Handling Disappointment Without Self-Abuse

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.

 

This Dirty Laundry Might Be Covered in BPD

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.

Sometimes Labels Offer Freedom

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.

Head above water my darlings!

 

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Urban Archeology – The Syringe Piece

This is my all-time favorite piece by my brother. I love it. It’s hanging in my office/dining room. It’s a process piece – total meta hipster shit (DID YOU HEAR THAT, BROTHER?!) It feels like being in his head, in his contemplation, in his cool methodical treatment of emotionally charged items.

The first time Zeke showed me his Urban Archeology series I got chills down my spine and almost cried. His attention to the cruel minutiae of so many ordinary and sometimes hostile lives was as sensitive as it was honest. The artifacts he collected (used syringes, spent bullets, empty dime bags, child barrettes, pacifiers, and stripper cards, etc) were painfully intimate and seeing them presented without oration or commentary was telling in itself. The care with which Zeke collected each item, dating them, labeling them, and preserving them was exquisite.

The narration that emerges is not judgemental of the people whose lost artifacts he collected but definitely makes a statement about a society in which these are the common detritus of city lives. Neighborhoods riddled with drive-byes are also full of children of all ages but all mature beyond their years. The drugs being trafficked are as common as to be no different than an exchange of advil – except for the body count.

I believe there are any number of ways people can interpret Zeke’s intention with his Urban Archeology series. There’s no wrong way, really, except for the ones lacking nuance and depth. My brother wasn’t always articulate with words (he really was, actually) but his greatest subtlety of observation and commentary are in his artwork and photographs. He speaks loudly through them. Loudly but not necessarily obviously.

Everything my brother ever did or said is obviously colored for me by the fact that I grew up with him, that I had a vantage point from which to understand him in ways only a sister can. This vantage point is extremely biased by my personal perceptions of things. Our sister Tara also knows Zeke intimately in ways that others will never know, including me. She has her own experiences with him colored by her unique perceptions.

The amazing thing, though, is that there really is a universal Ezekiel that Tara, me, our mom, his closest friends, acquaintances, and new friends all see – an unchanging truth about him. This is reflected in everything he’s left behind him for us to hang onto. We are deeply fortunate in how much he’s left for us to hang onto.

Today is the first anniversary of his death and I know this is going to get softer as time passes, but it fucking sucks today. For trivia freaks (<— clown spectrum shit right there) he died on August 29th, 2016 but his official date of death according to the Los Angeles coroner is August 30th, 2016 because that’s when she was called to the apartment and pronounced.

Now when I think about Zeke I wonder how much of the work I hoped to accomplish will get done before I die. I wonder if I’ll ever finish the projects that are most important to me but which are the hardest to sit down and work on. I wonder if what I’ve finished so far is enough for my family and loved ones to hang onto, to derive comfort from. I started writing Suicide for Beginners just before Zeke died and I’ve been in too dark a place to face it this whole year. It’s so important to me, if I die before I write it – who’s going to pick up the gauntlet on mine and all of my tribe’s behalf?

Those aren’t productive thoughts. Those are questions with no answers.

For so many years Zeke didn’t find his voice in his art and when he did it was powerful – IS powerful. His photographs and his Urban Archeology pieces are poignant, current, and charged. He found himself in his art through his employment and I never would have seen it coming but he developed a passionate focus he never had before putting up advertising in liquor stores across the country. He was evolving his work into photographs of city-scapes he frequented for work and playing with putting photographs onto wood pieces.

I’m still grappling with some dark feelings going back into the annals of time in which I believed it was my fault I couldn’t keep him safe from abuse and harm when we were kids. I don’t know how long I’ll feel that. It feels atom-deep. I’ve felt my whole life like I let him down. It’s shaped who I’ve become today in a good way, but when it mattered to his scrappy little thug self – I was scared shitless of everything including my own reflection.

Today I’m not afraid to face abuse, bullies, or anyone preying on those weaker than themselves. I’m scared of some kinds of conflict, like returning shoes,  but when it comes to helping someone else, when it comes to standing up for someone vulnerable I’m no longer scared and it’s because I couldn’t stand up for my brother when he was most vulnerable.

