It’s been kind of a tough past two weeks for me. In the midst of all the craziness surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday, I ended up having three exhausting tests done in search of my “mystery illness”, tried to keep up with my work (I still feel like I’m not doing enough because my bills are so extensive.), got my feelings hurt pretty deeply when someone I thought was my friend chose to “de-friend” me on Facebook (a week or two before, he’d put me on “limited profile”), with the explanation that it’s not personal (of course it is.), and participated in the ritual Thanksgiving dinner and Black Friday shopping at a good friend’s house…an event made more exhausting by the presence of an almost-two-year-old and five dogs.

And, in the middle of it, we found time to go and see Tori Amos kick off her U.S. tour here in Atlanta last night.

For those who don’t know me, I fell in love with Tori Amos in my high school and college years; once I bought the CD of “Little Earthquakes”, I was totally hooked. “Songs From The Choirgirl Hotel” just sort of took my musical admiration of her to the next level. I’ll talk more about why I love her earlier work a bit later, for those who care. For those who don’t, I’ll just tell you about the awesome concert we saw!;)

After I moved to Atlanta, I began to like Tori’s music less and less. I think it reflected changes in her own life; she was moving in a personal and artistic direction that didn’t reflect my own experiences, that wasn’t about my phase of life. Albums like “Scarlet’s Walk” left me uninspired, and the best-selling Tori song on iTunes, “A Sorta Fairytale”, is one of my least favourites, ever. Even though she started playing around more with Gothic and ethereal tones—an aesthetic that virtually always appeals to me—things like “Midwinter Graces” did nothing for me.

Now, all of the sudden, she’s back. She’s reclaimed her old style on “Night Of Hunters”, examining broken relationships and difficult times between people who love one another. The lyrics are raw, honest, emotional, and, at least in performance, the music inspired by intense classical composers such as Bach, Chopin, and Schubert, and more ethereal voices such as Debussy. The pieces from her new album were backed by a strong European string quartet, consisting of two violins, a viola, and a cello. Even though they were accompaniment, they never held back; rather, it was like they were driving Tori to keep pace with their intensity. The use of crescendo and decrescendo was flawless, and it’s as if they were really one unit consisting of 6 instruments and a voice, creating a fantasy designed to draw the listener in. The lighting design, similarly, was impeccably done. There were no props; everything was accomplished through the use of lighting and gels, as if to point out the world of illusion being created that could just as easily disappear (as is often the situation in broken relationships, the theme of her album.) Whenever she’d perform pieces from her new album, the lighting became either intense and Gothic in tone, or resembling a scene from “Midsummer’s Night Dream”, with an elegant redhead sitting at a piano and a keyboard in the middle of some fantastical scene. Even the staging was art.

Of course, she also performed some of her most popular numbers, including “Crucify”, “Spark”, “Silent All These Years”, “A Sorta Fairytale”, “Hey Jupiter” (one of the few arrangements to include the quartet that I disliked.) and a different-but-still-enjoyable version of one of my favourite, lesser-known Tori songs, “Siren”. (from “Great Expectations”, with Gwyneth Paltrow.) She kept the crowd going with upbeat renditions of “Leather”, and an jazzy ode to her aging piano, which almost didn’t make it to Atlanta. As per usual, she included a few of her favourite covers, and while I was disappointed she didn’t use the quartet to arrange an interesting version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit””, she did perform “Landslide” and “I Wish I Had A River”, both of which show off the delicate vibrato in her upper register, an ethereal sound that gets lost in her tendency to make the most of her lower, more dramatic notes. Her version of “Precious Things” was impeccable; one of the best I’ve heard, ever.

Many have criticized Tori’s live concerts in the past 5-7 years as relying on too much amplification and reverb to fill out her voice, particularly on her older stuff. This is a typical trick used by performers to make their voices sound larger and younger; like everything else, the voice ages, and for many singers, isn’t as strong as it used to be. Sadly, there are many singers, popular and classical, that can no longer perform after the age of 50. Tori isn’t one of them; her voice is still strong, and like artists like Barbra Streisand and Patti LuPone, has crossed the line into “diva” territory. I think she’s diminishing herself by relying on the reverb and the over-amplification (yes, I have an ear disorder, but the acoustics in that theatre are wonderful, and for a space built to house an opera company with no more than 3,000 seats, everything was over-amplified. Even my water bottle was vibrating.). It worked, but at some point, I think I’d love to see a more toned-down, acoustic Tori performance. Not a single person in that audience cares if she can’t hit her top notes in full voice like she used to.

As for me, and my personal 15 year love affair with Tori Amos and her music: like many, I think I loved her stuff not just because the music and the lyrics were fantastic–they are—but because I could identify with her. Like me, she is a petite and quirky redhead, one with a classical background that shines through, no matter how unconventional she gets with her sound and her voice. She wrote songs about things I had experienced in my life, but unlike me, wasn’t afraid to put everything out there via her art.

Mostly, she was the first non-Broadway/non-classical singer I’d seen that made me feel that I didn’t have to be afraid to be an artist. I started performing at the age of 6, and singing, dancing, acting…all those things had been a major part of my life. Yet, I so often felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I was just pursuing a childish hobby without any real talented. I felt inferior because I was never “pretty”, not in the conventional, delicate sense that women are taught to aspire toward, but I always attracted attention because I looked odd. The pale skin, red hair, dark eyes, petite stature, curvy figure,high cheekbones, pointed nose…they’re all things common enough in people, but when assembled all together..not so much. I grew up not looking like a single person in my family, but more than that, not looking like anyone else around me, either. On a certain level, I knew I was booking jobs partially because I looked a little weird, but it didn’t make me feel any greater sense of self-confidence or belonging.

For those of you who know me from my performing days, you can attest, even my voice is weird. Before I trained as a coloratura (a specific vocal type in opera characterized by certain facets of the voice), I felt held back by the fact that I had a voice with a natural vibrato, one I couldn’t turn off even if I tried. It didn’t matter if people told me my voice was beautiful; I felt it would never be strong enough, pure enough. I almost got ejected from my college a-cappella group for my inability to tone it down and “blend”. Later, I found I am indeed an abnormality. I have a natural vibrato and vocal flexibility that most people train to develop, and a voice teacher told me was found in about one out of every 200,000 people. While highly desirable in certain periods of opera (even operatic composers when through periods where vibrato was highly unfashionable.), it’s actually a handicap in other types of music if you don’t know how to use it. Tori Amos does; she’s able to conceal it fairly well in her belt voice, and use it to her advantage in higher-voiced acoustic pieces. (Interestingly enough, while studying in college, I was introduced the work of Kristen Chenoweth, who shares both my vocal range and natural vibrato, as well as a tendency toward quirky, comic characters. She speaks in a high-pitched voice that is very strong, but almost childlike, and stands about 4’11″. She’s done quite well for herself, both on Broadway and television. I am reminded of her everyone someone makes fun of my speaking voice, and remember that other people bothered by my voice (there have been about 5 rude enough to tell me so here in ATL, including the mother of The Guy I Am Currently Dating) can just suck it. :P )

Anyhow, it was easy for me to not only identify with Tori Amos, but to accept this idea that being “weird” and “intense” was not only a desirable part of being an artist, it is often the basis for both art and personality. (I suppose it’s very similar to the way Lady Gaga and her theatricality appeal to today’s future, up-and-coming performers.) Her music got a certain message across to me: namely, that you could use your pain in its most raw, unedited form to create art that was real,heart-rending, and spoke to people. That changed my life, in numerous ways, since I’d always going through life attempting to hide emotions I felt were negative so that people would like me, and would write intense poems and stories that I’d never published because I didn’t want people to think I was a freak. Somehow, starting with my love of “Little Earthquakes”, I realised that being different, odd, freaky, weird, talented, tortured, intense, and full of emotional baggage could make you a pretty damned interesting human being, and an artist rather than a performer, a writer rather than someone who scribbled down amusing anecdotes.

