Posts in category "Daily Life"

facing eternity, or the lack thereof

Heather man­aged to snag a job at a great com­pany on the other side of town. She started her train­ing last month, and I couldn’t be more proud of her for mak­ing the cut after months of resumes and appli­ca­tions, hope and patience.

While it makes sense for her to start work­ing, I’ve been forced to deal with an unset­tling void in the house — like the deaf­en­ing silence of a black­out, when the elec­tronic hums and glows cease to pro­vide their per­pet­ual com­pany. We never spent more than an hour apart before this, when she might have stepped out to grab some gro­ceries or a pre­scrip­tion1; nearly two years where we couldn’t help but be closely in tune with each other’s needs and moods. Now, it feels like we barely have a chance to get our dailies with a bit of extra con­tent before it’s time for bed.

Cadem Forest in Plains of Ashford

I always travel with my menagerie of cats; this month with Zuzu, Cat of Darkness at my feet (in cel­e­bra­tion of Halloween) and Brill on my back (who’s actu­ally a tiger cub).

Losing so much of each other has been a dif­fi­cult adjust­ment. I wasn’t ready for this. It wasn’t a deci­sion I made. I’m not use to being so alone, or even tak­ing care of myself, for that mat­ter2. When she’s away, the void makes it painfully clear how much I sur­rounded myself with her. I can’t even write with­out men­tion­ing her, cause there’s rarely a deci­sion I make with­out con­sid­er­ing her first, whether it’s how we’re going to spend our time or what I’m going to say next.

It’s a dif­fi­cult reminder of many years spent with­out a part­ner or par­ent to rely on. I’ve been try­ing to reclaim my inde­pen­dence by pick­ing up small respon­si­bil­i­ties. Something as sim­ple as mak­ing my space more com­fort­able, whether it’s a thor­ough clean­ing or new light­ing arrange­ment, turns into a chance to suc­ceed and feel accom­plished. Even games become lit­tle projects, ways of exer­cis­ing my cre­ativ­ity or keep­ing myself sharp.

I knew Heather would even­tu­ally be work­ing, and I’d be alone. Now the day has come, and I’m con­stantly won­der­ing: who am I when I’m by myself? What do I do to fill the hours that she’s away?

At least it’s given me a chance to write again. The break hasn’t been entirely inten­tional. Part of it is the fact that writ­ing takes energy, and I rarely have any to spare when I’m try­ing so hard just to feel okay. Another part is the fact that I haven’t needed this in the same way since I met her. She’s become an impor­tant out­let, one who always makes her­self avail­able to me. There hasn’t been the same long­ing to write, cause I haven’t needed to vent, or sort out my thoughts, or feel validated.

Nevertheless, this period of empti­ness has become a chap­ter in itself. A change that will be a great deal of the rest of our lives. I’m stuck here, while the days stretch out before me with end­less pos­si­bil­ity. The hard part is finally stum­bling into the life I’ve always wanted, find­ing a part­ner who fills in my gaps in all the right ways, but not being ready for it all.

  1. Aside from a few days she spent vis­it­ing her fam­ily last year. It was the first sig­nif­i­cant amount of time we were away from each other since we met, and I had a panic attack before she was out of the city. []
  2. She still han­dles the meals, and has a sys­tem where most things are done in the slow cooker; all I need to do is pour the con­tents of a bag into the pot and turn it on at a cer­tain time, although, some days, even this can slip my mind. []

you die, all you do is die, and yet you live

I never intended ther­apy to take such prece­dence, but it’s become the re-occurring event around which I work all my other plans. I’m still learn­ing how to be an emo­tion­ally healthy per­son, while unlearn­ing the destruc­tive habits I devel­oped to sur­vive the rela­tion­ships of my past. They affect me every sin­gle day, and I know I’ll be doomed to recre­ate the dra­mas of my ear­lier life unless I have out­side help. At the same time, it’s not a process I can rush. Every ses­sion leaves me emo­tion­ally exhausted, and I need a healthy dose of happy to recover1. It also takes time to process what I learn, reflect on ongo­ing behav­iours, and put new tech­niques into practice.

I’m for­tu­nate to have found a com­pe­tent ther­a­pist with whom I’m com­fort­able, espe­cially when doing cog­ni­tive work that often leaves me unsafe2. After so many months, he knows enough about me and my his­tory to under­stand the kind of guid­ance I need. There’s no struc­ture, but he always lets me start. As a per­son who’s spent his entire life being socially sub­mis­sive, the role rever­sal is a wel­come change. It’s a reminder that the time is mine, that I’m free to be myself, that I get what I want out of our hour.

