This is the oldening. The lightening. The darkening. The leveling and the simultaneous rupturing. Everything is at once in harmony while vibrating with disruptive discordance.
Spring is nature screaming hoarsely into a mosh-pit of fallen stars and unexpected moonbeams.
The landscape explodes with blooms and the warming trend expands the stench of decay that flies just underneath the radar of our fear, surprising us in our sleep with images we can’t erase and that are exquisitely gorgeous and equally terrifying in the way that sex and death smell the same when we’re being honest with ourselves in stark moments of truth.
Two weeks into my Midlife Health Reboot and my back has gone out, I’ve experienced some really low days, done more exercise than usual, employed some DBT skills to drink a little less, still drank way more than stated goals, have eaten too much cheese but otherwise have been eating really well and healthily.
Today I weighed myself and have gained 1 lb. I’m choosing to see this as inspiration to keep moving forward. On the plus side, my scooter jacket fits a little better than it did last summer when I bought it.
My chicks, my dog, my regular cats, and my foster kittens have collectively represented quite a lot work this past week but I love animals so much that I view it as work worth doing. Still, my senior dog spends an awful lot of time entering a room then freezing in place and staring at me as though I must have the answer to why she ended up standing there OR that obviously I haven’t fed her in weeks (2 minutes ago) and I find this constant intense staring at me unnerving. She also barks at me incessantly some mornings starting between 4:40 am and 5:15 and ending when I feed her at 6am. Or earlier if I reach the end of my patience. But I get it Chick, being old is weird and painful.
Berkeley and Emery’s diarrhea has returned and is really bad. They’ve started medication again. My chicks aren’t doing anything requiring particularly challenging work but I’ve been spending a lot of time holding them to tame them.
Philip and I have been working on their coop and run because chicks grow up in the blink of an eye.
I’ve gotten out in the garden again and it felt FANTASTIC.
I didn’t plant this. Finding it when I was weeding was like running into a loved old friend or a favorite forgotten treasure. I weeded around it and am hoping it will thrive and then re-seed itself. I love tiny flowers! Super tiny flowers are so sweet, they lure you into a lilliputian world of magic. I don’t really believe in magic in the literal sense but in the sense that these tiny flowers can pull a giant down to examine and delight in their delicate forms is surely practical magic?
When I was a kid we had miner’s lettuce growing under a very old tree in the very back of our back yard, right across the path from our chicken coop (which is now an apartment) and I would take my barbies for picnics under that tree and I’d take pictures of them dressed in their smarmy late 70’s best attire and I would occasionally eat a few leaves of miner’s lettuce. I remember that tree being a walnut but I realize now as an adult very familiar with walnut trees that that can’t be true. I’ll ask my mom. Anyway, it gave me such a rush of pleasure to find that volunteer in my garden last night. So add that to my master list of “pleasant events to do or remember doing”: FINDING MINER’S LETTUCE IN MY GARDEN.
We’re drinking some hibiscus rosehip tea with astragalus that I chilled in the fridge and next up is this fine spring brew:
I’ll be chilling this to drink as iced tea.
Before I close this post, to keep myself accountable to myself, I will now do (for the first time in about a billion years) exercises I’m supposed to be doing to support my arthritic knee and hip… (save this space).
Okay – I did 5 exercises. That’s the first time in ages and it must become a building block to this health reboot of mine. I can’t help my circulation and heart health if I can’t move due to arthritis pain. I’m told that doing these strengthening exercises will alleviate the pain even though the cartilage in my left knee is half gone (1/2 of knee is bone on bone). It seems so hard to believe but until I actually do it for a long period of time – how will I know? And any kind of body strengthening is going to be great for my over-all health even if it doesn’t do what they promise it will do.
I’m going to log out now and clean up my kitchen and eat some cottage cheese with pineapple and watch murder documentaries and hold my chicks and drink iced chai that I made.
For four days in a row I got some exercise. You know, because every person on earth says that good health means daily exercise. Ever since breaking my stupid-ass hip this has become a nightmare for my body. I’m feeling bitter right now because it felt good to get moving. I love walking. I love being active. And after four days of being active (and taking ibuprofin before-hand as directed by my various docs) my back is out. My experience for the last 14 years is that I get punished over and over and over again with awful pain of one kind or another every time I exercise. My back has been especially effected since the arthritis in my left knee got bad. The surgeon who I originally consulted with said that increased back problems are common with arthritis in hips and knees because you compensate for the pain and throw yourself out of alignment.
