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!

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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

When Comes the Night

“There are low points. There are going to be low points. And if you can take me at the high points, then you also need to take me at the low points. That’s what I have to say.”

My daughter uttered these words with passion and much arm movement a few moments ago. She was preparing to go seek out a job. An acquaintance told me to have her come in and talk with him about a possible position at the business he manages, so she was on her way there to see what that talk would bring about. We both have high hopes that it brings about a job!

She has been looking for a while now. And the longer you look, the harder looking becomes. Many of us have been in that position. The more rejection you suffer, the more difficult any risk of future rejection is to attempt. You start to feel tainted or insufficient in some manner. It’s not a good feeling. And she has been feeling it.

Today she was expressing what I have been feeling as well.

I’ve been struggling with my mental health. I’ve had suicidal ideation—not active plans for death by suicide, but the hopelessness and the feeling that there isn’t a reason to keep living—for a few weeks now. I’m working hard to use my psychological “tool box” of coping strategies to keep myself from slipping farther into deep depression and to find some hope. But it is a huge challenge.

And life keeps moving on, even though I am feeling this way.

Bills keep coming in. Appointments keep popping up on my calendar. Responsibility still beckons me to take care of things and be an “adult”.

I’m at a really low point.

I think that the last time I was this low was more than three years ago. And the time before that, maybe another four. And then two years before that. And eight before that.

I can keep walking it back to age 19. And I know that there were extreme low points before that, but 19 is the age where I start remembering those low points with some detail.

Age 19. Phillip. Night work at the bakery. Drinking—so much drinking. Jealousy. Sadness. Remembering, and nightmares, and not knowing how to understand or cope with any of that. Dropping out. Being called a liar. Weird interactions with men. Being called a slut. More drinking. Breaking up. Wanting to be dead. Learning to use wanting to be dead as a manipulative tool. (Something I would later need to work hard to unlearn—and that tempts me even today, because people finally seem to give a shit when you say the word “suicide”.) Crying. Lots and lots of crying. William. Feeling sick. Not the flu kind of sick, but that empty hole in the center of your being feeling of sick. More drinking. More crying. Running away to find some sort of escape, but framing it in a “new beginning” or “starting over” or “opportunity”, only to run to the next place and the next thing a year later.

It isn’t always as bad now as it was that first time that I remember in detail. Mostly because I now have that psychological “tool box” to draw upon for coping strategies, and I have medication, and a concrete diagnosis, and a weekly therapy session. But it is still bad.

If you take me at my high points, you have to take me at my low points.

But people don’t, do they?

Time after time I am left alone when the low point hits. Time after time the bottom falls out of the relationship when I hit a deep depression. Time after time I am alone when the bank balance hits the red “danger days” of overdraft. Time after time I am raising that child alone—okay just one child, one time, but it feels like a thousand times because you keep doing it every day, and keep doing it long beyond childhood, because the words uttered today were uttered by a 20-year-old daughter, who is an adult, fiercely independent and desperate to prove she can make life better than life was when it came to her.

When my daughter was young, we had a rule for birthday invites. She was only allowed to invite to her celebrations those people whom she believed would also show up to her moments of greatest sorrow. That rule always led to a house filled with random people from all the corners of our lives. Family, my friends, her friends, people from church, people from school, people I worked with, people in our neighborhood. A diverse group who were not connected to one another except through their bond with us came together each year, and met and talked and learned about one another’s lives. It was always a great joy. Later, when she was a pre-teen, we abandoned that rule. Every birthday since has been a source of disappointment or challenge—people didn’t show up, or fought amongst themselves, or broke things in her room, or any number of weird things. The moment we stopped allowing only those who would mourn with us to celebrate with us was the moment that the parties started being stressors and not joys.

As I think about my life now, and I think about the joys and the sorrows, I look back to those parties. I remember that rule, and I wonder why I didn’t work harder to apply it to my own life and relationships.

