becoming a new creation in an age of turmoil

do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-night-by-lauren-hammond-flickr
Do not go gentle into that good night by Lauren Hammond, flickr

I’ll have to admit that recently, I haven’t been as comfortable spending time alone being quiet. I believe this largely has to do with midlife circumstances that are not all that unusual though not necessarily a given for everyone at this stage – having a child preparing to leave home, adapting to life as a single person, grappling with health issues and family problems, facing regrets and limitations. Added to that has been the turmoil of a new government: The fear and anxiety it has created regarding the welfare of the earth, the sick and elderly and young, threats from menacing foreign powers to name a few. I feel attached to a roller coaster I cannot afford to be riding. I know many of us feel this way. What’s your stress level right about now?

Last summer, I titrated off of klonopin, a controlled substance used to treat anxiety as well as psychotic symptoms. My challenge is the former and I had managed to be drug free after much physical and emotional havoc. Then a new president was sworn in who would by his actions and words began to create cause for concern for many, and for me, triggered the depths of my anxiety. I had to finally admit this week: I needed a partial dose of klonopin again if I was going to sleep and get back to a regular routine.

It is hard for me to admit my limitations. As a girl growing up in a pastor’s home, a pastor who share what he believed and spoke for justice and peace, I was always told I was strong. After this past inauguration, when I heard my fellow concerned citizens say things like everyone must do their part every day all the time to deal with the upheaval and threat on every front, I agreed with them on the one hand. And yet, on the other hand, there have been times when I’ve had to say, wait a minute, I have to stop. And sometimes I have to stop to tend to my child. Yet more recently, honestly, I’ve had to stop, or at least walk away for a while, to tend to myself.

The thing I’ve noticed about anxiety is that it’s like the action of the waves coming up along a beach when there’s a storm approaching. The waves start to pile one on top of the other, crashing more chaotically on the sand, disrupting the relatively regular ebb and flow of the tide. It’s a collective effect of the force of building waters, the weight of building incoming waves that increase and punish the coast. I have to stand in the gap of what builds when the chaos overwhelms. For me this has become having to take a pill. Once the storm goes past a certain point, I am lost and doing well only to remember my life preserver – take my pill again, call my nurse psychiatrist.

This is a hard lesson to learn. I remember the words of my father: Meggo, you are strong. And yet, these are the times I haven’t felt this way at all.

Besides taking a pill, something else I’ve felt absolutely critical when I have felt overwhelmed are times of silence, silence from the news, silence from corresponding, silence even from music. And yet this has only been a recent development.  Recently I’ve escaped the anxiety that silence brings, the regrets and bad memories, the negative emotions about so-and-so,  the flotsam and jetsam of a brain littered with old unfinished business. When the pain from this is excrutiating?  Turn up the television, turn on the radio or youtube, listen to a book livestreaming, watch a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Get busy .

For three years after my divorce, up until quite recently, I dated, met people online, kept myself insanely active socially. When my child was with his father, I couldn’t stand being in the house alone. And this is what that amounts to: I couldn’t stand being with myself. Talk about psychic noise. I had failed my parents getting a divorce, I had failed my son, I had failed me, I had failed extended family. And then, probably partly because of my lifestyle which started with marital difficulties, I got sick with two diseases, cancer and diabetes,  not to mention the ongoing challenges of bipolar, and so I failed myself in the most fundamental way imaginable. I was on a collision course with myself and though my life is calmer now I still feel the effects of that collision, that storm, the beach is still littered and road repair is needed.

I used to read quite a bit. I used to write a lot more. I had ambition not long ago I think. I used to rarely watch television. The world was a refreshing break from so much silence and contemplation rather than an escape from what has felt like forced silence and separation. And yet, I think we sometimes make the choices we know that we should make even if they cause us pain. A choice to remain on the outskirts of town has given me the chance to get used to being alone, has given me space to begin to heal and figure out how to conduct myself and structure my time, to make a plan. I am vaguely remembering who I used to be and what I used to dream about, and that I actually used to dream. Cancer treatment can rob you of memories, of dreams, of a sense of self. So can experiencing extreme psychic pain. So can mental illness.

I am sitting on my bed now that I decided to get to replace my old bed. The old bed reminded me of divorce, of cancer. The new bed doesn’t look anything like my old bed. I liked my old bed, but I like this one much better. It is my new cocoon containing my new dreams, my new self, the place I lay my body down in recognition of my weakness, in recognition of my pain, in sorrow for my sins, in hopes of returning dreams, in expectation of stories read and enjoyed and inspirations to come, new friends to be made, old friendships to re-establish, family among whom to re-fashion roots, a world to think about and engage, letting no detail slip by but rather holding each in my heart as an object of concern and prayer and re-imagining.

 

the screenplay of your life

movies-by-michael-saechang-flickr
Movies by Michael Saechang, flickr

Recently I’ve taken to purchasing a few livestreaming movies for my online video library. I haven’t done this up until now because I’ve felt few movies bear re-watching except as pure entertainment. I’ve come to a sense though that movies that are worth watching once are often worth watching many times especially when they speak to what it means to be human, and what it means to be me. I’ve also found criticism of movies interesting, the art of movie reviewing, in that I feel sometimes those who deal in this “art” gets it wrong, in my humble opinion of course. But first, I want to deal with how I have chosen to entitle this blogpost: the screenplay of your life.

I am guilty in the last couple of years of eschewing the practice of my faith tradition. The reasons for this are the subject of another blogpost but the effect of this has been a quiet divorce from the visual and auditory narrative spoken every week in a building of people with like belief, narrative revealing what inspires us, why we are here, what we did wrong, how to make our lives better, how to be in touch with ourselves and others, what to do from this day forward, how to prioritize and be in the world. While I am not ready to call an end to this quest to be found by a faith, captured, and be made new again, I also acknowledge there is story in the world, story we tell each other, story we tell ourselves, story on our screens and in our libraries and bookstores, stories of our dreams, nightmares, therapy sessions. Stories are a way we make sense of things as well as delight ourselves, a way we deal with our fears and project what we hope to do in the future, the courage and creativity we hope to have, the faith. We look for heroes in our stories. We look for heroines. We look for examples of things we are not supposed to do so we can avoid doing those things. And when things seem really bad in our stories, if it’s a story about someone else, we may be relieved: At least it’s not us. There is both encouragement and catharsis.

Now I am a middle aged middle class out of shape white lady whose survival is not currently threatened at every second though recently some illness has brought with it challenge. Still, what are some of my top picks of movies? The Revenant, The Grey, and Shawshank Redemption. All stories about men in completely opposite situations, in a scramble for survival of body, mind, spirit.

