Enjoyment for Its Own Sake

I’m at the fire pit again today, and unlike last time, when there were a few people at home but none with me, this morning, I’m the only one home.

It feels a bit weird because I should be working on things around the house. Maybe I should hand some of the paintings. Maybe I should finish painting the sitting room. Maybe I should wash dishes. Instead, I’m just sitting here.

I’ve just been journaling and trying to soak up the atmosphere, because I don’t often do things without having a friend or my husband along to support me. It feels like there is value in doing this, in validating myself by choosing to do something simply because I want to do it. It’s odd, and it’s a small step, but maybe it’s enough for today.

The little girl next door likes to talk to me, and their dog loves to race Dora up and down the fence. Now, the dog from the other neighbors has come out and she’s baying at both of them. I could ask my neighbors if their dogs could come over to play, but I won’t. I’m not feeling that social.

My journaling hasn’t really led me anywhere, but it’s good to write things down. I wish the issue I’m wrestling with were simpler, but people are complicated. Life is complicated. Even if pure truth were to be revealed to me, I’d still only be happy if it turned out I was right after all. Otherwise, I’d probably need to stomach the inescapable reality.

Time to extinguish the fire and go inside. We’ll see what the rest of the day holds.

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The Pain of Rejection

Dear First Ex,

Part of me shudders typing “dear” and thinking about you, but I can’t think of another opening for letters. Bear with me, even though we both know that there’s nothing there.

Anyway, I was thinking about you yesterday. A few days ago, I fell into an old addiction again, and I realized that beneath the symptoms, there was an old lie. As long as I believed that my core was made of putrid darkness, and that no one could want to be near me, the addiction would keep coming back, because it’s comforting.

You are one of the people whose actions made it look like the lie was true.

Does that sound like I’m blaming you? It might, but the truth is that I’m too tired to feel any pain over what happened, and in the moment, I was only able to see my side anyway. I was in a low downswing of my depression, coming off of a suicidal period (or going into one?). There are too many emotions and too much brain fog for me to remember. It could have been too much. It could have been strangling the life out of you. Who knows? Regardless, there’s nothing to gain from another angry tirade at you, and I’m not here to write one.

All that I’m trying to say is that the choices you made, especially towards the end, were hard for me to deal with. I still think they show some cowardice on your part, because you recruited other people to break up with me for you instead of saying the words yourself. When I wanted to talk afterwards, just to see if there was a way that we could be civil enough that our mutual friends didn’t have to choose, you had someone insult me so that you could stay silent.

So I let you have our friends and our social spot. Looking back, it sounds a little like a divorce, doesn’t it? Weird.

Reading over my old journal entries yesterday was bizarre. I went from singing your praises to heaping abuse on your name in an instant. I was completely blindsided by the whole thing. I had been pouring everything I had into the relationship. You probably won’t trust me when I say that I know that depressed people don’t have much love to offer. Even before I met you, I knew that love drew energy from my very limited emotional reserves. I spent energy on trying to make you happy when I should have used it for taking care of myself or resting. I tried to take care of your needs. I didn’t criticize your lifestyle and I accommodated your needs. I poured out everything I had for you and you basically said,

“You didn’t get better fast enough.”

Yeah. It was a real high point for both of us. I’m still not “better,” by the way. It turns out that brains don’t fix themselves any more than dysfunctional organs or misshapen limbs do. Weird, isn’t it?

I’m sorry. I’m getting bitter, and I said I wasn’t here to accuse you. Staying angry with you or believing that your assessment of me was accurate is just hurting me. For a decade, part of my energy has been draining off to fuel the lie I mentioned earlier and the defense mechanisms around it. I’m done. I have to be.

Forgiveness is a strange thing. People have told me that it’s a choice: just choose to forgive someone. There are a handful of people that I have chosen to forgive, but I’m still angry and hurt when I think of them, because I still wanted more from our relationships than they gave me. I wanted love, care, an honest connection, to feel safe while I’m near them, but no. And it still hurts. Someone else has told me that it doesn’t sound like I’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness, therefore, must be more than a choice.

Today, right now, it feels like maybe forgiveness is actually part of a sequence, and that it only functions properly when done in the right order. Here’s my working model:

  1. Be vulnerable and get hurt.
  2. Mourn and feel the pain.
  3. Process the experience and its effects on you.
  4. Let yourself heal from it. Let go of the dark, angry words, even if their familiarity is comforting.
  5. Forgive the person.
  6. Move on a more complex person than you were before.

Yesterday afternoon, I just laid on the floor and sobbed. I remembered how my college friends found out about my depression and stopped talking to me. I remembered how a few months later, you left me too. I remembered how our friends just stayed with you, even though I tried hard to avoid asking them to choose sides and I wanted to find separate places to hang out.

