a little thing called “evaporation”). LL gets treated the same way. This child is expected, without being asked, to perform many feats…but instead of thanking her or rewarding her, everything she did WRONG is pointed out to her. I can just see the therapy sessions now. My heart seriously aches for this girl and I want to shake her parents and tell them, “Look at what you are doing to her! You are going to fuck her up in ways that will be irreparable if you don’t rectify your parenting methods. Trust me.”

After three hours talking to LL, it seemed to me that she just really needs someone to talk to. Anyone. But preferably someone she can trust, someone that won’t rat her out. (Don’t take this to mean I wouldn’t tell her parents if I thought she was in danger and/or engaging in dangerous behavior. I’d give it some serious thought first, not wanting to break LL’s trust but depending on the situation, if telling her parents saves LL’s life…fair gamble/trade in my opinion.) After three hours, I saw a beautiful, intelligent girl who is SO awesome, but her parents don’t know/see that because they don’t let her show it. If she were given an opportunity to just be herself (not “no holds bar”/no rules…but just if her parents would lighten up a little and see what a beautiful young lady they have growing up in their home), she would truly astound her father and step-mother. I’d put money on it. Because she IS awesome and beautiful and she made me rethink my disdain for teenagers…because she is proving me wrong. I just want to scoop her up and hug her and tell her how beautiful and awesome she is (she is on the boy’s wrestling and football team, kicking ass!) and how she has the potential and “balls” to be and do anything she wants. I want to tell her that the world needs more girls like her and how grateful and humbled I am that she chose to open up to me, a perfect stranger, so quickly. But doing that showed me how much she desperately needs a strong female in her life. And if I can do/be that female, I would love to. I may be fucked up and crazy but by golly, if I can save ONE teenage girl from the insecurities and doubts so many teenagers experience today…or at least help make it bearable, I’m all for it…give me the job, sign me up.

This will require some thought and probably a lengthy discussion with M and possibly LL’s parents, but I want to be able to be here for LL whenever she wants/needs, not just when I am over watching her brother. It appears that the child has no e-mail or cell phone, so I’m not sure how she would prefer to go about communicating. I prefer writing over talking on the phone (I can’t hear to save my life and writing gives me more time to edit myself and turn the profanity filter on), so I’m hoping to possibly be able to communicate by e-mail. It doesn’t have to be deep discussions of the heart…it can be that, but it can be as simple as, “Hey LL! How are you? How is school?” Basics, girly chit-chat…the things she’s not talking about with anyone now. I’ll be damned if I let one more teenage girl grow up thinking she’s not worth the gum stuck to someone else’s shoe. How she is being treated and listened to (or not) now will impact (probably even predict) what she will be/act like as an adult. Look at me…living proof of what it will do. And I am F to the U-C-K-E-D UP. If I can have any part in preventing someone else from ending up like me, I would love and relish the opportunity. She is a like a sponge at 13 and the smallest and most trivial things matter, even though they seem petty to us as adults. They matter at that age whether you want to acknowledge it or not. And whether or not you listen matters. If you don’t want to hear about how the most popular girl is being a mean snob, she’s not going to want to tell you about the new boy she met who is pressuring her to have sex.

My original intention for this post was to be an open letter to LL but clearly that didn’t happen. Some more thought and discussion will have to be given as to how I will be able/allowed to communicate with LL because I don’t want to go behind her parents’ back. If nothing else, I hope she knows that when I come over to watch her brother, I’m there for her too…not to watch and babysit her, just to talk and listen.

I feel it in my bones…


This is what borderline personality disorder feels like…to me…

It’s confusing. You never know exactly what you are supposed to feel.






The more I try to stop all the negative feelings, the more intense they get for me.

Everything is either black…or white; there is no gray.

I don’t know what to feel right now.

I may call you a lot just to make sure you’re still here, to make sure that you still like me. If we don’t talk, I fear that you are mad at me.

It feels like separation anxiety.

I’m always looking for the slightest sign that you will abandon me.

I know that you love me, but I don’t feel it.

I do whatever I can to feel your love when you are not here with me.

I read old messages.

I look through old cards.

I look through old pictures.

I can’t keep friends because paranoia and false assumptions chase everyone I love away.

I love you one minute and hate you the next and most of the time, it’s because of something petty.


Most days, I just feel really empty.

I’m sick of not fitting in…anywhere…ever.

I hate the rollercoaster of emotions I feel just as much as the people around me do, if not more.

Sometimes I’m broken and I don’t know why.

Sometimes I am so angry at you and I don’t know why. I say things I don’t mean and I do things I shouldn’t.

I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough…but I tried to be.

I say that I’m sorry…A LOT.

But by then, it’s too late and I have hurt you. And now I hate myself even more than before.






BPD feels like shame…it feels lonely.

I need a break from the loneliness that is totally consuming me. The loneliness of being misunderstood, the loneliness that comes from not being able to express how I feel and from being unable to make people understand…not the loneliness of having no one around.

One moment, I feel completely happy, loving life, inspirational, creative…seeing beauty in everything…that the world is so beautiful…that nothing could ever go wrong again.

