That Time I Decided to Get a Computer Science Degree

So, apparently my list of Things I’ve Always Wanted To Do just expanded to get a degree in Computer Science. I know, I know. You’re all wondering ‘what the fuck?’ Don’t get too insulting, now. It’s not really that far off base. It doesn’t seem as likely as maybe a degree in writing, but I have that. The only way I can manage to explain everyone’s complete and utter shock is that sometimes I keep my most intimidating dreams to myself–hidden far away, so deep that I can barely find them. That’s what happened with this interest in computers and that’s what happened with boxing. That, coupled with the idea that I was too old to go back to school or too bad at math, led me to be too afraid to try it. Well, yesterday that changed.

But to backtrack, I’ve had quite a bit of experience over the years with software in corporate environments and I’m always the one who can learn how to use the programs instantly and train other people on them. Sometimes I’ve managed issues within the programs and sometimes I’m just good at improving business processes related to databases. It wasn’t something I thought I would like-or be good at-and it wasn’t something my idealistic self thought I would want to stay involved in. But the constant mental challenge kept me busy–it kept my depression and anxiety at bay sometimes. It gave me complex problems to solve and the confidence to manage my own personal problems. I have very little evidence to prove this, but I think it’s making me healthier.

Shocked or not, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I run a blog. I’m also obsessed with technology and the Internet–not just the social media side of things either. I want to know how things work–all of the things. I’ve found myself having conversations with tech savvy friends and being so mesmerized by all the things I didn’t know, but when it occurred to me that I should get to know more about it I dismissed it as something I couldn’t do. The concept of possibly starting a new degree all over was sure as hell not a high priority and the idea of learning to program was definitely scary. Could I do it? Was I smart enough?

I had my doubts.

I’ve met a lot of people who are self-taught in the tech world and most of them are men. I finally admitted to myself that I’m also self-taught and have quite a bit more technical knowledge than I give myself credit for. I proved it in some of my jobs. Hell, I even have more knowledge than some of the men I know who do this for a living. (Not all of them, of course, but why deny that I am good at what I do?)

I’ve been debating since last summer what to do with my life and it’s been an ever-changing journey. I don’t have it all figured out, but I do have some experience with what I like. I also have the luxury of having some time and space to explore my options. Yesterday I just thought “Why not? I could do it.” And after struggling with it at great depths and bothering my friends with my doubt, I decided to do it. If I can’t figure something out, there’s always the tutoring department.

But what if I CAN figure it out? I was in the college Honors program. I’m definitely smarter than I give myself credit for.

What if it comes naturally to me? I already do some of this as a hobby and for work. Why not actually be formally taught?

What if I enjoy it? I have enough experience to know that I probably will enjoy it quite a bit.

Why would I want to live my whole life without knowing what it feels like to try something challenging? I wouldn’t. I don’t.

limitsA few months ago I dated a guy who had previously wanted to be a Computer Science major. How cool, I thought. My second thought was a bit more disturbing and it’s one I had to challenge to be able to show up to class: That’s something boys do. 

When I showed up to class, my worst fear came true. I was the only girl in the class. It really did bother me and it intimidated me. We’ve been taught that boys are better at math and science than girls, while it’s categorically untrue. This lack of any women in the room really played with my doubt that I would be good enough to be in this program. I started thinking maybe they were all better at computers than I was or maybe they knew more than me.

And I was wrong.

The professor asked us who had ever put together a website. I raised my hand. Two other guys did as well. The majority of the class hadn’t. Not only had I put together a website, I manage three and I have managed them at work, too. The professor let us know that it’s okay if we were just starting out because that’s what the class was for.

With my obsession with MMA, I’m on quite the “challenge my limits” kick right now. It just feels like the right thing to do. It feels empowering. I may not be able to do everything, but I want to do the things I’m good at. I want to explore and live so fully that I’ve uncovered all the things that fascinate me about the world. Why stop at just being good at one thing? Why stop learning? Why do one thing and only one thing? I’ve often referred to the lead singer of Bad Religion as my model for life. He’s a college professor, rock star and author. I’m sure plenty of people said he couldn’t do all three things but I don’t think he gave a fuck. Likewise, I have no fucks to give. Writing books will always be my biggest lifelong passion, but I like this other stuff too. And who says writers can’t do other things, as well?

Quite a few famous writers did other things for work. Two of them are mentioned here:

Joseph Heller thrived in magazine advertising by day and wrote Catch-22 in the evenings, sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. “I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years,” he said. “I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drove me back to Catch-22.”

Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot were…successful at mixing poetry and business: While working as a banker, Eliot took literary meetings on his lunch breaks and wrote in the evenings; Stevens, an insurance lawyer, even scribbled scraps of verse at the office and had his secretary type them up. “I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me,” Stevens once said. “It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life. I am just as free as I want to be and of course I have nothing to worry about about money.”

