So now that you’ve admitted to yourself, to your pets, to Lana Del Rey, to Stevie Knicks, to your higher power whoever the hell she is — that you’re burning in the fiery flames of a nervous fucking breakdown — now we can actually get to work.
For this is where the fun begins.
This is when you get to ask yourself the most profound question to ever exist in the world — one that you may never be able to completely answer but must continue to ask regardless of how difficult the truth is to unearth — and that’s….why?
Why are walls crumbling down around me? Why can’t I leave my studio apartment without feeling like I’m dying of a sudden heart attack? Why have I forgotten how to sleep? How to eat? Why am I eating the entire contents of my fridge yet still aching with a relentless hunger that never seems to go away? Why am I drinking to the point of blackout, multiple times per week?
Why can’t I stop crying? Why do I feel so disconnected from my life — like I’m not even living it, but watching it through a static TV screen somewhere in the dismal suburbs?
Why can I not feel anything unless I’m having aggressive, crazy, insane, sex with a toxic human being who treats me like dog shit?
Why am I having a breakdown?
Let me tell you something I WISH in the deepest pit of my gut someone had told me: You don’t have a breakdown for no goddamn reason. You are having a breakdown because you’re going through something. You are having a breakdown because inside the cracks of your shattered heart lives a deep unhappiness. You are having a breakdown because you’ve been knocked out alignment from your true purpose in life. You are having a breakdown because you’re insanely scarred from the trauma of your personal history. You have a breakdown because you’ve swallowed so many secrets that you’ve rendered yourself sick.
You’re having a breakdown because you don’t love your life and love is life.
I had my first big breakdown, the breakdown that shifted my path, at 24. I was a mess at 24. Falling apart at the seams! Drowning underwater!
On the outside, it wasn’t so bad. I was living alone in London. I had a job at a makeup counter at a gigantic department store right on Oxford Street, a glittery, glossy institution called Selfridges. My job was to sell makeup. I had always wanted to work in beauty, so this job was supposed to be the perfect stepping stone for me.
Only on the inside, my career path was slowly sucking my soul out of my skull. For the record: there is nothing bad about working at a cosmetics counter, it just so wasn’t for me.
Let’s start with the dreaded uniform: A stiff black “business skirt,” thick black tights, painful black high-heel pumps, and a brown branded shirt. I wasn’t allowed to wear jewelry (I love jewelry). I wasn’t allowed to wear hair accessories or hair extensions (I love hair accessories and hair extensions). I wasn’t allowed to wear false eyelashes (Excuse me?). I wasn’t allowed to paint my fingernails any color except beige (Cue the collective spirit screams).
I can’t tell you how much I fucking detest being told what the fuck to wear.
I know some people would be happy, relieved even by the presence of a uniform, but I’m not that guy. I’ve always been one of those creatures who can’t help but express her wild, true self through style. Getting dressed in the morning — throwing on pounds of jewelry and adorning my face in whatever makeup I crave on my skin that day, is cathartic to me. It’s like journaling.
I’ve been this way since I was a kid. Anyone who went to high school with me will tell you that I was constantly in trouble for breaking the dress code. I knew that by showing up to my fussy prep school without a nude bandaid covering up the silver ring in my nose, destined me for a lifetime of detention. I didn’t care. I went to school with my nose ring gleaming in all its glory. I would rather spend my Saturday morning locked up in a windowless room, “studying” with other teenage delinquents than acquiesce to a dress code. In all seriousness: Nothing feels more oppressive to me as a woman than being told how I should present myself to the world. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.
And here I was a goddamn adult, six years out of the stifling hell that was high school, only to be told what I had to wear. Again, I know this sounds dramatic, but every single morning as I stretched that stiff, identity-less business skirt across my thighs, I felt a piece of my young, expressive self die. I would walk to work in the darkness listening to Jenny Lewis, Ani Difranco, and Tori Amos, with a sinking feeling deep in my stomach. The heavy feeling of dread followed me around like a shadow.
I would stand on the shop floor under the fluorescent lights for the next nine hours and sell people shit they didn’t need. Shit to cover up their “flaws.” Shit to make their boyfriends lust after them. Shit to fill the gaping voids. I would trudge home from work, still in the darkness, headphone glued to my ears, and just feel…hopeless.
I’m an optimist by nature. But I wasn’t rooted in the nature I belong in when I worked in beauty in London. I was living someone else’s life. I was working in my father’s business. I was wearing clothes that someone else had chosen. I was living in my mother’s city. I was dating a gender I wasn’t attracted to, but thought I was “supposed to be” attracted to.
I felt disconnected from myself, and that disconnect felt like homesickness. But the longing I felt wasn’t for a place. It was for myself. The girl I used to be.
You know when you see a couple of pairs of dirty, stray, mismatched socks on your bedroom floor? And you like, don’t want to deal with them because they’re ugly and dusty and it’s going to take too much time to look for the other matching half, so you just kick them under the bed and pretend that they aren’t there? Except you know in your heart that your house isn’t really as clean as it looks on the outside — because hiding beneath your pretty wooden bedframe are these nasty, smelly, old socks? So it kind of weighs on you but you try to forget about it and instead just stare at the cool paintings you have adhered to the walls and the fresh flowers you have resting in the porcelain vase on your desk?
And then one morning you wake up to find that your dog has crawled beneath your bed dug up those old, ugly shocks and ripped them to shreds and now your entire floor is covered in its neglected remains? And you’re sort of sad because you’ve had those socks forever and even though they were gross you feel shitty for hiding them because they are a part of your history. And now you’ve got to sweep them up and throw them away and isn’t life so depressing sometimes?
