Dreamland

I have you in my dreams
to help convince me
to not want you when I wake.

Though I fear my dreams have
brought no convincing.

For there I’m able to wander the depths of you
and we are able to play with possibility
forgetting our harsh existence for a few hours.

We stretch these hours as far as they go
for a choice awaits us in the morning:

Become a dreamer forever numbed by the illusion of sleep
or be reminded that you will never be mine in this life.

And so I hold to our dreams together
for at least there I know the thought of holding you.
For at least there I have you
Or something like you.
Even if it’s just a dream.

A Time to Heal: A Lesson of Patience

After an almost two year sabbatical, I found myself back in therapy. Okay, I guess I didn’t “find myself back there,” I chose to go back.  See here’s the thing with depression and anxiety, it tends to never go away.  I always know when it’s getting bad again because my brain feels like it is on speed. Racing from one thought, worry, obsession to the next.  No control. No filter. See, if these thoughts were at all helpful, anxiety wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but instead the normal thought whirlwind goes something like…

Did I leave the oven on? No. But I need to figure out what to make for dinner tonight. If I can make dinner tonight. I have so much to do and there’s no time to do it in. This meeting is taking forever. What time is it? Oh my gosh, I wonder if they saw me looking at my watch.  I’m sure they did.  Now they are going to think I’m bored or not listening.  I hate it when people don’t listen.  People never listen to me.  How am I going to be successful if I can’t even get people to listen to me? Maybe it’s not my fault. Maybe I just have terrible people in my life. Well, then it must be my fault that I have terrible people in my life. Oh we are finally done.  I wonder if I said the right things?

I could go on but I think you get the point.  Welcome to my anxiety. As you can see, when my anxiety increases I start blaming people, mostly myself, for the discomfort I’m feeling.  I find every single reason that my life isn’t perfect and dissect it until… well, I create a mess in every area.

My new therapist recommended I read a book about the practice of mindfulness, or being fully aware and in the present moment.  I have just started it and I love it so far.  One of my favorite chapters, though, has been the chapter on patience.  In the book, the author describes patience as ceasing to try to “get anywhere else” within the present moment.  In other words, you aren’t looking to the problems of the past or the possibilities of the future.  You are here, now, with this moment. “Remembering things unfold in their time.”

With this definition then, impatience is not wanting things the way they are in the moment. Impatience is the relative of anger and blame. When we want to change the present we are saying that our wants and needs are more important than the situation at hand.  Not only that, but someone CAN and SHOULD change this moment. I totally get that.  I think that way.

These passages about patience, though, also reminded me of the chapter in Ecclesiastes wherein the author poetically describes the many times of life.  “For everything there is a season…A time to be born and a time to die…A time to break down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh…”

I have studied this passage repeatedly in many settings, but by removing any prior meaning or knowledge, I see this passage fitting in with the practice of patient mindfulness.  Through recognizing the present situation in life, whether it is new life, death, mourning, or celebrating, one can more fully live in the moment.  So much of our life is trying to change that given moment or move past it, instead of living in it.

Okay, you say, if I just “live in the moment” my life will be great, right? Not necessarily. The acceptance of our current experience does not make its reality any easier, but through this acceptance we cultivate patience. The book tells the story of the Dalai Lama and his lack of anger toward the Chinese government killed, tortured, and imprisoned his people for years.  When asked about this, he said “They have taken everything from us; should I let them take my mind as well?”   In that wise response, he outlined why patience is crucial.  We must understand that anger, impatience, and blame cause greater self-harm and pain than any difficult situation may cause in this present moment.  He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind emulating.

Every moment or time in life is connected to the one before it and the one following it, though some connections are disjointed and random, but as mortals all we have access to is this present moment. Therefore, whether the moment is full of grief, anger, or joy, be present to it. For if each present moment is given the attention it requires, the moment will no longer lend itself to blame, but instead to peace and compassion for yourself and others.  Here’s to a year of cultivating patience.

May we all be more open to our given moments, even through pain and even through joy. May we find peace in knowing that all we can do is what this present moment presents to use.  May we cultivate the patience that the present rhythm of our never-ceasing breaths beckons us toward.

