A couple of days ago…
Yesterday, running on a fairly okay trail, with brief stretches of moderate loveliness and appropriate levels of challenge interspersed with ugly fences, cars passing on the Parkway, and hills that were absurdly steep, I felt remnants of that same punch-gut grief and anger that I have been running with lately.
Clenched fist and pout-mouthed self, angry and sadly, weakly stomping her foot.
“It’s not fair.”
That, my friend, is utter crap.
My rational and equanimitous self, my principled and ethical self, knows that feelings of deep unfairness are rubbish.
“What if I am misinterpreting these wrenching and watery turbulences in my midsection and around my heart? What if I just need to have a sandwich, and my low level hunger is creating an emotional state connected to the sentiment of unfairness, some argument I had with my brother about the last cookie when I was seven?”
“It’s unmet needs.”
I have a solemn voice in me, that will, if I give it half a chance, cut through all the shit-interpretations and name what the deal really is.
“Everybody needs love. Deserves love.”
I know that’s true, but – seriously – I am trying mightily hard to recognize and appreciate and honor the enormous amounts of love in my life…and feeling sad while running in the woods because I don’t have more love is a little insulting to the love in my life.
Do you have any idea how many people do not have love in their lives? Like, hardly at all?
The world is ridiculously full of unmet needs.
Why should my needs be further met when they are so very adequately and, in some ways, richly met?
Sometimes when I run, I try to remember to say in my head, “I am loving, I am loved.” To time it to my breathing, my footsteps. Usually, I keep it up for a few repeats and then my mind drifts.
I have felt intermittently uncomfortable since posting the last couple of posts. Even though no one much looks at this, I still feel moments of vulnerable exposure. Too much of me in there.
Maybe I will switch to creative non-fiction format that reads like fiction or prose poetry, that is not attached to I statements, that is not explicitly attached to me.
There are so many other things I could be writing about. So many stories and facets of the day, but what do I do? I write about me…me…me…and my impressions, what my internal experience is, what I think about, things I feel. Things I notice.
I think that these things are worth writing about, because I find value in the process of writing about them, about myself and my experience of existing…even if there is no value in the product of the process…
(I have not ever found therapy to be tremendously helpful. That’s not to say that there might not be therapists or therapies that would be helpful, but it who has the time and money to go through the process of finding that person and establishing therapeutic rapport? It’s a risky investment for me, not a strong confidence in the return. Besides, I don’t feel particularly safe or understood in therapeutic relationships, under the clinical gaze. I also believe that in order to support someone in figuring out their shit, you have to be able to at least somewhat grasp how they process their experience and make meaning around events and – frankly – I have never met a therapist who actually ‘got’ me. That doesn’t mean I think I am special. Everyone is special. That just means that I am a statistical outlier in areas of cognition and processing, with a complicated history full of rare and singular experiences. I am not a linear person. I have dynamic (auto-correct just changed dynamic to dying) layers. Everyone does. Okay, some therapists get me. Have been moderately helpful in moments. Note: thoughts on what is helpful, not helpful. Many, many thoughts.)
…in spite of the reasons why this particular form of contemplative practice and self-to-self dialogue is purposeful and useful, if only to me… there is definitely a smirking shadow, a sneering self-indulgence, a pitiable narcissism, not in the sense of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but in the mythic sense of being absorbed by one’s own reflection. Why even think about things?
I am, by nature, a contemplative person.
Having a distinct consciousness of oneself-in-context-of-experience-and-circumstance is a predictable by-product of behavioral and psychological scrutiny during one’s developmental years.
Moreover, something about growing up female in a military town in late-1980s S. Georgia made me fairly self-aware, and aware of myself as an object in the most, ahem, objective sense possible. Something that is the subject of another’s attention. A thing, to which value – positive, negative, or null – is ascribed.
I am swimming in the midst (mist?) of other people’s perceptions of me.
I don’t overly modulate my behavior or personhood in relation to my perception of other people’s perceptions, because – lord have mercy -who would I be? I don’t worry too much about what people think, beyond general social sensitivities and instilled manners, proprieties.
I have been struggling with how to formulate a succinct and engaging overview of what this work entails and what my aim is in refining it and sharing it in some format or another, perhaps multiple formats.
