Monday, May 30, 2016

What's In a Name?


Growing up with a name like Dorkys hasn’t exactly been fun times. Quite frankly, it sucked. Kids can be cruel little punks and will tease and torture their classmates just for the sake of either feeling superior or like they’re part of the cooler crowd. And with a name like mine, I was just begging for others to make fun of me. The first days of school made my stomach hurt because I just knew that a) my new teacher would butcher my name and b) my new classmates would start giggling at the idea somebody could actually have such a name. I still get anxious when I meet new people because I just don’t know how they’ll respond. It seems that becoming an adult does nothing for the naturally immature.

Last week, I wrote an essay on learning to accept my weird name after discovering its roots and although I would’ve preferred a more conventional name over mine, being named Dorkys has come with its special set of benefits.

Did you ever get teased for your name? And if it still happens please share because it’d be nice to know that I’m not the only one dealing with some ignorant fools.

Friday, May 27, 2016

{Happy Friday} I'm Trying to Make It So

Today has been anything but a thrilling Friday after an all-nighter spent in the emergency room (not for me) and then a botched MRI attempt (for me) this afternoon. I'm wiped out, but trying to find little things to make me smile before the beginning of our three-day weekend. Any fun plans for the coming days? I'm kicking mine off by snuggling on the couch and watching my favorite childhood movie, Anastasia. Below, a few more bits that have been lifting my mood this week.

The wiggle is too powerful.

Kwabena Foli's poetry Tumblr.

True facts about marsupials.

Poetry rains down on Boston.

Do you have an Instagram husband? (Don't lie.)

A poignant comic explaining heartbreak and healing.

A site that offers delicious menus and how to make them really cheaply.

In January, I took on a #366project on Instagram and have been sharing my calligraphy (almost) every day. I've also been writing a bit more and just landed my own weekly column yesterday! I'll be publishing personal essays and my thoughts on relationships, sex, issues that pertain to Latinas and women in general. In the past months, I've shared my mental health journey and learning to love my naked body.

By the way, I have some talented friends that you all should check out. There's my friend Danny, who years ago read a poem that was seared into my brain, moved to Portland last year, and has since been writing up a flurry of wonderful words. There's sweet and self-deprecating Cassidy who mesmerizes me with her songs. And my friend Ky has also taken on a #366project of her own by crocheting miniature creatures and has started putting them in her Etsy shop.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sass and Strum


Last fall, I mentioned that I had taken on a few new hobbies to get me into the swing of focusing on me. I took swimming lessons for the summer and signed up for ballet and guitar in the fall. I spent months running from one class to another and there was rarely a day where I had absolutely nothing going on for the entire day. It grew to be exhausting after a while, but it served it's purpose: to get out of the house and slowly crawl out of my depression. It was a joy to meet others and, even if it only lasted an hour or so, to forget about the mess that my life was at the moment.

I was thrilled when my family and friends came to see me at my first ballet performance in December. (Our choreography was set to the music from the Spanish dance in Swan Lake.) I walked out wishing I had done a better job than I did, but had to remind myself that I was a total newbie and had accomplished so much after just six week's worth of practice. A couple weeks before the dance recital, I concluded the end of my first guitar course at the New York City Guitar School. My classmates and I chose Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" for the required performance held on our final class and even though I love that song, I wanted to throw up on myself all day. The idea of singing AND making sure I got the chords right AND doing this in front of strangers just made me sick. Thankfully, those jitters gave way once my bandmates and I started jamming and it was all over too quickly.

I have to admit that those fun activities have fallen to the wayside since then. I took the guitar course that followed, but without the people I'd connected with in the previous class, I quickly lost interest. That and I was officially tired from taking on too many distractions and not resting enough (I was sick on and off for a good chunk of four months). I clearly overdid it, but I still miss learning fun, new skills. I did get some swimming lessons in when my boyfriend (!) and I took a cruise to the Bahamas with friends last month and then added a second leg to our trip with a stay in Miami. (Yes, I'll tell you all about it soonest!) In the interest of saving money, I stopped attending ballet class and instead took a few television production courses that were all free of charge via the local public access station. As for guitar, I still dream of getting my own instrument and plucking away at those strings with the help of YouTube videos and the talented musicians I get to call friends.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Portfolio Site + Dry As Toast Gets a Revamp


