Monday, July 30, 2012

You Should Talk About Going To Therapy | Thought Catalog

You Should Talk About Going To Therapy | Thought Catalog
I talk about going to therapy. Not in every article. Not every day. Not with every person. But I talk about it freely if the conversation arises. If I’m on my way to an appointment and I run into a friend who asks where I’m headed, I will say, “To therapy.” If my employer casually wants to know where I’m going on my lunch hour, and if I trust them and it seems appropriate, I usually say, “I have a therapy appointment nearby. I’ll be back soon.” If someone wants advice or brings up something relevant about stress, I feel all right saying, “My therapist says…” 
Recently, someone in the comments of one of my Thought Catalog articles, got indignant about one paragraph, in a piece about my anxiety surrounding my relationship with my sister, wherein I mentioned what my therapist thought about the issue. I didn’t harp. I just wrote, “My therapist thinks…” The commenter took issue with me talking so openly about seeing a therapist. “Every other article on here mentions therapy. Seems self-indulgent,” they wrote. 
I know there’s a stigma around mental health wherein for example, if I’m having a panic attack, most people will tell me it’s all in my mind and that I can control it. And I know that. And I can’t. 
Going to therapy or to a psychiatrist is seen as a weakness or an indulgence. You can’t deal with your problems yourself so you need to pay someone to do it for you. You don’t have any real friends you can talk to, a deficiency on your part, so you have to essentially pay for a professional to listen to you whine. You see a therapist? You must be Woody Allen. You must be a navel-gazing lunatic. You must be an unbearable human being.
The mistaken idea is, I think, that you go in, talk about your problems incessantly for an hour and get, I don’t know, patted on the back or something by a therapist who indulges your self-obsession. I don’t think going to therapy makes you self-obsessed and so what if it does? Introspection isn’t the enemy. Sometimes we can only be better to others, in our lives and careers, if we first start unpacking ourselves. But also, that’s not only what therapy is.
If you broke your leg, you’d go to an orthopedist to get it put into a cast. If you needed a root canal, you’d see a dentist. So why if your brain is not doing what it’s supposed to are you chastised for seeking professional help? And for casually talking about doing so? 
There’s also the misconception that therapy is for the rich. Sure, some psychiatrists charge a crazy amount per session, but not all. The therapist I see works on a sliding scale based on my income. I pay 30 to 40 dollars a session depending, and some weeks I could choose to pay nothing at all. 
My therapist is a student, but they are qualified and smart and I feel they do a great job for what I pay. I found them by Googling, “sliding scale therapy.” It takes an hour out of my week and it helps me feel okay when I do not feel okay. (I shouldn’t even have to explain this or get defensive about it to anyone, but I thought it might help someone who thinks they are too poor to seek help.) 
I have anxiety that manifests in physically painful panic attacks. I have issues with food and with growing up the child of an alcoholic. Those are just a few of the things we work on in therapy. The physical pain in my chest will not go away by seeing an MD. It will only go away through therapy. This is not an indulgence. This is medical. 
If it helps one other person see that mental health is worth working on, that their problems are treatable, that there is hope — then my talking about going to therapy will have been worth it. 
One friend I talked to about this said she thought everyone should have to go to therapy at least once. Her reasoning was that, “…therapy helps you to identify problems and then articulate and communicate them which are skills pretty much anyone could benefit from having in any relationship.” 
I liked that phrasing. People have such a hard time understanding each other, that if we all built the skills to better communicate, so many relationships — working relationships, dating relationships, family relationships — would run smoother. Therapy is not self-indulgent whining. It’s eradicating physical pain. It’s acknowledging the importance of your mental health. It’s working on yourself so you can be better to others. You look inward, but the ultimate focus is outward. 
The only way the stigma is going to go away is if we talk openly about seeking help — without shame, without criticism — the same way we would talk about seeing a dentist or a hairdresser or any other professional. If you’re on the fence, I hope you’re motivated to get help. Because I’m going to keep talking about seeing a therapist. And I am not sorry or ashamed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On rape culture

So I was just reading this over on Jezebel -- Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should Listen -- and thinking about a recent conversation I had with a fellow (I'll call him B) when I told him about a time I was sexually assaulted. We were sitting on his porch smoking cigarettes.

Briefly, this is what happened: I was a freshman in college and I agreed to visit a male who was a friend of a friend, and on the phone before heading out I told him I didn't want to have sex because my heart was still broken after ending things with my high school sweetheart. I set my boundaries. Yeah, I went over there and I drank and I smoked, and even as I took the drink, I restated my boundaries and was assured they would be respected. Later I had to repeatedly tell him to stop before he did. Was it rape? I don't know -- but it was assault.

Upon finishing my story B said, "Well, you shouldn't have gone over there."

I didn't say this at the time, but my response should have been, "Oh, you mean like I shouldn't have come here, to your house, where you've similarly offered me a drink, because I should just not trust any man ever? I should just assume all men -- including you -- are potential rapists?"

You see how rape culture hurts everyone? 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Where in the world are Whoopi Goldberg's eyebrows?

I was kind of having a mopey day until I found this affixed to a light post in the Castro.

So thank you to whatever genius made this ... your cleverness has not gone unnoticed.

I've found lots of magical things in the Castro. It's probably because it's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On growing up and getting caught between girlhood, womanhood, and adulthood

I really loved this piece from Thought Catalog mostly because yes, it references Britney Spears, but also because it speaks a lot to where I am right now in life (yes, I just bought some new shoes with "credit card dollars").

