On nights

I’m not done working through the triggers of my past. When I rain, I pour.

A few days ago, I woke up after a rough night and it hit me, why I have this maniacal urge to fix things for others, the compulsion to feel I should help even when I know I can’t… But to explain this, I need to dig back into storytelling.

And yet, I would so rather forget the parts of my life that weren’t positive, especially the ones that implicate my parents. It would be so much easier than to have to acknowledge the ways that they, however unintentionally, have hurt me. (Dear parents, if your eyes ever land on these words, please know that my need to speak of these things in no way means that I condemn you. I love you both immensely and respect you so much for having gone through much rougher times than I have. I know you meant to give me more than you received, and you absolutely have. And though I wish all the positive rendered the negative disarmed, it doesn’t, which is why I am here, undertaking the delicately difficult task of pulling the veil from what was too painful for us to discuss together.)

Ugh, this is gut wrenchingly hard to write about. My mind keeps trying to evade the subject, and I keep writing and deleting and writing and deleting useless efforts. My sense of preservation is crying at me to stitch back this wound shut. Fuck it.

The matchbox story. The only reason why I know about this is because my parents told this story in front of me many many times. The fact that they felt free to dispense this as good advice shows how they really didn’t think they were harming me with their child-rearing shortcuts. So here it goes. When I was about two, before my sister was born, I started getting out of bed and wandering out of my room in the evenings. Classic terrible twos, when a little one’s sense of self starts to assert itself. So my parents decided to use a matchbox to block my bedroom door. In the story they tell, it took no more than a week for me to battle with this, trying to get out and crying myself to sleep by the door, but after that, I was perfectly trained, going to bed and staying in on my own. I was told this very much impressed all their friends who came over for dinner at our place, and it greatly contributed to my reputation as a wonder child.

I can’t know if the vague memory I have of falling asleep against the door and later being transported back into my bed, too exhausted to protest anymore, is an actual memory or if it’s something I imagined from hearing the story. I don’t actually remember struggling with the door, but to think of myself in that position brings anguished tears to my eyes, and a feeling of compression in my chest. Like I said, my parents meant well. They were so proud and needy of me to be an autonomous well behaved kid. I’m sure I would have different problems had I been raised to be wild but such as it is, I was raised to learn that I needed to deal with my feelings on my own and that above all, I needed to not bother my parents with my needs. Which of course, no one could have known would be the worse possible set up for what happened next.

Mini recap of a big story. My sister was born but couldn’t eat on her own. She was hospitalized and force fed so she wouldn’t die. After six months of my parents taking turns so she wouldn’t be alone at the hospital, they got her in a home care program and she came home to the room we shared, where she continued to be force fed for another three years, every single night. After she started eating on her own, she developed a sleeping disorder where she would cry in her sleep, also every single night, for another six years.

I’m so used to stating all these things while staying collected, but inside all I want is to fall apart, slide to floor and let the cry out of my throat, let the tears flood my face, let my body tell its own version of what happened.

The link between the matchbox and the nightly force feeding appeared to me a year or so ago. That I had been trained to not leave my bed and to not show my feelings, which is what I continued to do, even as my room transformed every night into an intensive care unit. How terrified I must have been and how impossible it was to escape it. How I was later called a perfect child for handling the situation without any trouble, but how it’s all utterly blacked out from my memory, and yet still haunts me everyday.

Now here’s the new piece of the puzzle I woke up with the other morning. My sister experienced the force feeding not as life saving but as torture. She would constantly try to pull the tube going through her nose to her stomach, she had to be restrained, the setup had to be reset after she learned to make herself throw it up. Then the sleep crying was basically her nightly reliving of that torture, her unconscious grappling with what she had experienced. Meaning, I have spent almost a decade of my earliest life listening to someone I love in pain and fear, unable to help her in any way, unable even to fully understand what was happening to her. Every single night, the sound of her calling out, and my inability to do anything about it… Yeah, I’m not so collected thinking about that part.

I read once that some of the worse post-traumatic stress disorders comes from witnessing helplessly someone else being harmed. I myself was not harmed by my sister’s ordeal, but when I think about it, I’m forced to acknowledge that what I went through in witnessing it is pretty brutal. Brutal. Just the word calls a sob out of me.

I’ve spent most of my childhood days trying to cheer my parents up, help them any way I could, and caring for my sister, soothe her any way I could, because at night, I was a prisoner to her never ending trauma. I could have just as well been sleeping in a straightjacket, subjected to her wailing, my own unexpressed emotions every night burnt a little deeper into me. Oh right, and then there was also my mom’s cancer, as well as both of my parent’s own thousand yard stares from their own childhood traumas, to add to the list of things I had to face but could not fix…

I’ve only just started to understand how deeply my personality has been shaped by these experiences. Why I spent the first two decades of my life prioritizing my family, desperately trying to make up for the sense of helplessness I had absorbed. Why that now follows me everywhere I go. Why I’m so unable to control my over reactivity to anyone’s distress. The sound of someone in pain is to me like the sound of war to a veteran. The idea of distress itself causes me to feel distress, having been trained to be hyper sensitive to it. It’s a visceral and paradoxal response, my entire body tensing and paralyzing itself at the same time.

When I’m like this, flooded back with the past, I wonder if I‘ll ever be done with it. Somehow I don’t think I will. Still, I strive to integrate it all as best as I can, release the suppressed feelings, swap repression with awareness, and develop better ways to self manage myself. At least, when I remember what happened, when I tell my story, I find that I can have more understanding for myself, for why I never remember my dreams, why I can never seem to get enough sleep, and why I so often wake up feeling kind of shell shock.

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On being loved and being hated

Why stop here when you can really bring it home.