Yet what inspired me to write this post today is not so much a tussle with my top movie choices but my watching the recent movie “Christine,” which is based on a true story of a television news reporter who lived in Sarasota and killed herself during a live newscast. Because this is based on a true story, I am not giving away anything. That being said, I did not know it was a true story and how it was going to end and so I was devastated by the film. I really had no sense of what was coming. I suppose it spoke to the brilliant writing and acting that I was so taken in, I’m not sure. There was a sense of desperation about this character for most of the movie. She is portrayed as a sensitive plant, highly educated, simultaneously driven but lacking a social sense. She was stuck in old grooves professionally and socially. Her naivete gives her a sense of integrity and yet seems to make her life nearly impossible. Still, there is a turn in the end when she apologizes to her boss for being difficult and seems to relax into who she is and the reality of her situation. There is a sense this turn is a small victory for this character. She seems to have “matured.” That’s as much as I hoped to sense and had it ended basically on that note, I might have felt a certain way about things, still hopeful. And yet, what I didn’t know was what was to come: The portrayal of well being was in appearance only. This was actually a sign of her deeply deluded self-understanding that she could never be in step with the life in which she found herself. Her solution was drastic, permanent, devastating. Had I known what this movie was about and how the story would be portrayed I would have not have rented it or I would have watched it with completely different expectations. (I don’t recall anything given away in the opening credits, not even that it was a true story.)  I guess, in a way, I felt caught out in my own naivete and this made me feel especially vulnerable.

“Christine” was praised highly by male critics. It was also directed and written by men. Maybe there are some women out there who find it ok or even great, I don’t know, but I don’t think these are the kinds of stories most women want to see written, at least this woman doesn’t. I believe it was Mike Wallace who once said memoirs on depression should be written by authors well past their illness so that readers are able to witness a positive outcome of the disease and not become discouraged and overwhelmed themselves. And yet, Christine is presented in a way that is unfiltered. If you read the warning, you can go into it knowing this, but I don’t watch movies to feel darker about my life, and movies like this in which I am not sufficiently warned put me in a very dark place. Such a movie can have a diminishing effect, and who wants that in this world where already there are so many challenges. I appreciate learning about “true life” but a frame, a warning, and a take away are what I hope for and I doubt I am alone in this.

So, enter in a movie that, contrasted with Christine which got 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, wasn’t even reviewed there and was basically panned a lot of places: The Trials of Cate McCall, which came out several years ago. It is almost equally as dark as Christine. A trial lawyer and alcoholic played by Cate Beckinsale cannot get a grip on her life, is stuck battling her Achilles heel with the aid of AA sponsor and retired lawyer played by Nick Nolte. Alcoholism has destroyed her career and personal life. She is stuck battling for custody of her child against an embittered ex-spouse whom she supported financially while married to him. To me, it touches on many of the forces pulling on modern women: While not all entrenched in the war between these forces are alcoholic, many have experienced the catch twenty two nature of using talents and skills, upsetting the delicate balance of family life in this pursuit, crashing against the impossibility of trying to have it all and maintain a semblance of self, of control, of sanity. The movie deals so sensitively with these issues that the outcome is largely a mystery for at least the first 2/3 of the movie if not more. And for me, the take away was a sense that someone facing these kinds of odds could come through it. The movie was written and directed by a woman. I thought it dealt skillfully with the realities women, and humans in general, often face but nowhere was it given much shrift except for the popular vote on Amazon.

Another movie also written and directed by women which has received some, but not overwhelming praise, is “Equity” starring Anna Gunn. The movie employed an overwhelming female team from creative inception to production. Gunn plays a fairly successful investment banker with one recent professional chink in her armor which separates her out from the Gordon Gecko figure to whom the role has been compared by at least one critic, who is female by the by. She is also not intent upon pillaging the innocent, at least not knowingly, as the character reveals, and yet this same female critic insists Gunn’s role is Gecko incarnate. Instead, the female protag of Equity tries to play by all the rules, such as that of secrecy and the avoidance of insider trading. The play by the rules idea and do it to a tee seems to be what catches many successful women whose trying is not equal to contrary forces outside of one’s control as well as forces which also quite simply have to do with being a woman: While being “hard nosed” may serve a Gecko character well for example, a guy, it backfires in the case of Gunn’s character. In addition, her falling in love with a man in her field as well as trusting a female colleague, endeavors many a woman holds dear, were truly her downfall. Not her corruption. A “man’s world” in which the game is often a solitary pursuit is shown as playing in tension with the mashup man/woman’s world in which escape through relationships is often impossible for the female protag. Gunn’s character finds expression in the metaphor of her beta fish: It swims alone in its sparsely decorated tank. However, when all has fallen, just before the absolute end, she punches just once the bag suspended in her apartment for this purpose. In this punch, there is a sense of  her strength, of her fight. There is some takeaway in this character’s courage and self-reliance. In the end, she walks away alone but there is still a resonating feel of determination.

What is your movie screenplay? I would say this: Don’t necessarily listen to the critics. Watch and make up your own mind. As for me, I love the survivalist mindset of the movies touched on above whether the fight be with Wall Street, personal demons, unlawful imprisonment, the forces of nature, betrayal by friends and colleagues. In keeping with this, I listen to The Revenant score on Spotify. I love it, feel relaxed by it. I sleep to it. I understand the movie and in a weird way feel the movie understands me. But just like I rejected the unabridged, unfiltered diary of Sylvia Plath when it came out a few years ago, I reject narratives like “Christine.” As lessons on what happened and why, I welcome them, but presented in a way without more of a filter, frame, and take away, I reject them and warn others about them as well.

I encourage you to chose the narrative that will inspire you, even if they may be unlikely to inspire others. Whatever you choose, I ask you to choose wisely for the narratives we choose reflect who we are and who we want to become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

my life without klonopin

 

brian-tomlinson-dragon
Dragon by Brian Tomlinson, flickr

 

For the first time since my child was three I am off of a tranquilizing substance/anti-psychotic. I want to say for the first time in fifteen years I am “free,” but for those of you who ride this dragon, you know how dishonest this would be and so I sneak past the great lizard asleep before the fire. Like the Neil Young says of the needle, there’s “a little part of it in everyone, but every junkie’s like a setting sun.” That song has taken on new meaning for me this past summer and fall which has been dramatic though this time has been a time of drama for many: a mass slaying here in Orlando, a hurricane, a dramatic World series, dramatic highs and lows of the presidential campaign and newly elected POTUS. I had a recurring cancer scare, which has been put to bed for now. My son and I made it through hurricane Matthew which didn’t prove to be as bad for central Florida as for areas north, only to receive an urgent summons to evacuate our townhome as some families had been poisoned by an improper use of their generator.

Not only have I been living on adrenaline, 24 hours of tv news, too much Facebook, but also I have been trying to deal with the heightened alert brought on by the withdrawal from my cushion – my daily dose of klonopin – that would normally have padded the blows. For several months, over the summer, my ears rang, various large muscles in my body cramped up to the point of being unable to get up stairs. Sleep was almost nonexistent. I should have titrated down. My thought? Use the summer to “get it over with” so I would be better prepared for my son’s school year. I’m not sure now that was such a good idea. I had to go back to half my dosage come fall. I was on edge, had lost a longtime friend, had made some poor choices, had let my house fall into chaos, had come to feel like a Kafkan insect.  Now I am back to zero with mixed results.

