Let’s Talk Books — The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Warning: Spoilers!

I don’t run into many people that read a lot, let alone people that can recommend a book or author that not only do they like, but think I will like. So naturally I was pleased when someone told me about an author I’d never read, Jodi Picoult, and some of the books she’s written that sounded interesting to me. I wrote a bunch of them down and added them to my reading list, and kept an eye out for one in particular whenever I visited the library. And that’s today’s book, The Pact.

Unfortunately, I never saw The Pact at the library. I could have picked any other book by Jodi Picoult instead, but considering the premise of this book, I really wanted my first impressions of this author to be from this particular book. Luckily, a friend of mine just finished reading it and was nice enough to let me borrow it.

The Pact is about a supposed suicide pact between two high school students, Chris and Emily. Emily dies, but Chris is held in jail because the police think he murdered Emily. Chris and Emily have also been friends for  all of their lives and, after middle school, lovers. Not only do I think the premise is interesting, but those of you that have followed me for a long time know I struggle with depression and am particularly interested in stories involving depression.

Unfortunately, The Pact wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I sort of had my doubts when I looked at the cover; it kind of had a Nicholas Sparks vibe to it and I was sort of wondering if this was going to be more melodrama than realistic. Seeing “a love story” underneath the title also raised a red flag for me. I seriously hoped this wasn’t going to be a book that romanticized depression and suicide.

First though, more about the plot. The book opens with four people gathering at a restaurant for dinner. We can tell immediately that they get along well and meet up fairly often. These are the parents of Chris and Emily. Surprisingly, they’re just as much, if not more, main characters than Chris and Emily. And I don’t want to start off negatively right away, but it took me a good fifty or sixty pages to even tell these people apart. None of them have much in terms of personality (no one in this book does, really), and perspectives will jump around quickly and randomly. So for the sake of quick reference for whoever wants it, here’s a simple chart of the characters and their relationships.

James (father) + Gus (mother) –> Chris (son)

Michael (father) + Melanie (mother) –> Emily (daughter)

I know I must look pretty stupid for not being able to juggle four characters, but when they’re all introduced at once and the only identifiable trait of each of them is “parent,” and the perspective of the story changes as often as it does so early, it legitimately confused me.

Anyway, moving on — the four parents have their dinner and return home. Late at night, they get a call from the hospital. Their kids were brought there, and when they arrive they learn Emily is dead from a gunshot to the head and Chris had to get stitches for something. Everyone is naturally upset, I guess even more so because Chris’ family and Emily’s family have been neighbors and friends since the kids were born and they all look at each other as one family.

Chris reluctantly explains that he and Emily were planning to kill themselves that night, but for whatever reason Chris didn’t. This eventually leads to the police suspecting and finally arresting Chris for murdering Emily. Melanie, Emily’s mother, declares her hatred for James, Gus, and Chris. James is embarrassed because his son is suicidal and a criminal and believes their family name is tarnished, so he tries to ignore the situation for most of the book.

Gus and Michael are the only two parents that seem to be handling anything maturely at all. I don’t want to imply there’s a wrong way to react to this sort of situation, but the book obviously wants to set up James and Melanie as the antagonists of the story and Gus and Michael as sympathetic. They’re grief-stricken, but at least they’re trying to deal with the situation and discover what really happened.

I don’t want to say not much happens afterwards; it’s more like there’s not a lot of critical scenes. Chris’ lawyer interviews several characters. Melanie seems to slowly lose her sanity, even going to far as to destroying evidence that would suggest Chris wasn’t guilty. We see Chris get used to prison life. The two families run into each other several times and create more drama.

We also see several chapters focused on the past, highlighting moments from Chris and Emily’s childhood up until the night she died. We find out that as a kid, she was molested by a fast food employee when she went into the boys’ bathroom as a dare by Chris. This affected her willingness and enjoyment of sex with Chris after they started dating. Chris also pressured her into having sex before she was ready many times, resulting in even more stress for her. (As a side note, Chris himself is kind of an asshole in general. For someone that’s supposedly in love with Emily, he doesn’t even take her seriously when she tells him she wants to kill herself the first two times. I think he literally laughs the first time she tells him.) She felt stress from everyone, who expected her to be perfect, and she began to feel more and more worthless as time went on. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she starts developing her suicidal feelings.

Eventually, Chris’ court date approaches. I’m not a huge courtroom drama nut or anything, but I do love getting swept up in a good one. This was easily the best part of the book for me because of that. Anyway, the defense and prosecutor go back and forth for 100 pages or so and eventually Chris is pronounced not guilty. He goes back home, Emily’s parents move across town, and… that’s kind of it.

I wasn’t expecting a satisfying ending. The death of Emily, destroying both Chris and the two sets of parents’ lives, pretty much guaranteed that. The book’s main conflict unexpectedly focused on proving Chris’ innocence. But the problem with that is that he’s either guilty and spends the rest of his life in jail, or he’s innocent and… well, everything’s still tainted. There’s this half-assed “glimmer of hope for the future” thing to close out the book, but overall I thought the ending was pretty boring. At least the courtroom stuff was entertaining enough to make up for it.

