Regrets

Gregory Hoskins:
I’m gonna take a little walk through them fields,
I’m gonna carry me gently so my heart can heal
I’m gonna find me a demon, in a dark dark wood
You can’t come with me. I wish you could.

from my journal for September 18
3rd cup.  I’m still feeling grumpy, bereft of spirit, caught in the denatured space of bureaucracy.  Inside there’s a part of me that wants to do away with all that.  To take a walk down the long road out of town, searching for the demon in the dark wood, so I can wrestle with him, have a conversation, or if not that at least some kind of back-and-forth contact, to be engaged, to push and be pushed back until wrestling becomes a contact-improv dance.

Stephen Jenkinson, from Die Wise, pp 376-7
Down along the fence line in the back forty of your life there is a pile of stones — your regrets.  If you don’t go down there to visit them often, you’ll end up thinking either that they’re not there at all or that they make a pile a mile high.  Here it is: They’re almost always there, and the pile is rarely as high as you think.  When the ending of days comes into view, that’s a good time to visit that little altar.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t add another stone to the pile by the way you are with the ending of days.  Just remember.  Then, climb that little hill, picking up one stone at a time and putting it back in place, remembering.  It’s not all bad.  When you get to the top, look around.  That’s the great pasture and field of your life, with everything it was now visible and lucid.  You can only really see it from up there.  That’s the big story.

The pile of rocks representing regrets. I pick up one, it’s Malcolm who I treated so badly. I put it down and pick up another. I regret that I wasn’t able to keep up friendships with Kathi Brown, Rose Marie, my siblings. I regret that I didn’t come to NVC until it was too late to use it with Mom. I regret that I was never able to make her happy. I regret that I find it so hard to tell people that I love them. I regret that I didn’t tell Aunt Betty, Aunt Carolyn, and Aunt Mimi how much they meant to me. Thank god I at least managed to have one good talk with Mama Greene before she didn’t recognize me. I regret that I wasn’t able to realize what a fine gift to the world Neskaya was until I had left. I regret that I didn’t make friends with Marianne Flack before she died.

I see that my regrets are all about relationships with people.  I don’t at all regret that I never had a “career,” never had a “success” that other people would see was a success: good sales for my book, a second printing, many calls for my “Sacred Sites,” a PhD in Geology.  I do regret that I wasn’t able to teach the Sacred Calendar more, that was more due to a failure to “market” it successfully, and that’s a kind of effort I couldn’t make.

Then there are things that might have been on a “bucket list,” if my life hadn’t been closed in by PTSD: to revisit Callanish, to get to Tibet, or Iceland, or the Faroes…  I don’t feel any desire to do those things, my time and energy are headed for going in and down, inside myself, down to the depths of Spirit.

[added later] I realized, walking down to the attic to meet with Barbara, that all these niggling little tasks (deal with my will, get taxes done, etc) keep me away from going deep and I’m frustrated.

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“A dying life that is faithful to the struggle of being human…”

I stayed feeling pretty bummed out until I got to the chapter: What does Death ask of us?  Then it sounded like there was something I could do with what time and energy are left to me.  When I watched (and wrote down) how my parents behaved in their last days together, I was determined to do better.  Given how many times I have wanted to die, how most of the time death looks like a relief, an end of the chore of getting through the days, I haven’t ever wanted to postpone dying.  

I have been thinking about how to use what’s left to me, now that the life I had in Franconia is clearly gone, and has been dying for a while because I’ve been getting more and more tired.  Much as I loved creating dance programs, making centerpieces, celebrating the seasons, changing the hangings, I had to keep dropping things as I got tireder and tireder.  Now it’s clear that that life has died.  I suspect that I should probably have a memorial service for it, but am not sure how I would do it.

So now what do I do?  I knew one of the projects I wanted to do was read my entire journal output.  That would mean typing up what never got typed in the years between 1995 and 2003 when I began to type up a lot of what I wrote.  I suppose I could start reading from the earliest writings, and not worry about those untyped years.  At least begin the job.  I think I have some idea of integrating my life, pulling the pieces together, doing something like what I did with the grandmother patches.  I expect that a lot of what I wrote will provide material for blog posts.  I’ve also thought about dialoguing with my younger self, telling her that she’s not worthless, she’s OK, mistakes and failures are just part of living, she’s been up against a huge monster, PTSD before brain and nervous system have matured.

I do worry that it’s being very self-involved to spend all that time with my own journals, when there is so much going on in the world where help is needed.  On the other hand, I read something by Oliver Sacks, where he says when he had a definite amount of time left, he stopped reading the newspapers, etc. and I thought maybe that’s all right for me.

