Tag Archives: depression

Shadowlands: Recognizing Abandonment Trauma

I am once again in a river valley shadowland. Sunlight filters in barely; Internet, not at all. Rather than being able to walk two blocks to check in with family, I would have to drive six or seven miles.

So, I didn’t even unhitch. Not out of laziness, mind you. Hitching and unhitching have become an enjoyable part of the process. They are like the pen and paper prep of writing a letter; not productive but necessary and oddly enjoyable.

No, I didn’t unhitch because my last time in such a place frightened me with how despondent I became in such utter isolation. I had people around me, but the sense of not having family and friends in the glass rectangle in my hands was suffocating. I was disturbed enough by this second round of connectivity blackout, that I thought, “If it gets really bad again, I will just leave. I’ll forfeit the night’s fee and get on the road, in the dark if I have to, and find a Walmart somewhere that allows me to park and reconnect with loved ones.

This isn’t addiction (no doubt, that is an issue for me) but it is dependence. The fear of losing contact with my friends and family has been a recurring nightmare since my thirties — since I began to be isolated from them quite literally.

It’s a common theme in people’s nightmares but for me it became pathological; I would dream of trying to call my mother and not being able to get through despite dozens of attempts and methods. From not being able to get “bars” on my phone to not being able to make the rotary dial turn properly to having an operator tell me no such number existed, my mother was unreachable in these stressful dreams. I would awaken near tears and sometimes raging.

At the time, I blamed my physical distance from her which I considered the fault of my parents and sibling. After her death, of course, I blamed the loss of her and my grief for these nightmares.

Now, I also blame the man I was married to, whose expectations of my behavior and his feelings about family (“family is overrated” was a favorite quip of his) kept me from pushing for travel to see my loved ones.

So this, like so many, frankly pathological, responses I have to what might just be annoyances to others, stems from a sort of slow, death-by-a-thousand-cuts trauma.

I lost decades with loved ones, with potential friends, and with places and things I loved (the Texas Hill Country, swimming). I gave those things up to be the good wife who did everything to keep him happy (translation: to minimize stress level in the home). That loss now means any separation, any risk of “never again,” frightens me.

I am sure this has played into a relationship I had as well—the Wrong man’s breadcrumbs calmed me immeasurably even though they were just that. Just knowing he was “out there” and had not completely abandoned me, gave me peace.

I am sure, in a twisted way, this fear also kept me in the marriage at least ten years longer than was reasonable. My husband was my family and only truly present friend after my daughter left. Who else would have me and how would I survive? I dare not lose my one connection. In other words, by the time I knew things were not right, I was emotionally bonded in a way that transcended the love relationship and became a pathological need for connection.

So, I had nightmares.

In addition to the phone call nightmares, I had nightmares that my husband was leaving me, literally abandoning me in parking lots as he drove off laughing. This was how much damage had been done to my psyche.

In real life, he assured me regularly that he wouldn’t leave. However, I had already been abandoned emotionally as far as my subconscious was concerned. If I didn’t behave as he wished, then he most certainly would abandon me physically. If I tried to be independent, if I insisted on seeing family by myself, if I pursued a career again that put me in contact with other men, if I made friends outside his circle, or if I “peacocked,” as he called it, by wearing or doing anything he deemed attention getting — all these were reasons, he implied, that gave him the right to abandon me.

But by year twenty-eight, I was exhausted. I was tired of wanting to die. I was tired of being apart from my family. I was tired of locking myself in bedrooms when strangers came over. I was tired of wearing virtual sacks and constant gray and brown. I was tired of carrying the weight of his expectations.

I have not dreamed the telephone nightmare or the abandonment nightmare since I left. I dream, instead, that I am with him again and he is “putting his foot down” again and I am so tired—again.

Still, nightmares or not, the anxiety of alone does not spare me in these beautiful but isolated places.

These two days have been easier, if only because it is two days, not five. I have not been careful about my choices for setting down for the night in one park or another. Once I get out of this valley and can look more closely at the coming weeks, I will be more cautious. A week without connection, is five days too long.

