Mental Health: Location, Location, Location

A lot of people probably think I live some sort of fabulous life in New York City.

While I’m very privileged to live in this gazillion dollar city and grateful to live rent-free in my in-laws’ house, my and Rick’s makeshift living situation isn’t a sexy get-up. ;) Of course, we chose this life, me not working so I could fully focus on school.

More important to note than a shared living space as newlyweds, though, is that inspiring geography doesn’t alleviate the same bouts of depression that would strike in the suburbs or rural areas. It’s easy to romanticize New York, and imagine my days filled with strolls through Central Park, coffee in hand, before stopping off for a chic lunch at the Met followed by 5pm cocktails at the Carlyle. But, let me tell you, that’s not how most New Yorkers’ lives go down. It’s an exhausting city of grit that requires peak professional performance and constant reinvention and innovation to survive in every sense. New York City is like the ole duck simile, calm on top of the water and, out of sight, furiously paddling below the surface.

I think a lot of New Yorkers have to regularly sell the city to themselves – why do I live here, again? Subway smells, $80 takeout dinners from an average place, traffic, the general filth. In the burbs I’d have beautifully done hair and makeup, get into the car, and arrive to my destination still coiffed. Here, I have to tie back my hair lest I arrive with knots and sweat at my neck and consider footwear to accommodate the weather. This ain’t no Carrie Bradshaw game, and there’s a reason why heels are referred to as “cab-to-curb.” They’re only feasible if you’re getting picked up in a cab, dropped off at the front door of your destination, and the same on the way back home. It’s impractical and most certainly not a frequent occurrence for the average New Yorker. When Rick and I get wagged along to a black tie event with my father in-law, we of course take pictures because it’s a rare, effortful occasion. I never want to sell a farce.

I’m proud of having lived in New York City for eight years as of next month (yes, I count the 18 months I lived in D.C. as part of my time in NYC because I was remotely planning a wedding and up here constantly), but not for the reasons you may think. I can officially call myself a New Yorker after ten years, and I can’t believe it’s coming in hot. But, I’m not proud of living here in an “I’m fabulous” type of way. I’m proud of having made it this long because it’s been a lesson in survival. I moved here at 23 and would go home to Texas as often as I could. In those first couple years I’d cry on the plane every time on the way back to New York. While the city excited and inspired me, I was in survival mode in terms of finances, profession, finding a good friend group, and safety.

My apartment in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn had a MC across the street and one night I woke up to gunshots right outside. I had to stay below the windows in case a stray bullet flew into my apartment. I’d be aggressively cat-called on the street and even followed. My apartment was bare- a used, frameless bed resting on old linoleum and thrifted sheets covering my windows. One time, when I was still days away from getting paid, I ate cornbread for three days because that’s all I had in my cupboard. I know my parents would’ve wired me $20 if I’d asked, but this was on me. NYC was my game.

One night it’d gotten too late for me to safely take the train out to my apartment, so I had to splurge on a cab. Just months after my brother Alex’s latest foray into booze-fueled tragedy, the cab driver stared at me in the rearview.

“Do you like to party?” He asked, leering at me, a smile playing on his face.

“Uh, I guess… do you?” My eyes shifted out the window. The area we were driving through was rough.

“Yeah. Do you like to drink? I’m drunk right now.” He laughed.

I noticed his eyes were bloodshot. “Are you serious?” I re-surveyed my surroundings and considered which option was better- getting out of the cab in a strange, scary neighborhood and find my way home, or hoping this drunk cab driver would get me home safely. I could call 311 to report this guy, but it wouldn’t change my current situation. Although I kinda didn’t want him to know where I lived, I decided to stay in the cab. The speed limit was 20, or something, so I hedged my bets. “That’s not cool.”

Finally, we turned onto my street.

“My friend’s house is right up there, first building on the right,” I lied.

“You should stay with me and party,” he smiled, still leering, this time over his shoulder at me.

“Yeah, no thanks. You shouldn’t be driving people around drunk. Seriously, it’s not cool.”

I opened the cab door as I paid so he didn’t get any ideas about driving off with me hostage in his car. I raced up my building stairs and bolted through the exterior door, interior door, and then my apartment door as quickly as I could. I closed my door and triple locked it, then began my usual inspection of every potential hiding place for a person in my apartment. I finally considered myself safe, but my shoulders never fully relaxed. They’ve been tense since the day I moved here, to be honest.

