07 March 2014 04:45 PM Categories: The struggle redefined
I have laryngitis, or something resembling it, a rasp to my voice, a throaty growl, the sudden squeak in a conga line of low-throated syllables. There is an ache in my chest, not of emptiness but of constriction, of blocked bronchi, and my muscles let out little calls of minor pain. But I don’t think I’m that sick. I’m just going underground.
In the dream I had right before waking, I was holding a party in Central Park. My clients were invited, but there were not enough adults to look after them, and the children scattered. As I climbed a steep hill in a frantic search for my charges, a man passed me from behind. He bore a burden of a sculpture, a compact, gleaming metal object made of sharp-edged spirals attached to an anvil-like base. The man thanked me for ducking out of his way, then gave me the secret for climbing uphill when you’re carrying something dense and weighty. Every few steps stop, rub the small of your back, then reach back around and gently pat your other hand. His message was clear: care for yourself.
As I walked home last night 13 hours after leaving it, I thought about this profession I am becoming a part of, the amorphous, ambiguous world of counseling. And it came to me: people are not problems to be solved. We are human beings who do things for reasons. Those reasons need to be honored, even if our actions seem insane from the outside. We are not trouble or troubled – we are trying to protect ourselves from trouble, from pain, using any means necessary. Sometimes we keep on protecting ourselves long after the danger is past.
Changing these patterns takes time. The impetus must come from within, though support from loved ones and outside guides helps. But changing is not problem-solving. You are not a problem, though your behavior may be problematic. Change comes from self-compassion, from an ability to hold the difficult feelings, to allow yourself to make mistakes, to acknowledge that we are all ugly sometimes. The path to change is through accepting yourself, flaws and all.
There is no soul mechanic who will come along to patch you up with his fix-it wrench and his human engine knowhow. Your future is in your own beautiful hands. They may have to pull you up a sheer face of rock or hold on to a frayed rope as you shimmy into the unknown. You could find yourself reaching out in the dark for people that may not be there or grasping an invisible chain as it whips you through the ether. Be kind to yourself. You will get through. You will reach the top, will touch ground, will grab that hand. You will find yourself on the other side of despair. You are capable. We all have it within us.
Change isn’t easy. It’s not predictable. But it is possible. And there is no need to go underground.
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05 March 2014 07:30 AM
I’m holding off on raiding the chocolate cupcake stash in the freezer, feeling sleepy and slow and stupid, wondering at what point the switch was flipped and I decided that the frequent visits of a stranger were but idle curiosities, periodic drive-bys, a ritual de lo habitual. I once thought they held meaning, were emotional raids on someone else’s history, but now they seem like harmless interest, like someone following a soap opera or the sad high jinks of a minor, dissipated celebrity.
I know this person is out there. I know we’ve never met. And I know we are connected using the sticky syllogism of youth: if I had slept with him and he had slept with you, then hadn’t I in some way slept with you, too? We share an intimacy, a knowledge.
I used to be more intrigued by this commonality, as though it meant something beyond basic, wordless familiarity, the same kind of casual information that comes through a kiss from a stranger. There’s intimacy and there’s intimacy. This was no great love, no deep transmission of soul knowledge. This visitor and I are one feel removed from a grope against the wall in a firetrap bar I haven’t frequented since college.
I originally wrote “lighthearted” grope, but there was nothing light or of the heart about it. It was corrupt and ugly and within his heavy-handed grasp was a hatred of me and what I stood for, though now I wonder if this was a projection of my own issues with myself, my shaky sense of intrinsic goodness. I sincerely hope my wandering stranger has bypassed such contempt, but I am not sure anyone can with that gaze upon them. The contempt will just take longer to hatch. My advice is to cultivate patience and cautious observation, plan for the day the thick shell cracks.
Really – what do I know? Why do I care? The truth is, I don’t know and I don’t care much. But I am curious. And sometimes I like to acknowledge the truth, give a shout out. I know you are out there. I know we have never met. But the sticky syllogism connects us.
I don’t expect this to make much sense to most of you. But it was a fun and quick -- if not a little cranky -- write.
Image Some rights reserved by anselm23.
02 March 2014 12:35 PM Categories: Food
I made pancakes this morning, thick, fluffy things tender with blueberries. We ate them at the table, in our pajamas, the New York Times spread out before us, pretending it was the pre-wifi ‘90s or early aughts, except the boy was now a part of the scene, reading the library book propped next to his plate. The third weekend in a row of a hot, home-cooked breakfast, the paper, a sense of leisure on a winter Sunday morning – it had the feeling of a tradition in the making.