Honestly, I hated the beginning of this book. Between trying to keep track of the parents (who didn’t have a lot going on personality-wise except for “parent”) and… I don’t know. Something else I can’t pinpoint? Between those things, the beginning really dragged for me. It took me almost a week to force myself through 50 pages.

But once I sat down and really started to dedicate time to it, I got more invested. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of melodramatic moments for most of the book; scenes will end in a way that feel like the end of an episode of an ABC Family drama, like their only purpose was to create temporary drama that ultimately had nothing to do with anything. For example, one of the prisoners is built up like he’s going to be a great obstacle for Chris to overcome in prison, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The molestation scene I mentioned earlier is never brought up again, and I was really anticipating it to play more of a role in the story but unfortunately it ended up feeling like a shock value scene. Chris’ mother and Emily’s father start to form feelings for each other when they begin meeting in secret and sort of start an affair, but this too leads to nothing and I have to wonder what the point of anything was.

Ultimately, though, I think the most disappointing thing about The Pact is that it puts the subject matter of depression and suicide on the back burner while the drama with the parents takes up most of the book. I was actually pretty disgusted with the way the parents made this entire situation and book about themselves. Emily’s story would have been great if that’s all this book was. It could have really shown the trauma and effects feeling depressed and suicidal can leave a person. But the book was more about the parents and what they were going through rather than the suicidal daughter and how she felt. Which… I don’t know. Maybe if it was advertised more like that I wouldn’t be as disappointed, but I was really expecting this to be more about Chris and Emily.

The Pact wasn’t bad, but I honestly couldn’t really recommend it. The writing isn’t terrible, there’s just a lot of unnecessary scenes and pointless drama to not make it feel worth the time. If it was shorter I could maybe see it as a guilty pleasure of sorts, but at close to 400 pages I was expecting something more concrete.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

526467

 

Info for my edition of The Pact:

Published 2002 by Harper Perennial

Paperback, 394 pages

ISBN 978-0-688-17052-3

 

 

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Let’s Talk Books — Speak

Warning: Spoilers

Earlier this year I read The Impossible Knife of Memory. It was a book someone had recommended to me last year, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. It was a YA book, but I thought it was a really good YA book that I still found things to relate to even in my late twenties. In fact, it’s one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. I’m not really sure why I didn’t talk about it, actually. Maybe part of the reason was I felt like I didn’t have anything extensively to talk about with it other than it being really good. Or maybe it was back when I wasn’t writing as many posts about books.

In any case, I’ve wanted to check out another book by the author, Laurie Halse Anderson, since I finished The Impossible Knife of Memory. Speak seemed to be her claim to fame, so I added it to my to-read list. And after knocking off a good chunk of books from that list over the past several months, I finally borrowed it.

Honestly, much like The Impossible Knife of Memory, Speak is a pretty good book all around. It feels pretty different from the prior, but that’s not a bad thing. I don’t feel like I have too much to say about it, but seeing as I’ve been trying to talk about more books lately, I figure I could at least try.

Speak is about a girl just starting high school named Melinda. She called the cops during a party over the summer, and now everyone hates her. Her friends have turned into enemies and most of the student body knows what she did and hates her, too. She’s also very depressed; a traumatic incident at the party has caused her to barely talk and she has to spend the entirety of her time dealing with the aftermath.

The book takes place over the course of her freshman year, separated into four main sections cleverly titled as marking periods. In addition, her days are also separated by brief titles. I really liked this. Dealing with depression can very much feel like a day by day challenge, and I think breaking up the story into identifiable milestones like days and marking periods was a really good way of showing that. There’s even a report card at the end of each marking period that shows Melinda’s grades gradually slipping as she continues to struggle with what happened, with the exception of art.

Art is the one class she has a supportive teacher in. At the start of the year, his students randomly pick a topic out of a partially destroyed globe as their subject for their projects all year. Melinda gets a tree, and struggles to make anything good featuring the tree. Her struggles with this mirror her struggles with depression, except that with her art projects, other people can actually see her struggling to say what she needs to say.

Over time, we learn that Melinda was raped at the party. Rape is pretty much the one thing that makes me very uncomfortable in books, movies, etc. but I’ve been slowly getting used to exploring more stories that discuss it. And thankfully, the part where Melinda recalls the actual incident isn’t too graphic. In fact, the scene goes by pretty quickly and is partially blocked out by her thoughts, which I think is a good representation of how that night probably went.

It turns out the rapist goes to her school. She only refers to him as IT for a while, before being able to finally identify him by name (which again, I think represents a good way of how hard it is for her to start processing everything). And if that wasn’t bad enough, he taunts her. When he’s near, he blows in her ear. He grins at her. He winks at her. He even starts talking to her. He starts going out with one of her ex-friends, which Melinda tries to warn her about even though the friend has been pretty superficial and shitty to her for the entire year.

