Monthly Archives: September 2015

Why You Are Beautiful

Have you ever looked into a mirror and seen yourself as beautiful? Beautiful in a way that makes any real or perceived imperfections fade into the construct that they are?

I’d been invited to dinner with friends from out of town, followed by a reading at a bookstore. Dinner went well; I enjoyed the conversation very much and felt present. The voice running in my head, the one telling me I don’t belong in this group of talented people, was pretty silent. I dressed casually and didn’t use makeup. Okay, that part’s not lack of vanity; I just suck at putting on makeup.

After the dinner, we went to the San Francisco bookstore where the reading was being held. It was a reading by a mix of authors from the BDSM community, and a couple of my friends were going to be reading pieces there. I hadn’t been to an event like this in quite a while, and I felt both the pleasant and the bittersweet types of nostalgia.

Listening to the erotic fiction and nonfiction being read, I surreptitiously watched the small audience as I tend to do. People at a reading of erotic literature have a tendency to try to keep a neutral face. Perhaps they want to conceal reactions that feel too personal to share, or perhaps there’s an etiquette about concealing reactions that may distract other listeners.

However, not all can be concealed. The secret is to watch the eyes. In a still face, the eyes shine with fire when the listener is being affected. I can gauge the level of engagement this way, and I love it. Watching the people around me, I reveled in their beauty and their diversity. An enchanting mix of ages, genders and physical traits, they seemed to be broadcasting stories of their own.

My own thoughts about the pieces ranged freely, as well. I was reminded of how deep and psychically rich sexuality can be. How sex is only the beginning. The pieces evoked connection, shadow, love and deepest authenticity. My own feelings about all of these whirled inside me; not only the common longing and regret but an intense and living desire that pulsed with an unapologetic feeling of I want.

Between two of the pieces, I had to take a restroom break. Washing my hands, I glanced up at the mirror above the sink–and drew in my breath, shocked. The face in the mirror pierced me with its beauty.

Yes, the secret is in the eyes all right. Those eyes blazed into me, burning with the same fire I saw on other faces. They shone with mystery, and time, and a wholeness of complex thought. For a moment, I saw the woman in the mirror as a separate person. I saw her as if I were another guest, watching her from across the room and catching the first glimpse of those blazing eyes, and I thought: I want that woman.

I wonder about her story; I want to know what she’s thinking. I want to see what she looks like when she smiles, or growls with anger, or screams with lust or pain.

The other-ness of the moment faded quickly, but a ghost of it lingered. For the rest of the reading, I watched people with fascination–but with the awareness that I was one of them. A carrier of the story; a bearer of the hidden fire.

So you see, you are beautiful. You may not have had an experience like this yet, or you may have had many, but a gut-wrenchingly beautiful version of you exists behind the mirror and waits to come and be seen.

Poised

What does it take to return from a trip into the dark? A long bout of clinical depression tends to be followed by a long and gradual return, but shorter dips require a quicker springback. How do we master the art of coming back? How do we put aside regret and tackle the life that has piled up outside our door?

Cyclothymia. That’s what my doctors call it. I live with a certain ongoing level of bipolar depression, but within that come fluctuations that tend to last only a few days. After that few days I begin to feel better, but it’s hard for me to poke my head out because I fear what I will find.

There’s an image from science fiction that keeps coming to mind when I think of this. Many years ago, I saw an episode of The Twilight Zone (well, a brief reboot) in which a harried suburban mom finds a magic stopwatch. She discovers that saying the phrase “Shut up!” causes time to stop for everything but her, and “Start talking” makes it resume. At first it’s wonderful: she can hit the pause button on yelling kids to take a bath or nap or anything she wants.

Then, with no warning, sirens blare and the TV tells of nuclear hostilities breaking out. Missiles are coming, there’s chaos in the streets and she is surrounded by crying children and an avalanche of noise. Overwhelmed, she screams “SHUT UP!”

In the last scenes of the episode, she leaves her motionless family and walks through her town among the statues of people frozen in various attitudes of terror. Raising her eyes to the sky, she beholds a missile poised a hundred feet above the ground.

For some reason, the episode made a big impression on me. I kept imagining what she might do next; whether there was anything constructive she could do. Would she load her frozen family into a vehicle and try to travel somewhere away from the kill zone? Would transports even work? How long would she wander alone, making and discarding plans under the poised death in the sky? How long would she be able to stand it before she closed her eyes and whispered, “Start talking?”

