Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and me

January 9, 2017

I was on holiday in California when I got the news that Carrie Fisher had gone shining. I didn’t want to ruin my holiday groove so I buried my feelings until I got home.

I was 10 years old when Star Wars came out. Princess Leia just exploded off the screen. I’d never seen a strong woman onscreen before. Films during the ’60s and ’70s showed women as victims or men’s appendages if they showed up at all. I couldn’t identify with any of them. But when I saw Princess Leia, I saw courage and grit and power and sarcasm and resourcefulness and a clear, principled will. Here was something I could identify with! She had a huge impact on me. And Carrie Fisher was spot on, save for the occasional English accent wandering in (in books, they say she was mocking Tarkin, but I feel like that’s trying to cover up a bad directorial decision).

I have seen A New Hope probably 50 times and she is still a revelation to me. And when she reappeared in episode 7, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. In the expanded Star Wars universe, Leia is one of the only Jedi who is never even tempted by the Dark Side. She has a clear moral compass and is willing to do whatever it takes to bring peace and justice to the galaxy. She’s smart, she’s sassy, and she’s no one’s fool.

So that’s a little about Princess Leia. Many years later Carrie Fisher did a one-woman show that was translated into a book I read: Wishful Drinking. In it, she talks frankly—really frankly—about mental illness and her experiences with treatment. While she first entered my life playing a fictional heroine, now she was a heroine in the waking world. Instead of speaking in hushed tones about her challenges, she is sarcastic and funny and informative. She helped me see that I didn’t have to be ashamed of my own mental illnesses, and she gave me courage. And a new hope.

As I write this I realize how paltry the words are in comparison to the vastness of my thoughts and emotions. She burned brightly, fiercely, and I owe a part of my self to her. Thank you, Princess. Thank you, Carrie. Go shining.


Sex and sometimes love

December 4, 2016

I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I don’t miss it.

Gods above alone know how I could have survived so much sexual abuse, assault, and harassment and yet ended up with a sex-positive view. I love sex. I love intimacy. I was fortunate to have, on the whole, good lovers. But then, something went Terribly Awry. This story is not an invitation for you to invite me to have sex with you. Please pay attention.

My last lover was impatient and our relationship was completely fucked up. I knew we shouldn’t be together after our first night but he wore me down with arguments until he finally found my Achilles’ Heel: “Think how old you are now. How many more chances are you going to get?” Good basis for a relationship, eh?

The last time we slept together he might as well have been masturbating for all the difference it made that I was there. I knew he didn’t like my more creative style so I swallowed my disappointment and just endured. Gods. Wretched. It’s hard to know if I was just responding to patriarchal conditioning and submitting to my man or if I genuinely felt the poor guy should get a break. But it sucked for me. And he broke up with me shortly thereafter.

I spiraled into a depression. No surprise there. But the fucked-up-edness of our relationship didn’t stop when he broke up with me. He still rang me three or four times a day. I went to his condo several times a week to take his dog for long walks and cry into his ruff. And I’ll admit, once I suspected my ex was seeing someone new, I went through his drawers until I found the condoms I’d bought for him when we were together and took them all away. Childish, but devilishly satisfying. Why should I pay for his sex?

Did I mention things were fucked up? I would drag myself to my computer in the mornings to check for work email, sobbing, then crawl back to my bed and watch Lord of the Rings on my laptop, sobbing. As 11am approached my anxiety would shoot through the roof and my heart would pound and my chest contract and my hands sweat and my mind run as I desperately tried to think of how I could entertain him. And sure enough, at 11 on the dot he would ring and say lackadaisically, “So what’s going on?” Then I would try to delight him with trivia or gossip and play the sexy fetch. I was terrified he’d find me boring. I performed. Terrified. Until the phone call ended and I would collapse back on my bed sobbing. This would be repeated at 4 and 6 and sometimes 9. Every day. And if he was road-tripping, he would ring me at the start and expect me to talk him all the way home from Fort Wayne. So I did.

At the same time I was executing A Plan I’d devised in the week after we broke up. I am excellent with plans. I am a Capricorn. I live for plans. And this fabulous plan was that I’d take 3 months to get my head together, 3 months to build a wider circle of friends, and then I would try blind dating. At this point I could tell a hilarious story about the only blind date I’ve ever been on, but let’s stay focused on how screwed up I was. Surely if I got a new therapist I could be well in 3 months, right? And another 3 months is plenty of time to make friends in! And no, I don’t “date” in the traditional sense, I only have relationships, but just because it’s a really bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t build character! C’mon! Execute plan!

So I found a new therapist but my behavior didn’t change. My depression got worse. My anxiety got worse. Every time I expressed concern that I didn’t seem to be getting better she’d have some Buddhist maxim for me. I’m not a Buddhist. How were these things relevant? They weren’t. But I couldn’t see that. I thought that if I just tried harder, I would understand more, that I would feel better.