You know what’s tedious and boring? This topic. But it’s germane to my goals.
What I’m going to have to do is focus on doing strengthening exercises every day for my knees, my back, and my hip. I will take a short walk tomorrow with a friend and not push it.
I’d like to go on record as being so fucking depressed by the state of my body I feel so angry that I tripped and fell 14 years ago because the impact on my health and my life has been shockingly huge.
Anger noted and logged. What I know is that this year is going to take a lot of work and that doesn’t mean pushing myself all the time – it means PACING myself. Just as with my mental health, it’s something you work on every day and working on it a little bit every day is how you keep the progress coming. There will be bursts of inspiration and pushing beyond limits, of course. But one key is going to be to ignore most advice from others because while meaning well – most people don’t know all the details that matter because they aren’t my doctors or me.
I still need to work on my wise mind statements. I had to miss the last day of my DBT class due to my back. I think I’ll check out some DBT apps tomorrow and see if any of them are intuitive to me.
For things that bring me pleasure I submit trying new restaurants in new places and this weekend I got my chicks! They get big so fast that I got them Saturday and already they’re developing tail feathers. I’ve missed having chickens so I’m excited to finally be getting a new flock!
Having Chickens brings me a great deal of joy. I love the noises they make, I love holding them and feeling their silky feathers, I love watching them take dust baths and strut around looking for tasty scraps. I love it when they follow me around the garden and I love the fresh eggs. Hanging out with chickens was one of the happiest parts of my childhood.
I have to go ice my back again and take more Ibuprofin so I’m logging off for tonight.
I made myself get on the scale this morning to face the sitch, whatever it is. I’m so relieved to say that my starting point is 9lbs lower than I thought. So my starting weight is 271 lbs. It’s a lot, for sure but not worth getting too upset about. That’s where I am.
So far today I’ve been pretty frantic as I prepare for getting 7 chicks tomorrow morning and then head up to Sacramento overnight with some friends. But I also pulled some weeds, helped my mother’s helper, and so far have eaten sensibly. I’m going to have a banana in a minute and then go on a walk with a neighbor friend. Either we’re going to walk around the middle school track or we’re going to head up King to a friend’s house to meet Philip for beer.
Yes, tonight I’m drinking. The last two nights I did not. It wasn’t hard at all as it sometimes is. What I ended up having to urge-surf through was wanting to make a late-night cheese sandwich. I made it through the urge and brushed my teeth. I feel really good about that decision. Wise mind asked if eating the cheese sandwich would be in the interests of our long-term goals and it said “emphatically not!” and so wise mind prevailed. I’m glad it did.
Short entry today. What I need to work on next is developing wise mind statements. I haven’t done that yet and I think it will prove very useful if I have that already prepared.
I love seeds. I didn’t take any pics today so I’m using ones I took yesterday. I get a lot of joy from flowers and seeds. Before I head off, I’m doing some deep breathing.
Today was all about doing my DBT homework which was doing pleasant activities and going through the list of pleasant activities handout and seeing how many of those things I could be adding into my life. If this doesn’t sound like therapy to you – that’s because it seems so weird to purposely put pleasant things on your daily agenda. But if you’ve ever been mired or paralyzed by anxiety and/or depression or other destabilizing emotional issues – you know that sometimes we forget to do all the little unharmful things we enjoy and stick mostly to the more harmful methods of coping. If that wasn’t true, you wouldn’t be in therapy like me and wouldn’t be interested in this shit anyway.
In the handout the teachers gave us there are 275 “pleasant events” listed just to give us an idea of what kind of things we might not remember to do/think about when we’re stressed. I found 84 of those things copacetic and also on the list were a bunch of things that actually cause me enormous stress. I’m absolutely aware that the point of the list is that we’re all different and this is just a jumping off point in making my own list.
It’s entirely possible that some people find going to class reunions pleasant while I would rather have a splinter shoved in my eye.
I’m going to make my own list of 50 pleasant events that are personal to me (in no particular order). If you’re following along and wanna participate – please do! But first, a couple more pictures from today’s adventures.