Proof of last night's class. Lab 1 complete!
Proof of last night’s class. Lab 1 complete!

There’s No Easy Way to Get “Well”

A little more backstory on why I took an extended break from the blog:

J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger

I became a recluse. I’m not about to compare myself to J.D. Salinger, but I will say I understand him. If you don’t know, he’s the author of The Catcher in the Rye. As his book’s popularity grew, Salinger withdrew from the public. He published less new work and cut off contact with people.

I did the same thing. In an attempt to handle what was happening to my life–and maybe to escape the good things and the success–I thought it would be best to retreat somewhere where only a few people could contact me. I went to work every day but I was working in a large corporation where I didn’t know many people and most of them didn’t know I was a writer. I stopped talking to most people–old friends, new friends, online friends. I didn’t go outside much, that is until I adopted Olive. She forced me outside every day and now that it’s been several months, things are a lot better.

Even as I’m writing this, I honestly don’t know what is going on in my mind. Sometimes I feel “present” and other times, like I explained to a new friend, I feel like my mind visits two different, foreign zones. It’s almost like I hop back and forth between the two, unrelated spaces. Sometimes my mind is aware of where I am and sometimes time has passed and I have no recollection of what happened or what’s changed. It’s not always scary, but I wonder what I’m like to other people.

Imagine what I would be like if I wasn’t medicated. Or is it the medication complicating things? Even under my doctor’s care (and short term therapy), I don’t feel “better.” I don’t feel “normal.” I don’t relate to many people and I rarely feel “understood.” I have days where I can get up and work and be quite productive and I have other days where I feel sick. My “sick” days are when I’m moody or depressed. Sometimes I’m so moody I just push everyone away. The depressed state is a bit different. I usually feel like the whole world is against me, everyone hates me, and it would be better just not to exist. You can see how easily someone who struggles with feelings like this would make for a terrible blogger. After all, we’re supposed to ignore trolls and not let them affect us. No one is immune to hate.

Despite what I share here, I’ve done a damn good job at coping with my illness. But often, it gets to me. It gets to me even more because I work hard at trying to make myself well and trying to fit in. In a society where everyone’s goal is to appear like they have the perfect life, it’s hard to feel like a misfit because of my difference. Disorders of the mind aren’t something you can work at and make go away. You can’t pretend they don’t exist. Hell, you can’t even make them go away with expensive pharmaceuticals. You suffer through them. 

One of the reasons I said no to a few TV production companies last year (when asked to create a show based on my personality and work) was that there’s no easy answer to getting well and if part of my story is my “recovery”, then wouldn’t that make for bad TV? Everyone wants the quick answer. They want to be lied to. But the truth is, there’s no self-help book that will fix everything. Even with medication, we–those who struggle with certain illnesses–aren’t “fixed.”

Read Next: What It Feels Like to be Depressed

We All Need a Little Therapy

We all need to talk sometimes. We all go through dark times. So many readers reach out to me to talk, so I thought I would share some resources I found over on Tumblr that will help if you’re going through a difficult time.

In the United States, the following resources are for free and CONFIDENTIAL counseling:

If you are not located in the U.S., check out Tumblr’s Counseling and Prevention Resources. If you are, or someone you know is, in immediate danger, please call a local emergency telephone number or go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

Losing Friends

A few years ago, when I first moved back to the LA area, I got another job in another office, but this time my boss was Jewish and he was not a big fan of Christians and their “killing a living thing to celebrate the birth of Jesus”, aka Christmas. It was great. I had just started my blog and he loved talking with me about fundamentalists. When I had my first radio interview, he was so accommodating, let me take time off to do the interview and even set me up in an office.

Around that time, I was a new blogger and very similar to a new mother, I wanted to coddle my blog and be with it every minute of the day. I had to feed it daily so it got big and strong and I had to clean out the spam-germs so it stayed disease-free. ha! Sorry, I’m getting a little carried away with my metaphor here. My point is I woke up early to blog nearly every morning and then I blogged daily at lunch. When I wasn’t blogging, I was working on my manuscript, but the blog was a writing exercise for the manuscript so they complimented each other.

I got a little burned out after year one of that schedule and then my second year I decided to slow down, maybe write daily for 3 months and then take a month off and repeat the pattern. I was flexible with myself and forced myself to rest. I also had anxiety so nearly every day I would log on to my email and see a new “You need to get saved” or “Are you saved?” or “I’m praying for you to get saved” email and I’ll be honest–I spent most of that year in tears. Over the course of time, and with the support of a lot of great non-religious friends and some very nice religious family members, I realized that the issue I needed to just brush it off. All of it and all of them. Sometimes that meant losing old friends, like the other day. I won’t go into it too much but someone who used to say she loved me and I was her hero went bat-shit hostile on me the other day. I personally think it was my lack of religion (and lack of respect for pseudo-intellectual fundamentalists) that did her in, but it might have to do with the fact that her dad believes pharma companies planted AIDS in the world and I just think that’s a bit insane.

