Today as I clean house, I reflect on a tradition I think all young people are at some point accosted by; I speak, of course, of meeting with one’s relatives. Not for the first time, I will be put on a stand for my parents to talk about (and believe me, that speech will be brief indeed), and then taken off while my cousins are paraded around with notes about their good fortune and their good taste. This will happen tomorrow.

I have always tried to avoid these get-togethers. Not because I dislike my family; I love seeing them and talking to them as normal people would talk, but I always need an escape route before the eternal question of “What are you doing with your life” comes to their lips. It will, inevitably. It should be considered scientific fact. Put family members in a room together and eventually they will start asking one another questions about college, about jobs. About financial security. About your choice of partner. When I was younger (read: when I was in high school), I developed the goth-wardrobe-defense-mechanism. I wore black, entirely, to all family gatherings I did not wish to attend or be pestered during. This way, people would remark more to me about what I was wearing than to ask me how I was getting along. Either that, or I would be avoided entirely, and free to read in a corner or play the piano. Now, these relatives did not know that I never wore these clothes out of the house except when I was to see them. It almost became an acting exercise in restraining the smile and speaking in monotone. I bought the clothes from Hot Topic and hung them in my closet expectantly for the days in which my mother would tell me we were off to Wisconsin or downstate. I lamented the fact that this deprived me of their company entirely, so the clothing was sent to Goodwill. May some soul in my position find it and use it well.

I still have defense mechanisms, though they are more carefully employed. I always bake something, so that their comments may be directed towards the item they are eating and not myself. On days that I am to visit them, I make excuses almost immediately upon arrival that I cannot stay long. Previous engagement and all that, you know. Primp yourself up, waggle those well-manicured fingers and be so grateful when they buy the story.

It becomes much harder when your relatives visit you. Cleaning beforehand; cleaning afterward; the necessity of staying so that they *have someone to talk to*. What is a young girl to do when the questions about school (“Yeah, still working towards that Associate degree”) or plans (“No, I don’t really know what I want to do, but it’s great that your daughter got a full ride to university and is getting a job that pays $100,000 a year. I’m broke.”) come bursting forth? I realize these people are supposed to love me unconditionally, but it feels an awful lot like being run through the ringer and coming out badly bruised and beaten. I don’t know how my parents take it. Do they feel my mental illnesses and screw-ups are a reflection of their parenting in the eyes of our uncles and aunts? I feel guilty for them, because my messes are not their fault. Why can’t family just meet together and break bread without all these questions about life? Why is saying “I am getting along well, thank you” never enough?

But while I clean today in prep for their arrival, I am happy to be reminded of one fact.

I have to work ALL DAY tomorrow.

So here I am fighting through another unhappy winter. Sometimes when I feel like this, I force myself to surge energy through my body, propelling me (at least mentally) to a better place. Sometimes I don’t. I curl up in a nest and sleep a lot, read to distract  myself from the thoughts that scare me, and in general I do not like to speak to others or leave the comfort of my personal, protective space (this is usually my bed). I often wonder what I can do differently, or how I can make myself go out into the world when all I get is a panic attack in my chest and a head full of unwanted ruminations. It does not help that it is such a cold winter in the Midwest, and this limits my ability to take a walk in what I can consider a safe space. Not getting outside makes me feel lazy, which makes me depressed, which makes me feel unable to complete my school assignments, which stresses me out, which causes a panic attack, which makes me tired, which makes me not want to do anything, which leads to me looking out the window and wishing I could go outdoors for just a moment to catch my breath. And the cycle repeats.

I have been perusing my little zine library, because I have a few relating to depression (if you suffer like I do, pick up Maranda Elizabeth’s “Winter Survival Guide” zine. I hope they’re still selling it on Etsy….). But lately, reading about depression only serves to make matters worse. I used to love the winter. I don’t know what happened. I suppose that maybe it’s just that any season is no good without friends, and with the prospect of nothing going the way you want it to, and the feeling (however it may be misconstrued) of everybody breathing down your neck with a mouthful of flames.

I don’t know where I was going with this. I suppose just rambling for the sake of some peace of mind. I will hope that winter ends swiftly, and the grass turns green, and I will lose this unwelcome and sickening visitor like a shortening shadow.

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I got a new zine submission for the distro! It’s on my Etsy page! Submitted by Neo of Washington, this awesome 30-pager is full of short stories, self-described by the author as “short stories from a long wild life that I am excited to have lived and surprised to have survived.” It’s called I Know You Know My Heart #1, and it’s SO WORTH the $3.50. Plus, each cover is hand designed by the maker! And don’t forget to check out Neo’s blog at iknowyouknowmyheart!

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If you know anyone else who makes zines and is looking for a distro to host their work, tell them to contact me at paperdollcircusdistro[at]gmail.com

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On a less enthusiastic note, I’ve decided enough is enough, and I’m heading back to school. In the past, my record has been far from exemplary. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have a problem with learning. I love learning. I love reading, writing, participating, even math! (I will admit I hate doing group projects, though. This is COLLEGE, not a middle school book discussion. I don’t want to meet up with three strangers at a Starbucks and make a PowerPoint). What I DO have a problem with is anxiety. The….well, “episodes” I have are completely crippling. I finally went on medication this year that seems to be helping, at least in the short term, and I feel it’s now or never to return to class.

But how am I gonna pay for it? I don’t have a real job and of all the places I’ve applied, not a one has called or returned my call. I guess it’s just not a good market. I felt like I was pretty hire-able. I’m not a drug addict, a drinker, a no-show or an irresponsible worker. But people just aren’t hiring me. What else can I do?

Yeah, I know, loans. The thing is, even at 21 years of age, I’ve never gotten a credit card. Every time I apply, I am refused because, and I quote, “You don’t have enough credit.” Well no shit! I have also applied to FAFSA before but didn’t get anything. I’m trying again but I’m not optimistic.

I guess I never realized how expensive real life is. I feel sick recalling the day I spent $100 on new clothes at Forever 21. I wish I had been more money-conscious. Now I’m paying for it. Does anyone know where money can be made? And no, jokes about selling my body will not be laughed at or tolerated.

Luckily the candle business is steady enough that I have a couple hundred dollars saved up for the first month of my payment plan. But if I can’t come up with something more substantial by June….I just don’t know.

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