Writing

originally posted July 14, 2012

“Anaïs Nin once said: ‘We write to taste life twice.’  I agree.  I think we write to taste life twice, and we paint and dance and sing and compose and do all art to ‘taste life twice.’  This opportunity to taste life twice is an invitation to go deeper, to miss nothing, to tell others, to experience the joy a second time in the telling and in handing on the depths and mystery  of life.  When we behold, we become so struck by what is that we want to share.  We call that sharing ‘art.’  …  We tap into the work of the Creator whose power is ‘unceasingly glowing and burning with all the Divine wealth, all the Divine sweetness, all the Divine bliss.’”  (He’s quoting Eckhart) Matthew Fox, Creativity p77

I realize that a lot of my early writing was like a message to my future self so that I could taste the real depth of my life, so that I would have a chance to experience something I had dissociated the first time around.  See “Colonial Dames”, “Selective Amnesia”

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Confrontation with Aging

For three months I’ve been disabled by one thing after another.  First the bad cold that was going around, then the endless cough.  The cough put my lower back out, and I didn’t have a clear diagnosis for two weeks.  That was a little scary.  My cleaning lady said she had cracked her pelvis, and had to be still for a long time.  That really scared me.  I had never thought about having to have serious surgery, and being immobilized for a long time.  I also wondered about surgery on my spine, with the same scary future.  Fortunately, Dr. Vreeland, who I was already seeing for something else, said it was a swollen disk, pressing on nerves.  He did an adjustment, which helped a lot with the pain.  I had been taking 3 ibuprofen 4 times a day which reduced the pain, but didn’t stop it entirely.  After the adjustment, I took much less and had hardly any pain.  And he gave me some exercises which quickly improved my ability to walk.

I didn’t think about death as something that would happen to me eventually until I married, at age 38.  Our vows were “so long as we both shall live.”  Now that I was in a relationship that I thought would last, instead of focussing on feeling better and “having a life,” I started having a life — I thought.  Writing a book kept me going until I finished the book, when I fell down into depression.  After I finally got on medication and stopped being depressed, my husband, who had been staying with me because he was afraid I would commit suicide if he left me, told me he had found someone else.  I actually encouraged him to spend a weekend with her, saying that if it ended our relationship, that meant the relationship wasn’t working.  As it turned out, I wasn’t hurt by the divorce, but I was very hurt by the fact that he cut off our relationship completely.  I thought we would go on being friends.  That sent me back into working to have a life again.  I realized at one point, that if I had a “bucket list,” it was to get better so I could have a meaningful life.

On the other hand I thought about suicide a lot.  Even when I started seeing Erica, and knew we had finally got to the bottom of what’s going on with me, I had many days when I wanted to die.  This was when I was feeling the appalling pain I had suffered as a baby left alone too much, which was necessary in order to heal.  I didn’t think about practical means of killing myself, except for Plan A and Plan B.  Plan A was to walk out on a cold winter’s night, out into the woods, walk until I was tired and then lie down in the snow.  Plan B was to stop eating.

I suppose the time I was closest to actually doing something was that first winter in Portland.  I was too much alone, nothing to do, no real way of meeting people.  I did see a psychiatrist for a short time, but I found him cold and judgmental (which might well have been my projection.)  I think he prescribed something called Elavil which gave me a rash and failed to raise my mood.  I stopped the therapy pretty quickly.  It was that winter my brother said “Buddha says life is suffering,” and I hit bottom and started doing Zazen.

It has been a long slow climb out of depression, with many crashes due to the trauma being triggered.  Coming here to Kendal meant giving up activities that had fed my soul and helped keep my body in shape.  It has taken a while for the support of having people around and meals available to begin to show in terms of improvement of symptoms.  Recently I had a scare about a possible computer scam.  Every time I thought about it, I would get a quick chill of fear which would fade, until I was able to call Apple and have them tell me what to do — which was relatively easy.  In the past, such a scare would have triggered hours and possibly days of terror.  I’m also starting to feel that I have a number of friends that I hardly know, but we see each other and smile on a regular basis.

