Armitagemania onset, or: my, it’s taken a long time to write this

Probably because I don’t like remembering this day all that much. Fills in this placeholder.

Spring 2005: the first signs of trouble at work. Spring 2006: the sudden, overdetermined end of a long, productive, but also troubled, relationship. An attempt to leave my job fails — the interview starting on the day after I ask that we stop talking to each other. Summer 2006: Unable to face the possibility of continuing in my job, and suddenly able to take advantage of a grant, I make a transcontinental move that I am no longer comfortable with given the end of the relationship. Reactive stupidity deals me a severe personal consequence. A lonely year ensues, spent in a city by myself. Two more attempts to leave my job fail. Fall 2007: the beginning of the harassment. Paralysis; loss of self-confidence. Writing slows to a trickle, but I begin an academic blog in the subsequent spring. More job applications collapse. Fall 2008: a move back to the U.S., back to the job I have been unsuccessful in leaving, and the now roiling trouble there becomes openly apparent in the case of a friend. Office politics become nauseating; writer’s block sets in. I look at the list of available jobs, apply for a few, but begin to doubt whether I want to continue in the profession. Fall 2009: the ongoing trouble at work creates an impossible situation for me and several friends. I have to close the first academic blog. First exposure to Armitage: North & South. December 2009: the last chance to resolve the problems at work evaporate. Trigger of Armitagemania, when my friend and colleague the former Cambridge professor puts North & South in my hands to console me. I drive home for Christmas, spent, like the latest one, in the bosom of my family, with the predictable feelings of loss and alienation. (And the chain of negative events continued into Spring 2010, when I would also decide not to attempt to stay in the job any longer and provisionally, the profession, but that would be getting ahead of my story.)

For now: onset. January 7, 2010. The afternoon.

[I realize this post, which is about my emotional distress in a particular situation and written from my POV, may tend to make you critical of my parents. Please don’t be. I wasn’t the easiest child and they’ve stuck with me for over 42 years despite several profound disagreements. Be honest: imagine how exasperated you’d feel if I were your daughter. I’m extremely sensible that many people with lost or estranged or absent or deceased parents would be grateful to have parents who care as much as mine do. And this story isn’t so much about the confrontation with them as about the way that the problems facing me at the time converged. You could even say they did me a favor.]

***

I’d had a hard time getting myself motivated to go home, even though, at least hypothetically, I wanted to go. Because of the religious problem, and because I always packed a research trip into December/January, and because I then ended up spending Christmas with the family of the SO, I hadn’t spent the Christmas holidays with my parents since December 2000. It seemed like time. My parents’ home is very quiet. Not just acoustically quiet — well insulated, surrounded with trees — but quiet in other ways: devoid of much technology or media; off the beaten path; populated by fellow introverts heavily invested in maintaining personal space; and at least in the winter, not heavily visited. My parents are both actually conflict avoiders; I’m the one who’s always bringing turmoil into their midst.

So I did want to go, because I thought the quiet would let me think, but I didn’t know how to get there. I submitted grades, in the nick of time, and then fell back into a stupor, essentially staying in bed for three more days except to eat or go to the bathroom. What finally got me on the road was a reminder from my SIL of the date of my nieces’ Christmas program at school, which they were eager to have me attend. By that time, in order to do it, I had to drive the entire 1300 mi at a breakneck pace, but I made it home, saw the program, and collapsed. I had underestimated how badly burnt out I was from all the tension at work and how long any kind of recuperation was going to take; as the calendar flipped on 2010, I was sleeping only twelve hours a day. Admittedly, I had started to wonder how I was going to get myself back in the car, or if I did make it back to my apartment, how I’d get myself to the office.

For some reason, on January 7th, something jarred loose, but not in me. We’d just packed up all their Christmas decor, and the three of us were sitting in the living room, carefully avoiding the topic of who was going to have to climb into the attic to put it all away. The sun had set hours earlier, but snow was still falling. My mother, who (apart from our major religious disagreement) has stayed carefully away from discussing my behavior since a memorable blowup we had in September 1998, when she told me that my problems at the time were related to what she called “reading so much that you’re making yourself sick,” said, “something’s wrong, isn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“All you do is sleep, and when you’re not sleeping you’re not at the computer or reading or writing or playing the piano or even watching television. You just stare out the window, watching the snow fall.”