Angelina’s 50 Pleasant Events List:
1. Driving my Vespa through the countryside or through pretty neighborhoods
2. Fostering kittens
3. Going out to dinner with Philip and Max
4. Going out to happy hour with my sister
5. Staying in hotels and watching cable TV
6. Hanging out with close friends
8. Spotting wildflowers everywhere I go
10. Seeing the local wild turkeys drift through neighborhoods and chatting with them
11. Watching serial killer documentaries
12. Walking barefoot in the garden on a hot day
13. Wading in ice cold ocean water/walking along the beach with ice cold waves washing over my feet
14. Remembering happy trips: Vespa ride to Oregon, family trip to SLC, Glasgow with Zeke and Tara
15. Driving through countryside with Philip
16. The smell of onions being sauteed wafting through neighborhoods in early evening
17. Sitting on our porch when it’s warm out and waving to neighbors, just hanging out
18. Having a nice hot cup of strong British tea with milk and sugar.
19. First cup of coffee in the morning
20. Listening to the sounds of nature whilst not being accosted by arachnids with personal space issues.
21. Taking walks through the neighborhood
22. The sounds of doves cooing in the neighborhood
23. Falling asleep to familiar television shows
24. Sharing my food and potions and projects with friends
25. Being included/invited to things even though I often don’t participate
26. Sitting at a vintage desk typing just about anything
27. Making lists of – just about anything
28. Kittens falling asleep on me
29. Talking with my kid
30. Playing with essential oils and herbs and potions
31. Foraging for food and herbs
32. Processing large quantities of food for preserving
33. Growing flowers I can cut and bring inside
34. Caring for my roses
35. Being in nature (without doing anything extreme like hiking or spelunking or getting killed by serial killers. Just hanging out on a slope on a mountain is peaceful)
36. Hanging out with chickens
37. Wading in a really fucking ice cold creek on a really hot day
38. Making things for other people
39. Cleaning house (but NOT laundry, laundry can go fuck itself)
40. Open windows on a warm but slightly breezy day
41. Being absolutely still and thinking absolutely nothing – listening to the sounds all around me (doubles as a mindfulness exercise)
42. Eating really amazing food
43. Opera music
44. Hanging around tidepools chatting up the urchins, starfish, and barnacles
45. The hot dry herby smell of the California hills in summer
46. Helping animals, caring for animals, rescuing animals
47. The sting of nettles (no really, it’s peculiar and I rather like it)
50. Showing kindness to people whether it costs me a lot or a little or nothing
It’s time for me to go drink some tea. So here’s my check-in with my goals:
I took a short evening walk
I ate really vibrant healthy food that made me feel good inside
I worked on my DBT homework by stopping to take pictures of wildflowers on my way to the store which is something I really love (taking pictures of wildflowers/all flowers) and by spending time thinking about all the activities that bring me a sense of well being (big or tiny, it all counts).
I tried a new recipe while watching serial killer docs.
This is the start line, a moment I want to bookmark for myself so that I can look back later to see how far I’ve come. Because from here on out the only thing I’m going to be working on in my life is getting my health back – until I achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.
All last year I worked on getting my emotional and mental stability back and after a year of therapy I’m in such a better place than when I started. I’m still in therapy and I’m going to need to stick with it a little longer to help me reach my health goals. I couldn’t even begin to address my physical health goals until I got help with my emotional and mental deterioration.
I couldn’t write this blog while it served as a tool for releasing the mental Kraken from the deep dark waters of my mental illness.
For anyone not in the know – I got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder this time last year. This is in addition to existing PTSD, Generalized Anxiety, and Major Depression. The diagnosis, though not expected, wasn’t actually a total surprise. Getting that specific diagnosis gave me a much better idea of what kind of therapy would best address my mental state.
My therapist has been using IFS therapy which has been profoundly helpful and I’m taking my second DBT short course right now to help support the other therapy. For DBT to work you have to actually practice it daily. It helps you develop better personal discipline but also requires you to actually use what discipline you already have available to build from.
PLEASE DO NOT OFFER ME ANY DIET OR HEALTH ADVICE AT ANY TIME. UNLESS I SPECIFICALLY ASK A PERSON FOR IT, I DON’T WANT IT.
I didn’t have the courage to weigh myself today but I can, from recent weighings, guess that my weight right now is at 280+/- a couple of pounds.
I have high blood pressure.
I have high triglycerides.