I am a person who loves deeply, and without many prejudices. (We all have some prejudices, and being honest and forthcoming about those biases is the best way to combat and cope with them.) I offer love to all sorts of people whom others might fear or look upon with shame or judgments. And I think at times that openness has been a place where my armor is weak. Love flows out, and blades of dishonesty, violence, manipulation, or some other bad thing can be forced into that space with greater ease. Being open-hearted means being vulnerable, in some ways. And when I stopped considering who would be there in the low points, but let people join me in the high points, regardless of where they were when I was struggling, I left myself vulnerable in unhealthy ways.

Where were those people in the low points? I don’t really know. They had an excuse for not being with me, of course. But those excuses started to pile up to the point where I felt used instead of loved. And maybe I was. I probably was.

Because for some reason I give people the benefit of the doubt. I assume that they love in the ways that I love. I assume that they stay through joys and sorrows. I assume that they offer love without conditions and avoid judgment and shame. But they don’t.

I love that way. They don’t. (Or at least most of them don’t, or none of them have thus far in regard to my romantic relationships.)

I have people in my life who do love that way. When my mom died two years ago, there were people who came to the wake and the funeral who were there just to see me and support me. I hadn’t lived in that town for several years, but there were a few people who loved me deeply and truly—in joys and in sorrows—who knew that I needed them to be there in that low point. They wanted to be there with me in that low point. I cannot express how much that meant.

Lately, I feel just as my daughter has been feeling—like she was emphatically stating today. If you take me at the high point you need to take me at the low point. And the reason that statement came from her lips is because there are people in her life who are not there at the low points. There are too many people who want the joys but not the sorrows. I feel overwhelmed with the number of people who are not there in my sorrows.

And I should probably look on the bright side. I should probably see the people who are present and loving me through this very low point. But that isn’t what my mind and my heart focus on easily or naturally. What they focus on is the lack of support. What they see is the lone wolf, fighting her battle without a pack to cover over the weakness or the fatigue or the blind spots in her vision—leaving her vulnerable to attack and making it nearly impossible for her to win the fight and survive the day.

Or, rather, survive the night. Because day isn’t what I am struggling with. I am struggling with the darkness. The depths. The most difficult. And that is the space that so few will enter alongside me. That is the place that people don’t wish to go—the arena in which they cannot support me.

I always find it intriguing (and sometimes find it infuriating) that when I post on social media about my financial need or updates about my disability hearing, people do not respond in any way, but when I post a picture of my freshly cut or colored hair a hundred people will “like” the post. Pretty, clean, happy-looking Christy garners support. Poor, struggling, sick-looking Christy gets far less attention. But the poor and struggling and disabled me is the me that needs the most support, not the me on happy days with well-styled hair. People love my joys, and disappear during my sorrows.

When the night comes, people run and hide behind their doors in “safety”. When the night comes, people distance themselves. When the night comes, people offer platitudes in public and judgmental gossip in private. When the night comes, the needy are left alone on the dark street, fending for themselves. And “joy comes in the morning” for those who wake to step out the door (and didn’t have to face the night) with far more ease than it comes for those who were battling through the darkness while you slept in peace. Yes, we have joy that we survived the night. But it is always tempered with the knowledge that we will likely have to endure the fight again when night falls.

My daughter texted that she got a job! Our joy is inexpressible! But it took months of sorrows to get to this day. And those don’t leave us just because of this joy. They linger. We remember the night. We know that we are inches from it at all times. And we know that many who will celebrate this joy were not there to offer love and support during the sorrow that preceded today’s good news.

It begs the question: Where are you when night falls?

Are you inviting the stranger into your home to find safety behind your walls? Are you in the streets protecting the others, who have no supports in this fight? Are you cowering in corners? Are you behind your own door, somehow believing that you deserve the security you have from the darkness because you are better or stronger or worked harder or behaved with greater morality than whomever might be fighting through the dark night of the soul?

No matter what I, myself, am fighting, I always fight for others.

That seems a bit ridiculous at times. I should put myself first, right? I have problems that need solutions. I need money, so I shouldn’t give my change to someone selling Streetwise on the corner. I am sick so I shouldn’t be hugging and holding the hand of the “dirty” homeless and addicts. I can’t take care of myself, so I shouldn’t take in others that need care. Right?