Since this struggle with my health, and my worry about serious disability, I have started thinking about what quality of life would I want to have, what is the point when I would give up trying to get better, and either be OK with what I still had, or be ready to die.  I think one thing that started me thinking this way is the story about Yitzhak Perlman and “Find out what you can do with what you have left.”  I was talking to a friend about this and she loaned me Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande.  He is a doctor who saw that continued medical efforts to cure what was wrong were actually reducing the quality of life.  He explores the whole issue and has a number of recommendations, in particular a dialogue with someone who can help you find out what is still important to you.

So this is what I’m working on now.  I’ve had to accept that Sacred Circle Dance, my major source of spiritual nourishment for over forty years, is no longer an option.  I may get back to being able to go to Neskaya once a month, but that’s really not enough.  I know that I want what my therapist calls “soul” or “wisdom” conversations.  I would like to be part of a group where such conversations are available on a regular basis.  So far, I have found a book discussion group that I enjoyed but was unable to go to half the sessions because of being sick; a writing group that lasted 6 weeks; another writing group that is happening once a month for four months.  What I would like the best is a writing group about seeing your life as a spiritual journey.  I would also like to be involved in one of the ongoing efforts to help the planetary crisis, but I acknowledge that my political and social skills are not really adequate, and my physical and emotional stamina is low.  I remember working on the phones for both Barack Obama and Annie Kuster, and being so exhausted that I had to quit.  One problem with that was that it was essentially alone.  Though I was in a room with other people, we didn’t interact.  One thing that I have learned and finally accepted, is that I can’t do things alone, I really need the moral support of working in a group.  My childhood taught me that I had to do things by myself, that asking for help annoyed people and didn’t achieve help, and most of the things I really cared about were not valued by the people around me.  So this is my current quest: to find out what it still important enough to me to live for, and what level of physical/mental/emotional fitness is needed to support it.

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“Terrified” from July, 2015

I remember reading, some years back, that the despair and terror felt by a trauma survivor are qualitatively different than that felt by normal people.  I found this comforting, but it also explains why other people can’t understand what’s happening to me.  The quote is, I believe, from Lenore Terr in Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories Lost and Found (Basic Books, 1995)  I loaned the book to someone, asking that it be returned, but it wasn’t.  I probably quoted it in my journal, but that was likely during the period from 1995 to 2003 when I wasn’t typing it up.  It’s important to me to be able to give references, so I’m sorry I can’t give this one.

Trying to describe what terror feels like is very difficult.  It just occurred to me that part of the difficulty is that the feeling is a flashback to infancy, when I was non-verbal.  The dynamo in the chest is familiar, also finding it very hard to do simple things.  I went through my breakfast routine – which is good because it doesn’t require me to make choices – but it was much harder than usual.  Instead of doing it automatically which is what I usually do, I had to force myself to do each thing.  I did do my supplements, a few days ago I just skipped that, but I didn’t do my stretches.  Too hard to be with my body.

I can’t think, and I can’t see.  Not seeing is odd because I do actually see things, it’s just that they seem flat, no third dimension and there’s some other way they seem unreal.  Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pp25-29) describes the experience of people who have been blind from birth and had their sight restored.  They just see “color patches,” they don’t see individual things.  Being able to see separate things is something that we learn, not something that we have automatically.  This made me think that a baby would also see “color patches” with no meaning, so that’s how it would look to a baby.  Another piece of evidence that I was traumatized as an infant.

The question of what I was afraid of intrigues me.  Often if you ask “What is my catastrophic expectation?” you find that it’s either something highly unlikely, or something that you could handle.  When I try to describe what I’m afraid of, it’s very difficult.  It’s not death, an infant has no concept of “death.”  The best I can do is it’s feeling totally helpless (a baby is truly helpless) and some nameless doom is coming down on me, I can’t stop it, and it’s going to last forever (a baby has no concept of time).  One way I have tried to describe it: imagine you are lying in the street, for some reason you are unable to move, and a big steam roller is coming down the street, aimed right at you.  The driver can’t see you, there’s no one nearby who would answer a cry for help.