I have bad arthritis in one knee and milder arthritis in my other knee and hips. This causes much pain when I try to be physically active. Sometimes just causes pain, period.
I drink too much alcohol (definitely do NOT ask for details on this – or try to advise me in any way)
THE GOALS FOR THE NEXT 12 MONTHS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
Lose between 80-100lbs in the next 12 months (need to lose 100 but understand it might take longer than a year)
Rein back my alcohol consumption to moderate levels (I know what this means for me but am not going to share that detail for self protective reasons)
Continue to increase vibrancy and variety of diet. Work on portion control and over-all calories. Cook more of the food that makes me feel truly good (mostly Mediterranean style vegetarian food)
Do exercises every day to strengthen the muscles around the knees and hips to reduce arthritic pain as per PT people have suggested.
Continue to work on emotional regulation to support these goals.
Mindfulness/DBT/selfcare practices today:
I vacuumed even though I wanted to avoid it because I knew it would make me feel better if I did.
I did an assortment of other household chores as well. I took quite a few breaks, but it felt good when I could see the difference and FEEL it too.
I made a pitcher of my own blend of hibiscus iced tea for later.
I also made a pitcher of my own blend of chai for icing and while it simmered I did an exercise of being completely present and deep breathing the wonderful spicy steam. It was both grounding and uplifting.
I put makeup on.
I kept reapplying my roll-on essential oil blend Veranda because it makes me feel calm. That’s one of the tools in my DBT box of tools.
I’m off to make a salad for dinner and watch serial killer documentaries. Maybe drink tea. Definitely not drinking any alcohol tonight.
I’m not going to abuse myself any more. I will quash the vitriol I’ve learned to lavish myself with and replace it with a shower of freshly opened carnations warmed in the sun of my garden. I will replace it with the hunger of a bird just out of winter looking for early spring seeds. I will replace it with the love and nourishment I’ve given to the people who’ve abused me.
The words that seep insidiously into my heart every time I think I’ve failed myself or others aren’t MY words. I heard them said to me so often I believed them. When I stopped being told how small and weak and stupid and slow I was – the part of me that believed I deserved to be punished for every infraction of character, misstep, and stumble stepped up to the task and has been making sure I keep punishing myself just as I deserve ever since.
This is the worst part of abuse. The way you carry on the work of abusers against yourself long after they’re gone or you walk away – their voices live on inside of you. But now their voice is your voice and you can’t run away from it or scrub it out of you. The longevity and strength of self loathing and self abuse is tremendous.
You can’t undo that shit in a day. Or a month. Sometimes it takes years of painstakingly removing abusive statements you used to think of as truths with a sharp knife, one by one. Sometimes it feels endless. But the amazing thing is that putting that time in will begin to clear your head enough that you can start putting other things in it, better things, wonderful things. Do the work even when it feels like nothing’s changing and you’ll turn a corner. You’ll make a mistake one day and instead of telling yourself your a real piece of shit human, you’ll look at your mistake, figure out how to fix it, and move on.
And if you still feel bad about it you’ll remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone does and that you’ll learn from it and become stronger and better for it if you choose to.
You might not even notice it at first but when you do it’s like growing your flight feathers back.
I disappointed myself today but as the usual self-punishment recording began to play I knocked the needle off the groove and have instead been talking to myself with kindness and patience. I’ve been listening to a different part of myself tonight. The part that keeps the lamps lit on dark nights. The part that insists I grow more carnations because they make me ridiculously happy because I loved smelling them in my mother’s garden when I was a kid. (The garden in the house I loved so much as a kid that I still dream about it today like it’s a person.) I’m listening to the part of myself that knows I won’t be “fixed” in a day, a month, or even a few months but knows that the changes will come on slowly and steadily as long as I keep doing the work.
Tonight I’m listening to the part of myself that knows my true worth.
I’ve been in a continually deteriorating mental and emotional state since my brother’s death. Actually, I was already on a slow decline before that but that marked the point at which I started to feel more and more powerless to fix it, fix me, make the good choices, keep up with proper self care, and a whole lot of repressed rage began to rise from the deep. This week I finally got over my fear of returning to the Kaiser psyche department to ask for the help I desperately need.
