August 22, 2014
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. About the people I care about, who care about me. in fact, I’ve been thinking about romantic relationships too, and how often in life it feels like romance and friendship are set next to each other and friendship is found to be significantly the lesser (see: friendzone, a concept I find repugnant); how friendship is found to be lighter, or- or weaker or simply shallower, and I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that at all. I don’t believe people understand what friendship is, in those circumstances. the people who are my friends- I would not be alive without them, I would not be sane if they were not part of my life; they constitute part of my self, and they are inseparable from my wellbeing. there is no me without my friends.
perhaps it’s that when your life often feels like it’s on the edge of crisis, you are absolutely dependent on other people for survival, emotional and sometimes physical, and in turn learn to offer the same kind of quality of relationship, that same kind of action. perhaps that’s what living with depression and anxiety- and living with others with depression and anxiety- has taught me. friendship for me is going to people’s houses and talking with them during anxiety attacks, is walking people home doggedly despite arguments and insults because you know they’re not safe to be left alone, is calling the ambulance or the crisis team for them; friendship is sitting in hospitals or holding them down while someone else wrestles a lightbulb or a razor out of their hands (I would like that not to happen ever again, please; I am too small to hold people down). friendship is picking someone up at two in the morning when they’re running away from home, and letting them live in your house for a week; friendship is letting that same friend stay many, many, many nights over the course of a couple of years on your floor, or your couch, or in your living room, even when she tries to paint your steps blue in a fit of well-intentioned insanity (even I don’t know what the hell I was thinking; I recall my thought processes and I am still horrified that at the time it seemed like a perfectly logical decision).
friendship is making someone cups of tea in the morning; is cooking them dinner, is texting them every few days to find out how they are, is writing them a letter or drawing them a picture; friendship is buying someone a book because it made you think of them, or some soap because it smelled good and you thought it would brighten their day. friendship is baking with and for; friendship is hugging them at one in the morning when they bawl over your floor, or talking them back into equilibrium at four in the morning and reminding them of hope. friendship is staying up all night with someone who is going through hell and needs to talk about it; friendship is the phone beginning to hurt your ear because it’s been glued there for hours. friendship is space and silence, and pottering around a house, drinking cups of tea and reading in the same room; friendship is being held and sat with, or sat on.
friendship is being sensible at people, and reminding them of perspective; friendship is talking them through their fears and being available to listen and ask questions on Facebook chat when they’re having a bad day. friendship is dumplings and deep-fried mussels and staying the night; is emails into the silence and staying present, staying there even when life takes people sideways for a little. friendship is lingering with, is staying with, is living with, through the difficult and the everyday. Faithfulness. And for me, and for a lot of people I know, a lot of days are difficult, and I have had the best of friends throughout it. I have learned and I am learning from them how to be faithful and how to be a friend who listens and who cares and who stays, and I have been shown this over and over again in the people they are, in the faithful everyday. this is why I love my friends so fiercely. they have blessed me with who they are. God, I have been blessed. there are few other things in life that make me happier than my friends.
August 22, 2014
I have a mug of hot milk and honey, and the froth is scented with cinnamon, and my knees are cold and I am thinking of my friends. my flatmate is taking a bath, I think; I can hear much sloshing in the room next door. the cat hops down from a chair and trots by, intent on something in the way cats are; at night I hear him racing up and down the polished wood of the hallway to nowhere in particular, back and forth. this milk is very sweet. cats are peculiar creatures. to-night it shall be cold, for today it was warm and clear and rolling from bed, I padded out of my room to sunlight and the heat of the bench on the back porch.
today was a good day. I have been thinking lately of good days. I have been thinking lately about depression, and how one knows if one has it, and how one separates the particularities of the everyday life you know from this thing, this recognisable, diagnosable thing, this list of behaviours and screening questions in clinical language, this thing you may or may not have. all I know is the life I have, and sometimes when it is all you have ever known or all you can remember, it takes a while to start putting language around it, framing the everyday experience of just existing as you in categories other people can relate to. judgement calls. names. boxes for sorting and easy handling.
this is depression speaking, this isn’t; this is the effect of depression in my life, this isn’t. this is how I act when depressed, and this is how I act when- what? what? this is my life. how do I know how depression affects me when this is all I have ever known, this is my everyday, this is just how it is? I have nothing solid in my own history of self to compare my behaviour to, no before, no after. it is myself who speaks and myself who acts, always, and how do I know what is depression and what is me, when I have been some shade of this for at least ten years? it reminds me, just a little, of when I was on medication long enough that I forgot what I was like without it.
the last time I was not-like-this, I was a child, and I climbed black leather sofas and stood on my head and waved my legs wildly about in the air. I hated sandwiches and I hugged people and I had teeth that stuck out to here; I had bright black bird’s eyes and a short black bob of hair and thin brown limbs and cheekbones you could cut yourself on. I curled on couches and read books for hours, and then raced about and climbed people; I had melancholy moments and felt heartache and longing, and I had days of wild joy and restlessness. I was well and I was young and I was a thing of strong emotions and no self-reflection to speak of, very much a thing of the present moment and of little self-awareness. that came later.
self-awareness came with this, with difficult circumstances and with the life that I lead now, and with learning about others and hearing their stories and what depression looks like on them. I am starting to separate these moments out, strand by strand; starting to realise, here, look, this is an inability to concentrate; this is me lacking energy for comprehending and gathering in sentences; these are my eyes unable to take in words, my mind unable to unstring them into comprehension, tripping over words I cannot stuff into my brain for sense. words too big for my mind to hold, sentences too many. look, this is me, exhausted in a roomful of people, the voices too loud and too many and from all directions, blurring in and out like a miasma of noise, and myself unfocusing and deadly tired in the midst of it (this one is a new thing from this year; I don’t believe I recall people draining me before).
