This morning, I was reminded of the many times I have had the conversation with other people who were in pain, who were at the stage of “this is killing me” and “I can’t survive this.” And talking with them about my belief that when we feel that way, what we are really saying is we wish the pain would be fatal, that it would kill us, because it hurts so badly we want it to end, we want it not to be survivable.
But it is, almost always, survivable.
I have known a lot of pains, a lot of the kind that I wished I didn’t have to live through, and I have always survived.
In my non-upbeat way, what I am trying to say is that if you are in the kind of pain that has you, consciously or unconsciously, wishing it would end, even if that meant you would end, too, you will almost certainly survive it, and eventually it will almost certainly fade.
And I hope reading that helps you to hang on until it does.
There are some hurts, I admit, that never seem to fully disappear, like grief, but they do tend to recede to less excruciating levels, and to ebb and flow, so that they aren’t constantly felt. And even those pains that evolve without disappearing will usually allow us to have some better moments in between their surfacing again.
I am not speaking in absolutes, because I know there are people whose experiences are different than mine. I certainly don’t pretend I know all things with perfect accuracy, and there are few things that are going to pour salt in the wound of a relentless agony like some asshole telling you they know your experience better than you do.
Even if our experiences may have been similar, not everything about ourselves and our resources and our circumstances and our supports or lack or supports is going to be identical.
I can’t know exactly how you feel.
I can only offer this indirect communication of my subjective experiences and thoughts, in the hope that maybe some part might speak to you in a way that is helpful, with full disclosure of their subjectivity, and that they are not an offer of a one-on-one personal connection.
However bad what you are going through now is, however badly it hurts, however much you wish this was not happening or was over, however little help you have, however much the mere suggestion that your pain might not kill you makes you want to rage and scream that it is fucking killing you – because in your agony there is no past or future you can conceive of as your pain holds you in a present that, absent the sense of before and after, feels like eternity – it is probably survivable, and if you can allow yourself to believe that even a little, if you can think of any reason at all you would like it to be, I think it becomes more likely to be so.
Even if you can’t, I hope you will hang on, anyway.
I have, many times, picked myself up off the floor when I swore I could not go on without a reason, and could not conjure a reason, and got up anyway. It didn’t feel good. I didn’t get some epiphany or some longed-for assistance. In the long run, those experiences changed the person I was, I am, and not always in ways I would have chosen or that I like. I wish I had had more opportunities to learn through joy and love and safety than the thornier paths my life has tended to take.
But I am here, and alive.
And to the best of my ability, though I have been through a lot of pain and loss, I have maintained the promise I made to myself many years ago, in the seemingly-eternal darkness of my childhood, that I would never, no matter what, allow myself to become what was done to me. That no matter how cruelly I was treated, I would not give in to becoming a person who used their own pain to justify doing harm. That I would do my best to help, even when it cost me something, even when it cost me a lot. That I would not deny anyone their humanity, not even the people who did me harm. That I wouldn’t lie to myself that I hated where I love, because the loved caused me pain or couldn’t or wouldn’t be in my life.
That I would decide who I am, I would decide how I behave, and not pretend that how anyone treated me, what anyone said about me, what anyone felt about me, what I got or lost or was denied, decided for me. That I would keep trying, and hopefully learn how to do better than I had, and one day, get to where I was the person I want to be and living the life I want to live. That I would keep trying, even if I never got there.
And I don’t mean trying to be a saint. I swear too much, for a start. And perfection is a myth. And there are people I don’t like, and things I am impatient with. My intention is not to spend my life giving without limits or boundaries or regard for my own feelings. There are rare times when I have been in a state where I have genuinely lost control. I have regrets, and shame, and aspects of myself I wish were better.
And listing more of my flaws is probably not going to help you, and I am not feeling like a good long self-flagellating sesh, myself.
And it is not to say I always feel good about myself. Much of the time, I feel like shit. I don’t want to be hurt. I want the people I love to love me back and treat me like it. I want my actions to result in what I want, what I need, not in pain. I don’t want to suffer because of other people’s choices. I wonder if it is stupid to hold myself to a standard that those around me don’t, one that renders me more vulnerable and my hurts more prolonged and expansive than they might be otherwise.
And I keep trying to do it anyway.
And I think maybe it is why I have survived as long as I have.
There is a powerful value in knowing we have the strength to stand by what we believe is right when it is tested, including by our own fuck ups and failures and self-flagellating over those. As admitted, no shortage of all that, here, for sure.
There is some healing to be had, over time, as pushing back against greater weight eventually refines your belief, your sense of self, into something stronger. Maybe eventually strong enough to lift the weight off and toss it away altogether.
And there is a degree of satisfaction in proving to yourself that what other people tell themselves isn’t possible or is too difficult, when they let themselves off the hook for behavior that is damaging to others, is entirely possible, and they are full of shit, because you make yourself the proof that another way is possible.
