Further Thoughts about “stuck in misery”

Most of this was written on Saturday, March 20 in my journal.  I’ve modified it somewhat.

I woke up at 3AM still struggling with the question of being “stuck in my misery.”  I thought things like I won’t go to the discussion next week, I’ll stop posting to the blog and see if anyone notices…  Yesterday I felt like something had broken in me.  But this morning I felt the presence of Someone, maybe my True Self.  They stood very firmly in the truth that I wasn’t going to do any of those things, that I was just going to accept that my friends didn’t get it and stop trying to explain myself to them.  Realizing that a lot of the pain is recognizing that I don’t really belong anywhere.  In some ways Kindred Spirits is the closest, they see both sides of me.  The circle dancers only see the Priestess of Neskaya, who is warm, welcoming, and creates wonderful experiences for them.  They don’t believe it when I say I’m depressed.  

I was thinking that I haven’t defeated depression.  Maybe that’s what some people mean by “stuck.”  I struggle with it and it goes away and comes back and I struggle with it again.  But actually the battle metaphor is incorrect, at least for me.  Depression is like ice.  I melt it and it goes away.  It’s often hard work to find the place that accomplishes melting, but sometimes it happens quickly.  Then what happens is what happens often in therapy, you heal some ancient wound, and feel a lot better for a little while, and then an older pain, that you are now strong enough to face, rises up to be dealt with.  They are saying now there’s evidence that unhealed wounds get passed down through the generations, so for all I know I am now working on my grandparents unhealed wounds.

My most important realization from this writing was the “Someone, maybe my True Self,” who was clearly there, and conveying the idea that it was OK to express my hurt feelings knowing that I wasn’t going to act on them.  I refer to this being as “they” because it didn’t seem to have a gender, it didn’t even speak, just conveyed a very loving supportive energy.  I strongly suspect this is what the Quakers call “that of god” in me.

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Still There Will be Kindness


The poem was “A Cure Against Poisonous Thought” by Annie Lighthart

Believe the world goes on
and this bee bending
in honeysuckle just one
of a mighty nation, golden
beads thrumming
a long invisible thread.

In the green drift of an afternoon,
the body is not root but wick:
the press of light surrounds it.

The lines that struck me are “Believe the world goes on”
“The body is not root but wick”

I wrote: I wish the line about the bee did not remind me that our poisons are destroying huge numbers of them.  Believe the world goes on anyway.  That kindness and caring can still happen, that we can at least accompany someone in their pain even when we can’t make it better.  That we can extend caring and blessing and lovingkindness to everyone we meet without having to say anything.  The body is not root but wick — when the candle is lit, who looks at the wick?  The body burns fuel for living, what light does our living shed on the world?  It’s true, we may not be able to save the bees, or the whales, or the elephants.  The planet may continue to heat up, storms and floods will destroy people as well as animals and plants and coral reefs.  Increasing pandemics will kill a lot of humans.  But those who are left will still meet around campfires, singing whatever songs we can remember, still there will be kindness.

This writing seemed very significant to me.  I’m able to accept that things might not get better, but also to affirm that kindness will still exist.  Since I wrote this from another side of myself, it’s like a guidance writing.  The seed of god in me said the words and I wrote them down.

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Safe Places for Me

I have felt unsafe most of my life without realizing it.  Growing up, I felt safe in a book, and in the woods. Books and nature have remained places of safety for me.  Looking back, I realized I felt safe at college, and even safer when I moved to the dorm where the outsiders lived.  I didn’t feel safe traveling in Europe after I graduated, or during the years I spent in California.  I don’t know that I knew safety was even possible.  I do remember once, probably in the late ’90’s, driving from Franconia to Littleton, I suddenly realized that the landscape didn’t feel hostile.  That was when I realized that most of the time it did feel hostile, and I didn’t notice because that was just how it was.  The first time I consciously set out to find a safe place was when I had just started seeing Erica and she was going away for three weeks.  The first time I realized I felt safe in a strange place was when the person signing me in at Caron told me there would be someone up all night.

When Erica would be gone, I decided to go to Rowe for Kindred Spirits. I chose Rowe because I knew I would be with people and food would be taken care of, so if I didn’t really get along with the people, I would still be safe.  By that time I knew it was because I had been traumatized by being left alone too many times, and my cries for food were ignored because it was the time when mothers were told to feed their babies every four hours.  One result is that I rarely feel hungry, look at the clock to see if it’s time to eat.