The first 3 months flew by. Then I hit Match.com to meet prospective friends. I didn’t put a picture up because I’m instantly recognizable and I didn’t want that vulnerability. So even though I said in my profile I was ONLY looking for friends, almost all the men who contacted me badgered me for a photo and when can we meet when when how’s now what’s your problem why not NOW? Tedious men.

I met up with about seven people ultimately from different walks of life, some male and some female. I seemed to hit it off with several but I was being very calculating in how I presented myself. I still spent most of my time sobbing but when I connected with these people I was oh so diverting. Funny, smart, sarcastic, deep, shallow, whatever the occasion demanded. But I wasn’t real. And I think they saw through that. So one by one I lost them.

As the months went by I became increasingly mentally ill. This is still with 3-4 phone calls a day from the ex, by the way. I was screaming a lot. Throwing things, hitting things. Not cutting, surprisingly. But seriously ill. I told my therapist I no longer felt like I had a self and she told me how great it was, that I was having a Buddhist enlightenment experience. Looking back, I know I was going insane. But in the moment all I wanted to do was try harder to be what she wanted.

Lots of things happened. Bad things. I fell.

There was a morning where somehow I ended up on the floor in a fetal position, babbling away, perhaps in gibberish. I say this now because I lived through it. At the time there was only unconsciousness. At some point a pinprick of light appeared along with the words, “This is not rational” across my black internal mindscape. It went away immediately. An indeterminate amount of time passed, me babbling away in total mental darkness, and the light and words came again. This happened repeatedly until the light held on long enough for me to realize where I was and what was going on. And that light was right, this was definitely not rational.

I lost my mind. Not in a metaphorical way. Not in an exaggerated way. I went insane. All conception of “I,” of “me,” of “Cairril” was lost. It was not an abyss. If there’s an abyss, there’s a you to observe the abyss. There was no me. There was nothing. And that’s not all that was happening. It was, however, the worst.

I fear only two things in life: rape and insanity. And while technically I’ve never been raped I had now gone insane. I can’t explain the terror. The vulnerability. The realization that at any moment you can lose all that makes you you. You think you can control it. You’re reading these words, you’re perhaps thinking, “Well, if that happened to me, I’d [fill in the blank].” I tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is so far beyond most people’s experience that they can’t comprehend what it even means.

My great-aunt Mary was made a ward of the state and put into an insane asylum in the early 1920s after a fever caused brain damage. I never knew she existed until one day when I was about 15 my parents said, “We’re going to see Aunt Mary.” I’m like, “Who’s Aunt Mary?” They just said she was in a nursing home and would probably be speaking in German. When we got there I saw a little old lady hunched over in a chair babbling in some kind of language, but it sure as hell wasn’t English. We left. And we didn’t talk about it. She died about a year later and we went to her funeral. And we didn’t talk about it. It was like it never happened.

Aunt Mary’s father, my great-grandfather, went insane on his 60th birthday the year after Mary was put away. The family tried to care for him but soon he, too, became a ward of the state. Mary spent 60 years in asylums. Great-grandpa Ruth spent his last 13 years in the Longcliff Asylum for the Insane in Logansport. And no one talked about him. My mom, his granddaughter, didn’t know anything about this until her sister told me in the 1990s. He’d been disappeared.

And as if that wasn’t enough tragedy for that family, Mary’s brother, my great-uncle Leo, loved a girl in Wisconsin. He proposed. She turned him down. So he drove his 1938 Mercury coupe down a back rode and shot himself in the heart. It was front-page news in Wisconsin and in Indiana. The family tried to deny the story because of the shame involved but all the evidence pointed to suicide. So he got disappeared, too.

I learned this stuff from my Aunt Dolores, who didn’t speak in hushed tones behind her hand. She just talked about it the same way she talked about playing Canasta. She wasn’t afraid of it. But my parents were. My mother had been told by her mother, “Don’t ever tell anyone about Aunt Mary or you’ll never get married.” That was totally a product of society, not a character flaw of my grandma’s. It was a terrible scandal to have mental illness in the family. We live with that prejudice still.

That morning on the floor made me realize that no, this was not a Buddhist enlightenment experience, this was insanity. And something must be done. Insurance was actually helpful for once and they got me into a couple places to be evaluated. At Bloomington Hospital the bored doctor asked, “Do you want to stay?” I said, “Should I? You’re the doctor!” He just said, “Well, if you’re a danger to yourself or others…. No? All right, sign here.” When I pulled my car out of my parking spot and headed down the garage ramp I pressed the gas to the floor, my eyes glued to the concrete wall in front of me. At the last minute I remembered that I was going to be evaluated by a different hospital, so I slammed on the brakes.