There’s no way my brother was universally loved, because no one is, but I’ll tell you something I know for damn sure – Zeke could charm the pants off Satan and get him to pour a cold Foster’s beer. It also gives me great comfort knowing how deeply loved he was by so many people, what wonderfully long and solid friendships he forged in his life. He struggled so hard with so many things but he had no shortage of loyal and loving friends. Friends so wonderful they’ve embraced us too – so much fucking love.

I want to hug my brother more than anything else I want in the world right now.

Instead I’ll keep looking up at his syringe piece and remember how excited he was to be working on this series. I’ll remember how his eyes lit up like they did over art, avocado toast, and music.

Obsolescence is Life

Obsolescence is the natural ferment of life.

For some of us this is a beautiful (if haunting) process that everything goes through. My dream is to tour the abandoned prisons and mental hospitals of the states to listen to the ghosts and their bilious collective memory of chains and tools for silence and racks full of unattainable release. I want to photograph the detritus of my tribe, of my adjacent tribe, of the lost and the lonely and the bent. I want to walk through the dusty sinew of the disenfranchised, I want to tie it to my own muscles like a plow of of memory.

Obsolescence eats away at people who aren’t ready to move forward. It’s the boogie-man of old men and women who can’t shake the Isms of their youth that were the foundations of their self-image. It’s the boogie-man of middle aged men and women who begin to understand that their age advances rigidly without blinking at their attempts to arrest time.

We can appreciate archaic mechanisms, social mores, and methods without worshiping them like fallen Gods. We can pay homage to the past without fetishizing it.

I used to have a small collection of vintage typewriters. I loved the sound they made while I ticked my thoughts onto paper. I loved the viscerally satisfying way the ink hit the paper. But the truth is, I much prefer to write using a computer because the tedium of trying to correct the typewritten word adds nothing worthy to my craft. In fact, the best thing that’s ever happened to me and writing is the invention of the word processor. I don’t want to go back.

I love to listen to ghosts and I find obsolescence exquisitely beautiful but I don’t miss my vinyl records or typing and retyping papers over and over again. I don’t miss calling people on the actual telephone or being limited to meeting and knowing only people in my immediate community. I don’t miss the obligation to send a bunch of people Christmas cards who never care about me other times of the year and who never give me personal messages in their cards. I don’t see the importance of writing in cursive when writing in print has ALWAYS been easier to read which is why books aren’t printed in cursive. I don’t miss only being able to research subjects with books written at least a year ago or more, or worse yet, reading encyclopedias for information. I mean, back then that’s what we had and so I loved reading them, but if I could have had access to the internet when I was a kid I could have sparked my imagination and learned more facts than I actually did.

I was a real letter writer when I was young. I hand-wrote hundreds of letters and I loved it. But I wasn’t sorry when it became easier and easier to communicate via e-mail and when I could actually type letters because after I had Max I couldn’t write by hand so much without my hand going numb.

It’s a false premise that value can only be found in things that are HARD or TAKE FOREVER TO CREATE. It’s a seriously false premise that anything that comes easily or is obtained easily is less valuable than things obtained through serious lengthy toil. That’s a bunch of biblical bullshit training for you right there. If we were all encouraged less in having “manners” and more in being honest and true to ourselves and others then all communications would be more meaningful. Who the fuck needs a polite card from someone who doesn’t actually respect you but has sent you a card because that’s the polite custom?

Do you value things I say in an email less than things I say in a handwritten letter? Fuck that! It takes me just as much time to write a thoughtful email as it does to write a note out by hand, my process of thought is no different, my sincerity doesn’t suffer – so if you find my emails deficient I suggest you examine yourself instead of me.

The material fact is that if I say “I love you” it doesn’t matter what medium I use to express it, it’s honest because I’m honest. I can phone it to you, I can write you in italic fancy script and send it franked by rich people, I can send it post covered in emphatic stickers, I can say it over the landline, I can text it, tweet it, or share it via Instagram. My expression is always authentic because that’s who I am.

When I was young I thought I was an anachronistic person. Then I met people who truly worship at the anachronistic altar of everything old and obsolete and I began to understand my true place in the universe. I’m a cross-genre human. I love vintage style and old things and antique furniture and old houses but I’m a very modern human. I want to mix all the ages together in a mosh pit of anarchistic aggression and see what comes out whole against modern times.

I’m a cross-genre person and my time is inching down into the deep nothing.