When I’m rising from the lower levels of a cyclothymic dip, I feel life waiting for me. But I don’t feel the good parts of it waiting–I’m not un-depressed enough for that yet. What seems poised over my head is a fearsome construct, made up of whatever stressors I had going on before I fell low enough to shut down, multiplied by days of hiding and neglect and whatever damage I’ve done to my body and brain.

A small part of my psyche seems to believe that if I don’t come back yet, these stresses will go away. It wants to keep hiding, even though I’ve returned enough to be miserable and be ready to come out. And when I do begin to engage more, the slightest new stress makes me want to scream “Shut up!” and retreat again.

It takes courage to come out and try to be in the world with some semblance of normalcy again. Perhaps not the kind of courage anyone else would notice or respect, but it’s there. I’m very imperfect at it, but every time I start doing more things you can bet I’m fighting an intense drive to pull away and shut down again.

Coming back at a reasonable pace, a pace quick enough to give me a few good days before my next dip but slow enough to keep me from freaking out, is a skill set I’m acquiring slowly. I try to be conscious of where in the cycle I am, and make a point of not trying to do too much the first day I feel better.

It’s been more than four years since I stopped using drugs to deal with my mind. I’ve still struggled with using food, with varying degrees of success. I’ve worked with doctors to treat my disorder, balancing benefits and drawbacks of different meds. I fully expect to deal with these cycles for the rest of my life.

This fear of coming back I describe, the fear that the poised missile made me feel, is my enemy. The greatest development I could see for my soul in this life–the thing that would bring me closer to being the hero of my personal dreams–would be to win freedom from fear’s rule.

Stay With Me

Today is National Suicide Prevention Day, and many people like me find it hard to go without marking it in some way. Although having one special day for discouraging suicide may seem silly, it’s useful in raising awareness about how many people are losing their lives.

Today, there are articles being published about mental health resources, and how to seek help if you are feeling that you might harm yourself.

There are articles about how to spot warning signs in people you care about.

There are articles about being the one left behind, and all of the grief and anger and self-doubt it brings.

And there are many, many articles about reasons not to take your own life.

If you have ever been suicidal, you’ve probably seen what’s in those last articles. There’s a lot of good stuff in some of them; stuff that bears repeating. I’m not going to repeat it here, though.

Instead, I’m going to tell you that I understand about those times when trying to take in advice or inspiration feels like listening to a wind blow through bone-dry grasses.

Today, I won’t tell you suicide is a sin. That’s between you and whatever religious or spiritual values you have–although I pray that, should you fall, any deity you meet welcomes you with nothing but love and compassion.

Today, I won’t tell you that tomorrow is another day. I know sometimes that’s part of the problem–when things are very dark, tomorrow and every imagined day after it stretch out like a long prison sentence. I encourage you to reach for a shred of hope or open-mindedness that may help you entertain the idea that tomorrow could be a better day, but I know just how difficult that is.

Today, I won’t lecture you about how you need to stay alive for your loved ones, or how much killing yourself would hurt them. You already know that. You’ve probably refrained from some attempts because of it already. Instead, I’ll tell you that I believe you are doing the best you can to stay here, and if you fail I will not judge or condemn you. Go and read Cowards if you don’t believe me.

So I will not lecture you today, or tell you what to do or believe, or try to make you feel guilty for your thoughts.

But I also won’t lie.
The truth is, I do want you to refrain from killing yourself today.

My selfish desire is for you to keep breathing for another twenty-four hours. And another after that. My selfish wish is for you to hang on long enough for something to change. Get through the minute, the hour, the day. Make it through–and the next time things get really bad, hang on then too. I admit it, that’s what I want.

You see, I want you here on this planet with me. If you go, there will be one less person in the think tank researching the nature of hope and perseverance.

If you go, I will be a little bit more alone.

Some of you who depart are doing it under the influence of brain chemistry that has become extreme enough to interfere with coherent thought and choice. I know that can happen.

But if you still have some capacity for those things, I confess my selfishness to you. I want you at my side in this fight, to share battle tactics and tricks. I want you with me during the long sleepless nights, so we can read each other stories when we’re sad.

I know what a hard thing I’m asking of you, and it’s your choice. But the little girl in me wants her brothers and sisters around. Go read Why it’s “Not This Song”. Go write some bad poetry, or do something repetitive with your hands, or tell someone to go fuck themselves–anything, I don’t know. Just don’t go today.

Don’t go. Stay with me.