At Meadows Hospital they didn’t want me to leave at the end of the evaluation. They were practically strapping me to a stretcher (not really, but that’s what I was afraid of). By this point I had stepped outside my brain and Great-grandpa Ruth had walked in and was doing the talking to them. I was having his flashbacks. At one point someone stepped in and, without a word, snapped my picture. I started screaming. I have the photo Longcliff took of August Ruth when he was admitted. And he looks like a crazy man. So here I was in an asylum having my own experience of being photographed and simultaneously having his experience of being photographed.

I was psychotic. Also suicidal, but that was so common with me it seemed normal. But my brain no longer functioned the way it was supposed to. I remember when the nurse was going through my stuff to pull out anything potentially harmful. I’d ask him, “Why are you taking that out?” and he’d tell me why. Before the first word was out of his mouth I’d forget it so I’d repeat the question. Over and over. I just couldn’t hold onto the English language anymore. Bless him, he was perfectly patient. But it was terrifying to be unable to communicate. It was terrifying to keep slipping out and having Great-grandpa slip in. It was terrifying to think they’d drug me up or give me electroshock treatments or, Gods above, wall me away so my family could pretend like I didn’t exist. I was terrified of being disappeared. I still am.

This is a long story. A lot happened. The happy-happy-joy-joy part is I got diagnosed and was put on meds that actually stabilized me. I continued to have psychotic episodes for three years after Meadows but slowly clawed my way back to sanity with the help of good doctors and therapists. But let me tell you, the whole experience put me off the idea of having relationships.

Remember sex? Where we started? This is my point: in my mind, being in an intimate relationship and having sex became connected with psychosis in my mind. To even start a friendship is to risk madness. And in the maelstrom before I went into Meadows, on some deep level of my self I swore I would never go through that again. I’d kill myself first. So to go on a date or even to start a friendship means I’m taking both my sanity and my life into my hands.

Is it any wonder I don’t miss it?

 

At the same time:

I believe in intimacy. I believe in sex. I believe that such things can make you a better person. They can make you stretch, make you grow. They are fun. Like when your lover puts their cold feet on your warm ones and laughs hysterically as you shriek and pound on their chest.

How wonderful is it to be held when you feel happy? When you feel grief? When you feel lonely? I don’t get held anymore. I get hello and goodbye hugs sometimes, and with my sister there’s the communication of “I love you so much I don’t want to let you go” but for the most part my life has become a touch-free zone. It’s hard for me to believe that most of my life was spent as a puppy cuddling up with other puppies. I love touch. But now it’s dangerous.

No one tickles the inside of my elbow anymore to make the side of my tongue itch (it’s true!). No one pets my back. No one breaths my name in my ear.

I was raised a good Catholic girl and was not going to have sex until I got married. After I stopped believing in God I still wanted to wait to have sex until I was in love. But time passed. And passed. And passed. And while I was having relationships, I was not having love. So I got tired of waiting. My first sexual experience was with my best male friend. I highly recommend it. No pressure. Total comfort. Easy conversation. Tenderness and compassion and laughter. A different way of saying, “I love you.” It was a wonderful introduction.

I have been very fortunate to have had lovers who were on the whole kind, passionate, sensitive, respectful, and fun. People with the breadth of styles so at times you just throw the other against the wall and at other times you take all night. (Ah, the joys of sex with young men—stamina!)

And with my almost-husband, I was able to explore the power and magic of spiritual sexuality. Some of the most profound experiences of my life happened while making love with him. Our bed was sacred space. I didn’t have to invoke the Goddess, I was the Goddess. I was pure love taken form. So was he. And we gave and took equally, generating a golden helix between our hearts. Pulsing with the deep, deep love that fuels the universe. Love that infused every atom of our beings and bound us more deeply than any external cord. Our bodies were love. Our spirits were love. And there was no separation anywhere.

I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I miss it.


Eeyore and depression

February 10, 2016

This is one of my favorite memes about depression. It really speaks to how to respond to someone with the disorder.

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Ho-hum

February 22, 2015

Moderate depression is irritating. I’m on day 3 of a jag. Friday I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t totally incapacitated and screaming and moaning and writhing like I get when I’m severely depressed, but it still took me two hours to get up. Then I kept dissociating all day. Ran some errands and I didn’t even know where I was. Watched six hours of movies. Saturday watched the snow come down. Today woke three hours early and every minute I’m just on the verge of tears but I don’t cry. I don’t know what the point of my life is but I can’t be bothered to think about suicide. I bake some Toll House brownies even though I already have some just so I can binge on the dough. I play with the kitty and dissociate and come back and dissociate again. I’m tired but jittery. Depressed but anxious. And irritated as hell.

