ME AND MY HAIR

Back in high school, a classmate told me I should be a Pantene model, and at the time, I probably could have been–I had long, silky, perfectly straight brunette locks, and they were, as Louisa May Alcott put it, my “one beauty,” but then…

I’ve struggled with trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling, since I was about twenty years old, but it only recently came to light that in my case, pulling was/is actually a form of “stimming” (you can read all about that revelation here), which for those who aren’t in the know, refers to those “quirky” repetitive behaviors often observed in autistic/neurodivergent folks.

But even in my pre-trich days, I was a freak about my hair. I insisted on having my mom put it up in a bun or whatever every morning before school because it had to be perfect–no bumps in my slick ponytail–and no matter what I did, I was never able to achieve that level of perfection. Ridiculous, I know–what teenager still has Mommy style their hair, right?

Once I started pulling, though, I got even freakier about my hair. I never stripped myself bald like some people do, and my patchy spots were probably not noticeable to anyone except me, but I was deeply self-conscious about it. Who wouldn’t be? After all, pulling your own hair out is not exactly normal, and I was desperate to “pass” as normal (another unattainable goal of mine). So, I wore a bandana all the time. Then I got a buzz cut and told everyone I was making a statement.

I can’t deny that shaving my head was empowering, in a sense. People would stare at me, which forced me to stare back, like What are you looking at?, and that’s a big deal for me–like many people on the spectrum, I struggle with making eye contact.

My hair grows really fast, though, and I’d have to buzz it twice a week, and after a year and a half of rocking a bald head, I got sick of the maintenance involved, so I decided to grow my hair out–trich be damned. You don’t have to be a shrink or a genius to guess that once it grew into a shaggy mess, once it grew long enough to pull, well, I started pulling again, and back to the trusty bandana it was.

After one especially bad pull fest that left me with a painful, swollen bald spot on the back of my head, I contacted my prescriber. For years, she’d wanted me to try Prozac for my trich, but I resisted–the combination of Abilify, Lexapro, and Wellbutrin worked well for my depression, and I was terrified to mess with success as far as that goes. Now, though, I was at my wit’s end and willing to try anything to stop, or at least decrease, my overwhelming urges to pull my hair.

Quitting Lexapro and switching to Prozac was a tough adjustment that involved mind-numbing insomnia, but long story short, everything worked out: my need to pull was significantly improved, and now I only pull when I’m coping with an excessive amount of stress in my daily life (hello, COVID-19…).

My hair is long again, but all those years of constant pulling left their mark: I have more white/gray strands than the average thirty-something, especially my onetime favorite pull spots, and my hair has grown back with a coarser texture in those same places. I never wear my hair down or loose because I hate how it looks, and even though I always swore I’d age naturally, for a two and a half year stretch of time, I was a Garnier Nutrisse color junkie.

But I wasn’t dyeing my hair for my own benefit; I couldn’t care less that it’s turning white. I just dreaded having to hear any unwelcome comments from other people, particularly “well-meaning” family members.

So, I kept a bottle of Truffle #50 on hand at all times and continued to dye my hair every four weeks, and it must be said that that was a complete and total pain in the ass. I was sick of dealing with it, but at the same time, I felt pressured into it. I felt like I had no choice.I had this idea in my head that you can only have white hair at my age if you are pretty, and I just wasn’t pretty enough to let it go.

Had it been a simple matter of natural aging, I might have felt differently, but this? This was my own fault. I was the one who ruined my once-beautiful hair, and now I had to live with the unfortunate results.

Finally–finally–I hit a point where I was able to ditch the dye. It dawned on me that I don’t need to color my hair in order to impress anyone: it’s my hair and my business, and anyone who makes unsolicited remarks about it is probably an a-hole.

It’s been six months since my last dye job–my very last dye job–and I’m so glad I called it quits. My hair is significantly softer now that I’m not bathing it in chemicals once a month, and while the white strands are definitely noticeable… so what? I’m trying to look at them like battle scars or badges of courage or whatever, and while I still have my moments of insecurity, for the most part, well, it’s just hair.

