I Need Not Flee.

I love to watch geeky TV shows. I’ve written about superheroes, but now I’m going to take my geekery a step further. BUT there is a purpose for it, so hang in there…

I watch the show Westworld on HBO. Westworld is a theme park of sorts. Its set in the Wild West and there are tons of characters with whom park goers interact. There is just one catch – the characters are androids. Androids so sophisticated that you cannot tell them apart from humans. Androids programmed to think and feel. In fact, those feelings are so realistic that they include pain.

During one poignant scene, one of the androids signs up to have part of his brain extracted so that he can interface with the main server. Appalled, the human says, “We don’t have ANY anesthesia.” The android responds….

The pain is just a program.

These words had my brain turning immediately, because as humans our perception of pain can vary greatly. Some people have pain tolerance that is higher than others, while some people literally can’t experience physical pain.

I surmise that emotional pain is much the same way. Some people are more tolerant of it than others. I’ve written before that I think I might be one of those people who is more bothered by emotional pain. Yet, I have learned to cope with it in greater ways since my stay in the hospital and subsequent therapy.

You see, through therapy, I was able to view my thoughts and resulting pain from a new perspective. For weeks, I would say something negative about myself or discuss suicidal thoughts and my therapist would respond, “But that’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe it.”

It annoyed me.

I was annoyed, because while it was just a thought – my body and my heart had a response to that thought. It was weeks before I finally widened the gap between my thoughts and my emotional response. You see, once I was able to slow my emotional response to the thoughts, then I could choose to acknowledge the thought and then believe or disbelieve it. Slowly, very slowly, I was re-programmed.

Re-programmed Pain

I’ll never forget how it felt to disbelieve a suicidal thought. Everything within me relaxed. My spirit exhaled. I had been afraid of myself, my thoughts, for so long that I did not know what it was to experience something besides self-hatred.

Self-love was a very far way off. I’m still working towards that one. Each day, I re-program pain or, rather, my response to it. You see, now that the gap between thought and feeling exists, I am able to experience pain from a new perspective.

Pain is just a program.

Pain is a program that our body and spirit run when we need to learn something, remember something or yearn for something. It is there to tell us that things are important.

“Take note!” Pain says.

It is the fleeing, avoiding, suppressing of pain that causes it to be insurmountable, because there is a truth about pain that few accept.

Pain never goes away.

Think about it. Do you remember the first time you lost someone? Or maybe the first time someone made fun of you? In one instant, you can bring all of that back to your mind and experience it again. And this is only looking at pain from a past perspective. In the present and the future, pain exists too.

I cannot run from it, because it will come in one form or another again. If there is a constant in the universe, then it is that people experience pain.

While this is sad and grieve-some,  I can accept it. Once accepted, I can begin a reprogramming of my response to pain. Since I can never get away from pain, then I must deal with it, process it, learn to experience it.

Yes, pain is a program I cannot outrun, but it is also re-programmable. I can experience pain, learn from it and watch it pass.

For as constant as pain can be, it does pass. There is a reprieve. I need not flee.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

Raw Edges and Strong Cores

At some point in May, I had the idea for this post, but tabled it. I had other ideas to pursue and  knew I would eventually get around to writing it. Then, June happened and with it the return of all four kiddos being home each and everyday. The first week, I tried to write, but didn’t make it to the laptop until late at night. I figured I would take a break and let the summer be what it was going to be. Maybe I would even pursue that niggling idea of vlogging that was in the back of my brain.

Then, after a month, every single day felt like drudgery and stress resonated inside of me. At the end of the day, I would feel this incompleteness even though I had done many things. I knew that my writing, my voice, was too pent up, but I didn’t want to sit down to do it. I told myself that I was simply waiting for the children to return to school. This didn’t last long as an excuse, because soon it was apparent that I needed to write – something, anything. Yet, I held off, knowing that the inevitable writing also brings about the inevitable bleeding. Cathartic bleeding it is, but bleeding none the less.

So here I am, sitting, ready to bleed before you.

Raw Edges

I was trying to be healthy, slicing the fruits and vegetables early in the week, prepping healthy meals and snacks.

It was drudgery.

Why didn’t The Man create vegetables pre-sliced? I mean, fruit I don’t mind slicing, because it is enticing to the palate. But vegetables? No, those are no fun. As I moved from cauliflower to carrots, I reminded myself of how awful the baby carrots are and that the real thing is so much better and tastier.

It was utter drudgery.