From my journal
Saturday, July 11
Feeling so scared toward the end of the day, despite good talk with Erica, massage with Cory — it somehow got to beyond what I could handle by talking to younger selves. (See post for June 27)  It was that whirling dynamo in the chest, breathless, feeling.  First I took Calms (a homeopaths remedy for anxiety) which helped a little, then I took 1.0 Ativan last night.  This morning I woke OK but the terror came in pretty quickly.  Very very hard to get up.  It’s also chilly which normally I welcome but today feels hostile or indifferent.  Mocha stayed on the bed so I miss her company.
My guides said that medication was to help keep my life workable.  It is not workable now.  O gosh I just want to hide.  I wish I had someone who would come stay with me and comfort me.
Called two friends for help, but they haven’t answered.  This is very difficult for a trauma survivor from infancy whose basic trauma was being left along too long.

(I was unable to find that guidance piece in past posts.  Because my parents were alcoholics, I was very resistant to medication, and kept trying to get off it.  Every time was a disaster.  When I asked my guides about medication they said “Medication is neither good nor bad.  Your life has to be workable.  You need medication for your life to be workable.”)

Sunday, July 12
This morning there’s a lot of tightness and clenched energy in my stomach area.  I feel painfully lonely, a little scared, a little angry.  I haven’t been able to find God.  I haven’t been able to look at my broken self with compassion.  There’s sadness here too, and just a hint of headache.  O gosh I feel so cut off — from everything.
Erica has disappeared again.
Pain and fear and lostness.  I feel so alone and cut off.  I think if I could find compassion for my broken life that I wouldn’t feel so lonely.
O gosh I’m so scared I can’t think.

Erica disappearing is an infant’s experience if it’s before the age when it learns “object constancy” — that the thing is still there, even though you can’t see it.

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The Story of My Name

I wrote this recently in a writing group:

I was named Jean for my mother, but they called me “Jenny” to differentiate me from my mother who was called “Pidge.”  I was told that “Jenny” had come from a great-great grandmother named Jenny Murdoch.  She was a Scot, and my middle name “Davidson” is a clan whose territory was around Inverness.  The story is told of Jenny Murdoch, when she came over on the boat from Scotland, there was a terrible storm.  She was down in steerage, and she came up on deck saying “If I mus’ dee, let me not dee in darkness.”  I have a picture of a young woman in clothing from the 19th Century, sitting proudly.  I don’t remember being told who she was, but I have identified her with Jenny Murdoch, and I take her cry as my motto.  I have lived most of my life in severe depression.  I didn’t know, until I got on medication, that I had never had normal brain chemistry.  One of the things that kept me going through nearly 60 years was the determination that I would not die depressed.

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Positive Sense of Myself

This was initially posted on July 20, 2012.  It was named “Positive Self-Image.”  Some time ago I said something to my friend Beverly about trying to change my self-image.  She said “Self-image is like the weather,” and suggested that it was a waste of time.  I realized I had used the wrong words, that “self-image” is in some ways an intellectual construct, and I was dealing with something else.  Trying to describe it, I called it “my experience of my self,” or “who I experience myself to be,” or “my felt sense of myself.”  I have tried many times to describe to people how I don’t see myself the way they do.  Most of the time they don’t get what I’m talking about.  It’s so clear to them that I’m the person they see.  One time I tried in my journal to describe the person I experience that I am: selfish, self-centered, stingy, conceited, would do things deliberately to hurt people, and realized that that’s not me at all.  In some ways it describes my mother.  But even that didn’t change my experience of myself.  I’m still afraid that people won’t like me, will think I’m boring, will think I’m a nuisance if I ask for help.  I’m still surprised when people are happy to help me, instead of finding me a nuisance.  This is a long on-going struggle whose motivation is that if I really got that I’m the person Charlotte sees in this letter, I would relax and stop trying to “prove that I deserve to live.”  It wasn’t until I started working with Erica, that I understood that my confusion about how I impact people happened because my mother didn’t mirror me at all.  She never saw me as a person separate from herself, but only saw her shadow that she projected on to me to avoid seeing the truth about herself.