When the boy was smaller, I used to make pancakes every weekend, a recipe that called for rolled oats, yogurt, and whole wheat pastry flour. The cakes, about the size of a sand dollar, were tangy and rich, but eventually everyone tired of them and I tired of it all, of making food and playing house, of the scut work that belonged to she who wielded the vacuum and brandished the dust rag. I took about a five year hiatus from the tyranny of Sunday breakfast. On weekends, we ate in our usual disjointed morning fashion – me early and on my own, the boy and his father together while his father read aloud and I walked the dog.
One of the therapeutic interventions I use at my placement is a deck of cards called Bright Spots: Thoughts & Feelings. Each card has an illustration and a fill in the blank statement (e.g., My dad is . . . ; I wish my family would . . . ). One statement is about family traditions. As the counselor, I play, too, and this card always stumps me. Traditions? Well, the boy gets to open one present on Christmas Eve and then there’s, um, maybe that’s all, or maybe I’m missing something. Once again, what happens in the room with a client shows up the ambiguities and gaps, the subtle removals, in my own life.
I’ve written here before about the Sunday breakfasts I had growing up, the fried eggs, scrapple, and toast, the New York Times, the reading out loud of the magazine’s ridiculous real estate ads. At the conclusion of the meal, we would tap on our plates with our knives and call the cats so they could lick up what was left of the yolk and the crumbs of scrapple. The casual feel of those weekend breakfasts was entirely different from the oppressive atmosphere of dinner. Conversation was not required, so I did not necessarily notice the silence that my mother’s boyfriend broke only once I left the table. There was no alcohol, so gratuitous cruelty was less likely. The day was fresh and so were we, with none of the little hurts that would build up over the course of the day.
When I gave up making pancakes, I gave up on a positive connection to my past and present family. I gave up on a tradition and its re-creation. It took me a long time to get to a place where I could reintroduce the Sunday ritual and acknowledge the depth of my ties to what came before and what was right in front of me.
We have family traditions and rituals: opening the Christmas Eve present, eating dinner together every night, watching a movie on Saturday evening. And we eat pancakes every Sunday, though you never know – waffles could enter the picture at any time.
Title of the post taken from the Velvet Underground’s song, Sunday Morning.
Image of pancakes and syrup by me.
28 February 2014 09:35 AM Categories: The struggle redefined
Even as the deluge hits, as rain inundates the San Francisco Bay Area, I can say – I feel better! Maybe it’s an anomaly, a short-lived mood change, but I am going to go with it for as long as it lasts. The layer between me and the world has thinned, the thick velvet curtain has been swept away, the door has been opened and a fresh burst of wind has blown through.
Yes, I am using the passive voice. But why – did I not sand away at this layer myself, tug on the curtain’s rope, turn the knob of that door? Honestly, I do not experience these moods as active states. They wash over me, I am immersed, the shipwrecked soul who clings to a waterlogged, splintered plank and is sometimes tossed ashore by fickle waves. But it’s only once I’m on land that I realize how precarious my position was, floating out on an expanse of the unconscious, lashed by whitecaps, pulled by tides. And then a rogue wave pulls me from the sand and I forget what it is like to be dry all over again.
The metaphorical curtain between a person and the world, the sudden open door with its blast of wind, depression as immersion in a sea that represents the oblivion of self and joy: overused metaphors, all of them, though they exist for a reason. However, just as my mother always emphasized the active voice as well as the Oxford comma in her critiques of my writing (from elementary school onward!), she would now push me for ownership and fresh metaphor, a move away from cliché.
Have you ever seen heat, those distorted waves emanating from sizzling asphalt on a day of relentless sun? When I am depressed, my vision is no longer solid. The world melts in front of me. I can’t quite get back to the reality of it. The distortion is reality. But the feeling isn’t one of heat. It’s one of being defective, of being absolutely, incontrovertibly wrong as a human being. And depression is more ice than fire. It can feel like I am trapped under the surface of a pond in winter. The water is mud-clogged, thick, and cold. I cannot feel my body. I experience the world through a layer of ice, must interpret the intent and meaning of the indistinct shapes that shamble through my field of vision. Depression affects how I see the world, how I experience it. It is a color wash of grey over a fully tinted existence, an obfuscating lens that interferes with my ability to see myself and others.
But enough of depression metaphors. Although my external world is gray and wet today – with an occasional hint of blue sky revealed through thin cloud cover – my inner world is returning to its jeweled hues, its flawless sapphires, fiery garnets, and unearthly amethysts, its warm golds. I will soak up the color and hope I can remember what beauty lies within me the next time the light dims, the world goes gray, and I am enveloped in darkness.
Final metaphor edited from the original -- tip of the keyboard to the lovely Grace.
Image Some rights reserved by M.Markus.