(Disclaimer: I’m leveraging this blog for therapeutic purposes and using its public function to keep myself accountable. My writing isn’t as much inspired right now as it is required).

So, let me be all the way honest here. It’s not “everyone else’s” opinion of me I really care about. It’s my mother’s. (Oh yeah, I’m getting real comfy on the analytic couch over here…)

Btw, I feel free to write about this now because when I wrote to my parents about my social media coming out, they responded beautifully to that (“as parents we want you to be happy, no matter what it entails for you”) but they completely ignored the other part of my email, which brought up my blog and said that there’s still so many things left unsaid between us but if they ever were to read my posts about them, I hoped they would feel how much I respect and love them. Anyway, I’m taking their silence as saying that they are not capable of going there with me and that therefore I am free to write whatever the fuck I want here.

My relationship with my mom is the most complicated of all my relationships. First because she’s my mother and she raised me. Second because as a woman she was my first example of what I’m supposed to be. Third because she was my first boss, and I worked for her for many many years. Fourth because I’ve always felt that she loved me, and hated me.

Although I wish I could, I don’t think I can paint the full portrait of my mom’s life here. It’s not my story to tell. But my story is nestled into elements of hers, so I have to go there to make sense of myself.

Did you know that a baby girl develops all her eggs when she is still in the womb? Meaning that half of what makes me me already existed in my grand-mother’s body when she was carrying my mom? I guess this is a good starting point.

My grand-mother hated my mom, much more than she ever loved her. This isn’t just from what my mom has told me, which would be her perspective on the matter. This is from what I have observed, and I’m a pretty good observer.

Of course my grand-mother also has her own story, one that explains why she was such a good storyteller, why she became very obese, and why she was one of the most narcissistic person I have ever met. My mom’s childhood looks like a picture perfect suburban dream on the outside and like a horror movie on the inside. She was never safe in her own home. She didn’t have a say in all the things she had to do. She was openly dismissed, criticized, and hated.

When she was 16 she left home. It was a complete break between her and her mother, and therefore her family. Her father went to see her only a few times, behind his wife’s back. My mom worked hard to make a life for herself. She went to college, participated in the sexual revolution, and made her own choices.

But then, and I don’t know the details of when, she came back to her mother. My mom’s wedding was celebrated in the family house’s backyard. When she had a child, me, she named her after her mother. I have the same name as my grand-mother, the woman who openly hated my mom.

When I first became aware of this as a child, my first conclusion was that I was the peace offering of my mom to her mother. Then later, after realizing how much time I had spent trying to take care of my mom, I realized I was unconsciously intended to be a substitute mother. And now, I’m reaching yet another interpretation, and I see that my mom gave in to her mother’s pressure to be a wife and a mother, to be a traditional good woman, so that she could be reintegrated into the family. And I was the symbol of that, of her loss, of her submission, and therefore the object of her resentment, and her hate.

Holy fucking shit. This is what made me burst into tears earlier this morning and it’s still making me cry now. This would be the kind of moment when my old psychiatrist would push towards me the box of tissues that always sat on the table between us (the most tender gesture he’s ever shown me).

My mom never really wanted me to be a kid. I was rewarded for autonomy and I learned to repress my emotional needs. After my sister’s arrival, I became a true master at both. My mom and I would connect on making things happen. Parties, projects, moves, jobs. I started hanging out and helping out at her office I don’t remember when. I started being officially employed by her when I was 13. I worked for her until I was 19, then again for a year when I was 21, and again for a few projects when I was 24. I have since fallen apart properly enough to know exactly why I should never work for her again (and I put a few friends on watch to remind me, were I ever to forget).

The main point here is that my mom’s love and attention was always entangled with working for her, doing things, helping, making things happen. When I behaved like a needy child, she either ignored me or was angry at me, both hiding the fact that she didn’t know how to be my mom in those moments. Hiding also the resentment of being in that position.

I know I’ve used the word hate and that it’s a pretty harsh word. My mom would be devastated to hear me say that I have felt it from her. But I did. A few times, but at crucial times and in ways that sunk so deep they are indelibly part of my self conception.

After I was hospitalized, I was a punching bag for my whole family, because I had scared them in being so burned out but then was “officially” diagnosed with nothing at all which gave everybody the right to make me into the difficult one. When I quit my job with her the second time around, on the phone she was gracious, but when I came to dinner that night she became so vicious my dad had to tell her to stop (the only time he’s ever done that). Those are the occasions that are burned onto my conscious mind. Then there are the ones I don’t remember, the earlier ones. I guess those are still in flames in my unconscious.

Hate. Defined as a passionate dislike. There’s no hate where there’s no love. That’s the passionate part. Then the dislike, that’s the conditional love part. I can’t say that I felt openly hated by my mom the way she did by my grand-mother. But I was never sure I was really loved either. I felt loved for all the things I did. I felt loved for all the other people that loved me. But to this day, I’m not sure that my mom actually loves me, just for me.

Mothers and daughters. That’s not a new story. It’s a typically complicated one. It of course has so much to do with the oppression of women and how we’re barely starting to get away from that. And it has to do with our culture of domination and our economy of addiction, in which unconditional love serves no purpose, or actually poses a threat to the power structures. How can you give what you were never given? It drives so many to try to take what they’re owed. But that cycle perverts everything, and self perpetuates…

So, why is all this shit coming at me like a freight train right now? Because of my new job. Because I started working for a woman, a friend of mine, who unwittingly has become a constant trigger pusher. Her story is also not mine to tell but let’s just say there are a lot of similarities, between her and me, between our families, between the situation she’s currently in and my mom’s history.

