Sharing the Spotlight, Part 1

My husband is actively pursuing opportunities and training that will equip him to develop new skills and strengthen his existing abilities. This is admirable. And I don’t like it.

Why? Didn’t I just say that it was good? Why would I dislike something like that? Those are valid questions and legitimate signs of underlying issues.

*sigh* It’s pretty simple, at the core, but very difficult to deal with. Remember the success that I had as a child? I did very well in school, and because it was the predominant ranked activity of my youth, academics became an analogy for performance in other areas of my life: everyone has some degree of ability in the area, it is beneficial and necessary to rank individuals according to their ability levels, ability = performance, and so on. This may seem innocuous, but assumptions like that become dangerous quickly. I’ll unpack a few of these assumptions while I try to come to terms with the underlying issues that make me uncomfortable with my husband’s success.

1. Everyone has some degree of ability in the area.
This assumption comes from the mandates placed on students within educational systems- everyone has the ability to learn to read or to do basic arithmetic, for example. We teach these skills to everyone, because everyone is capable of learning them if they simply try hard enough. It was this kind of logic that won me attention during events like spelling bees, but this logic also justified coaches and gym teachers in telling me that I was capable of running a 4 minute mile or consistently hitting a softball (neither of which I have ever achieved).

Pushing everyone into a rigid mold in the hopes of making us “well-rounded” does not guarantee results. My body type is well suited for strength-based activities: I loved the weight room and routinely leg-pressed 550 lbs. (As an aside, 730 was my max, but it was an unsafe weight. 550 lbs allowed me to do 2-3 sets of 15 reps per day.) I am not made for speed or coordination, and I have repeatedly preformed below average in both types of activity. No matter how hard I tried, I could not line up my bat with a ball or throw a basketball into a hoop. No matter how much I improved, my running speed plateaued and refused to climb any further. I could not reach the standards being set for me.

So what does that have to do with the issue at hand? Well, regardless of whether I do or not, I feel like I should have some real competence in the areas that my husband is developing in. I should be good at them, and I should keep up with him, and I should be the best at everything ever. Because that will make me valuable.

Stupid, huh?

Love that Never Was- Part 3

I have been writing letters to people from my past, trying to gain closure from painful memories. To see the previous entries in the series, click the “love that never was” tag, and it will take you to the other letters. As always, the events are true, but I don’t use people’s names.

I was cleaning my house today and I found the dried red carnation that you got me on my birthday. Do you remember that? The snow was everywhere and it wasn’t even safe to be on the roads, but I begged and pled with my dad to drive meet see you? So we drove almost an hour through the deep snow and got there safely and you were like, “What are you doing here?” You were often cold towards me, but I accepted it just the same because at least you acknowledged me.

Do you realize what I was willing to give you? Could you see all of the love I was trying to offer? Did you know how often I defended your lifestyle to the people around me? Or could you only see my depression?

I can understand that it was hard for you to be near me, and I really do know that people need to look out for themselves. But are you sure that you couldn’t come up with a better reason than “you didn’t get better fast enough” to dump me? Depression had been a part of my life for two decades- why did you think it would be gone in two months? Why did you even date me to begin with? I wasn’t hiding my pain, so you really can’t say that you didn’t know what you were getting in to.

And you know, it’s hard to feel pity for you and the terrible burden of depression that you had to carry, since it was at least twice as heavy for me. At least you even got to have times that weren’t painful. But I’m just lashing out because I’m angry at you. I’m angry that you told your female “friend” everything about our relationship, but didn’t want me to think you were cheating. I’m angry that she knew more about how you were feeling than I did. I’m angry that you brought her to the break up. I’m angry that you didn’t break up with me, because you didn’t have the courage to say the words yourself. I’m angry that over and over and over you kept hiding behind your friends and that you never really stood on your own feet and just talked to me.

I never wanted to date 7 people. Why did you make our relationship into something that involved your whole friend cluster? Why did you bad mouth me to all of them so that the whole group of you dumped me at once, and I couldn’t even see my friend any more? I was going to share our mutual friends you know- hang out at different times, never talk about you at all, and generally do everything that I could to keep things from feeling awkward. But I guess you needed them, so whatever.

Do you want to know what the issue was that led to our breakup- the thing that made me cry on the night that you left me sitting in the hallway while you hung out with your friends for 45 minutes? It was incest. I had met some people my age who had been molested by a relative as young children, who were drowning under insecurity, repressed memories, shattered self esteem, and more. I was strong for their sake, and I needed freedom to weep over how wrong that situation is. 

So here’s your stupid, dead flower- in the trash where it belongs.

Simple Joys 2, Milk Chocolate

Several years ago, my mother and I had the opportunity to travel to Germany during the summer, and it was on this trip that I discovered two foods that I still love today. The first is mineral water, which is just so much better than cola in many, many ways. The second, is alpine milk chocolate.

