November 8, 2014
I forget I’m unwell, quite often, simply because I’m either too deeply immersed in unhealthy behaviours to have the perspective to remember a history of infection and systematic damage, or I’m too busy doing work and deeply submerged in the daily pleasure of breathing and drinking tea and sitting in the sunshine to remember I’m anything but fine right at this moment, right now.
I don’t remember I exist on a long-term basis, most days. I have very little sense of continuity. Most of the time, I only ever pay attention to how I am right now. And so when the sun’s out and I’m not immediately in the grip of some intense emotional wringer, I’m happy, and I don’t think to question that. I don’t pay attention to whether or not the small things don’t add up correctly- the cognitive disjointedness, the nocturnal sleeping patterns, the social anxiety, the avoidance tactics, the overwhelming desire for sleep, the inability to concentrate, the hyperactive too-bright emotional discomfort that makes me tic from sentence to sentence, the inability to be around other people for too long. I just do them; sometimes I note them, if I’ve taught myself to, but even then they’re wallpaper in the house of my head. It’s only when the wallpaper leans out and bites me in the face that I realise that something’s wrong.
Usually when I notice is when my body gets involved; fine tremors of the hands, tightness in the chest, death in the lungs. Emotional pain, bearing upwards, or unreasoning panic, eating me up from the inside. These are all visceral things. Even then, I rarely ascribe any real significance or reason to it, because: wallpaper. It may be biting me, but it’s still wallpaper. It’s my house. It’s what it does. My wallpaper bites me occasionally.
It’s when I’m recalled to my history that the wallpaper starts to look less like wallpaper and more like a demonoid fungus that has grown up these walls because of reasons, and I recall where things were planted and why, and I start to realise how invaded I am by things beyond my control. It’s when I remember that I exist in more than just the present moment, right now, this handful of waking hours, that I recall that actually, my house is infested and I am sick, and that the thing with the huge teeth probably shouldn’t be growing over there.
I don’t know how to handle myself when I recall I’m hosting a demonoid fungus in my living room. Usually I read up a whole lot about it, in order to figure it out, to learn its weaknesses, uses and cures; I dig through the plaster and the flooring of my head to try and expose the roots, to try and work out where it comes from and how I can neutralise it. I do a lot of construction work. Or possibly destruction work. That means, though, that I get plaster and broken flooring and bits of pipe and wiring all over my house, and my living room becomes a shattered mess, and you can’t walk anywhere because there are clumps of fungus attempting to masticate your ankles from the floor. It’s a little like when you’re having a really thorough clean, your house needs to get messier before it gets cleaner. Except that the things you’re cleaning keep attacking you.
… and then for some reason life takes over, something changes and I forget, and it begins to look a whole lot like wallpaper again. I can’t recall how I get there, because usually the process involves a lack of mindfulness, which isn’t the best state to notice or recall things in. I’m often reminded again about the state of my house when things go dramatically wrong, or look like they’re about to go dramatically wrong, but even then, mostly it’s a vague recollection that I have demonoid fungus for wallpaper and I should do something about it or let other people know so that they understand why bits of me or the work I’m doing keep arriving in chewed pieces, or not at all.
I’m really not sure where this metaphor is going anymore. I’m really not sure what I’m doing with the inside of my head, or with my infested living room. I’m not really sure what’s going on. I just live here.
October 1, 2014
I am afraid. I don’t know what it is I am afraid of, only that I am afraid, and that fear is in every breath I take. I have ten tabs open on my browser bar and I have been skimming idly through news articles and feminist blogs and discussions about gender and sexuality and tv shows and I am sick with fear. I have been wearing this all day. I am sick with fear.
I wake at seven, climbing out of a dream where I am chased through a shopping mall into a changing room for mothers with babies, the stiff handle of the toilet door patched and peeling under my hand as I wrestle it open. I lock it behind me just as my pursuer picks up speed. A glimpse of blue shirt. His grandmother was saying something about young love. Barely awake, I sort it out in my mind: leave me the fuck alone.
