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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Life You Had Planned

Last week, when I crashed back down again, not only was I dealing with an episode of incredibly dysphoric depression, but on top of that I was really upset because I had been doing so well for about two weeks.  I felt so stable.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way in my entire adult life.  I didn’t even know that was possible or that’s what I’d been missing.  I didn’t know that feeling existed let alone that I could experience it.  I had a glimpse of stability heaven and it was suddenly taken away.

I was so incredibly disappointed not only in my treatment but in myself.  I couldn’t stop thinking, “What had I done that triggered this?  What did *I* do wrong?  Obviously, I was being punished and if I could *just get it right* all of the pain would stop,” or maybe if I was doing something different, something right, if I was living my “right life”.  In my head it was, “if I lived closer to my friends… if I wasn’t with Andy… if I lived in a place I liked… if I had a job that I liked… if I could go on a solo trip… if Abby wasn’t getting old,” maybe I could lead the life I have always wanted.  After all, I wanted friends, travel, adventure, animals, laughter, sangria, stories, writing, culture, food, dancing, long walks, confidence, strength, resilience, self-trust, love, independence, peace…

I explained all of this my dear friend J because she suffers from a couple of autoimmune diseases and we often talk about coping with a chronic and invisible illness, but one sentence she said really stuck with me:

"You're losing the person you thought you were, the person you've been your whole life.  I kind of think that's worth grieving over."

It is.  It truly is.

It’s so hard to let go of the person I thought I was and that I wanted to be.  I’m not saying that I’ll never have those things in my life, but I don’t have the control over getting them that I thought I did.  I am not the person I thought I was, or thought I would be.  It could be true that I will have an even better life than I could possibly imagine.  I’d like to think that maybe one day all of this will teach me how to savor the good moments.  Maybe this illness will teach me, will give my life greater depth than I would have had otherwise.  Or maybe it won’t.  I don’t know.


Joseph Campbell says, “You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”  It’s different than resignation and healthier than resistance.  I can’t begin to know where to start to build a new me and a new life, but I’m guessing it’s by grieving over the loss of my old life and old expectations. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Vertigo

Hopeless isn’t a strong enough word to describe the hole one sinks into during depression, whether unipolar or bipolar.  For mentally healthy people, “hopeless” has a more temporary feel to it, a situational circumstance that seems hopeless- it’s not the way they view the world, life, or themselves. 
I looked up “hopeless” in the thesaurus and found words that aren’t quite the same as hopeless but hopelessness does contain a part of each of them for someone who is suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, and various other forms of mental illness.  When we say “hopeless” what we mean is:

-Desperate
-Helpless
-Pointless
-Useless
-Incurable
-Impossible
-Lost
-Broken


I don’t think there are enough words in the English dictionary to capture hopeless in these mindsets.  We use phrases like, “depths of despair” and truly know what that means.  We swim these depths, the middle of a murky ocean where there is no sunlight, no bottom, no way to tell where we are in the world or who we are anymore.  We keep swimming but, as we’re hit by complete vertigo, we don’t know where to swim, which way is up.  All the while our oxygen is running out.  We’re trapped in ourselves and engulfed by nothingness.




Sound terrifying?  It is.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

How To Deal With A High School Kitty

I had a dream last night about a girl from high school, let’s call her Kitty.  She was one of those archetypal high school villains- pretty, loud, cruel, difficult, dictatorial, and somehow popular but you don’t know why.  Anyone in my class from high school will immediately recognize to whom I am referring.  I don’t believe that Kitty could have possibly had any true friends in high school, although she would jump around between a few acquaintances every now and again.  I understand that in high school we all aren’t yet very good at relationships, and for some that skill set never develops.  In high school we barely know ourselves, if at all, and we are at the early stages of practicing how to actually be relationships, friendship or otherwise.  I’d give her a break for that.  I gave her a break many times in high school, at least I tried to.  Maybe her low self-esteem led to cruelty.  Maybe her brash declarations were because she never felt heard at home.  Maybe she was just a borderline sociopathic, mean-spirited, manipulative, genuine bitch.  I’ll never know.

One day at school, Kitty pushed one particular girl too far, and this time a brave, heroic woman fought back.  She doled out fists in the face and took fistfuls of hair from Kitty.  In my memory, the applause echoed in the hallway and continued well after the girls were pushed down the hall toward the vice principal’s office.  I don’t generally support violence, yet how does one admonish foul behavior when she takes no notice in the boundaries people set with her over and over again?  How does one respond when you’re in a setting and are forced to be near and even work with people like this?  I didn’t know then so I never crossed her personally, I never fought back when she aimed her pointed spear of verbal brutality at me, but I kind of wish I had rather than absorb her action at personal cost of my self-esteem.
Returning to my dream last night, Kitty was executing a flamboyant rant in my direction, cruelly declaring all the reasons I should be shamed and excluded from society, as high school villains do to nearly everyone at some point.  In my dream I just hauled off and punched her in her pretty, delicate, perfect little jaw.  It felt damn good.

