April 14, 2015
you know when you start to feel the drag, the soft-slick suck of mud and heavy water pulling at your legs as you begin, inevitably, to sink? that’s how walking through here feels. swamp and fog. I’m very good at wandering into these precincts. I’m very good at ending up in places where it’s easy to drown. it’s familiar. just call me Ophelia.
I’ve spent the last two days sleeping in gulps, waking in snatches of vague operational focus before shuffling back to bed. Three hours here, eight there. Sleep, I mean. Today I slept badly for seven hours, woke for one, and drifted in and out of sleep again for nine. I have something due in two hours and I was meant to wake for it, was meant to stay awake for it, but it’s so very easy to feel gravity and my own weight carrying me back down. It’s so easy to just let it all go and ignore it slipping away.
I’m up now, because it’s night, and I’m used to waking at night. That’s familiar too. And still I’m not working, despite two hours to go, because- because.
something’s wrong. I don’t wander swampland unless something’s wrong.
I’m really bad at knowing where I am on the map of sanity and emotional stability, largely because I have so many reactive behavioural mechanisms that automatically compensate to keep me relatively functional, and when I say relatively functional I mean not constantly in pain. This basically means I have a hell of a lot of coping mechanisms that exist solely to keep me from feeling pain, and they happen instinctively without me noticing, like the subtle shifting of a machine recalibrating for balance on rough terrain, or an ecosystem self-regulating. It happens the way your body copes with cold or heat or different air pressures. It just happens. My mind protects itself, and for me that means I avoid pain and preferably also fear.
As a result I’m really bad at knowing how I am because I don’t feel much on an everyday basis, and most of my brain is wired to not pay attention to how I’m feeling so I can function, and set up in fact to avoid situations where I might feel strongly. This means, firstly, that I don’t know I’m feeling anything until whatever I’m feeling and whatever is causing it goes beyond the bounds of my ability to cope, and then it becomes Very Bad Times Indeed. Burn The Damn World Down Very Bad Times. And it means, secondly, that I have behavioural patterns that directly reflect how I’ve learned to protect myself; I don’t trust people beyond certain points, I microexamine social situations, and when pain looks like it’s inevitably creeping up, I start doing certain emotional lockdown things. in me, this looks particularly like oversleeping and binge-reading.
I’ve learned, I’m learning, to look out for those mechanisms instead of going ‘how am I feeling?’, because asking that is an exercise in futility. I may not notice that anything is necessarily out of place on an emotional scale- I’m not grimly miserable or in howling agony, which is usually my benchmark for ‘am I okay?’- but if I spend five hours binge reading trashy literature on automatic? That’s a clue something’s wrong. If I spend seventeen hours sleeping with no particular desire to get up? Clue. And it sounds obvious, but it’s even the small things like I feel like reading trashy historical romance novels. When my brain’s not in avoidance mode, I don’t. Reading trash doesn’t even cross my mind.
It’s odd. Just surveying the way my brain is set up to protect itself is odd, with the little I know of psychology. That’s trauma for you. It’s a bit like being a dinky campervan that got significantly modified with tank-guns, bulletproof plating, complex entrance codes, massive wheels and wheelwells, self-detonating decoys, trained snipers, an R&D cabin with explosives, an entire spy network, an intricate tunnel system and also a portable bunker with tea and cookies. I’ve been rewired over ten years of constant tinkering under fire to handle emotional minefields and pretty severe onslaughts and still come out the other end Not Dead and Not Exploded. If you sent me now into a psychological warzone, I’d still survive pretty damn well because that’s ten years of defensive modification on my side. I’m not a campervan anymore.
What works in wartime, though, doesn’t work in peacetime. There’s very little call for tanks on the freeway and in the suburbs, even if the tank comes with a minifridge and some comfy blankets. And so half the work in therapy, I guess, is learning how to dismantle all the heavy-duty armaments and defenses you installed in the first place, because it’s apparently hard to park a tank outside Wendy’s without people screaming or something.