look, this is me so tired I cannot think, can only hover on the spot, greyed out and dead in the brain, or pace back and forth between one thing and another trying to make decisions and failing, grasping for things in my head that aren’t there anymore, for resources or strength or thoughts I don’t have, finding only the sheer blankness in my head, the grey solid tiredness that is me. this is me standing in the dairy aisle of the supermarket holding two pottles of yoghurt or pacing back and forth twenty times between two teapots or going back and forth from the checkout towards two nearly-identical eggplants, unable to decide which one is just right and becoming, slowly, more and more tired and more and more terrified and more and more miserable, winding myself into this ragged grating terror of incomprehension and greyed out thoughts because I can’t choose, I just can’t, and if I wasn’t in a supermarket and I was in a corner I would be sitting and rocking in it (if you ever see me in this situation, and it happens more often than you’d suppose, pick one of these items out of my hands and say ‘let’s get this one, put the other one back’ very decisively and march off. please. I’m not joking, I would very much appreciate it).
this is me trying to string words together with nothing to string them from, when articulating an idea or trying to talk to someone is like trying to walk across a bridge you’re building across an abyss while the planks keep dropping out from under your feet, and you’re trying to step out into the air based on sheer willpower and momentum and hoping nobody notices you’ve lost it, that you don’t know what you’re saying anymore, there’s nothing in your head, you’re stepping into thin air. that one in particular I hate; I used to be articulate, I think, and able to think quickly and on the spot, and so I particularly hate it when the bottom drops out of my thoughts and constructing a sentence is like trying to damn well fly because I can’t connect ideas together anymore. this is why conversations, sometimes, are difficult; this is often why in person I prefer asking questions and leaving people to do the talking; this is sometimes why when I am tired I ask really, really stupid questions. this is also why I much, much prefer conversations by email or messenger chat, and why I’m much more wordy there, as here; it gives me time to think.
this is me so tired I cannot operate, and so yuck in my emotions that all I want to do is read. this is me reading, endless and blank, for hours and hours and hours until my eyes burn and my head throbs and when I sleep I have to press the knots out of my skull with my knuckles; this is me self-medicating with the non-existence that is binge-reading, that is binge-sleeping; this, actually, is me sitting here and typing and trying to talk about something I don’t actually want to talk about because I’m still not capable of managing the emotions that happen when I do remember it, when I am in it. there are bad days and awful moments, and most of them have to do with the things I feel; I don’t want to talk about it. I can talk about the way things affect my cognition and the way they affect my memory without much problem, but right now, I’m calm and it’s been a good day and so I won’t stir up trouble. the things I’ve described, I guess you could call them the effects or the symptoms of this; the horrible emotions are the core. there are days when I feel like death, and it is many and variegated. death is multicoloured. I’ll talk about them one day when I’m in it; I’m capable of being lucid while feeling like shit, after all- that’s what this blog is mostly composed of, innit?
y’know, I was going to talk about my friends, but I appear to have wandered off topic. that’s the next post, then. tonight, I shall finish my milk (it has gone cold) and climb into bed and sleep the sleep of the good day (the recent introduction of escitalopram into my life appears to be helping).
August 16, 2014
three girls, blurry, taken in a mirror with a streak of white fluoro throwing shadows. the one in the middle is in red, striking, face tilted, arms around the others. the one on the left is in grey, poised and posed; the one on the right holds the camera, her face emerging from the dark like a coloured moon. this is a shoutout to my girls, it says. oh to be sixteen again (when trying on Zara clothes was the closest you’d ever get to owning them). besties for over a decade and going strong, it says.
they are tagged, the one in plaid, the one in red; this photo belongs to the girl in grey. these girls inspire me to be the best that I can be, she says, but also remind me that they love me for me, and not for what I accomplish.
two years before this photo was taken, these three were my best friends.
I have been thinking again of uprooting. about what it does. about isolation and belonging, about relationships tenuous and relationships uncertain; about things that last and things that don’t. I suppose I’m thinking about loss, but I’m always thinking about loss. I have been thinking about the way I see death. and I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s because I know that all things are impermanent that I never -
once I had roots. now I do not. and I will never be the same again because of it.
it appears that life is a series of exercises in learning to be afraid, and to cope with each successive fear. I will never be as unafraid as I was at eighteen, mad with the newness of things and the joy of being unleashed, frenzied and exploding into all the things I could do. I had no boundaries and no end to all my possibilities. I had no fear. there was no limit to all I could be; I was endless and endlessly resourceful, endlessly capable. there was no end to me.
and I will never be as unafraid as I was at thirteen, when I had never known what it was to not belong, because I had always belonged somewhere, and my roots went down deep through the concrete and the brickwork, and I was at home wherever I was because I had never been away from home, and I was powerful and I was strong and I was blind. I was secure in the soil of my growing-up, and I had never needed to fear.
and I will never be as unafraid as I was at six, when I was a child, and I knew nothing of loss, and the world revolved around the sun that I was, and the joy that I knew in everyday living, and the joy that I knew in being loved.
these are caricatures. I have always been afraid of something; the dark, my parents, the shapes of trees, the anger of others, punishment, deadlines, failure. but I had not made fear into a way of living then, and that is the difference.
No man is an island, and no woman either. Yes. But if you are the floating island of Buyan, that is a different matter; if you are a piece of land that got broken off and now drift from sea to sea, bumping up against the shores of other countries, lodging for a little between one fjord and another narrow creek, bobbing in an estuary for a while, you may trade with others, but-
and the answer is simple: you will always leave, or others will. not because people are evil, or difficult, or dangerous, or because they mean you harm. whether or not they want to leave is immaterial. everyone leaves. everyone dies. everything is impermanent.* I have never been particularly upset or disturbed by death because each death has always felt- expected. Obvious. People leave you, it’s what happens; this is what living with death in the world means. I find it hard to expect otherwise.
and so I love lightly, and I hold people lightly. I care about others for as long as I have them, for as long as they’re mine to care about, but at the heart of this is the awareness that this is temporary, and it is a warning to not care too much. Life is an exercise in learning not to expect people to stay. And being grateful when they do.