Well Yeah I’m A Woman Now, But I’m Definitely Not, Like, A Proper Adult Grown Up Or Anything by Kat George 
When Britney Spears sang “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” I was 16 years old, and I totally got it. I understood every word, and I wanted to shout it to the world; “Be patient with me, be kind,” I wanted to say, “but trust me, please because I’m old enough to know what I’m doing, even though I might not be old enough to know where that will take me.”
I’m 27 now, and I sort of wish someone would write a similar song for how I feel now, something along the lines of, “Well Yeah I’m A Woman Now, But I’m Definitely Not, Like, A Proper Adult Grown Up Or Anything.” Because that’s just as equally a frustrating feeling to try to articulate; of being on the brink of something, but not wholly understanding what that thing is and remaining apprehensive about diving in to find out. 
Technically, I’ve been a woman since I was 11, that ripe old child bearing age when spots of blood appeared on my underpants for the first time and I ran into my mother’s arms sobbing, “I don’t want to be a woman, mommy!”
But I guess emotionally I began to count as a woman somewhere in the grey area of my mid-20s, when I was no longer satisfied with being a girl; when I’d been in love and after that; when I was earning my own money; when I started really formulating solid ideas about the things I believed in and when I began to realize that I don’t actually have all the answers, and that I very probably have none of them; when I was literally out in the world by myself, holding my own against… well, everything. 
There are more things than that to which I hold my womanhood, and I assume and hope that each young woman has her own defining moments and achievements that make her feel worthy of outgrowing the role of girl in order to begin a later chapter. But here’s the confounding thing I’ve found about being a woman: it doesn’t exactly make you a proper adult grown up, or anything.
For the first time in your life, as a woman, you’re clueless. We all know girls have all the answers. And I mean. Every. Single. One. Don’t try and tell a girl she doesn’t because you’re not ready for the ultimate sass of a girl disagreed with. When you’re a woman it’s different. You suddenly have absolutely no notion of anything. You begin to pick your battles and your mind begins to open to the possibility that yes, you are wrong, sometimes. Maybe all the time, even. What’s “right,” anyway?
When you become a woman, nothing and everything is possible. You’re aware of your shortcomings in a different way than a girl is, but you haven’t come to peace with them the way a proper adult grown up is supposed to. You begin to shed your girlish insecurities but you begin to pick up new ones like will I have this career I want and will I be able to have babies at the same time and oh no, it looks like my vagina wants to start with the technical difficulties and ouch, these mammograms really hurt. You suppose that proper adult grown ups don’t have any insecurities at all — they’re rational and strong and deal with each blow as it’s dealt. 
You know you’re on the cusp of something, there in the middle of your womanhood. Part of you is groping backwards for the girl, doing shots at the bar at 3 a.m., kissing the bad boys, reading moodily in cafes downing coffee after coffee, writing too many things about too many feelings, and spending too many credit card dollars on too many shoes. 
But the other part — that’s the part that’s reaching forward. The part that tells you to eat better, take responsibility for your environment, go for that run, be objective about your white girl problems and meet a man that is good and kind and that understands and embraces your tumultuous, indefinable feminine personality. 
It’s scary to think that the proper adult grown up is closing in. That less irresponsible decisions will have to be made, that if I want to be the sort of proper grown up I want to be, I’ll have to leave little bits and pieces of this reckless, piss-into-the-wind young woman scattered along the path behind me. 
I couldn’t bring the girl with me, even though I can look back and see her clear as if it were yesterday, smoking in the toilet stalls and dying her hair pink. She taught me so much. And so I won’t be able to bring this young woman I am now with me, even though I’ve learned a lot from her, too. I’ll bottle her frenetic energy, her consuming existential battles, her absolute sincerity and probably, one day, will laugh at even this that I’m writing now, because proper adult grown ups are wise and jolly, and I guess see life as this beautiful, ridiculous mess that all you can do is shrug at and carry on loving. 
So maybe we need a song to define this time. Songs are good at that, even if they are silly pop songs; they still speak to us in blindingly obvious terms, which, for the most part, is as comforting a luxury as we can be sometimes afforded. 
And because this wouldn't be complete without the song in question:

Monday, July 23, 2012

On fourth opinions and a skin rash called pityriasis rosea

As you may or may not know, I was misdiagnosed with ringworm, which, besides making me an accidental virgin, left me stressing out about washing my sheets every three days and Lysol-ing everything I touched. Even worse, the supposed fungal infection was responding to neither topical nor oral medication, further distressing me.

My rash began with a large oval lesion on my right thigh that appeared sometime in the beginning of June along with a mild cold. Over the course of about a month, other, smaller lesions appeared on my torso. Guessing that it might be ringworm, I began treating the lesions with a topical anti-fungal spray to no relief, and that's when I began suspecting it was not ringworm, but something else. A Google search of "rashes that look like ringworm" brought up a common skin ailment called pityriasis rosea, which begins -- as mine had begun -- with a "herald patch" lesion that then develops into a widespread rash. I brought this up with the first doctor I saw, who soundly dismissed me and said it was probably ringworm. This was at Planned Parenthood, so she advised me to see my general doctor for further diagnosis.

