Fire in My Belly

August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

The way my depression works is funny sometimes. I go downhill really fast, usually within a 24 or 48 hour period, but once I get through it, I have a renewed sense of the fire in my belly, the fire that fuels my drive to keep fighting, to find whatever it is I’m looking for in life.

Sometimes it’s a feeling of fierce desperation, that I need a dramatic change or that I should try anything because who knows what will “work,” what will show me what I need to learn about myself to be happy, to want to continue to exist for myself instead of for my family.

I’m feeling that desperation now. It’s the same desperation I felt when I left alec — the feeling that I can do whatever I want because I’m on my own again, making decisions for myself without worrying about negatively affecting someone else, at least directly. freedom is slavery, but not when it’s paired with a desperate need for change.

I’ve been weighing options, making lists of paths that fit with my skills and interests, trying to figure out what my next step should be. I’ve got nine months to plan, to make things fall into place, so that this time next year I’ll be diving into something new, someplace new.

It’s funny because I never, ever thought I would end up in Texas. Texas was never on my list of ideal places to live, it was never even on my radar as an option. But now I’m here, in a hot, sunny climate filled with gun-toting, anti-education, repressive, paranoid, conservative Republicans. Oh, you’re right… doesn’t really sound that different from Alabama, does it?

I was forced to move to Alabama. I didn’t want to. I actually remember crying when my parents told me that was why we were leaving my beloved Virginia, where I had lots of friends and lived a mere ten minutes from my horse at the farm where I would ride. We were leaving beautiful Virginia for Alabama, which even at my young age of ten, I recognized as the armpit of the United States. We moved into a long ranch house in the country where I took a bus to my all-white rural school where people thought it was cool to smoke, get held back a grade or two or three, and to get pregnant before you can drive. The accents were heavy, the aspirations were low, and the minds were incredibly, painfully narrow. It was *exactly* what I feared when we moved there.

I went through a few stages during my seven years in Alabama. I hated it, and still do, for being the place I lived the longest out of my life, so I feel like I am forced to say I’m “from” there. People always ask, “where are you from?” (not in Alabama, of course, but when I go to school or a new job or am in a big city, people ask) and I either evade the question (because in truth, I’m not from anywhere) or begrudgingly admit “Alabama” with as little Southern accent as I can muster. Usually I get the “good for you! you got out!” look and the topic of conversation is changed, to my relief. But I hate it, deep into my core, that I am forced to say Alabama simply because I lived there for 7 years out of my 25.

I’ve considered saying I’m “from” Tennessee, since I was born there, but I’m really not sure that’s much of a step up from Alabama. If they asked me anything about Tennessee I wouldn’t be able to answer them, which would likely raise eyebrows. I only lived there for the first two years of my life, so I’m thinking it’s not really kosher for me to claim it as my home.

My friend Missy did a photography project when she was in college. She took pictures of her friends in their homes. Most of them still had rooms in their parents’ houses, perfectly frozen from the day that they left for school, so all their childhood mementos were still carefully or carelessly arranged around the space. My childhood room never really existed, not in the same evolutionary state as everyone else’s anyway. We moved so often, my belongings were often boxed and stored when they were outgrown, replaced by the objects whatever new stage of adolescence I was in called for. My room in our last family home in Alabama wouldn’t have been the same as everyone else’s rooms, since I’d only lived there as a teenager so there wouldn’t be that feeling of growth and of childhood and of continuity. Didn’t matter, though, because my parents had already moved into their new strawbale house, so I no longer had a room to be photographed. Instead, Missy photographed me in one of the back lots of a U-Haul place in Birmingham. You can hardly make out my solitary figure among the large trucks.

So where am I from? I’m not from Alabama, or Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Connecticut, DC, or Dallas. I’m from moving trucks and cardboard boxes. I’m from empty rooms and open roads. How do you tell that to someone, how do you explain that in two sentences or less?