Thinking back to when I began to realize that these things were important, I remembered when I went to Caron Institute for their weeklong workshop in co-dependency.  I think that was back in the late 1990’s, before I realized I was dealing with trauma.  Checking the site, I find that they now have a program they call the Breakthrough Program, which sounds like it’s similar to the one I went to.  When I arrived at the building where we would sleep and do the program, they took my car keys away, saying that I would have to talk to someone if I wanted to leave early.  I was told not to go outside by myself, but always with someone from the program. There was a bus to take us down to the building where meals were served.  Finally, they said there would be someone up all night if we needed to talk to someone.  That last made me feel very safe, but I realized that the other things did too.  They were creating a very firm container.

I started going to Kripalu in the 80’s, and began to see it as a home away from home.  I knew it well enough that I knew just how to settle in when I got there, and what I needed to bring with me.  I was with a community devoted to spiritual practice, and meals were taken care of.

Looking back, I can see that my first experience of that kind of safety was when I went to the Rochester Zen Center in the summer of 1971.  I didn’t write about it in my journal at all. But I remember being part of the community, meditating three times a day in the zendo, eating meals there.  I also had work to do, preparing food in the kitchen, and sewing meditation cushions.  I remember gradually feeling better and better emotionally.  I assumed it was the spiritual practice, but it was also the community, the healthy food, the daily structure.

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The Support of the Ordinary, Reprise

I did a blog post on the support of the ordinary back in November of 2018. I had been at Kendal for about a year.  Here’s a paragraph:

Erica has been telling me that I will begin to get a sense of how ordinary things are part of the support, and something I can enjoy.  When she said it I reacted with “Ordinary?  That’s boring.”  For a long time I’ve had a lot of trouble enjoying anything.  I know that the ability to enjoy depends on brain chemistry, but it also seems to depend on whether I’m feeling safe.  If I’m not feeling safe, then ordinary, everyday things can’t get through, only very big, intense things register on my consciousness.  I’m missing the blazing colors of fall north of the Notch, of having the mountains be part of everyday things, of having magical Neskaya and soul nourishing circle dance regularly available.  But when I had those things, I wasn’t supported enough to keep going on the practical level.  I was too much alone.  Shopping, cooking, cleaning house, scraping snow off the car, etc. were too difficult.

Something that Erica pointed out to me when I first moved to Kendal was how I would begin to feel the support of ordinary life in a community.  I was really beginning to discover the truth of that just before the pandemic hit.  I even remember being able to feel a sense of energetic connection.

Then, because of the social distancing, especially when in quarantine or when the whole community was in lockdown, I started finding it harder and harder to be alone.  Because I was traumatized by being left alone as an infant, being too much alone can trigger feelings of being very isolated and helpless.  This has gotten worse and worse as the months went on, and finally I have started having episodes when I feel totally disconnected from everything and life is totally meaningless.  I also feel helpless to do things I need to do, like making appointments for medical checkups.  Even brushing Mocha has become difficult.  I don’t feel “terror through the roof” which I have felt in the past, somehow this helplessness and meaninglessness feel worse.  I realize I simply can’t explain it adequately in words.

Then they started allowing us to have dinner together at small tables set far apart. Only a third of the community could do this at one time, everyone else had to get meals to take out.  After my first meal with four friends, eating together in the body, with masks off, I felt “three-dimensional.”  But I didn’t attempt to make it happen.  Having to ask someone and make a reservation felt too difficult, and I didn’t think it was that important.  But when I started feeling so disconnected and meaningless, I thought I’d better make some attempt.  I asked one friend, and we just met outside the dining room and started a four-person table, just like the old “open table” where you could sit whenever you got there and leave when you were ready.  Two people we knew joined us, and we even managed to have some interesting conversation.  The next time, feeling scared, I sat with someone I barely new, and it was fine.

Now I wonder if this “support of the ordinary” is what people mean by their “comfort zone.”  Something I don’t remember ever having except when I was in a community that felt safe.

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Accept the Reality of Who I Am?

