On Michigan and Michael

Much of my time spent on Twitter — when I’m not making bad Nazi jokes and sharing long-form journalism — involves discussing football with Michigan fans. Some of them are reporters and bloggers, some of them are just obsessed, like me. I look forward to my conversations with these friends in so many ways. I need people in my life for whom having the “in the 2007 game against Penn State, we definitely should have gone for it on that third and two, right?” talk is not only tolerated, but encouraged. I’m insane.

On Monday, some of these friends and I had a long conversation about the most painful games in recent Michigan football history. The Horror. Losing to Toledo at home because we were beyond terrible. The 2007 game against Oregon. (By the way, Dennis Dixon, I still think you would have won the Heisman that year if it weren’t for that pesky ACL tear.) A litany of pain and anguish that I have done my best to forget.

Had I not been bound by both the character limits and rules of decorum expected of Twitter users who don’t suck, I might have described these games as “drive-by shootings” or “like being slowly strangled by large members of an organized crime family bent on destroying my small, family-owned business” because that’s what it felt like to watch Appalachian State rush the field after blocking that field goal, or to see the football team you, for some reason, love more than life itself flail its way to a losing season. It hurt physically and emotionally and spiritually. And if you don’t understand how losing a game can hurt your soul, then you’ve never loved college football.

***
On Sunday, a little boy named Michael, who lived in the house behind mine, disappeared. He was seven-years-old and autistic, last seen in the alley directly behind my back gate, wearing a diaper and a red t-shirt. I’ve probably seen him before. Maybe I saw him last Fourth of July when we set off fireworks in the alley and I dove behind my roommate’s car to avoid losing my eyelashes. Maybe I saw him in the mornings when I walk past the alley on my way to my Metro stop. I have probably seen him dozens of times and barely registered his existence until he was gone.

The neighborhood mobilized to look for him, even when the police seemed to be taking his disappearance in stride. Sex workers who walk the block in the mornings and kids who skateboard to Northeast Market to buy cheap ice cream sandwiches searched every nook and cranny of that alley. Community members looked for Michael, tweeted about Michael, searched out and discussed and argued about every scrap of information about Michael. It’s so hot, and he’s so little, and he just couldn’t have gotten that far — couldn’t have.

He was found at 6 p.m. yesterday. He was dead, lying in an unused Nissan Altima 40 feet away from where he was last seen. Searchers passed the car in which he was found dozens of times. Some people said that they were sure they’d looked in that car, a car I’ve seen parked behind the house next door to Michael’s almost every day.

People were angry, and still are. How did this happen? Was this an accident? How did that car not get searched more thoroughly? Why were there not more “missing child” posters in the neighborhood? Where were DC police? I watched from my kitchen table as homicide detectives and CSI units – the same people I’ve watched on network television shows for the past 15 years – sweep the alley, and I’ve never felt more useless.

I can’t stop thinking about Michael. I can’t stop thinking about the crime scene tape and the news reporters standing behind my back gate and how scared he must have been in that car and how I hope, I desperately hope that he wasn’t in pain when he died, alone, in the trunk of a car barely 10 yards away from his family. I can’t stop thinking about how he was probably dead while I was discussing whether or not I’d rather have a painful win or an exciting loss (painful win, obviously). I can’t stop thinking about how a little boy, born my sophomore year of college, is gone.

***
But eventually, I’ll forget about this. The neighborhood will forget this. The anger will dissipate into community meetings and Twitter arguments. It’ll be a road sign in our rearview mirror – “Remember when Michael disappeared?” – like how we remember 9/11 or the Oklahoma City Bombings or other tragedies that mark a time and place in our memories. Things will change, or nothing will change, because how can you stop a little boy from somehow climbing into a car on a 95-degree day and accidentally locking himself in? People will move into the neighborhood who won’t know about Michael. Life will go on.

