Monthly Archives: March 2016
Since I became single four years ago, my change in relationship status meant that, if I ever wanted to have sex again or even think about finding love, I would have to dive back into the cesspool that is dating. After seven years of being out of that world, it was like mingling in a river of toxic waste and trying to figure out the lay of the land from all the people with three heads.
At the time, I was 29, and I hadn’t dated since I was 22, let alone in the technology era. Seeking a relationship really was a different language, and everything you did had a message, like how a friend of mine told me there was a hierarchy of dating places: Coffee for friends and casual dalliances into friends-with-benefits territory; drinks for friends, potential hookups and the slightest chance of a relationship; and dinner for potential hookups and half-possible relationships. Or how when you give your number to a guy you’re interested in them dating-wise and if you add them on Facebook you think of them as a friend. (That one I don’t follow. I’d probably add you on Facebook either way.)
Then of course there are the requirements and rules: Don’t have sex on the first date. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show too much cleavage, but don’t be a prude. I can’t even begin to list the hundreds of don’ts that I’ve been told. Meanwhile, there was a whole online dating vernacular to acclimatize to beyond that combined with hundreds upon hundreds of unsolicited pictures of human male junk and requests for pictures in return. For example, I had to learn that a guy asking for more body shots in online dating is a secret way that he’s trying to make sure you’re not fat, because that’s men’s greatest fear while online dating. I guess it’s nice to not have to worry about going out with a person and them possibly taking advantage of you. Either that or I guess it doesn’t matter if I would gouge your eyes out, as long as I’m not overweight while doing it.
The truth was there are so many little variables and squabbles that I couldn’t pull them apart. Don’t post that picture, post this picture; don’t say this, do say that. Let them pay for the meal, or pay your own way to show your independence. Pay for your Match.com account for quality men, or why would you spend money on such an endeavor? It’s very confusing.
My friend Ron gave me a challenge: Write a list of dating etiquette principles that people should follow. Being single and slightly removed from the dating scene as of late (but not enough so that I don’t remember the hell it is), I welcomed the task. As I started coming up with a list, I realized it really boiled down to ten simple, extremely blunt rules that I’m pretty confident most daters and generally nice human beings can agree on:
- Don’t be an asshole.
This may seem like a simple concept, but even if you just look at the standard comments section of a Facebook post, you would be amazed at how many people have a problem with it. Not being an asshole simply means respect for the fact that everyone in the dating world is looking for their better half, and it’s hard to find someone. It means being straightforward in what you want: If you want a hookup, by all means, say so and don’t lead them on. It means that, if someone tells you they’re not interested, not attacking them. Were you listening in Sunday school to the golden rule? No? Well it’s that whole, “Do unto others as they would do unto you” thing. So don’t be rude. And don’t contact people in the form of a proposition of, “Hey, dtf?” Not only does it mean you’re an asshole, but you’re lazy.
- Stop thinking with your junk.
We live in an age where we are programmed to think with our respective genitalia, from dating to what kind of hamburger we buy. Therefore, when we look at online dating profiles or go to singles mixers, all we see is, “Hot or not?” or, in Tinder terms, “Swipe right or left?” Hate to break it to you, but looks fade or change. Also, you’re not going to have sex with this person 24/7 — you’re going to have to talk to them and reason with them eventually if you want to keep that person around. Sure, we all have physical types, but a relationship has to go deeper than that to work. So don’t think in those terms and talk to someone new. It’s amazing what you’ll find, and personally I find people more attractive if they’re smart, funny, decent and can carry a conversation rather than if they have six-pack abs. And speaking of…
- Be open to new possibilities.
I have two examples of this. One was where a 5’6 guy contacted me on a dating site (please note I am 5’11). Normally I don’t go for shorter guys, but he was so easy to talk to and fun to be around we actually dated for a while after that. The second was a girl I used to work with who went on a date with a guy who liked baseball. She said, “He likes baseball, and I don’t like baseball. So I’m not going to pursue it.” That guy could have been her perfect guy, and she threw him out simply because there was one interest that they didn’t have in common. Meanwhile, I took a chance and explored something that I would have never done before, and even though it didn’t work out, I loved the time we had together. Being open means new opportunities, meeting wonderful people and who knows what else? Possibly meeting the love of your life and not having to worry about this dating thing anymore.
- Stop texting, you idiot.
The text is great for many things, ranging from finding each other in a large, crowded shopping center to getting into a car accident for doing it while driving. However, it can also be one of the greatest hindrances to dating and being able to get to know each other. It’s so bad my friend once had to dump a guy via text because he wouldn’t take calls. If you’re trying to date someone, opt for more connection and not less. Texting and even its cousin, Facebook messenger, is a great starting point for getting to know someone, but it can’t communicate the full picture of a person — what jokes they laugh at, how they respond to different topics and their tones of voice. If you have the time and the ability to call, do it. If you don’t like phone calls, impromptu visits work too. Make the effort. Which leads me into…
- Don’t be lazy.
