Thursday, January 11, 2018

God Bless My Cold, Steel Heart

Waiting to find my place in the world;
Like the wrong puzzle piece I don’t fit.
I try to round my edges because 
Might just snap in, like I showed up wrong
and nobody knows who I am... 
I digress 
I feel the warmth and love of those around me, 
But I am a burning, anxious flame. 
Afraid to speak, 
for fear of being branded a miscreant or a misanthrope. 
Although depending on your perspective either one may be true. 
But I do it anyway.

I feel like I’m wearing a human suit that doesn’t quite fit, right? 
but I’m passable. 
Mediocre in my magnificence. 
I squirm in my suit, 
this suit of fat, 
this 41 year old human body that has carried my tired ass through hell and back. 
I squirm in my mind--
neurons in my brain like maggots flinging specs of dirt and muck about.  
Riding on the rapid fire train, 
stealthily sleeking out of sight. 
Disembodied snores surround me, 
like the death rattle of late night. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Failure To Thrive

About a week ago for 4 days I took twice as much Wellbutrin as I was supposed to. I was initially given 150 mg and told to double my dose after a few days. I did so, but when I picked up my new prescription (which was 300 mg), I kept taking two. 

We eventually noticed that I was unusually calm—I had a flat affect. Nothing anybody said or did bothered me, but my mind was also blank. I had no thoughts to speak of and I didn’t feel like joining in on anyone’s conversations. I was social, but off in my own world. Evan says I was "disengaged" and at times it felt as if I wasn't even in the room with him.

As soon as I realized what was going on, I went back to my regular dose and now I can’t stop feeling everything.

I miss not feeling anything. I want to go back to that. I want to go back to letting it all slide and roll off my back. I want to go back to feeling like Lisa Simpson did when she was on the antidepressant “ignorital.” 

I felt super disconnected from everything and with the power of hindsight, it was miraculous. My mind was clear. There was no turmoil in my solar plexus. I was calm and ready for anything. 

This anger and psychic pain in me goes beyond the world and it’s horrors. Beyond my own crazy bullshit. It goes as far as that feeling you get when you realize that it’s all chaos; that we’re all dimming lights in an eternity of darkness and everyone is scrambling for their tiny bit of warmth. We are insignificant and small. 

Then the existential nausea kicked in. And I literally made myself sick. I couldn't stop throwing up and I had a fever. I can't live like this. I can't live with the nagging voices in the back of my mind. The gnawing hunger for something joyful, something to fill this gaping hole in my soul.

I know why some people turn to god.

But I don’t believe in my heart anything but the fact that I’m here, I am trying to thrive and I am loved by some. In my mind that’s all anyone could ask for, and to expect anything more is pure arrogance. 


It's hard to avoid the shame spiral when you're depressed and you take a look at what's going on in the world and you think to yourself, I have so much opportunity, so many blessings and so much support, how could I still be stuck in my own head when I'm watching babies being pulled from rubble or reading about a woman who was killed and her children kidnapped? Depression doesn't give a fuck what else is going on in the world and I can't very well be condemned to shame when it's my neurons, not me that is causing me to feel this way.

I never had very strong boundaries, so I used to let people walk all over me. I've allowed people to leave me in dangerous situations, I've let so-called loved ones use me, abuse me and basically just treat me like I don't matter.

I've lived with four different alcoholics who probably have no memory of how awful they were to me. They sure never let me forget the things I did, which were usually in response to that which they have no drunken clue about because, well, drunk. One of them was my stepfather who beat the shit out of me, but he's dead now, so at least there's that.

Since I've been on medication, I've learned to set boundaries and those who used to think they could walk all over me have learned that I'm not taking the bullshit anymore. Mostly because I just don't speak to them.

No more using me as a scapegoat. No more pushing my buttons until I explode. No more gas lighting. No more manipulation. No more conflict.

Ah, and that's what this post is about. Conflict.

I've had my fair share of conflict. I've been in fist fights. I've had seething arguments that got the cops called. I've been stabbed by a gang. I've been held up by gunpoint. I've almost been arrested, I've been raped, attacked, robbed, you name it. So it's should come as a no-brainer to others that I want to now avoid conflict at all costs. With that comes avoiding others who thrive on conflict.

I recently had a meltdown with a person who will go unnamed. She pushed my buttons until I finally exploded and said some stupid shit that I had to take back later. It was my impulse to avoid conflict that caused me to blow up. It was her manipulation and button pushing--her need to create conflict with me that backed me into a corner and like a wild animal I lashed out.

I apologized for this outburst and she oh, so magnanimously forgave me, without first making sure I knew how much I can't handle conflict. She had previously accused me of having to walk on eggshells. I never asked her to do that. I never once told her she had to hold all of her feelings inside until finally one day over something stupid and trivial she lets it all out. In public. On social media.