I found Milka bars. (Just the thought is giving me this hazy-eyed smile, the kind of peaceful contentment brought out by very pleasant things.) If you are curious, German Deli exports these to North America, and they are also available through sites like Amazon.

These bars are hard to describe, but I will try. For reference, some American chocolate companies use additives, like wax, in their chocolate. I don’t know why- preservation? increased number of bars? something else? But the point is, we live with low quality chocolate, and we are fine, because we don’t know better.

Milka bars are like… well, the texture is thick and smooth, for one. The chocolate just melts evenly over the tongue and fills the whole mouth. The special ingredients blend well with the chocolate flavor- in specialty bars, like hazelnut or raspberry, those extra flavor neither overpower nor are buried by the milk chocolate. They just mix together beautifully. The portion size is generous as well, although I always intended to eat only part of a bar, and still ended up eating the whole thing once it was opened.

They are just so good, guys.

I know that food reviews aren’t what you come to this blog for, but I think that everyone needs to take the time to enjoy things as well. If we try too hard to fix ourselves, to “get better,” we will burn ourselves out. So here’s to relaxing and enjoying the good things in life while we can. The time for grief will return soon enough. No need to rush it.

Simple Joys 1, Christmas Lights

One of the things that I have enjoyed for many years has been Christmas lights. I am hopelessly enamored with the mystical beauty hidden in our world. As a child, I used to dash around the front yard the morning after the first frost, trying to find the beautiful diamonds that shimmered all through the grass. I was old enough to know that it was just sparkling crystals of ice, but the sense of wonder remained unchanged. Christmas lights are kind of like that too.

I know that they are small bulbs, running on electricity, manually placed by people, but to see them at night, it’s just beautiful. It’s like my ice crystals all over again- the lines and ridges of homes have some how been frozen in crystalline colors, the windows are lined with glowing fireflies, the stars themselves have fallen to eye level, and it’s almost magic.

I downplay this love sometimes, because I am an adult, and that pesky sense of wonder is something that I was supposed to lose at puberty. Secretly though, I squeal internally when I see my neighbors start decorating their homes. I wish that I could afford to buy and hang so many lights myself, but this stage of life isn’t really conducive to impulsive spending on that scale.

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So, instead of my lights, I’m using pictures from a place called Oglebay resort, in West Virginia. When I was young, my family used to pile into the cars and go driving through the neighborhoods to see people’s lights, and once or twice, we made a really long drive to go to a place like Oglebay. They are fond memories for me, points of bright light in my often dark and painful childhood.

Maybe that’s why I still cling to them, and to the love of wonder and beauty: I love these things more strongly because of how significant my enjoyment of them was. How significant it still is. That’s just fine with me.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I am a real person, made of more than pain and growth, and sometimes, I need a break from the heavy stuff. Based on how intense this last week of entries has been, I think you may need a break from it too. Either way, I’m going to write a few lighter entries, likely about media that I enjoy, or simple things that make me truly happy in this world. If this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine. Our regularly scheduled content will be back soon.

I’m going to begin with a free game that I found on Steam called Emily is Away. Here is the game’s official website, and I’d like you to keep in mind that the image displayed above is part of their game, and that I’m only posting it here for illustration and discussion purposes. It’s not my property in any way. Ok, moving on.

Emily is Away is a simple game- the player just chooses speech options and taps away at their keyboard- with a complicated emotional undercurrent. It’s fairly well-made, in that it really, really feels like old AIM chats actually did, but also poorly made, in that I was just flying blind and discovering context as I went along. I know that exposition doesn’t all need to come at the beginning of every story, but in interactive mediums, like video games, it is really helpful to know who the main character is. Personal preference.

It’s really hard to pin down how I feel about this game because of how different my experience was from that of the players who were ranting in the game forums.

In my game, I realized that I was playing a noncommittal, emotionally distant young man who kept inserting himself into Emily’s life long after he had lost the right to take up any of her time. (I really, really wanted to end the final conversation early. We had already determined that Emily and I weren’t going to amount to anything, she had already chosen to date someone else, and here I was, forced to keep prying into her life and her summer plans. No. Just no.)

On the forums, I saw horrible comments like “This is what’s wrong with women,” and so on. There are people who really got angry at Emily for choosing someone else, and they pushed that anger out onto all women, as if they’ve actually met and tried to date all of us. Or as if we are all the same. That. Angers. Me.

It simply isn’t ok to make sweeping generalizations about a group of people. All women, all blacks, all men, all blondes, all pink haired alien sheep from Triton… No. That is not a coherent group that you can draw generalizations from, except for very, very basic ones like “all X eat food” or “all X need oxygen.” That is the limit of factual generalization, and beyond that, it’s just your pain clouding your vision and making you into a jerk.

