• Megan Sells

Who the Hell Even Needs Dopamine?!

Updated: Nov 9


ME. I do. I'm absolutely desperate for it. I go slumming with all the other brain chemicals just to find a glimmer of that Dopamine good good. It never works, but hey maybe next time.


All of this to say, many times over the past months I have thought, "I want to update my blog today." But, as you may have been able to puzzle out, ADHD gremlins made sure I never did. The dopamine just wasn't there for me.


And you know what? Oh well.


It wasn't like I didn't write in that time. And if I had tried to force the executive functioning needed in order to meet that goal, I would have killed every creative impulse I had and would have written nothing.


This was one more lesson in releasing the guilt around how my brain works.


My time signature is my own, and it produces results. The trick is, to not compare the delivery schedule of those results with the schedules of others.


So, it's Gandalf the Grey rules around here from now on:

"A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to."

 

News!


I am participating in NANOWRIMO this month!


But, see above Gandalf rules about if I actually get a whole book done, or just make a decent amount of progress this month.


My goals are to write LIKE I'm gonna finish the book in a month, but ultimately, I'm just after fun and progress.


So, in the spirit of NANO, here is an excerpt of the FIRST DRAFT (be kind, it's very in-progress) of my new novel. First one to find a typo gets... reminded that this is a FIRST DRAFT. Basically, you're getting it raw because earlier, every time I went to update this blog, I kept stalling in analysis paralysis. Perfectionism is my favorite way to pretend I'm not procrastinating.


But I'm bored not sharing stuff with others. Also, it's dumb to let perfectionism get in the way of the messy process that is art making.


Anyway, here it is! Behold it's magnificent, clunky, early-days glory!


Novel synopsis: Max, a 30 something broke and depressed lesbian is working through major depression and family baggage when she learns that her dissociative episodes actually allow her to physically travel the multiverse (or maybe it's Time? mystery!).

 

8 Days Before

Terror gripped her as she collapsed, panting on the black cracked stone of her barracks roof, staring up into the sky at the fiery ball of rock and ice that was their doom hurtling down towards the earth. It seemed to expand, filling the sky with soot and flame.


It's too soon, she thought desperately. 17 months... they said 17 months...


Around her, the Groupers began to shriek in fear as bits of Aether gouged deep into the earth..




Max groggily realized that what she had been staring at for the last--how long had it been?--for the last while was the single piece of furniture she hated most in her apartment. It was the thrift store victorian dresser-turned-desk Henri had up-cycled in her self proclaimed “DIY Lesbian” phase.

“Oh this is just a phase for you?” Max had teased. It was fairly obviously not.

“As opposed to my current ‘Butch Lesbian’ phase. Or my former ‘Confused Former Christian Lesbian” phase. I gotta collect ‘em all,” Henri had said dryly with a wood stain brush between her teeth.

“I’m very much looking forward to the ‘Too Many Dogs Lesbian’ phase.” Max giggled and Henri shot her a mischievous grin.

That had been a good day, one of the best in fact. But there weren’t enough of them.

After Henri finally called it quits, Max had many times thought about getting rid of the ridiculous piece of furniture. The night she left, Max cleaned out of Henri’s old things from the desk and the rest of their tiny shared apartment and dropped them off in a box with Henri’s new doorman. Henri had asked to arrange a time to move the desk out of the house and into her new apartment, but Max had thrown a fit about keeping it.

“Municipal law states that anything left in the apartment after 20 days becomes mine!” Max had angrily screamed to Henri during their mediated separation meetings.


Both of their lawyers had glanced at each other with embarrassment. Not only was that not even close to accurate, it was about the 15th time they had asked Max to remain silent unless asked a direct question.

Henri had just sighed and whispered something to her lawyer and Max got to keep the desk.


Shifting her pillows to find a more comfortable angle for her arms, Max rolled her eyes.


Bitch you don’t even like it, why did you fight for it?


Many times she had started to list it for sale in her neighborhood comms channel. Many times she had decided it was time to let go. And yet, 7 months later, there it sat, piled with unopened mail, unmatched socks, and crusty half-drunk glasses of iced coffee.