But then…

…I can feel it coming again and I just can’t stop it no matter how hard I try, no matter how fast I run.

What would be a bad feeling for you, a ripple in the water…to me, feels like a crippling wave.

You want me to just be and act normal. For me…this is normal…my normal…and it’s all I know.

If someone doesn’t like me, I must be a complete failure and I am flawed.

You point out my flaws, like I don’t already see them. We all have flaws.

People have scars. In all sorts of unexpected places. Like secret road maps of their personal histories. Diagrams of all their old wounds. Most of our wounds heal, leaving nothing behind but a scar. But some of them don’t. Some wounds we carry with us everywhere and though the cut’s long gone, the pain still lingers.

I am in so much pain that I self-injure just to feel something…or to feel nothing at all. Dying is always in the back of my mind.

One minute, I can be happy.

The next minute, for no reason at all, I’m suicidal.

The dreams in which I’m dying are the best dreams I’ve ever had.

I know what it’s like to want to die. How it hurts to smile. How you try to fit in but you can’t. You hurt yourself on the outside to try to kill the thing on the inside.

pissed off

I spend way too much time over-analyzing and over-thinking everything. What you said and how you said it.

What are you doing?

Why are you doing it?

Is it a good thing?

What is its impact?

What’s next?

People tell you just to be yourself and then they judge you.

Trust me when I say that I’m doing my best.

You don’t know what this is like…what a day in the life of me looks like.

You’d never say, “It’s just cancer, get over it.”

I can’t just turn this off.

I didn’t choose to be like this.

“People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.”
~ Marsha Linehan

Telepathy between hearts.


I left a voicemail for K after my appointment with you was canceled. She called me back around 3:30. She talked to me…listened to me talk and cry…and in trying to calm me down by reminding me of my DBT skills, she told me to do what I always do. I didn’t know what she was talking about…what she meant. She told me to write. She must have called me willful and/or stubborn about 50 times during that 20 minute phone call. She was trying to suggest some opposite-action…something that brings me joy and/or makes me laugh. She reminded me that the goal was to cope effectively…not change or dismiss what I was feeling. I started to protest because I felt I needed to hurt and cry and grieve and to laugh and be “happy” seemed so wrong and disrespectful…like laughing at a funeral…it doesn’t fit the situation. But…I’m going to do what K told me to do…this time. I don’t know what will come of this…if it will get edited to go on the blog or get printed out and given to you…or if it will stay here…in my “collection.” Right now, my thought is to not give it to you because I don’t want to make you upset all over again…but I’m going to do what K told me to do…write…and I’m going to write as if I were talking to you and hopefully, our telepathy connection is working and you “get it.” I reacted to you/this event much more strongly than I thought I would…and I don’t know why. I “planned” for it, I thought about it and since I had been in a similar situation before, I figured I’d be okay/stronger when the time came…still grieving and sad for you, yes…but not as hard and intense as I am. I can’t tell you why I reacted more strongly than I thought I would…I don’t know if this was the “icing on the cake” for me…another upsetting thing to add to this month’s growing list of crappy things. I don’t know if I made a bigger deal out of it for myself because when it happened, I was already in such an emotionally vulnerable spot. I don’t know if it brought out some of my own unspoken feelings regarding my loss…the ones I never expressed. I don’t want you to feel bad for making me upset. I told you, when we last talked about the inevitable, that I was going to be upset/hurt and grieve right along with you whether you liked it or not…because that’s how I roll. I love hard and with all that I have…and I know you know that. And our hearts and minds seem to be so inexplicably connected that it’s gone beyond coincidence and voodoo…it’s fate…it’s love…and it’s real. I’ve never had this connection with anyone else and I don’t know what accounts for it. Because I’ve had to be so completely vulnerable with you? Because we get along so well? Because we think alike and have a lot in common? I’ve given up trying to find the answer because I’ve accepted that it’s awesome no matter the reason…I treasure it and I love it. It’s a special connection and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