My general doctor, however, is whatever moments the doctor on staff at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic can spare since the only covered care I have is through HealthySF. I spent two hours past my appointment time in the waiting room, and it was only when I broke down and began crying that someone finally saw me ... for about five minutes. With one quick glance, the doctor decided it was indeed ringworm, and prescribed me clotrimazole 1% (which is another harrowing story, but you'll have to ask me about it in person). With a tiny 1 ounce tube of cream I was supposed to coat every lesion (which had further multiplied to cover my entire torso and back) twice a day for a month. Again, the rash did not respond. I ended up prescribed griseofulvin ultramicrosize 250mg twice a day for twenty-eight days. The medication left me tired, achy, and irritable, and after eleven days, no sign of improvement.

Frightening Google searches and few conclusive answers left me anxious and distressed, as if assigned jail time with no certain end date. I didn't know if I was getting better or getting worse, I didn't know if I would be infected for days more or months more, and I didn't know if I was possibly spreading it to anyone who came into contact with me or anything I even touched. Purchasing fresh tubes of cream every few days was draining my finances. I felt trapped and I felt scared, and there was the lingering doubt that it wasn't ringworm after all.

That's when I decided it was time to prioritize my health, and simply pay out of pocket for quality care (or rather, put it on my credit card). So I went to an urgent care center, and again I did not feel satisfied with their diagnosis. The doctor's hesitation made me question her training, and I did not feel confident with her ability. I asked for answers, but, again, received nothing conclusive nor compassionate. I was told to continue washing my sheets, applying a topical, and hope for the best. I sat in the car and cried. I knew something was wrong and I felt I wasn't getting the help I needed.

So I researched a dermatologist and made an appointment. Their schedule was full, but I convinced them to make an appointment for me the next day. I rearranged my work schedule. I couldn't be sick any longer.

I saw Nikki Satovsky with the California Skin Institute, and with incredible bedside manner, she took one look at me and said, "That isn't ringworm." Spying the rashes that had progressed up my neck, she said, "I'll bet it's on your back too, isn't it?" I removed my shirt to confirm it. She said, "Just looking at you I can tell this is pityriasis rosea. It's harmless and it's not contagious and it'll go away on its own. Come back in a month if it's not better." I felt relieved, and with some of my stress dissipated, I saw instant improvement in my skin.

Pityriasis rosea is a common skin rash that affects people ages 10 through 35. They are not sure what causes it, but a virus is suspected, though no research has confirmed it. It is characterized by an appearance of a "herald patch" followed by a development of lesions in a "Christmas tree" pattern that rarely extends to the lower arms and legs or face. In some cases the rashes cause mild to severe itching, especially when irritated. Mine do not itch much at all. Though unsightly, it is not contagious, and resolves itself within six to eight weeks with no reoccurrence. Some research has shown that phototherapy can help shorten its duration. One common thread among sufferers, however, is stress.

Lesions form a "Christmas tree" pattern,
extending outward from the center in sweeping branches.

I've always joked that my body isn't a temple, it's a monster truck rally, and through an active lifestyle and somewhat healthy eating, I've always been able to depend on my body to get me through crushing deadlines, back to back nights out on the town, and the general mayhem I put it through. My body is a good body -- it's strong, it's healthy, it's cute. I love physical activity, I love drinking enough water, and I love taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I make sure my body gets plenty of sunshine and I like to put good food in it. My body and I are a team. I've always seen it as the physical manifestation of my personality -- quirky, adorable, tenacious, and defiant. I confront life head on, and my body has always been there for me, a fortress if not a temple, a battle ram ... sensual and sensuous, my own wonderful body.

But it's true that lately I have been unkind to my body. We have been under a lot of stress. We are trying to figure out where we belong in this beautiful city of San Francisco. We are learning to live without the soft caress of a partner we once loved sharing a bed and heat with. We are adapting to new weather, new schedules, and new geography. My body has been hungry and I've been too far away emotionally to remember to feed it. My body has been tired and I've been too preoccupied to sleep. My mind has been ill and my body has fallen suit. It has finally had enough. It has spoken to me through my very skin and said, "You need to pay attention to me, and we need to rest."

All right, body, I'll listen to you.

There are a lot of issues that have come up through this experience. Among them is how devastating it can be to not have access to affordable, quality healthcare. I am privileged to have been able to seek help outside the confines of HealthySF, and I recognize there are others who cannot afford to pay out of pocket for specialized services. The severity of my plight is minor compared to what I am sure other, less fortunate people have to go through. It should not be this way. Everyone does have a right to good health because it is ultimately less burdensome for us all.

Doctors are not infallible. They are human and make mistakes. Your health is your own and it is okay to be assertive about attaining the care you need. If are uncomfortable with a doctor, it is okay to ask for someone else. Just like the people in our lives, some work, and some don't. Some people make better friends than lovers, and some people make better lovers than friends. Sometimes you and a doctor do not get along. Trust yourself and your body, and get a second, third, or fourth opinion if you have to.

Referencing Robert Mapplethorpe,
whose work inspired my interest in photography.

Part of what's been so devastating about this rash is how unsightly it is, and I never realized how much I love the way my body looks until it was drastically altered. At the same time, I acknowledge that this isn't my fault, it is not contagious, and it is only temporary, so while others have expressed self consciousness about their pityriasis rosea, I do not feel the need to hide it, especially since it needs sunshine to help heal it. In fact, I might spend the rest of my day off lying in the park with a book. I don't know what these conflicting feelings mean about myself or the world around me, but maybe I'll sit down and think about it and then get back to you regarding.