When I awoke this morning, I did feel a bit guilty.  Maybe it was my mother’s disappointed voice in my head, or that I genuinely don’t think punching someone in the face is a decent tactical way to “set a boundary”, or maybe it was the good old fashioned Catholic guilt that plagues me upon waking every morning.  All I know is that this morning I realized I can’t expect myself to constantly be able to show every human being empathy all of the time.  I’m not the Dalai Lama.  I didn’t have years of intense and consistent training since birth to guide my mind toward peace in every situation.  I was guided by a religion of dogma where one was expected to behave in certain ways and shamed for having normal human responses.  Instead of understanding our own minds and responding with self-compassion, we were led toward repression, passive aggression, and even full on aggression instead of peace.  But that, my friends, is a whole other post.


The point of this whole post, maybe the entire dream, is that I finally have my own permission to grant myself compassion in this arena: if I can’t figure someone out in a way that leads to empathy, that’s okay.  What’s more, if I keep struggling to find compassion for someone and instead lean toward repression, passive aggression, I’m doing much more damage to myself and those around me.  I need to be more aware of when this happens and return to a state of self-compassion first before deciding on a solid boundary setting plan or whether to walk away altogether.  I’m not always going to think or behave like a holy human being.  Good grief, talk about pressure!  Instead, this time anyway, I can refrain from feeling guilt when I think to myself, “Fuck that girl.”  I get to enjoy the relief that I’ll never have to deal with her again and I get to choose how I respond to anyone I come across that resembles her.  How will I respond?  I have no idea right now, but I intend to respond with self-compassion first and then I get to choose.  I GET TO CHOOSE.  And that feels damn good too.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

There Can Be No Lotus

I don’t even know where to begin.  I have so much to share, so many stories, perceptions, and interpretations I need to convey and they’re just pin-balling around in my brain so quickly I can’t hang on to one concept for long enough to compose anything worth reading.  I’m stuck in the mud.

And that right there is the problem.   I’m already judging it before it’s even formed into a remotely recognizable shape in my brain; the stories can’t form themselves because I already assume they’re not worthy of form in the first place.
We all know writing can be hard, but it’s the vulnerability that is extremely hard.  I’m friends with some extremely intelligent people.  Not only am I afraid of judgment from others about the contents of the writing, which is raw and exposing, but also about the actual quality of the writing itself. 

Nothing I’ve said so far is news to anyone who’s written anything or thought about writing something.  However, no one really talks much about the process of finding a way to do it anyway.  I’m not talking the generic sort of, “I was scared but I did it anyway” bullshit.  Yeah, I get that.  I do that all the time.  I share stories that let people momentarily peek into the horror of my mental illness.  I VOLUNTARILY share this, people.  Do you think it’s easy?  The self-criticism I experience is stifling (see first paragraph above).  Do you think I don’t feel terrified every time I click “post”?  Generic encouragement now makes my eyes roll.  What I’m interested in, what truly encourages me, are the stories and detailed descriptions of the self-doubt sludge that slides through you as you attempt to do anything important or anything that makes you vulnerable.  Rarely do I hear about these inner most judgmental voices from others, rarely do I get to discuss the exact form of terror they experience as they take a chance.  I want people to describe the sticky goo of fear and judgment that tries to squish them into the perceived safety of the status quo.  Sure, most people will admit to having self-doubt and judgment, but what does that look like for each individual?  You’ve heard the saying, “if it was easy, everyone would do it,” yet the things that make it so hard and so interesting are the things we don’t discuss.  I want to hear people’s own unique experiences when it comes to actually putting something out into the world.
I’m guessing that if you’re reading this now, you experience times when you’re frozen because your rain boots are stuck in the thick mud of self-judgment.  I want to hear that shit.  I want to pull myself up so I’m standing next to you, face and hands covered in that mud.  I want to laugh at ourselves and at the ridiculousness of our own judgments which we take so seriously.  I know people don’t like to feel vulnerable, but every time you are you’ll find a large group of people nearby thinking, “oh thank you.  I feel the same.  I thought I was the only one.”  Moreover, that’s the really good stuff!  That’s the stuff that makes you interesting, that gives others an incredible amount of insight into who you are, and also gives you the opportunity to feel less alone in the world.  Let’s encourage each other to be interesting, productive, creative, kind, people by sharing this stuff with each other; whether you share it teary-eyed over whiskey or through a self-deprecating humorous anecdote, just share your story.