I’m so glad to see that’s what she’s back to doing with her music; exploring the complex, intense facets of human nature, and using the full range of artistic tools at her disposal to draw you into that world. It was truly an amazing evening, and I’m so glad I could be there to see it. Now, if only they’d used a few less strobe lights……


As many of you know, after becoming ill over the summer and consequently not being able to go out as much, I managed to channel some of that energy into creativity. In fact, at certain points, my need to create became almost manic, my need to connect with other human beings more intense. The result has been somewhat impressive; over the span of two months, I’ve rescued hundreds of poems that I’m in the process of editing and compiling into volumes, I’ve revised short stories I’d forgotten, and the process of doing so has given birth to the idea of my first novel, an idea that’s currently spawned nearly 60,000 words.

In addition, something has changed about the way I’m interested in pursuing friendships. I’ve always been the type happiest in a crowd; the more, the merrier. As a result of my extroverted yet guarded nature, I have a very large network of acquaintances, but a much smaller number of good friends. I don’t always take the time to get to know people one-on-one, which comes off as a bit snobbish, indifferent, aloof, whatever you want to call it. It isn’t that I don’t care, it’s simply that I’m too busy getting to meet as many people as possible and to play the gallant hostess that I truly get to know very few people. Recently, that’s changed, and I think the change is a positive one. I’m making more of an effort to keep up with friends and family. I’m more frequently reminding myself to check in with those important to me, even if it’s just a Facebook comment here or there. I’m more actively taking the time to open up the lines of conversation with acquaintances I find interesting in some way, and in the past, never took the time for a one-on-one dialogue. I’m opening myself up more, and noticing that perhaps there are people all throughout my life, people I’ve been too self-absorbed to endeavour to get to know fully. My social group, of course, is suffering due to lack of interest on my part, but I’m suddenly looking for something deeper from my interactions with others.

One of my recent interests has been Swap-Bot, a site that allows crafty people, artists, writers, etc. to create and swap everything from art to correspondence to packages. It is immense fun, receiving little pieces of mail from all over the world, and I enjoy the feeling of somehow being connected to a greater world out there, even if, for the time being, I’m confined to a relatively small piece of it. It is also refreshing to be able to create, even something small, to send to a stranger who genuinely appreciates both the end result and the process of creation.

I’ve communicated with many different people from all walks of life, and while there aren’t many with whom I found I have too terribly much in common, that’s par for the course for me. However, I did have a swap partner by the name of Melynda, who I found utterly fascinating, from the beautiful handwriting to the style of communication that lets on someone isn’t just crafty and creative, but an artist. After reading her website, I realised what I was struck by was that she is truly a gifted writer, and one who observes the world in a full spectrum of colour.

Oddly, and not just because of the name, she reminded me of a poet I used to know by the name of Melinda, one whose presence and light and talent I’ve missed for a very long time. Anyhow, this Melynda sent me a quote, one that I believe sums up so much of how I view the world, particularly through these days of illness and struggle for normalcy:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and a failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create–so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, he is not alive unless he is creating.”

Pearl S. Buck

Tonight, a long-time acquaintance and new friend of mine said he feels as if he needs to see live music in order to be happy. I told him I thought this was a good thing; it shows a passion for life, a need to feed the soul. The way all of us need food, drink, love, shelter, and all the basic necessities of life, some of us need creative energy.

I am reminded of a few relationships in my life where I was not free to be myself, I felt required to mold myself into a certain role, a certain vision—and during those times, I did not create, and walked through each day feeling as if I’d sacrificed pieces of myself in order to make something work, this idea of relationships that it seems everyone else has and desires, and I should share as well.

I am also reminded of a few relationships with artists, passionate souls who put the desire for creation above virtually all else, and who consequently were able to not only accept and embrace, but encourage my unconventionality, and push the boundaries even further. These were typically the most creatively successful periods of my life; however, the relationships always inevitably ended up failing because the stability and certainty of not being abandoned that i crave was never present. I don’t like coming in second to anything, not even creative passion.

When I am happy, content in that mundane way where nothing is provoking any extreme emotion, it’s as if I forget I am an artist at heart. When I am too concerned with my daily workload, my household chores, my social group, my responsibilities, I forget to have passion for things; I grow complacent, disinterested.

Ironically, being more limited in my ability to spend time with others, to go out and experience the world, has renewed an inspiration, a zest for life and love and making new friends and having new adventures, and knowing that when I get through all this, there will indeed be more chapters to my story.

There is a hidden up side to even the most challenging of times in life, and the up-side of my recent struggles is that I’ve been reminded of who I am, on the most simple, essential level. I don’t always remember to take time to be that person, because I’m too concerned with success vs. failure, with being liked by others, with being like others. I’m not, in many ways, and that’s OK.

I have chosen to limit myself to please other people too often, to be accepted by a culture that still sees me as “too much”, even at my most toned down. If I lived in New York still, would I feel the pressure to do this? Somehow, I don’t think I would, because I purposely surrounded myself with the unique, the intelligent, the creative, the people who saw the world differently. Here, I’ve found great friends with different unique and wonderful attributes, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the focus on individuality and self-expression.

I am more actively seeking out these attributes and making them a part of my world, through getting in touch with myself, and meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, and staying more open to experiences and growth and possibility. I think it’s a positive change.

This year, I’m being a little bit of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas. Normally, I’m the first one to be all about the shopping, the carols, the tree, the cards and reminders of love from friends, and of course, the cookies. I don’t like cold weather, but I love the holiday season…particularly since my birthday falls four days after Christmas, and two days before New Year’s Eve. It’s like a whole week of festivities for me.

This year, however, my health issues have put a damper on everything. I am unable to fly due to a potential hole in my ear, and not eating well and sleeping 9 hours a night invariably ends up with me feeling exhausted, and my pulse and BP running on the high side, so I may be spending the holidays here in Atlanta…all by my lonesome. :( Gaining 20 pounds means things I normally love…cookies, Starbucks, shopping for clothes, parties…just make me feel sad and self-conscious. The medicine that’s caused these issues also has significantly lowered my tolerance for alcohol. For some odd reason, I can’t tolerate anything except vodka-based beverages. The cost of the illness I’ve had for nearly half a year means not having money at Christmas, always a sad situation to be in.

