You Are a Broken Toy

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Depression makes you feel like a broken toy. You once had use, but now, you’re forgotten, sprawled in the dust beneath a child’s bed. You can’t remember what it’s like to not be broken. You can’t imagine anyone fixing you.

So you lie there, tired, broken, and no one can reach you—not even mom’s feather duster.

Depression destroys you. It makes you forget how to work or how to eat. It makes you want to sleep but not cry. You are beyond crying. You feel nothing but a crushing pain in your chest. You feel nothing but aching muscles and the strange beat of your heart that seems louder in the silence.

It’s very quiet under the child’s bed. In the dust.

It’s not scary under here, not like the movies would have you think. There aren’t monsters under this bed—just you, the broken toy. You are in pieces. You can’t hurt anyone.

Depression is the bad thing you’re waiting for that never happens.

Depression is loss, but lost what?

Depression is the hope that this day will soon be over, because maybe you will wake up not so broken tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Maybe tomorrow, the child will find you under his bed. He will dust you off and sew you back together. He will play with you again and remind you what you’re here for.

You will remember how to work and eat and maybe even smile. Tomorrow.

For now, you lie in the dust and watch feet pass the foot of the child’s bed. You wonder: how do they do it? How do they go about their days? How do they keep their pieces together? When you are so broken.

You’re not even old! Barely played out! How did you end up in this dingy, under-bed place? How did you get here? But you don’t remember. One day, you were fine; the next, you weren’t.

Depression is the dark thing in your dreams, half remembered by morning.

Depression is the thief that takes and makes you forget how to give back.

Maybe you should rest now, sleep for a while, under the bed. Stop looking at other toys. Stop wondering how they stay together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll be fixed again.

To be an Introvert

I attended a fantastic book signing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this weekend to see Ransom Riggs: a hilarious, talented young man who penned Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children as well as its newly released sequel, Hollow City. Ransom was sociable and clever, great at off-the-cuff jokes and comic tidbits. Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck in my seat because there were too many people and the chairs were too close together.

Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.

Me at Ignite Phoenix, speaking in front of 900 people.

I’ve fought for years to act the part of an extrovert. I do public speaking. I throw parties at my house. I come off as confident, outgoing, and a little eccentric. The truth: I’m painfully introverted, and it takes an awful lot of emotional energy to leave my house.

According to About.com’s Psychology page, “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation.” Introverted does not mean shy; it just means we’re happier in our own heads than in the center of a crowd.

Even the social butterfly can be an introvert, which is a perfect example of me. I am a social butterfly, but only for a certain amount of time. After awhile, I run out of words, and I literally need to get home before I have a panic attack.

The Huffington Post has an article entitled “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert,” and it gave me a laugh. Among the listed items:

  • Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards. (Can you say “Ignite Phoenix?”)
  • You screen all your calls—even from friends. (Guilty.)
  • You have a constantly running inner monologue. (The voices! The voices!)
  • You’re a writer. (Literally, this was on their list. No joke.)

I could go on, but you get the idea. As I said, I’ve fought to be an extrovert, because I admire people who are. Some of my best friends and social icons are extremely extroverted. They’re charmers. People like them, remember them. They love “doing things,” and I’ve wanted to be like that for years, but you know what? I’m thirty-one, and maybe I’m getting a little old to be someone else.

f4da910154a970b30270c93711ec96daSometimes, it sucks really knowing yourself, because you might not like what you find. For instance, I’m grumpy and unpleasant when I’m around people for too long. I’m horrible at returning voicemails because I hate talking on the phone. I’m in my head so much, I feel like I occasionally neglect my husband, my family, my friends … these are flaws. I don’t like them, but they are mine.

I once considered being an introvert a flaw, but no longer. It’s who I am. It’s who a lot of people are. I’d like to be like Ransom at Changing Hands. I’d like to be relaxed in a crowd and feed off the energy around me, but I can’t. And maybe I should stop trying.

The older I get, the more weird and introverted I become. Does this worry me? No. I’m just growing more comfortable with myself.

I am an introvert. I don’t want to go to that dinner theater performance because I’m terrified they might pull me on stage. I refuse to go on weekend trips with people I don’t know well, because I can’t be trapped in a hotel room with them. I know when to say “no,” but I say YES to introversion—because that’s who I am. Hear me roar … while sitting happily alone on the couch in my living room.

The Christmas Letter

The Dobie-Schwind-Bauer family in Ohio, 2011.

The Dobie-Schwind-Bauer family in Ohio, 2011.

This morning I received the yearly Christmas letter from the pastor at my church, and it came as a surprise because so far this year, I haven’t acknowledged the most heavily celebrated holiday on the Christian calendar.

