In the fourth in his series of self-reflective essays, Alex revisits his trip to the hospital featuring an epiphany via a Britney Spears poster
This is Fashion Weak, a five-part salacious/spiritual/sometimes sad series of essays about how a former unconvincingly closeted musical theatre major managed to get past the VIP New York City “fashion world” ropes, making a trainwreck of an entrance.
It’s a little after midnight on a Wednesday and I am Snapchatting selfies (with the dripping mascara filter) from a Mount Sinai hospital bed.
It’s been an hour since the nurse took my blood. It’s been two days since my return from a two-weeks-in-Asia (Tokyo! Hong Kong! Shenzhen…) comped press trip. Oh, and it’s been less than a year since my quick rehab stay. I’m lethargic and sad and feeling guilty and pissed about being lethargic and sad. Sure, a perma-paranoid friend I haven’t seen IRL in over a year (and who’s in denial re: being an Adderall-with-a-heavy-side-of-Valium addict) informs me that the stake-in-tummy pain means I have a parasite (You were in China..) before a get well soon. But that was in a text. There’s no actual living, breathing friend by my bedside. Which is fine, since that’s what Snapchat is for.
There is, however, a French man who has been carted in next to me with a curtain separating us, and he screams and snores, then more screaming, more snoring. The doctor reads the report to the unintentionally entertaining man, which mentions that he was found cuddling a bottle of Jameson in the ER’s driveway. This is simply not true! It’s a downright lie! I’m very upset! he screams in response. Then there’s a gay millennial shriek in an ALL-CAPS tone in the distance “WHY THE FUCK DO I NEED TO CHECK IN? I’M BLEEDING!” and the very-relatable-to-me “FUCKING HELP ME! I’M GUNNA DIE!”
Believe it or not, there’s a big part of me that tries to see the good in tragic things, so I quipped to the nurses while in a half-assed fetal position that hey, at least I’ll lose weight due to the violence happening in my bloated intestines. This is also a defence mechanism – I learned long ago that sadness makes people who aren’t mental health professionals uncomfortable, especially below 14th Street.
“These editors wanted me to write about the salaciousness, but to glitter bomb the darkness. Make them laugh, keep them comfortable... To detail my escapades, but to delete the ‘I cry after I cum’ bit”
In the early days of my writing “career”, editors took notice of my tendency to overshare re: a penthouse threesome with a famous designer who may or may not have the same first name as me and dreadful trysts with a member or three from my icon’s glam squad. (And by icon, I mean Britney probably also Bipolar II Spears, obviously.) These editors wanted me to write about the salaciousness, but to glitter bomb the darkness. Make them laugh, keep them comfortable. “I want fun action and shallow stuff. Not therapist talk. How you lure in and fuck the big names. SATC stuff,” said the gay Anna Wintour of a hip downtown magazine via Facebook Messenger circa 2012. To detail my escapades, but to delete the “I cry after I cum” bit.
Meanwhile, back in the stiff-as-Britney’s-post-breakdown-choreography hospital bed, my eyes were heavy but of course, I couldn’t fall asleep. The parasite was totally binging on my toxic insides as I waited for my test results. I hate waiting. I’m always waiting... to get better. Enter the voices darting around like coked-up hummingbirds in my head. They bring up how, a few days ago, I was seated front-row at Shenzhen Fashion Week while wearing Britney concert t-shirts, next to Chinese celebrities and the mayor of Shenzhen, followed by a Four Seasons hotel suite foursome. And that tonight, I’m non-orgasm moaning in a hospital bed clad in a backless paper robe. An additional anecdote: me having to pop a pill to calm the “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!”s before standing on a stage, alone, facing a sea of cameras at a press conference where I was asked questions, in I think Mandarin, about being a kind of a big deal in fashion. Thankfully, I had a translator and didn’t have a fully formed panic attack, just a few visible symptoms. How had I fooled everyone? Where’s my fucking Razzie award?!
On the return flight to New York City, my everything’s fine voice promised that I’d hit the ground running when I landed and remain grateful for all of my extraordinary blessings and commit to yet another treatment plan. Ha! Well, I already was a lot better. Like, instead of going out and drinking/fucking the pain away, opting for isolation became the norm. Little steps! You’ve gotta start somewhere on your self-help journey! Choose a treatment plan that works for you!
This post-one-week-in-rehab isolation would go something like... I’m bedridden and lost in Camel Light clouds, shielded by sheets decorated with cig burns, cuddling my overweight/anxiety-riddled (like father, like son) rescue cat, who I involuntarily inherited from my abusive, alcoholic roomie in my early twenties (he was moving in his with his new BF who was allergic to cats, and who had recently relapsed on meth). I might even be savagely attacking bodega cheese and Triscuits (the low sodium kind!), and/or uncontrollably tremble shouting “I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!” into my pillow right after covering a runway show for an A-List fashion magazine with a front-row featuring Taylor Swift and Kris Jenner. (I cannot with those two just as much as I cannot with yoga.)
Soon enough, the isolation and anxiety would fuck with my “career.” But I still needed money, so, instead of covering events, I’d interview starlets and emerging musicians on the phone rather than in person to responsibly sidestep any inevitable meltdowns. Meanwhile, my YouTube history highlighted my escapist ways: there’s The Wendy Williams Show and The View and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/New York City, which I’d watch with medicated eyes on my cracked iPhone, because my computer was too far away (AKA on the floor), until a debt collector called and/or a #TB trick sexted. I’d block the numbers and airplane mode the triggers away.