Even when I act tough or hide it with humor, losing friends hurts. Even when I know they are stupid or weren’t that supportive of me in the first place (or when I know it was bound to happen).

Have you lost friends or family members? How did you cope? Or are you coping now? If you need to talk, email me at mycultlife@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Suicidal Tendencies

It was the summer before my 24th birthday. The summer everything changed.

In nearby Lafayette parish, a Catholic priest had just been accused of molesting a young alter boy. The country wide scandal took several months to reach the Deep South, as most progressive things took longer to reach here, and the day it hit the news the pastor of our church preached an angry sermon on Catholics and how they were doing wrong not letting their priests marry. Our Pastor thought his church was the only one who did anything right, because he thought he was the only doing right in “the eyes of God” and that our church were the only Christians going to heaven. I think he was just trying to get members in his church, as Catholics were the largest religious majority in Louisiana, but that was neither here nor there. Pastor Daniel had a God-complex and a hideous ego. Although it was true that Catholic priests had been molesting young boys, and it was a scandal, no one found out about our church and our scandal that Pastor Daniel was leading. There were no physical marks of rape, no DNA evidence to make a case on, but there was plenty of psychological damage among those of us who left the cult before “they” said we could. We’d been mentally raped, brainwashed, made to “drink the Kool-aid” so to speak, and yet we didn’t have any physical markers to take to the courts, and technically we’d come there to the cult of our own free will.

None of us knew it was a cult when we went there, and few of us struck up the courage to leave. Those who did leave were made outsiders, and cut off from all their friends and all acquaintances. We were the “spawn of Satan” or “rebellious” if we left…if we disagreed with the Authority of God, our Pastors.

On the night I contemplated leaving, I replayed my dad’s words to leave. He called me a month after his trip to Louisiana to meet my boss, Pastor Daniel. My dad didn’t like Pastor Daniel. “Lisa, I don’t like the way he spoke to me about you—as if he’d assumed the role of father in your life. That’s just not right,” my dad’s anger could be heard through the phone line, “I mean, what right does that arrogant man have to tell me that he’s going to pick out my own daughter’s husband? He doesn’t have faith that you can meet someone decent on your own? I know I’ve never told you what to do in your life, but Lisa—you need to get out of there. Come home.”

My dad was right. Pastor Daniel just wasn’t right. But my life had become wrapped around these people, and saying good-bye prematurely meant ripping away seven years of my life’s history away and becoming invisible, or worse yet, rebellious and unfit.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, parked on the dirt road that was flanked with sugar cane and fireflies on either side of me. Tears poured down my cheeks as the thoughts ran through my mind. I knew I couldn’t get out of here, without my life falling apart, and I was afraid of the only other option—but it seemed like the only way out.

The frog-filled swamp stretched out long and ominous before me: calling my name, and beckoning me to enter. Just gun the car and drive into the swamp, the water spoke to me like an old friend who had my best intentions in mind. I reached for another Kleenex from the passenger seat, as my whole body shook violently with sobs and my head pounded with pain. I tried to search for any other options, but there just seemed to be no other way to escape.

I looked around for anyone in sight. To the south of the road where my car sat were the dorms where all the students slept. I was supposed to be asleep, as well, making sure there was someone responsible watching over them. My fellow staff members were there, tucked into their single beds and surrounded by the students in their bunks, peacefully resting, unaware of my desire to escape, and the misery staying here was causing me. I was the only one awake that piercing dark black night. I was the only one deliberating how I could rid myself from their negativity. I was the only one trying to get the hell out of there. I was also the only one sitting alone by the dense fields of sugar cane, under the dimly lit star-filled night sky, thinking about killing myself.

The term killing myself sounded so harsh, but I guess in reality it would be a harsh thing to do to my family and my friends, those I had left that is.  My family, however, lived in California and I lived in the blasted mosquito infested hellhole of the U.S. Swamps and gators; frog legs and crawfish. Yes, the Deep South. Louisiana. The only good about Louisiana was Tim, and he wasn’t allowed to speak to me anymore because Pastor Daniel felt he was unfit for me to date, unfit to be a pastor and Pastor Daniel said God spoke to him that I should be a pastor’s wife.

My story obviously didn’t end here…but the concept of it was true. While I was in the cult, I did want to kill myself. I had reached the end of my rope and I’d asked the directors of my ministry group for vacation time to gather myself together after serving selflessly for about seven years with hardly a break. I was burnt out and breaking down. I’d never felt so low, so depressed, and never before that point felt suicidal.

When I finally made it out of the cult and home, I told my dad that story and he hugged me so tightly and said he was so sorry he didn’t get me out of that cult before, and that he’s sorry he let me stay there so long.

