Sitting With Myself

This was originally posted on Black Box Warnings in November, two days after my 29th birthday. But, since BBW has been closed for viewing, I decided to re-post it here. These words matter muchly to me.

Three months ago, I was sitting on the lid of a toilet seat, hunched over and sob-gasping as I tried to cut into my ankle with a corkscrew. But that isn’t where this story begins. This story begins in a childhood long ago, in a mindset far away, and this story doesn’t know where it’s going until almost the very end.

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When I was young, there was magic dusted over every surface: my paper dolls, the shells at the beach, my father’s face.

“Fetch me the moon, Papa!” I knew he could. And when he couldn’t, he did anyway – the very next day, I awoke to a champagne-colored balloon bobbing above my bed.

For years, that magic followed me. It was the gift my parents had wrapped inside the package of a beautiful childhood. It sustained me and, with little effort on my part, became my trademark. My eyes had been trained to notice small but wondrous things, and I pointed them out. My heart instinctually assigned deeper meaning to people’s actions and words and made them glow. And my friends relied on me for this. “You’re our pixie, Jenn. You sprinkle your dust and everything turns shiny again.”

It wasn’t always easy to love me, though. I had such high standards: If life can be exquisite, why would anyone settle for being just content? What a waste!

In college, I dated a guitar-strumming redhead who was equally devoted to me and to writing new songs for his band. One day, with worry buzzing in my brain, I asked why he never wrote happy songs. “These are all about loss and sickness and romance gone bad. Aren’t you happy with me?” He murmured back, “Yeah, but there’s more to life than happiness. The dark stuff moves people.”

A month later, I moved on. I had no time to dwell on ugly things. As I said my goodbye, he told me that my constant need for him to be upbeat was suffocating. That what once charmed him now made him feel desperate. I simply took that as validation of how vibrant I was, and how lost he was. Poor music man.

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Years later, I found myself deep in a life I had built with great intention. My job was paying for grad school, so soon I would finally write for a living. I was married to an amazing man who made me feel safe and free all at once. But between the dirty house and our three rescue dogs and my wizard father’s debilitating chronic pain, I was also frequently tired. Flat exhausted, actually. There just wasn’t time to sprinkle pixie dust in every corner my life. And the day I found myself in that bathroom, corkscrew in hand, I was all out of magic.

This story isn’t about self-harm, despite the weeks I spent poking myself with various objects. I never even managed to break the skin.

This story isn’t about how a therapist restored me to myself, either, although she did speak the words that changed everything: “Jennie, you have to learn to sit with the emotions that you think are negative. Yes, self-doubt and anxiety are hard things to feel, but they’re only overwhelming because you’ve made them into monsters in your mind. You need to face them for what they really are.”

She was right, and her advice felt like a whole new kind of life magic. I’d always been so afraid to feel anything negative, but lately I just couldn’t summon the energy to feel ecstatic, either. Instead of accepting that and letting myself float along for a bit, I’d shut down completely. If I couldn’t be a pixie, if I was going to settle for some average, monotonous life, then I didn’t even want to try anymore. And then not feeling anything at all was even scarier, and that’s why I was bruising my wrists and digging pens into my neck, just to feel something again.

These days, I’m re-teaching myself how to sit. Not on a closed toilet lid, weapon in hand, but with all my emotions, however they come. I’ve been told that optimists fall the fastest when the darkness of depression hits, because we don’t have experience living without the sun. Now I remind myself daily that the sun is just one of the things that lights up the sky. Even when you can’t see it, the moon is always there.

And so is the magic, because – in a pinch – a balloon will work just fine.

Art by Matt the Nelson

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48 responses to “Sitting With Myself

  1. I remember reading this touching post in BBW…

    I think learning to sit with emotions is one of the great hurdles in life (and one of the most rewarding skills). I’ve spent much of my life pushing them down, but when I discovered how I could sit with them, I managed to render many of them neutral. I am grateful for Vipassana meditation for this reason – it really helped me observe the corresponding physical sensations I had in response to emotions (and I tend to believe many dis-eases start that way, with emotional patterns becoming a part of the etheric body). Thank you for sharing this again, Jennie.

