Tag Archives: autonomy

Daily Existential Angst Diary (I’ll let y’all do the acronym)

**TRIGGER WARNING** UNALIVE ATTEMPT DISCUSSED IN BRIEF.

In October 2019, I attempted, feebly, to unalive* myself by trying to swim into a rip current. That day, in essence, initiated the path of separation and divorce. Someone said at the time: “You can’t save him (my husband) or the marriage. You can only save yourself.”

Since then, in trying to sort out who I am vs who I was vs who I want to be, I have felt some fear that I simply don’t care if I save myself. Whence comes this resignation?

A friend told me (and I have heard this sentiment many times in my life and from various sources) that he is nothing without God. In the moment, that made me sad. I considered what an extraordinary person he is and the potential he still carries in his many years ahead and thought, how can you limit your understanding and value of yourself to what your religion tells you that you are?

However, upon removing the fogged lens of a strained conversation and now seeing it through the clarity of distance and time, I found that his “nothing” was little different than mine.

I am nothing without purpose.

I am nothing without family.

I am nothing without my art.

On any given day, I may believe I have none of or am achingly distant from all of those things that I believe make me something.

Is there a qualitative difference, then, between my nothing and his?

I might be able to convince myself that there are no arbitrary rules (defined by a select entity or a group of self-appointed “lawmakers” over the course of decades or centuries and put forward in a text) that I am required to follow to get back to something.

I can find purpose, art, and perhaps even family without someone’s approval of my actions (or rather, without letting myself fear disapproval and condemnation).

I can probably convince myself that my nothing is self-imposed, therefore can be self-resolved: not easily, mind you, but easier, perhaps than meeting someone else’s (God’s, the Church’s, a spouse’s) expectations for ideal behavior.

On the other hand, when I was a Christian, I was trained to believe that as long as I had accepted God’s grace, perhaps also as long as I “washed up” properly after being less-than-perfect and got on my metaphorical knees and begged His forgiveness, the slate was wiped clean and I was good to go again.

But I, with no god and with my own will and heart being the arbiters of my behavior and my nothing vs something, am the only one who can/should judge me.

And I am one judgmental beyotch.

I would love to just throw my hands up and say, “Oh, ok! I believe again. Help me, Lord.” and have that belief back and the comfort it was supposed to bring in those desperate moments.

It rarely brought me comfort. There were days I got caught up in beautiful church music, powerful hymns, and fellowship. There were days I felt less ill at ease and felt I could carry on. But, more often than not, I felt unheard by this supposed deity that I’d been told would be there for me. When I made that feeble attempt to unalive myself, I felt utterly alone.

There is no point in me thrashing about here with the existence or lack thereof of a God/god. No point in discussing why I failed at unaliving myself as “evidence” for a god. Whatever rationale one can provide for why it should reinforce my faith, I can give a rationale for why it furthered the deconstruction of it.

So, here I am in my nothing, struggling often without purpose, and some days, without art. Most days, I still feel utterly alone. I judge my heart, my behavior, and my lack of progress perhaps harder than any church or spouse/partner can judge. It makes me vulnerable to falling in with people who only want to take from me. It makes me especially vulnerable to my own selfishness.

It makes me potentially vulnerable to rip currents.

What keeps me out of rip currents now? Not hope. Certainly not faith.

Obligation.

And here, I realize another similarity to my friend and his “nothing without God” — being good enough. My obligation is to those I love and those for whom I work. It should, in part, be to myself and my art. However, a major symptom of depression (of artistic pursuit?) is imposter syndrome: the belief that we are never good enough to be devoted to our art and thereby our own needs rather than that of others. This is little different from “man is never good enough (original sin) without God.”

I’m sure this isn’t a new thought, just new to me.

There will be no rip current adventures for me again. I sometimes think if I just stay angry over the loss of the love and marriage, that alone will keep me out of threatening waters. I don’t believe I can maintain resentment that long. So, I must find a way to believe I am something by my own authority.