From July 2012:

In doing my project of converting old journals into a newer word processor, I have discovered many things.   One is a letter from Charlotte (the mother of my ex-husband) in response to the collection of excerpts from my journal that I sent to people as Christmas presents.  The letter says wonderful things about me, that are still hard for me to accept, though I’m beginning to become aware of the person she’s describing.  In 1993, I was completely unable to take in what she said, and it fell into oblivion almost immediately.
From Charlotte’s letter:

So many of the entries had to do with your self-questioning.  To me it was immediately obvious that you were intelligent, educated and talented – and extraordinarily so.  Besides this, however, there was something special about you – something Dana mentioned in the letter in which he first told us about you.  There is the child-like trust and openness and readiness for response to the world.  For all your sophistication, there is nothing worldly-wise or cynical about you.  And you don’t put other people down to build yourself up.  You feel the need for approval, but you have to be honest.  All this is very unusual.  I never cease to be amazed at how many intelligent, educated and talented people there are in this world.  Yet to judge by what happens in public, their gifts are squandered in a quest for success that makes them jump into the latest bandwagon and get caught up in institutionalized mis-information, exploitation and pandering.

As for being attractive, to me there’s something charismatic about you.  Even in jeans one can tell you’re a dancer – in your posture, your bearing, your movements and gestures.  When you get excited, your eyes shine like stars.

Whatever happened to you as a child, it did not break your spirit.  What Karen said is exactly right.  Accept yourself – it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand yourself.  At bottom, all things are founded in mystery – through the courage to be.  So forgive and forget.  It’s obvious you do.  There’s nothing vengeful about you and you are turning your recollections into creativity.

The real problem is not you but the world.  The more extraordinary one is, the harder it is to find response from others.  People one meets may feel threatened and turn away.  But you have made and do have friends – such as have helped to release your creativity.

From her PS:

Also, I’ve been thinking about what Jenny said in considering the possibility of publishing her journal.  My suspicion is that publishers only grab journals of celebrities (or with plenty of the scandalous).  Still, there could be a set of selections that would tell a story meaningful to others.  In any case, the journal is full of beautiful writing – simple, clear, expressive – revealing a journey toward authentic self-hood.  The little comments on the morning sky or winter night are brilliant gems.  You certainly have a right to think of yourself as an artist in the field of literature.

Disclaimer:  I’m almost feeling scared to publish this, how conceited will people think I am, isn’t this the ancient sin of “bragging”?  But it’s somebody else’s writing.  Isn’t that OK?  Please, Dear Reader, if you know me, let me know if the person Charlotte’s describing sounds like the person you know.

My dear friend Pat posted this comment:
Dear Jenny,
These gentle, loving words from Charlotte are so true! She wasn’t praising you as much as telling you the simple truth about yourself—a remarkable gift. Treasure it, internalize it, go back to it when you feel down. It is a balm. Sharing it with all of us is not bragging, it is a gift you have shared with all of us.
Your friend always,
Pat

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Guidance

(Written in December 2009)
Dear Guides and Guardian Spirits, the wind is still blowing, the snow has stopped and the sun is shining through the haze.  I’ve been feeling very sad and lonely all day, and now I’m feeling scared.  Can you help me?
Dear Jenny, we suggest curling up with the baby doll and the Napier tape.  Also, email Caryn and get another appointment.  The book you are reading is very intense and painful.  Lost children, abused animals, lots of feelings are being stirred up in you, mostly fear and grief.  At a deep level you are feeling many losses.  They are not obvious like the ones in the book, so they remain nameless, unfelt, unexpressed, unhealed.  You need very specific, skilled help to get to these feelings and process them.