In a way, I feel almost as if writing about this is like trying to graft myself onto Michael’s story when I am only tangentially connected to him, and I don’t know if that’s wrong. I saw a documentary once about a woman who claimed to lose her husband in 9/11 (but didn’t), and one of the interviewees said that 9/11 became a moment people wanted to be a part of so that they could feel like parts of a whole, even if that whole was horrific and tragic and terrible. Maybe that’s what I’m doing right now.

They towed the car Michael died in last night. The car had been there for so long that not seeing it in that yard was weirdly jarring. The crime scene tape is still up. Network news outlets were parked at the end of the alley this morning, videographers running across the street to set up their shots. I watched them, and then I walked to work. 

***

My sister visited me this weekend while the hunt for Michael raged. She’s family, obviously. But so is Trinidad, and so is Michigan. I’m bound to these communities by zip code and student loan payments and rent checks and addresses and sweatshirts. I’m bound to these communities by loyalty, and by love. The sense of shared pain my neighborhood is feeling and the hour-long conversations I’ve had with my fellow Michigan fans saying only “WHAT” and “HOW” are bonds that tie me to other people, and to myself. I love Michigan because it was my first real home. I love Trinidad because it’s my first real neighborhood. I love Michigan because it shaped me, and I love Trinidad because it’s challenged me. 

Football doesn’t matter, but community does. And communities are at their best in times of trial. The crime scene tape will come down soon, and we’ll forget about the police cars and the search parties. Children are already going back to running up and down the sidewalk while parents stand on porches and talk. Communities mourn together, and then they move on, whether from the Horror or from a true tragedy.

So we’ll be okay. Not today. Or tomorrow. But we’ll be okay.

I don’t know.

I don’t know why bad things happen.

On April 8, 2007, my sister called me and told me I should probably sit down. I sat on the floor of my dorm room at Michigan. South Quad. I can see West Quad from my window. My roommate was a native of Hong Kong. I’d gotten her shitfaced on vodka our first week living together; since then, she’d sworn off alcohol and began attending Korean evangelical church services. I played rugby and threw up in our trash can from too much jungle juice more than once. Her rice steamer sat on the second shelf of her desk. I stared at that shelf. She had a few photos of family. Her parents were nice. I met them once.

“Mom’s in the hospital.”

You think a lot of things about your parents. You think about calling them or not calling them, or coming home for holidays or asking them for money or telling them something that you saw that only they would understand because your parents read you the same books over and over and over again and when you see a plant on campus that reminds you of a tree that’s in a Redwall book, you call your mom and tell her. You think about things they did, or things they didn’t do, or how fucked up or not fucked up they made or didn’t make you. You think about them alive. You don’t think about them dead. The concept of your parents dying is a Rubicon you do not want to cross.

“They don’t know what’s wrong.”

My sister is staying unusually calm, because she wants me to be calm and believes that her being calm will transmit across the cell phone lines to my shitty Blackberry and make me not panic. I drop the phone. I panic.

I get from the floor of my room to my friend’s apartment. I call my dad. He puts my mom on the phone. She sounds confused and angry because she hates being confused. She’s going into surgery. Surgery for what is unclear. It’s something with her colon. Or something with her appendix. My dad is telling me all of this while I have the phone propped up next to my head, lying prostrate on the floor. My friend and her boyfriend are sitting next to each other on her bed, watching me. My mom is rolled into surgery. The last time she had surgery, she was giving birth to me.

Everything feels tenuous. If I move, my mom will die. If I breathe, my mom will die. I can keep my mom alive by not doing or moving or thinking or being anything. Nothing else matters. Nothing else could matter. The existence of things beyond me and my mom and my family offends me, if I could think about those things. Everything is frozen because it has to be, because there can’t be anything after my mom. There just can’t be.

My dad calls me later. She made it through surgery. It’s touch-and-go. At least, I think that’s what he said. I don’t know. I don’t think I care.

My mom is put into a medically induced coma in order for her to recover from surgery without going into shock from alcohol withdrawal. My dad prefaces telling me this by saying, “well, you know your mom likes to drink.” My mom has been a prodigious alcoholic for at least sixteen years. This phone conversation is the first mention my father has ever made to this fact. I’m standing near the Alumni Center, looking at Rackham. There is a statue in the garden next to Rackham. It’s a man with his head buried in his hands. It seems appropriate.