I always see my internalized mother in anyone who employs me but I’ve never seen it more than in this job. I couldn’t have written a better scenario to get confronted with this. And sure there are some issues with the actual job and the actual person that is my friend and current employer, but that’s nothing compared to the shit storm they awaken in me that isn’t actually caused by them. I’ve been a wreck for the last three months because I’ve basically challenged myself to the absolute furthest point I can go without falling completely apart again.

I want to see this through. I want to heal these demons inside me, that whisper in my ear that I am nothing, that I need to serve, that I have to fix things for “her”, that my limits are useless, that I should give everything…

Four years ago, I learned to look in the mirror and see myself through my own eyes, not the eyes of my internalized mother (the one I ate and digested and incorporated, spoon by spoon, everyday a little bite, for the twenty years that I lived with my actual mother). This project has been both the tool and the reward of that process.

But this is different. I need to learn to see myself as myself in the eyes of others who are standing right in front of me. Actually, let’s be more precise again. I need to learn to see myself as myself in the eyes of my boss, whose standing next to me every single day that I‘m at work.

And here my project does not help whatsoever. It isn’t the right tool for this context, because this context involves other people I can’t control. Gosh I miss the days when I was spending all my time alone…

I’ve been writing off and on for 7 hours. This subject is too intense to focus only on it. It’s also hitting me that I’ve literally written all of it while lying down on my couch… I guess psychoanalysts really are onto something.

To those who’ve read all this, thank you for following me into my desire to take responsibility. I am doing fine, a little emotionally bruised up but also kind of really proud of myself.

On where I am

Back from my unplanned project break.

Oh life. Plan or no plan, she’s the one leading this dance.

I’m not even going to pretend I don’t want to write about what’s going on. My sister’s nipples were bleeding. Turns out she has papillomas and cysts in both of her breasts. The latest biopsy shows that the cells are typical though, not atypical. Her syndrome still increases their chance of turning malignant but the need for rapid intervention has been averted. Nothing needs to happen until her next ultrasound in 6 months (no MRIs for her because of her pacemaker). It’s such a relief, because an intervention would have meant a double mastectomy. Which might still happen, at some point down the line, but at least it doesn’t have to be rushed. She also got to see the specialist who will follow her from now on and he assured her that if they do the surgery, it will be with an immediate reconstruction. She won’t have to wake up without breasts. That image has been haunting me ever since I heard this was a likely scenario. It’s what was hanging over the entire family during the holidays. It’s what made everyone cuddle up a lot more, what made my sister’s self-harming attacks go down drastically, what made me drop a lot of what was on my agenda so I could be present and not lose my shit. That’s the thing about these kinds of experiences. They really bring up what’s important, and make you forget or sneer or laugh at what’s not. And so, so much in this life is not fucking important.

This is one of the most dramatic health issue my sister has had to deal with in a few years. She’s the one going through it, but of course it affects the whole family. That was the thing growing up. No one, especially not I, understood how what was happening to her was in some form also happening to me. It’s not something that gets really talked about. Healthy siblings of sick children. It’s something I have spent years googling, hoping the internet had an answer for me. It didn’t, so I had to make my own. This is where my wisdom comes from by the way. Not because I am naturally good at it, but because I have to be good at it.

The most difficult thing for me is to not throw the baby with the bath water. Being constantly reminded of the transient nature of life makes it hard to engage with things and go after goals. My life becomes a slippery piece of marble, like I have nothing to grasp it with. It’s hard to compete with how meaningful physical survival is. Everything else pales in comparison. It leaves me free floating, unattached to my own life. The purpose of being a witness to someone else’s life or death struggle holds such clarity, I still don’t know how to see myself with the same eyes.

And this is where I get it. Get it more anyway. My videos, my words, my desire to share it publicly, my fascination for any reaction I get… I’m driven by my need to exist in ways I do not know how to do on my own. You’d think feeling your own existence is one of those granted things in life. Like maybe the only granted thing. But no, for the likes of me, it really isn’t.

We all have our challenges. This is mine. I want to learn to see myself as the main character in my own life. I want to let the aliveness that flows through me shine. I want to exist as myself and for myself. I want to live before I die.

I can tell my project has completed another cycle on its spiraling course. It already isn’t what it was before. It isn’t yet what it will be next. Like the space between our breaths. It’s a good place to be when you can recognize it as such. The next breath is coming, there is no doubt or question about it. But for now, in the stillness of expectancy, I can let myself experience where I am.

On my story

Storytime.

This is the most difficult thing I have ever written. It feels gigantically important.

Warning: it’s by far my longest post. It takes me about half an hour to read.

Also, the side notes I wrote a while back still very much apply.

So, where to start… I guess at the beginning there were my parents. When they met in their late twenties, they both thought they didn’t want children. They both had horrible childhoods, something they bonded over. But their love changed their minds, and so they decided to start a family and have a baby. Me.

Can one ever describe how they were in their first years? I look at pictures, I listen to anecdotes, and from that I piece together the kid that I think I was. I would never sit straight in high chairs, always had a leg swinging on the side. My parents took me to all kinds of places children don’t usually get to go. I remember being aware of music, and I imagine I must have been highly sensitive from the get-go.

It’s extremely difficult to find the words to talk about what happened next, which makes what happened before seem irrelevant. When I was three years old, my sister was born. Everything seemed normal until her birth, when it became clear that, well, she wasn’t normal. No one knew exactly what she had until she was seven years old, when by chance one of her doctors saw a case with a kid that looked just like her. Only then did we get the actual diagnosis of her syndrome. Like with Down syndrome, except it’s a different rarer syndrome, a spontaneous mutation on one specific gene created a ripple of consequences all over her development.