Hey all! Just wanted to alert you to a project I’ve recently launched and am really excited to share. I’ve had my name as a domain for four years and had never done anything with it - until now. I like how I’ve been sitting on it for so long knowing that I wanted to create a portfolio site with my published works and in a matter of two weeks *boom* I up and decided to get it done. Now you can visit www.dorkysramos.com to view my articles, a collection of illustrations, and read more about who I am and the work I’ve been doing. I’ve even started a photo travel journal that I will be slowly updating in the coming weeks (or days because this is my new fun obsession).

You’ll also notice that Dry As Toast has a new look to match the other website, and you’ll be able to navigate both ends via the menu up top no matter if you get here via www.dryastoast.com or www.dorkysramos.com. I’m currently working on a calendar of fun posts so if you have any suggestions on topics you’d like to see covered, please share them in the comments.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Still Alive


That bittersweet reunion in our apartment ushered in a new phase in our relationship: a confusing mix of I love you, we’re still involved, and you’re important to me, but you’ve been demoted from girlfriend. Imagine being constantly reminded that the person you trusted with everything has now placed a glass wall between you, dictating when you could get close and when you needed to know your new role, when it was alright to be intimate, but please don’t get so attached. I kept unraveling. I took whatever crumbs of attention I could get, mostly feeling happy that at the very least we were speaking at all, but also feeling my insides turn to constant dread. To me, every intimate moment felt like it could be the last time. I was a tangled ball of feels whenever we slept together and afterwards, I’d lay there in bed, wide awake, hearing him sleeping next to me while I wondered if things could ever be the same between us. I told myself to be okay with this unfamiliar stage, that perhaps we didn’t have to go down the same route everyone else did. That we could create our own version of what “broken up” looked like.

But it never felt like enough, not when I had gone from having all of him to barely having him at all. I’d make myself available whenever he wanted us to meet. I would get slapped with an insensitive comment only to dry the tears and come back for more. "Humble yourself," he said to me. "You may have taken a lot of hits, but it's a cross you're proud to bear. You keep throwing yourself into the lashes." Did that mean he needed to keep cracking the whip?

I spent four more months on top of five years still trying to prove my worth, still hoping that we could reignite whatever love we’d shared between us. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that a mutual friend, his best friend’s girlfriend 12 years his junior, had been filling in all the voids he might have felt. I tried to be understanding, I tried to be considerate, but it was driving me even more insane. As the summer bore on, the closer they became. When I’d lash out over being slighted, insulted, I’d turn around and apologize. I bought her flowers to make up for my rage when he said they’d be going to Burning Man without me. I pulled up skill after skill I’d learned in therapy to show how capable I was of changing. When he said I was destined to fail 100 percent of my attempts at change, I countered back with defiance. I was not going to let him dictate my future. But when she invited me out for coffee only to tell me I was manipulative and she couldn’t be in my life anymore, I was almost sent back to the hospital in a depressed and suicidal state. I felt like nothing was working for me. If I were to make it out at the other end of this, everyone will have left me by then.

After a month apart, he and I rekindled for no more than a passionate midnight tryst and a few days of texts. The mind-fucking continued. “I don’t know why you’re so irresistible to me,” he whispered to me in bed only to blame me for his attraction days later. “You’re dangerous,” he texted, suddenly annoyed by our flirtatious messages. “If you wanted my friendship, you’d leave your ego at the door. But you swing your sexuality around knowing how to affect me.”

When I continued to seek out ways to create a healthier relationship, a friendship, anything with him, he saw being kind to me as too big a burden to bear. I came with too many emotions, I was in “enemy territory,” I was “on trial,” "your feelings won't be accommodated," "you're trying to break into a space you'd been removed from." Why couldn’t we just fuck, he wanted to know. “We may have a lot between us, but it’s just fuel for the fire when we spark,” he told me. “I can’t return the feelings you give me and I can’t bear the burden of receiving your love without returning it. I don’t want your heart.”

