I’ve spent 24 of my last 48 hours in bed. I’ve been useless to my friends, probably even disappointing. I haven’t exercised. I have canceled two work sessions (and more may be coming). I haven’t returned professional or personal calls. I ate too much last night despite the lack of exercise. I keep getting food delivered despite it being expensive and unhealthy because the half-a-block to the supermarket seems just a bit too far. My heart begins to beat quickly when I see that I may have to respond to a text or email or when I pick up the phone to reach out. Panic begins. People represent danger.

It’s hard not to judge myself when I know I can’t do the “right thing” in so many different areas at once. It spins me into shame which, in turn, only makes it even harder to try.

It’s the fucking helplessness. It’s the watching yourself struggle to get yourself in to the bathroom to take a piss. It’s the way you sit on the couch with your blood sugar low, feeling dizzy but the idea of even going to the bedroom to order the food on the computer feels like a journey to another city. It’s the stories in your head–imagining everyone’s disappointed face. It’s the imposter syndrome as you try to help people when you know you’re so fucked up that your smelly trash has been at the door since Sunday night. And you know you could have taken it out last night when you were forced to head to your car but the extra 25 yards to the trash bin seemed like too much. It’s the way that you feel like you deserve to have smelly trash at your door.

When I’m happy each day feels like a few seconds. When I’m in a place like this each second feels like a year. It’s like a prison. And I wish I could end this entry with something hopeful. I even feel guilty for sharing the bleakness without hope. But maybe that will come in another entry. Hopefully tomorrow. Maybe in a month or two. I don’t know. I just know that it will FEEL like a long time.

Many of us have our dark places. Those shadowy places in our heads where we get stuck fighting the demons inside. This is what mine is like…

I feel helpless. Dependent. I can’t get out of bed. I find it hard to feed myself. I yearn for a fatherly and/or motherly presence in the sky to step in and hold me in their blessed hands. But…I know that what I most yearn for is what I least need. That it would simply enable the helplessness. And so the battle inside is between the part of me what wishes to be saved and the part of me that knows only I can do it. The paradox of it all is that the latter is hard because…well, it’s hard to breath much less do the work.

I feel like a time traveler who isn’t in control of his time travel machine; who is in different times and places all at once. I feel like I’m in the cradle. I feel like I’m waiting on the porch for my father. I feel like I’m facing every traumatic moment in my whole life at once. My mind says, “You’re okay. You are in a relatively good place in your life. Things are actually okay.” My nervous system says, “Danger! Danger! Hide! Run!”

I feel empty. I feel like I want to devour everything and everyone which terrifies me and, conversely, makes me want to avoid everyone. I’d like to say this was selfless. And certainly, there is a bit of a selfless component. But a big chunk of it is just survival. I know how the hungry ghost comes across to others. Hell, I know how I respond to hungry ghosts!

I feel so lonely. From this place it’s hard to take anything in; so the loneliness isn’t about not having anyone, it’s about knowing that it’s hard to feel it. And the harder I try to feel it, the further I get.

I start to feel ashamed and guilty. I tell myself that I’m a bad everything. I feel like I’m falling short in my duties as…everything.

That’s the thing with my dark place. Trying hard doesn’t work. A lot of people think mental illness is a weakness of will. It’s not. I have a strong will. Stubborn even. I fight and I fight and I fight but it seems to make things worse. Yet it’s hard to “let go”; to “give in”. I think it’s a bit like quicksand. The instinct is to flail and fight to get myself out, but it only makes me sink.

So here I am. I think I have a map. The map that will help me get back home. But it looks like such a long and painful journey and I feel so….weak. Maybe it’s okay to crawl home. The way I crawl from the gym to my car (metaphorically speaking). I don’t know. I just know that it’s hard and that I haven’t any choice.

The Raincoats

It feels almost taboo to listen to The Raincoats. They sing in forbidden voices. Their beats, for reasons I cannot articulate but that I can feel in my belly, are created by and for women. The guitars and strings are adventurous. No, that is not quite right; rather, they take the listener on an adventure. And lastly, and once again for reasons I cannot articulate (I worry that my readers will get sick of hearing me say that but it is difficult to translate the inner experience of sounds to words!), they make me feel like I’m listening in on them rather than listening to them.

