Triumph, Failure & Humility

My relationship to my career as a therapist is complicated. I worry it will sound cliche but for me it is a calling–I derive great meaning from my vocation. However, living in a corporate capitalist system (with a single income) requires that we grind out a living in order move ahead. In short, the volume of work I have to do often burns me out and, sadly, I can begin to resent my work (I like to think that even when I resent the hours I put in that I still do pretty damn good work but it’s not always true). I relish the times when I still feel excited about learning both in and out of session. Since I am in one of those periods I would like to share some of the experiences of the week.

On Tuesday I had an experience that reminded me of the comfort and skill I have developed over the years. I used an intervention that, out-of-context, may have seemed risky and impulsive but within context (of that particular client and our specific relationship) it was actually a very grounded move. Intuitive? Maybe. I often get confused about what that word really means. What I did realize and relish after the session was seeing how my skills and feel for the work has developed over the thousands and thousands of hours I have acquired “in the chair”.

One of the things that keeps this work exciting, however, is that just as you are patting yourself on the back, something will happen to humble you. If you can stay open (not take it personally and beat yourself up) you can still put it to good use. Nevertheless, it is humbling.

I have a client I have seen for coming up on four years. She is a cis-gendered woman who is 22 years old. I have known her since she was a freshman in college (she is now beginning her senior year). She grew up in a home with a verbally abusive narcissistic father and just got out of a three year relationship with a narcissistic boyfriend. This client tends to try too hard to be liked and to please others. She has made strides in this area. However, a few months back I realized that, in spite of caring for her, I was no longer looking forward to our sessions. And now in retrospect, I think I was avoiding looking at that because (and this is no excuse but it is honest): I started to give up and feel defeated. I want to explore both this and what happened in our last session.

Our session was going “okay”. At least in the sense that the client was reporting things that clearly showed some of her growth: dating situations in which client bowed out because she noticed that the person was domineering. For whatever reason (probably because I had the energy and I am relishing the work right now) I realized that this client annoyed me by not pausing to let anything I said “land”. Or, to be more precise, she gave no evidence of anything landing. I quickly checked in with myself. I thought about how my client very likely has ADD and that this was a variable at play. However, I also felt in my gut that there was something more. So I brought it up with the client. The client admitted that she tried to prove herself in life and that a part of her was probably trying to show me that she was a “good student” by hurrying up and giving me an answer or an opinion. Then the client surprised me.

She told me that she remembers that I use to do more “reining in” during sessions. That I wouldn’t let her “get away” with staying on the surface. She said that lately she noticed that she was getting away with not using the session time and that I was allowing this. She was right. I hadn’t felt good about my work with her in a while. I was bored. I had given up. I made sure she knew that she was right. I told her I had become complacent with her and had not been doing my job as well as I could.

It’s important here to note that I felt grounded as I admitted that. That is to say, I did not feel defensive. I did not feel dysregulated. Strangely it felt as though my young client had validated my experience (which relaxed me) and brought me face to face with what I had been avoiding. I thanked her for the feedback and asked how it was to give it to me. She told me it was “scary” since she is used to men who invalidate her experience and then try to argue with her. I thanked her for being brave. I then asked her if we could stay with the topic at hand. She agreed in spite of her fear.

I asked her if we could look at how we were co-creating the situation. I made sure to create a safe context (due to client’s tendency to feel as though she is to blame for things) by quickly bringing in the idea of circular causality. The trick here was to get her to see her part while ultimately acknowledging that it was my job to have spotted it, not hers. Or rather, that I had indeed become complacent by not bringing up my transference-counter-transference issues earlier so that we could have addressed them months months ago.

I told the client that over time I had grown tired of my interventions not landing. I explained that part of why I grew tired of this so fast is that I bring my own issues to the table that make me impatient to see that I am impacting people; that I have a compulsive need to know that I am helping. I explored with client how we had seemingly landed in a circular trap. I grew tired through my belief that my input was not landing and mistook it as me no l,onger having an impact on her; she began to realize she could avoid facing difficult things since my exhaustion kept me from challenging her. Her avoiding difficult things, in turn, made me tired and bored. And so on and so on (the circle can be entered into from any point as it is not a linear causality). The client agreed that this made sense. For good measure, I reminded the client that though we had co-created this dynamic, that it was my job to have looked at it and brought it up sooner but that I now realized I was being even more avoidant than she was being.

