My shower.

The water hits my upper-arm hot and prickly, runs down my forearm hurriedly and, finally, cascades off my finger tips slowly, softly and warmly. I cannot separate myself from the water. I am a a waterfall. My heart beats more gently and yet, somehow, more loudly. I place my entire body under the water to stay warm, close my eyes and begin to smell.

The scent of the body wash sends me back to the moment my friend and I were at the drugstore; that moment of being in complete agreement that the scent was just right. I smell the lavender from my bar of face soap–strong but not overpowering. There is a perfect mixture of masculine and feminine in the combined scents. They are undeniable but not overpowering. I open my eyes.

I look at the hairs on my arm; the way they are curling and moving in different directions under the water. I flex an arm and touch the steeliness of my own bicep. And then I look down at my big hairy belly and rub it with my left hand. I imagine it is a furry animal belly (I am, after all, an animal, am I not?) and my muscles relax somehow. Suddenly it does not matter what I look like from the outside–I just like how I feel.

Is it wrong to want to spend the day in bed when I can see from it the gorgeous red geraniums framed by the kitchen window? Is it bad to remain prone when I can see to my right the people and cars going to and fro? When my comforter warms, ever so gently, my bare legs and torso? What better thing is out there for me today? Here I can daydream and fantasize from every part of me.

My drowsy lover lies next to me on her side facing the window. I slowly trace her silhouette with the silky tickle of a geranium, following each brush of the flower with a gentle kiss. She guides me with her breath and with her body movements. The light touch of the petals are too ticklish. I toss the flower aside and rely on my kisses and the firm, but gentle, touch of the flat of my hand. A sensual feedback system…

I wake up with vim and vigor. My philosophy is that sleep is for the dead. I can’t wait to join the whirling and twirling of the life down there outside my window. To go buy a cup of coffee and flirt and joke and chat. My friends think I’m fun to be around. I rarely feel exhausted. I don’t have the slightest notion what it means to want to spend the day in bed.

I won’t bore my readers with more…I can say that the kid would probably have a superhero fantasy or a fantasy about being held like a baby. The psychotherapist would be excited to read and learn more. Etc. My point is that here right now the possibilities are endless. I can be almost anything.

How can I approximate any of this in my day today?

In lieu of the lover I could take a long warm shower and feel the water falling onto my skin. In lieu of the man with vim and vigor I could force myself to take a walk and remember to smile at someone. In lieu of being a superhero I could read a comic before work…I will. But I won’t lie: it’s hard to give this up. It’s so comfortable here.

I’m on the careful side of the safety spectrum during this pandemic. I’m not perfect but I’m confident I’m one of the more careful ones. I still don’t feel comfortable to sit and eat at a restaurant. I’m still not ready to travel on a train, bus, boat or airplane. And yet…I would pay a LOT of money for a lengthy cuddle. I would risk my life and self-quarantine for a month after in order to have a thirty minute cuddle.

I woke up at 5am today and couldn’t get back to sleep. I googled “lack of touch COVID” and the first hit had the term “touch starvation”. I went down the rabbit hole of skimming dozens of these articles. Many of them were written before the pandemic helping me see that this was not just a trendy term that was invented in the past couple of months but rather a real phenomenon that leads to depression, anxiety, irritability, reactivity and…a tendency to avoid secure attachments!

The trauma I carried with me into this pandemic already predisposed me to literally EVERYTHING on that list. ALL OF IT. And I’m living through a period that is eliciting those things even in people who do not have trauma. It’s no wonder I feel half-crazy. It’s not a shock I spend so much energy trying to hold it all together. It makes sense that no matter how hard I try to be kind to myself and mindful I still feel that something essential is missing.

And the desperation behind that…there’s nowhere to go with it. I mean…I try. I exercise. I work. I try to do sweet things. But they are all coping mechanisms. Think of it this way…imagine you are hungry for food. You can drink water and meditate and push through the pangs. You can “cope”. But eventually you will begin to starve.

Yes, I would pay for a cuddle. No, not a massage–a cuddle/hug. It’s true. Man or woman. So long as they had kind and warm energy. But even that is just a fantasy. A fantasy as useless as the fantasy that a magical vaccine will be released on 1/1/2021 and that we will all go back to “normal”.

