Words Are Things

Photo courtesy of xxrobot at Flickr (Creative Commons)

I had a post almost ready to go which argued that people are getting too sensitive about words. That words are just words, totally dependent on context, and that there are no bad words, as George Carlin says—just bad thoughts and bad intentions. That it’s time to get off the “euphemism treadmill,” to accept that the euphemism of today is the pejorative of tomorrow. That the “r-word” has already gone the way of “moron” and “idiot,” and campaigning to ban it is naïve and futile. That though I’ve been chided for it, I can damn well call myself “crazy” if I want to. I can say that I “suffer from” anxiety disorder rather than “live with” it, stigma be damned.

Then, while I had that post set aside to revise, two things happened. First, comic genius Robin Williams, who suffered from (I said it again) bipolar disorder, committed suicide. People flooded cyberspace with rallying cries, and suddenly removing the stigma surrounding mental illness seemed more critical than ever.

The next day, while dallying in unfamiliar territory on Facebook (oh shut up, you do it too), I found out that my hipsterdouche ex-boyfriend is getting married.

It made me remember things—things I didn’t want to remember.

It made me remember that he talked me into getting off Zoloft because it would make me “too fat” and “not interested in sex.” That he told me I didn’t need prescription drugs when I could just take 5-Hydroxytryptophan, a naturally-occurring amino acid found in the pods of the African shrub griffonia simplicifolia. That as the relationship started to break down and the shrub-pod-derived amino acid proved ineffective, my anxiety symptoms returned. The pounds fell away, and he cheered, thinking our new workout routine was responsible. I knew the truth—my stomach was tight with fear; I couldn’t eat.

It made me remember that I secretly started taking Zoloft again, but that I took a concomitant drug that made me even more anxious, to help fight the sexual side effects. For him.

It made me remember that he asked why I was always so afraid of everything. That he admonished me for staying on the shore instead of bounding into the waves. For not climbing to the highest point in the park, Angel’s Landing, despite my fear of heights. I didn’t even try to tell him that being up high feels like living with anxiety disorder every single day—that sense that if I stopped holding on tight, I’d float away.

Hipsterdouche Ex-Boyfriend professed to be worldly and ultra-informed, open and progressive. Don’t use commercial products to unclog the sink drain, he’d say; they release phosphates into the bay and endanger the whole ecosystem. Don’t buy your pants from the Gap; they force their workers into sweatshops. He fancied himself an artist because he wrote cryptic three-line poems and plucked on a thrift-store mandolin. Look at me! I’m so in tune with my sexual self that I’ll kiss a man! I’ll sit on a random dildo I found in someone’s house!

OK. He didn’t actually use those words, per se. That paragraph degenerated into a mocking tone and culminated in a dildo, so I decided to end it. The point is that Hipsterdouche Ex-Boyfriend, who could open up to let the world in (no pun intended about the dildo, seriously), couldn’t accept me the way I was. He didn’t seem to believe that depression and anxiety were real illnesses.

I’ve written about how he wanted to control what I ate and what I wore. And those truths do still anger me, but nothing angers me as much as remembering how he made me feel bad and broken for having an anxiety disorder. He never said as much, but he didn’t have to. A few weeks after we broke up, I returned to the dating website where we’d met to delete my profile, and I was able to see in plain letters what he thought. His profile was still active, but with a new title:

In Search of Scholar-Athlete Not on Zoloft

Yesterday, looking at a photo of the pretty blonde hipster girl he’s chosen to marry—his scholar-athlete not on Zoloft—I felt that punch in the gut all over again. That feeling of being broken, defective, not good enough. And I saw everything I’d previously written about language in a different light. Are we, as George Carlin claims, afraid of certain words, and is the “euphemism treadmill” a real thing? Yep. For good reason. Because no matter how much we understand about language on an intellectual level, words can still be fucking daggers. 

So I can’t post that other post now. I can only post this one. And I can only end it with these words from Maya Angelou, shared with me by my beloved Joshua, who knows:

“Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”