Stuff Dies to Make Room for More Stuff (Cycle of Life)

You can worry about the article, you can forget the article, or you can change the article.

I am three days into The Purge. I’m reporting from the dusty trenches (shelves, closets, and floors) and I can tell you that the center of a purge is a tornado of chaos, of emotional exhaustion, and a despair that clings to your skin like the smell of onions and grease. The middle of a purge is ugly, confusing, inexplicably dirty and depressing because you’re lifting items out of obscurity and scrutinizing their worth in the present tense of your life. You’re deciding if you need them, want, them, or are just scared to get rid of them. You look at bad pottery you made in Junior High that your own mother didn’t keep and you cling to it as though keeping it might give you some power over the past. But it doesn’t. It has lingered in the darkness of your shit for years emitting a malignant memory of pain, a pain you haven’t felt for a thousand years. You’ve let it live there in the dark because you hoped the next time you unearthed it it would be different, prettier, better, cooler. But it never is. It’s just a creepy-ass bad piece of pottery that you won’t throw away because the truth is that you think if you throw it away you’re throwing yourself away.

It’s important to recognize that you aren’t you’re stuff and your stuff isn’t you. One exists to serve the other, and when it no longer serves it becomes a placeholder for memories you don’t even care about, for things you thought you might do but didn’t really want to do all that much. Like making paper out of your dryer lint. Or turning that weird fancy jar of Austrian flaked fish into a three Michelin Star meal. You were never going to do those things but it was important at one time to believe you could or might do them. You needed to believe in possibilities, potentiality, and exploration. But guess what? When you bravely throw that lint into the garbage and you toss out that awful jar of expensive nasty fish – five new things will come into your life to fulfill that same purpose, the same need to believe in something that hasn’t happened yet, something you haven’t done yet, something you hope to make the time to explore. Believe me when I say that you will never be short of shit to put on your shelves of potential personal growth.

I have tossed things this week I’ve held onto for 20 year’s worth of moves that, when I’m being honest with myself, I know I only have because I feel guilty not wanting them. I feel the weight of responsibility to my species to collect meaning and keep mementos of everything. But at 47 years old I still haven’t accomplished what I know I came here to accomplish and these mementos are not only not important to me but they’re holding back my growth. There are belongings that I enjoy looking at every day, that enrich my space, inspire me, or enchant me. There are things I might never want to live without but what I need in my life can and does change to make room for new things. That’s how stuff works. That’s how life works too.

The reason, if you need one, that people have to die at some point is because people keep being born. There’s not enough room in the entire universe for beings or entities or THINGS to live for an eternity. Stars die and new ones are born. Humans die to make room for new ones. The world needs new humans so it can evolve, develop, improve, and regenerate. Old fuckers have a lot of wisdom to share with young fuckers until at some point they stop having new experiences, new thoughts, or the desire to contribute any more. New lives are waiting in the wings for the space to exist. If too many of us exist at once our world sickens and dies. Like it’s doing now.

The shit you hang onto and the shit you keep must be kept in balance. You can be a collector without being a hoarder. You can be a minimalist without complete austerity.

What I love about a purge is that I see myself more clearly once I get through it. My goals re-enter center stage in my life as my belongings decrease making room for clarity. If you know me you know I’m no minimalist. I like having pretty and cool things around me and because I love to make a lot of things there are always stores of tools and supplies that I need in order to open up the fabric of the universe whenever I need to. I always have stuff. But the only way I can keep having stuff is to get rid of stuff on a fairly regular basis.

Things I’ve gotten rid of so far:

A ceramic cookie animal thingy I don’t like that someone gave to me who I didn’t want to offend.

2 boxes of clothes.

All the shoes I haven’t been able to wear for years but kept as a relic of the way-back when I could wear a lot of different shoes.

A box full of linens I don’t use.

My fake food collection (except for my bunch of fake radishes).

Several vases I don’t use because I don’t like them enough.

65% of the contents of my desk.

A bunch of office-y things I no longer have a use for.

Getting rid of things is as energizing as getting new things. I feel like I’m making room for new thoughts, new actions, new air. I’m getting better at it as I age. I’m probably practicing for the day I don’t need anything else besides my teeth and skin just before I give them up to make room for someone brand new. I know that the only way I can control when and how I die is if I kill myself (and that level of control is dangerously magnetic to me) but I’m holding out for a different prize. I’m always holding out for the hope that I’ll live long enough to achieve the things I’ve imagined for myself since I first discovered the power of connectivity and language.