On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shoots and kills 32 people and injures 17 more on the campus of Virginia Tech. Michigan is locked down. CNN shows shaky cell phone videos and my first thought is, “Huh. My phone can’t do video.”  I am watching the news from my dorm room. I am standing facing the television and my desk, with binders and books piled in some pattern that made sense at the time. I don’t remember a fucking thing from the previous eight days. I’m scared, because school shootings are scary, but I’m numb because a school shooting isn’t my mom waking up or dying, and those are the only two events that could possibly matter to me. I go to work every day. I go to class. I write papers. I stare at my phone and wait for someone to tell me that my mom is dead.

My dad saves the newspaper from every day my mom is in a coma so she can read them when she wakes up. I don’t know if he saved the ones about Virginia Tech.

Today is April 15, 2013. Two bombs hit the Boston Marathon. Or three. Or some number. There’s a suspect in custody. Or not. Twitter is awash in rumors and speculation and mourning, but mostly in “why the fuck did this happen?”

I don’t know.

The day my mom was hospitalized was the last time I attended church voluntarily. I went to church that day for Easter Mass. I stood in the balcony. It was crowded, because it was Easter, but the service was pleasant. I remember walking back to my dorm thinking that I’d gotten a lot done that day.  Eight hours later my mom was in a hospital, fighting for her life.

Our lives are created out of bad things not happening. We have stop signs to make bad things not happen. Entire religions are built out of making bad things not happen. You eat well and exercise to make bad things not happen. But drunk drivers blow through intersections, churches get fire-bombed, and the guy who wrote the Complete Book of Running died of a heart attack at 52.

No matter what we do, or say, or believe deep down, things will happen. Terrible things. And there’s not a fucking thing we can do about it. There is no reason. The idea of a reason for things happening implies that life is a series of checks and balances. You worship the right god; your kid makes it to adulthood. You go to the right college; you get a solid job and health insurance. That’s not how it works.

Life is intangible. Life is uncertain. There is no answer, no overall plan. Everything is tenuous, all the time. We build lives on the promise of certainty and look for things that can cement that certainty because otherwise we’d never do anything, but that certainty is barely more than myth.

What’s not intangible or uncertain is that we’re not alone. There are billions of people on this planet who exist in this same completely batshit mortal coil. I don’t know anything. I have absolutely no idea if there is or is not a god or whether or not my belief in one or multiple spiritual entities would make my life better or worse. But I know that being good to people, and people being good to one another, even when it’s hard or doesn’t make sense, makes it easier to exist in uncertainty. Searching for answers to questions for which there are no answers– why terrorism? Why do children die? Why did this happen? – makes no sense. Searching for opportunities to make someone else’s day easier does.

This morning on the Metro, I met a baby and his mother. We were standing next to one another as our train headed to Farragut North. The baby looked at me with curious eyes, because he is a baby and life must be completely overwhelming to babies. I made faces at the baby. The baby smiled at me, and so did his mother.

If making other people happy is what we’re here to do, that’s enough. If existence has no other purpose than to be a container for moments to not be terrible, that’s enough. Chances are, being a kind and decent human being isn’t going to determine my afterlife. But it’ll determine my life. And that’s enough.

Hope

In 2005, when I was a freshman at Michigan, our basketball team went 22-11. Our best player was Daniel Horton. We finished as NIT runner up. I thought that was our ceiling. I thought that was the best we could hope for, because to hope for more was to be punched in the face with the phantom TO and Tractor Traylor and Ed Martin and why our Final Four banners are in Bentley, not in Crisler. I thought that was the best we could hope for, because hope is a good thing (as Andy Dufresne told us), but hope also makes you think things and then the things don’t happen and you feel like you’ve collapsed inside, so it’s easier to stand there with your arms crossed, waiting for Shawn Crable to be charged with a helmet-to-helmet or the Horror or five interceptions or losing to Harvard or losing to Duke.