UPDATE

Obviously, I haven’t been blogging, and to anyone who actually reads this page, I apologize for my long silence. I’m writing a novel, which takes up an enormous amount of time and energy, and I haven’t had much left over for neurodivergentgrrrl, but I’m going to try to post on here at least once a month from now on–beginning today.

Thank you for reading my ramblings!

SENSORY OVERLOAD AND THE HOLIDAYS

Ah, the holiday season. A joyous time for friends, family, feasting, celebration, unbridled materialism, etc. Some of us love the festive feel–Deck the Halls, stockings hung by the chimney with care and all that warm, fuzzy crap. Our nearest and dearest with their smiling faces gathered around a table heaping with enough food to feed a starving country for a year, finding the perfect gift for that special someone, kissing under the mistletoe, all of it. It evokes happy childhood memories of decorating a six feet tall evergreen with our beloved heirloom baubles, of tearing through carefully wrapped packages on Christmas morning (emphasis specifically on Christmas because that is the holiday my family celebrates).

And of course, of family functions.

Personally, I love my mom’s prepared-from-scratch Thanksgiving dinner. I love decorating the tree. I love Christmas shopping for the people I care about, and I love opening gifts with my immediate family every Christmas morning. I cherish our time-honored traditions. I’m not some holiday-hating Grinch, I’m really not. But I hate the family gatherings that inevitably take place at this time of year, and it isn’t because I hate my family.

It’s because their extraordinary loudness gives me sensory overload

My entire childhood, I dreaded getting together with family. I could never quite put my finger on the reason–again, I genuinely like most of my relatives–and my dread intensified with each passing year. Again, I had no idea why. All I knew was that I really, really hated the holidays. I was well aware that the whole production was supposed to be fun, and naturally, I wondered what was wrong with me–why couldn’t I have fun like everybody else?

Christmas Day was always spent at the cozy home of my beloved maternal grandparents. Grams and Gramps loved the holidays, and I loved Grams and Gramps. They couldn’t understand why, literally every other day of the year, I loved to spend time at their house with them. Hell, I couldn’t understand.

I chalked it up to social anxiety, that I feared the inevitable comparisons to my cousins, and that I came out on the losing end of those comparisons every single time.

I chalked it up to depression. It made sense–who in my situation wouldn’t be depressed by having to see all their normal aunts, uncles, and cousins out there living their normal lives? Who wouldn’t be depressed about being the ugly duckling who had no prospect of someday becoming a swan?

Anyway, I know it made my grandparents sad that Christmas made me so damn dismal. They loved their family even more than they loved the holidays, and that one special day of the year when everyone sat around their dining room table to eat Grams’s lovingly prepared Christmas dinner… well, it made them happier than anything. Gramps would sit at the head of the table and beam with pride as he watched his children and grandchildren dig in, laughing at the same old stories and getting sentimental about years gone by, but me? I sat there in obvious misery.

Grams and Gramps loved me to pieces, so I know it must have hurt them to see me sitting there looking so damn dejected on their special favorite day of the year. I’m sure I ruined at least a few Christmases for them, and I deeply, deeply regret that.

But I didn’t know. No one did.

It was the noise. The loud, raucous laughter, the din of everyone talking over each other, and the chaos of a big, happy family celebrating all together.

When I was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, I was at long last able to put two and two together. I learned about sensory overload and how people on the autism spectrum have heightened sensitivity to outward stimuli, including loud noises. In my case, loud noises are excruciating. They make me feel like my brain is quite literally rattling around inside my skull. They make me physically uncomfortable, to the point of unbearable tension and a frantic desire to flee the scene. I crave stillness, peace, and quiet. I need it.