There is something to be said of these efforts, just like there is something to be said of the effort to try to put your thoughts into some kind of form for a blog. Some days – for me at least – this may look like a fictional piece, some days a piece of nonfiction, some days an essay which may or may not gel, some days a kind of mixed form that gets no response or even draws criticism, some days a piece of writing to a prompt. It doesn’t matter. We all have our canvases upon which to draw – whether it be some kind of writing or art or life in general – and we all know what our canvases must look like for a kind of success that only we can determine. But we have to wake up and put before us a piece of fresh canvas, put something on it even if it looks like a mess. I have learned a few things recently, though. Have you? Has the roughness of this part of our nation’s history brought you to your own personal revelations? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Sometimes you’re going to lose friends. I guess a 48  year old woman should have learned that but I have always worked so hard against it. I have always been taught that a good woman guards against dissention, commotion, trouble. The loss of my friendship this summer was only tangentially related to what was happening nationally and globally. Its disintegration had more to do with my experience of a loss of the cushion that would have stopped me from confronting the issues between us. The relationship was not one that could sustain this confrontation, as it turns out. Something many of us have learned this fall is what our relationships can sustain: Can they sustain the divisiveness of our politics, the differences of our personal beliefs, the rifts in our community and globe? Many times I’ve been brought to a memory of the final page of E.M. Forster’s Passage to India, two men on their horses, one an occupying Englishman, one a native of India, each of the ready for engagement, the outcome the final mystery.
  • Sometimes it’s easy to spout off armchair psychology when you’re the one taking the pills. Nothing like trying to toss said pills and experiencing massive muscle seizures to bring you down a peg.
  • Sometimes you literally live for the day, for the hour, and sometimes that is the best that can be achieved. In my case with my particular dragon, normality is still a ways off, and that’s if I can avoid opening a little orange bottle.
  • Sometimes you have to be creatively resilient in learning how to get through struggles you don’t know you’ll survive or at least don’t know you’ll get through with much in tact. Sometimes it’s about tucking your head in and just striding on silently when a doctor, for example, says she’s going to dump you from her patient list and you don’t know how to begin to tell her about how the anxiety keeps you from coming in to see her, for fear the cancer’s spread. She doesn’t seem to have time to really know what’s up with you and why you keep missing and rescheduling appointments. Does anyone really want to know? Does anyone have that kind of time? Probably not. Likely: No. Sometimes you have to buck up and be extremely tough when you and your son are in a strange city on a visit you must navigate on your own, keeping safety and a budget in mind, tasks which for many are challenging, but for those with anxiety, seemingly Herculean. Sometimes you have to see it through and not worry and take breaks when you can and worry when you can in little private moments and steel yourself for moments you know will be difficult and uncertain. Sometimes you have to be extremely tough when a surgery wants to take a fourth of your income for the month when you undergo a procedure. A month later, they are calling to apologize they overcharged you and are planning to pay some of it back. There is a part of you that feels you might be turning the corner a bit when this happens: Maybe there is indeed some logic in you. Sometimes it’s about believing in yourself when you have a therapy appointment soon after getting off your a tranquilizer and your therapist hints of your maternal unfitness. You are deeply hurt – you have been with her over 10 years – but by going with your gut, and taking what seems like an extreme measure, you put a “the end” on your final conversation. Now, having survived these past five months without her and without the same full dosage of pills, you know you did right. You believed in yourself when few did and at least you, in your own way, will get by as a fit enough mother who still needs some pills and a couple of doctors but not an unsupportive therapist.
  • Sometimes your country falls apart. No matter who you voted for, we all have experienced that even if just within our circles of families and friends and their post election lack of cohesiveness. A better victory is victory for all with minimal divisiveness and minimal upheaval in the world. There is nothing more I can say on this topic for now. For now I have been overwhelmed as I’ve said goodbye to my last half milligram of a crutch.

 

My dragon breathes in fits and starts in his corner. His eyes are closed but he is not asleep. For all of you who live alone, our dragon will be the thing with which we manage to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Sing with Birds: Finding Beauty in Unhealth and Trouble

ocean birds
photo by R.I. Pienaar, flickr

One way in which you may not have always counted on being alone is in your health. I know for me, this is true. Is it possible to feel alone in supposed good health? I guess that is true. The way we fragment gym life from the rest of our lives, the way perfect bodies are elevated among all others, the way we don’t even know or own, that when we’re fit and healthy we’re judging those who are not healthy, or those who are overweight, those whose physical or mental lives have somehow become a train wreck. That judgment separates us. Though we don’t always  know or acknowledge we are doing this, in making these judgments, silently or to others, out loud at a bar or a coffee shop, a little social gathering, other people become objects to chew on and their lives are delicious, because they aren’t ours. All kinds of unfitness abound for our appetite: bodily unfitness, mental unfitness, financial unfitness, marital unfitness, societal unfitness. We divide and separate people from us. I’ve always had an affinity for those Japanese bento boxes. Just the perfect bite and they’re somehow so comforting in their little divisions. We all like divisions: Me/Not Me, for example. And yet this is how ostracization begins. And this is how we all become a little lonelier. (Though I stand by the bento box as a capital choice. Yum.)

I never thought I would be this sick at this point in my life. When one is younger, one often pictures it occurring at some later time, near the end of a more or less typical modern natural lifespan though for more and more of us gunfire and random mass attacks are more of a reality. Because of what has happened in my own body in relation to illness, I should have pictured my life in danger at an earlier stage, I should have imagined it, I should have been more wary and aware, more disciplined. Although I’m not sure I would have, even then, made different choices. I don’t know. For most of my life I’ve felt myself to be in an emotionally survivalist mindset: If I can ease my overtaxed brain for even a moment, I’ll do almost anything I have to and this has not always led to the best of choices.

Many of us who read this blogpost are aware and experience this phenomena either directly or through the lives of loved ones, acquaintances, or people we encounter during our day: We live in a society in which it becomes possible for those who are emotionally struggling to slip through the cracks. We also live in a society in which self medicating drugs are readily available and often accepted and even in some cases encouraged: drugs – prescription or otherwise, food, alcohol. Many have the luxury of an insane amount of choices. And yet to me, nothing is more depressing than some of our grocery stores which overwhelms with choices and “plenty,” sucking you in for sometimes hours, if you are distracted and don’t really know what you are doing, running around with your cart. Another kind of depressing scenario are our liquor stores. Drinking can become a lonely pastime, and yet alcohol, being so readily available, its distribution not vetted through bars where other people can look out for someone who has overindulged, can be bought at will, as much as one wants, and imbibed in the middle of the night, at 8 a.m., at lunch or “early happy hour” with others or alone. One can stay drunk most of the time if one chooses. One can be a relatively high functioning drunk person. And yet at some point, a constant overindulgence will destroy and will, at various times, or for one’s whole life, make one lonely. Prescription drugs are life’s quandaries. Also more readily available than ever and even taken “legally” with a doctor’s prescription, they can both sometimes make one’s life possible and yet change one’s life forever with the side effects which are played down skillfully by ads in which happy people address their bodily and emotional ills with things that come out of bottles. And we all know of the illegal drug culture. Some of us have had friends who have been made homeless by it or friends whose life ended prematurely because of it and yet shows like Breaking Bad for example which has vast entertainment value and was artfully presented, does not even scratch the surface of any real tragedy: the scale of the human toll, the numbers of people whose lives who are destroyed by crystal meth.

This week I’ve had the experience of starting to withdraw, under orders from a nurse practitioner, from a formerly prescribed dosage of a benzodiazepine. The effect has been to produce slightly less sleep, wariness to be exposed to stressful social situations, physical depression at various times of the day. The body becomes most addicted to the most addicting, controlled substances. When it is time to return to “normal” one has the sense, at least temporarily and for perhaps for a long time, that finding one’s healthy normal will take time, if it comes at all. Although honestly, sleep has always been hard to come by, even since I was a little kid. This I think was related to aspects of my personal life. Can one ever recover a sense of what wasn’t there to begin with? I have to believe this. And I have to believe, at least for this part of my physical life, that I will find a life of peace beyond anxiety and depression.

