Feeling

I have embarked upon the KonMari method of tidying my home and my life.  And it is a lot of damned work!  To collect all of your things is, in itself, a huge task.  To go through all of them is even more of a struggle.

But it is also a gift.

This morning, I went through all the stacks of paper that have accumulated on my desk as I sought to cleanse the past from my file boxes.  When I initially began this project, I had five stacks of paper:  theology stuff, philosophy stuff, sexuality stuff, resources, and the pile where things I couldn’t decide upon waited for further consideration.  And I fully intended to neatly file the remaining papers, and felt proud that I had accomplished creating a big bag of items to remove from my space.  After I began the art of tidying, and touched every item, and considered whether or not it sparked joy in me, I took those five stacks and narrowed them to about eleven pages, leaving two huge bags that I cannot carry for the trash heap.

Eleven pages.  That is all that sparked joy out of the mounds of items that I had previously thought I must or I wanted or I needed to keep.

The KonMari method is a way of choosing what you love.  And you do this by physically handling every item.  When I first began the process, and began touching each sheet of paper, I thought this would take me years to get through just the items on my desk.  But I was wrong.  I began to know immediately the things that I touched which touched my heart.  I sprinted through the process of cleaning my desk.  It took less than an hour to find the beautiful Wonder Woman covered work surface, and to feel free of all of that paper.

Just touching it let me know whether I loved it or not.  Just the feeling.

I’ve spent most of my life repressing one feeling or another, and in the process became an unfeeling being—untouched by what surrounded me and dissociating from the world and from myself.  Distance from feelings is sort of the norm for a lot of people in my history.  Somehow stoicism and “strength” have been placed in honor and to not show emotion or break down or cry have been ways that people around me approached life.

But that way of approaching life sucks.

Once those walled off places in my being where all the emotions were being stuffed began to crack, a flood of emotion happened.  And with that flood of emotion came care and compassion and love and passion and desire and purpose.  All of those things are good.  But in pushing back the anger or frustration or fear or confusion in my life, I was also making it impossible to wade in the waters of all those beautiful things.  They are all mixed together.  You can’t hide one and hold another.  You either feel or you don’t.

Feeling things can be really difficult at times … especially those times that bring up the anger or frustration or fear or confusion.  But feeling things can also be amazing and awe-inspiring and utterly fabulous!  And understanding that both are natural and normal, and that judgments of “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong” are not helpful or correct, but embracing all of them as a part of the human experience, brings great freedom and joy.

I am finding joy in eleven pages today.  I am finding joy in letting go of what doesn’t help me and embracing that which does.  I am finding joy in accepting that things serve us well for a time, and then we must send them on their way.  I am finding joy in touching and feeling and embracing and releasing.

There is another method that I am reminded of during this process.  Morita therapy is something that my daughter introduced me to, and it has become a great help, which parallels my experience with the KonMari method in some ways.  Morita therapy is based in accepting emotions—recognizing them and honoring them, but not necessarily needing to act upon them.  You feel all of the things, and judge none of them as good or bad, right or wrong, but just let them be.  Then you hold what you wish and release what you don’t wish to hold.  You just let the feelings come and go.  You needn’t act upon them.  So, when you feel anger, it is valid, but you needn’t punch people as a result.  You simply feel the anger, let it be present, and then send it on its way.  When you feel anxiety, or happiness, or fear, or peace, or whatever emotion may be present, you let it be felt and validate its presence, and then choose to act or not to act upon that feeling.  This is a rather simplistic explanation of the method, but explaining more fully would take up too many words and too much of my time.  You can easily find more information on Morita, just Google that shit. (Technology is fabulous sometimes!)

So, I sit at my very clean desk, and I think about feeling.  I think about touching my belongings and how easily I can feel whether a thing brings me joy or not.  And I think about touching my soul, and how it should probably be just as easy to know which emotions and thoughts and actions will bring me joy.  But for some reason it isn’t.

I blame conditioning by a patriarchal heteronormative society.

I blame lots and lots of things on conditioning by a patriarchal heteronormative society.  It deserves to carry that blame. It really screws up a multitude of things.