Grateful is not quite the correct word for it. Grateful is not big enough. The people who are still here are the people I hold the most precious; the people who still love me are the people who, sometimes, I look at with astonishment and joy and a thing a little like wonder, a little like what I feel when I listen to incredible music or see something so soul-fillingly glorious it takes my breath away with the wideness and nowness and realness of it. That you are still here is a miracle. That, after all this time, you are still here, is a blessing I have no words for, no breath in my lungs for. It is breathtaking. It is gravity-defying; it is death-defying, that against all entropy and against all odds and against the natural order of time and decay and what I expect from life you are still- here. Faithfulness is a hard commodity for me to find and to give, and sometimes the sheer act of having a friend who is still a good friend after all these years seems like winning a lottery, like a thing made purely of happenstance and chance; time and space and circumstance all collude against, and there are my evident flaws and problematic energy levels and periods of non-contact, and life happens to us all, brutal and complicated and bruising hard. But against all odds, you are still here, across time and space, and I am blessed, ridiculously and utterly, wordlessly, completely blessed, to have you still present and active in my life. and I marvel at it.
*Not everything is impermanent. But until we enter a land where death itself has died, where all things can be trusted to stay because their end has gone forever (eternity is the eternal death of death) we live here, where everything, nearly everything, dies and does not stay.
July 30, 2014
some days I am capable of constructing community out of thin air and sticks. today I have neither the momentum or the energy, where today means every day tomorrow, and every day for the past little while. my cat has died, and I don’t know how I feel. grief exhausts me, and I’m always grieving, gathering myself up alone in the cold on the back porch of my new flat, listening to the cicadas in the dark. and yet I’m still here because somewhere along the line I learned the hard rubber barriers of resilience, and there are bewildering things that keep me from desperation, that keep my wheels turning from day to day to day. things like rest, and promises of rest, and new ideas, and a growing understanding of the hard, patient endurance required for faithfulness, and the hope of the presence of God, and the work of God in my everyday living, and the faith of the people around me, and the faithfulness and patience of others in their own difficult, discomforting lives.
I’m going to see the doctor on Friday. there’s a lovely lady named Suzy at my school who genuinely pays attention and genuinely cares, in the way that people who have lived difficult lives and have thought deeply about their experiences do; she offered to take me, and so I’m going. my brother texted me today to say my parents had bad news, and alarmed, I phoned my father; my mother picked up and told me that the cat had died, that they’d had to put him down. I was relieved; I’d been spinning worried tales of either one of my parents’ sudden death or disability, and so the cat made little difference in the wild, wide scheme of things. and then again, I never really know how I feel when it comes to things like death. when it comes to death or people leaving, often I don’t feel much of anything at all, and yet it’s more complex than that- an it’s complicated nowadays by the fact that I’m leaking grief out of every seam in my body, and a grief that has a weight and an ache that holds a far deeper, older seat than any newfangled attempt at sadness that might even think of trying to move in me. I wonder sometimes if it’s just that I don’t know how I feel, and that I feel something but I’m simply not aware of it- or perhaps it’s just that I’m hugely self-contained, and I only grieve things that directly affect my existence. but I’m not sure, because it’s always the living I feel for; when my mother started crying and talked about how she went home after the appointment at the vet and realised the cat wouldn’t come out to greet them the way he always did, I hurt for her and for the pang of the memory of it.
I don’t know. I came home after the noise and clamour and chaos of too many voices in too small a room- the young adults group I attend- and slipping out through the curtains I went to sit in the cold on the damp wooden deck of my new flat. the cicadas were going; the flat’s cat, George, came to visit briefly and disappeared. there were no stars out tonight. I sat on the damp bench and thought of my cat and cried, but it’s hard to know what I was crying for exactly because it seems I’m endlessly, continually grieving some enormous loss that I’ve never been able to articulate or come to the end of. so I was in the grip of the usual grief, and also crying for the loneliness of it- I’ve been at school all day and surrounded by people, but I’ve not found the time or space to tell anyone, because nobody appeared to have the time to simply stop and pay attention and listen, although I’d had so many long conversations with people throughout the day. and that hurt, because it’s isolating, to know that all the people around you are too busy with their lives to care enough about you to really ask, to really pay attention.
I’m well aware, too, that I have friends who do do that. I am deeply, enormously blessed in this way; there are friends who I can take this to, who do take the time to listen and actively engage in my life, who actually care about me beyond- beyond surface inanities. it’s really more that the people I was at school with today were people who I’d consider friends to some extent, who I get along with marvellously well, who I like and who I think like me- and it just stung, that to some extent we talk so much and so grandiosely about what community is, and yet we’re still operating in this shallow little puddle, this paper-thin veneer of caring that goes no deeper than the flat edge of a hand and a passing question and barely an ear for an answer. I feel sometimes that I ask all the questions and I deliberately make these attempts and clear space and time to listen, to really listen, and while I’m not doing it as a quid pro quo, I’m still aware that very few people do the same in return. and that hurts. it hurts because I’d like to think of these people as my community, and it’s hugely disappointing to realise they’re not. and it makes me feel isolated and like I don’t particularly belong; like I’m just passing through. like I could leave and it wouldn’t make too much of a difference to their lives at all.