Oliver Sacks, from an interview in the New York Times:

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

This passage from Die Wise gives me guidance on how to live what time is left to me.  I think it will be years, I’m in pretty good physical shape, but of course it could happen any time.

from Die Wise, p299
We stop trying to control our dying finally at the point when we have little or no stamina, energy, give-a-shit, and time to give to the honorable and immensely necessary project of dying well, dying lucidly and deliberately, dying purposefully and surely and wisely. …  Dying in our time and place means having to live all the lunacies and sorrows and slings and arrows described in this book.  It asks of all of us [to] grow an immeasurably able, cunning soul to know the hues of madness that color our thousand ways of not dying as we die and to resolutely die anyway.  Learning this skill, we could love this part of the human world that is our own, all its human frailties and unwillingness to live when life is hard anyway.  We could be sad, a trustworthy achievement.  We could bequeath to the young people attending the end of our days — often at too much of a distance — and to the children and babies who will have no memory of us at all a story of a dying life that is faithful to the struggle of being human when the seduction and the pull is so much otherwise, a story so true and indelible that it shines best and brightest in the darkest time, like the stars in a clear, country night sky.  This is what is at stake with every terminal diagnosis, every treatment decision, every home death and hospital death, every funeral and memorial service.

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Struggle and Confusion

I have been having a very hard time for the last couple of weeks.  I got Stephen Jenkinson’s book Die Wise, and have been reading it slowly.  A lot of thought-provoking ideas.  I think I started to go down when I got to the chapter about when the death phobia started, and left us without elders or examples or even stories to help us negotiate the rocky terrain of dying.  He says it started with agriculture, and the empires that grew out of the surpluses that agriculture produces.  That’s a long time ago.  I was left with a feeling of despair: how can we repair a gap that big?

I stopped reading Die Wise, and turned to the book about life between lives, and how we sometimes plan to suffer intensely in order to learn an important lesson that we are determined to get.

My 3rd cup of tea writing on September 4 gives a sense of the struggle and confusion of this time period.  I don’t understand my feelings, I don’t know where they are coming from, I’m having real difficulty getting things into words, which this passage shows very well:

3rd cup.  Woke up feeling sad and feeling worse now.  There was an Upworthy on how recycling isn’t working.  China is not buying our plastic any more, so even though we wash it out carefully, and put it in the right container, it ends up in the ocean.  “… this old bay has ended with the giving… we all live downstream.”

Upworthy often sends me an email with stories of interest to people who are progressive, positive stories and concerns.

“This old bay…” is from a Magpie song about Chesapeake Bay.

The Soul’s Gift speaks of a grassroots raising of consciousness.  I suppose that will be a good thing, even if we destroy our planet.  I just read about a case where a man was the caretaker for his disabled wife, — Mrs. Cardinal — who was no longer the woman he had married.  He needed to learn how to be with her with compassion.  I see that one of the things I’m learning with Eleanor is how to help her without hurting myself, how to accept that I can’t make it all OK for her.

Your Soul’s Gift is a book about how we plan this life before we come into a body.

“Mrs. Cardinal” — a female cardinal landed on my bird feeder pole, which to me indicates that there is something important about what I was saying.

In my efforts to care for my friend Eleanor, whose life is very difficult, I often do more than I really have the resources for.  She actually works very hard to make sure I take care of myself.

My heart is hurting. What does my tender heart have to say? I can’t make it OK for everyone! I can’t save the planet! Cries of real anguish that I can’t live up to this expectation. Who is expecting me to do this impossible task? My ego, who wants to look good, to be successful, to accomplish? The idealistic activist who is scared, angry, passionate — there’s also a belief that I have to do it myself.

On the other hand, there’s the one I discovered this morning, who acts entitled, who dumped out the soy milk that “doesn’t taste right,” who refuses to wear clothes she’s not comfortable in. I feel guilty about behaving this way. But I can’t make myself do it differently. I can see that the “right” soy milk is important because it’s one of the things that makes me feel safe. But I can’t find a good reason for the other entitled behaviors. It’s getting easier to wear “inappropriate” clothing to dinner. Buying new clothes is hard — it’s not just the money, tho that is part of it, it’s that it’s so hard to find things that fit my odd body, and things that fit and are comfortable. Also, I hate shopping. having to look at my ugly self in the mirror.

These two paragraphs are a good example of my confusion, my unsuccessful attempts to figure it out.  I simply don’t know what to do.

“… the waste, the rubble of the dream…”

Also from Magpie’s song about Chesapeake Bay.