To become really self-revelatory, at least for me, I am not only at the beginning scary fringes of a life after cancer treatment – the territory in which one is not completely safe but wary and watchful and hopeful – but also the beginnings of a new disease that is just as debilitating and whose action in the body could be fatal: Diabetes. Did I develop diabetes because of the cancer treatment? I don’t know. But there is evidence to suggest that extended exposure to the steroids given during treatment can elevate blood sugars and increase the likelihood that one will develop diabetes as a result. That being said, yet another factor is at play:  I have been gaining weight over the past ten years or so which has been compounded by a drug taken for bipolar II. On the one hand, drugs are saving my life, on the other hand, they are taking it too.

I have spent this past week or so especially beginning to be concerned about the typical signs of distress the body’s signals send out when too many processed foods have cycled through its system, those processed foods our modern society has made plentiful and whose addictive properties had been my lifeblood for so long: tingling sensations in my feet, legs, even buttocks, some numbness in my toes and the tips of my fingers. I’m on a drug for the neuropathy, by the way. Still, the outcome of diabetes can be dire. People lose limbs because of this. People have heart attacks because of this. Organs shut down because of this. Cancer crops up because of this. It is a creeping disease. One doesn’t see it coming until it is right on top of you, bearing down and screaming in your body. It is time to become more radical than ever with every aspect of my health. I am educating myself on a diet that radically addresses various issues and delivers the most micronutrients possible.

I wonder if of the diseased body and mind we can say this: If we decided never to use another person as an object would our connection to each other be such that fewer people would abuse objects – food, alcohol, drugs. And would fewer people experience stress, the cause of so many of our ills. Would fewer experience the pain of loneliness, the temptation to self medicate. Would more people experience connection, real connection – not an overly involved needy boundaryless connection and not a fake user-like connection – but a real connection establishing that all of us, adults and children, men and women, old and young, have far more things in common than we have things that are different.

That is the only way to be alone, not to be lonely. We must begin to believe in, and experience, the miracle of our common humanity, to be grateful for it, no matter what our religious beliefs and practices. There would be less abuse in a world dominated by that mentality, less abuse of objects – substances, guns, the planet – less objectification of others rendering others as completely different from the self, less worthy of love and consideration and life. We must begin to find our way. We have lost it. Or we have never had it, not completely. It exists in us somewhere and somehow we will find the trail. I have to believe – we have to believe – we as a planet will find peace, or that enough of us will continue to strive for it so that the generation behind us will have the opportunity to experience the fullness of their humanity, beauty, and worth. I have to believe that we all will celebrate what is meant by what it means to live here on earth and we would begin to study, to undertake as our passion, ways to improve, save the world, in our little corner, in our homes, large and small, on our little soapboxes where some days we may feel we are only speaking to the birds but they sing right along with us and on some days that is just good enough to propel us to the next day in which someone may listen. And on some days, singing with the birds is quite beautiful in fact. And in fact, on some days, it is simply quite beautiful to be alive.

 

 

strange ballast

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu, Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / Max Dupain
Valentina Blinova in L’Oiseau de feu, Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / Max Dupain

There are many ways to be alone. One way I’m learning to be alone and having mixed success is to be alone in my writing. What I mean by that, one of the things I mean by that, is that writing, contrary to what is often put forth, is not a team pursuit. It is wholly, and for better or worse, a solitary endeavor. Someone can, and has, inspired me to write like I never could have imagined. Someone can, and has, corrected my work when I have paid them to do so or my parents’ tax dollars or payment of school tuition has enabled them to do so. But in the end, at the end of the day metaphorically and sometimes literally speaking, or after graduation, or during those times you are ill and you are hardly able to communicate in person with another human much less get together for a critique sesh, or when you feel something strange bubbling up, some inspiration that does not have solidity yet, but has enough compelling force to drag you to the computer or Moleskine in the middle of the night and demand an amanuensis-like work of the hands, no one else is around. You are alone.

I say this because certain experiences can have the effect of making us feel lonelier than ever when it comes to writing – such as the idea that if we don’t embrace the “team” nature of it, we are surely at the edge of something, the edge of civilization, the edge of our minds – whereas writing itself has little to do with actual loneliness and everything to do with a solitary avocation or vocation if one is so fortunate. And yet, there are times we insist that it doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. And I think that is because so many times in our culture we think it weird or strange to be “alone.”

Going to school with the specious goal of learning to be a better writer is what many people do. I did it and do not regret it and enjoyed the experience for many reasons. It did sharpen me in many ways, it developed a more critical and self-critical writer and editor in me, it introduced me to writers and colleagues who inspired me in both my writing and my life. But looking back to the work I did before school and the work I am doing now, when the inspiration is strong enough to overcome the self-editor and the other sometimes impeding logjam of troubles and emotions, there is not a great deal of difference, other than perhaps the ability to discern and maybe know how to get to something that is more or less unique. (I say more or less unique. There are very few who are unique. Some who are brilliant. I don’t put myself in either category. Some days I pass in some venues. Some days the work I put down will eternally circulate between the file cabinet, my closet, my desk, a bookshelf somewhere but will never come to fruition.)

So maybe my education has taught me something. I don’t know. I’m not sure self-criticism is always the way toward the wilds of pure imagination. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is not. But it is useful once you get there. It helps to recognize what’s worth noting in one’s travelogue in a strange world. Otherwise, everything seems worth noting. It’s hard to know how to begin. One may pay so much attention to the name of that other-planetary truckstop that one forgets to make it to the shore to observe how the waves, in low gravity, move slowly, how splashing at the beach is a strange and utterly wondrous experience. This is all metaphor. I’m only saying, there’s a lot of things to write about, not just in any one particular story, but how do you choose the stories themselves? I have a lot of ideas. Do I go with all of them? Try to keep several projects going at once? Are some “more important” than others? Is the answer to that determinative? Or should I use some other kind of criteria to decide what is worthy? Am I adopting someone else’s criteria when I reject something that occurs to me to write or am I becoming a “better” writer? And how do I keep going as a writer? What is it that causes some writers to stop? Do some writers really get to that point where they’ve said all they’ve wanted to say and that’s the only reason they wrote was to say that one thing? Do some writers lose their audience or do they gain so much fame that to do yet one more reprise feels redundant, pointless, obsessive? (This last question is laced with seeds of self-recrimination that an author may feel and seem in no way defensible motives for cessation.)

I think an education may help a writer come to some decisions faster though the risk is that some decisions can prematurely deadhead a bloom, or quite a few blooms, for projects.

Recently, a few years outside of graduation from my writing education, I’ve had to provide my own courage for undertaking writing. And I never completely get used to criticisms. At my best, the last few years, I have had a hard-headed determination that what I do is not for everyone. Hell, I don’t even know if what I do is for me. I just do it. Many times, the majority, I put it out there. I sketch, dash off, write, create, and in one day or a week put it out there in some form for others to see. Then I go back to the drawing board a few times and refashion a bit and if I fall in love, I shop it around. At my best times, these little bits have screamed me, me, me, and if you don’t like it – who’s asking? And I don’t really see much difference between a blog’s publication and a journal publication. Some pieces are meant to appear and stay on a blog. I am not really sure why sometimes people say, “But that’s too good for just a blog.” Why shouldn’t blog writing be absolutely spectacular? Blog writing is publishing. Many who read this blog are self-publishers. We’re doing it already. No ISBNs or Amazon rankings necessary. What I’m saying though is that at my best I haven’t limited myself creatively. I haven’t been overly discriminatory or self-editorial because when all facets of creative life are going at full bore, the self is most honored. All work is not at perfection. I am not claiming art. I am claiming self expression in the most nonutilitarian way possible. There is a part of me that is tempted to say: When I’m doing more, something “more” worthwhile comes, something potentially “publishable.” But honestly, we aren’t always the best judge of this and neither are others. And honestly, is this the only reason to engage creatively? Have we become machines?