In his letter, Pastor Bob enumerated the many things he loves about Christmas: the lights, the music, and the atmosphere of joy—and it’s all true; just ask my neighbors. They’ve had their Christmas lights up since November 29th.

Usually, on December 1st, I’m ready for the holiday season, too. By December 1st, I finally allow for tinsel and 99.9 FM (the Christmas station). This year, something is different, and I’m not entirely sure what.

Is it Grandpa being gone? He was the ultimate lover of Christmas and Frank Sinatra’s “The Christmas Waltz.” He was our patriarch, and this is our first Christmas without him.

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been oddly emotional. While shopping for tree trimmings at Michael’s, for instance, I told Jake, “I gotta get out of here” and started crying as soon as we stepped outside. The next night, my husband (who is not into holidays) was the one who dragged out our fake Christmas tree.

I don’t feel giggly inside. I don’t feel joyful. I don’t believe Santa Claus is coming to town, and let’s not forget: my parents arrived last night. Yes, this will be the first time I’m not in Ohio to celebrate Christmas, but the grief people at Hospice say this is good. After a death in the family, you’re supposed to change up the holidays so the absence of a loved one isn’t quite as obvious. Yet, even with the arrival of mummy and daddy, I still don’t feel like decorating or singing carols or baking cookies.

But this morning, Pastor Bob’s Christmas letter was a revelation, because along with not thinking about Christmas, I also haven’t thought about Jesus.

From Pastor Bob’s letter: “My prayer for you is that as your scurry about with many and varied preparations for Christmas … the real meaning and message of Christ’s birth will not be lost. Pause and remember the message of Christmas is simply this: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.’”

This holiday season may be tougher than most. My family will be separated into east and west coasts. I’ll be in the sunny desert when I really want snow. We’ll all be without Papa, and that will be hard. But Christmas isn’t about the decorations, the presents, or Frank Sinatra. Christmas is about a baby born in a manger—and it’s time I remembered.

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Giffing Out

Kmart recently launched a new ad campaign for Christmas that features two happy shoppers “giffing out.” I know what you’re thinking: Kmart still exists? If you’re not thinking that, you’re thinking: What the hell is a gif? Well. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite time wasters.

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A “gif” is an image format. Unlike the boring “jpeg,” a gif format supports animation. Basically, you can turn any video into a repeating image that repeats and repeats and honestly grows funnier the more it repeats.

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Who has time to turn videos into gif files? I have no idea, although I often wonder because they show up so fast. You see something funny on the news? It’s probably a gif before the show even reaches your TV. I mean, these people are fast—like, faster than a Cumberbitch with a camera at The Hobbit premiere.

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For me, gifs exist to make me laugh—and they do, often. And who doesn’t need a laugh, right? I’m not a computer nerd, but I did laugh at the new Kmart commercials. I say bravo to them for being hip with computer folk.

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True, there are those who think the “giffing out” commercials are immature–but laughing at gifs is immature, so the advertising makes perfect sense.

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Thanks honestly to all the insane fangirls, comics, and internet-obsessed who give me the gift of gif. Merry Christmas to me!

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In Memory of Barney Schwind

Barney Schwind is dead: the man known across the Toledo area as “The TV Repair Man.” He wasn’t known to me as that. I called him “Papa.”

Saturday night, October 5, Papa passed on. For years, we watched him lose weight, lose his appetite. We watched him physically shrink, the man he used to be shed like clothing on the floor. Yet, despite old age and dementia, he was still Papa, who loved gin and tonics, always had Tic Tacs in his pocket, and did magic tricks with pieces of tissue paper.

Barney Schwind and Sara Dobie BauerPapa never lost his spark. He still yelled, “Sara, baby!” every time I called the house. He still made bad jokes, and I still laughed. He still jokingly held blankets to the side of his face every Christmas and sucked his thumb like a little kid. Despite the dwindling physicality—the mind that forgot my husband’s name—he was still Papa. And we didn’t love him any less.

He’s gone now. He died Saturday night after a huge, Papa yawn. We, as family, are left with many memories of this great man who wore gold chain necklaces on the beaches of Long Boat Key; who visited the Jagermeister tent at the German American Fest to hit on chicks; and who kissed me on the cheek each time I arrived and left his house on Walnut Street.

My family has lost our patriarch; my grandmother has lost her husband. Perrysburg, you’ve lost Barney Schwind. You were lucky to have him for so long.

Papa taught me how to be an optimist every day. He taught me how to have a smile for everyone. He taught me how to love unconditionally—and love eternally. He will be greatly missed … but in a way, I feel like he’s still here, giving me a big Papa hug and telling me he’ll always be close.