Somehow “strength” became synonymous with not showing emotion—that stoicism that I mentioned earlier.  And that meant building walls.  And even after they broke and the flood happened I kept trying to rebuild the walls.  Society wanted me to, after all.  Seeing and experiencing someone else’s flood makes your own walls crack a little.  So, avoiding anyone’s emotions seems a safe route to keeping your own walled in.  And when you fight for such a long time to patch walls, it becomes a struggle to do anything but … even when you know the patching is futile and robs you of the ability to fully experience joys and passions and loves.  It becomes a struggle to know yourself and accept your feelings.  It becomes a challenge to keep the walls down.  You keep feeling like you ought to put them back up.  And you feel vulnerable when you are walking around town without walls while all the others around you are locked behind rows and rows of brick and mortar.

But vulnerability is strength.  It brings happiness.  It offers you a more fulfilling life. And it frees you to feel all emotions, and to experience the fullness of humanity.

So, today I am vowing to touch all the things, and to feel everything—every part of my life, both internal and external—and to release what isn’t helping me and to hold what sparks joy.

And it is going to be a lot of damned work!

But it is also going to be a gift.

In the Mood

I can’t seem to stop listening to Rachmaninoff.  I’m just in that mood.  Or so I thought when I first turned my Spotify account in his direction a day or two ago.  But the more I listen, the more I wonder:  What mood is that exactly?  Because one thing I am noticing about his music is that it has a thousand moods, not just across the entirety of his compositions, but in one work there can be angry and playful and lilting and intensity and struggle and peace and fun and frustration…the list goes on.  There isn’t usually one space where your mind and heart remain while listening to this diverse and divine music.

I think, at present, I am drawn to the urgency and the drive of many of the pieces to which I have been listening.  Life feels like that lately—like there is more urgency.  Urgency for or toward what has yet to be determined, but I suspect that it may be tied to the death of my mother.

Life just seems like it needs to be lived, and I feel as though I might not be making enough of my moments.

The other possibility is that the angry parts of me are connecting with the angst-filled phrases of the movements Rachmaninoff has written.  It lets me feel anger, without acting upon anger.  It is easy to be angry, and easy to displace anger, but it isn’t very easy to cope with angry thoughts and feelings.  Of course, I know that anger is always a secondary emotion.  It isn’t actually anger that you experience, but hurt or fear or rejection or some other thing, which then comes out as anger.  And usually my anger is from hurt or abandonment or betrayal or fear.  Lately, I have been wanting to tell myself that frustration is what makes me angry. But frustration is not an emotion, per se.  You get frustrated, but you don’t really feel frustrated.  My frustration is a result of anger, which is the result of hurts and betrayals and fears that I don’t wish to acknowledge. This is not surprising.

Few of us want to acknowledge our hurts and fears.  Few of us want to be vulnerable in that manner.  Few of us want to accept what really goes on inside our heart and mind and spirit.

But in order to stop feeling that angst-filled frustrated feeling, I need to acknowledge that it comes from pain.  Lots and lots and lots of pain.

No one could know the depth of that pain, because not one single person has ever heard the entire story, or all the little stories pieced together into a lifetime, I suppose.  Not even my therapist of the past one and a half years has managed to root out all the moments and combine them into a reliable accounting of all of the pain that my body and mind and heart and spirit have suffered.  There are ways, however, to notice what ties those experiences together, and what struggles trigger the strongest reactions.  And this week, many of those triggers were set off, and I (like any good PTSD sufferer) went on high alert, and began to tie all of that pain together and swing it around like a sword, desperate for a  sensation of, or even the illusion of, safety.  And then, once the sword of hyper vigilance fails you, you shut down.

I am an expert at shutting down. My body and mind have found ways to disconnect that I stand in awe of, and my whole person is very capable of shutting out the world through isolation or through what I, for lack of a better term, might call “pretending”—the sense of being physically present without connecting in any real or meaningful way with your surroundings.  I can act like I care, or act like I don’t care, or both, depending on the situation.  I can adhere to social expectations without being the least bit engaged.

But Rachmaninoff makes you feel. He is turning me back on—giving me the ability to engage with something that resembles human connectivity and emotion, before I can connect with my actual emotion and engage meaningfully with actual humans.  He gives me a mood, when I cannot find one on my own.