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Looking Straight at the Ending of my Life

My friend Elizabeth sent me a link to a talk by Stephen Jenkinson.  It didn’t do much for me, so I didn’t follow it up.  More recently she sent me a link to a short film about Nights of Grief and Mystery, a performance Jenkinson is doing with a singer named Gregory Hoskins.  It’s called Lost Nation Road.  “It’s the limit that gives you the opportunity to practice being human.”

After I watched the video, I had such a sense of validation of my feeling of walking into the desert when I hear the Magpie song about the Wolf:  “follow you into the North…”  I saw that my wish to do as much as I can with what I have left is what he’s talking about.  The exact phrase is a quote from Yitzhak Perlman: “‘You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.’”  I am not afraid of dying.  For a lot of my life I was often suicidal, and even now death looks like a relief.  I can lay down the job.

After I watched the video, I signed up for a ticket to the performance of Night of Grief and Mystery in Portland Maine.

Still trying to verbalize what this means to me, but maybe it’s not important or necessary.  Maybe songs and images are better.  I think of the grief rituals and death rituals of traditional cultures.  Singing and dancing are more appropriate.

3rd cup.  I want to write about Stephen Jenkinson and my feeling of validation for my wish to understand what it is that I am supposed to do? by whom? — I want to do?  I’m not sure it’s a question of wanting —— Oh, it’s a question of being called — what am I called to do with the time and energy I have left.  Stephen — he really should have a different name, a shamanic name — says it’s only when you accept that your life will end that you get to be human.  I think that has something to do with living in the present, and with living humbly.  Maybe I want too much to have meaning, joy, beauty in each moment.  But what I feel now is an ache in my heart for all the diversity, beauty, and health that’s been lost.  That’s being truly present too.  I know that it’s possible, when everything around you is awful — I remember Rose Marie playing with a dog while we waited for something official having to do with Michael’s body — to still find something to enjoy, but I am not able [typo: about] to do it and I have no idea why.  Possibly the wanting to have it be different is what I have to let go of.  Do I want to be happy or true?  Do I want to be happy or whole?  If that’s the choice, I choose to be true and whole.  I suppose that trying to find my way through these conflicts and desires may be what this last chapter of my life is about.  “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The typo — I wrote “I am not able to…” but I typed  “I am not about to.. still find something to enjoy when things are really bad.” making it a choice I’m making.  I don’t know if that’s true.

The quote is from the Talmud.

I have been able to experience warmth and satisfaction while doing ordinary daily tasks: watering plants, hanging up clothes, washing dishes, etc.  If I could live like that all the time, I would take it.  But mostly it feels like a chore.

I remember a time I was terrified — it was the summer from Hell — and I was watering plants.  I remember watching how the water spiraled as it came out of the spout of the watering can, I held onto it for dear life, but I can’t say it was beautiful.

I think about my idea/feeling that the gift of life came to me smashed, and my anger and resentment.  What if it was smashed so I could put it back together creatively?  What if my experience of trauma was intended to be an initiation, and its purpose was to keep me searching for truth and meaning, to keep me from settling for a conventional life?  There certainly have been times when I have felt that PTSD was a gift.  In fact I’ve been letting go of the resentment, and accepting that it’s a task that I’ve chosen to take on.

Stephen Jenkinson is described in a post from Daily Good:

“With a master’s degree in theology from Harvard University and a master’s in social work from the University of Toronto, Stephen Jenkinson was the director of counselling services in the palliative care department at a major Canadian hospital  in  Toronto for several years, where he encountered the deep ‘death phobia’ and ‘grief illiteracy’ that most of his patients and their loved ones brought to their deathbeds. This work motivated Jenkinson to encourage people to prepare for their death well before its arrival so that they might be free to ‘participate emotionally in their deaths as they participate in other major life events.’

“In 2010, Jenkinson founded the Orphan Wisdom School, at his farm in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada. The school provides experiential learning in the skills of ‘deep living and making human culture.’ Jenkinson believes that what modern people ‘suffer from most is culture failure: amnesia of ancestry and deep family story, phantom or sham rites of passage, no instruction on how to live with each other or with the world around us, or with our dead, or with our history.’