I must be obligated and devoted to my own needs for a while. Not dismissive of that of others, but not taking on their needs to the point of, once again, vanishing into their kowtowing version of me.

To that end, I write as often as I can now:

1) Poems (and short stories) that stir every part of me and heal me and maybe will stir and heal others in the future.

2) Letters to friends who tell me it is a delight to get them and who send equally delightful response letters.

3) And finally, pieces like this blog post which seem dark and sad, but in the end, lift me out of the currents that might carry me into frightening depths.

I write and this reminds me that I have a small gift with these words. I do, perhaps, have a purpose.

*I use this term to reduce anxiety for others and myself as well as hopefully to soften the tone of this entry.

Chaos & Growth: An Auspicious Anniversary

In short order it will be the anniversary of “leaving.” I left my former home (and by extension, my second husband) in mid-March of 2020.

What should have been a rush out into a new life with new possibilities, was, instead, a rush from one form of isolation and loneliness into another.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whining post.

It was a bit of a shock, I’ll admit. Leaving a person who wanted me to be as housebound and uncommunicative and as much of an introvert as he, only to have a virus force me into being very selective socially — introverted and uncommunicative. Ha!

It was still an improvement, and in some ways, that continued isolation was a positive thing. In many ways it was awful, but I want to steer away from that. Many of us have experienced the awful of 2020 and early 2021.

The good stuff:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my brother who is also, necessarily and unfortunately, isolated and grieving. Our different griefs, shared in long conversations, allowed me to see my circumstances through his lens and not just through my self-involved pain. This has been an empathy-building experience, not just with him but with others, as well. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that regard, but learning to balance my needs with that of others is a process, not so much a goal.

Another advantage of the solitude: I didn’t immediately go nuts dating. (not that I didn’t immediately go nuts looking.)

Here’s my history: I went straight from High School to my first marriage within a year and dated only my first husband in that time. We had two dates before he proposed. Yes, I was young and stupid. Why do you ask? 🙄

After our divorce, I immediately fell in love with my second husband who I had known at work for well over a year.

Fast Forward to 2020: the year of living slightly less stupidly, if only because that’s what universal chaos made me do. I couldn’t date after this divorce—because COVID! I have a little job and I meet a lot of lovely people, but they are brief and transient exchanges about the work, the village, beach life, etc.

I did not meet anyone with which to fall in love. I did not date and decide to give away my autonomy again out of loneliness. I worked, I wrote, I flirted, and I felt the sting of rejection here and there. Though it did require meeting/dating some in recent weeks, I learned rationally and viscerally, I really don’t NEED men. I do enjoy a man’s company and perspective (among other things), but needing anyone right now is a disquieting idea for me, especially needing a dedicated companion. This is my take on companionship and not a reflection on how I think others should behave. See here for key points.

All of this points to a single, fundamentally positive notion about 2020 and early 2021 from my selfish view. While it had its hellish days, days I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, I grew.

I had to go through a bit of the “boy crazies,” because I never had that chance as a young adult. I had to experience being completely without another human being in my home for months on end, because I have never had to do that. I had to relearn to be open and friendly like I was thirty years ago, because it is a normal and healthy part of life that I require. I had to relearn how to interact with others without the fog of self-hatred. (Still working on that one)

I have to heal these things, and more, for me to move on and start the real work of determining where I want to be this coming year and the years after that, if Universal Chaos allows.

I have ideas but lack a plan. I’m winging it and winging it is scary. But, when I left that house (and by extension, the order and planning the man within it brought to everything), I knew I was walking out into something unpredictable at best.

And that was the beauty shifting subtly under the pain of leaving and isolation: escaping suffocating order and expectations to greet chaos and growth with joy.

It’s Not Too Much to Ask: Revisiting and Requesting Respect

(Dec 18, 2018). I reach into myself—my past, my present, my imagined future—and find emptiness.