This is what I did with my feelings.
I shoved them down because they were ugly. I numbed them because they were painful. And my numbing-drug of choice has always been alcohol. And lucky for me, I lived across the street from a dark, grimy pub full of soulless spirits who also wanted to numb out. Numbing loves company far more than misery.
I had nothing in common with the people I hung out with at the pub. We didn’t talk about art, books, music, politics, love, words, poems, muses, Lana Del Rey — all the shit I love to gab with people about. We just drank. Until we lost touch with our humanity and were totally content with small talk.
And I would wake up in the morning with a scorching headache and a deep sadness only to repeat the cycle all over again.
This was all fine until I started having daily panic attacks.
Fight or flight, full-throttle panic attacks that made me certain I was going to die, every single time.
And then I began to fixate on textures. I know it sounds super crazy (and it is) but I grew to fear the texture of tinfoil. Like my entire body would recoil and a monstrous feeling would wash over my limbs anytime I looked glanced at anything metallic.
And then the flowers began to look demonic. I lived on Portobello road, a notorious street in the heart of London that is teeming with the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen in your life. But through my eyes, the flowers looked evil. Their petals were razor sharp! Their faces mocked me as I slinked by them! They represented something so dark and strange and scary, that I couldn’t look at them without feeling like I was going to wretch. So I wretched a lot. Vomited too.
Pretty soon I was in full blast sensory overload all the time. I stopped leaving my apartment (with the exception of work). I was safe in my apartment. Until I wasn’t.
And then the texture of the exposed brick on my walls began to mess with my head. It got to the point where I could hardly keep my eyes open unless I was working or wasted. And I couldn’t tell anyone any of this because I was full of the great, silencing oppressor: Shame.
“What the hell are you going to do?” My shame told me, sliding its vulgar tongue across its yellow teeth. “Call your parents and tell them that you’re suddenly petrified of flowers?” Shame laughed its bitchy devil-like laugh.
My shame was right. My parents were so proud of how independent I was. I didn’t want to distort their pretty image of me. I like most kids, am genetically hard-wired to please, please, please my parents. Pleasing them was far more important to me than being honest with them.
You know how we talked in part 1, about how Violet woke up one hungover morning and just knew in her bones that shit had to change? I had a similar spiritual shift.
After blacking out one night and waking up with my door flung wide open and the smell of an unfamiliar man drenched over my body and strange flashes of a twisted memory I wasn’t quite sure was real or a dream playing on repeat in my head — I, out of nowhere, heard a voice. It bellowed inside of me.
It said: “Get the fuck out of London, move back home, confess, and get help. Otherwise, you’re not going to live. Even if you don’t actually die, you won’t be living. And you were born to live an extraordinary life, honey. You know that. I know that. But all of this hallucinating and craziness and binge-drinking is happening for an important reason. So get the hell out of Dodge and deal with it.”
I had no choice but to listen to the voice. I was tired. I was sick. I was losing my will to live. So I surrendered.
I went from working in the beauty industry, living on my own in London, to jobless, living with my parents in Florida. And even though I was broke, screwed up in the head, embarrassed and wracked with manic depression, I felt…relieved. Because I had listened to my higher-self and trusted her wisdom. I stopped shutting out the breakdown. Instead, I invited her in.
And when I stopped questioning my higher-self, fate began to gently guide me in the right direction. I fell into a job teaching theatre to high-risk teens. And even though the salary was pennies, I didn’t care. It felt so right to have a voice again. It felt so right to dress as myself again. It felt so right to be connecting to people again.
And little by little, I began to figure out what this breakdown thing had been about. I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. And purpose is so important. Without purpose life is meaningless. And when it came down to it, my purpose is to connect with people. To me, connecting with people is a currency far richer than money, romance, the cool factor, sophistication, elitism — anything. And I wasn’t on a path that was setting me up to connect with people in the way in which my soul craved. Telling girls they needed a new lip gloss and convincing them to spend their hard-earned paychecks on something that would only alter them on the surface — that was not what I was meant to be doing with my life.
I was made for something different. I wasn’t made to live my life on the terms of a corporation. I was made to live life on my own terms. I had never known that about myself until my breakdown came sweeping into my life and destroyed everything I thought I wanted. Like a career in beauty. Like security. Like being a “cool girl” in London. Like a boyfriend.
Here was the biggest gem the breakdown unearthed: I finally accepted that I would never connect romantically, physically or sexually with men, ever. And a huge part of my breakdown was rooted in the glaring fact that I was a giant lesbian. But I was too worried about letting other people down, to own my true sexual identity. And our sexuality lies at the very core of who we are. When we ignore our core desires — when we disrespect and attempt to outsmart our very essence — our soul sets itself ablaze with fire. We become self-destructive. We let ourselves burn in the heat. We drink until we can’t speak in sentences and put ourselves in precarious situations and dive into danger and spend money recklessly and slice up our arms with pretty pink razors and hang out with people who treat us like garbage.
Because you can’t like yourself when you’re not embracing your most authentic self. And when you don’t like yourself, you destroy yourself.
But by finally wrapping my arms around my own goddamn breakdown, I was finally able to figure out why Ms. Breakdown felt like she needed to tear my walls down, in the first place. I was able to finally see what it was that I wanted.
I didn’t know how to get those things, but at least I knew what those things were. And just knowing what I wanted, connected me back to myself again.