I watched as I peeled the damn things and tried to remember the advice about everyday tasks given by Thomas Moore. If you look deep enough, sit still enough with them, then you can peel back their mundaneness into significance by seeing the metaphor, the imagery of soulfulness.

“Mumbo-jumbo.” I thought to myself sardonically. “Be more zen.” I then chastised myself.

Okay, so what could peeling carrots stand for in the soulful life. I ruminated peel after peel.

Carrots don’t have thick skin or rinds. They are firm from the inside out. Strong, if you will. Strong and ugly. I mean, we don’t have to peel a carrot in order to eat it, but it will never stop looking (or tasting) much like dirt if we don’t. I wonder if the strong among us don’t taste like dirt until something or someone comes along that sloughs off the ugliness.

“Hmmm. Not a bad little metaphor.” I smiled to myself. “What else?”

I sat with it. I wasn’t coming up with anything else at all. Yet, as I sloughed off layer after layer of the carrots, getting rid of the dirt divets and knotty elements, I felt less drudgery. In fact, something cathartic was taking place, something similar to how I feel when I write.

Strong Cores

A shedding of the dirt of life, smoothing of rough edges – that’s what was happening.

Yes, this was very similar to writing for me. Underneath everything, I find in myself strength when writing.

And so, as I return to writing early (before the summer ends). I remember carrots and that sitting down at this page is not all bleeding, but rather exfoliation. A scrubbing, unburdening, cleansing act of the soul to reveal my strong core.

Candidly,

Ash

Tam Vanam?

By: Ashley Kaylor

for Evan, my ray of heaven

 

it feels like a desperate black hole

a pit of apathetic hunger

Unassuaged by the sustenance of Life

 

How deep the need, the

Disparaging Ruin

a race Unwon , a life Unhewn

 

burning hot tears scald cheeks grown cold

Mists and steam rise from the pain

an Ice-like Vise around my chest

the droplets fall Uncaressed

 

where have you gone?

what have I lost

bright horizon, dissipating fog

all tied to one ray of Heaven now sacrificed

 

the garish abyss of lessened demand

‘Tis a Principle to withstand

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shape of Emptiness

When was the first time you felt empty? When did you notice a void in your life? I think these attributes – emptiness, meaninglessness, void – they can be feelings too. I remember the first time I felt meaningless. I had gotten in trouble for something and was sent to my room. I felt so badly that I took a belt down in my closet and tried to hit myself with it. I want to say that this memory was about the age of eight, but I fear it may have been even younger.

Emptiness came later. I was in at least eighth grade. I sat desperately reading  my Bible, devotional journals. I was looking to God to fill a hole in my heart. I wish my faith, my devotion had filled that hole, but there was a problem with that pursuit.

The hole wasn’t God-shaped.

There is a saying I’ve heard at some point in my life (not sure when or where). It goes, “Everyone has a God-shaped hole inside of them.” Perhaps that is why I devoted so much time and energy to pursuing him early on.

I thought God would fix me.

Now, in my head, I hear an angelic chorus singing, “God didn’t fix you, because you didn’t need fixing.” Okay, not an actual chorus, but it is what I imagine a good Christian would say or think while reading this story. I really wish that they would be right – that I don’t need fixing. I really do.

Some Things Remain Broken

If there is anything that I have learned from adulthood, then it is that some things can’t be repaired. I have seen it with our son’s autism, my mental health and our finances. I imagine a lot of people would simply say that I’ve lost hope. I don’t think that is true, because, believe me, I really dream of waking up to my son’s words and songs. I dream of a year in which depression does not affect me 330 days out of 365. I dream of a world in which we have a home to live in with a mortgage we are able to pay.

Oh yes, I hope.

Yet, I would be stupid not to prepare for a future in which my son needs full-time care. Facts are facts. If he hasn’t spoken by the age of nine, then things aren’t looking good for independent living. My depression? They say that the first time you have a season of depression that you should remain on medication for at least a year. The second bout of depression should be met with 3-5 years of medication. The third time? You should remain on medication for life. They also classify your depression as MAJOR and a legit DISORDER. I qualify for lifetime medication. I.E. This is thing is MAJOR and DISORDERED.

Some things remain broken. My friend has a dead plant in the landscaping at her new house. Initially, she thought to pull the ugly sucker out and replace it with something pretty. Then, she texted me a picture of it and said, “I’m keeping it”. You see, for her (and me) the dead plant reminds us that ugly and beautiful coexist, pain and joy coexist. Perhaps broken and whole can coexist too.