About 3/4 through the book, Melinda starts recovering. She gets on better terms with one of her ex-friends in art class, and through a series of events they write a warning about the rapist in one of the girls’ bathroom stalls. She starts working on projects in the yard instead of locking herself in her room, she dives more into her art projects, and she starts talking a little more.

The little progress she’s finally able to make is threatened, however, when the rapist confronts her in an unused janitor’s closet, which Melinda has been frequently using to cut class. He yells at her for spreading rumors about him and tells her she wanted what happened. He assaults her again and comes close to raping her a second time, but she manages to scream and get away from him. As she leaves the closet, another of her ex-friends (along with the sports team she’s on) sees what was about to happen.

It’s never revealed what happened to the rapist, but thanks to the sports team many of the students in school found out what really happened at the party and apologize to Melinda. This is a little weird — while I know Melinda was trying so hard to let someone know what happened, I’m not sure if she wanted so many people to find out. But she doesn’t really comment on that one way or the other, so I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. The book ends with Melinda learning to accept what’s happened, but now with a resolve to move past it.

The narration made everything about the book seem more real. Melinda is very direct. She doesn’t waste the readers’ time with long-winded explanations on why she feels the way she does. We can see it through her direct commentary on everything around her and her actions, which I think is what ultimately helps make a good book. The fact that this works well with the short, diary-like sections also adds to the book’s overall impact.

There were a couple of things that I could nitpick, though. For starters, the book is really predictable. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just a neutral fact. As soon as Melinda identified her assailant as IT, I had immediate suspicions of what happened at the party. Out of curiosity, I went back to the copyright page and scrolled down to that small list of subject matter the book contains and sure enough — rape. People more familiar with stories like this could have probably put this together from the inside flap summary alone. From then on I kind of assumed, as a YA book, Melinda would reveal what the rapist had done and gotten her friends back. And while this is more or less what happened, I’ll give the book a lot of credit for having Melinda not just “getting over” what happened. She directly acknowledges it happened and can’t forget or ignore it. It’s a permanent part of her that will always stay with her, even when she decides she needs to move on. I wasn’t expecting a mature way of ending the book like that.

Aside from Melinda, the characters are also pretty standard YA characters. The teachers range from angry and strict for no reason, weird and disconnected from the students, and in the case of the art teacher, the eccentric genius that’s passionate for his students to succeed and see the world from his point of view while being the one supportive adult in the story. With the art teacher in particular, I felt both jealous and disconnected. For me, art in high school was never particularly involved. I never learned much from my teachers and we pretty much got credit as long as we worked on something. But it was more or less a free period. When I read settings like this, I can’t help but wonder if this is what high school art was supposed to be like or if my school just sucked.

Her parents are also pretty unsupportive. Her mom is so no-nonsense that she tells Melinda she doesn’t have time for her cries for help, even though throughout the book she complains that Melinda never speaks. (Would YOU talk to someone about a traumatic event when they tell you they don’t have time for threats of running away or suicide?) The book sort of goes into a dysfunctional family system that’s been around for a while, and how it used to be better when Melinda was a kid, but it doesn’t dive deep enough. There was certainly a lot of room to explore that further, and I sort of wonder why go enough to raise questions and intrigue but not far enough to justify bringing it up in the first place.

But honestly, these are nitpicks. In other YA books this would have bugged me more, but I think the book was really good as a whole. It knew what it was about and how it wanted to show its story, and it stuck to it for the most part. It more than makes up for some of the less interesting characters. I would definitely recommend reading it if you get the chance.

Speak

Info for my edition of Speak:

  • Published 2006 by Speak
  • Paperback, 198 pages
  • ISBN 9-780142-407325

Dealing with Depression — Driving

I hate driving.

When your main driving is commuting to work, and that commute is about 40 minutes, driving becomes a great place for negative thoughts, triggers, and breakdowns to form and take hold, leaving you relatively helpless to do anything about it. You’re stuck in that driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, sitting more or less still with the exception of moving the steering wheel or switching your foot from the acceleration to the brake.

For those that don’t know or don’t remember, I moved rather suddenly last fall. The whole experience wasn’t exactly smooth. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t move far. A couple of towns over, about 25 miles. It’s my grandmother’s old house, which my parents inherited after she died a few years ago. I’m familiar enough with the area and the space between the two houses, so it’s not like I was completely thrust into a new environment. (Even though it sure feels like it. Guess it’s the difference between visiting somewhere and living there.)

Anyway, my job is back in my old town, so I’ve got a commute again. I had bigger commutes traveling to college — both of them — so I didn’t think it would be that big a deal. And with no homework waiting for me when I got back home, I was like, “who cares then?”

I didn’t count on depression like this, though. I didn’t plan on my car being one of the easiest places to be affected by it. Which in hindsight, I guess that should have been more obvious. My mind wanders a lot. Being stuck in a car for an extended period of time should have been a red flag from the start.

