The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Where have I been?

Simon and Schuster sent me a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower because the movie adaptation premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this month to some really good reviews, which isn’t surprising after I did a little research and found this book has a huge cult-like following. I’m a sucker for cult followings, innocent cults, not purple kool-aid cults…unless there’s vodka.

Written by Stephen Chbosky, it was published in 1999; thirteen years ago. Where was I? Well, I was pregnant eating chips with my head stuck in, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The book is comprised entirely of letters written to an anonymous source, which makes for a fast, yet thought provoking read. The letters are written by Charlie, a high school freshman who lost his best (and seemingly only) friend to suicide.  Charlie’s a straight A student and an avid reader with extremely poignant observations about the world around him.  He’s honest, poetic, sad, innocent, romantic, quirky and cool. He comprehends classic literature and instills it into the modern day, yet, he doesn’t know how to stop a run on sentence…we could be twins. The writing is so easy you zip right along page after page until you realize, you have feelings for Charlie. You understand Charlie and in some way and at some point, you were Charlie.

At a chance meeting at a football game Charlie becomes friends with seniors Patrick & Sam (half-siblings) and they develop a bond. Through his first year of high school he fights his anxiety and depressive tendencies by standing back and taking in the actions of this older crowd.  Along the way he’s introduced to homosexuality, drugs, alcohol, love, infatuation, abortion, among other things, only to immerge at the end of the school year with a better understanding of why he is who he is.

And isn’t that what we were all searching for in high school?

There’s a moment when the three friends drive out of a tunnel in a pickup truck, music blaring and burst into the city’s skyline. The now famous line reads, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” I remember those moments, feeling so good and invincible. At the time I knew it was something special but I couldn’t put it into words, I just remember I liked it.

I wish Wallflower would have been written in my time. There’s so many quotes my younger self would have fallen in love with,

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be. – The next time my kids ask me what high school was like, this is what I’m telling them it felt like for me. So simple. So true.

Things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody. – Forget high school, I’m still trying to come to terms with this.

The fact that one of these ladies was my mom made me particularly sad because my mom is beautiful. And she’s always on a diet. Sometimes, my dad calls her beautiful, but she cannot hear him. – Charlie gets it.

So obviously I highly recommend getting this book if you’re one of the few (like me) who hadn’t heard of it until now. If you have a teenager you can probably save your money because chances are they already have a copy hidden somewhere. Give it a try before seeing the movie and let me know what you think.

Step Away From The Book

Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around wondering about yourself.

Katharine Hepburn

Out of all the advice I can give my kids, I hope it’s this message that sticks. I’ve spent too many years “wondering about myself” and it’s exhausting, not to mention a total waste. All this investigating in self discovery has gotten me absolutely no where. The only thing I’ve succeeded in doing is adding more “labels” to my persona. I could’ve put a down payment on a small cottage with the money I’ve spent on self help books over the years. The topic range is endless; Depression, Anxiety, Stress, Mothering, Marriage, Perfectionism, Mindfulness, endless Diet books, OCD, SAD, Meditation and my personal favourite The Chakra Bible.

The thing is I can find myself in every single one of those books and poor Homer has to listen to my rambling every time I discover a new quirk of mine. You know the one that’s going to change my life? The one that’s going to give me vision, clear the clouds and I’ll finally be on my way! He nods carefully because he knows better than to roll his eyes and say, “Here we go again.”

Truly, I must be an exhausting spouse. Don’t tell him I said that.

But no matter, because whatever book I’m reading at the time there is a moment when I think; this is it. This is the answer. This is why I’m like I am according to this woman/man with a bunch of letters after their name. After I follow their instructions, I’ll be fixed and then I can start my life. When I lose this weight I can go on vacation. When I get a hold of this depression, things will start happening for me. And on and on and on. When this happens (fill in your blank), then this is how I will be rewarded, (fill in your reward). Sound familiar? If not, forget what you read and continue on to the next blog.

All I have to do is follow these steps, do this exercise, listen to this chanting, drink green tea and I’ll be cured. But cured of what? Myself? How does one get so lost that they waste years dismissing what’s right in front of them convinced there’s a better, easier way? If only wishing on a star worked. I blame Disney for making me believe this sham in the first place. None of the princesses went through any identity issues. When Cinderella was running around cleaning up after her step-bitches and living in a tower with only small animals for company, was she depressed? Nope. She just went on her merry way singing and laughing. The message? Happiness is easy. She never worked at her happiness. It just existed.

Then one day we wake up older and have a coffee table made of books we thought would open the skies to our future. And when they don’t you feel like a failure, an imposter in your own life; the life that doesn’t include a pumpkin carriage.

In the end, I always lose interest in the book of the month and don’t do the work. My fault, I know. I lose focus. Like everything else I go whole hog and then get bored and start looking for the next label to paste to my forehead. I get busy with life and then mad at myself for not following through. Cue endless negative self talk.

I’ve never been one to ask for help. I can do it myself. I don’t want anyone to know. If I ask for help I’m weak or worse, if I tell anyone they will think I’m weak. Why are we so afraid to show our shortcomings? If we only put our hands up in surrender and acknowledged our need for guidance once in a while we might have an easier time of it.

With age comes wisdom and I’ve learned the best thing I can do is talk to others. Isolating with a book (or worse the internet) only takes my mind to crazy places. Being validated by someone with the same struggles makes me feel insanely better. I guess this is why there are so many support groups and message boards out there, because people just want to belong. I want to listen and share with people I identify with so I don’t feel so alone. And it helps, but it’s not enough. Like anything else, nothing changes if nothing changes.

No one has it all together. If we did Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t be overflowing with inspirational quotes. Enjoy yourself. Tap into yourself. Let Go and Let God. Just do it. Or whatever slogan works for you but stop wondering how you work and work with what you have. Just stop wondering and start doing.