I Miss My Badge

I don’t want to be here today.

Today, I don’t want to be a poet, or a homeschooling mom, or an unpublished writer, or an addict.

Today, I especially don’t want to be a person with bipolar disorder.

Instead, I want to be putting on some professional-looking clothes and driving to my job at a hospital, or treatment center, or therapy clinic.

I want to wear a badge with my picture on it.

I want to sit down in a consultation meeting with my colleagues and discuss clients. I want to write case notes. I want to be giving presentations to groups.

These desires and the regrets about not being able to have them are a regular part of my life. So why do I feel them so sharply today?

In our storage space, there are several boxes containing my textbooks, notes and papers from my time in graduate school. Things I read and wrote between 2002 and 2005–not all of them, but the ones I felt to be worth keeping through several moves. I’ve been looking through them to find some materials I want for my daughter, who is taking psychology this year.

During this, I got reminded of a couple of things. I looked at papers I wrote, and the teacher’s comments on them, and the tests I took, and I remembered how much potential everyone thought I had. My papers were really good, I was smart, and a highly respected supervisor thought well enough of me to offer me a private internship right out of school.

Picture Marlon Brando, crying out “I coulda been a contender!” It’s how I feel sometimes, interacting with people in the field and realizing I was on track to be one of them.

Reading my work and liking it, reading the words of teachers who used to gush over it, and remembering wonderful moments with clients makes me feel so sad, angry and resentful sometimes. I resent this fucking disorder for stealing my career.

Let me be clear: there’s nothing I’d rather be doing right now than helping my daughter get through high school. I’d like to think that even if I had still been working instead of learning to live in recovery and manage my mental health, I would have postponed whatever needed to be postponed to help her.

But I’d like to have had the chance to make that sacrifice–and I’d like to have hope that I could work in the field again when she no longer needs me at home.

I’m not without hope. There are possibilities for me, if I take care of myself; it’s just that the kind of career I dreamed of is beyond my reach. But I could work in the field someday, if I found an employer willing to accept someone with my kind of history. I have my degrees, and I’m smart, and I don’t have a criminal record.

There are also possibilities for volunteer work, or being able to make presentations at places. I write well, speak well, and have things to say.

Acknowledging all of that, I still need to honor my feelings of sadness today. Not just about the big regrets, but about little things I noticed too. For example, my handwriting used to be a lot smaller. Is it just me getting older, or did the years of drug use steal some dexterity for good?

We all deal with feelings of too-late and if-only. We all battle Gazpacho Soup syndrome at times. I’m used to analyzing my past mistakes. But today, I’m grieving a part of my loss that actually was not my fault. I didn’t make myself bipolar.

Accepting my condition works best when I can see the changes in my life as a stage of development, focusing on what I can learn. But I suppose it’s understandable that I’d long to be in a different or more prestigious classroom sometimes.

This Is Embarrassing

The trouble with trying to write some truth is that I can’t always control which truth will come out.

I think it is one reason I’ve been having a lot of trouble with writing lately, especially with getting into a creative and noncritical flow. I’ve been afraid that if I open myself I’ll bleed out truths and feelings I would rather not think about.

What’s the truth I fear? What is that earth-shaking, unspeakable knowledge that I, Miss reveal-the-darkness-of-my-soul, don’t want known?

I miss my therapist.

That’s it? It’s not about my daughter, or my family, or my health?

I know it could be difficult to take it seriously, but the relationship I’ve had for many years defies explanation. It began when I was getting my counseling degree, and we were all required to do at least a year with a certain type of therapist as part of our experience. When the year was over, unique things had already begun to happen in the therapy. So I stayed.

Any description of what I’ve learned and felt would be inadequate, and I was extraordinarily privileged to be able to work with him for years. But the work between a therapist and client, no matter how deep, is subject to practical matters–a practitioner of this art is paid, and the best and most experienced ones don’t take insurance.

As financial troubles grew, I dropped my visits to every other week. With the crisis our last move brought on, even this was not possible. It’s been almost five months since we met.

So the problem is that I miss him. No, that’s not the largest problem. The problem is that I miss him and I’m ashamed of how much I miss him. And I feel like the old stereotype of the female patient overly attached to the male therapist. And I’m angry about it, and sad, and I don’t have anyone I can talk to about those feelings.