Light depression is just a touch of the blues, almost wistful. Severe depression is absolutely crippling. But this moderate crap is being right on the knife’s edge and just standing there, wavering. Stuck.

I’ve been listening to my “moody musik” playlist (right now it’s Barber’s Adagio for Strings), which keeps me going but mellowly. Books on depression tell you to listen to happy music when you’re depressed but that just makes me want to throw things. I remember a music theory class where the instructor told how he was once playing piano for a group of developmentally disabled people. They got increasingly agitated so he switched gears completely and played something which he thought would soothe them. Instead, they went completely berserk. That was when he realized mood regulation needed to happen gradually.

Since The Bad Thing happened in 2000 I don’t really cry anymore. Even when I’m severely depressed, I cry for 10 minutes and then I scream for a while and then I cry for 10 minutes—it’s never 20 minutes at a time. When The Bad Thing happened I completely dissociated. I never cried about what happened. And since I have PTSD from it, I am stuck in that time and so keep repeating that loop of reaction. I can’t move on. So I get these urges to cry but then I just go away.

I had a hard time understanding PTSD when mytherapistlynn first diagnosed me with it. I always associated it with ‘Nam veterans and it was even a joke among my friends. I could understand how someone who’d been under fire would be triggered by police sirens and relive wartime experiences in a flashback, but I didn’t see how flashbacks applied to my life. Mytherapistlynn says I live most of my life in a flashback. I started dissociating as an infant and I keep reverting to that.

My mom once told my sister that her way of dealing with our crying jags as babies was to leave us in our cribs until we were all “cried out.” So apparently I learned early that my needs didn’t matter. Mytherapistlynn says there’s research to show that infants do this—it results in “failure to thrive.” I don’t know how it’s measured (how do you measure the psychological state of a pre-verbal being?), but I know that I have always struggled with even identifying my emotional needs, much less asking others to meet them.

Though I do recall one experience that stands out. It’s the experience that doomed my relationship with my fiancé. He and my friend Brad and I (for some reason I will never understand—I’m terrified of heights) decided to cross this big ravine via an abandoned railroad bridge. As we moved out towards the center of the track, the spaces between the ties got wider and wider and the ties themselves were more rickety. I became totally paralyzed with terror, setting down on the rail and clutching on for dear life. My fiancé and Brad were already across the bridge before they noticed I wasn’t with them. And my man, my beautiful man, came back out on the bridge to help me. He was so gentle and reassuring and patient. He just talked me through it, in no hurry, totally taking it at my pace, getting me to inch forward. It took years to get me across that bridge but he never showed impatience, only love. I had never experienced anything like that before. And once tasted, I wanted more.

Throughout most of our relationship, I was in therapy (of course, when am I not in therapy??), and there were times where he would come in and my therapist would help him see what he could do for me. But what I never asked was what I could do for him. I had that taste of having a survival need met and it triggered an over-powering, infantile NEED to be loved in that way again. Completely. Thoroughly. Safely. Kindly.

On the night of 09 December 1996 he told me he couldn’t take it anymore. He needed me to get my own life. That’s a whole long story which I don’t need to go into now. Suffice it to say, I did what he asked. Not because he wanted it—because I wanted it. And it made a dramatic difference in our relationship. But when push came to shove he left—for other reasons. Devastating. But that’s not the story I’m telling today. I’m thinking about needs and how they get filled or not.

My guidebook to that relationship and one other was Harville Hendricks’ Getting the Love You Want. His theory was that we are attracted to people who can fulfill our childhood needs but who unconsciously don’t. The goal of the book is to bring us to consciousness so that, in the context of marriage, we fulfill our own needs and the needs of our spouse. I focused on the bits where I listed what I needed and what my fiancé was supposed to do. I wanted that experience on the train tracks over and over. It wasn’t until after he told me he needed a change that I started implementing Hendricks’ other suggestions. It totally transformed our relationship. I really recommend the book to people in long-term committed relationships. Pretty amazing results.

Mytherapistlynn has told me about “attachment parenting” (just glancing at the page this links to makes me tear up) which sounds like some bizarre, Martian, impossible method of parenting where you actually pay attention to your child. You try to meet your child’s needs. So if your infant is crying, you soothe the child. By your soothing the child, the child learns to self-soothe.

This is just beyond my comprehension. One of the many reasons I can’t have kids is I would be like, “Crying? Get a job!” I don’t think I’d be able to transcend my training.

My sister somehow did it. Her kids are 18 and 20 now and they talk about just about everything. They have their rough patches, but they trust each other. When I was 18 and 20, I wasn’t on speaking terms with my parents. I don’t think I really let them back into my life until I was 30, after my Saturn Returns. I like to think that, in the context of a loving and supportive relationship with a spouse, I could find a touch of my sister’s patience and understanding and Libraness to break the stranglehood of my Capricorn sun sign and five-planets-in-Virgo-holy-hell-Batman. But that’s all academic. No babies for me.