The tricky part is the doing.

Feeling Blue?

I’ve just finished a book by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, it’s a few years old, called Eating, Drinking, Overthinking. A more appropriate title would’ve been, Kelly, This Means You (with a big embedded picture of me on the cover). While not everything in it pertains to me specifically, a whole lot does. This makes me nervous. Not that I’m into outing myself with suffering from any psychological disorders (I don’t want to talk myself out of any party invitations here) but l’ve been known to go through bouts of depression and have had my midnight anxiety attacks that have landed me on medications, on a therapist couch and over the course of the last five years added 25 pounds to my frame. It all sounds so traumatic and horrible, but let me assure you, it’s all quite common in women.

Susan (since she wrote a book about me, I feel I can call her by her first name) calls it The Toxic Triangle, a vicious cycle of depression, eating & drinking. Doesn’t that sound frightening? Who wants to be caught in a Triangle? My parents used to go on vacation when I was a kid and they would fly over the Bermuda Triangle. I always thought, “Well, there they go, gonna fly over that triangle and get sucked right in!” (Gee, I wonder when my overthinking started.)

But, really Susan? Did you have to make it sound so harsh? Vicious? Toxic? There’s no cushion, just BOOM, you my lady are in a Toxic Triangle, what do you think about that? Well, not too good actually because one of those “sides” of the triangle I feared would be ignited right away. I would over think this. I’ll run it around in my head all day and night. I’ll find myself on every page of the book, then Google everything I can about it and tell myself I’m broken and in need of repair stat!

And so it begins.

What should I do? Besides relax (even I know that), but I’m not particularly good at it. My body? Yes. My mind? Nope. But, just because a person with a PH.D., (and a Yale graduate) is picking my life apart, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Right? RIGHT?!

There must be exercises I can do to rescue me from this triangle of terror. I finally found them near the back of the book and felt a bit of relief. At least I had a plan. There is a way out. Except part of the plan is meditation and we all know how well I did with that. (See last post).

Okay, maybe like the book says, I’m just over thinking everything. I take a deep breath, relax my shoulders and pour myself a glass of wine. Wait. Drinking is another side of the triangle. That’s two out of three. Oh hell, it’s one glass of wine to calm me down. What is life if you can’t have a glass of wine once in a while? Or two? I finish that glass as I contemplate this. Then I take my second glass of wine and continue reading, but suddenly I’m hungry. I put the book down and go into the kitchen, stopping to scrutinize myself in the mirror. This is the same mirror I’d past just hours before and berated my chunky reflection swearing to never touch another carb again, but now, two glasses in… I look good enough for chips.

After the chips (and some cheese and crackers), all hell breaks loose. How could I have eaten all those? Why am I having wine on a Wednesday? Then I continue to stuff myself with anything not nailed down as I clean up from dinner. But all is not lost, because I did leave one glass of wine in the bottle so I could tell myself that, “at least I didn’t drink the whole thing.”

I wipe the crumbs from my chin as I carry my bloated body up the stairs where I lay in bed thinking, “‘I’m three out of three. What if I never get out of The Toxic Triangle?”

And, I’m back to overthinking.

I think I’m starting to get it now.

How do women get into this mess? The answer is simple says Susan, The quieter problems of woman don’t bother other people nearly as much, so they aren’t dealt with properly.”

Meaning, we take everything internally. If we could just hit something like men then maybe we wouldn’t be tearing the cupboards apart looking for a year old King Dong. We don’t tell the whole story, scared to death of judgement, so doctors tend to only address one of the issues (depression) by throwing prescriptions at us and tell us to be on our way. The meds work, but they’re only a stepping stone to the underlying issue and they’re only addressing one side of the triangle. They clear our heads enough to see how we feel, think and talk about ourselves, to ourselves, so to speak, but it’s what you do with that information that’s the way out. If you just take the medication and wait, not addressing the internal problem you’re just sitting idle, stalled in your own life. Who wouldn’t want to fill their face with beers and chicken wings?

I don’t want to bore you with the statistics, but let’s just say that there are a good number of us challenged with one or more of these “sides”. The stigma associated with any type of mental illness doesn’t make it any easier. People with depression don’t walk around like Eeorye with a big cloud over their heads. They hide it well because they’re scared to be judged by their peers when chances are; their peers are hiding something of their own. Isn’t it silly?

Okay, one statistic; 1 in 4 women will suffer a severe depressive episode at least once in her lifetime; 50% experience mild symptoms of depression. Most have repeat episodes time and time again because they don’t have the tools to stop it. And they don’t have the tools because they’re too proud to seek help. And no one notices because we are women and we are trained to shut up and keep going so we don’t appear weak.

Don’t you think this statistic could be better if we just freaking talked about it? We’re so scared to be open, to be judged or God forbid someone think we don’t have it all going on that we hold it all inside. I mean, it has to come out somehow right? I hate to bring it up again, but kind of like a fart in your pantyhose, sooner or later it has to make an exit.

We have to learn how to take better care of our mental health. Getting rid of the stigma of depression or any mental illness is high on the list. It’s like Maya Angelo said (and Oprah repeats over and over and over again), “When we know better. We do better.” And I want to do better for my children because the probability of them ever having to deal with a period of depression is high. So I want them to be prepared, be educated and not feel like they have to hide it like it’s some nasty sexual transmitted disease (another awful stigma). It’s a fact of life and if we give voice to it now, it will be easier in the future to nip it in the bud and move on before the issue even resembles a triangle.

Then again I could be just over thinking this and reserve the right to delete this post out of shame and embarrassment.

If you’re interested in the book, here is a link to Chapters online.