My mother is the press secretary for her marriage; it’s her job to say the unpleasant things that both of them feel. Now that she’s done it, my dad will perforce say something. Because he never broaches an unpleasant topic, when they’re criticizing me, I never know where exactly the reproach is coming from or who has the problem. Of course, they share a lot of opinions after fifty years of marriage, and they would call this “parenting with a united front.”

“We’ve never seen you like this, honey,” my dad adds. Sure enough. The full-court press.

I sigh. I look out the window. Snow is falling. We’re all three silent for two dozen heartbeats.

“See, that’s what I mean,” my mother persists.

“Do you have something against snow?” I say, trying to make light of the conversation. I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it is going to take to have this discussion with them. “Snow is pretty. Do you want me to put the stuff in the attic? Just give me the flashlight.”

“You know what I mean,” my mother says. It’s no use — they’ve decided we’re talking. “What is wrong with you?”

I swallow. “I’m going to have to leave my job,” I say. There. It’s on the table. I’ve discussed it with friends, a bit, but not much. In our branch, quitters are often shunned.

“We know you’re unhappy there, honey,” my dad says. “Why don’t you just look for another university? One around here.”

“It’s not like that.” I don’t know how many times we’ve had the conversation about the unconventional features of the job market for professors and why he never pays attention. “I’ve looked. I’ve been looking for years. No one who’s ever gotten close to hiring me believes I want to leave the job I’m in. And I’m overqualified for most of the advertised positions.”

“Well, you have to keep trying,” my mother says.

“I’m never not trying,” I said.

“Aren’t you working hard enough?” my dad asks. “Maybe if you just made a little more effort–”

“All I’ve done since I got the Ph.D. is work,” I say. My voice is taking on a dangerous tone of resentment. G-d forbid I should draw into question the Servetus family work ethic and its implicit reward schedule. I make myself breathe deeply. “I can’t work any harder. Work is not everything.”

“Well, you wanted this career.”

“So you’re saying I should do whatever is necessary to keep it?”

“Be reasonable, honey,” my dad says. “You were the one who wanted a Ph.D. We just wanted you to go to college, and be a teacher or maybe a nurse, and settle down and marry. It’s probably too late for you to have kids now, but at least you could get married. Then you would have someone to take care of you.”

“I can take care of myself,” I say. I already know they’re not the most enthusiastic grandparents, so this isn’t his biological clock ticking. This failure of mine is up for discussion, too?

“That’s what I mean,” my dad says. “You’re too independent minded. If you want to get married you need to be more compromising. You never make any effort to please anyone. Be a little vulnerable. You have to show a fellow that you need him a little. Let him be the boss once in awhile.” He winks at my mother.

“I have a boss,” I say. I’m losing my cool. “I can pay people to take care of my car and fix things that break and move heavy stuff. I want a friend. I want someone who understands me.”

“And you spent all those years with ex-SO and what for?” my mother picks up the strand. “He was your friend, and he understood you, I guess, but he didn’t want to marry you.”

“No.” What else is there to say? I know they really approved of ex-SO and so must have drawn the conclusion that I was the problem. I said very little to them about that — and I’m sure they thought their thoughts. But their notion of the relationship or what it meant was very different from mine/ours, and it would have been impossible to explain to them what was going on. I don’t blame them for criticizing something they never had a chance to understand — but I didn’t expect they’d throw this particular deficit in my face after three years, either.

“He didn’t,” I say, looking down at my hands. I want to cry, I just want to wail and howl. Am I only worthy if I work? If I marry? But I’m damned if I’ll cry in front of them. I’m dodging, now, though, and I’ve got to get back on the offensive.

“I think you just have to stop being so…” my father trails off, and then picks up again after a pause, “…insistent that you’re right. You have to go along to get along.”

He’s offered me the opening. “So you’re saying I’m too principled?”

