Monthly Archives: October 2013

Baby Blue

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Breaking Bad Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After spending a week  mourning the end of the television series Breaking Bad, it occurs to me that I have trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality.   What is it about great television that does this to people?   After a few seasons, the characters seem more real than the people in your own life.   And a helluva lot more entertaining.

“Baby Blue” a 1971 song by Badfinger, is a love ballad that makes me weepy under normal circumstances.  Now it will always be linked to the final scene in Breaking Bad, when meth master Walter White takes his last look at the lab equipment he designed to create his special blue methamphetamine.   “Guess I got what I deserved,” the lyrics say, as the camera pans over a dying Walter White, fittingly ending his life in the arms of chemical science, his first and real love.  I keep replaying that scene and that song over and over in my mind, the way you keep touching your tongue to a sore tooth.

Most viewers knew where Walt’s hubris was headed several seasons back.   By the time the finale wrapped, they were almost blasé.  I thought I was, too – I was really prepared for anything to happen – and then they played that damn song.  Wahhhhhhh!   (A poignant aside is that the Badfinger member who wrote that song, Peter Ham, hung himself a few years after he wrote it.)  We watched Walter White go from nerdy science teacher who could barely make a decision, to a drug lord who acted so fast and ruthlessly that it didn’t even look like he had made a decision.

You watch villains become heroes and vice versa, and you discover you love them, or you love to hate them, and their crimes become secondary to their humanity.  I worry about the survivors.  Several times this week, I kept worrying whether Skylar and Walt Jr. would be okay.  I had to remind myself,  “Hello!  It’s a story!”

I am not alone in this.  The end of Breaking Bad left an apocalyptic trail of fan emo-drama in its wake.  “Baby Blue” has been downloaded kazillions of times from iTunes this week.  Just look at the reviews and comment threads.   People are posturing, like,  ‘yeah I knew this was gonna happen two seasons back,’ or they’re violently disagreeing and threatening to kill each other with ricin cigarettes.  Drama gives us a convenient way to invest our feelings in situations and characters that aren’t really ours, without having to risk the emotional expenditure in real life.   My husband threw the only temper tantrum I’ve ever seen him throw, after he thought he messed up the recording of the finale.  (Praise be, the recording was intact, and our household was saved.)

One viewer in a commentary thread said she felt like she’d given birth, just emotionally wrecked after viewing the finale.  That’s catharsis, the sense viewers get from having their emotions worked over.  They watch tragically flawed heroes pursue their ambitions into the ground, sacrificing loved ones in the process – and then they die, and we clap and sob.  We experience a vicarious cleansing because we rode the character’s emotional roller coaster for five acts or five seasons.

Last time I felt this way was when another great television series, The Wire, ended.  The Wire was filmed in Baltimore, a town I started to love when I lived in Maryland.  I returned to Florida a few years before the series started, but somehow the reality of the brief time I spent in Baltimore is completely confused with stuff I saw on The Wire.  The actual tame things I did — going to bookstores and concerts and restaurants and bars and the Enoch Pratt Library  — had nothing to do with crime  drama or drug dealing.   Tell that to my mind, though, and I’m not even a crazy old bat on her deathbed yet.  Go ahead, ask me for a Baltimore memory:  “Well, we were hanging out after the concert, going to Café Hon, and Jimmy McNulty was there, blah blah blah.  Oh, and when I got out of my interview at Enoch Pratt, I went to the parking garage and who do you think was there?  Stringer Bell!”

Yes, I’ve got a real life, last time I checked.  You’d think my real problems this week, a broken hip (my mom-in-law) and an abnormal mammogram (me) would keep me occupied.  Breaking Bad and Baby Blue made me cry.  Somehow this was way easier than crying about the fear and anxiety in my own life right now.   It made me really cognizant of the fine line between what I want to avoid and what I want to feel.

During the final scene between Walter White and his wife, Skylar, he finally admits that he made his meth fortune not for his family’s financial security, as he always claimed, but for himself.   “I did it for me.  I was good at it.  And  —  it made me feel alive.”  That’s why anybody does anything, if they’re lucky enough to find it.  For the rest of us, we make do with television until we discover what makes us feel alive.

 

 

 

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Great expectations . . . they’re a bitch!

For some dumbass reason unbeknownst to anyone but myself, I decided  to wean myself off antidepressants.  This is the first time in my life I’ve felt stable — whatever that is — with the right partner, some dubious maturity, and the house of my dreams.  I’m living that cliche of being  “in a good place.”  Soooooo —  after a month of withdrawal nausea and brain zaps and lots of saltines and ginger ale, I flushed the chemicals from my system and was curious to see who I might be, chemical free.    Well, here’s who I am:  a bitch.  Not just any bitch.  A bitch with great expectations.