I couldn’t understand why it was so hard for him to be nice when I was able to sit on the grass beside him, vulnerable, reaching out only to have him recoil from my touch. When I stormed out of the park after that last encounter in which he blew my mind by saying I needed to cater to that person he’d now fallen in love with in order to remain in his life, I knew without a doubt that a) I had finally grown to hate him and b) I had given this relationship every single ounce I had in me, and it was more than it deserved. There was nothing left to give.

I don’t know what it would have taken for me to have left sooner. I don’t know if I would’ve been capable of leaving my stubbornness aside and accepted that this person and his ego were too toxic and triggering. I’ve since been told over and over again that most people in my situation, in that relationship, would have reacted in the same way. That most would have left long ago, but instead I stayed and gave it everything I had. I flip back and forth between feeling like a martyr and an absolute idiot. I walked away having taken too much of the blame. I was the cog messing everything up. I had to change, get in line, submit, accept, permit. I had to do the work. I was the only one going to therapy so clearly I was the one with the problem.

It was so wrong and so unfair and I wish I’d had the strength to stand up for myself back then. I wish I had the guts to say that this situation was unhealthy for me and this person refused to give me what I needed in this relationship. That he hasn't wanted me for a very long time and I shouldn't have sacrificed my self-worth in order to make him stay. Do I still get angry about it? Yes. Am I sad? Definitely not as much as before. The respect they lost from family and friends after they ran off together with zero fucks given towards the people they were attached to is enough of a reflection on their character that I no longer feel the need to confront them about how hurtful their actions were towards me. Instead, I spent the fall and winter grieving and healing and while I know it’s going to take a long time to be fully repaired, I can acknowledge that I have better things going for me now. I might have lost someone in the process, but my life is so much fuller than before.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Two Weeks in the Psych Ward


I was wheeled into the New York Psychiatric Institute around midday nap time. The halls were quiet save for a few patients shuffling around the center. I noticed that they were wearing actual clothes and suddenly felt embarrassed that I was still rocking my oversized hospital gown, disposable underwear, and socks.

“Do you have any clothes from home?” was one of the many questions I’d be asked that first day. Everyone wanted to hear my story despite my having recited it countless times in the last two days. When I’d tell them to ask the last person I’d talked to, they’d just say that they wanted to hear it directly from me in case anything was left out of the last person’s notes.

The pillows were as thin as the bedsheets and the mattress made me crave the cold, tiled floors. I couldn’t sleep. If my mind wasn’t racing, then I was stifling my cries so as to not wake my roommate, an older woman who'd been in there for a year or two. It all seemed unfair, simultaneously having to deal with my breakup and my mental health all the while surrounded by no one I knew. I was furious, hurt, devastated, over and over, every stupid day. I felt like the world was moving on beyond these walls while I laid there with my hands tied behind my back.

But not literally. There were no straightjackets or padded walls, just a room with a single mattress that patients could go into whenever they were spiraling downhill. I went in there two or three times. Once to meditate after a spark of “I’m going to get back on track and everything’s going to turn out OK” and, days later, to cry my eyes out feeling like the biggest failure after A. emailed to say we shouldn’t speak anymore and that he’d signed a lease for another apartment. He’d be moving out sometime that first week of May, he wrote.

The rooms were either singles or doubles with two twin beds on opposite ends of the room. We had little cubby holes to place our clothes and other possessions, but aside from my T-shirts, underwear, and single pair of jeans, I kept most of my belongings on my nightstand. It was just a big yellow envelope I’d filled with the travel-sized toiletries, a toothbrush, a comb my family had brought me, and the stack of papers I’d been reading and writing on. They were mine and I wanted them near me. When we’d be ushered out of our room at 6am, I’d bring all my papers with me and carry them around all day until it was time for everyone to tuck in at 9pm.

By 4am, I’d be awake in bed, wishing I could just sleep this whole thing away. I’d watch the flashlight shine in through our door window and quickly shut my eyes so they didn’t discover that I was wide awake. I don’t know what they would do if they saw you staring blankly into space. More inconveniences, I assumed.