When I drive to work, I plan vlog episodes for a vlog that doesn’t exist, think about what I’d like my work in different media to look like, sound like, how I would want to be characterized, seen. I am clearly a text – expressive person, but I like talking, too, moving my hands around, drawing out diagrams, telling stories, changing my tone. It’s fun.
I do not want to be a poorly – filmed person speaking out into the wilderness. Been there, done that.
Maybe I should let all that go and just write out the story of how I conceived of such an audacious possible future for myself, that I would somehow “make my way, and make a difference!” through some media creation that could get enough of a toehold in certain dialogues and areas of interest in the humanities of madness and culture…and then how I learned to let that go, to shift my perspective of my future to a more accepting and humble ambition, to laugh more and to feel more love and freedom in my small Life.
I tend to focus my expositions of motivation around how much I want to be of more utility in the world, how I might be able to reach more people in a potentially helpful way if I were to write a book and become a vlogger with my long braids and interesting tattoos, wear eyeliner or something, use my earnest charisma to engage people in listening to me, in making some meaning or catalyizing something useful, powerful, through the conveyance of information.
So, motivation 1: efficacy in work as a therapeutic support provider and peer support specialist, with the potential to reach many, many people if I tell my story well.
Motivation 2: my experiences of what was clinically referred to as psychosis were a rampantly meaningful and significant upheaval in my life. They were not mysterious and they were not junk. My experiences of psychosis were (theoretically are, since I could be clinically referred to as psychotic if the right idiots read the right paragraph the wrong way) the complex neuropsychospiritual outcome of a massive number of variables, ranging from cognition, to sensory integration, to lived experience, and beliefs, core longings and fears galvanized, trauma-responding sectors of my brain all lit up. I wrote my way through a “protracted psychotic illness” – and there were times that I – *sigh* insight – did not really how crazy I was getting, shifted into an ironclad defensiveness. Everybody else was crazy. I was a-okay. Great, even.
After all, I was proving God with cloud pictures and what a totally amazing and miraculous thing that was. Didn’t people get it? Couldn’t they see?
I was doing important work. I was important.
It makes total sense that I would go to this over-compensatory place of delusional importance, secret importance, major importance. In my actual life, I had been edged out – pushed out? – of the two major roles I had inhabited within my family. Mother and daughter. I was humiliated and shrinking in my life, squashed down to negligible. Of course the clouds would choose someone like me, there sobbing on my porch, wailing even, the sheer agony of my bones exploding in anger and grief, like I could become nothing but anger and grief, like I was nothing. Of course the sky would choose someone like me to show its shapes to, to draw eyes with.
How did I end up believing that?
I think I have spent the past seven years trying to figure that out. That might be what all of this is.
How did I see all that? How did I believe all that?
Why do I, some days, when the light hits the sky just right, still believe that?
Tomorrow, I am going to run in the forest. I think I will run for bravery and for love. For the past three weeks, I have left sorrows in the forest. Maybe I will run the trail in the opposite direction.
The next day…
I was stubborn about doing the long, looping run tonight. Determined is probably a better descriptor of why I ran out into the forest with the rain just starting to fall, lightly, just speckles on my glasses, one lens fogged because of how my warm breath passed across my cheeks as I moved along the root-bound gravel road, the easy part of the run.
I had decided not to exert much effort in running tonight, to just run at the pace that felt comfortable to me, the pace that allowed me to forget that I am running, my just body just moving in the forest, that pleasant distracted mind.
I have been timing my breathing-while-running to a pace of 8 (12345678) since I was thirteen years old. Everytime I have begun to run again (usually to quit after awhile, but maybe not this time. I have run no fewer than three times a week for the past two years), I resume this breathing whenever I am trying to pace myself, to set my running-function.
Tonight was one of those nights when running was incredibly easy. Usually when I decide to just run at whatever pace is comfortable I am much faster. My airways are open, my posture is good. I forget that my legs are running.
The first time that I stopped to wipe the rain and fog off my glasses, I considered doing only 40 percent of the run, turning back before the half-way point.
“That used to be far enough,” thinking about the 3 mile run that was hard the first time I did it.
I knew I would keep running, that I would do the whole run. Rain be damned. Glasses be damned. I’d deal with it.