After thirty some-odd holiday seasons, I now know that I need to take a break from the noise and confusion whenever it all gets to be too much. I go someplace quiet and just relax for a while, away from the racket, and I do this as often as necessary. I don’t care if it looks weird. It preserves my sanity, and I make no apologies for that.

My only wish is that I had known all this a long time ago. I wish I could have enjoyed Christmas with my grandparents when they were here. I wish I could explain to them what my problem was, that it had nothing to do with them or the family in general–that it was because of the way my brain was wired. That I wasn’t being miserable and putting a damper on everything on purpose.

I still don’t look forward to these annual family celebrations. It still gets to me, and I still feel like the one person who isn’t having a good time–for me, every holiday gathering is an ordeal, and I just have to grin, bear it, and get through it to the best of my ability. I still breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over for another year, but now that I understand my discomfort has a valid neurological reason, I no longer feel guilty for it.

STAND UP FOR YOURSELF

Hello.  My name is Amanda, and I am chronically insecure.  I once said, in reference to a certain member of my family, “I really need to grow a set and stand up for myself,” and guess what?  I never did. 

Word to the wise: do not be like me.  Your thoughts and your feelings matter (I am not talking about politics here—I have very deeply held convictions regarding that shit.  No, I’m talking about life in general.).   You have a right to them, just as much as the other person does.  They do not, however, have any right to belittle you and get away with it, so don’t stay quiet and let someone else say hurtful things to you. 

***

The other person here—so we’re clear, they are not the same person mentioned above—has their own set of issues.  They do not deal well with their own emotions and struggle with displays of emotions in others.  I am a very emotional (some would say volatile) individual, so it’s a powder keg kind of situation, and from time to time, explosions happen.  It’s inevitable, unfortunately.  I love this person dearly, but I am intimidated by them.  They possess a quick wit and a viper tongue, and when they get angry, they have a tendency to say things that really sting, so I generally go out of my way not to piss them off because I can’t handle it when someone is mad at me, nor I can’t handle biting remarks aimed in my direction.  Worse still , I can’t do anything about it. 

***

My shrink tells me that the ability to be assertive is not innate.  It takes practice.  Well, part of my problem is that I cry when I get upset.  It’s involuntary.  Reflexive.  I hate it, but I can’t stop it from happening, and it makes me feel like an overgrown baby in situations where I really would prefer to feel like a fearless  Amazon warrior.  The other part of my problem is that I most decidedly possess neither a quick wit nor a viper tongue.  At the critical moment, I stammer and stumble and forget everything I need to say, and it really does suck.  I don’t want to look like a bumbling moron.  I am not a moron in any way, shape, or form, but you wouldn’t know it if you overheard me trying to defend myself or argue a point of any kind.  I am emotional, and I am overly sensitive.  It’s not a good thing when you want to stand your ground, and it gives the other person a very definite advantage. 

Take last night.  The other person and I had a disagreement about, of all things, a baseball player.  I dislike said player, but the other person does not, and when the player played poorly in a must-win situation, I voiced my displeasure.  I said,” I’m sorry, but I just don’t like him.”  Granted, I was, as usual, overly emotional at the time, but even so, I had the right to my opinion on the subject, didn’t I?  The other person responded with “I don’t care if you like him or not—you don’t like anyone when they aren’t playing well.” (which, just for the record is completely untrue). 

I thought the last remark was unnecessary and not very nice, but do you think I was able to tell the other person so?  Do you think I was able to defend my position?  Hell, no.  Of course not.  As soon as this person vacated the area, I started to cry.  I am nothing if not predictable under these circumstances. 

***

This is hardly the first time something like this has happened.  I let others walk all over me all the time, and I have a long history of it.  I don’t know why I have this problem, but I do, and I am evidently unable to solve it to my own satisfaction.  In hindsight, I know exactly what I would have liked to say last night.  I wouldn’t have aggressive been confrontational (the root of the issue is that I hate confrontation, and I avoid it at all costs.  Even when that cost is my right to speak up when I feel that I have been wronged).  I would have been all diplomatic  about it.  I would have practiced the effective communication and conflict resolution skills that I have discussed so often in therapy, but instead, I clammed up.  Someone talked down to me.  Someone made it clear that they do not see my opinion, even on something as trivial as a baseball game, as valid, and that is not okay.  But I let it happen—again. 