Sometimes, I catch myself wish­ing he would val­i­date me with­out the need to explain myself, but he con­sis­tently remains the neu­tral ally (albeit one with plenty of com­pas­sion). I’ve learned that it’s impor­tant he never side with me out of loy­alty the way a friend might, so I can trust his opin­ion is always bal­anced and fair. Other times, I wish he would sim­ply tell me what I need to know, but he lets me come to real­iza­tions by myself, to make sure I’m always in con­trol, and to avoid influ­enc­ing me by the act of mak­ing a sug­ges­tion. It’s a unique role in my life that he plays well.

I dread the pain, but still look for­ward to every ses­sion. So much of my progress is tied to the mem­o­ries I’ve kept in the back of my head and the emo­tions I’ve left to expe­ri­ence. It’s an oppor­tu­nity to show myself com­pas­sion, while flex­ing men­tal mus­cles I don’t get to use often enough nowa­days. Not to men­tion the grat­i­fi­ca­tion and hope that comes with uncov­er­ing long-seated, self-defeating thought patterns.

Heather hasn’t been com­ing in with me lately, but she still comes with; I don’t need her as a wit­ness as much as a sup­port when it’s over. It’s com­fort­ing to know I have a part­ner who accepts me now amid all this uncer­tainty, and will con­tinue to no mat­ter who I become. She’s the one who tends to my wounds at home, the love I’ve been miss­ing my entire life, the rea­son I’m strong enough to do this work. The least I can do is strengthen my bond with her by learn­ing to be more a trust­ing, patient, and accept­ing person.

  1. Something that usu­ally involves turn­ing into a blitzed-out her­mit for a few days. []
  2. I’ve always won­dered what other people’s expe­ri­ence with ther­apy is like. I don’t know a sin­gle per­son who goes on a reg­u­lar basis. []

laying low

At some point, the most I could do was sit by the win­dow and face the lawn. It’s hard to say how many hours were spent look­ing out­ward, inter­rupted every now and then by food I could barely taste or swal­low. For a per­son who needs to stay active to cul­ti­vate a sense of worth, it was a sign I was beyond her reach, and at a point where I was no longer able to help myself.

When she began to cry, I asked what was wrong. “I didn’t think you’d give up”, she explained, some­thing made appar­ent when I couldn’t man­age a veneer of pleas­ant­ness for the sake of being polite to friends or strangers alike. I once told her I would stick around for her sake, but in that moment we both under­stood it was a promise I couldn’t keep.

Self-portrait

 

I won­der if I’ll ever be able to. It’s hard to remem­ber what life was like before I was so emo­tion­ally exhausted. Even when the exter­nal sources of stress are far away and my head is above water, it still feels like I’m drown­ing. When that gener­i­cally redo­lent scent of taxi leather hit my nose, it used to mean I had a plane to catch, a flight to take me out of the coun­try, an adven­ture await­ing; now it’s a por­tent of deaf­en­ingly silent wait­ing rooms, and psy­chi­a­trists who know too lit­tle and talk too much.

I keep my fret­ting fin­gers trim but the cal­luses keep heal­ing over, cause I can’t con­cen­trate long enough to improve (also why it’s taken me so many months to write this). The house is a barely con­tained mess. My phone is over­flow­ing with notes, texts, voice mails, things I can’t keep on top of. It’s been for­ever since I talked to Darren, even longer since I made a trip out of town. I’ve grown sen­si­tive to loud noises. I barely rec­og­nize my own face.

That’s how I know I’m not ready to process parts of the past yet. Going so many years with­out a reprieve has left me drained of cop­ing resources, and when I’m barely man­ag­ing my needs for safety and sur­vival, there isn’t any room left for growth or improve­ment. I need more time to heal, to replace upset­ting mem­o­ries with new expe­ri­ences, to be in a sta­ble place before revis­it­ing the most trau­matic parts.

Heather by the window

 

For the moment, that means work­ing with my nat­ural energy pat­terns and momen­tum as I try to develop healthy habits. It’s left me up at odd hours, eat­ing irreg­u­lar meals, and largely house-bound. Heather tends to my needs and never leaves my side for more than 15 min­utes. I’m for­tu­nate to have a small sup­port group help­ing me look after things — drop­ping off gro­ceries, bring­ing my car for main­te­nance, pay­ing the bills, dri­ving me to appoint­ments — small tasks that seem daunt­ing when so unsure of myself. Misun even offered to help sell the house and fly me to France so I could live under her care indef­i­nitely; if only one could be car­ried by the love of one’s friends alone.