Sitting with Emptiness

In my life, I’m learning to sit with emptiness. You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to fill it for years and years. I’ve tried relationships, careers and jobs, schooling, children, religion, success, popularity, leadership, etc. The truth is that I’ve been trying to fill the empty space with a square puzzle piece.

I’m guessing my emptiness is upwards of a dodecahedron. That’s the largest 3D shape I can recall.

**Excuse me, I just looked up the spelling for dodecahedron and discovered it is actually a polyhedron. Are polyhedrons different than 3D shapes? What is a polyhedron? More than one face, my search tells me. Well, I’ve concluded that most, if not all, 3D shapes are polyhedrons. Geometry has never been my strong suit. Is this geometry? God, I hope so. End digression.**

You can’t fill your emptiness until you understand it, know its dimensions. In order to know those things, you can’t be trying to solve for ‘X’ or running back and forth with objects to randomly fill the space. You have to stop. Be present.

Experience emptiness.

And all I have to say about experiencing emptiness is this….

Damn it! Pain is coming, confusion is coming. This is going to hurt like hell!

Panic aside…

Pain is a teacher. Confusion isn’t a crucifix. And Hell was made for rebels.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. I wrote this post while listening to “Hold On” by Sarah McLachlan.

 

Fairytale Endings

Lovers stare unending

Upon each other depending

Great quests defeated

Deep fears retreated

 

A bashful onlooker

Tear-streaked face

Sadness overtook her

Between the empty space

 

Oblivion

An insidious delirium

Ingratiating smile

Tastes of bile

 

Absently apathy

Draws out agony

Angry animosity

Harbors no reciprocity

 

Lovers apart

Waste their hearts

Drought dampens the dependent

Wet for ardor and atrocity

 

Come now, have remorse

I only wanted to be

Your curiosity

 

 

 

 

I Have Made Peace with the Darkness

**The following is a piece I wrote almost a year-and-a-half ago. For today’s throwback Thursday, I’m remembering a time when it seemed depression was lifting. At the time, I felt a great deal of anxiety. These days, I would say that I am still making piece with darkness and the light is still blindingly garish. I suppose I’ve made peace with knowing that peace is an ongoing process. Hope you enjoy!**

I Have Made Peace with the Darkness.

It is the light I fear.

Lately, I have begun to see the light in the distance. Maybe its temporary. Mood swings have always been swift tides. At three o’clock in the morning, I might feel excitement, almost euphoria, at a new revelation brought on by lack of sleep and significant pondering. By seven o’clock in the morning, I want to die and can’t be alone or care for my children. That has been my life for a long time.

I did not want to meet the day.

I still have those moments. Recently, in fact. Yet, something is smoothing the turbid waters. A slowing of my spirit and soul. Consistency in the tides.

I dare not call it hope. It feels much different, as though I am exchanging one shadow for another. Depression and I have become friends. We’ve made peace. He’s here to stay and I am no longer surprised by his appearance. I am accustomed to this shadow, the darkness behind me.

It is the light on my face that is surprising, blinding. I am like Peter Pan looking for his shadow, confused at where it has gone, only to see it again momentarily on the wall in front of me…or is it behind me. Why is the light so bright? Where is my shadow friend? There he is! No wait, that’s something different.

I’ve come to know the name of my new friend. Now that I can feel his presence, I’ve asked his name.

{I am anxiety} He said.

We are not friends yet. He moves too fast. Coming and going, triggering and trapping. Where is he leading? Do I go there too?

I’ve read and re-read my notes from my therapy program. It seems depression has to do with the past, our darkest times. Anxiety is connected to our future, our light. He is the shadow when the light dawns.

My question then is whether High Noon will ever come. The moment when all the shadows are gone.

But perhaps that is only anxiety talking. Whether, what if’s.

Deep down, I know the truth in my soul.

High noon will come. {And pass.}

The sun always goes down. The shadows always reappear. The darkness always finds us. It is the ebb and flow of nature pointing to something archaic in my soul. Something that belongs to all mankind.

Growth happens in the darkness and the light. Some beings require more of one than the other. Shade plants, plants in Full Sun, etc. We know the only places plants do not grow – in full light, in full darkness, the nether regions – arctic and Antarctic.

Deeper still, growth is a cycle. The plant, the animal – they have no destination. Once gone, the ground of their resting place is made fertile.

New life begins again.

Day and night. Day and night. Day and night.