I saw a friend had published at a journal that had recently, and roundly, rejected me. Of course, I had to check it out. His story was completely different than mine. It was expertly crafted, to be sure, and grounded in realism and had that feel of being close to the author’s own story. Though the journal claimed to want all styles and I thought I had researched them before submitting, my story was quite the opposite: Set in a fictional village using some cultural Eastern European details, set around the early nineteenth century, starring a fantastical bird who tells the beautiful but aging female protagonist about her philandering husband resulting in the tattle tale bird being baked into a meat pie. Well, so, my story was very different. I received the criticism that the outcome was somewhat tried: Woman receives sad news, reacts, and is sad. The advice was that something  should even more spectacular should happen. Well, not much more happened in my friend’s story, if you want to boil it down. Not to mention that, before I knew of my friend’s acceptance and right after receiving the reason for my rejection, I had to ask myself: What is it one does to satisfy another’s idea of what should happen in a piece? I could work myself to the bone to try to spectacularize my piece of original folklore. When I complained to a friend, I received advice about how to add this or that to make it wilder or more outrageous. While I appreciated my friend’s attempts to help, a talking bird is all the spectacular I needed. The point is, the woman in my story thought she was going to be happier when she didn’t have to listen to the bird’s ratty ways and really, what she realized, once the bird was dead, was her own denial, a not so unprofound revelation.

I once had a summer session with a master writer with a dry sense of humor that showed in his demeanor and experimental writing. He was a completely likeable, even lovable guy who entertained his upstarts for a short session. He told me, at some point during the week that what I seemed to be up to is setting off fireworks in my writing, to make crazy outlandish things happen. This was not a compliment and feedback I have received more than once. But what I realize, more and more, as I try to navigate my imaginative landscape, is that I have my own tools that are alien to those staying at home in territories operating in normative gravity situations. No one can dictate to you your creative fate. You have to be willing to risk the “free fall out into nothing” but you develop a sense for the equipment that will get you to where you need to go: inside a story, inside the heart of a reader, lonely on a Sunday, whose attention was caught by something glittering and strange in the ballast by the tracks, who picks it up and glances at a moment and alleviates for a fraction of their lifetime an oppressive sense that no one else knows what it is to feel like they do. Sometimes you use weird tools to get there. We are not all meant to live on earth.

 

 

staying this side of the line

Georgie Pauwels "Look into the wide"
Georgie Pauwels “Look into the wide”

It is healthful to acknowledge what no one will say to your face when you are alone, due to your own choice, or as a consequence of your choices. Oftentimes being alone due to consequences of ones actions is the more uncomfortable of the two states due to its involuntary nature and its subjugation to the whim of community. On the other hand, however, it is unhealthful to generalize about the state of being alone – whether chosen or enforced by others – using scant information, fluctuating feeling, and the occasional criticism and even desertion of those around us. One can begin to generalize that one is undesirable, which is actually wholly inaccurate as long as you are not destroying another’s life and causing harm. In being alone, one must engage the whole of one’s analytical mind and use the strength of that analytical ability to get one through blind passes, narrow alleys, emotional ambushes. Do not let the mind fall into chaos. (The most dangerous consequence of this state is paranoia, but one can act to mitigate this extreme situation.) Listen to improving books on Libri Vox, a strong recommendation, for some of the older texts exploring philosophy, psychology, and self-improvement are less indulging and present a greater challenge. Practicing letting go helps. It can sometimes be easier said than done but it is tied to an understanding of our relationship to this world and our small part in it. When our children are involved, however, we must understand a special version of this because there is some mixture of loving involvement and letting go at least until they have flown. Definitely therapy, staying far away from drugs and alcohol, and on occasion engaging with others pursuing a common interest are just a few ways to keep one from the further extremes of being alone, the hinterlands.

When one is in the hinterlands, friendships can be destroyed because someone else may take your absence personally. And yet, I have been this way too: Too harshly judging a friend or relative without fully understanding their context and believing their negligence to be personal. It seems like the older we become, the more frequent are such incidents. I don’t know if it has to do with losing a certain flexibility that comes with hardship and complication or with a deterioration of analytical faculties that allows us to entertain another side. And yet, and yet: Don’t we really only have each other in this life? Even a modicum of politeness and forgiveness enables us to hold the threads of our life together, secure our dignity, fuse the past to the present, and support children and the frail. I am still working on all of these things as I work to tame the sometimes mercurial side that insists upon its own way.

Being alone can also bring up feelings of self-doubt or a lack of self-worth. Before you consider whether you are failing, ask yourself if you got out of bed this morning, or, failing that, had an original thought or made some plan or prayed some prayer. We are more than the sum total of what we do. We are the whole of what we are. Before you allow one person’s opinions to define you or a group of people’s opinions to define you, consider this: You have your opinions as well and they are no less valid though again they should not contain injury – to yourself or others. But your opinions – and hopefully they will grow more self-supporting with time as I hope mine will – are valid. And you exist because you breathe. And you can admit your failure without fear. And you dream whole worlds because you are an infinity to yourself, created by God, and you are an imperfect mortal stumbling through life but with dreams and plans and if you are depressed – soon to be resurrected dreams and plans. One failure does not define you, a host of bad luck does not mar your life, other people cannot set your course though sometimes they can effect it but if the effect is undesirable it does not have to be permanent. You can smile benevolently and forgive because you have true power, the power to love, the power to forgive, the power to let go when necessary, the power to grieve, the power to heal, the power to think and analyze which is no small gift.

community

Black Orchid by Arjay
Black Orchid by Arjay

Whenever you do something outside of a community’s morale, either because you are ill or simply because you are human, it can have a profound impact on your place in this community. If this subculture is religious and has contained your family and a great deal of your network, the effects can be devastating. We – many of us, looking from the outside in – see what happens when people who are in the public eye lose face as a result of faulty thinking and poor decision making and it is easy, sitting around a bar, a breakfast table, a coffee shop, to jump on the band wagon for a bit of punishment. But this kind of punishing effect is multiplied in thousands of small ways any time that line is crossed by everyday people and the higher the community holds the stakes for a mistake or indiscretion or willful act, the less forgiving it is of offenders. Christ hung on the cross next to two criminals and was considered a criminal himself and yet if you make a mistake or are considered guilty you can expect some people – and sometimes a good many people – not to forgive you. And by not forgiving, I mean to continue perpetrating the punishment by treating you as less than human, whether by neglect or some form of aggressiveness, spoken or otherwise.

