Why you should care
If unavoidable and calamitous events landed you on a street corner swinging a sign 14 hours a day for a weed doctor, you might lose it too.
It was the first game of the NBA Finals 2017, with the Golden State Warriors taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coach Steve Kerr had a mystery illness and fought to get back for these finals. This was very personal and matched my own struggles with syncope and post-concussive headaches for the past decade.
As the game is ending, my wife, Sally, comes home. I am high on adrenaline from watching a team that hadn’t even sniffed the playoffs most of my life play in their third straight finals. Sally storms in from the bathroom. She sits down and says, “It’s over.” By the following week, I am watching the finals from the Stanford mental health ward.
“The refs won’t let LeBron lose,” my friend Pam says from the couch.
“Exactly, but not because of the NBA, but for his bookie,” I respond without missing a beat.
Our laughter is cut short by nurses checking our blood pressure and giving us pills. I’d already been in the loony bin for a couple of days, and they granted me more freedom than most. They said I was not outwardly expressing suicidal ideation, despite me telling them how much I wanted to drown myself. They put me on anti-anxiety meds, and every day they made me attend cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.
“My name is Laura, and we would love for you to come down at 10 a.m. tomorrow.” The next day I’d be dancing for a weed doctor.
They make us stop watching the Warriors victory parade to attend CBT though, which I’m promptly removed from. A career counselor starts telling me about jobs I can do, which in theory I could if I wasn’t ready to either punch someone or cry while punching someone. When I explain this to the counselor, she tries giving me questions like: “If you had a million dollars, where would you go?”
“Back in the other room to finish watching Draymond talk,” I reply.
I left the next day, sans meds or the need to hear any more about my wrongheadedness.
That weekend was the San Francisco Pride parade, and I figured I could make some much-needed cash at a booth. I was lucky enough to land the official parade T-shirt gig — from the loony bin to 14-hour workdays in a giant crowd. I started staying in my grandpa’s spare room, a place where I’m allowed to stay still. After that weekend, I went dancing and had a great time in the Tenderloin at a bar called Divas. On the BART ride home, I found an ad for sign dancing for a doctor less than a mile from my grandpa’s place.
Staying there is hard because I had an abusive childhood and spent a lot of time in my grandpa’s spare room as a result. So here I was again at age 33. I got a response to my résumé for the sign job from a pleasant-sounding woman: “My name is Laura, and we would love for you to come down at 10 a.m. tomorrow.” The next day I’d be dancing for a weed doctor.
I was nervous the first day I picked up that sign. The 90-degree weather wasn’t the only reason I was sweating. Foothill Boulevard in Hayward is a high-traffic area, which I would find out by getting hit with car parts from accidents.
My Bushido thoughts of victory, even in death, could not give me the courage to do this job that day, but something Coach Kerr said before a game did. “Play with the joy that makes you guys who you are.”
With that, I shook my ass harder than I ever thought possible for the next six hours. Just like the first day of training in muay thai, I was physically dead. But my hara, or inner force, was stronger than it had ever been. I went from a fat 5-foot-6 and 227 pounds when I was admitted to the hospital to a rotund 195 pounds a few months later. Down to 180 now. A depression dancing diet that has me outside six days a week in the cold, in the rain, in a poncho, dancing.
The depression and headaches I got to and from work made me cry. I didn’t always listen to music while dancing, but books or complete educational courses. It was a way to feel productive out there, and like I’m growing, despite doing such a meaningless job. I was kicking ass at the sign-dancing gig though, and they were making more money than ever with whatever this “joy” thing was that I was trying to practice while dancing.
But then another turn: The recent legalization of marijuana dried up many potential patients, so the business was not sustainable.
Cops come and search me for no reason while I’m working. The vibe is all wrong. The weed doctor could have told me they couldn’t pay me, but instead, they had me work a whole week first. Then I had to play phone tag and still got shorted a dollar when they finally did pay. I haven’t been able to find much cash work while I wait on getting disability.
Writing all this right now is surreal. My social security disability hearing was June 4, and they stalled the decade-long process again. I walked down from Howard Street to the pier and wanted to drown myself. I just took a picture and posted it instead. Now I’m writing this, trying to make something from all this emotion. Coach Kerr’s words remind me I need discipline because my emotions can make me go too far and cost people I love everything they work hard for.
“Play with the joy that makes you guys who you are.”
I’m trying. I’m trying.