"Hypomanic Highway: Ode to Koalafornia" (Part 1)
a personal essay by Matty Daley
Oh, I love you, I still care
All my affection's there
I will walk with you
To the end of the passage
My little koala type bear
Hypomania is easily the side effect of bi-polar disorder I fear the most. A part from the mood swings, being prone to bouts of depression, social anxiety, and irrational thoughts, hypomania is far less noticeable when it hits. Especially, when the 'episode' -- how the occurrence of hypomania is referred to as -- comes from a seemingly positive mindset. I've had episodes that resulted in volcanic bursts of creativity, self-imposed heartbreak and, one time, a suicide attempt. In May of 2017, I had one of these seemingly positive episodes.
Barren Lands, Lush Forests, Brake & Gas
You can't always see hypomania coming. Sometimes, especially, when a negative episode is about to occur, hypomania is as visible as King Kong climbing the Empire State Building. Other times, it is as elusive as a rainbow. I have three medications as a part of my bi-polar regulation routine -- two I take in the morning and one I take as needed for anxiety (up to four times a day, but rarely more than the once at bedtime, when the end-of-the-day racing thoughts are off to the Indy 500).
I cannot take credit for the following metaphor. My psychiatrist at my intensive outpatient program (IOP) won't take credit for it, either, despite his using it regularly to describe bi-polar disorder to patients (apparently, it is the brain child of one of his mentors). It is a brilliant metaphor and I won't even attempt to find a better one.
Most peoples' bodies operate the vehicle at a healthy speed of 55 to 75MPH. For people with bi-polar disorder, the speed at which the body operates fluctuates more rapidly. During a depressive state, the body can slow to a speed of 10 to 25 MPH. For manics (bi-polar type 1), during this "manic" state (the upswing side), the body can speed up to a state of 120 MPH; when the manic blows by a cop on the highway, they will keep driving at this speed without regard to the cop and the potential consequences. For hypo-manics (bi-polar type 2 -- my diagnosis), during a "hypo-manic" state, the body can speed up to a state of 90 MPH; when the hypo-manic blows past the cop, they will slow the car down but, when they have reached a "safe enough" distance from the cop, they will resume the speed of 90 MPH.
The upswing episode of a manic is always a dangerous speed when untreated. The hypo-manic's state can be unsafe in more crowded highway settings like, let's say, in a densely populated state, i.e. New Jersey; however, driving on a country highway like in Kansas (where speed limits reach 80 MPH) a hypo-manic's state-of-mind may not even be noticeable to the generally, non-psychiatrically educated person; whereas the manic's state-of-mind will, almost certainly, appear "off" some how. For the hypo-manic, this is very dangerous news -- not to the public, for the individual and their well-being.
This is where medications play their part to balance the vehicle axels. There are two basic forms of medication for treating mental health disorders of this nature. We will refer to them as the "brake" and the "gas pedal." The brake keeps the vehicle in check, by regulating emotions. The "gas" keeps the fluid, that the brake takes control of, in a healthy, regular flow. With the right mix and match of engine oils under the hood, the vehicle operates in both a physical and metaphysical dynamic that is relative to all other living vehicles.
Living vehicles have hopes, dreams, a will to live, and desire to thrive. We get thirsty, hungry, tired, and energized. We live in relativity to the Earth, which thrives or dies according to our relativity to it. That is why our relativity to each other matters. That's why our mental health matters. We come from different, distant places relative to each other, but our relativity to reality all exists on the same plane. I drove across the United States, from New Jersey to California, to get out and experience this relativity for myself. To disconnect with my screens and connect to the bigger picture.
The Bridge Kangaroos Made of Intestines
I went to California to chase a dream. And a boy. Neither of which I found there. But I did make some awesome friends and have unforgettable experiences that I'll always remember. Oh, California. I desire to call you home, but I love New Jersey, too. But New Jersey is like a wasteland that's still waiting to be gardened, again. The City of Los Angeles is the City of Lost Angels. It is a sunny paradise and a haunted town of dreams humidifying the atmosphere, and makes it impossible for angels to fly. It is so hot and hungry for oxygen, yet, there is so much hope and beauty condensed into one place that it suffocates some days. I love it still. But I also love New Jersey. If only dreams came true in New Jersey. In New Jersey, the cisgender guys are much more cruel, less educated about trans girl issues. Boys are attracted to me, many of them I find attractive. But the unfamiliar aspects that come with being a trans girl scares them away -- combinations of both prejudice and ignorance. I am alone. So I went to California...
About a boy. Boys are stupid and mean and I hate them, but I love them, too. Out in California there's a boy. (I'll always call men boys in the romantic context, I think the implication that the hearts of men are perpetually childish is fitting.) This boy and I had a missed moment more than seven years ago. If our misconnect were the result of some seven year bad luck curse, it's been long enough now that it would have rectified itself. It hasn't, we never met again. So it wasn't a curse. It was just the result of rotten, bad luck. One of those moments like the opening scene of that John Cusack / Kate Beckinsale rom-com, Serendipity. But there hasn't been one of those ice rink happy endings.