 

**The book mentioned in the post is Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Way of Freedom

There once was a small, unassuming gazelle that never knew her parents. She remembered something of them… a scent, a vision… but knew nothing of who they were. At a young age she had been kept caged as a spectacle. Her beauty and grace alone brought her these many strange admirers that she would glance at through her metal bars. Other animals didn’t seem to understand. Other animals knew no other reality but the bars, the people, the prison of this place. But the gazelle had dreams, or maybe they were memories, of a different place. A free place where she would one day live.


The other animals would talk about the safety they found behind these bars, the protection and provision that this place gave them.  Whispers could be heard about the dangers and risks outside the zoo.  “One cannot trust another when one is completely free.  At least here we are safe and comfortable,” a peacock announced as he strutted for the crowd.  But the gazelle wasn’t satisfied.  She wanted more.  She wanted freedom even if it came with risk and pain.


A few years passed and the gazelle grew older, but no less hungry for that familiar yet distant idea of freedom.   Every waking and sleeping moment found her dreaming of wide open fields and unending waters.  Her desire grew stronger as rumors spread of the zoo closing its doors.  Maybe I’ll be sent where I belong, she thought. She didn’t really know where that was, but she knew she needed to be there.  She started seeing other animals shoved into crates and cages and carted off into large moving trucks.  Maybe those bring the way to freedom.


It was finally the gazelle’s turn to be packed away and for some time her prison became even smaller as she leapt into the open cage meant for her.  Freedom was close.  She could feel it.   After a long journey, the cage was flung open and the gazelle slowly, hesitantly inched her way out.  Everything shone with an intensity that she had never experienced before.  She closed her gentle eyes for relief from the radiance and commotion around her.  When she was finally able to open them again, though, the land that lay before her was her freedom.  And she leapt and ran for joy in this new, exciting world.


The gazelle learned many things about this new world in just a short time.  She learned that food was no longer scheduled and provided for her, but that she was suppose to find it herself.  She learned that water came out of lakes, rivers, and puddles instead of plastic.  She learned that sometimes there was no relief from her thirst, hunger or fatigue.  And she learned that freedom is often lonely. 


She was busy and excited for a month or so.  Finding new birds to watch or new places to eat or ponds to lay by.  Life was exactly how she knew it was meant to be.  She had the feeling this is how her parents lived.  But soon the young gazelle grew tired of this new place.  Every day there was so much responsibility, so much work, so many choices.  And every day she was alone.  Until that fateful day.


It seemed like a normal day.  The gazelle did her usual routine, by herself.  But as she was grazing in a new field, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.  She had learned that the rumors about danger in freedom were true so this new presence made her uneasy.  She tried to casually walk away from it but something about its movement drew her gaze.  She had yet to see the full figure but she knew it was another animal.  An animal she had never seen before.  She was fascinated and excited by the prospect of a companion.


She knew enough not to approach this strange creature but still found herself moving closer and closer to it until its full figure was in her view.  Never before had she seen such a beautiful, sleek and majestic thing.  Even though something inside of seemed to hold her back.. warn her, she moved even closer.  Finally she could no longer be ignored, but instead of a normal welcome the stranger began coming toward her with increased speed.  Such a moment of intensity left the gazelle frozen, unable to move, though her own danger now seemed apparent.  After what seemed like hours, but was only a few seconds, the gazelle started running away.  Heart-pounding.  Not knowing if what she felt was fear or attraction.  But, after being in a cage for years, she was no match for this stranger.


Once this cat-like creature caught the gazelle, there was a single moment, a choice, a connection between the two animals.  The gazelle helpless in the grips of this immense creature but the creature loosened its grip, let the gazelle step back and chose something different.  The gazelle could barely breathe, knowing her innocence got her in this danger.  For she had never known that cheetahs and gazelles were not meant to live in the closeness, the intimacy that she so desired. But, why, why did the cheetah stop?


The cheetah, as shocked by his decision as the shaking gazelle, paused for another second feeling a sort of pity for this new animal.  Pity is not a feeling he was use to feeling at the top of the food chain and he didn’t like it.   So to break the silence and confusion he told the gazelle who he was, he told her his story.  The gazelle didn’t know what to say, she felt powerless in front of this predator but loved the way he spoke, with passion, commitment, determination.  She felt like she could trust him, despite his teeth, which were a constant reminder of the risk to choose to be close to him.