Oh, the lazies, the procrastinators, the shiftless dreamers who hope a person will sweep them off their feet instead of going to get them. They come in many forms, to the girl who contacts a guy on a dating site to say, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions,” to the guy who is too scared and/or lackadaisical to pursue a girl, and when she finds someone else, he decides that it’s the perfect time to declare his love. If this is the approach they take to dating, it’ll probably be the same in a relationship, so avoid them and be better than that. If you like him/her, ask them out. If you’re interested, don’t play games; just say it. One of my favorite instances of this was at a coffee shop in Eagle Rock after I performed at a comedy open mic. He told me flat out he was interested. I was so impressed that he was straightforward that I immediately grabbed a drink with him.
- Focus on the other person.
You know that electronic leash you have in your pocket that you call a cell phone? Yes, technology is grand, with all the pretty lights and dinging sounds, not to mention the ten zillion dating apps and your queue of 20 guys and/or girls in various states of flirty texting. Guess what? If you intend to connect to anyone in human form, it’s got to go into hibernation. If you’re going on a date, don’t play with your phone and don’t answer calls unless it’s an emergency. Same goes for darting eyes around the room and paying too much attention to distractions. Also, if a person says something to you,listen. Ask questions and find out things. Respond with your own experiences. We live in a constant state of FOMO (fear of missing out) that we actually do miss out on great things, even if that person is sitting in front of us.
- Follow basic topic discussion guidelines.
When I went on my first date post-split, I called a former friend of mine in New York for advice. He got very nervous when I asked him, so he started making a list of all the topics that I shouldn’t talk about: No politics, no religion and no mentions of my ex or any previous relationships. When I gawked and asked him what I should talk about, he said, “Anything else.” Years later, the advice still works, but I would add any personal topics that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, like medical or family issues. In the first few times of meeting, it’s all about whether or not you click, and you can only see that if both people are comfortable with the conversation. Topical, touchy issues and possible deal breakers can be dealt with later.
- However, throw the rulebook out the window when it’s time.
When I was dating a chef several years back, the initial chemistry between us was so hot that everything else seemed like a refrigerator. As a result, the above basic topic discussion guidelines were thrown out the window immediately and nothing was restricted from our conversations. What I love the most about dating is that when you find an amazing person that you really connect with, it can be completely unpredictable and exhilarating. It’s instinct; you just know it and they know it too. Any rules that society throws at us, from not having sex on the first date to taboo topics, are tossed aside. These are not the times to be guarded and listen to everyone else. This is when you carpe diem, seize the day, YOLO — whatever you need to do.
- Be you.
There are two important components in dating: This new person and you. Beautiful, wonderful, fabulous you, who sings as loudly as possible in the car and has a passionate relationship with snobby coffee and red pens, not to mention an unnatural love of drag queens and RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Sorry, that’s me). Many people put on facades and fronts while dating, hiding themselves in the hope that the other person will like them, but that means we are doing a disservice to the other person by not letting them get to know the real us. Perhaps we’re insecure or uncertain, but don’t be. You’re great, I know you are, so don’t hide — and if you aren’t great, don’t tell me because I won’t believe you. This doesn’t end in dating, FYI: We sometimes forget ourselves in favor of the new relationship, and I encourage you not to. The best relationships are when the people around us bring out and love our strongest selves, not put us down. So keep doing you, no matter what happens.
- Seriously, don’t be an asshole.
It’s sad that I have to repeat this, but I do. In the second repetition, it’s more in the, “If this is not working out, don’t be an asshole.” This means if you know a person likes you and you don’t like them back, don’t lead them on to thinking it’s more. This means give someone the courtesy of letting them down if it isn’t working, i.e. not disappearing without another word, or ghosting. If the other person lets you down, it doesn’t mean yelling at them, stalking them or going from asshole to psychopath. Rejection is hard, but it’s a part of the dating process on both sides. That being said, if you need to, I give you permission to wallow in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix before you get back up again. Or take a run. Just remember rule 9: Be you, and do right by you always.
And with that, I wish all of you fair daters very happy dating lives and hopefully the right person to be your complement. Personally, I will be overanalyzing guys’ intentions towards me while listening to all your worries about dating as we hang out. Or at least I’ll be lip syncing for my life in the privacy of my car. Whatever works.
The question comes swiftly, as if he wants to catch me off guard in the course of the job interview. “What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in your life?”
I know this game all too well. This is the question that is supposed to send me into a tailspin, that is supposed to get me racking my brain for an answer, and to question myself once I left the conversation as to whether I said the right thing.
He doesn’t scare me. Not his high-end designer clothing, the fancy gadgets decorating his start-up office or his too-cool-for-school exterior. His ambition can’t hide behind it. I’ve seen this type of guy before, and I know I’ll see his type again — after all, I live in Los Angeles. There is a sense of ego dripping from his lips that I can sense, even in just talking to him for a few minutes of my existence.
