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, when I swore I could not go on without a reason, and could not conjure a reason, gone on 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 wanted to be and living the life I wanted 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 midst of your own 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 data collection 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 maybe-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. It can be as easy as freely mixing metaphors.
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.
Do I have anything at all worth saying to write this morning? I did just take a few seconds pause before I bothered typing out the question that was in my mind to watch a yellow leaf fluttering on a breeze outside the window until it dropped out of sight. So maybe no. Or maybe procrastination is just a sign that I do not want to expose the thoughts that are currently occupying my mind and filling my body with a feeling that, if I have to name it, I would describe as a mingling of dread and sadness.
If you are just a stranger reading these introspective rambles, it probably seems unlikely, but my ruling tone in communication is humor, which is an excellent way to keep people wanting to be around you and deflect attention from any raw emotions or darker topics, whether you simply don’t want to share those things, or you don’t want to drive people away. Not many people want to hang out for the bad shit, and of those who do, in my experience, some have really messed up motivations for doing so. Some predatory, some parasitic. Some, not all. There are a few incredibly decent human beings out there who just genuinely care about other people, who know how to hold space and allow pain to be expressed, and don’t treat other people’s suffering as a threat to their own happiness or good fortune, or as an opportunity to do harm to or feel a sense of power over a person in a vulnerable state, or as a source of entertaining “drama.”
I don’t feel particularly share-y, and being honest about what is painful or undesirable is a weird territory.
Some people long to have the ugly parts of life discussed, and if they are not among the weirdos mentioned above with messed up motivations, it tends to come from the entirely normal human impulse of the social animal we are, to want to see our experiences and emotions reflected in another person. Being alone with pain is antithetical to healthy human function.
Some people don’t want any mention of unfortunate topics, whether because they are in denial about their own pain and the mention strikes a nerve, or because they are among the lucky few whose lives are filled with good fortune who don’t like hearing things that might harsh their good feelings, or some other reason or excuse. Some people go absolutely apeshit when anyone mentions a misfortune online, resorting to played-out jibes about “looking for attention,” which is exceptionally irrational to comment on social media. The act of participating is seeking attention, unless you have a totally private account only you can access and you never post anything visible by anyone else. It is an attention-seeking medium. And the attention of others of our species is necessary to our survival and our happiness, not something pathological.
(Negative attention seeking, on the other hand, like abusing strangers for having the courage to speak honestly and allow themselves to be vulnerable…kind of pathological. The kind of pathology that presumably comes from the misfortune of having been falsely taught that your normal, healthy feelings, and the need to have those feelings acknowledged, and commiserated with, are wrong and bad, or unimportant. If you get ignored or berated for healthy emotional expression, and you can vent those feelings or get someone to notice you, even if it isn’t positive, well…attention is a human need. Being alone is a survival threat, being ignored can make us feel scared or crazy or nonexistent.
What is this ramble within a ramble about? If you got taught or learned or experienced fucked-up things that created self-loathing or insecurity about having feelings and wanting to be cared about, or resulted in a way of behaving that is never going to get you the things you really want: I am sorry that happened to you; that does not negate or excuse the harm you do to other people; and you can change. It might not feel easy, it might take time and effort, but you can change. And it is worth it, because every person deserves to live a life with some peace and happiness in it.
Even if you don’t get exactly what you want in every way, if you learn to love yourself, you will still have one thing virtually every person wants: you will be loved. And in the most important way, because if you don’t love yourself, then even if someone else loves you, really loves you, and shows it, and treats you like it…you still will never believe it, because self-loathing and a belief the self is inherently unlovable are two sides of the same fucked-up coin.
Was this a super long aside that further degrades the coherence of this ramble? Maybe. But fuck it, I don’t care, because I think that was a ramble worth rambling. People who are in pain who express that pain destructively are among the people least likely to ever get empathy or the human compassion and positive attention human beings need. I am not advocating taking abuse, but I am all for never denying a person’s humanity. And for acknowledging that any person who learned negative behavior and self-hatred can learn positive behavior and self-love. We are people, and we are malleable. Our personalities and behaviors are not set in stone.)
I am not even going to pretend this is a fully coherent piece of writing. It feels somewhere between stream-of-consciousness and emotional evasion to me. Which is a fair enough summary, I suppose. I am trying to make a point of doing this every day if I have the time, because sometimes making up structure and building a new habit has good results; if nothing else, it will improve my skills over time, and if I look back over it, show me where I am still falling short of what I think makes for good writing. Which brings me back to the ramble-at-hand – one of those things is the willingness to just put it all out there, unreservedly, to create something without holding back. Writing in your own voice while biting your tongue, so to speak, kind of makes for a garbled mess.
If I were an optimistic type, looking for the silver lining, I could consider that being at odds with yourself, and feeling a tension in wanting to do something and wanting to hold back, is in itself relatable enough. But being not so much of that worldview, I mostly wonder, if I randomly read something in this vein, if I would just feel like my time was being wasted while nothing was being said. Being in the space of tension of opposites, I don’t feel I have a good perspective on this, one way or the other. I am typing words, so I am technically meeting that part of my goal, but I would be an utterly disingenuous asshole if I pretended I don’t want to write something that is enjoyable or useful to other people. Frankly, if I was in that don’t-give-a-fuck zone, this might not be enjoyable or useful to anyone else, but it also probably wouldn’t be so stilted in the writing and quite possibly stilted in the reading.
(But I totally stand by my long parenthetical aside, coherence be damned.)