I privately texted her about it... she continued the conversation. On social media. Not privately with me.

So when I received her forgiveness with a lecture it left more than a bad taste in my mouth. I had reacted as she "had anticipated," which really says to me she was simply pushing my buttons all along.

So now comes the point. I can't make her take accountability for her actions. All I have control over is how I feel about the situation. My therapist would ask me right now, "Well, how do you feel?"

I feel depressed. I feel out of sorts. I feel saddened that yet another person has misunderstood me because of fucking social media/text and another relationship is on the rocks because none of this was communicated in person.

I feel angry because yet another person is incapable of taking accountability for their actions. Especially when I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to apologize first. Ouch.

I have control over how I handle this situation from here on out. I know where I stand. I know what to expect now and I know how to proceed to ensure I can avoid this person's (and anyone else's) conflict and drama in the future.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Shame Spiral: Vulnerability and Emotional Risk

In her TED Talk, Listening To Shame, Brené Brown describes vulnerability as "our most accurate measurement of courage." To be vulnerable means to be honest, to "let ourselves be seen." To be vulnerable is to be authentic. To be vulnerable, according to Brown, means that we have to talk about shame.

The other day one of my friends posted about fitness as she does every day, but I noticed some of the language she used was particularly triggering for me. What she said (in a nutshell) was that we have a choice on whether or not to change our lives.

What I heard from her is that we choose whether or not to be fat and lazy. What I heard, while she was trying to inspire others to live better lives, was that I choose to remain overweight. That I choose to let my pain dictate how much physical activity I can accomplish and that I choose to give into my cravings so that I can remain obese. Really all she meant was that you can make the choice to start changing things--no matter what they are, big or small.

Now I have extenuating circumstances that make these choices much harder for me. I literally cannot do the kinds of exercises that she can, because most of the vertebrae in my spine are bone-on-bone. I have PCOS, which makes my body hold on to fat like it's going to kill me if it lets it go. I am bipolar, which leaves me sometimes out of control of my own emotions and sometimes of my own will. Not to mention the pills that I have to take, which cause me to gain and make it harder to lose weight.

These things aren't excuses these are reasons. These are obstacles that cause me shame. Why? Because most of the world sees them as excuses. Most of the world believes that a real woman is a million amazing things rolled into a perfect package, two of them being THIN and PRETTY.

My friend didn't try to shame me or anyone else for that matter, I felt shame because what she said triggered something deep inside me. I'm ashamed of my weight, which makes me ashamed of myself, which makes me hate myself. Which leaves me with zero empathy towards myself and that leaves me spiraling out of control... all because of shame.

So, in the past I would have put her on blast. I would have commented on her post telling her all the things wrong with what she said (and her, if I could think of anything), leaving her bewildered and hurt. Instead, I knew there was a chance that it was all in my head, so I took my problem to her privately. I allowed myself to be emotionally vulnerable and even though the whole time my hands were shaking and my heart was pounding, I let her know what I was thinking.

She handled it like a champ. She didn't have to explain herself, but she did. She didn't have to acknowledge that maybe she could use different language in the future, but she did. She didn't have to accept my apology, but not only did she--she told me I didn't have to apologize. She was happy that I felt comfortable enough to come to her so honestly. She gave me the space to be open and because of that I have so much more respect for her.

That's what this is about. Honesty. Vulnerability. Authenticity.

Shame is a killer, but it doesn't have to be unproductive. Because of the shame I felt over my friend's post, I have taken a deep look at myself and my choices. I decided that even though it's expensive, I have to start going back to the gym, because clearly we're not getting a heater for our pool any time soon. I have realized that while I may be too stressed out to deal with what I'm eating right now, I can still make little steps to building muscle. Somewhere I can be watched and trained by someone who knows how to keep me from hurting myself.

If I hadn't gone to my friend and expressed my feelings in as constructive a manner as I could possibly muster, I wouldn't have put myself in a position wherein I could actually be inspired by her.

I've been so down on myself for being so heavy when it's not my fault. I'm not just some fucked up food monster who is trying to turn herself into Jabba The Hut. BUT, while there are circumstances which may be out of my control, how I choose to handle those circumstances are not. I cannot allow myself to fall into a shame spiral, where all I feel are guilt and anxiety over everything I put into my mouth.

My weight doesn't make me unworthy. My pain doesn't make me useless. My moods don't make me a burden. I don't have to be ashamed. I just have to allow myself to remain vulnerable and be willing to take these emotional risks when life calls for it.

I will leave you all now with 5 incredibly inspirational quotes by Brené Brown. (If you don't know who she is, check her out--her advice is life changing, and life-affirming!)

1. "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."