And that questions hits. “What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in your life?” In 33 years, I’m supposed to answer this? Boil my existence down to one impressive moment?
There was the time where I spoke in front of 3,000 people as a high school graduate with a 2.9 GPA, causing a standing ovation, but I was so young I didn’t know what it meant. Or the time I won a state award for my writing in college, shocking my journalism advisor who had asked me a week before why I couldn’t be more like someone else. I thought about going to Israel, about being forced out of the country and then returning all those years later, laughing and finding my way through a new place with a pink suitcase. But they were trivial at best. What does impressive even mean to someone with fancy gadgets and do-dads?
There were all my beautiful friends and their shining lights. Every one of them is an impressive human being. Every single person who I am honored to call my friend simply blows me away. And I think of my mother… my mother, who I had fought to help, even thought it’s the most difficult task I can think of. In everything she has done in her life, from teaching me to talk to fighting cancer, she is impressive. Yet they are not actions. They are people.
How can you quantify a life, a moment into one impressive act? Does that impressive act make that person impressive? How can you tell anything about that person? Yet, within 15 seconds, I knew the answer. It was mine and mine alone. And I knew it was right one.
“What is the most impressive thing you’ve ever done in your life?” he asked.
“The most impressive thing I’ve ever done in my life?” I replied. “I survived.”
He looked puzzled, confused. How can breathing be impressive? How can just living, or even walking into this room, be anything of note?
He couldn’t see it when he looked at me, whether in my fancy blazer or my red shoes clicking across the concrete floor. No piece of paper, not my resume or anything I had written, could tell him. How, if medical knowledge was the main driving force of this world, I shouldn’t technically be alive. I almost died 12 years before I ever stepped into his office. One blood clot can be enough to kill a person, and I had five. To this day, I still struggle with it, but like with many medical conditions, it’s not something that you would be able to see on the surface. You wouldn’t know about those five.
Five turns into four. How four years ago, I did the craziest thing imaginable: I left. After years of being told I was a “fucking bitch” unable to survive alone, I walked out the door with very few precious items. A menorah, a picture of my grandparents, a prayer book and clothes I needed to survive were stuffed it into a ripped red duffel bag as I ran, breaking the shackles that tied me to an unhappy existence. It’s a challenge that many aren’t up to the task to do. There have been struggles every single day, remembering what had happened to me over the course of the four years previous to that night. Knowing I made the right decision yet the hardest decision. And I never regretted it.
I then think of three. Three different boys, all of who owned a piece of me. One didn’t love me, just sought to possess me, messed with my mind until I broke away with that red duffel bag. To this day, I still feel that grip, how it has shaped me and made it difficult to be in a relationship again. The second one loved me, and I am quite aware that he still does. It was his ego that set our world on fire and sent me fleeing, and that still keeps me away to this day. The third began breaking down my walls, making me feel safe. Yet he didn’t really understand what that meant and still doesn’t. He’s too immature, too flighty. He couldn’t even begin to understand what he could have had.
It’s as if three drifts into two. Two times where I was so broke from lack of work that I marched my ass into the social services office and had to ask for food stamps. How I lost my job and kept hearing no with every job interview I took. I would hide the EBT card as I slid it at the 99 Cents Store, where I had picked through the last of the boxes of lettuce, making sure there were no moldy red peppers in the bag I chose. The day where I had to head to a food pantry in Inglewood, and ate only Cap’n Crunch for about a week. How I took a delivery job to help keep a roof over my head with my freelancing. How I lost my car and the universe put me back where I needed to be. I know what hunger looks like, what desperation appears as. Everything in my core fights against it, keeps rebelling against the no’s and the job rejections I get every day.
Yet at the end, there is only one life in there. One soul, one heart, and it belongs to me. How many days did I want to give up, figure out a way to end it all, yet I never did? I don’t quit, I never surrender. The badness mellows with a funny joke, my eyes tear up a little bit until the hurt starts repairing itself, and then I call a friend who will remind me of the love that surrounds me and everything I have created for myself. How strong I was and am. How brave I have become, for myself and for those I love. Something that the person sitting across from me who asked that question of me couldn’t possibly begin to understand with a simple question as to what made me impressive. The fact that I am who I am is what makes me this way.
As I finished my answer, in a voice that was lowered in tone and serious, the look on his face was one of someone who had been punched in the gut. “Wow,” he said breathlessly. “Good answer.”
Yes it was. Perhaps my finest answer that I have ever given to a singular question, because no one could challenge it. How can you challenge a girl who had fallen all the way down to hell and came out the other side? How can you begin to quantify those numbers I laid out? We have logic and reason, but when it comes to the human spirit, there are no numbers there to quantify. There is no measurement to give to survival of the fittest. Every person comes with a wealth of experiences and trials. The beauty is we get back up. We keep loving, keep working, keep fighting. And we don’t stop. We will never stop.