This came from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations:

It’s written by Claude AnShin Thomas, a Vietnam Veteran struggling with PTSD.  I realize I’ve been struggling with my PTSD, trying to heal it so I could finally “have a life.”  I keep apologizing for my failure to “handle things better.”  Especially now, when the social distancing means I spend too much time alone, and am vulnerable to getting totally lost.  I wonder if I could do what he has? Just accept that this is the reality of who I am? Right now, it looks totally impossible.

A voice inside me, the voice of awareness, said to me, “You can’t sleep, so now what?” I began to laugh. It was a moment of complete acceptance. I finally understood that I just was how I was. To resist, to fight, to attempt to alter the essential nature of my life, was in fact making matters worse, and now I understood that I simply needed to learn how to live with the reality of who I was. In this moment I discovered that it was here, in the midst of suffering and confusion, that healing and transformation can take place, if I can stop trying to escape.

But I’m not special, you know. You can do this, too. You can face your own sorrow, your own wounds. You can stop wanting some other life, some other past, some other reality. You can stop fighting against the truth of yourself and, breathing in and breathing out, open to your own experience. You can just feel whatever is there, exploring it, until you also discover the liberation that comes with stopping the struggle and becoming fully present in your own life. This is the real path to peace and freedom. You could do this for yourself; you could do this for your family. Our whole world will benefit.

Claude AnShin Thomas, At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace(Shambhala: 2004), 152–153, 154.


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Sunday, May 2

At Hanover Meeting on Zoom.  Feeling badly disconnected. This is a result of my early trauma, and the social distancing.

Dear Inner Divine Voice, I’m scared and lost and desperately need help.

Dear Jenny, I am right here.  I know it’s hard for you to feel.  You have been badly triggered.  You are doing your best to connect with people.  You went all the way to the dog park and sat with Mary Ann while Trigo and Mocha both played and ignored each other.  You did your best to make conversation with Mary Ann.  For reasons you are not in control of, you weren’t able to feel connected.  Dear One, you are such a good person, and you work so hard.  But you judge yourself much too harshly.  Can you see/feel connected to the terrified baby who is so lost and unconnected?  She is not alone.  There are many many people on the planet who are feeling just as lost and disconnected.  Some of them are even taking out their fears on others.  Your job is to sit down next to them and say “There, there.  I’m here and I’m not leaving.  We are grieving the loss of all we hold dear.  Some of that loss has happened, some may not happen if we can turn things around.  But right now, I sit here with you in pain and helplessness.  I will not leave.”

I lit a candle for spiritual help.  I have rocks in my pocket, the glass heart Karen gave me, and the black stone I took from Erica’s office.  These are two things I used to carry in my pocket when I was feeling very lost.  I don’t think I have done it since I’ve been at Kendal, maybe even much longer.

While I was sitting here, only my name showing on Zoom, I even lay down for a bit. I imagined myself in India, lying on the floor of a hospice where people were dying from COVID.  Their families were not with them, they were alone.  I just sat with them.  It felt right to do, and helped a little with my own fear and disconnection.

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Almost two weeks ago now, I had a fall and hurt my right knee.  My left knee had been giving me trouble and I had just walked around Rivercrest twice without it hurting, and was feeling pretty good.  Then BAM!  Two boisterous dogs hit me from behind.  I fell forward hitting my right kneecap and my chin.  Lying on the pavement, I felt utterly finished.  Maybe there was even a little voice inside that said “See. It isn’t safe to feel good.” My friends picked me up, got me in a car, took care of my dog, took me to the clinic. Dr. Dacey felt all around the kneecap.  Nothing hurt.  She said nothing was broken, to ice it, exercise was important.  I walked back from the clinic to my apartment, very slowly, but without discomfort.  So I thought it was going to be OK.

But each day it seemed to get worse.  There were sudden jabs of intense pain.  I had to ask friends to help walking Mocha.  The accident happened on Monday, April 5. By Thursday, a huge (hand-sized) bruise began to appear on my thigh just above the knee. A friend loaned me her second walker.

Over the weekend I had another bout with nausea and headache. They’ve been happening for a while, about every month. I used to have them a long time ago, when I was struggling with systemic yeast. I’m pretty sure they mean that my system is toxic, because of allergy, probably to food, but possibly pollen, cleaning fluid, etc.  Now I wonder if they might also be due to emotional stress.  I also wondered if it was related to the accident.  So I stayed in bed most of Saturday and Sunday, ate very little.