The articles…they were helpful in terms of validating me. Not so much in terms of offering solutions. Don’t get me wrong–they offered the best they could offer. Good solid ideas. Most of which I use or have tried to use: exercise, self-massage/touch, touching a cat/dog, mindfulness, etc. And I’m not knocking any of this. For all I know doing these things have kept me from walking off a cliff. But the hunger pangs….they find their way back because I haven’t truly eaten in seven months and there is nothing on the horizon.

I’m going to watch a football game now. I’ll ride the emotional roller coaster of that to distract me from the real roller coaster! And then…then I’ll do many of the things on those lists. I’ll probably exercise and eat meals and use my massager gizmo and pet the dog etc etc.

If you have good safe touch in your life…please do not take it for granted. But I don’t think I’m writing this for those who do. I mean, don’t get me wrong…I’m writing this for me. To keep from going all the way nutty. But I think a small part of me is hoping that I have some reader in Taiwan or Iceland or Argentina or Detroit that might be going through this too. And to them–imaginary or not–I’m tapping my heart and blowing a kiss.

This is where I feel free. Least alone. (At least when I can keep my critical voice out.) When the voice in my head gets too intense it helps me feel in control to move the words from inside my head to out there on the screen. I would like to do creative writing again, to be less literal about things–but I can’t go back there yet. I can barely remember the guy who did that consistently. It probably has something to do with the rest of my “stuckness” (lack of libido, creativity, etc). So what I’m left with is a semi-public diary. A compromise between having conversations and remaining completely silent.

This is one of those times when I needed to write in order to soothe myself but not because I had anything specific to say. In my head there were a list of things forming–things I miss and don’t miss. The things-I-miss-list was getting really big and I began to feel sad and hopeless. So I turned to the keyboard. Crap, I don’t have anything more to say but I feel like I need to keep writing for a big longer. Yes it’s self-indulgent but it’s better than alcohol, drugs, cutting, etc, isn’t it?

When I think about writing creatively I think of writing from a more serene and observational perspective. From that place where I’m really using my sensitivity to take the world in and noticing every little beautiful thing. Conversely I also miss my aphorisms because they represent a deep dive into ideas–a kind of perverse joy at playing with ideas in a devilishly irreverent way. I even miss (though these are not things I share here) having creative erotic fantasies. The latter seems the furthest away right now. Which makes sense.

Late last night I was having a cry and I realized I wasn’t breathing. I took a deep breath in and when I breathed out I emitted a sound that I was not expecting. It was strange. It was like a deep “ohh” but it was quite animal-like. It didn’t come from the surface me; from the conscious me. It was like a breathing out a pain so deep that it came from my animal self. In the moment I didn’t know what to make of it but looking back I like that it happened. It’s difficult to articulate why. Perhaps because that sound was more authentic than any amount of words. It kind of calmed my mind. It was almost as if the sound encapsulated all the pointless meanderings in my head and sorted them out in a simple way. I wish I could have recorded it to play back to myself. Animal wisdom? Maybe. Perhaps to think about it any further is to ruin it.

I feel less anxious now. More clear-headed. It will sound like a paradox but right now being clear-headed means that I’m aware that I’m a little lost and confused but without the desperation that often accompanies this realization. My days are a roller coaster ride. From pain/desperation/deep loneliness to finding the ground somehow. And yeah, there are times when I can’t find the ground. So how to be nice to myself about it? Well, I can’t always find the ground but neither have I left the atmosphere. Ummm….E. commented that I seemed more present (I felt sad but it does mean something that I was at least more grounded in a very attuned person’s eyes). Ummm…I’m giving what I can. Finding the middle-ground between mindlessly giving and never responding to anything. I’m finding the middle-ground between trying hard and resting. Or I think I am, anyway. I suppose that’s where the doubt creeps in. Don’t think about it too hard. Let it go. Okay…done with that part.

I think the part that is tiring is my awareness that this calm I feel right now might leave me in an hour. Or two. Or three. And then I’ll have to find the ground again. It is as though this has become my full-time job away from my job.

