convalescent care

The time will come
when, with ela­tion
you will greet your­self arriv­ing
at your own door, in your own mir­ror
and each will smile at the oth­er’s wel­come,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for anoth­er, who knows you by heart

—Derek Walcott, Love After Love

I’ve start­ed going to appoint­ments on my own. Being stuck in a wait­ing room with sobri­ety on the hori­zon no longer fills me with rage; instead, I take the time as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do breath­ing exer­cis­es and prac­tice mind­ful­ness. When some­thing minor goes wrong I don’t shut down any­more. I can han­dle small amounts of stress with­out being over­whelmed. Leaning into my anx­i­ety and mak­ing peace with it has giv­en me a mod­icum of inner strength I thought was for­ev­er lost. I’m start­ing to feel less help­less, less like a vic­tim.

It’s a sign that I’m on the mend. The trau­ma of the past is start­ing to lose its effect on me. Heather does­n’t have to use a vaca­tion day to accom­pa­ny me on every check-up, and we can spend that time con­nect­ing in a more mean­ing­ful way1.

glass-blown pumpkins

Since Halloween is her favourite time of year, I sur­prised her with a glass­blow­ing work­shop where we made our own pump­kins. She now has these dec­o­rat­ing her desk at work as a reminder of a love­ly date in the Fall.

Developing resources to be self-suf­fi­cient also means learn­ing to be respon­si­ble for my own hap­pi­ness. In the past, I would save songs, shows, and movies so I could expe­ri­ence them for the first time with anoth­er per­son. This was espe­cial­ly true when ____ was still in my life; every moment was bet­ter when I could share it with her. But that meant I would con­stant­ly be deny­ing myself the plea­sure, and total­ly reliant on some­one’s com­pa­ny to be hap­py.

So I’ve start­ed enjoy­ing things on my own as a way of treat­ing myself well. Making sure I do some­thing that gives me joy every day has opened up a world of ways to be com­pas­sion­ate to myself. Poor self-esteem has his­tor­i­cal­ly made it dif­fi­cult for me to feel like I deserved to have fun unless I had done some­thing to earn it, while bad emo­tion­al habits meant I nev­er believed I was doing enough. None of that is an prob­lem when I sim­ply want myself to be hap­py.

That’s not to say I still don’t miss ____ tremen­dous­ly — even after she decid­ed to aban­don me and blame me for it — but I don’t need her like I used to. I know I’m final­ly get­ting over her after so many years when I can fin­ish the shows we start­ed with­out get­ting over­whelmed with emo­tion. Learning that I have the abil­i­ty to heal myself also comes as a huge sur­prise. I’ve been spend­ing so much effort on recov­ery, try­ing to feel like my old self again, that I for­got it’s pos­si­ble to grow in new ways and become an even bet­ter ver­sion of the per­son I used to be.

Rosie's knuckle tattoos

Rosie has the only knuck­le tat­toos I’ve ever been tempt­ed to copy.

Still; I can’t remem­ber the last time a song real­ly hit me, some­thing worth rat­ing five stars in my playlists2. Music does­n’t bring me the same man­ic rush of joy any­more. In the last few years, this was direct­ly relat­ed to the amount of trau­ma I expe­ri­enced. Hardship has a way of bring­ing per­spec­tive to one’s life, and reduc­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of things both good and bad.

Now I can tell it’s the price to pay for sta­bil­i­ty. The highs don’t seem as high any­more when I’m con­tent most of the time, but that’s okay. I’m start­ing to under­stand that the eupho­ria I would seek as relief from my suf­fer­ing isn’t sus­tain­able. That’s a drag­on I no longer need to chase when I can remem­ber that pain is part of life, and let­ting it in is an impor­tant part of heal­ing.

  1. Not that she’s ever resent­ful when look­ing after me. []
  2. A quick check of my library tells me this was Tower Song by Townes Van Zandt back in 2015. []

the beginning of me wanting myself

I had a date around this time last year. She was a teacher-turned-librar­i­an in her mid-40s with two kids, a pix­ie-cut, and thrift store style.

Before we for­mal­ly intro­duced our­selves, I rec­og­nized her from across the room and was imme­di­ate­ly struck by the way she car­ried her­self. There was a con­fi­dence when mov­ing about; clear­ing a table to sit at with­out a momen­t’s hes­i­ta­tion as to whether any­one would mind; inter­act­ing with the staff; bump­ing into an old acquain­tance. Something com­mon among par­ents and peo­ple in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, lest they show weak­ness to a group of chil­dren (and the com­plete oppo­site of Heather, who’s shy and awk­ward and always tries to take up as lit­tle space as pos­si­ble).

