And the Storm Rages On

It isn’t easy for me to be vulnerable.

I remember a friend from cohort saying to me once that I was very open by not very vulnerable, and I was upset by that statement, because I didn’t think it fair to separate the two out in that manner.  Being honest was, in my mind at that point, being vulnerable.  Now I understand more fully that there is a difference, and that Chris was correct in his assessment.  It is easy for me to tell the truth, and it is hard for me to be open about how that truth can harm me—how exposing the heart of me is different from exposing the facts of my situation.

I was recently quite vulnerable about the financial situation that I find myself in, and the subsequent challenges that my daughter is experiencing.  I let people know how hurt and frustrated and damaged and judged and punished I was feeling as a result of all sorts of things that are far beyond my control.  And I didn’t shy away and rewrite and edit and try to add decorum or lessen the blow of my emotions.

Overall, the response was positive.  I had a few people who commended my authenticity and vulnerability in stating not just the true facts, but the challenge of my own feelings about those facts.

But there was one response that has been eating away at me for days now, and I can’t help but craft some sort of retort.  I won’t start some strange, heated Facebook argument about it, however.  So, instead I want to address it here, and, hopefully, give it a worthy apologetic.

After lamenting that my daughter was forced to drop out of her educational program just 6 weeks prior to graduation due to financial constraints, and noting that my own challenge of being trapped in cycles and systems that keep me in an impoverished state, rather than offer me the chance to thrive—both of which I consider to be rather unique to me in my particular circles of acquaintance and/or influence—I received this comment in reply:

It’s not just you, Christy.  Nor is or (sic) just single income households. The economy is tough and there are a lot of people that I know right now that are struggling to keep the lights on. 

                I’m so sorry. I know what you’re going through when the stress, the anxiety, disability, and desire all meet in the perfect storm.

                I’m praying for you guys…

And under that was a meme that said:

Sometimes God calms the storm.  Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.

I later texted another friend that I was “Zen as fuck” until I read that comment.

I can’t fully express how upsetting comments like this are for someone in my situation.  The idea that my situation is just like a whole lot of other people’s situations is laughable.  To normalize what is incomprehensibly abnormal as a strategy to deny me aid is not one that is foreign, unfortunately.  People love to rationalize their refusal to help their fellow humans as “reasonable” instead of cruel or evil in all sorts of ways.  And the easiest way to do that is to dehumanize the person in need—using racism, classism, moral relativism, or some other ism to blame the needy for their own struggle.  That dehumanization is much more difficult when you sat beside said person in seminary classes and your child was babysitter to mine, so you resort to the second easiest rationalization—the “lots of people” argument.

“Lots of people” have disabilities and they…

“Lots of people” are divorced and they…

“Lots of people” are having financial challenges.  “Lots of people” have anxiety.  “Lots of people” want life to be different than it is.  “Lots of people” struggle.

All of this is true.  So, in the mind of the one arguing for the many, the one is simply an exaggeration of or a dramatic expression of what all sorts of people are dealing with.  They “understand”.  They “sympathize”.

Bullshit.

I call bullshit.

And I get to call it because of this ugly feeling in the core of my being whenever I get to read these sorts of comments under my vulnerable posts.

Ironically, just above this comment was a series of comments and replies that talked about how I hate to open up because of the times that I opened wide my arms for a hug and got a gut punch instead.  This “lots of people” comment is a gut punch where there should be an embrace.  And I will tell you why this feels like a gut punch.

My vulnerability is not something that is shared by lots of people.  It is an intimate thing, to share my heart and my deepest wounds and fears.  To say that lots of people are touched in the same way—even if it were true—is a betrayal of my trust.  This comment is akin to a friend confiding in you that they were raped, and you saying, “Lots of people get raped.  I know what you’re going through.  Sometimes you need to let go of shit and let God change your perspective.”

Gut fucking punched.

I’m deeply involved in all sorts of methods for changing my perspective, by the way.  I meditate almost every day.  I practice yoga.  I practice gratitude daily.  I use several mindfulness practices, and I have all sorts of routines in place to keep my heart open, my outlook positive, and my disordered thinking in check.  When I said that I was Zen, I meant it.  I could not have been calmer when I received that offending comment.  And I addressed it in the calmest manner possible:  I ignored it.  I talked to a close friend about how it made me feel, and she supported me through the event and helped me to keep a positive perspective throughout the situation.

So, even after being gut punched by the insensitive rationalizing comment, I kept my cool demeanor.  I didn’t need “God to calm his child”.

But the storm is another story.

The storm should NEVER have been here in the first place, and yet it rages on.

This common little meme, and the saying upon it, are very upsetting for me.  They assume that the things in life that harm us are somehow meant to be hanging around our heads so that God can teach us some sort of lesson in how to keep our cool under pressure.  And I don’t understand where that idea comes from, but it is a terrible sentiment, and we need to put an end to it.

My challenges stem from disabling conditions, yes.  And those disabling conditions might never go away or be cured.  I understand that a certain amount of coping is required for me to navigate life with those conditions.  In that sense, there with always be challenges.

But “the storm” for so many of us can simply go away if people stop using the rationale to avoid helping one another and affect change.

My storm includes a system that doesn’t fully support those in our society who have disability, and only offers me $750 in cash and $15 in food benefits, plus a housing stipend.  Adding those together doesn’t make a livable situation, and I am constantly in need and constantly in danger of losing my home, starving, not having my medications, or some other disastrous challenge.

My storm also includes the challenge of mental illness that has been present since early childhood, and which left untreated for so long has influenced my life in countless ways, making it impossible to consider any decision I’ve ever made one that wasn’t made under duress, and challenging me to figure out who the hell I am, and why.  I don’t need a midlife crisis, because I’ve never had an independent identity—my crisis is ongoing.

My storm includes a divorce from a horrible man, whose damage to my person and my psyche cannot and should not be downplayed, for any reason.  And that also means an absent father is a part of my daughter’s storm—and the storms of our children influence our own storms.  The weight of being a single parent goes far beyond “single income” households—and I’ve generally had a no income household, because of my difficulty with employment due to PTSD.  Having a completely absent parent, who contributes in NO way, is not anything that a person who lives in a two-parent home can ever imagine.  It still infuriates me when married people say things like, “I’m a single parent for the week”, when their partner is away on a trip or something.  Having a partner who is physically absent for a matter of days is nothing like having no partner at all.  You still have all sorts of support, financial and emotional just being the tip of the iceberg.  You can’t imagine none of that being present, ever.

My storm includes debt totaling over $250,000.  Most of that is from student loans, and much of the rest is due to the three years’ time that I spent waiting for my disability claim to be approved.  I was unable to work and waiting for the Social Security Administration to look at the body of proof that I was unable to work and sign off on my meager $750 a month payment.  In the meantime, I had nowhere to turn but credit cards, my dad, and charity.  So, I owe far more than I could ever pay back on my own, but I am not eligible for programs that would forgive these debts.  So, I sit and owe, and the interest just increases the amounts and increases the amounts.

My storm includes the complicated situation where my adult daughter cannot be considered an independent student, according to the rules of the government, but I cannot claim her as a dependent, according to the rules of the government.  This leaves her with a shortfall that other students don’t need to deal with regarding their own financial aid.  She can’t take out more money, but I can’t take out money on her behalf.  Because she is in this weird limbo state, because I am a disabled individual.  This isn’t her fault.  This should not be a storm she needs to weather, because I should be able to provide for her.  But I can’t.

So, my storm also includes the constant feeling of guilt because I cannot offer my daughter enough to put her in a position where she is on equal footing with her peers.  She isn’t set up for success.  She doesn’t have the advantages that her cousins and her friends and the children of the commenter on my post have.  I can’t offer her a chance at starting out at zero sum and working her way up from there.  She starts with my handicap.  She starts at the back of the pack, because I can’t give her an education and rent money and clothing and food and care packages and enough love to make up for the losses that she has suffered and the abandonment that she has felt.  I have loved her fiercely.  I have done and continue to do all that I can.  But it will never feel like enough.

My storm includes shame.  So much shame.  Not being a pure virgin girl, and not knowing how to stop being abused, and not understanding what that abuse even was or meant.  The shame of hiding and the shame of secrets and the shame of difference.  My storm later became one that was volatile and violent and full of rage—so much rage.  I felt like I was the storm, or like the storm lived somewhere deep within me and it was trying to get out and I was desperate to hold it in—failing to hold it in.  And then the storm became the shame of promiscuity and feeling like all of those words that are used to keep women captive—whore, slut, bitch—were the only thing that I could be, tainted that I was.  And it felt good to be used in a sense, until it was over, and then the dissociative state wore away and the wave of shame washed over again and I started holding in the storm again, as long as I could … until the next time.