The client and I ended the session with a resolution that I would go back to reining things in; to doing a better job of controlling the flow of the session. She asked me to challenge her again. She asked me to even challenge her when it looked she was simply “speeding by” my feedback. I agreed to this as well.

I’m proud of myself for having turned something harmful into, hopefully, something helpful. But why did I wait so long? And to be clear, I’m not being hard on myself. I ask it from a place of curiosity. And the answer is both simple and complex. My abandonment issues find subtle ways of expressing themselves in my work. I sometimes fall into a fall sense of comfort because the work version of me really is far more grounded and confident than the outside-of-work me. But even so, my issues still sneak in there and impact the work. Furthermore, my burn out, which is no fault of the client, also made me grow tired and complacent. I wonder if I would have looked at my part in my boredom if the client had not challenged me. Of course, the client challenged me in part because of the work we have done. And I think that is the point of this whole entry–this work keeps you humble. Even as you appreciate yourself for the work you’re doing you’re reminded that it is easy to sleep-walk; to be complicit; to collude. The client and I were involved in a re-enactment. Together we saw or way out of it. But I don’t know that I could have done it without the courage she accessed in order to confront me about it.

Edit: And as if to prove my own point I just realized something I missed an opportunity in our interaction. Now that the client and I have made our dynamic explicit, the responsibility of naming it could be a shared responsibility. Though it is my job to create those opportunities, I need to ask the client if she is willing to make it a more collaborative process.

Blue In Green by Ram V & Anand RK

The story is practically mythological: the artist strikes a deal with the devil in exchange for greatness. This myth has a sibling: the artist who, by necessity, must suffer and cause suffering in order to create. A metaphysical toll that must be paid to the universe: a portion of one’s humanity for passage into genius. It would seem difficult to tell an old story in a way that is fresh. Of course, Ram V (These Savage Shores, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, Swamp Thing and others) is not your typical creator. In the world of comics he is establishing himself as a storyteller who must be read. And Blue In Green must be read.

Blue In Green touches on more than one theme. Yes, it is about the price that greatness demands, but it is also about family, music, trauma, and our fear of being alone and forgotten. Like many great works it defies genre. It flits with ease between horror, crime, drama and fantasy. And perhaps the most ambitious part of the book is the way it tries to create music out of words and images. It is, all at once, beautiful, horrific and haunting.

Erik Dieter is a once promising jazz musician who fell short of greatness. Erik believes he lacks that ineffable thing that can turn hard work into genius. He is haunted by both his past and his mediocrity (the latter being inexorably linked to the former within the context of his story). He teaches at a music school. He is lonely–disconnected from both himself and his family. He receives a call from his sister that his mother has died and he returns home. We learn that his sister has been caring for their mother for years and that Erik has never visited her during this time. Abstract and surreal flashbacks show that Erik’s memories of his mother are confusing faded and traumatic. Eric is haunted by a sense of meaninglessness.

The collaboration between writer and artist (Ram V and Anand RK) is exquisite. The light sneaking through the blinds is soft and contemplative. It exists in servitude to the shadow which reflects the darkness of Erik’s thoughts. The next three panels show sequential art at its best as we witness Erik’s mother changing from corpse to dust. In the last panel we see Erik’s face, haunted and frozen as he contemplates that he is–even while still alive–“a quantity of nothingness”. Words begin to drift outside of of their boxes (Aditya Bidikar is the letterer) and the handwriting gets messier. A sense of unease pervades. Something is beginning to fall apart.

That night Erik enters his mother’s study where a demon-like creature stands over a desk with scattered photos at his feet. He confronts Erik with just the right words to unsettle an artist whose worst fear is of being washed up and forgotten: “Do you play? Do you suffer for it?”

IMG_2708

The cool detachment of Erik’s life is reflected in the blue and grey coloring (John Pearson is our colorist). The aggression and horror of the red threatens to overtake Erik. The slanted lettering adds to the malevolence.