That day was the day that changed everything.  The gazelle and the cheetah were inseparable.  The danger, the excitement, the attraction between these two unlikely partners was intoxicating drawing each of them closer and closer.  Now the gazelle had someone to protect her, to play with her, to be with her.  Now the cheetah had a partner that forced him to slow down, to feel, to remember.  The gazelle just kept thinking, I knew freedom was worth the risk.


But after a while, the cheetah started hearing his friends talk about his new friend.  He knew that they were disappointed, confused, upset.  Why would a cheetah need or want a gazelle? He must be weak, they would taunt.  The cheetah sulked.  No one calls me weak, he thought. And the next day he would show them, he would show himself that he was strong. That he didn’t need anyone else.


So the gazelle and the cheetah met at their normal spot.  The gazelle excited to tell the cheetah all about the beautiful things she dreamt of last night, but the moment the connection between them was made, the gazelle knew something was wrong.  This was the first time since their meeting she saw a fear, yet an anger in his eyes.  She moved away but not quick enough.  The cheetah in one motion clawed his friend.  The gazelle let out a yell of pain loud enough for the cheetah’s friends to hear, but the cheetah showed no remorse.


The gazelle stayed away from the cheetah, healing her wounds both from his claws and from his detachment.  What had happened? I thought we were friends?  Did I do something wrong?, the gazelle obsessed.  She replayed every conversation, every touch, every look they had shared hoping to find an answer to this burst of hurt, of anger, of pain.  But she couldn’t find any so she started blaming herself… I knew I wouldn’t be good enough for him.  He is bored of me.  I don’t excite him anymore.  And suddenly the gazelle’s freedom became another prison.


Meanwhile, the cheetah came home proud to his friends.  He had proved them wrong.  He was strong.  He was a true predator.  But when his friends were gone.  He was left alone.  And in that space of self-reflection, the truth lay exposed.  What have I done? he thought.  She was my friend and I hurt her for no reason but to feel better about myself?  I am worthless.  She should get as far away from me as possible.  But how do I go on without her?


The next day the gazelle, hoping to make things right with her friend, wandered over to their meeting place, head down, cautiously waiting.  The cheetah saw her and ran to her, but in that moment the gazelle thought he came to finish what he had started and began to run away.  Before she got far, though, the cheetah gasped, “I’m sorry, you’re perfect, what would my life be without you?” And the gazelle was stopped in her tracks. Without turning around she said, “How can you say that? Do you know how bad you hurt me?”  The cheetah fell to the ground in remorse begging for the gazelle to forgive him.  He needed her, in that moment, and she liked that.


Things went back to normal after that.  In fact, their intimacy increased after sharing such an intense experience and they grew closer and more entangle in each others lives, but every few days that cheetah would claw at her once more opening afresh old wounds and scars.  And every few days the cheetah would apologize and the gazelle would build him back up again.  The cheetah would say, “Only with you can I learn to be better, to think before I act, to see things differently.” And the gazelle would be drawn even further into her need for him. 


 

But she started hurting all the time.  Wounds wouldn’t heal and more would appear.  She knew she could no longer love this cheetah.  For his very survival depended on her destruction.  For she noticed that every day with him her glittering world of freedom became a little more like the cage she use to know.  Slowly the cheetah began convincing her that he was all she needed.  That the birds and the sun and the ponds and the grass were all meaningless without him for he could save her.  But even his intimate touch felt like a sharp pain to her badly scarred body.


One day the cheetah showed up at their normal meeting place ready to play this day’s game of chase, but the gazelle was no where to be found.  He searched, frantically, but there was no sign of her presence around him.  The gazelle had left.  She had remembered.  She had recaptured freedom, the freedom she once knew.  For she learned that even without bars, even without cages, freedom is elusive.  Freedom is not something to be obtained, owned or held on to.  The gazelle now saw freedom as knowing, in the deepest parts of yourself, that you deserve to be whole, to be alive, to be healed.  And the gazelle chose that freedom.

 

And They Said Laugh With Me

Uproarious laughter
but not the kind that comes
when the punch line drops
more like when the punch drops
drops, falls, lands
right in that pit of a full stomach

Laughter, louder than the rush
of trains and musicians
ringing in my distant ear.
For the longest time I thought
I thought they were laughing with me

We’d pound the streets
looking for that next good time
Minutes feel like seconds as we move
from one smoke-filled bar to the next

The laughing never stopped
Oh, what a grand time it was
But then the laughter changed
as the shot washed down my
desperate unhappiness
I couldn’t laugh anymore

It took all of me not to order another
another round to appease these laughs
of not foes but not friends
but, alas, my wallet ran drier than my glass

So the laughs surrounded
overwhelmed my good time.
I tried to laugh with them
but then the punch landed.