This has been my experience and it’s been hard to cope with. A therapist once described me as being externally motivated or having an external locus of control. She and I would work on coming up with solutions for approaching life given this tendency.  The irony for me, though, in this moment in which I find myself, is that fewer and fewer props for validation are still in active operation. In fact the people I used to rely on for credit have turned, sometimes en masse, and a few one by one over time, and yes, rightfully so perhaps, but sometimes it feels as if there is no end to the desolation. That being said, I am challenging myself to find my internal locus of control for I always believe in God: There is a reason this is happening to me and so it is that I can be stronger. My strength will make me a better friend. It may make me better for my family. It will also just make me stronger for myself.

I will say, however, that until my failures came to a head a few years ago, I had not appreciated the power of community to influence the individual’s sense of self. I grew up relatively sheltered, the daughter of a popular minister who is still popular now. I achieved in high school, college, and graduate school. I have tried as a mom, and in a former life, a wife, and have had some success in these things but my failure as a wife ultimately led to some failures as a mom. There were times when the struggles hadn’t brought my marriage down  that I tried to take my truth to the community, a strictly “confidential” group but was told, after not much sharing, that I would surely be gossiped about and that I should stop sharing my problems. A couple of years ago, a local minister here had some problems, there were indiscretions, a divorce followed and his firing from the church, and not long after, he took his life. I have been told that the fallout of his ministry over his bad decisions had nothing to do with his suicide. I doubt it. (I have hard words today, yes.) The smartest, wisest remark I heard in the wake of this minister being fired was voiced by a person who had observed what had happened in the community, and before the devastating consequences for the pastoral leader: “Why was he fired? He could have shared what he learned from his experience.”

We are not much further along from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s world of The Scarlet Letter. It is true, at least in some subcultures, the lack of grace prevails despite The One who hung on the cross for all of our sins, and not just the scapegoats of our gossip and the ones receiving the projected shame for our darkness. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God the Bible says and yet we can’t seem to resist chewing over a juicy bit of gossip when the opportunity arises or taking a self righteous posture in the face of someone failing. There but by the grace of God go I but how many times do we forget it, or how many times do we forget that judging is also sin. So is a lack of forgiveness. By Christ’s law, so is a lack of active love. We sin out of some fault that is in us, some darkness we have held onto and when the opportunity or temptation arises, we act out of something that is already within. Temptation comes from something that is already within us – and not something external to us – and the only way to address our condition is to address what is inside, no matter the failing.

I know I will never find respect in the community in which I was raised and in which I raised my child. One does and can lose face in a community, and the loss can be permanent and it can be painful. It can be tempting to think the “if only’s;” “If only that person understood.” “If only they had my set of circumstances, then they would get it.” “If only they wouldn’t make my sin worse than their own.”  And yet, this isn’t how it works. The world is not based on conditionals. It has an “isness.” The world, and the people in it are a certain way and it will be always thus except for those who have had their hearts and minds transformed. (God is still working on me with this.) But you see these beautific peeps and they have that otherworldly quality – Mother Theresa, for example.

I can forgive me. I can respect me, or learn to. That has no bearing on how others treat me and see me. The “isness” quality of the world dictates culture and subculture. It helps us put things into categories so we know where to step and what to avoid. Religious subcultures have used categories to segregate people and thus help uphold their raison d’etre. But Christianity was born in wildness among sinners, prostitutes, and thieves. Let the sinner sit among you  and tell you what he has learned and that way you’ll really know. Or, homogenize yourself and keep it safe – white bread and processed cheese and little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Good luck with that. When temptation presents itself, you may be unable to stand.

 

 

 

bathtubs and revelations

photo by Sharon Hahn Darlin, flickr
photo by Sharon Hahn Darlin, flickr

It has been a little over a week since I broke up with someone I have been seeing, on and off, for the last seven months. I would like to say I’m doing cartwheels celebrating my “free again” status but as most people know who are caught in relationship addiction and the adage that being with no one makes you a nobody, it’s not as simple as this. When you break up, you lose a dream, yes, but you also, quite simply lose companionship, and you have to find your footing again before it feels possible to join in with the others as a happily free adult. For one, you need to stop spacing and crying, although sometimes what may come first is the temptation to talk about everything to the first indulgent ear and you have to be rid of that too, especially if you’re a relationship addict. Most of your friends have heard about your “sitches” just way too many times, though occasionally, and hopefully, there is that friend who absorbs your insanity just like you absorb theirs. Maybe they have the same disease. Regardless, there is this liminal gap between the letting go and the re-embracing life again and all of its little glories, joys that are muted by someone suffering. And like every addict who’s kicked a habit for a day or two, there is also this danger lurking in that liminal space: the hint of access to a new hit.

Players know the bleeding animal, they sense the suffering in the air, just as surely as drug dealers pushing their wares. If you have given former steadies access to your number, some will check in when they hear you are free, and move in when you are vulnerable. Maybe this sounds paranoid. I actually have always been a fairly trusting person up until the last few years. I’m afraid dating perhaps too much or of the wrong kind has brought me to the point of greater realism, or at least a little less naivete. This hard realism is the kind you have to use to avoid the hit, promising though it may seem, it will have you chasing your tail on the back end. There have been nice people to check in with me after a break up. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people with whom I’ve had a toxic history, whom I’ve allowed to mistreat me, and who are coming back for me via a feigned interest in my well-being.

It is nonetheless tempting, however, because they often know just what to say. I think of the hard words put by someone close to me, the litmus test: “He has not earned your trust.” It sounds insane to most people who do not have addiction issues, but it is tempting to take the solace of some one-foot-in lover rather than say: Get out, I’m mopping my floors now. In fact, it is painful while they are standing at the door pleading, the perfect needle for a forgetful afternoon or a week or two of oblivion.  These people should never be welcome, they are always a bad idea, but when you are healed, you usually know that. It’s getting to that healing that is tricky. There are many roadblocks, including your mind, your self-esteem, and sometimes the temptation of others – whether it be an incoming call or dating sites. Shut it down. Deadbolt the door.

A relationship addict must also deal with the lows – in energy, in a sense of a lack of purpose, in a life with less “drama,” the white knuckle emotions give a kind of spark to everything. In fact, relationships have kept the addict from developing a sense of purpose.  I felt so low today and did not know why, until I finally figured it out: I have lost my sense of purpose that, for a while, seemed to animate me. (I consider the loss temporary, but still, affecting.) There were two foci for that sense of purpose: a romantic relationship and a drive to write imaginatively. My writing life has broken down. Sometimes relationships can edge out writing although sometimes, as in steady relationships with someone I’ve known for a while and who is invested in me, it can flourish. I am trying to develop a stronger sense of purpose, like a strong core. But when bad relationships come back, they threaten the core, especially when it is still weak, and everything goes with it. The crux for the addict is always: How to be alone and develop a sense of purpose so that one’s life is not the sum total of one’s addictions, a sure road to death.

So I felt low today, but then I came across a self-test at Tiny Buddha, a site I highly recommend, I took it and had the results emailed to me:  Are you living in the past?

So here are my results:

YOUR QUIZ RESULTS

You fixate on mistakes from the past and it’s affecting your self-esteem in the present.

When you dwell on the past, you focus on things you think you did wrong or things you think you should have done, which ultimately ends up making you feel bad about yourself.

You spend a lot of time wishing you made different choices, and forming overarching conclusions about yourself based on what you’ve done, as if you’re somehow a bad person and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

This can cause you to feel inadequate, ashamed, and depressed—not to mention helpless and stuck. Ironically, it can even cause you to continue making the same mistakes over and over again. When you get down on yourself, it’s harder to make self-affirming choices.