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Developmental Trauma Disorder

In working on a previous post about developmental trauma disorder, I came across this paper by Bessel van der Kolk, who I consider the world’s foremost expert in trauma.  Therapists who work with traumatized people have been trying to get “developmental trauma disorder” into the DSM, the big book of diagnoses.  But those in charge refuse to consider it something different from PTSD.  I don’t know why.  If the trauma occurs before the brain and nervous system have fully developed, it will interfere with that development.  This has been my experience, and I can tell you I have struggled my whole life to heal what happened to me.  From believing I was defective, to understanding that the things I was trying to fix were what I had learned from my alcoholic parents, and could be unlearned, to finally getting on anti-depressant medication and realizing that I had been severely depressed my whole life…  I had identified with the soldiers coming back from Vietnam with PTSD, but I thought I was just trying to make myself special which is what my mother taught me I did.  My parents were alcoholic, but they had never been physically abusive, so I couldn’t understand how I could have been traumatized.  I thought trauma only happened through violence.  It wasn’t until I read in Waking the Tiger that an infant could be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room, that I began to understand.  The other thing that convinced me was that Waking the Tiger was full of warnings like “if you start to feel uncomfortable, anxious, etc. put the book down and go find a therapist.”  While I was reading about hypervigilance, I went into a spiral into terror and didn’t come down until I started seeing a Somatic Experiencing practitioner.  That finally convinced me.

Developmental trauma disorder     Bessel van der Kolk

Chronic trauma interferes with neurobiological development (see article by Ford, this issue) and the capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information into a cohesive whole.    p3

Children learn to regulate their behavior by anticipating their caregivers’ responses to them. This interaction allows them to construct what Bowlby called “internal working models”. A child’s internal working models are defined by the internalization of the affective and cognitive characteristics of their primary relationships. Because early experiences occur in the context of a developing brain, neural development and social interaction are inextricably intertwined. As Don Tucker (p.199) has said: “For the human brain, the most important information for successful development is conveyed by the social rather than the physical environment. The baby brain must begin participating effectively in the process of social information transmission that offers entry into the culture.”

Early patterns of attachment inform the quality of information processing throughout life. Secure infants learn to trust both what they feel and how they understand the world. This allows them to rely both on their emotions and thoughts to react to any given situation. Their experience of feeling understood provides them with the confidence that they are capable of making good things happen, and that if they do not know how to deal with difficult situations they can find people who can help them find a solution.p4

When caregivers are emotionally absent, inconsistent, frustrating, violent, intrusive, or neglectful, children are liable to become intolerably distressed and unlikely to develop a sense that the external environment is able to provide relief. Thus, children with insecure attachment patterns have trouble relying on others to help them, while unable to regulate their emotional states by themselves. As a result, they experience excessive anxiety, anger and longings to be taken care of. These feelings may become so extreme as to precipitate dissociative states or self-defeating aggression. Spaced out and hyperaroused children learn to ignore either what they feel (their emotions), or what they perceive (their cognitions).p5

If children are exposed to unmanageable stress, and if the caregiver does not take over the function of modulating the child’s arousal, as occurs when children exposed to family dysfunction or violence, the child will be unable to organize and categorize its experiences in a coherent fashion. p6

These statements all helped me to put what I was feeling into a context that made sense.  Confused?  Unable to “organize and categorize” my experience?  Learning to ignore my emotions and my perceptions?  Yes, I have had all those experiences often, even recently.

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The Arctic is Burning, the Amazon is Burning

I spent some time last week being totally freaked out about global warming.  Through some synchronicities (see previous post) I was helped to understand how it related to my childhood trauma of being abandoned by my mother.  The panic subsided, but my sense that the earth was being destroyed didn’t change.

From my journal for Saturday, August 24

I wish I could live my life more lightly — enjoying the good things when they come, not get bent out of shape by the difficult.  Not ask for things to be different.  Accept that I have to spend most of my energy now on things that aren’t very satisfying, but just keep me going.

3rd cup.  Took Mocha out, decided I would let her lead.  We started the usual way, then up toward Rte 10, on and out to the bus stop.  Of course today, unlike the last few days when she refused, she trotted right out.  I thought about “what I can do with what I have left.”  We went across the grass to the entrance to Rivercrest loop and back to Kendal.  Met a friend on the way back.  Good to have company.  No meaningful conversation.  I’ve given up wanting to have “meaningful conversation.”

Sunday, August 25

I’m doing pretty well with my practice of accepting things.  I’ve even, to some extent, accepted the reality of climate change, the death of all I love.  I carry it as a weight in my heart.  The arctic is burning, the Amazon is burning.  I do my best to surround the earth with love, as I did with Mocha when there was a chance that she’d die.  I periodically watch AOC’s vision of the Green New Deal, and affirm we can do it.

Mocha had her teeth cleaned on Thursday, and dogs have to be put under anesthetic.  The technician said there was a 2% chance that she’d die.  Not trusting the Universe, I kept experiencing fear.  I replaced it with feeling love for her, holding her in my love, so that if she died, she would be held by my love.  I found this surprisingly effective in being able to stay positive.