I walked out of the room, and in that moment I could feel every bit of blood pumping through my veins, every bit of my being that was suddenly reminded that it was vibrant and alive. And no one could take that away from me.
Spending a summer in D.C. as an intern is like living in a political sausage factory for about two months. It’s hot, sweaty and not always pretty, but you bond with your fellow workers while drinking beer and riding through the muck that is politics.
Several things can happen after: You love it and embrace the political lifestyle completely; you fight against it by heading into different places for a career; or feel utterly indifferent to both sides of it and look for your success elsewhere, but keep seeing your history there pop up every four years.
I’m the third option, and it’s this election where I’m seeing my past come out in full force. In that summer back in 2005, I met Senator Bernie Sanders on an early June morning in the State of the Union room in the Capitol Building. I’ll never forget my friend Robert whispering in my ear, “How the hell did he get elected? He’s a freakin’ socialist!” Yet he was one that never changed his position: I saw him speak in Hollywood, and he was saying the exact same things as he was then.
That same summer, I had an incredibly libertarian economics professor named Thomas Rustici at Georgetown University. He was a 6’4 Sicilian with a thick Virginia accent that used to say regularly, after certain examples, “So you die. And that… would be a tragedy.” I used to amuse my classmates by impersonating him in the courtyard. But you never found a more passionate man about his subject, and a more loving person in protecting his students — myself included. This election cycle, this man became the senior economics advisor for Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign.
When it comes to my political beliefs, except for a few issues, I keep my views rather private (I honestly don’t even know who I’m voting for in the primary yet). Half of this is credited to a background in old-school unbiased journalism and the other half to a tyrant of an ex who, when I tried to defend my beliefs, would call me names and tell me how I lived in a little fantasy land. However, I’m okay with not being a big mouth in this way: It keeps me a mystery in the realm of political activity, and that’s just the way I like it. Anyone can come talk to me and not feel judged, and if there’s anything in my life that I hold onto as a creed, it’s that everyone feels safe and welcome with me.
Living the D.C. political sausage factory taught me a lot about the current state of government. Yes, there are politicians who love and care about this country. But they aren’t really revolutionaries; they are men and women, imperfect people who sometimes we lift up to be deities in the form of campaigns and dress up in our own desperations. I see the facades: The people who are poised at the backs of the politicians to play them up as the voice of the people, the snippy little soundbites for the cameras to use, the clickbait-style headlines and the talking heads who echo them on different media channels to hype them up. I don’t worship at that altar. Rather, I’ll cast my vote and try to do right by the people around me on a person-to-person level.
Yet I can’t pretend I’m not scared. I can’t fake the fact that I’m starting to look at options for other countries to move to if a certain candidate is elected (gee, I wonder who that could be…). When I suggest taking advantage of moving to Spain under the Sephardic heritage clause for citizenship or even heading north to Vancouver or Toronto, my mother looks at me with watery eyes and her oxygen tank pumping, saying, “How could I abandon my country in its hour of need?” Yet I look at her and wonder really, what this country has done for her, as a regular law-abiding citizen. When I look at my parents’ generation, who has been scrambling through economic hardship alongside their friends while the CEOs of companies who they pay their bills to live as fat cats, I get puzzled by the blind love.
It used to be that I would sit in school and be told to love America, say the pledge of allegiance and hear that this was the greatest country in the world, the land of opportunity. To not ask what my country could do for me, but what could I do for my country. Yet after all the years of being kicked around economically and seeing my government and talking heads pointing fingers rather than actually solving problems, I feel something worse than love and hatred for my country: utter apathy.
How can I even begin to care about America when I’m still trying to figure out how the hell am I going to survive on a day to day basis? How can I wave a flag when my mother’s healthcare is basically a game of how much money can be taken out of her retirement by drug companies, as she can’t live without for her treatments? And when it comes time for regulations to be put on those companies by the government as how much they can gouge us, there is simply a shrug from them. So I shrug back at the sausage factory, and all the electoral year games people play.
When Ben Carson abandoned his campaign and joined with the evil one, I hadn’t seen Professor Rustici that angry since I had been his student the night he caught some girls giggling at mention of the Holocaust in class. I will never forget his roars of anger, like a lion, and how they tore through the room. It was the same way he tore his former candidate down on Facebook, several times. How dare Ben Carson side with racism, sexism and intolerance in the hopes of a deal? How could he support someone who is against everything the constitution stands for?
No matter how many times I disagreed with this man on economics, I remember the night after that roar in class how he cried in pain with us, his students. How he turned to me and told me how he couldn’t imagine those girls giggling and the way it would hurt me, a Jewish girl. How, no matter what happened politically, I knew that he would support tolerance and freedom and protect his students. He would be a human being first, which gave me a level of respect I have for very few people. And he was still the same today as he was then.