I have to admit, though, that dismantling still feels rather short-sighted to me. What if I drive through a minefield again? There are no guarantees. The world is full of warzones. You’re not ever truly safe until you’re dead.
March 5, 2015
so I’ve just spent half an hour attempting to marshall arguments against someone arguing that instruments are central to Christian worship because singing is central to Christian worship, based on a Logic Combo of a) Because We’ve Always Done It That Way and b) Because It’s More Practical.
Don’t get me wrong. I like instruments in Christian worship. I just don’t think they’re crucial for worship, and I hate ‘Because We’ve Always Done It That Way’ and ‘Because It’s More Practical’. Those are not theologically adequate reasons. Argue better.
I feel like a pedant and a useless windflapper and That Person Who Argues Useless Things, but mama, someone is wrong on the internet. It was that or shrug and smileyface them, or shrug and say “I disagree but I’m not going to explain why because it’ll take too long”, which. Which is like copping out.
I need to get better at not caring. Seriously, how have I become this person?
Someone I only vaguely know just moved up to Auckland to do his Masters in Drama. He’s looking at Elizabethan clowns and fools and their influence on theatre during Shakespeare’s day, and I stared at his status and. and. and I wandered away and made some iced tea and felt-
I don’t know. longing? incredulity at where I am now? nostalgia?
I miss being able to look at things like that. I miss it. The familiarity of it, the shapes and sounds of something that fits my heart like the first skin, like a voice I know, like my own mind. that familiar thrill I associate wth theatre and its ideas, with literature and the beautiful turn of words, the loveliness of concepts made real in space and time, the long string of fiction and its joys. Clowns. Fools. Language. Elizabethan society, translated from conceptual everywhereness into this one place of sound and sight and three-dimensionality in time, mirrors held up. I miss subjects that let me do that. I miss that.
today, now, I drink iced tea and read up on depression and phenomenology and theological representations of God, psychological terms and sociological methodology, making analytic memo notes on what I need to cover next in my literature review before I move back to my data in that old interative analysis cycle, and I miss.
and I think: if I hadn’t been so sick by the end of university, I would’ve gone into something like this. I would’ve done my Honours and my Masters in something like this, theatre, literature, the shape of words and the shape of time and colour and the human imagination. I would’ve been looking at Shakespeare, or beloved Beckett, or Fry and Eliot and verse plays, or Heinrich Muller, or Greek dramas, or medieval mystery plays, or Augusto Boal and his games. this would’ve been mine.
and I think: I never thought I’d be doing a Masters in this. The only thing I’d ever thought of doing a Masters in was Creative Writing. That’s what I’d wanted, back in high school. That’s the only thing I thought I’d be capable of.
and I think: I could’ve done Honours, but I was so sick and so burned out by the end of it all that I burned up all my bridges and chances and staggered into two years of the smog it left behind.
Still not clear, yet, even here, not wholly. Am I sorry?
Am I sorry that I’m not doing my Masters in Theatre or English Literature? That I burned up my chances of doing so? That I’m not looking into Artaud or physical theatre or Grotowski or improvisation, that I’m not looking into Shakespeare and his representation of women or Christianity, that I’m not examining the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins or Dylan Thomas, or the ways medieval mystery plays expressed the incarnation in their staging?
I don’t know. Maybe a little. Maybe not. I do like what I’m doing, I find it challenging and satisfying and scary and at times joyous, but it’s just- different. It’s so different from the things I’ve loved so much and for so very long. It’s- I find what I’m doing very interesting, but I don’t instinctively delight in it in the same way, things falling into place so easily in my mind. and there are many aspects of theology that I do delight in, but it all feels so very different. so much more cerebral, often.
it’s curious, to see where I could’ve gone and what I could’ve been. but I’m glad to be doing this. I don’t know precisely what it is I’m doing, but wherever I am right now feels like it’s a good place. right now, at least, I’m pretty happy.