I have a haircut appointment in less than an hour. I used to love going to those. Right now I don’t feel like it, but I will go. And then I will not feel like exercising but I will probably succeed in doing so. Lots of “as if” stuff. Lots of faking it or doing things that I know are good for me even though my kid doesn’t “wanna”. Then in-between all of that adult stuff I’ll curl up with some comics. So long as I am doing the adult things and then doing the little sweet things maybe I’m doing okay regardless of how I feel internally.

I really want to feel joy again. I want to laugh more consistently. I want to be with my friends in-person more frequently. I want to…live. I hope I am moving in that direction but…don’t think about it too much. Just focus on what’s in front of you. Which is…go brush your teeth.

There are moments when I lose the thread. When I forget where I am going. When I can’t locate myself the only consoling thought is, “Well at least I’m not creating chaos out there”.

The ice-packs are so cold on my thighs that they almost burn. There I am. Right there in that pleasant pain. There’s a body here. My body. The tears stream down silently. No sobs.

In Doom Patrol there is a perpetually (or so it first seems) eleven-year-old girl named Dorothy. As the subject of cruel ridicule and discrimination for her deformity, Dorothy turns inward for companionship, creating fantastic imaginary friends which she can bring to life via innate psychic abilities. The problem is that she can manifest a creature that can tear the universe asunder as easily as she can manifest a flower. This sweet child is kept a prisoner for much of her life. She is, unintentionally, dangerous.

There are moments when I stop tending to the child. Who could be vigilant 24/7? Who doesn’t get tired or hungry despite their best efforts?In these moments I doubt my…endeavor. Am I doing something to helpful or simply imprisoning him?

I often feel like reaching out but I do not trust myself. If I’m feeling anything intensely then I stay away. Unfortunately I feel intensely so often that I end up speaking to nobody. I wish I could hire a nanny or a babysitter. I need a break too. I have heard parents talk about how they go bonkers interacting with their children too much. They crave adult conversation and connection. In this case I am both the child and the adult and I’m going bonkers.

There’s the intensity. I can feel it rising up. I focus my attention on the ice packs; on my thighs. They no longer burn but I can steel feel the coldness numbing my thighs. There I am again. Okay. Intensity momentarily quelled.

I could dust my bookshelves. I think I will dust my bookshelves. I really hate dusting books and bookshelves. So I should do it. It will feel good when I am finished.

I was in one of those dream places that is an amalgam of memory and fantasy. The familiar and the unfamiliar. I was with M and S (friends from high school) in a pub. I was bored. I saw a young woman (too young for me–in her late 20’s probably) with short red hair; it was one of those hair styles that Mods in the mid 60’s wore. She wore these adorable grey slacks and a fuzzy purple cardigan over a turtle neck. Strange second-hand bead necklaces. A very carefully cultivated style. Quite androgynous. She had freckles and eyes that changed colors (from blue to green to grey). It tickled my heart slightly so I walked over to her (even in the dream I had the meta awareness that I don’t go to bars and that I don’t generally approach women) and we began to chat. I don’t remember the specifics of the chat only that we were friendly and that we connected over our shared love of post-punk/indie/shoe-gaze music. I remember feeling quite vividly in the dream that she was adorable but that our connection could go no further than a shared interest in music. I could feel the fight between my 20-year-old self who believed that all you needed was attraction and shared interests in weird-wacky things and my current self who knows that this isn’t enough glue for something lasting. We went for a walk. The surroundings where something between the parking lot of a local shopping center and Greece! I ignored the part of me that knew there was no future in this and asked for her number and she gave it to me. I felt a tiny little rush (that old feeling of “yay, I was worthy of a phone number!”) followed by the realization that I would probably never call that phone number.

Suddenly I was in an old shop. It was owned or run by a middle-aged Korean couple. M and S were in the shop with me. They were buying snacks and alcohol and I was excited over finding this giant pole that was meant to clean second and third floor windows. The couple seemed thrilled that I had taken an interest in it. It didn’t feel like they were excited in the sense of wanting to make a sale; more like I had discovered something magical that nobody else realized was magic. They ran my credit card which included the stuff M and S bought. The total was $1,038.00. I don’t think I blinked twice at this.

