Fires

Yesterday I was jogging and started to feel sick—wait, not sick exactly, but something was off in my—stomach, maybe? It wasn’t nausea, I hadn’t eaten something strange, but I didn’t feel right. It was in my gut, definitely. There was a pit. It took me a few minutes of wondering, sincerely, to realize that it was depression. I could have guessed that it was coming, and here it was, making me feel ill in spite of doing the healthiest thing I had done for my body in months, despite being outside on a warm fall day at the start of a weekend. This insidious thing. I had spent the previous day home from the office to try to rescue myself from a freefall of anxiety. While that was a good decision, perhaps I hadn’t caught myself early enough to avoid skidding into the dark mud at the bottom.

As I continued jogging I had the kind of woo-woo thought to which I’m not usually prone: that some negative energy was bubbling and seeping out right now. Maybe that was why I’d felt such an intense need to do this run, why I suddenly found the motivation to put off brunch and coffee until I had worked myself out. Strange that I didn’t take a single walking break, too, which is something I normally need for a run of more than a mile. There was some kind of desperation inside me. I’d had a particularly difficult week, not in any critical way but in several ways that hit my sensitive spots. I made a few foolish decisions and put myself in some vulnerable places, and naturally, I’d gotten hurt. Maybe I had tried to shrug off the pain, but now I needed to reckon with it. Or maybe that is too abstract an explanation for what depression is.

I knew better than to cancel any of my plans for the rest of the day. Depression didn’t want me to run my errands or go to a party, but I did both, and I felt lighter by the end of the night. I still was not at rest, though. Today I’m further along this odd trajectory—I am not depressed but filled with an exuberant ache, if there can be such a thing. I drove down the freeway into the sun, with music playing loud, and I felt painfully alive, as if I was on the verge of either great joy or great sorrow. Nothing extraordinary was happening; I was on my way to volunteer at a library among giggling high school students. Yet I felt like I could cry and burst and dissolve into the orange-yellow sunshine that surrounded me. I didn’t know what to do. As when I’m depressed, the best course to take is the one already laid out. Pretend that things are going normally. Of course, I don’t want to pretend that all the time. Life is ordinary enough, filled with days that are more or less predictable. If I feel like bursting, I should burst, even if only question marks come out. And I’m asking myself a lot of questions right now. The most salient are, What is the nature of this fire in my heart? and What can I do with it?

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Self inflicted

Picture yourself leaning against the kitchen counter at a party, talking to someone. You’re pressed into the edge of that counter, and it’s a little uncomfortable, but you have a drink in one hand and you’re distracted, lost in conversation. When you finally pull away, you notice just how hard you’d been leaning into that edge; there’s a deep red impression that won’t disappear for hours, and will leave you with a bruise.

This is how it feels when I realize just how much psychic damage I’ve caused by not taking care to write, to engage my creativity, to be kind to myself. For the first time I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, which forces me to shove through my clogged-up thoughts and write something nearly every day. I started out being very resistant, and I still feel a lot of resistance; but the first time I found a groove, it opened a door and threw light upon the dusty, neglected room where my creative ambitions lie. It’s a blinding, beautiful light, showing clearly that a kind of salvation is waiting for me in that room. That’s where I can play with ideas, think deeply about life and emotions and people and relationships. It’s where I have no distractions, no obligations—only expression, release, and contentment. I can’t understand why I’m so fearful of entering and staying there a while. It’s too easy to let the door swing shut. Every time that happens, I’m hurting myself.

There are forms of self-harm that are simply wired into our brains. It took years of therapy, and digesting that therapy, to show me that my brain had been working in overdrive to make me feel worthless. Ever since I was old enough to judge my own value, I’ve been a harsh critic. So much precious effort has been wasted on insisting that I need to be, or do, “better”. When I had this epiphany, it was like uncovering a wound that I’d assumed was healed, but turned out be shockingly raw. I wept, hard, for the fact that I had tolerated it for so long. Did I think so little of myself that I thought I actually deserved to feel this constant ache? It was a sad realization, but a powerful one that revealed the depth of my own potential. If my mind has created all this hurt from nothing, then surely it can erase the hurt back to nothing.

I’m accustomed to inertia, pain, and frustration. When I write, the writing sputters with constant interruption from my critical brain. When I try to practice self-care, I get distracted by things that are easier (or shinier, or more sugary or fatty). But in my heart, I know absolutely that I am better than my worst inclinations. I need to pull away from that hard-edged countertop, and join the party with all the weight on my own two feet.

On my own

Dear friends,

I don’t have much perspective on my situation yet. What I know is that I don’t feel good. My heart broke when I made the decision to leave him, and I think it’s still lying there inert. Only a few days have elapsed since it happened. I’m clinging to things that should offer comfort, but I can’t say that that’s working. I have lost a potential lifelong mate and it’s hard to grasp what that means. The best I can do is continue trying to embrace the other good things in my life, hoping (trusting) that I will feel better. That I’ll learn how to welcome back my memories from the last eight months. Right now my brain seems physiologically incapable of bringing them to light.

I don’t want to be on my own anymore.

-Kristen

Into the light

Dear friends,

I’m about to fall in love for the second time in five months, and it’s with a baby girl. My brother’s first daughter was born two weeks ago. A photo of her is pinned up in my cubicle; her eyes are gazing upon her daddy while her mouth forms a serious little O. I look at her and try to see the different generations of my family. The shape of her features will become more apparent as she gets older, but right now, I could swear that the nose definitely comes from her daddy, and from my dad and grandfather. I can’t wait to hold her and make her smile. In two days, I’ll be in California to get my turn.