I said fuck off two corridors back and left; this is not an indication that I wish to be followed or to hear you speak, even if you think you should be heard. You are taller and larger than me and can trap me physically into listening to you, and the fundamental lack of respect for my own wishes that such an action entails makes me burn with fury. I am not a fucking child. Your desire to pursue me does not trump my desire to be left alone, and I will not accept this fucking fundamental lack of respect. Even in my dreams I am furious and logical and spitting mad. It gives me a little insight into my own dislike for pursuit narratives. I am not something to be chased or won. Women are neither passive nor prey.
Seething with vitriolic thoughts about standard romance narratives found in popular media, having discovered some intrinsic connections between my formative experiences of abusive control and my absolute disinclination to engage with any form of relationship that might entail such a situation again, I drift back into sleep. When my alarm goes off at eight thirty, Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans, I reset it. Reset it again at nine, and then lie in bed suspended between sleep and wakefulness, weighing up the pros and cons of going in to school.
Pros: free lunch. Routine. Daylight. I might get some work done. Cons: the thought of having to deal with other people saps me of energy; the thought of trying to find somewhere to study grates at my nerves; the thought of being outside tires and scares me. I’m tired from the inside out from small group yesterday, an overexposure of people late at night; much as I enjoyed it, the thought of being near more people scrapes me raw. Small group isn’t something I should go to, really, as it continually wipes out my Wednesdays- but, but, but. This is the closest I get to being connected to a church, something regular, something unthreatening, and it’s a sop to convention, to my flatmate who frowns on my absence of churching, and an easy socialising fix. I swear I never used to be like this, overtired by people. I am exhausted with thinking through all this.
The cons win. I text my ride and thank her for offering, but I’m not feeling well and won’t head in; I tell myself I’ll do work in the daytime and roll over. Bed is deeply comforting; sleep even more so. I drift back into dreaming. Daylight slips in and out of dreams of staged plays and swimming pools. When I wake it is nearly seven in the evening. I’ve slept for eighteen hours, on and off.
This is happening more often. I have little desire to be awake, and sleep is comforting and comfortable. If I stay conscious long enough, my mind traces the tangled knots of itself into the future, and I know myself as fundamentally unable, and fundamentally broken, and the world as a terrifying morass of possibilities that lead nowhere, that end in every kind of death possible that doesn’t involve actual dying. I wear fear as a fundamental tenet of my personality, as ubiquitous as atoms; every step I trace leads to nothing, every thought I have tangles itself into an overwhelming fear of a world of present and future existence in which I cannot cope or succeed or proceed, in which everything is simply much too much for me, and I have no reason to fight against it all.
I can see no benefit to being awake, and there is no kindness in it. Even the small good things- hot tea, cake, sunlight, birdsong, friends- mean nothing in the long run, up against the face of this massive onslaught of complex, diluted nothingness, this too-complicated insanity of corruption and mindlessness and dying as omnipresent as the air. Small things are not enough to build a life on, and I am sick with this fear of this everywhere-presence of everything, too massive and too much. I am tired of thinking of it, of tracing each twist with a finger, and it makes no difference. It eats at me, a physical sensation in my ribcage, and exhausts me. I read to forget it, until I grow overtired and nocturnal, and sleep to drown myself in comfort. I do not know what I am doing or where this will end, but while I am asleep, I do not care.
I thought this afternoon, this evening, of just- being someone different for a while, for the summer. Packing up my things and finding some adventure somewhere, in some other part of New Zealand; leaving this flat and this life and these books and this chained-to-my-bed existence and being someone wholly different for three or four months until study comes back again. Picking kiwifruit, or waitressing on some tiny island down south, or disappearing into some small rural town somewhere, with nobody I know and nothing from my present to mark me as me. The freedom to be an entirely different person, where nobody knows me at all; the freedom to reinvent myself entirely, to be someone different, something completely new, mysterious, an unproven quantity. To shake off this old me and become someone new. To be different, with a range of unknown possibilities ahead.
I know some of this urge. I run away from things. I run away from stages of myself, trying to shed myself like skins. I don’t think it works; I always catch up in the end. The corruption is me. The damage is me. I am the horror I keep in my basement. I can’t run away from the death I am. I carry my life around like a corpse, and the rot of it invades the furniture.
O wretched creature that I am. Who can save me from this body of death?
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.