Perhaps, it will be slightly easier to have finally come to understand the cause of my fear. If the fear is based in “complex trauma,” that is a rational response, even though the fear itself is irrational. That recognition may allow me further and faster healing.

Just a pretty image on a positive note. Prunus sp.

The Unsubscribe Button is a Delusion: Survival & Concession as a Single Woman of a Certain Age

I’ve been contained in a valley of Wi-Fi, 5G, and visible spectrum shadows for five days. I can walk a few blocks to get a signal and walking is good for me, but I decided walking for that purpose was less beneficial. I’ve checked in with my brother and my daughter a few times, checked email, made additional arrangements for post-PA campgrounds, but largely avoided social media.

Sitting quietly this morning awaiting my Moka Pot coffee, I looked through downloaded email.

I thought I unsubscribed from this company.

Yes. Yes I did. And I have been patiently unsubscribing from email ads for weeks. Sometimes repeatedly. I have determined it is a lost cause. That effort is a scam; a method by which to inform the company that I am still here and still seeing their annoying emails despite my desire otherwise.

What’s the definition of insanity, again? Doing something over and over despite getting the same result?

I have spent every evening since I got here attempting to write both poetry and blog entries.

Insanity.

I’ve written some truly awful poems.

I’ve written some fairly tight blog posts; posts that were well-framed, clear, concise, and led to a meaningful and valid conclusion.

Unfortunately, each post was a deep dive into the loneliness and anxiety that this valley has exacerbated. I had hoped this time away from social media would be healing. I had hoped freeing my mind of the outside world’s concerns would allow me to address my own. The latter is true. The former is not.

Stuck in my own thoughts, without the words, images, and outright agony and stupidity of the outside world, all I could see was everything I have ever done wrong and the end of my road coming sooner rather than later.

Each post morbidly reflected this. I was, in a word, done.

For the first time since my marriage, I was thinking of a way out. Not just passively wondering if I wouldn’t awaken but actively writing goodbyes.

People in my life do not, cannot, grasp the tenuous hold I have on sanity and self-esteem as a result of being told, both in word and deed, for thirty years that my only real value was in being half of another person.*

They do not, cannot grasp how this impacts everything I do or don’t do. That to say, “I won’t feel insecure about my talent or intellect,” is as pointless as repeatedly hitting that unsubscribe button. My history is as tenacious as those repeated emails, bashing me daily with reminders of what I should want and do with my life and what I gave up.

I do not have an answer. Hiding in a connectivity desert is, apparently, life threatening. That much I have determined. Trying to unsubscribe from my thoughts and history is a waste of effort.

The pat answer is “get out there and grab what you want.” When your hands have been tied with worthlessness for twenty-three of thirty years and with training against and emotional beating for being independent the entire thirty years, how do you just magically slip those bindings and grab?

So, here I am, yet again, struggling with purpose, pointlessness, and isolation. Hitting “unsubscribe from this insecurity?” like a lab rat hitting a reward button.

Insanity.

* To be fair, to ask people to understand this when I do not reveal details of my relationship is probably a bit much. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. Lots of people believe “two become one.” How is that so bad? I will not detail that here, however. This blog isn’t about him.

Setting Boundaries. Fighting demons.

Sunday night. I am alone in the RV loop. Everyone else has gone home or moved on to their next berth.

The world here is peaceful. The world here doesn’t reveal the turmoil beyond the park’s border.

It’s a cold night reminiscent of a Texas winter: temps falling into the 40s, rain, still. I have to remind myself it is May.

I have been thinking a great deal about boundaries. A minority faction of the US wishes to destroy boundaries we all hold dear but because they have attacked an issue some deem one of morality, those same are not clear on what they too are losing.

I have been raging and tearful for days but, if I’m honest, I have been raging and tearful for ten years.

For many years I would lose my temper over the mildest events. Almost always, they were mistakes I’d made: Where is my wallet? What have I done with my keys? How could I forget that appointment?

The man I was married to at the time once asked, “Why are you so angry all the time?” In the moment, I had no answer.