About that missed connection. I had no idea I was going to meet him. He was on some TV show, and it drew in like a half-million viewers weekly. And I found him so compelling, interesting, and adorable. His story was the most interesting among the cast. Of course, it didn't hurt that he was living a queer experience like me. At some point during the show's season. I got to go to some convention in Boston with the activity planning executive board I was on during Junior year of college. So we were in Boston. We stayed in a nice hotel. It was a Marriott or some hotel like that. I got to meet Jamie Kennedy (and totally SCREAM nerd girl'd out), one of the Ghost Hunters, and Snooki. There were stand-up comedy acts with people that have their own TV shows now. And some funky fresh music acts. I met Jackie Tohn in her pre-GLOW period; she was sweet, cool, and wicked smart. And then, it became...
About a boy. (Again.) On the second day of the convention, there he was. He walked in the door and I froze in my tracks. I was just walking away from the table he was going to, where some other TV stars dished out the premise of their campus lectures. I like campus lectures, they're real, compelling, and inspiring. Real people being real with young people. And there he was, the real live him. I froze in my tracks. He seemed a little different in person. His look, I mean. It was a good different, though, an energy, a stride, a growing sense of confidence. He walked in like he owned himself. I didn't know what to do. I turned away and went in the opposite direction.
But I went back. Later that afternoon, after I took a group shot with Snooki, who's also super sweet, by the way, I faced his table. It was only a couple of tables away, at the end of this one particular aisle, in a giant warehouse full of aisles peddling peddlers. In that moment, I only had eyes for one. I made my way to the table and made light conversation with somebody else at the table, while he was wrapping up another conversation. After, he inserted himself into our conversation, listening at first, and then engaging, too. I remember feeling charmed immediately. Goddamn princes. About a half hour conversation bloomed at that point, before other people stopped by for their hellos. I had more acquaintances to make as well. But I decided then that I had to organize a panel talk with a few of these LGBTQ-friendly stars. And he had to be among them.
About that kiss. A lot of things led up to, a lot of feelings were stirred in me, a lot of it was just because I was fed up with a lot of things, and standing up for myself just felt like the right thing to do. But about that boy. There's always something to do with love when you do something like that. At least, I never said there wasn't. I correct people that Bobby and I are not and have never been boyfriends. We were and are still only friends. Bobby was standing up for himself, too, and for his boyfriend. We were both fed up. And this crazy World Record Kiss was physically challenging in ways we found unimaginable -- the rules, the pressure, the sudden impact, the hurt, the terror, the freedom, the ability to stay in the moment, the mastery of isolation, and so many other demands on the mind and body. Among so many years of things that I've learned and felt being an LGBTQ person, what we've gone through, what we go through, one of those things going through my mind was a boy. And it wasn't the boy I was kissing. He was the boy I met seven months back. After his show ended is when I proposed the idea of the kiss to Bobby, who was up for the fight. Bobby had his boy to stand up for. And I had one on a platform that I wanted to stand with. He lived far away, but I was eager to show him that I was capable of extraordinary things, too. The kiss was about so many things. And among those things for me: it was about a boy.
About a month later. Fast forward. It's the end of October. Some how, I pulled it off. He's here. On campus. The same ground where I just broke this world record with my friend. The same place that sent me on this wild, month-long ride of activism and parties and interviews for this one little (big) Kiss. And here he was, some boy that I wanted to kiss. He and his tv show work colleagues did their talk in this big, empty theater with like a hundred kids there. It was a small crowd for that theater space, but it was a Tuesday night and nobody was using it, so why not? After their talk, we took some group shots in front of the Pride Month closet doors (I still have the pic). We walked them to their ride. They told us where they were headed out in the city. He told me that he hoped to see me there. As it happened, I'd already planned to hit up the same club with some friends. It was our usual Tuesday night. I didn't have any classes the next morning, so it was a good way to blow off steam.
And he was going to be there. The boy. At last, destiny or fate or maybe just a happy mistake of timing was finally putting us in the same place at the same time, without any business pressures. I had nothing else to offer him, nothing for him to gain, other than my company. For us to get to know each other. And now I'd broken this world record and, maybe, this curse of ongoing lovesickness I chronically feel. I was going to see him outside in the world, where we would have the freedom of conversation that could carry us anywhere.
And then, it all got mixed up. You see, I was off and on with this other boy at the time. We weren't on at the start of the night. My friends and I got to the club. Splash was a pretty big club. Hours go by. I chat with his colleague friends on the sidewalks outside, puffing on cigarettes. One of them is transgender and was/is a model. I am almost six years away from realizing I am transgender, too. They tell me he's inside somewhere. I look for him more, but more time goes by. It seems, the universe didn't want us to meet. Me? I did not want to go home alone. The end of the night rolls around and sort-of on again, off again, which had been off at the start of the night, turned on again by night's end. At least, I wouldn't have to go home alone, now, would I?