It wasn’t my parents fault. I’d become so tightly connected to the director of my ministry training group that I felt they were my family, my life, my friends.

I was wrong…when I needed them most, they let me down. More than that, their brainwashing, mind-control, yelling, belittling and abuse left me with PTSD and after effects that I’m still working on recovering from to this day.

As a 17 year old girl who was a high school honor student, 10th in her graduating class, active in her church youth group, never smoked, drank, done drugs with a real future in front of her to a nearly thirty year old woman who has to see a therapist who specializes in cults for the anxiety, depression, and fear that rules her life due to the abuse done from the directors who mentored her for years…it was not the transition I thought would happen when I first left home to join the ministry.

 

 

Lady GaGa & The Fame Monster

Image: Bang ShowBiz
Image: Bang ShowBiz

Lady GaGa is in the press today talking about fame and therapy. I heard about it listening to Carson Daly on the way to work today on AMP radio. Producer Angie quoted GaGa saying:

“But, the truth is that it is very hard to be famous. It’s wonderful to be famous because I have amazing fans. But it is very, very hard to go out into the world when you are not feeling happy and act like you are because I am a human being too and I break, and I think there is an assumption… that I cannot break because I am an alien woman and I am unstoppable.”

She continued, “I do put that pressure on myself; I have to be high to be creative. I need that, that’s an error in my life that happened for over 10 years. Can I be brilliant without it? I know that I can be and I have to be because I want to live, and I want my fans to want to live.”

Carson Daly, ever the Devil’s Advocate, said “Well, she could just stop and do something else.” And he’s right but he’s also wrong. For me, I’ve always loved performing and entertaining even when it was playing “restaurant” for my family or acting out some skit I made up as a child. Later, my performances became more elaborate and I fell in love with theatre. But those performances (especially the older I got) brought with them a lot of anxiety and pressure. Yes, I know it’s fucking self-imposed, but it’s also the most difficult thing to “just get over” and that’s why people without that anxiety don’t get it.

So for Lady GaGa, there’s probably parts of her that love fame, I’m sure, and parts of her that hate it and have a hard time coping. It’s not just fame, it’s the pressure to perform a certain way, to look a certain way, to put your heart and soul and creation out there for people to judge and rail you for–and rail you for your art, they do. Then the questions of “Did I do the right thing by going commercial or am I just selling crap?’ (GaGa recently said she didn’t know if her music was any good.) The public is so very brutal to anyone and everyone. Whether you’re an avant-garde artist or a pop star, you’re never safe from criticism. And while not all criticism is debilitating, some of it is. If you haven’t faced that type of criticism, you can’t really speak to it. Once you rise to fame, people aren’t always happy for you. You have people despising you just because of the “lucky breaks” you’re getting and they’re not. And then you have all these “new friends” crawling around you, wanting to just be there as you make it. It’s a really weird space to occupy and very few people handle it well. Some, more seasoned actors, seem to handle it with grace and poise…AFTER about fifteen years in the spotlight, and with the help of a team of professional managers. But it takes all that time to really find your place and find out how to tune out the criticism while also engaging with your fans.

In an earlier interview with “Good Morning America,” GaGa says, “I was actually going through a hard time during “Born This Way,” and I was kind of insecure. I became a star really quickly and I didn’t really have time to put my feet in the ground and have a sense of myself through it all because it really is a machine and you just keep going.”

I know the general public doesn’t give a fuck about GaGa or her “pity party” as some of you will call it. When I bring this topic up most people tell me to fuck off and tell stars to fuck off and then complain that I talk about pop culture too much. But, like I said, if you’ve never put yourself or your art into the public before, you really should be the one fucking off. You have no frame of reference to really speak with authority on the challenges of being in the public eye in some manner. And while artists and commercialists choose this, it is the one main method to get our art seen. Art must be seen and heard and engaged with for it to be art.

GaGa went on to talk about drugs and her addiction to weed, that being the vice she used to cope. But how many other stars turned to something more dangerous and didn’t seek out therapy like GaGa? What if the assholes who say ‘Fuck off, GaGa’ admitted that seeing a shrink is a far more positive method of  coping than going full Linsday? And that clearly if you need drugs or a shrink to cope, it is a real, actual problem?

Former child star Mara Wilson talks about the phenomenon and why child stars seem to go crazy and I think she makes a lot of sense. Hopefully reasonable people will understand that fame really is hard to handle and be a tad more sympathetic and less dismissive. So the fuck what if someone decides to make some money selling their art? That doesn’t mean we can’t be a bit sympathetic toward them when they’re suffering.

2012 in Review (Fuck that shit)

This year has been both very, very shitty and very, very productive. Like life, 2012 has been a dichotomy for me—nothing is ever perfect and one minute I felt like I was celebrating the higher points of my career and then being brought down by a wave of grief or anxiety. This post feels a bit dismal, but I’ve done quite a bit of celebrating over the great things that have happened this year and to be honest, some really incredible things have happened for me. I feel I’ve been successful in many ways and I’ve even had some great successes in writing lately that I’m very proud of.

