Humanity is Hard

Butterflies are in my stomach frequently these days. It’s a new feeling, because my mind is aware of all that is happening around me…and it’s freaking out.

This could be called anxiety, but I’ve sat with it some and realized it’s simply my brain trying to cope with new information.

It started about a week ago when we increased the dose on a medication that has been working well for me.

The first thing that happened is that I started to find the games on my phone boring, which I admitted was probably a good thing. Then, I noticed that I couldn’t nap on command, my body was too aware and awake to zone out.

This is when I realized, “Holy crap! I’ve been zoning out A LOT!”

But now that I’m not zoning out, I’m also aware of things like boredom. My brain has a tendency to think boredom is actually bore-DOOM. It knows that if I’m bored then there is space for something to happen. Emotions can happen!

So I began busying myself, even when I didn’t want to be busy, because bore-doom needed to be avoided. Unfortunately, this, like my phone and napping, no longer kept those emotions nicely suppressed.

So now, I have this medicine that is helping me feel like a human being again…and the truth is, I’m not sure I want to be human being. It’s hard! I prefer zombie mode.

But I’m sitting with it, sticking with it, not running. Gently pressing into this wealth of feeling and trying not to be overcome. I wait for the shoe to drop with the next wave of unfamiliar emotions, the nerves in my stomach tightening with the sensation of butterflies.

The butterflies will pass. The pain/fear/anger/sadness or whatever emotion will come.

Then, it will pass. The feelings will pass. I will still be here.

Yes, I can handle this. I think…

Candidly,

Ash

There is a Part of Me that Wants to Survive

We recently got a new car.

I should say a “new-to-us” car.

It’s a 1999 Honda CRV complete with peeling paint, slugglish A/C and in desperate need of rotors. It also intermittently doesn’t start.

But other than that…

We like it.

It’s been a long summer without a car. So even though its not my top choice of vehicles, its also not my last. I’m thankful. I mean, when you go without a car for seven months, then you sort of naturally become a recluse. It will be nice to, you know…. Go SOMEWHERE!

School starts Monday and with the end of the summer came a need for a babysitter. We really hired her because I thought I was losing my mind and felt I could NOT do one more day of summer.

My first act of freedom was to visit the dump (because this is what a person does as their first act of freedom?!?!). You see, our lovely acre of land is located so far from civilization that no trash pickup companies will service us. It’s {not} great. In my eagerness to be rid of the nastiness residing on our front porch, I forgot my cellphone.

Of course, I didn’t remember this until my car wouldn’t start at the dump.

Stranded. At the dump. Of all places.

It was smelly, hot and I didn’t have anything to do but wait the 1.5 hours it would take my husband to return his state vehicle and then drive to me.

So I waited and waited some more. And there was a great deal of time to think.

I remembered my therapist offering up the suggestion that when faced with bad circumstances, we can ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this?”

And so I closed my eyes in the sweltering heat and  prayed, “What can I learn from this, God?”

I’ll be honest. “Don’t buy sh*t cars!” was the first thing that came to mind.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t God’s answer.

Opening my eyes again, I looked at the words scrawled on a bright red sign.

Take the time or pay the fine.

A cantankerous snort may have emerged from me at this point. I knew the sign was my answer, but I didn’t really like it.

You see, I didn’t take the time to grab my cellphone or leave the babysitter with Jesse’s number. I also didn’t take the time to fix a problem with the vehicle when I certainly should have.

Yes, I could go on and on about all of the procrastination that occurs in my daily life, but it felt like there was more to the message on the sign. Something deeper.

My car did eventually start – an hour later. As I drove, I was immeasurably thankful. I also felt, deep in my soul, that the car – faults and all – was the car we are meant to have right now. I felt peace.

And I felt something else that I ignored for the rest of the week.

Sad.

I had felt sad for a number of weeks – very, very bone wearily sad. The kind that comes from caring for a person that may never get better. The kind of sadness that comes from witnessing diminished capacity. The kind of sadness that mourns simultaneously for the life that a person could have and the life they actually have.

I barely made it to the end of the week and even once I did, the sadness was still there. Only it had now festered into anger turned inward.

I was crippled by what I thought was self-hatred today. Only to find myself digging underneath all of the anger to discover this deep, deep sadness –

A sadness I had not taken time to feel. Take the time or pay the fine.

And the fine?

Crippling self-hatred and thoughts of self-harm.

So I sat down today, knowing the page could be the canvas for my sadness and I started to write about my jank CRV and a bright red sign that I had thought I understood, but actually ignored.