And if only I'd waited. It was the final hour, the last minutes of the night. And there he is. Crossing the dance floor. With his shirt off and hanging out the back of his jeans as a twink-look-alike-of-me, who was also cute, led him to the back stairwell that led downstairs to a dance floor with a more intimate setting. I was leaning side-by-side with on again, being bubbly because I get bubbly (and blundering) when I'm under the influence of alcohol. And if I'd only just waited. Would it have mattered? His flight was in the morning. There wasn't much time for conversation. And we were both hungry. For something intimate, sexual. It was a byproduct of being in our early 20's. I always want to be intimate, before I get to the sexual parts. And so, it seemed, that it wasn't meant to be -- him and me. Not in the way I'd want it to start off as being.
And then there was that moment. I can't get it out of my head. It comes and goes as the years have gone on since then. But it's clear in my mind, if only for a moment. There we were. About twenty feet from each other across the dance floor, each of us with a boy in tow on our arms. He stops and I stop. And our eyes meet. We are so confused. He peeks at my look-alike on his arm, I take gander at on-again on mine. We look back at each other and both seem so confused. Why are we with the people that we're with? Shouldn't I be with you? I just made a mistake, right? Our eyes stay there for a minute or so, locked onto each other, before our respective dates pull our focus away from one another. I have yet to forget it. It's been nearly eight years and I still replay that memory from time to time.
A moment unfinished. Sometimes, I can't let it go. Things that happen and, then, don't have an ending, closure. Sometimes I learn it's for the best and, less often, I find that I just need to know how it all (still) might play out. This is one of those very less often moments. Sure, I fall in love with other people's charm and/or confidence on the regular. But fall IN love with a guy... on a mental, physical, and opposing, but perfectly symmetrical spiritual level. It was invigorating. As a Libra, for me, it was like finally getting to see what's on the other side of the scale -- balance, harmony, and the grass is greener together, if we build a bridge between my watery blue eyes and his leafy green ones. A moment where I can see two sides of the same picture in an uninhibited minute of time. Two eyes that met for a moment.
And the moment was gone. The years flew by. 2016 came around. I remembered him and that moment. Three months later, I had a bottom of the rollercoaster episode, and my first scary hypomanic breakdown. When I ended up in the hospital, I thought about that moment. I think about it now. I've come a long way since 2016, but I go back in time to that moment. I try to bring it into the present. There is a legend that a bunch of kangaroos took a part koalas and used their intestines to build a bridge from their end to the mainland, over the ocean. (Or maybe it was a tribe and it was the kangaroos that cut off the koalas tails? I may be mixing up legends here, which would be metaphorically appropriate in a matter of speaker, I guess.) Horrible and disgusting, right? But that's the way that legend goes. With chronic lovesickness, I feel like the butterflies in my stomach are those koalas, after their intestines have been ripped out. I didn't want to feel that way anymore.
And so, a year later, in 2017, I went to the west coast. It was about a boy. And...
Row, Row, Row the Boat of Dreams, Koala
I was chasing a dream. I didn't know where to find it. But I was sure I'd find it out in California. Like the western sunset would illuminate it to me, before I'd return to the east coast to greet the new sunrise days. I got in my car one morning in May, and I was off to California to chase a dream and I was going to find it. Boy or no boy, I was going to make a dream come true. Just as in further mythology, where the koalas row a village of people to their new continental mainland, bringing them safe passage to a new place of freedom, I was going to find my new passage of freedom across the mainland of America, home of the Dream. At least, I was hoping it still was the home of dreams. I wasn't so sure anymore. But I was going to see the country for myself and find a dream at the other end of the melting pot rainbow. I was sure of it. This was going to be my year, my time to shine.
I was going some place and when I'd get there I had no idea where I was going to go. The road to California was a daze and days long. I didn't have a firm plan to begin with. Just an idea, a general direction to head west, and street smarts from the shadier aspects of my childhood days "on the wrong side of the tracks." I had Siri to guide me, an army of apps, and friends to see on the road along the way. I would be okay come all hell breaking loose (should the apocalypse suddenly happen). Not a thing could stop me from reaching the other end of the American rainbow. I was going to find this dream and take it on the road with me home. The American road trip was both beautiful and lonely. I hoped a dream could keep me company, if only for a memory we'd share.
It wasn't as easy as wanting it, however. I've lost count of how many things I tried to reach this dream out there, how many people I reached out to both known and unknown to me. I scoured my contacts list for anyone that may be able to help, that could empathize with my plight and my experiences. I sent e-mails to people who were either acquaintances or strangers. I even stood in line for a half hour at the post office in Echo Park to send a proposal to a small production company that had had some minor successes, but was on the up-and-up. The package came back to me four months later, unopened, and never retrieved the return stampage said. Still to have this day, I don't know if the company's P.O. box mailing address, which was once listed on their website but no longer is, was defunct or if they had simply chosen to ignore my delivery.