But, as you know, I’m the type of person whose biggest flaw is her honesty and authenticity. So, I don’t want to write a flowery/happy post when I just really don’t feel all that great with some of the things that were heavy to deal with. I have chosen to share some of the darker times of the year here, though, in part because it may help you understand certain choices I’ve made throughout the year and also why I’ve slowed down from blogging.

The Worst of 2012

Anxiety
I have never felt more anxious, and paralyzed by it, than this year. I’m not sure I can explain the way it makes me feel to people who aren’t troubled by it, but anxiety can be a difficult feeling to deal with. I have been so open while writing this blog and I think knowing what I’ve actually shared with the world (and most importantly, that people keep reading it) really has put me into a panicked state.

Top that with the amount of arguments and confrontation I’ve had with friends and family and the amount of friendships I’ve lost, and the anxiety just grows. It feels like no matter what I say, someone is going to take it personally, or be offended, or judge me harshly. I’ve had fights with people who I thought cared about me greatly and have come to find out that many of them wanted me to live my life on their terms. It’s painful to feel that people may not quite love you as much when you are who you truly are.

I’ve learned a bit of balance in all of this, and certainly have learned to be a bit more diplomatic when I care about someone. It’s far better to preserve some friendships than it is to be right—whether it’s over politics or religion. Of course I’ve also learned how to rein in the private side of my life some, to the point where I feel a bit safer saying things online. I can either stop blogging or I can keep working on finding boundaries that work well for me.

Blogging is such an interesting hobby/job. Readers respond most to a blogger’s vulnerability and unique voice; but it’s those qualities that also get the blogger in trouble with trolls and hateful people. As much as you may feel you understand what it’s like to be trolled, unless you have a well-established blog I can’t say you truly understand what some of us go through. Unfortunately, there is no one way to deal with this issue and it seems everywhere I look, writers and bloggers and even journalists are openly talking about the harsh critics online. There was a solid year where I woke up to comments and emails that made me cry every single day. I happened upon a talk Lindy West (writer at Jezebel.com) was giving where she talked about this very thing. Lindy is chubby, and Jezebel encourages their writers to post photos of themselves occasionally. As Lindy talked about the amount of hate mail and hateful comments she gets (and reads), I started realizing there are some people who understand how I feel. Despite non-blogger’s advice to not read the comments, we find ourselves reading them. We have to moderate them, actually, so we can’t just ignore our comments or emails. For some time, I decided to close comments down completely and stop answering email. If you haven’t received a response during this year, and many of you deserved one, I’m sorry. I simply stopped reading some of my emails because I was being barraged by the same thing every day, and very little of it was good.

About my blog:
I feel like I’ve neglected this blog quite a bit and that’s partly due to the things I’m going to write about below, but it’s also because of the amount of hate mail and the overwhelmingly stressful job it’s been to read through emails and comments of people who just really detest me. I needed a serious break and to be honest, I feel like this some extra hateful stalkers have imagined me to be famous and have really gone all out to try to get to me. The sad thing is, it really did get to me and I needed some space in order to feel safe. I didn’t even feel safe, as a few of them made me feel like I was being stalked and harassed anytime I went online. I felt that way, because I was. There seemed to be an irrepressible group of people who were blasting me at once. Of course, they were different groups of people and yes, I had picked fights with their cults or with their political viewpoints or their religious beliefs, but damnit, a girl needs a breather sometimes.

Maybe it’s safe to say that I’ve become afraid of my own blog. It hasn’t been a very safe place for me—and if I were a bit better at the business side of things I would probably hire someone to weed through emails and comments and help me sort through the hard ones. I write exposes and piss off a lot of people off, yet this blog is also a place where I’ve been incredibly candid and talked about falling in love, losing my job, and what it feels like to be depressed.

I can officially say this: sometimes I have no idea what to do with my own blog. It’s such a mixture of thoughts and subjects and it’s sometimes driven heavily by those of you who have continued to read (and things you email me). It’s a lot of fucking work, but as hard as it is (and I believe many bloggers feel this way), it is something I’ve grown to love. I love connecting with so many of you who contribute back to my life and I love feeling like I’m helping some people regain the strength and courage to live their lives freely again. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Which leads me to my job. I haven’t blogged a lot this year because there’s simply no way to keep up on top of what I do for my day job. After losing my job in 2011, the highest priority of mine was to get working again. With losing your job, as many of you know, comes a lot of debt. Work was where I needed to shift all my energy and on top of all that, I was actually fortunate enough to land a pretty fantastic job at a great company. Just today I was doing an interview with a private investigator (for a friend’s job) and when asked where I worked, the guy said, “Whoa, nice.” That’s a pretty standard response in my community who know a) how hard it is to land a job there and b) how great a company it is.
Fortunately, what started as a four month contract position has turned into a twenty-four month contract. I’m now in a really good place but none of this came easy. In fact, this winter break was the first time in a very long time where I finally felt my creative energy coming back. My company works on very high-profile, confidential projects. Everyone works long, hard hours and it’s safe to say we’re all really invested in the work we do. This comes at a cost for people like me who are writing books and blogging at night, but it’s the price I have to pay to be an artist. (Side note: I’m not a fan of being a “starving artist”. I have good taste and I like really nice things, so I’m not at all happy getting by on pennies and scraps for some romantic notion of suffering or to claim moral superiority. Actually, as you and I both know, many of the “starving artists” are just trust fund babies who do have money but pretend not to. Those of us who have been in difficult places financially know the real pain of dealing with hard times.)