The obscene mixture of PBR,
tequila and insecurity
settled with a gentle shock
enough to sober my ego
as the laughs turned to accusations.

The same accusations that
only hours before
had been silenced
by the same deafening mania of laughter
which had faked as friend.
For in the amnesia of memory
the laughter always appears.

The laughter beckons me to let go
like a siren
the deceitful laughter numbs me
until the splinters pierce skin
and all that’s left is my misery
my only true friend.

The Crisis of Quiet

Chicago does not lend itself to quiet moments.  Most of the time horns are honking, people are shouting across a crowded street and an airplane is flying overhead to land at one of the airports in the near vicinity.  Quiet never comes.

This morning I was walking to my usual bus stop in the heart of the city’s Little Italy neighborhood that is more little than Italy these days.  As I was about to cross the street, a siren became audible from a few blocks away.  Another delightful symphony produced by city life.  At first, the cars and pedestrians around me were hesitant but continued to their destinations knowing that they still had moments before they would have to stop to let this ambulance pass.

As the flashing emergency vehicle approached the intersection that I was standing at, a rare thing happened. Everything, everyone stopped.  I had always seen this happen, obviously, since the law requires you to stop at the sound or sight of such a vehicle, but I never noticed the quiet that results.  Now I’m not talking about actual quiet, since the blaring siren was loud enough to urge the woman next to me to hide her ears beneath her hands trying to produce a type of faux-earplug.

The quiet that surrounded us at that intersection was the quiet of a crisis.

I have only experienced a few crises in my life, but they all produce that same still yet acute quiet that I saw on the corner this morning.  Cars came to a halt, people walking on the streets instinctively stopped their movement and looked at the approaching vehicle, the world for a second became completely centered around this ambulance.  Centered around this symbol of unrest, of emergency.

Such a quiet is not peaceful for it stirs within you a worry for the outcome, a desperation for resolution, and an anticipation of its passing.  Crisis in life can come as an unexpected death, the recurrence of an illness, the dissolution of a relationship, the loss of a job, or the questioning of your own purpose.  Crisis can look different, but crisis always results in the same.  A chaotic quiet.

A quiet that is self-centered, survival focused.  One of my crises was my own acceptance of my on-going battle with anxiety and depression.  For months, my life was like that scene at the intersection.  Nothing else moved or mattered except my sickness. No one existed except myself in relation to this crisis.  Everyone and everything revolved around navigating around my own crisis.  But see, unlike the ambulance that speeds quickly past freeing the surrounding world to return to its noise and routine, crisis feels like a slow motion switch has been hit and you are waiting, watching, hoping that the ambulance passes next week, next month, next year.

Crisis is an unbearable quiet that demands not only your attention but your entire world. As I was waiting this morning, thinking about this idea, though, I became encouraged in a way that only a person not experiencing such a crisis at the moment can.  I was encouraged by the passing of such quiet and the world resuming to its own rhythm and pace.  For it always does.

Yet during a crisis you can’t see that.  You spend most of your energy reorganizing your life around this crisis that you get to the point where you can’t even imagine losing that quiet in your life. You begin to love the self-focused quiet. But that quiet fades. And you return to a more aware world where things happen that are good and bad but that are, in the end, bigger than yourself.  And you find equilibrium within the noise once more.

We must remember that equilibrium when crisis is far away.  We must learn to live in this noise without the fear of yet another pause of crisis.  We must learn that crisis is not a permanent state, but it is, just like the ambulance, just a passing moment of stillness, of navigation, and of quiet.

Such an idea reminded me of one of my favorite songs, Comes and Goes (In Waves) by Greg Laswell.  As you listen to this song and read the lyrics, remember that life changes, it is fleeting, it is filled with both noise and quiet.  But what this song reminds us of most importantly is that you are not alone in this silence. All around are other people preparing for crisis, in their own crisis, or emerging from a crisis.  We must take heart.


Comes and Goes (In Waves) by Greg Laswell posted on youtube by GregLaswellMusic.