As the years passed I began to incrementally discover the source of my rage: I had allowed one person to determine my boundaries and overstep them on a regular basis. I raged at my little failings because I was so angry with myself for the big failing: allowing that constant and agonizing transgression.

I left that marriage in 2020, bent on not allowing such transgressions again. Some slipped through the cracks as I tried to fight off loneliness and grief. Since taking to the road, however, I have gained significant strength against people trying to impose their will on me. My rage and tears have been aimed at the men in my life rather than my own errors.

This last few days had been difficult for so many. It will continue to be difficult for some time. The episode of rage and sadness it is triggering in me is small compared to that felt by marginalized groups. In the grand scheme of things, it directly affects me very little. For now.

As I sit in the growing gloom and silence of this park in the Blue Ridge mountains, I feel significant guilt for that last fact. I shouldn’t have such outwardly peaceful environs when the country is on fire for others. I shouldn’t be fighting such tiny demons while others fight dragons.

I simply don’t know how to contend with this — this sudden silence and isolation after several days of busy and boisterous neighbors and personal anxiety. It leaves me cold and emotionally void as this Blue Ridge mountain air.

To Sea: Feet & Hope in the Surf

Most places I go these days are places I have never been, but are, nonetheless, familiar in their character. However, this latest stop feels monumental to me.

I wasn’t really aware of where I was at first. I was just driving to the next town and the next space in which to park Blanche & Betty.

I decided to check the weather report when I arrived and in so doing realized I am minutes from the eastern coast of the United States. I suppose, in my head, I had placed this region along the Gulf Coast. In my perception, the idea of crossing four states and going “only” 1050 miles vs the 900 miles I drove from Houston to New Mexico, had taken so long and been so piecemeal and cautious that I’d lost track of where I was going. I was so busy connecting dots, I lost sight of the big picture.

What an odd sensation to wake up (mentally) and realize you have gone from one coast (albeit the middle coast) to another coast rather haphazardly and unwittingly.

“Haphazardly,” because during the winter months, I had the luxury of driving and just stumbling on a place to stay without putting much thought into it (that has evaporated with spring break and the summer months ahead).

“Unwittingly,” because my mind has been so preoccupied with grief and depression and love that I neglected to be fully aware of my surroundings much of the time. In the last park I was largely in an emotional fog that was punctured only occasionally by calls from family and a friend.

This coastal RV resort is crowded, snugly packed, heavily canopied with trees, too close to a significant road (although that has grown quieter as night wears on), and full of other dogs to keep Sammy in a constant state of crazy.

Still, I feel like I’ve come to life for a moment, hopefully several moments. I want to work. I want to breathe and accomplish things. Two days ago, I didn’t care if I didn’t wake up at all much less metaphorically.

Nothing has changed. I’ve had no grand revelations. I don’t feel any different about my skill set, my desire for companionship (or lack thereof), nor my relationships as they stand. Dog is still a huge pain in the backside when he sees other dogs. I still have repairs to make to Blanche that can’t be made immediately. I still have allergies kicking my ass. My heart is still tangled.

But I feel—

What’s the word?

Hopeful?

Perhaps it’s the bustle around me. People doing things and living and not just on the road to doing or sitting out at a campfire (perfectly fine things to do, mind you). This is a park full of short and long-timers and the long-timers make it feel like home with potted plants and dog pens. There’s a strange comfort in that.

It could be just the Atlantic Ocean whispering to me from a few miles away. Perhaps the very thought that I can drive just a little while and put feet in salt water again, different salt water, and say, “I am here. I made it. I didn’t crumble between there and here, though it got damn close. Yay, me!”

Pier on a Georgia Beach

Going where? The Stagnation of Predictability

21 March, 2022

Two years ago today, I was moving into a new house and putting many of my belongings into an off-island storage space. Two years ago today, I stomped rage into every step I took up and down the stairs of my former home and my new home. Two years ago, for the first time in months, I breathed in a truly deep and relaxing breath after I shut the door behind me that night and sat in bed letting the silence and isolation flood the room completely.

