Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Mental Health and You
First, a meet-cute story about how Greg and I got together: In 1999, I was in college after a few years of not being in college. The previous attempts at college had not been very successful--I'd wasted a lot of money and time on several universities without realizing not everyone needs a degree; some people, despite conventional wisdom, are not at their best in academia. I'd spent my time at the University of Memphis avoiding classes, reading both comic and actual books, going to events, and seeing films not readily available in my small town back in Alabama. Rather than admit I'd spent a great deal of time and money not attending classes, I declared I was miserable in Memphis, and wanted to attend the University of Alabama (I was not miserable in Memphis--I loved the city; I just wasn't mature enough at the time to realize all I needed to do was get a job, move out of the dorm, and go about my business).
Living in Tuscaloosa was like living in an alternate dimension. I did go to my classes, but I hated each class. I read, but I did not read the assigned material. I did not socialize. I ate Krispy Kreme donuts for dinner. My dorm-mate was a Japanese exchange student named Yu who did not speak English and so was not able to warn me that he suffered from epilepsy.
Yu was a sweet guy, but sad. One day, I came into the dorm-room to find him sobbing into his girlfriend's chest. The girlfriend, whose name I can't recall but whose face I still remember--she was pretty, without make-up--translated Yu's words to me. The girlfriend, speaking for Yu, said, "I had a seizure at the mall. In front of everyone. Everyone saw me have the attack. I am humiliated."
A few weeks before, when Yu and I moved into the dorm together, he saw Mishima's Confessions of a Mask on my bed, a book I'd been rereading periodically since graduating high school. He pointed to the book and then did the international sign for 'crazy' at one temple. And I thought about that moment during this new moment, where Yu tried to explain to me his troubles through his girlfriend.
"I am humiliated," the girlfriend had meant. What she said was, "Yu is humiliated."
And I was.
Not to draw a direct, serious line between epilepsy and being gay, but it is very difficult to be gay in public, at least for me. Yu saw his seizures as a weakness of self, and for a long time, I saw my own urges the same way.
Funny story: I latched on to Lao Tzu and the Tao te Ching as a way to bleed emotion from myself. Lao was a Chinese man who would not know what to do with Yukio Mishima, a Japanese man, and during my time at the University of Alabama, I spent a great deal of time bouncing between Lao and Mishima; when presented with Yu's humiliation, though, I failed to make the connection. It is possible to both be comfortable with yourself in public, and be at one with the public. And so rather than give Yu a comforting hug to let him know it was okay, I simply nodded at his girlfriend, left the room, and went to my RA, demanding to know why I hadn't been told my roommate was prone to seizures.
So, to the meet-cute story, which I promised a few paragraphs up.
Some years passed, and I left college, then returned. There was some death in those years, and divorces, and I had a relationship or two. Remained guarded about my condition, remained determined to bleed out all emotion just to get through each day.
I wasn't at all good at being emotionless, by the way. It took a decade or two before I'd understand I wasn't meant for the Tao anymore than I was meant for college.
But at my third college, I ended up writing for the school paper. I had a column that was, if I'm honest, a pretty good column. In fact, it was the reason I continued showing up to classes, and lasting a few semesters--I wasn't in school for the degree; I was in school to learn how to help Yu not be afraid to have a seizure in a mall in Tuscaloosa. I was in school to learn how to not be humiliated by being you. And one evening, I decided to write about being gay.
When I turned in the column, the publications adviser urged me not to let it run. "It is beyond the pale," she said. She was a wonderful woman with a dog named Disney, and both she and the dog are dead now. It happens.
She meant well. She was hoping to protect me.
What she didn't know is that I'd decided to come out because I'd met a guy.
Greg was not my first boyfriend; I'd had two others: one in high school and one in that between-time when I wasn't in college. There was also a girlfriend, who remains a friend. But I met Greg while covering the first meeting of the University of North Alabama's Gay-Straight Alliance. It was the first time I'd allowed myself to want someone, and acknowledged to myself that I wanted him, and pursued, and won.
The set-up: the editor of the paper mentioned there was to be a meeting of the GSA, and it might be interesting to cover it if anyone wanted to visit the meeting and write about it. I volunteered. Back then, I wore a floppy fisherman's hat. I had the hat on when I went to the meeting--terrified, I might add, that I'd give myself away as anything more than a writer. I wasn't there as just a writer; I was there as both Lao Tzu and as Yukio Mishima.
Greg was in charge of the meeting. He was the first president of the University of North Alabama's Gay-Straight Alliance. He sat in the crook of a half-moon-shaped arrangement of chairs, some filled, some empty, and held off on the meeting. "I was told the paper would have someone here so we're just waiting on the reporter," he said eventually.
Someone to Greg's left said, "The reporter is right there." And pointed at me. And Greg looked at me.
And that was that. A few days later, Greg and I went on a date.
And then I wrote my column, and came out to my parents.
And not long after that, Greg told me he was on meds for his disorder. And I knew I had a choice: I could leave the room and demand why the RA hadn't told me about Greg's condition, or I could stay and try to make sure things work out as well as possible.
I'm still awful at having public displays of conditions, but I chose to stay, and I eventually left Alabama to enjoy a life in the city, and realized New York is Lao Tzu and Alabama is Yukio Mishima, and I love both.
So, going back to the first line of this, having said all this, there are things we can't talk about, and I don't know why. There are other people in my life who are hurting, and I cannot ask, on their behalf, for help. It is a nice thing to put out your vulnerability because the world isn't as awful as it seems. Sometimes, most times, the world understands and throws back support.
Or maybe Yu and I are just lucky.
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