2014 was probably the worst year of my life. It was one year after completing college, a slew internships, and teaching abroad but still, I had not found a job. This was the backdrop to a personal life that was spiraling out of f***ing control. My then boyfriend of four years was cheating on me with alarming regularity, my mother completely succumbed to her paranoid delusions with wild abandon, my best friend of 15 years cut off all contact for reasons never explained, one of the assholes living next door to me ran over Zoe (my cat), all of the bills were due (mom ran up $300 phone bill and didn’t pay the rent while I was gone), my student loans were exiting deferment, and I had to explain to my ten year- old brother why mom had to be strapped to a gurney and carted off to the hospital for a surprise vacation.
It is at this time that a crippling depression crept in and began to choke the life out of me. I was still going to work at my part-time job but now I spent most of my time there applying for other jobs, struggling against impulse to start drinking. Every day I rehashed all of my successes and failures until there was only a never-ending list of failures. Resume after resume after resume accumulated in my icloud like sad little snowflakes. I spent hours contemplating how to convince a committee of unknowns, who I imagined where just a bunch of floating heads sitting in judgment somewhere, that I was a worthy candidate. “Qualified, what the f***k does that even mean anymore,” a seething disembodied voice would complain as I deleted and added or re-added and re-deleted line after line that read, ” I am a self -directed task managing, proven professional,
grant writer, web developer, customer hugging, content pooping, budget hawk, with a shit load of experience and I want to work for you because you are the best.” Each rejection letter or email felt like an indictment of my abilities, a rebuke of the idealism that led me to believe all my sufferings would be relieved if I tried just a bit harder.
I was having a nervous breakdown and didn’t realize how serious it was. Sleep became an intermittent activity I engaged in between 11:59 p.m. to 3 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. Panic attacks kept me up most nights when I was home alone with nothing but the solace of my thoughts to provide comfort. So, I would turn on my smartphone and do a deep dive into the social media panopticon known as Facebook to be bombarded with saccharine images smiling couples, happy families, career success stories, and silly cat videos. This did nothing to abate the panic attacks which increased in frequency and intensity. I gave up my bedroom and took the couch when mom moved in, to the detriment of my lower back and shoulders. My body was so stiff it felt like I was getting my ass kicked every night. So I chugged caffeine every morning and went to work with hell in my heart.
On December 16, 2014, I f***ing lost it. Contrary to popular belief, when one momentarily breaks with reality you don’t see purple elephants charging at you from all directions or totally lose your inhibitions – you don’t lose you. What I did see was an eight-foot-tall, red, white, and blue Christmas tree with a built-in five-foot-tall LED cross inside it sitting near the center of my living room. The light that emanated from it attacked my retinas the minute I turned the corner. My reaction to it was visceral, I hated it like it was my mortal enemy. It was the a**hole who was cheating on me, the motherf***er who killed Zoe, those motherf***ers who didn’t reply to my cover letters, and the best best friend who turned her back on me. When I opened my mouth to politely inquire about it, a barrage of swears and insults erupted in rapid succession. Ironically, it felt like I was speaking incantations to lift a dark curse rather than what I was actually doing, which was upsetting my ten-year-old brother who immediately got up and left the room. My mother, to whom the tree belonged, entered the room full of cheer and declared, ” Yeah, I know it is a bit much.” The night reached its climax with me backed into a corner next to the tree tightly clutching a broom handle, threatening to beat the living sh*t out of it if she didn’t send it back. She professed her undying love for it and refused to do so.
After spending the night at a friend’s house, I returned to work the next day and sought out a colleague who I knew would lend a sympathetic ear. My home had been violated and I had nowhere else to turn. She gave me tissues when I told her about Zoe and offered a ” he ain’t sh*t” in reference to my ex-boyfriend. When I told her about the tree she asked, “why red, white, and blue?” Though it riled me to even think about, I explained,” she said that modern Christmas was not real Christmas.” The tree was meant to be a symbol of God and country for the whole neighborhood to see; there to remind us to stay grounded. Passersby even took pictures as they looked up and saw the patriotic spectacle. To make matters worse, my brother took our mother’s side. He said I ruined the Christmas spirit. Defeated, I handed my phone over to my colleague so she could see what had defeated me. As I waited for her to respond in outrage, I was taken aback by the unmistakable tittering sounds of laughter that filled her office. I could not believe she was laughing. Her laughter grew louder and louder until finally she said,” I didn’t think it was this bad but, damn, you can’t even look directly at the picture.”
As insensitive as it was, my colleague’s laughter may have been what I needed. While she was busy giggling and suggesting that the photo be posted to social media so that people could see what true happiness looked like, I couldn’t help but to crack a smile of my own. I can’t say that I laughed and suddenly things were okay and I was fine. Far from it. What followed our conversation was a bitter break up during which I called my ex-boyfriend a used tampon, an awkward text message from my ex-bestie calling for a truce to a fight I didn’t know we were having, more career disappointments, three more trips to the hospital for mom, and seven more even stranger objects appeared in my living room for reasons I wished were not explained to me. What laughing did for me that day in my colleague’s office was reassure me that I was going make it. It was a liberating feeling to have at the close of the sh*ttiest year ever.