Beating Depression Part I: Before You Say ‘Yes’ You Gotta Learn How to Say ‘No’
‘Are you a top or a bottom?’
That’s about the last thing I expect to hear right now. I’m currently deep-throating a burrito, stuffing meat and cheese and oodles of gauc down my esophagus at competition speeds. Blame it on the bubbling hunger in my stomach, and blame it on the four shots of Everclear in my system. I’m swaying, solo, in my seat; beside me there’s a woman, slumped over, passed out as passed out can be, hopefully not dead. I’d be surprised if there weren’t flakes of food in my beard — which sticks out like a grove of thorns and feels like one, too — and sour cream on my shoes. In short: I look like shit. I feel like shit. I came here to wallow in my own bean-filled, saturated-fat-rending shit.
The last thing I expected was a pick-up line. The last thing I want to do is get picked-up.
But I answer, of course.
‘Bottom,’ I say back with a sliding smile. ‘Definitely not a top.’
How could I not say something? I check off the reasons in my head:
- I’m drunk
- I’m single
- and, when the time is right, I’m gay enough to field a penis or two.
Hell of a list of Pros. I briefly compare them to my list of Cons, which is:
1. I really don’t want to
and siddle over to the sound of the voice.
‘What about you?’ I ask, managing to steady myself on the bar.
‘Oh, top, definitely’ the voice says with a laugh. The voice is attached to a body, which is hot: non-white, quick to smile and laugh, with an attractive flop of hair and sexy, sexxxxxy accent.
‘I’m Fransico,’ it says, extending a really nice hand. We shake. The hand points to another super hot guy sitting next to it. ‘This is Kevin.’
We all start talking. Fransisco and I exchange numbers. I spell his name wrong in my phone. I think I spelled his name wrong again here, too.
Honestly, I don’t remember much of our conversation — I wasn’t really feeling it. We play a game of verbal footsie for a while, flirting and touching each other and doing whatever else I only do when I’m drunk. I do remember him kissing behind my ears and sliding his hand across my corduroy-ed crotch right next to the passed-out girl, and inviting me back to his place.
‘Ah, I’ve got work tomorrow at 10,’ I say, trying to find an escape pod in this conversation to jettison out of.
‘I’ve got work at 8,’ he says, running his hand down my back. ‘So it’s no big deal. We’ll be done in time.’
I blink. I smile.
I have just agreed to be the binding agent in a menage a trois with two hot men I just met in the Mexican restaurant on the corner of Vermont and University in Hillcrest, California while my brain is screaming at me to leave.
I have just, for at least the second or third time in the past two months, ignored my brain and accepted the invitation to an encounter that I will most certainly spend the most of dispassionately sucking dick and wishing I was asleep at home.
I have just, for definitely the second time in the past month, consented to having sex when I really, really didn’t want to have sex.
I have just damned a good night.
I have just confirmed a bad morning.
I have just guaranteed a terrible memory.
Then it hits me.
What the hell am I doing?
I get up. I go outside, for a reason I can’t remember. I stand on the sidewalk as Fransisco and Kevin talk inside, again for a reason I can’t remember. I weigh my options for what feels like ten minutes, take one last look back, and make a decision.
I walk fast down the alley adjacent to the restaurant, then break into a run, afraid they’ll see me and chase me down with pitchforks and rope to force me into my contractually-obligated threesome. Far enough away, I call an Uber.
I get home thirty minutes later and pass out. The next day he sends me a text.
I look at it for a long while.
In the end, I don’t reply.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had trouble saying ‘no’ to people. I’ve had countless times where I wrestle with my brain, telling it to shut up and sit down and let me do what I want for once. And when it wins, my brain? Nine times out of ten I regret it, either in the moment or months down the line, stitching up the wounds and open sores left by my mistakes. It’s shitty — it’s a large part of why I still struggle with depression — and it needs to change. I need to change. And what better way to change than psychoanalyzing yourself on Medium for the whole internet to see?
Answer: none. So let’s get to it, to why I have such trouble saying ‘no’ to people and saving me from myself.
I’ve cordoned off the two reasons I think it’s become such a problem into two weirdly sorta-related zones:
The Your-Happiness-Is-More-Important-Than-My-Happiness Zone
The Holy-Fuck-I’ll-Be-A-Failure-Forever-If-I-Don’t-Take-Every-Opportunity-I-Get Zone
Since this is a multi-parter, let’s tackle the first zone today, and then zone two…whenever. So: congrats! Welcome to the YHIMITMH (yee-him-it-meh) Zone. Let’s start killing stuff.
Actually, put that sword down. We’re going to jump into another memory, involving another person, in a scene that is an embodiment of this zone at it’s finest. In order to protect this person’s identity (their shitty, shitty identity), let’s call them Suck Lady. Suck Lady, well, sucks. She sucks. Like, really sucks. She’s the living embodiment of suckage. 100% suck. You get the idea.
Through the cosmic douchebaggery that is Destiny, Suck Lady and I have a thing. Like, a thing thing. We date. We fall in love. We become co-dependent. It would’ve be great, except she sucked. Sucks. Never stopped sucking.