Maybe not so satisfying as having someone else prove it is possible to your benefit. Kind of a more spiteful version of Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Then again, Ghandi did some questionable things in his personal and public life, so who am I to assign motive to his words? Maybe there was some spite there, too.
Maybe what I can offer to you, if you are in the night that seems forever, is to suggest that you make something that matters within you, not dependent on anyone or anything else, your reason to keep on going. Something no one can take from you but yourself.
If you don’t feel your value enough in this moment to believe you can commit to it, find a picture of yourself when you are so young you can see your sweetness, your innocence, your potential, your inherent value as a human being. If you have no picture, just remember yourself at such an age, if you can, or look at some child in your life who you love, and remember you were once that small and vulnerable and full of life and promise, too. I’ve found this helpful in the past, and have since heard other people with better formal credentials than me advocate the same practice.
Promise that child you were that you will be the adult who takes care of them, who protects them, who sees to it that they get to have the sort of life with joy and love and respect that they deserve. Even if – especially if – you didn’t have that adult, as you deserved to, as we all deserve to, when you were a child. Look at that picture, remember that child, when you want to give up, so you remember why you can’t give up – because you are that child’s future life, and they deserve to live, and live a good life, and you can give it to them.
Fight for yourself like you would fight for that child, because you are that child’s future. And you both deserve to live to see better days.
I am over here, on my futon-of-last-resort, with my spite and my hope and my sadness and my seemingly endless fight to get to happy times and my seemingly empty reserves of energy to carry on, typing away into the digital void, rooting for you.
We all have so much more strength than most of us will ever know, because it is largely revealed when it is tested by adversity, and we make the monumental effort to lift the weights that are crushing us instead of lying broken beneath them. And the need to do the latter usually arises from the additional painful obstacle of there being no one around to help shift that weight off of us – and I think the weight of that sadness is what most often keeps us from trying, because we decide if there is no one within arm’s reach who values us enough to help us when we are in terrible pain, to help save our lives when we are on the brink of destruction, our lives have no value.
And that is bullshit.
You were once a sweet, perfect baby full of hope and potential, full of life, and your life’s value has not decreased because you have grown taller and lost a little skin elasticity. It isn’t dependent on whether anyone, including the people who made that life, treat your life as valuable as it is. The value of your life came into being along with you at birth.
You are still full of hope and potential, and if no one around you can see it, then all the more reason to get to work shoving those weights off of you, so you can leave those assholes behind, and find the people who will value you as you value them. And so you will know what it is to have your life valued by someone, because you will be demonstrating that your life matters to you.
Join me and spiteful Ghandi, and be the person who sees value where others might not, beginning with yourself, and then use your newly-swole emotional bod to help dig out other people being crushed the same as you.
You can even do it while you are still down on the ground. You don’t have to be in good circumstances to help someone else. People can lean on each other and weep together simultaneously, it really isn’t hard to do.
I am down in the dark with you, and I am still trying to be helpful to the extent I can to the few people left around me, and anyone else who is in the badlands, trying to find their way out.
And maybe getting out from under whatever shit has us feeling pinned to our pain will be difficult, but it is easier if we work with others we know and trust, and if we are alone, it still beats the hell out of getting squished and feeling like we deserve it, like we aren’t worth the fight if we can’t know for sure we will win.
I would rather get squished fighting to the last squoosh to get the hell out from under than lie here getting squished by my own failure to give a fuck about my fate.
Best chance I have, we all have, is not to give up.
Don’t give up.
Say “Fuck this squishing bullshit, I deserve better than this,” and heave.
I didn’t realize until now how long I did nothing with this blog.
There were times I published a new piece of art or a comic or wrote, or whatever shit, every day. And until this month, I hadn’t touched it since August of 2016.
December of that year I lost my closest human.
We called each other sisters, but she was my cousin. We were close in age and grew up in different apartments in the same house. We spent some of our childhood in the same grade, in the same school. We didn’t always get along by any means, and we weren’t always in each other’s every day lives, but we always showed up for each other when the big bads happened. As they did, to both of us, way too much, way too often. And as adults we were closer than ever. Although toward the end…yeah, that is a sadness for another time.
It wouldn’t have shocked me that I let this lie fallow after she died, but that I stopped before then…I don’t think I realized how bad things were in my life, how really bad, for how long, until I saw the date of my last post. More often than not, for me, bad times and a lot more time spent on creative output go hand in hand. And I wouldn’t feel times were that good while I was making nothing.
I don’t know if I am really ready to talk more about her right now. I would like to do that one day. I would like to do it well. She was an astonishingly strong and decent human who loved me more than anyone else ever did, who lived a life long in pain and short in years and grand in kindness, and if I could find the words to pay fitting tribute to her, I think it would mean something. To me, to her, to other people, if I could really convey who my first and best friend, who remains the heart of my heart, was.