If you know me pretty well or even really well you may think that my “falling apart” isn’t real dire since I haven’t gone on drunken binges in bad bars, cheated on my husband, stayed in bed for weeks at a time, or show any visible signs of mental and emotional distress. But if you know me really well, especially if you have at any time in our acquaintance read a good amount of posts on this blog, you should have heard me say many times that I’m a master at hiding what’s going on inside of me and lying to you all about it in order to protect myself from anyone hurting me. If you’ve paid any real attention, the signs are ALWAYS evident in my writing or in my complete absence from writing. Or my incredibly emotional verbal vomit.
I’ll say it again: I learned when I was pretty young that if I tell people how I really feel, what I’m really thinking, or if I’m honest about what I do to myself quietly just out of sight – people don’t know what to do with that shit. They look at you like you’re a walking disease. AT LEAST THAT’S WHAT I SEE AND BELIEVE THEY’RE DOING. I used to tell friends the truth and the awkward silences were the worst. The worst. They made me feel like a piece of scab that just fell off a dead person’s body. Then I’d shrivel up into my hideous self and want to die. I’d want to get the fuck out of my body and be fucking done with human beings. Be done with this whole crappy festival of shit that life is in which I have no place.
I learned when I was pretty young that people hurt you more if you’re honest with them about who you are, what you’re really feeling, about the urges you’re suppressing, about the things that make you angry, the things that make you not trust them. So I learned to bottle that fucking toxic shit up inside myself where it periodically claws its way out of my mouth and then I have to spend time doing damage control – apologizing to people for the hurt I caused them or the inconveniences I’ve caused them by suddenly bowing out of commitments or plans. Or for being a thoughtless asshole.
Half the things I think would be/have been so hurtful to people I love and value that I spend a lot of energy trying to work around core beliefs that would lose me friends and loved ones. I say that out loud all the time on social media, in person, on my blog. I say “I’m specifically not saying what I’m thinking right now because it would hurt so many of you” and a bunch of people chime in and say it wouldn’t hurt them but I know they don’t know. And because I love and value quite a lot of people around me I’m motivated not to hurt them. But this shit is constantly boiling up and exploding inside me so it hurts me and I don’t want to be in my body any more and I want to not exist because this shit is so awful and I can’t take any more of this extreme noise in my head and these emotions that don’t fit in my corporeal self.
If I let my truest real thoughts on things out I don’t think there’s a person I know who wouldn’t feel alienated or hurt. And I don’t have these thoughts or beliefs because I’m a truly bad person. I’m not. I think my core beliefs about the world, about humans, about life came out of the mud of my early life experiences. And I can’t openly discuss some of the most formative and damaging things without hurting people I love too. So I’m constantly trying to say things in the least hurtful way I can.
I’m willing to bet that if people I know are reading this some of them are thinking “She’s wrong, her opinions might be different than mine but they won’t offend me” and you want to know what those opinions are.
My psyche appointment this week went really well. My new doc has referred me to dialectical behavioral therapy classes, long term individual therapy, a new med, and eventually wants me to do some EMDR. She also told me she thinks I have Borderline Personality Disorder. So this week I’ve taken a crash course on BPD and learned a ton and also have that feeling when someone finally figures out what all this awful toxic shit is that lives inside of you and tells you there’s a therapy that can help it and so for right now I’m living and breathing this new information and basically doing a personal assessment of what the new doc said. Does this really fit? Is this really how I am? Except that mostly I’ve just been reading the DSM (4 and 5) and watching lectures and vlogs and going “Oh holy fuck!” and “Whoa – shit! THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL PEOPLE THIS WHOLE TIME AND HOW COME MY FIRST DOC DIDN’T EXPLAIN HIS NOTES ‘PERSONALITY ISSUES’ 15 YEARS AGO BECAUSE THIS WAS IN FRONT OF HIM AND OH MY GOD I FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHY HE SAID THAT AND WHAT HE MEANT!”
Friends and family have questioned this diagnosis. I haven’t ever been arrested or gotten in physical fights with everyone around me or screamed and yelled at them or overdosed on drugs or prostituted myself or been homeless or broken laws or been promiscuous or lost control in any of the obvious ways most people with BPD do. I get that I don’t present as a person with BPD on the surface. However, when I was younger I had showed a lot more of the acting out behaviors associated with BPD. And then I learned that I was lonelier acting out than I was shoving that shit deep down inside me where no one but me has to fucking look at the abyss of fear, anger, disappointment, loneliness, distrust, anxiety, hugeness of emotions.