Let me back up and define bitch.    I don’t mean somebody who jumps in people’s faces  saying unkind and rude things.  I might occasionally think those things, but I don’t say them because there’s too much meanness in the world already.  Mostly, I’m talking about somebody who says mean, rude, or judgmental things to herself.    So a bitch with great expectations is highly critical of others, but mostly of herself.  Oh, and to describe more bitch symptoms,  just so you know I qualify:  I am teary, easily irritated, impatient, insecure,  defensive, and snarky.   All the things I thought I’d outgrown — they were just masked by medication, every last one of them.

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 (Photo credit: snowlepard)

 

 

 

So I’m caught in a limbo between wanting to bitch-slap other people and bitch-slapping myself.

In an earlier blog post, I referred to myself as  “a nice person,” which drew the guffaws of several of my nearest and dearest.  “Mimi Hall,” said one of my BFFs, “you are a lot of things, but nice is not one of them.”

Stung by this, I asked my husband, “Honey, Girlfriend X says I’m not a nice person.  Do you think I’m a nice person?”  And bless his diplomatic heart, he said, “Well, I think you’re fundamentally a nice person.” Ha Ha Ha. And ouch.

So I placed all this at my therapist’s feet like a cat dropping a rat at the doorstep.   “You are highly critical,” he said,  “but I find it hilarious, and you generally turn your critical eye on yourself as much as other people.”  And I guess that’s the heart of it.  I’m just highly-super-hypo-reactive, or affected by what other people do.  Not always a good life skill for somebody who’s 48 years old and just wants to get through the day without conflict.  I should be too mature to feel this way.

This is why I needed a barrier of medication between myself and the public when I was working.  In my mind, it was all drama, and anything potentially could crawl under my thin skin.  “Oh, please, please help my son find something to read!” a parent would beg.  So I invest thought and energy making suggestions, pulling books from the shelves, hoping the parent and/or kid would love the books as much as I did, only to later find those books left behind somewhere on the shelf, in the wrong place, not checked out.  I took it personally.  When someone scratched the paint on my car in the parking lot, I took it as a personal insult. “Who  the fuck did this?  Who did this?!”  The grandma who “tutored”  her grandson every afternoon by  loudly berating his homework mistakes was assaulting the mental health of the kid, but also insulting the dignity of everyone overhearing her troll tirades.  “That’s a decade of therapy for this kid, granny- bitch!” was what I wanted to say. I was exhausted at the end of each and every day.  Gee, all I wanted was for everything to be perfect.

Recently, I signed up for a cognitive program to handle anxiety and depression without medication.  One of the assignments the program gives you is to retrain your negative thoughts by listing them in a notebook.  My first thought was, “This notebook is way too thin to hold all my negative thoughts.”  That was negative thought number 1.  Eventually, you learn to restate those negatives in a more positive voice.  Like,  “I am a loser who wasted my entire day on Pinterest,” becomes something more like, “I collected so many inspiring images today.  Tomorrow I’ll use them in my work.”

I always figured low self-esteem was my biggest demon.  Turns out, it is unrealistic expectations.   Unrealistic expectations make us want everything to be fair.  We assume that since we try to treat people with respect and kindness, that others will always treat us that way, too.  Does this happen?  Well, what do you fucking think, Opie?

We  — that means me and all the other perfectionists I’m dragging into this —  want to do everything perfectly and are petrified of failure.  We are devastated by even constructive criticism because, chances are, we are our own worst critics.  We’ve already beaten ourselves up more than any other person could ever do.   And don’t you DARE say anything bad about us, because we’ve already said it in our own minds, thank you very much.  Is this sick or what?

According to my program, we’re supposed to lower our expectations of ourselves and others.  Gain more by expecting less. Be more effective by being less affected.   We’re also supposed to forgive ourselves for situations that we see as “failures.”   Yeah, okay.  I see all this and I think it’s very helpful.   But sometimes I don’t want to let people off the hook.  That wicked grandma shouldn’t be taking her own perfectionism out on her grandson.  Sometimes,  I don’t want to let myself off the hook, ditch the pain and guilt, and trot off to the ice cream parlor.

I’m just not gonna forgive myself for everything, saying, “Well, I didn’t make the best choice at the time, but I did what I could with what I had.”  For instance, several years ago,  I didn’t attend the wedding of a very good friend.  My only excuses for not going were selfish and shabby:  that I didn’t want to travel up north in the middle of winter;  that I didn’t want to be trapped in a hotel with a bunch of people I didn’t know — or any group of people for that matter — for a weekend;  that I was so exhausted by my job and crappy personal life that I simply lacked the emotional energy to pull myself together, get on a plane, and be there for my friend.  None of those are good enough reasons in my mind.  As far as I’m concerned, I don’t deserve to be forgiven.  Did my friend get happily married and have a good time without me?  Of course.  (So yeah, I know, the wedding didn’t depend on me being there, so don’t even call me a narcissist because I already think I’m a narcissist, okay, so you don’t get to call me that, so there! )

Was I a good friend to her?   No.

 

Is there any redemptive value in accepting that the mistakes we made were just that, mistakes?  I guess we try to learn from them so we don’t act like such a dumbasses in the future?

Oh, and the guilt?  In case you are wondering — no, I am not Catholic.

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