Although I’m convinced that we can reverse global warming to some extent, not set off a self-reinforcing cycle, I’m not at all sure that we will.

I still wonder, as I type up long journal passages, why I’m doing it.  I do it because I can’t not do it.  I don’t do it for the future, I don’t believe there is a future.  But it’s all I’ve got to offer, my three stalks of wheat that I’m carrying as I climb up the clouds toward the Pearly Gates.  I do still think I should send that email to some trauma experts.  My record of my experience still might be useful for someone.

“Can’t not do it” is used by either Parker Palmer or Stephen Cope to describe vocation in their books on vocation.

My other reason is that I’m working to integrate myself.  I want to go back and read everything I’ve written and offer compassion and love and understanding.  To answer those cries from the heart with witnessing and caring.  To understand all that early pain in the light of Developmental Trauma.  Also perhaps to read the messages from my younger self to my older self.

At the moment I have no sense of Love in the universe.  No sense of a Presence that loves the planet, that loves all of us despite our destructiveness, that loves me, holds me in loving embrace.

This quote from van der Kolk explains my difficulty. “When caregivers are emotionally absent, inconsistent, frustrating, violent, intrusive, or neglectful, children are  … unlikely to develop a sense that the external environment is able to provide relief. Thus, children with insecure attachment patterns have trouble relying on others to help them, while unable to regulate their emotional states by themselves.”  Developmental Trauma p5

Dear Guides & Guardians, I really need some help.

Dear Jenny, we love you.  Remember the kind Spirit that sat next to you when your heart was stony, and was patient and affectionate.  That Spirit is one of us, and we love you and have enormous compassion for you when you are stuck in a dark place.  You have fought sinking into that dark place forever, you have fought with strength and persistence against a very ugly and extremely powerful force.  The fact that you have not been conquered is tremendous evidence of your strength.  You may not complete the task, but that is not important.  What you are doing, what you have given your life to, is helping a lot of people you don’t even know.  We have no fear that you will quit.  Sometimes you give up and then you are present to the despair of someone who has really given up.  Your persistence even helps your parents.  We love you so so much, and are so heartened and inspired by your work.  Do not fear, the Earth will not die.  Many people will die and there will be great suffering, but those who survive, and all the Spirits who are part of the earth, will aid in the healing.  Yes, the Earth will die some day, but it will be a quiet peaceful death, a yielding to the invisible.

Thank You.  My heart is softly expanding and contracting.

I think this guidance really helped a lot, even though as usual I was unable to believe all of it.

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Struggle to understand why I’ve been so freaked out…

I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been having a very hard time.  The usual brain not working, often feeling shaky and weak, feeling burdened by so many unresolved things, unable to think what to do next, finding it VERY hard to do practical things: deal with the scam, get my stuff ready for my tax accountant, and a long list more.  I went to a lecture on the Green New Deal, and was disappointed by the small turnout.  When the speaker asked how many had heard of Greta Thunberg, only a few raised their hands.  I walked out with a sense of doom.  I just stayed with it, hoping I would find my hope again as I usually do when I stay with this level of despair, but it didn’t happen.  I wanted to scream at the people shopping, playing golf, going to the bank, “Don’t you realize everything is going to die, the planetary life-support system is dying, don’t you care about your children and grandchildren?”

From my journal for August 21

Ran into a lot of trouble with Dulany.  She could tell I was upset, so I finally said it was about climate change and watching the earth die.  She said all the practical things: the earth will die someday, people have always suffered, people have always feared it was the end of the world, etc.  I could agree with everything she said, but none of it helped.  I couldn’t say why it was the earth herself that I love and can’t bear the ending of.  These maple trees, these goldfinches, these elephants…  I think how Nature was my mother, nature held me when nothing else could.  I wonder if what I really am is angry.  I think about the women in City of Joy learning to fight off an attacker.  I wonder if it’s a global sense of helplessness, the baby’s feelings made adult, the dark street and the steam roller made all-encompassing.  Yes, the baby thought the world was ending, even though it had no words for such a concept.

I picked up a book I’ve been reading by Elizabeth Goudge for comfort, and came upon this quote which seemed to validate my thoughts.

“She felt a sudden uprush of thankfulness for the comradeship of the earth.  It seemed to her at that moment the only friend who never failed.  Its beauty was ever renewed and its music unceasing.  Death could not touch it or the years estrange.”  p258  Towers in the Mist.  It’s about Joyeuce, who lost her mother when she was ten, had the responsibility for younger siblings, and her older brother has just died.