Somewhere in me I see through the political fantasies, the excitable memes and the barb throwing. I do want what’s best for this country, but at the same time have learned that the catalysts for change come from many different places, not just from politics. Often, politics are the last to catch up to the changes that we experience together as human beings; in an election year, when there seems to be so much at stake, people forget that fact.
These changes build up from tiny places, starting in the micro level in our communities. They come from the people around us who we invite into our lives and get to know personally. It stems from discussions and communications with questions and answers, not insults and terror. It derives from our pop culture, showing acceptance and diverse stories on our television sets and in our music (film… well, we need to work on that). And it comes from mutual respect.
It’s that easy, and at the same time, that hard. And when I cast my vote in the primary, I’ll be remembering that.
Depression is a serious illness, with more than 3 million reported cases per year. Although I’m typically a happy person, I have experienced bouts of depression over the years, with this one from about a month ago being the worst. Those who have never experienced it doesn’t know what it looks like. Somewhere inside of me during this time, I got the gumption to get it down in writing. I felt the need to tell it as it is, because if people could really see it they’d know the truth: It is a serious illness affecting so many, and we need to not judge, but simply understand and lend a hand.
It’s 2 pm and I just got off the phone with my friend Stacy. She’s concerned, because she knows I’m not a crier, usually leaving that to more private moments. Yet I’ve been in tears half the day and I don’t know why. The sadness is beyond belief. I’m staring at one spot in my room, where the wrought iron frame of the bed meets the mattress, where it’s dark and gray. I’m lying down and can barely move. It’s as if I suddenly don’t know how.
My body is wrapped in blankets like a cocoon, strangely unable to get up, too frightened of the world outside in this immediate point in time. My back feels like there are butterfly wings, but they’re stapled to me, unable to unfurl. A sense of desperation takes over. My mind is paralyzed in the sadness, unable to function, unable to do what needs to be done.
Stacy said this isn’t like me. She’s right; my recent birth control removal has triggered this. They call it the Mirena crash, where your hormones go haywire, and amongst other things it can launch you into a serious depression. For the past week, I’ve been up and down. But this has been the worst day.
There was only one other moment in my life that I can recall where I was like this, and it was not triggered by hormones. It was on a day in late July of 2012, when I cut someone I love dearly out of my life completely. It was necessary, but his removal from my existence left me in bed for two days. That was more sorrow, though — a state of mourning, the death of something that had to be felt fully. It was a vital stage in order to recover properly. This was not like that; it went deeper, infected every sinew of my body.
The stress of the past few weeks was washing over me: Out of work a month earlier than anticipated, my mother’s health problems compounding while I was living with her because I didn’t have a steady job, a lawsuit filed against me for an accident that was ruled not my fault to target my insurance policy, bills piling up, feeling incredibly far away living apart from the city and my friends with an uncertain future and no prospects. Combine that with the hormones, and I was destined to crash. What I didn’t expect was this heap that I had become.
Somewhere in the depths of this despair I hear my father calling for me. I try to respond, my voice weak, but he can’t hear me — he probably doesn’t have his hearing aids in. He keeps repeating my name. My voice starts to scream, which seems to agitate the beast of depression inside of me. The monster holds on stronger, tightens his grip so my brain feels like it’s being strangled. I begin sobbing again, focusing on that tiny corner. For some odd reason, it’s all my mind wants to know at this moment.
The texts are coming into my phone, and I don’t see them. Or I respond to them, but it’s as if I have transformed into a robot, going through the motions as if there is no other way to do it. I give excuses: The drive is too far. I’m running low on gas with very little income. I don’t feel like it. I had become a blubbering mess and didn’t want to be near anyone, not even myself. Yet at the same time it’s hard to be alone, but no one is coming for me. It’s too far.
My head was throbbing as the crying dehydrated me. I drank small sips of water from a water bottle, grasping onto the bottle as if a baby, my body weak as a hospital patient’s. I tried to eat a little popcorn, the salt accumulating in my mouth, feeling like dirt. A couple licorice sticks follow, but it doesn’t do anything either; it’s like I can’t sense anything. In a last-ditch effort, I watched some shows on Netflix, and not even that could restore me.
My mother was in her bed, reading while her oxygen tank pumped its Darth Vader tone. Weakly, I walk in and lie next to her, a hopeless child sobbing into a pillow like I skinned my knee again or a boy pulled at my pigtails, teasing me mercilessly. She didn’t need another thing to worry about, yet she strokes my hair as my sobbing continues. It’s as if my body regressed, unable to function properly. I don’t see the world around me, just the cocoon of blankets that are keeping me safe and warm, which allows me to rest.
Waking up, it takes a bout of physical effort to get me up from the bed and be able to move into the other room. My very body felt held back from some great force of nature. Yet something inside of me is making me move forward, pushing me down into the seat at the kitchen table, taking the plate of food and putting it in the microwave, then shoving the food into my mouth with dire force.