I spent a lot of nights in that little house on Thunder Road, feeling that same level of peace. I spent a lot of nights there staring at the ceiling and worrying.

I’ve said it here; I get anxious being in one place too long these days.

I leave this place tomorrow and move east. I had intended to be in the new spot about a month. I erred and didn’t get my reservations soon enough and can’t be there for more than a few days. I’ll go north for a while instead and that may upset some plans for others. I’m not happy with myself for the error.

I wonder, however, if I didn’t sabotage myself subconsciously. I wonder if I didn’t know my dawdling would put me in this situation to a degree (though perhaps not this badly). The original plan to stay a month was weighing on me the more I thought about it. It felt as stifling as that house I had shared with my ex-husband. I could see myself stuck. When you say you’re going to rent a space for a month, you pay for a month. You stay. A month in one spot makes me just a little nuts. I’m finding two weeks in most of these places to be pushing my limits. I’ve been in this current park since March 10th (eleven days) and I’m getting antsy and uncomfortable. I don’t know how to fully convey the feeling. It is a bit like being at a party to which you weren’t invited; it’s pleasant but you know you don’t belong. That feeling has nothing to do with the people around me; I’ve experienced this same sensation in a nearly deserted park.

A lake in central Georgia

I was speaking to a friend about relationships and loneliness and he said, “You’ll find someone whenever you stay put for a while.” (paraphrasing because—beer) I didn’t argue. I didn’t agree. The discussion moved on to other things.

However—

I wanted to say, “Well, that is exactly why I don’t want to stay put.”

I wanted to say, “My heart is tangled up right now. I don’t need to incorporate more threads.”

I wanted to say, “I want to come home.”

I am growing homesick, but I know it is not because I actually miss my house or the beach or the birds or the people I barely knew.

I am growing homesick because home was predictable.

Home was always going to be the ex down the street and occasional run-ins with his family. It was always going to be worthwhile but low-paying work that didn’t demand much of me mentally but often much of me physically and sometimes emotionally. It was always going to be that one guy who floated in and out of my life like a Portuguese Man-of-War. It was always going to be pretending to be nice to the ex when the grands came to visit even though every interaction was distressful for both of us. It was always going to be me giving time to the rescues (that I adored) and getting nothing in return except more wear and tear on my truck and loss of funds.

It was always going to be.

It was always going to be really good seafood and beautiful sunrises and gorgeous storms and mesmerizing foghorns and pelicans in huge squadrons flying up and down the beach ahead of a front.

Predictable is safe. Predictable is calming. Predictable makes other decisions easier. Predictable was all I’d known for twenty-nine years.

Predictable allows (even encourages) you to give up on your careers (yes, both) and then regret it the rest of your life because you have lost your skills. Predictable makes you bend to another’s will instead of standing up for yourself and saying, “I deserve the respect of personal autonomy!” Predictable leaves you in a marriage at least eight years longer than you should have stayed. Predictable keeps you in family dynamics that hurt.

Perhaps I am scared of lighting in any one spot for all of these reasons. Perhaps I fear that I will once again have my autonomy subsumed by the comfort of predictability. Even my friend floats in and out on his own whims such that I can’t assign much predictability to him and that feels oddly safe to me.

When I was married, I knew I’d be married until my death. I knew I’d die at a fairly ripe age and probably some time after my spouse. I knew I’d die in or about the home we shared. I knew all this because that is what the predictable day-to-day existence made me believe. Nothing ever changes when the person you are with and the person you have become both conspire to keep things predictable indefinitely.

I feel, every day, the unpredictability of my life now. I awaken not knowing if I will find the strength to go on, if I will find work that allows me to stay with Sam who is getting more and more dependent on me, if I will just have to run out of my savings and be done, if I will choose to shorten my stay in my current spot or lose the money and just pick up and go boondocking, if I will have a car wreck on the highway, if Blanche will have a blowout, if I will get COVID-19 and become too sick to travel and have to talk my hosts into some kind of act of kindness, if a tornado will blow through and upend all of us, or if I will simply have a stroke or myocardial infarct and die quietly inside Blanche to be found when my campsite is supposed to be taken by someone else. None of this is known.