It’s not just the extended commute. As soon as I leave my neighborhood, I’m on busy roads. I lived in my old town for almost 20 years. I’m not only very used to traveling on mostly empty back roads, I need it. I need open spaces. I’m a nervous enough driver as it is. To immediately leave home and merge into busier traffic is still jarring, even nine months later.

I’m pretty much traveling through light traffic for 75% of the commute (a little less if I’m on the parkway at a good time). And I guess I’m more or less used to it, but when I’m trying to fight off attack thoughts and feelings of negativity, being surrounded by other vehicles and constantly stopping at traffic lights definitely doesn’t help. In fact, being stuck at a light when I’m being overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings is one of the worst places to be if you don’t want to feel completely helpless.

That last 25% of the commute is traveling the back roads from my old town to my job. It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, getting away from all those other drivers and cruising down empty back roads filled with trees and fields feels much more right for me. (Did I mention my new town and most of the commute isn’t very nature friendly? No? Well it isn’t.) For a brief time, I get part of my old life back.

On the other hand, depending on how badly depression is hitting me that day, traveling through here only makes me feel worse. Missing my home and my neighborhood is also one of the reasons I’ve been depressed. Which in all honesty is kind of weird, because I honestly thought I was ready to move someplace completely new. But after everything that’s happened, now all I want to do is move back. Being back there makes me feel more at home than anywhere near my new place, but being there also makes me miss it even more.

I’ve cried a lot while driving this year. When I’m driving, something will always find its way back into my mind to remind me I’m still struggling with depression. And because there’s so little I can do about it in the car, everything builds up and overwhelms me. By the time I get to work, I honestly feel worn out. And I haven’t even started working yet!

The only realistic thing I can do while driving to distract myself is listen to something. I’m not really a fan of radio. Between stations playing music I either don’t like or the same songs I’ve heard too many times (coupled with varying degrees of static), I generally stay away from radio unless I really need to listen to something and whatever CD I have in my car and whatever music I have on my MP3 player won’t cut it.

I used to be able to leave any given CD in my car for a week and listen to the whole thing two or three times. My commute to work used to be only about 10 minutes, after all. It’s pretty easy to stretch out an album with that kind of time. But now I can easily listen to a whole CD twice from one trip to and from work. I feel like I’ve overplayed a lot of music, and I hate to say it, but I’m losing interest.

And it’s not like I had a lot of music that I currently want to listen to, anyway. I’ve built up a pretty decent music collection over the years, but at least half of that is stuff I’m not into anymore. The remaining CDs, well… they definitely fit certain moods, I can tell you that. The thing is…

I don’t know if this is going to make sense, but hear me out. Music’s great at being something people can identify with. In the past, music has been a great asset to me. I felt like whenever I was overwhelmed or alone or, well, depressed, I could count on music to connect with. That connection helped in some way.

It’s been over a year since I fell into my current state of depression, and for the first time, music isn’t helping. In fact, most of the time music makes me feel worse. When I feel like I can completely get real and submit to all my feelings and just let go with the right album, music’s great. But most of the time, music has been reminding me of all the reasons I’ve been so unhappy. And most of the time I’d honestly rather try to concentrate on getting though the day. I know I’ll probably be reminded of my depression sometime in the day. I don’t really want my music to act as a trigger.

There’s only a few bands I have albums of that I can really have “fun” with. They may still strike some chords with me, but as a whole they’re still something I can still enjoy. Thing is, it’s still easy to overplay and get tired of them. I’ve actually brought out some of my video game soundtracks from back in high school to listen to more, just to mix it up. They don’t have lyrics, so nothing about them triggers any negative thoughts, just general nostalgia (and since I don’t have any real desire to return to high school, I don’t see any harm in it).

What seems to help me most while driving, though, are podcasts. I used to listen to the Rooster Teeth podcast once a week when I walked around my old neighborhood, but stopped at some point a few years ago. I felt like a disconnect was growing between me and my interest in Rooster Teeth, so I started skipping weeks and eventually stopped listening to their podcasts altogether. I missed it though, so now that I have a bigger commute I figured it would be a good time to try getting back into it. I’ve been listening to their new podcasts for the past month, and I’m glad to say I enjoy them. Maybe not as much as I used to — I still feel disconnected or uninterested during certain parts — but as a whole listening to the podcast again has been helpful. Listening to conversations is a lot better for my mind right now than listening to music lately.

One of my friends also makes a podcast with a couple of other people. I’ve been listening to his for a while now, too, and it’s also helped me deal with driving. They mostly talk about video games, like what they’ve been playing, what’s new in the world of games, and the music of games. They even have a segment dedicated to a certain soundtrack each week, and they’ll talk about it, how it was composed, what the soundtrack was trying to go for, etc. If you’re into that kind of thing, I’d recommend giving them a listen sometime at http://www.8bitsandjoysticks.com/ They’re also trying to do some community events, so give them a little love if you’re interested.