I’ve been trying to be tough and not cry wolf. I’ve tried very hard to act like a grownup, like a mom, like someone who is capable of putting other things ahead of her own comfort. All the while being afraid that if I do too good a job of pretending for too long, I’ll never be allowed to make going back a priority. (Well, you’re doing OK without it…)

I miss the person I get to be in that room.
I miss being able to look forward to being that person.
I miss the way an upcoming appointment would inspire me to finish an essay or poem or dream so that I could talk about it.

Of course, I also have all of the cliched, neurotic feelings of resentment toward my therapist about the situation, and all of the adolescent yearning for him to say “Fuck the clinical relationship, you’re so special that I can’t stand not having you in my life. Let’s just meet for coffee.”

Yes, this truth hurts. It hurts to know that, even if I can scrape together an occasional session, our work will probably never be the same again. It had already changed.

It’s changed since I got clean for the last time. How could it not?
It’s changed since our frequency dropped.
It’s changed since I started writing.
It’s changed since I started writing poetry.

It really could be that we were already nearing the end of an era, but I don’t want it to be a forced end. And I’m afraid I don’t have what it takes to create whatever I need to make not having this relationship okay.

So that’s it. I’m grieving, and angry, and lonely, and I hate that I can’t talk to anyone else about this because they think of therapy as mental bonbons for the weak or self-indulgent. They have no conception of why someone would find it so important and so central to their sense of self–or why someone could do it for years and not be “fixed.”

I have no solution to offer myself, but maybe telling the truth will help a little.

The Apple That Time Forgot

Bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.

It’s a theme I’ve written about before…Bounty Hunter and The Perils of Good Health are a couple of examples. But today, I’m thinking about a certain time and a certain scene that captures the feeling for me.

When I was twenty-two, I got engaged to a graduate student in mathematics. He came from a wonderful European family, was wholesome and innocent in his demeanor, and was quite gorgeous as well. I was his first serious girlfriend.

When we got engaged, I had recently finished college. More relevantly, I had recently begun my first attempt at applying the principles of recovery to my eating disorder. I was aglow with a fire of self-improvement, and I’d lost about 50 pounds, bringing me from my (formerly) highest weight down to a pretty healthy 160. Throughout our engagement, I felt that this version of me was the one he had asked to marry him.

The months went by, as he did his work and I attempted to find some of my own (I had been accepted to a graduate program, but it would not start for a while.) It seemed the course of my life was laid out–continue my education, get married, move to Europe or wherever he got a job in due time and use my skills to get a job nearby until it was time to start having children. Be a good wife, a good daughter-in-law and a good mother; be the woman who was good enough to be chosen by this admirable man.

On many days, we would eat lunch together in the campus cafeteria. From the limited choices I would assemble pretty much the same plate every time: 4 ounces of chicken breast, half a cup of brown rice, some green beans and an apple. Nothing wrong with that meal, but it got monotonous.

For some reason, the apple always took me the longest to finish. I’d cut it into quarters, and there would be two or three left when all of the other food was gone and we needed to get going soon. Getting all of it down, day after day, became a real chore. We jokingly called it the “Apple That Time Forgot.”

I remember those lunches so well, in the way a few selected memories stand out as a full visual. The sunlight slanting through the high windows, the scattered groups of students talking, and me a part of the young couple near the window. In those meals, I was playing the role of what I appeared to be; every bite of those nutritious meals felt like a promise I was making to my fiancé.

I was promising never to get fat again, and I was promising everything that went along with that in my eyes. Promising not to be lazy, or ill-mannered, or behave in any way that would embarrass him in front of his family. Promising to be good and never make him regret asking me to marry him.

There was just one tiny, itsy-bitsy problem with those lunches, that relationship and that plan.

When we were not in each other’s presence, I wandered the streets of that college town and I ate. God, how I ate. Novels in hand, I would go from one fast food place to another so as not to spend hours in one spot and draw attention with the amount of food I was ordering. I’d go home with a stomachache and spend the rest of the day in a fog of self-loathing. Periodically, I would try to stop. Reeling from withdrawal and hunger, I’d drag myself to a recovery meeting and cry, only to be out there again in a day or two.

I am a compulsive eater; I’ve known myself as one since long before I practiced any other kind of addiction. So my behavior was not that surprising, but there was something different about it during that year. It wasn’t just me using something because it’s what we addicts do–it was me having a secret life that screamed, over and over, that what I was trying to be wasn’t me.

How loud did it have to scream? Well, in the ten months until the engagement’s end, I gained ninety pounds.

Yes, bad things happen when I try to be too good for too long.