Erik awakes the next morning wondering if it was all a dream. He encounters a photograph of a musician on his mother’s desk. He feels a connection to the photo, a pull to find out who the person is and how that person fit into his mother’s life. And so he embarks on an adventure through the old clubs that comprised New York’s jazz scene. Erik’s horrifying adventure will reveal something about his identity, his family and about how far he is willing to go for greatness.

Anand RK (artist) and John Pearson (colorist) deliver art that is gorgeous while also being unsteady, uncomfortable and chaotic. They are the horn players in this modern jazz piece.

Blue-in-Green-Interior-4

Ram V’s writing is the steady rhythm section, keeping you anchored as the art (and Erik’s world) descend into horror and madness. He does a masterful job of creating a ghostly and disconnected man who is compelled–for better and worse–to search for greatness and meaning in the darkness.

Ram V is a creator in the world of comics and graphic novels who has been accruing both praise and awards in the past few years. Acclaim can as quickly forgotten as it can be created, but I am confident that Ram V’s voice will, like Alan Moore’s and Neil Gaiman’s before him, be remembered for decades to come. He brings to his creations humanity, intelligence, soulfulness and, let’s get down-to-earth: he’s a hell of a story teller who is unafraid to take the risks necessary to create impactful and original art.

Anand RK is a revelation to me. I can’t pick up Blue In Green without staring at the art (even when I’m not “reading” the book). I can only hope that I see his name continue to show up in the comics universe so that I can continue to gaze at his work.

I give Blue In Green lots of stars: like ten or eleven. Out of how many? Who cares? Pick it up and let me know what you think.

A familiar ache in my chest struggling to find relief in shallow breaths. Intermittent sighs—my little screams of desperation. Mind and body at war. Heart tells head that I am all alone. Head tells heart that this is not true.

I sit quietly at a restaurant table with two old friends. They ask one another about their children. In M’s responses I can feel his resentment at how hard he has to work to pay his family’s way. I can also hear the joy he gets at spending time with his sons. He avoids expressing the emotions directly, choosing instead to use humor or that’s-the-way-it-goes shrugs. I ache to hear him speak plainly: to hear him say that at times he wishes he could run away; to cry; to scream; and, finally, to hear him say he wouldn’t actually change a thing.

S. too speaks of the incessant financial burdens of having children. But rather than anger, in him I sense a loneliness that, for better and worse, is assuaged by his children. Outward expression of his real thoughts and emotions are blocked by a shrug similar to M’s.

The loneliness I already felt going into this dinner is amplified by their inability to own the deeper aspects of their experience. I realize that I’m code-switching: speaking their language; staying in the content of things. It also occurs to me that despite my best efforts to listen and respond, that I have not once been asked about myself. I cannot decide how I feel about this. A part of me yearns for the attention and another recoils at having to share using the code of old high school friendships, “Ah, you know—tired from work but okay”.

I do my best to stay engaged. Comments are directed at me that further “other” me for not having made a family. I judge myself a coward for not speaking up and claiming my space. Then it occurs to me that I’m not being cowardly, I’m being discerning. I am flooded by memories spanning thirty-five years—moments where I dared be sincere and was met by blank looks and the awkward changing of topics. It is wisdom not cowardice. Strangely, this realization brings me closer to them. I remain lonely but I think of how M shows his love by doing my taxes and doing me favors; how S, when he is alone with me, goes out of his emotional comfort zone by sharing some of his emotions.

I am filled with gratitude for M and S but also for the friends I made later. Friendships without taboo topics. No codes are necessary. You show up as you are. Were my object constancy better this realization might shatter the loneliness, instead it merely takes the edge off. Still, my inner-critic begins to doubt. “Well, it’s true—you don’t really know what it’s like to have kids. Maybe it’s your own fault you felt cast aside. Maybe it’s just your trauma.”

I get home. Comics. Bed. Sleep.

The next evening my phone chirps. It’s a text—a poem from E. In it he beautifully and soulfully shares the melancholy and profound meaning he derives from his role in his family. He invites me into his world; gives me the benefit of the doubt that I can understand. I am moved to cry at both his courage and the validation that the loneliness of the night before wasn’t all about me.