The desk wasn't the only constant reminder in the room to Max of all the reasons she was a garbage person. If she ever began to forget that, all she had to do was glance at the 18 inches of dirty dishes stacked on the floor where Max had slid them under her bed instead of just taking them to the kitchen. Or smell of the moldy towel Max had dropped on the floor and then walked over for months, instead of hanging up to dry.


Other people had figured out how to move through their painful times, other people knew how to deal with their shit. But not Max. Max was broken and would never be able to do that. Even in the good times, Max always had to the choose 2 out of 3 when it came to mental stability, financial stability, and physical stability.

So, instead of solving the unsolvable, Max laid and stared.


And drifted...

Coming to at the bottom of the well that sometimes sprang up in her mind, Max treaded water and tried to remember that there were people who loved her. Intellectually she knew that to be true. But never in her life had it felt like that.

Still, she tried to remember all the things people had done for her that meant they loved her. Once, her father had set 15 alarms on his phone just so he would remember to wish Max a happy birthday on time. An introverted friend in college searched through three different loud karaoke bars just to find Max after a bad class. Her mom’s doctor, Dr. Banks, made sure to always text first before George would call her because she knew Max would need a minute to emotionally prepare.

Max used each thought as a hand hold to climb out of the well. Even if she couldn’t feel it, if she kept listing proof, she could at least live as-if she felt it. It wasn’t the same, but it was a step in the right direction.

Sometimes, climbing out in this way was not not and option. Sometimes, keeping her head above water at the bottom of her well was all she could manage. On those days it was really hard to even remember any of these little proofs. But today, things were slightly better.

Max hoped that was a good sign. She hoped that she may finally be getting better. Maybe someday, instead of treading water, she could have a raft to sit on. And then someday she could build a ladder to climb out and close the lid on that well forever. But , as if in response, in her mind, Aragorn son of Arathorn cried “But it is not this day!” And Max agreed, "someday" would not be today.


An infinity later, that same afternoon, when the shadows had reached halfway down the desk and the room was full of the golden light of a late summer sunset, Max felt her phone buzz somewhere in the bed. She felt around the the edges of the mattress, under the pillows, then she finally felt it wedged underneath the crumpled blanket her butt had been laying on.

It was Dr. Banks. Max's stomach dropped all 107 floors of her apartment building.

She hadn’t texted first. She always texts first.

Max’s anxiety lept to the worst conclusion. Fuck fuck Fuck fuck fuuucck.


She desperately tried to wrangle the anxiety in her voice. “Hey.” “Hi Maxine, this is Dr. Banks calling from Memorial Health.”


“Oh, hi.” was all Max could manage to get out.

“Oh sweetie...It sounds like you may know why I’m calling. Well, honey, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this. Last night your mother--

Max realized she had been drifting for several minutes. Hours? She looked down and saw she was on the phone with Dr. Banks. Oh, just seconds then... Max tried to remember what they were talking about.

“Maxine, honey?” said Dr. Banks.

“Yeah, hi, sorry, I uh...” Max stuttered. What was she supposed to be saying?


“Did your brain skip for a moment?” asked Dr. Banks kindly.

Max remembered that’s what Dr. Banks called her mother’s dissociative episodes, and with that, remembered why Dr. Banks was calling.

She was in her well, but this time she was not floating. This time she had weights tied to her feet and mittens on her hands, and she was scrabbling at the stone sides gaining no purchase. Max was sinking.


But she still had to answer.


“Yeah, um. I--yeah.”

“I know this is gonna be very hard for you and your dad. I will handle all the paperwork, the plan is in order. I can call your dad too, if you want... But if you can, I really think he would rather hear this from you.” said Dr. Banks.

“Ok” was all Max could manage.


Dr. Banks understood though, she knew the particular brand of baggage that plagued Max’s family very well and was used to working with it.

After they hung up, Max looked at the clock hoping it would already be too late to call her dad tonight. It was early still though, and Max knew if she didn’t do it right now, she would never do it. So, she smoked a bong, chugged her water bottle, and practiced one of her old grounding methods from when she could afford therapy.