At 6am, a loud knock on everyone’s door meant it was time for vital checks. We would make our way over to the hallway in our pajamas, rubbing our eyes from the lights, and saying good morning. I was usually one of the first ones out there, clutching at my elbows, disoriented from my lack of sleep.

“You know you can request a sleeping pill, right?”

“Yes. I’ll let you know if I need one.” I never did.

We lined up for medication dispenses twice a day. I’d get my mood stabilizer in the evenings and my breast cancer medication first thing in the morning along with a multivitamin. I was already alarmingly small and my continued weight loss was an issue. So they’d serve me cans of Ensure three times a day. An extra 1,000 calories in my system definitely didn’t help my appetite come meal times. The red paper placemat at the bottom of my food tray meant that I needed to be closely monitored and I came so close to slamming the whole thing on the ground when I’d be interrogated as to why I didn’t eat all my food. I just did not give a fuck. I wanted to go home.

Family visitations began at 5pm. My family was there every single day, except for a time or two towards the end when I started turning my resentment their way and told them not to come. I didn’t want them to come watch me cry for two hours and then go home to sleep in their own beds. They couldn’t help me in there. They couldn’t get their own child out of that miserable place. My sister would sneak in my phone so that I could browse through my messages. Facebook was a cruel torture I couldn’t resist. Babies had been born, lives continued on, A. was smiling for photos. Meanwhile, I had to drop various projects and commitments because of my open-ended stay. I dropped out of the National Stationery Show just weeks before the big trade show. All that time and money, gone. Work wanted to know when I’d be back. Everyone was concerned and I could only imagine the questions that were floating around.

The guilt was strong whenever I had a good day though. I’d made friends quickly and before long had gathered a small clique of the 35-and-below crew. We ate all our meals together. We debated about religion and relationships. I would banter with the boys and laughed with them when the meds made them feel so loopy. In the evenings, we would compete for access to the computer and watched music videos on YouTube. We sat together during the various life skills sessions throughout the day and clowned around. We played ping pong before lunch and blasted the only radio and danced around the game room. When the beds were opened again for nap time, I’d take refuge in that one room with the radio and sing my heart out. I needed some way to purge the pain away and for me, that was through writing and music. This was necessary, I reminded myself. It felt like a mental health vacation.

“Fresh air” on the day’s schedule meant that the group would be escorted to the outdoor patio. I called it The Cage because of the green wire fence that rose up and curved over us as a reminder that we were not free. The cars on the Hudson River Parkway just below us went by so fast and I wished so hard that I could be in one of them heading far away from this place. I counted the tiny Smart cars that zipped on past while I waited for someone to rescue me.

“What is the first thing you’re going to do once you’re out?” we’d ask each other.

Some would mention their favorite meal, a particular place, sleeping in their own bed, or turning right back the vices that landed them there in the first place. Me? I wanted to run. Nowhere in particular. Just run.

But I didn’t run when I walked out of the hospital on May 1, 2015. I just grabbed my clothes, the shoelaces that were confiscated on my first day, the manila envelope stuffed with my paperwork and toiletries, and made my way to Dad’s car. I clicked on my seatbelt and we drove uptown towards home. I still didn’t feel free.

When I arrived at our apartment in the middle of his workday, I braced for what I felt would be a jarring scene, a quiet, half-empty home devoid of the life he and I had created together. No one knew when I'd finally be home, and I hadn't spoken to A. in days, but when I turned the key, I noticed that the front door wasn’t completely locked. I walked into our hallway and there he was, exhausted and hunched over his office chair, surrounded by boxes, waiting for the movers to arrive.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015


The first third
A muddy blur
Exploded into existence
It was an error to ignore all the tremors
Psychedelic love met resistance

Forced purgatory
For emotional surgery
Paper dreams went up in smoke
A summer in vain spent fanning the flames
But he took and she took and they took

Heart burned
Lessons learned
Feeling foolish because deep down I knew
Finally believing there’s no need to stay hidden
Though others left, my circle grew

Strum down
Twirl around
What would it have cost to be kind?
Mending and grieving via drawing and weaving
Cocooning with the butterflies

Goodbye and goodbye
With head held high
What a twisted end to this game
Cold shoulders and dark hours
I was bracing for a winter that never truly came

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Break


When a doctor led me into an interview room to assess my mental state, I told her what I thought she needed to hear in order to set me free. It’d been two days. I said I felt better. That no, I didn’t feel like killing myself anymore. That I was just really sad over the breakup. That I could continue recovering at home. That I would be safe.