I’m used to describing my sister’s story in a detached clinical tone, because I’ve learned that sick children is one of the most heart wrenching subject. The events of her early life were very dramatic. She spent the first six months of her life in intensive care. She almost died, couldn’t eat on her own, and had a bunch of other problems. When she finally came home, she had to be forced fed at night. So our room became the ICU. It took two adults to set up, my parents having to become expert nurses overnight. She had to be restrained with special orthotics so she wouldn’t pull on the tube that went down her nose to her stomach. Later she would make herself vomit to have it come out. Can’t reason with a baby that feels tortured by what is keeping her alive. Every single night, all night long. For three years.

I remember nothing from this time, I blanked it all out. If it isn’t clear already, this is the first source of my post-traumatic stress disorder, though I didn’t understand that until a few years ago. I was told that after my sister was hospitalized, I became the perfect child. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I do know that my subsequent struggles are related. In the work that I have done on myself since, I’ve uncovered some of the agreements I made with myself back then. One of them was, if my sister dies, so will I. Completely irrational of course, but it’s the kind of thing a three year old would come up with. Bargaining with magical thinking. I use a lot of psych jargon by now, but it all boils down to one thing. What was happening was overwhelming and I did not have the resources to make sense of it.

Those early years were the worse, but that’s not to say that the following ones were easy. Her physical, intellectual and emotional health were, and still are, a rollercoaster of challenges. She’s doing pretty great these days, but it’s been a hard road getting there. And as for normal, she never was nor ever will be. But normal is overrated, and I can say that from actual experience. My parents and I became a tight knit team around her, bonding over everything she had to overcome. As can be imagined, I got to grow up too fast and never again was quite the normal kid either.

How to continue… I guess school years. That’s a tale of extremes, highly tainted with the misunderstood context of what was happening to me through what was happening to my sister. At first I went to my neighborhood school, which turned out to be quite rough. I always had a lot of ease with academics, something that was due to my parents encouragements and to being kind of gifted. During the three years that I was there, I remained the kid no one could relate to. I never once made a friend. I was either bullied or ignored. At times I was bullied by parents. I was too different to ever fit in. Teachers had no idea what to do with me, and as the weird quiet ultra mature kid, I certainly wasn’t their priority.

The principal ended up summoning my parents to plead with them to take me to a different school. That’s when my fortune turned around. Because of my sister, I got sibling privilege to attend an alternative school. It had barely a hundred kids, the classes were integrated with different ages and different disabilities. It was based on a self taught, project-based pedagogy. I can honestly say that this school changed my life. I immediately made a bunch of friends, my family life became integrated with my school life, and I found my voice. We would make our own schedules and create our own projects. We never had normal exams, but instead had evaluations that focused on how we felt. How do you feel about yourself? Oh my god. Those questions opened up my soul. I got to know me, everyone got to know me, and I felt like I belonged.

Then this dream time, which is still the model for what I believe life can be, ended. Sadly, there were no alternative options in my city for the next grades up. So I got hit by puberty at the same time as I re-entered the nightmare of conventional schooling. I switched schools four times in five years, and never found continuity in any community. That’s when my psychological health unraveled. Out of paradise, out of latency, most aspects of life stopped making sense to me, and the pains that had been repressed inside blossomed into a big time mess.

The one redeeming element was that I started seeing a psychiatrist. I had been asking for one for years, ever since having been once to the therapist that was following my parents after my sister’s birth. Whenever I asked though, my parents would say that I should just talk to them. But I couldn’t. One day when I was eleven, I heard that my sister was going to see someone and I lost it. I said it was unfair that she could get one but not me. That seemed to do it. I got very lucky when the senior child psychiatrist who was supposed to refer me to someone else decided to keep me. I started seeing him once a week exactly a year before I was officially diagnosed with depression. And I remained in therapy with him for exactly a decade.

My first break down was all about my sense of having no control over my life. It started slowly, mostly over issues surrounding school. I started seeing my psychiatrist multiple times a week. He would have my parents over at sessions to explain that I needed to be given some slack. He told them that it would help for me to have my own room, which I ended up getting. He gave me permission to pick one day a week when I didn’t have to go to school if I didn’t want to. I realized later that he was trying to create a safe space for me to to find myself but also to fall apart, because that was just bound to happen.

I got lucky again the following year when I could enroll in a special school that used to be reserved for ballerinas. It was module-based, and you could complete it at your own pace, wherever you wanted. I finished most of my classes in the first two months. Then I focused the rest of my time on myself. This period turned out to be both alienating and fascinating. How else could you describe the experience of a fourteen year old, walking the streets of her city alone, journaling in coffee shops and hanging out in cinemas, feeling herself slowly reach rock bottom? I remember the exact moment I reached this bottom. Strangely, it felt good even though it felt painful. Like I knew, even back then, that this wasn’t the beginning of the end, it was the beginning of the real.

I paid for my unusual lifestyle myself. I started earning money when I was nine years old, recording radio jingles. My career as a talent ended quickly though, because they wanted older kids who could sound young, not young kids who could sound older. But I kept on working jobs throughout my entire adolescence, babysitting then being employed in a business owned by an extended family member.

That’s also when I started taking anti-depressants, which I took for five years straight. I still don’t know for sure whether that helped me or fucked me up even worse. Probably both. I do know that the SSRIs I took are not recommended anymore for people under 18. But based on the information we had back then, I guess it was the right call. There were legitimate questions about my staying alive, and I think my psychiatrist wanted to use all the tools at his disposal to make sure I would. And I did, so that’s that.