“Too uncompromising, maybe.”

“And who taught me that?” I ask, defiantly. “Where did I learn that principle was more important than anything else?”

The room is silent.

“Maybe,” my mother says, after a few more beats pass, “you need to rethink your principles a little.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my principles!” My reply is a bit of a yell and a sob, all at once. “There’s nothing wrong with me!”

“You may think you’re not the problem,” she replies, hotly, “but what do you think is going to happen? You won’t have a job, you don’t have a husband, you don’t have–,” I know she’s going to say, ‘Jesus,’ but mercifully she stops herself, “you won’t have anything. What will you do?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “I just can’t live this way. I don’t care any more. I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what I will do, okay?”

“Honey,” my dad says, “you can’t avoid–”

“Don’t call me ‘honey’.” As the sob threatens to unstuff itself, I get up, excuse myself, walk to the mudroom, and pull on and lace my boots, and shrug on my coat. I wrap on the extremely long, fluffy, pink crocheted scarf my mother made me for me during a physical therapy session after she sliced a fingertip off on a table saw, and mentally tell myself she would hug me like the scarf does if she could just find it in her. I fish my gloves out of my pockets, and walk out of the house. Down the driveway and down the road. I’d walk forever, I think, if I could just walk away from myself, but caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt, even if it’s just down the road that I’m running and the snow is falling as far as I can see. “Round the block” is something like five miles, but I walk downhill as far as the railroad tracks, and when I consider following them, it occurs to me that I’m going to have to walk uphill the whole way back, and my coat is not reflective, so it’s a bit foolhardy, the whole thing. No pauses to look around; I’m not “from here” any more, so I’m not acclimated, and it’s cold enough that I have to keep moving or the the sweat from the walk up the hill will give me a chill.

When I get back, the house is dark except for the outside light. They’ve gone to bed. Now who’s avoiding what? I know I’m not going to be able to sleep, and I don’t know what to do, and though there’s more than enough booze in the house, I don’t want to drink, and I don’t think I have enough concentration to read anything. I can’t think of anyone I can talk to about this conversation.

My parents are not wrong. I’m at the end of a rope and looking into an abyss, personally, professionally, and it’s so tempting just to let go of it all and let myself fall in. What am I going to do?

I scrabble through my bookbag in frustration. Something, anything, to distract. My fingers fall on: the clamshell case with the North & South discs in it, given to me by my friend and colleague the former Cambridge professor. I wasn’t planning to rewatch it, actually. But: Ah, yes, I think: mind numbing, tearjerking, BBC romance. Enough pathetic deaths that I can cry without embarrassment. The kiss at the end. That striking actor.

I’m still shivering as I turn on the TV and DVD player and thrust the first disc in. I turn off the lamp, settle back on the coach, draw the afghan over me, and press “play.”

~ by Servetus on January 7, 2012.

56 Responses to “Armitagemania onset, or: my, it’s taken a long time to write this”

  1. This must have been incredibly difficult to get down. *Hugs*

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  2. It has taken two years for you to describe some of what you have alluded to. Such things cannot be hurried. Courage, and perspective and a new environment. The sun is rising nicely. And the new year began for you last autumn in your faith and continues with another new year.

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    • Sometimes I wonder why it took this long, but you’re right. Times marches on and so do we. I just want to understand.

      Like

  3. I admire the courage and honesty with which you have written this, servetus.

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  4. I don’t quite know what to say Servetus, I came into this RA related world with not much else on my mind other than perving at Richard to be brutally honest.
    Now after 6 months, I find I’m concerned about people I may never ever meet in my life, I worry over their health and family issues even though I am so far away and can offer no real support, only cyber hugs and words of encouragement.

    I sincerely hope writing this blog has been therapeutic for you, kudos for your raw honesty. Wishing 2012 brings you much joy and happiness in your professional and personal life.
    Sending you cyber hugs and good to know Richard’s working his magic once again.

    Like

    • Perv away, mersguy. That’s what Callie calls Doparmitage, and it’s a wonderful thing. As is — as you note — the support many of us find here.