But no one who knows me can honestly say they haven’t noticed that my moods turn on a fucking dime and that those mood swings are a daily and hourly thing. Even I can’t hide my shit that well, and anyway just look through my facebook time line and all the evidence of constantly shifting moods is right there. Documented for all to see.
I’m up one minute then I have a two minute conversation with some asshat on Twitter who reminds me of my time in McMinnville and suddenly I’m sunk in the trauma of my terrible loneliness of living there and I’m upset as though it all happened yesterday instead of six years ago. Then two hours later I get distracted by the mild weather and I start feeling good again or Philip is late coming home and I’m texting him and he doesn’t respond within five minutes and I’m in angry/anxiety mode and I’m not texting him every minute because I don’t want to make him angry with me and I don’t want him to know how I’m already angry because he isn’t answering my text THE MINUTE I SEND IT. I stifle my feelings and I try to work through them because I know they aren’t rational or reasonable. I know this so I fidget and try not to notice that he hasn’t answered my text in 26 minutes (yes, I’m always counting the minutes even though I don’t like to admit it) and when he finally gets back to me I try not to lose my shit at him because I know this is my crazy-ass bullshit and I usually don’t lose my shit on him.
Except for when I do. And not that long ago I lost it on him AND my friend Sid (and peripherally) my friend Denis too because Philip went out with Denis and then wasn’t answering my texts and then when he finally answered them he mentioned our friend Sid was there too and I can’t even remember the circs that made me so upset but I felt betrayed by them all for excluding me and for not responding to my texts and I was so angry and betrayed and even while I tried to control those feelings I couldn’t. I lashed out. Then I went out to dinner by myself to my favorite place and ordered my favorite meal and the whole time I’m so fucking angry and hurt and I cried in public while I ate and that made me feel worse because then I wanted to hurt myself. I wanted to punch myself or take my intestines out of my body and let them drag behind me as I crawled back home.
For ME that experience was horrible and it took me a long time to come back down from that emotional place and though I didn’t hurt myself, because I’ve worked hard not to act on those urges, I felt like a disgusting worthless piece of shit for having freaked out on Philip and our friends. These are friends I love like family. I was full of shame for my behavior and the shame I felt was worse than the anger and hurt that made me lash out. That shame is like a soul scouring pad and the mental and emotional flagellation that follows any acting out on my part is perhaps one of the biggest reasons I work so hard not to lash out and instead I shove that shit as deep as it can go.
I’ve got a lot I need to spill because it’s like the lights got turned on in my dungeon and now I can see all the leeches crawling up my legs and the shit on the walls and I’ve got to put things in their proper place because I think now is the time a lot of pieces of my mental health come together and I can potentially clear the way for a better rest of my life.
Depression and anxiety shape a lot of my life. People say not to let your illnesses define you, don’t cling to labels, break free and be whatever you are – whoever you are – without shame or excuses. You’re weird and that’s okay. You’re a little funky, no problem, some people like that kind of funk. You’re kind of creepy how much you think about death but we’re all kind of cree-
Don’t bother finishing that sentence. People cheerfully say this kind of shit and inevitably they trail off, turn back to the cheese plate with small talk when they realize they’re out of their depth with me. Can’t tell you how many times people have casually asked me about the scars on my arms before realizing they were walking down a dark mental alley full of human piss and dirty memory.
I was officially label-free for the first 32 years of my life. I wouldn’t go back to being undiagnosed for anything in the world. Being diagnosed isn’t a magic bullet you can take to the heart to be reborn fresh and clean-spirited, but it can give you important context for your experiences of life. Being diagnosed with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder validated a lifetime of being “off” to others for me. It validated the slow sadistic torture life felt like for me on most days. Particularly in my younger life.
My mental illness isn’t an excuse for bad behavior but sometimes my mood disorders weigh heavily on the choices I make. Knowing what’s interfering with my rational thought and the regulation of my moods helps me live a better life because I have developed self-awareness, checks and balances, and an honest dialog with myself.