My storm includes being all the people that you could rationalize away as not quite human.  Homeless.  Addicted.  Divorced.  Unemployed.  Mentally ill.  Using my body as currency.  Shielding my body from blows and then crawling into bed next to the one who wielded them.  Perpetually single.  Having sex with partners that were not my husband.  Having sex with partners who were not men.  The girl who stays out too late.  The girl who mows her lawn on Sunday.  (Oh, yes.  Some people consider that a grievous offense!)  I received anonymous notes about my bad behavior.  I was told I could lose my scholarship for having sex.  I got dirty, side-eyed looks from others.  When I talked to your husbands after church, you would suddenly appear at their sides and pull them in a different direction—like talking to me would lead to me stealing them away to mow lawns and suck on body parts by sundown.  In truth, I was just interesting and unconstrained by convention.  It’s an attractive thing to be interesting and unconventional.  (Translation:  read some books not written by female bible study developers and then discuss the contents with your husband … he’ll be mowing your lawn in no time.)

So, my storm also included years and years and years of not having my needs met. Hence the comments about opening my arms for a hug and getting a gut punch.

I’m still not surprised when I open myself up and somebody hits me hard, instead of offering me love and support.  Unfortunately, it is what I have come to expect.

The dumb thing about that meme is that you don’t have to tell me that the storm might not go away.  I fully expect that storm to fucking tear me to pieces and kill me.  It takes weekly therapy, twenty drugs, a host of friends, and all sorts of self-care strategies to convince me that the storm can be survived.  It takes every ounce of energy I can muster to get up in the morning and face the storm again.  It takes all manner of strategies to be my Zen self in the midst of all this chaos and terror and shame and unmet need.  But I do it.  I do it day after day after day.

I keep on facing it.

And some days the storm wins a little, and I freak out on a new potential partner with a host of doubt and shame and fear.  Other days I wake up and counter that with a bit more of the Zen and apologize and open up and tell him why I reacted that way, hoping that he will meet my need and connect with what I am saying … and not gut punch me while my arms are open.

But I face it.

And your job, as the people who would support me, is not to remind me that there is this big, ugly, terrifying storm that I am working so hard to live in the midst of without losing my shit.  Your job is to do everything that you are able to make that storm disappear.  Your job is to offer support where there wasn’t any.  Your job is to accept me and not shame me.  Your job is to love and not harm me.  Your job is to prove that the storm isn’t going to win, and that we can make all of that crap go away by being better than the crap.  We can change and grow and not hurt one another anymore and counter the falsehood with truth and slay the dragon of cruelty with a sword of kindness and acceptance and love.

That is the only way I know how to continue to face the storm—by trusting that we can eventually find calm skies for everyone.  Without that assurance, facing it is a worthless effort, and I may as well off myself now.  (That isn’t a suicidal statement, fyi.  That is me drawing on the extreme to make a point.)  Because if there isn’t an end to the need and the shame there isn’t really a point in moving forward.  And I don’t mean just the money—I mean the need for understanding and connection and love.  But I define love as “meeting needs”, so the money is a part of the equation.

If you are to assist another, you need to do more than tell them that there is struggle all around them and to work on their perspective.  You need to work to end the struggle.  Because no matter what your perspective is, if the struggle persists, you aren’t doing what you should be doing.  You aren’t helping.

I know that standing up against the storm isn’t an easy thing.  It is much easier to say, “Check your perspective” or to hide in some shelter and hope that the storm passes.  But for many of us—and for me—the storm rages on, indefinitely.  And that storm can’t stop.  It won’t stop without the change of perspective from many other people who are not me.

It is often not the people suffering, but those who are unaware of or those who are causing the suffering who need to change the way that they are operating in the day to day.  I’m usually not the one doing things “wrong”.  I’m generally suffering because of the things that are unjust, not the things that I cannot accept but that are perfectly fine.  And the ones suffering an injustice generally don’t have any power to make the change required to stop that suffering.  If they did, the change would happen hastily and without resistance.  Because, despite the lies that many in power like to feed you, people don’t wallow in poverty and addiction and illness and homelessness and sex work because they want to.  Just like Kanye West is an idiot for presuming that slavery was/is a choice, anyone who thinks that people live in the middle of storms because they like how lightning feels is an idiot.  Those people don’t have the shelter they need.  You must find ways to provide it for them—preferably by asking them how you can best provide them shelter.

Robert F Kennedy once said:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

This is the type of shelter-building act that we need in response to those who are in the middle of storms opening their hearts and asking for assistance.  Building currents that sweep down walls—sweeping away the clouds of the storm and bringing, perhaps for the first time, calm, blue skies, should be the goal that we aspire to reach.  Asking people to be quiet and calm in the middle of injustice is not the answer.  Fighting against injustice is the answer, on the grand scale.

And meeting me in my storm, with open arms and an embrace—not a gut-punching meme that seeks to discredit my need, devalue my expression, and normalize an injustice.

When you are met with someone who opens up and seeks to be authentic and disclose their struggle, don’t tell them to sit quietly in chaos, please.  Don’t ask them to be happier with the injustice that swirls around them.  Act to improve their lot.  Strike out against injustice.  Send forth that ripple of hope.

And if you won’t do all those good things, at least stop sending gut punches.

 

Contribute to Christy’s fundraiser here if you wish to help lessen her storm’s raging.  Thank you!

Advertisements

Avoidance

I’m supposed to be paying bills.

But there isn’t enough money.

So, I am doing this thing that I do.  Some like to call it procrastination, but I’ve started to use terms that are more honest wherever possible, so this thing is called “avoidance”.

When the thing cannot be done comfortably, efficiently, without stress, or with relative ease, I avoid doing the thing.  “Avoidance”.

Right now it is about the bills, because there is stress, discomfort, inefficiency, and a bit of struggle involved in trying to figure out how to make money multiply without a magic wand or the art of alchemy to assist in the task.  I don’t know what to pay and what to leave unpaid.  I don’t know who might be gracious and who might attack the credit score I have been working so hard to improve.  I know that all of the things need to be paid, eventually.  And I know that one way or another, through begging or borrowing or more high interest loans that bury me in even deeper debt, things will be paid, but that doesn’t make the job of maneuvering and managing a too small budget less uncomfortable or less stressful, so I still want to avoid it.

A long overdue blog post is better than an attempt at bill payment … even one that details the stress I feel over the bill payment attempt.

I think that part of this avoidance is built into our DNA.  We didn’t survive as a species by running headlong into danger with great stupidity and zero planning.  We avoid situations that seem like losing scenarios as a matter of survival.  Avoidance helps us stay alive, in many ways, so it can be an excellent mechanism for the continuance of the human race—which is likely a good thing.

But there may also be a negative side to this tendency toward avoidance.  That negative side is the part that I think frequently trips me up and leaves me face down on the proverbial pavement of life.  It is the tendency of our culture to avoid any sort of suffering, pain, or pretense of unease—or dis-ease—whatsoever.  It is the glossing over of the lament in favor of pretending that all is well and good and easy, all of the time.  It is the lie that we don’t just avoid the things that are uncomfortable, but that the things that are uncomfortable don’t exist—and if they do exist, that something is wrong and needs to be “fixed” and fixed immediately.

If you’ve read anything else that I have ever written, you already know that I suffer from chronic illness, both mental and physical in nature.  Something will always be “wrong” with me.  And the desire to either “fix” or deny the existence of the problem is, therefore, always with me.  I’ve found, through many therapy sessions and lots of searching of my own spirit, that this desire is based largely on cultural perceptions.  It is shameful not to “work”, “have a job”, “do something with your life”, “have a purpose”, and it is shameful to “beg”, “live off other’s hard-earned money”, “take what I didn’t earn”, “play the victim”, “act sick”, “sit on my ass all day”, “be lazy”, or not “suck it up”, “get over it”, “take some Tylenol and get off my butt”, “push through the pain”, or to be like “my friend”, “my husband’s cousin”, or any number of other people and “run 5k’s”, “go to work every day”, “take care of five kids”, even though they have [insert one of my illnesses here] “just like you”.

Not only do I cope with my illness every day, but I deal with the public perceptions and the cultural shame that goes along with being chronically ill.

A court has determined that I cannot work—that there are no jobs that I can do given my particular limitations, diagnoses, skills, educational background, work history, symptoms, and the way that those things intersect with the job market in my geographical location.  “There are no jobs.”  That is literally in the court transcript for you to read, if you were to read through the lengthy hours of Q and A that were required for us to get to the point where a judge determined that I am disabled.

But that transcript doesn’t matter to probably about 85% of the people who I come into contact with in my day to day interactions.  It doesn’t matter because of this negative sense of avoidance.  I’m supposed to avoid suffering and illness and flaws and bad shit.  I’m not supposed to acknowledge that, but fix it, and fix it fast.  I’m not supposed to admit that I can barely sit at this desk right now because of the pain in my back.  I’m not supposed to admit that I’m at this desk and not a “work” desk because I am disabled.  I’m not supposed to BE disabled.  I’m supposed to take some Tylenol and get off my ass and run a 5k like aunt Janet from West Virginia!