      Like

  5. You were very brave to write this, Servetus. That fact that you did shows you are healing and coming into your own. It’s wonderful that this blog and your new job has done so much for you. Here’s to hoping that the new year will be even brighter and better.

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    • Thanks. I really hope that putting this down helps people realize the positive effects of this “frivolous” activity. I hope you have an up year, too.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this with us Servetus. I know it must have taken a lot of strength to write this and real guts to post. I recognise a lot of what you say and am taking courage from it.

    My life came off the rails three years ago after a relatively minor car crash. I was in pain and my head felt scrambled. I had no short term memory and couldn’t read to the end of a sentence. As my job at university revolves around writing complex book proposals and negotiations with faculties and publishers there was no way I could function and I was signed off with what my doctor thought was burn-out. I tried to return after three months and failed miserably, was signed off again which is when depression set in. The exhaustion, the paralysis, the crippling anxiety such an experience brings… I recognise it all. In the end I was diagnosed with M.E./CFS. I have since returned to my job full time and have managed to hang in there (more or less). Like you, I have found Richard Armitage’s work restorative. He picks me up & keeps me going on the bad days for which I am forever grateful.

    I really hope 2012 will bring you health and happiness and that your new job will bring you the joy you so deserve. I love your blog and think it’s therapeutic for all of us readers 🙂

    PS: I so understand what you’re saying about your parents as well. I love my folks (well, my mum’s gone now) but my relationship with them as always been a little strained . Can’t blame them really. I too was a difficult child – I guess in this day I would have been diagnosed with ADHD.

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    • I think it’s easy for people to say “just pick yourself up,” or “keep moving” to people in situations like ours. I heard that so many times from well-meaning people. In contrast, it was only once I stopped moving that I became able to deal with the problems. I credit Armitage with a lot of that. And I learned a lot. The other (slightly later) piece of this was my parents’ health problems — as a teacher I always used to say to students, okay, you are worried, but don’t lose sight of the big picture. After experiencing this myself I know that is really poor advice and extremely uncompassionate.

      Parents: yeah. I have a lot more sympathy with them now than I used to. They put up with a lot from us, don’t they? 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, and I hope 2012 is a good year for you, too. And beyond.

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  7. What a brave retelling of your experiences, Servetus. I hope RAge helped you through that time. It is sometimes this emotion, which pushes me forward and I understand the worried attempts of your parents, the resulting conflict and misunderstandings and your inability to pacify them very much. Sometimes you just have to go your way and I am very lucky to have found you and your blog. I very much admire the way and strength with which you search and find your way.

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    • Figuring out one’s own path is hard — even at our ages! Thanks for continuing to read and support the blog.

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  8. Dear Servetus,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us–not only today but every day. The honesty of your reflections–and your willingness to share them with us–is very admirable. None of us have a perfect life–perfect happiness is a myth. But deciding what makes us happy and striving for it is the journey that never ends–if we’re lucky.

    So I wish you fair weather on your life’s journey as you share your gifts of intellect, humor, Richard Armitage fangurling friendship with us. And may we all say at the end of our lives many years from now what John Thornton said to Margaret at the end of North & South: “You’ll never guess where I’ve been.”

    Cheers and much love, Grati ;->

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    • Great way to apply that last phrase. North & South speaks metaphorically to a lot in my life and I think not only in mine. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. My dad actually passed away on January 7, 2010. Guess we both had a bad day, didn’t we?

    I didn’t get into RA until about six months later, but I wish I had him (and all my RA land friends) at that time, the support would have been invaluable.

    Glad to hear that your life, as well as mine, seems to be better these days.

    Hang in, and here’s to a happy 2012 for both of us.

    I’ll be thinking of you today.

    Like

    • (((Cindy.)))

      I’m glad to hear that your life seems to be better and I am still thinking of your mom. Hope you have a peaceful day.

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  10. I couldn’t read this without tears. It captures so perfectly how utterly alienating it can be to finally acknowledge to yourself that you’ve hit the wall. To need the people to just trust you. To need the quiet sight of snow falling on a cold winter day, just long enough to suspend you a little bit longer before you have to return to working that hard just to exist.