For now I am grateful for answers. For now I am going to bed early and making sure I get at least seven hours of sleep. For now I am taking supplements and eating food specific to assisting my immune system. Perhaps this is a blessing in a red-rash disguise. This is focus and clarity during a turbulent time. So I guess I will embrace it ... my body says I have to, after all.

All photos are my creation.


Friday, July 20, 2012

National Ice Cream Day revisited

Sorry this has taken me a hot minute to get to! On Monday I came down with a cold, and I’ve been slow to catch up. But I am on the mend!

I would like to tell you about National Ice Cream Day, which was a lot of fun, though in unexpected ways. What is it that John Lennon sings? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It’s an understatement. And perhaps National Ice Cream Day was a microcosm for this very idea. Allow me to elaborate.

The day before I’d invited a friend -- let’s call him D -- out to, as I put it, “quietly nurse a beer in the corner of a dark bar.” I shouldn’t really be drinking on my medication, but one doesn’t hurt, hence the nursing. He said, “I can’t come out tonight, but what are your plans for tomorrow?” With a mild blush I explained my ice cream mission. “That sounds fun! Why couldn’t I go with you?” Well, I hadn’t thought anyone would want to. “What time do we start? Good, I’ll see you then.” Microcosm number one: just like you, everyone is waiting for an invitation, so go ahead and ask.

We got started an hour late -- that’s all right. I hopped on the back of his motorcycle and we were off to our first destination: DeLise Dessert Cafe on Bay St. across from Fisherman’s Wharf. The cafe offers an assortment of desserts, as well as sandwiches and coffee, in addition to their ice cream, of which they change their flavors daily, but try to always feature at least one Asian, one tea, and one coffee flavor. I tried the rose lychee and the Meyer lemon with extra virgin olive oil, but ultimately settled on a scoop of the Thai iced tea and the coconut Pandan. The flavors were sweet and delicate, and, as it’s been noted, smaller in comparison to other ice cream parlours, but not that small. I also got a coffee, which was French pressed on the spot, and was rich, dark, and delicious. Though the cafe has been mentioned in a couple of Best Of lists, the shop is free of the hype-hipness that plagues other famous ice cream destinations.

Delicate flavors in delicate portions.
On our way out, another couple came in, who were just finishing up their ice cream excursion for National Ice Cream Day. We chatted briefly with them and they expressed amazement at the lack of lines at Humphry Slocombe and Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous. “Ah, that’s where we are headed!” I said. Microcosm lesson two: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

We followed up DeLise with a stop at Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous over in the Dogpatch -- which I’d never been to before (“Ah! So this is where the Dogpatch is!”). There was a line, but it wasn’t discouragingly long, yet it became instantly clear that I wasn’t the only one with National Ice Cream Day on the brain. I was excited to see what the menu would contain and said out loud, “Oh look, they’ve got a 21st Amendment flavor!”

”Yeah, of their most awful beer,” said D.

I looked more closely, and in smaller letters underneath it specified Hell or High Watermelon, which I have to agree is probably the worst beer I’ve ever tasted. I’m not really a beer snob, so don’t take my word for it. After all, my favorite kind of beer is so bitter it feels like it’s punching you in the mouth, so I’ve really no authority. But curiosity won me over, and I sampled it (“An improvement on the beer,” D declared), but ultimately went with a scoop of the Fiore Di Sicilia with rum raisins in a waffle cone. I enjoyed the finer citrus flavor and the raisins added a pop of sweetness. I might have preferred a smaller serving, but I’ve also been accused of eating like a bird. Microcosm lesson three: just cause you didn’t like the Hell or High Watermelon in beer form doesn’t mean you won’t like it as ice cream.

That's a lot of ice cream!
Our next destination was the infamous Humphry Slocombe, but by then all the hip people in San Francisco (and their parents!) had crawled out of bed and were standing in line to try whatever sensationally outrageous flavors old Humphry was offering.

See? Everyone and their moms.

”I don’t do lines,” was the famous utterance of one of my tall, slender, impeccably stylish, and exotically accented friends from Los Angeles. It’s not as bad as it sounds. She once took me shopping and revealed the secret to looking cool (answer: it’s finding funky dresses at thrift stores and shortening their hems, or simply wearing a shirt backwards), and on the night she spoke those words, she marched right up to the door of this ultra cool club with me in tow and talked our way in ahead of everyone else. I’ve managed to do it a few times on my own.

But I’ve been to Humphry Slocombe’s before, so I didn’t feel a particular need to eat ice cream there, and immediately began hatching an alternative plan. After a quick Google Maps search, I found Dagwood & Scoops just a few blocks away, which serves Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Not originally on my list, Mitchell’s flagship store came up in my Best Of search, so I felt I was still being faithful to my intentions, though it turns out I’ve had their avocado ice cream before. It was worth repeating because it’s now one of my favorite flavors.

This is not a photo of ice cream. This is me taking notes.

It was clear that the line at Bi-Rite -- which was next on my list -- was probably wrapped around the corner, and, as you know, I’ve had plenty of ice cream from there, so I checked out Yelp and went with the first thing that caught my eye: The Ice Cream Bar. It would turn out to be one of my best spontaneous decisions to date. Nestled in Cole Valley, it was on the way home, and therefore ideal. I only quickly glanced at the Yelp reviews, and besides noting the high rating, didn’t read much else, which probably made the experience that much more delightful. We arrived to a pretty faithfully replicated vintage ice cream shop and soda fountain like something right out of a movie. Besides a dazzling array of ice cream flavors and desserts -- I had a scoop of the basil flavor -- they offer a full service soda fountain bar where they mix specialty malts, shakes, phosphates, and sodas from an assortment of hand-labeled glass bottles. It’s only indulgently quaint until you watch the soda jerk mix exacting ingredients like a wizard a magic spell, and then you realize this is an art -- and a time -- long forgotten. The Ice Cream Bar is a crowded little time capsule. Looking at the menu, I had to get the Touch of Grey -- candy cap mushroom syrup, acid phosphate, cream, soda. It was divine, creamy, sweet, and fresh.

