Breakdown… breakthrough!

I loved this phrase until I realized it had already been co-opted and copyrighted by every self-help guru and his/her unborn children. Not to mention Jerry Maguire.

When your eyeballs last graced this blessed blog, I was in breakdown mode. Tailspin. I’d given myself 2.5 months to change my life. To become a better version of me. To attack my weaknesses – my demons – and conquer them for good. And yes, to become a wildly successful writer after never having written before. Pump out a novel, a screenplay and a damn good kids book. Get published in Slate, Salon and The New York Times. Because, why not? Six weeks is enough time. No. Big. Deal.

This was all fine and dandy at the start of my “sabbatical.” Anything was possible. But then, as I reached the end and looked around at my unfinished everything – I felt like a piece of shit.

The feeling came on slowly, but gained momentum rapidly – like an innocent snowflake that produces a gargantuan avalanche by landing at just the right time in just the right place. First it was listening to sadder music. You know, The Postal Service, Vertical Horizon, Death Cab for Cutie. Let’s be honest. Nothing good ever happened to anyone a few minutes after listening to “What Sarah Said” – particularly if that “anyone” happens to be named Sara.

Then I started taking long, aimless walks while listening to aforementioned sad music. I ended up in Central Park, fighting back tears as I watched drunk middle-aged men relive their glory days on the softball field. Two things happened: 1. I felt weirdly comforted by the plaques on the “In Memoriam” benches throughout the park; the ones that had heartbreaking remarks from friends and family about loved ones who had recently passed. 2. I really, seriously considered sitting down and talking to this guy:

Then I started googling “depression symptoms” and “definition of addictive personality disorder.” According to Dr. Wikipedia, people with addictive personalities “will show impulsive behavior such as excessive caffeine consumption, Internet usage, eating of chocolates or other sugar-laden foods, television watching, or even running.” As I read that definition, in my hand was my third cup of coffee. I was staring at Wikipedia. I was craving chocolate-covered gummy bears. And I was trying to decide whether to watch an episode of New Girl or go for a run first. “Outlook does not look good,” said the Magic Eight Ball. (Yes, there’s an online version of it. And yes I asked.) Crap. At one point I looked at my “recent search” log and had “depression quiz,” “predisposed for depression,” and “what’s wrong with me?” True story.

Seriously, Sara. Get. A. Grip.

I was living this spectacular life. In love with the greatest man on the planet. Taking time off from work was a blessing – a huge luxury. An opportunity. And yet here I was, by far more miserable than I had ever been while clocking in and out of my cube. All I could think was that I was stuck between two massive failures: on one side, the failure to churn out the greatest piece of writing since Moby Dick in six weeks (shocking); and on the other, my total failure to be happy. And trying to fix one side only seemed to make the other side even worse.

To bring it all back to the greatest movie ever made (Wedding Crashers), it was my Owen Wilson “I’m reading don’t kill myself books” moment. And I  just needed Vince Vaughn to walk in and ask to sleep over on my birthday.

Thankfully, Jason is the greatest Baba Ganoush there is and he helped me start to climb out of this hole I’d dug for myself. I was also able to talk it out with a few other kind souls. And it wasn’t even about what they said in response, but about voicing the sadness. Somehow by putting words to it, the end of the world seemed a lot more manageable and a lot less likely.

From this point on my recovery climb, just above the tree-line, I can see a few things more clearly. I’ve definitely come face to face with a lot of the darker parts of my personality. I had hoped that conquering them would have a faster turnaround time, but I guess these things aren’t like repairing a car or fixing a broken bone. You don’t put it in a cast and six weeks later – tada! – it’s fixed. It’s more like a bad sprain. It gets better. And while it never returns to pristine pre-sprain form, the joint is actually stronger in other ways. But you have to do your PT exercises and probably for the rest of your life. Build up the muscles around it so when you get knocked, you’re relying on more than just a ligament to hold you up.

In this case, the “muscles around it” are the people I love, and a series of larger realizations about who I am and what  makes me tick. To bring it all back to Mr. Maguire and his mission statement: “The things we think but do not say.”

And so, without further ado, The ThingsI Think but Do Not Say. Well, until now. Very much a work in progress:

  • I have ridiculously high and largely unrealistic expectations for myself. Being less than spectacular is not a failure. Expect less, enjoy yourself more.
  • The process of becoming takes time. Probably your entire life if you’re lucky.
  • Life isn’t fair. Hard work doesn’t always mean better results. Doing everything “right” doesn’t mean it won’t end up “wrong.” Bad things happen to good people. “Unjust” things happen every day. You might purchase a brand new beautiful vehicle and get rear-ended 32 hours later through absolutely no fault of your own (yes, it happened). Shit just happens. Roll with it. As Richard Bach wrote in Illusions (read it!), “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.” It’s all part of your story – and can make for excellent bar conversation.
  • There’s no karma bank that invests in outcomes. But there probably is one that invests in your attitude. Pay it forward with positivity.
  •  Imperfection is liberating and far more authentic and interesting. Own up to your so-called “deficiencies” because they are what make you, you. Guarantee you’ll make better friends for it.
  • Don’t try to do something great. That’s entirely out of your control. Just try to be great at what you do. I think passion and enjoyment is a byproduct of putting in the time to master the job at hand. It’s nearly impossible to have an enduring love for something you cannot fully engage with.
  • At the end of the day, life doesn’t separate out into success and failure. Success isn’t the cost of entry into a better afterlife.
  • As much as I might fancy myself an intellectual introvert, being alone for too long makes me sad. Ain’t no way around it. Surround yourself with people who reflect the values you hold most dear. Engage with them. Be there for them. Talk to them. Get drunk with them. Do stupid and smart things with them. You’ll feel better.
  • There’s nothing important about doing something important.
  • Don’t judge. Don’t make snarky comments after the fact. Even if they’re funny. (Trust me, I know it’s a hard sacrifice to make.) You’ll live a fuller, calmer, more peaceful life. Sounds like a giant leap, but it’s true.
  • The deep, intense, dark-night-of-the-soul thinking that often accompanies “great writing” is largely unnecessary. Better books and better lives come out of happy thoughts. At least, that’s my opinion.
  • Be nice.
  • John Milton was right: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Richard Bach was also right: “Perspective – Use It or Lose It. If you turned to this page, you’re forgetting that what is going on around you is not reality. Think about that.” So was Samuel Butler: “The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously.” And Robert Louis Stevenson: “The habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or largely freed, from the dominance of outward conditions.” And Samuel Johnson: “Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence.” (Yikes, I’m sure plenty of women have said wise things too…)
  • Talk about the things that bother you for the sake of voicing them. But don’t expect anyone’s response to resolve them for you.
  • Cling to your ability to laugh at yourself. It can make all the difference.
  • And finally, when you’re at the very, very end of your rope. Call me maybe.

Until next time…

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