With splotches and blurred fields across my vision, my depth perception was sorely blighted. I paused to clean off my glasses again, stood in the light rain with the slope rising up to my left and the river to my right, roaring away, not quiet today.
I had plenty of daylight. I left work early today in exchange for working extra tomorrow. I wasn’t worried about darkness at all.
I was, however, a little concerned that I would break my ankle or smash my face into a rock or slip down the edge of a slope in the rain, stumble and go careening.
“Why don’t I remember to wear contacts when it’s raining?” I made a plan to put a pair of contact lenses in my bag, wondered if I already had a pair of contacts in my bag.
I accidentally left my glasses at home on a trip once, and could not see anything but vague colored blurs for two days. My eyesight is really quite poor. I am only nearsighted if something is very, very close. The trail is hard to read on a clear day, with root weaving hidden under leaf fall, dug out and dented terrain.
I was thinking about these things, about not being able to see well while running on a rough trail in the light rain, how that was kind of a dumb thing to do, but was still okay, kinda fun, as I got closer to the hill.
(Note: yes, there is a hill. I have mentioned it before. Yes, I ran up the hill. It was awesome for a second. This is not and will not become a running blog, but even though I am not a great runner or a competitive runner, it is – for now – a consistent part of my week’s activities, and has become something of a contemplative practice, as well as a tool to work some things out with how I am feeling, what’s happening with my neurophysiological stress levels.)
Now that I have become self-conscious about possibly be in the process of writing a cliche running story – (Hill. Conquered. Awesome.) – I am not sure where to go.
I guess I could clarify that I didn’t exactly conquer the hill. I slowly moved up it, maxed out in my fitness to run up hills, my oxygen and strength. I have to start up hills as slowly as possible, to make myself go slow, otherwise I get into oxygen debt too quickly. I have to ease into hills, not look at the slope of the incline, just keep my eyes locked on a spot of ground a few feet ahead of me, think about horses, their strong legs, the next step.
I did run up that hill tonight and I will run up it again. Then, when I can consistently run up that hill, I will find another hill that is hard to run up, a different part of the forest. I actually know where one of the more impossible seeming ascents is, several actually. This place is full of hills. The hills are part of mountains.
People run up mountains.
I run up parts of mountains.
Maybe one day I will run up a whole mountain. I’d only have to increase my uphill running ability by 500 percent to run the Old Mitchell Trail.
500 percent is a lot.
I still smoke cigarettes, which is a stupid thing to still do. It doesn’t make sense. I care about my health. I want to live a long time. I think about quitting when I run uphill, but that is about the only time I think about quitting. I try to practice harm reduction.
This will not be and is not a quitting smoking blog, thought it’d probably do me more good in the long run (no pun intended) to write about that than it would for me to write about all this crazy life experience.
Last night, I decided that I was going to run for bravery and for love, in the spiritual sense. After dumping fears and core sadnesses in the forest for the past three weeks, it felt good to think about running for what I want to hold onto and expand, rather than for what I want to not exist.
It was important for me to run out those sadnesses and fears, leave them in the woods at sundown, if only because running helped my body to work through some of the stress of being powerfully reminded of experiences that could be called traumas in terms of the instinctive and reflexive biological response to extraordinarily adverse and harmful experiences which created tremendous fear and injury.
I have no interest in continually validating the power of harms I have suffered by living within the shadow – legacies created by deep harm, harm that changes how one’s body functions in response to stressors, changes who a person is to themselves, takes away safety in the world, ease in being.
These things run deep though, down to the neural networks . . . so, not wanting to have this fear, grief, anger in me anymore, ever again, is not just a matter of psychologically “letting it go” – it is also a matter of working out the heretofore glitchy-as-fuck (at least in my case) tendencies of one’s basic animal operating procedures, stress responses, homeostatic regulation.
I do have to admit that the psychological process of peacemaking with my understandings/meaning-making about particular situations or experiences has greatly helped me to not further reinforce or add to harms in how I think about things. I am getting better at figuring out the most beneficial and values – congruent ways to perceive things that set me into that wounded feeling state of being.
I’d like to be free of pity (for self or others), spite, unrighteous anger, jealousy, and a few other assorted bitternesses.