Look at all those fresh ingredients! Oh my goodness, it's so endearing!
A touch of grey -- no, not fifty shades of it!
D and I agreed that it was probably our favorite stop of the day, and engaging discovery that would not have happened had everything gone according to plan. It was a delicious lesson to learn … I guess you could say that surprises and flexibility are the sweet treats of life. And I’ve got a sweet tooth that would make a honey bee run.

So that checks a couple of new spots off my Ultimate San Francisco Ice Cream list ... where else should I go? Let me know! It's still National Ice Cream Month after all!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Therapist Auditions

"Have you ever thought of killing yourself?"

"Hahah, well, hasn't everyone?" I ask, deflecting the question.

I've been holding therapist auditions. At my last intake session, I opened with a joke about it.

"I'm holding auditions," I say, "It's kind of like The Voice or America's Got Talent, it's like:" I imitate a television announcer, "The Therapist. And the tagline would be 'Where I ask the therapists all the questions.'"

The gentleman across from me laughs, and whether he actually finds it funny I don't really care, because I am happy just to talk to someone knowing his only job is to listen and that my only job is to talk.

I go on because I feel awkward, "While I was waiting I was Tweeting about things you find in a counseling center."

The room -- like a lot of sliding scale centers -- is cobbled together from donated furniture. I'm learning that in San Francisco, since the buildings are older than they are in Los Angeles, they must be re-appropriated for business activity. The corner room barely seats the two of us and overlooks the street, which is noisy and distracting.

"What sort of things do you find?"

"Boxes of tissues on every available surface, those noise canceling things, pastel colors." I go in for my punchline. "Saaad faces."

"You don't seem very sad. You seem very bubbly."

I look away, no longer able to restrain the tears that have threatened me since I arrived.

"I'm very sad," I say, "I've been holding back this whole time." And then I start crying.

When I am alone, I weep. I heave and gasp and cry out into my pillow, saying things like, "Why why why?" or "Please please please." In therapy I never do that, even though it's present just beneath the surface. I maintain my composure, and when I cry, it is only one or two tears that escape me, and I imagine them elegantly running down along my face.

Amusingly, the box of tissues in the room is unopened, and there is an awkward exchange where we both grab for the box, and he tries to rip it open in time, tearing a bunch of tissues in the process and dropping the box as he fumbles to hand it to me. I laugh because it is a charming and human gesture, and it makes us both vulnerable. There's no way I can continue crying. It is a temporary dose of human ecstasy, one of the beautiful follies and blunders that plague us despite our best efforts otherwise, a gentle reminder that we are only perfect because we are so imperfect.

I am wary about seeing a male therapist, but I like him. If I am comically petite, he is comically tall, curled up like a bird in a cheap IKEA chair. He furrows his brows as if pantomiming concern when really, the man knows nothing about me at all.

I inevitably talk about my break up, about the cheating, about the betrayal, about the sense of loss and confusion. I am always quick to mime quotation marks with my fingers around the word "cheating" because, as I tell him, "I'm sort of unconventional, all I needed was for him to be honest."

"I can tell that you're very unconventional," he says. I wonder what the tactic is behind the comment -- to flatter my ego and loose the trusting words from my mouth? Or does he really believe that in a city of queers and punks and hippies my pink hair is "unconventional?" It works -- I am a little flattered even though my hair is in desperate need of a fresh dye job. Very unconventional -- sure, that's me.

But I am so very conventional. Thinking that I'm just so darn special is part of what got me into this mess -- right? That's what they tell me. They tell me that my parents hovered over me and my sense of humility atrophied and now I feel burdened with the expectation to do something great that the fear of never fulfilling paralyzes me, or cuts me off from myself and those fine, exquisite moments of happiness I crave. That's why they say I am so sad. I am not sure who they are, but I can hear them now, telling me I am lazy, I am not good enough, I am a failure.

You see? I deflected it again. I wanted to talk to you candidly about how exhausted I feel right now, how scared I am for the future, how overwhelmed and broken I feel, and about how I am not quite sure I can keep going. I wanted to be open and vulnerable with you. And I suppose it's still vulnerable of me to admit that I decided to write something funny instead of something sad, because when you laugh loudly enough, it drowns out the quiet sobbing underneath.  

National Ice Cream Day was a major success!

But I've come down with a cold and feel too unwell to write.

Ringworm and a cold. August better be the best damn month of my life.

For now, here's a photo of me on a motorcycle! You haven't seen San Francisco until you've done an ice cream tour of it via two wheels (not a bicycle) -- wee!