And I’m here to tell you some things that aren’t pretty and are deeply discouraging. They suck the will from within me. These are those things:

I surpassed my ability to take care of Evan years ago. We are now living in a season of sacrifice. I’m so tired. My therapist says that my responses to Evan’s aggressive behaviors are similar to what can be seen in abusive relationships.

The problem is the abuser isn’t an abuser at all. He is a disabled child who is growing stronger in body and emotion. He has hurt me and meant it. He has hurt me and not been in control of himself. I love him. I can’t stop loving him. He is my child.

But when is enough going to happen that someone can save us from him? I’m not the only one bleeding out here. There are six people in this family. Five of them are held hostage to the whims and moods of another.

Each day, I must choose my response to those moods and whims. I’m very tired. I would rather just die than keep on like this.

But…

There is a part of me that wants to survive.

That part is the one here making confessional, feeling all of this pent up pain. She pays the fine when I don’t take the time to feel.

She hurts worse than words can express.

And I’d like to take this moment in time to honor her for her strength. I honor her for her honesty. I honor her for her sacrifice. And for what it’s worth….

I’m so, so sorry that it is this way.

Candidly,

Ash

 

The Fiction Surrounding Addiction

I remember in fifth grade learning about addiction. Instantly it was villainized. Unfortunately, the majority of D.A.R.E. programs simply inspire anxiety and fear. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer my kid not get addicted to drugs.

I also don’t want them to live in constant fear of being one of the statistics or horror stories their guidance counselor showed them.

Somewhere there is balance, I believe.

Interestingly enough, D.A.R.E. was not my first experience with addiction.

Watching my mom drink Diet Coke was.

Today, I sooooo get my mom. I’m addicted to Mountain Dew. How do I know this? The moment things go wrong, the moment stress supercedes my ability to cope? I stop for a 32 ounce.

Now, there are much worse things to which I could be addicted. There are worse coping mechanisms.

That doesn’t make my addiction any less harmful. Other addictions might be more harmful. It doesn’t change that I am addicted and it hurts me.

Comparison is the Thief of Compassion

There is a quote from someone somewhere that goes like this…

Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I would venture to say its also the thief of compassion. Comparison allows me to lie to myself about the problems I have. Its easier to ignore my problems when I can say they are not as bad as someone else’s. In reverse, I also can destroy myself comparing how awful my problem is.

More than all of this though, it’s really easy for me to think I’m better than someone else simply because my addiction is legal.

The fiction surrounding addiction is this:

It can’t happen to me.

Now that is a myth. It can happen to anyone and chances are many of us would be able to say we are addicted to something or another. When you boil it down, addiction isn’t this giant, scary thing.

Addiction is a coping mechanism gone awry.

This is what I know for sure…

I am very fortunate that the worst thing my mother did was drink a Diet Coke when she felt tired, in pain or stressed. Had it been something else – something like heroin?My life would be very different.

Addiction definitely comes down to choices, but it also comes down to how pain and stress were handled in our homes as children.

The choices made in my home when I was a child have made all the difference.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Oh, How I Run from Myself!

It is Monday afternoon and, truthfully, most Mondays I am eager for the day. I’m ready to get back into my to-do list, accomplish things. See here, where I disclose being a total productivity fiend. Monday is the one day that always seems to be productive for me. Maybe it’s because I’m fresh, unjaded by the previous week’s letdowns.

This Monday, however, is very different. Today, I didn’t want to pick up this laptop with a  cracked screen. I knew what was waiting for me. I say it often, that writing is like bleeding for me. Sometimes its extremely cathartic, like how people say acupuncture is great. I’ll never know about acupuncture though, because…needles.

There it is – needles, perceived pain.

I can’t get past the idea of needles, many of them in my face. A good friend of mine once told me that the needles are so very small that you don’t even notice they are being placed. Maybe she doesn’t notice. I, however, would be writhing in the anticipation of the pain and no needle would ever graze me.

Because that is what I do. I run from the pain.

This morning, I wanted to run from the pain. I didn’t want to sit here and bleed, cathartic or not. I wonder how thirty-three years of my life have passed and I am still afraid of that benevolent teacher known as pain.

Why do I not befriend her? Call to her and say, “Come, I will hear you out.” How long will it take for me to set the welcome mat out permanently.

I do not know.

I do, however, know that I will keep trying. Today, I will sit down at these keys and not run from myself. I will listen and honor the voice within.

She is saying….

I feel dead inside. Not like the autumn leaves returning to the ground, but like the decomposition of a slaughtered animal. Left too long in the sun, unburied and festering, I feel dead inside. How does a soul emerge from such noxious smells and grotesque twists of flesh? In nature, the decomposition is slow and lengthy, the byproducts nourishing.