March 2, 2015
I am ensconced in pink hessian cubicle walls. it’s like someone built me a square womb out of craft supplies and thumbtacks and lopped the top off it and wheeled me in. I feel surrounded and yet insecure. any minute now, I might be attacked by a flood of loud and inconvenient breaktime talkers. Jesus.
there’s a fan humming softly behind me, and small sparks of noise from people downstairs, voices, footsteps. I feel sick. it might have been the pies I had for lunch. it might also have been the people I saw, sitting at the other lunch table, a cosmos of completion in and of themselves, getting along so very well together. so happy together.
I sat and ate my pies and chatted with a friend. and yet.
do people disapprove of me?
why do I not belong?
what is wrong with me, that I do not belong?
I just don’t.
they’re my age. they’re young and sociable and cool and they laugh a lot and make loud noises at lunches and are attractive and sure of their attractiveness and I am reminded, I am strongly reminded of high school. I am strongly reminded of high school and the cool Christian crowd I never could fit, too awkward and self-conscious and cynical. I sat with the atheists and academics instead. I hid in the library. I sat in an old shell of a train, at a camp for Christians, and cried because I didn’t belong anywhere, because these were Christians, supposedly my people, and I wasn’t like them and couldn’t be like them. I was sixteen.
I went to university and found Christians I could belong with, who were awkward and thoughtful and welcoming, who cared about me deeply, who blessed me and believed for me and held me while I tumbled, frenzied, apart. they were my home. and now I’m here, and am I repeating myself? have I done something wrong?
maybe it’s that I’m simply not around as much. maybe it’s simply a matter of convenience.
or am I that person? the one people find hard to handle, the one you talk about, and say ‘don’t get me wrong, she’s lovely, but‘. the difficult one. the one that needs special grace to deal with. I try so very hard to be inoffensive, but I think I offend people anyway (did I say something wrong, did I do something stupid? did I not do something I was supposed to do? I’m sorry. I’m sorry). I parse greetings for inflections. I examine interactions for minutiae. I worry, and worry, and worry. have I done something wrong? have I done something unforgiveable? have I done something to make you think less of me? do you think less of me? I try to be useful, to be helpful, to listen, to provide some kind of service so people want me around. I ask questions. I try to support people so I’m not a burden. I try to be indispensible, or at the very least pleasant, or at the very least inoffensive. nice. if I try hard enough, maybe you’ll like me. if I pay attention to all these societal niceties, be polite, be appreciative, be obliging and not ask too much of you, if I don’t ask too much of you and give you more of my time and my listening, maybe we can be friends. friendship takes work, after all.
I don’t understand the term ‘unconditional’.
let me rephrase that. I have problems believing in unconditional regard. unconditional love. affection without boundaries. I will, one day, do something that will make you give up on me. I don’t know what it is yet, so I’m keeping a weather eye out. or it simply might be that time will move us in different directions, and we won’t keep in touch. that’s what happens.
people don’t stay.
the people who do, somehow, who haven’t left yet, they’re rare, small miracles. I live in fear of their leaving. if I breathe too hard on this leaf, it’ll crumble. if I put too much weight on this thread, even though it’s held so far, it might snap. this far, and no more.
I’ll trust you this far, and no more, because if I entrust you with me truly, when you leave, I’ll snap in two.
one day I will cease to entertain, serve, comfort, encourage or please you. one day I will offend or distress you, and you will be done with me.
that thought makes me sick. this is why I feel sick.
how the fuck are you so fucking gorgeous? It’s one of those days where I have a little bit of a mad crush on you. these happen occasionally. it’s not your fault. you’ve done and said nothing; I just possess the innate ability to fall head over heels in love with people with very little provocation, if left unchecked, and you’ve unfortunately stood yourself in the path of that hurricane tendency. and when I say stood yourself I mean you appeared in my dream which happens to everyone eventually, and I remembered you were distractingly attractive. again: not your fault. mine. sorry.