In a way, it’s my own fault that I get bullied by some of the people in my life.  I just sit back and allow them to treat me like crap when I should be politely telling them to fuck off (obviously not in those words) because I have a right to my thoughts, feelings, and opinions.   Are my displays of emotion over the top at times?  There is no question about it.  But that does not give anyone license to invalidate what I am thinking or feeling.  It’s just that simple, and yet… it’s so much more complicated. 

***

I said that in a way, it’s my own fault that certain people continually treat me like crap, but really, IT IS NOT MY FAULT!  Should I stand up for myself?  Duh.  But these same people know damn well that I struggle with confrontation.  They are not so dense as to be unaware of my emotional vulnerability.  Yet, they continue to do what they do, and that is on them.  They have a kind of power over me, albeit one that I allow them to have, and they do not hesitate to use this power.  The way I see it, it’s not all that different from schoolyard bullying.  It is someone strong choosing to pick on someone with a clear weakness.

They say that bullying stems from insecurity, and maybe that’s the truth.  Maybe these individuals are just as insecure as I am, in different ways, and if that’s the case, I am sorry for it, but a bully at their core is still a bully.  The reasoning behind it does not matter.  They still have no right to knowingly make someone else feel like shit.  I’ll say it again: it is not okay.    

I hope someday I will find the courage to tell them that it is not okay. 

MY PERSON

Ever seen the TV show Grey’s Anatomy? It’s been on the air for something like fifteen years, but way back when, one character said to another, “You’re my person,” and that phrase was repeated many times between these two fictional doctors. I always thought it was cute, but when I lost my grandmother in 2014, “You’re my person” took on an entirely new meaning.

My mom is an amazing lady. I would almost call her saintly because she managed not to kill me, and anyone else probably would have done the deed and disposed of the body long ago.

I treated my mom like crap for a very long time. Mind you, I was not okay in the head, and I guess I needed to take my pain out on somebody. They say that those who love us most are always those who see us at our worst, and in this case, that old adage is very sadly true. My mom never stopped trying–never stopped loving me–even though my behavior toward her could easily be termed wretched, and it brings me to tears when I think about that. My eyes well up every single time.

My mom and I are opposites in nearly every way. She is ever the upbeat optimist, while I am a doom-and-gloom pessimist . She is a math person and I am a word nerd. She is a morning person, and I am a night owl. She isn’t a reader at all, and I am a voracious consumer of literature. She is outdoorsy, while my idea of roughing it is sitting in an uncomfortable chair. She is confident. I am not.

Perhaps our differences can best be summed up this way: She used to have a t-shirt that said “Life is Good.” Me? I had the corresponding “Life is Crap” emblazoned on my t-shirt.

My mom was the all-American girl. A pretty, petite, cheerleading honor student. By the time I got to my last year of middle school, I began to question everything to do with her: how in the world could this cheerful, perky person even begin to understand someone like me? I am no beauty, I detested the cheerleader types, and even though I was more than capable of being an honor student, I never did my homework. I was seriously depressed for more than half my life, and I was unable to see much of anything good about this world, but my mom was always looking for the best in other people. She had never been to that dark place that I had visited so often.

She had no idea what it was like.

***

From the time I was a little kid, I loved my grandmother. I loved her more than anyone, and my mom knew it all too well. It must have hurt her terribly, but she never called me out on it. Instead, she was glad I had someone who was able give me a little of the understanding I so desperately craved. Grams was not like me, either, but somehow she understood me. I saw her as the only person on Earth who “got it.” She said it was because she had been a nurse and had a medical background–she had even worked in the psych ward and cared for the actress Gene Tierney (who later became an outspoken advocate against electroshock therapy)–but I think she was just an extraordinary human being.