So, you see, it was an ok game in my experience, albeit a little awkward at the end. My interaction with other players was difficult to say the least, but the developers aren’t to blame for that. They designed a game that really captures the awkwardness and pain inherent in relationships that transcend major life changes. Emily and the player (Ziba, in my case) were friends in high school, and they tried to continue that friendship into college. They went to different schools, they made different friends, they studied different majors… it really is hard to connect well after all of that.

At the end of the day, I think that Emily is Away is a good game that depicts common experiences quite well. How the player responds to it will depend entirely upon what baggage he or she brings to the keyboard. Take that for what it’s worth.

Winding Back Down

Ok, I’ll be honest with you guys- I write these posts in advance and schedule them for future dates. I really want this blog to grow into something and consistency is important for that. So, I usually take a day and write 3-5 entries and schedule them out on alternating days. Normally, it’s fine.

Yesterday, though… Ok, honestly, yesterday, I wrote the entire Deafening Silence series. The three entries about the topic and the fourth one, which was intended to help me wind down so I could sleep. (It didn’t really work for that purpose, honestly, but what it turned into instead was fine with me.) I told you that I took breaks in between the entries, and I did, but they were measured in minutes and hours, not in days. It was a very heavy day for me.

So, after I finished writing, I ended up crying and bringing the most difficult questions to my husband. (Am I a bad person for not being the friend that my neighbor needed? Am I a bad person for not being able to mourn her death? Am I important- would people really miss me if I died?) He is a very kind man, and he answered me well. (With my depression in full-on strangle mode, it’s not reasonable to blame myself for not reaching out to others. Likewise, it’s understandable that I didn’t have energy left to feel pain when she died. And, yes, my life and death both matter.)

It’s still hard for me to weep around people- not to cry a little, I can do that just fine- but to genuinely, honestly mourn. There’s a story there, of course, but maybe that’s for another time. Yet, I am learning  how to do it, and in turn, how to allow others to genuinely mourn in my presence. This is important, because without this, I cannot be the compassionate, warm person that I want to be. I need to be comfortable with my pain to be comfortable with other people’s pain.

Debriefing Deafening Silence

It’s been a little while since I finished writing what turned into a 3 part series on a specific encounter with suicide that occurred in my life. I say “a little while,” but it hasn’t really been so long at all. I suppose that you know I haven’t exactly taken a month off to ponder this or anything. To be honest, I have tried to write about other topics already, but it just feels like this one was unresolved. Left raw.

Suicide is just such a difficult topic to discuss! People who haven’t been suicidal don’t understand what it feels like (but who could expect them to understand an experience they haven’t had?!). At the same time, the pain that some of these individuals feel over the suicide of a friend or relative is very, scathingly real (and I don’t understand their situation either, as it has never happened to me). People who have been suicidal do understand what it feels like to be in that state, but they may not know how it feels to watch a loved one retreat, diminish, and then die. These people also have real and visceral pain, but often the sources of it are invisible, making it very difficult to discuss or defend.

So how do I do it justice when I am just one person who has experienced one or maybe two sides of the issue? All I can ask of you is that you take my words for what they are: the description of my perspective and my experience. Nothing more and nothing less.

They aren’t going to be true of everyone’s experience. They may not even be accurate descriptions of my own life! (After all, drawing in a hurricane of emotion doesn’t really allow one to see current events very clearly.) At the end of the day, all that I have is my experiences as I remember them feeling at the time, the perspective that I have gained in the last several years, and the hybrid created by fusing the two.

In these last 4 entries, I haven’t been trying to diminish the value of the young woman who killed herself- The fact that I was incapable of mourning at the time says more about my abysmal mental health during that period than it ever could about her. So when I do things like infer that no one invested in her, it’s only because I can’t imagine a suicidal person who truly believes that he or she has a real friend close at hand… but then goes through with it anyway. When I was last actively suicidal, I had a friend that I knew cared about me, and I went to her instead of going through with it.

Maybe it’s not like that for everyone, and if it isn’t, I sincerely apologize to the people who serve as exceptions or counterexamples to my point. I really am sorry about this. No one’s experience should ever be diminished or written off for any reason. If you don’t fit into my box, then I need a new box.

So, here’s my giant disclaimer. I can’t understand every aspect of this phenomenon, and I can’t explain why any specific person killed him or herself rather than continuing on. All that I know for sure is that for me, when I was in that dark and lonely place, all that I wanted was  for the constant agony to stop. I didn’t want to leave anyone. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t think that I was valuable enough to be capable of either of those things.

I just wanted to be at peace. At the time, on October 8th, 2005, I could not see any other way.