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Don’t Want to Live

(Written in June 2004)
Dear Guides and Guardian Spirits, I’m having a pretty bad time.  I wanted to die this morning — I’m just sick & tired of being Jenny — she’s too much burden and not enough reward.  Please help me.
    Dear Jenny, relax.  Breathe.  Feel the couch and the floor holding you up.  You are held up — by the Ocean of Compassion which is there for you.  We are all around you, too.  Supporting you.  It’s OK to let yourself rest on this support.  It’s OK to stop trying to hold yourself up.  It’s OK to let yourself down into that place of not wanting to live.  This is the real courage, to face this darkness, not trying to make it go away.  We know, and you know, that you are not going to kill yourself.  So it’s OK to be here.  It’s OK to rest here.  You will die some day, and lay down the burden of being Jenny.  You can lay down the burden now.  Let us carry it for a while.  Dear dear Jenny, you are needed here on the planet at this time.  Even with all your wounds.  Your wounds are not yours but the earth’s.  You do not need to do anything more than bring compassion to your wounded self.  And when you can’t do that, when you are angry and hating yourself for “not doing better” we are still here, you are still held in compassion.  It’s OK to be angry at yourself for “not doing better” — see! The moment you become conscious of it, it changes.  Of course you have compassion for this woman who is hating herself for being deeply wounded.  How could you not?  Your heart went out to your mother when she said “I’m not liking myself very much right now.” You are the hardest person for you to open your heart to: your own worst enemy, your heaviest burden, the “least of these”.  But you are doing it.  You are doing the work.  You never quit.  Being courageous enough to sit with yourself in the “don’t want to live” place IS the work.  Well done, dear.

“Shamans know that those wounds are not their own but the world’s.” (Matthew Fox)

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Wanting to Live my “Big Life”

This was originally posted on September 16, 2011.  It’s such a good analysis of my typical breakdown.  It was also a little shocking to find a relatively serious breakdown in 2003.  I always think of the one in 2008, and don’t remember that there were more.  Every time I tried to get off medication in fact.

(Written in October 2003)
I’m scared again, scared that I will never come out of this.  Yesterday I could see that I’m being able to talk about what’s going on for me and to ask for help — I think this is new and also that the cracking of my protective armor might well leave me feeling vulnerable and scared.  How will I take care of myself if I don’t come out of this?   Well. I’ve taken care of myself so far — everything that had to be done has gotten done, either I did it, or I asked for help.
ONE DAY AT A TIME.
Lately I’ve been feeling like I could say angry things to Mom — angry and true things.  I also felt, yesterday, how angry I am at myself for not being able to pull out of this.  I try to feel compassion for myself and I can’t do that either.

So what am I seeing?  This woman who felt over-confident last summer — “I can do it now” — who was wanting to expand her life and learn new things, who really thought she was healed of the hurts of the past and wanted to make up for lost time — wanted to live some of the bigger life that she might have had if she hadn’t been so damaged by trauma and depression.  She really wanted to live that bigger life, and she also didn’t like being on medication — it feels dishonest to her.  So she tried to “do it all”.  Now her actions look incredibly stupid and misguided, especially the house which she should never have started — she should have chosen a simple house plan that could be completed quickly and easily.  She should have thought about the environmental stuff.  She’s bad, selfish, greedy.     “Your creative actions come from the heart.” No, she is not bad, selfish and greedy.  That is Mother’s judgement.  She is a creative person whose creativity has been held in check most of her life by depression and the traumas of childhood.  When her mother died and she inherited a lot of money, her creativity expanded too fast for her skills in staying grounded and asking for help.  The house project was set in motion during this time.  Now she has crashed badly, for a variety of reasons.  She tried to get off the medication. She celebrated herself with a party and she made some big changes in her investments — this is majorly moving against old family injunctions.  As is letting her creativity get big.  What she’s going through now may be backlash from having allowed herself to “live her big life.”
The same thing happened with the building of Neskaya — while it was being built she was so disabled by fear and depression that she had to leave the whole project in the hands of others.  All she could do was keep affirming, in the teeth of her fear, that yes, she wanted it to be built.  Once it actually existed, it turned out to be the perfect setting for the flowering of her creativity.  So, dear, trust that the same thing will happen with the house — that it will turn out to be “exactly right” for what needs to happen next.