While I do enjoy both of these podcasts, they’re both about video games. And while I do like video games, I don’t need to listen to stuff about them all the time (I already listen to enough game stuff on YouTube while I’m working on other stuff as it is). And while Rooster Teeth talks about a lot of other stuff on their podcast, I still identify them as a game-related one.

Podcasts have been helping me deal with driving a lot. I’d like to find more to listen to. They’re free, and should be released regularly. It’s been a great way of getting new stuff to listen to without hurting my wallet. If anyone has any podcast suggestions, or if anyone’s had similar problems with depression and driving and wants to share anything they’ve done to help deal with it, leave a comment. You never know who it will help.

Thanks for reading, hope everyone’s having a good week! 🙂

Dealing with Depression — Revisiting Community College

I don’t really want to talk about my depression, but against my better judgment I’m thinking of starting a new series of posts discussing ways I’m dealing with it and how effective they are. Like I said, I’m thinking of it — this may or may not be a thing, and I have no idea if it would even be a regular topic if it became one. But I know a lot of you also have issues with depression, stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this out in case it somehow helped someone, or at the very least made someone feel less alone.

A lot of my depression comes from the fact that most of my friends have either moved or started a new phase of their lives that I can’t be a regular part of. That departure also makes the fact that I no longer have the closer community of literature majors and writers from my four-year school that I’d grown to appreciate and need a lot more apparent. I feel like I’ve lost a lot, and it really hurts.

I’ve been trying not to think about it, which of course varies in success depending on how well I’m feeling at the time. I changed a lot when I transferred to my four-year school, and I still stand by the fact that I changed for the better. However, as much as those years and people have influenced me and helped me grow into the person I am today, I’m beginning to wonder if placing so much into those things is making my fight against depression more difficult. I feel like I’ve lost too much, and that makes it harder to feel like there’s anything more to my life.

However, I’ve been trying to think of a time before my four-year school and the people I met there. Because whether I want to admit it or not, there was a before. True, I was less mature then. I honestly don’t have any sort of desire to return to that time. But there was a time before then, and I’ve been trying to do the things that made me happy then.

Before I transferred to my four-year school, I went to community college for two and a half years. It was a really big transitional time in my life between high school and college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent each semester cycling between art, business, teaching, psychology, and language classes, trying to see where my proper fit in life lay while making sure these classes satisfied my requirements for the A.A. in liberal arts I chose to pursue.

Honestly, community college wasn’t a particularly happy time in my life. College was a huge adjustment to me in terms of workload. I had a new 45 minute commute to do. I felt a lot of pressure to know what I was doing in life when I clearly didn’t. My friends from high school were dropping one by one. Now that I’m writing it, I see some similarities between then and now. 🙂 But a big difference was I wasn’t depressed back then. I was just mad a lot.

That being said, a lot about that time doesn’t really stand out to me. I don’t remember most of my classes very well, and I don’t remember a single professor’s name. I never made any long-term friends there, just a few people to talk with before class started.

Honestly, despite the workload, what I remember most of community college was spending time with the one friend I had left. I went to high school with him, and he wasn’t having much more luck in college than I did. We ending up hanging out a lot, and those times are what I end up thinking about whenever I recall my memories of community college.

We’d usually have one day a week where our classes would line up in such a way that we could meet for lunch. We’d spend an hour eating and talking, very similarly to lunch period in high school. If we were both free afterwards, we’d usually go back to his house and hang out for the rest of the day. We’d take trips to the mall, buy new anime and manga, go out to eat, play video games — a lot of stuff what you would expect teenagers to do. But at the time it was fine, because we were still teenagers. It took us a while to grow up.

And like I said, I don’t have any particular desire to go back to those times and do all the things we used to. But I do miss something about those times. I miss feeling like someone else was in the same boat as me. I miss knowing what I liked and what made me happy. I miss feeling like even though I just started college and had no idea where I was going, I still had a lot of time before I finished school and entered the “adult” world. And I guess that’s what I would want to return to — those feelings.

Anyway, I hate building this up like it’s some grand story when it really isn’t. I’ve been wanting to revisit my community college and take a little walk around campus. Sometimes things become much clearer to me if I’m physically there, so I was hoping I might find a way to remind myself that I had a life before my four year school. You know, that I existed before it and I could exist after it, too. So yesterday after work, I finally took a ride up there.

I’m never really up in the area where my community college is. Of the 45 minutes worth of a trip it was from where I used to live, I only ever went 20 minutes of it for unrelated needs. So a portion of the ride there was full of “Oh, I remember this!” moments. I was a little concerned I would forget the way; I didn’t remember any of the road names I needed to take. But things started clicking into place fast. I smiled as I remembered some of the littler things on the way there, like this one roadside stop that sold garden decor and the large expanse of farmland. There was even a bridge that went over a really beautiful lake! How the hell could I forget about that?