Because we avoid suffering.  We get over that shit, or we lie about it, or we become the kind of people who complain all the time but only a small, acceptable, mundane amount of complaining that is socially acceptable around the water cooler at our jobs.  Because we are allowed to be moderately miserable all the time if we are still productive.  But real, serious, deeply affecting problems are not socially accepted.  Those we avoid.

I sometimes wonder who decides which challenges are acceptable and which are not.

When all the women have ovaries that stop producing more eggs, we call it menopause and call it normal.  When all the men start having limp, less adept penises and lower sperm counts, we call it “erectile dysfunction” and make a billion-dollar industry out of making them hard again, instead of accepting that aging men can’t always perform sexually on command.  It’s normal for a woman’s sexual function to change, but it is a problem to avoid and be “fixed” for a man?  Who decided that?  The pharmaceutical companies?  The medical professionals?  The sex work industry?  Who made this a thing?

And who made being chronically ill unacceptable but being terminally ill perfectly fine?  That question makes me sound like an asshole all the time, I know.  But it only makes me sound like an asshole because of the perceptions already infused into those terms.  Chronically ill.  Terminally ill.  One is a drain on society.  One is a sainted state worthy of all the compassion.  We all know which one is which.  I’m not the sainted one worthy of all the compassion.  I’m the other.  And I am an asshole for pointing out that there is a bias.  I am an asshole for pointing out that dying faster somehow makes you worthier of care.  (At least in the eyes of many in our society, that is—it doesn’t actually make you worthier of care.)

Who decided that I need a “real job” to be treated like a “real person”?  Who decided that I am allowed to be treated poorly because I am in a state of poverty—or that I deserve to live in an impoverished state if I cannot work due to illness?  Who decided that $750 per month is the amount that a disabled person who has less than 40 work credits should be forced to live on, making this entire post even a thing that exists?  And why do I not get any credits for the early years of my work history when I was delivering papers and babysitting, or for the years when I was working two part time jobs and going to school and raising a daughter as a single parent.  That was more damn work than I have seen most anyone do—ever.  And that doesn’t “count” for anything.  Who decided that doesn’t count as work? Who decided I get $750 instead of $3000 because of those years?  Who decided that my life isn’t valuable enough to be offered what I need to not be sitting at this desk, in pain, avoiding my bills like the plague.

If I had the plague, I would get more benefits.  Because it would kill me.  If you are dying they let you have a better quality of life than if you will live.  Oh wait … not socially acceptable.  We already went over that.

So, this avoidance, this thing that was written into our DNA as a positive survival instinct has somehow become a thing that we use to cover up and shame and deny and harm whatever is connected to our socially unaccepted suffering.  And I don’t know that I will ever get a complete, straight answer about how that came to be, or who determined and decided what was or was not acceptable, but I do hope that I will someday begin to shape the conversation around why we do this, and why we need to stop doing this.

We need to stop avoiding suffering and pain and bad shit that happens, because it happens to all of us.  It is part of the human experience.  And it is an important part of that experience. While much of my suffering was regrettable, and I obviously would choose to go down another path if I could, the person I am today was forged in the flames of that suffering.  Those challenges shaped me.  And they made me a better person.

They didn’t make me a better person right away.  In fact, they led me down a dangerous road to some very dark places.  But that happened when I was trying to hide and avoid and stuff away all of the bad things.  If I had been able to and allowed to cope with what I had experienced as a child, or a teen, in positive ways—expressing the pain and the betrayal and the confusion and the suffering openly and in a safe space—I would have avoided that road and those places altogether.  I might have avoided mental illness and chronic pain altogether.  (Nobody knows what causes fibromyalgia, in distinct terms, so I cannot know that for certain, but it is linked with stress and often presents in tandem with post-traumatic stress, so it is possible that without the PTSD there would be no fibromyalgia.)  Our society’s insistence that pain be hidden likely caused me more pain.

But now that I am in a space where I am able to process and cope with and express all that I should have been allowed to express all those years ago, I am becoming strong and wise and good in ways I might not have were it not for the experience that I went through.

Lament shapes the spirit in beautiful ways.

Pain makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  That is not something that we should hide.  And that is certainly not something we should avoid.

We still shouldn’t run, stupidly, toward danger without a plan.  But there isn’t a need for us to hide and avoid something that makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  Frankly, hiding that seems like a stupid run toward danger … it probably is.  And that is probably why so many things about our society today seem so messed up, in the sense where one person refuses to lay down their “right” for the lives of, potentially, thousands of others.

We are in danger, and we are being stupid.  Because we have hidden so well and avoided so effectively the thing that makes us compassionate and kind and understanding and gracious and loving and connected and strong, that we have become the sort of society that breaks apart and leaves individuals to be slaughtered as “they”, somehow apart from us and without our compassion, rather than feel the pain of the truth—that we have become so unfeeling that we cannot mourn our own brokenness, so we deny it again and again.

We have put some imagined dessert to rights of the individual above the conscious collective of the society.  I now becomes more important than we.  And that is a grave error.

We, the people—that is how it begins.  Not, I the individual who wants a gun and an erection despite the compassion and the biological facts that are required for me to understand the world around me.

“I don’t suffer.  I don’t have pain.  I take a Tylenol and go to work.  I have rights.”

But that isn’t true.  We all suffer.  We all have pain.  We all have days when no painkiller will dull the ache we feel—be it physical or emotional.  And, most importantly, WE have rights—all of us together, in concert, and being accountable to one another.  The only way to accurately see that, is to start to uncover the pain and suffering and to acknowledge it, to express it, to cope with it, and to begin shaping yourself and your life into one that has compassion, kindness, understanding, grace, love, connection, and collaborative strength.

Stop the avoidance.  Embrace the lament.  Feel.  Suffer.  And come out the other side a better version of yourself.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to suffer through paying my bills.

 

I Should Be Packing Right Now

The journey to this moment has been long and hard and chaotic and sometimes frightening.  So, now that I am here, I am paralyzed.

This is certainly not the first time that I have fought my way through all sorts of trauma to find myself safe on the other side and stuck.  Just stuck.  It is like my self doesn’t know how to handle “normal” living. Which should not be surprising to anyone who knows me or my story well, because the great majority of my living has been disordered and chaotic and traumatic and totally fucking wrong.  It isn’t a shock to suddenly feel all weird and confused by normalcy and calm.

But it is a problem.

Sometimes you meet people in life whom you believe create drama.  I’m not one of those people, but I do believe that they exist. I understand why people could believe that I am one of those people, however.  Because I share a lot of characteristics with those people, I am sure.

I don’t create drama.  I’m not running around seeking problems and hoping to add them to my list of affairs.  But I do have a life that attracts many dramatic or uncommon or challenging events.

For instance, this past weekend I discovered that my daughter’s father may or may not be the biological child of the man that he and we have believed him to be the son of for many years.  And I found this out from the adult child of that man, whose stories while she was growing up, completely estranged from the “other family” the man had previous to the family he shared with her mother, are the proofs that we have for this new information.  Is he my daughter’s grandfather?  Not according to him.  But that doesn’t change much other than the storytelling gene might be really strong among the men of this particular family.  Or it could change everything, and my daughter, and the father she has never met and does not want to, might have a totally other family they are completely unaware of out there in the world.  And the grandmother she never met—who then is more unfaithful and dishonest a woman than we imagined, which is saying something—is the only one who would know the truth, assuming she is still living (as I mentioned, we don’t exactly keep in touch with her dad’s family).

See.  This creates all sorts of fucking drama.  I don’t want it.  I don’t need it.  It is confusing and chaotic and leads to all sorts of questions that I don’t know whether to answer or leave alone.  And it doesn’t just involve me, but a woman who may or may not be an aunt to my daughter, and a man who may or may not be her grandfather, and a daughter who may or may not want to know the answer to whether or not they are or whether there is an entirely other family out there somewhere.  But then, how do I help her find that identity if we have no way of accessing that information without contact with a family we don’t want to have contact with?

There is an aspect of the life I am now living that creates this complication.  It isn’t necessarily a simple choice to be or not be in the midst of drama.  Sometimes drama comes for you, and you need to figure out if there are any ways to avoid it, or ways to tackle it without becoming completely absorbed by it.

My therapist likes to say, and I am getting good at saying it before she reminds me, that there is “no such thing as normal”.  All of us have some things in life that others cannot relate to exactly.  All of us have some things in life that are relatable to almost everyone.  But there isn’t one way of living life, and there isn’t one way of living it correctly, certainly.

I know, however, that much about my life is uncommon or not very relatable for a majority of the people that I encounter on a day to day basis.

Not many of us can say that we were abused by a relative from a very young age and for an extended period of time, causing us to develop a complex form of PTSD that acts much like the trauma of captivity in terms of brain malformation, and because that disability and that abuse were not discovered or appropriately handled until well into adulthood, repeated traumas of all sorts were added on top of that early trauma, leaving layers and layers of trauma and pain and suffering and alienation and mistrust.  So many layers.  And then, because that trauma was not dealt with appropriately and all those layers were trying so hard to be forced into alignment with “normal” or at least “average” living during the everyday, our bodies took on that trauma and turned it into physical disease.  Or at least that is one theory, and one that I can easily wrap my malformed captivity brain around.  So, in the prime of our lives, as our little birds leave the nest, and we can go out and do anything we want, we are actually left with the option to A) live according to the very strict and challenging rules of the state regarding disability income and expense, letting decisions be made by another in most cases and feeling like we still have no agency all these years after abuses can supposedly no longer reach our bodies, or B) suffer and die.