In the physical force of ingesting that night, I was realizing that I was sick. This is what it felt like at 21 to be in the hospital fighting for my body to survive five blood clots. During this day, I’m fighting for my mind, which in turn is also disabling my human functioning. It may not be as extreme, since the Mirena crash has exacerbated the problem, but it still manifests in similar forms: Cutting myself off from the world. Not calling people. Staying away from activities and then making excuses for my absences — depression was alive inside of me, just that I found a strange way to function through it.
It took two Tylenol PM to get me to sleep through the night, to cumulate the day that I truly understood depression. I woke up the next morning feeling motivated and strong, praying that this wasn’t another ebb and flow in the Mirena crash. But there were no guarantees. Depression is an illness that was taking a hold of my body, as debilitating as a broken leg and devastating as a heart transplant. You can’t tell people to just “cheer up” — it just fuels the fire. I had to hold on, fight this, although sometimes it feels like a monster that can’t be killed.
The next day, I get a call from Stacy first thing in the morning. “You worried me to death,” she said. In the fog of the day before, I could barely see my dear friend. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone. It didn’t mean I didn’t love them; far from it. They are my rocks, my saving graces. They keep me tethered to the world.
But that’s the beast we fight: Depression makes us forget everything that we love, retreat inward against our own will. There isn’t one definitive way for a cure, but the simple request — just to be there, hang on and support — is sometimes good enough.
If there is any message I truly want to get across in this piece on the current state of Planned Parenthood, it is this: Do not watch Bride Wars.
This is a bipartisan issue we all should agree on. This movie is an abomination, so bad it’s not even worth hate watching — and I love a “good” bad movie more than most people. And it’s terrible even with Anne Hathaway and Chris Pratt in it, and I adore them both.
It’s the type of movie that made me even more anxious as it rolled on a loop at Planned Parenthood on a Thursday afternoon. It couldn’t quell my fears about the ticking time bomb residing in my arm, a birth control implant. As I sat in the waiting room of the clinic that could see me fastest, about 30 miles from my house, there were so many emotions swelling up in me it was hard to stomach.
My birth control odyssey started about six months previous, when it was time to get my Mirena IUD out. After five blissful years, it had expired and it was time to replace. I had my insurance card in hand and bought a bottle of wine and a carton on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which were waiting at home. For those who don’t know, IUD insertion is extremely painful, and it’s best to be prepared.
That day, Planned Parenthood turned me away. They didn’t accept my insurance, even though on the phone they told me they could. It puzzled me at first, but I let it slide, heading to another local clinic that was so backed up they couldn’t even see me for removal and insertion for four months. Eventually I went back to Planned Parenthood, when they told me they could now accept my insurance; shortly after I had come in they revised the policy. But this was where my troubles began.
The local Planned Parenthood clinic is tucked away on a tree-covered street in Thousand Oaks, with a tiny little parking lot and construction workers revamping the building. This is partially due to a recent arson, which shut the clinic for a short time. However, you will still see people outside handing out pamphlets and holding signs, making you feel as if you’re crossing picket lines to get birth control. As you enter, there is bulletproof glass between you and the receptionist, and security doors to get into the waiting room. But at least they play The Holiday, with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, in there.
Sitting in those lovely stirrups in the examination room, I got the Mirena out, but immediately started cramping when the attempts began to put another one in. An immense pain surged through my system, and no matter how many times I closed my eyes and evoked the name of Idris Elba as a happy thought, it wouldn’t stop. (Probably because the last thing I watched him in was Beasts of No Nation — incredible movie, but not great if you’re thinking of the sexy version of the actor.)
The nurse said this was common, and usually women are told to take an ibuprofen beforehand — except in my case, I’m deathly allergic, so I can’t. She told me to wait a month until I got my period, when my body would be much more open, and then come back with a Vicodin in my system and a family member to drive me home.
Currently, my nearby family is made up of myself, my prude-like father with his cane, and my cancer-fighting mother with her oxygen tank. We are quite the trio — my mom and her Darth Vader machine announcing her approach; my innocent, doting dad who doesn’t realize I carry a condom in my wallet at all times; and me. So the idea of all of us heading to Planned Parenthood with me hopped up on a narcotic is a very amusing picture in my mind.
The next week, I experienced what they call the Mirena crash: A series of cramps, bleeding and intense mood swings that plunged me into manic episodes followed by serious, dark depressions (but more on that later). With the insertion difficulties and the crash, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back on the IUD, so someone suggested that I do some research into the birth control implant, Implanton. It goes into the upper arm, stays for about three years, and has a relatively painless insertion process.
I am usually pretty thorough about checking my birth control options, as I have so few. I have a history of blood clots and genetic clotting factor, which rules me out of practically every birth control available on the market. I have tried the two major ones they recommend to clot survivors: The Depo-Provera shot, which caused me to gain an insane amount of weight and feel arthritic, and the low-hormone IUD, which I had. When I first got it, they were just starting to roll out the implant, so it was untested.