(Thanks to the Perrysburg Messenger Journal.)

Back in Black

fe53ea027d8a55833af2d9ed7ed2a357When I was a depressive teenager, my parents hated the black I wore—even my hair. I remember I once snuck out of the house with black eyeliner on, and when my mom finally noticed, she freaked. Granted, I probably looked like a raccoon. That black eyeliner was the first makeup I ever wore.

As an adult, I look back and laugh, because now, those things that made me creepy and “troubled” as a teen have become my trademark. I wear black eyeliner every day, usually paired with dark purple lipstick. I wear tons of black clothes and skulls—skulls galore. Even my friends love this; so much so that when they see anything skull-related, they spend their hard-earned money and buy it for me.

The things that were once exterior manifestations of my depression have become … style.

When I was a teenager, the black hair and dark makeup were cries for help. I wanted to show people how disturbed I was; isn’t that what writers are supposed to do—show not tell? Now, I wear dark makeup because I look good in dark makeup. I have purple streaks in my hair because I like lookin’ funky. No longer does darkness on the outside mimic darkness within. Darkness on the outside just means I’m keeping up with Vogue.

Day of the Dead goth.

Day of the Dead goth.

The last week has been a week of endings. I finished my novel, Something about a Ghost, and my grandfather passed away Saturday night. The dark makeup has been smeared by tears that wash in like high tide. My toenail polish started peeling, so I painted them black. I try on three outfits before I put on a black tee and call it a day.

For the first time in fifteen years, it is possible that my exterior mimics the internal pain. When I was a teenager, my grunge-phase call for help was hormonal. I suppose today the black couture and blood-red lipstick are purely circumstantial.

When I was a teenager, I listened to Nine Inch Nails to drown myself in auditory misery. As an adult, their music reminds me of sex. Many things change, but depression doesn’t. I have good days, bad days, but I’ve been fighting this disease since the eighth grade, and there is no cure. There is no magic pill. This has been a week of endings, but not an end to sadness.

Playful goth.

Playful goth.

I will not be deterred from the way I look. No matter how I feel, I’ll still wear skull jewelry. I’ll still paint my nails black and go total goth for Rocky Horror Picture Show at the end of this month. I may be depressive, but I still got style. I also still have sadness, and I admit: that teenager in the Kurt Cobain t-shirts still lives inside me. She says hello whenever I buy Urban Decay lip gloss or hear Jim Morrison sing “The End.”

We are who we once were. We change in many ways, but certain things remain the same. I embrace the old me—pay her homage—every time I bemoan another sunny day. (Sunshine can be so depressing.) But I sometimes turn my back on teenage me, too: go makeup-less and lay in the sun.

I am in a dark place for now. The black fingernails and dark lipstick are more than elements of style. Yet, I will move forward, and soon, this pain will pass. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll buy something in a shade of pink.

Everything Ends

As I near the completion of another novel (Something about a Ghost), my feelings are mixed. I’m excited at the prospect of completing a new project—a land speed record for me, a novel in two months. This year, every novel I write finishes faster. In time, I might be Ray Bradbury, locked away in a basement, writing Fahrenheit 451 in four days.

Each time I finish a novel, there is a forty-eight hour period of celebration. Following the celebration comes the depression, the mourning. By completing a novel, I kill my characters. You must understand: when the book ends, so does their story. They will never say something new, do something new. They are dead, and when this realization strikes, I wish I still had work to do.

My therapist suggests I write a letter to my dead characters, telling them how much I miss them. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s an idea. Characters, when you spend enough time with them, become friends, and no one likes saying goodbye to a friend.

In conjunction with the completion of Something about a Ghost, I struggle to come to terms with my grandfather’s ensuing passage. As of last Sunday, the Hospice nurses gave him one to two weeks of life left.

Papa Schwind, 2011, at my wedding.

Papa Schwind, 2011, at my wedding in AZ.

Papa Schwind is the grandfather I grew up with in Ohio. My Grandpa Dobie lived far away, in Arkansas, and he died when I was very young, so I identify the word “grandfather” most strongly with Papa. He lives five minutes from my childhood home. He was at my house for every birthday, national holiday, and random Sunday afternoon.

Now, he can’t get out of bed. He recently told my mother that he and Grandma were on vacation—that they would be going home soon. I’ve tried talking to him on the phone from far-off Arizona, but he doesn’t respond. I don’t know if he knows who I am on the telephone. If he saw me, maybe it would be different; maybe not. He’s drugged. He sleeps constantly. He truly is ready to leave.