  2. Very poignant and touching, Jennie. Heartbreaking at a level as well. I identify in reverse – I was the type who only saw anger, despair and pain, and avoided anything joyous and lovely, because I felt I wasn’t worthy of those things. Like that guitar player, I did see dark, but was paralysed from moving into light, and sat in darkness. I was frozen with the possibility that, gasp, I was allowed to have those things. And like you, felt the “why bother” weigh over me like a wet duvet, muting out the possibilities of life on a grander scale. On the scale of *me*.

    Sitting with feelings is a tough deal for many of us. I drank that uncomfortableness away. That created it’s own problems, of course. But we all find ways to numb out, to detach in unhealthy ways, to distract and disconnect from those feelings because they become these juggernauts of fear. Immovable to our wills. They cannot be charmed nor discarded. They stay, regardless of our wants. But they can be lived with, and even moved past. Sitting through the tough stuff is where I grow. I don’t like it at the time, but am learning to take a grateful approach to these rough emotions.

    I sit in stillness, in meditation. I journal. I talk to others. I write. I pray. I read and listen to others who have lighted the lamps ahead of me on this human journey.

    You’re here doing the same for so many. We all do this for one another.

    Thank you for this…beautiful piece.

    Blessings,
    Paul

    • Yes. We cannot force these things out, and trying only exhausts us. But we can sit with them, and see them for what they really are, and live around them. I’m learning that the simplest shift in the way I view things can profoundly impact how they make me feel, and that’s a kind of wonderful magic. I’m so glad I have guides to show me how to do this slight-of-hand… and thank you for being here, so I can turn “me” into a “we.”

  3. Buddha spoke of walking a middle path. Not the path of least resistance. Not the path where you never write a happy song. A healthy, happy middle ground. It’s a tightrope, but it can be done.

    What’s with the apology in the intro? As though great artists like The Beatles or Stones never put out greatest hits albums.

    • I can’t think of tightropes these days without thinking of As the Great World Spins. Have you read it? My gut says you’d like it. And it certainly shows how much bravery it takes to even step onto a tightrope.

      Also, if you’re going to publicly lump me together with the Beatles, you are going to have to accept that I will stalk you* until I can find you and give you a hug. Yep, I’m a hugger. Deal.

      *Not really. (This disclaimer is included to irk you, because I read your piece on that car commercial and unnessecary fine print.)

  4. Desperation in reality is never as romantic as we make it out to be in our fantasy – learning to accept all different emotions is a challenge and I think it’s a gift to be able to experience them all without fear that if we start to feel X that we might never feel Y again. I spent a couple of years desperately running from myself- I could not be alone because everything in my head that I’d be avoiding started to come crashing down – desperation was scary but recognizing that you need some help from without is a step towards learning to cope with sitting with yourself (at least it was in my world and it seems like it was in your world).

    • Oh, you hit on a core truth there! Just like being star-crossed lovers seems tantalizing at 15, but miserable once you’re grown and realize that Romeo and Juliet were an absolute mess.

      What you said about worrying that a presence of X means an eternal lack of Y is exactly what had me gripped in its ugly claws. It feels like the only options are either to be ever vigilant in analyzing your life to defend it from any trace of X, in turn nitpicking your existence to death and killing Y in the process – or to, as you said, avoid the whole situation, but suffer the constant dread of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m so sorry you went through this for years… but so glad that you’re got the distance on it now to be able to label it for what it is.

      External help has made every bit of the difference in me rearranging my internal furniture, as it were… I’m so, so grateful for people who understand our human workings enough to know that what I need to hear, over and over again, are simple truths like, “Of course X and Y can both be present, even at the same time!”