and some days I’m okay with the absence and shallowness of human networks, because some days I have the energy to construct community out of sticks and spit and whistling. often I’ve found that if I try to be faithful and patient and care about people who have those instincts and tendencies already, even people who have the barest glimmerings of them, often these people respond and are faithful and patient in return, or learn to be that way, and we may possibly construct a relationship that lasts over time and goes deeper than just an everyday passing of ships in the night. and I’ve been blessed over the years to find this equally true in the reverse, where people have invested time and patience and energy in me, and I’ve learned to respond to them, and even if we’re on different islands or in different cities or countries, these are still relationships that last through the fluctuations of time and tide and busyness and separate everyday lives. but other weeks, days, months, moments, I’m just exhausted and demoralised at the thought of trying, and this is one of them; I want to be cared about, and I want others to grieve with me because it’s just awful to both grieve and fear on your own, but most of the people I call my friends here don’t seem to have any understanding at all of how to do either, and it just hurts.
there are exceptions. there are always exceptions, and I am blessed to find them. Suzy’s one of them; there are a few others and I am grateful for them. but oh, I’m not handling the world well at the moment, and it exhausts me, and the people I’d consider my community- aren’t, and I’m too exhausted to try and shore anything up. these things hurt, and so I am very sore on the inside today, and that is all I have and am for the time being.
(we shall come to heaven deeply scarred, I think.)
“I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different…” : a precis of the last few months
June 18, 2014
It’s nearly four and I have too few words for this. Every time I’ve tried to say something or think of a way to say it I’ve been stymied by my wordlessness, by the total inadequacy of the language of my mouth and the language of my keyboard to- explain, to tell you, to- draw the vast darkness of sheer and sweeping cliffs of water or the enormous unspeakable blackness of a sea that swells and moves and swallows all that enters it, cold and living and unfathomable. The vastness of an infinite, uncontainable universe of stars and the endless black vacuum between, and twelve small buckets to try and contain some of it, to make some of it visible and sensible, to make sense of an infinite vastness of ocean. That’s how I feel about trying to talk about this.
It’s been a few months now. I’ve been-
so I have something very like PTSD, and I only really recently found out, and it’s been a little bit devastating. Everything else suddenly makes much more sense, now, in a really horrible kind of way; the depression, the anxiety, the exhaustion, the grim despair and blood and death. The dissociation, the coping mechanisms, the panic attacks, the terror. Ten to fifteen years of inescapable psychological abuse can, I think, be classified as a trauma. So I’ve been slowly uncovering and wading through and running and hiding from and consumed and slowly crushed into burning little smithereens by the fact that I am, and have been for such a very long time, a hopeless wreck of a human being, and the process of doing so is ruining, slowly and surely, my academic prospects and general chances of not failing at the one good thing I have found in a very long time. I am destroying myself by being, unavoidably, myself. It’s wonderful.
I am understandably full of bright and dazzling hopes for my future at present. Come frolic with me in the garden of my castles in the sky.
So I took my childhood picture books to heart, apparently, and ‘we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we hafta go through it’ might be ingrained into my psyche. I’m dealing with all this as directly as I can, somewhat compulsively, because making sense of why is how you gain some measure of control over how you behave, and the more you understand, the less likely you are to be a confused bloody flailing bellowing wounded mess of whys (see: university, 2007-2010). But it is very, very hard and I spend so much of my time trying to understand and work through it, or exhausted from trying to understand it, or in total despair because actually, genuinely, my life and the inside of my head is a fucking ruin. Or else I’m hiding from all of this, or just sleeping because I am up to my ears in coping mechanisms.
When I’m not doing all that, though, I feel like I’ve been doused in kerosene and set on fire and I’m burning and wretched and everything is going to, is inevitably and inexorably going to, end in a trainwreck of suicide-inducing proportions, and I’m not joking, I’m distantly terrified that it’s going to get to the point where one day I will just have no more fucks to give, no more energy or tolerance or strength to survive this and no actual reason to keep doing it, and so I will go ‘fuck this shit’ and stick my head into a gas oven (the Plath) or find a car and a fur coat (the Sexton. Not doing the Woolf, though. Nobody likes drowning).
I am so not the happiest camper right now, and I am ruining any hope of a future that doesn’t involve burying myself in a bed and never waking up again because I cannot keep up with my schoolwork while dealing with a fuckton of unmanageable shit. It is a lose-lose kind of deal and can you blame me for not wanting to be conscious through most of this?
Honestly, not to belabour the point unnecessarily or anything but my schedule looks something like this: be in pain, desperately avoid pain, be anaesthetized from pain, try to process and make more manageable some fucking awful, really fucking stupid brain horror you’ve lately uncovered, or be flat out exhausted from trying to do all of that while scratching in a futile and frustratingly ineffectual manner at that eternal burgeoning mountain of overdue assignments, while dealing at the same time with draining social situations and other people as well as the paralysing terror that comes with knowing you’re fucking doomed and this all ends in death and destruction and soul-crushing loss, while occasionally and half-heartedly googling ways to die. Turns out there are many, many ways to maim yourself and/or leave yourself a vegetable if you don’t get it quite right, which is rather an amusing deterrent. Also, turns out that a paracetamol overdose means you die in slow and absolutely horrific agony over something like a full week as your organs slowly fail on you while you’re still in your body, which I totally didn’t expect because really, we hear way too much about painless suicides (someone needs to tell popular media that there’s no such thing). So I’m glad I looked that one up.
Frankly, it’s also and quite simultaneously not as dramatic as it all sounds, largely because I’ve been some colour of this for years (see: rest of blog). So I’m more or less a pro at operating in the everyday eat-food-talk-to-people-go-to-class sphere of life, which does mean that often I’m not entirely aware of the wreckage and screaming underneath my everyday ‘oh hey it’s morning, I should drink tea, isn’t tea amazing’ operating software. So it’s not precisely like I’m consciously lurching and bleeding and sick with terror all day every day every waking minute, because what the hell are effective coping mechanisms for if they don’t help you cope?