As for my writing, maybe I need to accept that I’m stuck in the mud for now and remind myself that I always find my way out eventually.  Besides, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Tiny Paragraph of Hope

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I caught tiny glimpses of my Self, like rays of sunlight that break though the shadows of trees as you drive down the highway.  They started when I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror at work.  As I was fluffing my French-looking hair in the mirror, I imagined myself in the bathroom of a Parisian restaurant.  For just a tiny moment it was as if the veil of illness caught the wind and I felt my Self peak through.  I tried not to overthink it or make a big deal out of it in case I scared my Self away, but the glimpses kept happening throughout the day.  Tiny rays of light.

Don’t misunderstand the meaning of "rays of light"; they aren’t the same as happiness.  I have had moments, even hours, of happiness during this phase of illness but they aren’t the same as feeling like my Self.  Inversely, I am not always happy when I feel like my Self, but there is something about the consciousness that changes when the veil of illness lifts.  I can see clearly again.  For now, it comes in tiny glimpses but maybe, just maybe, it will grow into minutes, hours, days… 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pop! the cork

My mom has always been able to show love without any expectation of anything in return.  Not only has she always been generous with her time, energy, money, and hugs, but she used to pack my lunch and put notes and stickers in it, write me notes in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, give me little presents that she knew I'd like, drive me to dance classes, horseback riding, cheerleading, acting, gymnastics, softball, soccer, summer camp or whatever else I wanted to try.  She served me food only for me to complain about it.  She would wait with me for the school bus so I didn't have to wait alone and then she'd run back inside right before it came.  I pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night, more than once, to cry about how stupid boys were while she herself was fighting melanoma and my dad lay sick in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant.  Even though I’m certain she was exhausted, she hugged me and patiently let me cry into her chest as I’d done as a small child and for that moment I was a normal teenager and she was a normal mom and I forgot that death was always leering at my family, just around the next corner.

I could go on and on listing the generosities of my mom and perhaps I should, but the point of this post was supposed to be to say that I wish I were more like her.

I want to love like that.  I want to write notes, to give hugs, to unabashedly tell someone how absolutely gorgeous I truly think they are without any sort of expectation of those things in return.  I want to play, be silly, ceremonial, and dramatic without expectations of others to join in, unless of course they want to.

Then, of course, I feel that old choking sensation.  Just at the base of my throat below my voicebox, beyond that lump.  

Emotions get stuck.  I get stuck.  I gulp all of that down into my chest, where it presses against my ribcage for days and weeks and months.  And years.  

I wonder why my chest hurts, why my tummy hurts.

I used to write poetry.  Looking back on one part of one poem in particular I think it is perhaps about the release of this very thing I dream about being able to do.  Here is that poem.  I still think it is one of my favorites...



in my naval, golden and bubbling
Sweet champagne
that sparkles up to my throat where it rests, corked and quiet

Every kiss, a sip
Is it luscious on your lips?
Does it tingle on your tongue?

Pop! the cork
The world is thirsty

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anatomy of a Dream

I have dreams a lot, several a night that I actually remember.  Many of them are strange dreams, some of them are very psychedelic, beautiful, complex, and unclear in their message if there is a message or meaning at all.  Some dreams are really funny and make great anecdotes.  Some would make some really impressive novel or movie plots.  However, some of them are fraught with emotion, the kind that are demanding my attention to something with which I need to address in my subconscious.

Last night’s dream is even difficult for me to write out- it wants to stay stuck in my throat and keeps my chest tight and protected.  Therefore, it needs to come out, but I'll keep it short.

Let me start by explaining that I had been watching Grey’s Anatomy up until about two weeks ago when I realized that I was getting way to emotionally invested in these people that aren’t even real, and it was draining me.  After all, I could be using all of that wasted empathy on real people.  I was watching for so long because much of Grey’s feels very comforting to me.  I love hospitals, I spent a significant amount of time in them growing up and the medical drama of it all feels so familiar.  As comforting as it may seem at first, it is also not healthy for me.  So I stopped seeking comfort in the medical drama drug two weeks ago.  Hello, my name is Ashley and I'm addicted to medical drama.  Hi, Ashley.


The Dream
I dreamed that I was pregnant (gasp!), even though I had an IUD.  There was something very wrong that would kill me if I didn’t have surgery immediately.  However, I needed to decide if I wanted to keep the fetus or have it terminated during surgery.  I chose to terminate it. 

My parents were there in the hospital with me for little bit, and I remember that I kept asking my mom to call Andy to tell him what was happening.  She did, but she told me he was busy and couldn't come.  I tried to text him, but the nurses kept taking my phone away and giving my IVs.  This theme continued for what seemed like hours before the surgery.

I was absolutely terrified and alone- I had never had surgery of any kind before.  The doctors were very kind and one of them was particularly comforting and funny.  Just before he put me under, I remember thinking, “I’m sorry potential human, but this is the right thing to do.  I’m not your mom.”