3rd cup.  The quote about Joyeuce really helped.  I did find solace in Nature, back behind our house in Indian Hill, out by the ocean in Maine.  It was my foundation, which got ripped away every time mother left me alone.

Then I turned to typing journal, and this was on the page:

I was typing up a session with Erica where she says a baby has no time.  Trauma also has no time.  “What will happen to me is unlimited and total.  — I’m dropped into aloneness and helplessness.”

I’m also dropped into the baby state, have no access to my adult.  The adult can agree with Dulany that the earth will die some day, but she can’t use that to reassure the baby.  What does the baby need?  To be reassured that she’s lovable, that someone will stay with her so she won’t be alone.  That the workings of the Universe are far more complex than she can possibly understand, and that something that looks inevitable can be undone by the flap of a butterfly’s wings.

August 22: from Brain Pickings for today: How Van Gogh found his purpose

(The quotes in italics are from a letter to his brother.)

“[Van Gogh] returns to the heart of the matter — the anguish of not having settled into his sense of purpose:

In my unbelief I’m a believer, in a way, and though having changed I am the same, and my torment is none other than this, what could I be good for, couldn’t I serve and be useful in some way, how could I come to know more thoroughly, and go more deeply into this subject or that? Do you see, it continually torments me, and then you feel a prisoner in penury, excluded from participating in this work or that, and such and such necessary things are beyond your reach. Because of that, you’re not without melancholy, and you feel emptiness where there could be friendship and high and serious affections, and you feel a terrible discouragement gnawing at your psychic energy itself, and fate seems able to put a barrier against the instincts for affection, or a tide of revulsion that overcomes you. And then you say, How long, O Lord! Well, then, what can I say; does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much impatience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know?

And yet as cut off from the capacity for affection as he may feel, Van Gogh nonetheless believes that love is the only conduit to connecting with one’s purpose, with divinity itself:

I’m always inclined to believe that the best way of knowing [the divine] is to love a great deal. Love that friend, that person, that thing, whatever you like, you’ll be on the right path to knowing more thoroughly, afterwards; that’s what I say to myself. But you must love with a high, serious intimate sympathy, with a will, with intelligence, and you must always seek to know more thoroughly, better, and more.

There’s the one who’s an idler through laziness and weakness of character, through the baseness of his nature… Then there’s the other idler, the idler truly despite himself, who is gnawed inwardly by a great desire for action, who does nothing because he finds it impossible to do anything since he’s imprisoned in something, so to speak, because he doesn’t have what he would need to be productive, because the inevitability of circumstances is reducing him to this point. Such a person doesn’t’ always know himself what he could do, but he feels by instinct, I’m good for something, even so! I feel I have a raison d’être! I know that I could be a quite different man! For what then could I be of use, for what could I serve! There’s something within me, so what is it! That’s an entirely different idler.

Bleeding from Van Gogh’s words is the hope that his brother would see him not as the first but as the second kind of “idler” — a hope he amplifies with a moving metaphor in closing the lengthy letter, one that speaks with harrowing elegance to the hastiness with which we tend to judge others and to mistake their circumstances for their capabilities:

In the springtime a bird in a cage knows very well that there’s something he’d be good for; he feels very clearly that there’s something to be done but he can’t do it; what it is he can’t clearly remember, he has vague ideas and says to himself, “the others are building their nests and making their little ones and raising the brood,” and he bangs his head against the bars of his cage. And then the cage stays there and the bird is mad with suffering. “Look, there’s an idler,” says another passing bird — that fellow’s a sort of man of leisure. And yet the prisoner lives and doesn’t die; nothing of what’s going on within shows outside, he’s in good health, he’s rather cheerful in the sunshine. But then comes the season of migration. A bout of melancholy — but, say the children who look after him, he’s got everything that he needs in his cage, after all — but he looks at the sky outside, heavy with storm clouds, and within himself feels a rebellion against fate. I’m in a cage, I’m in a cage, and so I lack for nothing, you fools! Me, I have everything I need! Ah, for pity’s sake, freedom, to be a bird like other birds!”

That describes very much how I feel.  Over and over again I struggle to believe that my writing, posting on my blog, my work to heal, are not nonsense, an impossible idea that I’m unable to explain to anyone.