It pains me to be here wait­ing, feel­ing like I’m miss­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for hap­pi­ness every day, but I’ve learned that progress can’t be rushed. Not just cause I have to tread so care­fully through the past, but because I’ve been down for so long that it feels like it’ll never be up again. That’s why I have to trust her when she tells me things will even­tu­ally be okay. Until then, I spend my time lost in the Dark Tower, appre­ci­at­ing a sobri­ety I wasn’t pre­pared for, look­ing for duels in the bor­der­lands, try­ing to feel nor­mal again.

sweet surrender

All his life he had been active, doing things about the house, look­ing after patients, think­ing, study­ing, writ­ing. How good it was to stop doing, strug­gling, think­ing, to leave it all for a time to nature, to become her thing, her con­cern, the work of her mer­ci­ful, won­der­ful, beauty-lavishing hands.

—Doctor Zhivago

Time is giv­ing me the chance to feel hurt with­out hate. If only the process didn’t make the indi­vis­i­ble moments so over­whelm­ingly painful. The idea of being nor­mal seems like a mod­est goal, now that an act as sim­ple as wash­ing the dishes becomes a bur­den I can’t bear. It’s the rea­son I don’t trust myself behind the wheel of a car, the rea­son song and film do noth­ing to help me retreat.

As a result, our lives have been reduced to the sim­plest means of sur­vival. I play my games like a full-time job, slowly pro­cess­ing things I’ve kept in the back of my head as a means of stay­ing safe from myself. We eat, we sleep, we start over again. My respon­si­bil­ity is to myself now, and it’s a good day if I can get one pro­duc­tive thing done, from a sim­ple shower to a step out­side. And if even that proves too much, I’m learn­ing to be okay with that too, as time is mea­sured across expe­ri­ences and lives, not by the moments in which we stum­ble and fall.

Heather

 

When she sees me try­ing to shake the thoughts loose, look­ing for sup­port on cold tile, I’m told to take as much time as I need to get bet­ter, and reminded she won’t leave if I never do. I don’t have to hide my feel­ings or moods, cause she doesn’t judge me for the depth of my sad­ness, nor hold my anger against me. Every day she grows more ten­der than the last, even as I fall and break apart, and I’m learn­ing to under­stand how, when I have such a hard time accept­ing the shade of a per­son I am right now. It’s such bound­less affec­tion that finally makes me feel loved because of who I am, and not what I do or offer or represent.

After so many years liv­ing at arms-length with every­one around me, it’s a feel­ing that’s impos­si­ble for me to take for granted. I can’t help but inter­nal­ize every way her grace brings me joy. Every time she thanks me for let­ting her take care of my needs and wants.

And with this foun­da­tion, I learn how to be a per­son again, as I try to write my way out of this hole.

in the absence of light

It’s been weeks since I left the house for any­thing but a doctor’s appoint­ment, maybe three times since November. I miss the win­ter, even though it’s right out­side my door. I miss my friends, even though they’re rarely more than a short trip away. It’s espe­cially hard not being able to explain the dis­tance. All I can do is hope they trust me when I don’t feel com­fort­able explain­ing, and try not to feel inse­cure about being so out of touch.

Sometimes, the thought of being away from my safety zone fills me with dread. Other times it’s just eas­ier to not do any­thing. I barely man­age the effort to wash my hair once a week, and the only rea­son I shave is to more eas­ily wipe off the vis­cid sad­ness that so often vis­its my face. I sus­pect I wouldn’t even be eat­ing if it weren’t for the fact that Heather enjoys tak­ing care of peo­ple to ful­fill her own need for secu­rity. She’s lived here a few months, and she’s already mak­ing sure the cats have their teeth brushed every day and all the bills are paid. I’ve barely known her for twice that time, and I’ve never been more depen­dent on any­one in my life.

It feels like I’ve taken two steps back, but I’m at this point cause it means I’m safe enough to start pro­cess­ing and under­stand­ing the things that led to me try­ing to hang myself from the rail­ing of my stair­case a year ago. I haven’t fig­ured out what it means to keep going, when for so long I believed my life was lead­ing up to that moment, and stick­ing around wasn’t a choice I made for myself. Just fig­ur­ing out how to write about such a large and com­plex expe­ri­ence is often too much. I’m left bro­ken when I sim­ply want to understand.

I’m learn­ing that recov­ery isn’t a binary process, but a jour­ney with strug­gles and tri­umphs. I still suf­fer the trauma of being moments away from dying. I’m still haunted by the guilt of sur­vival. With so many hair-triggers that lead to wholly con­sum­ing break­downs, I can’t deny I’m not the per­son I used to be. Right now, it’s hard enough just try­ing to be okay with that.