A Prologue to I Promise We’re Not All Crazy: One Girl’s Search for Meaning in the Modern World by Ashley Boney
(Illustration provided by the exceedingly talented Vashti Harrison)
Most of us have questioned our sanity at one point or another. It’s always a slow creep too. We hear the alarm clock buzz and reach for the snooze button. Sometimes we hit it, other times we turn it off the first time. We roll out of bed, stumble into the bathroom, and take a shower. We will the warm water to wake us up as we contemplate the day. Should I make coffee or go to Starbucks? Starbucks, we decide. We finish our shower, brush our teeth and put on our clothes. If we’re lucky our commute is nice enough to forget how much we have to do at work. We ride the train or sit in traffic with other commuters. We smile when a good song comes on. It puts us in a good mood. We arrive at our cubicle and see a stack of folders on our desk.
“Is it Friday yet?” we mumble to ourselves as we turn on our computer and wait for the blue screen to fade. We open our inbox and sort through emails. We don’t mind the spam. Deleting it make us feel like we’ve accomplished something. We chat with coworkers in the break room
“How’s it going?” we ask as we drink our coffee.
“It’s going,” they say doing the same. We contemplate what we’re going to have for lunch as we sit through meetings. Thirty minutes into the meeting, we debate whether we should start looking for another job. We start turning our attention towards lunch instead.
By lunchtime we still can’t decide what we want. The salad looks good, but so does the pizza. We go for the salad. We pour extra dressing on top, trying to ignore the fact that we actually wanted the pizza. We eat lunch at our desk. We answer more emails, take a few phone calls, and put out avoidable fires.
“This is really important,” our boss says. “Stop working on that and work on this.”
Ten minutes later we finish.
“Here you go,” we say.
“Oh great. Just leave it there,” our boss says pointing to an already overflowing stack of papers on a table nearby. At 3:00 p.m. we notice our boss still hasn’t had a chance to touch the work. We get the munchies. We pull open our desk drawers searching for an abandoned mini Twix. Bingo, it’s next to the highlighter.
“Happy hour today?” our co-worker asks, poking his head into our cubicle.
“Sure we say,” looking forward to the opportunity to unwind. We stare at the clock, willing it to hit 5:00 p.m. At 5:00 p.m., we grab our bag and follow our co-worker to the bar. We order a beer. Just one tonight we tell ourselves. After two we decide to order food.
“Fuck Ben,” our coworker says slamming his beer on the countertop. The bartender looks at him and chuckles. He knows the routine by now.
“Did you see that email he sent? What an asshole,” our co-worker says. Ben isn’t at happy hour. It’s okay to talk shit about him.
“Yea, fuck him,” we agree, taking a sip of our beer. We complain about work and talk about sports. We make weekend plans and take a look at our watch before paying and heading home.
When we get home we open our mailbox and throw out the junk mail. We keep the new takeout menu. This place looks good we think as we fiddle with the keys to our apartment. We kick off our shoes and throw on our pajamas. We turn on the television. The news is depressing. We watch trashy stuff instead. We scroll through Instagram at the same time.
“Aw, Leah got a puppy,” we say out loud, immediately clicking the heart button. We convince ourselves that we want a dog too. We turn to Google and search for local dog adoption centers. We smile at the puppies before deciding we don’t have enough time or money for a dog.
“Maybe in a few years,” we say to ourselves before heading to bed. We go to sleep.
The next day our alarm goes off. We hit the snooze button. We hit it three times.
“I don’t want to go to work today,” we groan as we stare at the ceiling. We lay there for a while, debating whether to call in sick. We drag ourselves into the bathroom, staring at our reflection in the mirror.
“Maybe I should get a dog,” we think. We take a shower, go to work, and come home. We do it again the next day.
When the weekend rolls around we go to bars with friends. Our alcohol tolerance isn’t as great as it used to be. We ignore it and drink anyway. We dance and have pointless conversations with friends before heading home. We’re hungry-tired. We stop at McDonalds and order drunk food.
“Can I has the cheeseburger,” we say to the cashier, trying to sound sober. It tastes good. It tastes really good. We hail a cab and look out the window, watching woo girls hug each other and guys in wrinkled button downs pee in alleyways. We spot a restaurant we tell ourselves we’ll remember to try when we’re sober. We pay for our cab and shut the door, trying to find the keys to our apartment. We’re still hungry. We walk to the kitchen looking for something. We spot a bag of chips. We grab them and take them to the couch. We’re too tired to eat them, but we’re too hungry to go to sleep. We’re hungry for more than chips.
“What the heck am I doing with my life?” we wonder. We’re too drunk to consider it seriously. We get a hangover the next day.
On Monday, we wake up, go to work, and come home. We do it again on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday we question the meaning of life.
We continue going out with friends on weekends but start going home earlier and earlier. We stop partying too. We look for new jobs and try to make new friends. We learn a new language. We finally go to Costa Rica. We love Costa Rica. Costa Rica was what we needed. We get home. We feel good. When we don’t, we try to remind ourselves how much fun we had in Costa Rica. Costa Rica, we try to remind ourselves. Remember Costa Rica we say as we talk to relatives at family reunions.
