Filtered

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 When I woke up this morning, I walked into the kitchen and realized that the light looked different. The sun was streaming in, as it does in the mornings, but the quality of it was new to me. I recently put up new curtains, white lace, and the sunlight was filtered to a golden glow. It was beautiful.

This time of year has me thinking about gratitude, as it does so many people, at least as evidenced by the blogosphere and Facebook posts. It’s not a bad thing, per se, to examine our lives, and to be thankful. But I have been pondering this, as I said, for a bit, and I am coming up short.

There is a quality to gratitude that I’m lacking, and I think it’s acceptance. To be grateful for something, you have to accept it into your life, and be at peace with its presence, so that you can acknowledge what you’ve gained from it. There are many things that I am thankful for, but so many others that I have yet to accept and truly own. And if I can’t accept ownership of them, then I can’t really be grateful for them.

Sounds a little circular, this logic, but it makes sense, I swear. It’s something that I’m working out in bits and pieces, and as I get more perspective on it, as more chunks of the picture show themselves to me, the whole of it takes on new shape and meaning.

I am pretty expert at not accepting things that I don’t want to be true. I suppose that most of us are to some degree, but I think I may have Olympic-level skills in this event. It isn’t that I don’t objectively know the truth— I do. I just don’t fully accept that the last word has been spoken on the subject, until I am damn good and ready to do so. Naturally, this can be…..problematic.  I drag out things in my mind for FAR longer than necessary. I am wounded by conversations and happenstances that shouldn’t have that effect, in large part because I will. Not. Let. It. Go.

Every time things have not gone in my favor represents a failure on my part. Ridiculous, no? So I replay in my mind how, perhaps if I were to have another chance, I might do X or Y differently, and this time, I would get it right. This time, I would be better. I would not fail. In large part, this is due to being raised by a mother for whom “good enough” did not exist. You either excelled, or you disappointed. No middle ground. No excuses. I absorbed this into all my fibers like a sponge, and I have been trying to wring it out for the last 30 years, with limited success. I am trying to be OK with “good enough.” If I could get there, I could let so much baggage go.

For every romantic relationship that has ended without my permission, for each friendship that has soured for reasons I don’t understand, for every situation that I have not mastered or been in control of, I have a blemish on my brain. I pick at it and make it bleed, repeatedly, until the day comes when I decide I’m done. When that time comes, whether it takes weeks, or years, I can accept it, integrate it, and move forward. But not until then. Until then, that picking at scabs will make me cry and gnash my teeth and search for meaning that doesn’t even exist, all the while knowing, intellectually, that this is the stupidest waste of time, ever.

My relationship with shame is tight. We are totally BFFs.

So it feels like my gratitude is a step or two behind. Filtered by the need to replay things ad nauseum. Stunted by my inability to accept the unfortunate as merely unfortunate, and glean the good that came out of it. It isn’t helpful to only be grateful for the good things. The most telling lessons come from what didn’t work out well. Without bitter, there is no sweet.

This morning in the kitchen, even through the filter of the curtains, the sun was bright and warm. Despite this stew of shame and guilt, this obsession with ruminating on actions that are long-ago completed, I know that, eventually, I will be able to let go of these things. My scabs will heal over, and the bleeding will stop. The sun will warm my face and I will accept it, simply, gratefully.  It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

 

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Temporal

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I lived in a condemned house owned by a slumlord named Plague.

Really. That was his name.

In this condemned house, in 2 apartments, lived 8 of us. We were all young, idealistic, poor as hell, and continually ready to drink, party and hunt for sex. There was a constant flow of people through upstairs and downstairs, and you never knew who you might find on the couch. Always chaotic, always interesting, and always something to do. Viewing it now through the filtered glass of nostalgia, it looks awfully sweet.

There was one constant during that time– Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday afternoon belonged to Kelly and I. We held that time as sacred, inviolate. That was our time to hang out together, away from the constant parade of visitors, the continuous noise of experimental industrial music, guerrilla poetry and stoners playing with chainsaws. It was our time to reconnect.

Sometimes we would go for a walk. Sometimes we would draw, or watch television, or play a game. Sometimes we would get coffee and just talk. But Tuesday was for us, and that was the important part. Time. Time together without interruption, or obligations; time to just be friends and enjoy the things that made us love each others’ company.

Kelly sent me a postcard last year. On it, she wrote, “Remember Tuesdays, and that time you and I and Paul went to the Jenny Holzer exhibit and made burgers? Remember how we made time for each other? Let’s give each other the gift of time again.”

The gift of time.

I remember that day, vividly–the exhibit was stunning, all the rooms darkened, the walls covered in LEDs, poetry flashing by at different speeds. We stood silent, transfixed.  We shared a pair of sunglasses between the three of us, and handed them back and forth without speaking.

We walked back to the house excited, filled to overflowing, and starved. Our combined funds were $1.38. We ransacked the couch cushions, found a couple of bucks, and went to the mini-mart to buy some ground beef. We laughed as we tried to light the hibachi, unsuccessfully, but we got it the second try. We cooked up those burgers, and some potatoes from the fridge, and we ate like we hadn’t eaten in a week. And we all swore they were the best burgers we had ever tasted in our entire lives.

It’s been nearly 25 years. I can still taste that day, and feel the laughter and the wonder and the beauty. We pulled it into every crack and pore. It wove a blanket that I still wrap around my shoulders on cold mornings.

The gift of time. I can’t stop thinking about it. We all want more time….but for what? Not for work, or to clean the house, right? More time to be healed. To see beauty in the mundane. To find the space that fits us. To love and be loved. To weave the blanket that keeps us warm, even on the coldest mornings.