you really are remarkably good-looking, though, and I’ve had on-and-off crushes on you for as long as I’ve known you, which is annoying; it’s hard not looking people in the eye when making conversation. I find crushes to be generally inconvenient things; life is far easier when you’re not fancying everyone, or anyone, or someone different every month, or the same person for a handful of months until the weather shifts. it’s why I often cauterise that entire aspect of myself. I was functionally aromantic and asexual until two days ago, and comfortable with it.
oh well. these things just happen, capricious and ridiculous as rainstorms. it should blow over quickly; I’ve gotten good at keeping my sky clear of debris. but while I’m here: I like your nature and your complicated wit, I like your smile, I like your shoulders and your lovely mouth and your hands, your perceptiveness and creativity, your reserve, your opinions on books and your clever, thoughtful eyes. you’re a gorgeous human being and I’ll get over it. don’t take my declarations of attraction as declarations of intention; they’re not. they’re just observations from a place of resignation, while I wait out the weather.
this, after all, changes nothing. I’m not a farmer. my life has never been dependent on meteorological conditions.
February 11, 2015
one of my friends hits people for fun, three days out of every week, at a place where people teach you to hit people with parts of your body for fun and also maybe defense. she’s offered to take me.
I like the idea of being able to hit people.
I’ve been wanting to fight since I was little. my parents disagreed. they probably thought I was violent enough, particularly since one of their anecdotes of me as a baby involves me full on growling (this related in horrified tones because babies apparently don’t ever demonstrate aggression or something), but growing up I saw my friends doing taekwondo and wondered, in between the piano and Chinese classes and swimming lessons, why I couldn’t do that instead. or ballet. or gymnastics. or something that involved deliberate control of my body. I’m only now realising how much that might’ve helped, during that instinctual retreat into myself where I lost any sense of what my body was and became a brain in a jar. a flesh jar.
I have dreams, sometimes, where I’m trying really hard to punch someone and I can’t. my punch doesn’t connect, my fist lurches feebly through dream-space, and in my dream I am incandescently furious at being so helpless. at being so horribly ineffectual at protecting myself. that sucks.
I also have dreams where I wake up because I’ve punched the wall really damn hard, and my hand hurts and rage is consuming my body, but it’s a triumphant rage because I punched that fucker, whoever they happened to be. that sucks much less.
most of my childhood instincts were physical. My younger brother accordingly developed the art of the verbal taunt in ways I never did, particularly when I began to understand the negative effect words had on me and decided never to use them like weapons. it meant, though, that childhood fights with my brother sometimes ended up with him physically hurt. I kicked him in the stomach once, an instinctive reaction to his moving into my space, to being intimidated.
it wasn’t okay. I was five, or seven, but he was littler than me, so I was taught early how not to use my body in response. how not to fight. I wish now, though, that my parents had taught me not just when it was wrong to fight, but when it was right.
now, as an adult woman with what are basically complex trauma and captivity survival mechanisms hardwired into me, I freeze. I go still, I abandon my body, I use my words, I placate, I defuse, I distract. while these have their place, these are all very submissive, stereotypically ‘female’ coded things to do, and none of them are good for when you are boiling over with rage, or shaking with fear, or when you can feel anger burning through your muscles and eating at your lungs like acid. none of those help. there are days when I’m so angry with the universe or myself, with casually sexist classmates or stories of sexism in general that I can’t sleep because of the suppressed rage, when I twitch in bed with the suppressed physical need to break something. there are days I’m so restless that nothing soothes and nothing can get me to stability again. there are days where I curl my hands around two invisible knives, a mental defense mechanism to keep me safe. and there are so many things about anxiety and depression that involve being detached from one’s body. one of the best things I discovered while taking dance lessons, several years ago, was that dancing put me back into my body.
I’d like to feel efficient. capable. at home in my skin, and capable of disembowelling somebody if necessary. I’d like to not be physically afraid of somebody bigger than me. I’ve felt that before, and I would like to know how it feels to have hardwired into your body the ways to react to that, to take advantage of that size and weight differential, to come back from that. to never be trapped, not physically. to have the means to survive.