From the time I was small, I have sought [men’s] approval and rarely received it. I am so very tired of failing them and feeling the need to meet their expectations as if they were god(s). That includes God—I hear he demands fealty, supplication, bowing and scraping—like my [ex]husbands, boyfriends, and other male friends who knew better than I about damn near everything. Men who felt the need to “protect” me when I was in no such need.

(March 2021) I am still tired, but may be gaining strength.

It’s clear to me from the above entry, discovered when I unearthed a journal a couple of days ago, that in December of 2018, I felt my marriage and my connection to my faith were falling apart in a substantial way.

It’s also clear that I stopped myself from thinking any further on the topic should it take me down a more painful path. The only entry after that is a blog composition about Big Dog.

I have met and clung to a couple of perfectly pleasant men since my divorce. They placed their value to me in how they could help and comfort po’ little ol’ me. I don’t deny they have helped me in various ways. However, they placed my value to them in the predictable arena; I am a walking, breathing, please-don’t-talk-too-much sex toy. I offer nothing in terms of intellect, care, or actual companionship. They demonstrate this by treating my time as their commodity, not my precious resource. One of them gets sullen and distant if he asks a question (apparently rhetorical) and I answer with knowledge I earned in college or on the job.

I’m too old for this game and I’m not going to pretend I have no brain or heart. I did that enough in my marriages: 1) was told I was using “big words” to talk down to my exes when in fact I was talking to them as equals because I presumed they had the same pliant and ready mind I had, open to learning and growth, 2) was expected to take on the lion’s share of care for my child while my first husband partied all night and picked up women.

I’m not brilliant, but I am not scared of someone else’s intelligence. When I meet intelligent and confident men (and I have recently, thank goodness), I revel in it. They are never intimidated by me and only challenge me politely.

I used to be angry that my parents pushed me to be precise with my language and open to all knowledge. My most punishing memory of my father is of him throwing up his hands during my 2nd grade math homework and barking, “Oh, come on, Karen! You’re smarter than that!” (I recall, with great regret, saying this to my daughter when she was small—ugh! Legacies.) That meant, to eight-year-old me that, of course, I wasn’t smart at all. When I married men that reflected this in their actions, and often their words, I lost all faith in myself.

I realize now, having spent the last year in divorce recovery, that my dad was expressing his frustration with his inability to teach me. It was his failing, not mine. I also realize my ex-husbands were reflecting their failings and fears of their own weaknesses, as well. Easier to make me feel small by telling me I had no common sense or no motivation or was forgetful (and reinforce small human errors until these statements became true(r) in many respects) than to face that they were afraid of their own intellectual or emotional shortfalls.

I can’t say the men I’ve known recently don’t think they have valid reasons for being disrespectful of my mind or my time. You would have to ask them.

I can say I have valid reasons for wanting to be respected. I’ve received two degrees, both of which required long hours and significant mental and emotional commitment. I’ve lived through two marriages, both of which required significant mental and emotional commitment, and both of which drained me of a great deal of my self esteem. I raised a child, held jobs at which I performed well, and helped my 2nd ex-husband build products for and run a home business for twenty-two years. I may be struggling right now to find my place in the universe again, but I am trying. That said, even if all of the above were not true, I am human, have feelings, and responsibilities and, on those counts alone, I deserve respect. I deserved that respect when I was married. I deserve it now.

Distressed table. Distressed books. Fossil shells.

Saving the Wounded: Balancing Independence and Support

I know.

I know that this will get better – this masked, COVID-19 isolation after seventeen years in a desolate bubble.

I know because I began to break that bubble in the last two years and walk a path of personal growth.

I began to rescue and transport animals in my community in 2018. In the collage above are (clockwise from top left: baby raccoon, immature Northern gannet, White-tailed deer fawn, Screech owlets, baby opossum, and immature Brown pelican).

By spring of 2019, I had done several transports and releases. Transportation of smallish wild animals is fairly straight-forward: go to someone’s home or business, scoop up a box, get a form filled out by said person, drive animal to rehabilitator. All done with minimal contact with people.