The following year I started again at this same special school. By then word had spread and a few more alternative souls had joined. During one of the first weeks, I wrote an essay about my experience with depression. Somehow almost everyone got to read it. A bunch of people flocked to me afterwards, sharing similar or different experiences. And just like that I found myself in a tribe again. I would still spend most of my time in coffee shops, but I wasn’t alone anymore. I started getting better and better, envisioning a future for myself. I thought this was it, my ticket to real life. Then right after Christmas, they announced that the school was closing, and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Had to take a break from writing here, to let the tears flow. This is the second source of my post-traumatic stress disorder. And that’s another time of my life I don’t remember very well. I know that the day my mom went to her first surgery, I was wondering if there was anything in the house I could take to make it all go away. I know that while my friends were making plans to land in the same school, I was busy taking care of my sister while my mom would undergo chemotherapy. I know that for some obtuse reason, I ended up enrolling in a far away school that no one else I knew was going to be at. I know that I started going everywhere with my mom, became her nurse, and even her assistant as she started a business to try to keep herself attached to life. But all I could really register was the feeling of being hit on the head by a hammer as you’re in the middle of getting up. Surefire way to get knocked back down.

My mom got better and the worse was over when I had to start school again. I had spent the summer working for her and taking care of my family. I felt chewed up by life. I felt old. And I must have looked it, because everyone at this new school thought I was a new teacher. Students and teachers alike. I was fifteen years old going on forty. This was a traditional huge high school, and my presence there was the epitome of surreal. I lasted two weeks. Then I started skipping school again. But this wasn’t the type of place where that was allowed. So I would lie, even though of course I would get found out. I didn’t know how else to manage. When I look at it now, I see how exhausted I was. I had stayed strong for as long as I could and it left me burned out. My psychiatrist started advocating for me again, recommending that I should be allowed to stay home. I got appointed a home school teacher, which turned out to be an extremely awkward experience.

That’s when my familial situation reached a breaking point. I was falling apart at exactly the time when my mom needed things to get back to normal. We were all still reeling from the stress of almost losing her. Struck by some sort of temporary insanity. My parents started questioning my psychiatrist’s choices and decided they wanted a second opinion. He had to agree so he took us to a colleague of his, who was the head of the psychiatric unit at a youth hospital. We all went there on a Monday at 10 am. I have a journal entry that says what I had for breakfast that morning and that I had planned on doing yoga that afternoon. No one had anticipated what happened next. After hearing my case, this other doctor said that if I was too sick to go to school, then I should be kept for observation to confirm that. Somehow everyone agreed, and when it was my turn, I didn’t know how to disagree. My parents left and my mom came back with some clothes so I could spend the next 72 hours there. At that point, alone with her, I begged her to take me home. I cried and cried and she cried but it felt out of our hands. So she left and left me behind.

Now tears are just pouring down my cheeks as I write, because this experience still breaks my heart. It was completely the wrong call. I was actually re-traumatized in having to be in a hospital and in having my consent taken away. I would like to write more about how I felt while in there, but the whole thing is a blur despite feeling so cutting. The lockdown came to an end and I was switched to an outpatient status. My mom would drive me every morning to make sure I would go. That lasted a month. I don’t know exactly when but at some point my soul retreated deep within me, into a hidden place. Out of harm but also out of reach. Everything became grey, and I stopped trusting everyone. My parents. My new psychiatrist. My old psychiatrist. Myself. The world.

The painfully ironic thing is, their official diagnosis for me was that there was nothing wrong with me. I was depressed, sure, but I wasn’t anorexic, I wasn’t bulimic, I hadn’t actually tried to commit suicide, so my not going to school was just me being temperamental. Which is why they kept me as an outpatient. I was told that I could either go back to school, or stay there. Blackmail by any other name. I dreaded the school so much but I couldn’t take the hospital anymore, so I went back. I finished the year a ghost of myself, eating lunch in bathroom stalls, pretending to be alive. I know that no one intended to harm me, and that everyone had good intentions. But no one actually helped me, and at the end, everyone seemed satisfied with my faking it. No one ever acknowledged how deeply I had been broken. I am still trying to get over this. I’m terrified of losing control like that again. And yeah, this is the third source of my post-traumatic stress disorder.

Everything that happened afterwards is tainted by how locked out of myself I remained after my hospitalization. That’s really the worse thing about it. Once I was out, we never talked about it again. My relationship with my family became fake. I remained in therapy with my old psychiatrist but it was never the same. I would walk through life, doing what was expected of me, feeling dead inside. I switched to a school for dropouts in order to finish my high school degree and even went on to get a college degree but I went through all of it feeling like a fraud. I pushed my truth so deep within me that I lost touch with it.

Admittedly, my time in college almost felt like the real deal. I just wish I hadn’t been plagued with deep feelings of shame and dissociation. And that my entanglement with my family didn’t always take priority over my social life. I did have a few amazing experiences despite my constant struggle with myself. When I was eighteen, I went to an extended language course in another country. For three weeks, I got to be a carefree fun young person. I made friends with a bunch of other misfits and we went out every single night. I ended up having my first romantic sexual experience there. I’m so grateful I got to have a healthy first time. The following year I continued experimenting, but ended up only having affairs with older men. Back in my everyday life, I didn’t really have the context for any usual form of relationships.

When I graduated college, instead of feeling successful, I felt cheated. I was involved in a big project with my mom that became a nightmare to manage. I didn’t know how to navigate it while respecting my own integrity. That summer I went on a long trip by myself and that’s when something in me started becoming unhinged again. I spent three weeks in a big European capital, but slept through most of it. I had a complicated affair that revealed just how desperate I was underneath my facade. When that ended, I traveled aimlessly for a few weeks, feeling how truly lost I was.

Then I went to visit the brother of a family friend. We had met in person the year before, had corresponded, and I knew I liked him. He was older but healthier and kinder than anyone I had ever met. I got to his place and somehow the stars aligned for us. We spent an entire month together. I let him take charge of everything and just dropped into being taken cared of. I told him everything that had ever happened to me. Talking to him is how I learned to talk to myself again. He became my safe place. We’ve actually been together ever since.