And all the “normal” people will think that statement is overly dramatic.  But they don’t have the life where the drama attacks you in the calm of a sunny Saturday afternoon when you see a message about a man named Marvin.  They have lives without disordered thinking and layers and layers of trauma.  They have working dominant hands.  They have sisters who answer the fucking phone when they call—for the third time, to wish her happy birthday.  They don’t freeze when things seem good or average or positive.

They call that fucking Wednesday!

Wednesday.

To me it is like hell freezing over.  And, granted, the temperature in Chicago this week could probably freeze hell.  So, maybe that happened.

I don’t generally have the luxury of a normal day with positive normal things happening.  There aren’t many days when some aspect of depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, addiction, violence, poverty, pain, or some other messy, bad, or unfortunate thing is having an effect on me or the things around me.  And it isn’t that other people don’t also have these struggles.  I know that they do.  I know many people who have similar struggles.  But I know very few people who have ALL of these struggles.  And the compounding effects are significant.

I carry the weight of a hundred traumas—not just three or four.  So, a trauma-free day?  That just doesn’t exist for me.  I cannot imagine it.  And it frightens the hell out of me.

I know that the more I work in therapy, and the more I work to repair or bypass the disordered thought processes that have become normative for me, and the more remedies and treatments I discover, and the more I work to deconstruct what others have crafted and build for myself a self and a life that I love, the more I will have days that are free of these traumas.  At some point, I may even become accustomed to “normal” or “average” days.  (God, I hope not! Lol) But I am not there yet.

So, while I should be rejoicing in the fact that I probably have an apartment, and that all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together for my move to the northside, where it is safer and I am closer to amenities and friends, I am, instead, writing this.  Because, I have been packing for months through chaos and threats from my landlord, but now that I have the promise of new owners and another lease, I don’t know what to put in a box.  I’m completely stymied by the normalcy of it.

Can I really be getting a decent apartment in a good neighborhood?  Can that be true?  Can I be inside the margin?  Am I allowed that?

Or is the bottom going to fall out and the earth is going to swallow me up, proving that hell hasn’t actually frozen over, but it was just waiting for me to be lulled into a false sense of security before it devoured me?

That question would sound like insanity … except for the fact that the bottom has been dropping out and hell devouring me for the last 35 years.

Yes.  I should be packing right now.  And by later today, or at least tomorrow morning, I likely will be, but for the moment I am processing this news slowly and cautiously—not wanting to get too happy too hastily, just in case.  Not to believe in the good before the good proves itself to be existent.

Yes, people of the Jesus-loving variety, I know what faith is and I need no proof-texting from the book of Hebrews.  I graduated from two seminaries.  But that definition means nothing to the malformed captive brain.  Only proof of the existence of the good works, and the only good guaranteed is that which comes from within, frankly.  I can only control me.

And you can’t control me either, so that is probably a good point to state, just in case that isn’t self-evident.

I don’t make life complicated.  It made itself complicated over time.  And it now doesn’t become easy because I want it to become such.  I don’t create drama.  My life has had lots of events that were traumatic and the traumatic brings along the dramatic.  The trauma doesn’t disappear because I want it to, and the drama doesn’t either.  I need to deal with them, cope with them, work through them.  And that takes time and hard work.

I don’t actually believe that my apartment with fall into hell.  I don’t believe in a literal hell, so that can’t be a thing I believe.  (I wrote a paper on it once for one of the classes in one of the seminaries.  I received high marks.)  But I do believe that the world should be kinder to those of us who have struggled much in our histories as we seek to find stasis in our present.  It isn’t as easy as it looks.

It is easy to believe that walking on flat, solid ground takes no effort if you have never been out at sea.

Stasis isn’t a given in a life that has been largely characterized by turbulence.  And choosing stasis isn’t easy when turbulence feels more natural.  Choosing the unnatural thing continuously until it no longer feels abnormal, or hard, or foreign is a great burden.

Change of any kind is difficult.  But changing patterns in this manner—taking what feels wrong and trying to tell your brain over and over that it is right, despite all sorts of triggering objections, is excruciating.

Packing right now is a devastating choice.  It means hope beyond all telling, and if things go wrong and this apartment doesn’t happen, it means pain that I cannot ever express—not ever … I don’t have the physical capacity to express it and even now, imagining having to express it at some point makes me feel like I must vomit.  That is what this means to me.  That is what choosing stasis means to me.  That is what “doing the normal thing” has invested in it.  I feel like my head might explode and I want to vomit—that is what normalcy is doing to me right now!

I’ll do it.  I’ll get there.  But after almost 5 years of therapy, with 20-some medications, and in the best physical and mental state I have been for some time, this is still an excruciating moment.  So, the next time you cannot understand why your child hasn’t finished their spelling homework, or your neighbor is dating another loser, or your grandpa gets all weird when you mention that son he rarely talks about remember this post.  Remember that sometimes choosing normal is extremely difficult and painful.  No matter how much being and having something—anything— “normal” is what we want.

Be kind to one another.  And for heaven’s sake somebody come over and help me pack these fucking boxes!!   lol

Five Common Arguments Against Watching 13 Reasons Why, and Why, as a Survivor, I Reject Them

 

Recently, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created what I wish were helpful conversations on my Facebook feed.  But, more often than not, the people who are posting are educators of middle and high school students in small towns.  The reasons why I have those sorts of educators on my feed are simple—I used to live in those small towns.  But when I am looking at these posts, and reading the arguments against the series, I can’t help but become angry and frustrated with the content and the comments.

I am a survivor of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and suffer from anxiety and depression.  I have a daughter who suffers from depression and anxiety, shows signs of post-traumatic stress (we don’t yet know for certain if she adopted those symptoms from being raised by me, or if she suffered some violence as a child that we have not uncovered).  Both of us have been suicidal.

Given my experience with these events and situations, I have a perspective that, I believe, needs to be expressed and heard by those small-town educators.  Because their reasons for not allowing students access to this series or the book that inspired the series are not, necessarily, informed reasons.

So, here are five common arguments against the show, and why I reject those arguments:

  1. Students are too young to see depictions of violence, assault, and suicide.

 

I can’t be certain when I started to be sexually abused, because I was a child, and I dissociated from those events.  What I can say with certainty is that I started exhibiting signs of acute trauma by age nine or ten, and I was suicidal by about the age of eleven.  My daughter first needed psychiatric care at age 9.  She was hospitalized by age 16, having struggled with major depression for over a year, and finally admitting her intention regarding suicide.

 

Students are not too young to see depictions of such violence, assault, and suicide.  Students as young as eight or nine years old are experiencing such violence, assault, and thoughts of suicide!

 

There is some sort of desire to ignore that our children are exposed to and experiencing things that we wish they were not exposed to or experiencing.  Even I, being fully aware of all the warning signs of mental illness, didn’t know that my daughter was experiencing certain symptoms until it was almost too late.

 

We don’t want our children to be suffering in this way, so we ignore the signs of that suffering—pretending that the bad things can’t be happening.

 

This does no good for our students.  This does no good for the whole of humanity.  Pretending problems don’t exist has never solved a single problem.  Wishing that our kids are too young to be harmed in this way—battered physically and psychologically, being taken advantage of, being pushed to a place where life is too hard to continue living, being abused, bullied, assaulted, raped—will not make it a reality.  It is ignorant to keep insisting that middle and high school students don’t see this violence every day.  They do.  They aren’t too young to watch a show that addresses issues that they are experiencing.  They certainly are not too young to watch a show that brings the possibility of identifying with characters that are suffering, when nobody else in their life or experience seems to understand or care about what they are going through.

 

As a child, I didn’t know where to turn with my pain.  As a teenager, I didn’t feel connected enough to anyone to admit how dark and dangerous my internal dialogue was becoming.  I pretended to be innocent and outgoing and “normal”, because nobody was talking about things like mental illness or suicide.  I felt completely divided and set apart from everyone around me.  I had nowhere to turn.

 

13 Reasons Why addresses these issues in what seems like a violent and shocking way.  But our children, our students, and the youth in our society are not protected from such violent and shocking events.  They are already experiencing this.  And the series gives them someone to identify with, and offers resources where they can receive help, should they identify with those who are being bullied, assaulted, or raped, and those who are considering death by suicide.

 

The honest address of common experience is not too dark and damaging for the young people around you.  It is an opportunity to feel heard and understood.  It is an opportunity to feel normal, in a society that wants to insist that this violence isn’t normal.

 

 

  1. “Counselors” are against youth watching the show.

