When I was 25, I left the safety of my shitty apartment in Capitol Hill and moved home to live with my mom and eleven-year-old sister. It seemed like a lot of people my age were doing it, so I thought, well, what the hell, why not? Free/cheap rent, cable television, Weight Watchers ice cream on demand -- it all sounded awesome.
In reality, I had been in college for six years working on my four-year degree, and I had just lost my job as the receptionist/motivational speaker at a ladies-only gym. I had been fired for leaving a story I'd written on the office computer desktop called "whyihatemyjob.doc" or something along those lines. That, and in alignment with an intervention my family tried having regarding my alcoholism (one that ended in me getting drunk and screaming obscenities at them in a restaurant) a few months earlier, it was clear that moving home was my only option.
Fast-forward three years: I was 28, sober, a college grad, into my (second or third) start as a professional writer, and I had moved to New York and back. I was living with my mom and sister again, along with my gay husband, Liza, who had a room next door to mine, just like a real '50s television couple. This is when I discovered The Maria Bamford Show -- and like life imitating art, I had a nervous breakdown after watching it, repeatedly.
If you've never watched The Maria Bamford Show, it's basically a series of home videos of Maria telling the story of her mental breakdown and her subsequent move home to Minnesota after living in Los Angeles for over a decade successfully performing standup -- all told through impressions of her friends and family, who constantly berate her and remind her that she's failed miserably. What parts of this story were true, I'm not sure, but it so closely resembled my own life (except for the success part) that watching the show on repeat for hours caused me to have a meltdown while sleeping.
Okay, so it wasn't entirely the fault of The Maria Bamford Show that I had a nervous breakdown -- but it was clearly the catalyst. (And maybe it wasn't a nervous breakdown so much as it was a very elaborate panic attack, but I'm over-dramatic, so a breakdown sounds better.)
With Maria Bamford coming to Denver this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about that dark time when I shame-spiraled myself into a panicky hell after watching her fictional life resemble mine. As I attempted to piece this experience together, I called Liza to confirm the exact details of the night it went down:
At around 3 a.m. one random weekday night when both of us probably had to get up at the crack of dawn to work at the mall, I'd burst into his room. "You were saying a lot of weird stuff," Liza said over the phone yesterday, breathy from being on the Stairmaster. "Then I turned on my bedside lamp and you just looked real fucked-up."
This part I sort of remember: rocking in a fetal position at the end of my gay husband's bed, babbling on incoherently about my life. I thought I couldn't breathe, but I was breathing -- a clear sign of an overly dramatic episode that wasn't actually a panic attack.
"As I was falling asleep that night, I could hear you laughing in your bedroom -- you watched The Maria Bamford Show for like six hours straight," he said. Liza knew what was happening immediately, because gay men can read straight women better than straight women can do almost anything. I had been sent into a self-inflicted panic attack, all from watching a fictional web show by a successful comedian.
It took almost a year before I could watch Maria do anything again. But in the meantime, she'd taught me a very important lesson: When in a place of total despair, you can only turn the jokes on yourself. There is no humility in hatefulness toward others, only in making fun of yourself, repeatedly, until it makes you famous. Or turns you into a shaking baby-adult at the foot of your gay husband's bed.
Maria Bamford performs at 8 p.m. this Friday, May 10, at the Oriental Theater with Adam Cayton-Holland. Tickets are $20; for more information or to purchase tickets, visit the venue's website.
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