So, as I am thinking about a situation that has created distress – sensations, I consider my perceptions of the scene, and if there are elements of states of feeling and perception that suggest a pitying perspective, or attachment – fueled jealousy, indignant anger based in pride and ego – defenses, etc. …well, that view of and take on the situation is discarded for its fallibility and for the dissonance created in me when I feel ugly things about something.
Sometimes though, even if I can unbelieve something with my mind, my body can be slow to get the message, and I still feel the sensations of pain associated with threat and fear.
For most of the past 7 years, every time I felt safe and at ease around a person, my mind and body would flood with fears and anxieties. I’d feel heartbreak feelings and worry feelings. Cry out of nowhere. Feel outraged.
I called it the backlash, when trust and ease are wired in with warnings.
I think I have finally figured out how to help my body learn that it can relax, to help it to adjust activity associated with specific stress / trauma responses. To remediate and undo the neurological and experiential legacies of harm.
I am aware, acutely, that this is all over the place…this individual writing and this collection of writings.
Today, I worked and then ran and then ran errands, ran into a friend at the corner of the aisle, met up with the youth, drove home 12 hours after I left the house this morning, took care of dogs and laundry. It’s amazing that I am able to write at all.
I can feel that my body is physically tired, from running far and being cold and wet. After the run, I took my bag of dry work clothes into the big home improvement store, cut right past the registers, drenched and walking tall, a wet streak of the day’s mascara across my left cheekbone. My running clothes and shoes were soaked, heavy and cold with water. It felt amazing to put on dry clothes, to get into my car, turn up the heat.
I am so lucky to be able to run, to be able to be warm.
This isn’t what I set out to write. I am supposed to be working on a book. Maybe I am, but this is not the way I need to be working now. This isn’t working, this is just me – writing. Doing what I do, which is to take notes.
If I write things down, I remember them.
There is a lot I’d like to remember. Remembering how I learned something or how I unlearned something, changed my experience and worldview, is an important part of learning and unlearning. Old habits of perception and reaction are hard to break. I am able to more meaningfully integrate knowledge into reality and experience if I write about the process by which I figured something out.
The next morning…
In my walking-talking life, I am sitting with my legs propped on the wood – burning stove, in a simple uncomfortable chair that was once in my grandmother’s dining room. One cat is sleeping on the stove, the cool back corner, heat wafting up around her white whiskers. The big orange cat is sprawled across the chair beside me, complete repose, head lolling, resting on a front leg, back legs like open scissors, tail a forgotten thing, hanging in the air.
The young dog is beside me, a calm, warm form, awake, but relaxed, being quiet, being still. Sitting in front of the fire with me. Her fur is the red-brown of dead leaves, with strands of pale gold, wheat in the sun or bumblebees. She is a good dog in many ways.
She is not a good dog in many ways.
I am glad she doesn’t have to live in a shed out in the county, running around d the yard, barking maniacally. She probably would have run away a long time ago, been hit by a car chasing a squirrel, killed by the dog down the street. Kicked and hollered at.
I am glad she does not have that sort of life, even if she is a difficult dog to live with, a distracting and noisy dog, a nervous and demanding dog.
“She’s lucky she’s cute,” my daughter says.
It’s true. Cute goes a long way in endearing this creature to us. (Note: I would like to revisit and expand on the topic of my experience as a person with a variably privilege – creating bone structure.
I set out to write about my recent recognition that, yeah, there is a problem with how I am approaching this, how I am using my scant writing time. Instead, I am practicing the problem, and writing about whatever I feel like writing about, whatever is mildly enjoyable or interesting to me to write about, making notes on the day, noticing what’s going on in where I am at and how I am experiencing that.
I feel good on this grey-getting-cold morning. Untroubled, though I know there are things that could trouble me. The trouble isn’t taking hold. There are probably things I could stand to be more troubled by, like that I have to go to work in a couple of hours, travel to a different county, sit around a table. Spend a couple of hours doing paperwork and periodically required tasks involving tedious databases and survey forms.
I am not much thinking about any of that right now, not in a way that matters – that makes me feel anything other than a low-level excitement and curiosity about the day, looking forward to the drive, listening to the radio, eating some clementines while in a meeting. I ought to be more appreciative of how much my work is relatively enjoyable for the most part.