It’s the Michigan way, I guess, to wait for the terrible. To feel as if you are on some conveyor belt towards the worst possible sports moment of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it. We know that 42 Big Ten titles feel like sand in your hands when someone shows Colorado, ’95. We know that every single game is another moment for Purdue to run a hook-and-ladder because you’re playing the worst Michigan football team ever so why wouldn’t you run a hook-and-ladder. We remember the Horror, referred to as such because it was. In sports, and in life, I guess it’s easier to hold on for bad things to happen, because you know they will. You get a new job, but you’re waiting to get fired. You meet someone new, but you’re waiting for them to dump you. You love your family, but you’re waiting for the phone call to tell you that someone you love more than anything in the world is in a coma and might never wake up.

Trey Burke was 13 in 2005. In fact, he turned 13 in November of 2005; around the time I was realizing that maybe business school wasn’t such a good idea.  He doesn’t see hope as a terrifying precipice on top of impending athletic doom. He doesn’t see Michigan athletics as moments of pleasure forced to live up to lifetimes, generations of grinding, crushing expectations. He sees hope as opportunity. Hope as a ladder, moving ever upwards towards something we can’t even see just yet. Hope is how you get from practice to practice, from losing to Michigan State at Breslin to two steals to beat them at Crisler. Hope is how you lose to Penn State and beat Kansas. Hope is how Jordan Morgan gets in the way of Brandon Triche and gets a charge because obviously, Jordan Morgan gets a charge.

I have never and will probably never meet Trey Burke. Our understandings of what it means to go to Michigan are probably very different, given that he is a basketball player and I was a history and political science double major who worked a lot of jobs and spent way too much time at Espresso Royale. I will probably never get to say hello to Trey, or Mitch, or Nik, or Tim, or Spike, or Jon, or GR3, or Caris, or Jordan, or the seniors. Our paths crossed only tangentially. They attended the university I attended. That’s it. And that’s fine.

But if I could tell them anything, I would tell them thank you. Thank you for making your own expectations, not forcing yourself to live up to those of others. Thank you for embracing hope, not fearing it. Thank you for your work, your dedication, your belief when no one – and I include myself – believed in you because believing is like hoping and hope is hard.

Tonight is the National Championship game. I have no idea what is going to happen. We could get massacred. Dave Brandon could be playing back-up point guard. The Georgia Dome could explode. I don’t know. I never know. Anything I could say or think about what will happen tonight is beyond useless. Sports are predictably unpredictable.

But I hope we win. Despite how badly it could hurt to come up short, or how much I want to gird myself against the psychic pain of losing at a game that does not affect me in any real way. I hope we win. I hope we win.

 

I hope.

 

Go Blue.

To Rob Portman

Dear Mr. Portman,

Hi. My name is Jane. I don’t think we’ve ever met, but I’m sure we’ve crossed paths. I grew up in Cincinnati – Madisonville, specifically (it’s next to Mariemont). I went to Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge and Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash. My friend ran a camp in Hyde Park some of your kids attended in the early 2000s (The Outlook Games). 

I’m not much for writing my representatives. Or for writing letters in general. But this morning, I saw your editorial in the Columbus Dispatch, and your interview in the Cincinnati Enquirer, about your change of heart about marriage equality for gay people. And I felt like I had to say something. 

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, as I said. And from a very, very early age, I knew that I was gay. I don’t know how I knew, any more than how I know my parents love me or that the Michigan Wolverines are my heart and soul. I just did, from the first moment I knew what gay meant. But I also knew that no one could ever know that I was gay.  I asked my mom once how she would feel if I were gay, and she said that she’d be very disappointed because my life would be much harder. 

At the time, Issue 3 had just passed, prohibiting the city from extending protections to the LGBT community. You had just been elected to represent my congressional district – and my parents (life-long Democrats) were not particularly thrilled. As your career in Congress progressed, so did my anxiety about being gay. I was in Catholic schools, desperate for friends but hiding a secret that I thought could ruin me. I never told anyone I wasn’t straight until my freshman year of high school, and even then I denied ever saying it. The pain and anxiety of being something so many people despised was incredibly, incredible difficult to shoulder. I felt suicidal. I felt alone. I felt like my life had an expiration date, because I could never find someone to share my life with, I would never have a marriage like my parents, I would never be free. 