Still, I’m trying to remain at least a little cheery and optimistic. I’ll put up the tree, send out Christmas cards and packages, turn on the lights, throw around some tinsel and some jingle bells, and attend a holiday party or two. The Guy I Am Currently Dating even got us a gingerbread house to decorate, and we’re planning to see A Christmas Carol. He’s also in charge of planning my b-day celebration, which I think is fun…usually I do all the event planning.

Some people have asked about holiday shopping for me…really, I’m not a hard person to shop for. I am a hard person to buy items like clothing for, because I’m petite and oddly-shaped, but if you’re adventurous, here are my sizes:

Height: 5’0 (more or less)
Weight: 20 pounds more than this time last year. :(
Shoe size: 6 (6 & 1/2 for boots)
Measurements: 38-27-39 (I’m a very hourglass-shaped person.)
Top size: Medium (I don’t wear fitted tops these days, so anything too clingy will go into the “after I lose 20 lbs. drawer).
Dress size: 8/10, depending on the designer.
Bottoms: Medium for sweatpants, yoga pants, etc. Do not ever buy me jeans. Shopping for jeans is a terrible adventure in my life.
T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, nightshirts, PJs: I like these things oversized. Large or extra-large

Things I don’t need/want for Christmas, birthdays, or other occasions:
-Anything from Bath & Body Works. You have no idea how much stuff I have from that store.
-Shoes with heels. Unless the heels are chunky, I don’t wear them.
-Socks. Again. I hate socks.
-Bottles of wine. Wine makes me dizzy. No beer or spirits except vodka for the time being.
-Headphones or Ipod accessories. Until I get the ear thing situated, I can’t use my Ipod, listen to headphones, etc.
-Cookbooks or cooking utensils. I do not cook.
-Anything yellow or cutesy. (we’re talking hats that are in the shapes of animals, anything country-inspired, or something that has a 1950′s vibe.)
-Coffee

Things I do like:

If you know me, you know I like bizarre, eclectic stuff, from anything that glitters to handmade jewelry to vintage accessories. I like scarves, purses, and jewelry. I have a fashion sense that’s a mix between current day glam girl and 1970′s retro. I have a flair for the theatrical and a thing for costuming.

I also like books, journals, crafty items, gel pens, candles, and pretty much anything that comes from Michael’s. My favourite stores are Charlotte Russe, Amazon, Michael’s, and Modcloth. I eat at Chick-Fil-A and Subway often. I collect martini glasses, bar/cocktail accessories, and basically anything in the shape of a martini glass. I also love butterflies and chocolate truffles. :)

I have a Wishlist on The only big item I’m considering wishing for this year is the Kindle Fire. :)

I need a teapot. You know, the nice kind that goes on the stove.

Mostly, I like things that don’t cost a fortune, but will always remind me of the person who bought it for me. :)

That being said, it’s OK if you totally skip gift giving for this year. It won’t hurt my feelings. But I still might give YOU a gift…I haven’t reached total Grinchdom yet.

Happy holidays! There will be a Turkey Day weekend recap tomorrow. :)

For some reason, I thought I’d put up a post regarding this issue in the past, but I can’t seem to find it.

Anyhow, a few months ago, there was this girl who showed up at my Meetup, who we’ll call “G”. I was hosting the Meetup, and was in attendance with my boyfriend, The Guy I Am Currently Dating. Since she did not know us, I introduced myself, and although I believe I introduced us as a couple (though I can’t be certain), it was likely clear in that we were holding hands and sitting next to one another all evening. There was nothing remarkable about this girl; a 35-year-old chubby redhead who was neither exceptionally pretty nor horrendous in appearance, but her personality had a way of making people feel uncomfortable.

Since it was a crowded restaurant and we had a table of about 35, I felt the need to speak loudly (project, if you will), in order to make the greatest amount of people feel included. After about 30 minutes of me being social and people largely ignoring her presence, she asked if, at any point, I was going to use my “inside voice”.

Quite rude, from someone I don’t know, but if you’re going to attack me with snarkiness, be prepared to get on my list. I told her, “Sweetheart, I’m an opera singer. We don’t have inside voices.”, and went on with my life. During the dinner, I noticed she spent a great deal of time leaning over the table, as to display her amply revealed cleavage to whatever male she was speaking to at the time. (Not my imagination: three male group members in attendance told me her overtly sexual overtones made them feel uncomfortable when she had left the dinner, and we’d proceeded out for drinks. One of the guys had told me she’d behaved similarly at another group he attended.) I did my best just to chalk it up to “This is a person I don’t care for”, and ignore her—until I went to the bathroom with a friend so we could bitch about this girl—-and when we returned, the seating had somehow been rearranged so that she was sitting directly across from my boyfriend, attempting to engage him in conversation.

Still, I didn’t say a word, and spent the evening conversing with a fun, attractive guy who happened to be in attendance, and a girl who is one of my best friends in Atlanta…but, I let The Guy I Am Currently Dating know I was highly displeased. She later left the event without saying goodbye to anyone, including her hostess, or thanking me for organising said event. (I’m not Emily Post, but I do know proper etiquette when I see it, and when I do not. Very tacky.) After she’d left, I found out not only that she made a few of the guys feel uncomfortable, but was rude to one of the women seated near her. Apparently, her personality wasn’t winning any points.

After that, no word from the girl for 6 weeks or so. Then, out of the blue, she e-mails my boyfriend, who is hosting an event with his group later in the month. In the e-mail, she mentions being in attendance at my dinner (referencing me by name), and that she regretted not being able to talk to The Guy I Am Currently Dating, due to being seated near another person. She also mentions she’d like to get to know him better, and although she realises he’ll be busy on the day of the event, she wants to invite him to dinner beforehand. No mention of me, other than that they met at an event I hosted, or acknowledgement that she’s aware he is not single.

Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, he responded with a polite but pointed note saying that since she invited him to dinner, she must be extending the invitation to me as well, since we’ve been together for over 3 years and met us as a couple. I, who didn’t believe her invitation to him alone was an oversight, left a more pointed message saying “I know things are different in the South, but where I’m from, if you’re going to ask out a guy who’s not single, it’s best to get permission from his significant other first.”

She then did a lot of backtracking, saying that of course the invitation was meant for us as a couple and she wasn’t interested in asking him out, it was just that she only had his e-mail addy. (Being a member of my group, she not only has my e-mail, but my phone number, and a convenient link to my profile via the Meetup site, giving her free ability to message me at any time.) She went on to elaborate about how she was engaged to an investment banker that traveled a lot, and did we not notice her ring? (we did not, and jewelry lover that I am, I would have.) She clarified that she was looking for couple friends to hang out with (despite the fact that her behaviour is consistently that of an available woman, and her alleged fiance is always out of town). In order just to let things go, both The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I accepted the explanation with a laugh, but my iNtuitive sense about people told me she was clearly being less than straightforward.

