For the Ones Who Can’t See the Light

Dear You,

I know.

I know what it’s like to trudge through knee-high snow, in the woods, at midnight, without a coat, during a blizzard, and squint through those icy bites, looking for that warm candle light that will lead you home, but there is no effing flicker of light out there.

OK. Maybe I don’t actually wander the woods during a blizzard, but I think you understand what I mean. I think you understand what it’s like to be lost. You know what it’s like when you can’t find the light, and no matter which way you turn, you just find more trees blocking your view, and you’re so, so tired of wading through snow banks.

And you get how scary it is to be alone in the woods at night. Monsters live in the woods. Werewolves and demons and child-eating witches. This is no place to be alone.

But you already know that. Because me and you? We know what it’s like to lose. For every forward movement to be a struggle, and you don’t know what’s ahead of you, or even if you’re going the right way.

Every snowflake’s supposed to be unique, right? Maybe your snow looks like your children not having enough food. Or maybe each flake is an image of someone you’ve lost. Or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or all the false faces you’ve worn. Or the memories of a thousand backhands.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say something inspirational. But I’m not going to tell you something stupid, like if you just look up you’ll find a star you can follow all the way home. Because I know you can’t see the stars when you’re in the middle of the woods, during a fucking blizzard.

And I can’t tell you things will get easier. That the wind will die down and the snow will let up. I don’t know what’ll happen.

What I can tell you is you aren’t out in the woods on your own. I’m out here with you. A lot of people are. And maybe we aren’t all heading in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wade through the snow together for a while. When your fingers go numb, borrow my gloves. When I fall face first into a snow bank (because God knows I fall into a lot of snow banks), maybe you can give me your hand and help me up.

I can’t promise we’ll make our way home, but maybe we can provide a little warmth for one another. And maybe we’ll be a little safer because those monsters would rather pick off lonely travelers.

So, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to walk with you for a while.

Love,

Me

Funky Caves and Seasonal Depression

I get depressed every year around this time, though I don’t call it a depression. I say “I’m in a weird mood” or “I’m in a funk”.

It generally starts around Halloween and ends sometime in January or February, which really sucks since it stretches out over the entire holiday season. You try hiding out from stressful situations during the holiday season.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Texas and I’ve never psychologically acclimated to the snow and lack of sunlight we get up here in the winter.

Maybe it’s because every Fall I catch the cold that doesn’t end.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had rough Fall/Winter seasons in the past, and I just expect something terrible to happen around this time of year.

All I know is it pops up every year. Some years are easier than others. I had an extra rough time last year.

It’s a good idea to practice some self-care when you know you’re about to head into a depressive season.

So, what am I doing to prepare? Oh, you know, just writing about the most horrible things that have happened to me. Because that’s healthy.

At the beginning of Lent this past year, I decided to write a memoir (I know, it sounds too hoity-toity for me, but it’s basically just a short auto-biography of a specific time in a person’s life). I wrote over 30,000 words during Lent. I wrote every day I could physically write.

I pushed through neck spams, which led to those terrible headaches, which led to sprinting to the bathroom before I threw up on the floor, which led to days spent in bed.

I recklessly pushed through painful memories, which led to me throwing a Bible, and telling my kids I needed to change my shirt so they’d leave me alone in my room for five minutes so I could have a little cry, and calling my sister one night to cry about something that did not affect me at all.

I kept trying to write at the beginning of my kids’ summer break, and I finally snapped. There was no way I could sit in the kitchen and write about receiving death threats while my kids were pestering me for just one more handful of Ruffles. I decided the best way to preserve my sanity was to take the rest of the summer off.

It was such a good move.

In July, I read through what I’d written during Lent. It was just awful. It wasn’t even mediocre. The stuff I’m writing now is mediocre. The stuff from before? That shit was standing in the snow with threadbare mittens, staring in the window, hoping Mediocre would throw it a crust.

I know why it was so terrible. I was stressed out about what the people will think. I was writing too fast. I was pushing myself too hard. I was forcing myself to re-experience all of these emotions I’d spent a good half of my life stamping down. I expected myself to experience a billion different repressed emotions at the same time, and then write something beautiful.

By this time I was way too invested to just give up. So, I decided to completely scrap that first draft and start over.

But, first, I spent August binge-watching Doctor Who because I needed to get out of that pit and breathe for a while.

In the middle of August, I took a break from the Doctor and wrote one chapter of my second draft. This time, instead of starting at the beginning and diving straight into all that unpleasantness, I started at the end. I wrote about where I am now, compared to where I was then. The writing wasn’t great (it was still a first draft of this particular chapter), but holy crap was it better that the stuff I wrote during Lent.

After that, I took the rest of August off. I taught my kids how to play Go Fish and War. Then, I had a long talk with one of them about how to lose without causing a scene.

I wrote another chapter a couple of weeks after school started back up. And another chapter almost a week after that.

Some days, I sit down and I can crank out 3,000 words. Some days, I can handle 100. Some days, I can’t handle any.