Ho-hum.

Now I have it—it’s a Kurt Vonnegut kind of day. “And so it goes.” No high highs, no low lows, just this gentle feeling of there being no point to life but, to your bewilderment, you find yourself alive anyway.

Let’s end with music, shall we? Here are some excerpts from my moody musik playlist.

Radiohead: Talk Show Host

Cat Power: Cross Bones Style

Aqualung: Cold

Nouvelle Vague: In a Manner of Speaking

Madonna: Paradise (Not for Me)

Portishead: Wandering Star

Have a day.


To cut

December 21, 2014

Cutting. Self-injury. Self-harm. Cool, precise, surgical terms. Back in the day I called it what it was to me: Self-mutilation.

I was 15 the first time I took nails to flesh. I had fought my last boy earlier that year and without the ability to express my violence outwardly my head was shriekingshriekingSHRIEKING and there was no-thought no-thought no-thought just dig.

Hm.

Dig again.

Deeper.

Flesh gummy beneath my nail.

Unlike the movies, blood doesn’t come pouring out. It seeps up. To quote myself, I was “digging irrigation ditches.” And there’s not much blood. Not this way. There’s just the digging, the gouging, and the blissful, blissful  s i l e n c e .

To quote myself again, “It would be years before I would see the parallels with drug addiction.”

Someone I love, someone in my heart, cuts on a regular basis. She started when she was twelve. She’s now eighteen. Her therapist tries to get her to exercise instead. Please. If you’re ready to cut, you’re lucky if you have anything in you besides an overwhelming need to do it do it do it. It’s all-consuming. This therapist focuses on the cutting and ignores the fact that my dear one doesn’t know how to feel her feelings. She feels deeply, keenly, and her only way of expressing herself is to carve love notes in her wrists and ankles.

I tell her that if she cuts safely, shallowly, in areas with lots of fat instead of nerves and tendons, she can focus instead on just trying to change one variable in the equation. She doesn’t have to pick up a pencil and draw a picture. She can just try to blink. One. Two. Then go back to cutting. Then blink. One. Two. Just try to interrupt the pattern. She hasn’t been able to change anything yet.

MytherapistLynn says all wounds can be healed but I don’t know. When there has been so much violence, so much pain, so much violation, how do you get to the other side? I can’t see it. We constantly make breakthroughs in therapy but I am moving in slow motion while time slides quicksilver by.

I started beating up boys after my best friend’s father, Ron Hampsten, started sexually abusing me when I was about eight. Or nine. Or ten. We don’t know because I didn’t tell anyone. And no one noticed. There just came a point after a few years where I was banned from the school football games because I was having too many fights under the bleachers.

I never fought girls. Boys were my enemy. Boys and men. Boys and men with the power to do all the things I couldn’t. Boys and men who would put their hands on girls and women unless I stood in their way. I beat them bloody.

There was a group of girls in grade school who decided they were going to get me, I don’t recall why. They were older girls and for two years they would pursue me on the playground. They never caught me. I remember clearly the day the group of them almost surrounded me but I ran to the juncture of two walls so if they wanted to get at me they’d only be able to come head-on. And no one could get me that way. They were tough girls, hard and wiry, who would let the boys stick their hands up their shirts when they played “nigger pile.” I was afraid of them. I was contemptuous of them. I wanted to be them. Powerful. Except I wanted to avenge all my sisters by beating back the hands of all the men and boys who had ever crossed the line. Who even thought about crossing the line. After all, it was our line.

I recall an odd instance in eighth grade art class where I challenged the boys to try to beat me at keeping our hands under hot water. One after another they tried putting a hand under the tap across from me while I let the hot water burn my hand red continuously, huge grin on my face. My skin could’ve come off in rags and I’d still be grinning. Because I could take it. I could take the pain. They couldn’t. I wonder sometimes if my lack of manual sensitivity dates to that time, if I did some sort of permanent damage, or if I was able to sustain the activity because my nerves aren’t as sensitive in my hands. I’m useless at all manual skill. My sewing is a joke. I have a slight perpetual tremor in both my hands. When I’m jittery, the rest of my body stays perfectly calm but my hands and arms spasm outward like some manual Tourette’s.

I started with digging. Gouging. It worked, so I did some more. I dug into the sides of my wrists, along the line of the bone, on both hands. A small, tentative start. A longer line next to it. And then one long canal on my left side, sure now. The voices gone. The self expanding into the void. The power of silence.