Yesterday, again, out of nowhere, the Guy I Am Currently Dating receives an IM from “G”. (Why is she IM-ing him, anyway? I don’t even chat with him on IM, and she’d have to still have his e-mail/contact info in order to find him on IM) This passive-aggressive note reads as follows:

A few things about me, for those who don’t know me, that are a bit contrary to the redneck stereotype:

  • I am not from Atlanta, or even from the South.
  • I am an uber-liberal, hippie socialist type with a degree from one of America’s most well-reputed and free-thinking universities
  • I have traveled to well over 20 countries, and speak four languages. I spent over a year traveling on a cruise ship and have lived in London. I’m not sure how far outside of Atlanta I’m meant to go.
  • My field of study was opera and musical theatre, with a minor in creative writing.
  • I was in a particularly non-redneck-oriented sorority
  • I never wear sneakers and rarely wear jeans.
  • I’ve never ridden in the back of a pickup truck. Even mini-vans are a little daunting for me.
  • My ideal night out includes an overpriced martini or three. You’ll never see me with a beer.
  • I do indeed have a pasty Irish complexion about me and could afford to hit the gym (especially on this medication…ugh.) However, this girl was pale, freckled, and had about 30 pounds on me that she wasn’t ashamed to hide. However, her profile photo is of her in lingerie, clearly 15 years younger and 20 pounds lighter than her current appearance. So, pot, kettle, and whatnot
  • When illustrating how classless you believe another person to be, avoid referencing the phrases “barbeque joint and “terrible unsophisticated” to make your point

It astounds me how passive-aggressive people can be. When I confronted her—because confrontation is the way I deal with issues—-she immediately backed down, by leaving my group…and when told she’d be picking her tickets up from me at the Will Call table to attend my boyfriend’s event, she asked if there was a way to directly get them from the theatre staff. When she was told no, she didn’t attend that event, either.

So, should I be flattered that I’m intimidating enough that you hide from me until there’s an ocean between us, and then send a note to my boyfriend (note: nothing to me personally, though I’m far easier to reach.) telling us off?

Probably not. But I’m going to, because I’m kind of redneck like that. And I may appear small and harmless, but once you’re on my bad side, trust me, I’m not. I’m a wonderful friend, and a horribly obnoxious enemy. :)

“Plain women know more about men than beautiful ones do.”—Katharine Hepburn

When I was peeking at my visitor logs from time to time—as I am known to do—I came across someone who stumbled on this page while Googling the question “Can a plain girl have charisma?” While there was no e-mail or comment asking me about this question directly, it was an interesting enough topic that I felt it deserved a reply…regardless of whether or not the person asking it ever returns.

Charisma- noun

1: a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm.
2: a special magnetic charm or appeal

So, to answer your question:

Abso-freaking-lutely.

I’m assuming that the person Googling this topic is either a young woman struggling with some self-confidence issues and weighed down by worries that she is “plain-looking” and not likely to be found attractive by others, or a man who has found himself inexplicably drawn to a woman he wouldn’t define as conventionally attractive.

Either way, the answer is the same:

Abso-freaking-lutely.

Charisma.....
If you take the time to look around your world—not on the television or movie screen, or in magazines, but around the actual world you live in, you’ll notice that very few people you encounter have that gift that can only be referred to as “natural beauty”. Granted, if you live in a large city that’s particularly appearance-conscious, such as Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, London, Paris, Milan, and certain parts of New York, you’re likely to find more stunningly attractive people. There are two reasons for this: 1)Beautiful people gravitate towards places where there are clear rewards for being beautiful, namely in the entertainment industry. 2)If appearance plays a huge role in the area you call home, and you weren’t gifted with natural beauty, you can always purchase it.

However, a majority of the world is not gifted with said natural beauty, which is why such a premium is placed on it.

Charisma, on the other hand, is a talent unto itself. It is the “it factor”, the special thing that draws attention to a person, regardless of talent, intellect, beauty, or any other factors. Those factors may influence charisma, they may increase a person’s appeal, but they do not go hand in hand. After years in the entertainment industry, I can tell you that I’ve met some beautiful women who are dull as dishwater. And, certainly, if you go to a club or bar, you’ll see people killing themselves to get attention from these women…but after that, then what?

Assuming you’re not dealing with an exceptionally shallow or self-serving person, charisma trumps beauty every time. Charisma explains why certain people with less talent or beauty than others become international celebrities, why the smartest kid in the class doesn’t always become a leader in his field, why some politicians get elected and others get ignored, and why some people have an easy time meeting new people, making new friends, and always seem to have a date, despite any obvious lack of overwhelming beauty, while their more attractive but less delightful counterparts sit at home.

Of course, if you’re beautiful, smart, and charismatic, you’ve got it all going for you and you don’t need to worry, and you’re probably not reading this blog. If you’re not, well, you see, that’s where you’re going wrong.

If you don’t think of yourself as beautiful, smart, and charismatic, you’re holding yourself back. You’re already painting a rather dull portrait of yourself, and an inaccurate one at that. If you’re always going out and assuming the role as sidekick to your gorgeous friend, or wingman to the handsome guy that always gets the chicks, you’ve typecast yourself as a supporting character in your own life. Why? Because you’re comparing yourself to others around you, to what you see in the media (which is, by nature, a world of make-believe), and listening to cruel, ignorant remarks put out there by cruel, ignorant people.

Adele
Charismatic people are confident people. People are drawn to beautiful people, yes, but they’re also drawn to confident people. If you consider yourself a “plain girl”, either because that’s what you see when you look in the mirror, or because that’s what someone has told you, you need to revise your thinking, or you will not be able to have the necessary level of confidence and charisma to be the outgoing, loveable you that you’d love to be.

From personal experience, I can tell you that I know how you feel. Physically, I am not conventionally pretty; I’m short, curvy, pale, have a rather unique look to my face….all things I grew up hating. I wanted to be the pretty blonde who seemed naturally put together in the most feminine, delicate way possible; the one everyone paid attention just for being pretty. I didn’t want to be “unique”. And, let me tell you, it’s even harder when you’re trying to work as a teenage actress and hearing you’re too “unique” for one project or another…which I always took as code for “We want someone more beautiful.”

One day, though, I realised something. I realised that for every job I didn’t get because I was too unique, every guy who didn’t like me because I wasn’t conventionally pretty, there was one waiting for me that was interested for precisely that reason. I didn’t even know I had “charisma”; I just felt quirky, weird, and awkward, like most adolescents. Yet, it was precisely those things that drew other people toward me. I’ve always had a ton of acquaintances, and found it easy to meet people, and I’m the first to admit I don’t have any special “people skills”…I struggle with small talk, and am perpetually opening my big mouth to say something I should really keep to myself.