Eventually, I connected with what I feel, and the reasons I turned off.  I was triggered by an idiot employee at a sandwich shop yelling angrily and calling out “HAM AND TURKEY” when I was distracted by an older man with a walker who dropped his change and didn’t notice that the employee now wanted to know whether lettuce was required to meet my sandwich’s completion.  He reduced me to my sandwich toppings when he treated them as though they were my name, which reminded me of the times I was called “woman” or “my old lady” or “bitch” or “dumb cunt” or “crack whore” or any number of marginalizing terms that refused to acknowledge my complex identity, but reduced me to an action or a gender or a role. That hurts.  Being marginalized always hurts.

I was triggered by the knowledge of the divide between rich and poor, and the continued struggle with accepting that my career has been ended by my illness, and that I may always be poor.  This trigger happened in the waiting area of the dentist’s office, when I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned for the first time in five years, since my state-managed insurance plan just began to pay for such services.  And, while I was thrilled to be able to have a dental exam and cleaning, I knew that the exam might result in the determination that I must lose my last molar on the lower right side, because this dental care came far too late, and it can be taken away again with a pen stroke–resulting in a face of gaps and gum recession that will make it impossible for me to pass as a person of means, or get a decent job, or be taken seriously by many.  I am poor.  I don’t want to look poor.  I want to continue to pass for someone who isn’t poor.  And it hurts that poverty is my situation.  And it hurts that I feel continually shamed and sometimes attacked and often trivialized or marginalized because of that poverty.  It hurts that poverty is considered downright criminal in the minds of many, including lots of my Facebook “friends” and those whom I once believed I could trust with my story.  And it hurts that I recognize all of this and that I know I am complicit in the shaming by desperately wanting to pass more than working harder to end the stigma and embrace myself, even if my self has no money and no teeth.  But that work is difficult, and the stigma I carry is already a heavy burden.

I was triggered by the feigned “concern” of others.  It is gaslighting that was truly happening, and not any sort of true concerned care for my wellbeing (unless you count the worry over my eternal soul not being allowed into heaven because I am evil and misguided as care … and I don’t).  In this particular case, a person misinterpreted and misrepresented the information in my previous post, and expressed that they didn’t sleep well and spent time in prayer and god apparently gave them a “devotion” in reply, which basically said that uneducated people know more than me about god…so I am evil and misguided (but apparently considered very educated, which is true and complementary). It would seem I am meant to be shamed by the person who mangled my ideas and misquoted my post and to recognize that my views are wrong, thereby causing concern for my soul.  This feigned concern and this gaslighting have been ever-present for me, starting with childhood sexual molestation, and making stops at domestic violence, victim blaming after sexual assault and rape, shame for pursuing education rather than work as a single parent, blame for the infidelity of a partner, and expressions that discount my sexual identity, before ending once again at the church and its deep concern over my soul (which has appeared many times along this journey).  I am not insane or misguided.  I need to tell myself this repeatedly in an attempt at self-compassion, because the idea that I don’t know what is right, but another does and will tell me how to be or act or think, was deeply engrained in my psyche after years and years of abuse.  When people I once counted as friends begin to use this very abusive tactic, I am deeply hurt.  We rarely consider moral, church-going ladies as abusers, but perhaps we should—they are often the worst offenders when it comes to gaslighting.  Gaslighting hurts.

So, yes, I am connecting with Rachmaninoff because I am working at getting back to feeling, and because the secondary anger comes out in his music, but so does the calm and peaceful, and the joyful and playful, and the anguish of the pain that is truly behind the way that I am feeling deep down, in a place with which I am still unable to fully connect.

It is difficult to connect with our brokenness.

It is difficult to acknowledge pain.  Our society tends to mask or cover or hide or control pain.  And it certainly doesn’t want to take ownership of the pain that is caused, personally or societally.  We have been taught that pain is owned by the one who suffers, and not the one who causes the suffering.  We refuse to admit or confess that we hurt others, either by our active oppression or by our passive inaction to correct situations that produce suffering.

However, if the first step to solution is recognition of the problem, we need to face that hurt head on, and look at the ways we are causing pain.  I often think this begins by accepting that we, ourselves, are wounded.  The most broken among my friends have become the strongest advocates for others.  My own passion for justice was borne from the injustice I felt as I journeyed through forty years of struggle and pain and abuse.  This isn’t uncommon.  This is the way to bettering ourselves and becoming a better society—this recognition of our own wounds fuels our desire to spare all others from similar wounding.

