Coming Alive Amidst a Pandemic.

Oh, the irony.
Thirty plus years of
Being various degrees of suicidal
And now we have a pandemic
Upending the world
I want to live.

Strangely, that’s about average for me.
Let me take a moment to unpack this one.

My depression started somewhere in seventh or eighth grade.
It’s possible it started earlier, but
I have no memories earlier
Except for a very few, so let’s say – around 12.

At age 12 I started to self-harm.
‘Escape’ was the word always in my thoughts.
I didn’t know much as a pre-teen
but, trust me, I knew I wanted out.

At this tender age
Out was still a fantasy
Of rescue or of running away.

Other people, with other issues,
Might have managed to escape on their own.
I couldn’t.

Where would I escape to?
Was escape even possible?
Did I even deserve better?
Who did I think I was?
This was where God put me.
This was my lot.
Suck it up.
Manage.

As a teenager, my resources changed.
I had access to a car and endless mountain roads.
I was always safe in my car.
I felt ‘in control’ of something.
That was where I started to think
Maybe, at least, I could control my death.

My fantasies of escape became fantasies of dying.
I wore black constantly.
I was erasing myself from my life.
(Not that there was much to erase.)
Vanishing before my own eyes.
I was content with that.

I was content with
The process of unbecoming
Because I had a way out.
Sitting in the driveway was
A 1980s bright orange mustang.
Ugly as sin, but the straight six was a beast.

Having that door made staying easier.
Because I knew I didn’t have to stay.
I had a choice.
Of all the things in my life that were broken,
Out of my control,
Dangerous, or terrifying.
I had control over one thing.
One choice.

How does all of this relate to today?
For better than 30 years
I managed to face tomorrow
Because I knew that if I didn’t want to,
If it was too hard, I didn’t have to.
I could stop.

In my 20s,
I saw all my friends growing and flying,
Becoming these spectacular people.
While I was sheathed in lead.
The learned helplessness,
The ‘shoulds’ of my family
Ruled every aspect of my life.

I slept a lot.
hoping I wouldn’t wake.
And when I was awake
I prayed to die.

Dear God,
Fix me.
Or finish me.

I actively debated suicide.
And came close to death a couple of times.

I was so depressed
I had my first hallucination.
Thankfully, it was also my last.

My 30s were calmer,
At least, on the surface.
I finally found help for the depression,
But not for the problem at the root of all of it.
Ideation moved back and forth
Between passive and active.

As my 30s wore on
I found the pendulum
Spent more time towards the passive side.
That was good.
I was able to function.

Although I went through the motions
I did not understand
This ‘joi de vivre’ that others expected

I’m not saying I was never happy.
I am saying every day was a trudge.
An exercise in existing.

So, where I slept through most of my 20s,
My 40s were marked by
A type of emotional numbness.
On occasion, the ice beneath my feet would break.
Plunging me into terror.

Two years ago,
Perhaps three
I finally made the connection with cptsd
I found a good therapist to work through it.
I’m still working on it.
Likely, I will for the rest of my life.

Now, I’m over 50 and discovering how to live.
I grieve so much of the life I missed.

So here’s the irony:
I’m writing. I adore my husband.
Finally, I am discovering who I am.
I have put most of my desire for death aside.
I want to live. I have something to live for.

Here, at a very scary moment,
In a world that I have always shunned
Because of my twisted roots,
At the moment when
Life seems most precarious,
My life is most precious.
Now – I want to live.

No, I’m not Procrastinating

Or maybe I am. This is a common saying around my desk. It’s a riff on Hemingway’s famous quote

Write drunk, edit sober.

E. Hemingway

Midnight Writing Jan 9, 2016

Some people travel through the Shadowlands and after trial and tribulation they emerge. They shake off the dark soot of so many sorrows and return to the sun.

I did not travel through. I lived in the Shadowlands. I ate of the fruit and drank from bitter streams. Years have passed here and the Shadowlands have swallowed decades. Now even though I, at times, emerge into the whiteness of the midday sun, I know that the Shadow is with me, hidden beneath my heel.  For I have learned, after long and ardent denial, that the Shadows live within me.

CPTSD Paradox #1

Since they never develop a sense of safety, they distrust others while simultaneously searching for a “rescuer” who can finally give them the unconditional positive regard they were robbed of in childhood.   

~National Center for PTSD

My earliest fantasies were of a man, a Prince, who would rescue me.

In my dreaming, I was always asleep, or sick, or injured before this magical person arrived. Their presence rewrote me. With them, I was well. With them I was alive. I physically ached for that person. The hole in my chest that remained exposed and empty hurt. Because I knew, I knew with all my heart and soul that this magical being would make me complete. So I remained in my prison, waiting.

I was the dog that cringed in the back of the cage. I was the cat, injured and half-dead that would claw and bite anyone who attempted to rescue me. Why?

Because people were dangerous. They put me in this cage. People cut the hole in my chest. People taught me I was hollow, defective, broken. They – those outside – could not be trusted. In my cage, I was separate from them. I was so alone. I was broken. I was voiceless. I was forgotten.

Being forgotten by all the world made me safe.

No one ever came to my rescue.
There was no knight, no prince. There was no magic to make everything better. No touch to soothe away the fear. I was singular, alone, a broken thing that marked time pacing the limits of my cage. For decades. There is a track worn along the inside of my prison. I know it grain by grain. I could close my eyes and tell you where I stood in the gray nothingness of my life by the feel of the sand beneath my feet.

I have never lived. I have only paced my circles. Over and over and over. Waiting for a fantasy.

