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BBC: ‘What Made Maddy Run’.

Hey there! We’ve made it through another week, and you know what? This weekend is one of my favorite times here in Austin: it’s the Austin Film Festival and Writer’s Conference! I am volunteering this weekend, and it’s just a great time to see some of the best writers and creators come together and make cool things happen. I’m in need of inspiration, so this is coming at the right (write) time!

It’s also supposed to be a little chilly – FINALLY – this weekend (like, in the low 50s), even though it will warm back up next week. I’ll take what I can get; I am so tired of having my air conditioning running.

But, I’ve got a really fantastic, important book to discuss this week: “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” by Kate Fagan. Here is the official description from Amazon:

From noted ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan, the heartbreaking and vital story of college athlete Madison Holleran, whose death by suicide rocked the University of Pennsylvania campus and whose life reveals with haunting detail and uncommon understanding the struggle of young people suffering from mental illness today. 

If you scrolled through the Instagram feed of 19-year-old Maddy Holleran, you would see a perfect life: a freshman at an Ivy League school, recruited for the track team, who was also beautiful, popular, and fiercely intelligent. This was a girl who succeeded at everything she tried, and who was only getting started. 

But when Maddy began her long-awaited college career, her parents noticed something changed. Previously indefatigable Maddy became withdrawn, and her thoughts centered on how she could change her life. In spite of thousands of hours of practice and study, she contemplated transferring from the school that had once been her dream. When Maddy’s dad, Jim, dropped her off for the first day of spring semester, she held him a second longer than usual. That would be the last time Jim would see his daughter.

WHAT MADE MADDY RUN began as a piece that Kate Fagan, a columnist for espnW, wrote about Maddy’s life. What started as a profile of a successful young athlete whose life ended in suicide became so much larger when Fagan started to hear from other college athletes also struggling with mental illness. This is the story of Maddy Holleran’s life, and her struggle with depression, which also reveals the mounting pressures young people, and college athletes in particular, face to be perfect, especially in an age of relentless connectivity and social media saturation.

I added this book to my reading list after seeing Kate Fagan on an episode of “The Daily Show”. The book sounded fascinating, although heartbreaking. I was able to get the book just a few weeks later, and I immediately did something I probably shouldn’t have: I looked up Madison Holleran on Instagram.

And there she was: a seemingly perfect college athlete, a woman I likely would have thought had her life – a beautiful life – all tied together. But obviously that’s not entirely true. And now, her public Instagram profile serves as a bit of a time capsule – even the picture she posted in the last moments of her life is there – neatly filtered and edited.

We’re all guilty of it: we put things into the public that we are only OK with people knowing. When I was reading this book, I blamed this on social media. But, once I was finished with the book, I went back and read some of Fagan’s earlier work and she made a great point: humans have been editing their outward “look” for years – even when we’d write letters to each other, we would only mention the things we wanted people to know.

Remember AOL messenger? It’s going away this December, but I know I made myself look different online – even through AOL. I would put away messages alluding that I was out, partying, leaving my computer idle for days, when in reality I was sitting in my dorm room watching “Sex and the City”.

Of course, Maddy Holleran was going through much more than a social struggle. She was suffering from a mental illness, and was really feeling the pressures of college, on top of being a sought-after athlete. Here are some of the lines from the book I took note of:

  • Many coaches believe these moments are forks in the road, and that choosing to push through the pain – in whatever form that pain comes – is what creates champions.
  • …the more polished and put-together someone seems – everything lovely and beautiful and just as it should be – perhaps the more likely something vital is falling apart just offscreen.
  • Comparing your everyday existence to someone else’s highlight reel is dangerous for both of you.
  • Digital life, and social media at its most complex, is an interweaving of public and private personas, a blending and splintering of identities unlike anything other generations have experienced.
  • And nothing turns enjoyment into dread faster than obligation.

I’ll be honest, there were times I felt sick while reading this book. Partially because I knew what was coming and I had mixed feelings about reading it, and partially because I found a lot of myself in Maddy – and that’s scary.

I think there’s a lot to learn from Maddy’s story, and that’s probably why her family let the author in so much – so other families wouldn’t have to suffer from a similar tragedy.

Despite the darkness of this book, I absolutely loved it. The way it was told was respectable, true, and easy to read. I am recommending this book to my social media lovers, and my true-story obsessors. This is one you won’t be able to put down.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Art of Crash Landing” by Melissa DeCarlo.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

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On keeping it real (honest).