I’m not done here yet.

Purging is a living metaphor for clearing your desk of everything so you can start writing a new book. It’s a living metaphor for beginning a new stage in life. It’s a declaration of purpose. It’s a declaration of spiritual and emotional growth.

To look at a thing you’ve loved, and remember how much joy it used to bring you, and to be able to recognize it no longer belongs with you and let it go is power. Trusting that you’ll always remember what’s most important to you without objects to jog your memory is power. You might be tempted to think you’ll need a trunk full of mementos for when you’re old and Alzheimer’s has taken over but those mementos won’t help you remember what you no longer even recognize. What your heart and mind need to remember, they will.

My last thought on this subject for tonight is that more and more I’m seeing my home and my stuff as a stage set in which my life is played out. A good stage set projects a deliberate mood, underscores the characters living in it, and never has too little or too much stuff in it than the story calls for. I want my stage set to support me not swallow me whole.

Let the Great Purge of 2017 Begin Today

Life is prickly as shit and sometimes you just have to walk through a desert of thorns and pick them out of your skin as you go without letting them stop you until you reach water.

Just kidding, I always let thorns stop me. I’m pretty much always waiting for the water to show up on the other side of the sand dune. Meanwhile I get burnt alive by the relentless sun glare and then I inevitably get bit by a viper. (In spite of this being mostly metaphorical I hope you’re picturing all of this)

I’m fighting my own feet for room in my house because my Sugar & Pith operation takes up a lot of space. I don’t have the space for too much “stuff”. I have the itch to purge. I need my life to be simpler so I can make more time for writing and running my business.

Did you know I have a fake food collection? I do. I have fake grapes, potatoes, limes, a mango, lemons, baguettes, strawberries, a cucumber, pears, and even a fake cake. I really treasured the fake cake. But at some point one just doesn’t see the fake food collection any more, just the dust collecting on it. There is only one thing from that collection I will keep and it’s a bunch of fake radishes a friend gave me.

I’m even considering getting rid of my craft supplies. It’s not like I have a closet-full of it (because much has been the victim of previous purges). On the other hand, I do really enjoy my stash when it comes time to wrap presents. This is the process. You have to evaluate everything with a cold eye and a truthful conversation about the why you’re still dragging something from place to place with you. You have to be honest or it doesn’t work.

The anniversary of Zeke’s death is approaching and I desperately need crisp catharsis. I want to put his art up and pictures of him too. I have a treasure to hang just above my desk but I suppose I’ve been so overwhelmed with this whole grieving shit that it seemed like too much to put anything up. Now I feel like I need to celebrate him around me. I also have a picture of my sister I love and I want that on my wall. I need to move through my space unencumbered with bullshit and the rags and weights of the past that are meaningless to me. They just become shrouds to trip over and be buried in.

I’m a messy person. It’s my nature. I like an underlying structure so that I can easily clean and clear when I need to feel the boundaries of my space/heart/mind. But most of the time I live surrounded by the mess of multiple projects and I’m comfortable with that. This is how I garden as well. I don’t feel comfortable in tidy spaces. They make me feel exposed and constrained.

What I don’t like is filth and I fight with this all the time because of lack of energy and depression and, of course, this contributes to both. They’re all interconnected in a pretty vicious circle. I like things to be clean but not tidy.

August is all about the purge.

Letter to Self: Your Place at the Table

The thing about now is that it instantly slips into the past the second you register it in your cornea and your brain. Now barely exists and yet it’s the most important fraction of time in our lives. What you feel now is going to change. Change is one of the few constants in life. Yeah, you want to shout out for change to fuck itself. You seem determined to undermine yourself just as soon as you understand on a cellular level how desperately you need to change. I understand. It’s really important that you know I’ve been there where you are now. I’m offering no judgement against you.