I’m in a town. Or more like a tiny square dirt village composed of ramshackle shacks. It was dusk. Now it felt like I was in a horror film. I was uncomfortable but not scared. I walked into every shack. They were all deserted. In them candles were burning but there was nothing there. I wanted to find someone whether it be human or ghost or demon. I was prepared for anything so long as I could engage with it. I began to see the beauty in these dusty deserted shacks. It felt like they housed invisible souls that were not ready to reveal themselves. I longed to connect to the place but eventually gave up and walked out of the village square.

Cobblestone streets. I see J–an employee from the record store from over 20 years ago who always fascinated me–sitting on a car. J was stoical. J was funny in this brutally dry way. J let nobody in. But we got on nicely. I said hello and he looked through me as though I didn’t exist. I walk around the corner and there was a woman. I didn’t remember her name only that I worked with her somewhere and that I missed her. She smiled and showed me a small level of warmth. I told her that I missed her and she stood up and did this little dance. She began to look to her right (my left) and there was a dance troupe in front of a canal. She winked and left to join the troupe and I stayed on the bench.

I pulled the piece of paper with the phone number from my pocket and stared at it. It felt nice to look at it but I didn’t feel compelled to act. I felt lonely. It felt like a journey that I was destined to take alone and somehow the phone number represented some small fleeting connection that I got to have on the way. It wasn’t deep but there were smiles and a couple of laughs.

I stood up and kept walking along the canal. Nobody in sight. No boats, no people–just candles flickering in windows. I wake up.

The comforter and sheets feel velvety and soft and I see that I have overslept. For a moment I realize I want to stay in bed not in order to avoid life but because the textures felt so nurturing and sweet against my skin. Though it is not uncommon for me to say this–I felt like I was being held and that it was mutually sensual experience between myself and another sentient being.

The “adult” realized that like it or not it was time to have my coffee and see if I could find the energy today to lift weights. I am still waiting for that energy to come. It might be another “fake it til you make it” type thing. I may have to simply start doing the exercise even if I feel weak and even if I am longing for something else. Touch. Company. A phone number that will never be used. Well, those things just aren’t in the cards for today so….it’s time to lay a towel down on the floor and set up my equipment.

In some ways everything is the same. In others, they are completely different.

The structures and routines in my life are just the same as ever. Exercise, meals, reading, TV, and work happen around the same time every single day. But that’s where the similarities end. I’m trying to congratulate myself on every positive thing I do and to be gentle with myself when I fall short. “Good job” and “you got this, buddy” and “you’ll be okay” are phrases that I repeat to myself with great frequency. There are times when I come to the threshold of inner turmoil and I…slowly step back. I’m only five days in so I don’t feel like I’ve mastered anything. There is a fragility to it all that is very humbling.

I have decided not to let myself regress with anyone. If I regress I am to count only on myself. The kindness and gentleness that I direct at myself keeps me from regressing and brings me back when I do. If I have any doubts as to whether I’m feeling regressed or not I err on the side of not reaching out. Sometimes it’s clear and sometimes it isn’t. The polarities are everywhere.

Sometimes I think I have a good game plan–like I have created what I hope is a structure for healing. Sometimes I worry that I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing and that I have just outsmarted myself into a clever little avoidance scheme. I counter the latter thought by reminding myself that part of my plan is to reintroduce the things that I am afraid of in a gradual way. In a gentle way.

In some ways I feel lonelier and in other ways I don’t. Or rather, by not regressing I don’t have the annihilation anxiety that separates me from…existence. But tending to myself and trying to live simply and gently leaves me with a very quiet and solitary life. It’s a bit sad. A bit melancholy. But it’s also rather cozy and sweet. I like reading comic books and exercising and watching the cars pass by. In between all of that I take care of all my responsibilities.

I think I have been addicted to intense feelings my whole life; vacillating between intensity of feeling and numbness. Things feel less real when they are not intense. I question my own feelings. Is this love? If it is then why isn’t my heart throbbing with pain or joy?! Is this sadness? If so why aren’t I planning my suicide?! I’m learning to live with this mellowness. I’m X and I’m an intensity addict. I’m 4.5 days sober. Did I not tell you that in my one-person program there is a 4.5 day chip? I just handed it to myself.