Everything ends. Life. Novels. Summer. Let’s not forget it will soon be October, and I’m shocked. October is my favorite month of the year—the month of pumpkin-flavored everything, daily horror films, and spooky décor. I am ill-prepared, perhaps because of all that’s gone on this week: the impending loss of not only favorite figments of my imagination but of the man I’ve loved all my life.

In my imagination, Papa and my novel are on a timeline together. I call my family every day; I write every day. Papa fades; the characters in Something about a Ghost will, too. I’ve reached the level of literary maturity to know that finishing a novel carries a lot of baggage; so does death, because I don’t know how I’ll respond when the final phone call comes from Ohio. Will I cry? Scream? Fall apart?

Papa has been sick a long time. The man he was—the man I most remember—is mostly gone. He still smiles. I guess Sunday, when they first thought he was gonna go, he woke up and asked for a cookie. That’s Papa. He’s still in there, but I’ve already grieved. I’ve been grieving for two years.

Everything ends. People say every ending is also a beginning, and this is true. Papa’s life in Heaven will soon begin. The ending of my novel will release my mind and allow me to wander down new paths of creativity. Yet, I do not rejoice at the prospect of these endings. Instead, I feel a daily ache and wonder what beginnings hide in shadows so thick.

Eau Flirt and the Ohio Seven Take on Nashville

Harvey Prince's delicious Eau Flirt.

Harvey Prince’s delicious Eau Flirt.

This past weekend, me and six of my best girlfriends from Ohio University took a reunion trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Along for the ride was Harvey Prince’s wicked perfume, Eau Flirt.

Perfume company Harvey Prince was founded by two brothers, in honor of their mom. Her love for things honest, pure, and beautiful inspired their first scent, Ageless, intended to make women feel younger. See, that’s the thing about Harvey Prince: their products don’t just smell good; their products utilize aromatherapy techniques to give power to every potent potion.

Eau Flirt, for example (our constant companion in Nashville) is intended to make you feel fun, flirty, and daring. According to their website, Eau Flirt is a “magical scent that flirts for you. Its warm, tempting notes of pumpkin pie and lavender are irresistible.” The stuff smells amazing, and well, the seven of us Ohio gals got an awful lot of attention in Nashville just by wearing this scent that’s good enough to gobble.

Admittedly, Nashville is a tourist destination. We were lucky enough to stay at the fancy Union Station Hotel (the old train depot), within walking distance of the main event: Broadway. Broadway in Nashville glows multi-colored neon. Live music pours from every open door, and even the bouncers are friendly.

Union Station Hotel lobby.

Union Station Hotel lobby.

True, I was disappointed with the lack of dancing. I was ready to two-step until my feet bled, and although I did acquire some pretty impressive blisters, the dancing was sub-par. How do guys in Nashville not know how to two-step? Probably because we met very few native Nashvillians. Most people we met were a lot like us: there for vacation. We ran into people from Italy, Australia, California, and even one dude from The Bachelorette. Let’s face it: a group of seven attractive women are prone to meeting a lot of characters, and I’m sure the Eau Flirt didn’t hurt.

Personally, I was most fond of the more divey bars out near Vanderbilt University, where I could actually sit and just gab with my girlfriends without screaming my guts out. The crowds on Broadway were a bit much for a little lady with social anxiety disorder.

I’m still recovering from an amazing time with amazing women and Harvey Prince’s amazing perfume. We were true adventurers of Nashville. We hit different neighborhoods, different scenes. We talked to people of all shapes and sizes. We listened to country … and I don’t even like country.

Yeah, I wake up every morning with Carrie Underwood songs in my head. (I look forward to that stopping soon.) But I have to face it: I just saw my college girlfriends four days ago, and I miss them already. When’s the next reunion? We’ll be sure to invite Harvey Prince along again for the ride!

Feelin' flirty and fun on Broadway!

Feelin’ flirty and fun on Broadway!

A CTF Reunion in Nashville

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There are these girls I know: six of them. I’ve known them for years. We have a nickname: CTF. We’ve never told anyone what our acronym stands for; not even our husbands. We met in college at Ohio University. Then, we were eighteen; now, we’re all over thirty. This weekend, we will converge upon Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville better be prepared.

Ohio University is one of the most infamous party schools in the country. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Princeton Review ranks party schools based on surveys of 122,000 students during the last school year. We’re ranked, this year, at number three, thanks in part to our irreverent Halloween celebration. Every Halloween since 1974, the city doubles in size. The main drag, known as Court Street, closes down. It is a street party that rivals Mardi Gras.