The way I saw it, Grams simultaneously loved, understood, and respected me, and there was no one else who could do all three at once. She was my beloved grandmother and very best friend all at the same time.

She was my person.

She was everything my mom would have been if only I had allowed it.

***

It took years of therapy, but I now understand that I projected my disappointment in myself on to my poor mom. Let’s face it, no parent dreams of having a kid like me, and I imagined that my mom longed for a daughter more like her. A happy daughter. My perception was warped, but I was convinced that she was deeply disappointed with me. I wasn’t cute, perky, cheerful, or anything. Instead, I was weird and morose. I wouldn’t even let her hug me. She loved my prettier, thinner, outdoorsy, affectionate younger sister more than she could ever love me.

I didn’t blame her, but it still stung.

I was messed up, but I was also a brat, and that is a lethal combination. I loved my mom dearly, and in a sense, I worshipped the ground she walked on because she seemed like this paragon of a perfect person, something I could never aspire to be. But I grew resentful. I just knew she wanted me to be perfect, too. I craved her approval, and I longed for her to be proud of me, but how could she possibly do either? I mean, look at me! Still, I was her child, so why couldn’t she love me in spite of my glaring imperfection?

I tried so hard to make up for my shortcomings. I did extra chores, and convinced myself that she didn’t even notice. I worked hard in college because I wanted to hear her say I did a good job. I tried my best because I was seeking her approbation, but I felt like I never received it.

At age twenty-three, I underwent a battery of psychological and intelligence tests because even my shrink–a trained professional–couldn’t figure me out. As it turns out, my I.Q. is well over 160, so technically I’m a genius. I was very excited when the psychologist informed me of this fact, but my mom… she barely reacted. I know now that she was already aware that I was a smart kid and that some stupid number like I.Q. didn’t mean anything to her–she just wanted me to be a good person–but at the time, well, I thought she just didn’t care. I thought that I couldn’t even impress her by having a genius I.Q.

Well, what else is there? What more could I possibly do to win her over?

***

When Grams died, I was devastated. Crushed. I felt like I had been eviscerated. I had lost my confidante. My rock. The only person who loved me exactly as I was–the only person who never asked me to be any different. Were it not heavy doses of a good antidepressant combination, I am convinced I would have gone off the deep end. I would have been suicidal.

Somehow, though, losing Grams made me see my mom in an entirely different light. I grew to understand that she had always loved me. She must have loved me. I realized that I had gravely misunderstood her intentions. I thought she tried to push me because she wanted me to be different, when in actuality, she pushed me because she wanted me to survive.

Grams’s death forced me to take a long, hard look at the people I had left, including my mom.

So, Mom and I grew closer and started cutting each other a little slack. I figured out that my mom a person like anyone else, and she learned to let me do things in my own way, in my own time. This newfound understanding between us did wonders for our relationship, and I found myself confiding in her more. In turn, she stopped treating me like a child. I discovered that she “got me” more than I ever imagined she could, and I finally saw her as a real person rather than an archetype of human perfection.

She became my person.

At long last, I gave my mom a chance. At long last, I let her in. My single biggest regret in life is that I didn’t do it sooner. That I was such an nasty kid for so many years. That I couldn’t allow her to love me because I thought she couldn’t love me.

All along, though was me who couldn’t love me.

***

When my sister moved out, my mom and I really connected. We both missed Lindsay, and Grams was long gone. Maybe we got to be best friends because we were each what the other had left, but I’d like to think we were just late bloomers. I’d like to think it was that we finally learned to accept each other. We will always be opposites in many ways, and while opposites will inevitably clash, they can also complement each other. They balance each other out.

Opposites and balance or not, I would be lost without my mom. I am so grateful that she never gave up on me, that she never pegged me as a lost cause. Her capacity to love is the easily most amazing of her many amazing qualities–I put her through hell, but she never stopped loving me.