Where this blog is going?
Can I start by saying I don’t know?

I’d like to continue blogging about everyday life, but it’s clear from my Google rankings and various reports that most people come here for information on cults and spiritual abuse. So, there’s that. These resources are clearly important for people and I hope to improve them with time as I can.

If things go well and I figure out how to integrate a new content management system on my site and my site mapping is successful, then in 2013 I should have a whole section devoted just to cults and religion news, including my own research (which has been on-going on top of everything else I do-yeah, I work nonstop, actually) and survivor stories. I’ve been working with some really great survivor groups and definitely want to highlight their stories. It’s also important to make their stories, and facts about their groups, more accessible. Usually the groups we all go up against have hundreds of thousands of dollars to devote to marketing, so the stories of survivors can easily be hidden and this means they’re silenced.

But, let’s face it, I can only write about this topic so much before I need to get back to what this blog really started as—a memoir blog. So, in the spirit of memoir, I will continue to blog about my life and write essays about things that are important to me. I’ve also started writing about my writing process and personal lessons I’ve learned on my website because there are quite a few people who reach out to me about writing and the process.

So, without further ado, I present to you the worst of 2012.

 

My Health
(Disclaimer: This post is about ovaries and lady parts.)

A few months ago, I discovered I have PCOS. Actually, my endocrinologist discovered it through a series of exams and blood work, but you get the idea. PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome. From the internet, “Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition in which a woman has an imbalance of female sex hormones. This may lead to menstrual cycle changes, cysts in the ovaries, trouble getting pregnant, and other health changes.” (Source: PubMed Health)

In essence, PCOS contributes to weight gain and can prevent weight loss, but it also causes extremely painful periods which feel like a knife is jabbing you in the ovaries (in my case, just one side) every month. This picture illustrates (warning: that picture is gross) why it feels that way. A woman with PCOS grows cysts and sometimes they rupture.

My worst symptoms aren’t pleasant. I sometimes feel like I’m going through menopause—I can break out into a sweat on a 45 degree morning faster than anyone I know. It’s a bit awkward and it’s also really uncomfortable. I did happen to find a great endocrinologist a few months ago, and since starting treatment I do feel a bit better. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m dying when I have my periods anymore, but many of my other symptoms persist.

There’s also the disparaging part about possible infertility. To be honest, after speaking with a lot of women who have PCOS, it seems like PCOS might not be a complete roadblock to having kids, but it requires a lot of work, medication and weight loss. There’s a whole cocktail of pills a woman with PCOS has to try for months and then of course, this seems to work after awhile with some people.

I’ve never tried to have kids, though, so I really don’t know how much of an issue this will be for me when I do decide to start a family. Or if I do decide to start one.  It could turn out to be a non-issue or it could become very complicated. My mom keeps telling me that women in my family haven’t had a single issue having kids, but PCOS does have a genetic component to it, so perhaps since the women in my family all had children at a younger age than me, their symptoms hadn’t hit yet. Either way, I’m 32 now and just a few years ago, I told myself I would start having kids somewhere between 32 and 35 (after the publication of my first book, of course). I read so much about women my age pushing back the age to have kids until we no longer can have kids and I know that’s what is happening with me. A lot of women are getting married later, or never really finding a suitable partner, and we’re often focused on our careers, social lives, and traveling until we finally realize it’s too late or almost too late. I have come to the realization that I have to start trying to have kids in the near future if I do want to have them without a lot of medical intervention and possible complications, especially in light of my reproductive issues. I may not become pregnant as easily as younger women who don’t have PCOS. Sure, some women have children around or after the age of 38, but if you think it’s easy to do, you’re mistaken.

Like many women in my shoes, I’m not married to anyone, although I have mixed emotions on this subject. On the one hand, many people give the impression that they’re happily married when I know this certainly isn’t the case in many relationships. Despite knowing that many people are in loveless marriages with partners who don’t give them enough attention, I sometimes envy the façade. As one friend asked the other day, “Is your idea of happiness mutual love?” I think in many ways it is, because I have everything else in life. On the other hand, I feel a bit like Edith from Downton Abbey. She tries and tries, but can’t seem to find luck with men. While her sisters are in love and becoming mothers, she is [SPOILER ALERT] jilted at the altar and then later courted by a man she realizes is married to someone else. Some people have all the luck; others just don’t.