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Guidance

Dear Guides and Guardian Spirits, I’m feeling sad and discouraged: about the losses of my life, about the state of the world, about my lack of energy that keeps me from taking action to support the things I care about.  Please help me.
Dear Jenny, relax.  We love you.  Yes there is much suffering in the world, and yes, people need to take action.  But there is a time for action, and a time for rest.  You are badly depleted from a long hard struggle, a struggle that has taken your whole life.  You have fought for healing, for truth, for peace and justice and sustainability.  You have done your best to live a life that supports your deepest values.  You do not need to do more than you are already doing.  And right now, you need to find a way to rest and renew, to nurture yourself.  You have lived a life as darkened by war and oppression as any life in the war-torn areas of the planet.  You have fought hard, and received too little validation for your courage and strength, and your achievements in overcoming the wounds and oppressive conditioning of your childhood.  We suggest that you gather good stories about your struggle, like the ones you shared with Kevin, and the “tough little drip that just wouldn’t quit.” Relax.  Feast on your life.  It is OK to rest and take care of yourself.  Others, many others, seen and unseen, are carrying on the fight for peace, justice and sustainability.  You are not alone.

This was first posted in September 2010

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Grieving

I posted this on June 2010.  I’ve been going back and reading my blog from the beginning. This one struck me as describing so well how I was ten years ago.  So I’m posting it again.

(Written in June 2009)

I’m guessing that I’m angry at myself for still being sad.  I should be through with the grief work by now.  I’ve read everything I’ve written to a sympathetic listener, some to more than one.  So I should be done, right?  And at the moment it all seems pretty small stuff.  Abusive parents and rejecting boyfriends.  So what else is new?  I never lost a great love, or had someone I really care about die.  Other people have much more reason for grief than I do.  That’s what my head says.  My heart is swollen with unshed tears.
I’m reading The Shell Seekers, and it brings home to me how barren my life is.  Good healthy loving supportive relationships between mothers & daughters.  Wonderful loving sexual relationships.  People who can cook and garden.  Sadness at the loss of real relationships.  Although I notice that they don’t let themselves cry, it’s seen as admirable not to cry.

I sat in Karen’s office and cried for half an hour with no idea what it was about.  “You don’t need to know,” says Karen.  But I think I have to justify it.
I don’t have to know what it was about.
I don’t have to know what to do about it.
I only have to be there for it, be there with it.  This is the traumatized baby I picked up from the garbage can and she has a right to her grief.

I think this grief must be from a very non-verbal place.  I think it’s coming up now because I have healed enough so that the baby feels safe having her feelings.  I have to remind myself to keep her safe, to allow her to grieve (even though I don’t know where it’s coming from — I can guess at how barren and stony was her infancy) to allow her to grieve and to soften around her and hold her in her grief.  There, there, dear, you have a right to grieve.  You deserved to be cherished, loved, comforted, supported and guided, have your real self be seen and mirrored back to you.  What you got was a mother whose narcissistic wounds did not allow her to love, or even see another person accurately.  You were expected to love her, make everything OK for her, and she projected her self-hate on to you and treated you like you were someone you weren’t at all.  You never developed a real sense of your strengths and weaknesses, you grew up believing that you were unlovable and that you had disappointed your parents.  You’ve spent your life trying to prove that you deserve to live.

This morning I’m sad again.  And nothing to say.  “Please see me.  Please hear me.  Please understand how difficult and painful my life it.”  I wake up in the morning feeling sad, with no energy to start the day.  I make a cup of tea, and write in my journal, who is my completely accepting witness, and interested in every detail of my day.  I have a ritual, a routine, for how I cook my breakfast of eggs and rice, and that helps me do it, I don’t have to make any choices.
Right now it’s being hard to just get up & do breakfast.  I’ve had my second cup of tea, but I don’t feel hungry, don’t feel like moving.  But I have to go on with my day.  If I just sit here I will feel more and more immobilized.  So just do it.

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