I have convinced myself I look good in baseball shirts. The three-quarter sleeved ones that are two-tone. In my head when I wear ’em, I look like a slender tomboy actress who is trying to not look like she is trying.
In reality, I do not look like this.
In 2012 I took a class at Second City in Chicago. The training center there sold one of these shirts. It was grey with black 3/4 sleeves. I loved it. They offered a choice of medium or extra extra large. I intuited the medium would be too small, so I told myself I could wear the Double-x. I bought it and wore it often when I got back to Cleveland. Sure, it fit me like an over-sized nightshirt. Thankfully I promptly and conveniently forgot this fact every time I walked away from a mirror. I loved this shirt -for its memories and over-sized soft fabric – both of which felt comforting to be enveloped within.
I was wearing this shirt one day and a woman said “Second City, huh?”
I smiled and told her, “Yes, I studied there.”
The fact that I have any relationship with Second City is something I am very proud of. Second City made me an improviser. And being an improviser changed me for the better. Many times over. I started at Second City Cleveland thirteen years ago. When I went to Chicago to take a longform intensive there, I felt like I had come full circle.
I was proud to tell this woman I’d studied there.
She looked at me, smiled and said: “Oh, how wonderful!” in a very happy, yet somewhat exaggerated tone.
I was crestfallen.
You see what I should probably tell you is this conversation took place between me and a nurse.
A nurse at a psychiatric hospital.
A psychiatric hospital where I was a patient.
When I told the nurse that I’d studied at Second City and she responded in this extra chipper voice, I felt like the very real fact that I am an improviser was somehow now being taken away from me. It occurred to me that this nurse might not even believe me. After all, I was a resident (albeit a temporary one) in a place that felt I couldn’t even be trusted with a regular toilet paper dispenser.
The thing is, it is hard to hold on to your identity when you feel like a prisoner – not only within the walls of this space – but of the chemical imbalances in your brain. Although I was voluntarily there, I also was aware of being “locked up” without the basic freedoms my friends and family have.
Since this stay at a psych hospital, I have been healthy and unhealthy many times over and though I am currently struggling I am lucky because I am surrounded by people who support me as I battle mental illness and so many of those people are my fellow improvisers .
I am also lucky because even though I felt at times like a prisoner, I recognized I had the freedom within me to always keep knowing who I am at my core.
It’s interesting. A lot of what improvising is about is learning to be comfortable with uncertainty. This is a huge obstacle for improvisers – to just let the scene happen – and to not rely on taking it to the easy, familiar place. In many ways my training with improv is helping me to improv my way through this uncertain time in my life.
So thank you Second City. I will continue to wear my shirt proudly.
Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it’s you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all.
– Mary Tyler Moore theme song.
I had seen every episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show multiple times as I was growing up. Thank you Nickelodeon. And when I graduated college my sister got me the Mary Tyler Moore VHS box set. A gift I very excitingly requested. Don’t most 22 year olds? I loved everything about the MTM show, the writing, the characters, the actors, and just the flipping awesomeness that was Mary.
So yeah upon graduation, I wanted the box set but what I wanted more was to feel as I moved on to the next phase of my like that I had within me that flipping awesomeness of Mary, a woman who was totally making it on her own.
I was having a tough go of it. I wound up ending college by trying to end my life. And then I came home to the theme song lyrics of Mary telling me “You’re gonna make it after all.”
In life I’ve struggled with feeling like I will make it after all because it’s felt like that’s too much to make happen. Too big of a promise
These past months have felt unmanageable, and shitty, and just like something I couldn’t recover from. But here’s the thing, when I felt most like I wasn’t gonna make it after all, that’s exactly what I was doing every single day, every single second.
Making it after all isn’t the big thing I was afraid of, it’s the one little thing I can do everyday. Stay here. Stay with it.
And it hasn’t felt little but somehow it has happened and now I am starting to feel better.
And yes it is and up and down disease but while it’s feeling a little up, I’m gonna embrace it cause damn it, that‘s what flipping awesome Mary would do.
I am a pretty boring person
And because I’m pretty boring, you know what sentence I never thought I would say?
“No, I don’t choke me as a form of auto-erotic asphyxiation.”
I have said this above sentence probably 30-some times in the past few months. No, not on a first date or a job interview. Though I could see that being entertaining.
I have said this sentence to a slew of mental health professionals I have met with. When you go for a lot of mental health treatment you have a lot of intake interviews and meetings with therapists. All of them involve telling them what is wrong with you.
I talk about how much I want to not be alive, how much I want to hurt me, and I hate saying all of it.
It’s weird with this mental health battle how you decide what is normal to say and what it makes you feel like an absolute piece of shit to say and how that will often change.
I have battled with the suicide stuff for over 15 years so talking about wanting to no longer be alive feels like run of the mill chit chat.
Hitting myself, choking me, that on the other hand just seems like complete and utter crazy talk. I still say it though but then I get angry at myself for being this person .
When I hurt me I want to hurt me more for hurting me in the first place. I want to punish this person who is enough of an asshole to punish herself.
And that reaction is what needs to change.
Yes I need not to hurt me but I also need not to pile on
I need not to judge.
I need to ignore what just happened and go forward and say “Now I will be kind to me. Now I will treat myself with love. I will love myself. I will treat myself how I think others should be treated. I deserve to be treated that way.”
One day I will be interviewed by a mental health professional and I will say “I used to hurt me but I haven’t in a very long time.”
That’ll be cool.
Part of me wants to die. Part of me wants to hurt myself. I hate this part of me (and that’s probably part of the problem.) I have been battling this crap on and off for over 15 years but this past year these thoughts of suicide and self harm have been a lot more on.
I have tried to get better in so many ways, hours of talk therapy, different behavior programs, joyous stays at delightful local psych hospitals, several shocks to my brain, and still I am struggling, in fact it’s getting worse. And that sucks but there is something good because even with everything I’ve tried, there is still another option. I will start this option tomorrow and I am very grateful.
The thoughts of death and wanting to hurt myself are so so loud right now but I am pushing through, reminding myself of tomorrow and the hope it offers and also of all of you and the caring and warmth you’ve brought to my life.
I remember in college being at the Disney Store with my friend Michele, trying to justifying buying ourselves Tigger and Winnie the Pooh costumes to wear for Halloween (Once again, yes, I was a very cool college student.)
We finally pulled the trigger on the Tigger and Pooh, reasoning that since we’re Jewish we would be able to wear the costumes twice every year. once on Halloween and once on Purim. The costumes wound up being very well made and we have definitely gotten our money’s worth. My sister even wore mine last Purim at her temple. Ah, yes, Rabbi Tigger.
Beyond double chances for costumed holidays, Being Jewish also means I get to celebrate two New Year’s. One I spent September in the psych hospital and this one I will celebrate tonight out and about with a friend. And those New Years are just the ones on the calendars.
I have spent a chunk of the last four years with this disease not in remission, with fighting suicidal thoughts, with strapping on electrodes, and with thinking I am done.
But I am not.
With this disease I get 365 chances to start a new year again. And without this disease I do too. We all do.
I have been meditating for two weeks – (That year is two weeks old)
I haven’t hurt myself in over 6 weeks (That year is over 6 weeks old)
I started my job in May (That year is seven months old.)
I have been surrounded by supportive friends for as long as I can remember (Going on over 37 years there.)
And so tonight I will ring in another year and hope it is filled with stretches of health, many steps forward, and the ability to enjoy and recognize both of those.
Happy New Year, Friends