“We’re just not gonna tell your dad about this,” my mom said when she visited.

“This is where you live?” My friend Betsy asked once, mouth hanging open, eyes darting between my “curtains” secured by pushpins.

After “Frankie” got shot (I know his name because it was being screamed over and over), I received the following note from my landlord:

Bailey,
You’ve been a great tenant and I know you’re a woman who lives alone. I understand if you need to break your lease to move to a safer place, given the recent events.

“You live in that building? I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my daughter lived there, either. Let’s get you out of there,” said the man who leased my next apartment to me. Relief.

My New York City living situations have been precarious and thread-bare, barely scraping by, filled with strokes of luck and kindness: a friend letting me sleep on their couch my first ten days, bosses moving me for free, landlords who seemed to truly care (unicorns in this money-hungry, ruthless city). So, while my living situation isn’t ideal, I’m at least safe in my latest blue-blooded cocoon.

me and my friend Marlon, the friend who let me sleep on his couch when I’d first moved to NYC six months prior, at my 24th birthday brunch

It doesn’t matter where I am, though, when it comes to being at the mercy of the storm swirling around inside of my head. A suburban Wal Mart is the same thing as Bergdorf Goodman. When you have mental illness, public school is boarding school. Bed-Stuy is the Upper East Side. Depression is depression, an equal opportunity head occupant.


Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: New Year Goal Mapping
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 1
Mental Health: Spiral


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support me on my Patreon. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: New Year Goal Mapping

First of all, are you okay?! I know a lotta people drink to excess on New Year’s Eve, although of course ole Bummed Out Bailey isn’t condoning boozin’. ;) If you’re horizontal or, like, sort of propped up somewhere on a mountain of pillows like a limp, bleary-eyed Raggedy Ann* reading this on your phone or laptop, welcome. You belong here. Hello.

It’s strange to think it’s 2020 and, while I have no recollection of so many people being hype about the decade changing to 2010, wooo! New decade! Who are you? Why are you the way you are? What are you doing on this earth? Is this too deep for New Year’s Day?

Okay.

Let me dial it back a bit.

While we should be checking in with ourselves regularly throughout the year, the New Year is a common time to take stock of health, relationships, and quality of life. I don’t want to be prescriptive – the self check-ins can be on whatever you find to be a pillar in your life.

As 2019 came to a close I was racing to create a sustainable, yet maximally productive work calendar for January. Because I’m a writer and work from home (aside from Tidy B Organizing), there’s a lot of space for workflow to go awry, veer off course, and then wreck into a wall of general life admin and minutiae, AKA unpaid domestic labor and it’s invisible friend, emotional labor, among other things. I’ve found that, if you’re not disciplined with your time, it disappears and you have no idea where it went. I start some laundry and cook breakfast and answer emails and buy birthday cards and order flowers for a friend and go to my psychiatrist and call health insurance to sort out a bill and coordinate how to pay tuition online and do some yoga and file papers and order toilet paper and q-tips on Amazon, and, and, and… the day is over. “The day got away from me,” as they say. I’ve also found that, like a gas disseminates throughout a room and its particles expand to fill any size space, days are the same: If you’re not almost militant about your time, even a small list can fill your day the same way a big list would’ve with its necessitated, more tightly managed time. I hope that analogy makes sense. Science. I do not know how to science.

When I was active in Junior League, I was lucky to work with and get to know young people who’d rolled out of the NYC foster care system. We worked on all kinds of life skills like resumés, writing thank you notes, and how to (proverbially) balance a checkbook. There’s one session that stuck with me and taught me something, too: goal mapping. If you don’t know, goal mapping is essentially figuring out how to get from where you are, currently, to where you want to be, using short term goals (chewable bites) that propel you toward your end game. This can apply to any goals: professional, emotional, physical, personal, anything.

For instance, I want to publish a book about my family, centered around my brother, Alex, right? So, my goal starting place would be an unpublished writer, and goal finish line is to be a published book author. That’s a huge goal, and can feel insurmountable. However, if it’s broken up into real time action items, you can see and track your progress.