Whether you know it or believe it, everyone has a few offers on the table. Someone has a crush on you and wants to be with you, even if you’re too insecure to believe it. Isn’t that sort of the nature of love, though? We want what we can’t have and we want those who play hard to get or who act uninterested (in many cases, they act uninterested because they aren’t interested).

So, I guess I want what I can’t have or what I haven’t had. That “I’ve fallen in love with my best friend” feeling (or maybe, I have fallen in love with my best friend. I don’t kiss and tell…yet). I want to get cozy and settle down with someone who makes me feel comfortable in my own shoes, so I don’t have to put on a big show and starve myself and spend a shit ton of money looking a certain way. You know, falling in love with someone like your best friend: someone who who sees you for who you are and can see right through you but doesn’t care too much if you’re kind of weird and moody. Or someone you can snore in front of. I don’t know. Things. Like that. Someone you can have fun with, who makes you laugh and knows that you are kick ass enough to accomplish the stuff that you dream about doing.

There are rare moments in life when you can connect with someone like this. I do know a few people who have this, or some relationships that have developed into this, but I don’t always feel understood by many people so I’m kind of unsure if it’s a realistic thing to hope for. I have kind of an odd temperament: moody sometimes, often depressed, and other times really happy. Outspoken, polite but not a charmer, and not afraid to stand up to someone who treats others with disrespect. You know, that’s not really the “perfect” girl for many, but I’m happy with who I am.

It’s rare to get involved with someone where things are both physical and just…comfortable. Those rare moments and rare connections are what I look for in a relationship, and no, they don’t come around very often. So, I haven’t “settled” down because I really didn’t want to live with someone who didn’t make me feel great.

 

I’ve written about freezing my eggs and using a sperm donor to have a baby, but to be honest, the closer I get to “that age”, I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to be a single mom. Or want to…As I get closer to my “deadline”, I feel okay with it all. While my life certainly isn’t the same as everyone else’s, it isn’t a bad life. I quite like it. Sure, I’d love to spend holidays pushing a stroller around Disneyland, but on the other hand, my life is much better than I anticipated it would ever be at the moment and I don’t want it to change.

Do I even want to give up my sleep? What about the hours upon hours of free time I have on weekends and evenings to write, or watch TV, or have sex when I want to? Let’s be honest, people with children are often miserable because they suck the life out of you. They are cute, but they are selfish little pricks who wear people out. According to the Hallmark channel, having a daughter is the most magical thing that can happen to a woman. Apparently motherhood turns you into this supernatural creature who cries over every moment. I think I’m fairly happy with my moodiness at the moment and don’t want to become vulnerable, so maybe I’ll skip the kid-having thing.

All kidding aside, I think I have finally come to the place where I’m happy with my situation in life—unmarried by choice and childless by choice. Oh, it took forever to get here, but I’ve made it.

 

Friends and Family
I’m not really “new” to my city anymore, but it hasn’t been the easiest place to make friends. I do have some good friends here who come visit me even when I’m moody and want to be left alone. I like them even though they are a couple and they’re in love and cute and stuff.

As for older friendships, it still hurts to know some friendships change, especially when you need those friends. It is a fact of life, of course. All of our interests change and who we see on a daily basis changes, too. Or little fights turn into monstrosities that no one wants to work through. I miss a lot of those people, or at least what we used to have.

I also moved away from all the friends I made in college. I hated the city I lived in then, but the people were some of the best people I’ve ever met. I miss them more than anyone, because they were there for me during the very hardest times of my recovery from the cult. They also made me laugh more than anyone. We partied and we had great conversation. But more than anything, when I needed them, they were there for me at the drop of a hat.

I don’t have that now. I feel pretty lonely most of the time. Without my family and a few individuals, I would probably spend most of my time crying because of it. It’s certainly been one of the hardest things about this year—and one of the few things I openly discuss. It is what it is, and when I feel sad I try to do something I enjoy; something that makes me happy. It still doesn’t change the fact that I feel incredibly alone and wonder if I’ll always feel this way.

I’ve also had a hard time reaching out to others to get to know people. I was pretty gun-shy about talking to people and trusting them and I felt pretty insecure for the past few years. I’m not entirely sure what happened (whether it was health related or otherwise) but I plummeted into a pretty dark place. I feel like I’m climbing out of it rather slowly and it feels nice to see the sun again. It’s taken nearly the entire year to get to know some people at work, and even still, my place of work is filled with very serious people so we don’t really hang out outside of our jobs.