If and when my “going out friends” texted me “wyd tonight,” I’d write that, sorry for the delay, I was on the subway sans cell service heading to a very important meeting, and I’ve gotta sit this warehouse rave out because of morning deadlines. Unless the DJs were exclusively playing Britney, which they were always not, I couldn’t do it anymore. I vowed to never again chit-chat with club kids who I used to fuck. I didn’t feel like lying about loving their bedazzled harnesses and pretending like I ever knew their names. I didn’t feel like responding to the “Where have you been?!”s. I didn’t care. I was deadish. And I had nothing left to say, anyway. Well, nothing anyone would wanna hear. Besides, in the past, many (former) pals have simultaneously silenced and diagnosed me with being “just bored” and “crazy in a good way!” I’d much rather be getting my ‘Lost In Translation’ on in a hypnotic city a billion miles away where I didn’t know a soul – there’s no escapism quite like a press trip. I’d rather lie in bed than go out and lie about my life. At night in bed is where I’d set some goals for tomorrow, which was kind of pointless. Because I’ll have no idea which me I’ll be tomorrow. I’ll still be Bipolar, that’s for sure.
Clearly, that one-week-in-rehab didn’t Iyanla: Fix My Life. I was sometimes even sadder. That’s what happens when you discontinue the distracting and the numbing away of the darkness with sex, drugs and rock bottoms. I’d only treat myself to blacking out for holidays and special occasions, yet I’d still wake up every day feeling hungover. Bored, exhausted, disenchanted. Was this it? Was I always going to feel this way? The thrill of it all was gone. I interviewed my idols, I travelled the world, I’ve had an imaginary A-List designer boyfriend/imaginary celebrity BFFs, etc. Meaningless. Foolish. I was ashamed of being so jaded, so far gone. Maybe I was just growing up and realising what’s important in life… which is ___? Perhaps I had finally woken up; perhaps I should’ve stayed in bed. What’s the point? I’d always pathetically ponder, knowing there wasn’t an answer. Okay, so I’m not a hedonistic monster fucking up everything and anything anymore. I’m just here. Waiting for... I don’t know. I had no one to ask. ‘Twas all very Sylvia “I talk to God but the sky is empty” Plath, although my oven doesn’t work. SO, WHAT NOW?
“I’d only treat myself to blacking out for holidays and special occasions, yet I’d still wake up every day feeling hungover. Bored, exhausted, disenchanted. Was this it? Was I always going to feel this way? The thrill of it all was gone”
The doctor interrupts the insufferable voices, thank God, and opens the curtains. He’s got my test results. Everything’s fine. You’re jet-lagged. (I’m a bit disappointed. But of course everything is fine, because I’m fucking crazy.) You’re probably just stressed and exhausted. (LMAO! So Lindsay Lohan!) Take this pain medication. (Yes sir!)
It’s a bit after 3am and I take a 20-minute zombie stroll through the East Village toward my Lower East Side studio, where, although the built-in-1900 building’s collapse is imminent, I feel the safest. I can and will literally hide by closing the curtains. And no one can get to me – there are no buzzers let alone working smoke detectors in this building – not my friends, not my editors, not the “just circling back!” publicists, not debt collectors, NO-FUCKING-ONE. Airplane mode. Eye mask. I don’t exist. No one will miss me. I don’t need anyone. I didn’t need therapy or 12-Step meetings or kundalini yoga or a crystal collection. I didn’t need anyone by my side in the hospital. I didn’t need anyone on the stumbling stroll home to hold my hand.
I am loving the rain and there’s basically no one around except some swishing, passenger-less cabs. When you feel like no one (besides strangers on mental health-related message boards) gets you or wants to get you, you get used to feeling alone. So much so that you don’t feel alone. The ongoing dialogue going on in your head is enough. (Plus, there’s Snapchat.)
I feel everything and nothing. I’m not here because I’m anywhere but here. Do you know what I mean? I’m walking home but my legs don’t feel like they’re mine. Maybe it’s the glowing bodega lights that are guiding me as if I’m standing still on a moving walkway. Floating. I feel great. Like a topnotch Molly-popping high. Don’t you bring me down. Alas, the New York City chaos will strike again tomorrow, but tonight, all is oddly quiet. Even the voices. My head is clear. Not in like Scientology “going clear” kind of clear, but, like an unfurnished room with nothing but an oscillating fan. Akin to a white-noise-for-sleeping YouTube video. I love those. I can jaywalk and I can ignore the red lights tonight. I’ve never felt more at peace. For 20-ish minutes, I felt free. Free from myself. Most of my selves.
The sun wakes me up. I ignore my screaming and hungry cat, tear off the hospital bracelet with a boxcutter that’s curiously at my bedside, and check my phone. I don’t recall Snapchatting last night or falling asleep for that matter, but I did. Specifically, I Snapchatted three dim lit videos pointing at my floor-length Britney Spears poster, which is an image of 2000’s Oops…! I Did It Again album cover. (There’s nothing like greeting the day with Britney!)
And then there’s my voice over in which I sound very “I see dead people” kinds of crazy. Britney’s trapped in the poster since 2000 and she’s trying to get out. She’s moving. Britney’s moving inside of the poster. Help her! Set her free.
I throw out the bottle of whatever those pills were that the doctor gave me. (Just kidding. I sell them.) And then I do what I do best.
Delete, delete, delete, airplane mode, and, Oops…!, go back to sleep. Whatever. I’m not there yet, but I’ll get well soon.