The following years were a cacophony of trips and moves that were all about the challenge of individuating from my family so I could have a life of my own. I moved in with my partner, who had relocated in a different city on my side of the ocean. I spent a year there, traveling back and forth, battling the pull of my co-dependency. Every single time I left one place, my fear of loss and my separation anxiety would get triggered. Each goodbye on either side felt like tearing a psychological muscle. I ended up moving back to my hometown for a year, living with roommates but working for my mom again. Then a year later I moved back with my partner so we could move to Europe together. So far away from my old life, I thought maybe I would be free to create something new. But my past kept haunting me, and I felt trapped in old patterns. I became depressed again, unable to participate in life, unable to really function.

We moved back to our American city, renting a room that felt like living at the Chelsea Hotel. The walls were painted bright yellow with a shiny gold fish pattern that looked like wallpaper. It became the jar for the darkest phase of my transformation. That’s when I discovered complex post-traumatic stress disorder and self-diagnosed myself with it. Learning to manage PTSD made the pieces of the puzzle come together. I was supposed to be in that yellow room for three months, but I stayed for three years. The first one disintegrating into my rawest state, the second one incapable of leaving it by myself, and the final one slowly rebuilding myself like a soft shell crab.

And then I moved back to my hometown. Yes, again. I did it completely earnestly, thinking this was my destiny. I needed to be there for my family, for my sister. After a month, I was at the lowest point I have ever been. I wanted to die so badly, the only thing that would calm me down was imagining myself dying. My partner didn’t want to leave me alone for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t ignore the signs that this was absolutely not the right place for me to be. And I had to tell my family. That brought up a pain that felt excruciating. The night before I was set to talk to them, I had the worse panic attack of my life. Funnily enough, when I did tell them, they knew, and they understood. There’s no helping others in denying yourself.

So I left again for my other city, where I still am. It’s been a few years now. I’ve been slowly but surely creating a life for myself there. This process got a booster shot a couple of years ago, when something I have dreaded all my life almost happened. My sister needed to get a pacemaker for her heart and during the procedure the anesthesia needle pierced one of her lungs. They didn’t realize it right away, so she went home but became very ill as her lung collapsed. It all happened very quickly. I knew her surgery had gone well and yet the next day I woke up with a terrible feeling. A few hours later my dad called, my sister was in the emergency room. I traveled the many hours that separate us in a night bus, sleepless. A strange feeling came over me as I watched the landscape pass me by. I have spent my entire life getting ready for this. Most people who have my sister’s syndrome die as kids and none are older than fifty. I have worked my ass off to develop the maturity to be able to live with this reality. And here I was, this was it, I was going to have to say goodbye to her. That’s the moment I realized, if she dies, I am not going to die. That’s the moment I realized that I can be ok with that. I have found enough reasons to live, I have become enough of my own person, that I know I will figure out a way to outlive her.

But her story isn’t over, and she didn’t die. When I got there, her lung was being restored and I watched her skin go from grey back to her beautiful mocha. My sister is extremely resilient, she’s already gone through more than most people ever will. She bounced back like a champ, walking out of the hospital on her own two feet a few days later. I followed her example and went back to my life. A week later I got sick, the stress having taken its toll. My stomach would hurt all the time, but something about it felt right. I started to feel my insides again, whereas before I couldn’t feel a thing. It was like being thawed unfrozen. I had to take care of myself and, for the first time, I actually could. So I nursed myself back to health, from what seemed like a lifetime of sickness. I lost fifty pounds in the process. I felt more like myself than ever before. I felt like I could finally love myself. That’s when my project started. And that’s where the timeline bridges to now.

So, this is it, my hero’s journey. The way I cried while writing it shows me how necessary it was for me to go there. This was the next step I needed to take. I have suffered a lot in my life from feeling like no one could understand me. Feeling trapped because I didn’t know how to show the people around me who I was. This is an attempt at rectifying that. To own my story, to reclaim my past. Now that this is out there, I feel like I can write about anything I want. And now that this is out there, I feel like I don’t have to care anymore about what anyone thinks. Everything that happened to me isn’t cause for shame, it’s cause for pride. My odyssey already has many chapters, but that’s exactly how I made it here.

On radical acceptance

I tracked down the article on Marsha M. Linehan and radical acceptance:

Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight
By Benedict Carey

Withholding love is not the way to solve suffering. Being harsh on yourself does not drive positive change, it causes pain. And pain sucks, and pain kills.

I am still trying to accept myself unconditionally. It’s a damn hard practice. But a worthy one. I want to remember to choose the carrot, not the stick. I’ve already hurt myself so much. The time to love myself has come.

This article was one of my first exposure to these ideas. I am so grateful it landed on my path when it did. The date published tells me I read this 6 years ago. At the time, I felt like I didn’t know how to live, and I wanted to die every day.  If I look at me now, I see how much I’ve changed. I credit this to having learned how to be loving to myself. And I know, this is how I want to continue…

On side notes

I went to an acupuncturist this weekend for my period issues. I ended up telling her my whole life story, which felt so liberating. That might explain why I suddenly feel the urge to tell my story here too. It was interesting, she told me that her chief concern in her work on me was “moving and building”. She was talking about actual blood, but that phrase stuck with me. I think moving and building is exactly what I need on all levels. Moving the old and building the new. Writing about what happened to me feels like a relevant way to move the old, so that I can build more new.

But first, a few side notes on process:

1. What happened to me is not who I am, it is the road on which I have traveled. I don’t identify with my story, it’s just the background from which I emerge. I was I before anything happened and I will remain I no matter what happens. Of course, the events of our lives informs how we behave, what we believe is possible, how we see ourselves, etc etc. If I thought it all meant nothing, I wouldn’t feel the need to talk about it. But I want to be clear on the distinction before I begin, because it’s easy to mistake yourself for the road. I have been there before, and that’s exactly when I felt like a victim to my circumstances, and though that was an important stage, I’m looking for the next stage. The one where I can tell anyone what’s happened without falling apart, because I am firmly rooted in being myself, and nothing can knock me down from the truth of who I am.