    The exhausting, alienating realization that to stay sane, you have to stop. The exhausting, alienating realization that you can’t explain — not even begin to explain — that you’re tired beyond belief, that this is unsustainable, that there’s nothing (no man, no job) that’ll help. You have to stop. The exhausting, alienating realization that your beloved family will want to jar you out of it, seeing this as a temporary slump or depression that you can get out of by “staying active,” and that as much as you can’t stand it you also know you want them to care enough to say something.

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    • Thanks. I know you know what it’s like. Being so tired that you can’t make words come out when words are the only way you have to save yourself — it’s the deadest feeling. Except that you also hurt. All. the. time.

      And yeah: if I thought they didn’t care it would be worse 🙂

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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  11. Bless you for having the guts to share your story. The paralysis that comes with such trials is not so foreign to many of us, it seems. I have experienced it, and I could not begin to talk about it with the candor you have. I am so glad you have survived! And I am so glad that Armitagemania has had such a restorative effect. I know I could not have come through 2011 without it.

    Wishing you happiness, health, prosperity, satisfaction, and peace in 2012,

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    • Thanks for the sympathetic comment. It is hard to write about this stuff but I hope that reading it helps other people learn to speak for themselves in whatever way seems best to them. Best to you for 2012, too.

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  12. You give me hope.

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    • What a kind thing to say, Jael — about a post that felt so hopeless to me. I’m hoping for you if you have any moments when you need someone to do that.

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  13. “Our stories have the power to heal, the make the world new again, to give people metaphors by which they can better understand their own lives.” Christopher Vogler.

    I have a bit of a cold and my brain is a bit like scrambled eggs today. But thank you for sharing your “story.”

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  14. Thanks for posting this, Sevetus. I find it incredibly interesting that you found N&S as your comfort at a time when your own story had so many parallels to Margaret Hale’s (leaving “home” to go to a place so different and hostile (Milton/overseas and academia in hostile places), then returning “home” only to find that it no longer fit (your parent’s home/the south), dealing with parents who put their needs above the path you wished for, even to a certain extent dealing with secrets and related negative reactions (your harassment/Freddie’s visit). No wonder it struck a choir. And your John Thortin/RA as savior

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    • Thanks for this helpful comment. You’re right that I’ve going to attribute the onset of Armitagemania to the way this story plays out, although I didn’t realize that until months and months later, nor did I read it quite the way you did.

      Your comment is really helpful because I’m realizing that I may have to be more open what actually happened in my workplace in order to make my explanation plausible. I need to think about this some more. Meanwhile, thanks for noticing this.

      Like

  15. (sorry about the abrupt ending–iPod and twitchy fingers). But it is very cool that that was what your friend chose to give you. Wishing you a very peaceful and happy 2012.

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    • yeah, I really wonder what would have happened if he’d picked something else he had in his library (P&P, Little Dorrit, The Way we Live Now — all of which he eventually offered me)

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  16. (and last follow up, I promise–that was supposed to be “struck a chord” but autocorrect apparently thought it knew better)

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  17. I read your “story”with a lump in my throat.
    I admire you,..hold on,dear Servetus!<3

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    • Thanks, Joanna. This was two years ago, now. So things are a lot better. But I feel like someone needs to put this kind of thing out there so people don’t let their experiences be trivialized.

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  18. When my father was dying from cancer, we would sit for hours day and night watching old movies on TCM. During that same time I was listening to NPR and heard someone say it was theraputic for terminally ill patients to watch old movies. Since I was living that exact situtation, I never forgot the statement. So when I discovered RA at a very stressful time in my life and it grew into a fascination, I remembered what I heard so many years ago –that watching old movies was theraputic — and realized watching RA is theraputic in the same way. Someone else wrote a comment on Youtube that it always made them feel better to watch RA. I’ve often wondered why he has that affect on people. I think it’s one of the reasons he’s so appealing — that along with the “Elvis” thing he’s got going on. But that’s a subject for another day.

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    • I can’t speak for everyone, but only for me, of course. I plan to continue to write about it. I know a lot of people have this reaction to him.