I graduated from high school in 2005, and went to the University of Michigan (where you went to law school.) The closest I ever came to truly being myself was in Ann Arbor (which, as you must know, is America’s perfect town.) But I was still afraid to come out. I told my parents I wasn’t straight (too afraid to actually say the word ‘gay’) in a rambling phone conversation while pacing around my house in Kerrytown. And they, like you, were surprised, but accepting of finding out they had an LGBT kid. 

I live in DC now. I’m 25. I came out as gay a little over a year ago. I’m not afraid to be out here – DC’s a pretty liberal town, as I’m sure you’ve discovered. But I never, ever thought that my hometown, the place where I played lacrosse and went on field trips to Serpent Mound and took about three years too long to figure out how to get from 71 to Ronald Reagan, could be a place where a Republican senator who once had students walk out on his commencement speech for his stance on LGBT issues would tell several major Ohio news outlets that his son was gay and that he had shifted his stance on marriage equality.

Do I wish you’d come to this realization earlier? Yes. Do I wish it hadn’t occurred because of your own personal experience, but rather a greater sense of the importance of equality for all? Definitely. But I understand. We all have ideas and beliefs that we support until we know someone personally who tells us something different. For you, it was your son, Will, telling you that he was gay. For me, it was having people who weren’t afraid to be honest with me and tell me that being out would in no way change how the people who loved me felt about me.  

I’m sure you’re hearing a lot about what you wrote in the Columbus Dispatch this morning. Some of it good, and some of it bad. But what I wanted to tell you is thank you. Thank you for putting your role as a father above your role as a politician or a member of a political party or a conservative. Thank you for accepting your son. Thank you for sharing your change in position with the world, when you know as well as anyone what that could mean for your career. 

If you ran for office in my area, I probably wouldn’t vote for you. Our stances differ on a lot of other issues, and that’s okay. But if you ran for office in my area, I’d tell my friends and colleagues that despite my differences with your views, I respect you, and hope that you continue to contribute to the future of the Republican party. And I’d say that its people like you who make me more and more proud to be a native Ohioan. 

I asked my mom recently if she was still concerned about the challenges I’d face as a gay person. She said no, that things had changed so much for gays and lesbians in America since I asked her the first time. She now believes that I can be just as happy and productive  as a gay woman as my married heterosexual sister. And she loves me, regardless. 

You may not see yourself as part of this transformation, but you are. By choosing to stand up for your son, you stood up for all LGBT Ohioans who want to share the rest of their lives with the person they love waking up next to every morning,  and for LGBT people across America. 

We have a long way to go. Beyond the upcoming SCOTUS cases, there are many challenges on the path to full equality for LGBT people – from ENDA to ending discrimination against trans people to focusing attention on the needs of LGBT youth. But I feel this morning like we’re closer than ever before to achieving our goals and creating a “more-perfect union”, and it’s because of you. So, again, thank you. 

 

Good luck to you and your family, and congratulations to your son, Will, for his bravery and honesty. 

Sincerely,

Jane Coaston

 

Lance Armstrong

Video

When I was very small, my dad took me to a bike race. I don’t remember where, but I remember that it was cloudy, we were sitting on the side of a hill, and the racers went “WOOSH” as they passed by us. Then my dad drove us home in his white Toyota Celica, shifting gears with his big right hand while I watched the world pass by out the window, my little feet tightly wedged into Stride-Rites dangling off the seat.

My dad loves cycling. He loves a lot of sports – Formula 1 racing, motorcycle racing, football – but cycling is his love. One of his favorite bike frames is hanging from the brick chimney in my parent’s living room. He exudes cycling.

I didn’t understand why my dad loved cycling so much.