We both under­stood how dif­fi­cult it can be to get to know some­one through a screen, and agreed it would be bet­ter to meet soon­er rather than lat­er. That meant I did­n’t know too much about her, aside from the details in her pro­file. I was com­fort­ed by the fact that she men­tioned All About Love by bell hooks under “A book every­one should read”, because Tiana hap­pened to rec­om­mend it to me ear­li­er that year and it became a big influ­ence on the way I approach my rela­tion­ships. Also by the fact that one of her needs was “under­stand­ing of sys­tems of oppres­sion”; as I drift fur­ther to the left on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, I’ve learned that I tend to get along bet­ter with peo­ple who have an aware­ness of social inequal­i­ty.

Continue read­ing “the begin­ning of me want­i­ng myself”…

days of heaven

I don’t get up to much late­ly. Living the life of a gen­tle­man of leisure does­n’t involve a lot more than the front page of red­dit, scrolling the infi­nite feed that nev­er leaves me bored. I also tend take a lot of naps; par­tial­ly cause I’m a poor sleep­er, par­tial­ly cause it makes the hours go by faster (and as a per­son who does his best to nev­er be sober, it resets my tol­er­ance).

Rideau Canal

On Ottawa’s bridge of locks, over­look­ing the Rideau Canal.

I want to devote myself to the pur­suits that inter­est me, but being pro­duc­tive has­n’t been easy. I haven’t had the inspi­ra­tion to write, the moti­va­tion to clean, the ener­gy to exer­cise, the dis­ci­pline to prac­tice, or the patience to med­i­tate. I only man­age to do the bare min­i­mum, which usu­al­ly just involves cook­ing a week of meals for Heather and some vac­u­um­ing before guests arrive.

It’s been hard to form pos­i­tive mem­o­ries cause I can’t con­cen­trate on any­thing for more than a few sec­onds. It always seems like there’s some­thing bet­ter to do, anoth­er but­ton I can press for a quick­er reward. Everything just becomes a dis­trac­tion from how bro­ken I feel.

chocolate poutine

Chocolate pou­tine, where the “fries” are chur­ros, the melt­ed “cheese curds” are marsh­mal­lows with vanil­la ice cream, the “gravy” is crunchy hazel­nut fon­due, and the “panties” are dropped. Then every­thing is cov­ered in Maltesers and driz­zled in choco­late sauce.

Maybe cause I’m old­er, grey­er, fat­ter, more tired, a shad­ow of my for­mer self. Most nights I go to bed feel­ing defec­tive or worth­less, then wake up feel­ing too help­less to do any­thing about it. A few months ago this would have been a sure­fire recipe for depres­sion, but now I’m try­ing to prac­tice non-action over weeks and months instead of days or hours.

Coming to terms with myself and my dif­fi­cult emo­tions — no mat­ter how unpleas­ant they may be — is help­ing me reduce my wants, end my com­pul­sive strug­gling to do every­thing bet­ter, and live more in the moment. For so long I’ve been try­ing to accept the things I can­not change, with­out also try­ing to accept the per­son to whom they’re hap­pen­ing.

Leaning into my trau­ma with open eyes and an open heart also involves pur­pose­ly think­ing about a past I’ve tried my best to for­get, and cry­ing1. It has­n’t been very pleas­ant, but I’m start­ing to feel like less of a vic­tim when I can con­front my suf­fer­ing from a posi­tion of strength and con­trol.

Heather and Jeff

I haven’t had a col­i­tis flare-up in a cou­ple years, which means I put on weight quick­ly, most­ly in the mid-sec­tion. These days I can’t fit into all my pants and rock a dad bod. For the first time in my life, I’ve been cut­ting back on por­tions and snacks.

None of this would be pos­si­ble with­out Heather, who’s been mend­ing the hole in my heart ever since we met. She’s the only rea­son I have the time, the resources, the strength, and the will to car­ry on. Anytime I feel like a bur­den, she reminds me that I’m a wor­thy one; a load she glad­ly shoul­ders, because I add to her life sim­ply by exist­ing.

When I over­hear her telling the cats to be good and take care of dad­dy before leav­ing for work every morn­ing, I can’t help but believe it. No one has ever loved me so much — not even myself — and as my bene­fac­tor, she wants noth­ing more for me than to be hap­py. I’m try­ing to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for that hap­pi­ness by show­ing myself com­pas­sion, even when I feel like I haven’t earned it.