Not as much as if, as I wished, I could have ripped out my still-beating heart and given it to her to save her life; if resurrection was a possibility, I would be clawing at my sternum instead of typing this. But if wishes were horses, I could probably make a fair bit of cash selling those horses, and I wouldn’t be quite so fucked.
Words are about all I have right now.
You know who she was? She was someone who, knowing, as she always did, that she was probably not going to get to die an old lady, told me in a Facebook comment, of all places, that she would always be here for me, even after she drew her last breath. I still have those words to look at.
That is fucking real love. She believed in an afterlife, and she promised to spend it at least in part watching out for me.
She was smarter and wiser than me in many ways, and I hope like hell she was about that. Not just because having the strongest soul in creation watching over you seems like a pretty good deal. Because I want her to be somewhere, wherever the hell she wants to be, and happy, and feeling for the first time what it is like to exist without sickness or pain.
If I could know that, I would be a-okay with her abandoning her guardian angel post to run as a gazelle or sit on a cloud with all the people she loved who died before her or haunt Leonardo DiCaprio, or whatever her heaven might be, even when my life feels like hell.
I have real love for her, too.
I don’t know yet what to do with the realization that my absence here predated her absence from my life, but I am making note of it, since it seems like a thing that in the longer run might be important to shifting my perspective and improving my own understanding of how I got there, and here…and mostly, because my sister would have wanted me to.
Goodnight, strong Kath, and flights of angels sing thee to wherever and whatever you want to be. Tell them if they give you any shit about it, when I get to where you are, I will fuck them up hard.
I love you, sister.
Feeling a nauseating mix of conflicted emotions, I found the right word to describe my physical state.
That is the right word.
Like my heart is barfing in my chest.
I had never considered the word in that sense before, but from where I sit, it fits.
And in the interval between paragraphs, while wondering whether there was any value in verbally vomiting the melange of emotions that currently feel like they are being retched out of my cardiovascular system (and by that, I mean procrastinating), I came across a random old meme I had saved to a cellphone, attributing the lines “We create our own unhappiness. The purpose of our suffering is to help us understand we are the ones who cause it,” to Willie Nelson, in his book The Tao of Willie.
Now I have some Willie-wisdom to ponder along with my heart-barf. Like wondering what, if anything, Mr. Nelson suggests we do about it. And wondering how I got memed into a state of heart-barf contemplation. I have a lot to ponder.
So far, my only firm conclusion has been “Golly, life is strange.”
My mind is blown.
…but I think my heart just stopped barfing.
Golly, life is strange.
In this moment, I feel lost in the in-between. The unfortunate spaces that happen in life where the foundations your life stands on slip away, one-by-one, or are suddenly ripped away all at once, and with no new underfoot supports replacing what was lost, the feeling that follows is floating in space.
Not magical, anti-gravity good times.
I am talking about the got-sucked-out-the-airlock variety of floating in space.
I can handle radical change pretty well, provided I feel like I have some patch of solid ground to stand on. But a prolonged sense of groundlessness with no certain end in sight is another kettle of space fish. And these space fish have been kettled quite a while now.
I would imagine I am not the only involuntary airlock-evacuee out here in the vacuum, wondering if the space we are floating through will really prove to be infinite, or if we will get some Arthur Dent-ish, Improbabilty-Drive-style reprieve, or if this might even be the end of us.
Which is what drives me to cast my words into the void, beyond being an attempt to ground myself, however briefly, in the predictability of a routine.
I am trying to write honestly about the space I would much prefer not to be in, to say to my fellows in the in-between: none of us are the only one out here, even if there is distance between us. And we can survive and find our way back to feeling gravity anchoring us firmly to the ground, because fortunately for all of us, being cast unwilling out into space is just a metaphor. We have oxygen and gravity and the warmth of the sun, even if our emotions tell us otherwise. We can survive.
Maybe we begin by choosing a less helpless metaphor for feeling adrift…like being at sea.
The sea is vast, but not endless. We can tread water, we can swim, we can allow ourselves to float if we are too exhausted to move just now.
I am doggie-paddling along with every word I write. I intend to feel my toes in the sand as soon as I can. I am certainly hoping a kindly whale will come along and let me hitch a ride, or I will find myself sped along by some as-yet-undiscovered current, but if that doesn’t happen, I will swim, and keep swimming until I reach land. I know it’s out there somewhere.
I hope you hear me splish-splashing my awkward way forward, so you know you are in water, not a vacuum, and that you can swim for it, too.
Is there something you want to say or do or change, but you have set some condition, maybe a condition you know is unlikely or impossible, that would have to be fulfilled before you act?