Truth be told, I didn’t understand a lot about my dad. I didn’t think he liked me very much. I didn’t think he loved me very much.   We were so alike, and we continue to be remarkably similar (no one can stand awkwardly with their hands in their pockets for long periods of time better than us). I sound like my mom, but I look like my dad – same flat nose, same flat feet, same long legs. Perhaps those similarities made him uncomfortable. Maybe it was getting closer to the age when his own father died.

We were two people in one house who barely spoke. But then we met Lance.

You have to understand: in 1997, my dad was alone in the wilderness of being a cycling enthusiast in the United States. Greg LeMond won his last Tour in 1990, the same year I turned 3. If you wanted to watch the Tour de France, you either taped it live at 3AM on some bullshit channel we couldn’t afford, or you hoped that Phil Ligget and Armen Keteyian would show up on 4PM on Sundays on CBS during the Tour and run through the week’s stages. Cycling enthusiasts hung out at bike shops and talked about Miguel Indurain and Eddie Merckx but no one – no one – else cared.

But then Lance happened.

Lance was a triathlete, then a cancer patient, and then a cancer survivor, and then a seven-time Tour de France champion.

He was one of the greatest athletes I have ever seen.

During a race that lasts for three weeks and over 2,000 miles, a race that has actually killed people, he separated himself from the field. He would toy with his competitors, hanging back and then exploding up mountains that towered over the French countryside while we followed along on TV. During time trials, he’d move so fast that it barely seemed like he was moving at all until you realized that the team car following him was doing 45 miles per hour.

He did things like this. 

He made literal mountains into molehills. 98 degrees in the middle of July, and he’d spurn rest or breaks to chase down an opponent and bring him back into the Peloton. I cannot emphasize enough what it was like to watch him race. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time – imagining that a human being, a human being like me and you and my mom and Bob Costas, could do that, become that.

After watching with my dad, I’d run outside and get on my bike and pretend that I was going for a Tour stage win, Phil Ligget’s voice in my head: “She’s going for it! She’s going for the win! She’s going to be Tour Champion!” Lance inspired my dad, too. He started running, entered a triathlon, biked for dozens of miles every weekend.

Doping? My dad and I never thought Lance would dope. Never. We’d been fooled before (the Festina affair, Floyd Landis) but could the man who made this Nike ad be a doper? 

As far as we knew, he was just genetically gifted. Cycling magazines told that perhaps chemo gave him the right body type to win in the Tour – pure muscle, no fat. His lungs were naturally bigger. His heart could pump more blood. He was just better than everyone else, better than LeMond, better than Indurain, better than everyone who had ever done the Tour.

Of course that wasn’t true. None of it was. Everyone was doping. Lance, George Hincapie, the entire USPS team was either doping or knew about it. As testing for doping got better, racers got better at doping. Too bad, so sad, the end.

And I know that. But I also know that for three weeks every July, my dad and I would sit in our airless living room and watch magic happen. We saw the same tiny French towns each year, the same fans, the same horses running alongside the road, the same perfect entrance into Paris on the final day. We sat together for all seven of Lance’s Tour wins, and though those wins no longer count, the hours my dad and I spent together talking about Lance, reading about Lance, arguing about whether Lance’s team was strong enough to carry him through the team time trial, watching old tapes of Lance taking on Alp d’ Huez – those moments count.

I love my dad. I love our phone conversations, our terrible World War 2 jokes, his strength. I love how he loves my mom, and how he cares for his family. I love how we finally have bridged the gap between us to be father and daughter, true friends. Lance lied to us, like how he lied to everyone around him and probably, in some ways, to himself.

But what Lance did for me and my dad? Bringing us together?

That’s true.

 

 

 

So I Guess We’re Not Actually Going to Talk About Mental Illness. But We Could.

4 or so years ago, I wrote this. Since then, we’ve had at least three hundred and seventy national instances in which we were all going to finally talk about mental illness. Finally, the American populace was going to put on its collective skirt-of-seriousness and talk about what it means to have a mental illness, the inaccessibility to treatment for people living with mental illness, the stigma people living with mental illness are forced to shoulder, and a path forward.

But we didn’t.