The problem, though, is that just because I’m not immediately conscious of all that’s going on doesn’t mean it’s not still there. So the less I’m aware of it the more bewildered and frustrated and horrified I become when my brain just doesn’t work because it’s mysteriously exhausted and I cannot actually make three words fit together, or when I spend nineteen hours in bed and wake up at seven in the evening with my skull hurting from too much sleep, or I read and read and compulsively, addictively, obsessively read until I feel so sick my head is blazing with pain and my eyes would like to stab themselves out of my skull. I don’t know where I was going with all this, but really, the long and the short of it is that I’m a mess and I am, as per usual, fucking up my life, and that what terrifies me is that once I have entirely fucked up my chances here I will have nowhere else to go and no actual reason to live (or: the end of 2012 all over again, only this time I won’t have bible college to retreat to because I will have fucking well burned all my bridges here, won’t I).
God. I’m a cheerful wreck.
On the bright side, God appears to be having a field day with this. It’s all a giant learning experience of blood and fire known as ‘discipleship’, innit? And it’s all fucking horrible but I get it now, I do. I’m starting to get what resurrection means. I understand, now, some of what Paul’s saying in both letters to the Corinthians about death and rebirth, about seeds needing to die, about the death of Jesus in our bodies so that his life might be made visible, also in our bodies. With death so much a part of how I see everything right now, I’m beginning to understand, in my own body, that death is always followed by resurrection. That death is also rebirth. Hard and horrific and painful as this is, I see the Spirit active and working in this, shaping and remaking me with blood and fire (‘blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire’. I do not think you know what you are asking for, cheerful hymn-singing pew-sitter. burning hurts).
I shoulda been so, so much more careful before when I asked for these things, when I asked for transformation and new life and the presence of God. I had no idea what I was talking about, what I was asking for. This God burns and hurts and cannot be looked on without dying, without being incinerated and destroyed in some way, and to ask for his work is to invite death into your life, to open your arms to death and offer him the hammer. To walk into dying. Transformation, after all, is death; to be transformed is destruction as well as new creation. But that’s what baptism means, innit? Death, death of your old self, your only self, the only self you’ve ever known, all the past, presents and futures of you, and death hurts. Death hurts a fucking awful lot. But oh, God, I’ve never understood the Bible better, when it talks about losing your life to gain it, and those metaphors of buried seeds. After the first death, there is no other, because after death is life.
I believe much, much more and I understand so much more than I did several months ago.* I don’t like it one bit, but I don’t need to like it. I just need to accept it, and allow it, and keep going and be obscurely, blessedly, blood-and-horribly encouraged by the fact that this doesn’t all end in death and trainwrecks and cataclysmic unredeemable destruction. That death doesn’t even end in death and trainwrecks and cataclysmic unredeemable destruction. Christianity is an invitation to die, after all, and to be unafraid of our own death in every shade of what death means, because we have been promised an enormity of a life at the other end of it by someone inextricably present in the entire process. It’s a death we undergo so that we might surface, finally, into life, life that has no end, life unhindered by everything to do with pain and evil and loss. That’s what the living and dying and living again of Jesus is a promise of. Death, resurrection, and life, unhindered and unfettered, green and wild and so very different and new as a young tree is from the seed you buried, so very, very long ago.
Also, also, oh my God, John Donne, you absolute bastard. ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend’? ‘ That I may rise and stand,o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new’? John fucking Donne, do you know what the hell you’re asking for? Pain and blood and death. Are you fucking insane.
I don’t know what I’m going to do, really. I don’t know what the hell to do with any of this, except for what I’ve learned by now is a good idea: one thing at a time, one step at a time, one fucking breath at a time. We endure for the sake of the life ahead of us, the weight of glory so vast and so full and so bright and wildly joyous that all this blood and death and wretched fucking pain is, and I quote, ‘slight and momentary trouble’ in comparison, and oh, oh, I am so not a fan of you right now, Paul. Get out of here. Go to Rome.
But oh God, the resurrection and the life, even while dying.
*Also, apparently, several years ago. Seems I clearly understood the pain and torture aspect of Christianity, but didn’t entirely get the resurrection and presence-of-God part. Getting that now. God, how we grow. I hate it all, I really do, but even if it ends in death, it doesn’t end in death.
(all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.)
May 7, 2014
some days I think my ability to come unwound is the most spectacular thing ever. they should put me on show. if you could walk through the clanging-ticking-echoing corridors of the labyrinth that is my head, I would charge admission.
figuring myself out is mostly composed of observation. taking notes, like a botanist or entomologist with a particularly fascinating species of plant or bird or bug; waiting for changes, detailing hypotheses based on alterations to patterns, keeping methodical records. problem, of course, being that the species under study is the instrument doing the study, and a flawed and faulty instrument at that. my life is action inquiry; it is a small-scale deeply private sociological study for the purpose of sustained change. I should take more notes. I should keep a log. I’m already doing enough reading for a literature review. I should write it up as an AI-phenomenology hybrid and hand it in as a research essay; it’ll kill.
in all my observations, I have never figured out precisely what species I am. I have too much data and I’m far, far too close, counting all the tiny veins of a leaf and detailing every shadow underlining the stubble of moss so accurately, so specifically that I barely even notice it’s a whole fucking tree I’m looking at, and I’m nothing so simple (or so complex) as a tree. There are few records of me as a whole creature, and all the ones I’ve found are mostly part-glimpses of an elephant’s hind leg here, a trunk there, another foot here, just ahead. Some of these records are comprehensive and devastating in their details, like a bird-spotter’s guide that says black feathers, curved black beak, wickedly intelligent eyes, large wings with this particular bent and this spreading of feathers at the tip for aerial acrobatics (yes, corvus). These are the recent ones I’ve found, and they detail large swathes of my life, explain and make coherent sense of it all to devastating effect. But that’s not all I’ve ever been, all the markings I’ve ever displayed, and- I just don’t know. It’s a lack in me.