We return to the ground.

New life begins.

This is the rhythm my soul knows. My mind is learning it still. My new shadow has come.

Yes, I have made peace with the darkness. Now, I must make peace with the light.

Candidly,

Ash

Refugee of the Masquerade

The way I talk about my depression has always been a difficulty of mine, especially when it comes to that time I planned to take my life. Those words, “a plan to take my life”, are not my own. They were given to me by my therapist shortly after my stint in the hospital. You see, I needed to talk about this thing in group therapy, but I didn’t have words.

So he helped me find them.

I am eternally grateful. I used his words for years. Sometimes, I find myself still saying them. It’s my default setting.

Another word, that I use to describe those precarious days was given to me by Brene Brown. The word is ‘breakdown’. This usually comes out of my mouth when I’m not trying to be serious. It’s like a pleasant, shorthand for “I was going to kill myself”.

Recently, I wrote here about stigma and mental illness. I loved how Jim Carey had come up with his own twist on the word ‘depressed’. Not even a few days later, I sat in front of a book that encouraged the reader to find their own language for the darkness in their life – whether it is an event, ongoing illness or season of life. He encouraged the reader to go so far as developing a description for the many dark parts of their lives.

When I Came to a Dead End

I’ve been reflecting on this for several days. I think the best way to describe my ‘breakdown’ would be to call it a “Dead End”. I had come to a dead end, a great canyon emerging in front of me. Within that giant canyon was my death. There was no way over it. No way under it or around it. Turning back seemed impossible. I made a plan to bungee jump into that giant canyon, because it was the only way I could see forward.

I think some people don’t mind having a persona that they wear around the office or on stage or with their mom-friends, etc. Maybe they know it’s a mask and they are able to wear it and remove it as needed. I don’t know whether that is healthy or not, but I’m willing to consider that some people aren’t affected by the masks they wear. They know who they are and who they may have to be AND they know the difference between the two.

I, however, was wearing my mask as my identity. I didn’t know what I wanted so I created the mask that seemed the most acceptable to others. At first, the mask made the road I was walking on easier. It helped me move forward, gained me approval. I felt confident in her.

Then, over time, the road got bumpy and twisty. The Mask maintained the charade, requiring things of the real me that felt like prostitution. She was hiring the real me to do the hard parts, delivering a crisp check in the morning. Except, the real me couldn’t cash that check or take it to the bank. It wasn’t my form of currency. The real me spiraled into poverty of the soul.

The Mask and I walked the path for years, each day creating a larger and larger chasm in the distance. When we reached that chasm, a dead end forming in the road, it was either her or me. Either the mask had to jump or I would. And the mask – she’d been calling the shots for a long time. The real me felt worthless compared to this façade the world saw. If I couldn’t be the façade, then my life needed to end.

Now, I’ve told this story before and it has been pointed out that I could have just let the façade go. Why didn’t I just let the façade go? Because the person underneath the façade – the real me? She was worthless. That’s the reason I had adopted the façade in the first place. The real me deserved to die. I truly felt that, believed that. No amount of preaching God’s love to me over thirty years had changed it.

I didn’t deserve to be alive. I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want to exist.

The Line I Crossed

The person I was, the mask, it died the day I went to the hospital. I remember them taking my blood pressure and heart rate – the numbers were off the charts. Alarmingly off the charts, dangerous. My emotional state was tearing me apart. I think of the way it felt, to walk into the emergency room, knowing that I was the emergency. The Mask was literally seizing inside of me, stroking out, dying.

I’m not sure who jumped first into the giant chasm at the dead end, but I know that we both fell together – the Mask and I. The façade didn’t survive. Though I had expected to die from the fall, I lay bleeding out in the dark instead. How could I navigate the dark chasm as the husk that I was?

One of my favorite songs has these words to describe how I felt:

“When I chose to live, there was no joy. It’s just a line I crossed. It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost. So I was not lost or found.” From “After All” by Dar Williams

Every moment since I crossed that line has been lived in the dark chasm. I thought it was death before me, but discovered that it was simply the unknown – a land without the Mask. I’d like to say that I haven’t doubted my worth since then. I’d like to say that the relevancy of my existence has been proved each and every day.

I cannot say those things. However, I can say that the darkness is a beautiful mystery. This chasm is lonely in good ways, solitary. No mask accompanies me. I am simply a refugee of the masquerade, looking for a home, living day-to-day.

Sometimes, that has to be enough.

Candidly,

Ash