“Do you have a boyfriend yet?” our cousin asks us over a plate of potato salad.
“Not yet,” we say. Our cousin wonders what is wrong with us. We wonder too. We liked this one guy, but he wasn’t ready for a relationship. No one seemed ready for a relationship these days. Long-term hookups were preferred.
We continue applying for new jobs. We’re not really sure what we want to do next. We’re unmotivated. We take another trip, Australia this time. It’s not as much fun as we thought it would be. We return home. We rack our brains trying to figure out what other classes to try, what other jobs to apply for, what other experiences to have. This is just how it is sometimes, we tell ourselves when friends move to new cities. This is just how it is sometimes we tell ourselves when we’re comfortably bored at work and too uncomfortable to leave. This is just how it is sometimes, we tell ourselves when we opt to watch Netflix rather than go out like we used to.
A few weeks turn into months. We start to feel uneasy. Our alarm goes off. We turn it off and stare at the ceiling. We walk to the bathroom and look in the mirror. We cry. We keep crying. “What is wrong with me?” we ask ourselves through fits of tears. We think we’re going crazy.
I knew I was undergoing some serious existential depression when I started watching Joel Osteen. There I sat on my last leg IKEA couch listening to a television preacher go on about the greatness of God. Desperation will make you try anything once. Unwashed dishes were accumulating, weekend jeans were traded for pajamas, and piles of laundry were quickly becoming welcomed houseguests. It’s hard to say whether I watched Joel Osteen for relief or as brushwood for my angry fire, but it was probably a little bit of both. I was flat on the mat and it was really hard to get up.
My logical brain didn’t understand how I could be so jaded by the hamster wheel of life and still enjoy listening to Joel Osteen say such incredible things about God. Joel was so darn cheerful. My mind did everything in its power to stop me from enjoying his weekly sermons.
“He’s probably some crazy conservative nutcase,” I remember thinking as I sat on my couch drinking apple juice straight out of jug. My liberal, black girl heart couldn’t rationalize my willingness to listen to the man. I tried to convince myself I wasn’t actually listening. I’d pull out my computer and mindlessly scroll through Facebook or Buzzfeed. Joel Osteen was just background noise. I didn’t turn the channel though. After a while, I’d catch myself looking at the screen. I’d watch the camera pan to random audience members wishing I felt the spirit.
God and religion didn’t feel like legitimate options to me. I wore a cross necklace that was only meaningful because my mom gave it to me and I loved my mom. Watching Joel Osteen on my couch was one thing. Going to church was another. Most of my friends were agnostic, atheist, or loosely spiritual. I was okay with Buddhism and Judaism, but Christianity, not so much. It’s easy to see why. Calling yourself a Christian these days comes with a lot of labels. And as a liberal 20-something from the Washington, D.C. area, I wasn’t down with those labels. I hadn’t been to church in 15 years and couldn’t remember a Bible passage to save my life. Looking at Joel Osteen’s perfect teeth and well-tailored suit made me wonder whether hoping for change was really worth it. Life on earth felt rather pointless sometimes. God felt noticeably absent.
“What do you want me to do here?” I said out loud in my one-bedroom apartment one Sunday as I watched Joel. I knew I was losing it then. I wasn’t convinced I was actually talking to God, if he existed at all, but if I was, I wanted him to know I was frustrated.
“Get into a good Bible-based church, keep God first place, he’s going to take you places you’ve never dreamed,” Joel Osteen said with oddly coincidental timing. I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen for weeks. Until one day I decided to Google “open-minded churches in the D.C. area.” Despite what you’ll read in the coming pages, I definitely wasn’t dumb enough to believe I was experiencing some beautiful act of religious conversion. I was desperate.
When I finally decided to leave the couch and go to church, I felt like a hooker trying to hide her roots. I walked up to the building looking around for anything fishy. Services were held in a middle school auditorium and I remember trying to convince myself that I was simply going to school or some religious TED talk instead of church. I walked up to the newcomer’s table smiling awkwardly, not sure whether I had to check in or sign a roster.
“Welcome,” said the woman at the table.“Feel free to take anything you see here, but no pressure at all,” she said fully aware that I was two seconds away from running out the door.
I took a program and walked into the auditorium feeling a little relieved that no one seemed crazy yet. I was still skeptical though. I didn’t want to be duped into conversion. I zeroed in on an aisle seat, plopping my purse on the chair next to me to discourage anyone from sitting in it. I eyed fellow churchgoers trying to figure out who opposed marriage equality and who owned guns. I scanned the auditorium trying to find every reason not to fit in. This isn’t going to be a thing, I told myself. I told myself that for weeks.
Going back to church didn’t change anything for me immediately. In fact, for the most part, life carried on as usual. Instead of my couch I had a place to go on Sunday mornings, but I wasn’t fully committed to Christianity or organized religion and I definitely didn’t talk to anyone. My walk to church was paved with confusion, doubt, joy, and resentment just like life itself. It still is. Organized religion has lost its way. It’s too black and white to make room for shades of gray, but I promise it’s not all bad. I promise we’re not all crazy.