I think I might like fighting. I mean, you never know until you try, and I’ll let you know once I do try, but I think I’m not fazed by pain. from what I’ve seen, my body takes it, adjusts to it. I don’t bruise easily, either. and for such a sedentary person, there’s a certain aspect of me that is entirely unafraid of getting stuck into a physical activity, honed by years of theatre where the prevailing atmosphere is to throw yourself into whatever you’re given without holding back, an attitude which tends to lead to a lot of sweat, aching muscles, increased flexibility, physical unashamedness and significant intimacy with the floor and also maybe your classmates’ limbs.
I will also admit to being in possession of the desire to gleefully boot someone in the nadgers and think it delightful fun. there’s a streak of cheerful brutality in me alongside a great big void of caring, and both are aspects of my personality which I try to cushion with carefully cultivated empathy and social conditioning. Both are there nonetheless, persisting underneath the learned patience. Social conditioning holds in most situations, but other times- well, the field in which I grow my fucks is barren, my douche-meter is ringing and I am done with tolerance.
In those circumstances, I very, very much want to stab people in both eyesockets and then blitz them off the face of the universe and never have to deal with them again, or possibly just rage quit existence. However, because I am an adult human and have learned to use my words, I tell the person they are being a dick in no uncertain terms, and then tell them why (for example, that I’ve already indicated several times that I don’t appreciate the incredibly sexist undercurrent of the jokes they make and they need to stop now, and that no, it is not okay to bait the feminist. I’m just waiting to see this guy next to see if I need to repeat the message more clearly). And then I either avoid that person completely so I don’t feel like stabbing them every time I see them, or- no, really, that’s it. I’d still like to blitz them off the face of the universe, though. Look. I’m still furious (then again, I was reading a discussion about some of the problem areas in Fifty Shades of Unsafe Sexual Practices and Emotional Abuse this morning, which could contribute to the simmering feeling of rage currently at a stockpot-low in my lungs).
Nonetheless. Demonstrable self-control, yes? Learning to hurt people and defend myself doesn’t mean I’m going to use those skills in conversation, regardless of my desire to. I am perfectly capable of using words to communicate. Simply for my own private reassurance, however, it would be nice to know that if somebody continues to be a dick, I have the ability to remove theirs.
February 10, 2015
there’s a little voice in my head that dances around saying I don’t know why I thought I’d be good at this. I don’t know why I thought I’d be good at anything.
underneath it are uglier, quiet words about failure and expectations of, based on a thread of despair of knowing I’m unfixable and will fuck everything up by blundering around being sick. which I cannot truly help. it translates, generally, to I fuck my life up by existing.
capture that miraculous little death-butterfly, love, and pinion it into a squashy armchair in your comfortable mind-parlour, drop a lap-blanket over it and push a mug of tea into its hands. perch on the arm of the chair, on both arms, and feed it biscuits. shortbread. jammy tarts. say soothing things. top up its tea. make it feel loved.
threads of despair are for comforting.
February 6, 2015
I just filled in a Tumblr Googledocs survey about mental illness and the university experience. Here’s the answer I gave to a question about things universities and professors might do to help support students who are undergoing A Fun Experience of Mental Funhood while they attempt to Gain An Education.
“For universities in general, I think educating academic staff and lecturers about the challenges that students with mental illness face is incredibly important- people don’t always understand the cognitive aspects of depression, for instance!- as well as providing really good, up-to-date support services for students who need help.
The best way for professors to help is by being very, very patient and gracious, and also offering as much support as possible- directing someone to counselling and other such student support is of great benefit. Dealing with mental illness is a full time job in itself, and it really helps if your lecturer knows and understand this, and communicates that. The grad school I’m currently attending is incredible; they’ve been incredibly kind about everything, and incredibly gracious, and very supportive.