19848_331934196317_7235933_nComing from a party school is only a fragment of CTF’s binding factor. When the seven of us met, we really had very little in common. We came from very different backgrounds. For instance, I went to public school in the Midwest, which meant I’d been drinking since eighth grade. Two of my gal pals attended an all-girls Catholic school, which meant drinking was like a shiny, new, favorite toy. One of the CTF clan even came to us from Florida. Poor girl; talk about culture shock!

Yet, we found each other. We thrived. Some years, we lived together. Some years, we didn’t. Yet, there were the parties. There were the bars. There were hung-over breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. It was like there was a huge magnet above OU that kept us coming back to each other. Apparently, that magnet spreads across the entire United States, because this weekend, we reunite for CTF 2013.

I live furthest away, which sucks. Some of my girls get to live in the same city as each other (Charlotte and Cincinnati). They get to spend as much time together as they want, dang it; meanwhile, I’m out here in Arizona, present only via email and the occasional Skype. Well, no longer. This weekend, I will give out copious hugs. I will lift my glass in celebration. I will be back with my girls.

189234_4989866317_1961_nThe fact is we’re older. We’re married. We have kids (or dogs). We no longer drink twelve beers in one sitting or play the infamous “Drinking Jenga.” Yet, when we’re together, it’s as if nothing has changed. No time has passed. Do you have friends like that? I hope so.

There’s something magical about my girls. When we’re back together, we don’t miss a beat. There is very little talk of our jobs. Very few questions like, “So what have you been up to?” Instead, we dive right in.

We rehash the time Caroline broke the table in Cornwell. We recall the time Katie tried to escape our apartment on her twenty-first birthday because she wanted to DRINK MORE. The time I broke my foot while camping. The time Megan wrapped herself in toilet paper in Washington Hall. Kari and Nicole’s “Toxic” dance. I’m sure we’ll even fondly recall the naked, dancing man who used to do cartwheels on his roof across from our apartment on Court Street.

This weekend, I’ll be in Nashville with women who changed—and saved—my life at Ohio University. Women who I have no fear of losing, because I know they’ll always be there. Even if we don’t see each other for a couple years, we’ll still be CTF: a title once earned and kept for life.

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I Don’t Know Why but Today Seems like It’s Gonna Be a Great Day

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Let’s be honest: the past few weeks haven’t been good for me. It’s getting harder and harder to keep it together. Like Tim Curry said in RHPS, “Even smiling makes my face ache.”

I’m a melancholic personality; I know this. But waking up depressed every morning? Ain’t gonna cut it. True, I’m dealing with issues. My grandparents are dying. My career is a confused mess of rejection letters and possible copyright issues. My depression makes it hard to do, well, anything, so my house is a mess (as is my health). Plus, I feel like God is reading the newspaper somewhere and paying absolutely no attention to what’s going on down here.

There are those who would say, “But you have so many good things in your life!” In the thralls of depression, I want to smack the hell out of those people. Comments like that do not help. Depression has a way of making even the best things seem not so good. Depression has a way of sucking the good out of the great.

macklemore-ryanlewisIt’s ironic that within this month-long funk, I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. Ms. Rubin had an epiphany one day on a city bus: “The days are long, but the years are short.” She realized that time was passing, and she wasn’t paying enough attention to the important things—the things that make life great. In order to do so, she started a year-long “Happiness Project” to try to ramp up her joy and improve her quality of life.

This morning, I read the chapter called “Keep a Contented Heart.” One of the keys to this? Laugh out loud. As Rubin writes, “It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, easier to be demanding than to be satisfied.” It’s also easier to take ourselves too seriously—even take life too seriously, which is dumb, because life is hilarious. I can admit this, even when I’m depressed.

In honor of Rubin’s “Laugh out loud” philosophy (and in an effort to remove myself from the bottom of my self-centered, self-pity), I decided to watch some funny videos this morning.

Now, I share them with you, because it’s Monday, and frankly, maybe you feel like I do today. Maybe you feel life has been smashing you with a hammer. Maybe you’re neck-deep in despair. Fear not. And laugh.

Charlie the Unicorn.
A classic cartoon about a grumpy unicorn and Candy Mountain.

Louis CK talks about pot (explicit).
One of my favorite comics has an unfortunate weed experience.

“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore (explicit).
Cuss words, yes, but one of the funniest music videos ever.

Johnny Carson’s Copper Clappers.
The immortal late night classic.

“A Great Day” by Lonely Island.
A coked-up businessman starts his day with a song.

Author GK Chesterton said, “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” For me, it’s easy to be depressed. It’s not so easy to find the bright side. Happiness takes work, but hey, let’s start with laughter. And after watching the above videos, I feel better already. How about you?

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