Why Bother?

We often ask ourselves ‘Why Bother?’ as we are healing. We ask it when we are hurting, or when the amount of work seems too much, or in those moments when we feel we are not ‘enough’ of what we want to be.

In those moments, remember, you are a light.

You may not feel like a big, bright light, but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that healing from your past, helps someone find their way to their own healing journey.

As we heal we light the way not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

CPTSD and the Miracle of Survival

Usually when we talk about survival we talk on a grand scale. We think big. Our mind’s eye conjures up disasters and world changing events, daring adventures and the impossible quest, things on an epic scale worthy of eighty point type on the front page or a close-up on the television. 

Survival is the story of the hard choices, endurance and the will to live. The struggle. True stories like Aron Ralston’s choice inspire us. Fictional stories like Sophie’s Choice move us. We thirst for those big moments.

SURVIVORS FOUND!

The drama calls to us. 

But not all survival comes with sirens, ticker tape parades, spot lights and the crowd of the paparazzi. The tales that make the world gasp and hold their breath are the exception, not the rule. Most of the stories of survival I know are very quiet with almost no one aware that they transpire, day in and day out. 

While the treatment of mental ill health has progressed beyond the Hell-like Bedlams of the past, there is still a social stigma attached to it. The struggle faced by the mentally ill is largely unseen by the populace because, in general, we work very hard to appear normal. Our external calm can be the result of tremendous effort to suppress the internal chaos that an individual is feeling. 

Most people don’t think about actively choosing life. For those who struggle with severe depression it is a question that can become a daily exercise. In the grip of my deepest depression survival was often facing the day and simply saying, “I can. I will.” The decision to face another day is itself a tiny miracle. It is the victory of hope over what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. And, that is what survival is all about.

The Vanishing Point

Midnight thoughts with CPTSD

In the darkness of my bedroom I look at the ceiling.

Lit only by the pale moon, the fan, still in the autumn cool, is a black spider clutching the ceiling and hovering over the bed. In perfect silence and with the greatest care I relax my desperate grip on my sleeping husband’s hand.

It would be rude to wake him. Worse still to disturb his sleep with my need. And so, with practiced grace, I leave him in peace as I withdraw.

Down the stairs in darkness. I light no lamps that might pierce the darkness of our bedroom and thereby alert or alarm him. Silently past the sleeping dogs. The retriever yipping softly as he chases dream rabbits. The poodle twitching as he snores curled into a tight ball beneath his blanket. They might accompany me into the solitary darkness below, but…better to let them stay with him, blissful in their sleep.

When I was younger I was not so careful. Perhaps I thought I had some justification, some fundamental right to a voice, a sound, to even just the smallest word of distress. But all words fall silent.

It is their nature.
Even a scream ends when the breath is exhausted.

When I was younger the frictions that moved me, that jarred me or brought me to the edge of imposing on others, were more frequent.

They left me bruised.

At times I thought I would explode, but I couldn’t do that. The mess it would leave for others! That? That would be terribly rude. How could I possibly be so inconvenient? It simply would not do.

So to protect myself I have become, not harder, not impervious, but instead malleable, permeable. I am capable now of absorbing the pains that earlier would have broken me. I can smile and let the world go on, unimpeded by any concern I might cause.

I am not invisible—It would be far too jarring to simply wink out of existence: the days and routines of those I love would be interrupted—but I have no mass. Pain has nothing to cling to, despair nothing to resound through or echo off of. They pass through me as easily as through air.

What holds me in place and gives me shape are my thoughts. My mind is all that defines the void within.

My mind ties me together. Each insubstantial thought gives shape to me as the insubstantial air gives shape to a bubble: the only thing truly there is air.

My mind is a constant thing. It is like the sea, turning over and over. Even as it defines my limits it erodes my barriers. It turns over the pain, the desire, the loss, the resentment, the fear, the self-loathing, relentlessly. They all tumble against each other in perpetual action. They polish one another to a glossy shine; they lose their edges and become, almost, tiny jewels, moments of exquisite beauty and sadness.

One day, when the last tear is shed, the last resentment purged, the last fantasy dispatched, and the last desire let go, my mind will have ground all its emotions and thoughts to dust. There will be no more thoughts.

In that moment I will cease.

Bottom

There is
a monster
in the mirror.
I stand shaking,
clutching
at the cold porcelain
of the sink
to support myself
on withering knees.
My body is numb,
but the tears
that wash
over my cheeks
are hot.
There is
a monster
in the mirror.

Search

An image resides in my head.
I have never been able to shake it.
It is indelible.

A woman, her face obscured by her hair,
kneels at the edge of a hole.
Her arms scooped out tons of debris
which piles around her like ramparts.
Her defenses grow
with every attempt she makes
to deepen the hole.

The earth that does not join
the isolating wall falls back into the hole.

It is a task that can never be completed.
Nor can it be denied.

She is looking for something solid.
Trying to find herself and bedrock to stand upon.

Rising Tide

As a child my task
Was to conform myself to my confinement. 

Before I could walk walls were in my way.

Unable to define myself I wandered aimlessly, 
Only defined by the banks around me. 

Parents placed their levees,
Each one diverting me to another goal. 

Dividing me from myself.

I grew voiceless.
I grew small.

I surrendered pieces of myself,
Cutting them away.

Am I small enough? 
Am I quiet enough?

In those days in that house
All was orderly, predictable, controlled.

No one sensed the coming storm. 
Not me. Not them. 
Until the rising flood swept everything aside.