I think that this connection between my wounds and my areas of passion is key to how I have been struggling the past couple of days.  When someone begins to attack those areas about which I am passionate, they are, in a sense, also attacking my wounds.

I fight for the rights of women because my rights to choose what happened to my body and in my life were stripped from me.  I fight for reproductive rights because I suffered a lack of care and compassion when dealing with the loss of a pregnancy and a lack of care and compassion as a single parent, and also experienced the failures of birth control and unintended pregnancy.  I fight for LGBT+ rights because I know and love many who don’t conform to the standards and structures that the gender binary and the heteronormative patriarchy deem correct and good, and because it took many years for me to even consider my own sexuality, and even more to admit to people that I don’t fit that heteronormative mold.  I fight for the end of mass incarceration and for racial reconciliation because I love and live among black men and women who are being violently abused by not only our stereotypes and individual assessment of race, but by the laws of our country and the limits of our compassion to those who look and act and speak and live in ways identical to our own.  I fight for a limitation or prohibition of firearms because I see the bodies of boys and girls and men and women who needn’t have died and wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for ridiculous access to what nobody, outside of law enforcement or the military in most cases, should need. I fight for the homeless, because I spent years of my life as a homeless woman, and some as a homeless mother, and I ate from dumpsters and had sex with people just to sleep in a bed for a few safe hours and stole food and toiletries in order to survive, and nobody should ever have to live under those conditions, no matter what else they may have done or not done in life.

I fight for those who are experiencing what I have suffered (and in some cases still suffer).

Saying my fight for these causes is evil and misguided is saying that I am evil and misguided, because these are not just some nameless and faceless people whom you can criminalize and marginalize and oppress.  These people are me. And saying that these causes don’t matter, in essence, says that I also do not matter. (But apparently my soul does…just not the rest of me.)  That hurts.

So, today my goal is to allow emotion.  I intend to acknowledge these feelings, and to connect with these feelings or to let these feelings go, as I choose.

Because we cannot control what we feel, we can only choose how to react or interact with what we feel.

Mindfulness practice has taught me much about how to let the oppressive and hurtful things that others say and do affect me less, or sometimes not at all.  I’m learning, slowly and surely, how to leave behind what harms me, and to embrace what loves and holds and builds me.  I am the only constant, and even though everything around me changes, I can choose to remain as I am.  I am the mountain, as Jon Kabat-Zinn and my therapist are teaching me to remember.  So I choose whom I wish to be and to become.  Gaslighting church ladies, and poor public policy, and abusers and offenders of all sorts, and the money in my bank account (or the lack of, more truly) do not define me.  I define myself, so I am free to acknowledge the comments of others about who I am, or I can let them float away.  They need not hurt me anymore.

So, Rachmaninoff, thank you for all the feeling that you have offered me, and for the connections that you allow me to make.  Your thousand moods have reminded me that I only need to be in one mood, and that is one that I choose—no one else may choose it for me.  And I choose self-compassion and love and grace and peace and truth, as always.  I choose to embrace my poor, disabled, non-hetero, non-religious, highly educated, thick and sexy, fighting for equal/human rights continually and with passion self.  And I choose to embrace the person I am becoming as well, and know that I will continue to grow in grace and in truth and in love, because that is what I will accept and allow into my life.

I am now in a great mood. 🙂

Dead Leg

Sometimes, when I am explaining my symptoms to a new doctor or physical therapist, I use this expression of “dead leg”.  It isn’t the pins and needles feeling that we commonly associate with numbness.  It is more of a lack of a sensation than a sensation.  It is like that portion of my body is just there, but not feeling anything.

Dead.

And last night I was thinking to myself that my whole self has recently turned into dead leg.  Not feeling, not sensing, not knowing—not present.

Just dead.

The events leading up to “dead self”, interestingly, include death.  And there is this tendency among people in general, and people who know me tangentially, in particular, to assume that the dead self is the denial stage of this thing we call grief.  But an awareness inside of me is confident denial is not the issue.  Something else is the issue.  Numb is the issue.