I reached out to an acquaintance I had spent some time with when I had a brief, albeit, steamy affair with a Hollywood A-lister, whom worked for their production company. I even reached out the the A-lister (we ended things on friendly and mutually agreed good terms), but I didn't hear back from them. I did, however, hear from the acquaintance. They invited me to meet up with me at LA Pride, which I had already planned on attending. In fact, we did meet up. I spent the better portion of the day with them and met some of their friends -- one of which was a casting director for a major studio. I watched as aspiring actors at clubs attempted to solicit themselves to this casting director. Eventually, the pair settled on playing a game: pretending to be a waiter and an insurance agent, so as not to be bothered by such brash (and drunk mess) hopefuls.
I didn't feel like one of those hopefuls. I hadn't seen this acquaintance for some years, but they expressed having fond memories of our adventures together with my former fling. I treated this person and their friend with respect, connecting on their level as best I could. They treated me with respect in return and did not attempt to dodge my questions as they did to the others. I kept my questions to a minimum, which I could tell they appreciated, and simply decided to enjoy their friendly company; I could tell that both of them appreciated this. I found that we had more in common than I anticipated -- from our community activisms and desires to give back hope where we were able to -- and it turned into a genuinely awesome day, one of my favorites during my month-long LA visit. They even introduced me to the most amazing and delicious West Hollywood ice cream parlor. I love ice cream.
My acquaintance ended up soliciting my screenplay for him to read over. I had to sign a contract, which protected my rights as a writer and assured me they would not steal my ideas without due compensation. I did not hear back from them during my visit. In fact, I did not hear back for almost nine months, the following (this) year. Of course, despite my deepest and hopeful wishes, they did not green light my ultra low budget feature. Instead, I received some valid (and some not-so-valid) areas for improvement and honest, constructive criticism of the work in question. In fact, the revising of said work should be easier than I anticipated. I was complimented for the work's subtlety, which to me is the highest form of compliment that any screenplay can receive.
I kept in mind the exchange my we had had at LA Pride. I told them how much that I appreciated them agreeing to review my work, knowing they're an extremely busy person; they were involved in producing several blockbuster films and a hit TV series. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity for feedback and approval. I said to them, "You're the expert and words cannot express how much I appreciate your expert opinion." They responded with sincerity, "I don't know that I'm any more an expert than you are. But I am happy to give it a look." And they stayed true to this word. There ARE still good people working in Hollywood. Remember this, hopefuls. In fact, I found the budding artists culture and community of Los Angeles to be very supportive each other's ambitions, quite contrary to my experiences with the New York entertainment scene where everyone is cut throat and seemingly out to get one another. God, I love Los Angeles.
All Koalas have Chlamydia: Not Yet Part II
I don't have Chlamydia. (*knock on wood*) But I do have bi-polar disorder and do suffer from depression and anxiety. All of which can be treated, in equal parts, with medication and therapy. For the next nine months, following my trip, these aspects of my mental health grew exponentially. I was sure my acquaintance had forgotten about me or that I had said something wrong and off-putting. But I hadn't. As I already knew, they were an extremely busy person, who was, indeed, happy to help out when time permitted. Of course, my hopes felt crushed when I was not offered funding for the film and only received their honest feedback. However, I was (am) on the right side track, took the right road, and, now, just had to keep pushing.
I still don't see the finish line. It's nowhere in my sights, I have no idea how far away it is or what direction to travel in. But I keep on pushing my feet forward, running the rat race, determined to live the life that I dreamed of since I was in kindergarten (no seriously, I identified my career ambitions in kindergarten and have the childhood academic projects to prove it). People out there are listening, though, and rooting for me to succeed. I wonder why they don't offer further assistance and the chance to rise out of working class poverty, to have the same opportunities that others took a chance on them with. Maybe it isn't meant to be in the many ways I pictured it may turn out. Or maybe it is and the timing just hasn't caught up with me yet. But I wake up everyday hopeful that today is the day, even though, it's never been the day.
I keep exploring, exhausting, every single avenue for success that my human mind can think of, in regards to both my career and my love life. Were this moments truly missed opportunities, my schizo-typical thoughts at work, premonitions of a future to come, or just the necessary struggles the universe needed to illuminate to me, so I can better appreciate success when it does arrive. I say "when" and not "if" because I don't want to reside to the fact that some (most?) hopefuls just do not make it in the elusive land of stardom and entertainment. I don't want to be one of these people. I want to know firsthand that you CAN grow up poor, work your ass off, live through the painful struggles of living a life everyday that brings dissatisfaction and leaves me utterly both mentally and physically exhausting.
I am grateful, however. If you're reading this my acquaintance friend, thank you for bringing a sliver light of hope back into my search, pushing my to keep working harder and harder each and every day. I do not -- EVER -- plan to give up on pursuing my dreams. I deserve happiness as much as the next person, however it is meant to unfold. Also, I deserve to be loved. If you are reading this my missed connection lover, know that I still think of that moment and wonder most days if something so potentially wonderful passed my heart by. As with my career dreams, I never plan to give up hope of finding a love like that.