Finally, back to treading water instead of actively sinking in her well, Max felt as ready as she would ever be.

She dialed.

As she waited for her father to answer, Max escaped her dread for a moment by wondering why the outbound ring sounded the way it did.


Why do phones make that same ring? Is it the same? I think so?


She was pretty sure that now it’s just a sound the phone company plays so that you know something is actually happening, but, somewhere at some point in the long ago past did a physical object actually make that ringing sound while the phone was connecting?


Probably not, right? It’s probably just always been the call maker hearing--

“Hello.” said a gruff voice.

“Hi dad.” said Max abruptly back in reality. An awkward silence passed.

“Are you busy?” said Max, finally breaking the silence.

“Nope, just sittin’ around the house with your mom. Max took a big breath.


Not right now...this isn’t the hill...


“Actually dad, that’s kind of why I’m calling... Dr. Banks just called, and...mom had a stroke last night. Max’s voice shook.

“Mom?” repeated Lindsey blankly.

“I mean, George, my mother. Your first wife. She had a stroke.” snapped Max.


She knew he wasn’t trying to be the worst, but she always lost her patience when he forgot George existed. She understood better than most why he did it, and that he wasn’t doing it on purpose. Still, it meant that Max was on her own in shouldering the burden that was her mother. She was determined not to fight so she took another breath and waited for him to respond.

Silence.


“Dad?”

“Yeah, your mom’s right here let me put you on speaker phone.”

“No! Dad, don’t--“ Max can hear the scraping sounds of Lindsey setting the phone on the nearest table.

“Okay sweetheart, we can hear you, say ‘hi’ to your mom!” sings Lindseys into the phone.

For a moment, Max was drowning in the dark. You’re almost there, you can do this...


“Hello?” asks a puzzled voice from Max’s phone.

“Hey Grace, it’s Max.” said Max as politely as possible.

“Hi Max, good to hear from you! To what do we owe this very rare pleasure?” chirped Grace.

Max actively reminded herself that this was not Grace’s fault.



Max remembered what it was like before and after her dad had met Grace. Once Grace was around, he had gotten a lot better. He started eating with more regularity and stopped drinking at least. Grace never tried to be Max’s mom, and the two had come to an understanding. Grace took care of Lindsey. Max took care of Max.


But as the years went on, Max began to see past Grace’s interminably positive outlook to the woman who had survived her own suicide attempt. It wasn’t that she didn’t see Lindsey’s baggage. It’s that she understood it so deeply and loved him because of it. As far as stepmoms you can get as a traumatized teen, Grace was pretty choice.


Max presently reminded herself of all this.


Grace will help, you just have to tell her... just say the words out loud.

Max took a deep breath. “Well, actually, I was calling because Dr. Banks called and told me my mom... had a stroke yesterday.”

“Oh my god! Oh no! Is she okay? What does she need? How can we help?” Grace rushed in one breath.

Max tried for another deep breath but she couldn’t seem to catch one.


“Well... no... she’s not okay... she, um, I guess there wasn’t anything they could do and...” Max couldn’t seem to finish the thought because a pine cone had just painfully lodged itself in her throat.

It was enough though, Grace seemed like she immediately understood what was happening and that Max needed help.


Thank god for Grace, who else will put up with our shit?

While Grace exploded into caretaking mode, Max drifted...

Vaguely she could hear enough of the conversation to answer direct questions, but the energy it took to get her voice up to the top of the well soon wore her out entirely. With Grace promising to text her everything they had just talked about so Max could think about it later (good ol’ Grace), Max hung up the phone and drifted for several long moments... or hours.

Eventually Max noticed how dark it was in her room. Allowing her mind to continue treading water in the deep dark water of the well, Max’s body, on auto-pilot, stood and closed the curtains, got a glass of water, undressed, and then got back into bed. Distantly, she thought for one moment she should set an alarm. Then she remembered she had no job, no friends, and no real reason to wake up in the morning.

With that disturbingly freeing thought glancing off the water of her mental well, Max blissfully drifted out of consciousness.



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