Don't panic, I totally wore a helmet when we were actually riding.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Celebrating National Ice Cream Day in San Francisco

The minute I became a San Francisco resident, the first thing I wanted to do was go to the Bi-Rite Creamery and have a scoop of their honey lavender ice cream. Besides an affinity for all things lavender, I harbor fond memories of a very strange and rainy evening standing in line at the tiny shop and ultimately getting nothing while my friend ordered a sundae. I will not divulge the sordid details of that experience (and why exactly I didn’t order anything) unless you invite me out for a cup of coffee, and then, in person and in coffee shop privacy, I will tell you anything you want to know. Until then, you’ll have to be satisfied with this: Bi-Rite holds a special place in my heart. On my fumbling quest to establish myself in this City on the Hill, I’ve spent a few days in Dolores Park with an ice cream cone in hand because if I’m going to be underemployed and broke, I might as well spend a few weekday afternoons in the park eating ice cream and observing San Francisco’s hippest young people and their dogs.

Prior to my move to San Francisco, I cared very little for ice cream. Yet amid San Francisco’s moody weather and chilled summer days, I’ve developed an addiction. I’ll walk to the corner store for a pint of Three Twins and a six pack of whatever 21st Amendment beer strikes my fancy and call that a Friday Night, or I’ll grab a burger and a scoop of peppermint stick ice cream from Joe’s Ice Cream after a particularly grueling day. Even though ice cream is cold, it’s rich and it’s filling, which I think makes it more appropriate for keeping warm and satiated on a hilly walk through San Francisco rather than for keeping cool on a glaring concrete hot summer day in Los Angeles.

Not on the list: the avocado ice cream from Miyako Old Fashioned Ice Cream in NOPA.

When I was tipped off to National Ice Cream Month and then found out that National Ice Cream Day is Sunday, July 15th, I saw it as an excuse to eat nothing but ice cream and begin fulfilling a personal aspiration of mine: to try all the ice cream in San Francisco. Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream Month in 1984 to celebrate ice cream’s popularity in the United States and more specifically, pronounced the third Sunday of July National Ice Cream Day. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

After a little Google research, I decided I am going to begin my Ice Cream Mission with these popular shops in no particular order:

1. Joe’s Ice Cream

Joe’s Ice Cream is not among San Francisco’s more popular ice cream destinations, but it is my neighborhood ice cream shop, and so I am compelled to stop in for my favorite there: the peppermint stick in a waffle cone. Joe’s ice cream is not particularly artisanal, but it is good, solid, dependable ice cream, and every week they feature a unique flavor. One week they carried a wasabi flavored ice cream that was not as bad as you would think. With a grill bar alongside the ice cream, this is the spot where parents bring their kids or teenagers bring their dates on a Friday afternoon after school. Opened in 1959, Joe’s the ice cream shop where you feel like everyone knows your name.

Joe’s Ice Cream is located at 5420 Geary Blvd. in the Richmond. Hours are Sunday 12pm-10pm, 11am-10pm Tuesday through Thursday, 11am to 11pm Friday and Saturday, and closed Monday. Cash only.

2. Bi-Rite Creamery

On warm, sunny days, Bi-Rite’s line can sometimes extend beyond the store and wrap around the corner of 18th and Dolores. If you ask anyone where to get ice cream in San Francisco, they will direct you to Bi-Rite (or Humphry Slocombe, but we’ll get to that in a minute). Besides my own particular penchant, the ice cream is handmade in small batches right on the spot with locally sourced ingredients, culminating in flavors and textures that are rich and decadent, and their sundaes include combinations like honey lavender ice cream, hot fudge, blood orange olive oil, and Maldon Sea Salt (it’s called the Dainty Gentleman). For quality ice cream, Bi-Rite is the place to start, and will change your palate forever. And so far it’s the only place where I can get fresh lavender ice cream.

Bi-Rite Creamery is located at 3692 18th St. in the Mission. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 11am-10pm, and 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday. Credit cards accepted and make sure to get a punch card!

3. Humphry Slocombe

I’ve been here once and had the hibiscus beet, the bright color of which the woman at the counter joked matched my hair. That alone made the experience worthwhile, especially after she’d patiently acquiesced to all my sampling requests. Again, if you ask anyone in San Francisco where to get a good scoop of ice cream, they will say Bi-Rite or Humphry Slocombe. Featuring more exotic, experimental flavors than Bi-Rite -- like Peanut Butter Curry, Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip, and Foie Gras (?!) -- Humphry Slocombe is like an ice cream excursion where it’s expected to sample a few different flavors before settling on one that surprises and delights your taste buds. They offer 10 to 12 different daily flavors that rotate frequently, so every visit is an adventure. I’ve heard that the Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes) is the most popular flavor so I might have to check it out.

Humphry Slocombe is located at 2790 A Harrison St. in the Mission. Hours are 12pm-9pm Monday through Thursday, and 12pm-10pm Friday through Sunday. Cash only.

4. Smitten Ice Cream

I’ve also been here too, and I would categorize it as a boutique novelty ice cream experience. In 2009 Smitten founder Robyn Sue hit the streets with a Radio Flyer wagon and a device now called the Kelvin. Her whimsical mission was to create the richest, smoothest ice cream possible, and to do so right before your eyes. Employing the properties of liquid nitrogen, your Smitten ice cream transforms from milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring to delectable ice cream in less than a minute for the freshest dessert possible. Once a mobile vendor, Smitten now operates out of a little stand in Hayes Valley. The menu is limited to a handful of seasonal flavors, but that’s not what Smitten is about.

Smitten Ice Cream is located at 432 Octavia St. in Hayes Valley. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 10:30am-10pm, and Friday and Saturday 11:30am-10:30pm. Credit cards accepted.