Wrong. I don’t know why I know with such certainty that it is wrong, but I know it. No matter how difficult my own situation, I cannot and will not lose my empathy and compassion for others. I will always help. I will always seek to ease pain for those around me. I will always try to save lives, bring comfort, offer security, and radiate love. Always. Even in the middle of my own dark nights. Even in my own very low points.

If you take me at the high points, you take me at the low points.

Don’t pretend you care and then not offer care. Don’t tell me you support me and then not give me support. Don’t say you love me and then not show love.

If you wouldn’t stand with me during my deepest, darkest, and most devastating sorrows, then do not stand beside me in my joys. You haven’t earned the right to my joys. You don’t deserve my best if you cannot accept my worst. And my worst is bad. It is really, really bad.

I still have suicidal ideation and hopelessness at the forefront of my mind. I still have significant need that isn’t being met. I still have all sorts of stressors and difficult decisions and challenges along my path, and I do not know how to address them or overcome them or cope with them. I’m still in the midst of the low point.

But I also have the opportunity to rejoice with my daughter over her news of employment at a place she is so excited to work. I still have the joy of celebrating the birthday of a dear friend this weekend. I still have the joy of discovering the offending medication that was making it impossible for me to do effective strength training, and to eliminate that medicine, so I could finally get a decent workout in this week. I have so many joys! They simply live in tandem with deep sorrows.

What is the point of this post?

I’m not entirely sure.

Maybe it is meant to whine about the ways that humanity is failing me. Maybe it is to set a boundary for myself, in writing. Maybe it is to offer a lesson to one of those reading, and to help them see that they are being “fair weather friends” and not true friends at all. Maybe it is just something that I needed to get off of my mind and onto some “paper”, so that I could stop playing it over in my mind, and get on with other tasks.

But I suspect that much of it is to give voice to what I have felt for a very long time—that nobody dares to know, to tolerate, or to manage the depths of my pain. They don’t know how. Or maybe they have never felt that low before and it feels terrible, so they stop. They leave me there in that pain, because it is so intolerable. And it is intolerable pain. Which is why there have been so many low points.

But if nobody ever finds the strength and the will and the compassion to join me there, I might never overcome. I might be stuck with that pain forever, or it might overwhelm me.

It is low. It is so low. And I know it is hard, because I feel it every single moment. It radiates through my body, and it poisons my life, and it hurts everything and everyone around me. That’s how low it is. But if I am ever to have joys to share with you, you need to find a way to join me in that sorrow.

If you are going to take me at my high point, you need to take me at my low point.

That’s what I have to say.

 

The Song that Never Ends

I feel like shit.

I could probably end there, and just let that be my post for the day.

But I keep putting “write” on the schedule that I don’t follow.  I’d kind of like to cross that off my list.

So, I feel like shit.

And that isn’t a new thing at all.  Which is why the song that never ends seemed appropriate as a title for this post.  I say this all the time, because I feel this all the time.

Last week I was diagnosed with bronchitis.  It is a blow to the body and to the psyche to have bronchitis.  I’m getting to the point where I think that living in a bubble might be preferable to being exposed to the outside world.  And by outside world, I don’t just mean dirty places or contagious people, but literally all of the world outside my apartment.

Environmental allergies.

Dust and mold, for starters.

I’ve been treated every which way—including the much debated and often frowned upon NAET treatments that a person desperate to stop being sick will try–because that person would try almost anything to stop reacting to things and becoming violently ill.

And bronchitis is violent.

My whole body aches from the depth of the cough, which makes the muscles that you never think about or concern yourself with spasm and become pained and fatigued.  There are times that I end up on the floor after a particularly brutal coughing fit.  I double over, hoping that somehow that will reduce the struggle and help me find air.  I’m not sure that it helps.  But I am sure that it seems like the only action one can take to combat the effects of the onslaught.  Double over and gasp for air—it seems the only natural resistance.

I don’t intend to whine about my situation here.  It comes out that way at times.  And some days I do wish for the slightest validation of my suffering, because it deserves to be recognized.  I deserve to be recognized.  But today is not one of those days.

Today is simply the day that I keep saying what I am always saying—that I feel like shit.