 

This is an annoying argument, because there might be some truth to it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good advice.  There have been several people who are school counselors or mental illness “experts” or social workers who have come out with statements or articles that offer their opinion of 13 Reasons Why.  Some of them say that watching these events can trigger or encourage negative behaviors.

 

This is partially true.  Watching events that you have experienced can trigger symptoms.  This doesn’t always happen, however, and it isn’t always a terrible thing.  Being in a controlled environment, knowing your own triggers, and being aware of the content ahead of time can all limit the triggering effects of viewing such events.

 

13 Reasons Why has very clear trigger warnings before each episode that will portray events that have the potential to harm those who identify closely with such events.  When we were watching the show, one such warning prompted my daughter to ask me if I wanted to watch.  She knew that it might be a difficult thing for me to see.  But I watched.  And I was very glad that I watched, even though it was a very challenging scene.

 

I later commented on a Facebook post that was basically a “counselor response” to the show.  I said that it was the most real and honest depiction of the event that I had ever witnessed.  I found watching the characters go through such events healing and validating, not triggering.

 

Some people will find these episodes and these images difficult.  Some people shouldn’t watch, if they are concerned about triggers.  But, for many who are survivors of such events, this is a show that offers an extremely honest view and allows you to connect to your own pain, your own struggle, and your own healing.  Will all teens be ready to address these issues with such realistic and graphic images?  No.  But will many of us, as survivors, finally feel heard and understood and supported by seeing such clear and unrestrained images?  Yes.

 

“Counselors”, as a blanket statement, could include school officials who haven’t had psychological training, really bad advisors (like the first “counselor” I had as an adult, who told me it wasn’t the fault of my abuser that he abused me, but that “curiosity” is normal), or excellent mental health care providers.  And these people are not knowledgeable regarding every case that might crop up.  There are numerous ways to connect with the material, and while one person might have a bad reaction to things, another might find it healing—as I did.  The point here is that there is no one appropriate or “correct” approach to content like that in 13 Reasons Why.  The best way to consider viewing is on a case by case basis, with the survivor being the one whose voice is heard and the survivor being the one who chooses to watch or not watch.

 

The most triggering movie that I ever watched was Captain Phillips.  It didn’t have any trigger warnings.  And it wasn’t about abuse or rape.  I saw (spoiler alert) Tom Hanks step onto a vessel that was rescuing him.  As he did, he—in an amazing performance—exhibited signs of trauma, because he had just suffered a significant trauma.  I began to weep and shake and shudder.  Seeing him show the shock and dissociation that PTSD sufferers go through, I was feeling all that the character was feeling.  It was awful.  And I may never watch it again, but even with the triggering and the awful feelings, that scene was an opportunity for me to acknowledge and make some sort of peace with my own suffering.

 

There is no way to know for certain what will and what will not trigger or affect a person.  But since bullying, sexual and physical assaults, and rape all have a common thread of taking away the autonomy of the victim, allowing each person to decide and be in control of what they choose to view and not view is important.

 

I’m not a “counselor”.  I’m a survivor.  So, I haven’t gotten a degree in psychology.  But what I do know is that autonomy and identification and validation are essential to healing and coping and overcoming events like those depicted in 13 Reasons Why.  A stranger who claims to have superior knowledge because of a few classes is not necessarily a help, because telling survivors what they can and cannot do, or see, or hear, or cope with can be a retraumatizing event.  We need autonomy.  We need to decide on our own.  And we need to cope with the support of others, not the demands of others.

 

  1. The show glorifies suicide.

I honestly can’t understand this argument against 13 Reasons Why.  I can’t understand how someone could watch such terrible events unfolding and think to themselves, “Wow, I think I should do that.  That is awesome!”

 

If you are suicidal, please seek help.  If you are not currently experiencing suicidal ideation, but have in the past, consider the trigger warnings and make an informed decision regarding whether or not you wish to view the show.  (Again, you deserve autonomy and get to choose the media to which you are exposed.)

 

That being said, the depiction of suicide in this show is horrible, violent, sickening, and shocking.  It is intentionally so.  The producers worked very closely with several medical professionals in their decision-making about how to best portray this event.  And it was intentionally depicted, and intentionally made very difficult to view, because it is a horrible thing.

 

I’ve heard some people say that the show could make kids think that suicide is a good way to get revenge on the people who hurt you.  I cannot comprehend how they come to that conclusion.

 

It is obvious that the main character is suffering from major depression, dissociation, flat affect, and more.  And the “suicide note” she leaves behind is deliberately affecting for those who harmed her.  However, every suicide note offers reasons why the one who died by suicide did so.   Often, those who are left behind to read that note feel guilt, remorse, and a sense that they failed the one who died.  It makes sense to feel that they failed the one who died, because after the life has been taken, you see the signs that you passed over when the person was alive.  You find the truth later.  You can’t always see the pain until the pain has become too much for the bearer of that pain to carry.

 

Hannah, the one who dies in the show, is hiding her pain as often as possible.  And there are good reasons for her to do so.  Earlier, I said that I pretended to be all sorts of things, because the admission that I was suffering from dark and dangerous suicidal thoughts was not something that I felt anyone would understand or accept.  I hid my pain.  I still do.

 

This combination of glossing over slights and hiding pain and suffering creates a perfect storm of struggle.  And the one who is struggling often feels alone in that struggle.

 

The depiction of suicide in this show is precipitated by all sorts of expressions and depictions of the pain that is being hidden and the opportunities missed for others to see that pain.  And it is the “note” recorded on 13 tapes that shows us all of that.  Suicide is an escape from pain.  Suicide is not an act of revenge.  Sometimes there may be an element of “I’ll show them” thought in the planning stages of suicidal ideation.  But that occurs largely because the one who dies by suicide has sought to express their pain on multiple occasions and has not been heard, not because there is a deliberate desire to harm those left behind.  Those left behind are completely cut off in the mind of the one who is considering suicide.  They don’t seem to be able to feel at all, because they can’t see your pain.

Suicide isn’t logical.  Suicide isn’t vengeful.  Suicide is the thing that you turn to when there is no other place to turn.  Hannah had at least 13 reasons to feel cut off from and ignored by her community.  She had at least 13 burdens to carry.  And that weight became too much to bear.

Watching her bear that pain, and watching her end her life because she could no longer carry the weight doesn’t glorify the act.  It makes the act sad and avoidable and gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch.  There is no glory in this show.  None.  There is no glory in that escape.  None.  There is no glory in her pain, or in the way she slowly but certainly breaks down completely, and loses the will to live.  None.

 

If you imagine that young people will watch this show and want to follow in the footsteps of Hannah, you should probably do a bit more research on suicide and suicide prevention.  Because it isn’t the act of death by suicide that you should be most concerned with.  You should be most concerned with the 13 reasons that brought Hannah to that point of desperation.  You should be most concerned with changing the behaviors and eliminating the threats that caused her to reach that point.  Suicide is terrible, but it isn’t really the point of the show.  The point is the reasons.  The point is that there were numerous events that should never have happened.  The point is the ways that her pain was caused and compounded and collected.  The point is not the suicide. The point is the many opportunities to care about others, instead of inflicting pain and violence, that were missed.  And focusing on those things can actually create change and reduce the incidence of suicide—not inspire more people to die by suicide.

 

  1. 13 Reasons Why is not for the vulnerable.

 

Another argument that I am confused by, as a survivor of abuses, is the idea that those who are “vulnerable” shouldn’t be exposed to the series.

 

I’m not certain what the definition of vulnerable, in the minds of others, might be.  It is defined as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”.  And in my opinion, those who are most susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm are the ones who will most identify with, and find validation and acceptance in, 13 Reasons Why.

 

Hannah is susceptible.  But so is almost every other character in the book/show!  There are so many instances of bullying, abuse, rape, denial of harmful actions, misrepresentation, image ruining, slut-shaming, and more that it is amazing that they are all able to fit into one story.  There are numerous people who are suffering harm at the hands of others within the storyline.  There are numerous vulnerable people.

 

I identify with Hannah.  But I also identify with Clay, with Tony, Jessica, Alex, and Olivia.  They all have particular vulnerabilities, and they all experience suffering of some sort throughout the series.

 

I’ve already expressed how the choices about viewing triggering events should be left in the hands of the victims of abuse.  This includes those who are vulnerable.  Because if you are vulnerable, you have likely already experienced the things that are expressed in the episodes of this show.  If you are at risk, you are likely already suffering in some way.  And identifying with the characters in this show can offer much-needed validation of those sufferings and those vulnerabilities.  Connecting with a character can bring comfort and can offer perspective that isn’t always available to us as individuals within these situations.

 

One of the immense strengths of the show is that we see it unfold from the perspective of Clay, as well as from the perspective of Hannah.  And because we see it unfold from multiple perspectives, we can also gain multiple insights, alongside the characters in the tale.  When you are living in a state of vulnerability, or suffering, or abuse, it can be very difficult to see things from varying perspectives.  One perspective begins to shove out all other ways of thinking about the events.  We get tunnel vision.  This show lets those who are vulnerable, who are suffering, who are suicidal, who are being bullied, who have been assaulted or raped, look at the events unfolding from the outside, and allows us to gain perspective.  This is a good thing!