Your value isn’t contingent on being perfect, being wise, being healthy, or being happy. So push all that crap off the table and start over. Your value is contingent only on evolving into the best self you can be. Not as you’re tempted to compare yourself to others. Others don’t matter here. Here is where you build your own damn yardstick. You did this a long time ago. You did this when you first felt yourself slipping out of your own skin in shame and degradation. You sat up, you realized that the yardstick you’d been measuring yourself against was a fucking joke, a horsehair whip to make you bleed. A horsehair whip you took from trusted hands that told you you deserved it and you had no reason not to believe it.

You sat up and broke that horsehair whip in half and threw all the empty yardsticks in the trash and began to build your own. Remember how long it took you to do that? Years. It wasn’t overnight. It was like remaking yourself in a new image. In a new frame. You had to hammer yourself into it every day, remind yourself that you weren’t the worthless piece of shit you heard others say of you. You sat up and demanded your place at the table of life, with your own silverware, your own place card. And it took so much strength to make demands instead of accepting life as an invisible spirit.

Things feel as bad as they did back then but you got through that. You need to remember that you got through it stronger than you started off. It wasn’t because of anyone else. You wanted to die almost every day but you hung on because you had a wildflower’s roots clinging to the cosmos through the poorest soil. All of this is to say that you’re there again and the only way you’re going to move forward is if you sit up and demand your place at the table.

Suicide Isn’t About YOU

Better Than Bullets, macro shot of a lightbulb with a black background

People feel really strongly about suicide. They think of it as one of the worst sins and one of the biggest betrayals of love and society and friendship. People routinely describe it as “selfish” and “cowardly” without truly understanding what it feels like to be a person facing the kind of desperation and pain that people feel who are struggling with a desire to kill themselves. It’s an alien action, it goes against the animal instinct of survival, it’s something people who have never wanted to die can’t even imagine feeling because that’s how deep the narrative of survival against all strife goes. It’s so alien to our ingrained instincts that there have been a few thousand years of not really talking about it or even trying to understand it.

If we measure the length of time people have been killing themselves by the level of taboo suicide has maintained all that time – I have to ask you:

IF NOT TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE AND NOT ADDRESSING THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM AND TELLING SUICIDAL PEOPLE HOW SELFISH AND COWARDLY COMMITTING SUICIDE IS HASN’T CHANGED THE RATE OF SUCCESSFUL SUICIDES IN THE WORLD, IS THAT TACTIC WORTH HOLDING ONTO?

AND IF YOU’RE HOLDING ONTO A TACTIC THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING BETTER – DO YOU ACTUALLY CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT IT AT ALL?

MAYBE YOU’RE JUST A SELFISH FUCKER WHO DOESN’T LIKE TO BE INCONVENIENCED BY OTHER PEOPLE’S PAIN.

Maybe it’s time people stopped doing what doesn’t work and focus on discovering what the underlying problems are and figure out ways to address it. This requires open conversations in which people who don’t know what it feels like to want to die/kill themselves endeavor to find out from people who do, and in which people who do want to die/kill themselves are willing to open up to people who genuinely want to learn what that feels like and help and support them.

People are so smug accusing successful suicides as cowardly and selfish. But what about all the billions of people across the world who make unhealthy choices even thought it puts them directly at risk of death. Driving cars, eating shit food, drinking to excess, having sex without protection, taking drugs, eating puffer fish… as a world society we seem to accept that people are constantly taking their lives into their own hands to engage in activities that are dangerous to their health and might kill them but this is okay as long as we’re not positive it will kill us because then we can claim to not really know?

More people die every year in car crashes than by suicide and yet we never blame people for continuing to drive cars. In fact, if you choose not to drive a car people will think less of you and badger you for being a burden to them any time you ask for a ride. I know because I still don’t drive a car and I’ve heard it all. Every time you get into your car you are literally risking death or gambling against killing other people with your vehicle. We see no dishonor in this as long as you’re not drunk or on drugs when you die or kill someone else in your car. We don’t tell people they’re selfish for risking their life every time they get in their car.

People who kill themselves come from all walks of life and there’s a rainbow of desperate reasons they do it so there’s no way I can be a voice for all of us, and I don’t want to try. I want people outside of us to make a better effort to understand what it’s like to have serious depression and to wrestle with such low self esteem and self loathing that dying feels like the only option that makes sense. Talk to one person with suicidal ideation and you know more than you did before but you need to listen to a lot of us to understand what feelings are universal and which are individual.

