Once a week I travel to a prison and sing in a choir made up of half “insiders” and half “outsiders.” We practice songs, blending our voices together, sitting in the gymnasium. Seeing people who are imprisoned, sometimes for the rest of their lives, seeing them come and let their guard down a bit, be part of this communial experience is one of the most moving things I have experienced thus far in my life. People that can choose not to try anymore, to no longer try to be “good” come and create and share is profound and painful. Each week is different; joyous, fun, and heart breaking.
“Can’t be held responsible She was touching her face
I won’t be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place
For the life of me
I can not remember
What made us think that we were wise
And we’d never compromise
For the life of me
I can not believe we’d ever die
For these sins
We were merely freshmen”
Did you have a chunk of life where you felt alive, fulfilled, even happy? Maybe your whole life feels that way, I don’t know. For me that was my time in college – I went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I lived in the dorms. I took classes I wanted to take. I went out with friends. Although dorms tend to have a bad rap, I think they are what helped me the most. Being pushed into a relatively small space with a bunch of strangers, almost forced to get to know one another. I had no choice but to make friends. And I did! I had a little group of friends I hung around with, a particular friend was closest. We studied, talked, told dirty and corny jokes, danced, drank, watched “In Living Color” and “Martin,” talked about ourselves, our fears and dreams. For one of the first times in my life I really had people, in addition I came to understand that I wasn’t stupid. Until I got to college, school was a huge struggle for me and I got very poor grades, being lucky I even graduated. I thought that was due to me being dumb and just not being able to learn. I don’t remember that being challenged by many people. But in college I was able to take classes in subjects I was actually INTERESTED in, oftentimes intrigued by the subjects. Arts, sociology, black studies; bring it on! Suddenly the brain that didn’t work well was writing decent papers and reading long chunks of books. And not just studying but being deeply intrigued and moved by much of what I studied. It seemed as though the world opened up for me when I was in college. I had the chance to do something different than what I’d seen in my small home town. I had the chance to help people with my interest, intelligence, and passion. More importantly, I felt loved and appreciated by my friends. I knew they liked having me around; loved the stupid nicknames they had for me, the notes they wrote me, and the mix tapes they made during our summers apart.
I haven’t felt that consistently excited about and involved in life since college or before college. I am so grateful that I DID experience it and know I am capable of such things.
I had another learning experience yesterday, one from which I’m still getting insights. I went to Brush and Barrell with a group from Compeer. Brush and Barrell is a place where “in a relaxed social setting, an instructor will guide you step-by-step through the featured painting. There is no experience necessary! Whether you are an aspiring artist or just looking to have fun and explore your creative side, by the end of class you are sure to surprise yourself with your finished masterpiece! It’s easy, fun, and totally stress free.” I was really looking forward to this class because I love painting and was excited about painting and bringing home a painting of clearly identifiable objects, as opposed to my at home painting which is for my pleasure and produces blobs and squares and strange looking objects.
The painting for the class was one of a bunch of flowers, with stems, and petals falling. The instructor told us, more than once, that we could follow that idea or do any idea we desired. A woman next to me did her own thing and it was really nice. It was clear that we didn’t HAVE TO make our picture look like his. But, as previously stated, I wanted something pretty different from my creations at home, likely my first issue; that expectation that it be so different. I thought if I listened and followed the directions my picture would look somewhat similar to the instructors’. The first couple steps went fine, filling our canvas with yellow and green as a background for the flowers. I enjoyed this part.
Next was the stems, the damn stems! The instructor’s stems were so nice and thin, mine were anything but. He showed us a trick with a piece of paper towel where we painted the line of the stem along the edge of the paper towel, even that I made big and “bloopy.” (Just made that word up.) Next step was the flowers, blooms, blossoms. I tried several times but wound up with blobs or strange looking frizzle things. I believe I asked a couple of questions and for help at least once before it happened. I started crying. Not a full on bawl, but more than a tear or two. Then I felt stupid, small, embarrassed, wanted to run and hide. Looking back on it, this is one of many positives; I did not hide, I did not leave, I continued. I felt like “all” the other painters were looking at me crying and judging me. Ironically, I now realize that we mostly couldn’t see one another across the aisles because the canvases blocked our view. Most of them didn’t see me anyway! Plus, these are other people with mental illness and their support people; why was I so afraid of their judgement?
There was also the instructor and his assistant, also named Heidi. 🙂 I wonder if they’ve had someone cry during a class before. They didn’t seem to know what to do with me and just steered clear. Fortunately I was sitting next to the director of the program and she asked if I wanted her to ask for help. And the instructor helped me. My flowers got a bit more flowery and less blobby. I added a few falling petals. Looked at others paintings and reminded myself that no one’s painting looked like the instructor’s, except the instructors’, of course.
It was exhausting, emotionally and physically. My arms and wrists hurt, as well as my back and legs. It was a 2 hour group and not the best set up for someone with physical problems; though there are very few “best” set ups. I came home and disappeared into Netflix. I fed myself, Biscuit, and CoCo when dinner time came. I took my medications when I was supposed to, talked to a good friend online who reminded me to look at all I did well, starting from just showing up. It could have been so much worse and that I am looking at it with some humor already is a relief and shows me that I am growing. This situation could have been cause for a full on breakdown in the past, a descent into weeks long depression. Instead I am looking at it, seeing my parts, positive and not so positive, and hopefully moving on and I am so grateful for that.
When I pass by my painting I think negative thoughts toward myself. Hopefully this will change. I AM proud and glad I tried and I showed up.