If you know me well, you have been around that feeling for a long time now.  If you don’t know me well, you still have easy access to the information.  It is obvious from what I say and do and write that I am suffering more often than I am not.

And I think that it must get really boring and annoying and redundant and frustrating to hear me complain time after time that I feel like shit.  It must be tiring.  It must suck.

It is a really stupid thing to feel, but I feel guilty for being sick.  I feel guilty for burdening others.  I feel guilty for not showing up and not participating.  I feel guilty for going along and placing limits on what we can or cannot do while we are out.  I feel guilty for offering the truth of my situation as a part of our conversation.  I feel guilty for having nothing more fabulous and exciting to discuss.  I feel guilty as I see the eyes of those across the table shift from attentive to numb and indifferent while I explain my newest challenge, or offer details of my situation.

I get it.

It is the song that never ends.

I always talk about sickness and disability and poverty and medical care and socio-economic patterns and the evils of capitalism and the failures of our systems.  And most of that is hard to hear, and even harder to want to engage with any sort of energy.  Because it sucks.

There are not a lot of people I know who feel that they are in a place where they will always remain.  I don’t mean a physical space, necessarily, but a situation that they will never have an opportunity to change.

Most of us—most of you—get to change at will.  Change careers.  Change partners.  Change clothes.  Change perspective.  Change schedules.  Change environments.

And that change might not always be easy, but it is possible.

My never-ending song/story is such because the possibility of change at will has been stripped away.

You want to believe that isn’t the case.  You want to argue that I can still make choices.  And I can still make choices; but I never get to make a choice that isn’t influenced by my disabilities.  Everything revolves around that illness.  Each step that I take considers that, first and foremost.  It dictates all the things, all the time.

I feel like shit.  And that determines everything else about my day, my week, my month, and my life.  A bad day can quickly avalanche its way into a bad year.  It is even determining the words that I type right now.  I keep thinking that I am no longer making sense, and that I have lost the point that I was seeking to make.  I don’t feel well enough to concentrate.  My chest hurts.  I can’t breathe.  My hands are shaking.  I’m queasy and light-headed.  My stomach has that flu-like feeling that can only be described as “yucky”.  My toes are suffering what feels like being stabbed.  My head feels full of cotton and not brain matter.

And I am not going to stop feeling like this.

I will stop feeling it for a while.  It won’t always be this bad.  But it will always be.

I will always be at risk, afraid of the environment and its effects on me, feel guilt about the social implications of my illness, suffer the pain and frustration and challenge of my disability, struggle to find the words to express my life story without making it sound pathetic and desperate and sad, and waiting for the next time I feel like shit.

Yes, this song doesn’t end.  Yes, I will always be talking about my physical and mental health.  Yes, I will always have bad days.  Yes, I will always share my experience with honesty, and show the bad alongside the good.

Today there isn’t a whole lot of good.  Today is mostly bad.

But to be in my life, you need to be okay with a life that is mostly bad.  You need to let this song be sung, and maybe even sing along.  You need to accept my disability and disease as a part of who I am and what I am and where I am.  And you need to know that will never change.  If you can’t handle that, then you don’t belong in my life.

That sounds harsh, I know.  But my life is harsh.  And I need to be honest about that.

I’ve recently said that I will no longer keep the secrets of others, to my detriment.  And part of letting those secrets be freed is accepting that there is a lot of pain and suffering that will also be unleashed.  So, the bad days might increase.

I’ve opened the box, Pandora.  And the chaos that comes out isn’t something that can be controlled.  I can’t plan for the ways that affects my person, my situation, my family, my friends, or my life.  I can only wade through the waters, not stop the flood.

“Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?  Will I wake tomorrow, from this nightmare?”

A line from a song in the musical RENT seems to echo what I am currently feeling.  But the last question has already been answered for me, and for the characters in the show.  We won’t wake from the nightmare.  The bad stuff—the feeling like shit—is still going to be here tomorrow and the next day, and the next.

But the question of my dignity and the question of the others who may or may not care remain.