I could be bothered by that and, in my former marriage, no doubt I would have been. I was taught to be bothered by such.

But predictable literally almost killed me in October of 2019. If unpredictable kills me by virtue of accident or ill health, then at least it did so while I was doing something with my life rather than sitting in a house waiting to die. I cannot imagine ever going back to predictable. I cannot imagine, ever again, being someone’s belonging that waits to be put in storage.

Buzzwords: Social Media and Validation

Edit: I wrote and published this on Oct. 2nd but left it password protected while I thought about it. The irony of that and how in some ways it is almost, “Overcome by Events” is not lost on me.

Harmless game, right? In the moment, it probably is. In the grand scheme of things, is this kind of data mining really going to impact your life? Probably not on any noticeable level.

But it has and will impact you on an emotional level. This shouldn’t be news to you. It isn’t to me, but it hit me this morning in a painful and profound way.

Here’s what it has done that I find more insidious. It has taken the world of psychology and biology and

  1. distorted the definitions and understanding of the terms used therein and
  2. injured or exacerbated our fears about self-worth and wellness such that we constantly seek validation.

Let me preface the rest of this with the admission that I too have played these FB games, but not because I thought it would reveal me as a narcissist/empath/sociopath/ADHD/neurodivergent or even none of those things. I played these games to see what FB game logic looked like. On more than one occasion I played the same game multiple times and got wildly different answers. Not surprising given it is data mining and the results of these “tests” are largely random. Some are a little more sophisticated and give marginally fact-based results.

When I saw this particular test, I noticed that its premise has absolutely nothing to do with anything. You aren’t selecting an image that has any meaning (usually one sees landscapes, animals, or flowers). The images are in no way symbolically associated with the month and months in no way determine personality. (If you believe in Astrology, I’m not here to fight you. I’m a scientist by training. I need empirical data.)

So…I saw the test and was curious. When FB got hung up and didn’t give me an answer, I got bored. Then, I started thinking about this test and the many I have seen like it. A switch flipped in my brain; perhaps because I am constantly processing my last thirty-seven years.

Let’s talk about 1 above, first.

Narcissist is a medical term. Yes, it has a common meaning, but when used in the context of these tests, that isn’t where the miners are aiming. They are aiming for the medical (DSM-5) definition of narcissist (Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD). This is important because when we throw this word around and diagnose each other or even ourselves with any medical condition, we are at risk of [getting it all wrong 😊].

I get it. Truly I do. I get the need to label someone who has hurt us and displayed all those traits of NPD or borderline personality or whatever you think you are dealing with. I get the need to label ourselves to understand ourselves better. I don’t say ignore that potential diagnosis. I say, acknowledge and deal with the behavior as you must for survival. You may well be spot on.

My concern is with the petty or indiscriminate use of medical terms in social media. The more we use these terms without valid diagnoses or credentials, the more these terms are weakened in the collective mind. The more prevalent these terms become on social media, the more we see them as ways of diminishing each other. “You are [insert label here] so you are not worth my effort to connect/communicate with].” Who can forget the rallying cry, “F*** your feelings!”

Again, I’m not fussing at those of us who are coping with hurtful people in our lives. As I said, acknowledge and deal with or escape that behavior. Don’t let it hurt you.

So where do these tests fit in and why was it so striking for me?

We arrive at 2. Social media, like Facebook and Tiktok, seeks to validate us thereby winning our constant participation. These tests hurt us in their blasé approach to medical diagnoses. In giving us pat answers about complex questions, they speak to our fear and our innate need for validation.

“Are you a NARCISSIST?”

Your brain screams: NO! Of course not. I’m a good and empathetic person. Here! I’ll prove it by clicking on this image.”

(Clicks)

“See! It says I’m empathetic and loving and a whole bunch of other stuff I need to believe about myself because I’m not getting the validation I need from (elsewhere).”

Then there’s this one.

“Are you an EMPATH?” it screams.

