On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

It’s happened like clockwork. Every five or six months since I joined the working world, I start to panic. I find myself burned out, thoroughly exhausted, and inconsolable because it seems like everything I work so hard for is ultimately unattainable.

This month, I looked at my bank account after I paid my bills, sorted my savings, and so on. For the month of April, I have $15 a day. This includes gas for my car, food, and anything else I need. (Let me put this in perspective for you: It costs me around $40 – two and a half days of life – to fill up Simon’s gas tank. I do this every seven to ten days. Budgeting for four fill-ups during the month of April, we’ve already lost a quarter of my funds.)

***

According to new studies, about 11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. I lost the link to the article, but apparently the people with the highest percentage of prescription drug abuse are people born between 1981 and 1990. And then there’s this horrifyingly sad op-ed piece from a father who lost his son to a drug overdose.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was twenty-three. It was a hellish two-day testing, during which all learning disabilities were ruled out. I’m grateful for that – I always wondered if I was just bad at math or if it was something more than that. (As it turns out, I’m actually average to above average at math, so I’m wondering how much learned helplessness is playing a role in my inability to do calculus. I also wonder how necessary calculus is for a long and happy life.)

In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I’ve embraced my Adderall and all of its drawbacks. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful for the drug. It’s changed the way I work. It’s allowed me to focus, something that I can’t do. I now have the ability to be productive. I often wonder what my grades in high school or college would have been like had I been properly diagnosed around the time I started wondering if I had a focus issue. I wonder if my inability to concentrate – which was honestly so bad that I never read a textbook – negatively affected my grade point average and my chances at success in life.

My manager when I was 16 always used to tell me that I had the attention span of a golden retriever. Now, I’m still not the best at impulse-control or listening, but I’m at least getting better at being patient, at doing work,
[edit: I came back to read this paragraph and realized I’d totally trailed off, leaving it unfinished. I’m leaving it this way.]

True, I immediately lost 15 pounds and have struggled to maintain my four-pounds-underweight weight ever since. I pick at my skin, unconsciously. I was having trouble sleeping for a while. They tried to prescribe me pills for that, but I declined them. I don’t want more pills.

Regardless, I’ve never abused it. Nor have I sold it. Nor would I ever dream of doing that. I believe that too much Dateline as a child has led me to lead the mostly drug-free life I lead today. I am disappointed to hear so much about the struggles that so many people are having with drug abuse, particularly my beloved Adderall. I never took it recreationally before being diagnosed, so I never understood the allure of it. I hate the vilification of Adderall-users. I hate how I feel like a criminal with my pharmacy and my doctors. I hate how hard I had to fight to get my insurance company to cover it, initially. I don’t take it on the weekends. I don’t take it so I can stay up and party. I don’t understand why you would.

***

I work sixty hours a week, and have for much of the last two years. I supplement my income from my full-time job with income from a regular babysitting gig and then a part-time job at a Dairy Queen. I am exhausted. There is no time for balance. There is no time for moderation. I see my family and friends when I can, working them in between the triple-work schedules that I juggle.

I hope that one day, I will make more than $xx an hour. I hope that eventually, I won’t have to work three jobs so that I can make ends meet. But for now, this is what I have to do. I try to love my job, and generally I do, but there are times when things start to get so impossible that I start to drown in the negative.

These past few weeks have been that cesspool of hell, the undercurrent threatening to pull me under. I go from being confident in what I do to cut down and weak. It’s frustrating. The environment, which can be so collaborative and positive, can quickly turn threatening and hyper-competitive, leading to unnecessary drama and unanswered questions. Instead of being able to stay afloat and above the chaos, I find myself questioning my own abilities.

***

People ask me why I work so hard. I don’t know how to tell them that I know what it’s like to wear damp pants to school because your dryer broke and your parents can’t afford to fix it right now.

I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given. I am grateful that I have been blessed with the ultimate gift of education. I am blessed because I  understand the value of a dollar, the value of simple indulgences like a drink with your meal. I understand what it’s like to make sacrifices; I understand how to cut out the unnecessary. (Seriously, if you want to save money, don’t buy liquid. Don’t buy juice, don’t buy soda, just drink water. One of my favorite indulgences is fruit and veggie juices. It pleases me on some core level.)

I don’t ever want to worry about money. (Which is why the sad irony here is that I spend every day worrying about it.) I don’t ever want to have to ask for help. I don’t need a gold-plated bathtub – I need to know that I can pay the water bill. I won’t stop until I know I’m okay. I can’t. If something bad happens, I need to know that I can hold on for a few months, that I won’t lose my house, or not be able to afford a car, or whatever else.

***

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s a life crisis of the worst kind. The “why do I work so much when it’s not really getting me anywhere?” struggle. The “maybe I’ll just live off ramen and be done trying so hard” train of thought.

I’ve been wondering if it’s that I’m materialistic or too greedy. But then I think, that can’t possibly be the case, can it? Sure, I take pleasure in my material comforts, but I truly believe I’m reasonable about them. I haven’t gotten my car fixed (long live the duct taped bumper!) because I believe it’s an unnecessary expense.