To publish a book I must structure my time in a way that prioritizes prolific writing. Then, I must be a diligent time keeper, and crank out, say, 500 words of quality writing on each “writing day.” Once I reach 100 pages, I can begin searching for an agent to represent me. I research agents, identify who I might work well with and who might be interested in my subject matter, then I begin shaping a proposal. I write and triple edit query letters to agents and attach the strongest 50 pages of my book (so far). I then create a spreadsheet to track every agent I’ve queried and when, so I know when is an appropriate time to follow up, and also track which queries have been rejected or unanswered. Supposing I get an agent, the first round of edits begins while I continue writing the rest of the book. The agent gives me feedback, and I edit accordingly. We go back and forth until we’re both satisfied with the content. Then, the agent begins shopping my book to editors at publishing houses. Once they’ve found a good match and I’m on board, the second round of edits begins, this time with the editor at the publishing house. Like the agent and I will have, the editor and I will go back and forth, too, again until all are satisfied. Then, the jacket design occurs, followed by printing and marketing. There is then perhaps a book tour, if applicable, and privately hosted book parties. Bam. PULITZER.

I’m not going to crank out my magnum opus prioritizing cleaning over writing over and over with the mindset of “Oh, I’ll get to writing [XY date].” I went to a writer’s conference in early December and one of the panelists said something in regards to writing that really resonated with me: don’t fetishize large chunks of time. If you have ten, fifteen minutes here and there, snag them and put them toward your goal, whatever it may be. While it’d be a blast if all goals could be accomplished in a cozy cabin in Vermont with nothing but solitude and time, it’s likely not gonna happen that way. I’ve been a huge perp of this and continue to be so, thinking “oh, well, the day got away from me so I guess I’ll just [something that’s not goal-oriented] now.”

I know that this is all dramatically compounded for parents, especially those of young children, and even more so for those who both parent and work a 9-5. For you, I recommend reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert or listening to her podcast “Magic Lessons.” She’s got a Delilah vibe while dishing out actionable inspiration items. I recommend Elizabeth Gilbert to anyone, but most especially those who feel trapped in a vicious cycle financially, professionally, emotionally, etc. She will pry and pop you right out of that rock and hard place.

Goal mapping is fairly turnkey in practice. One of the young people I worked with wanted to be an EMT. Now, go easy on me because I’m not as learned on EMTs as I am about writers, but take this process, for example: you are not an EMT, but you’d like to be one. In order to be one, you have to take courses, but in order to take courses, you have to test in to qualify. In order to test, you have to study. How long do you need to study? How many hours a day/week can you contribute to studying? Do you have to buy materials to study? Do you have money to study? Once these questions are answered, the mapping begins.

  1. Save money to buy materials to study for test
  2. Buy needed materials
  3. Draft achievable schedule for study hours
  4. Be diligent and stick to study schedule
  5. Take test until test is passed
  6. Begin courses

That’s not where becoming an EMT ends, of course, but do you see how I broke that part into chewable pieces? If you can check off one of those small items at a time, you’ll be making progress that you’ll actually be able to see. The steps can be as minuscule as you like. You know yourself best and what will or won’t overwhelm you, and the goal is success, right? If your map takes longer than another’s, it doesn’t matter. Progress is progress.

The same approach can work toward things like running a marathon, saving for a vacation, going to grad school, paying off a debt, even building a friendship. Although, if you’re using methodology to build a friendship maybe don’t tell that person, because then that person may think you’re a robot and ditch you. And if you get pegged as a robot, I don’t know how to goal map your way out of that. If you gave me some time to think about it, though…

Anyway.

We all have things that we want in life. Sometimes, when I’m walking around with my headphones on, I find myself visualizing personal ideals over and over. It’s inspiring to be able to see how to get there quite literally written out step by step. It makes something seemingly insurmountable seem achievable.

As the New Year begins, and resolutions have perhaps been milling about your brain, consider goal mapping. It not only might help you get to where you want to go, it also might alleviate the sense of failure regarding resolutions that’ve gone off the rails. If you blow whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, you know where to start again. You’ve got a literal map!