Instead, we talk about video games or gun control or gun lack-of-control or how we need to put God back into our schools or take God out of our schools or ask God why “Better Off Ted” got cancelled but ‘NCIS:LA’ is allowed to be a continued pox on all of our houses.

And I get it.

It would be easier if mental illness were something like cancer – something apart from you, who you are. If mental illness were like the flu, moving into and out of your life and leaving used tissues and a nasty cough in its wake, we could talk about it. Some people still talk about it that way – wanting national registries of people living with mental illness so that we can make sure they don’t get guns or bombs or large attack cats. Even using the term “mental illness” implies that it might end; that someday, you’d kick schizophrenia or bipolar out of your head like a bad ex and move on with your life.

But it’s not. Mental illness becomes you. You become mental illness. Mental illness is another layer of the onion that is you, who you are at the very epicenter of your being. It bleeds across the pages of you.

In the movie “The Matrix,” Morpheus explains to Neo why he has hair in the Matrix, but not in “real life.” In the Matrix, you look the way you think you do. Your appearance is “the mental projection of your digital self.” My mental illnesses are part of that projection. They’re who I am.

I’ve been battling depression and anxiety for so long that I have no idea what or who I would be without it. Would I still like crime shows? Do I really like action movies as much as I think I do? Would I stop developing elaborate funeral plans for myself in my head while waiting for the dentist? If I could process anger like a person without an illness, what would I have done by now? Who would I be?

Who are you, really, if you’re not what you think about? If I’m not my anxiety and my depression, then who the hell am I? Am I still a rational human being if I see events in my life in an inherently irrational way?

That’s why diagnosis is so difficult. That’s why treatment is so difficult. That’s why I’ve never really gotten help. I’m not sure what I’d be if I weren’t anxious. It’s how I think about things, see my life and my experiences. In some ways, I feel as if maybe I’m not depressed and anxious, maybe other people just aren’t depressed and anxious enough. I’m not sick, you are. I can’t imagine what it must be to have auditory and visual hallucinations that would feel as based in reality as my anxiety does to me.

It’s difficult to explain to people the difference between the sadness at losing a loved one and the depression of continuing to exist when you really have no desire to do so, when getting out of bed seems like a bell you just can’t answer, when your anxiety makes it terrifying to leave your house because you’re convinced that everyone on the other side of the door hates you and just won’t be ballsy enough to tell you, and all of this feels so goddamned rational that you just have to believe its true. How it’s not that you want to die, it’s that you want everything to just…stop.

So I get it. Really, I do. We don’t want to talk about mental illness.

But I do. I want us to talk about it, because I need to know that I can. I need to know that I can get help if I choose to pursue it, I need to know that people won’t think that I can’t handle my job or my finances because I tell them I’m struggling with my own brain, I need to know that I can feel comfortable sharing what I’m feeling without worrying about how others will see me.

If mental illnesses were like colds, we could talk about how to cure them. But they’re not, and we can’t. That doesn’t mean we can’t still talk.

Football Is Joy

Video

This post is in response to this article.

I was not always obsessed with football. There was a time in my life when Saturdays and Sundays were just days.

I grew up in Cincinnati during the 90s, when the Bengals were about as terrible as terrible can be (seriously, look up the Bengals Wikipedia page. It’s a litany of sad.) My dad spent most games doing something else – during particularly bad seasons, he’d do home improvement projects. My parents have two decks and two ponds. That’s a lot of Sunday despair put to good use.

In addition, my dad went to Northwestern (which just won the only bowl game they’ve ever won during my dad’s lifetime) and my mom went to Carleton, so I grew up in a college football-free home.

As an incredibly awkward (fat, braces, unkempt hair, an inability to not use giant words in everyday conversation, definitely not heterosexual) kid, sports were a no-go for me. I was part of that generation of kids where either you were spectacular at sports – select soccer, AAU basketball – or you avoided them like the plague. I read a lot. I thought a lot. Maybe too much. I was very lonely, and I thought about being lonely all the time. In high school, all of this thinking would go to a very bad place and end with me spending some not-so-fun times at Children’s Hospital.