Right now I’m very tired. Bone tired. I’ve worked a full day and I had a challenging workout under a hot sun. So being gentle with myself means….accepting that I have nothing left to give anyone (unless it’s an emergency). It means not confusing my exhaustion with dissociation. It means reading and watching TV. It means drinking some Gatorade Zero to compensate for all the stuff I lost when working out. It means…more quiet. More solitude.

I don’t know if this is going to lead anywhere. I hope so. I recognize I’m being my own therapist and sort of making up a treatment plan on the fly that is based on instinct and the simple edict of “don’t beat yourself up”. A little tear just dropped. It felt…sweet. You’ll be okay, buddy.

What do you do when….?

You have an okay Sunday. You call on your inner adult enough to help a friend out. You have a great weights workout to help with your sense of inner/outer strength and self-efficacy. When even tiny silly things work out okay like your favorite team winning its game and the weather is reasonably comfortable. When you sleep eight hours and use your C-Pap machine and don’t need extra medication to sleep. What do you do when all of this happens and then Monday…

You struggle to get out of bed. You’re not thinking of anything sad. You’re not re-playing traumas in your head. But you’re dragging anyway. You tell yourself that you are going to get out there and go for a jog. You drink your glass of whey protein only to realize that you’re going to have to downgrade the jog to a brisk walk. And then you realize you have to downgrade again. You tell yourself kindly, “It’s okay buddy, we can have a stroll today. Think of it as movement not a workout.” Then half a block into your stroll you realize that you’re dizzy. That you’re so sleepy that you can’t take another step. You downgrade again. You tell yourself “Hey, it’s okay–you’re working earlier hours today and you can try again at 6.” You go back to your apartment.

Maybe I did what I was supposed to do. Or I did my best anyway. For the past 2 1/2 days I have been doing my best to have the adult lead the way. And it’s working in one sense: I have not felt like disintegrating. But the part that’s disappointing is that I’m also not feeling….alive. I’m not numb but I’m not excited about anything. My heart is there but it doesn’t feel quite as big. It’s not as raw but it’s not as sensitive. My senses don’t overwhelm me but neither does anything taste, smell or look that remarkable. I don’t feel suicidal but I don’t feel fun or playful. I feel more black-and-white than color. I realize that lately I tend to live in bright colorful rainbows or, conversely and more frequently, in dark, silent rooms.

Though I’m not bipolar I think I understand it as well as one can without having it. In some ways what I experience internally is a rapidly shifting cycle of ups and downs: moments where I feel thrilled and full of love and then moments when I feel deep shame and detachment and fear. Even though it can feel awful and create a sense of chaos for myself and those around me, I understand the resistance to treatment. The person with bipolar gets the medication and finds themselves living in the middle. I’ve seen it in patients. They are living more within the norms of society (doing well at work, doing okay with their spouse, little to no suicidal ideation) and yet they are missing something. They consciously miss the highs and–maybe more unconsciously–miss the lows. They frequently refer to feeling less alive. Maybe they simply need to grow accustomed to seeing life as something that does indeed occur more in that middle. Kind off like a person in recovery needs to learn that life is often quite…boring. They have to learn to see the beauty of a sunset because compared to the rush of heroin a sunset is nothing.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it. Perhaps all that is occurring is a realization that my adult is also really struggling as well. And now that his energy is focused on placing boundaries on the kid he is…tired. Kind of like a new parent tending to their crying infant in the middle of the night. You put the infant back to sleep in the crib but you are exhausted and perhaps slightly resentful. So, I try to be kind. I try to say sweet things to the kid. But there is a small part of me that is bummed that I’m too tired to exercise. Too tired to talk.

I’m not excited by anything right now. I’m not numb but I’m not excited either. I’m sad and tired but I’m not….suicidal. I still feel the physical sensation of emotional pain in my chest but it’s not telling me I’m going to die. I’m not laughing or feeling joy but my tears aren’t the kind that make me feel like I’m disintegrating. I don’t feel much like reaching out but I don’t feel like doing so threatens my existence. It’s the middle. Or rather, below the middle but not the bottom. It’s almost as if putting the kid to sleep in his crib finally gave me enough peace to realize…I’m kinda depressed. When the drama gets removed I’m still left with a sort of low-grade depression. Tired. Lethargic. I think it felt cozy the last couple of days because I could go with it. Rest. Read. Live slowly. And today I have to go back to work. Hopefully find a way to exercise later if I can lose my dizziness.

