Oh how I wish again, that I was in Michigan. (jk)
In 2005, I graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (say that 5 times fast), and moved to Lansing, Michigan for one hot year of at Cooley Law School. My GPA was, well, it wasn’t more things than it was. My LSAT scores were unsurprisingly low because I didn’t know LSAT prep was a thing, and my (unknown) anxiety was such that I couldn’t stop the screaming in my head to read the questions clearly. Now that I’m hopscotching down memory lane… on the day of the exam, I overslept, spilled scalding hot tea in my crotch, got lost, and was shaking so bad that they almost didn’t accept my signature for entry to the exam.
I somehow got into law school. Well, I got into THAT law school…not exactly cream of the crop, and not only that, I only got into the “weekend” program. My overly wordy fingers can’t exactly find the best way to describe this year other than: #theworst.
Anyway, back to Michigan. Lansing, 11 years ago, was vaguely reminiscent of the general landscape from the movie Mad Max, except cold. My apartment was a post-war, Soviet-inspired building that faced a river (read: the run-off from a nearby plant). My furniture consisted almost entirely of the free stuff given away by a graduating student that I happened upon when I moved in. Thank the tiny baby Jesus my mom knows how to cover a couch. My parents bought me my first real bed and a desk, and I had a soccer chair for my 2’ x 3’ balcony. My dad disappeared for a few hours and came back with those bars single girls put under their apartment door knobs to prevent break ins, and a very big boning knife for me to carry when I had to walk to and from the library. I later learned that their leaving 22 year old me in that post-apocalyptic wasteland was their version of sending me with Bruce Willis to that asteroid in the movie Armageddon.
I made a couple friends, but couldn’t hang out or study with them because when they were partying, I was in class. I had no study skills, and the library made me feel like I was 14 in the Troy High lunch room again. So, I’d go a couple miles away in my very teal Chevy Cavalier, to a diner that took pity on me (I wonder why), and let me sit for hours at a time, ordering scrambled eggs, toast, and a cup of tea…which they would refill several times without new tea bags because that’s all the money I had. I discovered a coffee shop called “Girls Gone Wired”. I love puns, they had internet, and I could bring my own mug and drink gallons of over sweet n’ lowed hazelnut coffee.
Michigan is where I learned that “overdraft protection” is not extra money. It’s where I got my first supermarket loyalty card, and where I learned why the episode of Seinfeld when they see how far they can go on an empty tank of gas is funny, and true.
Michigan is where anxiety became physical, and I had no clue. I couldn’t sleep, I was eating terribly, and I was painfully alone. Facebook wasn’t really a thing yet, and MySpace was creepy. Smartphones were something you saw in a movie. What did I do with my hands back then??
I remember having a night when I was really freaked out about school. I couldn’t sleep, again, and for some reason started shaking and I thought I had a fever. I was so hot I didn’t know what to do, so I drew the coldest bath I could, and just sat in it, being super weird. I eventually calmed down enough to take a shot of whiskey and go to bed (#foreshadowing). I had no idea what the h-e-double hockey sticks had happened, I just knew it was all Michigan’s fault.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve always been avoidant of things I can’t be perfect in, but that super weird night in Michigan gave me the new superpower of ignoring my body and thinking I was a failure. After my exams, in which I did surprisingly well, I pushed my free furniture into the outdoor hall and left in front of a friend’s door (vandalism or random act of kindness?), packed up the Cav, and drove the 10 hours home through Canada, back home to Defazio’s.
I got really sad that summer, and was impossible to live with. I ruined a friendship, and showed my family the worst side of me.
In a particularly stellar bout of sulking, my war-hero grandfather sat down next to me on the porch of our family cabin, and asked, “How old are you?”
“22.” I mumbled.
“When I was 22 I was in Africa trying not to die. Whatever you’re going through isn’t that bad.”
Without trying to diminish my feelings, he was trying to pull my head out of my own backside, and remind me that I’m not actually dying.
It really bums me out sometimes to realize how much time I’ve spent thinking there’s something wrong with me both physically and emotionally.
Actually, now that I’m on this rant, it’s tragic that we all go through life this way. Instead of having a great time with a friend or a partner or your dog or whatever, we think about how that person across the room is better looking. They look smarter. They read all those books, and I don’t even remember if I know how to read! We think we’re too fat to wear the shirt we like, or we’re too old to wear that hat (if it’s flat brimmed, you’re always too old). We worry that we can’t start a new hobby because people will make fun of us, or we can’t start a business because it’s not perfect yet. We sit at home because our anxiety won’t let us do something we really want to do, like learn to study law or write blogs that have no beginning or end.
“Anxiety won’t let me” makes me laugh now. It wasn’t very funny a year ago, or 6 months ago, or 3 hours ago when I was trying to build this website. As I slowly came out of the fog of the hamlet of Overwhelming Anxietyville last year, I could hear myself saying, “I can’t. My anxiety won’t let me.” Like it was my mom and I was punished for not doing chores, and couldn’t play Four-Square with the other kids. “No guys, I can’t play today, anxiety told me I have to stay in bed and think I’m having a heart attack until I fall asleep to this very specific track of Buddhist chanting, after checking my house alarm is on 5 times. Anxiety is so mean.”
[Important aside: I’m really good at Four-Square...like, make you cry when I inevitably put you at the back of the line where you belong, good.]
These days, after months of practice, and I’m sure years to come of more practice, when anxiety tells me I can’t, I have the skills to ask why. “I really can’t? Or are you Michiganing me?”. The hardest part is starting the thing you want to start (even if that thing is just getting out of bed), and forgiving yourself for not being perfect.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I hated law school for 9,000 reasons outside of anxiety. Property law was at least half of them. I’ve had a lot of time to forgive myself for leaving. Just because I can argue anyone into fetal position, doesn’t mean I enjoy the politics of being a lawyer. Plus, I look really good in a power suit, and wanted to give the other lawyers a chance.
Anyway, since I’m not a lawyer (you’re all welcome), I hope I can use my superpower to show some other weirdo out there that it’s ok to listen to your body. It’s ok to get really weird, but know that somewhere outside of the weird cold bath days, you’re ok. Get some clarity, and decide what your body needs.
Sometimes you just need to get the F-bomb out of Michigan.