Texas is funny because it’s broken some kind of “zone” barrier for me, like if I can live here, I can live anywhere. In fact, I’m looking at AmeriCorps jobs in Alaska. YES. I said it. ALASKA. And why the hell not? When am I going to get the chance again to just fuck off and get a job in some crazy place? I don’t know how to walk a dog in -8 degree weather, but I could get asha a treadmill and one of those indoor grass pads that they have in SkyMall. I can do ANYTHING and why shouldn’t I? I’m young, I’m single, I’m healthy, I know how to live on very little, and I feel pretty confident I can make a life for myself anywhere, especially since I don’t plan on staying there longer than a year.

Here’s what I’d like to do, my big “grand plan” for right now:

I want to get a job with AmeriCorps VISTA for the next two years. Every year that you work, you get an education stipend of about $5,500 (it’s the equivalent to whatever the Pell Grant amount is), so after two years I would have $11,000 which would be about 1/2 of the amount I owe for my student loads (my last Sallie Mae statement says I owe about $23,300, but I’m not totally sure that’s all of my loans combined).

The education stipend would be a huge help, but there’s more to it. I would be actually helping people, improving their lives or their communities. That would mean so much to me, might even help me sleep at night. I can try for a PhD and museum career later. For now, I want to do something for someone other than myself, at least 40 hours out of the week.

There is a huge bonus for me though.

I’ve developed three different trips that I want to take over the next three years. Doing AmeriCorps would let me take one month out of each year off to travel, because the appointments are only 12 months long and there are always so many openings, that I’m sure I could find one to start after I got back from my trip. They don’t pay you an exorbitant amount of money, but I’m used to living on very little, and I can certainly travel on very little, so I know I can make it work.

Here’s what I have in mind…

Trip 1, 2014:

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Trip 2, 2015:

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Trip 3, 2016:

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I’m going to do them by myself, and I’m going to do them on less than $3,000 (not including airfare). I’m young and I’m capable and I’m goddamn going to live life if it fucking kills me. I’ve worked *so hard* and done so much to get my resume in the shape that it’s in that I think it’ll be okay for me to take a slight detour to do something to benefit other people while giving myself the opportunity to see a world outside of my own. Yes, I’ve already been to Italy, but I’d like to go back. I’d like to return to Greece as well, but that’s not a planned trip yet. Three trips are enough to plan for.

In 2016, when I’m 28, I’ll feel better. I’ll feel a clarity I don’t have now. My desperation to do more and see more and live more will hopefully be sated so I can settle down and get my goddamn PhD. Yeah, I said it. I’m getting it. I will add “Doctor” to my name, Alexa L. Hayes, independent woman from a cardboard box and the open road. There is a fire in my belly and I fucking dare life not to let me live it.

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Settling In

August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m not sure how I forgot, or maybe I just didn’t want to think about it, but I tend to get really depressed when I have this much alone time. I slept great my first few nights here, but lately my nights have become miserable. I feel exhausted, but toss and turn, sleeping only to have muddled or chaotic dreams. One dream in particular sticks out. 

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A couple nights ago, I dreamed that I was at the airport with my parents. We were trying to catch a 2am plane to Europe, but we were cutting it close. When we were in line to board, I suddenly realized I’d forgotten about Cleo, that in all the chaos leading up to the trip, I’d neglected to find someone to care for her while I was gone. With 40 minutes until the plane took I off, I ran around the airport trying to figure out what to do as I only had $10 cash, which I wasn’t sure was enough for a cab though I did only live a few minutes from the airport [in my dream]. A hispanic woman who worked at the airport in the lost baggage office offered to take me, assuring me that it was no problem, especially since I lived so close. I frantically fretted, worrying that I was inconveniencing her at best and at worst, that I might cost her her job, though I also didn’t want to take a cab only to realize I didn’t have enough cash, because Alabama is still behind the times and doesn’t have the credit card machines in taxis yet. With the clock counting down until takeoff, I decided to ride with the baggage attendant, as images of my sweet old dog pacing around the apartment alone and in the dark, starving and wondering where I was, flooded my mind. 

