I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has this issue. I find myself constantly (actually, less constantly than before, so I suppose that’s progress? Incrementally getting better?) fighting against the voices is my head, which is exhausting. I have to actually consciously think – almost talking back to them – and point out that I’m not stupid, I’m not worthless, my future is not hopeless, I’m not unlovable. It’s gotten better and I start thinking that it’s gone; when all of a sudden I hear that voice start talking back to me. It’s so much easier to just listen to it. I still keep fighting it because I really do know that it’s better for me to not give in, but does it have to be so difficult?
I’ve been taking flamenco dancing classes for about five years, off and on. I’ve taken dance classes before – ballet and tap when I was young, swing and salsa in college and later – but flamenco is my favorite. It’s not necessarily my favorite one to dance but it’s definitely the one I admire the most and the one I would like to use as a metaphor for my life.
When I took ballet, it was always about sucking in your stomach, trying to be graceful, and – even as a young child – not being too large. Flamenco, on the other hand, embraces whatever size or shape (or age) a woman is. My flamenco teacher is constantly telling us to “take up all your space.” It’s about being stable on your feet and your hips, using all the body that you have, and learning the technique in a way that you can impart the dance with all the soul and feeling that it needs.
Another thing I like about flamenco is how empowered the women look. There is a specific look cultivated with this dance, and empowered really is the best word I can think of for it. Women keep their head up, look proud, and don’t lower their eyes for anyone. There’s also the stomping – which is clearly not the official term and my flamenco teacher would be angry with me for using it – that is so cathartic. As wikipedia says (and I rarely quote wikipedia) El baile flamenco is known for its emotional intensity, proud carriage, expressive use of the arms and rhythmic stamping of the feet.
I want to live like that. Not proud in a narcissistic way, but proud in a non-apologetic way. I had to spend so much of my life apologizing for who I was – in words and actions – that I didn’t get to have that proud carriage. I still feel so often (but less and less!) like I’m broken and flawed in an irreparable way that it’s hard for me to feel that I have the right to have a “proud carriage.” I come off as empowered to many people because I’m opinionated and not afraid of public speaking, but that’s not how I feel. I want to have the empowerment inside too.
I also want to feel like I have the right to take up all my space. I don’t want to try to be smaller or shrink into spaces I don’t fit in. I want to take up the space that I take up and stomp if I need to. Again, I think I come across as stomping much of the time but I don’t want to be an angry, reactionary stomper. I want to express myself in stomping if I need to. I want to stomp because I feel proud, empowered, and expressive. I want to stomp because I am beautiful and persevering and have learned to hold my head up high.
I posted about my dog so I’m not going to rehash it, but I’ve been working through some of the issues that came out of the whole thing. Fortunately, as my neighbor who got bit has no medical insurance, my renter’s insurance will pay for all of the medical bills. If they didn’t, I would have because legally, it’s my fault that my dog bit someone. However, I’m coming to realize that it being my fault legally is very different that it being my fault.
My instinct (I am the oldest child of alcoholics, after all!) is to be hyper-responsible. My dog bit someone, and while I needed to put her down for safety reasons, because she was getting worse, not better, she didn’t hurt the other dog at all, and my neighbor had one stitch. As the renter’s insurance person told me on the phone, “Honey, for a dog bite, that’s nothing.”
It was terrifying for all of us and I think we all feel traumatized, and I don’t want to deny that. But as the dogs were fighting and we were trying to get them apart, my neighbor’s mother was screaming at me – things like “You’re a horrible person! You deserve to be put down! Not just your dog, but you! What’s wrong with you!” And I realized, those are the voices I have in my head a lot of the time.
Now, I don’t really think I need to be put down, but I do often think I’m a horrible person. I have sort of had this feeling all my life that I’ve done something very very bad and I just haven’t been found out yet. I don’t think even I know what this bad thing is that I’ve done but I know it’s very bad and very serious and I shouldn’t let anyone find out or I’ll be in serious trouble.
I’m trying to realize that this isn’t true. Of course, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve done things I regret, but I’m not actually a horrible person. Or even close.
One of the things that made me realize this was that I was avoiding our (shared) yard, because my neighbor’s mother might be there and she said all those things about me. What if she has more to say? I’ll feel so terrible about myself.
Then I realized (I know, a little slow), that she’s WRONG. She’s wrong about the things she said and she’s wrong to say them. The answer isn’t to hide from her – I live here, after all and she doesn’t. If she does say anything, the answer is to say, “I was too busy in the moment to tell you this, but you may not say such things to me, ever. If you insist on verbally abusing me, I will go to the police and get a restraining order and you will not be able to come on this property again.”
I may never have to say it but for some reason it made me feel like I wasn’t just standing up to this one person; I was standing up to my shame. Only in my head, but that’s where it lives.