Indeed, I imagine them playing for themselves and a few friends in the living room of an old house while I lie alone in the attic, ear pressed to the floorboards, taking in every second of the odd, heartfelt, unfettered, gorgeous wildness of their music. I shouldn’t be allowed to listen. I’m halfway ashamed but I can’t help myself. I listen. I listen breathlessly. Gratefully. Happily. With tears streaming down my cheeks.

Part of what makes The Raincoats so extraordinary is that they are in some ways so ordinary. None of them possess any sort of technical mastery over their instruments. They sound primitive. They are free from the pressure of playing things “the right way”. They are free from the male posturing that inevitably impacts the sound of so much music. That is it: freedom. Their lack of technical knowledge allows them a broader palate; it gives the music an extraordinary purity. The ordinariness gives birth to something extraordinary.

(It is funny. The Raincoats make me think of a close friend who I don’t think would even like their music. Someone who I believe, in many ways, belongs to the wilderness. Who I can so easily imagine running through the trees barefoot while howling wildly. Someone who, when she dances, dances to her own rhythms.)

We can wax poetic about music and yet, at the end of the day, I know that music is something quite visceral. It moves you or it doesn’t. Yet it is so human to want to communicate our joy and passion. Our pain and sadness. So maybe this is my way of doing that today. My way of sharing with those I love passionately something I love passionately.

————————–

A beauty only loved at night
At daytime a face full of marks
Her eyes have been in flames all night
The sun won’t have eyes for her again
Only loved at night, the lady in the dark

Knew the size of tall buildings
How dear a day-kiss could be
Those buildings that saw all the airplanes
That kissed the air in vain fantasy
Only loved at night, the lady in the dark

Didn’t her eyes reflect all of this?
Why couldn’t they look into her eyes?
Didn’t each night love her another time?
Male nights and sometimes female

Boys loved her at night
Girls loved her in the dark

“Watch her slowly die
Saw it in her eyes
Choking on a bed”

“Words cannot express/Words are useless”

–Public Image Limited, “Death Disco” (aka “Swan Lake”)

One of the greatest gifts that rock/pop music has given me is an appreciation for the way words and sounds can express unspeakable and taboo thoughts and feelings. In the passage above John Lydon howls with harrowing intensity about watching his mother die of cancer. The cold metallic textures of the guitars create the sound of hopeless despair while the trance-like bass and drums ground things so deeply into the ground that it brings to my mind the image of a coffin being buried in the soil.

This is not pleasant. It is not an easy song to which to listen. For many it may even seem masochistic to subject oneself to something that sounds so unhinged. I, for one, find it beautiful. The song has accompanied me for more than two decades of my life. I return to it multiple times a year.

If you’re lucky (and I am indeed lucky) you have a few people in your life with whom you can talk about anything, including those dark and heavy thoughts, feelings and memories that haunt us and that which many people have no desire to hear. I have people in my life who are so deep and expansive that almost nothing is taboo. But every once in a while I remember the moment my grandmother called out to me in the wee hours of the morning. I have no idea how long she had been calling out for me. I only know that I ran to her bedside, that she was choking and that I dialed emergency services. I watched her lips turn blue. I froze. I didn’t deliver CPR. I didn’t do anything. In fact, I don’t remember how I passed the time until the firetruck arrived. I just remember that she was suddenly lying on the living room floor as they tried to resuscitate her. She never recovered consciousness. Family came from everywhere. The hospital was flooded with extended family. This is all a blur. The only thing I remember with clarity was weighing in on the fact that we should pull the plug. I remember saying goodbye to her. I remember a nurse brushing her hair: a memory that still fills my heart with the unspeakable beauty of humanity.

I digress. Or perhaps I do. I have lost track of my original intention. Give me a moment…

Despite the moments of love and beauty, watching my grandmother die, remembering my own helplessness…it’s lonely and painful. It was harrowing. And sometimes to feel understood I need something that can mirror this. No matter how many wonderful people I have in my life, it is an experience I went through alone. As John Lydon sings in the closing moments, “Words cannot express/words are useless”. I was the one there at that moment. I was the one to whom she cried out to save her. And perhaps I was the one who failed her. When I hear this song I feel accompanied in that memory. Nothing is sugarcoated. I am given permission to freely feel the naked raw emotions. There was nothing beautiful in that moment. And, on the surface of things, there is nothing beautiful about the song. But that’s what makes the song so beautiful to me: it is real, primal and, therefore, perfect in the way it captures an aspect of human experience about which many, unfortunately, do not wish to talk about or feel.