Well, you think you are, but now you’re not so sure. You must prove that you are. So, you click that button under the pretty image of the ocean instead of the one of the mountain, because oceans mean empathy, right?

“Why yes! Yes, you ARE an empath.”

Except, and this is one I’ve tested, had you clicked on the mountain, the river, the dark, scary cave, the long, blacktop road to nowhere, the bouncing ball on the playground…any of the pictures provided, the test would have told you, “Why yes! Yes, you ARE an empath!”

Why? Because the test is not a test for empathy but of your willingness to part with data for your fix. If you are given anything but the answer you crave, you won’t continue to let them mine your data.

I don’t care one whit about your data being mined. That’s not the purpose of this post.

I care that you, like I, are seeking validation in a post on FB. I care that in so doing, you get that momentary high that dissipates as quickly as you got it and has you seeking more within minutes: validation you will also reach for by posting pretty pictures or stupid memes. (guilty) Validation you will seek from junk people in your life instead of finding it in your own heart. I care that this medium, more than any I believe humans have created thus far, because of its immediacy and ease, has stoked this fire of validation addiction* beyond recovery.

That I am putting this on my Facebook page is, indeed, some hypocrisy. That it belongs here, remains true.

That this struck me so hard this morning that I had to write about it immediately and then examine my own methods of seeking validation (not just social media) is a bit of a shock to my system.

I am hoping that no one reading this feels this to be an attack. I have played these games and required this validation a dozen times. And before you come back with “it’s just a harmless game,” it has always been that to me, as well.

It was until this morning, when years of being accused of one flaw or another came to a boil in one silly, harmless game.

I, you, none of us needs validation from social media.

Or anyone else.

*I am leery of posting links to any of the DSM-5 terms as I do not wish to add to the problems surrounding diagnosis or self-diagnosis. I strongly urge anyone who feels they or a loved one needs help in any area mentioned above seek counsel with a licensed professional. Note: many, if not most, church counselors are not licensed and have no psychology or medical background.

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.

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.

Depression and Suicide: Why we can’t say “Why.”

The Void. The Beast. The Black Dog. The Pit. Depression and Suicide are once again prominent in the news cycle. Once again, we swim through speculation and rumor in social media and the word “why” ricochets off Facebook walls and inside our heads.

When someone we perceive as successful, intelligent, wealthy, or otherwise gifted with all those things we think make people happy takes their own life, we ask, “Why him? He had it all?”

Here’s the short, sharp response: Why does cancer take one person and not another? When we ask that question we typically decide chance/a whim of Nature bestowed a bad illness on a good (successful/beautiful/wealthy/young) person. We should view depression no differently.

What? Yes. Please stop thinking of depression as “having a bad day/marriage/money problems/getting old.” Depression isn’t the devil. Nor is it some vague whine-fest because you haven’t gotten your way. It is a disorder and it is wrapped up in the way chemicals in our brain dictate our behavior. I am shorthanding here because it is complex and not fully understood, but depression is clinical, meaning it has a medical cause. The initial trigger may be situational (injury, stress, pregnancy, physical illness), but the result is a clinical illness.

Yet, when the celebrity takes his or her own life, we begin the fruitless and unsatisfying search for answers. When Robin Williams died, it was because he had a debilitating disease threatening his future. Kate Spade, according to so much pointless rumor, had marital issues. Kurt Cobain had everything to live for supposedly, so obviously Courtney did it. (Did you hear my eyes roll?).  Now Anthony Bourdain has died and we ask why? Why this outspoken, energetic man with so much success?

Because: chemicals in the human brain.

Because: Depression.

I truly hate that depression has been labeled a “mental illness”. Oh, it is an illness. But to call it a mental illness slides it into the realm of a) incurable (it isn’t) and b) unknowable (it isn’t). It leaves people with the impression that people with depression, with this mental illness, are crazy and need to be shunned, can’t be fixed, and their “mental problems” are just too hard to deal with so Run Away, Run Away.

So, let me be forthright and let me talk about Mr. Bourdain for a moment as if he sort of relates to myself even though I know nothing about his particular situation.