She didn’t believe me.

She said that my intense reactions, overwhelming emotions, and tendency to self-harm in various ways could be indicative of a more serious underlying issue. I hugged my knees as she told me that I would not be going home that night either. What would it take?? Eventually, a little flicker started to go off in my brain as I wondered if this could be what I’d been needing all along. If I couldn’t go back, then maybe there was something to find moving forward. No one knew how awful I’d felt most of my life. When my father was interviewed about my past behavior, he easily answered that I was mild-mannered and successful, focused and quiet, yes, but never violent. Only A. knew the extent of my suffering because he had to live through it with me. And I so wished he were there to comfort me as I sought my way through this mess, but he was gone. God knows where he was at that time.

Upon hearing that I would not be discharged, I decided there was no use hiding anymore. As I began unraveling before her, a voice told me I was only digging myself in a deeper hole; they’d never let me go now. Another told me this was my chance to finally get the help I needed. Years of going to therapy had done nothing for me; I still felt severely depressed. When I was hurt emotionally, I’d let myself "bleed out" until I’d finally grow empty and numb, absolutely exasperated with myself; I’d feel that deeply. I’d hold things in until they burst out in flames. I was constantly fighting against the mean voices in my head. Even in my happy days, the joy was short-lived. This dull ache was always lying underneath and I truly believed that a consistent happiness was just not in the cards for me. I will always sink back to sad.

I believed that if I just talked to someone long enough, an answer would suddenly appear and make things all better. This doctor, who I remember as being sweet and kind and beautiful, said there was never a plan with my methods. That was true, I wanted to figure it out all by myself and felt that therapy could unlock something for me. But I didn’t know that wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough, and here I was finally facing that idea.

It was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the words “mood disorder” as a reason for my behavior. Which? She couldn’t say, but she suggested the possibility of taking medication to help me cope with the surges in the meantime. After just a few months of being on antidepressants in my mid-20s, I had sworn I would never go on medication again; it was that awful of an experience. In a letter to A. describing this moment, I wrote:

“All this time I’ve wanted to tackle my issues without chemical assistance, but it’s been an exhausting uphill battle. Every single day I’m gritting my teeth, hoping I don’t fuck up. I am so tired. I just wanted to be free of this endless suffering. I was terrified, regretful, so many emotions. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can’t do this anymore. I’m so scared, but while I talked to the doctor, I felt some hope that things could get better. That there’s an answer in all this.”

She also wanted to transfer me to an inpatient clinic within the hospital facilities where I could be monitored and have access to resources that would help me address my issues. I asked the important questions first.

“Will there be access to Internet?”

“Yes, and you can write from there or do art and other activities.”

Cut to me envisioning a mini staycation of sorts. I could have my laptop and keep working from my room or wherever there was a WiFi connection. There’d be a window with a view. I could paint and continue my ongoing art projects. And if I was struggling through anything, I’d have doctors available to get me through the hurdle. It sounded like mental health sleepaway camp! I never got to go to sleepaway camp!

I signed the agreement hoping that there would be a slot available for me soon, and took my first dose of mood stabilizers that evening. It was the first time in days that I’d been able to sleep soundly through the night - save for those wretched vital checks, of course.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Triage


If you thought going through a breakup from the comfort of your own bed was tough enough, imagine trying to heal that heart from a hospital emergency room at one in the morning alongside a row of patients moaning through their own personal hell. That. Shit. Sucks. There’s no crying in peace when a thin, white bed sheet is all that separates you from the rest of this God forsaken triage.

It wasn’t until I’d recounted my story several times over that I figured I could deaden the pain by focusing on the people around me. One belligerent woman had to be strapped down and sedated after an unsuccessful suicide attempt involving a bunch of pills and a bottle of liquor. Somehow the woman was still very much alive and kicking and fully believing she was fit to walk out the door. “That’s going to be one God awful hangover in the morning,” I thought.