 

For those who have never experienced these events, I can see why you would want to seek to protect the vulnerable from difficult images and serious events.  But because we are vulnerable, we are likely already experiencing these things, and already feeling unprotected.  Allowing us to connect with these characters, and watch them navigate these horrors can be healing, and can offer us support.  Fictions of this type, which are so close to our own experience, can be healing and helpful, and not just damaging or dangerous.  You may not know how much the vulnerable need this connection.  You may be unaware that they need these characters to connect with and find validation.

 

  1. The show is so hopeless.

 

I’ve heard many say that this show isn’t good because it is hopeless.  It doesn’t have a happy ending.  The pain doesn’t go away, and there isn’t any resolution.

 

Exactly!!

 

If you are a person who thinks this show can’t be helpful because it doesn’t resolve the pain of the characters, then I encourage you to consider the life of a survivor of these events.

 

There is no resolution.

 

I was sexually assaulted in childhood.  I’m almost 43 years old.  Nothing has changed.  I’m still suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  I’m still in therapy.  I’m still on medication.  My abuser still sits across from me at the dinner table, on occasion.  I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband or ex-boyfriend who were violently abusive in many years, but their words still harm me at times.  I’m still aware of the ways that the neighbors and classmates and people in my community harmed me, and then blamed me for that harm.  I’m still an addict.  I’m still incapable of positive romantic relationships.  I’m still a loner, in many ways.  And I’m chronically ill in ways that will affect me for the rest of my life.

 

There is no resolution.

 

Life isn’t a story.  And if it were, it wouldn’t be a fairytale.  Fictions can resolve into nice little packages with happy endings, but life, and especially a life of vulnerability and suffering and abuse, doesn’t resolve in those ways.

 

The story is hopeless, except for Clay’s assertion near the end of the series that “this needs to change”.   The only hope is the fact that we need to begin to treat one another better, and to stop patterns of behavior that harm and break people.  The only hope is that those watching from the outside of this story, the viewers at home with their eyes glued to this drama, would understand the purpose of telling this tale—that we, the audience, need to take up that gauntlet and fight to change the way we treat one another.  We, the audience, are responsible for creating hope and affecting change and stopping these horrors from being acted out in real life.

 

My life is not filled with hope.  My life has not resolved into a neat little box of rainbow’s-end happiness.  My life is still filled with burdens that are difficult to bear.

 

A happy ending wouldn’t make 13 Reasons Why a better story.  A happy ending, filled with hope, wouldn’t inspire us toward change.  It would reinforce the idea that the pain goes away, and the effects aren’t all that bad, and we can ignore these injustices and let them resolve.

 

These injustices won’t resolve.  And the victims of this violence won’t have fairytale transformations.  The only way we get a happy ending is if we stop avoiding this pain, and stop insisting that we aren’t responsible to and for one another in our communities and in our world, and stop ignoring the ways that others are being harmed in every moment, and make the way we act and think and live better.  The only way we get a happy ending is by our own actions.

 

Because 13 Reasons Why is a critique of what we currently do and what we currently allow.  It is meant to give power to the young and vulnerable, and to affirm their circumstances are an injustice, and to demand that we do better at protecting one another.  This show is designed to teach us to stop physical and emotional attack or harm.  This show is pointing out our failures, and begging us to fix what is wrong in the way we treat one another.  This show is the truth we don’t want to see and acknowledge.

 

But refusing to see and acknowledge the truth helps none of us, so I encourage you to watch 13 Reasons Why, to cope with the horrific, graphic truth, and to acknowledge that up to this point, many of us have been a part of the problem.  Then, and only then, can we move forward and find and support effective solutions.

 

As long as some can abuse others without repercussions, we are not yet finding those solutions.  As long as some can abuse others, we are not allowed a happy ending.

 

Face the truth.  Watch Hannah Baker die.  Watch her community reel and spin out of control as they deal with the truths that her 13 reasons expose.  And then make certain that you aren’t letting this happen in your own community.

 

Stop injustice.  Validate suffering.  Heal wounds.  Listen to the victims.  Punish the perpetrators of violence.  And work toward a better world for all of us.

 

 

Sleepwalker

I once, according to my dad’s telling of the tale, came downstairs from my room, obtained a jar of jam from the refrigerator, took a spoon from the silverware drawer, and started to eat jam directly from the jar.  When Dad questioned me, and asked what I was doing, I became defensive.  Whatever was happening in my head, it was determined that jam eating in the wee hours was normal and not an offense of any kind.

And that is a fun little anecdote regarding the sleepwalking of my childhood.

There are many.

My dad also tells tales of other sorts of sleep disorder, however—sleep terrors and nightmares.

Sleepwalking is rare.  Estimates place the percentage of the population that completes complex action while asleep around 1 to 15.  The phenomenon is a sleep disorder, and it is usually associated with either sleep deprivation, stress, or both.  The combination of this disorder with those of nightmares and terrors is even more rare.  It is hard to say how many people might suffer from all three, because the one experiencing the events often has no recall of the events.

In the past few years, I started to sleepwalk again.  While I have no recall of the events, I have evidences of the events.  One morning, bread was laid out on the kitchen island, as though I were preparing to make a sandwich.  Another morning, I woke to toasted bread, still sitting in the toaster but stale and cold.  On yet another occasion, I woke to near-freezing temperatures and realized that I had turned the thermostat all the way down as I slept.

It wasn’t until I mentioned these events to my sleep specialist that I started to understand the presence of sleep disorders is directly related to stress.   And in my case, that stress is related to a loss of bodily autonomy through chronic sexual abuse and medical testing and treatment for bladder and kidney issues.  Usually adult sleepwalking is tied to and triggered by childhood stressors.  My sleepwalking (along with incontinence and suicidal thoughts) returned shortly after a visit from my brother, and repeated arguments that took place during that time.  The insistence that I do as he believed I should, and the lack of respect for me and my autonomy that such insistence belied, threw me right back into that childhood self with symptoms of extreme stress.

Getting along with my brother is an impossible task.  He wounded me in ways that can possibly (I hope) be forgiven, but can never be forgotten.  He created a vacuum in my life that sucked in all sorts of damage, abuse, and pain.  And while some would argue that the “victim card” isn’t a thing that I get to “play”, the fact is that I am a victim of horrible abuse that does not stop affecting me.  And having a perpetrator of abuses in my physical space, and having that perpetrator tell me what to do, is an impossible to ignore affront, whether it is meant to be or not.

People talk about “finding their inner child”, like it is a fun and freeing thing.  But my inner child is terrified, wounded, confused, and under mind-altering levels of stress.  I don’t want to find that—ever.  But I don’t get a choice, because that child finds me on a regular basis.  She returned in a blink of an eye after that visit with my brother.  And she didn’t leave.

I began sleepwalking again because that child started running the show while I slept—the early expression of my post-traumatic stress coming back into my experience.  This is often the case with sleepwalkers.  If we do it as adults, we likely also did it as children.

I don’t know that I eat jam from the jar in my sleep anymore.  But I am definitely exhibiting the stress that I did in childhood within the circadian patterns that I currently experience.

The nightmares I can make go away.

I didn’t know that was possible until a few years ago, when the nightmares were increasing, and the trauma of the past was leaching from me and leaving a trail of symptoms across my life.  It was at that point that I was finally properly diagnosed with C-PTSD.  And that diagnosis brought the beloved off-label use of blood pressure medication which stops the nightmares.  Or, to be more succinct, it stops me from engaging with the nightmares or remembering the nightmares.

Minipress, or prazosin, as a treatment for PTSD, was discovered incidentally by a Dr. Simon Kung at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  The medication had been around for decades, but it was not noted as an effective treatment for nightmares due to PTSD until 2012.  Thankfully, I receive medical care at a teaching hospital that uses cutting-edge treatments, and I started on prazosin mere weeks after my diagnosis. My brain can still engage with flashbacks and nightmares, but my body is prevented from interacting with that engagement, and I remain asleep and unaffected by the subconscious terror.  It still amazes me that this is possible, after having interacted with this terror for over 30 years.  I am in awe that we can simply shut off that terror during the night.  And I am extremely grateful for Dr. Simon Kung’s work to find, study, and disseminate the knowledge that I, and many others who suffer PTSD symptoms, can experience peaceful sleep.

While the medication doesn’t prevent me from sleepwalking, it makes my sleep much more consistent and much less traumatizing.  Having sleep, the restorative and balancing action your body requires, become a source of fear is a terrible thing.  And being able to participate in and enjoy sleep is nothing short of miraculous for my beleaguered and exhausted self.

I feel like this turned into a term paper, and not a blog post.  But it is important, apparently, for me to recognize and report about the challenge of suffering symptoms of stress and trauma during the night … and to present alternatives.