I don’t mean a necessary condition, like someone else’s consent for something that involves them, or an absence of gravity because your desire is to float around like you are in space. I mean something that maybe isn’t so much a condition of attempting or possibly accomplishing your goal, but something you pretty much made up because there is some degree of uncertainty that the result you want is the result you will get, or some degree of certainty (whether accurate or just rooted in your own self-doubt or self-loathing) that the result you want is impossible for you to get. Made-up conditions are lies we tell ourselves rather than owning some truths about ourselves that we don’t like – that we are afraid, that feeling in control is actually our primary motivation, not love or integrity or happiness or success or whatever the avoided action would serve.
Something like “I will only say how I feel if I already know for sure what response I will get in return and that it is the one I want.” Which, barring clairvoyance, or doing something really shitty like invading someone’s privacy, is not really possible (and invading someone’s privacy is the sort of wrong action that seems likely to be revealed at some point, which is pretty likely to turn whatever positive response you are hoping for into a negative one). Or something even more far-fetched, like “I would only try if things that I already did that affect this didn’t affect this.” Which means we have limited ourselves to finding a time machine or someone, maybe even ourselves, getting selective enough amnesia to forget only the very specific things we did that we fear rule out the outcome we want.
I think we all do this sometimes, usually where we want something that somehow ties in to mistakes or bad actions we have already done, and we don’t want anyone to know, or we want something, from those who do know, that is unlikely in light of their knowledge; or where we have bad feelings about ourselves, about our worthiness, about our abilities, about our chances of experiencing success, and fear that the vulnerability of acting will affirm those fears.
I don’t know that there is some universal answer for how to overcome such blocks. I do think that a good place to start is being honest with ourselves. To allow ourselves to ask and answer truthfully what motivates them, whether it is an unwillingness to own our own past mistakes, or not wanting to look too closely at ourselves and find some unflattering qualities, or whether maybe the thing we are avoiding is something we have identified with but in truth is just something we like to imagine, not something important enough to us to try to have it, or maybe the avoided thing is just a mask for something else we feel less comfortable with feeling or wanting.
Maybe the truth won’t motivate us to act – maybe the truth is even that we don’t want to act. But I think we get healthier when we don’t engage in the abusiveness of deception, especially within ourselves. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we are unlikely to be honest with anyone else, which sets us up for a lot of anxiety about keeping track of our lies and fearing revelation, and for a lot of loneliness, since no one will really know what we think or feel, and we will be aware of that, even if no one else is.
And getting honest with ourselves might move us closer to taking chances on things that really are important to us, and make our lives better, even if we don’t get exactly what we want. There is real satisfaction to be had in having the courage to act in spite of our fears, and in treating ourselves as worthy of taking chances and attempting difficult things. We might even get what we seek – and if not, we will still likely feel better about ourselves than when we were frozen in fear. Trying and failing (or trying and succeeding, for that matter) also tends to bring some new understanding – sometimes that negative things we believed about ourselves aren’t true, sometimes about how much or little an outcome really means to us, and those new understandings can move us to carry on or change directions.
It might not be something any of us like to think about a lot of the time (or maybe at all, depending on the person), but none of us lives forever. None of us even knows how long we get. However uncomfortable thinking about death might make us, that is an unavoidable truth; and we all deserve to live lives made up of more than fears and regrets. Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of, it is evidence that we have been courageous enough to try, knowing our outcomes aren’t guaranteed. It is an inextricable part of learning and of growing and improving.
We should all allow that we are worth the effort. I believe we would all be better off if we did. Allow ourselves to take a chance. Do it incrementally, if that feels less scary. Commit that we are going to try, and make one tiny step today. And commit to make another after, maybe one per day, maybe more, if we find our fear decreases when we begin to act instead of agonize. Better to make thirty little bits of progress, and in a month find yourself however far that has taken you, than to still be in the exact same place we were a month ago, feeling just as scared or powerless – or more scared and powerless. It would be nice if more good things just happened to us or happened all at once, but that they don’t is no reason to deny ourselves a chance at greater happiness.
Hell, maybe what we are holding back is the pleasant surprise someone else is waiting for, and by acting, we will be doing more than adding to our own happiness, we will be adding to someone else’s. For all of the people who are waiting to say something important or do something important, there are a fair number of people waiting to hear something important or experience something life-changing. Maybe our apology or confession or profession of love or gift or assistance or effort is exactly what someone is waiting for. Maybe in acting, we will both get what we want. And sure, maybe might be scarier than “definitely” – but it is a lot more likely that we definitely won’t get what we want by doing nothing.
Not the most earth-shattering final thought, but I need to wrap this up and get out to vote. For those of you who are over eighteen and living in the States, I also wish you the motivation to get out there and do the same. Your voice matters, just like your dreams matter enough to try to achieve them, just like you matter. I probably have never met you, so how can I be sure it is true?
Because it is true of everyone.