The World Of Black Hammer (aka a story of today’s depression)

Since I was a child, books and stories have always been there for me. At times they add joy to my life. At others they are like a life raft–the last line of defense between life and death. I much prefer the former but am grateful for the latter.

Jeff Lemire is my favorite creator in the comic book world. I don’t think he’s objectively the best–his prose is not as polished or sophisticated as Neil Gaiman’s or Alan Moore’s prose and his art-style is very divisive. Indeed, in his self-created titles his art is often criticized for looking rushed, unrealistic and unpolished. Lemire is my favorite because of the heart at the center of his work. His work is, to my mind, like music that is off-center and raw: music that insists on getting thoughts and feelings across despite its technical limitations. Indeed, the limitations somehow add to the experience because it requires more of the listener and/or the reader.

Lemire’s self-created independent graphic novels are these beautifully flawed masterpieces that tell stories about the sorts of people who are so frequently forgotten. Unremarkable people with unremarkable lives. The lonely. The grieving. The broken-hearted. The trapped. The dying. The abandoned. He finds the beauty in their lives and in their surroundings reminding us that there is beauty in even the bleakest of people, times and places

I love Black Hammer but it is not my favorite Jeff Lemire creation (it should be noted here that Lemire serves as the writer but not the artist on this). I choose it as my topic because it shows what Lemire can bring into a world that is not often associated with “heart” and “depth”: the world of superheroes.

Critics who praise the work point out that the world-building is superb. They are correct. They praise the self-awareness that Lemire brings to superhero tropes and the way he uses this awareness to bring warmth rather than cynical satire to the genre. They are right. The only issue I have with this praise (praise that even I have used) is that it speaks only to the choir. Who cares about world-building and self-awareness of superhero tropes if you’re not already a lover of superhero comics? How does this translate to a wider audience? To me the real genius of Black Hammer is the way Lemire subtly brings in elements of his small stories to a grandiose work about superheroes.

There is the martian superhero, Barbalien (yes the funny absurd names are ways of having fun with famous already–existing comic book characters from the big companies DC and Marvel). Barbalien saves lives. He saves worlds. Yawn! That is what superheroes do, right? But it is not his super powers that make him compelling; it is the fact that he is gay. Barbalien was ostracized and shunned on his planet of Mars. He comes to earth hoping to find acceptance only to be shunned again. His story arc is about rejection, alienation and loneliness. Barbalien is an alien regardless of where he chooses to live. But his courage is inspiring–the way he continues to try and create love regardless of what happens to him. His story arc is beautiful because it is about an individual who continues to try find acceptance within himself, undeterred by the lack of acceptance from others.

Randall Weird–a NASA astronaut that, by falling into the “Parazone” ends up seeing the pattern of all things past, present and future. My non-comic book reader rolls their eyes about the Parazone and the sci-fi space travel stuff. That’s okay because, once again, his superhero arc is far less important than his backstory and the burden he carries upon him. Bullied as a child (once again Lemire has fun with his name since he was indeed considered a “weirdo”) and misunderstood by his fellow heroes, Weird is a deeply lonely man. He utters abstract and nonsensical things because he can see what no others see. He is the perfect metaphor for the mentally ill; for the people we avoid because they make us feel uncomfortable. Lemire, however, allows us to see how burdensome it is for Weird to carry all of the knowledge he has. We watch Weird carry the weight of the world on his shoulders not because supervillains abound but because he sees the bigger picture. Weird flits between times and worlds often finding himself lost. He is misunderstood and called a coward because he often flees the traditional superhero-supervillain battle in order to deal with the greater cosmic issue that lie beneath the surface. He cares deeply for his fellow heroes even thought he is teased by them and ridiculed by them. He is…a beautiful, fragile and misunderstood man.

I will not go through every character. I have bored my reader enough. I wish merely to show how much depth Lemire can bring to a genre that often lacks it; a genre that has been watered down by countless movie adaptations and CGI effects. A genre that one could argue has become a sort of blight on society.