My mom has become my person. She was my person all along.

MOVIN’ ON UP(STAIRS)

Change is hard. From what I gather, most people agree on that. For an autistic person, though, change can be torturous–no exaggeration.

About two years ago, my sister–my constant companion since the day she was born–moved out, and I was utterly devastated. She was only doing what normal folks do, but I was angry with her: no one had ever knowingly done something that caused me that kind of emotional distress, and it took a long time for our relationship to fully recover. I shouldn’t have been angry like that, but I was, and I had no control over it. I sunk into a deep depression, something that hadn’t happened in years, and some awful part of me almost hated my sister because I saw her as the sole cause of my misery.

Yes, change is hard.

Every time I passed her deserted bedroom, I would tear up, and it took everything in me not to cry. I missed her so much, and the knick-knacks and things she left behind served as stark reminders that she was not coming back. There were many nights that I cried myself to sleep, and I spent my days deeply resenting her absence–I did not ask for these changes, nor did I want them. No way, no how. They were being imposed upon me by a young woman who simply wanted to spread her wings and fly. After all, most people leave home eventually.

Not me, though.

I cannot hold a traditional job, and I will most likely live with my parents forever. I used to struggle with that knowledge quite a bit; this is not how my teenaged self imagined her life would turn out, but it is my reality, and I had no choice but to accept it. Truthfully, the idea of moving out is enough to bring on a panic attack–I don’t want to be all alone, and again, change is hard. Like most autistic people, I am very much a creature of habit, and I can’t stand even small disruptions in my daily patterns and routines, so leaving home would probably give me a freaking ulcer or something.

But back to my sister’s onetime bedroom. It is on the second floor and is much more spacious than my closet of a room in the cellar. It has a beautiful view of the mountains, a full-sized bed, and a walk-in closet, all of which sorely lacking in my basement abode. My mom offered my sister’s room to me early in 2018, and I was very tempted, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Moving is stressful for anyone, but for me? I need to feel settled and secure, and that in-between, neither-here-nor-there feeling, which I have experienced before (when my family moved from the house where I grew up). As much as I wanted that beautiful upstairs room, I didn’t think I could put myself through that kind of upheaval. The room needed to be repainted, and that would take time, and I firmly believed I would be unable to deal with the waiting period.

It isn’t that I am particularly impatient, but… change is hard.

If you want to get Freudian about it, maybe deep down I also viewed taking over my sister’s onetime space as the final severing of the cord. If I were to move upstairs, it was the surest of signs that she was never coming back to me and that things would never be the same.

Still, part of me yearned for that room. For a year, I vacillated back and forth–I want to move upstairs. Wait, no, I can’t. A few weeks ago, though, I looked into the bedroom and thought of how nice it would be to have it. I thought of how much fun it would be to decorate it, to organize it, and to make it my own, but my hesitation persisted. I just couldn’t put myself through that kind of change.

So, I told my shrink that I had the opportunity to have a much larger bedroom with a real closet and a big girl bed, not to mention a spectacular view, and she convinced me. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t take that room,” she said. I explained to her how excruciating it was for me to leave my childhood home ten years ago, and in return, she said that I have changed a lot since then: I have learned a few coping skills, and my depression is under control. I knew she was right, as she usually is.

That evening, I told my parents that I had made my decision regarding my sister’s old room. I wanted to move upstairs. I would suffer through the ordeal of waiting for the paint job to be completed, provided it be completed as quickly as humanly possible, and so it was settled.

It took a week for my dad to finish the work, and it was a hellish week. I couldn’t think about anything else, and I couldn’t sleep. I had to emotionally detach myself from the room that had been mine for so many years, and everything to do with the waiting was nothing less than excruciating. Two days ago, however, I moved all my worldly possessions up two flights of stairs, and now… I am so glad I was able to tough it out. I couldn’t be happier with my new space.