A few ways to let go of your limiting story about yourself:

1. Practice self-compassion.

When you start feeling bad about your choices, think of what you’d say to your closest friend if they had your same experiences. Odds are, you’d recognize they did their best based on where they’d been and what they’d experienced.

You wouldn’t yell at them, demean them, or fixate on what they could have done better. You’d do your best to help them feel better right now, because you’d know they’ve hurt enough and they don’t deserve to hurt anymore. You don’t either.

It may also help to visualize yourself as a child. Imagine him or her sitting alone in a room, crying over a mistake, and then look right into that innocent face as s/he says, “Please don’t get mad at me. I tried my best, and I just want you to love me.”

2. Reframe your past choices to identify positive things that came from them.

If you’re convinced that nothing good has come from your choices, you will inevitably see your past through a negative, defeatist lens.

Look back at every choice you’ve regretted, ask yourself, “What good came from this?” This may seem like lying to yourself, as if you’re pretending that something was somehow not painful or difficult.

It’s not. It’s choosing to find something good in the path you’ve taken. If your actions led to a break-up, did that allow you time to deal with issues that you may otherwise never have addressed? If your choices caused you to lose a job, did that open you up to other opportunities that may have been better aligned with your passions?

3. Focus on lessons learned and how they’ll serve you well in the future.

You can’t go back and change what you did before, but you can be proud of what you do with the lessons that came from it.

When you start dwelling on choices you wish you made or didn’t make, ask yourself: What did this experience teach me that will help me going forward? What insights did I gain about myself that will help me be the person I want to be?

When you focus on lessons learned, you turn a past you might otherwise regret into something ultimately useful for both your present and your future.

If you decide to take this quiz, you may get different results. I hope you will take the quiz.

Before finding the site, however, I took a bath and felt pretty down. I finally let myself cry a little. I’m trying to avoid the fix standing at the door and I’m trying to feel like the self confident, self directed woman of not too long ago. I felt better after my cry. I thought to myself: This is not about a matter of if I will overcome my problems, but when.

I want to say to you, as I say to myself: Take it easy. Have at least a small sense of purpose at first. Maybe it’s as simple as having a more orderly home or cooking regularly and healthfully or a combination of things. But pick just one thing today that will lead you to your purpose, even if it’s just concentrating on one thing, however small. Don’t compare yourself with someone else. So your friend got a contract for her novel. Good for her. Now go clean the dishes in your sink. Good for you.

 

 

Coming Clean: Who am I? Who are you?

Black and White Challenge - Day 4 by RomitaGirl67
Black and White Challenge – Day 4 by RomitaGirl67

It is 9:40 a.m. on a Wednesday. Perhaps too early still and too much in the middle of the week to ask such existential questions. In a couple of hours I will go to an appointment I have been putting off: a bilateral mammogram. So this is one aspect of my existence ticked off: I am a cancer survivor. It is unfortunately hardly unique. So many have been effected directly or indirectly. And so, I charge on today, following up on the nature of the “benign developments” that have occurred since surgery, chemo, and radiation a couple of years ago. A couple of years after my divorce my health fell apart and I suspect some of it had to do with a lack of forgiveness of myself, a lack of self-love, a running from the self. (Many of my dreams at that time literally involved running, from something, but running, and a feeling of being lost.) The other part of the responsibility is likely as follows: living in the world, being out of shape and overweight. The stress of all of this combined with a completely new life at midlife may have proven too much. I also suffer pre-diabetes which may be making its way to the full on disease unless I can turn it around, glaucoma which is being treated, and a few other gems. Is this who I am? Are we more than the sum of our sufferings, even the ones we sometimes bring on ourselves? Most of us have a story of a giant we’ve had to slay and are slaying new every morning.

What makes me able to say anything about being alone? I am not a psychologist, therapist, counselor. In fact, I myself have maladies that would, perhaps, for some people, preclude me from saying anything definitive. Coming clean: I am bipolar. Coming clean: I have anxiety. Coming clean: I have occasional crippling depressions. And yet, I think these struggles give me more of a layperson’s qualifications to address the issue of loneliness than not. Do you have things in your life that speak to the issue of loneliness? Have you learned something through divorce, illness, broken relationships, loss, isolation in one form or another, that has blossomed into something secret and life-giving that out of a secret store you can give to others? A sense of what it means to be human? A kind of compassion that would not have been possible had you otherwise not experienced these things?

We all have choices, however. Sometimes experiences lead to bitterness, self-recriminations, self-isolation, stingy self-protectiveness. I’ve been there. I’ve said and done things out of my pain that I have lived to regret. And those people you are not able to forgive: You can’t forgive them not because of what they’ve done or said – and they may have done or said some humdingers – but because you don’t believe yourself worthy of love. And we are all worthy. Just take the sunshine. Or a flower. These are love. Given to you. So let the haters hate. They’re dealing with their own pain and inability to receive love. Just love yourself. And love them too, which doesn’t necessarily mean not holding someone responsible for their choices. But what should concern us more is a heavenly law which says “always love.” Why? Because it frees us and helps us understand love and experience love by the practice of love.

So why am I bipolar? I don’t know. But I want to take this post to come clean, to start the discussion: Who am I? Who are you?

My birth mother was not a well woman. She no doubt was intelligent and ambitious and I learned, later in my life, someone who loved me though she gave me up for a adoption when I was a toddler. She committed suicide when she was about 37. It seems likely, given what I have learned about her as an adult, she suffered. Genes are often strong determinants in understanding who we are. What do your genes say about who you are? What physical characteristics have you inherited? Personality characteristics? I am reminded of the importance of genes every time I visit a doctor’s office and have to fill out forms and answer questions about what ailments ran in my family. I have no idea. The family who raised me are my family. And yet, this other family is inextricably linked to who I am. To deny that is to deny reality. All adopted people go through these enigmatic puzzles of identity and these are harder to put together when there is scant information.

I would assert that an important step in learning how to be alone is learning who you are. And let me clarify further: You don’t even need to be “single” to be “alone.” We all know this, right? Hopefully, if you are in a marriage or partnership, you are not “lonely.” This would defeat the purpose of being married or having a life partner, though from time to time we all feel lonely. For the most part, however, a good partnership feels like you are getting at least a ray or two of that loving sunshine every day or one out of three, or whatever the sustaining ratio, even when there’s the occasional fight. You’re in it together. And you can love the other because you love yourself and the same holds true for the other. But to be with someone, I’ve learned, you have to learn to be alone. I’ve also learned: This isn’t as easy as it looks. I am asserting that the reason for the difficulty is that it is not frequently discussed. Why? Because, unfortunately, somehow, it has entered into our beliefs that aloneness is for losers. Is this why? I’m thinking so. Even our therapy is about how to play well with others, not how to create a rich life in relative isolation. This would be considered non-normative, outside the bell curve.