At first glance this may sound elitist or snobby, but I assure my readers that I am coming from a purer place than that when I say: we need art that is challenging; art that may at first glance seem unbecoming or awful. Or at least I do. Though it was never something I gave thought to when I was younger and discovering such music, I believe my experiences with art like this is partly what has given me the gift of finding beauty in the unconventional and the mundane. There is some beauty that you have to sit with to discover; that requires mental and emotional investment. Art that doesn’t come wrapped in a sweet and tidy package. (To be clear I also love music that is melodic and more instantly appealing. I just don’t limit myself to that.)

I doubt my readers will do it but I cannot help but hope that they might listen to the song. And just when they decide it is an irredeemable piece of noise to stay with it. Maybe to even wonder what it is that is so frightening or unpleasant. And if not, that’s okay as well. I just wanted to share my love for something that I think is beautiful even if painful and difficult.

The worst things about my depression…

It can sneak up on me. I can wake up one morning and it is there lying on top of me, pushing down on my chest with its leaden hands. It is as though it crawled into my bed uninvited while I slept. It is a violation of my body and mind.

It keeps me from taking care of myself. My blood sugar is low and my fridge is empty. The supermarket is 300 yards away from my apartment but it may as well be three cities over. And of course that makes sense since I also need a shower and my bathroom feels as though it is unreachable. The front door feels like a threshold that is impossible to pass. Through its awful grin it mocks me, “Thou shall remain hungry, dirty and inert!”

It is a cold, foggy, vast and uninhabitable moorland. A lonely place. It separates me from myself and others.

But the worst thing of all…It is not the sadness. It is not even the pain. It is the way it keeps me from living. It is the helplessness I feel as it wastes precious time. So much time….wasted.

Getting the random thoughts out so that I won’t feel lonely or trapped in my head…

It’s hard to have an open heart when you feel sad and lonely. I think it’s why I have been crying on an off for…god, I think it’s been about 3.5 days. There aren’t always sad thoughts preceding the tears; they often come the way hunger does–like an involuntary bodily function. Today I woke up and within a minute I had tears in my eyes. I got plenty of sleep. I went to bed with a relatively warm and happy mindset and yet my eyes were moist again.

I think I’m grieving. Only I don’t think it’s the sort of grief everyone would understand. There have been no recent deaths or breakups. Just changes in all of my relationships over the past few years. Good changes. Or rather, changes representing positive things in the lives of my loved ones. And I’m happy for them while at the same time feeling a bit sad for myself. Right now it doesn’t feel like self-pity. Though I cannot deny at times falling into self-pity, right now I just feel sad. I suppose the difference is that I don’t feel like a victim in any way. I just feel…like I need to find a way to create more of something.

*

I wonder how life would be if we didn’t have walls up. If there were no “isms” or violence or trauma. I like to imagine that people would walk around with open hearts and that their faces would be windows rather than masks. In a world where nobody has been deeply wounded, there would no reason to hide one’s joyful smiles or one’s sweet sad tears. Strangers would high five and hug one another. People would console one another. Nobody would be hungry because without trauma I don’t believe there would be so much greed. Nobody could bear to watch a fellow human starve. Friends would be made left and right. There would be a sense of community wherever you turned. I think that is my little fantasy. My little vision of utopia. If it is naive then so be it–that’s why it’s a fantasy.

*

Sometimes I impress myself. I realize how much I am able to do despite all of my mental health stuff. These tears have not stopped me from doing a decent job at work. They haven’t stopped me from exercising or keeping my apartment clean. They haven’t stopped me from keeping up on paperwork, hygiene or finances. I don’t think it’s easy to do so much alone even without mental health issues. I am an everyday hero (among millions upon millions of others, of course).

*

I realize that both depression and sadness make me want the same thing: to stay under a blanket and watch films and read. The difference is that when I’m sad I derive satisfaction from the blanket and the reading whereas when I’m depressed it doesn’t feel like a choice. I suppose the other difference is that when I’m sad others are, theoretically speaking, welcome to share the warmth of the blanket whereas when I’m depressed it is harder to make room for that.