Monday, a week after it happened, someone came to do a fall evaluation.  The concern was that I might be at risk for more falls.  Given that this one was caused by dogs, I don’t think I’m at risk.  She said something about physical therapy, and I thought she would notify them.  Not hearing anything, I called PT on Tuesday, and Nancy came on Wednesday.  She felt all around my kneecap, which didn’t hurt, and had me do some exercises.  Some of them were easy.  Some hard: sitting on a chair and lifting my right leg to horizontal was impossible.  I couldn’t tell if it was because of the pain, or because the muscle wasn’t working properly. Nancy gave me a compression sleeve to pull over the knee, and recommended ice and ibuprofen.

The rest of the day was really difficult.  A friend was supposed to give me a ride to a medical appointment.  But she said she’d meet me at her car, and I thought I’d see her on the way to her car and didn’t.  It all worked out OK in the end, but I fell apart pretty badly. I felt broken to pieces, couldn’t stop crying, hid in my room. I think my PTSD had been triggered, though I’m not sure what was the specific trigger.

I did the exercises before I went to bed. I was able to sleep better because mu knee didn’t bother me so much during the night. When I got up in the morning it hardly hurt at all. That’s when I knew there was hope that it would get better. Up to that point, while I knew that theoretically it would get better — Dr. Dacey didn’t seem concerned — I didn’t know what had happened, didn’t know what to do, the sharp pain didn’t seem to coordinate with any particular movement, and the pain was worse each day. Nausea and headache over the weekend didn’t help.  Despite any “knowledge” my feeling was that it was never going to get better.  So it was a great relief to have something to do that clearly helped.

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An Anarchist Quaker’s Prayer to Soothe Anxiety

This came from Yes! Magazine.  I copied it into a document I call “Resource,” which I go to in times of trouble.  I’m doing really badly right now, and this seemed appropriate.  I wish I could manage to soothe myself, but I think that ability has been badly compromised by the social distancing.

An Anarchist Quaker’s Prayer to Soothe Anxiety

Hello sweet one. I see how much you care about the world, about your communities, about all of us surviving plagues and capitalism and a world on fire.

That clench in your throat, the knot in your gut, the tightness in your breath — this is how our bodies try to hold the world’s anguish. We write the wrongness into our bodies, a beautiful and devastating lament.

Just because your body can hold all the tragedy, the panic, the tension, that it is holding right now, that doesn’t mean that you must go on holding it, all, forever. The loving grandmother in you knows this to be true.

Set it down. Somewhere nearby, so you can pick it up again when you need to, but just for a moment, relinquish your illusions of control. Allow yourself to See the many-headed Truth monster: it might not all be okay. It might end in flames and death and horror, no matter what you do. Take a moment to acknowledge how fucking awful and sad that Truth is. And how not even the worst possible scenario would take away from your inherent worthiness.

Simultaneously, it is True that human beings have always fought for one another, cared for one another fiercely, and carried the world’s anguish in our bodies. And there are small Truths, like that we cannot control the future, no matter how much we wish we could. (Don’t worry when the Truths contradict one another, real Truths often do.)

No matter what, whether it turns out okay in the end or not, you carry the Divine within you. You are Enough, not because of the things you do but because of who you are fundamentally. Intrinsically. Always and without exception. Take a breath or two to allow yourself to Know this.

And when we pick up the anxiety again, let us aim for flexibility. Movement space for breath to get in and out of your rib cage, gentleness for the things we can’t do, and Integrity giving us the strength and resolve to turn our sometimes-excruciating caring into solidarity, mutual aid, and direct action.

We are each one person, breathing this one breath, with common Divinity.

We can do this. Together.

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Overwhelmed, and Lack of Resources

I am having a very hard time.  My brain doesn’t seem to be working very well.  I keep being badly thrown off by very little things.  It’s true that my left knee hurts, not a lot but it’s obvious that something’s wrong.  I have an appointment with my chiropractor tomorrow, but I just saw him for this same knee.  I’m worried about the fact that it seemed to happen again so soon, and without any aggravating circumstances.  And I have to drive an hour and a half to see Dr. Dean.