I have so many good conversations with people. I sit in rooms and listen to people. I say what comes to mind to be said, consider my words carefully. Speak in my most clear voice, move my hands to show relationship, spectrums, barriers and their dissolution. I love talking with people, getting to sit with them in their lives in that way, little containers of connection.
In dialogue, something comes to life, some deep humanity in the discussions about learning what you love and how you feel when you are doing what you love, how to work out ways to spend more time in good feelings, how to learn to appreciate pain and move through it, sit with it, embrace it as a part of experience, trace it back to love. How to learn to see things differently, to see oneself differently.
My work, in the particular place where I work, within that container of a program, of services, teaches me a lot.
I could learn these things elsewhere, how to really practice and feel acceptance, how to more effectively generate positive emotion, how to shift attention, how to reckon with pain, to change the way I approach my life and experience. To change my experience.
As I am writing this, it occurs to me that – hey – I can just write a book about me and these 7 years of working in the community mental health system, and everything that led me to this work in this place, all the things I have learned and the conundrums of self and ethics I have encountered working within the industry that created enormous harm and confusion within my life.
That might actually be a good idea. Of course, I couldn’t say much of anything about anyone I work with, or say much of anything about the organization I work for…I would likely lose my job. Not that I’d say anything bad. I have a lot of respect for the organization I work for, and it too is beset with the problems of existing within the human services industrial complex.
I’d like to write about what I learned-through-teaching recovery education classes. I have basically been attending outpatient services for the better part of the past seven years, except I have a key to the door, the alarm code, and I am the “provider.” (Note: inversion of roles, significance of)
I leave at the end of the day.
I absolutely credit my being in this role with helping me to avoid a potentially disastrous and tragic life trajectory. I do not know if ending up in my professional role when I did saved my life, if the place where I work saved my life, but – I gotta tell you – it feels like maybe it did.
Feels like in the sense – the felt sense, the sensations – of deep relief and gasping gratitude, of mercy and thankfulness, a rush across my shoulders, pinpricks in my arms, my heart a pounding and alive thing. Deep breaths.
So, I will have a good day, because I am alive, and because I am not living in some inhumane set of circumstances, completely undone in the best of who I am, the best of who I could be, with little possibility of growing gracefully old, creeping toward dying some unfortunate death, in pain.
I cannot quite give words to the gravity of what I know might have happened if I hadn’t gotten this job. If I hadn’t risen out of my own forcibly medicated and despairing torpor.
Ah, ’twas not the job that saved me. Though, surely it has been mightily helpful.
It was me.
(Re-thought: I like to believe that what I understand to be the workings of nuance and happenstance and great wondrous acts in the physical and metaphysical universe – what some people would call God – which is a name with a sound that when spoke, opens the throat in a way that feels like awe, like a gasp of salvation…i like to believe that God would have worked out something, that something precisely helpful would have happened, and that I would be okay still. I would be different if I hadn’t gotten the job I did at the time I did. I might be dead, or I might not be happy. I might be sick, not running in the forest. My children might have problems. I might be homeless. Okay. It comes back to I am happy, and I am reasonably healthy, and my heart is alive and I am wiser than I was. I feel good about who I am. I am useful in the world. I am grateful. Really, it is difficult for me not to think about divine intervention, when I realize how narrowly I missed a miserable life. So, it was not just the job, and it was not just me. I like to believe that God helped me. I just now realized that the part of me that is indestructible, where I feel happiness in my body, above my stomach, below my heart, through my mid-season like warm water, thick water, river water…that part of me that is indestructible is where I feel connected in my spirit. This does not mean that that I am going to become a radical God person, but that I am going to know that it is important to take care of what is indestructible. Just because something can’t be destroyed, it can be damaged. It can be wounded.)
…of course, there was a bit of motivating pressure on me to find work the winter of 2010-2011. I would not be able to see my children if I could not find work, could not establish “financial and emotional stability.”
I tried to explain that my family taking away my children was not good for my stability. I needed to get a job. To prove that I was okay, even though I was not okay, even though I was a shipwreck. Even though I was almost completely destroyed in my heart and in my head.
…but, there is a part of me that I now understand to be utterly indestructible.
I have to get ready to go to work. Move the day along.
Note: I forgot to discuss the motivation I rarely discuss, what additionally inspires me to write a book. This quiet but powerful motivation has everything to do with living a Good Life, and with Freedom. Capital F.