2. Perspective is not an objective truth, it’s a moving target. Ask me again in half an hour, and I will have a different story. My mood, the weather, what is happening right now are all going to influence how I tell the story. I know, because the story has been changing ever since I started telling it. Actually, telling it is what helps it change. It’s a huge part of the digesting process. Making sense of, assigning meaning, untangling emotions, freeing yourself from their effects. Storytelling is more than just art, it’s a powerful healing channel. (well, we could get into the conversation that all art is healing, but let’s stay focused here.) So, I’m going tell my story this way now, and reserve the right to tell it differently later. Because that’s just how it works, thank heavens.

3. We all have a story, and we all go through different things. Sometimes we go through the same things, and then our responses are what’s different. The point is, comparison is pointless. I learned this lesson very early in life, when I realized that pain is pain, and joy is joy, and any attempt at ranking them is a waste of time. There is no reason to think that my pain is bigger than yours, that your joy is bigger than mine. I’m not telling the events of my life to position myself on some hierarchy of suffering. First, I don’t believe in hierarchy. Second, pain and joy is what we have in common, not what separates us. Also, I’m not looking to be pitied, rescued or condemned, and I am not intending to shock, distress or mystify. I’m just sharing openly, hoping to be received freely.

Alright, I think that covers it. Time to sharpen my pencil.

On waiting

So I did hear from Vimeo, from someone at entry level a few hours after my inquiry, and then the following day from someone at Trust & Safety. Both only asked about the email address linked to my profile. I responded immediately but heard nothing since.

I fear that the account might have been deleted and be unretrievable. It’s been so many months now. That’s a stick I just want to pick up to beat myself with. How on earth did I let this slide for so long? Now it’s my fault, I’m the one to blame for all the lost messages and comments… (Oh the habit of self bashing, such a hard one to kick.)

But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe they just don’t know how to handle my case. If that’s true though, I wish they would freakin let me know. Something as simple as a “we are reviewing your request, hang tight”. But maybe there’s nothing to review and they really don’t want to have anything to do with me. If that’s the case, then I really wish they would let me know. So that I can grieve and move on. Here my paranoid side is waking up, whispering that maybe their policy is to give the silent treatment to those who have violated the guidelines, because that’s a very effective way to shame them…

Wow, I’m really doing such a bad job at handling this emotionally. (Even the way this sentence is phrased shows how I’m stuck in a negative brain state.) I need to figure my way out of this. Re-empower myself. I do not want to be a victim.

The truth is, I’m very triggered by this situation. I want to explain why but talking about my traumas is not something I’m good at. I’ve worked hard at making peace with them and yet it all still feels so raw, like I can’t even open my lungs enough to breathe deeply right now…

There’s a gigantic context to this, one that would take many posts to describe. It involves my family going through several waves of intense stress, which led to a place of such exhaustion that it turned into temporary insanity. It happens, when adults mean well but are at the end of their ropes, and wrong calls end up being made. It’s what happened to me at 15, when I was misdiagnosed and involuntarily hospitalized. I spent 72 hours in lockdown and then 2 months as an outpatient. I do not have the capacity to tell the whole story at the moment, but I want to free myself by at least saying it out loud. I think it’s because I feel like my actions, and especially my inaction, are very hard to understand. When someone doesn’t make sense to us, we often think “what’s wrong with them?” But really, the more pertinent question is always, “what happened to them?”

A lot of things have happened to me. It still makes me act in ways that seem erratic and incomprehensible. It still makes me act in ways that make me hate myself, because even though I understand why, I wish I was free to act differently. I blame myself for not being there yet. (I know, I’m very hard on myself.)

I have dedicated the last decade of my life to finding my way to being a whole and healthy person. It’s been a slow and painful process, but I have already become more than I ever could have dreamed for when I first started. Oh man, I’m crying again… Well, like I always say, tears is how I know I’m telling the truth. Hopefully this will read as the truth too, and not just as the ramblings of a crazy person. (Yup, this subject makes me incredibly vulnerable…)

To those who are concerned about my well being, please don’t worry, I’m ok. I actually think that sharing my story will help me. So thank you for listening, and thank you for being patient with me.

On learning how to live

I am emerging from the depression. Walking out of the sticky stuckness. I feel like I can actually think my own thoughts again. I can engage without freaking out again. Maybe I can even try making things again.

I’m starting to recognize how this cycle goes. It’s almost always about stress getting over the tipping point. Making me lose grip on hard-won new habits and regress back to old ways of managing myself. The kind of maladaptive ways that have as side effect the erosion of my body’s inner ecology. That’s what sets off the depression. That’s when I don’t feel like myself, don’t feel in control, don’t feel good, don’t know how to get back. That’s when hope leaves me. It’s terrifying how easy I just slip back into this vicious cycle, where I am only capable of doing the very things that are hurting me. That phase is a foggy hell and it can last a few days or it can last a few years. And, honestly, how I go from there to the next stage is very hazy. I pretty much have to wait to get so sick of myself, or so sick period, that I need to change, need to act, or risk losing everything. It’s the panic that jolts me out of the downward spiral. But it sure isn’t a switch, and the longer I was out, the longer it takes to get me back. Then it’s all in the littlest details. Breathe deeper. Get some oxygen. Move, just a little, start with one toe. Sleep at night, stay awake during the day. Balance my blood sugar and my gut bacterias, get my vitamin Bs and D levels back up, boost my omegas-3. Soothe my nervous system, gently get back on friendly terms with water. One step at a time, keep my eyes on right here right now, and slowly re-enter my body. Because that’s the way to my spirit. And that’s the place where I feel like myself, where I feel connected, where I feel alive.