You think suicide is selfish and cowardly? I think it’s cowardly and selfish to keep making those of us who struggle with depression feel worse about ourselves when we’re already hanging onto a thread of self worth against an ocean of self loathing that threatens to eat us alive. You have a right to your opinions but I think if you go around being angry and disdainful about people killing themselves without making an honest effort to understand why they do it and what you might do to help people hang on longer – then you really don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself. You really don’t care about anything but what YOU have to lose or what pain a person might inflict on YOU.

And what is the definition of  selfish if not that?

If the only contribution you have to make to the suicides of the world is to denigrate them then you’re no better than the mental illness that tortured them to death. You’re the worst kind of selfish and cowardly. I would also posit that you’re lazy – pronouncing poor character on people you know nothing about and don’t intend to spend any time to understand.

What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid that you can catch our illness? Are you afraid suicide will rub off on you?

It’s natural to be angry when someone you love dies, and especially when they take their own life. I’m not making light of how hard it is for the people who lost their loved ones to suicide. All I’m saying here, boiled down to the simplest plea I can make is this:

Please try to understand the level of internal pain and struggle it takes for a person to over-ride their animal instinct to survive in order to kill themselves. Please do your best to learn about the mental struggles that tend to lead to suicide and do your best to be a support rather than another cog in the gear that propels people to the end of the known universe to free-fall into the great wide nothing.

Here are some things I think it’s important to understand:

Suicide isn’t inevitable for people with mood disorders. This means that with good support and people around us who don’t judge us or freak the fuck out about our ups and downs we can stabilize and manage our mental illness in such a way that we’re at significantly less risk of suicide.

Suicide is rarely an act of selfishness. More often than not the people who successfully kill themselves believe they’re doing the world a favor by leaving it.

It takes a great deal of resolve to kill yourself. Having a great deal of resolve isn’t a quality of cowardice. If you knew how many people have planned and obsessed over their own suicide but didn’t do it or succeed at it you would see that of all the people who struggle with the desire to die, only a few manage to follow through. I’m not saying you need to see them as brave, but I’m saying that cowardice is the suicidal person’s friend and not the other way around.

People who struggle with suicide often have an overabundance of empathy and love for this world we all share to the point where they can’t shut out other people’s pain and seeing abused animals rips them to shreds. So in some respects they’re dying because of your pain and everyone else’s pain in addition to their own.

Suicide isn’t about YOU, it’s about unbearable pain in the spirit and love that can’t be reconciled with pain.

So stop being so selfish with your empathy.

UPDATE: I would like to acknowledge the comment a twitter acquaintance of mine made on this post (you can read it in the comments) which I think is good perspective and something I actually know to be true but which I didn’t give credence to in this post: it’s generally not true selfishness on the part of those who have a hard time dealing with suicide – it’s fear. They feel fear and it’s worth having empathy for how frightening suicide is to most people outside of it. I agree with Jonathan. If I can ask others to have more empathy for people who struggle with suicidal ideation and depression, it’s also important for me to have more empathy for how scary this subject is to people who don’t experience it directly.

All Your Unasked Questions About Grieving Answered

(This picture is relevant because of concrete, or because of rain being something weird people associate with sadness. Whatever, I just like this picture and I bet no one wants to see more pics of my brother’s ‘human remains’ box.)

Angelina Answers ALL your Unasked Questions About Mourning Etiquette

Q: What is the right way to mourn?

There’s no such thing as a right or wrong way to grieve. There certainly are healthier versus more destructive ways to mourn and if you choose to drink yourself to oblivion I refuse to judge you but you can expect the people who love you to worry and maybe try to temper your choice. But that’s because they love you. If you were to ask my advice I would say to do your best to choose the healthiest ways of grieving that you can, but it’s okay to fall apart and it’s okay not to fall apart.

Q: My cousin is freaked out that he hasn’t seen me cry over my mother’s death, am I a creepy fuck?

To cry or not to cry… a tough dilemma for no one but idiots. Some people don’t cry when they lose someone close to them, it isn’t the more common reaction and will freak some people out. Feel free to ignore those bossy fuckers. Some people will cry constantly, some moderately, some will only cry on Tuesdays, and some just don’t cry. Sometimes you can’t actually see their hearts on their sleeves or in their throats. Sometimes they’re calm because their beliefs allow them to be and some people look calm but are being shredded with sorrow inside where it’s safe and private.