When I got to college, I wasn’t concerned about college football. I was 18, and finally out of Ohio, and I was ready to start my life over again. No one at Michigan knew me. They didn’t have to know about the time I wore a cape around school or how uncomfortable I could be around other people or how long I spent staring at the ceiling of my bedroom, hoping to not wake up the next day.

Michigan football was shitty my freshman year.  After barely losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl the year before, and despite having future NFL standouts like Leon Hall, Jason Avant, and Lamarr Woodley on the team, Michigan decided to find out what it would be like to be unable to hold onto a lead or maintain a drive for longer than four plays (those four plays: run left, run left, incomplete pass, punt.) We lost to Minnesota. We lost to Notre Dame. The season would eventually end with a nearly successful multiple lateral play in the Alamo Bowl against Nebraska.

That doesn’t matter. Just know that it was a season, and not a great one.

I went to one game. It was my first time at Michigan Stadium. It ended with this:

Complete chaos.

Chaos cannot be controlled. You can’t defend chaos. There’s no nickel package that can combat chaos. That chaos is why some coaches sleep in their offices.

The entire empire of college football media, from recruiting rankings to Mark May and Lou Fucking Holtz, is built on trying to make chaos into order, trying to tell you and themselves that if this 4* QB goes to this school and learns under this system, he will throw to this receiver and there will be this touchdown. This team will win, this team will lose, and this can all be borne out in statistical analysis explained to you by Jesse Palmer. But that’s bullshit, and once or twice a year, we learn that lesson.

The moment that the ball is snapped, there are so many possibilities and permutations of what might or could happen that it’s almost inconceivable that any play works as designed.  If you’re a good enough team, you can create enough plays that work that you can almost overrule chaos – a fumbled handoff, the QB dropping the ball (heh, Tommy Rees, heh), a sack and strip of the running back. But that chaos is always there, watching and waiting.

In my life, I hate chaos. I like certainty. Order. Rhythm. But I crave football chaos. Football chaos leads to upsets and plays that you don’t even believe are real while they’re happening. I lie on the floor and I tweet and I have panic attacks and I scream and I jump around and I totally lose my mind from that chaos. Football chaos creates joy.

Joy is elation. Joy is ephemeral. Joy is like getting thrown into the air and exploding into tiny  shiny pieces. Joy is the moment that Chad Henne threw that ball to Mario Manningham on a 4th and 1 with 1 second left on the clock against an undefeated Nittany Lion squad in front of 108,000 people. Joy is like getting kicked in the face by magic.

There’s just a second right before the ball is snapped when time stops. The center looks up, looks back, looks up, snaps. In that moment, nothing matters and everything matters. Anything is possible. You hang in this moment, and then that moment is gone. The play is run, the whistle is blown, and it’s over.

I’d give everything I have to always live in that moment.

I love football because it makes me useless. History is useless. ESPN and CBS and ABC are useless. Everything is useless but that moment, that breath before the play. There’s nothing I can do. Nothing I can be can make Michigan win. I can leave my head and exist in that moment, that play, that catch, that tackle.

I love football because nothing on earth makes me happier. College football has given me moments that have held me, safe and content, through some of the most difficult moments of my life. When my mom was in a coma my sophomore year of college, I watched the 2006 Michigan-Notre Dame game so often that I can quote large sections of the color commentary. Sometimes, my anxiety makes me feel so alone and so scared and the weight of it on my chest makes it difficult to breathe. But then I watch Courtney Avery intercept Braxton Miller’s 4th down pass at the end of the 2011 game against OSU and for a moment, just for a moment, I’m free.

I don’t know if other women feel this way. I bet they do, but again, I don’t know. I don’t know why it matters to some GQ writer who doesn’t even like football. I don’t know why women aren’t allowed to like things without becoming ‘a woman who likes a thing’.

I don’t know very much of anything. Uncertainty – about myself, my life, my future – is fairly standard for me. Perhaps the only things I am certain about are about football. I know that I love Michigan football. I know that I will always love Michigan football. And for now, that’s enough.