One of the best tools having a diagnosis of mental illness has given me is being able to recognize the broken mental records my brain keeps playing that tell me I’m a piece of shit failure, that I’d be better off dead. I’m not sure I’ll ever shed my difficult relationship with my corporeal self, but navigating through suicidal ideation (mostly passive) has become safer and I can cycle through it faster knowing that these feelings are part of the way my brain was created and my life experiences have cemented – that this fight to live that I’ve been struggling with for 35 years isn’t a moral failing. Some people are born with holes in their hearts, I was born with glitches in my mental operating system that can be life threatening but most of the time is just irritating and requires a lot of maintenance.
I don’t believe in regrets but sometimes I wish I could go back to my younger self and explain everything before I’d done serious damage to myself. I wish I could give my younger self the therapy, the meds, and the diagnosis that ultimately saved my life. Things I was able to get because of the healthcare we had at the time.
Not everyone needs a diagnosis to hang onto their parachute. Not everyone needs meds or therapy to survive the tortures of an unbalanced mental state or the ravages of abuse or war. They are blessed to fly free without the structure of support I need and I don’t resent them for finding their way when I can’t.
But for those of you who are letting go of your safety nets, and to those of you who never had them – the thing I want more than anything else is for you to get the support you need in order to wake up every day and know that you have it in you to get dressed, stand tall (ish), and be the person you honestly are in the most meaningful and satisfying way possible. Or just to stay alive and enjoy something every day like a hot cup of coffee or hugging your kids or kittens.
We’re going to kick the mental illness stigma to the gutter one day at a time, one case at a time, one life at a time.
Right up front I’m going to say that every writer hopes to write stories, poems, novels, scripts, or non-fiction that emotionally engages their readers. It would be ridiculously disingenuous to suggest otherwise. I personally hope that whatever I write resonates with at least someone out there and hits some shared chord of truth.
If you’re a writer, you’re a reader first. As a reader the quickest way to eject me out of your work and abandon it is to make me aware that you’re trying to manipulate my emotions. To make me conscious of your words purposely attempting to steer my feelings and thoughts.
When I was ten years old I watched “Somewhere in Time” and was so moved I wrote a bunch of superiorly inferior tortured emotional poems inspired by the way that movie made me feel. I had the feels so bad I could have led a flotilla with my imaginary tears. I worked that lofty emotion to the bone with bad poems. That was the moment I first realized that writing could engage you so deeply that it could make you feel things for imaginary characters you’d never even felt in real life. Which, come on, is serious black magic!
Let’s take a moment to thank me for not subjecting any of you to my lofty early attempts to make people’s hearts heave with the sweeping love that only fiction knows. Because I still have that diary, my friends, I could accost you with ten year old endless love. But I’m kinder than that.
That sense of power that makes a person want to write is natural to feel in the early stages of writing. You want to make people bleed inside – scream – sigh – become better – believe that love is worth dying for – devolve into spiritless pools of darkness when the candy’s gone. Reading powerful poems, novels, stories, and non-fiction can change your perspective, your direction, your life.
But this is just the larval stage of writing. You realize the power of writing and are drunk with the possibilities. At some point you have to evolve into the next instar stage which is forgetting all about the potential readers in order to serve the narrative for the narrative’s sake. You have to dedicate yourself to developing the skill to tell a story with nuance, in layers. You have to be willing to shove ice-picks into the marrow of truth to see what emerges under the microscope of human experience.
In a totally unrelated analogy, readers are witnesses to a story and whether you’re the prosecuter or defender of the story – resist the temptation to lead the witness. Just tell the story.
A writer’s best asset is to be in touch with the magic of a life of reading. To remember all the ways my favorite books have made me think, grow, dream, escape, and sometimes make me exquisitely uncomfortable. The best books didn’t bludgeon me with words that indicated I should be sad or mad or angry or happy. The stories unfolded and I was free to experience them organically, not always as others (and authors) might have expected.
Readers can tell when you’re trying too hard or when you haven’t tried hard enough. They can tell when you didn’t bother researching things and when you’ve become pedantic about details to a smackable degree. They know when you’re trying to lead them and know when you’re too lost to lead the narrative down a wide open street.
Mind your words. Mine your words.
You’ll never make me cry for trying, but if you care more about what your characters are experiencing than what I’m experiencing as a reader – I just might forget you’re there at all. That’s your truest mission (and mine) as a writer.
Whether you’re writing literature, fantasy, fiction, humor, non-fiction, horror, romance, or mystery – make your work truthful and authentic. Everything else will follow.