All of these people that I was honest with, all of these people that I trusted, they got close to be and saw my broken parts, and then they left. And it sucks.

But here’s the thing- the small group of you are not representatives of humanity. You don’t control the choices that other people make, and just because you chose to leave me alone when I needed you most, it doesn’t mean that no one will ever choose to stay. My husband met me during a breakdown and he just kept walking closer to me. The messier I got, the more broken parts he saw, the more time he spent with me, and his kindness and gentle spirit still blow me away.

It’s unfortunate that my pain has prevented me from accepting him on the deepest level possible. That I’ve invalidated some of his choices and actions because I believed that he would be like you. That I’ve done the same thing with God’s love, because I believed that He would be like you. And I’m done.

What you did, what all of you chose to do, will never be ok. It will never be justified, but I’m not the harbinger of justice. I don’t need to carry the burden of the pain you caused me and the treatment that I needed from you. I don’t need to keep a list of areas where I gave more or tried harder. I don’t need to try to remember any pieces of the storm that was our last two meetings. God will remember for me, and He can measure out all of the pieces.

So this is it. I’m letting go of everything attached to this ball of pain. I don’t need any of the mess any more. I don’t believe the lie any more.

There are good traits in me. There are reasons that people might want to be my friend or enjoy being near me. I am not a toxic waste of space. I am a beautiful mess, just like everyone else.

So goodbye. I know we haven’t seen each other for years, so I don’t expect that I’ll even think of you again for a long time. It will be ok if I forget you entirely. It will be ok if I don’t. Either way, I’ll still be me.

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Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

I’m going to leave you here. I have a lot of walking to do, a lot of me to discover, a lot of talents to develop, a lot of life to live, and a lot of love to give. I’m going to grow into someone better, someone more vibrant than I am now, if only because I’m too stubborn to quit.

I know that the beautiful, glowing me is inside somewhere. I look forward to meeting her and then introducing her to the world. She’s going to love it.

~J

Fitbit Report: January 8-14

I’ve been thinking of writing this type of entry for a very long time, but I don’t know if I’ve actually done one. Since 2014, I’ve been working on losing weight in a way that I can maintain. I’m not a recovering dieter or anything; I’ve never dieted at all, actually. Nope, my problem has been medicating my mental illness with the terrific trio: caffeine, sugar, and chocolate.

More than that, I’ve actually used food as a passive suicide method for years. People would definitely react if I used an active method, but if I have seconds? If I have dessert? This is America; no one even batted an eye at my unhealthy eating habits. Yeah, it’s a longterm strategy, but there are definitely diseases that will cut a few decades off your life if you do what I was doing.

Right, so when my husband and I were engaged, he asked me point blank to take better care of myself so that I would live longer. So I’ve been working on it. I’m down 60 pounds so far, and I’ve been roughly within a 10 pound range for almost 2 years now. Some days, it’s frustrating to have stalled out, but at least I’m stable. I’ve also managed to mellow out a bit (having dessert occasionally, eating without avoid all sugars, etc.) and I still haven’t gained the weight back, so things are good so far.

At this point, it’s probably going to be exercise that moves me forward. I thought I should start posting the weekly reports from my fitbit for a bit of accountability.

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Keep in mind that it’s still well below freezing here, so I can’t go outside. In the summer and fall, most of my exercise came from walking Dora in the local parks, so it’s been a struggle to do anything lately. Even so, next week should look a bit better.

Self Care & Guilt

Right now, I just feel scared. Tense. Like someone is going to yell at me. I did so many things right today.

  1. I woke up on time to get my husband to work and keep the car.
  2. I got the car to the repair shop early and managed Dora in the crowded lobby.
  3. I went to the car rental place, answered the questions I could, completed the process, and brought the car home.
  4. I bought the yarn I’ve been meaning to get so that I can make a gift for a friend.
  5. I went to the post office at my husband’s request to pick up a package; it wasn’t there.
  6. I exercised for 40 minutes today, when I really haven’t put forth any effort since the winter started. (For me, <20 degrees Fahrenheit is too intense. I don’t have winter gear that’s actually good at preventing frostbite, and I have bad circulation all year round, so winters are tough enough without feeling my skin change texture after 5 minutes.)
  7. I went to the post office again, waited in line, showed them the tracking number, and asked them to check on it for me.  (They found it!)
  8. I picked up my husband on time and we made it home safely.