I’m actually doing OK right this minute. If you’ve been reading, you know it’s been a hard summer. Really really hard. A lot of good things happening for other people that I want to rejoice in but my heart hurts. A lot of med changes that work in some ways and are horrible in other ways. A lot of grief about the summer being so sad – I was looking forward to it, damn it! But right this second, I feel OK, but breakable.
That’s where I got the name of the blog, (which I may have explained in the first post) because we are saints, we are part of the community of God’s saints, but I am very, very broken. Three was a time when you could see that on me, visually. I’ve always had some way of dealing with the pain of depression. Often it was just sleeping. Sometimes eating, sometimes not eating. For a very brief period of time, it was drinking, alone (the train of thought being “I can’t be an alcoholic even though there’s basically no chance I am not one, genetically, and even though I am drinking alone in my room because I am sad and I need to STOP FEELING RIGHT NOW. I can’t be an alcoholic! I didn’t start drinking until I was 29! And it’s just wine!” More on that in another post).
But the behavior that “helped” me the most was cutting. So, if this is going to be a problem to read, you might want to stop now. I haven’t written about it up until now because it’s so personal and it’s SO shameful.
When I was a little kid – and I was depressed from VERY early on – I realized that physically hurting myself made me feel better emotionally. I had a ring that my grandmother had given me that had a sharp edge on it and I would press it into my hand. The pain would make life a little more bearable right at that moment. Because my life was very not bearable. I sprained my ankle several times, once by climbing a tree in a floor-length velvet party dress (not sure what my mother was thinking letting me wear that), and once by stepping in a gopher hole, and I realized that not only did the pain make me able to live in my own skin, but people could see that there was something wrong with me.
They didn’t know I was depressed and wanted to die – I didn’t really have words for that. But they knew that I was hurt and so they made an effort to help me. It wasn’t the kind of help I needed, but there was such a relief to people seeing – visibly – that there was something wrong with me, that I decided to be hurt as much as I could. I have a very strong memory of stomping on my bad ankle with my other foot to try to make it sprained again, and not seeing anything wrong with that – that I was consciously trying to injury myself.
I stopped that when I was a teenager, and until I was an adult. I had horrible horrible depressive phases where I was almost catatonic and I mostly went to sleep as an escape. I have no idea what people thought of me then or how visible it was. When I was about 26 or 27 though, I found cutting.
I never got very “good” at cutting because I’m actually kind of a wimp about blood, which is ironic. But I found that straight razor blades provided a good stinging sensation and X-acto knives were even better, and there was something incredibly satisfying about injuring myself. It made me feel numb which is all I was looking for, and it gave me some relief from the feeling that I didn’t deserve anything better for some reason. I did it mostly where people couldn’t see. On my stomach was easy, especially in the winter, as sweaters hide everything. On my left wrist was harder but again, the winter is a good time for long sleeves. I never did it deep enough to leave scars and it was never a suicide attempt or anything close to it. I just needed the feelings to stop.
At one point, I was really not doing well. My Bible Study was aware of this, I had been asking for prayer, and I wasn’t even pretending any more. When someone asked me if I was OK, I would say, “NO, I’m not OK.” And usually they wouldn’t know what to do and would probably wish they hadn’t asked. At one point, I went to a SuperBowl party. I hate football but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went and I sat on the stairs at my friends house and sobbed through the whole game. I had been cutting before the game because quite honestly, it felt like the choice between that and driving my car off a cliff. A friend from my Bible Study came up to me and asked if I was OK. I said no. My sleeve fell back a little and he saw my wrist and said, “You’re NOT OK!”
I thought of this because of my last post. People seem to need some kind of visual or a malady that they can understand. I had been begging for help and no one got it until they saw my wrist. Last weekend I really really wanted to take that approach again. I didn’t because I could survive, and my life is not unbearable even if sometimes it feels like it for a short period of time. But I really wanted to. Just to make my outside match my insides. To show, “Look, THIS is how much I hurt. Can you see now?”
I stopped drinking and cutting (again, hadn’t gotten to what anyone else would probably see as a major problem but I know myself and I couldn’t have stopped if I had waited) both on Dec 30, 2005. This was partly because I realized that no one in my family who had ever used alcohol as a way to numb themselves had ever turned out well. It’s not a beverage to me, wine, it is a feelings management system, and that’s dangerous. But also because of something my therapist had said. I had told her about the cutting but not the drinking because I felt so silly since it was not “real” drinking). She told me it would make me feel better temporarily but it would make the feelings I was trying to avoid last longer. And I thought to myself, “I will not survive if these feelings last longer.”