One might point out that Lemire is hardly the first creator to bring metaphor and depth into the comic book world. The X-Men, for example, are popular in part because they represent the outsider as well: the disabled, people of color, etc. But even the brilliant X-Men titles are held hostage by the fact that they are part of a sixty-year major label franchise that can only take so many risks before being wrangled in by the constraints of capitalism. Since Black Hammer is a self-created smaller label work Lemire can go to places that even the most brilliant writers of X-Men aren’t allowed to go.

I don’t know what the point of this essay was. You see earlier I was sitting on my couch, burdened by a numb depression. I read about Colonel Weird and I began to cry. I remembered how often Lemire’s work helps me cry; helps me feel something. And I realized that this gift he has means a lot to me. Even more than Grant Morrison’s mind-bending creative genius and Alan Moore’s harsh cynical brilliance and Neil Gaiman’s unprecedented epic world building. Lemire writes stories about me and for me. I don’t mean that to sound narcissistic. I mean, I know he’s not writing for ME, it is that it FEELS like he is. I didn’t expect to feel so much while reading this title. I expected to be entertained by a mildly intelligent and warm homage to the comic book world. And instead I found myself, once again, reading literature that kept me company and helped me feel seen. And the best thing of all is that when I am in a healthier state of mind then Colonel Weird and Barbalien and company make me laugh and smile because they are also fun and absurd and….well, they’re funny as hell too.

That’s it. That’s the genius. These characters who can make me laugh and cry and feel understood when I’m suicidal and bring joy when I’m happy and…these are people who have been brought into my life by Lemire. It’s not the first time and I doubt it will be the last.

So maybe what this is…maybe it’s my love letter to Jeff Lemire. Who knows, maybe I’ll print it out and give it to him if he ever does a signing in my area. On second thought, I don’t want him to think I’m some creepy stalker so…this will forever be the unsent love letter to Jeff Lemire.

I feel an intense sadness as I approach the end of The Sandman. No, it is more than sadness, it is grief. I wish to hold on for dear life to those characters. To that universe. To the stories. Stories that allowed me to travel through different ideas, emotions and worlds. I don’t know that life would have meaning if it didn’t end. I don’t know that books or stories would either. But that doesn’t change the fact that endings can hurt.

There is a heavy feeling in my chest. And yet I also feel there something harder to describe. What is it? I can only describe aspects of it: a sense of awe and wonder; a desire to share side-by-side with a desire to hide; the dread of resuming my life without Dream, Death, Delirium, Destruction, Destiny and Despair (that last bit reads rather absurdly given my status as a human being).

I discovered books and reading at a very early age. It is rather a miracle given that my grandparents spoke Spanish and that I was not read to. Families have their own stories—little mythologies. The story my grandparents told was that my desperate need to learn about dinosaurs somehow gave me the power to make sense of the words. I don’t know that this could possibly be true in any logical sense, but to quote Dream, “Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes…” The fact is probably that I had some genetic talent for words (certainly not math!) and that my visiting relatives read just enough to me to help me cultivate that gift. But my family chose the story that will endure: the story of a lonely boy who needed so desperately to go off into other worlds that he willed himself to it. That one is sad and lovely and sweet and inspiring and, just as importantly, shared by others who found refuge in their imaginations. It helps explain things in a way that feels more meaningful. And that is part of what good stories do: help us make sense of ourselves and the human condition in ways that captivate.

The Sandman is a tale about tales. It was written for me and for anyone who understands how important stories are, even the ones that are never shared or written down. I feel like I’m about to lose something. And I’m not sure if I am writing with any purpose other than to put off the inevitable fact that this book I cherish so deeply is about to end.

And yet…it won’t will it? I will carry it within. Others will carry it as well. And the books will be borrowed and bought and shared and the stories will live on after I am gone. Saying that does not remove the grief, but it somehow puts it in a warmer place.

Gentefied (on Netflix)

As with most things I write in relation to the arts, this is not intended to be a review or a critique. Though I may be speaking as an adult, beneath it all there is a happy child who is asking the adult to express his joy for him. I will try not to fail him. However, I will also speak for the adult.