That was all good. All of it. Moreover, Dora was in public, on duty, five different times today. That’s five places where strangers can:

  • Talk to her instead of me while she’s supposed to be focusing
  • Try to pet her
  • Tell me that “it’s fine” when I ask them not to pet her
  • Look at me strangely when I body block them and move her behind me so they can’t pet her when they try again after I’ve already told them no
  • Ask me who I’m training her for
  • Ask me if I know when I have to give her to the disabled person
  • Ask me if she’s a therapy dog when her vest says “service dog” and we are in a place where therapy dogs don’t work (restaurants, repair shops, gas stations, banks, etc.)
  • Ask me what she’s trained to do (which is simultaneously asking me to explain my disability to them despite us never having met before)
  • Try to talk to me while I’m clearly talking to someone else, like the cashier or the government employee
  • Continue trying to talk to me after I ignore their first comment (because I’m just trying to move things along for me, the paid employee in front of me, and everyone in line behind me)
  • Tell me that I’m going to rip her throat open with her collar if I’m not careful (yeah, that was a fun day)
  • Ask me if she’s necessary for a medical purpose and then keep hounding me when I say “yes” because they totally think I’m lying
  • Make an offhanded remark about how ‘they should have put up a sign’ (which will presumably say “No service animals allowed here. Go ahead and sue us. We dare you.”)
  • Backtrack when they finally understand that she’s a service dog and that’s what I meant when I said that I need her for a medical reason

… I’m sure there’s more, but honestly, I’m tired of thinking up things that have happened to me in the last calendar year. For someone who already had social anxiety, believed she was a toxin that drained life from those around her, believed she was invisible, etc., it’s really been overwhelming.

So… what do I feel guilty about?

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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Staying home tonight, taking a bubble bath, and trying to relax. I chose to do that because I realized that I was staring blankly into space and once my eyes stop focusing, things only go downhill. Going out in public (again) may have pushed me into a meltdown. Better to take care of myself, right?

So why do I feel so guilty for NOT GOING? No one is blaming me! Why won’t my muscles release? Why can’t I breathe normally or just believe that I’m done for the day? I’m so tired. 

A Letter for my Mother

Dear Mom,

Do you remember the day that I asked you if you would just write a list of all the rules down for me? Did I ask you to post it inside the coat closet in the dining room, or wasn’t I brave enough to open the door and ask? I honestly can’t remember what really happened on that day. It makes me a bit sad, truth be told, but what can I do? It’s not like I’m guaranteed perfect memories of each day of my life. Oh well. Let’s move on.

Whether I did or not, I wanted to ask you to just finally write down everything that I could get in trouble for doing and post that list somewhere where I could find it. Somewhere that I could check. Somewhere that I could go and study it so that I could learn how to be good. So that you wouldn’t hit me any more. So that you wouldn’t yell at me any more.

I knew that you weren’t ok. Honestly, I don’t even know if you knew it yet, or if you thought that I was too young to understand or remember, but I knew. I could see how fragile you were, and I knew that you could be crushed by anything that came along, anything unexpected, anything difficult. I knew that the world was a very dangerous place for you, that you couldn’t handle living in it, and that you needed someone to protect you from the bad things in the world.

I tried. I promise that I did.

I was like… three? Five? There wasn’t much that I could do, but I really did my best to protect you. I wish that you hadn’t hit me so often. I wish that you hadn’t screamed at me.

You laughed one day, when you saw me sobbing, making my way back the hall to my room as punishment, before you had even found what I had done wrong. To your credit, you didn’t punish me for whatever it was, which was good, since my self punishment was already enough. But you know, you didn’t come and comfort me either. Didn’t you realize that something was wrong? That there was a reason I was so terrified of your wrath that I just braced for it and tried to minimize the damage?

I guess not. Maybe you weren’t healthy enough for that yet.

Did you understand the terror that I lived in, not knowing what things I could do without getting in trouble? Did you know how it felt, not knowing what choices were safe to make? Do you know now? Do you understand that this is why I still can’t make decisions for myself more than 20 years later? Do you know that this is why I’m so scared of the unknown, why I measure my performance in everything I do, why I can’t relax? Do you see?


I don’t know. I’m not going to ask you. You still get defensive about it, even with your anxiety medication and your years of counseling. You still attack me instinctively, rather than admitting that you did anything wrong. It is possible to be injured enough that you can’t avoid hurting people AND to acknowledge that your actions and words had consequences.

I’m not your enemy. I know that you didn’t even know that you had mental illness yet. I know that you were willing to put in the effort to grow and heal; I’ve seen you do it in the decades since then. I am even starting to understand why you developed those defenses.

It’s ok. You’re safe now.