Perhaps, that's what I was supposed to find in California: hope, reflection, and the assurance that there IS a chance, even if it isn't shouting at me from the rooftops. This is what happens alone on the road on a cross-country trip: you shout at the world, loudly and proudly singing along with its accompanying radio, even when it doesn't shout back. But it hums. Far below and right there on the surface of our subconsciouses, the universe hums. And even if you can't hear it, it cheers. As I heard Ed Sheeran sing dozens of times, as I drove along the endless 80 MPH highway of Kansas, "I'm on my way. Driving like 90 on these old country lanes. Singing to Tiny Dancer. I miss the way you make me feel."
I miss you, California. But I'll be back. Come hell or high water or an avalanche from the mountaintops of Colorado, just a day's drive away from Los Angeles. For, I am a tiny dancer. Hold me, closer.
There's more to tell. So much can happen in a month in LA. I met so many other amazing, talented, beautiful people. I can't wait to tell you about them in Part II.
Stay tuned for more hypomanic coolness.
*No koalas were harmed in the drafting or publication of this personal essay.
**Author's Note: I wrote half of this essay about a month ago and the other half a month later, without rereading the first half. I spent very little time reviewing, revising and editing this essay. Rumination is unhealthy. Putting emotion and experience to work with pen on paper, however, is liberating. If you notice spelling and/or grammatical errors, PLEASE, feel free to point them out in the comments below. Occasionally, I may misspell a word (I am human, after all.) Often, Siri will incorrectly correct my uses of "their," "there," and "they're," without me catching her error. Sometimes, my record player brain skips and I repeat a phrase I repeat a phrase. However, if you point out a discrepancy regarding the use of a comma before or after "but," "instead," and the (not dead) Oxford comma, I may debate you. Or I may concede. Language is beautiful and I love to converse about its use.
***Comments of encouragement are highly encouraged, even more so. They may lead to more essays written. <3
"The Love Itch Dream to Quit Smoking"
a personal essay by Matty Daley
Cigarette smoking is easily my grossest habit that others -- family, friends, and strangers -- are quick to point out. What they don't realize is that I am fully aware this is my worst human habit, and getting down on me about it only makes it worse. There are many onion layer factors that have led to me smoking cigarettes. Don't worry, I recognize these do not excuse what I know is a disgusting and incredibly unhealthy habit. However, it does not make it any easier to quit smoking.
How I Got Here: Boys are Heartless
It all started with a frat boy. I remember my first cigarette with immense clarity in my memory. Sophomore year of college, I was writing a paper. I don't remember what class it was for, but I remember the feeling that made me leave my dorm room and take that ill-fated trek to the local 7-11. It was late in the evening, around 11PM, a time when most college students feel the last minute crunch of revising and editing before tomorrow's due date. I know it was a Tuesday night because Tuesdays were the weekday party night on campus, since there were only morning and evening classes on Wednesdays -- afternoons on Wednesdays were reserved for extra-curricular club and faculty meetings -- and students only elected to take these courses if they were required to by their majors. Or if the class was above-average interesting. I elected not to party that night because I wanted to maintain my above 3.5 GPA and had my weekly Student Government Meeting the next afternoon. There was far too much to do to ready myself for the next day.
I couldn't concentrate on getting anything done. Admittedly, I am guilty of chronic lovesickness. At the 7-11, there was this gorgeous guy. He had to be around my age group, but he wasn't a student at The College of New Jersey (my alma mater.) Occasionally, I stopped into the 7-11 to get a Slurpee -- my Springtime and Summer addiction -- and chocolate -- another one of my continuos addictions. I was so boy, sex, and love-starved that the chance to spend even thirty seconds with a guy that made my pulse quicken was as close to heaven as I felt in a vacuum of loneliness. The guy had Ravenclaw blue eyes and exquisite hands (I don't know why, but I find hands to be incredibly attractive.) He was straight; I'd caught him flirting with some of the collegiate female customers. But nonetheless, any excuse to get my visual boy fix was excuse enough, as far as I was concerned. Suddenly, the desire to escape my mental overload -- both driven by stressful academics and lovesickness -- discovered an unhealthy loophole.
Marlboro Lights were my first spark of nicotine addiction. When I returned to my dorm building with both my Slurpee and pack of cigarettes, there was another hot guy standing alone outside the building; let's call him Rico (that's not his real name, by the way.) Rico was a member of the fraternity I almost pledged the previous, Fall semester. The Fall was a often a slow pledge season because the freshman couldn't pledge until the Spring. IF any of the fraternities or sororities took on new pledges, they were mostly small classes. In this case, the fraternity elected not to take on the responsibility of a Fall pledge class because there would have only been five pledges, which consists of a lot of extra work for such a limited number of guys. I had been informed by insiders at the fraternity that there was much debate about the inclusion of my membership. The other guys, all of which lived on my dormitory floor that year, were, basically, unanimously voted in. In the end, I was selected by the skin of my teeth with a two-thirds vote -- just enough to receive a pledge bid -- because I would have been there first -- drumroll, please -- openly gay brother. But I was Class President and a Student Ambassador, which meant both administrative clout and knowing I would be eager to participate in Homecoming and Greek competition events, both of which were important to all of the Greek organizations on-campus.