I’ve given myself permission not to be a martyr to this project. If I’m not emotionally in a good place one day, I’ll skip writing. Or I’ll write about something else that’s not as emotionally demanding.

During Lent, someone suggested maybe I should stop writing if it was bothering me so much.

The thing is, yes, it bothers me sometimes. Sometimes it makes me feel defeated and traumatized all over again. But, sometimes it makes me feel victorious. Sometimes it feels like a song. Sometimes it feels like giving birth to myself (which honestly strikes me as more than a little creepy, but still). Sometimes it feels like a middle finger to the world, screaming, “You tried to take me down, but I’ll still here, bitch!”

My sister and I went cave exploring a few years ago. We only brought one flashlight with us, and of course, it went out when we were about halfway into the Ape Caves lava tube. Luckily, the tube is just a straight shot in or out, without any side passages to wander down. Writing my story is like that. It’s like walking down a dark tunnel, toward a light I know is there. I just have to move slowly, and try not to trip on my way out.

I think it’s a good idea to keep writing through this season of funk I’m heading into. The pain is going to be there no matter what, but you know what? It feels good to do something productive with the funk.

Maybe I’ll write everything down and just bury it in my drawer. Maybe I’ll try to get it published. I’m not going to worry about that right now. That’s the kind of pressure that helped trip me up last time. For right now, it just feels good be productive and use the pain instead of letting it use me.

Don't worry. We made it out of the cave.

Pictured: People who are not professional spelunkers. (Don’t worry. We made it out of the cave.)

 

I’m Not Special (and neither are you)

I’m not special.

Some people who know me might think that’s a nutty statement. I may not be better than anyone else, but I’m obviously unique, right? Who else is the daughter of a man who was struck by lightning, went on to help hand dig her family’s well, had a pet raccoon, survived a church-stalker who wanted to kill her, and did it all with a rare genetic disorder?

Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing a little off kilter about me, because there totally is. But, there’s nothing about me that hasn’t shown up in some other combination of traits and experiences in other people. Beyond that, even if I’ve experienced some things that most people haven’t, there’s absolutely nothing unique about my reaction to those events.

Love is love. Disappointment is disappointment. Grief is grief.

I was in a funk last Sunday. For the most part, I just sort of drift through life, feeling fine. I don’t sit around all day thinking about how life done me wrong or anything like that. But, every once in a while something happens and it reminds me of something I’ve experienced before and it just suffocates me for a little while. When that happens, I get this crushing sense of loneliness along with the sadness or anger that rears up. It feels like nobody could possibly understand what I feel in those moments.

Which is such bullshit.

Because loss is loss. Pain is pain.

There are some emotional reactions that are nearly universal. In some ways, it almost doesn’t matter what a person has lost or what’s hurt them, because we tend to react in similar ways. Whatever a person has been through might be unique to them, but the idea that any of us are alone in our pain is wrong.

When I was 19 (a year after all that stalking stuff had happened), I met a woman who’d survived a Holocaust work camp. I read her memoir, and if I happened to see her over at my dad’s church, I’d pop in and talk to her for a while.

You’re probably thinking I had this huge epiphany and realized my life hadn’t been so bad, after all. I mean, how can you compare living in a work camp to being stalked by a Grizzly Adams look-a-like? Well, you can’t. You can’t compare pain and loss like that.

What I realized was I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only girl who’d been separated from her home. I wasn’t the only girl who’d lived through fearful, sleepless nights. I never talked to this woman about my own issues. It was still too new of an experience, and I never talked about it back then. It was enough for me to know at least one other person out there “got it”.

A little while later, I met a woman who had lost her parents. My parents were still alive, but we understood one another because we both understood loss. We understood that some days it hits you hard, out of the blue, and squeezes your chest. We understood the pressure people who haven’t experienced a traumatic loss can put on those who have to “buck up” or be inspirational for them. We understood that sometimes you just pretend to be OK. We had two totally different sets of experiences, but the end result of our unique losses was so very much the same.

It’s tempting to think nobody else understands us. That we’re such complicated creatures that nobody could possibly solve our emotional Rubik’s cube. But, really, people aren’t all that complicated.

I’ve met a lot of people since I was 19. Some of them have lived through pain and loss of all sorts of different varieties. The one beautiful thing I’ve found in all of that is we’ve all connected with one another. Someone grew up with abusive parents. Someone has a chronic illness. Someone was severely bullied. Someone lost a parent. Someone lost a child. Someone lost a spouse. Someone lost a church. All different. All painful.

Do you ever get jealous of people who haven’t gone through an ordeal like you have? We understand that.

Do you ever feel guilty because you think maybe, just maybe, if you’d done something differently everything would be different? We understand that.

Do you ever feel alone in your grief, like nobody around you gets it? We understand that.

If you’ve experienced a serious loss, you’re not alone. I know how tempting it is to believe you are, but you aren’t.

You are not alone. You belong to us.