Can you love a person who is always “deficient” in some way?  Can you care about someone who has no foreseeable economic gains?  Can you respect someone who doesn’t have a “normal”, professional career?  Can you accept a friend or partner who has obvious limitations?  Can you live in the space where the never-ending song plays on?

I must live in that space.  I don’t have an option.  I can’t leave my limits and challenges behind.  They come on the journey.  They stay packed in my baggage and carried along.  They are a part of my life—a part of me.  So, when the never-ending statement, “I feel like shit”, comes along, how will you address it?  How can you best interact with it?  How can you cope?

You can do as I do.  You can honor and validate and give heed to the struggle.  And by so doing, you offer grace and peace and confidence and trust and understanding that transforms.  The song will still be the same, but it is made more beautiful by the harmonies of a choir.

Joining in the honest acknowledgment of my limitations, and knowing that they are not the whole of me, but a valid and important part changes the score.

It transforms pain into beauty.

It makes beautiful music.

 

I Have No Gift to Bring

As I was printing out boarding passes this morning (the beautiful gift from my sister that means I can spend the holiday with family), I was listening to some holiday music.  The Little Drummer Boy carol caught my attention, and I wondered how many times over the years that same carol has caught my attention.

I have no gift to bring; to lay before a king…

This sometimes feels like the story of my life.  And I would welcome you to the story of my life, but you probably don’t have a ton of experience that would help you relate, and I definitely do not want you to gain a ton of experience that would help you relate.

There have always been reasons—totally valid and important reasons—for my inability to afford the gifts that most in North American society consider requisite around the holidays.  And while gifting and giving look really different in different households, there is usually a component of the holiday season that involves offering gifts.

Obviously, the first reason for not giving gifts is childhood.  Kids don’t have money, and when they do have money they usually spend it on stupid shit, like cotton candy or collector cards or fluffy pens.  So, as a child, giving was done on my behalf by my parents.  And while my parents were not “well off” and very far from wealthy, they saved and budgeted in ways that allowed at least a bit of gifting.

After you transition from childhood to adolescence or adulthood, other people stop adding your name to their gifts for others.  And while some of us are blessed with good jobs and parent-provided college tuition, leaving us cash for gifting in this season of life, I was not.  I had the opposite, in a way.  It wasn’t that my parents were not supportive.  They were supportive.  But I was not just transitioning from childhood to adolescence or adulthood.  I was on a downward spiral to total meltdown at the rock bottom.  I was tortured by challenges that most need not face, and this transition meant something intense and painful and confusing and hard.  I didn’t have resources to offer gifts to others.

I can say that I have always been a generous giver.  The lack of resources didn’t always mean that I was balled up into a severe self-interest.  I gave my heart.  I gave my body.  I gave my ideas.  I gave my support and care.  I gave in myriad ways, but not in ways that our society usually recognizes.  Love isn’t considered a good gift, for some reason.  Stuff you spent money on is somehow what defines giving in my society.  Which is sad, because I truly believe that love is so much more valuable than even the most expensive and extravagant stuff.

The rock bottom that I spiraled toward left me in a difficult situation.  A single parent, an addict, and a mentally ill but undiagnosed and untreated person, I was left with few resources to offer others.  I poured my energy and my love into my daughter, into my education, and into my “dead end” jobs that left me still dependent on others to get by and pay for the basic necessities of life.  I still gave my heart and my body and my ideas and my support and care.  But I still felt insufficient due to my lack of having and my lack of giving in this monetary sense that Americans hold so dear.

I pulled my way out of the pit of despair time and again.  Many times because a hand was outstretched to meet mine, and give me aid.  Many times because I forced out the energy needed to climb out of desperation or out of hope—they both push you toward a goal, even though they are such different feelings.  There were moments when there was finally “enough”, and I gave thoughtful gifts to my family members and friends.  There were moments when I was unrolling the toilet tissue from a public toilet onto an empty cardboard roll and putting as much as I was able into my purse—stealing the most basic of items to survive.

Today I find myself in a position of need once more.  And this threatens to be a position that I never get out of—a situation that cannot change.  Disability and all sorts of vulnerability leave me without the resources that I need to survive.  I’m not yet stealing toilet paper, but I am on the brink—the temptation to take what I need when others refuse to give it is strong on some days.  So is the urge to drink too much or start smoking again.  It is desperation that pushes me forward these days.  And I am not in a position to give.  I’m in yet another season of need.