Confessions of a Goodbye Phobic

As a self-proclaimed introvert and longtime social anxiety sufferer, I have a serious problem with goodbyes.  No, not in the sentimental way that I’ll miss being around a person or even a fearful way that I hate being alone.  Honestly, no offense to all you good people out there, but most days I’d much rather be by myself.  Other people really freak me out.

Let’s get this straight, I may often be awkward in new, overwhelming social settings, but hellos are much more manageable for me.  Hellos are straightforward.  If I haven’t met you before, then obviously a handshake and an introduction satisfy even the most extroverted person’s need for a greeting.   After that, I can fade to the background or make multiple unnecessary trips to the bathroom in order to give my mind a minute to relax from its incessant flittering.

What should I say next? What if he asks what my job is, how am I gonna explain that? Man that silence lasted a couple seconds too long, now we are all doomed. Am I talking to loud? Am I talking too quietly? Am I not talking enough? How much longer are we going to talk about the newest season of Orange is the New Black?  Shit! I don’t have an already prepared response… scramble, Mackensey, scramble. What are you gonna say?!

Yes, trust me ladies and gentleman if this was your internal dialogue you would make a few extra trips to the bathroom too, even at the expense that people may assume you are having a serious reaction to the Thai food.

Anyway, so hellos are the easy part, the middle conversation and mingling is a slow painful road to exhaustion, but the goodbye is where my own self confidence goes to die.

You know how I said hellos are straight forward? Stick out your hand, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself. Now sometimes I even mess that up but usually that’s where I get it right.  Well goodbyes, they are nowhere near straightforward.

Goodbyes force you to be ultra conscious of the crowd.  Is this a hugging crowd or a second handshake bunch? Did I make enough of a connection with so and so to warrant a more intimate parting gesture? Do I go the conservative route with a handshake at the risk that the other person felt some close bond that put us on that new “hug level”? 

Now I want to pause for a second and speak to all you “huggers” out there.  You know who you are and if you aren’t a hugger than you know the people I’m referring to.  You are the people that had functional families that showed appropriate amounts of affection leading to this crazy thing called secure attachments.  Yeah, I basically despise you.  You go for the hug after a social interaction lasted even just half an hour because of that intense human connection you feel with all your fellow earth dwellers. Blah blah blah…

Cut the bullshit. If I’ve only known you for half an hour, then most likely you don’t even know my last name, which means we are no where near the level of a hug.  Now I don’t mean to sound harsh because I love a good hug as much as the next guy, but you huggers make it really hard for us goodbye-phobic people. Because essentially our whole goal is to avoid that handshake-hug confusion fiasco.

You know the situation.  You reach your hand in toward the person’s torso only to have them extend outstretched arms in preparation for a bear hug.  Not only are you left with your hand in a rather uncomfortable area you also have to deal with the resulting awkwardness with a cool and easy going recovery.

Folks, if you can tell so far, I am neither cool nor easy going.

Therefore, you quickly fetch your lingering hand that had landed all too close the person’s crotch and reposition it in the most awkward hug known to humankind.  But you gotta be cool.  You meant to do that.  You were always going in for the hug.  It’s all good. Nothing to see here.  And you both drown in the awkwardness without once acknowledging it.

Torture. But not the worst of the hug fiasco.

Once one person sets that hug precedent.  Everyone else in the vicinity of the hugger feels obligated to follow suit.  So you have the worst kind of domino effect that can make someone with my level of social anxiety want to suffer through more small talk rather than conquer the receiving line of goodbyes that awaits you.  Now you have found yourself among a group of people who you consider just above the level of absolute and complete stranger that feel this internal obligation to hug you goodbye.

Thank you, healthy relationship hugger man/woman.  You have just forced someone else with a normal distrust of human connection and appropriate personal space awareness to face her own personal hell.  And you are smiling about it.  Basking in the glow of having met so many amazing people that you convince yourself are gonna be your new best friends.

Wrong. I just want to do a simple benediction-type goodbye with a wave and a universal “See ya’ll later” and get the hell out of there so I can lay in bed with my book or Netflix and bask in feeling safe from these catastrophic social situations.

But the risk of looking stand offish or unfriendly overpowers my crippling anxiety and growing resentment at Hugger McHuggerson over there.  I walk the line. Hugging each person, some of whom I didn’t even share a hello.  I begrudgingly do the “right” thing simply because it leads me closer to my exit.