In 2020 I’m going to finish my book manuscript. I graduate in May and will be getting a typical job after that, making it harder to focus on writing, so I plan to use the privilege of my writing-focused spring semester to crank out as much as possible with fiercely protected writing blocks of time and, as I mentioned before, stolen moments. I’m fashioning the schedule now, and look forward to following my map to completion.

Happy New Year to you, and happy goal mapping. I’d love to hear about what you’re mapping for 2020.

*Honestly, Raggedy Ann is the rudest name ever. Really, Edwardian guy? You couldn’t have come up with a nicer name? What was wrong with just Ann? Why you gotta make her raggedy?


Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Becoming You (This is Not a Maxi Pad Commercial)
Mental Health: Finding the Glow
Mental Health: Productivity


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support me on my Patreon. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Ho Ho HELP

It’s no secret that the holidays incite a wealth of emotions. While some people recall happy memories to the tune of Bing Crosby and anticipate this time of year, there are others who’ve lost someone in the last 12 months and this is their first holiday season without them. Some lost a loved one around this time of year, so the season’s warmth and glitter feels irrevocably tarnished every year after. Some have negative relationships with family that have led to stressful, heartbreaking reunions or estrangement. Some families suffer financial stress so crippling that the holidays become a huge stressor opposed to a joyful time. Some have a homeless family member and wonder where they are. Are they alone? Are they warm? Do they know what day it is? Do they care? Are they using?

Of course, I’m thinking of my brother today as my family celebrates Christmas. My brothers and I were fortunate to have magical Christmases growing up. My parents struggled to make ends meet but, somehow, Santa’s sack always mobbed deep. I remember the three of us all sleeping in one room, me on my twin, Alex on my trundle, and Duncan on the floor (poor Duncan), waking up too early, and then running out to rip into the carefully arranged spread. Our tired parents would snap photos and capture us on the camcorder.

that’s Keith in the corner (REM voice)

This was long after we’d grown out of Santa, by the way. (Alex and Duncan blew that for me in first grade.) We just liked hanging out and sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve. Any other day of the year, no. Hell no. Christmas Eve, yes. After all, no one knows you as well or as long as your siblings do so, when we’re honest with ourselves, they’re who you want to share the special, formative childhood/adolescent moments with.

stuntin’ on these dorks

One by one, we aged out of adolescence, and year by year, things became increasingly difficult around the holidays. A couple days before Christmas in 2007 Alex announced that he and his partner were having a baby, and that they were moving to Florida. That day. That was the first Christmas after he got his leg amputated and Duncan and I had dropped out of college and spent 54 days in the hospital by Alex’s side. That year had been like taking an emotional bat to the knees. They loaded up and drove away and, as we watched them turn out of the cul-de-sac, I supposed it couldn’t get much worse than that.

a brother’s love is a brother’s love

Five years later, we all visited Alex at his rehab in December, two months after he’d shot himself in the head. With his stitched up head, Alex cranked golfballs into the abyss of a big, dry field with Duncan. At the same visit, Alex told my mom in group therapy that he’s never forgiven her for his repeating first grade. (One of his favorite pastimes has always been vilifying our mom.) On his final day, there was a ceremony performed involving a symbolic bridge-crossing as a graduation from the rehab. He left, and soon went back to using. I supposed it couldn’t get much worse than that.

crackin’ himself up w that terrible stache

But then, there’s now.

The last “normal” memory I have of Alex is Christmas 2015, a chaotic span of a few days in which a dear aunt died, my mom and I were going for the others’ jugular, and Rick proposed to me. That Christmas “break” was inflammatory in its juxtapositions. It was also during this time Alex told me and Duncan in a moment of seriousness he’d been assaulted as a child. Usually he just deflected everything. He offered that information one night while riding in the front of Duncan’s Tahoe in his nice jeans, henley, and cologne. The next time I saw him he was living under the bridge.

A tightly wound pragmatist, I’ve long since ceased believing that things couldn’t be worse. I keep getting proved wrong, like emotional whiplash. My dang neck hurts. So, instead, my whole body remains tense as I steel myself for the worst news all day, every day. That also makes my neck hurt. Plus, I get bonus knots in my shoulders and back. I can’t win! Either way, my neck hurts. Somebody pass the Tito’s.