Fred is coming with me to even the score in our relationship—I’ve already met every member of his immediate family, while he’s only met my brother and sister-in-law via Skype. Fortunately for me, my brother’s family lives in the same town as our parents, and I have aunts and cousins the area too. As the word spreads, I imagine lots of people “just stopping by” my parents’ house to see my male caller. It’s been almost eleven years since I have brought a boy home. Fred is already being treated like part of the family from afar, so I know how warmly he’ll be welcomed in person. (more…)

A living example

About six weeks ago, I sat in a conference room with three other prospective mentors and learned that we were all just days away from being matched up with kids. This was the second of two training sessions following an orientation, at which we’d learned that it often took months to make a pairing. But at this point the program had a long list of kids who were unmatched—some had been waiting for a long time. The other adults and I had read the handbook, been fingerprinted, and had our references checked. Since the program leaders trusted us, the parents of children who’d signed up would have to trust us now too.

That last thought struck me with unexpected force. As the program director continued speaking, I became overwhelmed with gratitude and fear. (more…)

Identity crisis

For a little while there, I actually began to fear that I was losing my sensitive nature. I’ve been a busy girl, and I haven’t been much of a writer lately; nor have I done much of anything creative in the past few months. The things I’ve been busy with have all been positive, but I wondered what was happening to me in the midst of it all. If I was starting to define myself by the activities I engaged in and the people I spent time with, then what would be left of me in my solitary moments, especially if I was not spending those moments being reflective or expressive?

This confusion seems a natural part of my ongoing transformation into Happy Kristen. I don’t think I’ve ever been as genuinely happy as I have been during the past year of my life, except for a few obvious hiccups. What this means to me, above all, is that I don’t view sadness as my default state. That’s one of the things depression does to a person: makes you think that good feelings are all lies, and that they only come along sporadically to distract you from the bleakness of your foundation. I don’t buy that anymore. My self is all of my own construction, and I can be as good as I want to be. (more…)

Out there

There comes a time when a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. In my case, it’s what a girl has to do to help her get over a broken heart. I’ve decided to put myself out there, and in this town (world?) where it seems so rare to connect with an eligible, interested man in person, that means putting myself on a dating website. I’ve done this before, but it’s been nearly a year now since my last date. The first time around, I must say, was pretty frustrating. It did give me a few interesting stories that I’d like to write about someday, but didn’t yield any solid relationships. I don’t expect that it will be much easier this time around. (more…)

Irreconcilable

The broken heart cannot fathom that which broke it, and it’s not easy for the mind either. Naturally, I’ve spent a lot of time asking “Why?” and “What can I do to change this?” My hyperactive mind thrives on these kinds of struggles; I’ve spent much of my young-adult lifetime mulling over ideas and possibilities with needless anxiety. It may not be an addiction, but it’s a habit, and like many human habits it’s something I’ve grown attached to. Freezing myself in a state of constant rumination keeps me from having to make real choices, and to make potentially painful progress. So I ask questions that I don’t really want to answer, or can’t, and when they fizzle out I invent new ones.

There are reasons and causes for the end of my last relationship, to be sure, but no justice and no explanation that makes sense to me, although I’ve torn myself up looking for a semblance of those things. (more…)

Missing the connection

One of my more unproductive habits has, for years, been a daily reading of the “Missed Connections” board on Craigslist. I guess it is one of my Secret Single Behaviors. I’m pretty sure that everyone who reads or posts to MC knows that it’s futile, although I did once find an ad that was definitely posted for me. I had met the guy through a dating site and gone out with him one time. It was fun, but his mannerisms put me off and I didn’t know how to let him down gently. When the time came for our second get-together—a night of bowling—I backed out at the last minute, blaming the cold weather and icy roads for making me want to stay home. Over the phone, he gracefully accepted my cancellation and my assurance that we’d do it some other time. Well, as you guessed, that “other time” never happened. A few weeks after our phone call, I found an MC posting entitled “Bowling?” by a man who said he still wanted an outing and would wait for me to pick the place. It had no effect on me.

I’ve done some crappy things to guys whose only crime was liking me and/or being irritating. (more…)

Necessary pain

A while ago, just after my relationship had slipped away, I wrote that I was too scared to think about what I had lost. I was afraid the hole would be too deep, too dark, and I worried about how long it would take for that spot on my heart to shrink and disappear. Truly the pain has lessened over the past few months, but it thrives. Among the advice I continue to get from friends and supporters is that the pain won’t really heal unless I fully explore it first.

Have I not done this already? Have I not been sorrowful enough? It’s true that I’ve been guarding my heart quite heavily after promising myself that I wouldn’t let it break more than once over the same situation. I seal off my emotions in a hurry when I smell Ivory soap on another man at the gym, or on the bus, lest I remember the scent of my ex as he shaved after his morning shower. I skip through any song on the radio that I once heard in the background while he took my hand, smiled, looked at me and told me how happy he was. Should I be letting those memories sink in rather than pushing them away? Should I let that pain inside, knowing that it could liquefy the foundation on which I’ve built my acceptance and a sense that things are okay? (more…)

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