*

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. I not only told him I loved him but I told him that he’s a “good dad”. I have never told him that. I don’t know why I said it when it’s only one slice of the truth (by that I only mean that none of us are only one thing). I think I have become more aware of his mortality. I know that he will not be around forever and I don’t want him to focus on the ways he neglected me growing up. He once shared his pain about this (a good 15 years ago I think) and I want him to let it go. I want him to feel lighter. To feel less regret. I also thanked him for supporting me in all the ways that he does to which he said, “I’ll always have your back”. I think my dad is very very sweet in his own way. Needless to say when I got off the phone I collapsed into tears. Not bad tears. I was just…moved. I think it’s going to be really hard to lose him. I think when I lost my grandparents my walls were higher with them. My walls aren’t that high with my dad. And I know that’s a good thing but…yeah, it’s going to hurt.

*

I’m crying right now. I almost want to laugh at myself (not in a mean way). I am a walking, talking crying machine.

I can’t seem to stop crying the last couple of days. Or rather, I can keep it together really well during work hours, but otherwise I seem to be quite fragile. It’s not ideal but it’s not the the worst thing in the world. Sometimes my BPD can make it so that I don’t feel anything. It makes my nervous system involuntarily shut down. That is awful. This is just sadness and loneliness with a tinge of insecurity. I suppose I find this more bearable because this way I’m still right here–I’m not gone or absent.

I feel needy but I’m not disowning the neediness. Yes, that too is right there: the desire for hugs and companionship and affection. I want to stand on my balcony and scream out “Gimme love everyone!” This probably means I have to give myself love. That’s rarely easy for me.

Changing subjects (yes this really is just a random journal entry that I’m sharing because I feel a bit lonely), I realized yesterday that I generally work well with clients who are counter-dependent; that is, clients who are so deeply sensitive that they have learned to disown their vulnerability and their needs; those who see themselves almost exclusively as strong and independent.

A twenty-some year old client said to me yesterday , “I’m a chill person”. I looked at her and said, “I understand why you’d say that. But the truth is more nuanced. I think you are sensitive and feel intensely. I think you are profoundly deep. You learned to disown all of that. Well done surviving. But I want you to know that I see how much you have going on in there and that I’m ready for whenever it’s ready to come out.” The client immediately grew tearful and said, “Damn….okay yes.” I asked her what it was like to hear what I said and she replied, “Hard but I also feel a lot of gratitude”. She felt loved. I could tell. And, in that moment, it was true: I was loving her with all of my heart.

The thing is…that’s easy for me. Or rather, my work self has a much easier time of things. It is easier for me to be loving toward my clients that it is to be loving toward myself. When I’m with clients some of my own adaptations come in handy.

For example, the radar I have developed to read people can often hurt me so much in my day-to-day life because it can trigger me into painful narratives. I think my radar is quite refined but somewhere between the radar and my brain the message gets distorted. But at work the information the radar sends me is usually full of clarity and insight. Thus the narratives I write for my clients are more accurate and helpful than those I write for myself. At work my radar is like a super power. I put it to good use there. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a good therapist. I sometimes see things they haven’t seen yet. Or at least things they turn their backs on. And I usually get away with confronting them with it because I say things from a calm loving place. No, I’m not perfect and sometimes my timing is off or sometimes my motives are off but guess what? Work-Me is very forgiving. That is, I don’t tend to beat myself up for mistakes there.

It’s not ideal that my work life is where I feel like my best self. I mean, I’m grateful that I have place where I can utilize my traumas and my life experience in a way that is generally beneficial to others. It means the world to me. But I’m also aware that part of what allows me to be my best self there is that while it’s a very intimate sort of relationship I don’t see it as a place to get my needs met in a direct way (in an indirect way it fills all sorts of needs, to be sure) so I don’t get triggered. There I can’t be abandoned. There I can’t feel the intensity of my original trauma.

The self-judgment just came up for me right now. About this entire entry. I’m calling myself self-indulgent for talking about myself in a way that isn’t especially creative. Who am I to take up this space? I’m telling myself that it’s okay and that I’m a lovable person to counter that. But then tears come to my eyes again. Yup, the tears are streaming down.