I brought the messenger bag I wore during college with me — partially for storing some casual clothes to change into after work, and partially to look like a college student in case someone thought I wasn’t supposed to be there (I’m a paranoid mess, cut me some slack). I also brought my camera with me. I used to bring my camera everywhere when I used to walk a lot. There was usually a lot of beautiful scenery that I wanted pictures of, and eventually I started taking pictures of important places so I wouldn’t forget them. And although I must have gotten a few weird looks from passing students and maintenance workers for taking pictures of seemingly random things, I’m glad I finally had some photos of the places I used to spend time at on campus.

One of the first things I started thinking about was how it’s been almost 10 years since I started at community college. Those milestone thoughts are usually common ones for me. I started thinking about who I was still talking to, the car I was driving, the job I was working at, the classes I started out with (oh god, the art class) — my mind was all over the place.

And of course, these milestone thoughts make me compare myself to me 9 years ago. It’s a mixed bag; I’m still struggling with many of the same problems, albeit in different ways, but I can also see how much I’ve grown up since then.

As much as I don’t remember my classes and professors, I somehow retained a pretty vivid image of most of the buildings on campus, and this was really obvious as I walked about and toured the school again. With the exception of the cafeteria, everything at the school stayed the same. I recognized everything. And I guess that’s to be expected — after all I did spend two and a half years studying there. But like I said in the beginning, this was a very transitional time for me. When I think of community college, I don’t think of what I did at the college itself, but rather my time hanging out with my friend.

I looked through all the buildings again, trying to remember which classrooms I had courses in. I recognized some of them, even the dreaded art room that demoralized me from pursuing anything creative for over a year as well as the “psych dungeon,” which is what I called the basement level classroom I took my second psych class in with an awful and rude professor.

Maybe it was just the heat (90+ degrees and high humidity are perfect parameters for hiking around a campus with your messenger bag full of crap you never emptied from the last semester, btw), but the longer I spent exploring campus and trying to relive memories, the less I really cared. It was nice seeing the place again, considering it played an important part in my life that wasn’t all bad, but… I don’t know.

I don’t want to say it didn’t matter. In a way, I came back and confronted a place that gave me a lot of stress and frustration. So that felt empowering. I set foot in a place that had remained in my memories for years, so that helped me feel like I can always come back and revisit people and places. They don’t need to stay locked away in memories forever. Well, sometimes. And at the very least, I took a drive to somewhere besides work, and I enjoyed it. It’s nice to be going somewhere other than work. In clothes that aren’t work clothes.

But the trip didn’t make me feel much better in terms of believing that a life existed before I was depressed and could therefore exist afterwards. I’m still trying to maintain the outlook, but the trip itself didn’t do anything to really reinforce it. Maybe it was never going to. Maybe it was just a weird line of thought in my head and something got mixed up. I got up this morning, started working on this, got called into work, had an awful day, and came back to finish this post. The negative thoughts and me missing so much ran pretty strongly today. I was hoping this trip back to another time would have helped, and even though it did in some ways, in the ways I wanted it to, it didn’t.

Maybe it was because it wasn’t significant enough in the grand scheme of things. Maybe there are more important things to make me feel there’s more to me than what I lost. Maybe it was just a bad day. Who knows.

I’m glad I went back there, though. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and it was nice to physically see something that only existed in memories. Maybe in some unknown way I needed closure and this will help. At any rate, taking a drive to somewhere unexpected and having it go smoothly was a nice change of pace. Maybe I should make a point to go venture out to interesting areas more often.

Fuck You, Anxiety

Lately I feel like my posts have been focusing more on reviewing books and talking about video games. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, especially because I want to review things. But I’ve been avoiding talking about mental wellness topics for a while now and I want to address that.

If you’ve read a lot of my posts throughout the past year, you’ve probably read something about my struggle with depression. It’s not something I like throwing out there, but sometimes I feel like there’s no way around it and I just need to admit to it. The past couple of months, for no particular reason, has made me feel more anxious than usual and I haven’t felt like talking about things like mental health. In fact, I still don’t. But I had an idea I want to start trying out and I wanted to share it.

What if I treated anxiety like an obnoxious asshole? For example, I’m driving to work. It’s a 45 minute commute. I know it sounds bad because while operating a motor vehicle, you really should be alert at all times, but when you take the same route every time you go to work you can’t help but ease up and let the trip come naturally after a while. So essentially, I’m just sitting for 45 minutes unable to really do anything but turn the steering wheel and hit the turn signal lever. Depressed people should never sit still for that long without doing anything because their minds will eventually wander towards negative thoughts, and all they can really do is just sit there and take it.

So when those negative thoughts come swimming through my head and I start to feel like a wreck before I even get to work, what if I imagined my anxiety as some jerk in the seat next to me? I can’t tell off my own thoughts very well, but I think I could handle telling this imaginary person next to me to piss off.