Following the final round of pledge season interviews, my insider connections had informed me that, given I grew up with three brothers of my own and desired that sort of connection on-campus, they felt a kinship to my personality and honestly and wholeheartedly wanted me in their family; the guys that wanted to exclude me were openly homophobic. Come Springtime, I attempted to receive another pledge big, but competition was fiercer with the newly available Freshman and spots were to join limited. I mistakenly adopted a goofier attitude to win the affections of the guys who didn't want me and it backfired. I did not receive a big. To this day, I am filled with mixed emotions of regret and feeling as though this was a blessing in disguise. If I had been a member of the fraternity, I am not certain that this course of events would have led me to break the World Record for the Longest Continuous Kiss in the name of LGBTQ equality. I guess we'll never know.
Getting back to Rico. He was all alone outside our dorm, standing on the grate against the side of the building, which was a popular place to smoke. I don't recall what his cigarette poison of choice was, but there he was about to spark one. He had recently joined the ranks of Student Ambassadors -- the most coveted and desired employment on campus -- and so I had just gotten to know him a bit better. Being his polite self, he said, "Hello." I said, "Hello" to him, and took an appropriately distanced position next to him on the grate and pulled out my new pack of smokes. Mischievously, he smiled at me. One of his best physical qualities was his smile; he had dimples and could melt ice cream with that look on his face. I don't remember his exact choice of words, but I reimagine he said something along the surprise of, "Matty Daley, you're smoking?!" (In college I adopted the nickname 'Matty' to make myself differentiated from all of the other Matts on campus, recalling a day in the quad, when someone shouted, "Matt" and five of us turned around; also, my cousins called me 'Matty Patty' growing up and, although, I claimed to hate it, I confess now that I secretly loved it.) Rico went on, "I always thought of you as a good two-shoes." I likely smirked and responded to him along the lines of, "We all have out vices. And I don't do this often." I didn't want to admit this was my first cigarette or make it seem like I was trying to be "cool" because I wasn't trying to be cool; I was trying to connect. I spent a blissful five minutes with Rico, who finished his smoke first and retreated into Decker Hall, leaving me alone outside. In hindsight, it was a perfect metaphor: cigarettes were what kept me from feeling alone, despite the painfully described truth that I was, in fact, very much within a world of loneliness.
Rico wasn't even at the top of my list of crushes. Truthfully, I'm not sure that any particular guy in college was. Sure, I'd had a devastating crush or two, which are topics in their own for other very personal essays. But there was certainly a list; actually, it was more like a baseball roster. Not that I desired to deviantly run rampant down the list. Again, the loneliness. I didn't want to be alone and I was desperate to do anything to cure this lovesickness. It was long time before I could quietly admit it to myself, but smoking cigarettes was my rebellious way of declaring that boys suck and I hated and loved them all at the same time.
What Kept Me Going: the Party Monster
My first pack of Marlboro Lights lasted somewhere around three to four weeks. Over the years, I tried different brands, declaring each one the fated flavor of my soul. In the beginning, I sought choice moments to sneak a smoke. Usually, to be in the company of so-called "heartless" boys who, occasionally, where anything but -- even if, they did not love me in the ways I wanted to be loved. There were times, however, where I felt as genuinely acceptable company and a reassuring cohort in this cigarette deviousness.
The very first time I went to a gay club was on my eighteenth birthday, a month into Freshman year. (I'm an end of September baby.) I went with the PRISM kids (the LGBTQ club on-campus) to Colosseum, in what would be its final year open for business. It was an experience I can only describe as eye-opening. There were beautiful Adonis go-go boys impenetrable to touch and a drag show. It was a world I'd only ever witness on sneaky late-night sessions watching Queer as Folk as a teenager, after my parents had gone to bed. To my amazement, there was a place like Babylon that actually existed, and where I could go to escape among other people who were sort of like me.
At that time, I had not been a smoker. I was a dancer and loved the disco lights. However, after that ill-fated April in my Sophomore year, and when I started to frequent other open gay establishments like New Brunswick's The Den and Deko Nightclub in Sayreville, NJ, I joined the smoking sheep on the crowded outdoor patios on the weekends. Before I knew it, New York City enticed me and I'd travel with friends to Twink Tuesdays at Splash or the under-21 Friday nights at Rush. School was stressful, as I maintained my Dean's List GPA, worked two part-time jobs, and remained involved in on-campus activities. I was surrounded by straight people everywhere I turned. I felt I needed these escapes to function, to be myself without judgement and homophobia.