So I stopped. But I miss it. Them. This summer has been a time for both wanting to numb feelings and for wanting to show other people how hard it is to be me. How much it hurts.
The other thing is that I don’t have any scars from cutting. I should, even though I didn’t cut very deeply. I have scars from paper cuts and mosquito bites. I scar very easily. But I have none. Most of the time, I can see this as God’s grace to me. Sometimes I wish I did have them. Because again, they’d be tangible proof of the pain I’ve been through and that even when I look OK, things have been really really hard in the past.
I made a doctor’s appointment for Friday, which is also my 37th birthday. Going to the psychiatrist on my birthday is not really what I want to be doing, but it was the first appointment she had and I need to go. the amount of anxiety I’ve been having lately is at a whole new level for me. I find myself awake at night worrying about where I am going to go for Christmas (yes, I know it’s only July), who I’m going to carpool with to my friend’s wedding next month, when I’m going to be able to walk the dog, when one of my paychecks is going to come and if it’s too early to ask about it again, how I’m going to get the scratches out of the floor, if I’m a good enough dog owner, who’s going to take care of me when I’m old…Some of these are really important questions, some are not, but none of them is going to get solved in the middle of the night. At the same time, I have random conversations repeating in my head, songs I can’t get out of my head, adrenaline running through my body, and a constant need to go to the bathroom because I am so nervous. Needless to say, I’m not sleeping. In fact, I was thinking about lying on the hardwood floor last night because somehow I was convinced, in my anxious sleep-deprived brain, that that would calm me down.
At the same time, I don’t want to tell anyone because I feel like I’m a horrible person who doesn’t deserve friends.
Fortunately, if there is a fortunately in all of this, I have been dealing with this mess for long enough and gone to enough therapy that I know there’s something off in my brain and that at least most of this stuff isn’t true. And I can look back at my writing and see that fairly recently, I felt really good.
The unfortunate part is that this may mean more trial and error with meds. I tend to need new meds every few years and that is expensive, inconvenient, and sometimes terrifying. I never know what will work, what will cause side effects, what will make things worse, and what will only work enough to make me think that this is as good as it gets for the rest of my life.
And this is what I get to do on my birthday. I’d appreciate prayers – the last time I had meds adjusted in a major way, it worked out really well. Chances aren’t great that it will work out that well again, but here’s hoping.
I don’t know if it’s the medications not being stabilized, or my ex-boyfriend getting married this summer, or half my family being unemployed, or just generally being lonely (or whatever else trigger can bring on depression), but today has been bad so far. It was fine in the morning and then as the afternoon started, I just got more and depressed and couldn’t figure out why. It got to the point where I was working on the computer while crying, which I used to do a lot. I have work to do and I need to get it doe, and I used to be so depressed so much of the time that I couldn’t let a little thing like wanting to not be alive stop me or I’d never function again. So I do as much of my work (or driving, or whatever) as I can while crying, and then when I’m crying to hard to wear my glasses any more, I go lie down and hopefully fall asleep. That’s what happened today.
I don’t know what to do when this happen and I just wish I had some other kind of disease. I know someone with diabetes who always posts on Facebook or Twitter when her stats are low (or high? I don’t really know how diabetes works), and she gets encouragement and acknowledgment of how hard that is to live with. When my friends have a bad cold or mono, or if they break a bone, they can post that on Facebook and people offer to bring soup or drive them to the doctor or walk their dog. And I have people who would do that too. But I can’t put this kind of stuff on Facebook. “Can anyone bring me soup because I’m sad for no reason?” “Can someone come sit in my house because I need company but I can’t get in the car?” “I feel worthless, can someone come visit me please?” All of those things would help, but I can’t put them in a public forum.
I sent text messages to a couple of people, but again, there’s a lack of understanding. These friends would come in a second if something physical happened to me. If I needed money and they were able, they’d give it to me. They’re good friends. But they don’t understand why I feel so bad (neither do I) and they don’t understand that I can’t control it and that it can be SO BAD. One is legitimately super busy and stressed and texted with me for a little bit but I don’t think she could have done much more with everything going on and I understand. One said I was welcome to come to her house – which is 30-45 minutes away and I’m not sure I could drive to the corner store right now. One said that I could call her if I needed, any time. I’m sure if you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know that I am not only functional enough to drive, I am not functional enough to make a phone call, and I’m barely functional enough to type. I didn’t try anyone else because I couldn’t handle it, not because I thought they’d be unhelpful, but because I started believing that I’m not worth their attention and love and care. I’m so ashamed of being depressed.
There haven’t been that many bad days recently, although they seem to be getting more frequent. I’ll probably be fine tomorrow, or mostly fine. But getting through today feels like more than I can do by myself and every time I have one of these days, I get more scared that all of my days will be like this again.