Let’s compare:

Anxiety as a feeling:

Isn’t it great how you can pass by your old neighborhood every time you go to work? At least you didn’t completely have to say goodbye to it when you moved. You can still see it. Through car windows. Sure, you can’t just leave your home and walk around it like you used to, but you can remember it. And miss it. Here, keep looking at it. Miss it even more. Miss walking past the bank and couple of strip malls you used to grow up with. Remember the video store that was here? You used to rent video games in the summer here. Remember Kirby 64? You rented that one summer and played it at your friend’s house when you slept over one night. You took all the sheets in the house and made a big tent in his room while playing it. That was fun. Let’s remember more good things. That way it can make all the shitty things going on right now feel even worse. Blah blah blah blah you’re awful blah blah blah you’re not getting better blah blah blah…

Anxiety as a person:

Anxiety: Isn’t it great how you can pass by your old neighborhood every time you go to work? At least you didn’t completely have to say goodbye to it when you moved. You can still see it. Through car windows. Sure, you can’t just leave your home and walk around it like you used to, but you can remember it. And miss it. Here, keep looking at it. Miss it even more —

Me: Hey, can you go fuck off for a while? I can’t deal with you right now.

And I can drive the rest of the way listening to music without incident.

Or how about this. You’re in bed, trying to fall asleep. But low and behold, the bed is a terrible place to be when you’re trying to avoid anxiety. You’re about to fall asleep, everything’s blacking out, when anxiety lifts the covers and slides in next to you.

Anxiety as a feeling:

Hey. Sleeping, huh? Yeah, that’s cool. Sleeping’s kind of lonely without another person though, isn’t it? Like, how do you do it? How do you go to sleep each night knowing the fact that you’re going to wake up the next day without anyone next to you? How can you fall asleep without holding anyone? It’s weird. You’re weird. Here, I”ll hold onto you. We can sleep together.

Anxiety as a person:

Anxiety: Hey. Sleeping, huh?

Me: Yeah. Go away now. I can deal with you in the morning.

Anxiety: Yeah, that’s cool. Sleeping’s kind of lonely without another person —

Me: That was actually my nice way of saying eat a dick. Anxiety, would you mind leaving the room and shoving your mouth full of one? I seriously don’t want to listen to you right now. No one does, really. This would solve a lot of problems.

And then I can fall asleep.

Just an idea. I don’t think it’s going to work all the time. After all, if there was a surefire way to get rid of anxiety and depression nobody would be anxious or depressed. But it might be worth doing if nothing else is working.

Why I Like Nostalgic Things (And Why That Can Be Dangerous)

I don’t know if you can tell by a lot of my posts, but I’m drawn to nostalgia. As someone that thinks about the past a lot, I guess that’s to be expected. I try not to talk about it too much with other people; nostalgia’s typically something I relive on my own. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an important part of my everyday life.

But ever since I was a teenager, people have always been sort of critical of that. People often develop the misunderstanding that I get so nostalgic because I believe the past to be some kind of golden age I’d like to return to. And while it’s true that I think about better times when I get nostalgic, I wish there was an easy way I can explain to people that I typically don’t want to go back in time. I want to keep growing as a person, I want to make new memories, and I want to experience new things.

However, I’m not perfect. I hit roadblocks. I get depressed. I get frustrated. I get lost. Nostalgia helps me deal with that. I never grew up moving every year, or had divorced parents, or anything like that. But I diddo — seem to have a recurring pattern of getting attached to people who will suddenly disappear from my life. And as someone that’s particularly sensitive to change, I don’t think I need to explain how difficult that can be to deal with.

Nostalgia acts as a kind of anchor for me. It helps me keep something familiar around when everything else in the world seems too different. You know the Perler bead art of old video games I sometimes post? Nostalgia. Making Perler bead art has been such an important aspect to helping me deal with depression this past year. It reminds me of a time when I had a better understanding about life, when I knew what made me happy and who I was, when what I had to deal with was clearly laid out in front of me and I didn’t have to second guess every action I took.

Some might argue that’s just a natural part of growing up; life is less black and white as an adult than it is as a kid. And yeah, I agree. But letting the unknown have such a strong hold on me doesn’t exactly sound like a natural part of being an adult. I mean at some point it is, and I imagine it’s something that will pop up throughout life. But constantly feeling it for years? No — that’s a sign something else is going on.

However, I won’t deny that too much nostalgia can be dangerous. That episode of Futurama where Fry starts collecting all the things from his time period and sits in his apartment all day in the dark watching reruns of old TV shows is a perfect example of how dangerous it can be. Deep down, I really do want to grow as a person, make new memories, and experience new things. But as anyone that deals with depression can tell you, there are times when it honestly feels like living in the past is the better option. You want to listen to music you used to listen to. You want to watch TV shows and movies you watched when you were younger. You want to play old video games. You want to revisit places you used to go to. It’s a natural feeling when you’re feeling depressed and nostalgic all at the same time.