My sister and my father asked me yesterday if I was okay. It’s funny because I have been suffering so greatly for months and they never noticed it. Now that I’m sort of “meh” they noticed something. Why? Maybe because I pet the dog nicely but didn’t use my sweet excited child voice with him (I couldn’t find it). Maybe because I looked a bit like I was going through the motions but was still talking and responding. Maybe because they’re used to me being all the way silent or chatty. Full of life or half-dead. I don’t think they recognize “middle-me” either.

I want to find something positive in this so far….I haven’t created any drama for myself or others for a couple of days. I have been able to get cozy and rest and read. Not because I need to numb but because…it’s mildly enjoyable. Things don’t feel out-of-control. Even this exhaustion, though it sucks, doesn’t feel like dissociation. Perhaps slight detachment but not dissociation. Maybe I just have to get used to this. Maybe there is a way to harness that beautiful child joy and love and innocence in a way that adds color to my life. But for right now…I still don’t exactly know how to do that. So, for right now, I guess I’ll kind of just fake-it-til-I-make-it (as they say).

And if there is a better way…well then has to be put aside as much as the exercise because…I can barely keep my eyelids open.

I sit on my couch reading a beautiful and tragic love story about two young women. The tender moments between first love and the tragedy are heart achingly sweet.

My heart feels…broken. My state of being lately is…it’s own tragedy. I don’t think that I can will myself into happiness today. But can I create tender moments for myself? If I cannot stop the ache can I at least elevate into something tender? Something sweet?

The book keeps me company. The couch holds me. It bears the weight of my physical and emotional being with love. The weather is kind—it’s gloominess gives me permission to be thoughtful and melancholy. My home is clean and beautiful and cozy; it invites me to read and rest. My thriving plants add color and life to my surroundings.

Somewhere in me there is a loving competent grown-up who knows he has to be more present; who knows how to love well and be loved; who misses his best friend. He’s the one who wrote this. I hope he stays.

I spent thirty minutes writing a very analytical entry about Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol. References to existentialism and spiritual/philosophical views of Self abounded. Then I realized that I would prefer to write something that both an adult and a child could understand. Something that has more heart and soul. I suppose simply something that is plain spoken and direct.

I like Swamp Thing (Alan Moore’s version) because he looks like a monster but has a beautiful soul. He’s amazing because he feels the pain of everything around him (in nature) but makes choices out of love. I like that he is beautiful but is perceived as grotesque. I like that there is a human who loves him regardless of his appearance. Swamp Thing has every reason to be deeply bitter and angry but he eventually finds peace in realizing that he is quite literally one with the earth. Swamp Thing is described by some as “gothic horror”. Yes, I suppose that’s a part of it. But that isn’t what makes it special. Whereas Frankenstein’s monster decided to exact revenge against humanity, Swamp Thing manages to embrace a world that rejects him. THAT’S what makes him and the comic special. Dark gothic horror cannot keep it from being uplifting to me.

I like Doom Patrol because it is full of incompetent bumbling “superheroes” who have come to hold their powers only due to great trauma. No, not the cute trauma of being bitten by a radioactive spider but by something spiritually, emotionally and/or bodily painful. One of the characters (Jane) essentially has Dissociative Identity Disorder but some of her personas have their own super power. Another (Cliff) dies with his family in a car crash and becomes but a brain housed in a metal body. He longs to feel things physically–to feel the wind, to taste food, even to feel physical pain. He is doomed to be disembodied in a sense. I won’t bore you with descriptions of all the characters (especially given all the iterations over the past fifty years). What I’m saying is I like it because these characters represent different aspects of my disorder: disembodiment and dissociation and trauma. They are sloppy but do their best and find a sort of salvation in one another: freaks who are part of a community. I feel safe in this make-believe community.

All the main figures in these comics are looked at as grotesque and broken by the world at large. But all of them do their best to be good (and lose their way at times). In some ways they aim for their higher selves precisely because of what their traumas took away from them. They find strength in their losses and disabilities as much as they do in their newly given abilities.

These are the fantasy stories that are keeping me somewhat functional right now. Functional enough to eat sometimes and write and do a little bit of my work. Not much more than that but…it’s something.