Other boys and daddies lit my cigarettes. Few people judged each other at these clubs for smoking. Likely, we addicts kept close to our cigarettes because we were all in this same boat of loneliness, despite being gifted with the company of each other. Friendship, however, is not the same as medication for lovesickness. At its best, friendship is reassurance of selfhood; at its worst, friendship is false validation of our worst qualities, both instigated and (un)reasonably rationalized. In this case, cigarette smoking was friendship at its worst. Most of us knew, deep down, that quitting these poison substitutes for love was the healthy thing to do. But because of them we find an excuse to socialize outside the dance floor on cool summer nights, away from the remixed noise.
A plethora of factors, outside of my club hopping agenda, contributed to my abuse of nicotine. Sophomore year of college was, also, when I first tried marijuana. I did not know this would lead to a rampant cannabis abuse, largely made possibly by a mental health disorder I did not become aware of until I was twenty-six. Although, I do believe marijuana to contain incredible, helpful health-boosting qualities, people with mental health disorders like me run the serious risk of abusing substances of this nature. As well, I experimented with MDMA, LSD, and one time mushrooms. A natural course of action when I ingested marijuana smoke was a cigarette dessert. Smoking weed without a nicotine follow-up felt unnatural to me; for me, the two went hand-in-hand.
In my early twenties, for three years, I did not speak with my mother. Of course, this was for very personal reasons and would, also, require an entirely other personal essay to detail, so I will not share the details of such here. During this time, I was rescued by a pair of individuals, who provided me sanctuary for three years, and provided monetary support to pursue opportunities that, otherwise, given my life circumstances of growing up in property as "white trash," I would not have been able to do. The cons outweighed the pros, though, because one of these individuals smoked almost two packs of cigarettes a day and the other was a marijuana abuser, as well. Both of my vices filled the house like a preamble smoke fire and became endlessly available like a bottomless bag of tricky treats from a mystical nanny. I was invited to live in my own personal hell.
The Search for a Cure: Hellbent Madness
Nine years later, I find it impossible to kick this smoking habit that consumes me and spoils my body. I dread reaching the ten year mark, feeling no pride in almost being a decade deep in cigarettes. Aside from the physical addictive qualities: nicotine, oral fixation, and something to do with my jittery hands, I find mostly psychological comfort in cigarettes. At twenty-eight-years-old, I continue my unending battle with loneliness.
Now, I identify as a transgender girl, after two years of psychotherapy, which finally helped me reach this personal, physical realization I was both unaware of and unable to admit to myself. Of course, in the more than ten years I spent identifying as a gay man, from ages fifteen to twenty-six, the worldview of trans people has rapidly changed and become increasingly more accepting; even though, there is still a long road of understanding ahead to be had by much of the cisgender public. Irregardless, boys are still heartless, and even more so now. I am unable to identify with gay men in a dating capacity and straight, cisgender males are forty-nine times out of fifty cruel and ignorant. I find the best luck with bisexual men, who are often hesitant to begin any more than a physical relationship with a trans girl. My only options appear to be bouts of mostly meaningless sexual encounters. The battle of loneliness rages on.
Years or lovesickness eventually led to hypomanic sickness. In 2016, I had a scary mental breakdown. I packed a bag, went to Target and bought camping supplies, then set off for High Point State Park in the northern hemisphere of New Jersey with the intention to hike the Appalachian trail, until my food and water supplies ran out, and Mother Nature would welcome the rot of my body with open arms unto whatever afterlife awaits beyond our Earth. I ended up being discovered by State Park police, who gave me the only option of a hospital check-up. Begrudgingly, I agreed and, subsequently, "voluntarily," was committed to a behavioral psychology ward for one week. This was when I discovered that I had a mental health disorder. It was, also, my first and only successful attempt at quitting cigarettes.
Obamacare-provided Medicaid paid for my hospital stay. In a hospital setting, they do not allow you cigarettes. Any poison I had left in my possession from my hike was confiscated upon my arrival (but not before the very kind officer who found me allowed me to ingest half-a-dozen of them before I was loaded into the ambulance.) The nurses promoted smoking cessation and provided me with nicotine patches to curb the cravings. I met with a wonderful psychiatrist daily, as we settled on a proper mental health diagnosis and began a medication regiment to regulate my mind back to a functional capacity. I actually made friends while I was there and it was a far less terrifying experience than I had, initially, imagined it to be. I was distracted from my bad habits and comforted by the fact that God's honest normal people were experiencing similar difficulties, despite the fact that we had vastly differently life happenings and circumstances.