It’s funny though, if someone said to me that the tears would keep coming for the rest of my life and that I would never again feel numb I would take it. I would say, “Yeah, maybe that’s okay.” I’m not saying that it’s what I want. I would like to feel lighter and happier more frequently. But between the two extremes of crying-fragile vs. numb it’s no contest. At least from here I can talk and get some catharsis. Here the river flows even if the river is full of tears.

Well, it’s time to rest and have a snack before my last three clients. If nothing else I’ll get a little break from the tears during those three hours. And I have a good film waiting for me to finish. Soulful. Smart. Beautiful. That feels good too. In fact, I’m willing to bet I’ll shed a few tears while I watch. Shocking, I know.

I sit and wait for my omelette and salad. I wanted the potatoes but I ate two big cookies last night. I place my coffee down on a table. A tiny table for one. My knees bang the bottom of the table as I pull up the chair. I do not fit. A bit of coffee spills. These tables are not made for one such as me. I am special and the spill on the table is my proof. I am not special and the mountains and the aches in my body are my proof. I smile beneath my mask before removing it. Naked faces all around me. I tell myself to keep looking up. Look up and smile with your eyes. No one sees me. I cannot tell if this makes me sad or if it is a comfort so I let it be both. Young couple. The pretty young woman takes a tiny bite of a strawberry. Her skin is white and smooth and unblemished. The pretty young man says something funny and the pretty girl laughs. His skin is olive and smooth and unblemished. They seem happy this morning. I wonder if they will be happy in the afternoon as well. A young girl leans her tired body against her mom. Her mom wraps an arm around her. How nice it must be to lean on someone with one’s entire weight. “Breakfast?” The server asks me as he sets the plate down before me. I wonder why he states it as a question. “Yes”, I say. The omelette is good. The ham is juicy and the vegetable bits are fresh. The cheese is extra stretchy and I think to myself that it must be a fancy cheese of some sort because it has a deliciously pungent flavor. I feel like a tourist in places like these. It is my version of traveling. I am the only one here alone. I check to see if that bothers me. It does not bother me this time. I finish my omelette. I feel full. Full with food. Full with people. It is time to go home and read. I am sleepy.

You grow accustomed to the quiet. It becomes a blanket. It keeps you warm and insulates you from the world. You could reach out. You could speak. But the longer you wear the blanket the less you have to say. You lose interest in what is out there and since your very Self is out there you lose interest in that as well.

Art is a reliable mirror. One you can depend on. You find your despair in a jagged guitar line. Melancholy in a minor chord. Loneliness in a well-written, well-drawn comic book panel. Come to think of it, it is largely through art that you largely found and constructed your Self. There I found the validation, companionship and understanding that I sought…that I seek.

In your typical fashion you want to vacillate between idealizing this way of being and completely devaluing it. Between leaning all the way in or destroying it. You resist the urge. You decide instead to continue describing it.

When you stay under the blanket long enough the outside world becomes a dream. You walk through a supermarket and somehow the people seem less real than the song or the characters in the book. If the cashier asks you about your day you watch yourself respond as though you were but a passive observer.

You no longer know what you want and need. Your thoughts become foggy and your emotions are a big ball of everything and nothing. You lose the fragile calm and reach for the novel or the movie or the comic and….there you are. You find your Self. Not directly. Just the reflected image of different parts. Just enough to cobble together a modicum of solidity. Enough to get you through.

Is this living or is this just a life support system? There you go again, trying to categorize things into polarizing opposites. The truth is that it is both and everything in between. Day to day and minute to minute it means something different. You can, even if distantly, see that you use this to avoid life. You can stand one foot to the left and see a staggering sensitivity to art, a truly felt sense of why it is so important. A few inches to the right and you pat yourself on the back for your resourcefulness. One inch back and you can access the crushing loneliness. Four inches further and you see how in many ways you are never alone.

And now you have spoken. And you check in with yourself and realize that you don’t care if anyone hears; that the blanket is thick. And you know that there is something both wonderful and sad about being free of expectations but also, perhaps, short on hope. And you know you must feed yourself. Not because you are hungry but because you feel weak. And so you will eat.

Aged out of delusions. The restless hunger is there but you no longer hunt. You build your chest. Create steel on the outside. You still cannot bear the weight. Beneath remains the hollowness and longing you have always known. Humbled hopes and dreams. One breath. One without the hollowness or the weight. That is all you wish for. Nothing more.