So, now you know, goodbyes are the worst.  Sure you can hug and hug freely!  Hugging is awesome. But maybe as a human race we can figure out like a safe word or a signal to smoothly communicate the awkward message of: I really don’t know you very well and, although I’m sure you are a great person I do not feel the need to say goodbye like we are new soul mates. Please accept a nice wave or handshake as my token of acquaintanceship. 

And maybe with that signal we could spare just one life from the devastating fear of goodbye.

Desperation

Gasp!
The air is not thin enough
to enter the small opening of my empty lungs.
My last plunge into the depth left me
breathless.
Each breath
each shallow breath
gives me no relief
each is simply pure reflex.
What would life be without this breath?
Yet I continue to be plagued with the anticipation.
Anticipating the next dark depth
longing to be explored
but warning against such irreversible risk.
Breathe in, breathe out.
the deep below tells of a changed future
but remaining on the surface leaves me
shallow
changing with every minute.
Every breath beckons submission
here comes the plunge.

A Love Letter to My Illness

Heben “Heaven” Nigatu, November 2012

My Dear Adversarial Friend,

After years of hostile companionship, I’ve finally discovered the courage and resilience to write you this letter.  Since such courage may only be fleeting because of your current absence in my life, I had to finally force myself to pen this note of honesty and pain to you, my friend.

I remember we first met in high school.  My plump, pimple-covered exterior gave you the all-too-easy road into my close circle of critical inner-friends.  Our conversations enriched your attraction to me and mine to you.  For the hurtful, pain-filled words I would utter silently to myself for years were finally heard and repeated back to me.  You will never be good enough. No one will love you. There must be something deeply wrong with you. You, my depression, my anxiety, always understood.  You knew me.

We continued our mutual relationship all throughout high school, although I never knew your name or why you chose me as a friend.  I did not want to ask those questions because at least you were with me, listened to me, and didn’t seem to ever leave me.  We continued like this for a couple more years.  You echoing these lines of self-hatred and perfectionism back to my isolated mind. For we only grew closer the more I saw myself as worthless, out of control and unwanted.  Yet I started to realize the stronger our friendship grew, the lonelier I found myself.  But I told myself, you were all I needed: my depression, my anxiety.

You followed me to college.  I heaved a large sigh of relief as I stepped into my freshman dorm and you were already waiting for me.  A friend, a familiar face.  We stayed together.  Making new friends had never been easy for me, except for with you.  So I enjoyed staying in my room that first year and so did you.  You started whispering to me new thoughts and fears. You don’t belong here.  You will never succeed in softball or class. You are different.  I believed you, but something inside me hoped to one day prove you wrong.  This moment was the beginning of the end.

I did not know that striving, endlessly to prove you wrong would mean bringing my own body, mind, soul to its very breaking point.  But I wasn’t able to stop because in those moments of silence, pause, peace you awaited me.  My college life was filled with a constant battle between trying to control you, my depression, my anxiety, and allowing you to control me.  Softball, something that once brought me pride and confidence, became the one way you could destroy any ounce of self-worth I had left.  You are alone. You must be perfect. You must numb your feelings. You must be someone you are not. You were always there to remind me of the worst parts of me.

But I started realizing you were not the friend I thought you were.  Your listening was no longer innocent but a way to gain more ammunition against me.  Your repetitions always seemed to leave out the hope in which I most desperately believed.  I began seeking ways to numb or silence you because your whispers had become deafening.

I finally needed to know your name, which led me to therapy.  She called you “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Depressive Episodes.” So clinical, so sterile.  You no longer seemed like a friend.  You were simply a disorder, an episode?  But how could your companionship be simplified to only that over all these years?

I finally began to learn more about you.  To learn more about myself.  To understand you as separate from me.  This was difficult for me to believe because, without me realizing it, we had become so intertwined.  I did not know how to distinguish you from me.  I often still don’t.  Medication helps, sure, but I always know that with any unexpected life event or sudden change you will be there, extending a friendly embrace. Through therapy, I have learned that you aren’t me.  I have learned that I can not blame myself for your presence in my life.  I have learned that you can be managed but I have also learned that you will always be my companion throughout this life.

I still call you my friend because of these many years we’ve shared together.  You worked so hard for me, so hard against me and I will never be outside of your constant influence.  Even though we are no longer close, for I know your name, your face, and your patterns, you will always be a part of me, a familiar and dangerous part.