A good soak in the tub.

It’s 9:30 pm, and I’m writing this on my phone as I soak in the tub. I just had a mini-meltdown in my car and am grasping for all of my self care necessities at once: Blanche, bubble bath, John Mayer, and a clay mask. 

Since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, I’ve been stressed. I’ve been doing several things to help those in need (and am looking forward to doing more), but it takes a toll. 

I feel really lucky that Austin wasn’t affected as much as predicted and I still have my house, my kitty, my car…but events like these either bring out the best in people, or the worst. 

I couldn’t help but notice just how many people did not contact me to see how I weathered the storm. In fact, the 3 people who did contact me, are people I haven’t seen in at least a year. 

Maybe it’s not a big deal to most, but no matter what’s going on between me and you when shit hits the fan, I’m going to reach out and see how you’re doing. That’s what we do. Right? 

I know many people probably just don’t feel a need to check in because it’s much easier to just look online and see the last time they posted on social media. 

But what if that wasn’t an option?

In the last week, I read a book (“What Made Maddy Run?”) and saw a movie (“Ingrid Goes West”) that both talked about the cultural change we’ve experienced because of social media and the effect it has on our mental health. No spoilers, but the result is not a good one. 

I know I’m guilty of scrolling through Instagram and being jealous of someone’s outfit, their vacation, or really just…their entire life. Of course, I’m only seeing the highlight reel. And that’s where things get dicey. 

I always think I’m putting the real me out there, but you’ve never seen a picture of my face after I’ve been crying. 

If you wanted to, you could read a lot of my issues right here on this blog. And there’s plenty of dirt on my Twitter feed. But I’m going to put some realness out there, right now. 

In the last year, I’ve spoken to only four members of my family. Including my mom. In the last two years, I’ve had other family members tell me I need Jesus, threaten to sue me, and tell me I’m a piece of trash. 

I spent last Thanksgiving and Christmas with my cat. And it was awful. 

There are days when I feel lonely, times I feel there’s no one I could call, times I feel like a burden to this world. 

I work in politics. Liberal politics. And things are dark right now. Obviously. 

I suffer from financial stress. The money I make at my day job barely covers my bills, and I’m constantly doing extra work to keep up, to save for fun things, or to just pay off a credit card or taxes. I worry about bills, and trying to save. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel financially free. 

I’ve done some shit I shouldn’t have. Mathematically, I feel like I shouldn’t still actually be alive but I’m here and I get very stressed about making my time here count. 

I know I’m critical of myself. And of others, too. At times I wonder if I’m right in the way I feel, and I recall years of therapy where I learned it’s ok to feel anything you feel. 

I’ve spent many years searching for what I think is happiness, and I’ve found that generally it’s my weekly trip to the library, cooking, or driving by these two palm trees at the bend on my street. 

So there. Now you see it, my dirty laundry. I know we have a long way to go before posts like these are accepted just as any other. It’s less of a pity party and more of a display so you know that if you’ve ever felt any of these things, you’re not alone. 

I’d like to think that’s a small reason I’ve created this blog for myself – it’s my place to go when the seas get rough, when I feel like there’s no one to call. 

There’s another (literal) storm out there. If you know someone that’s going to be affected by it, at all, shoot them a message. We need each other – the real each other, not the Instagram stuff. 

I’m not apologizing for my crazy today. It’s real, just like any of my blog posts – this one’s just a little less pretty. 

She’s perfect, so flawless, oh so they say…she thinks I can’t see the smile that she’s faking, posing for pictures that are being taken. I loved you, gray sweatpants, no makeup, so perfect. 

Sent from my iPhone

The makings of a meltdown.

Shutting the world out.

Shutting the world out.

It began with tears on the drive home. “It” meaning the realization that I was, indeed, losing my shit – the meltdown itself probably started two years ago.

But, there I was, uncontrollably crying on my drive home from work Wednesday night; attempting to hide behind a pair of aviators I’d purchased months before at the Dollar Tree. I don’t enjoy wearing sunglasses, but I also don’t like thinking about perfect strangers staring at me ugly-girl crying in 5:30 traffic.

As the tears fell, I was thinking about the stories I’d heard on the news – that someone was throwing rocks at vehicles on I-35, and perhaps one of these drives would lead me to my ultimate “Final Destination”-type of end, with a rock shattering the only thing in front of my face.