So please, some day, listen to me talk about the pain you caused me. Please apologize for it. I already know that you never intended to hurt me, that you were already overwhelmed, and money was tight, and your young family was struggling, and you had baggage from bad relationships before you married dad, and there were issues left over from when grandpa was an alcoholic and you weren’t safe at home either, and more and more and more. It’s ok. I don’t hate you, but I do need to hear you say that you’re sorry. I do need to hear you tell me that you love me. I need to know that there is a way forward, and that you’re willing to help me heal and grow as well.

I’ve been processing my pain for a while. I’ve revised my treatment plan many times, and you know that Dora is just the latest addition to the mix. You know that she’s helping me, and I hope you can see the progress that I’ve made over the last year. But now, I’ve reached a point where things are getting a bit hard.

I’m reading a book, mom. It’s in the other room, and I don’t want to lose my momentum by getting up and bringing it here, so you’ll have to forgive me for not telling you the title. It’s about childhood trauma, fractured minds, and the healing process for people who experience more pain than they are equipped to handle. I don’t think I have multiple personalities, but I do know that there are memories that I’m afraid to think about, even today. I know that I have a defense mechanism that provides me with a safe world to live in, where I can be beautiful and smart, powerful and necessary. I know that I go there whenever I can’t stand living as myself. I know that it’s not normal, and that it could be unhealthy, and that it’s quite sad on some level that there have been years when I have spent more time living as a fantasy version of myself than as me.

I want to be whole. I want to be able to look at the darkest times and the brightest times in my life and feel the emotions that go with them. And to look away afterwards! But I’m not there yet.

I’m scared, mom. What am I going to find? How hard will it be? My body is crying, but my face is neutral. I can feel the disconnect even now. What am I mourning? Do you know?


Well, I just wanted to talk to you for a bit. I hope your day is going well, and that you make progress in becoming less defensive. I believed you when you admitted that it was a flaw of yours and that you’re working on it. That was…. 3 weeks ago, I think. I still believe you, and I hope that it works.

Maybe one day, I’ll have you read this for real. And I’ll try to keep breathing, and Dora will probably have to perform at least one of her tasks, because I can’t imagine showing this to you without having a panic attack.

Today is January 14th, 2018.

~J

Day 293 With Dora

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like I’m making any progress at all. I want to just drop everything, get back on meds, and throw my hands up in surrender. I can’t learn life skills- are you kidding me?! I’m too weak and dumb and useless to change anything!

But sometimes, I manage to do something with ease, and I think that’s where the growth is. 

Today, my husband asked me to make a phone call, and I did. No panic attack. No anxiety from just considering it. I just called them, asked for what I needed, listened, scheduled an appointment, and then asked about (and scheduled) the appointment I’ve been too afraid to schedule for the last few weeks.

And I’m still ok. And my husband said thank you when he saw the event show up on our calendar. And that’s it!

And I think that these small events are where the progress happens, but I don’t notice them every time, because they are manageable now. I’ll try to catch more of them as they happen; I need that hope so I can keep going.

Collateral Damage

One of the worst things about having my cocktail of mental illness/being me is that I can’t control when I hurt people. I mean, I suppose that’s probably true for everyone, but this morning, it wasn’t a matter of me being careless and saying something cruel. Instead, I got thrown off, and started melting down within the first 20 minutes of being awake.

Two impossible situations stood before me and I needed to merge them but couldn’t. Time passed. I was stressing out and hurting The Flutenist, and I knew it, and I got more angry at myself and more ashamed of being caught in this struggle at all, and I got more paralyzed and more frantic and…

It was bad.

Sometimes, stress can empower us- give us extra energy (more blood flow), extra clarity (more oxygen to the brain), and more motivation (tension fuels action). For me, there are days when all of those processes work, but I can’t find an outlet. The energy and tension funnel inwards, my body shuts down, and my mind just becomes a whirlpool of rapid, frantic thoughts. 

Nothing gets done. I know I’m stuck but I don’t know how to get out. Or if I can.

But it’s internal; no one but me can affect it or communicate that it’s happening. But I don’t know what to do!

So I almost made him late to work today and I sent him an email while he was at work, explaining everything that had been running through my mind. (I usually regain writing before speech, so it’s my go to response.) I wanted him to know that I knew that I was hurting him and making things worse for him and that I took that seriously. I don’t know why. 

It’s been a few hours and I can’t see how that could have helped anything.

I’m so stupid.

Yeah- today has been very bad in terms of self-talk. I’m back-sliding and I hate it but I don’t know what to do. I just!

Argh!

I wish I were normal.

Or that I could tell where my depression stops and where I start.

Or that I knew what I was capable of.

Everything, every tiny thing, is this epic struggle between being too hard on myself and not pushing myself to grow. I never know whether I’m doing it right or not.