Because, as someone recently told me, people need to hear my stories.  And I am committed to the telling not just because I think it might assist others, but because speaking truth is freeing.  Expressing the challenge and the need and the struggle and the fight and the overcoming of obstacles and the strength and joy and relief of that overcoming is important.  It is such because my voice is my only chance at regaining the autonomy lost as a child.  My voice is the only thing that can offer that child some peace and restoration.  That young self, and my triggered adult self, both need to know and feel and trust that there is a path to good, and that we can walk that path and find that end.

I might make sandwiches or eat jam from the jar in the night for the rest of my life.  I might, just as easily, find the release of stress that I need to stop that sleepwalking from happening any longer.  And it is necessary for others to see this hidden-by-the-dark experience, and to validate that experience.

Because while I don’t fault those in my life for not knowing that I was expressing in my quirky sleepwalking moments the grave burdens of an abused child.  The science wasn’t there.  The advocacy wasn’t there.  The skilled psychiatric specialists were not there.  The only thing that my dad could see was a girl doing weird things—expressing the inexpressible in the ways that my subconscious self could.  And it couldn’t express it well enough, or loudly enough, or clearly enough to spare me the trauma … but at least I tried to express it in some way.

I can express it now.  I’m determined to express it now.

I’m determined to give that child a voice that can be heard, understood, and validated.  I’m determined to let her speak, to cry, to scream out the things that her jam-eating, sleepwalking, nightmare-having self couldn’t quite manage to express.

That little girl experienced chronic, escalating, sexual abuse.  That little girl also had doctors and nurses poking around in her most sensitive and sacred parts without any sort of trauma-informed care.  That little girl was lost in a sea of pain, and she nearly drowned in those deep and dark waters, as the waves beat her and threw her against the rocks.  That little girl needed to say that she was dying from the weight of trauma and shame and conflict and fear and confusion laid upon her tiny chest—crushing her ribs, puncturing her lungs, and making it impossible to breathe.

That little girl also needed others to hear her and to offer validation and to acknowledge the injustice and offer hope and comfort and help.  She still needs that.

I try to offer it to her.  But it is hard to trust just one voice (especially when so many deceptions have been spoken in your experience).  It is hard to assure her that she deserved safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.

It is hard to assure my adult self—this grown-up version of that girl—that she deserves safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.  It is hard to believe that my voice can make a difference.  It is hard to believe that I am heard.  It is hard to find validation.  It is hard to find hope and peace.

But that little girl fought hard to survive.

And I am going to keep fighting her fight.

Like You Mean It

My daughter and I were having a conversation the other day about my marketable skills.

I will spare you the details and the discouraging situation that I find myself in regarding balancing health and finances.  If you have not already become familiar with that situation, hit up some earlier posts to get up to speed.

But the outcome of that conversation led me to a new understanding of an old problem:  I don’t think I am good enough.

I’ve literally tattooed the word “Enough” on my left arm.  I deliberately put it in a place that I would see in the mirror every day, because I need the constant reminder that I am enough and good enough and allowed to set boundaries that say to others, “Enough. I won’t tolerate that anymore”.  Despite that reminder, I still slip into a space where my mind convinces me that I cannot accomplish or become or produce in positive ways.  I get sucked into perfectionism.  I get stuck in a mindset that sees criticism as punishment for what I lack.  I get trapped by self-defeating language.  I doubt that I am capable enough, or good enough, or talented enough.

So, while talking with my daughter, and positing a question about whether or not I might be successful in a particular venture, I came to understand that I don’t quit things, and I don’t fail.  I start something new.

I tell myself, “I am an author.  I’m going to work at being an author, and commit to that field.”  And then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I am going to become a nutrition counselor.”  I take classes and start that venture.  Then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I could sell my work on Etsy.  I would make money from what I find therapeutic—my art and crafts.”

And, suddenly, I am working toward everything and nothing.  I have too many starts and not enough follow-through.  I have no follow-through not because I can’t do the things, but because my energy is split and traveling in too many directions.

Life has always been this way for me.  I am a visionary—I start things all the time, and I have big dreams, and I am a great problem-solver.  I am not confident that I can be fabulous at any of those things that I start, and dream of, and find solutions for.  I start to doubt my ability, and I put the thing I was working toward on hold, while I think of something new.

I am writing three books.  By writing, I mean not working on at all, but having the idea that the books will someday be finished.  I am an amazing author, but I doubt that talent often enough to not complete any published works.  I am studying nutrition and holistic care.  And by studying, I mean that I am half way through an online study program that I have not even looked at in months.  I doubt that I can be successful in the field, or that people will take a sick, overweight person’s advice regarding wellness and weight loss.  I am opening an Etsy shop.  And by opening, I mean that I have a store name picked out and ideas for what art I will put in that store eventually.  I doubt that people will want or pay a fair price for the things that I have created, and that I will lose money, rather than make money.

My doubt rarely paralyzes me in the physical sense.  I don’t panic and freeze and lose my shit out in the world.  I look and act like a really “normal” person most of the time.  But, on the inside, I put myself into a space where I cannot accomplish anything, because I don’t believe that I can accomplish anything well enough.

Some of this perfectionism comes from my upbringing.  My mother and my grandmother before her were both very concerned with appearances, and with having everything “just so”—at least on the outside.  That desire to look perfect affected my generation as well.  And, at times, I think I am accidentally passing that perfectionism down to my daughter.  But, my family tree is not the only factor.  I also suffer from C-PTSD, a complex form that adds layers of struggle beyond those of the type of PTSD you usually see depicted in media—the combat-related type.  Perfectionism is a symptom of my disease.  When you are in a prolonged state of abuse, such as childhood molestation or domestic violence, your brain behaves in ways that make no sense, but are totally understandable.  You start to work really hard at pleasing people.  You start to do all that you can to make life, home, and self perfect, because you believe that the abuses are your fault—which is part of the terrible genius of abuse tactics.  If you can just do everything “right”, maybe you won’t be hurt, harmed, assaulted, yelled at, molested, or raped.  If you can be perfect, then there won’t be a reason for them to harm you.

But there is always a reason for them to harm you, because the harm has nothing to do with your performance, accomplishments, character, or way of being.  The harm has to do with them and their issues.

I can say that now.  I can say that the people who harmed me did so because of them, and not because of me.  But, even though I can say it, I am not integrated in my logic and my emotion.  Those things are split apart in the long-term abuse—the horror of captivity.  And, while I can say that I didn’t cause the abuses directed toward me, I cannot often feel that I didn’t cause those abuses.

Not being able to feel what I know is complicated.  It is also annoying and frustrating.  Reason and emotion are not tied together in the ways I want them to be tied.  So, I feel not good enough, even though I know that I am capable and strong and beautiful and good and honest and brave and brilliant.  What I know and what I feel cannot connect in the way that I would like them to connect.  So, I still strive for and do not reach perfection.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  You can never reach it, because it isn’t a thing.  Perspective, cultural difference, brain chemistry, opinions, different philosophies, and more make one idea of “perfection” impossible.  There is no such thing.  So, by striving for this goal, we sabotage ourselves.  We are fighting for a thing that is not achievable.  And that constantly disappoints us, and makes us doubt our ability or character or worth.

All of the above considerations came out of that one conversation with my daughter.  And I decided during that conversation that I need to “write like I mean it”.

I decided that I need to take that thing that I love and that I am good at, and I need to keep doing that thing until I can feel what I know.  I need to stop turning in different directions and dividing my energy.  I need to put my efforts into the things that I know I am and should be:  an author and an artist.  I need to act upon my belief that I am a good author and artist, and keep acting upon it until I feel deeply that I am talented.

Under different circumstances, that might sound like a very selfish and narcissistic way of thinking.  But, because I am so conditioned to judge myself “not good enough”, proclaiming my talent and putting all my energies into praise for that talent is a corrective measure that brings balance.

I’m going to put all of my eggs in this basket.  I’m going to write and create like I mean it.  I’m going to make this my life—not because I need to strive for a goal of perfection, but because I love writing and creating, and because I am exceptional in these areas.

Perfection isn’t real, but it still ruins so many of us.  While my C-PTSD makes the struggle against perfection more difficult, and a symptom to be managed, you don’t need to have a history of trauma and a mental illness to strive for things that you need not strive for, and cannot achieve.

I’m not saying to give up.  I’m trying to say the opposite.  I’m attempting to express that what you love is what you ought to pursue, regardless of what “perfection” might be getting in the way of that pursuit.  And I am attempting to express it for me as much as I am for anyone who might read this post.  Because sometimes the word “Enough” tattooed on my arm is not the only reminder needed.  Sometimes we need to keep telling ourselves a thing until we feel its truth, not just know or understand it.

I need to keep telling myself that finished is better than perfect.  I need to keep telling myself that writing and painting and sewing and covering surfaces in comics are worthy pursuits.  I need to keep telling myself that my belief that I am good enough is the truth, and that the feeling that I am not is the lie that I have been conditioned to accept.