And this gets us back to the start of this post—the little drummer boy.

He has no gift to bring.  He has nothing of worth.  He has no resources.  But he places himself at the altar, packs his love and his talent and puts them under the Christmas tree—or maybe not at the tree, because Christians who would consider the nativity and a lighted tree in tandem didn’t exist during the nativity.  Honestly, nobody considered the nativity on the “actual” nativity, and lighting trees was a pagan ritual that was adapted by people who began to believe in a nativity but missed partying on the solstice.  Instead of giving up the party, they created their own reason for the party.

Pardon the tangent.  But people really should research what they celebrate and why.  It might be both scandalous and helpful, because it would help some see that people of different creeds are not really all that different, when it comes down to ritual and celebration and basic systems of belief.

So, the little drummer boy throws down with his little drummer talents.  He smacks those bongos like nobody’s business.  And all who hear him are pleased with his performance and it is deemed worthy.

I have lost a lot of my “talents” over the years.  My voice doesn’t work, so I don’t sing with the beauty I once did.  I’ve spent many years away from a piano, so that skill has slipped away from me.  I can’t run or dance or throw myself into a role on a stage.  I’m a good writer, and a good artist—maybe even exceptional in those fields—but with my physical and mental limitations due to illness, it can be very hard to complete pages and fill canvas.  I can’t smack bongos like nobody’s business.  I can’t even do the things that I am good at doing anymore.

I used to hear the carol about the little drummer and feel like I could relate.  I had no resources from a financial standpoint, but I could still offer my talents, like that little boy who somehow ended up in a barn with his drum.  I still found value in what I had to offer.

It gets more and more difficult to feel valuable.  Ableism hits me hard at times, and I begin to see that challenges are stacked one atop the other, filling up all the space where the value I once placed upon my life and my self once rested.  There isn’t as much room for feeling like I have something to offer.  Even though I still have much to offer.

Love and care and support and kindness and equity and a voice and a vote and intention—all of these are things that I have to offer.  I don’t need to have anything to place before the king.

I also don’t need to perform for the king.

The mistake that the little drummer boy makes is believing that he needs to offer a performance if he can’t offer stuff.  He doesn’t consider that just being present is, in itself, a gift.  He doesn’t consider that his existence alone has value.  He thinks he needs to bring something monetary, and when he can’t manage that, he thinks he needs to bring some offering of talent.  Why, I wonder, doesn’t he believe that he can just go over to the barn and hug the parents and hold the baby and offer his love as a gift?

Is it because we don’t think that love is a gift?

Love is a gift.  Presence is a gift.  Existence is a gift.

I don’t have extravagant gifts for my family and friends.  I didn’t send out holiday cards, and I don’t have any packages wrapped and placed under the tree.  But I am beginning to realize that I don’t need either the presents or the talents to have a valuable contribution to the holiday.  I AM the valuable contribution.  I AM a gift.

I’m not trying to say, “Look at me!  I am awesome and you should want my presence as your gift!”  I am attempting to convey that the value in this scenario is value inherent in personhood.  Giving things is great.  Sharing talents is great.  But existing—being present—is the greatest.

Being present is the greatest gift that any of us can offer.

Yes, I want presents.  Yes, I want donations to my fundraiser.  Yes, I want contributions to my start-up that help me open a business.  Yes, I want to hear beautiful songs and embrace the talents of others.  But more than these, I simply want presence.  I want to be there for others and have others be there with and for me.  I want to share existence, and honor the gift of being.

I know that is a bit ethereal a concept, and it can be difficult to comprehend my meaning.  In simplest terms, I want to be and let be.  I want to live and let live.

And that, for me, means embracing that I am a gift to those around me.  My open and accepting and loving and helpful and generous self is the only gift I need be concerned with giving.

Having money and resources is wonderful.  I would love to have more money and more resources.  But I don’t need more money and more resources to offer an amazing gift.

I am gift enough.

Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

 

 

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.