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

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Project

Over the last several weeks I have been embarking on a project to increase my wall art.  I’ve lived in this apartment for five years now, and it is about time that I make the walls my own, instead of just putting a few things on existing nails leftover from someone else’s decorating.

It is a bit strange that there are any leftover nails, since the apartment was rehabbed before I moved in, but either there was a laziness about my apartment’s painters, or the nails that stayed were deeply embedded and left after some effort for removal failed.  But regardless of why they remain, I have used them for my own purposes, and put up a few pictures in the places that had some hardware already installed.

When my daughter and I moved in here, I had recently had surgery and couldn’t lift anything, so friends and family loaded my belongings on one end of the move, and nearby family unloaded those belongings and placed the heavy things in the places to which I pointed on the other end.  And while I am very grateful for the help that I received, once we were alone in the apartment that first evening, it still seemed overwhelming.  Unpacking each box and placing everything where it would come to belong was arduous, and more so because I wasn’t supposed to carry heavy things, and I own too many heavy things.  Even the boxes of bedding become heavy if you pack tightly enough—and I packed tightly enough.

So, turning the bare space into home took a long time.  And filling the spaces where we had left items behind also took time.  I’ve always used moving as an opportunity to purge, and I got rid of a lot of things before the packing even took place.  But over time, I had furniture and shelving and décor to make this house a home.  Except the walls.

I don’t know if it is the habit of moving every year for many years, or my own feelings of not being able to put roots down, or not having the energy to measure and countersink and nail that has kept the walls mostly bare.  I suspect that it has more to do with the feelings, but I can’t always find reasons for what I do with precision.

I do know that I have somehow shifted my thinking, and I want to cover the walls with items and words and pictures that make me feel comfortable and at home.

But, like all the projects around here, this one is about a quarter of the way to completion.

I have the habit of not finishing things.  And it isn’t because I am lazy … though I can claim fatigue and illness keep me from getting things done.  It probably has more to do with boredom.  I start a thing excited about the process of doing and with great expectations for the final product.  But hours or days or months down the road, I don’t find it fun, and I don’t care about it much, and I completely lose interest.

This habit results in all sorts of unfinished projects.  In a corner, there is a bin full of denim and denim strips that is meant to be a braided rug.  On my drafting table lie two unfinished canvases that are meant to be art over my bed.  In another two bins there are piles of fabric that are to be used for quilt making, once I can figure out how it is that I used to sew—clearly it is not a skill that I remember with ease.  There are coasters my mom painted that never got a coat of varnish as her dementia began to affect her art, which are still waiting for that coat of varnish.  I have a ball of yarn still wrapped around knitting needles in a bag, a potential scarf with multiple holes, because I suck at knitting, frankly.  There is a pitch fork setting on the landing where I requested the landlord leave it, so I could plant a row of lavender bushes along the side fence.

I clearly don’t discriminate.  Sewing, paper crafts, photo albums, gardening, and painting all sit unfinished and create disarray in my office/art studio space. I have tried to work out, time and again, why I lose interest in everything and complete almost nothing.  And I have no answer better than “I am an innovator”.

It is true.  I am an innovator.  I have all the ideas and little of the follow-through.  If I could be paid to think of new and interesting ideas, I would never have another financial struggle.  I am extraordinarily gifted in brainstorming, creating, and starting things.  I am really bad at the finishing of those things.

And while I don’t know that innovation is the full reason behind me not completing projects, it does point to some truths about me that should not be ignored.

I lose interest.  I need to be drawn into a thing, and it has to keep revealing itself as new and interesting. And I suspect this applies to all of my life.

The other day I had a second date with someone.  As we talked over our cups of tea, she told me the same story she had told me on date one.  She repeated the same information not just once, but twice, in one date—and the second date.  There should have been new things to talk about on date two!  And, just like that, I was disinterested not only in the repetitive stories, but also in the person telling them.  I wasn’t drawn in.  She didn’t reveal herself in new and interesting ways.  I even wondered if she was dating so many women that she didn’t actually remember to whom she had expressed what stories.  And our own story has likely ended because she told me hers twice.

That might seem harsh to some—especially those who are very accommodating and accustomed to routine.  But it doesn’t seem harsh to me, because that is how I approach all sorts of things.  I need that interest and I need that newness and I need things to change.  The reasons behind that need are vast and complex and numerous, I suspect.   The reasons are also, likely, contradictory—adding to the cognitive dissonance and dichotomy that I am prone to struggle with in life.

I think that I might always want change because I am afraid of stability, and I am afraid of endings, and I am afraid of stasis.  But I am afraid of those things because I want those things.  (Yes, I am aware that makes no sense.)  I would love to end the moving and find security and become a permanent fixture in a space of my own.  But I don’t believe that I am capable of that ending and finding and becoming, based on the events of my past.  I’ve lost faith in the idea that I can be home.