I watched him only rarely. What I saw of him was, in outward appearances, the very opposite of me: loud, brash, opinionated.

Oops. Opinionated. So, not so opposite after all. As I read that character trait of his several times this morning, I realized something about all of us (humans) that is especially true of depressives; we have something to say and we need to be heard. Yet, we often feel as if we are screaming into a void.

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I’m not saying this is specifically a precipitant of suicide, I am saying that ultimately, in our crises, a depressive is not someone wallowing in self pity and pain, but someone who IS in pain and feeling utterly unheard. In a life that is extraordinary, rich, beautiful, fulfilling and filled with love—none of that matters if you are not heard when you are hurting. NONE OF IT.

This is why I write. Pure and simple. I don’t write to create art. I have told myself that I do, but that’s bullshit. I write because, while I am a mouse in public, shy and so soft-voiced it annoys people, on the page I can put exactly who I am and what hurts (and what brings me joy). I am one of the most opinionated people you will ever meet, but unless I know you well, you will likely only ever see that in these pages (or a Facebook post).

I have moments when the chemicals in my brain say, “Sure, you are much loved by your spouse. Sure, you live in a beautiful place. Sure, your daughter and her family are happy, healthy, and financially stable. Sure, you are not grossly unhealthy. BUT you are an abject FAILURE.” In those moments, I need desperately to be heard.

I can’t tell you exactly why Mr. Bourdain or anyone else takes their own life (beyond that the chemicals in their brains are betraying them). I am not telling you that circumstances don’t play a role in their depression. Our pain is often (usually) triggered by very real concerns. But I can tell you this—in that crisis moment, when you aren’t being heard, when you believe no amount of talking or writing can express your pain enough to bring even one person around to understanding you, the chemicals in your brain are winning. They can convince you that your loved ones really will be happier without you. (Because they won’t have to listen to you cry anymore. They won’t have to pay your medical bills or worry about the fact that you might off yourself.) They really will get over it. (Because you’re not much use to them as a depresso, so it’s like getting over a lost puppy, right?) They really will understand that your pain was too much to bear. (Because they saw that you were in abject misery like a dog that can’t eat or walk, right?)

I have been fortunate in that I have taught myself to flip the switch and shut out that screwy rationale through some mental gymnastics and meditative techniques. The ones who didn’t learn that, or learned it and lost their grip on it, they weren’t selfish or cowards. They simply couldn’t flip the switch and the chemicals won.

I ask again, with these latest celebrity deaths, rethink how you view depression. Perhaps do some reading. Talk to those who actually suffer with it and listen to them. The Pit is deep, but with more people understanding, perhaps those who struggle to flip the switch can be pulled out more often rather than succumbing.

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

More on neurochemicals and depression.

 

How Saturdays would happen if the Big Blind Dog had language:

I awaken and get out of bed. My husband (hereafter known as Dad) is showering so I leave him in peace and head straight for the kitchen.

The kitchen is part of an open architecture, great room structure with a large portion dedicated to a den area. In the den sits a plump, oversized couch known as Dog’s Bed #1. As I cross the threshold from bedroom to great room, Big Blind Dog (BBD) lifts his blocky brown noggin, eases one front paw off the couch, then another and, bum still planted on the cushions, looks at me. Well, as much as he can be said to be looking. He is listening to find out who exactly has come through the magic portal.

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Who’s there?

“Good morning, baby boy,” I say, and close the door behind me.

“Oh. It’s you. I suppose you’re going to give me breakfast.” BBD heaves his wide load up, stretches with back legs tall on the couch, causing a whistling intake of air into his back end, and hops down onto the cold tile. “Do get on with it. It’s been two hours since my automatic feeder gave me kibble and I’m famished.”

“I love you, too,” I mumble and shuffle into the kitchen where I ladle one heaping tablespoon each of pumpkin and yogurt into his food bowl, but not quickly enough to prevent a puddle of dog drool on the floor.

“Where’s Dad?” he asks, as he licks yogurt off his nose.

“He’ll be out in a minute.”