Thank you for showing me the depth of pain and isolation for only in those depths did I learn the love of community.  Thank you for tearing me down because only through that experience was I able to rely and trust others to help me move forward.  Thank you for developing in me a sensitivity for emotion, for struggle, for hurt for only through that have I been able to connect with others.  Thank you for never leaving me because only through your presence have I learned the importance of resilience.  Thank you for knowing me because only through that am I able to see you in others around me and teach them your name.

I hope for a future day that I can pass by you on the street without pausing to entertain your whispers, without being drawn to your enticingly attractive lies, without recognizing your familiar taunts, but I know that we will probably meet again, my friend.  I have changed, though, since our last encounter so maybe you won’t recognize me.

With Hesitant and Undetermined Love,

Your Distant Friend

A Field of Endless Possibility

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Chicagoans are nothing, if not hopeful.  We spend every day of at least five months out of the year (and that’s being generous) hoping that the sun hasn’t crawled into an eternal cave never to be seen again.  We hope that our snot can last the five minute walk to the bus stop without completely freezing our nasal passages solid (yes, this is a true story).  We hope that the icy-slush-puddle that we are forced to navigate through is only an inch deep and not the rabbit hole that brought Alice to Wonderland.  We hope that our car, which is buried in four feet of snow, has steadfast determination to start on command and get us to work in the morning.  But above all we hope we survive this year’s winter to make it to spring and summer.

We live in a city where most of the year we are miserable so that a few months of the year are paradise.  And we are proud of it.  Put a long-time Chicagoan in Southern California during a “rain storm” as all the bleach blonde, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing hippies run around  in terror with their hoodies, Ugg boots and scarves.  Come to Chicago, the Chicagoan would think. You wouldn’t last a day, even a day in March. But why is it that most of us voluntary choose this torture when so many great cities have vacation-like climates all year round?

I was thinking about this hope phenomenon walking home from work today on this year’s first 80 degree day.  (And, as usual, I was thinking too much and too deeply about it, because I have a tendency to do that). But I kept going back to the idea that this hope is a similar hope that we all have or wish to have about our own lives.  Most of the time, life is full of suffering, pain, disappointment, loss.  Most of the time our life is spent in the winter.  Clinging to warmth and safety but hoping that another day, a warmer day, a brighter day will come.

Depression reminds me a lot of a Chicago winter.  You feel like you are trapped, constantly inside.  The cold and unwelcoming outside makes even getting out of bed a struggle.  You don’t care to look at anyone in the eye or even give a friendly head nod in their direction when walking down the street because even a momentary glance will halt your eventual escape out of the bitter cold.  Winter is about survival.  A survival in hopes that a spring will one day appear.

And right as we all begin to lose hope, spring arrives (as much as Chicago can muster a spring) and reminds us all that the winter is only a season.  Winter is only a season.  Depression is only a season.  While we always seem to hold in the back of our heads the reminder that one day spring will turn into summer, which will turn into fall, which will turn into winter once again, we know that spring has come.  Chicago comes to life.  Those of us that struggle with depression know that a good day, week or month is something to be celebrated and enjoyed but we are always haunted by the day we wake up and the cold has engulfed us once more.  But we revel in those warm days, weeks and months, just like Chicagoans spend entire weeks outside when the temperature is a mere 40 degrees. For we know that even spring is a season.

As I walked home from work mulling over these thoughts, I came across an open field, which had once housed the many public housing projects that were scattered on the near west side of the city.  Now this field is home to knee-high grass, weeds and gleeful dogs playing endless games of fetch with their owners.  I walk past this field nearly every day but for some reason as I walked past, feeling the warmth of the sun on my conspicuously pale skin, it gave me pause.

Scattered in between the neglected blades of grass were hundreds of dandelions swaying gently in the soft spring wind.  This is why we hope.  For dandelions.  When the fuzzy white tops of these flower-like weeds float or are blown away, leaving the stem naked and vulnerable the plants look like they no longer have meaning, no longer have life.  But what I have always found mesmerizing about these weeds is that with each white seed that disappears in the wind, another dandelion is planted wherever it lands. In seeming death, new life is created.  Before me lay resilience. Before me lay a field of endless possibility.