Anyway, eventually the inevitable happens and one of us implodes. We break up and, after a surprisingly brief period of mourning, I’m back to my old self. I see her hanging out by the library, sucking. ‘Wow,’ I think happily to myself as I pass and pretend not to notice. ‘Wow, I’m proud I’m not with her any more.’
But all isn’t right. In our Break-Up Contract, in the fine print, we managed to insert a clause. A very important clause. The vital clause went something like this:
“Hey, listen: we love each other, right? We just need time to grow. This isn’t goodbye, so tilt your chin up and smile. One day, once we’ve both reached some unspecific metric of growth, we can come back and live the rest of our lives together and happy. Kapish?”
Kapish. So, when I walk past Suck Lady and get to think, “Boy, I’m happy I’m not with her,” at the back of my mind there’s this ticking time bomb of inevitability, this anxious grind towards the eventual moment when we’re a couple again. It’s slight, but it’s there, always there, growling in it’s cage, pawing at the meat just out of reach — and soon enough, I’ll get a chance to let it loose.
A few days later, her best friend messages me. “Suck Lady’s in a bad place”, he says in numb generic font. “She really misses you. She wants to see you. “
Right now, I’m in a good place. I’m growing, as per the clause. I’m experiencing new friendships, new experience, and new emotions that are all unimpeded by the overwhelming suck of Suck Lady. Right now, things are pretty freaking great.
But of course I agree to see her. I’m lazy — I shrug the bars off the cage, open the door, let out the stupid metaphor that’s been festering in the last few sentences and allow it to drag me towards something I don’t want. ‘Mush,’ I whisper to it, knowingly hurtling towards oblivion. ‘Mush.’
And oblivion I hit. Let’s call it — the damage of that oblivion — a scar, a twisted, ugly thing etched on the top of my brain. But that’s for another story, at another time.
Why did I do that? Why did I let a sled of bad thoughts and ideas pull me into yet another shitstorm that ended up causing lasting damage? And, I know, I promised that some unpacking would get done in this section, but by posing more questions we actually get to dive deeper, hit at the root of this whole problem. Remember which zone we’re in, the Your-Happiness-Is-More-Important-Than-My-Happiness zone? That story was basically the embodiment of that philosophy. So let’s talk about why I said yes.
I: So, Erik, why did you say “yes, of course I’ll meet with you even though I know in my logical heart-of-hearts that this is quite possibly the worst thing I can do right now considering your own personal happiness?”
E: Well, see, it wasn’t about my happiness, it was about her happiness. And not just about her, Suck Lady, but everyone: I don’t tend to do things for my own happiness, but other people’s, or at least my perception of other people’s happiness.
I: And why do you think that is?
E: Well, I guess I don’t see my own happiness as ‘valid’. That’s part of it, at least. I think that me being happy is somehow ‘selfish’, and that by paying attention to other people’s happiness over my own I will be happier. Of course, that then leads to me saying yes to things I don’t want to do, and sticking with things for longer than I should, and generally just upsetting the mental applecart, so to speak.
I: You mentioned that that was “part of it”; what are some other parts you haven’t talked about?
E: Well, I think that I legitimately do get happy at other people’s happiness. Sometimes. I mean, obviously, when you’re in love it’s probably a good idea to be happy for your significant other and do things that would then make them happy, and I liked doing that, I guess…
I: You “guess”? Doesn’t sound very promising to me.
E: Well, here’s the thing. The more I think about it, the less I think I’m actually doing things for other people’s happiness. It’s like I know my happiness is there, buried deep down in a cave, but I keep taking the wrong route down to get it and always end up on another ledge with happiness just out of reach. So doing things based on other people’s happiness is one of those bad routes in the cave that leads me to like a bear’s den, or something like that. But there are other routes in the cave, and each of them I view as less legitimate and more selfish than the route I’ve always taken, and so I lead myself again and again to this same spot, with what I want close but always out of reach. So when it comes down to me trying to find that happiness, I revert back to the route I’ve always taken. I mean, I agreed to meet with Suck Lady because I knew she wanted to, not because I wanted to — so in that instance I was doing it for her. And with the boys as well —
I: The two men you mentioned at the top, Fransisco and Kevin?
E: Yeah, them, but others too. Boys in general. They always want to go back to someone’s place, and do ‘the sex’, but that’s almost never what I want. So I find myself saying yes to these things, and going through with them, and worrying the whole time about how they’re feeling, if they’re enjoying it — and counting the hours until it’s over.
I: You’ve started every answer with a “well” so far, except for the last. How do you feel about that?
I: It was a joke.
I: Back to the interview: you still haven’t said how it’s not just about other people’s happiness.
E: Right. It’s also about validation. Knowing I’m attractive, or someone that people want to hang out with. Knowing that someone wants to do something with me, no matter how much I don’t want to do it with them. Knowing that holy fuck I’ll be a failure forever if I don’t take every opportunity I get.
I: Wait a minute, that sounds like a different zone.
E: It does indeed.
I: Does that mean —
E: That we’ve reached our end? That me and you are done? Do you feel like we’ve reached a conclusion?That you’ll have to wait to find out how these two zones relate? That we’ve come to —
I: A cliffhanger?
[*a long pause*]
[*lights go down*]