Somewhere along the line, in my early 20′s, something clicked. I realised I would never be conventionally pretty, but it didn’t make me any less beautiful. In fact, I might even be plain-looking, or ugly (which I don’t believe about myself, and neither should you, but, we all have haters. ;P), but it didn’t make me any less worthy of attention. Somehow, I started behaving as if I *knew* I were beautiful, and I deserved all the attention the world wanted to offer me. All of the sudden, the world responded to me in a slightly different way; I’d hear compliments on the things I thought made me weird and plain and awkward, I’d find guys who preferred talking to me over my prettier friend out at a club, I started finding artists and photographers who wanted me to model for their projects. I started attracting people just because I behaved as if I found myself beautiful…even if I wasn’t totally convinced. And, the more people responded, the more I felt free to let my true personality—charismatic, yes, but equally flawed as the rest of me–shine. Not everyone liked this; if you portray too much confidence, especially when people think you’ve no right to, they become resentful. They gossip. They try to make you feel badly about yourself.

It doesn’t matter…charisma takes you a long way, baby, no matter how flawed you believe you are.

I still have moments like that in my life, when I feel as if I don’t want to go to public events because everyone there is thin and Botoxed and blonde and perfect, and I’ve gained 20 pounds and am short and curvy and quirky. But, what I’ve found is that when I feel this way…nobody in the world dislikes me as much as I do. In fact, many people like me because I’m different, not in spite of it. And the ones that don’t—you have to learn to let go and move on and tell them where to stick their unwanted opinion. Case in point: I once had an ex-lover write a letter to a guy I was attracted to calling me “butt ugly”, sharing some private details abut the time we spent together, and attaching some rather personal photographs, an experience that devastated me to no end. I don’t know what hurt worse: the violation of my privacy, the fact that an ex-lover would demean me in such a way, or that a guy I was attracted to had to be the one to tell me about all this.

Alyson Hanigan
Later on, this particular guy became notorious in social circles around town because he insulted an overweight girl on a dating website, a fiasco that got so out of hand, it landed him on Oprah, talking to Dr. Phil. During the segment, he lied about his age and a number of other things, and was secretly videotaped trying to pick up women at a bar. One publication even dubbed him “the worst person” in the city that year.

To this day, no form of vindication made me feel better than seeing that particular person get his come-uppance. But I never forgot that he called me “butt-ugly”, and there’s still a small, but permanent dent in my self-esteem left by this person.

One thing it didn’t affect, however, was my charisma and my sense of myself. I still walk through life assuming everyone is either attracted to me or wants to be my friend until proven otherwise. And, lately, knowing my self-confidence has taken a severe hit, I’ve chosen to limit my company to those who make me feel positive about myself….medication, extra 20 pounds, melancholy attitude, and all. We all need those times away to recover and recuperate from whatever we’re going through.

If you look in the media today, you’ll see a lot of beautiful people. But you’ll also see sensations like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele, and numerous others, who, whatever you think of their talent or looks, are unquestionably forces to be reckoned with. And while we’ll all admit that Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp, and Ryan Reynolds are hot in the physical sense, know who’s making more money than any of them? Slightly-nerdy-but-loveable, smart, funny Justin Timberlake. He’s built a career on charisma. I think he’s aware he’ll never look like Brad Pitt, and maybe part of him feels a little insecure about that, but he’s largely too happy using all his talents to build a career he loves.

Richest woman in America? Oprah Winfrey. Most followed people on Twitter? Lady Gaga and Ashton Kucher. As much emphasis as we put on beauty—and often unrealistic, manufactured beauty at that—charisma seems to win every time. Ask around, and you’ll find that Jennifer Aniston wins more likeability points than Angelina Jolie every time, even though only the second was a professional model.

Bette Davis Eyes
Can a plain girl have charisma?

Abso-freaking-lutely.

Just stop thinking about yourself—or the girl you’re into—as “that plain girl”, and see her as that “charismatic girl”, and see how quickly the world changes.

(Celebrities, from top to bottom: Unknown Girl, Lady Gaga, Adele, Katherine Hepburn, Kelly Clarkson, Alyson Hannigan, Allison Harvard (from America’s Next Top Model), Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand)

I know, I know…you haven’t seen me much around these parts lately. There are many reasons for this, most of which are good, and some which aren’t quite so positive…but, hey, I’m still alive and kicking. Here’s a quick update on what’s been going on the past two weeks or so, and why it’s rather killed my inspiration to blog about my life:

  • Work.I’m back on a full-time work schedule now, which is wonderful, because it means I am off “probation” and make a somewhat decent amount of money writing again. The bad news is that I’m not making great money, since I only have one project going on right now. Hopefully, as my health improves, I’ll have the energy to take on some new projects.
  • Health stuff The health challenges continue. I finally found a doctor I like, one I consider both smarter and more knowledgeable about medicine than my brain and the power of the Internet. (surprisingly, this was a long and exhaustive search.) She is also the first doctor to take the time to perform a full physical exam, during which, she pointed out she believes I may have fibroids. Not at all related to the ear or the vertigo, but a possible cause of my hypertension, back pain, extreme PMS, and appearance of weight gain in my abdominal area (atypical for me; I carry all my extra weight on my hips and thighs). I thought these were just all signs of aging, but my doctor suggested that I may have had this problem throughout my 20′s, and the fibroids actually are increasing in size due to too much estrogen on my body. Long story short, another potential health worry. I have to undergo an ultrasound on Monday, and of course, I need to pay out-of-pocket. Today, I was sent for another extensive battery of blood tests; this time, they took 16 vials of blood from me. Last visit to the lab, it was 20. That’s not counting the 6-8 taken in the ER, and the countless IV’s. I am exhausted, and have no more blood left to give. While the experience is always anxiety-provoking for me, this is the first I’m feeling the physical effects of blood loss. :( Oh, and I have my super-duper, majorly expensive ear test coming up on the 30th. I am at the point where i don’t care what’s wrong with me; I just want a diagnosis and a normal life. I’m not masochistic enough to enjoy all the pain and discomfort of the “Guess what’s wrong with Alayna?” game.
  • Friendship drama. I’ve really been saddened by a falling out with someone I’d just started to connect with and consider a friend. The falling out seemed inevitable; for whatever reason, we don’t seem to have the ability to discuss anything of a serious nature without conflict arising. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to me; I have plenty of friends with whom I don’t see eye to eye on politics, or personal matters, and the discord is hardly one-sided. Being an overly-sensitive person, I’d find this person would inadvertently hurt my feelings, causing tension. On the other side of the coin, the friend has a habit of arguing things until his point is made, and then, if you continue to defend yourself, to dismiss you; i.e. “If you’re going to say this, I see no need to continue the conversation.” or “You’re much smarter than the argument you’re making and I expect more of you”. I think this particular friend and I just exist in kind of different spheres of being, and don’t understand how to communicate well. I brought this up and provided the opportunity to discuss our communication issues, but we somehow just never got there. While being “dismissed” by someone you actually like and respect and would have desired a friendship with is extremely hurtful for someone like me, I’m not sure we’d ever have gotten past our inability to communicate. A pity, because we actually have a good deal in common. Unfortunately, the things we’ve in common are all the wrong things. In retrospect, the way this friendship played out is very similar to another in my past, which is likely why I kept pursuing it rather than just saying, “C’est la vie”. I never received the closure and validation I needed from that friendship, and it doesn’t look likely to occur here, either. I’ve grown to realise that I’m too valuable to be “dismissed”, and if someone doesn’t see that, of course it hurts…but there are those that do. Sometimes, those you believe have the potential to become great friends turn out to be acquaintances, and that’s just the way of life. Maybe Adele should write a song about that. :P
  • Writing. In addition to working on writing for work, I’ve been devotedly reassembling my collection of lost poems and short stories, most of which I figured were gone for good. I also, after many years of the idea being suggested, have decided to work on writing a novel, and it’s going surprisingly well. I’ve never been able to work on such a large project without losing interest before. What started as a collection of anecdotes and autobiographical diary-type entries has turned into a cohesive story that has transitioned from being about me to being about the lives of these characters I’ve created. I do not know if the manuscript will ever see the light of day; although much of it is fiction, there is also much about it that’s biographical and autobiographical in nature, and perhaps too personal to expose to the world (on the assumption anyone would care to read a book by someone they’ve never heard of, or just because they’re friendly with that person.) But there’s nothing like thinking your health is so fragile that you might die soon to get you motivated to leave behind a piece of art, a piece of your soul that will outlive you. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that some of the most revered classic writers and poets died at a relatively early age.
  • Swap-Bot! As it turns out, I love making packages, cards, postcards, and writing letters to virtual strangers. I also love receiving them. It makes me feel connected with the world at large through creativity, and because many of my friends in my life here in Atlanta aren’t artistically-inclined and don’t care if I’ve drawn, written, or crafted something, it fills a definite void.Sometimes, I think that’s the thing that’s missing most in my life; someone who truly understands my desire to express myself and make an impact upon the world, and doesn’t dismiss it as “That’s too long for me to bother reading”. For instance, we’re (the boyfriend and I) are going to the opera tonight tomorrow to see Lucia di Lammermoor, and I remarked that I was excited to see a coloratura performance (I was trained as a lyric coloratura), as I hadn’t in ages. I didn’t get any sort of response to that, and it made me feel as if I’m missing something in my life, not having anyone who shares and understands my passions. It isn’t a failing on his end only; I don’t necessarily understand his passion for science fiction, and know little about computer programming. It just often feels that so many people in my life are so opposite from me, it’s hard to feel completely understood, as if I’m really connected.It doesn’t mean I love those people less, it just means I go through life feeling as if about half of me is something even those closest to me “don’t get”.

    I guess, simply put, I miss having a soulmate, platonic or otherwise. I miss connecting with other human beings on a soulful and visceral level. I’ve found terribly little of that since moving to Atlanta, which is one of the main reasons I can’t see myself staying here. It’s as if I’ve sacrificed a lot in order to try to fit in to a culture that doesn’t really reflect me, and never will.

    So, those are the things that have been keeping me away from my blog (another hobby few of my friends really “get” or care about, but is important to me nevertheless.) I’ll have to try harder to have thoughts worthy of sharing more frequently. ;)

She often spoke about loving two men. If she was seeing two people, it was not out of fickleness, but because she loved them both, they answered two sides of her personality. She was open to life, and when encountering a new experience, could not stay away. It may sound strange, but she was really a very loyal person.”

____“Lover Of Unreason”,Yehuda Koren

This week, I’ve been back up to my regular schedule of writing between 2700-3000 words each day for work; this is wonderful, in that I’ve effectively tripled my income and proven I’m healthy enough to keep up, but it’s also left me feeling a bit drained. Although I did work on my poetry journal a bit last night, I haven’t really been inspired to put in any effort on my “novel”. (I put that in parenthesis because I doubt it will ever become more than fragments and short stories; still, at almost 20,000 words, it’s the closest I’ve come to developing the vision for a long piece of fiction and completing it.)

November is actually National Novel Writing Month, which challenges people to write 50,000 words, or 175 pages, in a month. Ironically, hearing about this has made me less motivated about my own project, either because it’s no longer something “special” I’m working on, or because there’s this thing about deadlines and pressure that I dislike, and often that causes me to abandon projects midway.

This late night, instead of writing, I’ve been reading about writing. I’ve finished the biography on Sylvia Plath, and am now reading about her counterpart, Assia Wevill, who lived with Ted Hughes after Sylvia’s death and committed suicide in precisely the same manner. Assia’s story is not nearly as likeable, as she’s portrayed as a rather cold and selfish woman with gifts she never had any idea how to make use of, so she simply married numerous times. I think it’s also a marked difference to note that when Plath killed herself, she took special pains to protect her children; Assia Wevill took her youngest daughter to her death with her.

Still, an interesting and tragic story of a not-altogether-sympathetic heroine. I enjoy reading biographies from time to time, interspersed with fiction, because it reminds me how in some way, most everyone’s life is fascinating. Perhaps that’s what keeps me liking and interested in people, even though I often don’t think the best of them on the whole. Everyone has a story, and usually, it’s more than worth hearing. Since people aren’t so willing to be vulnerable and open in life, biographies exhibit this inner world we all have and spend way too much time keeping hidden.

My story isn’t terribly interesting lately, but I did successfully get a date for the ENG I’ve needed for some time, to determine if I’m suffering from a vestibular problem that’s led to my anxiety: November 30th. It’s amazing that you often need to book tests a month in advance. I’m also to see a new GP on Tuesday, one that comes recommended through a friend as an excellent diagnostician, something that’s been sorely lacking in other doctors I’ve seen.

In the meantime, my medications are temporarily on track, and I’m more motivated than ever to start trying to get rid of the extra weight the meds have caused me to put on my body. It’s horrifying; I have little stretch marks, which make me feel like I don’t even want to take my clothes off alone, in the shower. All this has been so immensely hard on my self-esteem, always a fragile issue with me regardless. If I ever get better, I’m going to need to see the plastic surgeon next. :(

Tine to go to sleep now, I suppose. Need to start saving up for that plastic surgeon. ;P

Via a blogger friend of mine doing a study into such things, I received a free code to take a “scientific” personality quiz appearing in Psychology Today, called “How Assertive Are You?” (The overall assessment is free, but they charge you if you want to know more about your detailed report.)

The invite came via a bit of synchronicity, since last week, I blogged about my struggles with anxiety, and the fact that I wondered if much of it came from unexpressed anger and rage. Anger and rage aren’t “nice”, “ladylike” emotions, and too many women have a tendency to “let things go” that truly bother them, rather than engage in confrontation. In reality, those things are rarely “let go”, it’s just a mask created to please others. In reality, the feelings often come out in the form of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, passive-aggressive behaviour, and talking about people behind their backs rather than addressing problems directly. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t that I don’t think men don’t do this, as well. I know plenty who do. It just seems there’s a higher incidence of women doing it, in order to keep the peace, appear loveable/amiable/easy-going, or to keep everyone else happy. Proportionally, there’s a higher incidence of women suffering from anxiety and depressive disorders rather than anger management. (I once had a therapist encourage me to punch pillows during our sessions, because “self-destructive behaviour is just anger turned inward.”)