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  19. […] male character, and these identifications explain why North & South spoke to me so compellingly when I began watching it the second time. On the whole, although I enjoy reading fanfic in which Mr. Thornton has a sex life, I’m not […]

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  20. […] January, though, I wrote about the incident that triggered my Armitagemania. And mersguy commented: “I came into this RA related world with not much else on my mind […]

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  21. […] When last I left you, in the narrative of how Armitagemania hit, I was sitting in the dark, having just turned on North & South. These expository posts on the series that I’ve been publishing lately explore the way that I was fascinated by the work / principles narrative of the piece, but I’ve left out the kind of emotional explosion that kept me watching despite the difficult themes (mostly because when I tried to write this earlier, I got stuck. Now I’m unstuck). […]

    Like

  22. […] being self-deprecating, or reacting to something you had read or that had been said to you. That awful night when I was looking for something, anything, just to turn my brain off, you were there in the form of Mr. Thornton, and the performance that you gave, in a role I […]

    Like

  23. […] interesting to me that January 7th is the anniversary of my Armitagemania onset — and here I am, three years later, dealing with a new role. Trying to remind myself as well […]

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  24. […] At the point at which everything seemed its very worst, the woman watched a miniseries and fell hopelessly in love with a story and an actor. […]

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  25. […] It seemed like it could be Erikson’s moratorium, the stage that one enters to pause, when one “half-realizes that [s]he is fatally over-committed to what he is not.” And as so often after 2005, she didn’t know what to do, anyway. When the gentle man went away, when her performance evaluations tanked, when the situation at work started to affect not just her but her friends, when she was sexually harassed by her fellowship sponsor and could not make him stop, when she started to doubt her ideas, when her own failure was imminent, when her mother got sick. She just didn’t know what to do and in the end she felt like she had to accept that, even if it meant screaming that she didn’t know what she would do and for heaven’s sake …. […]

    Like

  26. […] in Meri’s words, “I came into this RA related world with not much else on my mind other than perving at Richard to be … Now after 6 months, I find I’m concerned about people I may never ever meet in my life, I worry […]

    Like

  27. […] it’s the ongoing emerging crises. Not for everyone, but for many of us, as for me, a crisis is somehow linked to the onset of Armitagemania. Mine, and my first crush on Mr. […]

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  28. […] is the issue for me: I’m an Armitage fan because when Armitagemania smacked me across the face, it happened because of how the role of Mr. Thornton intersected with my concrete problems and the […]

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  29. […] that that word expresses to me. But I know what it is to hate oneself deeply, mostly because I’d spent so much time hating myself before that the rush from Armitagemania, the sheer feeling of relief from pain and then the experience of […]

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  30. […] was one more time,” I say, “the night that I caught the bug that made me start the […]

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  31. […] how it is on long drives, and was remembering that it’s been almost exactly four years since Armitagemania onset, and I was thinking about how I felt that night (January 7, […]

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  32. […] Austin therapist, to me, Fall 2009, a month or two before the onset of Armitagemania: […]

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  33. Reblogged this on Me + Richard Armitage and commented:

    My November 14th, well, actually, January 7th. For those who have not read it, an account of how my second viewing of North & South began to change my life.

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  34. […] or four people reminded me this week that it was my Armitagemania onset anniversary and I found myself reflecting, off and on, about how that storm hit and the feeling the first weeks […]

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  35. […] 7th is the seven-year anniversary of Armitagemania onset. Description of how it happened, here. Re-reading that again now for the first time in several years, it strikes me how many themes the […]

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  36. […] the anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot again about my crush on Richard Armitage, how it descended, over seven years ago now, the reasons for it that revealed themselves, the effects, the […]

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  37. […] Thornton caused Armitagemania onset, and I devoted a lot of attention to figuring that out and describing it. Thorin Oakenshield has […]

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  38. […] only experience of crushing on a celebrity, and the media world has changed since the earlier ones. It was more or less accidental that I crushed on Armitage in the first place. I don’t watch a lot of TV (I had to laugh because Netflix is worried that I haven’t […]

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