Alex was there when Rick proposed to me on that Christmas Eve four years ago, giving hugs and congratulations, but he never made it to the wedding. There’s a beautiful photo of me and Alex hugging in celebration of the proposal but I can’t find it anywhere. I’m gonna risk bordering on cringe and say it’s poetic that, at least until I can find those photos, that formative moment lives only in my brain and is fading. My brother and my husband, two people who’ve informed and continue to inform so much of who I am, were like ships passing in the night. They’ve spent maybe a few hours together total, but that pivotal day was part of that tiny overlap.

One thing important to note is that years when sad things happen around the holidays conjure a special appreciation for years that are uneventful (in a good way). High highs, low lows. My family’s got ’em. Maybe yours does, too. Or maybe it’s all good. Or all crap. The point is, life isn’t a Lexus ad. And if it is, I think that’s very neat, and would you give me a ride in your Lexus?

You may have noticed that, like my life, this post has gone off the rails a bit! So, I’ll wrap it up. Like a Christmas gift. It is 3:34am. Help.

Anyway, I wish you all a merry Christmas, a happy fourth night of Hanukkah, and happy holidays to all, whatever you may celebrate. If you’re going through something during this often chaotic season, I’m sending you warmth and a virtual hug. I wish I could give you a real hug. Take care of you.

I’ll leave you with a bonus photo of me in Christmas skants.

Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean on the cover of a magazine

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
Mental Health: Finding the Glow
Mental Health: Disoriented


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support me on my Patreon. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 3 (Final Installment)

This final installment of The Sad Clown makes me cringe. It’s dramatized, saccharine, and all of it’s true. There is some blood, and there are some guts. So, proceed accordingly. As always, thanks for being here.


After Ashley broke eleven bones at Alex’s hand when he drove them into three telephone poles, I painted her toes while she was immobilized in the hospital. By freshman year of college my nail polish collection had expanded beyond clear, and I used an iridescent purple, the same color as her candy painted Mustang GT that had just gotten ripped to pieces by the jaws of life to get my brother out of the driver seat. He was meant to be dead on arrival to the hospital, but he wasn’t ready to leave life yet. He had many more years of traumatic offerings for himself and his loved ones. “And many more.” It was like the classic birthday wish gone awry.

Alex’s femur was sticking out of his left thigh and his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. He was losing blood too fast. He’d knocked out the power to an old folks’ home and his helicopter chariot landed in their lawn to whisk him away. Awakened by the disturbance, old people began to shuffle outside, wind blowing their hair off their necks and foreheads as they saw a helicopter leave them to reconcile the remnants of the bloody, powerless disaster.

“Bailey, wait.” My dad grasped my shoulders, bracing me physically and emotionally for a disconcerting sight. “The way Alex looks is extremely upsetting. But, just remember, it’s your brother. It’s just your brother.”

It.

[read full piece here]

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 1
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 2
Mental Health: Painting with Words


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support here. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 2

Last week I posted The Sad Clown: Part 1 on my Patreon, a piece of writing that some distillation of will likely be in my book. The content this week is particularly vulnerable with a brief mention of molestation and is also behind the small paywall ($1/month) to access. Every bit helps me continue putting time and effort into running Bummed Out Baker, and reader support is so, so cherished.

This week I continue the series with The Sad Clown: Part 2 with an excerpt here on Bummed Out Baker and the remaining portion on Patreon.


Thanks to meds and confidence that comes with age, by senior year I’d started to balance out what had been four years of a mental illness rollercoaster. On the first day of my volleyball try outs Alex, then 20, had stayed up late the night before in Paint on our computer making a caricature of me running on the track with a water bottle and CD player in hand. He glued a photo of my head on top of the shoulders and scribbled “good luck Belly!” at the top. He taped it to the bathroom mirror for me to find when I got up at 6am, and I kept it for years.

Despite ripping cigarettes constantly, Alex had accompanied me to the high school track to train that summer before try outs. He’d take a long drag and toss the butt to the side, only to smoke me in our mile run. He’d been the star of his select soccer team, but inexplicably quit at 13. He’d been the type to wear Fanatical Soccer shirts with “soccer is life. The rest is just details” emblazoned across his back. My mom thought he was molested by an associated adult, or something… [continue reading]

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 1
Mental Health: Painting with Words
Mental Health: Mental Illness and Motherhood


Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support here. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.