***

In the middle of this disjointed spewing of thoughts, I renewed my prescription online. Then I got a message saying that I’m due for a blood pressure check. I will gladly go and do the blood pressure check so that I can get my prescription renewed. I’m responsible. I’m on top of it. I renew, I submit to the examinations of the mind and body whenever they tell me to, I pay. I don’t abuse. I take my dose, no more, no less. I hate that people want to make the drug the problem, when in fact, there are other factors to consider. I will say, though, that I’m glad it happened at 23 and not at 10, or younger. I am grateful that medication was my choice.

***

I hate to say it, but have we considered the fact that our society is slowly building a set of standards that are possibly unattainable? I hear all of these complaints, including that op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal by a very whiny high school senior who didn’t get into her chosen schools, from people who aren’t measuring up. But are the standards too high? Am I one of those who worries I’ll never be good enough simply because I could be good enough? Or perhaps I’m already good enough but can’t see it because I’m constantly being told I should push harder, run faster, be better. (For the record, I’ll never run faster than last place, and I’m cool with that.)

I need my Adderall to focus. But I need my focus to work. And I need my work to survive, to be happy, to be secure. Above all, I want security. Is that so much to ask for? Security should not be the result of a sixty-hour work week. It should not come at the expense of happiness.

***

Last week, someone asked me what I do to relax. I stared at them, my mind desperately searching for any answer besides “gin.” After a very long and uncomfortable pause, I weakly offered, “I take baths sometimes?”

“I expected that you wouldn’t have a lot of answers, but I didn’t expect nothing,” was the response I got. I’m determined to somehow find time to take care of me, to find my own relaxation somewhere in this madness. But perhaps, much like security and happiness, relaxation is another of the unattainables we were told we could have if only we worked hard enough.

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On the State of the Church, Heretically

I’m really not sure why I hate the Pope so much. It’s not all Popes, just Benedict. (Fun fact: John Paul II and I have the same birthday, which we share with Tina Fey. Yeah, I’d be jealous of me, too.)

Benedict was always too conservative for the good of the Church – the tide of losses in both your youth and already established bases isn’t going to be helped by electing a Pope whose hypocrisy and lack of transparency serve to make the Catholic Church the butt of jokes the world over while alienating many of the faithful with your antiquated catechism and refusal to adapt to modernity. I’m not wrong here.

Don’t sit there thinking, “Oh, but tradition!” (In your best internal British accent…for some reason.) I think it’s high time we called Vatican III and sorted this out. I really think we can do something about the issues plaguing Catholics around the world. Also, a good shaking up in the ranks of the Cardinals wouldn’t be the worst thing. They’ve gotten far too comfortable.

The Church has gone through some rough periods after missteps by its leaders. However, the Church carries on – but it’s up to its leaders to make sure that the Church stays on the right moral path. (Think of the souls currently rotting in hell – if there is one – because they thought their purchased indulgences would save their souls. The Church definitely got the last laugh there – tons of cash money and a less-crowded VIP section heaven.)

My prescription for the Church: 1. Vatican III 2. A pope from either Africa or Central/South America. 3. A pope who’s not approaching octogenarian status. Just a thought.

Additional reading: These two articles made me laugh this morning, contributing to my excellent mood.

On Gloria Anzaldúa

The first time I came across Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, I was 17 and a senior in high school. I hated it. Like, really hated it.

I came across Anzaldúa again during an exploration of feminist literature for a women’s studies class in college. I liked her a little better, but found her style of inserting snippets of Spanish into her writing annoyingly pretentious.

(This stems from an upper-level Shakespeare class I took the summer between my junior and senior years of college. On the first day, the professor asked us to go around the room and give an example of “fool.” When we got to the girl sitting next to me, she said smoothly, “I have a highbrow and a lowbrow example for you.” I rolled my eyes. I would later go on to hear the professor telling the girl that it was unnecessary [subtext: pretentious and douchey] to put so many French quotations in her papers.)

I have no idea why I initially disliked Anzaldúa so much. Her writing isn’t really pretentious.  It’s honest. It’s the product of her cultures, and her experiences, and her feelings. (After I post this, I’m going to find my box of file folders and dig through it to find notes on why I hated Borderlands so much the first time. I bet it’s a seriously silly reason.)

Her writings influenced the lesson that my AP English teacher taught about segmentation in the mind. I remember it as this: as the human brain learns new information, it attempts to categorize that information, and puts it into the boxes that it already has established. Woman. Dog. Boy. Adult. And so on. Each box exists as a separate container for information.

(I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’ve never been great with a straight line. I am also aware of the fact that I have the handwriting of an 8th grade girl. I was one once,  you know.)

The identity of a person doesn’t fit into just one box. An identity is a combination of boxes, all jumbled together to form a bigger picture of the whole.

Anzaldúa’s writing focuses on her lack of a concrete identity (belonging entirely to one box) since she is mixed-race and a lesbian, and therefore inhabits many boxes within many other boxes, hence the title Borderlands. Being both of those can get difficult, especially in a society that does not seem to value diversity.