And for a while, it’s comforting. It helps distract you enough so your mind doesn’t clock into overdrive and completely overwhelm you. But after a certain point it stops becoming a distraction and acts as more of an excuse to avoid moving on in life. For example, when I got depressed last year I started playing a lot of older RPGs I have strong memories attached to. I revisited a lot of them during the past year, and for a while it helped me stop thinking about my depression. But at some point I felt like I needed to keep revisiting old RPGs because without them, my mind would focus too much on negative things. I came to rely on them, and I know from previous experiences I didn’t want that. When I was ready, I put more focus into other areas of my life. And while things haven’t progressed much with me personally, I at least feel like I’m more capable at looking at my problems and not having an overwhelming desire to run away.

You’ve got to find a balance with nostalgia. Yeah, that’s a little cliche, but it’s true. Reliving old memories is great, but doing it too much can hold you back from moving forward more than you think. It’s especially dangerous for people who are prone to depression. Since both nostalgia and depression draw you back to a previous time, it’s very easy to get lost in there. It’s a necessary evil, though — at least to an extent. I think it’s very important to contemplate the past. It helps you see repeatable patterns of negative behavior you want to change. It helps you feel comfortable when the rest of the world makes you uneasy. But it’s so hard not to slip and tumble into a giant mess unless you know how to tread properly.

Cycles of Dieting

I don’t like my body.

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I’ve always been overweight, and I don’t expect myself to ever reach the hot, buff levels society expects me to be at if I’m to be considered an “attractive” person, but I would like to lose my gut. Over the past year or two, I can really start to feel it weighing me down. It’s getting harder for me to bend over. It’s getting harder for me to move around at work. Hell, it’s getting harder for me to just breathe. I already have enough weighing me down in my own head; the added weight of my stomach isn’t needed.

Dieting is something I feel like I’m continuously on and off with. I always start off the same way. I make a conscious decision that I’m going to start exercising more, eat less, and eat healthy.

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I start using the elliptical machine every day or two.

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I start shopping for healthy foods.

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I avoid junk food.

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And I can feel myself losing a little weight. I don’t know if it’s some kind of placebo effect, but just a few days of doing this and I feel less tired. I can do more at work. I can concentrate better at home. I can sleep better. I breathe better. I start gaining more confidence. I feel happier. My life starts to feel like it’s improving when I diet.

Then one of two things happen. First, I’ll get sick.

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People say I get sick a lot. I don’t know if I agree with that. I’d say I get sick after I make a solid attempt at losing weight a lot. Maybe I push myself too hard too early. Maybe the sudden change in diet does something to my body. Maybe it’s shitty luck. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. But I get sick.

And then I get lazy.

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I tell myself to rest as much as possible so I can get better, and then I’ll be back on my new exercise routine. It’s okay. I can take a break from working out. I’m sick. I shouldn’t even be exercising when I’m sick. Besides, I can still eat healthy.

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Right?

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RIGHT?

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It always starts with the fucking ice cream, too. I swear, if I really, really put my mind to it, I could resist a lot of junk food. Half the time I don’t even want it. But ice cream is my one food weakness. I will always, always be up for ice cream. And no amount of dieting will ever change that.

When I’m sick, I reason that I have a sore throat, and ice cream is good for that, and that having ice cream for breakfast is not only okay, but the right thing to do. I don’t even know if ice cream is good for sore throats. I’m sure I saw some cartoon as a kid, probably Hey Arnold!, and some kid (it was Gerald; don’t even pretend you’ve forgotten anyone from that show) got his tonsils taken out and was told he could have all the ice cream he could eat, and I made some connection that ice cream cured sore throats. I truly am from a generation raised on television.

It all goes downhill from there. I start reaching for Cheez-Its instead of apples. I convince myself to avoid the bananas I bought if they show even the slightest sign of spotting. Grapes start growing fuzz as I put my hand in the cookie jar for the third time in a half hour.

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I’ll eventually get better, but now my stomach feels like shit. My gut is literally weighing me down, and sometimes it feels like it’s preventing me from exercising.

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The second thing that might happen is I’ll become depressed. Depression is something I deal with on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes it’s about something. Other times there is no reason. It doesn’t really matter; it gets in the way of dieting.

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I stay in bed longer, dwelling in negative thoughts. I’ll openly criticize my weight in between attacks on other parts of my life.

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Dealing with depression is like an exercise routine in and of itself. To be blunt, I’m too worn out dealing with my thoughts to even begin gathering strength to exercise.

I’ll get over being sick, or I’ll move past the depression, and then I’ll be in a sort of limbo. I might try exercising one or two random days a week. I might go out to eat and spontaneously decide to order something healthier. I’ll try out a new snack, like raisins, in lieu of chips. I’ll stop being a lazy glutton, but I won’t do anything that will realistically help me lose weight.

And then one day I’ll have a revelation, one that’s I’ve had many times before and will probably continue having. I’ll become aware of how tired I am after a single shift at work. I’ll become aware of how it’s getting harder to breathe. I’ll become aware that I’m 26 and I shouldn’t be so tired all the time, and while I may struggle with depression all my life, I can at least do something about my weight.

And the cycle begins anew.

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