I’m far more tired than I expected to be at nine in the evening. Bedtime, I think.
May 5, 2014
My brain is being self-destructive, which is to say: I am being hopelessly self-destructive. I am imploding with dissociation, because that is the only way I know to cope with hard things, and I’m really not sure how to stop myself anymore.
I’m ruining my life this way because the more I continue like this the more my life comes to unmanageable pieces because schools have deadlines, and assignments are there and not getting done, and it all compounds and I tell myself this, and distantly this makes me all terror and dismay, but see: the problem with terror and dismay is that it distresses me enormously, and the problem with distress is that I only have one way to react to it, which is dissociation. Shutting up shop. Shutting down. I am losing this fight, if this is a fight. It’s like I’m being sucked into a sinkhole of passivity; apathy has its own inertia, and I am slowing down and burying myself more every day. It is fucking annoying, but I can’t get annoyed enough to break out of this slow fade out.
It’s like being sucked into quicksand. It’s like choosing to go to sleep on a boat that is disappearing rapidly down the plughole of some vast whirlpool. Jesus can do it because he’s Jesus. I can’t stop gathering storms or oncoming doom, I can only forget to exist for longer and longer stretches of time in an attempt to not see it happening, because it feels inevitable and I cannot make myself stop anything and I am so close to the knife’s edge of losing it all, losing everything inevitably because I cannot make myself work, because I’m too busy hiding. And God, did I mention this kind of thinking is fucking annoying? But I have no other effective way of dealing; I try for a little and then it feels like my willpower’s run a half-marathon and I’m scrabbling for the next thing to bury myself in for a period of blessed unconsciousness. Being conscious is a difficult fucking choice and I don’t know how to maintain it.
I need to up my hunt for a counsellor or psychologist, find one, and go see them. Stat. I cannot navigate the mess that is my brain alone anymore.
April 1, 2014
when I was fourteen, or sixteen, or twenty, I sat in an old train and argued with God about belonging. The walls were lined with mattresses and the floorboards were weathered wood; bright trees brushed the windows and tried to grow in through the doors. Later, I’d come here and blow shiny purplish bubbles with two girls I’d somehow fallen into a friendship with. It was camp. I was sixteen.
Or fifteen. Or twenty. Really, it doesn’t matter. I was young enough to this country to know my presence here for what it was: exile. I had no name for it then, but it was the same thing; I had been torn up by the stalk and left my roots in the ground behind me. I was thrust into the clean soil of a new place with neither choice nor comprehension, and told to grow and like it, because this was home now. It simply happened to me, like most of my life. And later, when I turned to go back, I was to find that the ground had simply swallowed up the places where I had been, and there was no space for me back there, after all. I had been too long away, and nothing was the same. Home was the past, and the past wasn’t a thing that existed anymore.
I know no other way of being, now, and I have found my own tentative, shallow-rooted fondness for a city bright with wind and saltwater and streets I know. But back then I still didn’t understand, and so I sat in an old train and argued with God out loud about belonging. I may have cried; I appear to do a lot of crying. I was at a camp for Christian teenagers and I felt as if I didn’t belong.
I rarely, rarely feel like I belong. Anywhere, and to any one organisation, or to any particular group of people. I don’t know precisely why this is. But it was so during my university courses, and it was so in theatre, and in choir, and in high school, and in my high school Christian group, and in all the New Zealand youth groups I attended, and in all the New Zealand churches I attended before I stopped attending churches. Sometimes it’s so here, too, at Carey; small things happen, and I remember, and I am left a little unmoored because most of the time, most of the time I do belong here, at least a little. But it’s a shallow rooting at best, and sometimes I see just how shallow it can be, and how little I might matter, in the end.
Perhaps that’s what it is. I hadn’t realised it until I’d written it above. In some places, in many places, I don’t believe I matter at all. And that may be a fault in my own perception (not the soundest by any means), but it may equally well be true.
I think- I’m beginning to think that belonging is to be important in some way. Not important as in necessary but important as in wanted. As in desired. Because I think to be welcomed is to be desired, to be wanted somewhere; welcoming is never just the act of being Extra Friendly or greeting people with a smile at the door, as much as we’d wish it were ever that easy. To truly welcome is to be genuinely pleased that this person is here, to genuinely want this person here and truly feel that there will be something missing with them gone. Maybe, sometimes, that’s what we as a church don’t understand, when we talk about welcome and belonging.* To belong is to make a dent in the landscape. To belong is to have significant emotional, relational value and weight to the persons or groups you belong to. To belong is to matter, and to be wanted there.
… this is making me think about how many people I may possibly cause, in my daily blunderings, to feel as if they don’t belong, as if they aren’t welcome, as if I don’t value them. Even among the people I belong to. It’s not a pleasant thought, because I’m well aware I often do things that may come across so, in my frequently mad dash for self-preservation.
If I have ever made you feel as if you carry little weight in my esteem, if I have ever made you feel unwelcome or unwanted, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I’m still learning what it means to love you, and how to do it, and I’m terrible at it. But I’d like to keep trying, if you’ll let me.