Yes, I had just had a pretty shitty day, but of course, it wasn’t just about that. Because it never is. Before making it home, I had to stop by Walgreen’s to refill my prescription for birth control. And every time I go to pick up said birth control, I remember that it’s pretty pointless to keep refilling it, when it’s been a solid seven months since I’ve even talked to a human with a penis.

I’d venture to say this meltdown probably started when I unexpectedly lost my job in late-2014. What followed that event was a series of mini-meltdowns, because let’s face facts: my life was shit. I was working my ass off, and still had no clue how my bills would be paid, how I would eat, and not get evicted.

I was going on job interview after job interview, and if that doesn’t test your confidence, I don’t know what does. After eight months of that, I was offered a job, and moved seven hours away to accept said job. I was flooded with a mix of emotions – this was cool! Exciting! A fresh start!

But now, today, nine months after that, I’m here, and my emotions have packed their shit, and moved to Mexico. And not Puerta Vallarta, either. They’ve migrated to the bowels of the boot where there are illegal drugs and warm tequila.

Moving to a new place has proved itself to be tougher than I expected. I’ll admit it, I haven’t really made any friends. And that’s embarrassing. It’s difficult, as an adult, to get out there – even just for friendship’s sake. Sure, I have made a few acquaintances in my dance classes, but that’s about it. And I’ll accept fault where it’s due; I’m probably not the most social of people, and that bad habit of mine is only getting worse as I travel deeper into the comforts of introversion.

Also, nine months in, my finances are still incredibly fucked up. I saw this opportunity as a chance to clear the slate, and actually STOP working on nights and weekends – I was no longer going to be so financially strapped. But, I soon figured out that even my new salary was not enough to survive in Austin, let alone make a dent in my credit card debt from the prior year.

So, a few months ago, I made a spreadsheet, and a budget, and I got back to hunting for side jobs. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky, and have gotten a few well-paying ones, and I’ve at least been able to start paying things back. And then it came time to file my 2015 taxes.

I quickly calculated that in 2015, I made around $20K the entire year – the least I’ve made in my entire adult life. Sitting here, right now, I cannot tell you how the fuck I ate last year.

But having a low income does not skirt me from having to pay taxes. In fact, I owe more taxes on that money than I have ever owed: $2,100. I couldn’t pay it all in April, so I sent what I could: a check for $300 and an application for a payment plan, offering to pay $300 each month until it was completely paid off.

And two weeks ago, the IRS responded, denying my request for payments. I owe the remaining $1,800 on July 4. In the two weeks that I made my promise to pay $300/month, I’d also lost two regular-paying freelance gigs, both of them together paying me $400/month. So, on top of being denied a monthly plan, I was also short on my budget – my budget for regular bills, gas, and food.

Money stress is the worst for me, I know it’s bad for everyone, but it just kills my buzz. I took a hard look at my finances, and found a few things to cut out: I cancelled three of my monthly subscription services, vowed to stop shopping online, and would no longer treat myself to my weekly burger and fries at P.Terry’s. I questioned cutting out my Tuesday night hazelnut latte ($4.28), but have yet to opt out.

I also decided to drag out my box fan, clean it, and go easy on the air conditioning. I know it sounds insane, but this is my attempt to do anything, when I felt completely hopeless. I have been cooking all of my meals at home, and made all of the portions extra small, to stretch every possible dollar.

I also kept applying for freelance jobs; searched online for publications that may be willing to pay me for my writing; entered a few writing contests that had prize money; and toyed with the idea of selling Melaleuca memberships.

I had originally planned to travel to Indiana in a few weeks to see my friends, and to go to a Dave Matthews’ concert. It’s a trip I’ve been dreaming about for almost a year. But the flight prices were a minumum of $500 – money that I know should go to my taxes. So, no trip.

And honestly, I know this is a first-world problem. Boo-hoo, I can’t take a vacation! It’s not about that; it’s about the fact that I’ve had about zero communication with anyone in-person since I moved here, and I don’t like my job, and I want to see my friends, and my birthday is Saturday and I’m going to spend it with my cat, and even at 31 years old, I still can’t fucking afford to do things I want to do because I am an entry-level data monkey with no end-game!

Just breathe. 