The Planned Parenthood website didn’t say that the implant could not be used on anyone with a history of blood clots. Other sites said the Implanton, as it is progesterone-only, was a great option for those who had clots but weren’t on any blood thinning medication, like me. They recommend inserting it at the start of a woman’s period, so when I got it, I drove to the clinic. They were still playing The Holiday a month after my Mirena removal, and except for several teenage boys that seemed to be sneaking in for STD tests without their parents’ knowledge, everyone around me seemed to be getting the implant.
“You’re going to love it,” said the medical assistant, clad in burgundy scrubs, as she sat me down in the examination room. “It’s the same hormone as in the Mirena.” She read through a group of questions off of a computer screen with me, recording my answers. Not one was about blood clots.
Later, the nurse came in with a Nexaplanon, not the Implanton I researched. “This is the newest version of it,” she said. The installation into my left arm was quick and relatively painless, and she wrapped it in a bright green bandage before sending me home.
Except for a few headaches, nothing really happened until several days after. I had gone to have dinner with my friend Deborah in Studio City, and as I walked away from the restaurant, I thought to myself, My left leg feels funny. It was the leg that started my history of blood clots at 21.
As I got home and took off my pants, I noticed my leg was starting to swell, becoming red and warm — as if I was developing another blood clot. I immediately downed two baby aspirin (aspirin is a blood thinner) and began researching the Nexaplanon. The first thing that was listed on its website for risks and side effects was not to take it if you have a history of blood clots.
Upon more research, I found that the progesterone in the Nexaplanon was not the same as in the Mirena, as I was told. Both are progesterone-only, but while the IUD had levongestrel, the implant was etongestrel. It was the same hormone found in the Nuvaring, the birth control I was on when I first started my blood clot odyssey. Upon further research, I found that there was a lawsuit against the Nexaplanon for blood clots, with studies shown that it made people 40 percent more likely to develop blood clots. I’m 33 years old and have already had six clots. I was done.
After nearly no sleep due to anxiety and anger, I took two more baby aspirin in the morning, slipped on my anti-coagulation stockings and called Planned Parenthood, asking for a removal because of the clotting risk. They scheduled me for the following morning and alerted the nurse. She called me, and I told her what I had found about the risk of blood clots.
“Where did you get this information?” she asked skeptically.
“From the company’s website,” I replied. “The one that makes the implant.”
They told me that they would alert the medical director immediately, but I thought to myself: Planned Parenthood doesn’t have enough people in order to keep records updated as to this information? Although I’m a rare case, where my body doesn’t need an excuse to produce another blood clot, this could save other women’s lives.
Anxiety is a very strange demon, and I realized that I couldn’t wait another 24 hours to get the Nexaplanon out; my clotting factor is too strong. I called back and asked for the quickest appointment available, which was 30 miles north in Ventura in about three hours.
“The nurse recommends that, if you think you might have a blood clot, you should go to the ER,” the lady said on the phone. I was fuming by this point: This would take me out of the running for my appointment, and I still wouldn’t be closer to solving the source of the problem. Plus, I didn’t have enough money for an ER visit.
“How about you take this thing out of my arm first, and then, if things are still bad, I’ll go?” I snapped. If there’s a time bomb ticking in someone’s body, why would you delay in cutting the wire?
My impatience was leaving me agitated, so I drove up to Ventura early. I stopped by Main Street and walked around in the sunshine, trying to distract myself. But I was so out of sorts I didn’t even stop at my favorite local ice cream shop — you know it’s bad when I refuse ice cream.
Around 3:15, I couldn’t wait any longer and walked into the Planned Parenthood. This clinic was very different than the one in Thousand Oaks. The walls are whitewashed concrete, the bulletproof glass covering the nurses’ station, and the waiting room is smaller and stacked to the brim with at least 20 to 30 people. Kids were sitting on their mother’s laps playing games on phones, young girls sat nervously with family members, and there were very few non-minorities in the room, myself included.
And, of course, there was Bride Wars playing on a continual loop, a feminist institution playing the most anti-feminist dreck imaginable. It was so horrible that I blurted out loud, “Wow, this is awful,” and half the women watching started to laugh with me. It was a movie so bad that I wanted to sew my vagina shut… and then reopened when I remembered that I enjoy having sex, but then sewn shut again because with stories like that, it wasn’t worth the risk. As if going to Planned Parenthood wasn’t hard enough.
At one point, they called me in, saying they had problems with my health insurance… again. I began crying, half due to lack of sleep and the other half from the hormones in my body waiting for a chance to kill me. The clinic director put me into a side room as I was choking on my sobs, repeating how I didn’t want to die. She told me not to worry; they’d make sure that they would see me today.