Q: Everyone thinks I’m a rubbernecker and insensitive because I want to know all the details about how ______ died, should I retire from society and live in a cave?

I’ve been fantasizing about living in a remote cave for over two decades, but not because the first thing I always want to know when I find out someone has died is HOW? It’s absolutely natural and normal. In fact, a lot of people want to know the details but a lot of people are taught that this is ghoulish and insensitive. It’s not. It’s an incontrovertible fact that we’re all going to die so it isn’t surprising that when other humans around us die we feel connected to it almost on an animal level. How’d they go? Was it painful? Could that happen to me? What does it LOOK like? In fact, it would be weird as shit if most humans had no curiosity about how the people around them are dying. However, sometimes the people closest to the death don’t want to share those details and that’s also normal. Don’t be offended if they choose not to satiate your curiosity, they may be feeling protective of their loved one in a way that you wouldn’t.

Q: I want to drape my house in black sashes, accept lots of lasagnas from neighbors, and wear nothing but lavender for two years but my neighbors won’t bake me lasagna because they’re scared of me now that my windows are covered in black and my mom won’t bring me lasagna cause she says I’m being melodramatic. What to do?

Sigh. I love lasagna. There’s nothing you can do about how others react to how you’re expressing your sorrow. The Victorians were obsessed with lavender as a mourning color and draping everything in black so I suggest you set up a fancy chair in your yard and wearing your very best lavender ensemble and visibly read something depressing like The Mill on the Floss or Madame Bovary (which I HATED). You might even consider enhancing your ensemble with a veil. If your neighbors think your show of grief is inappropriate, bizarre, or really bad theatre they can fuck right off. Your grief isn’t a show they get to direct.

Q: I just found out _____ died and I didn’t know them as well (or at all) as others do but I’m still having trouble dealing with it and I’m super sad. Am I allowed to be as sad as people who knew ____ better than me?

When David Bowie died I cried and then stayed up until 3am trying to process my sadness and then asked to stay home from work the next day so I could be sad without judgement or expectation. I didn’t know him personally at all but he made my life such a better place so I was deeply affected by his death. Being sad and having trouble accepting or processing a person’s death isn’t reserved just for the people who knew them super well. Your sorrow is real and you never have to apologize for it to anyone. Your sadness isn’t less important than anyone else’s.

Q: When my wife died I only felt better when I wore her underwear but then my kids found out and want to know if I’m a lot creepier than they used to think I was.

See the first Q, there is no wrong way to express grief or make yourself feel better. Is it hurting anyone? Is it hurting you? No? Carry on! I’m actually more worried that they seemed to have already thought you were creepy. Maybe you want to have a good talk with them, but in the end, if wearing your wife’s underwear is what helps you deal with her loss then you DO IT. For my own sake I’m going to assume they’re all freshly laundered. We all wore my brother’s hats when he died. I still wear one sometimes when I miss him.

Q: My mom wanted to throw out all of my dad’s things when he died. Is she some kind of sociopath? How could she not care about his things?

I don’t know if she’s a sociopath or not but I know that some people feel no attachment to a person’s effects when they die. For some people, when you’re dead your gone and your things aren’t going to bring you back or make them feel better. Some people feel a strong connection to the things that belonged to a loved one who’s died. It’s normal both ways. If you really want to know if she’s a sociopath I suggest searching through HER things to see if there’s any evidence of bed-wetting, dead pet carcasses in boxes, or secret fires. I hear those are the things to be worried about if you find evidence of all three.

Q: When my partner died all I wanted to do was fold myself up into a tiny little envelope of pain and roll down the river styx. Why can’t I do that? Why won’t anyone let me do that?!

Because people are selfish bitches and they don’t want you to fade away from them. Isn’t love stupid? But look, wanting to float away and ignore everyone around you is natural and okay. It really is. You aren’t actually obligated to think of other people’s feelings in your grief. But if you could bring yourself to check in with the people who love you enough so that they can give you the space you need without worrying so hard, you might find they try harder to understand and respect that the way you’re dealing with loss is the best way you know how.

 

If you find I haven’t answered ALL your unasked questions as promised, I’m afraid you’ll have to submit questions in order for me to answer them. Go ahead, give it a try!

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