“Not good enough. I must register a complaint.” BBD turns away from my loving pat on his back and bumps his pumpkin-yogurt mug against the wall on his way to the magic portal and where he begins to whimper. “Oh, Dad. Please come out. I’m so lonely. There’s no one here but the lunatic woman who curses loudly and often. Please. Please. Please.”

I start my coffee and ignore the doggy drama though it increases with the familiar sounds of my husband’s routine as it nears completion.

The portal swings open.

BBD leaps for joy, raising his rear end slightly off the ground with each bounce like an obese bunny. “Dad. Dad. I’ve missed you so. It’s been forever. I thought you were never coming out. Life without you is drab and empty. Let’s go to the kitchen where we can be happy and eat and dance and bark and drool together forever.”

Dad winds around drooling dog and bouncing dog and nibbling-at-the-fingers dog, the many-in-one dog. In the kitchen, BBD leads him to the biscuit jar. Dad does as he has been trained, picks out a large biscuit and gets to work in his front-room office.

I sit in the den with my coffee—or rather I try to.

BBD walks to the back door. “Mother. I must go out now. Let us not disturb Amazing Dad. He is far too busy and important. This is your job.”

Of course.

  1. I’m a writer who works* out of my home.
  2. I am always available to my dog, my husband, the Fed Ex driver, geckos that get stuck in the house. I try to be available to my grown daughter via telephone when she needs me.

With this availability, I didn’t expect my dog to be so much like a toddler and decide that I was just too danged available.

Every stay-at-home parent (SAHP) experiences it, that moment when the working parent comes home and the young child behaves as if they have been left ignored and unfed for ten hours by the hopeless and useless SAHP. But honestly, my dog?

Lately, it seems more and more the case, for BBD. Yes, I am more focused on writing now, but a lot of that focused time is on the couch, some part of BBD pressed up against me as I work. There are no fewer treats from the biscuit jar. Quite possibly there are more than when I was working on my MFA. There are no fewer walks. I pet and cuddle with him often, but I don’t crowd him. I am working on decreasing the cursing and if I do curse, I ask forgiveness with a treat. All it takes is a whispered profanity for him to act injured.

Yet, when Dad comes home from work, a new and grand world has opened up and life is wondrous again. While when I go out for morning errands and come back home, BBD herds me to the kitchen for a treat but that’s about the extent of it. No joyous bouncing or finger nibbling.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me in his canine fashion. Much of the time, when his initial excitement over my husband’s arrival has ebbed, he comes to sit with me. Like the toddler who adores the working parent but relies on the SAHP for lunch and dinner, BBD knows who fills the food bowl every night and sits on the patio with him every morning.

This sounds like just a whinge about the dog not appreciating me as if he were capable of understanding the concept. Of course, I know he isn’t. I don’t know why a dog or a child attaches such importance to the arrival of the away parent v. the available parent unless it is some reptilian-brain fear (perhaps more to the fore in the dog) of the away parent not returning.

This is simply the statement of a truth. I sit at home and write all day (well, much of the day) several days a week. I don’t have a “real” job because my body doesn’t allow that but also because, truly, writing is what I have always wanted to do. I’ve been blessed to be able to do this. I am thankful for this. I admit, in my darker moments, when the dog brushes me off in favor of the Dad, when the kids don’t have time for us, when the husband has to work late, when the latest rejection hits the inbox, when I simply look at the page and see tripe instead of the quality writing of which I think I am capable, in those bleak moments I experience complete despair. What value do I have? Is it my purpose in life solely to let the dog out to do his business? God knows, it’s a job I want to do because I adore his fuzzy little snoot. But is it all I’m good for? Well, that and washing dishes and laundry?

I keep telling myself that the raft of emotions I am floating on day to day is a result of the sea of grief still surrounding me since Momma died. That my sense of worthlessness, my fears of the future, my anger with my loved ones, my disgust with the world as a whole, is all a result of those battering waves. That it is not rational.

Believing my precious dog loves my husband more than he loves me (or vice versa) is not rational. He’s just a dog, for God’s sake. But grief is not rational.

*as much as writing and not making money off of it can be called “work”