I won’t expand on this too much, but it’s also been a really tough year for my family. Add that to everything else and I’m just not feeling up to being too open and vulnerable, because life has forced me to be quite vulnerable already. I feel the need for some quiet time alone to sort of retreat from the stresses of life.

 

Reality Shows/Producers

I’m not entirely sure I want to delve into this subject yet but here’s how I summarized it on Facebook:

As some of you remember, I spent months interviewing with and filming for a ‘reality TV show’ that may or may not have ever existed. There was a production company and we were working on getting the show on a major network. The network wasn’t known for reality TV though, so I should have known better. I should’ve never done interviews in the first place and NEVER should’ve done any video interviews without a contract. (Please learn from my mistakes.)

But, until that point, I never had any experience with production companies or TV contracts. I knew nothing about the business or about how they work. I suspected these producers was dishonest but just assumed that was “show biz”.

I’ve written some posts about it here and here.

If you are approached by a production company in the future, I highly recommend you do your research on the company, trust your instincts fully, and never grant a single interview until you have a written contract if you feel you have a marketable story. Under no circumstances should you give away your ideas. You owe nothing to them.

Unfortunately, some companies aren’t honest.

How was your year? What were some of your highlights (it’s okay to share the great things that happened) or low times? What are you looking forward to in 2013? Do you make resolutions? If so, what are they? 

 

Meditation

I spent five minutes before work in my car meditating today. Nothing to it, although for years I’d been thinking you had to do certain things to get it right (and you probably do), but for now this works.

I was at the doctor’s office the other day and some actress (of course, it’s LA…we are the hub for all-things “zen”. I kid.) said she pulls over in her car for 10 minutes and just tunes things out. I think she used the Twitter app all the kids are using to meditate now, but that’s irrelevant.

After years of praying an hour in the morning, before meals and essentially allowing my mind to be a wind turbine full of prayers, guilt-ridden assessements of myself and my performance and how those didn’t measure up to “God”, I was of course completely opposed to anything resembling prayer or “quiet time” as we used to call it. However, meditation has many benefits and I’ve found that I’ve been able to work through some of my issues surrounding the similarities.

Either way, it’s time to reinvent the “quiet time” portion of my life. The zen. The peace. The sitting outside by the beach WITHOUT smoking a bowl, perhaps.

I have some FUCKING ANXIETY, ya’ll. Which has actually gone away rather rapidly in the past month, but I do deal with it and many people suggest meditation as a therapy for anxiety, so home cures it is!

Boys & Dating & Anxiety

I think people like me shouldn’t be allowed to date. I have the worst anxiety when it comes to meeting new people–and my expectations are so high. I’m such a fucking sappy ass–I just want my relationship to be springtime in Paris, with puppies and raindrops on roses…and even if you think something is going perfect, in a relationship (even the brand new ones) it doesn’t matter what YOU think is happening–things must be mutual and sometimes the other persons interest, or lack of interest or fading interest can fuck up my perfect little springtime fantasy (like when you have sex with a guy and then he checks his OkCupid account when you’re lying in his bed naked….that. And then your best friend tells you how stupid it is to sleep with someone on the first date, or 2nd date and how that’s not any way to get a long-term relationship). And sometimes, things are going fine but in my mind, they’re not regardless of how much you tell someone with anxiety to stop stressing, it just doesn’t happen. (See also: the most emo blog online)

My Second Therapist’s Diagnosis: PTSD

After my first therapist, I got health insurance that covered another therapist. My first meeting with her, she spent an hour going over my family history, my recent history, and any mental health conditions or symptoms I had. I’d recently developed anxiety and depression after leaving the cult in 2005. I spent all of 2005 and 2006 in bed crying–and intermittently going to class. When I was in class, I felt anxiety attacks coming on. My chest would start pounding and I’d feel out of breath for no reason. If I had to turn in a paper, or felt extra pressure of perfection from certain professors, I’d be unable to write my essays and classwork. I was terrified of what people thought of me and who was judging me everywhere I went.

This second therapist sat with me and ended the session asking me if I’d ever heard of post traumatic stress disorder.

“Sure,” I told her. “That’s what all the Vietnam War Veterans got when they came back, right? They get nightmares and stuff.”

She explained that war victims did, in fact get post traumatic stress disorder, but many other people also got PTSD. Rape victims and many other people could get it. She said she believed I had PTSD based on the symptoms I described to her. A lot of what she explained made sense. I would become afraid at loud noises; would wake up terrified from nightmares of getting yelled at by old pastors; and would shy away from relationships of all types.

For more information on PTSD, Depression or Anxiety, please look at the Resources I posted. I’ve included some great links. I’d also like to encourage you, if you or someone you know has suffered from spiritual or emotional abuse, please see a non-religious, professional therapist or psychiatrist for assessment. There are a lot of resources available. If you’d like to share your own story with me, please email me at mycultlife at gmail.com