Security was very much lacking in my youth.  And not because I wasn’t offered a loving home or my needs weren’t met, physically.  My parents worked hard to provide for me, and I am ever grateful.  But I also felt captive and wanted to escape my childhood home, my town, my church, my school, and more.  I never felt home and safe and whole in any of those spaces.  I still don’t.  I might never feel home and safe and whole in those spaces.  And because I didn’t feel home and safe and whole, I longed for that.  I looked in all sorts of places for that feeling.  I think a few times I came close to finding that feeling, but something always stepped in the way, and restrained me as I tried to reach out for it.  Every time I thought I had found wholeness and a place to call home, it was torn from me or shattered or inaccessible.  And every time that shattering and tearing happened, I became more convinced that I wasn’t allowed to feel home.  I would never be whole.  I would never stay.

So, I keep moving, and I don’t dare to finish the projects and put the things on the wall.  I fear that the moment I claim this space as my home, it will be taken from me.  And that threat looms larger given my financial stress and disabled status.  I don’t trust that this is home.  I don’t trust that there will ever be one for me.  I’ve lost much of the hope that I can own a home, or feel at home, or ever be whole.  And my projects are like my soul—not complete.

I think there is some comfort to be found, however.  And I think that comfort comes in the starting of every new project.  I believe that the constant beginnings mean that I am still fighting toward the idea that home can happen, and that wholeness can be found, and that art installation isn’t necessarily a death sentence for the walls around me.  I trust that the new projects are proofs of the security and ownership and stasis to come.  I believe that one day my longing will be answered with fullness, and all of these projects can be completed—even the project that is my soul.

It might still take some months or years to complete the rug and the quilts and the art pieces for my walls.  And maybe some of those projects will be crossed off the list and the materials discarded or repurposed at some point.  But many of them will one day be finished and added to my home.

I have created a comfortable space here, in my spacious and sunny Westside apartment.  And even if it isn’t my permanent home, I am determined to claim more and more of it, for the time being.  I have finished some projects—building an amazing desk, creating a peaceful and inviting yoga and meditation space, curating the perfect guest room items to make others feel welcome, putting together the bits and pieces that come in the box of pre-drilled furniture items.  I think I can safely say that I will complete more projects over time.  And I think that I can safely say that I will work through the challenges of wholeness and home that present themselves as I work on completing those projects.

Hopefully, at some point, I can find enough peace and wholeness within myself that I don’t feel the need and longing that creates strife for my spirit, and makes me fear the loss and lack that accompany insecurity.  I still work to keep new ideas of a beautiful future at the forefront of my mind.  I work to keep on creating and brainstorming.  I imagine the home of my dreams.  It isn’t extravagant and it isn’t large.  It is just comfortable, bright, and happy.

And there are lots of finished projects on the walls.

Some things never change

I’m sort of a change addict.  I rearrange things all the time.  From the files in my office to the paints in my studio to the furniture in the rooms to the items on my bedside table, I am always looking for another way to place things.  And I often like to pretend that it is for increased efficiency—and sometimes it accidentally brings about increased efficiency—but I think it is just that things need to be constantly in flux for me to feel comfortable.

This is actually the opposite of what makes most people comfortable.  Stability and stasis and knowing that you won’t bang your toes on a credenza that wasn’t there yesterday seem to be more comfortable for most.

I used to attribute my desire for change to boredom.  I just figured I was the kind of person who needed new scenery … and that is true in part.  Highly intelligent and creative people often need movement and change, and lots of us live in mess or chaos as a result.  We feel life more than just live it.  And, like anything that you see or feel each and every day, you become numb to things if they stay the same for too long.

Once my daughter’s teacher thought she would place a brightly colored sticky note to my daughter’s desk to remind her of something.  That sticky note had an effect for about a week and a half.  After that time, the note just became a part of my daughter’s normal desk environment.  It no longer screamed brightly to remember, but it sort of faded into the everyday.

For those of us who feel our way through life, everything fades into the everyday, and we need something new in order to feel stimulated and excited and motivated.

I am one of those people, so boredom is an apt way to describe much of my need for change.

But, over time, I discovered something else about the way I desire change.  It felt like an escape.  It felt like freedom.  It felt like a release from captivity.  And it still does.

I often describe my situation as “stuck”.  I can’t afford to move.  I can’t find decent housing with a voucher that is meant to safeguard the poor from not finding decent housing (another tale for another time, perhaps).  I can’t leave the state without throwing my disability case out the window after 16 months of fighting for my rights.  I can’t change the ways my body and mind react to particular stimuli.  I can’t end the pain that plagues my whole body.  I can’t stop seeing the doctors and therapists who already know and have seen the ways my disease affects me.  I can’t end the awareness of the past events that led to this point.  I feel trapped within my disability and within a particular way of living as a result.