I’m a bit of a dichotomy. I’m very nice, if you ask most people who know me well. Sometimes, too nice. But if you ask people who don’t like me, you’ll hear that I’m too aggressive, too direct. I express my feelings in a way that’s off-putting to some, especially when I get tired of pretending. In situations where I feel the need to pretend—such as in relation to smiling and putting up with hurtful criticisms of who I am as a person from the Mother Of The Guy I Am Currently Dating, or from my own mother—I can only stand it for so long before something in me explodes. The longer it takes to explode, the more anger and resentment build within me, and I often become moody and withdrawn, allowing the hurtful things that go unexpressed to become real feelings I harbour about myself, to tear me down.

So, I was very curious what the inventory on this subject would say about my level of assertiveness.

And, while my results generally identify me as a relatively average, well-adjusted human being in the department of assertiveness, it clearly identified this dichotomy. I am both more subservient than average and more outwardly aggressive than average. (Somehow, I’m S&M all rolled into one package.*laughs*) I also tend to sometimes fear confrontation with authority figures, but have no problem speaking up when it’s needed. (I suppose this explains my lifelong attraction to older and/or more powerful and accomplished men, rather than to those in my peer group.)

I often laugh when I hear that someone is afraid of me—afraid to confront me directly, afraid to talk to me about something, or only comfortable taking a passive-aggressive approach to dealing with me. I think, “Who’d be afraid of little old me?” I also could never understand why I’d work so hard to make sure everyone around me was having a good time, only to find out later that so-and-so didn’t care for me, my personality, or my attitude. If this test is to be believed, my desire to make others happy is constantly at war with a desire to defend myself from attack (or even perceived attack). Even though I’m just “little old me”, I do have certain attributes that others might find imposing or unapproachable. It’s probably because of, as the test mentions, my “being uncomfortable with vulnerability”. (that one, I freely admit to.)

All in all, it’s an interesting personality inventory. I’ve included my results below the dotted line for those who know me well enough to care, or for those with a keen interest in psychology. If you personally would like to take this test, it’s here

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Overall results (score 64)

Ability to express opinions, thoughts and wishes in a clear, direct way, even if there’s the potential for rejection or disagreement.

According to your results on the Assertiveness Test, you are doing quite well in this department. You have developed most of the necessary skills and the self-confidence to stand your ground, whether it’s with family, friends, or colleagues. You know that you deserve respect from others and the way you behave encourages others to treat you accordingly. You certainly demonstrate some leadership potential. Just be aware of your actions so that when you assert yourself, you are not overly aggressive – you don’t want to come across as hostile or bossy. As long as you show as much respect for others as you expect in return, you are on the right track.

Ability to speak for self (score 80)

Acting with confidence to voice a personal opinion.

You rarely hesitate to address the issues that concern you the most. Whether it’s noisy neighbors or a raise you feel you deserve, you’ll immediately bring it to attention. You express yourself freely, asserting your personal rights with the confidence that your request is reasonable. As a self-assured individual, you are comfortable with letting others know you disagree with them, especially when you feel you’re being treated poorly. This approach shows that you feel you deserve respect and expect others to treat you this way.

Handling assertive/strong people (score 59)

Ability to stand up to those who might be intimidating.

Your skills are average when it comes to assertively dealing with authority figures. You are sometimes able to stand up for yourself quite well, but in other situations you can be overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity. Perhaps you feel inferior or don’t think that your opinion is as important as that of others. Unfortunately, these beliefs allow your self-doubt to get in the way. Keep in mind however, that you have something worthwhile to contribute too.

Comfort with vulnerability (score 53)

The ability to take action despite the risk of rejection or embarrassment.

While you are sometimes able to put yourself on the line, you tend to hesitate when it comes to showing your vulnerable side. If there is a lot of emotional risk involved in a situation – like the potential to be rejected or embarrassed – you might choose to avoid it altogether. Perhaps you are unsure about your ability to bounce back from humiliation or you just don’t think you have the confidence to pull it off. Occasionally, you might decide that the potential benefits are worth it but that doesn’t happen too frequently. This is something you may want to start doing more often. It is essential to take gambles if you want to achieve your goals.

Subservience (score 49)

Allowing the needs of others to take precedence over own desires.

When you feel that what you want may be in conflict with the desires of others around you, you are torn between giving in to their needs and expressing your own. While you dislike being treated like a doormat, you could end up feeling like you are the victim in a situation because you don’t deal with the perceived injustice effectively. You try not to take the blame for things you are not responsible for but if you keep telling yourself that your opinion is just as valuable as anyone else’s, you’ll soon find it easy to add in your two-cents when asked.

Aggression (score 77)

Using aggressive tactics, such as intimidation, physical force or manipulation.

According to the results of this test, you often use aggressive tactics, like intimidation or swearing, to get your point across. Some would say that there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggression, but there are definite differences. Assertiveness is the ability to express opinions, thoughts and wishes in a clear, direct way, even if there’s the potential for rejection or disagreement. Aggression is unnecessarily forceful, hostile, demanding, or even manipulative. Aggression shows disrespect for other people, since it does not allow them to assert their own rights. It puts your own needs above anyone else’s and takes the focus away from the topic at hand. The use of aggressive tactics is counterproductive and should be avoided at all costs.

It’s been a bit of a challenging week here so far, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little forgetful about keeping everyone in blog-world updated. I had the misfortune to, a few days ago, run out of my prescription Valium about a week before the next prescription was to be filled. This is completely my fault; rather than being on the suggested dose of 5mg per day, I’ve been steadily using 7.5 mg per day for the past few months, the “set point” at which the desired effect of the drug sets in.

For anyone who hasn’t experience with this type of drug, Valium, and all the drugs in the benzo family (Xanax, Klonopin, and Librium, to name a few) are frequently prescribed—and over-prescribed—for anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, and as one of many drugs in the cocktail used to successfully treat bi-polar depression. My experience with benzos started after my first admission to the ER in July, returning from a trip to the beach where I’d gotten heatstroke and 2nd degree burns, and started to experience lightheadedness, chronic vertigo, intolerance to light, and worst of all, these never-ending moments where I felt as if I were having a heart attack. Finally, three weeks after my symptoms began, I started hearing a “wooshing” sound in my ear that drowned out everything, and intense spasms under my ear. I thought I had an aneurysm, so I went to the ER.