Also, I think it helps a hell of a lot to be offered reassurance from your academic authorities that it’s okay, that they know you’re doing the best you can and they have faith in your abilities. Most of the time, I’m already beating myself up for not performing the way I know I should; I don’t need more reminders that I’m failing at functioning. I feel so guilty about my inability to function that I’m often terrified of talking to my lecturers or my dean, even though I know they’re incredibly understanding and they’ve been kind before. I already live with their perceived disappointment in my head; it’s nice to be reassured occasionally that those are just my own perceptions, and that my lecturers actually have a lot of faith in my abilities, even when I don’t.”
January 25, 2015
today I am drinking tea and eating biscuits and contemplating the universe. one day I will understand how to hold all the pieces of my mind together without letting any bits crumble away, but that’s not today. today I am somewhere between infuriated and resigned at the mind I’ve been left with, the spotty, inconstant, failing, stuttering piece of machinery I am.
I’m not contemplating the universe. I’m attempting to do my assignment, my very overdue, but due-in-five-days-by-the-grace-of-God assignment, and wrestling with the rising tide of anxiety that swells up every time I start reading about coding or narrative analysis or validity or qualitatative data or whatever. I don’t know how to make myself stop, or tranquilise myself into necessary placidity so I can let my rational data-pushing brain do the work it’s supposed to, or compartmentalise myself into little boxes, locks and tidewalls and sandbanks and levees so the busy cities of my mind aren’t drowning every few sentences in these waves of unceasing inability, this blindness, this skipping of the brain, this fucking fear. I can’t keep doing this. I am wroth with myself. I am wroth with my inability to build a proper fucking sandbank.
I am wroth with my inability to be anything but broken machinery. somewhere underneath the tranquilisers I’ve wrestled in, the biscuits I’m eating, the focused breathing I’m doing, I am very unhappy with my inability to be anything but myself, my malfunctioning, cogs-missing, ticking-and-skipping cracked machine of a self. if I were a dog I’d drag myself out the back and put me down. if I were a robot I’d take myself apart for parts to be reused in toasters and espresso machines. if I were a car I would send myself to a scrapheap, some bits to be melted down to slag, others to be left to rust in a yard somewhere, a hollow awning for birds and rats and stray green daisies to nest in. dead flies. cats seeking relief from the midday sun. I would sing when the wind blew through me, rattling with long-gone life. Jesus, if I were any of these other things I would have been disassembled so very long ago but unfortunately for me, unfortunately for me I am human and so consigned to living in all my inevitable failure at glory.
I cannot live properly, I cannot do anything but fail and fail and fail again at living because I am a smashed pot on the tiles, and the curved shards of me hold only enough water to catch the light in on a good day. and I cannot die properly, because it would injure others, and I would not injure others. so here I am, suspended between death and life, attempting to forget I exist. I am getting so sick of this state. I am so sick of being broken and not being able to do a thing about it except try to pretend I’m dead without actually doing the deed. it’s a fucking miserable way to not go anywhere, slowly and as vegetatively as possible, drugged to your eyeballs in whatever renders you insensate. it’s ridiculous. there have to be other ways out of this insanity. there will be. there will be if I have to drag them out of the immanent Trinity myself.
… thank a threefold God I won’t have to. it’s been done for me. but bloody hell, waiting for damned restoration and transformation and the nigh-invisible work of the Holy Spirit is pissing me off no end. one day, Jesus, I will have words with you. I will be in that queue right behind Habakkuk and Job and Hopkins and Qohelet and you won’t be able to hear yourself for all the royally pissed shouting.
I’ve thought of a way to kill myself. it’s a long-term multi-year plan involving increasing societal withdrawal, insulting people until they avoid me and becoming more and more isolated and unreachable and eccentric a la Dickinson until almost everyone has forgotten I exist for long stretches of time and my absence bothers nobody. and then it’s a jaunt to a foreign country, removal of all forms of identification, finding software to put up the occasional Facebook and blog post for a few years postmortem and- well, I’m still tossing up between dying behind a police station or in a morgue for most convenient, least irresponsible location to be discovered.
it’s good to be considerate to whoever finds one’s corpse, you know? and yes, I know it’s a plan that requires a lot of effort and many years and much relational discipline to complete, but I like it. It’s responsible, it deals with the ‘injuring people’ aspect of my protests, and it amuses me greatly. It’s also comforting to have options. If you’ve never visited suicide country, then I’ll translate that for those of us who live here, plans for death often aren’t so much a threat as they are a comfort, an escape route to hold on to, that last ace up your sleeve in a terrifying game you’re losing heavily in. they’re the hope of an option out of a situation that is nearly unbearable, and that’s sometimes enough to keep you going through it for another day. bonus points if it makes you gleeful every time you think of it.