And I want to escape once more.

I keep changing what I can.  The furniture, the nightstand contents, the filing system all move around.  But I’m still feeling stuck.

Last night, while I was attempting to catch up on the washing of dishes (a failed attempt, but a bit of progress at least), I was thinking about my relationship with my mom.  It wasn’t great, for most of my teen and adult years.  We didn’t understand one another very well, and communicating emotion wasn’t a strong point for her, and obeying without question wasn’t a strong point of mine.  We argued as a result.  But last night I was thinking more about how she must have felt when all I wanted to do was escape, and even though I don’t really think my mom floats around my kitchen in some non-corporeal form, I said aloud, “I’m sorry if it hurt you Mom, but I needed to try … I needed to try to be free.”

I hadn’t thought of what I did from age 18 to 28 as trying to be free before, at least not in any real and deep sense.  But I was trying to be free.  I didn’t want to be captive or kept.  And running from place to place and moving from man to man and snorting line after line felt like flying after years of living caged.  It wasn’t a crazy person living out her crazy.  It wasn’t a woman lost seeking a place to fit in.  It was freedom–finally freedom!  And all of those things in all of that time didn’t necessarily serve me well or bring me wholeness and good, but they weren’t necessarily meant to do that anyway.  They were just meant to be the opposite of captivity.

When my little dog gets free of the tethers that hold him, he runs like a motherfucking bat out of hell.  He doesn’t know where he is going, or why.  He doesn’t care.  He just runs, and runs, and runs, and runs.  And there isn’t any catching him.  You have to run past him (which, by the way, sucks for a good runner, so the few times I have had to do so I nearly died as a result) and then convince him that running in the other direction sounds fun, leading him back toward the house or car from which he escaped.  Freedom.  Flying.  Just going because you are finally allowed to go.

I spent 10 years of my life flying in glorious freedom.

And then, I went back to living as others expected or anticipated I would or should.  Because you can only run so far before you tire and need to turn around.  But I still miss the flying.  I still miss that freedom.

There are all sorts of expectations once more, and there is a lot of weight to the conditions of disability and poverty that I am struggling to carry, and there are rules and rules and rules about how you may or may not be when you are dependent on others (and very few of the rules or expectations are reasonable or intuitive or helpful).  And I start to feel trapped and stuck and without an exit plan.  It reminds me of being a child, and not being able to express that really bad shit was going on in my life, and not being old enough or aware enough to leave the situation to which I felt captive.  All the ways I tried to escape that captivity—throwing tantrums, threatening my abuser, trying to run away, becoming despondent, sleep walking, wetting the bed—went unrecognized or were blamed on other causes.

I don’t fault the people in my life who didn’t know those were attempts at escape.  It isn’t easy to understand when you haven’t been informed or educated about such things.  All you see is a bunch of crazy and inconvenient and inappropriate, and you don’t know how to fix it.  And even when I did get the attention of therapists or doctors, they were kinda shitty therapists or doctors, and they did more harm than good in most cases. I wasn’t properly diagnosed with C-PTSD until a year and a half ago, because I had a breakdown/freak out/panic in the right place and the right time, for a change.

The thing about this desire for freedom, however, is that it starts to morph into something new as I age and become more aware.  I still want to run away, but I want to run to a place that brings stability, a therapeutic environment, and release from the debt and dependence of poverty.  Being free looks more like stasis and stability than I like to admit at times.  And I think that I would still rearrange the furniture and the files and the art supplies and the books in this more stable version of freedom, but I don’t think that it would make me feel stuck or captive or without freedoms.  If I had a little house on the beach, just big enough for me and the dog, and the occasional visit from my dad or my daughter, and if I could swim every day and get a massage and take a walk along the water, and if I could write and create and sell my work, and if I could grow a few plants out in my tiny garden instead of on an apartment window sill, and if I could choose the life I want and not be forced into situations that I don’t want, I could feel free in one place, and not ever need to feel the need to flee or fight or struggle toward something else.

I started with a title that implied that things don’t change.  And many things don’t.  But many things do.  And it isn’t true that the more things change they more they stay the same, even if my freedom becomes a little cottage which I own and can settle into for years to come.  Because, while that seems like stasis, it is much different from anything I have experienced in all my years—it is something I choose, without influence and expectation and abuse and appropriate cultural expression and manipulation and guilt and force making me choose (which isn’t really choice at all).

Much has changed inside of me, and in the way I see myself, and in the ways I understand my history and my illness, and in the ways that I act and react because of new awareness, and in the way I treat myself as a result.  But much has not changed.

I still long to be free.

I still want to fly.