This post from 2017 seemed to speak to how I feel today.  I quote the parts that are relevant:

Complex situation     I am overwhelmed — can’t tell I’m overwhelmed.  It’s false for me to take ownership of this whole thing.  “This is all my fault” that’s 12 yr old or younger Jenny

Overwhelmed and under-resourced.  Can’t ask for help.  “I’m fine” is denial of overwhelm & lack of resource.  Nobody to turn to and say “This is too much for me, I need help.”

Erica says I should answer these two questions:
“What is my responsibility in this?”
“What is true?”

I came back from the therapy session feeling upset and confused, not seeing any way to make things work out.  Slept badly, woke up early, feeling tangled pain.  Wrote about it in my journal.       …

What is my responsibility in this?  To take care of myself adequately so that I can function, so that I can make good decisions.  Especially about resisting pressure (from myself and others) and giving myself enough time.  To recognize how easily I go into denial about how hard things are for me to do.  To have enough self-knowledge, and grounding in myself, to be able to see when something is too much for me.  Or to say “I don’t know what to do.  I need more time.”

What is true?  That I have to move to a place where I feel contained enough because I have no “calmly abiding center,” and I don’t know how long it will take to create one, with Erica’s help — can’t do this alone — or if it’s even possible to create such a thing.  I think again how Kendal can be an ashram for me, with Erica as my guide and teacher.

What is my responsibility in this now?  To take care of myself adequately…  I’m finding that enormously hard to do if not impossible.  Somehow I have to find help.  I don’t know who can help besides Erica. I know I don’t have enough human contact in my life because of the pandemic, and I’m too scared to ask for help.

What is true?  I know that it’s possible to ask the Quaker Meeting for help.  They can set up a support group.  Maybe that would help.  I wish I could manage a real breakdown, so that they would have to put me in the Health Center and fill me full of tranquilizers, and then there would be people around all the time taking care of me.  I need to collapse and be taken care of.  I can pay someone to take care of Mocha, or send her to Fiona.

I had gotten this far, typing directly into the blog, and I realized that I was in real trouble, and had better not post “I wish I could manage a real breakdown…”  This was on Tuesday, March 30.  Fortunately I had a talk with my therapist soon after I typed this.

Notes from therapy session: I was really worried about what I said about a “real breakdown.”  So I read what I had written to Erica. “This is a little one who’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do. She’s feeling responsible for something that she never should have been asked to do. How do we help the one that’s overwhelmed, that feels responsible.”

The main problem is that the little one is only a baby, she can’t realistically take care of me. But it’s too easy for me to get stuck in her, and dissociated from Adult Jenny.  This has been especially problematic during the pandemic, where social distancing triggers the feelings and helplessness of a baby who’s been left all alone.

I did manage to get to my chiropractor, who worked on my left leg.  We both agreed that what was going on was more complex than just the knee.  I have been trying to pay attention to how I use my left leg and movements that might be affecting it.  I realized that this whole last year I have been eating most of my meals at my counter, sitting on a stool, and resting my left foot on a big plastic storage box that’s out to the left.  Before the pandemic, I had been eating both lunch and dinner at a table with both feet on the ground. So I managed to find a box the right size to fit right in front of the stool and rest my feet on it.  that seems to be helping.

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“Real Substantive Engagement,” reprise

This is from a longer post.  My therapist praised (October 14, 2016)  “Your tenacity in wanting to be engaged in real substantive ways.”

It’s an important concept for me.  I think it’s one of the reasons I’m doing so much better.  Seeing my fierce and relentless search to create “real substantive engagement” with the world, knowing that this is how I’ve lived my life, committed to engagement, to deep connection and conversation with everyone and everything I meet — this is not a wasted life.  I see that when I failed to engage — as I often did when I was younger — it was either because I didn’t have the social skills, or because my wish to go deep could not be met by people who were afraid to look at the truth, or who were in denial and couldn’t even see that there was truth.  The words “real,” “substantive,” “engagement” describe the truth I’ve been committed to searching for all my life.  This is what my life is about.

This is NOT a wasted life.  This is NOT stuck in depression.  I see that I’ve lost it right now, at least partly because of COVID and social distancing.  My efforts to create “real engagement” too often bring me to experiences of not being met, and even being criticized for being “stuck in your misery” by “people who were afraid to look at the truth.”  This triggers me into younger states, because not being met with understanding, and being misinterpreted are things that happened far too often in my childhood.  This misunderstanding caused me to have an experience of who I was that is not the same as who I really am.

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