Following my stay in the hospital, I spent twelve weeks in a Partial Hospital and Intensive Outpatient Behavioral Health recovery program. During this time, I was able to remain cigarette and cannibas-free for nearly four months. I received a second mental health diagnosis and, suddenly, understood how my brain works; it wasn't scary and I was crazy or unhealthy, I was, simply put, made to think differently than most other people. Upon my completion of the program, however, I lost this daily structure I'd become accustomed to and was sent off into the "real world" to figure out how best to make a "normal" life for myself. After all, outpatient recovery is not a way of life -- it's a way of learning, a school for education about one's self. (I do feel it is something that every person should experience for themselves, but my personal opinion of the matter is, also, an entirely different essay.)
After about a month out of the program, I finally found a working class job. I hated it. Coupled with another family drama, which included two years of buried grief about my father's sudden death in 2014 and another difficult living environment, I fell right back into the arms of cigarettes and cannibas. Six months later, I quit the job I hated and hit the road to drive across the country to California on, what was most definitely a top-of-the-rollercoaster hypomanic episode. I was chasing a dream and a boy, both of which I did not discover while I was out there for a month. (I did make some awesome friends and have a ton of experiences I will always remember, which are another essay, too.) When I returned from California, I was right back where I started in this miserable living environment with no job and nothing to distract me from my bad habits. Finally, I found work with a transgender-friendly fashion company, where I make a working class wage, but which comes with great health benefits and life insurance (a cost my family surely needed, after the debt created by my father's passing and lack-of life insurance.)
Helping Hands: A Hope that Never Comes
I am finally able to admit to myself that I am deeply unhappy -- with my health, with this unending loneliness, with the stigmas of society placed on transgender people, and with people who have both taken advantage of me and caused resentments that I just can't unjustify because of where we currently stand with (against?) each other. I have, however, moved out of my difficult living situation and found an apartment with a roommate I feel blessed by the universe to have. At least, that is one stress undone. Work sucks most days because customers can be either too cruel for various reasons or -- just as painfully -- overly enthused to make me feel both accepted and comfortable with my identity as a transgender person -- there is such a thing as being too emphatically accepting.
On my work breaks, I smoke. On my car ride there, I smoke. When I wake up, I smoke. When I get home, I smoke. Before I go to bed, I smoke. I go through a pack of cigarettes a day to mask my feelings of isolation, loneliness, self-hatred, and because I just can't physically stop. I am back in my outpatient recovery program, receiving a medication adjustment and cannibas-free once more. But cigarettes pulse through my veins, keeping me from singing and destroying my songbird voice, weighing down my lungs, killing my brain cells, filling my body with carcinogens and deadly toxins, deteriorating my teeth, and -- at five minutes a cigarette times twenty of them per day -- eating nearly two hours of my time daily for smoke breaks.
When combined, I have only found two successful solutions for quitting smoking: cessation and love. I was in love once with a guy who strongly disliked smokers and wouldn't date them. I wanted to be with him so badly, for him to want to be with me, that I made it a point not to smoke hours before we would hang out and never in his company. I wanted to kiss him, to hold his hand, to get lost on each other's bodies. The realization of loneliness had come full circle: this was the solution. I needed to be loved. But he didn't love me back. At least, he claimed not to; even though, I was sure he did, but just didn't want to face the judgement of being with -- at that time -- a bodily feminine person like me (despite the fact that he identifies as bisexual.)
There is no rationalization for this method. Simply put: it is what has worked for me. Nicotine patches and the hope of being desired for more than just sex, for being me, kept me from reaching for cigarettes. Scientific studies show that the brain of a person on cocaine and the brain of a person in love experience almost the same exact effects. Love is the healthy version of cocaine without the detrimental (and life-threatening) consequences. Love is a cure. Love is not an excuse or the lack-of it a reason to develop bad habits. However, love works. In mysterious ways. It makes the human body and mind healthier. It is the hope of love finding me that makes me believe that quitting smoking, that being a part of the generation to end cigarettes, is a true possibility.
If you're out there guy who wants to love me, please, I want to be healthy. I want to quit dying. I never want to quit you. I want to love you and be loved and spread love and hope and be the best me I can be. I want to love myself. Like a true Libra, I function best in romantic partnership. In the time it took to write this personal essay, I ingested seven cigarettes and went to 7-11 to buy a fresh pack. I hope, when I write my next essay, in-between the paragraphs, we can kiss and hold hands and cuddle and dance and love each other instead.
*Author's Note: I spent very little time reviewing, revising and editing this essay. Rumination is unhealthy. Putting emotion and experience to work with pen on paper, however, is liberating. If you notice spelling and/or grammatical errors, PLEASE, feel free to point them out in the comments below. Occasionally, I may misspell a word (I am human, after all.) Often, Siri will incorrectly correct my uses of "their," "there," and "they're," without me catching her error. Sometimes, my record player brain skips and I repeat a phrase I repeat a phrase. However, if you point out a discrepancy regarding the use of a comma before or after "but," "instead," and the (not dead) Oxford comma, I may debate you. Or I may concede. Language is beautiful and I love to converse about its use.
**Comments of encouragement are highly encouraged, even more so. They may lead to more essays written. <3