The last time I saw you, you led me into your office and broke down before you could even shut the door, apologizing to me for not being able to think straight and for not being able to be totally in the moment with me that day (don’t ever do that again…apologize for that). I didn’t even think about the boundary lines that normally separate us…I just walked up to you and hugged you as tight as I could. I thought about that later…1), hoping you didn’t mind and 2), that action/behavior was pure instinct…automatic. The fact that you play a specific role in my life and I should have asked first didn’t even cross my mind until later in the day. Of course you were heavy on my mind and heart for the rest of that day and week. I was hoping my good telepathy was reaching you somehow and I hoped you knew that I was here, thinking about you and loving you even if I wasn’t with you or able to tell you. I tried really hard to disturb the force…enough to try to let you know. I had already decided to make you a new mix CD before I saw you last week. So I finished that. And then…my lightbulb went off and I was in a warm fuzzy dispensing mood and part of how I keep you close to me when you’re not with me is the warm fuzzy note cards you’ve given me. So I did the same thing for you, only x100 and with quite a few more hours and thought and love poured into it. I was at that project from about 7 PM to 2 or 3 AM. I knew I didn’t have to finish it in one sitting…but I was being mindful and in a groove…just thinking about you, drawing, writing, listening to music…nothing else…so I kept going until I was done. Something was keeping you in my heart and on my mind…and knowing what I know NOW, I know why…telepathy between hearts, remember? I made your warm fuzzy package on Thursday or Friday night, not realizing how pertinent and appropriate it was going to be. And I was so excited to give it to you…I still am…I just think maybe you could have used it sooner because I don’t know when I’ll see you next. But there are no accidents…all things for a reason…so I just hope it gives you the intended smiles and warm fuzzies no matter when you get it and no matter where or when you look at it. While I was making that and even after, all through the weekend, my gut was telling me something/someone was not okay. Looking back now and analyzing it, I know now that that someone was you…and maybe I did know all along it was you, I just didn’t want to admit it or acknowledge it because I don’t wish this kind of heartache on anyone…and even though I knew this day was coming, I still didn’t want it to happen. I was going over our “To Do/Talk About” list on Monday…and I realized that for the first time in two years, it was empty. I had come up with nothing to say to you…because I think I knew I would not see you this week. When my phone rang at 9:09 AM Monday morning…I knew what was happening before I even answered. The front desk was calling to cancel my appointment with you on Wednesday. I asked if you were going to be out all week, already knowing the answer. I then asked for K’s voicemail. And then I thought about you all day. My coffee date canceled on me for the third time in as many days and I was initially upset, but as my day wore on, I was actually glad…because I’m not sure I could have handled much more emotion that day. I got my windshield fixed. Got something to eat. Came home. Noticed the time, which was about 3:30 PM. I took note that K hadn’t called me back yet and I figured she was out too or just really busy. As I tried to come up with all the reasons why she hadn’t called, the phone rang (I’m starting to wonder if K is starting to develop some sort of telepathy with me). I answered my phone to the sweetest sound I heard that day. It was then that I lost my marbles. I fought my tears and emotions all day, as I always do, but the minute I heard her voice, I lost it. K answered my questions, spoke softly and gently…and even told me that I “rocked her world”…to which I laughed and smiled…then I told her off for making me laugh as tears were streaming down my face (and then I noted that I now love her even more for having the ability to do that to me because not many people can). She said she had no openings this week to see me and that she would not be here next week. My heart dropped (because I don’t know when you will be back and because if you both were out and I was going to have to go two weeks or more without a therapy session, I was screwed)…but I appreciated the heads up regardless. She went through some skills with me…even tried to get me to tell her what I think I should/need to do and I wasn’t thinking straight…so she told me to do what I always do…I had no idea what she was talking about. Music? Self-soothe? Snuggling? Kitty? And then she told me to write. So this is the product of K’s brain and my “willingness” to do it instead of my “willfulness” to fight, deny and push away my emotions.

I don’t want you to get upset that I got/am upset. Consider it me trying to help you/care for you/love you/take some of the weight off of you. I’m hoping that, perhaps, my grief will make you not hurt so bad. Because I don’t want you to hurt. It kills me to know…to even imagine…what is happening. But I know you will hurt and you will for a while. If anyone knows what this is like, it’s me; you couldn’t be in better company. People say, “I understand. I know what you’re going through.” all the time. The reality is that most of the time, they have no idea. And I won’t even pretend to know exactly how you feel because even though I’ve been through what you’re going through, your experience is going to be different than mine. But I know what that loss and that hole feels like. I know the pain. And it will smack you upside the head often. I’m not going to offer you clichés because I hated it when people did that to me. When people ask me what they should do or say when something like this happens, I always tell them that the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to say nothing…other than maybe an “I’m sorry for your loss.”…and give the person room, let them know that they’re loved and that you will be there when they are ready. Maybe it’s different for everyone…maybe some people want the words. I didn’t and still don’t…because there are no words…there is nothing anyone can say that will take the pain away. Even when I share my story now, my last two years especially, some people will say, “I don’t know what to say/how to respond.” And I say, “It’s okay. You don’t have to.” I feel better when someone is just in the same room with me…not saying a word…just letting me cry and letting that silence be the comfort. I know people’s condolences are said with the best of intentions…but I think I may have coped better with my own loss had people just backed the fuck up. Not only did everyone want to say something, they insisted on telling me that he was in a “better place”…and all I wanted to say was “fuck you and fuck you and you and you, too.” Because it was bullshit and it was only making me mad. Not that I thought he was in hell, but just the fact that no one knows what’s real and what isn’t. And having had my own near-death experiences, I still don’t think I believe in heaven or hell. I think I believe in a “presence”…an imprint on what once was…because there are times where I think he surprises the fuck out of me by leading me to something comforting about him or just something that only he would know…the right message at the right time. So I think there’s something…I just don’t know what it is…and surprisingly enough, I’m okay with not knowing. I’m okay not having an answer to this question. I am content knowing that there is at least SOMETHING, even if I can’t explain it or prove it or have it on demand…just knowing…hoping he’s here…somehow…someway.

So I’m not going to say anything more…other than that I love you…I heart your face…and I’m doing my best to send you hugs and love and comfort in the only way I can and in the only way our relationship will allow.