To clarify and reassure before proceeding: My bipolarness is under control with medications and regular visits to a nurse practitioner. That doesn’t change the fact that occasionally, certain decisions I make may not be best for me, given my condition, or that unexpected events do not occasionally have an effect on my health. But my friends, my doctors, my family, they enforce in me what I already enforce in myself: I believe in the strength of my mind and body, the strength of my will, to care for myself and overcome. I may share in detail as my essays unfold in this casual format. I do think it’s only now that I’m able to talk about these things in so public a way and that’s because I’ve had the help of those who support and believe in me. The contradiction I am making here is that the “alone” life is also one that is supported and upheld by others, from the most distantly and casually connected to the most essential, life giving and affirming. No man is an island, and it is true, although maybe we are all islands with bridges between us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

post breakup emergency kit

Emergency Services Key Box -- Dennis van Zuijlekom
Emergency Services Key Box — Dennis van Zuijlekom

In case of emergency break glass. There are just certain things you must do or at least avail yourself of when you are breaking out a life that is no longer be working for you. I speak, casually, however, and with no psychological expertise. I speak only of down home girl knowledge most women know and practice in said circumstances: Emotional emergency. It doesn’t matter if he broke your heart or you broke his. Between women, the same may apply. Relationship breakdown seems to bring about a kind of triage that must be followed to bring the suffering heart through. A short change of this triage means an ailing patient, vulnerable to hasty liaisons, an overly romanticized view of the next mere mortal who says boo to you, compliments you on the tiniest of characteristics or achievements but because of your rose colored rebound glasses you wear to hide the constantly smudged mascara and bleary eyes, you will punch your card to delusionville. This is not good. Follow these steps, or others, but I highly suggest my tonic. I have extracted it only by being bit by the love snake many times.

Critical care requires, first, sequestering. One can appreciate women who have taken holy vows for the purpose of focusing their life, thoughts, actions on a religious figure. Without intending to commit sacrilege and offense, I look to these examples. This goes against much of women’s secular culture, however. We are taught that a balm can be found in community, in spilling the beans. We live in a confessional culture. We don’t believe much in the value of privacy. Privacy, however, can be your surest ally for it is only in this that you can let your hair go for a weekend and a couple of personal days without a loss of dignity, and a loss of dignity on top of heartbreak can retard the healing, for the healing starts when you learn to rely on your innate ability to recover. It will also be undermined by the inevitable one among your friends who cannot help but gossip a little. People talking about your hurt before you even have the chance to sort it robs you of the chance to understand it, understand yourself, and analyze the situation. You will have new voices in your head, that of your friends and their opinions, and of course they are going to say what you want to hear or maybe sometimes what you don’t want to hear, but knowing what you believe first is the oxygen mask that must be placed over your nose and mouth.

(I am assuming, but will make it obvious here because it is so vital to healing: Go “no contact.” Other advisors to broken hearts often stress this and have a lot to say but for me it is simply: Announcing to the former significant other you need time to get over the relationship and it is not personal, but you are giving yourself space so you will not be answering calls, responding to texts or emails, and you’re not social media friends. You may get a lot of flak for this. Proceed.)

To even get to sequestering, however, there is the problem of sustenance. I have handled this various ways, depending upon my circumstances. Sometimes I just eat what I have currently in my pantry. And let me say, before going on, it is vital to eat. Some women may think they have to get on with the diet right away to loose that 10 pounds of stress weight they put on while the relationship was breaking down. Can’t we all just admit that a few days of actual eating will not hurt and because of it’s potential to bring comfort, may help us heal? Anyway, sometimes my pantry is looking pretty thin, in which case, if I am wiped out, I have a couple of delivery places I can call. Those are my initial go-to’s, and they bring diet soda and can even bring a dessert. Ok, hardly paleo. People in mourning eat carbs.

Sometimes when the delivery gets expensive and just a bit much and I start to wonder – Just how many times can I see this person in my PJs and unwashed hair? – I take the next step, the imperfect grocery run. I call it the imperfect grocery run because in a former life and before I started wife-breakdown, I was June Cleaver. What this June Cleaver would never admit, however, was that she was so riddled with anxiety and afraid of anyone seeing an imperfection in her appearance or home that a controlled substance became her friend. (That for another blogpost I will perhaps foist upon you, my friend.)

So the importance of an imperfect grocery run? Vital! Get in the bath, get an overall washdown like they did in the days they jumped into a pail, let your hair dry out while you’re watching a Netflix marathon, pull out the cleanest black dress from the pile building on the chair beside your bed, muss up your hair like you mean it to look like that, put on lipstick, a headband, and the largest sunglasses you own. Add your favorite black sweater like a superhero dons a cape, comfortable shoes and voila, you are ready to secure food. Furthermore, you have decided beforehand not to pay attention to anyone who looks at you funny. If you go before 11 a.m. on a weekend the chances are greater someone will see you and believe you just got out from a night of partying.

The last time I pulled an imperfect grocery store run a young lady working the cash register, couldn’t have been more than 17, asked me if I wanted my dog food in a plastic bag – oh, and your best friend deserves good sustenance to help pull you through these moments, by the way – and I said, breezy, in an off-handed way, reminding myself of off-kilter patrons who used to visit the public library doing weird stuff like singing their reference requests:  Yes, I want my dog food bagged because I have to walk up some stairs and besides, my dog will certainly expect her food to be bagged. I receive the weirdest look, was already on edge with her, I could tell, probably due to my broken down June Cleaver look, combined with the fact that I was talking to both her and the bagger as if there was nothing unusual going on. In their young minds I saw the wheels turning. They were saying: Please don’t let me become like this, Lord, Please don’t let me become like this Lord. And then I said, having a bit of fun, Oh, don’t worry, I’m not that crazy.

Watch lots of television and movies and eat your food. (I highly discourage alcohol. It can shortchange healing and, if in the habit of imbibing alone, can lead to greater shifts in mood than would be without chemical alteration.) Eat various snacks and meals about every 2-3 hours. If you are like me, you may be a bit of an insomniac when rough weather strikes. Pay no mind. At first, eat because your mouth working over something feels good. Don’t worry though, the likelihood this state will continue on ad infinitum is next to nil. You will sicken yourself after a while. Your body will rebel. Your dignity will return. After 2-3 days hop back on the scale and scare yourself into wrapping it up by finishing it and not buying more or dumping all leftovers immediately in the trash.

The final steps to this initial period are as follows: drink lots of iced herbal tea you make yourself, eat only when you’re hungry – or try to – take baths, read self help books. Three of my faves because I tend to fall into destructive relationships:  How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard M. Halpern, Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward, The Emotionally Abused Woman by Beverly Engel.

Reading also helps rescue some of your brain cells that have been wiped out by trauma and too many television marathons and help return a degree of your power, critical for initial re-entry. Writing helps too, once you get to the point of objectivity. Find something small to write about though, not necessarily the whole of your pain, but describe a little scene you observe, or write about a place you like to go to on vacation and how you, the protagonist, feel on a certain beautiful day in which you are alone and have time to yourself. Or, if it helps, write about your darkness. Write about anything that does not overwhelm you.

Women with happy marriages, married women perhaps too young to have experienced divorce, women afraid of such states that I am talking about, so afraid that they remain in unhappy situations, are going to have problems with what I am saying. We all want to avoid pain or the thought of too much pain. We want to protest when someone talks about how they handle their pain, even deny that it could be so bad. For some people, it is bad. If you do not get out of certain situations, it could ruin you, could kill you, so while I am, in a sense, making light of an imperfect grocery run and meeting the delivery man in the pajamas you slept in the night before, I do not downplay the effects of certain heartbreak. Au contraire, my dear. May the spirit of embracing imperfection work in your favor. You must break the glass to the emergency kit. The shards will go everywhere.