Rescue, on the other hand, was nerve-wracking at first. I had no formal training and the one rescue I’d helped with was that of a sick and weak pelican that wasn’t up for a fight. Complicating matters, I have always been shy and called myself an introvert. I was uncertain how future rescues would go if I was working without a fellow rescuer.

On my first solo pelican rescue, the pelican was hungry and wanted my shad. I lured her in and grabbed her by myself. Other pelican rescues were a mixed bag. Some went great (for me, not so much the bird). Some failed completely as the birds could still fly enough to escape even four or five well-intentioned, but sometimes intimidated, helpers I recruited on the beach.

But always, if there are people on the beach, I have learned to recruit. I’ve done so with other sea birds and Black vultures, as well. In so doing, I’ve learned I’m no introvert. I am shy, yes, but I actually like working with and getting to know people.

In turn, people are almost always willing to help even if they find the larger birds a bit frightening. I am not prideful. I don’t have to do things myself to prove that I am capable or special.

If a large bird can’t be lured, it sometimes has to be rounded up by several of us like closing purse strings. We try to do this quickly to reduce stress on the bird. Sometimes an injured bird can be flushed toward me by one or two helpers so I can then grab it easily. Sometimes, it’s just helpful for someone to distract a sickly, scared gannet so I don’t lose a finger.

Other times, rescues fail and the bird flaps away. The bird will either heal on its own or it will get worse and we may catch it later.

Whatever the circumstances, I always prefer to work with people nearby. This makes them feel good, teaches them about the animals, and gives me a better chance for success. It also connects me to the community. We have a cheerful exchange as they bubble with the excitement of having helped a little furry or feathery life and I love seeing them brighten with joy and pride.

In all rescues, I treat all parties, the animal in need of being saved and the “recruits,” with respect and I work to gain the trust of both.

We all, volunteers, me, and animal, have to work together.

In recent years I have sought personal autonomy (self-government) and some in my life have interpreted this as a need on my part to do everything single-handedly.

I don’t want to stand alone.

I don’t want to walk this life without support. I simply want the right to choose when, how, and who I ask for support.

If I am lonely or hurting, I would like all the normal things lonely people need: affection, attention, someone who has my back.

If I am angry, give me space. My spicy language will give you a clue and I may say outright, “I’m angry. Back off.”

If I’m grieving, well, grief is a strange monster. I’ve been dealing with a great deal of grief in the last several years. I have tried to communicate my needs. I have sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed. People have sometimes just failed me.

Grief has at times closed me off to people and yet opened me up to rediscovering who I used to be.

I can tell you it is harder to know how to help the grieving. I can tell you that leaving someone to flounder in their grief is not a solution, nor is making promises you can’t keep.

I can tell you that I give what I get: Respect, trust, honesty, love, and friendship.

Respect. Trust. Honesty.

Sometimes, as I grieve now, it seems I am the bird healing myself or waiting for things to get bad enough to be caught. Perhaps I just need to be distracted (socialized) so someone can grab me and help me. Probably, it is a bit of both.

I’m still learning how to socialize my shy self after many years of being hidden and wounded. I will figure it out — with help — even if I have to do it with a mask on.

I know.

Autonomy and Isolation: Separating during COVID-19

I’m at the bottom of a well so deep that I can’t see the opening at the top. No light betrays day or night above. No sound leaks down the narrow shaft to relieve my solitude. I am utterly alone but for the soft breathing in the dark of a furry companion. A voice drifts down like a leaf falling slowly until it lands on my ears, “You okay down there?”

I want to scream, “No! Please throw down a rope. A chain. Anything. Save me. It’s cold. It’s terrifying. I’m so tired of this.”

But I was raised to not lean on others. My parents were always busy with my siblings. I had to learn to entertain myself.

I call back. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

Another verbal leaf falls. “Okay. Well, we’ve all been in wells before. Let us know if you need…” The voice trails off.