My big bedroom is beautiful. I have a full-sized bed in which I can really stretch out and luxuriate. I have a walk-in closet, and I have never in my life had so much storage space.

And yesterday morning, I got up early and watched the sun rise over the mountain.

Change is hard, no doubt, but sometimes–even for those of us on the autism spectrum, it can be well worth it in the end.

STANDING STILL

“The whole world is moving / but I’m standing still.” – The Weepies

I am standing still. For everyone else, things happen and life goes on, but me? At this point in their lives, most people have a home of their own, or at least an apartment. I live in my parents cellar because living alone is just too scary to contemplate. Other people my age are married. They have kids. These things are not viable options for me because I suck at human interaction and interpersonal relationships, and whether or not I want them is irrelevant these days. Other people are gainfully employed. I can’t hold a traditional job because of the social impediments I face.

I am a thirtysomething with all the social skills of a particularly awkward fifteen year old. See, I never learned the fine art of communicating and connecting with others, so I am stunted. Stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence.

All, or nearly all, of my (online) friends, people with whom I went to school, have long since grown up.

Yes, I am standing still. The universe has left me behind, and life has forgotten me.

I was fourteen when I realized that I would be a solitary creature, doomed to a different–often lonely–kind of life. I was sitting at my desk attempting to knock together the stanzas of a terrible little Emily Dickinson-esque poem, one brimming with all the angst of my years, and I called the finished product “Solitaire.” I knew, but I was neck-deep in denial–I held out hope that maybe I would turn out to be normal, and that maybe all my brooding was just my raging hormones talking. Still, I knew.

I continued to hold out hope right up until my college graduation. I spent my university years living in terror of what would become of me once I received my degree–because I knew. My family was starting to figure it out as well; my poor mom finally had to let go of her dreams that I would one day be okay, and while part of me was relieved by this, the other part was crushed because it meant that others were giving up on their visions of my normality. My own dark thoughts were one thing, but the necessity of applying for disability benefits at twenty-four, at my mom’s urging? She had heard my insistence that I was doomed, and tacitly–somewhere deep down–she was now able to agree with me.

Almost miraculously, I was able to fulfil one seemingly unattainable dream when I earned an MFA in 2016 (from a non-residency program, obviously, because having to move away wasn’t going to happen), but that was three years ago. I have edited two books, and written the introductions, for a historian (online) friend of mine, but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t make any money, and I’m not allowed to make any money anyway, as it could affect my government benefits and student loan forgiveness, so many people would say it was a waste of time and effort on my part, but what else could I do? Let’s call it a valuable learning experience–I learned that I do not want to be a proofreader.

Yes, that’s pretty much it. So what is left for me? What is there for me to look forward to? I don’t get to have the husband, the kids, the dog, and the house with a white picket fence. I don’t get to have the fulfilling career. It’s just not in the cards, and that was a hard pill to swallow, but I have long since choked it down, gagging all the way. Still, there has to be something in this world that is just for me. If God exists, what is His plan for me? I wish He would give me a hint about what my purpose is.

I long to return to school. More than anything, I wish I could complete my education and attain that crown jewel of academia: the PhD. But that too, it seems, is absent from the hand I have been dealt.

I am fortunate in that I have a wonderful, loving family, but what is going to happen to me when my parents are no longer here? I’m pretty sure I’m going to live and die all alone, and it is not a pleasant thought.

Some days, and today is one of them, I feel very much like my best days –my college days, back when I deluded myself into thinking that some semblance of a normal life was possible–are ancient history. However slim it was, I miss having hope for the future. I miss believing that maybe–just maybe–life might work out for me someday.

Like everyone else, I had hopes and dreams. This is not the life that a younger, less jaded version of me had envisioned for her future, but I’ve had to adjust my expectations along the way. I’ve had to accept a lot, and it hasn’t been an easy road.

Contrary to popular opinion, throwing in the towel is never easy.