2. "As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counterintuitive: Practice courage and reach out!"

3. If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. 

4. Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.

5. The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Pledging Allegiance to Patriarchy: The American Flag and Toxic Masculinity

Last week I posted on Facebook for Veteran's day in solidarity with those who, because of their experiences in the military, aren't so patriotic. I posted in regret for the lack of mental health care--both in society and in the medical field. As many of us know, some 22 vets per day kill themselves.

My post was greeted with likes and hearts by some and a few people tried to talk me out of thinking the way I do. One was a seasoned vet, who I knew in high school and who when he first joined couldn't stand being there and felt that they had screwed him out of the education he deserved. Later, I guess things have changed, because he's 100% on board with them now.

Another person was young, maybe 19? He just joined the navy and is bright-eyed and bushy tailed about his future. I'm sure he's going to have a blast traveling, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. I hope upon hopes he doesn't have to see the brutal side of the military--the war part. The having to kill an innocent person with complete faith in the government who made you do it.

I'm a firm believer that society as a whole, people who make up communities and activists who fight for civil rights--they are the protectors of freedoms, not American soldiers, who are forced to go into other countries and kill innocent people under the guise of spreading democracy--which is an imperialistic-esce action in itself. Who the hell are we to decide what other people should be doing when we have homeless children starving in our own country?

Ever since 9/11 I have been at odds with everything our government stands for. Not what the good citizens who join the military think it stands for, but what they really stand for: Greed and the spreading of a religious patriarchy.

Our country has absolutely no respect for women as a whole, sure it's getting better, but our own President thinks of women as objects and he's gone as far as saying so. America is about male dominance: big trucks, piss beer and boring sports. Testosterone gone national and the flag is a symbol of this country's toxic masculinity.

I brought up these issues I have with my therapist and she said that she feels the same. The American flag stands for violence and conquest. Of greed and capitalism--of corporatism. Of the military machine. It exists to conform everyone into one image, under the almighty dollar, for conservatism, and a skewed interpretation of an old book used to keep everyone in line. If you disagree, you've gone against the grain and society will expel you.

Every time I see an American flag I feel like some dude just slapped me in the face with his dick. It's like walking into man's room covered wall-to-wall with naked ladies. It creates a hostile environment for me. I feel unsafe. I feel violated.

Instead of considering I might be right, that it really is the people in the streets raging against the machine that fight for our freedoms and not soldiers over seas killing babies, most people rage against me, like I'm a monster who hates people who make sacrifices for their families. I'm a hateful person who hates widows and mothers who've lost boys--for what? Why don't those mothers hate the government who enticed their young kids into fighting for something that has nothing to do with them?

Every day I drive down the street and I see tent cities, mentally helpless human beings pushing shopping carts around, dirty children crying for their parents. This is where our money should be--helping those citizens who make up the country whose freedoms they're pretending to fight to protect.

I'm angry. Angry because I'm the bad guy who has to tell the truth and get spit on for it. I'm the bad guy because I want to spill that fucking Koolaid and shake everyone and scream in their faces to WAKE UP.

US has killed more than 20 million people since WWII

But, my therapist says I need to let it go. That I have to accept that some people are going to guzzle that juice right up and that even though it feels like every day I'm being peer pressured into drinking, too, I have to stay strong. I don't have to be accepted by everyone, but I have to be the bigger person and learn to accept them. I just want to love everyone, no matter what, and if I have to just see people as brainwashed in order to do it, I guess that's what I'll have to do.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Little Patience

I recently read The Four Agreements--not because I'm into New Age stuff, or Toltec wisdom--and the one thing that has stuck with me (for those of you who have read it) is to not take things personally. There's really nothing new in The Four Agreements that I hadn't already read somewhere else or thought myself, and I don't think it's meant to be some profound book of knowledge.

It breaks down the human condition and the structure of society into the combination of a million little lies we have learned, tell ourselves and each other about The Way Life Should Be. It's a quick and easy read, but an excellent reminder of the simple things we can do to make this illusion that is life bearable.

In The Four Agreements, the author, Don Miguel Ruiz speaks about the dangers of gossip, taking things personally, making assumptions and the importance of always doing your best. Four things that seem pretty darn obvious in the realm of what to do and what not do--don't gossip, don't take things personally, don't make assumptions and no matter what, give it your all.

In a way they all interconnect and by practicing one, you may have practiced them all. I feel that I always do my best--whether my best is to just get out of bed and put on pants or write, shoot and edit a movie in a weekend--I never take anything for granted. And for me, that helps me always to do my best, whatever level my best is for any given day. I just need to be less judgmental of myself and to accept that my best isn't always what I want it to be. (That last sentence is my therapist speaking.)