In the darkness I nod at no one and settle back into my solitude. The breath of my animal companion quickens as he finds his way next to me and reminds me that he is there and that has two implications: he will be beside me in my solitude and he will die beside me if I die.

I awaken in a brightly lit older beach house in a brightly lit beach village in Southeast Texas. My dog is breathing heavily from steroids he is taking to treat an ear infection. He hogs the bed as usual.

“I’m fine. Thank you.” I say with some sarcasm and pat his head. I examine the dream images with respect to my personal circumstances.

When I was in my early twenties, I was married to a violent alcoholic with Bipolar I (one) disorder. I went to work when our daughter was three and very gradually acquired skills plus a tiny savings he didn’t know about. (Just enough to pay for a lawyer) Meanwhile, my daughter and I endured his manic outbursts, his rage, and his pitiful sobbing under self-medication. My family helped where they could, when it wasn’t too painful to watch, but I was of a mindset that I had to handle things by myself. I made the lion’s share of income in my little family, a fact that angered my self-pitying husband even more so. When my daughter and I finally escaped him, I had a good job and had returned to college. I was, in a word, independent.

I began dating a coworker. I was insistent, though he found it more amusing than admirable I’m sure, that I pay for my own meals when we went out. Throughout our “courtship,” I continued this. I had been in a relationship of control. I was not going to let go of my newfound independence. I wasn’t going to give a man an excuse to say, “I gave you something. You give me something in return.”

That autonomy bled away over twenty-nine years during this second relationship for various reasons. Now I sit in a little home I rent for myself, the dog, and my possessions. Now I have recovered some part, though not all, of that autonomy.

Now there is COVID-19.

I moved into this house on March 20th 2020, just as the virus and social distancing were ramping up in this part of the country. Just as neighbors and friends were beginning to take it seriously. Parting hugs as I gave them news of my impending move at the beginning of the week suddenly seemed foolhardy at best, deadly at worst (thankfully, we all remain well).

My birthday came and went a few days ago, with no great fanfare. That’s all well and good. The alternative to being older is, after all, death. The month has been stressful, exhausting, and painfully quiet at times. Now and then, a call or text comes through the ether, “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m okay. Not sleeping well.”

Chit chat back and forth about the dog, the house, the weather, the virus.

Sometimes ranting about this or that. Politics. Religion. The romantic fallacies of “soul mate” and “forever.”

Sometimes, after I hang up the phone or log out of social media, there is sobbing and wailing, and internal pleas of “Throw down a rope! A chain! Anything!” But tears are usually kept to myself because I had planned to do this on my own power as much was possible.

I simply hadn’t planned to do it—PHYSICALLY ALONE! With no visits from my daughter. No hugs. No coffee with friends. No trips to town to wander in the mall or walks on a crowded beach to feel connected with other people.

My estranged husband is fond of saying, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” I hate that expression because there have been times that emotional strain has nearly killed me, either through illness or depression. It wasn’t worth the strength I gained.

I feel better equipped, oddly enough, to survive this pandemic despite having no one within six feet of me. I have more hope than I have had for many years. I have, however distant, a great deal of support from loved ones. I have the peace and ease of this little house by the sea. And I am fully aware that I am far more fortunate than so many. I am not, after all, on the COVID-19 front lines. I am merely, like so many, in COVID-19 limbo. I am simply alone. Well, with the dog.

Fearful as I am of the virus changing our way of life permanently. Fearful as I am that the loneliness of the coming months will be too much to bear. Fearful as I am, not of losing my own life, but of losing loved ones, I am grateful that I am here and getting this chance to be the Autonomous Me.

I have watched others live in their autonomy for a while now. I’m fifty-six. It’s late. But I’m here. Ready to turn down someone offering to pay for my lunch again. Ready to put aside a little money if I need to escape something, anything. I have a considerable wait ahead of me for those events and that is the hard part.

I’ll have to throw my own rope down for now.