Gentefied is by no means a perfect show. It is, however, a show with so much heart that it moves me to that place where smiles and tears live together as friends. The show feels like home. It reminds me of my grandparents and my life growing up with them. It reminds me of how my Latinx clients (especially my Mexican or Mexican-American ones) and I slide between English and Spanish (“Spanglish” for “pochos”); how certain words are cozier or simply mean more in your first language (even if you’re comfortable with your second one). I did not grow up in a lower socio-economic neighborhood (that is one difference) but my extended family did, and weekend visits to them were the only vacations my family ever took (literally EVER took). Everything feels familiar.

There are so many ways to sum up a show, all of them imperfect. But I think one of the things that stands out for me is the way it focuses on how a Mexican family tries to survive a world in which they have no say in the rules–not even within their own community. They are put into a position where they have to adapt to survive but to adapt often means giving something up that they hold close to their hearts: an ideal; a value; a piece of their cultural identity. The taqueria at the center of the show works as the center piece for this. Their traditional Mexican food and their lower socio-economic clientele can’t cover the increasing rent prices as the neighborhood grows increasingly gentrified. It is not just the restaurant that is being threatened: it is their legacy, their values, the way the restaurant is a hub for the local community. What does one do with this? Turn the taqueria into a hipster fusion joint with higher prices? Maybe. But what does that mean for one’s identity? How would it make one feel to suddenly price out your friends and family and community? All of these are tied to a bigger question: What does it mean to be a “true Mexican” in this country? These are the nuanced questions the show deals with even if on the surface it seems like a cozy and simple show.

In terms of representation this might be the most important show that has ever been created about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans because it is not trauma-centered. Historically a show or film that has Mexicans at its center is going to focus on the brutality of their community, on crime or imprisonment–on how hard it is to stay on the “right path” in a world that disdains you. It is as though our pain is the only thing deemed interesting to the wider community. These stories are important. I have nothing against them. But it’s also important to see Mexicans represented like everyone else: decent folk doing their best with their day-to-day lives. The focus here isn’t on gangs or crime but rather on lovely but imperfect restaurant owners and artists and chefs and musicians, etc.

When the character Erik is first introduced, my own internalized racism arose: I thought he was going to fall into the role of the Mexican-American young adult who is respectful at home but is involved in shady shit on the side. He speaks with an edge. He has tattoos everywhere. Instead Erik ends up being a sensitive, intelligent kid who stayed out of trouble by staying close to family and becoming an avid reader. He ends up creating a reading library at the restaurant: a horrible business plan to be sure, but a heart expanding reminder that this hard-on-the-outside young man cares deeply about the children in his community. Chris is the character who is often teased for being “white-washed”–his dreams involve going to Paris to become a chef. He is more traditionally handsome. He is college-educated. He is the readiest to adapt and change–to eschew some of the traditional values for Americanized capitalist ones. But look closely and you will see his internal struggle: his awareness that he holds privilege over many of the other Mexicans in his life and how that puts him in a lonely limbo: teased by the Mexicans and rejected by the whites (this character most closely resembles my own experiences with my culture growing up). Then there’s Ana: the lesbian artist who is torn between staying true to her roots while realizing that the only way she might make a living is to be exploited by white hipsters who want to show their progressiveness through their investment in her. It is not just that the show is not trauma-centered, it is how matter-of-factly it shows these characters as they are. In other words, even their path to where they have ended up is not part of the narrative. These are not “the special Mexicans” that stayed out of trouble. They are an actual representation of MOST MEXICANS.

Just because the show is cozy in many ways does not mean that our community is presented in an idealized or perfect way. Issues like the homophobia and anti-blackness in the Mexican community are right there alongside the values that are beautiful. These are the ways that our community needs to evolve and grow, not to survive the majority culture, but to improve itself.

I promised I would speak for the kid and not just the adult. The kid feels relaxed. He pretends that the grandpa on the show is his grandpa. Because the show is not trauma focused it helps him remember the good things about his childhood and not all of the painful ones. It also gives him an opportunity to feel proud of his Mexican-ness (something he struggled with in his actual life), to look back with pride. The kid watches enraptured with his dinosaur toys alongside of him and a smile on his face.

