My friend Becca and I met when we were 24, newly hatched in Chicagoland and starting a course in improv theater. When people say “I’m in a bad place” or “I’m just not in that place”, they don’t mean geographically, they mean (usually) a place in time and mindframe. But to visualize: When Becca and I met, my “place” looked like an empty lot, weedy and surrounded by chainlink, with one sad green armchair in the middle under a somewhat promising oak tree and a small stack of books and a TV with an antenae, but otherwise: a wasteland; so blank that it meant opportunity and the absence of opportunity, all at once. I hated everything. I loved everything.
All at once.
Becca and I came up with a few shorthand phrases during this tumultuous time, including The Doom Spiral. It’s basically this: You worry about something. And then you call someone (usually an involved party) to tell them you’re worrying about it. And then maybe that phone call doesn’t contain a good sense of closure and you realize you sort of sounded crazy or like an asshole, and then after you hang up you worry about the phone call, and then (worst case) you call back again and apologize. But then that still feels weird. And you can’t call back. You can’t. You can’t call again. But you just sit there staring at the phone in self-loathing, and then you hate yourself for getting so worked up, and then you can’t believe you’re wasting all this time on self-loathing. It’s a bad scene. It happens.
It still happens. Even now. When I sometimes like to think I’ve populated my weedy abandoned lot with people and whimsical sculpture and a cottage ringed by geraniums. Sometimes, still, the doom spiral appears, sweeping up the whole scene in a tornado cloud. Your place is suddenly no place. And all you can do is put the phone down, take a walk, go for hot chocolate, and remember that being human means sucking at it, sometimes.