Posts in category "Photos"

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. []

quiet revolution

Depression has added an extra cost to every­thing I do. Something as sim­ple as buy­ing gro­ceries means mak­ing sure my energy lev­els are care­fully paced for a few days before I leave the house, and being too burned out to do any form of inter­ac­tion for a few days after. If some­thing goes wrong dur­ing the process — a night of poor sleep, a sick cat, a loss of moti­va­tion, a col­i­tis flare-up — and I run out of spoons, the prob­lems cas­cade and I end up hav­ing to can­cel my plans.

That’s why I choose to spend time with peo­ple who under­stand what it truly costs me to func­tion; they hap­pen to be the ones who are con­sis­tently reli­able, very under­stand­ing if I have to can­cel, and put as much effort into main­tain­ing the rela­tion­ship as I do.1

Heather portrait

 

Heather started taper­ing off her dose of ven­lafax­ine cause she feels sta­ble enough to take the risk2, and wants to start work­ing with­out the asso­ci­ated men­tal haze. Even though music is still a joy­less expe­ri­ence, the fact that she’s get­ting excited about Halloween again is a sign that she’s finally healing.

She doesn’t mind car­ry­ing more emo­tional labour (and I remain will­fully igno­rant, for the time being), cause she knows I’m play­ing life on hard mode. My job is to make sure she feels appre­ci­ated for doing more than her fair share. The crises we’ve been weath­er­ing together since we met means our hon­ey­moon phase was cut short, but nei­ther of us mind, cause inti­macy is what we were miss­ing for so long.3

self portrait at 35

 

The fact that it takes me fewer days be to com­fort­able around any­one when my inse­cu­ri­ties get the bet­ter of me means I’m gain­ing some small form of equa­nim­ity. I still have moments when I feel too dam­aged to be happy, too worth­less to be loved, or too bro­ken to be fixed, but it takes me less time to realign my per­cep­tions with real­ity. The lows aren’t as debil­i­tat­ingly deep either.

I’ve been using the momen­tum to take small steps out of my com­fort zone; spend­ing more time in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, learn­ing to be emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble, explor­ing new ways of express­ing myself4, pro­cess­ing parts of the past I’ve tried my best to for­get. Even though I’m anx­ious to feel nor­mal again, I’m forced to rec­og­nize my lim­i­ta­tions and keep myself paced. I know I’m not where I want to be, but I’m mov­ing in the right direc­tion. That’s enough to keep me going for now.

  1. Also, per­haps not-coincidentally, usu­ally peo­ple who have deal with some form of depres­sion or chronic ill­ness in their lives. []
  2. I still have no idea whether mine are keep­ing me afloat, but the fact that I don’t suf­fer any side-effects means I’ll be on them for the fore­see­able future. []
  3. Finding my under­wear washed and folded one day — a respon­si­bil­ity I’ve never shared with any girl­friend — gave me the weird­est boner. []
  4. The only lux­ury pur­chase for me this year has been an Impact LX-49 MIDI con­troller. []

soft with scars

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It’s hard to imag­ine what life will be like when I’m still try­ing to sur­vive from one day to the next. I’ve never been more dis­con­nected with real­ity, but dis­tance is what I need. At first it was days; now weeks have started blend­ing together. Stretches of time feel shorter as they get longer. It’s been more than a month since I took a step out­side, and about as long since I’ve seen any­one but Heather. I can’t even remem­ber the last time I answered my phone or made a call.

Every day, it feels like I’m falling deeper into a hole I can’t seem to escape as I slip fur­ther away from myself. I used to enjoy being inspired and cre­ative, but some­where along the way I stopped dream­ing. The lines in my face tell me my body has paid a price of it’s own. It’s left me unsure of who I’ll become; if only I wasn’t so fond of the per­son I used to be.

My new ther­a­pist is shock­ingly young com­pared to the man who retired and forced me to look for some­one new. Every few weeks, we care­fully explore the thoughts I keep tucked away in the back of my mind. Heather often serves as wit­ness, to under­stand what I’ve been through and have to re-experience. It’s exhaust­ing to go into a past that pains me so much, but impor­tant work that I hate and need and want all at once.

girl and cat

 

Not quite two years ago, her stay with me began as refuge from an abu­sive part­ner. She was a frag­ile girl back then; pan­icky dur­ing heavy winds, blind to her own bur­geon­ing nubil­ity, uncom­fort­able around any­one else for more than a few hours at a time. Fortunately, my inse­cu­rity hap­pened to man­i­fest itself as a need to take care of oth­ers, and I found both val­i­da­tion and hap­pi­ness when I had the chance with some­one so deserv­ing. It’s hard to believe how quickly our roles have reversed. Now I’m the depen­dent, a posi­tion I have a harder time accept­ing than she does1, and one I’ll likely have for the rest of my life.

Through my strug­gle, I’ve seen her grow into a con­fi­dent young woman who knows how to cook a steak medium-rare (even though she’s a vegan), enjoys every chance to exert her sex­u­al­ity, and often under­stands more about my med­ica­tion than the doc­tors who pre­scribe it. I thought I knew what love was, but every day her unwa­ver­ing patience shows me how much deeper it goes.

Guild Wars 2 character with Eternity

Totally not compensating.

This is the face I wear most often as of late, while explor­ing a world large enough for me to get lost in. I can set goals at my own pace, whether they’re sim­ple ones that leave me sat­is­fied enough to sleep, or com­plex, long-term ones that help me feel accom­plished enough to do big­ger things. Every day, I’m given the chance to be kind, gen­er­ous, and pos­i­tive to vir­tual strangers, while keep­ing a dis­tance from the real world. I even started a lit­tle guild with my friends, and we recently claimed the hall which we’ll call our home; even if I’m not emo­tion­ally avail­able to them, this is how they stop by and spend time with me.

It’s hard not to hate myself when my issues are pre­vent­ing me from being the per­son I want to be. I’m in a rush to get bet­ter, when time to heal is what I need most. Heather reminds me that the suf­fer­ing I’ve been through is the rea­son she feels under­stood and safe. I tell myself that this time is just a chap­ter in the book of my life — a stop on the way to who I am — and that there’s more left to write.

  1. I keep remind­ing myself: she knows what she wants, and what’s best for her. []

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.