It’s fucking embarrassing to admit when you can’t afford things. I feel like everyone my age, or even 5-10 years under my age, is living it up, going on exotic vacations, when my passport is coffee-stained and about to expire.

So, after I came to this sad realization about the trip, I was still sitting at my desk at work on Wednesday, attempting not to cry. When I relayed the message to my mom, she told me to throw myself a pity party.

In truth, I do not want anyone’s pity. I don’t want anyone’s money (unless I’m doing fair work to earn it). I was merely looking for an OUNCE of compassion. A recognition that despite the fact that it’s been almost two years since I lost my job, I’m still – STILL – cleaning up the mess from it. I’m still budgeting my income down to the last dime, and hoping to God that when I open my mailbox, there is not an unexpected bill waiting for me.

Yes, I am still working nights and weekends, and still hoping that maybe one day I won’t have to; maybe one day I’ll make money from this blog, or not feel guilty when I take a long, hot shower, or maybe ONE day, I won’t have to use a calculator at the grocery store for fear of overdrawing my bank account on organic eggs.

As I drove home from Walgreen’s that night, I saw a plane flying over Metric Blvd. It was leaving the Austin airport, and I wished I was on it, no matter where the fuck it was going.

I had skipped dance class, despite knowing damn-well that it’s one of the only things in my life right now that brings me a little happiness. Instead, I did exactly what you’re NOT supposed to do in times like these. I went home, cried to my cat, got my quilt, and watched hours of TV in the pitch black.

I wokeup in the middle of the night when my apartment lost power. I wondered if I’d remembered to pay my bill. Yes, yes I did. I used my phone to make my way to the patio to find that there were no lights for miles. It was dead silent, and hot as hell. I secretly hoped the power would come back on soon, if only to make sure the food in my fridge didn’t go bad – I can’t afford to refill it.

On Thursday, this blog became a warzone with comments. Note to self: don’t talk shit about Beyonce. Queen crap aside, the commenters made sure to let me know that I am a nobody; I haven’t been in a relationship in forever; I’ve never been married; I am in fake relationships with celebrities via SnapChat; I am not self-aware; I’m not good at arguing; I overreact; my blog is full of my dirty laundry; I’m not consistent – blah, blah, blah.

And what the fuck do you want? Do you think I don’t KNOW that I’ve never been married? You think I don’t fucking know that I haven’t been in a relationship in a very long time? That I don’t find myself goddamn pathetic for dreaming about dating celebrities?

How many times have I had to remind myself that this blog is not meant for you? It is a place for me. It is a place for me to document my life, and if you don’t like it, then stop fucking reading it. Do not act like I benefit in any way from trolls reading my words, and then leaving comments cutting me down. That’s the kind of shit that makes me want to drive into the ocean.

Maybe I’m not self-aware, maybe this blog is full of shit, maybe I do suck at arguing – and you know what? Maybe I am a terrible person that doesn’t deserve shit in this life. And if you knew a thing about me, you’d know that I take things hard. That I’ve been in therapy. That I only have two friends I talk to on a regular basis. That I haven’t talked to my father in years. That I’ve had an abortion. That I live with guilt and shame, daily. That I fucking know, that I will probably never be in a relationship. That marriage is not going to happen for me. That I struggle with things most people find easy.

Yes, I know that the last person I slept with was so utterly embarrassed that we hooked up, he had to lie about it to save face. And yes, I know, that not a single fucking man I have ever slept with will ever talk to me again. Because I’m insane, chubby, and insecure, or all of the above.

I know, that every day, I put on an act, and pretend not to hate every thing that happens to me; not to despise every moment I live in. I have to listen to podcasts for eight hours each work day to avoid reality; dance each night to pretend that maybe I can shake out my sadness; blog what’s on my mind so that I don’t slap graffitti all over my apartment complex.

But thanks, thanks for pointing it out; thanks for reminding me that I am alone. And it kills me a little inside to know that a bully, a troll, has someone to go home to. I hope you consider yourself really lucky. In fact, anyone that has a partner, a group of friends, or even just insurance that covers therapy and a prescription for Xanax – you’re really lucky. #goals.

 And I know this all sounds nuts, but mid-meltdown, I don’t really give a shit.

I don’t know what’s next for me; and I don’t really know how to properly handle my feelings at the moment. I assume there will be some sort of light at the end of this. But for now, I’m just going to play this on repeat and hope some inkling of positivity gets into my pores.

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