I paused to take a picture of this beautiful image and continued on my way.  But before I reached the entrance of my apartment, I thought: this is why we hope.  This is why we Chicagoans are crazy about our city, despite our weather. This is why we can survive chronic depression even though we know it will always be our unwanted friend.  We hope for new life, for renewal, for a fresh start even in the face of cold, death, and isolation. We hope in winter that we will just survive the cold, bleak conditions so that we can thrive in spring. For, even in spring, when winter feels imminent once again and even though the warm wind can strip us naked, vulnerable, alone, we can have hope in knowing that, with that strong gust of wind, resilience is built and possibilities are endless. Image

My Therapist Dumped Me

I’m proud of my 1 for 1 record in the dating world.  I found a good partner and kept him, which means I’ve never been dumped.  That is, until now.  Last week, my therapist dumped me.  Talk about a bad break up.

I have been going to therapy for over a year now.  A year!  That’s a long time.  I thought we meant something to each other! We laughed together, she has watched me cry, and she knows about all my thoughts and feelings.  We were pretty perfect.  Or at least I thought so… Last session, after a twenty minute update on how happy I have been the last month and how I’ve felt more in control of my life, she said the dreaded word… “termination.”

What? NO? But.. but.. my life’s not that perfect.  I have more.  I need more help. I can’t…

Why do they call it termination, anyway? It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to leap out from behind her bookshelf and escort me out of the office in order to make sure I never come back ever again.  Termination.  It’s so morbid. Permanent. No one’s dying here, but in that moment as that word slipped out of her mouth, my world of control fell apart.  My anxiety is under control.  I haven’t had a panic attack in a few months and I rarely have the constant obsessive thoughts that use to keep me up till the early morning hours each night.  But termination?  I can’t be ready.

I looked at her with my best fake smile and said “Sure, of course I’m ready for that.  I’m in such a great place and I’m confident that I am ready to.. ehh, terminate?”  But in my head my mind was coming up with every worse case scenario that could possibly result from this decision.  What if I stop coming and then I have a major life crisis?  Or what if the only reason I have been doing better is because of this safety net that she has provided me?  Or even worse what if I’m actually crazy and she is just using this whole “termination” excuse to get rid of me? I snapped back out of that fear whirlwind to make sure that my smile continued to stay glued to my apprehensive face as she replied, all too cheerfully if I may add, “Great!  Next week will be our last session.”

NEXT WEEK!  Way to really ease me out of this. I only have a week to think of all the possible issues that could possibly arise in the next 20 or 30 years.  I’m sure there are hundreds of traumatic childhood experiences, repressed memories, and defense mechanisms to work through, right?  I kept circling back to the thought that “I thought we really had something special here and you just want to throw it all away in a WEEK!”  Bitch.  Oh, sorry.  “Yes, yes I’m sooooo ready to move on. I can totally take care of myself,” I replied.

I stepped slowly out of the office that day not knowing how to feel.  I guess that’s how it feels when you are dumped.  As I rode the elevator down three flights, I contemplated the many ways I could change her mind in next week’s session.  Maybe I could fake some family death or tragedy, maybe I could bring up another fight I had with a family member, or maybe I could just get really sick and postpone it one more week.  Yeah, that’s it.  But as I exited the building listening to my own anxious thoughts ruminate about the different self-inflicted possibilities of remaining in therapy.  I finally understood.

She didn’t break up with me.  I had broken up with her.  She had given me this choice since our first session and I had finally chosen it.  Freedom.  My life has always been about the approval and advice of others.  What does he want for my life?  Will she like me if I do this?  What can I do to make them think I’m worthy?  Constant.  No wonder I have anxiety.  Over the past few months (with the help of some medication) I have broken down (although not completely) those destructive cycles and released the anchors from my life.  Accepting that life is a shit show and moving through the shit instead of pretending that I can navigate around it has granted me a freedom beyond words.

So I stopped walking and busted out laughing.  I had finally broken up with the person that helped me find my own freedom.  She was the last person that I was fighting so desperately to seek approval from, but she knew that I didn’t need it anymore.  I still don’t think they should call it termination, but I do think it signals a kind of death.  My old self and ways of operating that I dumped on her and revealed to her die now with this relationship.  I no longer have to be that person.  I am free to live.

So, thanks, to the therapist that dumped me and thanks for letting me dump you.  Because it’s not you, it’s me.