I remember my freshman year in college I was in a freakout in my dorm room and I smashed a light bulb against the door, sending glass everywhere. I dove onto it, snatched a shard, and dug it into my skin. And nothing happened. I keep pressing harder but it didn’t break the skin. Now it makes me laugh—all those movies where a broken bottle means blood everywhere, but here I couldn’t get shards of glass to even cut the skin. I smashed a plastic jewelry box that was the gift of my mentor and settled down with that instead. By that time I had long graduated from the sides of my wrists to the delicate interior at the base of the palm, plus arms, legs, face, ankles. I just wanted to cut and cut and cut. Mutilate. Let. It. OUT.

At Drake’s workshop this summer, he talked about the epidemic of self-harm among teens and how it’s perhaps indicative of a shamanic awakening. Ritual scarification.

I held my arm in candle flames. Just let the stink of the hair and the flesh fill my nostrils as I blissed out.

But the best part was the days after. In the moment there was just numbness. There was hardly any pain at all. But in the days after, oh, the pain. The fire. It was glorious. It was baptism. In the midst of all the grey madness, it was the one indication that I was truly alive. It was a clarion call of reality amidst the shadows that crowded my mind. I could doubt all else, but I could not doubt the burning. That gorgeous burning.

I remember being in a clothing store with my mom and sister when I was in high school. I reached out for something on a rack and as I did so, my sleeve rode up, exposing long jagged scabs on my wrist. My mother grabbed my arm and stared up at me with this overwhelming lost little girl look. And I stared down her eyes victorious. It was such a high. I had superpowers. Powers she didn’t have. I bore the stigmata.

My tool of choice at teenage parties was a bottle opener. Made for very dramatic gashes, and even more dramatic scenes as half-drunk girls screamed out loud and gathered around me, rushing me to the bathroom. The boys were silent and held back, unsure in the face of this women’s mystery of blood and toil.

Knives had their own kind of pain. It was very intense. A very fine line. There was more blood. Using my nails was more diffuse. Sloppier cuts but less deadly. It wasn’t until I was nineteen or twenty that someone pointed out I could’ve cut into muscle or tendons. From then on I was more careful.

I don’t remember why I stopped mutilating. I know I stopped before my Saturn Returns. In a gorgeous ritual I faced that side of my self, that side that sought to give me life by giving me death, and I thanked her and forgave her and let her go.

But I still have the urge. Frequently. It’s not surprising. I am still prohibited from beating the crap out of boys and men, which leads me to my fallback of beating the crap out of myself. I’ve held off for about twenty years. I don’t know why. Like now, as I think about it, I don’t really care if I cut myself or not. It’s not a big deal to me. But there is some part of me, some facet of this many-faceted jewel, that believes it’s important not to. High Priestess comes to me, takes both my hands, and says seriously, “We don’t do that anymore.”

Can all wounds be healed? I remember going in for an evaluation at a mental health clinic and after I’d filled out their ridiculous questionnaire, The Man asked to see my scars. I showed him. “Where are they?” he asked. “Right there!” I cried, waving my wrists in his face. Yet another time when I suddenly was thrown out of consensual reality and left terrified that maybe all these years I hadn’t actually been self-mutilating—maybe all this time it was hallucinations, just like all the other hallucinations I had. I twisted into multiple parts, fractured along my many personalities in that magic moment, not knowing where I’d come down. “And what is truth?” Pilate asked.

There has just been so much violence. So much directed at me. So much caused by me. I feel it in my flesh, in my muscles, in my marrow. I feel the impact on my skin. I hear it—Gods above, how I hear it!—in the thousand voices screaming in my head. I am staring into the eyes of a man who is deciding whether or not to kill me. He has his hands around my throat. And the moment just goes on and on….

How do I learn to live with what I’ve been? With what has happened to me? With what continues to happen? I am trapped in the past—PTSD makes sure you stay firmly rooted in the trauma, so it’s happening now and now and now and now and now and now.

I was crucified by time once. Long, incredibly thin, red-hot needles just poured down on me with every second, piercing my skin and bones. I could literally feel time. I was gasping for breath, screaming, pinned to the couch, utterly terrified. Would it ever stop? Because it was happening every second, every tickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktickticktick.

How do you learn to live in a world where such things happen?

How can you be happy in a world where such things happen?

Today I finished reading a book about a woman whose entire life is ruled by her facial scars. At the end she walks out into the rain and her scars are erased. I felt this tremendous release. I wept. I want to be washed clean, too. I want bad things to have never happened. I don’t want to be able to still feel those hands around my throat. I don’t want that fucker Hampsten with his hands inside me. I don’t want to feel the thud of flesh under my fist. I don’t want to know what I’m capable of doing to myself. “I am Hitler, I am Stalin, I am Pol Pot.” I want to start over in the rain and find peace amidst the pouring water. I want to be able to smile and not have to fear that my mouth will keep getting wider until my face splits in half and my skull is revealed. I want to feel safe. I want to be safe. I don’t want to experience violence or cause violence ever again, except in defense of those who need it. But what I really want I can’t have. I want to forget it all. I want my body to be free of it. I want to be clean. But that can never be.