But where the hell was my family? I was sure they would start questioning their decision to bring me in after seeing the lot I was lumped in with here. See? At least I wasn’t that far gone! I wanted to go home, but no one was giving me any answers, just more of the same damn questions.

“Tell me what happened. Why were you brought in?”
“Did he hit you?”
“Have you ever done drugs?”
“Earlier you indicated that you were having suicidal thoughts. Are you still thinking of hurting yourself?”
“How are you feeling now?”
“We’re still waiting to hear back if you’re able to go home.”

I couldn’t tell you how long we waited in the emergency room; there was no clock and my cell phone had been confiscated along with everything else I’d worn in. My father and sister were still out in the waiting room and I’d catch glimpses of them walking by, trying to get answers from anyone. Because I was kept in a small communal area, my family couldn’t stay long with me, but I’d try and catch their attention whenever I saw them pass by the nurses’ station. I just wanted someone to come lie next to me, hug me, and tell me things would be okay. I wanted warmth. If I was going to feel this alone, I would have rather locked myself in my bedroom and curled up under the covers until the numbness took over. There was no sleep here.

At around four in the morning, another nurse came to transfer me to another holding area where I would stay through the rest of the night. I was cranky and not as happy to comply with their demands. Where were they taking me now? How long would I be there? And didn’t they know I had work to get to in the morning? Did they expect me to just suddenly stop my life over this?

Oh, did they.

I asked if they could at least bring me my phone to quickly shoot off a few vague emails along with a handwritten note to my sister on what she should tell my employers. They clearly didn’t want me to have these possessions for a second longer than necessary because as soon as I was done, they grabbed my things, gave them to my sister, and locked the hallway door behind them. Now it was just me and these fools.

I was ushered into a larger communal pen lined with reclining chairs and sleeping bodies. The area was dark save for the lights along the passageway the circled around the holding area. Security guards would check in on us from time to time, entering the pen through one side and exiting through the opposite end. I’d watch them come and go, come and go. I curled up on my chair, wrapping the oversized hospital gown around my cold feet, and then the blanket over every inch of me. Whenever I’d hear a rustle, I’d go on high alert, immediately stopping my sobbing to listen to what was going on in the darkness. At one point in the night, a shadow - one of the male patients - stood a few feet from my chair and just watched over me for a few minutes. I’m sure he just wanted to help somehow because I’d been crying and shaking so much, or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself, but there was no way in hell I was falling asleep in that place. Days later, a patient I’d grow to befriend said she felt sorry and concerned when they first brought me in; I looked so sad, scared, and alone.

Oh, the snoring, wandering patients, people chatting, my constant vigilance; sleep deprivation was a given. Even if I had managed to doze off, those insufferable nurses would roll on through to check your vitals every three to four hours aaaall night and aaaall day. I didn’t brush my teeth for two days. I don’t remember caring.

I was thrilled to see that the woman with the shrill voice and colorful language from the emergency room had made the transfer over here as well. Absolutely fabulous really. Since I couldn’t run away from these people via reading or writing, I just sat and observed. I wanted to remember everything. Some of us were in there due to suicide attempts while others seemed to be addicted to one thing or another, led into this fine establishment by concerned family members who didn’t know what the hell to do with them anymore. Those struggling through withdrawals would cry out for their methadone doses, more nicotine gum, patches, food, more food! Soon I was one of them, getting my daily cancer medication in a teeny plastic cup at the beginning of each day. I was stuck in an endless reel of mealtimes and getting my vitals checked.

“No, thanks,” I’d say whenever the cart rolled by. “I’m not hungry.”

Secretly, I was starving.

Visitation hours were in three time blocks throughout the day, so my family was there three times a day without fail. It was comforting to see someone I knew. It helped break up the otherwise nothingness that filled those first couple of days. In my craving for connection, I befriended a distraught woman who was placed in the chair beside me. I so wanted a friend in there and we were…for about a day until she was transferred to a psychiatric institution somewhere north of the city. I made it a point to find her before she was wheeled off to the ambulance and hugged her goodbye.

I still think about her. I hope she also made it through.