After a lot of tests, they found nothing was wrong with me except “sinus tachycardia” (an exceptionally high pulse rate) and an elevated BP, probably due to the chronic panic attacks I’d been having. (I didn’t know they were panic attacks, as I’d never had one before. I legitimately thought I was dying.) They put me on Ativan (another benxo) and antibiotics for a supposed ear infection. Although the Ativan let me sleep, the vertigo and light intolerance never let up, and as soon as I was out of Ativan, the panic attacks returned. 3 trips to the ER later, they’ve put me on a beta-blocker to keep my pulse rate from elevating and a long-term anxiety drug called BuSpar.

From my perspective, BuSpar is evil. From the second day I was on it, I was sitting in the dark (because I couldn’t stand light) with vertigo too bad to ride in the car, and a serious fear of leaving my room. I cried for hours at a time. I wrote suicide notes and burned personal letters and diary entries I didn’t want anyone to find when I was gone. I seriously needed help. I didn’t get it. The doctor told my boyfriend that it took 10 days or so for the body to get used to the drug. By day 7, I was on the phone with 911. I couldn’t stand the movement of the ambulance, and I thought my head was going to explode. The right side of my face was paralyzed. In the ambulance, they told me I was exhibiting signs of “aura” (associated with migraines and seizures) and my pulse was 180, high enough to indicate a trans-ischemic-attack, rare in a previously healthy 30-year-old.

That’s when I met Valium. After a CAT scan, MRI, and tons of blood work, nobody could find a thing wrong with me. My scary symptoms were caused by a negative reaction to BuSpar, which works by blocking your dopamine levels. Oooops. If being on BuSpar was bad, the three days I spent detoxing from it were worse. They prescribed me Valium to help me through withdrawals, at 20 mg a day, a very high dosage for a petite woman with limited tolerance to prescription drugs. I still had horrible BuSpar withdrawals; “brain zap” that felt like electric shocks going through my brain, shaking, constant headaches, the inability to sleep or leave bed for days. I immediately made an appointment with a neurologist, given a history of epilepsy in my family, and arrived in a wheelchair, wearing sunglasses, unable to stand without assistance. Thanks, BuSpar.

Many doctors and many tests later, what they discovered is nobody knows what’s wrong with me. I’m off caffeine, limit chocolate and alcohol, and don’t put any drugs in my system that don’t come from the doctor. The result was always the same: I have a generalized anxiety disorder. I’m not coping with life. Take your benzos and see a psychiatrist. They tried me on Xanax and Klonopin, as well as Antivert for the vertigo. Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, except Valium. Although I’ve inconveniently gained 20 pounds as the result of Valium + beta-blocker (my heart rate no longer rises high enough to burn calories, and beta-blockers are notorious culprits of a 7-10 pound weight gain due to water weight, while Valium makes you want to sleep instead of exercise.); I am actually functional. I self-adjusted my dose over time, finding out that at about 7.5 mg of Valium, I don’t have vertigo. I don’t have panic attacks (although, ironically, I do sometimes panic about having panic attacks, which manifests as a form of social anxiety. Two drinks with vodka, and it’s gone, which tells me it’s an anxiety issue.). I sleep more than I ever have in my entire life:;9-10 hours uninterrupted.

Since then, it’s been discovered by visits to specialists that I may be dealing with a vestibular (inner ear) issue that causes the vertigo, which in turn caused panic attacks, which in turn caused high blood pressure and pulse. So, possibly, I have a physical disorder that shouldn’t be treated with psychiatric drugs, or heart medication. Unfortunately, until a diagnosis and cure is established, the only thing that keeps my vertigo and panic attacks at bay seems to be Valium.

Valium is highly addictive. The Prozac of the 1960′s, it was called “Mother’s Little Helper”, because it was given as the cure-all for stressed out, disenchanted housewives who needed jobs and a nanny instead. Nowadays, doctors dislike prescribing it, because you can get addicted to it in as little as a week. If you abruptly stop using it, you can expect detox symptoms ranging from shaking, vomiting, and the inability to function as a human being to seizures, coma, and even death. (Amy Winehouse was on the benzo Librium when she died, though she obviously disregarded the “Do not mix with alcohol” warning.)

I’ve been using Valium for well over 4 months. I am on a very low dosage, but two separate times I’ve tried to discontinue use, I’ve had severe side effects. Quitting Valium is apparently a long-term plan; one that involves your doctors lowering your dose every 3-4 weeks until you’re basically done with it. My doctors aren’t aware of this, which is information out there at every rehab center and on every medical advice website. They simply want me to stop taking it, so they’re not going to prescribe it anymore.

Never mind that they haven’t fixed the primary reason I’m using it in the first place: my vertigo and panic attacks leave me alone and help me function. For a time, I was on the brink of losing my job and not able to leave my house. Now, life is often normal for weeks at a time, courtesy of the “not messing with my drugs program”.

I now basically have 3 weeks to see the ear doctor and hope for some sort of diagnosis that will help me get past all this, and a psychiatrist or GP that sees the value in either keeping me on Valium or doing a safe detox plan. On top of it all, I’m broke and my insurance doesn’t want to pay…they’re dubbing everything a “pre-existing condition”, although no one knows what condition I have.

So, I spent the past few days going through physical and emotional hell because I dropped my Valium dosage from 7.5 to 2-2.5 mg a day. I couldn’t cope. I finally got a refill, with the caveat that there would be no more Valium for me, so I need to find a qualified doctor to handle this problem.

As if I weren’t stressed and broke enough…now it’s back to hunting for doctors, solutions, and finding more guesses and experiments than actual answers. And I have a limited time frame to accomplish it, if I don’t want to spend the holiday season in my bed, detoxing from Valium.

Don’t mean to sound whiny, because I know plenty of people have it worse. But when life decides it hates you, it really throws some crappy shit your way, and says “Let’s see you get out of this one”, while laughing hysterically.

During this rather depressing period, I’ve been reading a biography of Sylvia Plath (there’s something for every mood, I guess). Interesting character; one it’s a little to easy for me to identify with, with her oversensitivity, attraction to older and accomplished men, perfectionistic and ultimately masochistic nature, and high level of intuition. I mentioned to a friend that, as far as the Jungian/Meyers-Briggs types go, Intuitive Feelers seem to have the most difficult road in life, either becoming so disenchanted with themselves and the world that they commit suicide or get involved in self-destructive situations, or try to save the world, only to become disillusioned and depressed when they cannot. Just as there’s been much written about the link between creative genius and insanity, or at least eccentricity, there also seems to be a link between NF personalities and the ability to live a long, quiet, understated life.

Plath’s story is sad, but the sadder one belongs to her husband, Ted Hughes. A poet who is also a narcissist, sadistic, and likely meets many of the markers for being labeled a psychopath, he not only pushed his manic-depressive wife to stick her head in the oven, denying us years of literary genius—but years later, the woman he had an affair with while married to Plath would also commit suicide, killing his child along with her.

Sylvia Plath is an understandable tragedy. She lived a lifetime suffering from inherited bi-polar depression, in a time when nobody knew what bi-polar depression was. The story of Ted Hughes makes far less sense. From a psychological standpoint, at least, it’s interesting how one person can have the power to destroy without ever lifting a finger.