Mental illness is so ’87. All the big bloggers have already done it: some own it up front, and some practice it on the down-low, proclaiming (and probably believing) themselves to be totally sane and normal. Some are self-revelatory and civic minded about it, and others like to spread their whackadoo like a virus everywhere they post. What is it about bloggers that makes them prone to SSRI dependence and occasional forays into institutionalized psychiatric care? No one can say for sure, but I will venture a guess that it is probably not “normal”–in the strictest sense of the word–to publish your dirty laundry online for everyone to see and evaluate. By the same token, it is not a healthy practice to construct your own brand of crazy through magnifying and exaggerating, publicly, the problems of people who are better at marketing their crazy than you are.
The literary practice of selling female crazy is nothing new. In the 18th century, it would appear in the form of a matriarch’s case of “nerves,” which would eventually lead to “fever” and then on to “delirium,” all of which would be treated by a little blood-letting and lots of hair-tearing-out and shedding-of-heroine’s-tears-at-the-bedside. The “hysteric” of the 19th century was dealt with ordinarily by being locked in the attic so they could not disturb the main action of the story, but remained close enough to provide flavor to the plot, whether by screaming or by starting the occasional fire.
Google Analytics indicates to me that my audience is traditional in its desire for more crazy. You gotta have more crazy! So as I made the trek to my own psychiatrist yesterday, I thought, hey! I’ve got issues aplenty. Why not expose them to the world? So today’s is the the first post in what will undoubtedly be a long series documenting my backstory and my clumsy and offensive navigation of life underneath the bell jar.
This week’s episode is entitled, “Early Complications and Coping Methods: the Student Body Election Story.”
If you check public records, you will see that I Had a Totally Normal Childhood. Having said that, I have heard more than one person describe me as having been a “morose child.” Interestingly, none of these people were my parents. So officially, I was a sunshine happy child right up until I got old enough to remember things on my own, and then things started to go downhill.
As is the case with most depressives, my condition really blossomed once I started high school. There, I grew into the role of stereotypical, upper-middle-class, Sylvia Plath-reading, Smiths-listening, black-wearing teenager. Except without the black-wearing, since my mother believes that anyone who wears black under the age of 18 and/or anyone who lets their under 18 offspring wear black “has a problem.” Instead, I wore an odd combination of clothing procured from catalog sources like Laura Ashley and/or stores too “classy” for my hometown. Like Ann Taylor. I guess I just wanted everything to be somewhere else, including myself. More on that later.
Around age 5 or thereabouts, I became very concerned with getting into college. I was an early scrutinizer of human behavior, and based upon observations of all the adults I knew, college must be a Very Important and Magical Place, full of wonders that would spawn decades of fond reminiscence for me and my children someday, whether they liked it or not. Otherwise, why did we have to make the trek in the Volvo to Berkeley every fall, watch a hideously boring football game, look at Mom’s sorority and Dad’s fraternity houses, visit the student store, and eventually go home bedecked in Weenie Wear?
I felt that if I went to the right college everything would work out fine for me. So at age 11, I started writing letters to the admissions committees of various Ivy League and “Honorary” Ivy League schools. I did not know it then, but this was the beginning of my virtual networking career. I figured most eleven year olds would be above this kind of hyper-accelerated, gratuitous ass-kissing, so perhaps this would give me a leg up when it came time to actually submit my applications.
In my letters, I adopted the faux naivété of someone with disingenuous purposes, and asked the admissions committees to please let me know, at their leisure, what would be the best course of action to being admitted to their schools. Once I had finished typing up the letters on my Dad’s secretary’s typewriter, I showed them to him and he would wonder, silently, why I always had to choose “the hardest thing,” and why I would set myself up for disappointment so early on in life.
Having received responses from several of the schools, I learned that I had to start padding my resume. So in high school, I decided to run for various student body positions despite the obvious complications, given that the elections tended to be decided by popularity, and I:
1) had few friends;
2) disliked, as a rule, talking to/interacting with most people;
3) was known for being a little “grouchy”;
4) was nicknamed “Oscar” by my basketball team;
5) so annoyed my (adult) basketball coach by correcting his (atrocious) grammar–publicly–as to inspire him, one day at practice, to throw the ball at the back of my head; and
6) was generally “unlikeable” and “unpleasant to be around.”
Still, going to the right college was essential. I knew it was the only thing that would get me out of this dreary, hiding-junk-food-and-bingeing-in-private, closet-smoking, Seventeen magazine poetry-writing, laxative-taking, family-despising existence once and for all. And I needed to appear well-rounded to go to the right school. So I was determined to get elected as Representative of the Junior Class.
There would be four of them. And only five running.
One of my opponents was a popular, generally nice and easy going girl. She had lots of friends and lots of smiles. She was the kind of girl that really pisses you off, just for existing, when you are me, running against her and unmedicated for major clinical depression.
And haven’t discovered alcohol yet.
I went about my campaign as only an over-achieving depressive introvert can: slaving away away at my campaign posters, innovating new ways of getting around the 25-photocopy limit for campaign ads, and spending late nights at the school, drawing elaborate publicity campaigns in chalk on the blacktop quad. I felt that nobody could beat me, popular or not, if it was based on “qualifications” or “publicity.”
Then she put up her sign. Yes, one sign. In the middle of my Mad Men-scale, guerilla marketing style ad campaign, she hung her one white piece of butcher paper that read, in pink marker:
Put in some Pep! Sunshine Happygirl for Junior Class Rep!
Put in some pep? How DARE she? How DARE she imply that “pep” was what the Junior Class needed? Where was she going to go to college? Had she even considered this? Was she even going to apply to Harvard? Hardly. Why was she running? I needed this.
That evening, I worked long and hard on what would be a new campaign. A new smear campaign. The next day, I constructed a minimalist sign of my own:
And I lost.