If you are not Mexican or Mexican-American this show will probably not feel as cozy or speak to the kid in you. It may, however, show you the beautiful and challenging sides of Mexican culture. It may (I hope) give you an appreciation for it. It may, if you are honest with yourself, allow you to look at your internalized prejudices. But I also hope it allows you to identify with people different from you. One of the paradoxes of looking at our differences with an open heart is that it somehow brings us to a grounded sense of our commonalities (that paradox has proven true for me time and time again). I hope it forces you to look at what how the USA’s version of capitalism is broken and how the “American dream” is a load of bullshit.

Okay, I lied: this is a review. The kid in me gives his verdict: Yay!!!! There it is, this show gets a “yay”. What more do you need to watch it?

I wanted to do one half-way decent thing. Nothing that deserves a fucking medal or anything…just something that isn’t selfish. So I reached out to the woman I had been talking to from the dating site–the one I hadn’t reached back out to for the last two days. I know the last person had ditched her at a restaurant–had told her he was going to the restroom and then disappeared. I know this hurt her. I was feeling heavy and guilty about my inability to reach out but was scared to tell someone I had just met that I’m broken as all fuck.

I decided to tell her this morning. I made it clear that my (over)share(?) was not so that she would help me, it was because I wanted her to know that I was in a bad depression and that when I started speaking to her I thought I had turned a corner but I was now afraid I had not. I told her I knew that seeing me involved her getting a babysitter and I didn’t want to put her out since I was likely to cancel. I told her that I was not ditching her, that I could barely speak to anyone in my own life and that it had nothing to do with her. I didn’t expect a response. I just hoped she could let it in that none of it was her fault. It may not be my job to heal her insecurities but it seemed a decent thing not to contribute to them. Then she responded:

Hi X. Thank you so much for thinking of my feelings and reaching out, you have no idea how appreciated that is. And don’t worry about oversharing. It would be no more oversharing for you to say you were sick in bed with the flu. I struggle with depression too. So I do understand. I’m still here if you want to start talking again. *heart emoji*

I’m not sure if we’ll speak again. But it felt nice that two relative strangers were considerate and sweet about the feelings of the other. It felt nice to be reminded that there are others out there who don’t see depression as a plague. I want to feel better so badly. I hope it’s enough that I could do one thing that made me feel slightly less ashamed.

I’ve spent 24 of my last 48 hours in bed. I’ve been useless to my friends, probably even disappointing. I haven’t exercised. I have canceled two work sessions (and more may be coming). I haven’t returned professional or personal calls. I ate too much last night despite the lack of exercise. I keep getting food delivered despite it being expensive and unhealthy because the half-a-block to the supermarket seems just a bit too far. My heart begins to beat quickly when I see that I may have to respond to a text or email or when I pick up the phone to reach out. Panic begins. People represent danger.

It’s hard not to judge myself when I know I can’t do the “right thing” in so many different areas at once. It spins me into shame which, in turn, only makes it even harder to try.

It’s the fucking helplessness. It’s the watching yourself struggle to get yourself in to the bathroom to take a piss. It’s the way you sit on the couch with your blood sugar low, feeling dizzy but the idea of even going to the bedroom to order the food on the computer feels like a journey to another city. It’s the stories in your head–imagining everyone’s disappointed face. It’s the imposter syndrome as you try to help people when you know you’re so fucked up that your smelly trash has been at the door since Sunday night. And you know you could have taken it out last night when you were forced to head to your car but the extra 25 yards to the trash bin seemed like too much. It’s the way that you feel like you deserve to have smelly trash at your door.

When I’m happy each day feels like a few seconds. When I’m in a place like this each second feels like a year. It’s like a prison. And I wish I could end this entry with something hopeful. I even feel guilty for sharing the bleakness without hope. But maybe that will come in another entry. Hopefully tomorrow. Maybe in a month or two. I don’t know. I just know that it will FEEL like a long time.

Many of us have our dark places. Those shadowy places in our heads where we get stuck fighting the demons inside. This is what mine is like…

I feel helpless. Dependent. I can’t get out of bed. I find it hard to feed myself. I yearn for a fatherly and/or motherly presence in the sky to step in and hold me in their blessed hands. But…I know that what I most yearn for is what I least need. That it would simply enable the helplessness. And so the battle inside is between the part of me what wishes to be saved and the part of me that knows only I can do it. The paradox of it all is that the latter is hard because…well, it’s hard to breath much less do the work.