Can all wounds be healed? In a multiverse like ours, I suppose it’s possible, but just how many scars will I have? Would there be any part of me left innocent?


The character of water

December 10, 2014

At the end of Season I, episode 3 of Xena (“Dreamwalker”), Xena and Gabrielle are at the side of a small lake. They have a conversation which has always struck me deeply:

Xena: See how calm the surface of the water is? That was me once. And then…(she throws a stone into the lake) the water ripples and churns. That’s what I became.

Gabrielle: But if we sit here long enough, it will go back to being still again; go back to being calm.

Xena: But the stone is still under there. It’s now part of the lake. It might look as it did before, but it’s forever changed.

I take it as it was given in the show—Xena realizes her dark past is a part of who she is. It began when she picked up the sword and embarked on a life of violence and murder. And now she lives with it. Her challenge is not to be controlled by her past, but to assimilate the stone and accept the changed self.

Messages of this kind always strike me because of my own past, where I have not always acted as I wished, and where I have been subject to the nightmare of mental illness. Many stones have been thrown into me. My journey now is to become calm, and make the internal adjustments that bring peace.


Down the Rabbit Hole

September 28, 2014

This is the story I performed at the Storyzilla showcase on 10 September. My therapist quibbles over whether I have psychotic or dissociative episodes, but it doesn’t matter for our purposes. I massaged a couple details in the story to bring it in on time.

+++

It’s 2002 and I am molasses. I am congealing into my mattress, becoming one with the bed, as I’m sobbing uncontrollably. He’s just left me. And you know how it goes: “I’m fat! I’m ugly! No one will ever love me!”

But I get my ass up and I determine I just need to try harder. I come up with a plan (I’m a Capricorn, I am all about plans). It’s a two-parter: I’ll take three months to get my shit together, and then the next three months will be dedicated to dating. Now, I don’t date. I find that whole, “Hey, how are you, let’s do coffee, wanna see a movie” thing completely bizarre. I have a relaaaaationship. Then I have another relaaaaationship. Serial monogamist. But I figure it’s time to turn over a new leaf, try harder, and make myself better.

So I get myself a new therapist and start working on my crippling depression. I wake in the morning crying, I drag myself to my desk to check email, I sob back to the bed, I watch Lord of the Rings on my laptop, twelve inches away from Rivendell. Rinse and repeat.

My three months are up and I’m worried because I don’t seem to be getting better. But, by the gods, my three months are up and it’s time for: Match.com! But I’m still weirded out by the whole “””dating””” thing, so instead I seek out friends. I write an innnnteresting profile and write innnnteresting emails and soon I have about seven people who want to meet for coffee and hey how are you and let’s go see a movie. But once we meet in person, we don’t quite jibe. I don’t know if they can tell how fucked up I am, but the whole thing turns into a disaster. One by one they all drop off the face of the earth. I am devastated. I am being sucked into the black tar of quicksand and I’m grasping a rock with all my might to keep from being dragged in.

I am setting in my therapist’s office and I am telling her, “I’m really worried. I’m beginning to feel like I can’t feel my ‘I’ anymore. I’m not really sure what’s real anymore.” And my therapist, who is holding my kite string to keep me from bobbing around erratically, says, “You’re having a Buddhist enlightenment experience! Don’t you feel free?” She has just cut my kite string. Snip snip. I spaz around in the sky before divebombing into the ground.

I get worse.

 

There is a morning where I get up out of bed, I take a few steps, and then

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tiny pinprick of white light appears in the back of my brain. As it comes into being, I slowly become aware that I am lying in the fetal position on my floor, and I have been talking for a very, very long time. I can’t even tell if I’m speaking English. The little white light says, “This Is Not Rational.” It goes away.

The thing about having a psychotic experience like this is it’s impossible to describe. You can’t say, “I’m standing on the edge of a cliff” or “I’m looking up from the bottom of a black chasm” because in this kind of episode there is no “I.” You can’t even say, “There is nothingness,” because that assumes there’s an “I” that can observe nothingness.

The pinprick of light comes back. “This Is Not Rational.” It goes away. Over an unknown period of time it comes back with more frequency and stays longer each time. I slowly become aware of how stiff I am from lying clutched on the concrete floor. The light stays. I become more aware. And it says, “Check Your Insurance Policy.” This is the most rational thought I’ve had in nine months. I get up.

I go to my black metal filing cabinet, the repository of all the detritus of my life, and I pull out my insurance policy. And right there, it says, “Mental Health Hotline” with a number underneath.