After returning to the waiting room, I sat there for about an hour watching the terrible movie of death before they called me in. It was the same whitewashed concrete as the waiting room, where you could see the outlines of the brick against the installed medical cabinets. After taking my blood pressure and asking me a couple of questions, I shook my head.
“You really have to take out that movie,” I said wearily. “It’s so bad. I will donate other movies.”
“We’d like that,” the medical assistant said. “We don’t get enough.” Which is true — the defunding of Planned Parenthood is always on the table in D.C. Plus, a lot of the organization’s money probably goes to healthcare items and security ranging from the bulletproof glass to cameras, not a wider selection of DVDs.
After she laid out all the instruments for the implant’s removal, I sat by myself for about 45 minutes, tapping my feet against the linoleum floor in some weird random dance routine of nerves and jitters. My head hurt from restlessness, my heart pumping hard from anxiety. But I refused to have another blood clot. I had to live past watching Bride Wars.
The nurse practitioner came in and began challenging my statements about the Nexaplanon.
“You know, all birth control methods talk about risk of blood clots,” she said. “The Mirena does, too.”
“Yeah, but that’s towards the bottom of the list,” I said. “And research shows that the Mirena actually doesn’t not increase the risk, but Nexaplanon increases it by 40 percent.”
After a five-minute debate and checking my leg, she told me to lie back and numbed the area where the Nexaplanon was as my arm began to cramp. I began to cry again, this time from relief, and the nurse soothed me as we were waiting for the medicine to kick in. When she removed the implant, it practically flew out — it was almost as if my body wanted it out just as badly. She wrapped me up tight in a purple bandage and I was sent on my way with a warm hug.
I walked out of the clinic with the hard decision of not opting for a birth control other than condoms at the moment; I was getting too tired of the fight. When I was ready and in a relationship, my future boyfriend/partner could take me to a gynecologist’s office after taking a Vicodin. I would have another IUD installed and then be taken home, where he would have a huge thing of ice cream and pizza waiting for me because he would be the world’s best boyfriend. (I wouldn’t be getting it if he weren’t.)
It was dark out by the time I walked to my car. A young Latina stepped out of a small white sedan next to my Honda, with her small daughter and an older woman I assumed was her mother. I waited patiently, and she apologized for delaying me.
“Don’t worry,” I said with a smile. “I’ve been here two and a half hours, a couple more minutes won’t hurt.”
“Do you mind me asking what you had done?” she asked, glancing over the purple bandage on my arm.
“I had the implant removed.”
“Oh my G-d! Can I ask why? Because I’m about to get one.”
I explained to her about my clotting issues, and how it shouldn’t be an issue for her, as I got in my car and drove away. I hope I didn’t scare her; I’m sure the implant works for many women, just not those whose bodies have a death wish for them.
As traffic piled up near home, I got off the freeway and drove past the other Planned Parenthood clinic, dark except for a few fluorescent lights in the empty parking lot. And there, outside of the building, was a woman standing with a sign. It said, simply, “Defend lives.”
Doing this can be a difficult task for these clinics. After all, how could you properly defend the lives of women that come in to receive healthcare when you’re more concerned about crazies and women feeling safe as they walk in the door? How can you defend lives when you’re not getting enough funding to be able to afford the proper staff it would take to see people in a timely fashion, let alone update your website? And how can you defend lives when it seems that the healthcare system, the government, everyone except those who are too broke to go to a regular doctor’s office, is stacked against you?
This is why, despite everything that happened to me, I will never give up on Planned Parenthood. Just seeing the people in the waiting room in Ventura made me know that it has to be here; it just needs to get better. It has to help that woman with her daughter getting birth control. It has to help the young teenage boys creeping into a clinic to get STD testing. And yes, in three percent of cases, it provides abortions to protect women who might not be able to carry a pregnancy to term. It helps every woman and man who might be scared and needs vital care.
Approximately one in five women in this country has gotten help through a Planned Parenthood, and I would never take that away. There are times where we need to put aside our emotions towards hot-button topics and do what’s right for others. We need this organization, but we need to give it more money so they can think beyond basic survival and really help people. It needs to go to the nurses, medical assistants and doctors who probably make very little to provide valuable health services, like prenatal care and cancer screenings. It needs to go to more comfortable surroundings and quicker, up-to-date care.
And, obviously, it has to go to better movies. I wish I could get people who want to defund Planned Parenthood to experience a version of what happened to me: That is, to watch Bride Wars on a 24-hour loop in a crowded room, with deadly hormones surging through their bodies and no immediate access to vital medicines or proper care. If they haven’t gone absolutely crazy by the time it’s over, they can do whatever they want.
After all, many of them don’t get to experience the joys of having others control the fate of their bodies, let alone having Hollywood tell we should be so invested in our future weddings that we forget the needs of other women completely. They should just consider it a welcome introduction to the current state of modern American womanhood.