God it’s a good plan. I forgot how much it amused me. I’m going to go away now and drink tepid tea and stare at my data for five minutes before my broken brain starts shrieking at me again.
January 12, 2015
It’s the most peaceful I’ve been in fucking forever.
I still felt like death because when do I not feel like death? but it was quiet and the wind was riffling gently at my skin and it was that perfect temperature for what I was wearing, neither too hot nor too cold. there was open space in all directions and birdsong in the trees. stray light fell in the shadows like someone had dropped bits of sun. the grass was damp and I sat myself down between two aisles of gravestones, a little way from where the grass swooped into a neat green bowl lined with markers, arranged like an orchestra. it wasn’t quite eight in the morning. in the distance, between two trees, I could see water.
I went for a walk at six. the air smelled good outside and I have a thing for very early mornings and late afternoons, when light makes itself visible as more than just that thing that helps you see other things. picked up some sustenance at a nearby bakery and followed the gold light down a road, blinded and glad of it, glad for the smell of morning and wishing I’d left earlier, before the sun had properly come along. light made itself known everywhere, in every shadow, every hedge. I kept heading towards the sun, walking through the blocks of industrial lots, crossing train lines twice, stopping to look at whatever came my way- plastic garden chairs flung carelessly across a table, drenched in pohutakawa red; the reflection of clouds and houses in glass, blackbirds perched on white blocks, that everywhere brightness turning the smooth limbs of trees into paintings of themselves. lichen, grey-green and rough against a branch smooth as an arm.
it was hard to look. it hurt. the beauty of it genuinely distressed me. I’ve never had that happen before, genuinely hurting and unable to look too long because something is lovely. being distressed by loveliness. I’m not happy with this. I see beauty everywhere, notice it the way I notice the crookedness of fonts, the way I notice mispellings without trying; I see beauty because it is there to see, and I usually enjoy looking for it. but today it hurt me and I spent the next little while trying to figure out why as I wandered, peering through factory windows, thinking about how one lives with chronic pain, chatting with God and getting slowly worse.
by the time I reached the crossing, I was feeling horrible as fuck and my swearing had scaled up significantly, but I saw the sign that said cemetery and was immensely cheered. the morbid symbolism of hanging out in a cemetery apparently amuses me when I feel like death, and so I waded my way through new-mown grass and across a vast expanse of field, at one at the same time in very sweary pain and enjoying the warmth of the sun and the quietness of the park. a man jogged by with a dog. the lines of the pitch were faded. I made use of many convenient you-are-here maps and found an old stone building with 1948 on a crest, sun-warmed and silent. there were beheaded dandelion leaves on the pitch making odd and jumbled patterns in the grass, and a great big stone fucker of a wall rose in the far distance. when I headed towards it I saw a glimpse of green in a gap.
the cemetery was quiet and lovely. the clouds were too. I’m not afraid of dead people; envious, maybe. cemeteries are restful places. so after some uncertain wandering and the discovery that reading the tombstones made me feel worse, I found a long stretch of grass that probably didn’t have bodies underneath it, discovered the grass was wet by sitting on it, and rested.
I didn’t want to leave. I felt like death, but it was also the most peaceful place I’ve been in forever. the light wind reminded me of the presence of God. I sang a little. decided that the most convenient place to kill oneself would be a police station or a morgue, not a cemetery, unless you climbed into an occupied coffin first. rested my head on my knees and breathed. never wanted to leave.
next time I’m bringing a picnic blanket and taking a nap there. nobody’s gonna disturb me at a military cemetery.