When I woke from the surgery, I was both sad and relieved.  (*Note:  in real life, I’ve never had to make that choice, my heart goes out to all the women who have had or will have to make that choice.)  The very handsome doctor was there, and Andy never showed up, so when the handsome doctor told me he’d fallen in love with me (that happens all the time, right?) I naturally decided I was in love with him too, but I needed to “take it slow.” (Oh brain, even in the most serious of circumstances, you make me laugh.)  The next thing I know, the director yells, “CUT!”  And we wrapped up filming.  Apparently, this was all just acting.  The entire cast walked through the parking lot near the filming location to what appeared to be an amusement park, where we then celebrated finishing up with filming.  

“In real life,” the ladies on the cast told me, “the handsome doctor is an ass but he has a great British accent.”  I said, “I lived in Britain and I’m pretty much immune to the accent.  Also, I made out with him for two days filming and he’s a really good kisser.  So, he's cool in my book.”



I’m a bit with Jung in that I think dreams can point to a greater evolution of the relationship between the ego and the unconscious and attempt to create a better balance within the brain, but I don’t think dreams are always necessarily this.  Sometimes I think it’s just neurons firing.  However, there are dreams that are so obvious once I describe them out loud or in writing, I don’t need a psychoanalyst to get the meaning behind them.  This one was like that for me.


This dream has several levels to it that I want to go over and each theme has different levels of meaning behind them.  How do I know what they mean?  It’s an individual process and when you hit upon a meaning, you know because it resonates.



The Terminated Fetus:
The death of a dream.  Yesterday, I spent some time talking with an old friend about her health and how it’s causing her to cease to be able to do what she loves, something she has spent her entire life creating.  The life she’s created, as well as a future dream of what would have been, is being killed.  I’ve had similar experiences (for example, moving back from Wales) although not to the same intensity as she is experiencing.  It is a long, painful, confusing, and continuing grieving process.  My heart is with her and this is fresh on my mind.
The childfree choice.  At the same time, this is also about my choice not to have children (for which I have many reasons including simply… I don’t wanna.).  This is a stance in which I sadly need to constantly defend.  It has hit me, since turning 35, that it really is not going to happen for me.  I really haven’t “changed my mind” nor am I even creeping towards a life where a child would fit.  I’m almost actually relieved that I might just “get away” without having one, as though I actually hadn't let myself recognize how powerful it is to really have a choice.
Tying these together.  What I have been recognizing is how powerful my body is, how powerful I am, and how much potential my life has.  We do not have to use absolutely all of our potential and turn it into reality - good Dog that sounds exhausting anyway!  I personally need to give myself permission to have the right to exist knowing that I will never, nor can anyone ever, live out his/her/their full potential in this one lifetime as an individual.  So I hereby say to myself, "Dear one, stop feeling bad, guilty, defensive, and ashamed about the things you'll never do."  If I need to grieve for it because it's something I've carried with me for so long, by all means, I'll grieve my little heart out, but I'm giving myself permission to NOT "have it all" - whatever the fuck that even means.


Andy Didn’t Show Up:
Fear of abandonment.  Seriously just my standard, cliche, "oh it's you again" fear of abandonment - alive and kicking since 1981.


The Handsome Doctor:
The hero.  Again, I think this has to do with unused, forgotten potential.  If I’m sticking with Jung, the handsome doctor is really an aspect of myself- a recognition of my own hero/savior/healer inside of me. 
A bit of grieving.  It is also potential love that will never be fully realized.  By choosing Andy as a partner, I am actively NOT choosing all the other potential loves that could be in my future.

Or it could be that sometimes a handsome doctor is just a handsome doctor.


The Film
An illusion.  Maybe I think all of life is just an illusion anyway?  Maybe we’re all just sort of souls wearing meat sacks?  I don’t know, but there are many times in my life, whether right or wrong, I feel like a performer. 



Dissecting the really vivid dreams can be extremely helpful for me.  Sometimes, I cannot figure them out either because I’m not really ready to see the meaning, or they just plain don’t have one.  Other times, like in this dream, I feel like I know myself on a deeper level. I get in touch with some inner wisdom that I need to hear or it reveals deeper wants, needs, healing or balance that I having been paying attention to.  The moment where I recognized that "I can't do everything in this one life and that's okay" was, and is still, extremely liberating.  I didn't even know that this was bobbing around in my subconscious, subtly contributing to feelings of guilt every single day.  Whew, glad that's been brought into the light!

And sometimes, my dreams just pure creative, entertaining energy.
I mean, really, the only handsome doctor I want to make out with in real life is Dr. Andy, PhD.  :)


Do you dissect your dreams?  Do you find any clarity or meaning in them?  


Snail Steps

Snail Steps