I’ve questioned whether the dead self is actually depression.  But I am not acting depressed—not isolating or becoming unproductive or changing my eating habits or stopping activity that I enjoy.  All of these are familiar.  None of these are currently happening in significant ways.

So, maybe there is a sixth stage of grief?

Maybe dead self is a thing that psychologists have missed in their explanation of the psyche after a loss.  Or maybe they confused depression and dead self, because they hadn’t experienced depression before they experienced loss, so they couldn’t notice the subtle differences.  I am in the privileged position of knowing depression well, so I feel the difference.

When people ask how I am doing, I don’t know how to answer.  I usually respond with a “pretty well” or “I’m fine” or a “good, all things considered”.  In truth, I have no answer.  And none of the answers I provide are lies, per se, but they are not actually getting to the heart of the matter either.  But the heart of the matter is deadness—the deadness inside of me, and the dead body of my mother encased in her vault under the ground.

And there isn’t a way to explain those things.

There isn’t a way to express the hurt and the longing and the confusion and the devastation and the loss and the struggle and the peace and all else.  And because it cannot be expressed it is held somewhere within, and that place where it is held becomes stagnant and then hardens and then stops feeling.  And that isn’t the same as depression.  It is a thing even more difficult to grasp or to understand or to cope with than depression.  Because it is death.  It is a little death inside of you.  The death of hopes and dreams and promises.  The death of loves and disappointments and arguments and laughing fits.  The death of relating and the death of understanding and the death of miscommunicating and the death of trying to fix the things that we never quite got worked out between us.

It isn’t just the death of my mom.

It is the death of a piece of me.

There is a dead space in my life and in my spirit and in my heart.  A space that will never again be connected.  Without words to express it adequately, we say things like “there is a whole in my heart” or “I am heartbroken”.  But that isn’t the fullness of it.  That space dies.  That connection dies.  And the dead space rests there within you.  Or, maybe in my case, overwhelms you.

There aren’t words deep or grand or expansive enough to describe.

Just dead.  That is all I can think or say.  Dead.

We cling to memories of the connection.  We try to keep that place alive in this way.  And that is good.  That helps.  But the acceptance part of grief isn’t really accepting that the person whom we loved so dearly is dead, but accepting that dead space in our heart as our new normal—as the way we now have to navigate the world, with a little bit of death in our heart.

That doesn’t have to keep us from living beautiful lives.  But it does make us live that beautiful life just a bit differently, always with a taste of loss.

So, maybe the dead self that I feel is just the deepest expression of that loss.  And maybe it will pass as I begin to accept new baselines of feeling.  But, for the moment, I still feel disconnected.

And some of that disconnect, I know, is because the world goes on around me, unaware of the earth shattering experience that I am dealing with.  People eat and drink and laugh and work and walk and talk, as though the seismic shift in the universe is only known by me.  Because it is my shift, and not theirs.  My loss doesn’t move them.  It doesn’t concern them.  It doesn’t matter to them.  They can say, “I’m sorry for your loss” as I pass through their space, but few of them are actually affected by my loss.  They keep on living and I wait for the end of the dying.

And waiting is all I can do.  Waiting for the acceptance of this new way of navigating the world, and hoping that I learn well how to walk and talk and eat and drink and laugh and work in this new way—that the dead space doesn’t grow and cover over the rest of my heart, impeding my ability to have a normal and a beautiful life beyond this event.

But I have a good therapist and a new psychiatrist and a bottle of antidepressant medication already in play.  And I know that the process of grieving takes time.  And I know that acceptance is the end goal.  So, I believe that I will reach that goal…eventually.

And I know that I have adapted to the challenge of living with the dead leg, so I am certain that I can also adapt to living with the piece of dead heart. We all have to at some point.  As long as there has been life, there has been death.  And I don’t think that will change anytime soon.  But survival depends upon adaptability.  And I have proven myself capable of adapting time and again.  So I shall survive this as well.

But for now, I’m attempting to live with dead self, and to nurture said self with compassion and space and time to do what dead self needs to do.  Once that stage is over, another will take its place, and so will another, and then another.  And on we go, living the best way we can, until our own death (may it be far from this time and come as a grace, not a tragedy).