I am trying to learn to give the gift of time. Give it to myself, and the people I love. Find more wonder and less worry. Find myself again, and feel that I am healed; that I am whole.

Time is finite, and I feel like I’ve wasted so much already.

 

Happily Furious!

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Yesterday I went to Powell’s Books to see the incomparable Jenny Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) perform a reading from her latest book, “Furiously Happy.” If you don’t have this book, go buy it. Now. Srsly. Here’s a link.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Jenny Lawson saved my life. No, she never performed CPR on me, or donated a kidney or anything like that. But she certainly played a large part in helping to keep me here, alive, and for that I am truly, truly grateful.

Jenny has been pretty open on her blog and in her two books about her own struggles with mental illness. In doing so, she is helping to decrease some of the stigma that those of us living with it have suffered. It’s tough to have a sickness that effects your everyday life that you’re afraid to tell anyone about, even your friends, because you know that they might treat you differently. To be afraid that the information might impact your job, or your relationships even more than the illness itself does. In reality, the words don’t change anything–I’m the same person I was before I told you what medications I’m taking, or why I take them. It’s just your perception of me that changes. But that change in perception…whew, it can be a real killer.

I had my first big depressive episode in 2012. I had been treated for depression for years. I took antidepressant medication and I felt pretty good. Then, my medication stopped working. I tried waiting it out. Months passed. I was withdrawn, irritable, completely miserable. My family asked how they could help, but I was too far gone to reach out. I went through the motions of being alive, while feeling no pleasure in anything. Then, with some relief, I stopped feeling anything at all. I wasn’t sad anymore. Instead, I felt dead inside. Nothing mattered. Nothing made me want to get out of bed, to put on clothes, to make any effort to be loving or kind to myself or anyone else. I was evaporating. And slowly, quietly, I started to think, if I was so useless, so dead inside, why was I sticking around? Wouldn’t it just be easier to go away? I was a walking corpse.

At first, the thoughts of suicide were rare. Then they were more frequent, taking up more and more of my mental real estate. Soon it was almost an obsession, plotting how I would kill myself. I made plans, scrapped them, came up with new ones. I found comfort in them, reassurance that I was doing the right thing. Because, my friends, depression is a big damn liar.

The only thing that stopped me was a homeless guy.

I decided I would drive into one of those concrete pilings under an overpass. It would look like I fell asleep on the way home from work, and nobody would have to know, right? Except….the week I decided to do it, a guy set up camp right where I was gonna crash my car. Pulled his shopping cart under the overpass and set up his tarp right under the piling I had been looking at for months. Now, there was no way I would hurt anyone else in this process. That wasn’t an option. I waited a week for him to move–but he didn’t. So, I went to the hospital instead.

After I was placed in an intensive hospital program, I called my very best friend and told her what was going on. And she cried with me, and immediately sent me a link to The Bloggess.

In that moment, in reading Jenny’s words and the comments of her readers, I understood there were so many people like me. I was not alone. I was a member of a club that none of us asked to join, but here we are.

I started to understand that what makes me who I am is tied up in the way my brain works–if I didn’t have all these weird connections that operate in a way that’s different from other people, I would be someone else. It’s OK to be broken…the broken parts are still beautiful. I want to engage, love, laugh, enjoy my kids. I want to embrace the world all the time, and live adventurously, and I do, when I can. But I know, too, that it’s OK to not be constantly achieving. It’s OK to not always be at full capacity. Some days, the thought of living one more day is un-fucking-bearable. On those days, my only job is to manage. My only job is to keep breathing in and out. To stay here. And I have learned how to stop beating myself up for those days. They aren’t my fault. They aren’t a punishment. They’re my membership dues for this shitty club I belong to.

So I fight back with shenanigans, pull myself together when I can, and forgive myself when I can’t. I try not to inflict my nastiness on others. And I take comfort in knowing that brighter times are coming. I pick up my stick and I beat back the monster from the door, with all the strength I can muster, even if it looks like I’m just lying on the couch watching Netflix.

So hearing Jenny Lawson speak last evening was a pretty big deal. She truly did save my life. Every time you see me lying on that couch, watching Netflix, with my invisible stick, you might catch me whispering something or see my lips moving. It’s my mantra for hard times and dark days. I keep repeating it, as I perform my only job, breathing in and breathing out, and focus on staying alive. Jenny gave it to me. Depression lies, depression lies, depression lies…..

Here goes nuthin….

This is my first post on what may or may not prove to be a fun new adventure for me. I have been contemplating starting some sort of online journal or blog for a while, as Facebook is a really terrible place to vomit all your thoughts. I am terrible at keeping a journal. Even those one-sentence “gratitude” things–they just sort of piss me off. Not the attitude you want to approach your writing exercises with….

So, I am hoping that, with the possibility of others reading things I put up, I’ll feel some sort of obligation to produce, and at least nominally edit, the thoughts that spin through my brain continuously. Seriously, this thing never shuts up. Relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, sleep– these are such challenges that they often require fierce concentration and/or medication, kind of defeating to purpose. So maybe, if I can pull some of the noise out and put it somewhere else, there will be a slowing of the grinding gears…

Full disclosure for anyone coming upon this who doesn’t know me– I am crass, I swear, and I have strongly-held opinions about certain things that are likely to piss some people off. I don’t really care. This space is like my living room. If you come over and I’m talking shit and you don’t like it, you would probably just make your excuses and leave. You wouldn’t stop to tell me what an asshole I am first (unless, of course, I was some kind of racist scumbag advocating genocide.) So use the same judgement here. Don’t like what you read? Please excuse yourself from my living room.

Thanks for humoring me. I hope you stick around and see what happens here. I know I’m curious!