I feel like a time traveler who isn’t in control of his time travel machine; who is in different times and places all at once. I feel like I’m in the cradle. I feel like I’m waiting on the porch for my father. I feel like I’m facing every traumatic moment in my whole life at once. My mind says, “You’re okay. You are in a relatively good place in your life. Things are actually okay.” My nervous system says, “Danger! Danger! Hide! Run!”

I feel empty. I feel like I want to devour everything and everyone which terrifies me and, conversely, makes me want to avoid everyone. I’d like to say this was selfless. And certainly, there is a bit of a selfless component. But a big chunk of it is just survival. I know how the hungry ghost comes across to others. Hell, I know how I respond to hungry ghosts!

I feel so lonely. From this place it’s hard to take anything in; so the loneliness isn’t about not having anyone, it’s about knowing that it’s hard to feel it. And the harder I try to feel it, the further I get.

I start to feel ashamed and guilty. I tell myself that I’m a bad everything. I feel like I’m falling short in my duties as…everything.

That’s the thing with my dark place. Trying hard doesn’t work. A lot of people think mental illness is a weakness of will. It’s not. I have a strong will. Stubborn even. I fight and I fight and I fight but it seems to make things worse. Yet it’s hard to “let go”; to “give in”. I think it’s a bit like quicksand. The instinct is to flail and fight to get myself out, but it only makes me sink.

So here I am. I think I have a map. The map that will help me get back home. But it looks like such a long and painful journey and I feel so….weak. Maybe it’s okay to crawl home. The way I crawl from the gym to my car (metaphorically speaking). I don’t know. I just know that it’s hard and that I haven’t any choice.

The Raincoats

It feels almost taboo to listen to The Raincoats. They sing in forbidden voices. Their beats, for reasons I cannot articulate but that I can feel in my belly, are created by and for women. The guitars and strings are adventurous. No, that is not quite right; rather, they take the listener on an adventure. And lastly, and once again for reasons I cannot articulate (I worry that my readers will get sick of hearing me say that but it is difficult to translate the inner experience of sounds to words!), they make me feel like I’m listening in on them rather than listening to them.

Indeed, I imagine them playing for themselves and a few friends in the living room of an old house while I lie alone in the attic, ear pressed to the floorboards, taking in every second of the odd, heartfelt, unfettered, gorgeous wildness of their music. I shouldn’t be allowed to listen. I’m halfway ashamed but I can’t help myself. I listen. I listen breathlessly. Gratefully. Happily. With tears streaming down my cheeks.

Part of what makes The Raincoats so extraordinary is that they are in some ways so ordinary. None of them possess any sort of technical mastery over their instruments. They sound primitive. They are free from the pressure of playing things “the right way”. They are free from the male posturing that inevitably impacts the sound of so much music. That is it: freedom. Their lack of technical knowledge allows them a broader palate; it gives the music an extraordinary purity. The ordinariness gives birth to something extraordinary.

(It is funny. The Raincoats make me think of a close friend who I don’t think would even like their music. Someone who I believe, in many ways, belongs to the wilderness. Who I can so easily imagine running through the trees barefoot while howling wildly. Someone who, when she dances, dances to her own rhythms.)

We can wax poetic about music and yet, at the end of the day, I know that music is something quite visceral. It moves you or it doesn’t. Yet it is so human to want to communicate our joy and passion. Our pain and sadness. So maybe this is my way of doing that today. My way of sharing with those I love passionately something I love passionately.

————————–

A beauty only loved at night
At daytime a face full of marks
Her eyes have been in flames all night
The sun won’t have eyes for her again
Only loved at night, the lady in the dark

Knew the size of tall buildings
How dear a day-kiss could be
Those buildings that saw all the airplanes
That kissed the air in vain fantasy
Only loved at night, the lady in the dark

Didn’t her eyes reflect all of this?
Why couldn’t they look into her eyes?
Didn’t each night love her another time?
Male nights and sometimes female

Boys loved her at night
Girls loved her in the dark