Maybe that is what I need to expect from this sadness and angst that I feel – a slow and lengthy process that nourishes the world around me.

I wonder who is nourishing me, though. Ah, that is right, dead things don’t eat. They don’t need sustenance. They simply rot away, no one giving a thought to their sacrifice in the life cycle. Who will remember them?

I chuckle to myself, remembering my dear gardening friend, Lori. She loved her compost like it was a living thing and not quite the opposite. She marveled at the worms flocking to the pile of the dead and rotten. Their slimy, writhing bodies inching so slowly, purposefully in the direction of the deceased, the unwanted. I never knew anyone could love worms until I met Lori. I never knew compost could be an interest and passion.

Perhaps all that is dead inside of me, simply needs a farmer or gardener to see its worth. Perhaps I can be my own farmer, tending myself through a slow and lengthy process. I am reminded of how Lori explained all of the different ways to compost, the different tools. Maybe, if I don’t run from the dead things inside me, I can find the right process to enrich the earth.

That is, after all, what I most desire from my pain and the death I feel – that it live on in the things which grow.

Candidly,

Ash

Debase Thyself Not!

Recently, I was in a meeting and was very publicly called out for one of my faults. As the words were shared, I felt myself folding inward. My posture slouched. I wrapped my sweater tighter around myself, as though it could shield me from the humiliation. I began ducking my head and looking out from the corner of my eye like a shy little child.

I felt small.

I stewed pretty hard on this humiliation for a good 48 hours. I pressed pause and replay, rewound and fast forwarded, zoomed in and scanned out, assessing the crowd. Then, a small inner voice said, “You don’t have to relive this over and over again.” And so I shelved that ugly VHS replaying in my head.

I sat still with the feeling only – humiliation.

I will be honest. She and I haven’t been best friends. In fact, if I were to describe humiliation, then she would not be a friend at all. She would be that overly friendly stranger at the grocery store. You know, the one who kind of creeps you out and that you awkwardly pretend not hearing. Maybe, humiliation could even be personified as the obnoxious DISH representative at the mall or Walmart – the one who knows you don’t want to talk, but still asks how much you are paying for internet/cable service. (**Side note: My husband cracks me up when these people ask that question. He says, “That’s none of your business.” Poor, unsuspecting DISH rep. I feel for you. I really do. Just not enough to stop and listen.) My point is that humiliation is one of those feelings that everyone wants to ignore, push away. Yet, it is still a valuable teacher.

As I sat with the unique, searing pain of embarrassment, I had to draw on some reserves, because I felt very overwhelmed. I tried to imagine what a therapist or wise friend would ask about my experience. The first questions were somewhat inane. Are you humiliated often? Are there certain people who humiliate you often? That sort of thing. Along the way, one really good question came up.

Have you communicated that it is okay for people to speak of you this way?

Pause. Long pause. Longer pause.

Not directly, but perhaps unconsciously.

You see, I am an expert at negative self-talk. I can wield it with the precision of an Olympic fencer. Here is what I mean…

I use my negative self-talk to let people know its okay to be real. They don’t have to pretend and no one is perfect. I also use it as deflection from scrutiny. For instance, someone who is annoyed with me might call out my faults and I instantly acquiesce, agreeing with them and perhaps adding to it. The other person is so dumbstruck that they sort of don’t know what else to say. It’s also an effective tool in becoming a pseudo-comedian. There are few people who do not relate to a good, humiliating story.

Yet, in all of this vocal, negative self talk there is a misnomer to my soul. Perhaps, but I’m not necessarily sure of this, I am inadvertently giving permission to others that they may speak of me in that way too. Now, I don’t really like to be humiliated by others. It hurts deeply and this begs a question. Why don’t I feel hurt when I talk negatively about myself to others?

I am numb.

Self-deprecation has been a shield from others at times, but it has also been a sword too. If I stab myself with a sword, then I prevent you from doing it first. The problem is…

I still stabbed myself. I am still bleeding. Maybe I don’t have the momentum and force that another person would, but I’m still bleeding. I still injured myself.

So this is something I’m going to be working on. I’m still not opposed to sharing my faults. Authenticity is still my cornerstone. I won’t use it as a tool though. I won’t manipulate it to gain friends, prevent hurt or shield myself.

Yet again, an uncomfortable feeling shows me the way forward. Humiliation, perhaps the most brutal of teachers, is indeed my friend.

Wow, I’m honestly a little freaked out about this prospect!

Candidly,

ASh