I ring the number and try to explain the unexplainable experience I’ve just had, stumbling over myself, getting more agitated as I chronicle the downward spiral I’ve been on for almost a year. They say, “You need to go to a hospital immediately for evaluation.”

I am in the Meadows Hospital parking lot. I am terrified. I have just had the most terrifying experience of a life filled with terrifying experiences but the day is not over. What you need to understand is that mental illness runs like a long, black, oily river down the bloodlines of my family, infecting generation after generation. I have two ancestors who were committed to Longcliff Asylum for the Insane in the 1920s and their names were never mentioned again until the day they died. They were disappeared from the family. And now I am setting in the parking lot of an asylum, in the throes of total panic, terrified that I will go in and never ever come out. Padded rooms, straightjackets, electroshock treatments. Nightmares come true. But I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to try harder, it’s this or die.

I am setting in the intake room with a woman who is asking me questions. It’s a small, dimly lit room and we are talking over a small round table. And as I talk I get increasingly agitated, voices screaming in my head, lights flashing. And then suddenly there’s my great-grandfather looking through my eyes and then, wait a minute, now he’s talking through my mouth and I’m over to the side observing myself and I’m like, “What the hell? This is my body!”

We get to the end of the evaluation and she gently tells me, “You’re going to need to stay here.” And I say, “You don’t understand, I’ve got a client meeting in twenty minutes. ” She says, “No, I don’t think you understand, you’re having an emergency, you need to stay here.” “No, you don’t understand, I’ve got a client meeting in twenty minutes.

I leave. She’s not happy. I gather the shreds of my game face. Try harder.

I’m in the meeting with my client and there are voices shrieking in my head and lights flashing all through my brain and my nerves have been absolutely bathed in acid, I’m on fire, and through my eyes I’m screaming, “I’m insane!! I’m insane! I’ve just been thrown into an insane asylum!” and out of my mouth come the words, “I think if we use some pull-quotes here it would really draw the eye through the layout of the brochure. And if you could get some photos of the students, focus in on the eyes. Focusing on the eyes really draws people in.” And then I’m screaming at myself, “Don’t mention the eyes! She’ll look at your eyes and she’ll see! She’ll see!” And out of my mouth comes, “And if we could get this on iridescent paper, that would really make it pop!”

The meeting is over. I am walking down the hall with her. She hasn’t seen me for two years. As we walk down the stairs, she turns to me and says, “You look great! What’s your secret?”

I have one of those out-of-body experiences where I’m all “What’s real here, is it what I’m feeling or what’s being reflected back to me, what if I’m totally normal and just imagining things are wrong WHAT IS REAL??!?” And out of my mouth comes, “Just good clean livin’!” She laughs. I leave.

I go into Meadows. There’s a whole long story here which we’ll skip because we don’t have all night. Suffice it to say I am beyond hope because I can’t remember the beginning of sentences by the time people reach the end of them. So they say something, I ask, “What?” and they repeat themselves and I ask, “What?” and they repeat themselves and I ask, “What?” and they go away.

I am in the office with the all-important psychiatrist, the one who will diagnose me. And I am determined to try harder, to keep it together and rationally relate the last few days, the last nine months, the last twenty years of my life. He sets with his hands calmly folded over his clipboard. He’s not taking any notes. And then he says, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you,” at which point I start screeching at the top of my lungs, “YOU HAVE TO HELP ME! YOU HAVE TO HELP ME! I AM GOING TO DIE!!!” He starts taking notes.

I am taken to art therapy. I cut out pictures of babies which I will never have and when I find photos of smiling women I cut out their eyes so I can make a lovely collage of their mutilated faces for the folks back home. I am in total chaos with the screaming and the lights and the acid and the inability to wrap my brain around the simplest concepts snip snip babies eyes holes glue scissors nurse, nurse in the doorway, little paper cup in one hand, a clear plastic cup of water in the other and I know this is the moment, this is the time when I will have to take the meds will I be me anymore? will I be addicted? will I have to be on meds for the rest of my life? TRY HARDER take the pill, it’s an eighth of a milligram of Klonopin, I swallow down its pink antisepticness and twenty minutes later there is

 

 

 

 

s i l e n c e

 

 

blissful    s i l e n c e

All the voices are silenced.
The lights are gone.
My blood is my own again.
And my first thought is:
“It’s not my fault.”

It wasn’t a matter of trying harder, of outsmarting it. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. I inherited it. It’s part of who I am. And as long as I take my 17 pills a day, I can manage. There is…a floor to this downward spiral. The ability to cope.

Having some types of mental illness is like having diabetes. It’s a genetically influenced, chronic, potentially life-threatening disease that is treatable through medication and consultation. It’s not about trying harder.

It’s Not Your Fault.