  5. Jennie-babe, Sooo glad that you re-posted this harrowing but ultimately triumphant piece. My heart aches for you, sweet bird. I just want to grab you, hug you, and erase all the bad stuff, but I know that the bad stuff, the challenges are how we learn and grow. YOU are more remarkable and loving because of your journey through the good and bad emotions. You choose light, love, communication, and cheer. You choose to vibrate at a higher rate and as a result are such a HUGE GIFT to everyone who knows you and loves you through your blog, sis. I love that you have transformed the wobbly stool into a PURPLE, plush, and fit-for-a-Goddess chair. YES!

    • I want that hug! You make it sound simply blissful. 🙂 But yes, to stay with this bird analogy… we can only fly high once we stop being afraid that every bit of turbulence will send us crashing all the way to the ground. I’m learning to trust my own wings, and dip and soar as the wind blows. YES! And Lizzy – thank you for your constant outpourings of love and warmth. I’ve really come to rely on them.

      • Honey, it’s by attraction and by universal design that we found each other. I believe this so, so firmly. We drew each other by way of our hard work and willingness to feel and process; we drew each other by vibration. We are mirrors for each other, sis and I have to tell you that I LOVE LOOKING into you. Not only because you are ravishingly gorgeous in heart, body, and soul, but because, through you, I see myself and how hard I have worked and how I deserve such a Goddess friend. I love knowing this and I LOVE YOU! I will always be here for you, sweetie. Always.

  6. Thanks for posting this again – I was only just getting started with BBW when it was shut down. In the end, negative emotions are just emotions. I’ve often thought that our society doesn’t do much of a job of teaching us that we should expect them, accept them and perhaps even welcome them. Thanks for sharing this – beautifully written. 🙂

    • I hate that BBW is gone, for so many reasons. But we all still have the stories inside us, and maybe since we got to find some new people through that community, we can now watch them spin their tales on their own sites and encourage them that way. I love how much support bloggers give each other around mental health. Especially since what you said is so true – many of us have no idea how to cope when life (absolutely inevitably) throws us a curve ball. We really want to “just be tough,” but that doesn’t work long-term.

  7. I relate to this so much. I spent a great deal of my life stuffing down my feelings (the reason why is a post in itself) which means that now, as an adult, I don’t really know how to do well with things emotionally. I’m either totally apathetic, or things shake my foundation for prolonged periods of time. My therapist gave me very similar advice. She said I needed to learn how to accept my thoughts and feelings, and then deal with them properly.

    I’m so happy you’re there. You are a wonderful person, and you deserve to be happy.

    • I feel like the prolonged shaking is better than the apathy – but that’s just my personal take, and neither one is ideal. I’m really glad you have a smart therapist – it’s amazing what truly good ones have to offer.

      Really, Jen – I haven’t known you long, and still don’t know you well, but I’m damn happy to have moments of you in my life. You deserve happiness and a very full life, too. May we all find our purple chair, no matter how patched it might be.

      • I feel the same exact way, Jennie. The beauty of WordPress is that it connects us with people we didn’t know we really needed to have in our lives in some shape or form.

    • I’m really glad it spoke to you. I re-read it when I’m losing the thread a bit, and it centers me. Why is it that the simplest-sounding things are sometimes the hardest to actually do?

  8. It’s amazing how so many horrifically frightening and painful things are a lot less so when we turn to face them vs. run away from them. Your therapist sounds terrific; and your willingness to heed her counsel and do the difficult work of being here (versus wishing out there) is equally impressive.

    • It’s true. I saw a movie once (the title is long gone) where they pointed out that if you’re afraid of the dark, it’s actually scarier to have a tiny flashlight which clearly shows you the edge of what you can see. Once you accept the dark and are part of it, your eyes start to adjust.

      And my therapist is a wonderful person. She’s my first, and I feel like her insight is a rare gift.

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