5. DeLise Dessert Cafe

Located near Fisherman’s Wharf, this shop is going to be a totally new experience for me! After seeing the name a couple times in a few best of lists, I am intrigued by their emphasis on quality over quantity. Their ice cream servings and dessert offerings are supposed to be as dainty and delicate as they are delicious, and since ice cream is a pretty heavy treat, I’m sure this will be a refreshing stop. Their offerings change daily, but according to founders Eloise and Dennis Leung, the shop tries to offer at least one Asian flavor, one tea flavor, and one coffee flavor everyday. They also serve coffee, baked goods, and sandwiches.

DeLise Dessert Cafe is located at 327 Bay St. near Fisherman’s Wharf. Hours are 8:30am-7pm Tuesday through Friday, and 10am-6:30pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday. Credit cards accepted.

6. Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous

It was a toss up between Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous and Mitchell’s Ice Cream, and I’ve decided to try the former. They change their flavor offerings everyday, so I am curious to see what Sunday’s menu will include, and I’ve never been to the Dog Patch part of town, where Mr. & Mrs. is located, so it’s a chance to expand my geographical knowledge. It’s also apparently some of the best ice cream in the city, with some Yelp reviews casting it above Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe, and it was named consistently in best of lists. A good old story about a husband and wife team pursuing their ice cream shop dreams doesn’t hurt either -- after working in restaurants in LA and San Francisco, pastry chef Ian Flores decided to do his own thing with his wife when she became pregnant. Makes me wonder if pickle is one of their signature flavors.

Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous is located at 699 22nd St. in the Dog Patch/Potrero Hill area. Hours are 11:30am-6pm Tuesday through Friday, 11:30am-5pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday. Credit cards accepted.

Follow me on Twitter throughout the day this Sunday, July 15th as I celebrate National Ice Cream Day trying different flavors at different shops throughout San Francisco!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Crying on the bus

It’s about 5:30pm on a Wednesday evening in July and I am just about halfway home on the 38 along Geary, one of the main heartlines of San Francisco. I’ve just worked a full, satisfying day, rising at 6:30am and writing from 7am to about 10am. I had enough time to cook myself a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, cheese, and turkey, served on a bed of arugula and accompanied by a steaming cup of black coffee. By 11:15am I was on the bus downtown, where I put in another easy five hours at the bike shop. I had watched the sunlight fall golden on a red Velorbis and thought about how I should have photographed it in that moment, but then a customer had walked in, and the sun fell behind the tall buildings along Market Street. I had to run only a little bit to catch the bus home. I think I may have dropped a laundry quarter, but that’s okay. I was feeling pretty good -- tired, but good. I could let the quarter go. Maybe someone else would find it and use it.

But it’s now about 5:30pm, and I tell myself, “No, not here,” but I can’t stop crying. I’m thinking about how tomorrow I have an intake appointment at a center in the Haight tomorrow and how I hope that my limited income will render the sessions as close to free as possible, otherwise I may not be able to afford them, and I need them … very very badly. I think I’m crying because I’m relieved, because I’m tired of feeling like this, because everything seems so overwhelming and all my usual coping strategies aren’t working, because I have a fungal skin infection that won’t seem to go away (and that I probably got because depression compromises your immune system), because everything hurts so deeply and I don’t know why, because the things that used to make me feel fulfilled have ceased to bring me happiness, because one moment I’m okay and the next I am not, because this is not who I am, because maybe I’ll finally get an answer.

Window 1 by Yours Truly

I get off the bus, only a few blocks from home, but can’t maintain my composure any longer, so I turn the corner, walk a few steps, and sit down on a raised sidewalk planter to rest and to cry. To my relief, it is shrouded by the weeping branches of some sort of small willow tree, so the space feels private, and to further insulate myself, I hold my face in my hands. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to hide. I’m not particularly embarrassed to be crying in public. I guess it’s because the pain -- or whatever you want to call it -- it’s just so piercing and so profound that it calls everything to it. It focuses like light under a magnifying glass and splits my heart into two. What does it feel like when your heart breaks? It feels like being punched in the stomach, like having the breath knocked out of you. It feels like dying, like everything inside of you is wilting at time lapse speed. There are lots of reasons my heart could be breaking right now, but only darkness fills my mind, and then a throbbing, red light, the way I imagine a wound looks under the skin. I hear it my mind, a pulsing pressure in my ears. I cry because I can do nothing else.

Lying on the floor smoking a cigarette in long exposure.

I’m not a weak person. I’m a strong person. I’m a fearless person. I split lanes on my bicycle, weaving in and out of traffic just because I can. I’m not always a smart person, but I’m not a timid person either. To succumb to this … it’s a big thing. It’s bigger than I am -- much much bigger. It’s as big as the ocean and the sky seeping into one another in the middle of the blackest night, and standing on the shore you wonder if you might be standing at the edge of the world. If you step too far, you might fall into oblivion. The weight of it can be spiritually crushing.

But then I’m done. It stops. It subsides, receding like a wave ebbing. I’m not necessarily okay, but I’m functional again. I get up without glancing at who might have seen me -- I don’t care. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish today. I am not all right, but I am okay. I can do this.

A younger self would have been angry. I am frustrated, but I am patient. Before I steadfastly believed I was in control of this sadness, that its presence was an indication of my failure to cope and be grateful. I believed I was sad because I wasn’t trying hard enough, and that finding myself crying inexplicably was just because I was too lazy to do something else. Now I know better, now I am more gentle with myself. More and more research reveals that depression is a result of a malfunctioning brain, that neither yoga nor eating more greens nor volunteering nor spending more time with friends can fix it. In better times, those things will help stave off more extreme mood swings, but right now I am stuck, and I can’t even get to the point where things like that would actually help.