Posted in Interesting link, Journal, Present Day, Trauma, Vocation | Comments Off on Struggle to understand why I’ve been so freaked out…

Gaslighting, Again

This actually starts with me being caught by a scam.  It involved an email from a woman I know slightly here at Kendal.  It involved a request to buy 3 $100 iTunes for her grandson.  I said I really couldn’t do it and hoped she could find someone else.  When the reply was “I need you to do this for me,” I thought she was really desperate.  I wondered that she couldn’t find anyone else – she didn’t actually say that.  I don’t know her well enough to know whether this was characteristic of her or not.  I liked her and thought she was a good person, but we never did more than say hi in the hall.  I was surprised that she was so insistent, but excused her because she was clearly too desperate to be “nice.”  But I am not familiar with the realm of iTunes gift cards, so I asked for more information.  My computer person was helping me, and she said we could order them online and found the site.  So I sent “Anne” the link.  But she said she couldn’t do it.  Again it crossed my mind that she could send me email, how come she couldn’t get online.  But I didn’t pay attention.  So I went out and got the gift cards, I had to ask a friend to come with me for moral support — it was that hard for me to do.  (This is the sort of thing that no one understands if they aren’t also dealing with PTSD.)  I bought them, but the instructions to scratch them and photograph them and send them to her in an email were really beyond my capacity.  I don’t have an iPhone, can’t take pictures with my camera and send them right out, I would have to photograph them and then download them to my computer.  Again it felt like too much to ask, and again I let wanting to help override my feelings.  Fortunately I met her in the hall (again a sense of shock, isn’t she supposed to be in Vermont?  Why can’t she get the internet if she’s right here) and said “I got your cards, I can give them to you.”  She was horrified. “It’s a scam,” she said, and she was clearly upset about it.    The oddest thing was I felt great relief at hearing that it was a scam.  She said she would pay me back.  We both hoped that since I hadn’t scratched the card that I could return them.

Journal for Saturday, August 10

Yesterday was a really horrible day.  I don’t know what happened — well, I do know the sequence of events — but I don’t understand.  I finally thought to ask myself “What does that feel like in your body?”

First the events:  Registered the car just fine — I still need to mail the registration to Eleanor, I would have done that yesterday if I hadn’t been blasted.  Then I went to West Lebanon Feed & Supply and got a harness for Mocha.  I hope it will work.  Then I went to Price Chopper.  I didn’t expect to have any trouble.  But they wouldn’t refund my money.  She pointed to a thing on the receipt that said “all sales final.”  She said I could call iTunes.  I burst into tears, left the store in tears, drove back home in tears.  I was very careful driving home.

I parked the car.  I put on my sunglasses so people couldn’t see my eyes.  Got back to my room all right.

Made a 3rd cup of tea, and then did a small puzzle “Fishes” because I couldn’t write and I didn’t want to deal with the computer.  I think I had to be non-verbal for a while.  The puzzle was perfect.

I can’t even remember when I first started noticing what my body felt like.  I think it was in the car coming home.

— I just realized.  This all happened during the hour when I should have been talking to Erica, but she’s gone for 3 weeks. —

What I was feeling was the same kind of unpleasant skin prickles that happen on my skin when I’m hot, except that they were inside my skin, and there was nothing else.  I felt like a bag of empty skin.  Then I started to feel like I had been hit in the face by a fierce blast of wind, and stopped dead.  It didn’t push me anywhere, it just stopped me dead.  I think of the “deer in the headlights” metaphor.

Actually it’s not a metaphor, it’s one stage in trauma: arrest, and then freeze.

Went to Kilowatt Park with Dulany & Toby. I told her I had been upset by the scam.  She was very understanding and kind.  She said of the scam “I would be very angry at myself.”  I realized that that was easily possible for me, but it didn’t feel right.

I realize now that I was “stopped dead.”  I was stopped in that moment, stopped in my life, and only the thinnest wraith could go on.

When I saw Anne in the hall and found out it was a scam I felt relief.  I felt relief because my sense of Anne as a good kind person was not wrong.  But then when I couldn’t undo what I had done, I got blasted.  Now I see that what the scammers had accomplished was to make me distrust my judgement of what kind of person Anne was.  If I had trusted my judgement of what kind of person Anne was, I would have seen through the scam right away.  I did not see the little red flags that went up at various places.

My failure to trust my judgement, and pay attention to the red flags, is part of a process called “gaslighting,” where a person is made to doubt their sanity, their own perceptions.  As a victim of my mother’s “mis-representation” of me, I am very vulnerable to doubting myself.

O God I feel so much better. Thank You, Inner Teacher.

It was when I “couldn’t undo it,” that the freeze — collapse? — hit. That makes me think of mother, where no apology was acceptable, there was no way to make amends.

My body didn’t collapse, but my psyche did. That’s why I felt so oddly weak the rest of the day. It wasn’t dizzy, it wasn’t hypoglycemia, it wasn’t light-headedness, I was able to walk. Yes, I think I wasn’t present in my body, though I didn’t experience being somewhere else, like floating overhead.