I used to see balance as a single point on a scale. Stay right there and you’re in balance. But I’ve come to realize it doesn’t work like that, not at all. Because when you stop moving, you’re not in the flow of things, so you can’t be in balance. This is another way I can fall back into depression. When I try to cut every stimulus off and repeat the same routine over and over again, in a well intended but misguided effort to stay on that teeny tiny balance point. Right. That’s how I end up feeling like I’m drying up from the inside out. That’s what makes me want to break the scale all together by smashing it against the wall. It’s like keeping perfect maintenance of a car only to keep it in the garage. If it never gets driven, is it even still a car?

By now I believe that balance is a dance. It’s about learning the steps. Learning how to move when life twirls you that way, how to skip when life swings around this way. I guess it’s also about figuring out what kind of a dancer you are. Experimenting with different styles, knowing there are options. Maybe it’s getting really good at the rumba, then something happens and you have to transition to tai chi, only to find yourself falling in love with it.

This project is kind of intense for me, because it’s happening in real time. I’m not capable of creating a controlled storyline fast enough to present a version of me that is organized. Even if I could, I don’t know what that would offer. It’s for sure more of a trip like this. The meaning of what I do isn’t always easily apparent. Maybe I’m making up a new dance. Stepping here and stepping there and the next one goes like… TBD.

On being heard

I keep writing like it’s Ariadne’s thread leading me out of the labyrinth.

Full moon tonight. She’s whispering, what’s in your heart? I listen. There’s something far away, I can’t quite hear what it says, I feel only the ripples. It’s like being on the shore, listening to someone talking to you from the middle of the lake. Oh my heart, how unused you are at being heard.

I started writing before I knew how to write. As a child I would fill notebook lines with waves, imitated cursive, the flow of all I wanted to say. I have a rare distinct memory of this, sitting in the grass in the afternoon shade, page after page, playing at writing.

Another memory, of writing a letter at this children’s community center. How special it felt to be asked to say things about me. My words were sent in the mail, and then something magical happened. Someone wrote back to me. The emotion I remember is so sharp, it’s like I still can’t believe it, like I’m still this little kid in awe of being reminded that she exists. I still have this letter. It’s got blue clouds on top of the page and handwritten words. Words that meant the world to me.

Newborn babies won’t thrive if they are not physically touched. It’s like they need to be told that they exist in order to exist. Just like the particles that won’t show up if they’re not being observed. Because if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I have been journaling since I was 9 years old. My first diary I was writing to an imaginary Dear Anne (from my Anne of Green Gables phase). Dear Diary, dear someone, please be my witness, please help me feel that I exist. I skipped the whole dear thing pretty quickly, but I never stopped thinking about the idea that someone was reading what I was writing. Secretly wishing. Imagining losing it and someone finding it. Sometimes someone specific, more often than not just anyone. The hope in that is what made me keep every single one of my diaries.

Needing to be heard. Wanting proof of your presence. It’s like taking attendance of yourself. Existence is a fact, an experience, and a need all at once. And existence cannot be fulfilled unwitnessed. It’s like beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Because beautiful is beauty experiencing itself through the act of being seen.

And this, well, this is the diary I am leaving open to be found. It’s the letter I send so I might be responded to. And my videos, they are me beholding myself, a way to hear the sound of my own existence. And then all of it really is about feeling touched so I can keep on thriving.

On pain

Writing about pain is an act of hope for me. It may sound a bit deranged but it’s the absolute truth. Hiding pain is what’s habitual and detrimental. Putting on a good face. Pretending you’re ok when you’re not. Now that’s how you alienate yourself from yourself. And the pain of that is a thousand times worse than the original pain.

The injuries I have suffered weren’t physical. Yet the bruising process is the same on spirit and mind as it is on physical tissue. You get black and blue. It may not be visible to the naked eye, but it is visible to the open eye. I recognize it all the time on so many people. The disconnected wires. The thousand yard stares. The heaviness of every steps. The pain in so many incarnations.

I’ve had a few breakdowns in the last couple of days. The full fledge kind, the ones that take me down to the wailing core of my pain. I wanted to record them, but it wasn’t possible. I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt the process, going there was too important to risk compromising. The only way out is the way through. That used to be my motto. That’s how I got to be what I am now.

It’s immensely scary to go all the way down to where you can go through. It feels like drowning, and your instincts first want to kick you back up. But then somehow you find the inner strength to dive into the whirlpool, or maybe you just let yourself get sucked in. And then you pray, as you shake and sob and feel like you’re going through the wringer, and you’re scaring the neighbors half to death as you’re letting the pain out through screams and tears and sweat. Then at some point you stop, mostly because you’re exhausted. Nothing else takes more energy in my experience. But you did it, you released a layer of pain, a layer of imprisonment, a layer of hell from within yourself. And now you’re this much more free, this much more alive, this much more capable of joy and love. But first you need a nap or piece of chocolate, or ideally both.

When you go through a meltdown like that, you so want to say, and she lived happily ever after. Nothing ever works like that though. So you have to settle for the knowledge that, if you made it through this round, you’ll make it through the next. Even if the next is in a few hours, or tomorrow, or next week. At some point, the next round is unforeseeable, because you’re just doing so well. And it was so worth it, because living like this is so much better. And it will be worth going through again, when the time comes.

It’s hard to describe how much writing this is good for me. I can feel it on a biological level. It’s affecting my cells, like some sort of anti-inflammatory drug. And it’s more than just my body. It’s mending the seams of my soul that feel torn apart.