I try really hard not to gossip. I find things slip out, but I usually catch and chastise myself. I do my best. I also find myself engaged when someone else is gossiping, but I don't like spreading what I hear and if I think about it I try to mention that one shouldn't be gossiping. It's a bad habit that a lot of us have. I think mine stems from social awkwardness and an inability to just think of something interesting to say. So I blurt.

The two agreements that I feel really are two sides of the same coin are taking things personally and making assumptions. You cannot take a thing personally without first making an assumption.

Most of my unhappiness comes from paranoia--which I believe comes from having bipolar. My neurons go crazy sometimes and shit just fires wrong. I see patterns where there may not be and I feel passive aggression from those who may not even be thinking about me at all. I feel shame where others might feel inspired. I read between the lines and although I'm quite intuitive and empathetic (and grandiose, obviously), sometimes I think I'm downright psychic. It may be real, it may not be, but the only way to be sure I don't suffer is to just not make the damn assumption in the first place.

I take too much personally.

But what if I'm right? What if that exercise obsessed lady DOES think all fat people are unhealthy and lazy? What if that guy who posted the meme against protestors DOES think I'm an Antifa extremist? What if my friends DO get extra nationalistic around patriotic holidays just to rub it in my face?

So what. What if, what if, what if, like an old friend once said to me, "you can't go tra-la-la-ing through the land of 'what ifs.'" Even if someone DOES do or say something to me out of animosity, it says more about them than it ever will about me.

That's the key.

It's not about me.

What do I do, then? I have to practice. I have to practice catching myself when I find myself getting hurt or feeling shamed or raging out. What am I feeling exactly? Where is it coming from? Often times I'll find that it's triggering something random and instead of lashing out I have to get introspective (without internalizing and hurting myself, which I have been known to do). I need to stop being so impulsive with my reactions. But also, I need patience. Not just from others; more importantly with myself.

Friday, November 17, 2017

An Atypical Thanksgiving Post

I've recently been made aware of a letter my mother wrote before she died that included some very mean things about me. Whether or not she ate her words before she died is neither here, nor there. Since then I've been pretty angry and while that may seem sad, it's actually been super helpful in my grieving process. Instead of spending all my time wallowing over what I've lost, I've been able to step back and look at what I've gained since her death. In honor of honesty and Thanksgiving, I've decided to share something I wrote several years ago.
Thanksgiving around my house is like any other holiday... a futile attempt made by my mother to gather our, what she calls selfish, ungrateful family together under one roof in some semblance of mutual affection for each other. At times I wonder if she merely wishes to recreate a time in our lives when she thought everything was fine; when our broken, nuclear arrangement pretended to wear a mask of neutrality to cover up the drunken, apathetic animosity that existed despite my mother's orders of good behavior.

I will never understand her insistence on being the main cook--her obsession with fattening our bellies with her fervent guilt basted with gravy. These tempting mouthfuls of juiciness now replaced with bitterness. 

Over the years the family has dwindled due to divorce, death, arrests and insanity. No more do we experience the array of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, brothers and sisters-in-law, friends of family and the local kids of the neighborhood packed in our old apartment house that permeated with the scents of baked turkey, gravy, pies and cider... the scent of autumn, of family and of feigned happiness. 

Now that my mother is dead, I never have to spend another holiday hell bent on trying to make her happy, because she was unable to do that for herself. She depended on everyone else to be who she wanted us to be so that she could be comfortable in her own skin. Unfortunately for her, we were all our own people with our own minds and lives and so she suffered unnecessarily. She blamed us all for her own misery, a bed she made long before we were even born and insisted on laying in even after we were all adults.

No more guilt, no more wondering if it's okay to leave after two hours because everyone was in their own rooms ignoring each other and she couldn't keep herself awake anyway because she was a junkie on morphine before the cancer was even a blip on the radar of her life.

No more finding her sitting alone in the darkness, smoking a cigarette, hoping someone would catch her so she could manipulate their happiness into a depression that fitted her own.

Sometimes I feel like my mother was a cancer growing in my soul. From the moment she told me that I was a mistake and that she almost aborted me; to the time she slammed her ten pound bible on my chest rebuking me in the name of Jesus Christ, because she was convinced I was possessed; to the last thing she said to me: "Jennifer stop HURTING ME," when I was only trying to get her messy diaper off so I didn't have to leave her laying in her own filth--my mother has spent my entire life trying to make me feel worthless and I have spent mine trying to make her love me.

Now I'm stuck with all this baggage and garbage that I have to spend the rest of MY life working through in the hopes of pulling myself together into some kind of whole person.

But I'm thankful that it's over. I'm grateful that I now have a chance to be my own person, whoever that may be. My life no longer has to be about making my mother proud, in the hopes that she may decide one day that it was worth giving birth to me.