On that note, I’d like to add that there are people I belong to, who also belong to me. Most of them are veterans of older circles or communities I also felt like I belonged in, for the length of time I was in them (because these places are often, sadly, transient places): Christian Union, the Catholic Chaplaincy, the online game I played for years and continue, sporadically, to play. The best friends I have made, I made in these places, and I belong with them. If I am at home anywhere, it is with these people who have genuinely wanted me in their lives, who apparently believe I matter, and who I genuinely want in my life, and who I believe matter. These people are, in many ways, home.
When I was sixteen, I sat in a deserted train and cried and told God that I didn’t feel at all like I belonged with any of these other Christians. And he more or less told me that because I belonged to him, and they belonged to him, we belonged together.
This was supremely unhelpful at the time. Now, knowing a little bit more about the Body of Christ, about the Kingdom of God and the work of the Spirit, I understand a little more, although I still think it’s supremely uncomforting. But perhaps it’s because I still haven’t worked out how I belong to God just yet. Just that I do.
I still don’t know how any of this works. I don’t even know where I was going with this post, except to say that sometimes I still don’t feel like I belong anywhere and to anything, and it hurts, especially in this place where I am with the people I’m meant to belong with but don’t. But I know, sometimes, the people I do belong to, even sprawled out across the world as some of you sometimes are, and I am truly glad to have you in my life. Maybe that’s all I wanted to say.
* Well. By ‘church’ I mean ‘some churches I’ve been to’ which is unfair. There are definitely excellent theologians who talk about belonging and exclusion (or ‘exclusion and embrace’), Volf and Vanier among them, who I really want to read. I’ve never actually thought through what it means to belong, but it’s a deeply significant issue for the church.
March 31, 2014
I’ve just cried my face off in the shower, but because it’s the shower, I can slop my face back on with goopy hands. My eyes won’t even be red.
I’m going to have a cup of tea now, and do some work for a class tomorrow. It’s odd, how fragile things feel, still. How easy it would be to lose momentum, to trip once and let everything drop, and crash, and fall to ruin. It frightens me.
I feel as if I’m constantly scrambling to pick my pieces up, trying to keep all the chunks of me that keep flaking off or coming unravelled, trying to damage-control, damage-control, damage-control. It feels like work. It feels like full-time work, and I forget sometimes how much energy it takes. The lecturer we had for our block course last week talked briefly about faithfulness (in between taking apart the books of Samuel in precise and fascinating detail), and he said that for some of his students, it would be sinful for them to get an A on his course, because they were fulltime pastors and were married and were juggling families, and to neglect those in pursuit of an A for their own self-accomplishment would be an act of unfaithfulness. But for some students, academically gifted and studying fulltime, without jobs and families, it would be a sin for them not to get an A. And he looked at me. And I looked back at him and I thought, you forgot to list mental health.
Granted, it was a small class, and he could very well have been looking at me because there’s only a few people to look at anyway, and I’m an active, responsive listener when I’m interested, and lecturers tend to respond to active, responsive listeners. But I still owe him an essay, and I think he knew it. I’m not settled on either conclusion, but it did make me think of how my lecturers might see me, and what my expectations are for myself in this, and how much time dealing with the aftereffects of simply being myself takes. Of simply existing.
Simply existing is exhausting, and somedays, even now, I think of walking into traffic. I thought of it in the shower, just now, and I wondered at how easy it is to push me back a few rungs, to overset me. To take me back a few steps in this thing we call recovery, whatever it looks like, shapeless and far too multifaceted for true names, when I thought I was well over this whole wanting to kill myself business. But at the same time, I’m not the same person I was, and I’m not in the same place, and this isn’t two steps back.
There are more options than just death for ending this, and I know it (it’s just a very familiar option that I’m sometimes very wistful about). But recovery sometimes looks like choosing not to walk into traffic, and knowing you won’t, even when you have moments of certainty that you will, that everything would be so much better.
I forget, sometimes, how cracked I am. I feel like I keep saying this, and being surprised by it; I am so much more well than I was, and yet I forget too often how damaged I still am. It’s a hard, odd place to be, between wellness and true, exorbitant, splashy damage; I’m not drowning in my own blood anymore,* but even when I forget and assume I’m sane and normal and fully functioning, there are things that still don’t work right, and reactions that other people don’t have, and coping mechanisms that aren’t at all good. And I forget, and then I stare at the sudden ruin I’ve made of my schedule and my sanity because I had those assignments due and I was working on them but what the hell happened? Why are they overdue? What just happened? and people look at me in blank incomprehension as if they just don’t understand at all why I won’t just do it, as if it were a thing simple to do, as if handing in assignments on time were a thing that were easy. And I can’t do it, no matter how hard I try. And then it becomes yet another game of damage control, and I’m running on desperation and momentum and determination, and then people talk as if I enjoy it.
It fucking sucks. It fucking sucks to be alive sometimes. Also, the rhyming is amusing me much too much.
Sometimes life feels like an endless string of things to endure, to simply suffer through, and I think back on all I’ve had to live through and all I’ve been and it feels like too much, that I have to endure more of this, that all I have to look forward to is more endless, relentless work and no rest while nothing ever really gets better and everything is broken, and remains that way. That there is no rest, that there is no end to this. And then I cry a whole lot in the shower and get really upset at God and struggle with trying to fit together the things I’ve learned about him, the things I understand and hold to be true, trying to fit it up against the things I’ve lived through and the things I’ve felt and known in my lived being. And I don’t come up with much, but there’s this: I know there’s more. There’s more. I may not see it now, but what I see is not the end of it, and the endless brokenness of myself and the world is not, is never the last word. I know there’s more; I’ve seen glimpses of it, here, studying here, and I know my own sight is imperfect, but- “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known”.
1 Corinthians 13:12. I don’t know whether I can use it in quite this way, but whatever, I’m using it. I know there’s more than just what I see right now, I know there’s more, so I’m staying until I see it too, until that more happens. Until I see it too.