  1. Only pos­si­ble months after I made the deci­sion to stop tak­ing arip­ipra­zole. []

no man an island

Loneliness, or the fear of aban­don­ment when­ev­er I was dat­ing some­one, have been reoc­cur­ring themes since my child­hood.

I’ve nev­er regret­ted the deci­sion to cut out my par­ents for the sake of my men­tal health, but that still means I lost the only peo­ple who had a respon­si­bil­i­ty to help and accept me (as ter­ri­ble as they were at liv­ing up to that). It was a nec­es­sary but trau­mat­ic choice. Then I had a falling out with my ex-bestie, which came about after I real­ized he was­n’t the type of per­son I need­ed or want­ed in my life, and fur­ther robbed me of sta­bil­i­ty. ____ became my best friend after that (even though I was extreme­ly reluc­tant to label her as such after my expe­ri­ences), until I final­ly stood up for myself and she decid­ed she did­n’t want to be held account­able for her actions. Heather and I com­pared notes after­wards to dis­cov­er she was avoid­ing me every time I was in a cri­sis1. I’ve had a life­time of sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ships with emo­tion­al­ly igno­rant peo­ple who would nev­er apol­o­gize or admit that they’ve ever hurt me.

Then there’s Pat, who acknowl­edged he was a being a poor friend for not stay­ing in con­tact the last time I spoke with him. Maybe it was the fact that I was cry­ing that pres­sured him into promis­ing to call me more often. That was about sev­en years ago, and I haven’t heard from him since. I’m still mourn­ing my rela­tion­ship with Shawn for the same rea­son; a per­son who lit­er­al­ly saved my life who no longer has time for me in his. Relationships with pos­i­tive peo­ple whom I loved and looked up to, that with­ered when I stopped ini­ti­at­ing con­tact, leav­ing me with more ques­tions than answers. Relationships where I’ve done noth­ing wrong and still suf­fer a loss. Part of me can’t help but feel con­fused, and scared that any­one in my life may dis­ap­pear sim­ply cause they’ve lost inter­est.

Surviving the fall­out of each expe­ri­ence meant I came out with real­ly messed up expec­ta­tions when­ev­er it comes to oth­er peo­ple. Even now, it’s hard for me to feel safe, no mat­ter how close I am to some­one.

My first tru­ly secure rela­tion­ship — one where I could express dif­fi­cult thoughts and feel­ings with­out being blamed or aban­doned or inval­i­dat­ed — start­ed in my mid-30s with Heather2. When my depres­sion and col­i­tis kept me iso­lat­ed the last few years, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly wor­ried about being over­ly depen­dent on her. At the slight­est hint of trou­ble, it felt like my world was com­ing down because she was my world3. When I turned to oth­er peo­ple for help dur­ing my lost week­end, I soon real­ized I have a won­der­ful net­work of friends and fam­i­ly.

Continue read­ing “no man an island”…

  1. During a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad day a few years back, Heather asked her to send me a text in sup­port. She replied, “Jeff and I don’t text”. Not only was that com­plete­ly untrue, it was a real­ly shit­ty excuse for her to do noth­ing. []
  2. I’ve since learned a great deal about the qual­i­ties that make a rela­tion­ship healthy and suc­cess­ful. Consequently, my stan­dards have risen. []
  3. Part of my ven­ture into polyamor­ism is because I want to expand my sup­port net­work. I’m inter­est­ed in hav­ing more peo­ple care about me, per­haps cause I’m eter­nal­ly try­ing to fill the hole left by my par­ents. []

lost weekend

I used to have a rule. If I ever feel like get­ting high and stay­ing home instead of going out and doing some­thing — any­thing — then I’d make a point to do the lat­ter.

Otherwise, it would mean I’ve giv­en up. That there’s noth­ing out there for me, and any­thing the world has to offer is no bet­ter than what I have in my house and on the inter­net. It’s a rule that served me well for years; one that kept me healthy and bal­anced and off my ass.

So when I found myself in my neck­beard nest after anoth­er month, not par­tic­u­lar­ly car­ing whether I got up or show­ered or shaved, I knew I was in a bad spot. Of course, just know­ing there’s a prob­lem isn’t enough to rouse one into action when basic hygiene hard­ly feels worth the effort.

Continue read­ing “lost week­end”…