I think I am actually dissociated more than I realize.  Because I don’t experientially leave my body, I don’t realize I am out of my body, I just feel weak and incapacitated.

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Dark Night of the Soul, Again

Saturday, August 3
3rd cup of tea.  When I went out to walk Mocha, my legs felt very weak.  I decided I needed grounding, so tried to feel my legs and my feet contacting the earth.  Mocha went down the Yellow Brick Road, so I walked outside the campus, out Rte 10 and back through Rivercrest.  My mind felt very strange, like I was in some other dimension.  No words, lots of “felt senses,” I think once before I described them as “blobs.”  Visual and tactile things.  I’ve been reading Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum, and she describes interactions between people that carry a lot of hidden material, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit.  Knowings, and lies, and objects, and stories interwoven.  Unexpected understandings.  I am slightly uncomfortable in this place, lost, “out of control” — although controlling things seems much less important than understanding the flow that’s going on.  Because that’s what it feels like — I’m being carried down a turbulent river in a little boat.  I have a paddle, so I can shift the boat, to stay in the central flow.  No way is that “in control.”  Something about being able to trust what I do in the moment, even if it looks “wrong” or has no result.  I understand that I am undergoing some huge shift in who I am and the shape of my life.  It makes sense that there would be times of confusion and lostness, and that it might take a long time.  I wish I had a traditional shaman to help me.

I’m attempting to describe the feeling hoping it would help me make sense of what I have been experiencing.  It didn’t.

The link gives a number of readers’ impressions of The Painted Drum, which really helped me understand why I was both moved and confused by it.  I had to stop reading because I got so triggered, I don’t know if it was by the book, or by a lot of other things.

Tuesday, August 6
3rd cup of tea.  I am dying to my old life, and I have no idea what the new one will be like.  Somewhere between finishing the second cup and starting this one, it occurred to me that the “dark night of the soul” involves the stripping away of all you are attached to.  So then it comes that “god” is doing this to me.  Then I feel a presence, oddly a masculine presence, also oddly it is very close outside me and inside as well.  “Because I love you so much,” says the masculine voice, and I feel such a sense of kindness and love toward me.  I feel myself both giving and receiving this intensely kind love.

Dr. May, a psychiatrist, says:  “… my experience is that people often experience depression and the dark night at the same time.  To say the least, the dark night can be depressing.  Even if most of the experience feels liberating, it still involves loss, and loss involves grief, and grief may at least temporarily become depression.  Conversely, a primary clinical depression can become part of a dark-night experience, just as any other illness can.” Dark Night of the Soul, p156

Talk with Erica:
Grieving the old life that’s dying
Grieving the life that never got to happen
Need community to help me grieve

Wednesday, August 7
One of the things I told Erica was that this collapse showed me how much I’m up against, how really damaged I am. I tend to trivialize it. I think because I’m white, and rich, and well-educated. I’ve got all that going for me, how can I complain. So I trivialize my difficulties, and blame myself for being lazy and incompetent.

Actually I think I may disappear my difficulties, just as my parents did.  See “Colonial Dames.”  Not only do others fail to see my pain, but I also fail to see it.

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The Pain/Grief Underneath

Pulled out of that dead place quickly, Thank You!

First thing that helped was telling my friend Elizabeth.  She made sympathetic noises and told me she loved me, always much more helpful than making suggestions for how to get out.  Then she pointed out that I talked about a problem with my house that had to be fixed, and that the house is a big unfinished piece of business, and would be weighing on me.  It’s also painful because I loved my house, and can’t bear to go there any more, it hurts too much.  I was able to tell two other friends that I wasn’t doing well, and got kind responses.  Being able to tell people instead of saying “I’m OK” is a help.  Having to hide it just increases the sense of being all alone and helpless.

This morning I drove down to Keene to see my therapist.  The CD playing was Magpie, Living Planet, which is all about how we are destroying the earth.  Listening to it, I felt the terrible pain that I’ve felt before, knowing it’s for the Earth, willing to feel it because it’s true, and out of love, and all I can do.  When I let myself just feel the pain, not try to make it go away, not make myself wrong, just feeling it, I understand how it’s possible to offer the pain as prayer.  I also understood, because it’s a really terrible pain, that my funk yesterday was an effort not to feel the pain.  In some way that’s worse, it doesn’t hurt the way the pain does, but the pain, being mostly grief with a little anger, is alive in a way the denial of the pain is not.

Posted in Depression, Present Day | Comments Off on The Pain/Grief Underneath