As a college student, I was more receptive to her writing style, although I’m not sure that I was as gung-ho on her as I was on other authors (Judith Butler, I love you).

The idea of not fitting in entirely is not a foreign concept to most people. Granted, as a straight white chick, I will never quite understand the implications of being part of both racial and sexual orientation minorities, but the inability to truly identify as something concrete is something that I struggle with as I attempt to accept that I’ll never know who my birth father was and as I process the larger implications of being adopted as I enter adulthood (although the possibility of being part Vulcan or Russian or English or German or Elfish or Canadian is always exciting, I guess).

Anzaldúa definitely brought a different perspective to American feminist writing, which was (and still is) primarily driven by a very monochromatic subset of our society, and I think it’s really good to continue to acknowledge that even in feminism, minorities are under-represented and overlooked, and then work to change that.

Girldrive – which I highly recommend reading, highlights the importance of looking at feminism from outside academia – also brought my attention to the importance of identities for women, particularly as they navigate the various roles they identify with. (Are you white first? Or a woman first? Or a feminist first? Eventually, you have to accept that you’re a mass of all things all at once, even if people see and identify you as one thing or another immediately.)

Anzaldúa’s contribution was a giant one and as much as I hated Borderlands then (I have since come to respect both the author and her works, and sincerely appreciate being exposed to them earlier than most), I think it needs to remain an important part of our educational curriculum far into the future.

What sparked this? This article in Bitch.

BiblioBitch: 25th Anniversary of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

Books post by Devyn Manibo, Submitted by Devyn Manibo on July 11, 2012 – 1:14pm; tagged 25th anniversary,BiblioBitchbooksBorderlandsfeministGloria AnzaldúaLa Frontera.

If you read Bitch, you are likely at least somewhat familiar with Gloria Anzaldúa and her work with feminism, her beautiful writings, and her advocacy for women of color. She was a Chicana-Tejana-lesbian-feminist poet, theorist, and fiction writer, born September 26, 1942, in Raymondville, Texas. She passed away on May 15th, 2004, but still remains one of the most widely read, respected, and loved queer woman writers of color in history.

As someone who identifies as queer and mixed race, her work was bound to play a pivotal role in the way I construct and understand my identity, the way I live my life, and how I interact with others. I picked up a used copy ofBorderlands/La Frontera (the first edition) when I was 18 years old. Her semi-autobiographical collection of memoir and poetry was older than me, and I had no idea of the gravity of the impact it would have, but I began reading it, slowly–swallowing her words, and digesting them into my being. It was a lot to take in. Quickly, she helped me realize that the comfort I thought I found in labels was simply an assimilationist value I had adopted, not for myself, but for the comfort of others. I never knew how to answer the question, “so, what are you?” It was what I had been grappling with for my entire life; I was living between worlds–the borderlands. I am not either or, but rather, on the edges of all, in an unstable, and ever-changing terrain, “nepantla”–a Nahuatl word for the in-between spaces, where the boundaries are unclear, and we are constantly in transition. I can use ambiguity as resistance, and realize that I will not, and never will, fit so neatly into the boxes left out for me, for that would be the death of the borderlands, and the death of the identities I hold.

It is the chapter “Movimientos de rebeldia y las culturas que traicionan,” which roughly translates to “movements of rebellion and the cultures they betray,” that I carry closest to my heart. I have read those 10 pages more times than I can count. In this chapter, Anzaldúa notes “homophobia,” and not in the way you might think. She means the fear of going home, the fear of abandonment, by the mother, the culture, for being “unacceptable, faulty, damaged.” And to avoid rejection, we conform to values of “the culture,” while pushing what we are taught to understand as unacceptable into the periphery of our vision–the shadows. We’ve internalized our oppressions, thus, creating what Anzaldúa aptly named the Shadow-Beast. We fear that the beast will break free, and that our truths will show. Though, it is possible to come to terms with the Shadow-Beast, to see her as kind, and tender, as a being that wants to be released not in the name of destruction but to uncover the lies we’ve let inhabit our bodies, in order to come into our true selves, to resist imposed ideals, and to not be simply tolerated, but loved, and understood. It is a process, and most often, a struggle of pain, and melancholia. I am on a constant search for home, language, and kinship, and I was able to find a basis for all of this in Anzaldúa’s words.

gloria anzaldua with her arm outstretched, leaning on a wooden plank fence

Needless to say, this book has impacted my life in a way that I can barely scrape with a short blog post. I will revisit this text for years to come, it will live with me, it will understand me, and I will continue to discover what it means to live in such a transient space.

Aunt Lute, a nonprofit press focused on bringing the voices of women—particularly queer women and women of color—to publication, is celebrating its 30th year, as well as the 25th anniversary of Anzaldúa’sBorderlands/La Frontera. For the 25th anniversary of the book, Aunt Lute is looking to publish a fourth edition, but they cannot do so without your help. So, please, keep Gloria Anzaldúa’s voice alive, and donate via Kickstarter by July 28th.