I don’t know how else to end this; it’s late, I’m tired, and I have work still to do. So I’ma go do it, and you can go back to doing what you were doing before you read this.
*A metaphor. I was never anywhere near literally drowning in my own blood. All the damage I’ve ever inflicted on myself in self-hatred or pain relief has been mental and emotional; I made that decision when I was twelve and stuck to it. I don’t know whether that’s better or worse, that I have no physical scars to show for all these years of fucking awful. Sometimes it means people treat you less seriously, when you have less physical evidence. And it does mean that I have to mop up more stupid, detangle more mess- the kind I made in my own rampage of self-destruction. It’s a wonderful life, cleaning up in the wake of abuse and depression and the effects of both. It makes me fucking pissed off at everything, sometimes. When I remember. I really don’t like remembering, but life suddenly makes more sense when I do.
March 12, 2014
Is it okay to feel safe? Is it okay to want to feel safe, to want to be comfortable? Do we always have put ourselves into the difficult situation? Is that better? What defines better?
Is it okay to want beauty, to want a nice house, bright windows, a space to feel at home in, an environment to uncurl and relax? Is that selfish? Or should we continually choose exile, difficult living arrangements, cardboard boxes, one-room lives, for the sake of the people in and around our small exile? Should we skimp to feel solidarity, or fear that we aren’t giving up enough, that we’re selling out too much? Can we want a safe haven, or is that just another name for a fortress to keep everyone else out?
should we feel guilty? is guilt a godly emotion to feel, when we look at what we have? is guilt a godly emotion to feel, when we have the chance for something more comfortable?
where’s the line between self-care and selfishness? what are the right reasons for self-sacrifice, and what are the wrong?
she said: missional is a way of living, and I’m trying to figure out how this works. I’m trying to decide between two flats at the moment. I’m in the first and I’m thinking of moving to the second, but recently a lecturer has been talking a lot about mission, and I’m twisting with guilt and indecision. The first flat I want to leave because of many myriad little things that make the place feel like a hostel, a temporary lodging in which I’m parked in alongside but not with a host of others. The only space here that’s really mine to claim is my bedroom, and even then- the landlord would like to advise me on when I should or should not use the lamp he’s given me as a replacement for the ceiling light he doesn’t seem inclined or able to fix. In order to save electricity.
The landlord and his family live here, you see, and we live in their house. It’s not stated, but it’s implicit. We rent rooms here, the other six of us, and use of the kitchen and a few cupboards. Half a fridge. All the common areas are implicitly theirs; there are three chairs at the kitchen table, wearing the remnants of their meal; the living area is strewn with the son’s toys and homework; the upstairs floor has a workspace and desk with the landlord’s things across it. This isn’t a flat so much as a hostel; we rent rooms and we live in them as whole houses. The only point of contact we share is the kitchen, where we linger, standing, to discuss food or countries or language or work or different customs, and by we I mean, commonly, myself and the Eastern European couple who live downstairs.
I like this couple. I think we’re friends, as much as you can be after a week and a half of brief encounters in the kitchen. We chat about what they do in their countries for Easter; she shows me the eggs she’s painted with delicate flowers made of candles she’s melted, drawn with the head of a pin; he tells me about the car he’s still working on, which is now at the mechanics and hopefully returned tomorrow. I tell them about Chinese New Year customs and yum cha and they are apprehensive about chicken feet. Tonight we shared some wine and I looked at their passports and the slight differences between their languages (Slovakia has St. Cyril on its passport, and a castle, and more es and ys; the Czech Republic bears the face of some lady in its pages they don’t recognise, and uses slightly more is). These two, too, note the lack of common areas and plan to fetch a garden table and chair set to plant outside, to create something that isn’t the landlord’s space.
The kitchen, however, doesn’t invite lingering. When the landlord or his wife comes to cook, the Europeans leave to eat in their room, and I eat mine standing at the bench until it’s gone. And then I wash my single bowl or plate or cup, and vanish too into my room.
Sometimes I chat briefly, brokenly, in Cantonese with the landlord’s lady who speaks mostly Mandarin; mostly we cook beside or around each other, silent, one or the other of us humming. Once or twice I’ve seen the Malaysian couple in passing as they head to and from their fridge with groceries. I’m starting to ask the landlord’s son how his day has gone; we chat briefly about P.E. and language classes and then I leave for my room and he goes back to watching television or doing homework. The landlord avoids conversation, although if I’m baking he’ll come curious to ask, and we halt and half-make language at each other. We’re all ghosts in the same corridors, separated by space and language and the customs of this living arrangement. Ships consigned to passing. I can live like this, but I don’t know if I want to. There’s the rub.
The place I’d be heading to, the second flat, is with a young Christian couple. My age. I’ve not met the husband, but he’s a golfer and is away often; the wife I met this afternoon and she studies theology and English. I could live with her, I think, although it’s hard to tell on half an hour’s chat; I don’t know precisely whether it’d be a similar issue of me living in someone else’s home, or whether it’d be a shared space I could be comfortable in too, but I’m leaning towards the latter. Hopefully.
I’m having guilt issues. That’s the problem. If I leave this place and head to the other one, will I be giving in to Comfort, the Dreaded Evil? Will I be walling myself up into white middle-class privileged suburbia? Will I be locking myself into the Christian bubble? I feel like I should see the place I’m in right now as a Missional Opportunity, but honestly, I’m wondering if that’s just the guilt and the lack of understanding talking. But I’m capable of creating or facilitating community; it’s one of my skills. Should I be seeing that as a thing I should do here? What on earth should I do?
She says: missional is a way of living, which I think means: God is working everywhere, and wherever you are is where you should look for where God is working, but does that mean I should stay for duty or service’s sake, or does that mean I’m free to go?