I need to keep telling myself to write like I mean it.  This is my goal.  This is my life.   This is my contribution to the world.  This is what I love.  And I am not going to let “perfection” get in the way of doing what I love.

Whatever you do, do it like you mean it.  Because it is, and you are, enough.

More Than I Can Handle

 

There is this common statement among those who choose a Christian religious base for their belief system.  I hear it often.  I hate it more every time it is said.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I call bullshit.

I am dealing with more than I can handle.  I’ve been dealing with more than I can handle since childhood. And every day I wait for the moment when pretending at control is overcome by the chaos of being overwhelmed.

So, here is the thing I need to say:  either the Divine absolutely gives out more than one can handle, or the Divine isn’t a part of the equation at all.

Please do not misunderstand and read that as “God doesn’t exist”, because I won’t challenge anyone on that point.  I believe in divine intervention and live a spiritual, but not religious, life.  The existence of some Divine source is a part of my belief system.  And it does not need to be yours.  If you are not religious, I suppose you could ignore this post altogether.  (But I hope you don’t.)

The statement that the Divine will not let you be overwhelmed, however, is bullshit.  I’m overwhelmed right now.  I was overwhelmed two days ago.  I was overwhelmed last week.  I am consistently given more than I can handle.  And if the Divine exists, and I am overwhelmed, then god does give you more than you can handle.  If the Divine does not exist, then the statement is just bullshit from the very first word.

I’ll try to elaborate without getting into a weird rant or too many details.  When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted repeatedly.  I couldn’t cope with that.  It was too much.  And while my actions were often a cry for help, they went unheard or were misunderstood, so I was marinating in more than I could handle.  I was feeling so much pain and shame and confusion that my brain literally stopped knowing about the sexual molestation.  I had a complete dissociation from the events.  My brain shut those events and any and all memories of those events down.  They were tucked away in a place I didn’t have full access to, and they didn’t become known to me in a conscious way until my first year of college.  And when I became aware of those events once more, it was more than I could handle again.  I became depressed, suicidal, and easily enraged.  I was a mess.  I dropped out of college, moved away, dropped out of another college, harbored a runaway, became a drug addict, and got married.  All of these events were too much to handle.

My husband was violently physically and psychologically abusive.  I got pregnant, got divorced, had my baby, went on a blind date, and started a relationship with a man who influenced my return to drug use and eventually became physically abusive, as my ex-husband had been.

Too much.

And then, it would seem, I “got it together”.  I worked hard, cared for my daughter, went back to college, got a master’s degree or two, and ended up working in Chicago.  While these years seemed like the most excellent years of my life to the onlooking outsider, inside of me there was just as much struggle as there had been in years past.  I smoked a lot.  I ran often.  I did everything asked of me, until I could not do it anymore.  What most don’t know about those years is that my kitchen was a mass of dirty dishes half of the time, I was drinking too much, I was fired as a teacher’s assistant because I didn’t have enough time to read and grade papers. I failed a few classes. My daughter resented me for leaving her with others and not hearing her needs often or well.  I was struggling to keep it together, and looked fabulous on the outside, while the inside was being ripped and torn into ugly, bloodied chunks of flesh.

I had become a master of pretending at a very early age.  It took a lot for me to fall apart in front of people.

But behind closed doors, nightmares and weeping and screaming and praying and begging for the pain to end kept on happening.  They didn’t stop as I grew up and developed and became a “responsible adult”.  They just got pushed under layers and layers of façade.

Around 2010 was when things stop staying hidden.  I couldn’t control it anymore.  Tears would come at the most inopportune time.  The lack of sleep from nightmares and insomnia was causing my body to suffer.  I started experiencing chronic illness, and I started to look and sound like a person without hope—crazed with the desperate state of my psyche and the onset of more and more symptoms of illness.  I was breaking down in front of people, instead of doing it behind closed doors.  And people ran away rather than be sucked into my despair.

It’s hard for people who are not given more than they can handle to watch you crumble under the too much.  They don’t understand it.  And it is frightening.  But what I think is the hardest thing for those people to come to terms with is that the platitude they have believed is not true.  Some of us are given way more than we can handle.

Because some of us are given more than we can handle, we need help.  Help, need, care, and the like are not things that most want to offer, so they cling to the lie and insist that god won’t give me more than I can handle.  But I know that is just an excuse not to get involved in the pain of others.

Empathy hurts.

Walking into the center of another person’s trauma is painful.  Feeling what they feel is terrible, because it is completely and utterly too much.  And nobody wants to feel what I feel.

Nobody wants constant physical and emotional suffering.  Nobody wants to face fears and be struck down and struggle through depression and suicidal thinking and destroy relationships through mistrust and sob with such intensity that you need to sleep for three hours to recover the ability to stand.  And, on one hand, I don’t blame you for not wanting to experience what I experience.  On the other hand, leaving me to suffer alone and offering me platitudes that I know are lies makes me despise you for not standing in solidarity.

Because if you cannot handle what is coming at you every day, and if you are overwhelmed, you need others to help carry the weight.  I have approximately six people who help carry the weight in a consistent and generous and loving way.  One of them I pay, because she is my therapist.

I understand more than anyone how heavy and exhausting and painful carrying the load of my life is, but I don’t have the option to step out from under that weight.  I have to cope, shift, manage, and try not to be crushed forever by that weight.

There is another saying—less religious and more true—that I sometimes use.  “Many hands make light work.”

A heavy burden becomes light when there are twelve people lifting, and not just one. I would love for us to acknowledge our avoidance of the burdens in the lives of those around us.  I would love for us to accept that the only way to make things better is to add our hands and help carry the burdens of others.  I would love for us to admit that there is a lot that is overwhelming, and that it won’t go away because we pretend that god makes life easy enough for us (or hard enough for us, depending on your perspective) in relation to our ability to be weighed down.

You don’t keep placing items in a grocery bag until it breaks.  You open and fill a second bag.  You disperse the weight, balancing things out and making certain that there isn’t too much pressure in one spot.

(Yes, I just unintentionally made a grocery bag analogy to suffering.  But I can’t really think of a better analogy right now, so it stands.)

So, we are given more than we can handle.  Which is why we need others supporting us.  All of us need others to carry a bit of the weight at times.  That looks different at different times and in different spaces.  But none of us is immune to being overwhelmed.

My life has had too much to handle for a really long time.  I get better at handling it through coping strategies.  But I still haven’t worked through all the burdens or had the weight lifted.  I still make valiant attempts at handling it all.  I still pretend I am well while I am carrying immense pain just under the surface.  But I fail all the time.  I hurt all of the time.  I feel too much.  I need too much.  I falter too much.

And my only hope is that others might find their way toward helping, and that hands would be added, and that my burden may become light.  Help me Obi Wan Community, you are my only hope!

I hope that empathy might become something that we embrace, despite the hurts, because it also brings shared joys.  I hope that generosity rules the day.  I hope that we start to dissect the lies that the platitudes reinforce, and come to understand that we need one another to survive.  I hope that we find the strength to share, to respect, to dignify, and to accept.  I hope we leave behind individualism, judgment, marginalizing, and rejecting.

I don’t know that this is an eloquent post.  It is a needed expression.  Mostly, I need to say it, because it is boring a hole through my mind.  But I also hope that it is heard and accepted.  Because I have always known that the Divine isn’t giving me any number of things to handle or not handle.  The Divine gives me an assist when all the things are too much.  The Divine doesn’t give anyone burdens for the fun of watching us struggle.  And the Divine doesn’t give burdens to prepare us for assisting others in their burdens.  The Divine is the opposite of burden.  The Divine is love.  And whatever is burdensome is what we need to fight against, not for.

When racism tears apart a community, we fight against that.  When illness strikes a body, we fight against that.  When fear creates divisions, we fight against that.  When poverty leaves people in the streets, we fight against that.  When little children are violated, we fight against that.  When women are not given a voice, we fight against that.  When gun violence steals lives every day, we fight against that.

And we fight together, in solidarity, and as one entity.  Because there is more in each of those situations than we can handle, and ridding our society of these evils requires our many hands, working together, to unburden the most vulnerable.

I happen to be one of the most vulnerable, because life tossed all sorts of challenges at me, and so my plea for justice—the unburdening of the most vulnerable—ends up being a plea for my welfare also.  I beg for hands to help on a regular basis through my fundraising site.  But I want, today, to express that there are so many more burdens than mine.  And there are so many who do not have hands helping at all, where I have a few.  So, I’m not just advocating for myself.  I’m advocating for all the poor, disabled, homeless, captive, imprisoned, endangered, devastated, depressed, and unsupported victims of all the ills within our society.

Lend them a hand.  Live in solidarity.  Challenge your assumptions and preconceptions.  Dig deep into your heart and your mind, and figure out why you let burdens continue without intervention.  Smash those excuses that keep you from moving toward empathy and solidarity and understanding and care.  Do things that change lives.  Do things that save lives.

And stop saying that god doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  Stop spreading that lie.  Start spreading love.