I’ve been struggling alot with my “moods” recently. I’ve been going way down often, ending up in tears repeatedly through my days, thinking suicidal thoughts, wondering if this is “it;” is this what my life is going to be? Forty years from now am I going to doing THIS; feeling so alone, thinking I’d be better off dead, wondering why I am trying? I know I need to focus on what’s in front of me, not the future, but damn, it’s difficult not to wonder. What a series of shitty days I’ll have lead until I eventually die and alot of people show up at my funeral, people who genuinely cared about me but who I just couldn’t really connect with because of my own issues. They care about and respect me now, but I continue this life of thinking I am so alone and bad and pointless. And what does it matter what what other people think and feel about me, right? It’s about me, and my relationship with myself. How am I going to change 42 years of THIS?
Some folks will see this as “whining” and that there are harder things to deal with out there, etc etc… but depression isn’t to be played with. It turns your mind against you in ways so strong that you don’t see reality anymore. People die from it. And people live lives of quiet and loud desperation, just hoping for relief.
It’s been too long since I’ve blogged here so I thought I’d stop and make a list of things I’m grateful for. And here we go:
I am grateful for the lovely sunshine we’ve had the last few days
I am grateful for the clear, star filled, bright moon skies we’ve had at night
I am grateful for the Buddhist prayer wheel turning on my windowsill
I am grateful for good movies that make me glad about being a living soul
I am grateful for my CPAP, which I am still getting used to, but I trust will help me have a better life
I am grateful for having fun watching soccer with friends yesterday
I am grateful I feel good enough to go “out and about” sometimes
I am grateful for my electric blanket which soothes me
I am grateful for having health insurance
I am grateful for the energy subsidy helping me with my bill
I am grateful for not getting an overdraft notice at the bank in months and months and months
I am grateful for times when I see myself making progress
I am grateful for the groups I feel a part of
I am grateful for each person who might read this, who pays attention to some of my Facebook posts, who I get to interact with online
I am grateful for having Enough right now
I am grateful for the individuals within organizations that help me to live an independent life
I am grateful such help is available
I am grateful for the feeling of gratitude
One of the frustrating things about Fibromyalgia is feeling kind of ok, doing a few things, and hours later being struck with terrible pain. For me today “doing a few things” consisted of putting lights around a window, helping push plastic stakes into the ground, and walking about half a block. An hour or two after the last of these activities and OWIE! I have my feet in epsom salts, a hot pack on my shoulders, and a glass of water by my side. Every part of me is hurting, throbbing, shooting, aching. So you might have seen me out today and told me I was looking pretty good and I was, AT THAT MOMENT. If I could eraae the activities today to get rid of this pain, I would. There is a horrible, hard to describe feeling that comes from being in so much ongoing pain. You wish for any kind of break in the pain to gather yourself, to take a breath, to focus on getting stronger. But it comes and comes and comes. It has no regard for your soul, your need to rest, to enjoy physical things in life. Some of us get breaks while we sleep, some while we are holding our child, some while watching a movie or playing a game. But the breaks are too short and the pain too common.
Be kind to someone with chronic pain today. Help give them a break from the pain.
I often have to remind myself that emotions aren’t the enemy, in truth, it is what I do and say to myself in connection to those feelings that are the problem. It is really difficult to remember that emotions, thoughts, feelings aren’t the enemy when I experience them so intensely. When I am ok one minute and in the next minute -overcome- with loneliness that makes me sick to my stomach and brings tears to my eyes. I just want to get away from the feelings and feel just about anything would be a better option than feeling what I feel. This is where self-harming can come into play.
At some point I recieved a label of “emotional intensity disorder” which I later was told wasn’t a real disorder and something that alot of young women were told they have. I don’t know if its real or not, but it certainly seems it could be and speaks to the problem, the INTENSITY! It’s like something or someone taking over your brain, your common sense, your sense of reason. All that goes out the window and I’m left on a pulsating island of intensity, emotion. And it happens so many times in a day that I couldn’t keep track, its not unusual in the least. It’s alienating, scary, exhausting, and frankly makes me feel like a freak.
I have done So Much work over my life to “get better,” be less depressed, less anxious, less afraid, more willing to reach out. But this feels like coming up against a brick wall. Will I ever stop working to be “better?” Will I ever be content with how and what I am? Will I ever feel OK in my skin? Questions never end.
Are there other people out here like me, who can’t stand seeing certain types of violence? The tape of Ray Rice, from the NFL, beating his wife has been going around and I only saw a couple moments of it, yet can’t get it out of my mind. I saw a clip from a talk show of what looked to be a fight in high school where the person being beat was kicked in the face repeatedly. I can enjoy some truly brutal violence in movies by people like Quentin Tarantino. That kind of violence is so over the top and doesn’t seem personalized the way a grainy tape of a “regular” fight. What goes through my head and heart when seeing someone being beaten by fists and feet? What the victim was feeling, thinking, doing a moment before they were hit. Whether it was the first time or just an example of what that person has gone through repeatedly. The fear and loss of self that comes when a person is physically and emotionally abused. The way the attacker seems to get bigger as they beat someone they have power over. What the victim goes through everyday; do they work to hide it from the outside world? And what does that do to the victim, forced to pretend things are ok.
I know what its like to be scared of the people who claim to love you, who you live with day to day, to try and maintain a “front,” An image for the world of normalcy. Simply, it sucks. In my angry times I think abusers should be beaten the way they beat someone else. And not just beaten, but their power taken away, forcing them to be unsafe, less then, not listened to. But I know that often abusers have been abused.
“The NFL doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; they have a violence against women problem.” -NOW-