We were halfway to my apartment when I remembered she was dead. 

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I’m sure you can understand and appreciate my confusion and upset when I awoke from this dream. How could I forget to find someone to take care of her in my absence, as I was off traveling the world? Perhaps more disturbing, how could I forget she was dead? It was the strangest feeling, having to tell that flight attendant that the dog she was rushing me home to rescue was dead and that somehow I had forgotten. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about that dream, concerned about what it means, if you buy into the belief that dreams mean things or are our way of telling ourself something. 

I think I’m afraid of what my life is, the nature of my way of living. I see things as temporary, not in a “die tomorrow” kind of way, but in a way that leads me to believe I’m better off not getting invested since I’ll be moving along shortly anyway. I have the hardest time remembering things, those good moments in life that remind you why it’s worth it to be alive. Those moments where you feel that fleeting emotion called “happy” and where you feel something close to satisfaction. My memory is such that I only remember the bad things. Whenever I am outside at dusk near yards or other grassy areas, I remember so vividly a hallucination I had as a three year old. I still remember the gripping fear that came with that hallucination, and how I screamed and cried for rescue on the other side of a chain-link fence, my mother in sight but moving so slowly because she couldn’t understand my desperation. 

I still cry remembering how empty I felt when Alec and I broke up the summer after my sophomore year of college; it was like my torso was gone, leaving nothing but a gaping hole where my organs used to be. I still cry remembering how I felt hyperventilating between sobs on the floor when I said goodbye to Alec before moving back to Alabama. I still cry remembering just how painful the decision was to put Cleo down, and how quickly she was gone from my life. These things I remember: vividly, viscerally, painfully, permanently. 

So why can’t I remember the good things? Why can’t my brain hold those memories, instead of letting them disappear? Why does my brain choose to hasten their dissipation instead of trying to catch every exquisite detail of life? It’s heartbreaking, really, to get to age 25 and hardly be able to remember what you’ve been doing all this time, who has touched your life, and what moments were the most special. 

I’m due for another serious suicidal episode. My last one occurred around this time last year and again around August/September the year before. Like those times, I feel alone and lonely, like I don’t matter, like I could disappear today and it would be weeks before anyone found my bloated, rotting body. (It would be weeks, seeing as I haven’t started work yet so only my landlords would notice my late rent check.) Directionless, confused, worried, feeling like I’ve been spinning my wheels like crazy only to realize I’m on a stationary bike. I’ve imagined it so vividly, the bite of the blade and that queasy feeling you get when you stand up too fast. The overwhelming feeling of hopelessness followed by the peace of knowing there wouldn’t be a tomorrow, there wouldn’t be another day to fight for some kind of meaning in a violent, self-destructive world. I’m gone and life moves on. 

But I’ve been through this before. I know what that feeling is like and I know how to breathe through it, how to call on my exceptionally vivid imagination to illustrate just how terrible that would be for those special few who love me. I can see my parents’ initial confusion upon answering the phone, wondering why they are so urgently needed in Texas. I can see their hearts breaking. My dad might never recover, or may follow my own end. I don’t know which would be worse. 

It’s so easy to spiral into that, so easy to compound every negative thought or feeling when I’m alone with myself with no distractions for such an extended period of time. I don’t know the last time I spent a week alone like this, with so little human contact or activity, responsibility, obligation. I can’t believe I’ve been in Dallas a week. I’ve done nothing. But that was the plan, wasn’t it? To do nothing? To settle in and calm down and enjoy not drowning in deadlines, tasks, and plans. How could I forget my dead dog? How could I forget I don’t thrive in lifestyles like this? How could I forget I’m developing a pattern of suicidal thoughts that tend to get significantly worse when I’m alone like this. Whoops. 

No wonder criminals get so much worse in solitary confinement. Really, it’s a form of torture. I wonder why I did it to myself. 

Where Am I?

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