January 7, 2015
hey guys, guess what? I just discovered a wrong question and a right question to ask when I’m faced with choices.
‘am I capable of doing this?’ is the wrong question.
‘will this encourage and assist in my mental and emotional recovery, or will it halt or derail it?’ is the right one.
I’ve been thinking about my baseline for what I consider to be okay, and I’ve realised that said baseline may possibly be a tad warped by trauma and depression and all the minor mental adjustments both those situations tend to lead to. when I am okay, I am not howling in agony, trying to empty my lungs of sound and pressure and feelings of death. when I am okay, I am not so terrified I cannot think straight. when I am okay, I do not feel like my life is going to end in a catastrophe of armageddonic proportions. everything else from those emotions on up is okay. generalized, constant anxiety is fine. grey endless weariness is normal. exhaustion is standard. I’m capable of handling minor panicking and ubiquitious feelings of awful and months and months of shitty days and the inability to think and all my coping mechanisms dancing about playing merry havoc in my head. all these things are not Fucking Awful Feelings of Death, or the howling, or the blinding terror, and so all these things are okay.
there’s more. I’ve been thinking too that my baseline for what I believe I am capable of is possibly skewed. When someone asks me whether I think I’m capable of doing something, or I ask myself this, my automatic response is highly likely to be yes. I’m a trauma survivor. I can survive and endure anything until I can’t. After more than a decade of learning how, my whole skillset is geared towards surviving and enduring and constantly pushing my breaking point further out regardless of the long-term cost.
Imagine a war veteran who’s been repeatedly shot in both feet. Their shins and knees are constantly fractured by stumbling into things, but they’ve had to keep going, because this is a perpetual war zone and it’s move or die. so they’ve used crutches, and splints, and occasionally enough painkillers and morphine until they didn’t remember their own name, but because they’ve never gotten to sit down and rest and heal properly, those feet are constantly setting wrong and breaking again and leaking with gangrene as the vet staggers through the mud, shaking with infection and fever.
in this scenario, your imaginary vet has kept on walking and crawling and fighting through the mud and muck for ten years with these broken feet. if you then proceed to pluck him or her out of that warzone and ask if they can keep walking on their two smashed legs, if you ask them after these ten years whether they’re capable of walking even if they’re drugged high as a kite, bleeding with every step and oozing gently, they will tell you yes. because they’ve had to. and so they know they can.
this is why ‘are you capable of doing this?’ is a stupid question. if your only options have been walk or die for ten years, then yes you are capable of walking, regardless of pain and long term injury, until you are a completely incapacitated torso wriggling about on the ground, and even then you can probably chin your way onwards. that’s it. that’s all.
‘is this going to jeopardise or derail your recovery, or is this going to assist and enable it?’ is a much better question, because clearly asking someone to keep dragging themselves forward on raw and pulverised bags of bone-splinters is a fucking terrible idea with regards to their long term health.
so there’s a thought. maybe the thing that’s more important here is my health, and not my ability to function capably. maybe this entails evaluating myself based less on whether I think I can do something (because of course I fucking can until I’m dead), and more on the basis of whether I think it’ll jeopardise my recovery or assist it. Because the point of recovery and looking after my mental health isn’t so I can achieve adequate functioning capacity again. Adequate functioning isn’t the point of my existence, isn’t the yardstick by which I measure whether I’ve achieved my human potential. The point of recovery and looking after my mental health is wellness for the sake of my wellness and wholeness and flourishing, is joy and completion, is no sin and sickness and death. life, life to the full.
… aaaaand it appears I’ve just connected the mental health recovery arc to the new heavens and new earth, to what we were made for as humans and will come to know, the shalom, the eudaimonia, the true wholeness and flourishing of creation restored and healed and drawn into the overflowing love of a threefold God. but shouldn’t that be where it always goes? isn’t that, after all, the point of everything?