Window 2

So I cry. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. I let the tears flow wherever I am, and I let people help me or I let people take a step back or I let people do nothing at all. I am frustrated, but I know it will be better … perhaps not tonight, perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not even in a month … but eventually I’ll be okay, just like I was before.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Accidental Virgin

Last week I went to the SFMOMA to see their Photography in Mexico exhibit. I went with my friend, who is full Mexican and who can speak Spanish.

I'm half Mexican and I can't speak Spanish.

I said, "I'm going to make a self-portrait of myself as a modern Virgen de Guadalupe."

This has a lot to do with the fact that I have a lingering case of ringworm right now, which is contagious and has prevented me from intimacy for about a month and a half. It will be another month before I'm allowed skin-to-skin contact again.

She said, "What, so you're going to dress up like a chola?"

Uh ... no?

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Dreaded D-Word

I sailed into San Francisco from Los Angeles in December on a wave of optimism. I was in love, I had resolved some difficult conflicts, I already had job interviews scheduled for my first week in town, I felt proud of my personal growth, and I felt ready for a new chapter of my life.

Devastating break up aside, moving is difficult. Though I am an outgoing, friendly, and easy-going person, leaving everything you've ever known -- your family, your talented beloved friends, your way of living -- is not for the faint of heart. I've stuck it out this long, gaining incredible insights, and for that I have to give myself credit. I'm still here on a freelancer's income in a city that is notoriously expensive.

But I've been struggling. I feel lost. I find myself crying and can't discern why exactly my heart aches so deeply. Contentment is fleeting and the things that used to make me happy seem shrouded in a fog that I can't quite seem to see through. My emotions are dull. Determined, I've launched a thousand campaigns into my heart, certain certain certain that this time -- this time -- I've finally figured it out, and everything will be better. Things will be better, but it's going to take something more than I can provide for myself. It's going to take time and patience and treating myself gently, as well as seeking outside help.

How it feels. Photo by Yours Truly

My parents always dismissed the D-word as a "white people's disease," that only those with the luxury of time on their hands feel sad. Knowing better, I still hesitate to say the own it, to treat it, to let it run through me like any other disease.

I've been meeting lots of people, and in a city where very few actually originate here, I am enamored with the stories of their journeys. I listen carefully for the wisdom I can glean from them. I want to know how they got here, why they got here, and where they are going from here. I wonder if my story will run parallel to theirs, intersect with theirs, meet and then repel theirs. I am eager for friends, trusting and ready to love everyone, and I try to say "Yes" to every opportunity I encounter.

My search for continued therapy up here has been met with many false starts, but I now know how urgently I must renew this goal. I am sure that the wavering momentum has a lot to do with still overcoming my internalized stigma of the D-word. The truth is that at this point, I'm sick of feeling this way. I'm done. It's exhausting and it's holding me back. I've been through it before, this dreaded D-word, and I've survived. That is the difference between who I am today and the person I was before: I've learned that these feelings are not forever, that they are not indicative of who I am as a person and everything I am capable of. I may be small, but I am brave and I am tenacious.

I hope this writing touches some people. What I've found to be one of my contributions to the world is my ability to vocalize my feelings. I've found that in saying out loud what a lot of people don't or can't say, I give others strength and reassurance. So I hope this writing helps someone...and if you need someone to talk to, I'm here for you, and we'll get through this together.

Girl, Forgiven

Like many people, it was during a period of chaos when I arrived at the clarity that would deliver me to this blog. Guided by what I thought people expected of me rather than what I wanted for myself left me lost. I had been in my new home of San Francisco for only six months, but I felt like I'd already lived a hundred lifetimes. I was in a lot of pain -- new pain from a very confusing break up, and old pain from a very long time ago. I was trying to make a lot of things happen because I thought it would make a lot of people pleased with me, but I couldn't tell you what would make me pleased with myself.

I was unraveling -- crying every morning for reasons I could not discern, relapsing into self destructive behavior, and angry with myself for the life I saw as failure. It began to interfere with my work, my personal relationships, and my health. I decided I was done feeling like crap, and began reaching out for help.

I was advised not to make any major life decisions, but I made one anyway: I am going to return to my first love and my greatest talent by actively pursuing writing. It is a relief.

The D-word (Depression!!!) is something I have struggled with all my life. Before I moved to San Francisco from LA, I'd been seeing a therapist and making very good progress. When I moved I thought I would test myself, but a lot of things happened, and this sadness is bigger than I am, so I need help. I am fragile and raw, yet receptive and determined, because whether I like it or not, I totally embody that Chumbawamba song.

I wanted to start a blog not only to practice writing, but to offer others support, encouragement, and a bit of comedic relief the best way I know how: by just being myself. Embracing my wild moods, I thought of the movie Girl, Interrupted, but recognized that I wasn't anywhere near hospitalization. I thought of "Girl, Unraveled," but didn't like the connotation. I thought about some of the greatest advice I've ever received yet rarely follow: "Would you say the things you say to yourself to someone else?" No, you would forgive your friends for crying on your shoulder and confessing their weaknesses, for 2am phone calls and emergency ice cream dates in the park, for trying something new and totally failing yet learning along the way.

And so I am Girl, Forgiven.